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GBA Review - 'The Tower SP'

by Agustin on April 7, 2006 @ 3:17 a.m. PDT

The Tower SP is an in-depth sim experience that allows the player to design, build, and manage every aspect of successfully creating a skyscraper. Only with savvy design and wise management skills will the player's tower attract masses of patrons and tenants.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Vivarium
Release Date: March 15, 2006

The name Yoot Saito has come to mean something very different from what it did during the early '90s. What is now a reputation gained through an irate fish with a haunting human face and a giant pinball plowing through a regiment of hapless soldiers was founded on a simple, friendly concept inspired by Will Wright and company: The Tower, a skyscraper building simulator that became something of a phenomenon in Japan, as far as PC games went over in that territory at the time. Emulation is the best form of flattery, and Maxis returned the favor by publishing The Tower outside of Japan as a member of their growing Sim line (still growing, if you count Sims expansions).

Sim Tower was widely regarded as a favorite in the series, second only to Sim City, though many fans were not aware that it wasn't another Maxis original. That is how well Saito captured the spirit of Maxis at the time, yet he didn't create a simple clone. Sim Tower came off as a special-interest continuation of the line, not an arid reconfiguring of past Sim games.

Saito created a fan favorite, but its sales were not enough to green-light an immediate sequel. One would finally come, initially on Apple OS9: Yoot Tower. Maxis was no longer an independent publisher, at this point beholden to Electronic Arts, a company that would have little interest in localizing Saito's Yoot Tower for obvious reasons; the game was a proper sequel, but could have released within a year of the original in terms of graphics. This left Sega up to the task, with whom Saito and his new studio, Vivarium, had a good relationship (and still do). The game was a hit in the small Mac game community but didn't turn very many heads elsewhere.

By the time a remake of The Tower was announced for the Game Boy Advance, there didn't seem to be much of a chance of a domestic release. When it was finally announced a year later, the excitement was dampened a bit; it would only be available on Sega's website and Toys 'R' Us stores, and released in small quantities, at that. If you've read this far, I'm sure you're wondering if you should attempt to track down the game. My answer is a cautious yes, depending on your needs.

Don't misunderstand; I am completely in love with this game, and for the first time in a long while, my SP has been lodged firmly in my back pocket. However, when reality beckons, this is still a brushed-up version of Sim Tower, which, these days, can be obtained, along with three or four other Sim classics, for about five dollars at your local Wal-Mart, if you're the type of person who buys your games at a department store. Thirty dollars is a steep sum for something so cheap, but unless you want to wrestle with your PSP x86 emulator to get it running on top of Windows 95 with no shortcuts intact, this is the only way to (passably) play it portable.

Why the Sim experience hasn't been properly ported to a handheld before this seems ludicrous now that I've spent so many sporadic hours with The Tower SP. The game has a constant flow, never stagnating for more than a minute or two. Simultaneously, it can be put down at any moment, with no worries as to when it is picked up again. The state of a tower can be assessed in about two minutes of careful study. The goals are definite, as they should be in any good game, but the differing tactics to get there are endless.

Each addition to the tower is essential and must be calculated carefully, yet the attention to the game can be broken at any moment between the crucial few seconds of calculation between placements. If a fire alarm goes off, if your boss ambles towards you, if the terror alert is suddenly raised to "high," if the phone rings, if anything happens, you will be able to set down your GBA immediately and not miss a thing (you might possibly play through any of these situations, depending on how much you care about your well-being). You'll also be hit by an insatiable urge to get back to figuring out the best floor for your movie theater, and whether or not the medical center the jerks in the first floor offices have been moaning on about should be higher on your list.

You can put it down at any time, and every second away feels like torture. PSP developers take note: This is the formula for a portable game. To think this was originally a PC title! Admittedly, my excitement is a bit unfounded when Saito's design ethic is considered. His games are rarely sprawling works. They crawl against the tide of moderately-paced 20-hour "adventures," as well as the Kojima-style cinematic experience, representing something closer to the spirit of video games as a medium. They are almost fetish objects, single concepts that are enveloped in what were probably the first ideas to come to Saito's mind. Thousands of other ideas are put to use, all following the single directive of the first, finally becoming a "gamething," something playable and definitely modern, but seeming more at home among pre-1995 arcade games, despite the greater time investment required.

The Tower reveals the roots of this practice, connecting Saito's current inspiration – notably Shigeru Miyamoto, whose Cabbage concept led to Seaman – with an unexpected source, Will Wright and Maxis. A "gamething" on a portable system epitomizes the fetishistic allure of Saito's games, allowing them to be placed in a back pocket, assigned to a single object instead of a console, a controller, a set of speakers, or a television.

The Tower SP, as polished as it is, is not the best example of Saito's work; Seaman is, although The Tower stands as his most accessible. Seaman is too mired in creepiness and D2-like themes of death and isolation to attract a proper audience. No heartstrings are pulled, no moral questions are posed; The Tower is a game in the purest sense, even if there aren't any bosses to defeat or coins to collect. You could have been playing this game for 10 years (and, as the dated midi rumblings prove, this game shows its age), and if you haven't yet, I've got to maintain that your GBA is the best way to experience it.

Score. 8.9/10

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