Right off the bat a video game title based around pun is a little worrying but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a DS game by its name. The subtitle for Build-A-Lot is ‘become a property tycoon’ and that should start to give a clue as to the game’s theme.
For a couple of weeks I was waiting for a fun little title to play on my DSi in bed and I was quite pleased when Build-A-Lot arrived for review. So the aim of the game is to progress from being a newbie property developer to America’s greatest (and richest) property tycoon. On the offset I agree that a property building game doesn’t sound that much fun; that’s because being a real property developer is quite a horrid prospect for most people. What you have to remember is that this is a game and as such, it’s been designed with fun in mind with nothing to bog you down. From the start Build-A-Lot throws you into the action rather than get you doing any of the boring stuff like searching for land, getting it surveyed and dealing with all the legal bullplop.
Meadow Dale is the first neighbourhood which acts as your tutorial; the Mayor gives you three missions that teach you the basics to the game. One of your first jobs is to build a rambler (a small family home) and that is as simple as clicking on one of the pieces of land that you own and clicking build house.
With another 7 neighbourhoods to play through (each with a more demanding Mayor than the last) you’d expect the game to steadily increase in difficulty and complexity. Materials become a critical factor, you can’t build houses or buildings without them and your initial budget is usually quite low, this doesn’t give you the option to buy in bulk which saves money. The only way to make money is by selling or renting your houses. Renting will provide more income long term whilst selling can get you a large sum quickly. Here it’s time for you to plan a strategy so that you can afford to progress. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes you will not know if you’ve made the right decision until a few minutes later (i.e. when you running out of time to complete the mission). You’ll also need to build workshops to train builders and even deal with the tax man when he comes knocking for his share of your profits. The surprising thing is that even with more and more tasks to complete per mission as you progress, the game is stays fun. This is because Build-A-Lot cleverly evolves from a simple ‘tap here and build stuff game’, to an intriguing yet taxing micromanagement fest. This is something not really gathered that easily from the description on the box which made it a really nice surprise. It’s like going out with a good looking babe and finding out she has brains too, excellent.
Build-A-Lot is presented with nothing flash or fancy to get in the way of solid gameplay. Graphically it’s basic and doesn’t push the DS to its 3D limits in the slightest; this is purely a 2D top down perspective game with some pretty hand drawn art and a smidgen of animation here and there for good measure. The music and sound effects can and do get a little irritating; especially the constant sound of your builders at work. Luckily Build-A-Lot is one of those games that do not require sound, ideal for those times at a public library whilst your geeky friends read books.
It’s hard to categorize Build-A-Lot. It falls right in-between thoughtful strategy games such as Civilization and frantic strategy games like Diner Dash. You could say it has the brains of the former but the excitement of the latter.
I really enjoyed Build-A-Lot because it offered a good challenge without a crazy difficulty curve or some never ending style of gameplay. There are lots of things to do in the game without there being too many menus and icons scattered about the place, everything is straightforward and logical and that’s how I like it. There is no multiplayer mode or any online aspect to the game at all so if you’re only looking for a game to play with your friends then this isn’t for you. I don’t describe Build-A-Lot as a lonely experience because it’s sometimes nice to have a game which you can play on your own and in your own way. I spent about two weeks wanting to head to bed early just to play a couple of missions before I went to sleep, if only I could review Wii, 360 and PS3 games in bed too. As a bonus to the main game there is also a casual game mode which does away with the time limit and frantic action; here you can take as long as you like to turn the empty town into a neighbourhood the beautiful people will want to live in. You’ll still need to plan ahead but things aren’t quite as stressful as the main game.
Build-A-Lot for DS is a budget title that packs a premium punch. No it’s not a simple game for the kiddies but a game for the grownups who don’t mind their head hurting in a good way. I award it a rather good 8 out of 10.
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