|Release Date||September 13, 2016|
Disclaimer: Review code provided
The first time I played Mad Games Tycoon I sunk six hours into it, starting at 10PM and expecting to give it a quick try before looking across at my clock and seeing that it was almost 4AM. It’s been a while since I’ve been so thoroughly immersed into a game that I’ve completely lost track of the passage of time. Even longer since a game has had its hooks into me so deeply that it has overridden my brain screaming at me to go to sleep.
Mad Games Tycoon is a game development simulator, as the name suggests. It’s the familiar story of starting out in a garage with a single character and building a game development empire. Mad Games Tycoon’s greatest strength is that it isn’t a familiar story. The beats are still the same, the goals are broadly speaking still the same, but Mad Games Tycoon adds enough of its own twists on the formula to make it stand out from the pack.
As far as the way the game works, it’s familiar enough if you’ve ever played a Tycoon or simulation game. Lots of menus and people and arranging office furniture and equipment. From a pure gameplay standpoint, Mad Games Tycoon is a very quintessential simulation game. Everything works really well here too, even when the screen starts to get ridiculously busy with notifications, hundreds of staff and densely packed rooms the game runs fine.
It’s under the hood where Mad Games Tycoon becomes a different beast. Just below the surface level is a game that’s doing things slightly differently from other simulation games (at least ones based on running a game development studio, anyway). Mad Games Tycoon is obsessed with choice and freedom. When you take control of your fledging studio the game starts out as so many of its stablemates do – start making video games, doing research and expanding, creating more complex and better-received games in the process.
The freedom becomes apparent almost immediately, as you’re given complete control over the layout of your building. You control how big the rooms are, where they go and what goes in them. There are no generic rooms in Mad Games Tycoon and it’s up to you to decide how to layout your studio for maximum efficiency, while still catering to the whims and desires of your employees (who will complain about everything from a lack of heating to the amount of TV available in the break room). Creating a more prestigious office with luxury items not only keeps employees happy, it also allows you to attract more skilful employees too.
The further into the game I went the more I was anticipating the moment when it would stop revealing new layers of complexity. I figured any minute I would stop being presented with new features or new ways to play the game. I was dead wrong. While I’m sure there will come a time when Mad Games Tycoon stops giving me new stuff, that time does not come swiftly. It boasts and incredible and hugely surprising amount of depth, so much so that I intend to heap unending praise on the development team for crafting such a deep and meaningful experience.
The number of directions you can take your little start-up development studio is staggering. Once you’re over the hump of establishing yourself in the games industry, and you have a couple of hits under your belt, the paths that open up to you are huge. You can continue on as a third-party developer, either producing your own IP and cutting publishing deals with studios such as Pony, Cupcom and others, or taking on projects from said developers. Or both.
However, Mad Games Tycoon goes much, much further than that. You can opt to enter the console wars, researching and developing your own console to bring to market, negotiating deals with other developers to release their games on your machine (as well as creating your own first-party titles, or not). You can become a publisher, responsible entirely for releasing your own games, or the games of others. Or both. You can buy out other studios and have them develop games for you.
You can create game engines for your games, or utilise other studios engines, even going as far as licensing them out for other developers to use for a fee and a share of the profits. There are so many ways to become a self-sustaining studio in Mad Games Tycoon. Becoming a thriving development studio is simply one path, rather than the be all and end all of the game. Heck, you can eschew game development altogether if you so choose. Not only is this a viable option to grow your business, but it can still make for a rewarding gameplay experience.
Whichever way you to choose to grow your studio in Mad Games Tycoon you will be met with a rich and rewarding experience. Going from the garage with a single development room and a small toilet to gigantic offices with multiple dev teams and massive departments for things like graphics, QA, console manufacturing and everything else. The rate at which advancements are spaced out during the game is fairly even and consistent, which just makes the game even more satisfying to play.
There are a few different ways that you unlock new research, new rooms for your studio or new ways to forge forward. The first and most obvious is time – technological advancements are unlocked as time progresses. Everything kind of advancement you can think of unlocks roughly when it’s supposed to throughout history. All of these upgrades can be researched if you’re intending to use them yourself in making games, different genres, consoles or engines. There’s also an in-game achievement system in place that locks off certain features until conditions are met – you’ll only get the ability to create sequels when you produce a game that is popular enough, for example.
Gameplay is simple and addictive. It’s easy to build rooms and create exactly the kind of studio you want. There’s a keen sense of progression as you outgrow each office space and move onto the next one, making more room for bigger staff and extra arms of development. My only complaint here is that constantly rebuilding your studio over and over can become a bit of a chore over time, though Eggcodes have mitigated this somewhat with some fairly ingenious small touches to lessen the frustration, such as the ability to have the game automatically fill rooms with furniture for you.
In fact there are some great little touches all over Mad Games Tycoon. Being able to hotkey groups of employees is a nice feature, allowing you to easily keep your teams together when you do move to a new office space. Several departments can be set on automatic to remove what can otherwise be frustrating micromanagement – marketing departments can repeat their advertising on games until hype levels are at maximum, research departments can be ordered to research random topics automatically and more.
What Mad Games Tycoon does brilliantly is to ensure that you’re constantly engaged in the game. There are very few moments when you’ll be sat back with nothing to do while your company runs on autopilot. In the beginning game design rests solely on your development department. You tell your devs what game you want to make (the name, genre, topics, etc.), what platforms to release on, the engine to use, what features to include and where to focus their efforts. As you go deeper into the game you’re able to expand your studio with art and music departments, motion capture studios, QA, marketing and a host of other rooms that can all influence the game.
A finished game is rated in a number of categories, such as music and technology, the higher the number the better your game. At first, these numbers live and die by the people in your development department. But as you unlock extra departments you can improve your games further by directing these various departments to get to work on your different projects. Suddenly it’s not just one room that’s responsible for the quality of your games but many. Directing all of these different teams and ensuring that games are hitting the highest levels of quality requires constant management, creating an addictive and highly rewarding gameplay loop that it’s difficult to break free from.
There’s a lot more that goes on in Mad Games Tycoon than what I’ve talked about here. While exploring the game and finding out everything it holds in store for you is one of the better parts of the experience, it can also be one of the most frustrating. For all of the downright brilliant features it contains, it sometimes feels like Mad Games Tycoon is doing its best to keep them hidden. The game does a good job of escorting you through the basics of gameplay but does nothing to advertise some of its best features. While this learning is a core part of the experience, it can be quite annoying when you realise some of the awesome features you might have missed out on earlier in the game.
Mad Games Tycoon is the best game development simulator on the market right now. It’s also among the best of the Tycoon-style games period. Don’t let its simple graphics fool you – this is one of the most complex games that has been launched this year. Everything from the number of features present in the game, to the level of freedom afforded players and the staggering amount of directions you can take your studio combines to create an incredibly deep experience. It’s also a rewarding one. The game is complicated but intuitive. Managing your studio as it continues to expand is a satisfying experience and one that is also highly addictive. Mad Games Tycoon is a very, very hard game to stop playing once you’ve started.
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