Once upon a time a company called HipSoft had the crazy idea to develop a casual game about real estate management. For sure a lot of people asked themselves: "Who would actually play a game with such a dull topic?" Well, with the recent release of Build-a-lot 4: Power Source, which is the fourth installment of what is now one of the most successful (and copied) series in the casual game market, HipSoft can proudly answer: "Everyone and her brother!"

Build-a-lot 4 features four different campaigns, namely Tutorial, Main, Challenge, and Expert campaign, all in all offering a healthy 68 levels. On top of that, players can even chose between timed and casual mode, which means that people who don’t necessarily like games with hectic paces can enjoy it nevertheless. 

The basic premise of the game hasn’t changed much, and should be both instantly familiar to fans of the series and easy to adapt to for newcomers. By ordering materials and training workers, you are able to construct houses like A-Frames, Craftsmans or expensive Apartments, which then offer you a regular income. The most important new feature of Build-a-lot 4 is the addition of energy as another crucial resource. To supply your buildings with enough energy you have to construct power generators such as Wind Farms, Solar Towers or Nuclear Reactors. If you are at risk of running low on energy there will be a warning sound, quickly followed by a blackout of the whole neighbourhood, during which time you won’t earn any rent.

There are also various ways to increase the rent of houses, such as upgrading them with fancy interior accessories and colorful paintings, or adding beautiful gardens. Apart from that there is also the possibility to upgrade your houses with energy savers, which do not affect the rental income, but noticeably lower the amount of energy a house needs. Other than rent, the appeal of a neighbourhood is of major importance. It can either be increased by painting and landscaping houses, or by building recreations such as Public Pools, Tennis Courts, or Amphitheaters.

However, houses are not necessarily your only resource of income in Build-a-lot 4. Bakery, Cinema, Grocery Store and Boutique provide you with a massive amount of income, too, though their rent cycle takes longer than that of houses. Finally, there are buildings like the Workshop, the Tech Center, the Recycle Center or the Business Center whose construction activates even more advantages and strategies for the player.

What makes Build-a-lot 4 even more challenging and addicting than its predecessors are the vast variety of goals, the remarkable number of distinct strategies the player can try to beat certain levels, and the numerous factors the player has to consider while playing. Bad surprises like additional goals that appear in the midst of a level can force the player to immediately restart the level, because the current strategy does not work anymore under the new circumstances, but these unexpected challenges just add to the fun.

The game requires the player to keep an eye on the level goals, the remaining time to finish a level, the energy reserves, the materials, and the condition of houses at the same time, so that each level is very hectic and demanding from the very beginning. The fact that it seems as if time is flying by is of course good and bad. Good, because this proves a really engaging game, bad, because it can be really frustrating to finish some of the more complicated levels, especially in the challenge and expert campaign.

However, there are two main flaws which slightly diminish the otherwise great rating of Build-a-lot 4. Firstly, the quality of the graphics has not changed at all compared to previous games. The appearance of houses still does not change after star-upgrades, and the maps are rather inanimate, without cars, inhabitants, or animals that would normally enrich every neighborhood.

Secondly, the energy-feature feels a little bit incomplete. The player can only estimate if there are still enough energy reserves. There is no way to check this before the warning sound, which indicates that the next construction will cause a blackout, and then it is already too late. Fixed and visible numbers with regards to the energy reserve bar, how much energy the different power generators provide, and consumption numbers for all the buildings would have been a much better solution for this issue.

Altogether, we nevertheless strongly recommend Build-a-lot 4: Power Source, even if you have already played the three previous games. Despite some minor points of criticism the game still manages to deliver a top notch gaming experience, and you won’t feel like you have already played this three times before. Give it a shot and the game will provide you with easily more than twenty hours of intense gameplay and fun.

For similar games, try Wonderburg, Be Rich!, Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe, and Plan it Green.