Reviewed: January 13, 2003
Released: June 28, 2002
Ah, the tropics! A region of freedom and oppression, harmony and strife. Who wouldn’t want an island of their own, to govern as they wish? Tropico gave the world that experience when it was released in the Summer of 2001. In a style similar to the Sim City titles, players had to stay in the office of El Presidente´ while managing the economy and general citizen morale on their isle.
The Tropico: Paradise Island expansion was released not long afterwards and in addition to a handful of new quick play scenarios, structures and building options, Paradise Island instituted some very welcome gameplay tweaks including a slightly faster building speed for structures.
Now both products have been combined into the definitive version, Tropico: Mucho Macho Edition. This new version takes all the goodness of the original and its expansion and throws in more than two hours of original Latin beats, 12 new scenario maps (for a total of over 35) and the official Brady Games strategy guide in .pdf format on the game cd. Reign or ruin, the future of Tropico is in your hands.
Tropico plays in a manner similar to those other nation building titles in that you have to acquire resources (money) and use them to build housing, offices, various industries and travel facilities. Unlike Sim City however, the people of Tropico have nearly as much power as their ruler. If you do poorly at any aspect of your job you can expect the citizens to become unhappy and their happiness is your job security. So finding the proper balance between lining your pockets, filling the treasury and placating the population is key.
One of the cool things Tropico offers is the wide variety of special scenario maps. Each one either places you into a difficult situation or has certain conditions that must be met, such as skimming $100,000 into your Swiss bank account or have 2,000 tourists visit your isle within 50 years. While some of these scenarios have a difficulty that borders on the ridiculous, most are quite manageable once you give them a little thought. Plus, if you’re stuck, the strategy guide is right on the disk to bail you out.
The open-ended game mode places you in the presidential palace and basically lets you develop your island however you like. Turn it into the largest tourist trap in the Caribbean or become a center of industry; it’s up to you. No mater which path(s) you chose, there are plenty of tools available to further you goals. Need to swing an up coming election in your favor? Issue a tax cut or hand out some bribes to the right people. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. may also play a key role in your success/demise. Aligning yourself with one of the super powers will likely earn you the disfavor of the other but will result in an increased cash flow onto your island.
At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about, acquiring more cash to keep your people happy. Not that the money itself will make them happy, they could be making the princely sum of $25/month, but if they are living in a shack they won’t be very enthusiastic about life. The citizens of Tropico are independent and have free will. In other words, you can’t just order them to take a job at the pineapple plantation you built on the other side of the island. They have to be enticed to make the journey, offer high wages and better housing, but even under a dictatorship, your people have the power to make or break you. If they become too unhappy they may go out and form a rebel faction that will result in more problems, as the rebels will occasionally attack various facilities around your city. This problem can be compounded if your military is nearly nonexistent and doesn’t have the numbers to fight off an attacking rebel force. Worse still, if some of your military personnel become hostile towards you, they may try and stage a coup.
Filling your island with profit generating, tourist attracting venues and industry is definitely the way to keep the treasury full, but the real power comes from the game’s Edict Menu. By issuing a presidential Edict you can institute a social security system or have the other candidate in an upcoming election rubbed out. An Edict can frequently allow you to come from behind to win an election without having to resort to rigging the vote. Other useful edicts will promote trade or grant amnesty to rebels and all of them are extremely well integrated into the game and make sense. Of course the most useful Edict is probably the “special” building permit which allows for skimming 10% of the building costs into your Swiss “Retirement” account.
One thing that about Tropico’s gameplay model that I liked was the fact that there weren’t many times where I was just sitting around waiting for something to happen. There are always salaries to adjust, workers to hire and potential threats to your power to… “deal with.” Hurricanes will sweep over your little piece of the Caribbean leaving buildings that need to be replaced, and it’s always a good idea to observe the most unhappy of your Tropicans and see if you cant make their lives better. Some players may not enjoy the game’s focus on micromanagement in some areas, but it doesn’t usually get annoying.
While Tropico’s visuals are starting to look fairly dated, they still feature a high amount of detail. You can zoom in close enough to count the leaves on the trees. The environments have a very organic feel to their textures and the jungle looks pretty good. The characters feature a decent amount of detail for a nation building sim but sometimes it feels like they could have used a few more frames of animation.
There is a glitch in the map scrolling that causes an irritating lag if you try to scroll or rotate the view and the effect is more pronounced the closer you are zoomed in. Also, if my lovely Isle is going to be flattened by a hurricane every once and a while, it would be cool to see the damage actually happening. As it stands, the island is obscured by clouds and when they blow away, some of my buildings are destroyed, I was really looking for a little more of a show.
The high quality of Tropico’s audio work is nearly reason enough to give this title a shot. The game flaunts (and rightly so) more than 2 hours of original Latin grooves, too bad they didn’t include a sound track CD in this collection, though according to the manual it is available online through the Take 2 Store. Seriously, the game’s music is easily as good as that found in Grim Fandango or Metriod Prime.
The sounds associated with industry and daily life are all present and are recreated convincingly. Also what little voice work there is, is very well done and really helps to get you attached to your island and its people. The instructor for the opening tutorial had an authentic accent with some of the funniest comments in the game.
At a price point under twenty bucks, Tropico: Mucho Macho Edition offers a lot of bang for your gaming buck. The wide variety of special scenario maps will keep you challenged for quite a while and the open ended game is definitely my favorite since Sim City 2000. If you’re into god games or nation builders you should definitely give Tropico a try if you haven’t already, and if you have played it in one of its previous forms, it may be worth giving the definitive version a shot.
Being El Presidente´ may be a tough job, but the folks at Pop Top and Break Away Games have created a highly enjoyable nation building sim. While the visuals are starting to show their age, Tropico Mucho Macho Edition’s sonic excellence almost makes you overlook its few shortcomings. Bottom line; “Visit Tropico, where You rule.”