Build-a-lot: On Vacation features
After an unexpected break from the Build-a-lot series, developer HipSoft is back with Build-a-lot: On Vacation. The sixth installment of the popular casual building sim franchise could work very well under the title Full Circle, too, because it bears more similarity to the earlier games. We found this approach rather refreshing and welcome as opposed to a step backwards.
Build-a-lot games have always boasted a generous number of levels and modes, but Build-a-lot: On Vacation takes things even further. Apart from the main campaign there is also an expert campaign and a quick mode to be unlocked, along with the usual casual mode. There are 65 timed level, and you can earn a speedy ribbon for finishing them quickly, but there’s no penalty for going slowly, either.
Players who are familiar with the genre will immediately pick up the familiar gameplay because the core is very similar to the original Build-a-lot, and most of the well-meant but rather annoying features from Power Source and Elizabethan Era (rather pointless farms or power outages, anyone?) have been removed. Basically the player has to construct houses which will result in a regular income. This money can then be spent in new materials and workers to build even more expensive houses, which can also be sold for profit.
This could make for a cumbersome and easy experience if it weren’t for some smart features and additional buildings. Houses can be painted and landscaped (if you have built a garden center) or upgraded three times to increase their value and rent. A workshop will diminish the price for workers while a sawmill makes the purchase of materials much cheaper. There are also varying structures such as picnic parks or tennis courts which will increase the appeal (and rent) of nearby houses.
The two most significant changes in Build-a-lot: On Vacation include the Real Estate Office along with zoned lots. The former building allows you to appraise or stage houses. Appraising houses will increase their value, while staging will keep the price for which you can sell a house fixed, no matter how many other houses and lots are for sale at that moment. So one new building might sound a bit poorly, these possibilities open up a slew of new strategies which give the game an entirely fresh feeling. Furthermore this office allows the player to purchase any house with a double offer, even if it is not for sale, which means that one of the most frustrating issues of all former parts in the series has been resolved.
With regards to the zoned lots it’s the addition of industrial zones that makes Build-a-lot: On Vacation more interesting. Those special lots will neutralize the negative appeal of industrial buildings, so some lots will be of great importance to beat a level where a high appeal is one of the goals. Furthermore there are also the familiar premium lots, which will increase both the value and rent of any house built upon them.
Finally there are also what could be called forest lots – you can either harvest them for materials and money, or you can leave them be. In some levels it is even a goal to possess a certain number of forest lots, so you are also able to reforest empty lots. The goals of Build-a-lot: On Vacation are highly varied and rarely unfair, even though you have to take into account that new goals will be added later on in any level on a regular basis.
One aspect that has been a point of critique throughout the series concerns the atmosphere. While Build-a-lot: On Vacation features crisp and colorful graphics, this sequel still seriously lacks animations and a livelier scenery in general. I know some neighborhoods are supposed to be calm, but no animals, no people, no cars, and the workers still represented by hard hats? Furthermore houses still look the same way when upgraded which also takes away the visual reward of doing so.
In the end fans of the first parts of this series will be delighted by the small but significant additions and the removal of annoying features which complicated the game in an unnecessary way. Despite some old problems Build-a-lot: On Vacation convinces as an entertaining and solid building simulation which still surpasses similar titles of this genre easily.