Build-a-Lot: On Vacation
The long wait is finally over and those who seek their thrills through building and development can finally get their kicks again! The latest in Hipsoft's popular Build-a-lot time management series has finally arrived Build-a-Lot: On Vacation and it's a wild ride through the adventurous world of real estate development. So what if the bottom has dropped out of the housing market, you can still get your thrills vicariously!
If you've never played any of the Build-a-lot games (and, seriously, this is the sixth in the series, so why haven't you?) the premise is a very basic one: begin with a town that has a limited amount of resources (money, labor, materials) and a need (more housing development, more tourism, more nature). It's your job to right the real estate-related wrong by creating new housing developments (and collecting rent on those properties!) and setting up shops, all while managing workers and resources to produce maximum profit. Finish a level in expert time and you receive a lot of praise, finish before the timer runs out and at least pass on to the next level. Don't finish before the timer and you are stuck repeating the level until you get it right.
For those who are familiar with the series, Hipsoft has removed the disasters and buildings from Build-a-Lot 3 and the power grid demands from Build-a-Lot 4, leaving a stripped down classic version of the game familiar to those who loved Build-a-Lot and Build-a-Lot 2. That's not to say that there are no changes, as Build-a-Lot: On Vacation has added three things that twist the old gameplay in new and interesting ways: Wooded lots, Industrial Zones, and a Real Estate Office.
Wooded lots are simply a variation on the old "empty lot", an undeveloped piece of land waiting to be built on. However, the wooded lots are more expensive than the basic empty lots, and the difference is the natural resource growing therein, the wood itself. Lots can harvested for either wood or money, and the more expensive the lot, the more materials or cash you can recoup from your investment. In some levels the wooded lots can be more expensive than buying a lot with a house on it, making it a key piece of strategy. Industrial zones are another nice touch in that building any type of industrial building has absolutely no impact on the overall approval rating of a town, nor does it affect nearby buildings. However, not every level has industrial zones.
The most interesting twist is that provided by the Real Estate office, which actually has several functions. The first is the ability to "stage" a house, which turns it into a model home upping the rent without the resulting materials cost that upgrading a house entails. The second is the appraisal ability, which once applied to a home insures that it will sell for its exact retail price, no matter how many other houses are on the market at the same time. The third is the ability to force a sale of any lot or home for twice its asking price, saving the player from having to wait for a choice piece of property to come onto the market.
Analysis: Even if it was a retread with a fancy new skin (I'm looking at you, Build-a-Lot: The Elizabethan Era), Build-a-Lot: On Vacation would still be worth a look for anyone who loves frantic time management and tycoon sim gameplay. Fortunately for those who do, the different lots and the real estate office twist the classic gameplay in new and interesting directions, fantastic news for those still hooked on the series.
As the name implies, Build-a-Lot: On Vacation deals entirely with vacation resorts and the houses, scenery, and upgrades reflect the theme. Hipsoft has even added larger build projects in some levels (familiar to anyone who has played Be Rich or Virtual City) to add even more complexity. There are now even more levels of play, including an easy tutorial section, the Career play section, the Expert Section, the Casual play section, and a new Quick Play section that drops you into a scenario with no kind words from an elected official, simply a goal list and off you go.
If there are any down sides to Build-a-Lot: On Vacation, it's that Hipsoft still hasn't done much by way of upgrading the backgrounds, houses, or animations. Granted the gameplay moves from wooded highlands to deserts to ski resorts to beach resorts, but it's all scenery that's been seen before. Even the houses are very familiar, and it would be nice to see some sort of visual cue aside from the stars to show an upgraded building. As this is the sixth game in the series the visuals (and the oh-so-familiar music) are beginning to get a little stale. The scenery is still lovely, but been there, done that, got the t-shirt, burned it, and scattered the ashes.
Despite the static visuals, Build-a-Lot: On vacation is still casual gameplay that sucks you in and doesn't let you go until you've expert leveled the last scenario. Fans of the series will appreciate the new twists in strategy and newbs will just love the addictive gameplay. Forget the depressed real estate market; it's time to get building!