Pirate ghosts, yeti-like snowmen and creepy pumpkin-creatures flying on brooms – no, this is not about Halloween, but Wonderburg, the latest resource management game by Shiny Tales. You must help Alisa, a young magician, and her friend Rudi, a dwarf, to get to the bottom of the mysterious force that is threatening the villages of their country. But does real estate management really work in a fairy tale world?
Wonderburg creates a country full of magic and mythical creatures, a colorful realm that has been rather harmonious. However, this state suddenly changes when threatening ghosts suddenly attack the villages bringing wicked curses, setting houses alight and freezing the homes of the residents. Alisa and Rudi decide to bend things straight in their beloved country by rebuilding the villages, protecting the people and chasing away their enemies. The game is framed by witty dialogue which slowly reveal the origin of the trouble Wonderburg is currently in.
The gameplay of Wonderburg is quite similar to popular titles like Build-A-Lot or Be Rich! In the course of the game you have to build houses such as shacks, homesteads, mansions and villas which will provide you with a regular rent depending on the type and the number of upgrades. One minor disappointment of the game is that the houses do not change their appearance when upgraded. This missing aspect definitely would have improved the presentation of the game, which already is of prime quality in any case.
It is not enough to just buy or build a house, because as in real life, houses get damaged or cursed. Okay, granted, the latter one is not so true-to-life, but still you have to repair houses or send Alisa and her aunts to lift various curses regularly, because no resident will pay you any rent if a house is in a bad shape.
In addition to the houses, there are various other buildings to construct throughout the game. Some of them, like the florist or the castle, are only available in one level and are strongly connected with the storyline. But there are also buildings which directly affect the gameplay and are a great support for your tasks, such as the workshop, the treasury or the school. For example, the workshop decreases the costs for training new dwarves, while the school enables you to cast spells and to charm houses, which are then protected against any curses.
These spells and the curses are the major new twist in Wonderburg. The villagers have to share the streets with the aforementioned ghost pirates, snowmen and other villainous characters. Those villains decide to walk straight into your houses and curse them on a regular basis. But they are not the only ones with magic forces – by building a school you will be able to cast spells like "speed-up" which will have this very effect on your hard-working dwarves. The spells and the curses are a sweet addition, however, they turn out to be not that important to be successful in the game and might be neglected by a lot of players as an option.
In terms of goals Wonderburg could have benefitted from more variation. The tasks to build a specific building, to earn a certain amount of money or to establish a rent are all but innovative. Furthermore, there is one level in every stage where an additional goal will appear after having finished one or more of the main goals, but these additional goals are all the same: you simply have to click on certain people walking across the streets, which surely is a cute idea and welcome distraction once or twice, but as this happens in every stage, it quickly creates a feeling of repetition.
What really distinguishes Wonderburg from its genre competitors is its fabulous presentation in every aspect. The music is highly uplifting, the animations of the people are very smooth and it is a sheer delight to watch the villagers, the dwarves and the ghosts scurrying around the villages. The graphics are simply amazing, and Wonderburg offers a versatile and entertaining world to the player, particularly because the landscapes keep changing throughout the different stages. In spite of being just a predictable placeholder, the storyline engages the player and remains interesting with a good dose of humor until the end.
Unfortunately the game lacks challenge, mainly because a similar strategy can be applied successfully to every level. This aspect slightly spoils the last few levels, which are comparatively long, yet easy to beat, not to speak of the untimed bonus levels where the only goal is to earn a large amount of money.
If the developers of Wonderburg had been more diligent in regard to innovation and complexity, the game could have pretended to the throne of Build-A-Lot. As it is, Wonderburg still delivers a top-notch gaming experience in a unique setting which can be recommended to every fan of the genre.