As an adaptation of the successful PC series, Build-a-lot for the Nintendo DS is a very straightforward Management game. Though as fans of the genre will know, being easy to grasp doesn’t necessarily translate to a simple game, and Build-a-lot is poised to enter Europe as the title to reaffirm this. Challenging the player to become a real estate tycoon, buying, selling and renting property are simply the basic stepping stones of creating your own neighbourhood.
The Career mode takes the player through numerous basic tasks granted by the local town mayor, slowly widening the scope of freedom granted to the player. Eight locations set the scene for what is effectively the tutorial, teaching the player everything from buying land to constructing buildings and employing workers, setting the player definite objectives and giving them only the most necessary tools to achieve them. Each level has two time limits; an overall success or failure limit and a bonus limit, offering the player a ribbon for timely completion.
Repeated play of the Career mode levels is encouraged, though it is the Casual mode where most players will spend their time with Build-a-lot. With the freedom to construct neighbourhoods the way they please, six of the eight locations featured in the Career mode are used within Casual mode, however, their goals are decidedly more enduring. Revolving around earning a predetermined amount of cash, the first two or three areas will fall with ease to those who play through the Career mode prior to embarking upon the challenge, while the latter stages take a great deal of careful planning. One wrong construction can easily cost you half an hour in making back the over-spending, and with the variety of bonuses offered by each commercial building, players will often find themselves constructing towards one goal only to find that going in a different direction midway through might well be a better opportunity. It’s often a hard decision to demolish your own constructions – especially when they are obviously brining in funds – in favour of a new strategy, but therein lies the evidence of an engrossing experience.
With no multi-player mode and only the two single-player gameplay options, Build-a-lot doesn’t offer the longevity provided by the likes of Sim City or Theme Park, but it can be just as addictive. Despite the simplified management system, Build-a-lot still presents a game in which the players strategies can be altered and tweaked to perfection with repeated plays, and any gamer with a spare twenty minutes on their way to work will find themselves honing their ideas with great regularity.
Build-a-lot doesn’t exactly shine graphically, but it doesn’t need to. All the information a player needs is well presented and accessible with only a couple of taps on the Touch Screen – essential for a title which uses a time-based system to determine earning. Each of the available buildings quickly becomes familiar, so players will instantly recognise which have the most earning potential and which are disposable when wishing to make room for the next phase of your strategy.
As a Nintendo DS adaptation of a series that has an already well established fanbase on PC, Build-a-lot makes very few bad moves. It may be a little less taxing than Management game aficionados would wish, but for those taking their first-step into the genre, there’s no better starting point. Build-a-lot is a welcoming game that provides just enough depth to remain encouraging without ever becoming overwhelming, and for that fulfils its ambitions as an uncomplicated game with plenty of allure.