The last 12 years have not been kind to SimTower. Oh — did we mention The Tower SP is essentially a port of that game, which was originally called The Tower in Japan? Even more interesting, the Japanese have been playing it for the last couple of years already on the GBA, and only now are we Americans granted the bittersweet delight. Yet The Tower SP is proof that you can’t go home again. SimTower was a throwaway piece of entertainment on the PC in the mid-’90s amongst a slew of SimCity “inspirations.” Now, dozens of simulations later, it’s more of a nostalgic amusement than a proper game. In light of better sim titles on the GBA and other platforms, The Tower‘s tired gameplay is better left viewed through the rose-colored glasses of our fond memories.
The Tower SP is an economic sim in which you increase the size and income of your professional building to increase its size and number of residents. To “win,” you need to gain “tower” rating. The manual takes a more abstract approach: “In the modern fast paced world of today, we come across a lot of complex information that is difficult to explain with just words…” In 1994, these goals may have made sense in context, but the actual gameplay is far more simplistic. Starting with limited funds and workspace, you start to build up your edifice by adding offices, condos, fast food joints, and more, and connect it all with elevators, stairways and escalators.
The interface makes it easy to accomplish. The control pad moves the cursor around the screen, while the A button selects. Pressing the R button brings up your build menu, while pressing it again brings up the mode menu. From here, you begin by extending the lobby size and placing tenants above and below it. Tenants run the gamut from simple offices and condos to hotel suites and boutique shops. Other necessary facilities include vending machines, restrooms, security offices, and more. As you progress, more facilities will open up to you, and hopefully, generate more funds.
You also need to manage the happiness of your tenants, who will get stressed if things don’t run smoothly. There are a few reasons these folks will get irritable. A noisy burger joint is not likely to please the office next door, or there may not be enough bathrooms. However, the most common reason is that it’s just not easy to move around, which brings us to The Tower‘s central gameplay element: elevators. Transportation is clearly the most important aspect of your building design, and tenants unable to get around easily will chide you for it. As your ‘scraper grows, you’ll encounter a few methods of handling the traffic, such as sky lobbies that let people change elevators, or adding cars to your shaft.
The resulting product is too basic and moves too slowly to be engaging in this day and age. Many similar titles involve a bit of building and waiting as you generate funds, but most of them let you poke around or simply enjoy watching the process unfold. While you can check out and adjust things like prices, shop names, and other odds and ends, the options are so limited that it takes only a few minutes to go through them. Watching the tenants go about their business is simply no fun, because the game has been scaled to such a small size that there’s nothing to watch. A tenant is nothing more than a tiny collection of pixels — and bland ones at that. You can identify your cleaning crew because they hold what appear to be vacuum cleaners, but there’s no joy in watching the events as there is in SimCity, or even in GBA titles like The Urbz, or Bustin’ Out.