Reviewed: October 27, 2001
Released: September 10, 2002
As I was sitting at my computer watching the installation progress meter for Virtual Resort: Spring Break creep to the right I began to envision what kind of game awaited me. Iím no stranger to the Spring Break phenomenon. In 1985 and 1986 I was the poolside DJ at the Candy Store in Fort Lauderdale during two of the biggest Spring Breaks in the cityís history. You can still relive the excitement of this establishment by heading to your nearest video store and renting a copy of the movie ďSpring BreakĒ. Iím not in that movie, but itís the same bar and that movie inspired me to move to Florida and become a DJ.
Before I was hosting the world famous bikini and belly flop contests during the day and hosing down nubile young college girls for the wet T-shirt contest at night I managed to have a few good years of Spring Break fun drowning my brain cells in a sea of beer. As much fun as I had going to Spring Break, it was nothing compared to working there. Where else can you get paid to consort with a few hundred thousand party-loviní co-eds for six weeks out of each year?
My flashback ended as the installation concluded and I launched the game, prepared to create my ultimate hedonistic island paradise. As I meandered my way through the ďtutorialĒ (and I use that word very loosely) and then started the first scenario I had the distinct feeling of dťjŗ vu. Then I remembered a little game called Tropico that I had reviewed last year. It too was an island creation simulator but with a more serious agenda, including politics, economics, and even the threat of civil war.
Spring Break takes the very tiny tourism aspect of Tropico and makes it into a full freestanding game. Whereas tourism supplemented the economy of your islands in Tropico, it is the sole reason your island exists in this game.
In a nutshell, Spring Break is your typical tycoon-style game where you start with a clean plot of land and a few bucks. You then must develop this into a thriving pleasure resort with a careful balance of income and expenditures. Your target audience is an endless sea of wealthy college co-eds looking for booze, fun, love, and anything else you have to offer.
Spring Break Features:
Unlike most tycoon games where you get some nice instructions or an informative tutorial, Spring Break throws you to the wolves with virtually no instructions or guidance of any kind. Sure, they have a tutorial, but itís basically a few stripped down scenarios with some simple objectives. The 50-page manual does a decent job of listing all the building blocks that make up your dream resort, but without seeing how these items go together in an interactive demo makes this game as intuitive as me giving you a parts list for a Chevy big-block and telling you to build me an engine.
The first tutorial mission gives you a partially completed resort and gives you three days to build one of each building (that isnít already built) on the island. Thatís it! No more help for you. In all fairness, the game isnít brain surgery and you can muddle your way through the iconic interface and figure things out eventually, but a little narrative would have gone a long way, and given the nature of the game there would have been plenty of opportunities for humor.
The good news (and hopefully I didnít scare you all off with the previous paragraphs) is that once you finally do figure out how everything works in this game you are going to have one helluva good time. Spring Break takes all the fun stuff from all those other tycoon games and leaves out the messy political infrastructure, and killer economics model that tend to put casual gamers to sleep. If Railroad Tycoon is for business majors, and Tropico is for poly-sci majors then Spring Break is for college dropouts and binge-drinking frat boys.
To create the ultimate Spring Break getaway you need to attract both men and women. Every building you put on your island has a specific level of interest to either sex. You need to carefully plan your island layout or you may end up running a convent or a sausage festival. Men are easy to please. Give them some beer, some women, and the nightly wet T-shirt contest and you will have money flying out of their pockets. Women are looking for cleanliness, places to shop, nice restaurants, and a nice beach to layout in the sun.
You start off each island with some basics like a power plant and a hotel. Once the people start arriving you need to find new and improved ways to get them to stay longer and spend more of their money. Early in the game I learned to view selected individuals as they left my island. I noted how much money they were leaving with and what they were looking for (or wanted) from my island. Once you realize that 50 people wanted to buy souvenirs it doesnít take long to build that souvenir shop next to the dock. Kaíching!
The various building available in Spring Break are all typical to your tourist-trap environment. You start off small with a soda or ice cream stand then move on to cafes, pubs, nightclubs, and giant outdoor pavilions that will have MTV knocking at your door for a live broadcast.
Once you get a steady flow of tourists visiting your island you have to carefully manage expansion versus maintenance. About 20-30 minutes into any scenario and the game instantly turned into ďBathroom Simulator 2002Ē. The telltale sounds of flies buzzing around my island and the thumbs down bubble of the guests as they stumbled out of my public toilets kept me constantly glued to my Cleaning Staff screen. Iím pretty sure I had one employee per toilet and they were on a one-hour cleaning rotation.
Stinky toilets are only half of your problems. College kids are messy Ė drunk college kids are PIGS! Even if you have one cleaning person per guest following them around with a wastebasket and stick with a nail in the end, you are eventually going to have beaches and sidewalks littered with cups and other trash. Youíll need a carefully scheduled cleaning staff to work around the clock to keep your paradise from looking like hell.
You can get detailed stats about any building or structure including how much money itís costing you to run and how much money itís making for you. In the case of the aforementioned toilets you can even tell how many people are using them between cleanings. Structures that sell products like food, drink, souvenirs, and suntan lotion allow you to adjust pricing for maximum profit. Youíd be surprised what a drunken frat boy will pay for a hamburger.
