Mall Tycoon Review

Mall Tycoon is more trouble than it's worth.

If you've set foot into a computer game store recently, you'll know that there are a whole lot of recent PC games with the word "tycoon" in their titles. And considering the ongoing success of the 1999 strategy game RollerCoaster Tycoon, why wouldn't there be? Everyone's trying to capitalize on RollerCoaster Tycoon's distinctive and charming model of building a colorful, virtual place of business for little virtual people, then managing and making improvements to the business to keep those little customers happy. Take-2's Mall Tycoon is one of the latest of these new "tycoon" games; it lets you build your own shopping center, furnish it with different stores and scenery, keep it clean and safe, and try to make a virtual fortune from a bustling crowd of customers. It's not a bad idea in theory, but after you play Mall Tycoon, you'll find that it's much more problematic than it is fun.

Right off the bat, Mall Tycoon looks pretty bad. Presumably, the developers intended to keep the game's low-polygon 3D graphics simple so that it would run on a wide range of computers, which might explain why most of the game looks downright ugly. (It doesn't explain why it requires a 16MB 3D graphics card, though.) Mall Tycoon's motley-colored interface looks especially garish next to the game's equally gaudy stores and buildings. Most of the game focuses on building and monitoring different stores in your malls, but just about every one of the different stores you can build is covered in blurry textures of clashing colors. And just about everything is extremely blocky and pixelated, except for the inside of individual stores, which actually contain some well-animated 3D customers who buy food, try out appliances, play arcade games, or whatever else that store offers. Unfortunately, those store interiors are relatively small; most of what you'll see onscreen while you play Mall Tycoon will be blotchy and blocky.

Surprisingly, Mall Tycoon's sound is considerably better than its graphics. Mall Tycoon's sound effects generally consist of confirmation sounds when you click around the game's interface to build, destroy, or modify stores, or alert sounds when certain events happen. Most of these are extremely quiet, and none is especially good. However, Mall Tycoon's music is excellent; it plays in one long stream of varied tunes that consist of jazz, funk, and Muzak, exactly the kind you'd expect to hear in a lobby or elevator at a major shopping mall. And unlike most mall music you may have heard, it doesn't get repetitive or annoying.

Unfortunately, Mall Tycoon's great sound doesn't really fix any of its other problems. Most of the game revolves around either building or managing your mall and its different shops--which could have been fun--but both of these aspects of the game have too many problems to be enjoyable. For instance, building and customizing a mall from the ground up is needlessly frustrating, since although you can click and drag your mouse to create large areas of floor, you can't do the same with walls. If you want to build a large, open area for an atrium or set of stores, you'll usually be stuck with the tedious task of building individual squares of wall around it. Mall Tycoon has an "auto-wall" button that should normally surround new floor areas automatically, but it doesn't work reliably. Try to build a large area of walls manually, and you'll often end up building a bunch of errant wall pieces, which you'll have to delete manually (usually deleting whatever floor or other fixtures you had previously built in).

When you're building large malls, which many of the game's built-in scenarios will want you to do, there's no easy way to get around. The game has a built-in "camera bookmark" feature that should let you set your camera to jump back to up to eight different views of whatever section of your mall you want. Unfortunately, on both of the test systems we used to play the game, this feature didn't actually work. Mall Tycoon also lets you zoom the camera up and away from your mall to take a bird's-eye view of it. Normally, you might not make much use of this feature, but since the camera bookmark doesn't work, you'll generally find yourself doing a lot of zooming and scrolling around just to find your stores.

Even when you have gotten your mall built, you'll find that managing it can be remarkably frustrating. For instance, you'll want to keep tabs on each of the stores in your mall, but there's no simple way to jump directly to specific stores--you have to zoom and scroll around until you find the right one, then click on it. Every month of game time, you'll receive reports from the game's SimCity 3000-style event ticker (a scrolling text message at the bottom of the screen) on which of your stores was most profitable, but you have no way of quickly jumping to it and examining its fees, goods, and location--the three things that make a good store profitable--so that you can capitalize on it. Aside from keeping a store profitable, the only other aspect of the game you'll worry about is taking care of the store by hiring janitorial or security staff to clean up garbage or chase away hooligans. You can hire a bunch of either, and though you can "research" more-effective versions of either, the base-level janitors and rent-a-cops are extremely cheap and are usually more than sufficient to get the job done, so that entire aspect of the game boils down to hiring a bunch of them and forgetting about it. You can also research market promotions that will turn your atrium into a themed centerpiece, like a Christmas or Halloween display, but these aren't really necessary, and they are presumably in the game for players who want to spruce up their malls with good-looking displays. Unfortunately, the displays don't actually look good; they're as blocky and unimpressive-looking as everything else in the game.

Should you get Mall Tycoon? Not unless you really, really, really want to be able to build a computerized shopping center. The game's excellent music just can't compensate for its poor graphics or clunky interface. Yes, it retails for the inexpensive price of $19.99, but these days, you can choose from quite a variety of much better games...including the much-better RollerCoaster Tycoon. And even if you do sit down and try to enjoy the game on its own terms, you'll probably find that Mall Tycoon is more trouble than it's worth.

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Mall Tycoon More Info

  • First Released Feb 3, 2002
    • PC
    Mall Tycoon is more trouble than it's worth.
    Average Rating322 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Holistic Design, Inc.
    Published by:
    Take-Two Interactive, ak tronic
    Management, Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    No Descriptors