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Build-a-lot (DS) artwork

Build-a-lot (DS) review

"Build-a-lot is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it – and also repetitive."

Build-a-lot. Rarely has a title of a game been so blunt. Yet, that’s what you will be overseeing for much of this business simulation as a real estate mogul.

It’s a game that is easy to pick up, and as you might expect, it’s one that places a great deal of focus on making money in the housing market. The most obvious way to do this is to build houses, provided you have the required materials and workers at your disposal. You can build a variety of them – single-floor “ramblers”, mansions, even castles – each type with differing costs. For example, castles cost way more to build than Tudor homes. Finished houses can be upgraded up to four times (measured in stars), rented out for a small sum periodically, or sold for a quick profit.

The money you rake in will often go towards ordering replenishing your materials supply to construct more buildings or expanding your workforce to multi-task more ably, though purchasing other properties is another – sometimes highly beneficial – option. Demolishing a building frees up space for you to build something else, while upgrading a home and selling it on will earn you some extra cash for you to spend.

There are other more public buildings available for you to create, should you wish to. Workshops cut the time to perform jobs as well as the cost of employing new workers. One sawmill under your possession will half the cost of materials, while the shorter transportation times associated with it are an added bonus. And banks occasionally net you interest from whatever money you have on you. If you set one bank on ‘donate’ mode, you will be exempt from paying taxes.

But the game is not just about making as much cash as you can, at least not in the career mode. Here, you visit eight neighbourhoods over the 35 levels, fulfilling goals set by the mayor in charge under time deadlines. (The final mayor, an aging actor wearing shades, looks alarmingly like David Caruso’s Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami.) And while generating a certain amount of money is a common goal, you’ll be asked to do an assortment of tasks, whether it be accumulating a rental income of $200,000, hiring twelve workers, building three four-star mansions, constructing a local fire station, or something else. From time to time, the mayor likes to be a pain in the backside midway through a level and throws a curveball at you. So-and-so has told me she’s coming over to visit, so build a fully upgraded Tudor home for me, thanks!

In truth, this doesn’t make the levels that much harder. Build-a-lot is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it – and also repetitive. You see, while it gives the impression that the goals you have to fulfil are varied, and while it encourages strategic thinking so that you can achieve everything before time runs out, you can get away with doing pretty much the same thing each level. This is because most of these goals overlap with each other, and as a result, you will rarely have to change your strategy save for some slight tweaks. As you’re trying to accumulate a rental income of $200,000, chances are you will be hiring a large number of workers. Chances are you will be building and fully upgrading mansions. Chances are you will be making sure there aren’t any empty lots left. Chances are you will be inspecting each property to ensure that you won’t need to perform annoying repairs. With a large rental income, chances are you will be ending up with a substantial amount of cash, certainly more than enough for you to develop the blueprint and build that fire station. So provided that you have a good strategy at building up your rental income quickly, you will be coasting through almost all of the game.

For the first 34 levels, I finished all my goals comfortably within the time limit. The only level that I narrowly failed on my first attempt was the final and 35th one, but I succeeded the second time with a little more efficiency in my execution. It’s not all that tricky to complete the career mode, and of course, doing the same thing over and over does eventually get stale, no matter how slightly aesthetically different the neighbourhoods look or how much larger they are.

There’s also a casual mode, where you’re set a money target to hit and where your best times are recorded for the six stages. It’s not something you’d come back to, especially since this mode also suffers the problem whereby you can reach your targets quickly with just one single strategy. Because the only thing you have to worry about is how quickly you can make money, I found that the easiest way to increase your earnings, especially in the later levels, is to steadily build a bunch of banks. Every thirty seconds, each bank gives you roughly 10% interest. Make sure you have a sizeable amount of money in your pocket, and watch your wallet grow exponentially! Lather, rinse, repeat. The fifty million dollar goal becomes so much simpler.

It’s disappointing that Build-a-lot doesn’t have that much depth to it, because it does some things spot-on. The game is one of the most accessible I’ve played on the DS, thanks to a simple concept and some great stylus controls that make navigating menus and building a breeze. The dual screens are also used intelligently – the interface never feels cramped with all the figures and goals displayed on the top screen and the neighbourhood map on the bottom. It is an admirable port of a casual PC game. But while Build-a-lot is not a bad game, once you’ve got it sussed out, there isn’t much challenge left.


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Freelance review by Freelance Writer (September 23, 2009)

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