Although Airborne's new Series 60 game (which we played on an N-Gage QD) doesn't specifically feature The Apprentice brand, it puts you in a role similar to the one faced by the contestants of that series: You're one of Donald Trump's latest hires, and you have a chance to prove your mettle to one of the most prominent developers in the world. By employing the simple formula of "buy low, sell high," you'll be able to advance in the Trump empire and make a mint yourself. Despite Donald Trump Real Estate Tycoon's unique branding, it is--at heart--a typical tycoon game that doesn't depart in any way from the conventions of the genre. While the game could have benefited from more-varied gameplay and smarter rival artificial intelligence, Real Estate Tycoon's strong presentation makes it an offering worthy of notice by fans of business simulations.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon starts you out with a relatively small amount of money (in this case, a few million dollars), with the idea that you'll build this meager sum into a tremendous fortune, receiving promotions along the way. The game begins in an underdeveloped city, so you'll spend the first two "years" of play competing with your fellow entrepreneurs to buy up empty lots--hopefully ones adjacent to property-value-boosting items, such as parking lots--and turning them into thriving business ventures. You can choose to build hotels, residential complexes, office buildings, or malls. These buildings both provide you with revenue and require maintenance to stay in top shape. The idea is to attract enough customers to each establishment so your income exceeds your expenses. Nothing complicated here.
Of course, your rivals, one of whom is, strangely enough, Donald Trump himself, will sometimes nab a property before you can. It's possible to later buy that building directly from its owner, although he'll invariably charge you about twice its market value. It's better to wait until the owner decides to auction off the property, which results in a bidding war between several real estate moguls. Even if you've longed to don a power tie and partake in such tension-laden dealings, you'll find Real Estate Tycoon's auction sequences incredibly boring. The involved parties will bid lethargically, raising one another's offerings by seemingly random amounts. Whether you choose to mirror this air of indolence or proactively devise brilliant bluffing stratagems is inconsequential. For the most part, your AI opponents simply have a predetermined spending limit, and can't be fooled into bidding less than they ordinarily would have. Raising the current bid by large increments won't intimidate your rivals, although it might advance the asking price beyond their respective comfort levels more quickly. Fortunately, when you offer one of your own properties up for auction, this entire process can be skipped, and you'll just be informed of the outcome.
His trademark comb-over notwithstanding, it's clear that Donald Trump is a man who values appearances. The ostentatious decor of his palatial hotels speaks to that. Fortunately, Real Estate Tycoon is a good-looking title, with well-drawn building sprites shown through the tycoon genre's typical isometric perspective. Simple visual niceties abound, ranging from the animated hammer that appears over buildings as they're being repaired to the game's graphical representations of building construction in its various stages.
The game doesn't have much of an audio component, but what's there is decent. No background music accompanies the gameplay, sadly, but your biannual reviews by Mr. Trump feature a vocal clip from the man himself. Apart from these bits of speech, there's an opening ditty that plays during the game's initial load, and a celebratory chime every time you successfully purchase a building.
While Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon doesn't have any major flaws, it does fail to provide a varied experience. At your biannual check-ins, The Donald will decide whether to promote you, demote you, or keep you in your current post, based on the amount of cash you've brought in and the number of buildings you've bought. If you've made money and acquired new properties since your last meeting, he'll promote you. If you've made money but haven't increased your real estate holdings, or vice versa, he'll keep you in your current post. If you've failed to do either of these things, you'll face demotion. After you're promoted 99 times, the game is over, but it's likely most gamers will tire of the game before they reach this level, as there's only one city in the game, and only so much you can do there. Doing nothing but buying low and selling high can hold one's interest for only so long.
When compared with similar offerings in the genre, Donald Trump's Real Estate Tycoon holds up well, largely because of its superior presentation and attractive branding. Although players will eventually tire of its monotonous gameplay, Real Estate Tycoon is a fun play for fans of business strategy titles.