Kairosoft’s Pocket Academy [$3.99 / Lite] takes the best and worst elements of its prior releases, Game Dev Story [$1.99 / Lite] and Hot Springs Story [$3.99 / Lite], blends them together, and then applies them to a school environment. It’s not remarkable on the surface. It has the same cutesy art direction used in these prior games. It also re-hashes a lot of mechanics, continues to shroud a lot of its crucial foundational and tycoon elements in mystery, and it controls like crap. But it does still deliver in the form of the studio’s should-be patented carrot-on-the-stick design approach and fleshes out a crucial, but oft-forgotten, driver in all simulation games: the people.

Provided the gun to my head wasn’t real, I’d argue until the moment the trigger is pulled that Pocket Academy isn’t as much of a school simulation as it is a over-the-top student simulation game because, at the end of the day, this game isn’t about how pretty your school is or about how many trees you’ve planted. It’s about what your kids are learning and how well they can prove that your system, either totalitarian or social-focused, works.

On the top end, this game puts you in the shoes of an administrator planning out the next greatest thing in education. You’re in charge of building classrooms, researching new facilities like restrooms, libraries, and nurses’ offices, and creating statistical bonus zones with bonus-laden objects like shrubbery, trees, or even rocks. Chaos is frowned upon, as the careful planner who puts like buildings together can string together dramatic bonuses to student-side factors like learning and school spirit.

This is where the one real rub rears its head: Pocket Academy isn’t good at telling you what is “good” versus “bad.” It hides a lot of bonuses and mechanics from viewing. The only solid way to find out what works well with something else is via experimentation, which is a costly and horribly slow, pace-chewing endeavor. Even buildings and research subjects have terrible descriptions that can lead to hair-pulling strategic misfires.

Like Game Dev Story understood, to some extent, the development process and let you lead it, Pocket Academy allows you to do the same with a school. The end product is a well-learned student body, and you get several years to turn kids’ mush into iron. Ample classrooms and activities are a necessity to do this, as well as teachers. Students come in once a year or through transfer if your school is attractive enough. Teachers, on the other hand, need to be hired and then leveled up. Satisfactorily, you are put in charge of what statistics receive boosts upon leveling up, which lets you mold a curriculum that feels... well, you. It's pretty redeeming building something in your own image.

Science, math, English, Spanish, and history are the subjects each student can learn. As they sit in classrooms, they’ll automatically receive points in these areas. As they roam and participate in other facilities, they’ll earn additional points that you can then, in turn, spend in classrooms to boost their core attributes or apply to research. This is the push and pull: do you spend these points in order to get more areas for interaction, or do you spend them to educate the students more?

I usually go with the latter since it’s the real meat of the game. In order to attract more kids, you need to compete in challenges based on those core subjects. The higher the IQ, the likelier they are to pass the challenge. Also, schools as a whole are rated and a lot of funding, as well as those ratings, depends on end-of-semester test scores. The goal is to be the best school in the world, so the students actually matter. But the other decision is a fundamental one, too. Without interaction, you don't get points for research or tests.

Weighing these two options, as dull as they sound, is entertaining. I think it helps that there's always something you could be doing in the process or, at least, building towards.

To its credit, Pocket Academy really fleshes out who these kids are. They’re all named and you deal with them over the course of several years. You’ll also see them make friends, attempt to date other students, get frustrated, succeed, and fail. Students all have certain disposition traits, too, which factor into how they learn and where they learn the best. As if that wasn’t enough, there are also activities they favor which you can cater to by building clubs or more facilities.

After spending years with these kids and using them in the right way, you do tend to bond with the character, as silly as that sounds. But it’s that connection, as flimsy as it is, that makes this simulation game much more satisfying than most. You have a stake in the systems, at least.

I could go on and on about the systems at play, what you can do, and the billions of little things that you’ll end up doing to improve the experience. There are tons of mechanics and little touches at play in Pocket Academy, all of which are satisfying to some extent to use, deal with, or think about. The game starts brutal, so be prepared.

I have a feeling that, like Game Dev Story, you’ll run out of meaningful things to do in Pocket Academy after an epic several-year run but I don’t think that hurts. As it is, there are plenty of things -- perhaps too much in places -- to do for several, several hours. For those of you who didn’t download sight unseen, no worries: this is a sharp little simulation game packed with depth and, oddly enough, a little emotion. It might be hard to penetrate at first, but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with an awesome game.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Ruddock/654075778 Ben Ruddock

    Typo in the title, "Revew"

  • http://twitter.com/snowy2004 Stéphane Lachance

    I bought Game Dev Story a while back but only recently started playing it, at which point it sucked me in faster than a Dyson vacuum. I haven't played either Hot Springs or Pocket Academy. Which of the two would be the more fun way to kill my free time dead?

