After theme parks, zoos, marine parks, ski resorts, Las Vegas, airports, malls, fast-food joints, and railroads, you'd probably wonder what subject is left for tycoon games to cover. Apparently, the answer is cruise ships, or specifically, Carnival Cruise Line Tycoon 2005: Island Hopping, the latest tycoon game from Activision Value to be based on a licensed franchise. In theory, making a tycoon game out of a cruise liner is a potentially interesting idea; cruise ships have begun to resemble floating cities. However, in practice, Island Hopping is beset with problems that leave this tycoon game out to sea.
Island Hopping follows the traditional tycoon building formula: You have to design and operate a series of successful cruise liners, each bigger and more expensive than the previous one. This is done by laying out the interior of each ship, from the number, type, and placement of passenger cabins to the locations of the bathrooms, restaurants, bars, casinos, and other improvements. Once everything is in place, it's time to accept passenger bookings and then cruise from port to port, watching as your guests spend money on board your ship.
On first impression, Island Hopping appears promising. Your liner is rendered in solid detail, and you can see the gleam of the ship's side reflecting in the water. And when you're under way, you can see the ocean passing by. Aside from the fact that your peeps (the virtual people in the game) occasionally walk through solid objects, Island Hopping looks pretty good for a budget game. However, it doesn't take long to discover that it falls short in pretty much every other category; chiefly, there's a distinct lack of features that you would expect to see in a tycoon game.
To start off, there's a disappointing lack of variety in Island Hopping. There are only five classes of cruise ship, four of which are based on actual Carnival cruise liners. Furthermore, while there are several categories of improvements you can build (restaurants, bars, shopping outlets, and so on), there are only a handful of options in each category. More often than not, you'll have to reuse the same gift shop over and over again simply because there are only four gift shops to choose from in the game. The same goes for decorative objects, such as plants or lamps, of which there are only two of each. You can try to fill the empty spaces on your cruise ship, but they end up looking repetitive, and you can't tinker with carpeting or wall color, so you can't create distinct-looking themes.
Island Hopping also suffers due to the nature of its setting. Cruise ships have only a finite amount of space packed inside a narrow hull. This is reflected in the game, where much of the space on each deck is restricted (represented by cordoned-off areas of the ship, such as engineering spaces), leaving you with a lot less room than expected and with no ability to expand. In real life, cruise ships are meticulously designed to maximize every square inch of deck, but due to the arbitrary and generic improvements that you plop down, you never get a sense of cohesiveness in Island Hopping. The larger improvements, such as the arcade and dance club, eat up valuable deck space, making it difficult to place anything else around them and limiting what you can do with the environment.
Yet at the heart of the matter is that Island Hopping is simply not an interesting game. Once you have your cruise ship decked out, there's not much to do other than sit back and watch as your liner goes from port to port. Since you often need to amass a sizable amount of cash in order to purchase and fit out the next cruise ship in your fleet, that translates into a whole lot of not being able to do much other than watch the cash pile slowly accumulate. Island Hopping also lacks basic financial analysis tools to let you measure the effectiveness of certain improvements as well as your overall fiscal health.
While Island Hopping looks good, it sounds rather poor. Aside from the otherwise forgettable music, the sound effects in the game are practically nonexistent unless you zoom in to the closest level. Only then do you hear the cursory sound effects, such as the generic sound of people talking and laughing, the clinking of dishes in the restaurant, and so on.
Judging from the title, there's a possibility we could see future versions of Carnival Cruise Line Tycoon down the road. If so, the developers would be wise to give players more power and control, as well as more options. As for now, you should probably steer well clear of this game.