School Tycoon – PC
Developer: Cat Daddy Games
Publisher: Global Star Software
Release Date: January 15th, 2004 (NA)
Genre: Simulation / City Builder
Nerd Rating: 4/10
Let’s delve into the wonderful world of the first PC I ever had, shall we?
It was 2004, I was only eight years old, and my mother had a brilliant idea to keep me entertained. Since I always expressed interest in her Dell desktop (which at the time, was fucking amazing!) she actually got me an eMachines desktop for Christmas that year. It was nice, lasted me quite awhile, and I cherish all the memories I made on that thing. I never had internet, but I always found myself entertained, and that was all due to the sheer amount of games I had for it! I always got these collection disks of random games, some well known, some not, and for some reason, one of my favorites was our subject for today’s review, School Tycoon.
When I first got it, I really had almost no idea what to expect. I was already used to games like Mall Tycoon, so I did get excited at the concept of a tycoon game involving a school. You load up the game, and immediately, there’s this interesting animation of kids at a school saying they wanted to “rule the school.” (Which I guess is the game’s slogan?”) After that ordeal, you’re transported to the main menu, which is pretty standard, and just what you’d expect for a tycoon type of game. There’s a campaign mode, which you probably won’t actually play, and the freeplay mode, which is where most of the actual fun will take place. Basically, the goal is to make a great school. If you don’t, you lose all of your money, and eventually, you lose the game because of that. The idea is to keep things like academics, athletics, and morale (yes, morale at a SCHOOL) high, so that more students come to your school and you gain more profit.
One of the biggest problems of this system is the “morale” portion of that, considering it really doesn’t make the school feel like a school. To keep morale high, you must build things such as a half pipe, an arcade, a go-kart track, and a mini-golf course. What school do you know of that has these things? And the worst part is, they’re incredibly expensive, so half the time you have to save up to purchase these instead of using that money on something that will benefit the academics or athletics portion of the school. Overall, you’ll be scratching your head as your academics fall simply because you’re saving up for an arcade to keep kids from freaking leaving your school.
That’s right folks, leaving the school for not catering to the student’s want for fun. Sound like any school you know? One of my main desires for tycoon games tends to be wanting to feel immersed in the environment the game has created. I want to actually feel like I’m managing a school, and I just don’t feel that way at all when I play School Tycoon. I feel more like I’m making a daycare for middle school aged brats who could more easily stay home and keep after themselves than actually be at my place of business. The layout of the school you make also greatly destroys immersion into the game. Instead of creating a campus that actually makes sense, the school will not look like an actual school. There will be buildings and portables designed for a single class lined all over the school, taking up complete space and really limiting what space you can actually use to build things. (Another reason to hate having to build oversized golf courses for students.)
Another huge problem has to do with the bathrooms and the cafeterias you build. From a very early period, you will want to build multiple port-o-potties (that’s all you can afford at this point) and a cafeteria for your students. One thing you’ll notice though, is that quite simply, students can’t seem to be able to locate these things, even as they’re right in front of their faces. The AI is terrible. Even if you’ve managed to build 700,000 different bathrooms, somehow, the students will literally leave your school for there being “no bathrooms.” This clearly stems from just poor design, as you will be punished for something you literally had no fault over.
This is extraordinarily irritating to say the least. The same sort of thing happens with food! You will open up like 4 different cafe options for students, and they will still go home “hungry.” That’s like, if you stick a chocolate bar in someone’s face, they refuse to eat it, and then complain two seconds later about how they are starving. The AI deteriorates even further when disasters occur, which are also a problem. While I do understand that disasters sweep schools on occasion, I also understand that they don’t happen all that often nor do they cause as much damage as these do.
I mean, for Christ sake, an earthquake isn’t going to set an entire school on fire every time it happens. But it does. And the AI goes insane when these disasters happen. To quickly fix the school before it burns down [quite literally], you’ll have to scramble the maintenance men you’ve hired (if you haven’t hired any, you’re fucked) and set them all over the buildings that are damaged. Unfortunately, these people apparently don’t know the first thing about maintenance, because funnily enough, they will walk right around the damaged building… just wandering aimlessly. Another problem with AI during disasters is the teachers! Even if their classrooms don’t burn down, they will get out of their classrooms and wander around, eventually ending up in the wrong classroom. For someone with game OCD like me, this completely destroys immersion and becomes frustrating when you want to put them back in the right place.
Here are the positives of the game though because despite the broken AI in more place than one, the game does handle decently. It’s easy to learn how to play and actually getting started is a cinch. No tutorial is really needed here and in the end, it’s a great starting place for someone who perhaps has never played a tycoon game before. Even most of the spreadsheets are pretty standard and easy to understand. Hiring people and trying to gain students legitimately feels fun in most cases. For most of the game, it does mainly feel like you are managing a school, but with the overwhelming flaws in the AI and the mechanic of the game in general, its a bit impossible to really keep the fun up for long. In the entirety of the game, the gamer will start to feel like the tycoon formatting won’t work in regards to schools, Despite many positive moments, the game’s flaws overtake it, and although feeling like a true tycoon experience, the broken features really create this feeling of confusion surrounding the game.
In conclusion, there are positives here, and there is fun to be had. Most likely, for the first few hours, you will enjoy yourself. However, the lackluster AI and odd design choices make this game pretty impossible to recommend. Especially to someone who is used to playing far better tycoon video games. For all of its technical flaws, a Nerd Rating of 4/10 seems absolutely appropriate.
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