Construction and maintenance are probably your two biggest issues in owning and operating your own island of iniquity. You are going to need a large, well-paid workforce to get those buildings built when and where you need them. You can opt for splitting your workers across multiple shifts for 24-hour construction or just have a flurry of workers from 8-5. Since most of your money is made during the evening hours it is quite easy to fall into the pattern of spending your money on expansions during the day and watching the party at night.
There are all sorts of interrelated dynamics in this game, both in prerequisites for construction and how the population acts and reacts to the available attractions. People complain about leaving the beach with sand on them so you naturally want to build a shower, but to build a shower you first have to build a beach bar. Are your tourists drowning or becoming shark bait? Better add a few more lifeguard towers on the beach.
Another interesting dynamic in Spring Break is daytime versus nighttime activities. Considering I charge $200 a day for a hotel room ($175 for a bungalow) these rich college kids only see their rooms when they drop off their bags and when the pick them up on their way home. During the day you will see the crowds of people converge on the beaches, renting chairs, pedal boats, jet skis, or anything else you have to offer.
Once the sun goes down there is a short period before all hell breaks loose and your nightclubs start to overflow, DJís kick the hottest tunes, bands play to crowds of drunken dancers, and couples hook-up and find that romantic puke and litter free corner of the island to make out.
While you can try to be proactive, much of this game is reactionary. You constantly need to survey the unhappy people and find out why they are unhappy and try to fix it. Is Biff bummed about beer prices? Knock a buck off and heíll drink twice as much and youíll make even more. Is that horny group of sorority sisters having trouble finding some hunky dudes? Set up a party cruise and watch them drop the big bucks to try and meet Mr. Right.
The scenarios all have fun objectives that are as juvenile as the concept of Spring Break. You might be quested to turn a dying resort around in under a month or it could be something as simple as getting x-many partiers drunk and screwing on the beach (yes, you do see couples getting it on in PG13 action).
Spring Break has some good graphics that feature excellent details despite being victim to a fixed camera and limited resolution options. I was most distressed that you cannot rotate the camera in this game. You are cursed to view your island from the same angle the entire duration of your scenario. Fortunately, it doesnít create any problems for building placement.
The buildings and other scenic objects you can place around the island are all exquisitely detailed. You can rotate them to suit you design needs and they all have their own unique control menu associated with them.
The best part of the visuals has to be the animation. The population of your island is forever in motion whether it be a construction crew hammering away at the new beach barbeque, a janitor picking up trash on the beach or any of the hundreds of guests doing any of hundreds of actions. They will eat, drink, fight, kiss, swim, vomit, dance, and fidget in long lines waiting for another beer.
As I sit here typing this I have the game running in the background and a girl walks onto the beach. She pulls out a towel (from her g-string) and lays it out on the sand then stretches and removes her bikini top. Even with three levels of zoom you canít manage to get close enough to earn this game an M rating. She lies out for a while then gets up, puts on her top and stuffs the towel back into that g-string. She wanders around the beach for a few seconds then a thumbs down appears. I check her stats and she wants a shower. She wanders around some more and another thumbs down appears. Now she wants a drink.
The construction interface is simple with buildings grouped by function. There is a large scenery menu you can open to landscape your island with trees, shrubs, park benches, billboards, trash cans and many more objects that donít necessarily make you any money, but do influence your guests, especially the females.
One of the nicest touches in Spring Break is the night-day cycle. The entire island gradually changes from the white-hot glow of the afternoon sun to the red glow of sunset. Then as dusk falls you will see your island begin to light up in preparation for the nightlife to come. You can place bonfires on the beach and torches along the paths. You can do all sorts of landscape lighting effects to create a truly spectacular lightshow.
The designers have even tossed in a snapshot feature that lets you bring up a virtual camera. Pan and zoom around the island taking snapshots of your masterpiece, or just get a few Polaroidís of that couple screwing under the lifeguard tower. You can use these images to create postcards and send to your friends.
The sounds of Spring Break are pretty much indistinguishable, both in the real world and in this game. For the most part you have the generic buzz and murmuring of hundreds of peopling milling about the beaches and island interior. You can zoom in and hear sounds specific to some building types and recreational objects.
Music comes in the form of 12 MP3 files (6 for day and 6 for night). These are very good but will grow old after the first or second mission. The good news is that you can play any of your own MP3 files using the custom MP3 player. These MP3ís can be assigned to day or night playlists and you can even set specific clock times for each song to start playing.
The only bad part about this entire setup is that you must copy any MP3ís you want to play into the music sub-directory under the game installation. This is somewhat annoying when I have 20,000 MP3ís on my E: drive and I donít feel like copying them to my C: drive. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future patch.
There are 12 challenging scenarios for you to master in Spring Break. Only the first three are available to you when you start and the rest will have to be unlocked by successfully completing your mission objectives. Scenarios can range from 30 minutes to several hours depending on how efficient you are. Once the goals are completed you can continue to develop that island for as long as you wish or save it and come back later.
There is also a Sandbox mode that lets you create your own custom resort, free from the confines of any scenario objectives. You can choose only the islands that you have previously unlocked in the regular game. While this offers some minor replayability it is nothing compared to what a random terrain generator or map editor would have provided.
Virtual Resort: Spring Break is the kind of game you want to play when you just want to have some good adolescent fun. There are no empires to build, no wars to wage, and no political campaigns to waste your time. All you need to do is make sure the beer is cold, the women are hot, and your employees are reasonably happy and you have your formula for success. Sure itís simple, but so is this game, which is why itís so much fun.