Everyone has heard of SimCity right? The game where you spend hours building vast empires using residential, commercial, and industrial zones coupled with schools, hospitals, and stadiums only to narcissistically watch your sims flee in terror from the Godzilla disaster you unleash when you’re ready to start fresh with a new map?
The Tropico series is similar in that it is a city builder game however the gameplay mechanics are vastly different and in my opinion, highly addictive.
The series started back in 2001 with Tropico for Windows 95/98 and Mac. Anyone looking at it now will consider the graphics vastly outdated however in its day Tropico was quote unquote gorgeous to look at by gaming standards.
Tropico is a city management game that takes place on an island. You can choose from premade scenarios or play a sandbox map adjusting the difficulty and map perimeters as you see fit. You are a dictator in charge of running the island. The main objective is simple, make money without pissing off your Tropicans to the point where they’ll revolt. You can build various types of farms, ranches, logging camps, mining camps, factories, and other money-making buildings to make this possible. To keep your people happy, you have access to clinics, churches, pubs, apartments, houses, and other buildings that see to the needs of your Tropicans. I’m going to say this now…to the uninitiated, it’s not as easy as it sounds. You have wages and rents to manage, a military to grow to fend off rebel attacks, and other challenges on top of keeping your balance sheet out of the red.
When I discovered the game I was hit with a steep learning curve, having to restart my scenarios multiple times until I figured out how things worked. After I understood the mechanics the game never stopped getting old. I still went back to the game periodically until Tropico 3, a remake of the original Tropico, was released in 2009. What happened to Tropico 2 you ask?
Tropico 2 was released in 2003 and went with a pirate themed city builder. It’s not a bad game and to its merit kept me entertained for many months, in fact I still come back to it when I am looking for something a little different. It has its own learning curve however and the mechanics are somewhat different from Tropico, Tropico 3, and Tropico 4.
Tropico 4 was released in 2011 and feels like a clone of Tropico 3. They added a few new buildings and a new campaign but people who played Tropico or Tropico 3 will be able to jump right in and know how to run things. There were a lot of people who complained that they were being forced to pay forty bucks for a Tropico 3 clone and argued that the extra content could have qualified as cheaper DLC. Are they right? Possibly. On the other hand, the gaming industry has done this for years. Remember Street Fighter II in the arcade? Die hard fans of that series will remember shelling out money for another full priced Street Fighter II game just because it had TURBO after it. You had access to a few new characters, could increase the game speed, and change the color of your character’s outfits to a secondary color. You also had Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II: Turbo…you get the idea. Regardless…people still paid full price for each game and this was back in the 1990′s.
History lesson aside, if you’re new to the Tropico series, Tropico 4 will provide a challenge to those who love city builders. You can build a free society and please the masses or rule via the military and keep your subjects in line with martial law. You can enact ordinances like social security to help your non-working Tropicans afford housing. Instead of exports you can make money by bringing tourism to the island by building hotels, attractions, and other forms of entertainment. You can be a cheap SOB and reduce your worker’s wages to save money at the expense of your approval rating, which affect your chance of being re-elected (should you hold an election). Tropico is like SimCity on steroids, complete with Latin-style Dominican music.
If you’re on the fence about spending twenty to forty bucks on this game (depending on online sales, store prices, etc) give Tropico 3 a whirl. It’ll be cheaper and the gameplay is almost identical.
Be on the lookout for a separate blog that goes into the mechanics in detail, along with some helpful tips to get you started.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You can view play sessions here: