Game Dev Story Review: Live the Dream
Game Dev Story, the sim management game from Kairosoft, sort of came out of nowhere. It’s not a concept that I would expect to work, from a studio I’ve never heard of, in a genre that isn’t one of my favorites. Despite it all, Game Dev Story delivers a really fun experience, one that lets all of us game developer wannabes “live the dream,” at least on our iOS devices.
In Game Dev Story, you take on the role of president of a brand new game company — Sunny Studios by default, though you will probably prefer to make your own name. Each game is twenty game-years long; during that time, you are tasked with trying to make as much money as you can, earn top scores from critics, and with the prestigious Game of the Year award.
If you’re like me, your first playthrough will feel random and frustrating. I tried everything — different game combos, outsourcing work, leveling employees, buying expensive power-ups — but even my most well-developed games earned no better than a 20 (out of 40) and couldn’t crack a million copies. I’d hire a graphic designer who never seemed to be able to actually score high on graphic design; I’d take contract work, only to have the employees fall one measly point short and waste months of in-game time. After ten years, my company was out of capital and low on fans, and I was ready to delete the game.
I think part of my initial frustration is that the game lacks a robust tutorial level – something to give more direction through the development of the first game (“The best combinations for games are X and Y” or “Before doing that, why not consider doing X?”). As it is, the game offers up some basic explanations but no tips for real success.
Undaunted, I started over (and it’s a testament to how much fun the game is, even in failure, that I *did* start over). This time, I figured it out. Focus on training employees and building audience. Develop a few core game genres and styles. Don’t develop for every platform. Buy plenty of Dead Bull (the game’s thinly-veiled energy drink). This time, by ten years in, my company was cranking out hits, swimming in cash, and about to develop its own console platform.
It was almost too easy the second time. And that would be my other big criticism of Game Dev Story: once you figure it out, there’s almost no way you can fail. Oddly, this doesn’t make the game less playable; my last ten years were a gleeful time of stupid success. But having achieved everything the game has to offer, I don’t know that I would replay again.
The game is presented in nifty retro 16-bit graphics that fit the gameplay well. Even though you’re basically staring at the same four walls the entire time, there’s enough to keep track of to keep the visuals lively. The game is accompanied by a beeping-and-blooping soundtrack that gets really annoying, really quickly; I didn’t play this game much with the sound up.
If you’re a gamer geek, if you’ve ever dreamed of being a game designer, or if you just like task management games, then you’ll want to check out Game Dev Story. The developers must have figured out the game pretty well, themselves, to have put out such a neat little title, and I look forward to their next venture.
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