A while back, I took a look at Kairosoft’s Zoo Park Story, my first review of one of the publisher’s offerings in several years. I wanted to see if anything had changed (it had, but only marginally), and if my absence from its games had made my heart grow fonder (it hadn’t). I promised that I wouldn’t just judge the current Kairosoft on that one game, so here I am back with a look at its most recent release, Dream Town Island ($5.99). A sequel to Dream Town Story? A cousin? I’m not sure, but let’s dig in.
I didn’t really drill in on it very much in the Zoo Park Story review because I couldn’t be too sure based on one game, but I feel safe saying this now: Kairosoft games have gotten more complicated, and I’m not sure if they’ve done so in a good way or not. While the overall structure and look of Kairosoft’s simulation games is almost the same as it was over a decade ago, they’re much more cluttered at a granular level. I think I understand the intent. People were getting a little tired of the old formula (formulae, I should probably say – Kairosoft has a few different archetypes it likes to work with), so the developer kept adding more things for players to engage with.
I’m sure if I had come at it little by little over the course of many games, it wouldn’t be as striking. But I didn’t, so all the different currencies, ranks, dialogue boxes, and sub-systems are a lot to take in sometimes. The UI also feels a little busy as a result of having to keep track of all of this. It feels like I have to dive into the menus for ten different things at any given moment, and again I am not sure if it’s a good thing or not. I can at least say it is not as chill of a game to play as, say, Hot Springs Story. You have to keep a lot of spinning plates. Well, I mean, not really. It’s a Kairosoft game. You can’t really lose unless you’re trying to, and even then it’s pretty hard. But if you want to top those rankings and play optimally, there’s a lot to take care of.
All that said, this is still a familiar affair. I’ve always been fond of this particular branch of the Kairosoft sim. You’re building a town, trying to attract residents, tourists, and new businesses. Placing certain buildings next to others can create special synergies, and increase the value of all involved. More value means more money coming in, which means you have more to spend on improvements to your town. Over time you’re able to expand the space you have to work with, and you can actually get a reasonably bustling little place going after a while. Maybe you can even reach the top rankings, if you play your cards right. There are three different starting maps to choose from, and I think replaying the game on each of them offers a reasonable amount of variety.
Part of the game involves developing your citizens, who will come to the town and maybe decide to stay if you have an empty lot and they like what they see. They each have their own stats, and will develop their own interests. They might even befriend each other. As you open businesses, they’ll get jobs there. Some might work out of town if they need more money than the local opportunities provide. As they go about their lives they’ll make you money but also generate some of the other currencies. You’ll need a healthy supply of all of those to fully build out your town. Oh, and they can enter contests too. They might get a rank up if they win. You can drop consumable items of them to improve their stats if you feel like doing things in a less natural way.
Items can also be applied to the various buildings and structures you lay about the town. Those places aren’t available immediately, of course. You’ll have to research for some of them, which costs money. Others will require negotiation, which involves a town person and spending a lot of your different currencies. Successfully woo a business and you’ll get the opportunity to build locations in your town and even buy stock in the company. You can also research other things, like new citizens or special programs. You should always be researching something if you have the means to do so.
Basically, it goes like this. Attract new citizens. Develop your town by placing buildings and other structures. Develop the citizens through those buildings and the items they provide. Use the citizens to bring in new businesses and pass new programs. Place more buildings and structures. Upgrade your citizens enough to win contests, which will rank them up, allowing them to pull in more businesses and such. Oh, and don’t forget to buy stock and grow vegetables and run job interviews and…
I don’t know, it’s all so complicated that it’s actually a bit hard to explain everything properly in a review format. Complicated but not complex. I’d like to say that if you play it, things will all go smoothly, but it can sometimes be just as overwhelming in-game. Luckily, it’s a Kairosoft game so you can sort of take your time doing things, knowing that it’s not going to punish you too harshly for not doing everything just right. And once you get in the groove, it’s certainly quite pleasing to see things growing. The visuals look cute as usual, even if it’s all fairly old hat by this point. I like how all the little buildings look in particular. I will say I’m getting a bit tired of the circa-Windows XP UI, but I suppose if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
Wow, this review seems more negative than I really feel about the game. The reality of it is, despite all of the additional cruft here compared to earlier Kairosoft games, this is still the developer doing its usual shtick. It’s hard to believe that with so many games under its belt, Kairosoft has changed so little. Extra bits bolted and stapled on, but certainly not in an elegant way. This is Oh! Edo Towns with a few new accessories. And yet, I had a really good time playing through it. I think this actually is a case where an extended break has allowed me to enjoy the same old thing. It didn’t work for me with Zoo Park Storybut it seems to have done the trick here.
If, like me, you’ve been off the Kairosoft wagon for a while, you might enjoy the familiar yet expanded take on the developer’s usual town builder formula found in Dream Town Island. If you’ve been on the wagon all along, you probably already bought this and finished it. And, as usual, if you’ve never played a Kairosoft game before, your first one will be awesome. Maybe that will be this one. It’s a bit busy for its own good and I think the design isn’t nearly as tight thanks to all of the added systems, but it’s certainly engaging and pleasant to dig into.