My fondness of the “Tropico” series should be well-known by now, especially by those who have been eagerly reading everything I’ve had to say about “Tropico 4.” Those who have know how deep, how complex, and how involved it can all be. While “Tropico”, “Tropico 3”, and “Tropico 4” all have similar play mechanics and are based around the same theme, “Tropico 2” dared to be different. Instead of ruling over a Banana Republic, “Tropico 2” tasks you with overseeing a pirate-themed empire. Granted, the game was released in 2003, but I believe it warrants a quick look especially now that “Tropico” product bundles exist. Does this game stand up well on its own, or is it the black sheep that no one cares to bring up during a family reunion?
Those who have played the original “Tropico” game will be familiar with the style of the main menu. Clicking on one menu option zooms the screen appropriately to an area of the room. Players will be able to participate in a campaign, play a sandbox game or scenario with conditions that can be set up beforehand, and adjust game options.
Just like the original “Tropico”, the game can be brutal until you get used to how the mechanics work. The campaign does help a bit in showing the player around, but some levels introduce difficulty spikes that may serve to frustrate a new player. I remember back in the day switching gears for this very reason and just playing sandbox over and over until I finally learned how the game was played. “Tropico 3” and “Tropico 4” have since catered to new players a bit by making gameplay a little more user-friendly, but newcomers to this game should be prepared to lose quite a few times…something us retro gamers are familiar with. Games of the time were much less user-friendly then they are now.
Like in any of the “Tropico” games, players will have the ability to pick an avatar and a set of traits. In this game however, you’ll have a list of famous pirates that you can choose from. Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses to consider and it’s possible that they’ll be killed off or captured in their travels. Further, you’ll be able to hire more avatars / pirates as you expand your on your little pirate empire.
Earning money in this game doesn’t involve exports, taxes, or rents. Instead, players will be building ships for the pirates on their island…each captain / avatar will be assigned their own ship. You’ll start out with one ship and a small number of pirates that you must keep happy by plundering for gold and building the appropriate buildings on your island. While you’re busy doing that, you’ll have a population of captives to keep content lest they revolt. It can be tough to balance the needs of both captives and pirates, as one building often serves to anger the other. Pirates, for example, like anarchy but hate order. Order is one thing that captives require to prevent them from revolting. I’ve often found that keeping sections of the island reserved for both factions works best.
As I indicated above, your primary source of income will be what your pirate ships manage to plunder in their travels. You can direct them to explore or capture important persons instead…in fact, the game forces you to. In order to build some of the buildings required to produce goods or make either faction happy, you’ll need to acquire captives who have mastered a particular field of study. This can be a pain in the behind, as it costs money to send your pirates on capture missions and you’ll have to do at least twenty times if you want every building unlocked. Progression in “Tropico 2” is very rigid in that unless you expand your empire in a certain way or order, you’ll run out of money and/or have captives revolt around mid-game. You can make money from exports, but this requires a specific building, one that requires a special captive skill to run and for you to reveal your hidden location to the factions scattered about the map.
The almanac, which is very important in the “Tropico” series, is a bit convoluted at times. Trying to draft pirates from your captives can be tedious, for example. You’ll be able to see each and every captive / pirate in your almanac under various categories and navigating these menus to perform different actions can be a chore. Still, one must keep in mind that the game was developed in 2003 and for an almanac of that time, it’s not half bad.
Keeping your pirates and captives happy is probably the biggest challenge I face, even today. Pirates gain rank as they bring gold back to their personal stash, which causes their tastes in entertainment to change over time. The animal pit you built might make pirates of a lower rank happy now, but eventually you’ll need something a bit more “high-class” to keep them happy. You can change the ranks buildings cater to via a drop down, adding even more micromanagement to a game that requires it in spades. “Tropico 2” is still a streamlined product when compared to the first game, but will still require your full attention. Raw goods still feed into production buildings, which produce different goods that feed into yet another building. After a few hours in, you’ll have resource chains out the wazoo and you’ll be struggling to meet demand without draining your resource pool and money.
In the end, “Tropico 2” is still a good game and can be fun ONCE you get used to how it plays. Its high learning curve may scare off casual players looking to just have fun playing pirates. It will reward those willing to stick with it, just like the original game did. If you’re tired of “Tropico 3” and “Tropico 4” but want more of the same with a different theme, then “Tropico 2” will fit the bill nicely.
Final Verdict: 7/10