For as long as I can remember, simulation games were always a big deal on the PC. From ‘Sim City’ to ‘Theme Park' to ‘the Sims’, they have been a staple genre, full of fun games which allowed you to release your inner captain of industry. Now, I already know that you love a good Shopping Mall, but have you ever wanted to actually build one? Or, having made the decision to build one, have you found yourself slightly short of the $1.3 billion dollars or relevant expired required to pull the trigger? Well, then Mall Tycoon is the game for you!

Released in 2002 by Take-Two Interactive, Mall Tycoon gives you an empty 3D slate upon which you can paint your dream Mall. You get to decide what stores are inside (a total of fifty options are available to you), as well as what kind of entertainment you want to offer the public, who will slowly start to drip into the brand new Centre as it grows. Be careful though, you are prone to alien invasion and even a zombie attack, of which you’ll need to take care at great personal expense. It’s not the prettiest game in the world, but once you get the hang of things it’s pretty darn fun.

The title screen doesn't exactly make a great impression!

Take-Two Interactive was a small publisher who formed in the early nineties, but didn’t do very much until they hit the jackpot when they bought the ‘Civilisation’ series from Infogrames - the godfather of simulation games still to this day. They remain hugely successful with many big name games, including original games produced by their own in-house developer ‘Rockstar Games’, such as ‘Red Dead Redemption’. Mall Tycoon itself was made by a small game creator named Holistic Design. Unfortunately they didn’t fare quite as well as Take-Two and nowadays concentrate entirely on their table-top RPG titles.

So at the very start of the game, you get to decide if you want to run an already constructed Mall or if you want to start from the ground up. The decision is obvious. You get to choose three levels of difficulty, but quite frankly it’s hard enough to make any sort of large profit on easy. You lay out your floor-plan with floor tiling (of which you have dozens to choose from), walls and entrances. Once you have your basic structure, and we suggest starting off small and slowly expanding because you have a shockingly small amount of initial cash, you can then turn your attention to all of the internal goodness you want to install.

You can build all of the vitally necessary structures for a good Shopping Centre, including things like atriums, food court, escalators, bathrooms, cinemas and the indispensable Mall fountain. You can then start to build the meat and potatoes - the stores. They can be anywhere from tiny little boutiques to full-on department stores. You also get to decide what the stores will sell and, depending on what you’re selling, the game will make a suitable storefront and interior for you automatically. It is always greatly satisfying to see an empty space transform into a fully-fledged store.

Various screens allow you to tweak and adjust in-Mall promotions

Of course no Mall is complete without a fountain!

The more you zoom into the plan, the more detail you will see - of course it’s always fun when you’re zoomed in as close as possible. It’s great, for instance, to watch the atrium change with every seasonal promotion. There are various info and settings screens, where you can set certain promotions in your Mall in the relevant months of the year and you can also control your budget and see how many visitors you’re getting as well as their demographic information. If you dig a little, you will find plenty of goodies with which to fiddle - just be careful, especially with things like loans and other financial nonsense.

You can’t beat the rush of your first visitor; you can click on every person and the game will give you a rundown of what they’re doing, how much they’re spending and also things such as their sex and age. You also decide on how many staff each store will require to take care of your valuable shoppers - there really is a great deal of tweaking you can do as you progress. That being said, at some point you will enjoy just sitting back and watching your creation flourish. I could honestly spend hours watching people buzzing around my brand new Mall!

Budget control is easily the hardest part of Mall Tycoon

There is no prouder moment than when you first see shoppers strutting their stuff in your newly formed Shopping Centre!

Now, the game is not all rainbows and butterflies - the first thing you will notice is that the sound effects are incredibly annoying. The jarring construction noise which replays every time you click your mouse will eventually make you want to put your head through your monitor. Luckily it is easy enough to get around. The graphics are also not the best for 2002 - despite specifying quite hefty computer requirements it really is quite muddy and simplistic. This is echoed in the opening screen, which quite frankly makes it look like it belongs in the bargain bin with all of the other ‘insert name here’ tycoon games of the mid-90s to mid-00s.

With all of it’s flaws, though, it is truly an endearing game. Sure, there is some tedium involved, but if are anything like me, pouring over my Mall, checking the progress of each individual store and watching happy shoppers wandering around negates all of the negatives I have of the game. Once you’ve got to grips with how everything works - which does take some time - it is just great fun to play. There are also little details dotted all around the Mall once it’s in full swing - just check out what’s happening in the tattoo parlour if you have chosen to build one!

Unfortunately, most critics do not agree with me - they really were not fond of Mall Tycoon, with most giving the game middle-of-the-road scores or worse. Most site the fact that there seems to be very little to the game once you’re about half an hour in. I would say that sure, you can spend an hour on the game, set up your Mall and be relatively successful. However, you can put so much more into it and, if you put the work in, you can have your very own multi-level, 200 store Megamall on your computer screen. Unfortunately, the critical hammering did not do much for the game’s popularity and it didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

However, it was just successful enough for the creators to have two further goes at the game, producing two sequels, all of which added upon the original concept and gave you even more control over the Malls you create, and allowing you to get even closer into your stores. Maybe my judgment is skewed due to the fact that I love Shopping Malls, but I got a kick out of the game. Hey, at least people unanimously agree with the fact that the music is pretty darn great once you’ve sorted out the crazy sound effects. Considering the fact that you can get the game for about a dollar on auction websites like eBay, you would be crazy not to give Mall Tycoon a try. It’s no substitute for going to an actual Mall, but if you find yourself in need of a fix and are sick or far away from an actual Mall, this should tide you over nicely!

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