    • http://civ2boss.weblogs.us/ Civ2boss

      I think you should play Hot Springs Stories first, as Pocket Academy is harder to maintain the budget. In HSS, everything earns you money as customers use them. In PA, you get most of your funds from tuition. There are other sources too, but your main source will be the tuition. The hard part comes with teacher salaries and building maintenance, because those can easily take thousands from you each month.

    • Lyra105

      I like Pocket Academy better actually.  I think it's richer and it's more fun to run a school than a hot springs.  It even sounds better.  Anyway, they have much of the same gameplay the main difference is that Pocket Academy is a little newer and has some better mechanics imo.  

    • EAT MY COMPUTER

      Pocket Academy is more fun, but you should probably get Hot Springs Story first because it is easier and will train you more for Pocket Academy

  • http://twitter.com/ZEROFACES Nicholas Heijnen

    Great review, Brad.

    I bought it this morning and have been waiting all day to finally load it up and give it a try. I sunk a hefty amount of time into both GDS and HSS, so I imagine that despite this games flaws, I'll still enjoy what it has to offer :)

  • http://twitter.com/ZEROFACES Nicholas Heijnen

    @Stéphane Lachance
    I'd suggest playing Hot Springs Story first, just to play them in the correct order :P

    • http://twitter.com/snowy2004 Stéphane Lachance

      There's no story crossover is there? Plus, I'm asking in the sense that I want to play the best one. If I'm going to funnel my time away, might as well do it the right way.

      • http://twitter.com/nicholsonb Brad Nicholson

        There's no story cross-over that I'm aware of. It's possible I suppose that these games are all based in the same universe. I actually think Pocket Academy is a better primer for Hot Springs Story.

      • http://civ2boss.weblogs.us/ Civ2boss

        I feel like PA is a lot deeper than HSS, at least from what I can tell so far. I've only played it for a day.

  • Anonymous

    I will buy any and every one of their games. Now where's the IOS port for Grand Prix Story?

    • http://civ2boss.weblogs.us/ Civ2boss

      I know, I really want to get GPS on my android phone but I would like to keep all my games on one device. I don't think they even released it on the japanese app store yet.

  • http://twitter.com/Pakalpa Pakalpa

    Can anybody say if the gameplay resembles that of Theme Hospital? 

    • http://civ2boss.weblogs.us/ Civ2boss

      I loved Theme Hospital!

      umm let me think how this compares...well I would say it's harder than TH. They are both tycoon style games, but as Brad's article says, this sim is more about the students than the school. You do try to layout a good school, but I feel like the goal is to get students with the best grades in the country.

      There's of course a lot of similarities too. You have to research new rooms and such. You have to build certain rooms to get more customers/students. But this game has this unique thing where certain buildings put near each other gives you these popular spots which increases the stats of your students.

      I hope that helps.

      • http://twitter.com/Pakalpa Pakalpa

        Oh thanks, I'll just try it out then (saw the lite version). 

  • jamie oliver

    I bought it. But i preferred the racing game. a lot of time im not realy sure what iam doing in this game. The school system seems to be very abstact to me. but i hope i get into soon.

  • Tubaticprime

    This review is pretty accurate to my experience.  I tried the Lite version, and soon bought the full one.  The building up of the students hooked me right in.  I really enjoy people management in games (and out of them, too, quite a bit), so this resonates with me more than HSS did.

    Try the demo and stick with it for a little bit. It really starts to connect, even without a tutorial

  • http://profiles.google.com/o.a.setiawan Omar Aria

    since i played kairosoft games (GDS, HSS, and this PA) ... i didn't have any social life for weeks :(

  • King Ackbar

    I would suggest starting with PA before HSS, as PA seems a little easier with the layout.

  • Sdasd

    You just butchered the English language with this poorly written review.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MENSXDBRVDLWCTQQSZ44LDLV5I Billy Ameno

    Help me! I only have 7 students at my school at a time and I can't seem to get any more than that. I have 6 pop spots. 2 of each classrooms, and a lot of activities for the students but I can't get any more of them.
    Help!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MENSXDBRVDLWCTQQSZ44LDLV5I Billy Ameno

      never mind.. I got it to work

  • Billy Ameno

    i really like this game. so fun! everyone get it!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5PH73T3YHIAZA7PVI6CGE4YY5A derek

    i have 30 students, im 9th in the exam ratings and ive got tons of cash, most of my students are getting 100 on all there stats, im on year 9, i cant seem to get the art room or computer room or music room, can anybody tell what i need to do in order to get them,

Pocket Academy Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 5