Face it: If there’s one genre of casual game competing with hidden object outings for the title of "most overdone" lately, it’s the time management category. And at first blush, Travel Agency certainly seems to make the same mistakes as so many forgettable mouse-mashers which have come before. But look beyond the throwaway storyline, general lack of personality and slow opening, and you might be surprised. For a largely forgettable endeavor, it’s still a well-executed take on the standard "click here, run there, rinse and repeat" formula that delivers decent thrills, once the excitement really gets up and running.
Never mind the fleeting plot, which involves a beautifully hand-drawn female hero’s quest to quit her dead-end corporate job and open a business dedicated to helping customers plan the perfect getaway. The most involved storytelling here comes from the actual day-to-day adventures you’ll have running the enterprise, as various types of temperamental patrons arrive and demand specific vacation packages.
Essentially, each self-contained, single-screen scenario simply involves tending to their needs (displayed in cartoon thought bubbles) as they arrive in swift succession, accomplished by clicking on a specific sequence of events required to meet each request. The faster you’re able to do so, the happier their mood meter – which drops the longer one takes – remains, and the more cash they’ll pay for your assistance. Naturally, progressing through each self-contained scenario simply involves meeting a minimum financial goal within the limited timeframe provided.
If the setup sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been done countless times before, and with much more flair and enthusiasm, by rivals like Miss Management and The Office. Partial blame lies with the tale’s general lack of ambience, with its pleasingly-rendered and -animated, but ultimately generic-looking backgrounds and uncharismatic stars failing to evoke passion in the viewer. (Don’t even get us started on the innocuous soundtrack, which sounds like one of those beat loops that comes automatically built into off-the-rack synthesizers, either.)
Still more falls on the shoulders of the scriptwriting team, for not elaborating further on the underlying plot or using storytelling devices like animated postcards or cinematic interludes to make you really feel like you’re whisking clients off to an array of exotic destinations. Really though, the biggest sin the title commits is that of failing to innovate. Apart from having to maintain workers’ stamina levels, keep them from occasionally slacking off/leaving their desks, build custom tour packages using multiple actions and putting out the odd fire (e.g. an air conditioning breakdown), there’s little to hold one’s interest on a long-term basis.
More’s the pity, as the game handles itself capably enough, responding swiftly to all prompts and running at a slightly faster clip than the average competitor. Challenge levels are high too, with scenarios forcing you to queue numerous actions in sequence, simultaneously juggle an ever-expanding array of tasks and eventually deal with a wide range of employees who work and tire at different speeds. Later stages also introduce more eye candy, as office accommodations automatically evolve and upgrade to reflect your business’ increasing success.
Nonetheless, it takes quite some time before you really start to see a lot of variety in terms of associates, travel packages and customer types (including our favorite, the lady who likes to make a scene, affecting fellow patrons’ outlook). Keeping this in mind, most will find themselves hard-pressed to persevere that far, with such a wide range of more eye-catching and immediately-rewarding alternatives available in mere minutes.
Take it for what you will: It’s not that Travel Agency is bad by any stretch, or even particularly underwhelming. The game just takes its sweet time getting to the good stuff, and does little to quickly build a sense of empathy or endearment with players used to instant gratification. As such, there’s little pressing need to sample the amusement, let alone commit to beating it, especially if you’re a desktop veteran. However, beginners and collectors may find it worth booting up for a look, if only to see why it’s important for developers to put as much effort into creating a sense of atmosphere as truly reflex-testing gameplay.