There's a great story -- perhaps apocryphal -- about Will Wright designing SimCity to reflect his political beliefs. Specifically, the thinking is that Wright designed the trains and buses in that game to run smoothly and efficiently to reflect his own views about the importance of public transportation. I'm not sure how true that is, but it's a great illustration that the games we play -- and how we play them -- says something about us.

Kairosoft's latest, lightweight city management sim Beastie Bay [Free], for example, let me build my own kind of environmentalist utopia. Sure, I could probably attract more tourists (and therefore more money) by building roads through my island, but I'd rather have the beaches and wooded hills and caves -- and the fish, bears, and mecha-chimpanzees that live in them. I have plenty of food and lumber -- resources you'll need for everything from researching electricity to building nests to upgrading weapons -- and my upkeep costs are low enough that I'm not forced to expand faster than I want to. I appreciate that Beastie Bay is flexible enough to allow me that freedom.

In any case, the premise of Beastie Bay is straightforward in a weird, videogame-logic kind of way: a man named Robin washes up on the deserted Sunny Isle with his assistant and his pet duck (or dog, if that's the starting ally you'd rather have). Robin and his duck explore the island, rescue some locals, and start building houses. Robin can "tame" the local wildlife, who serve the dual purpose of fighting the feral animals living on the island and harvesting its natural resources. It's basically Pokémon and Tropico smushed up together.

So the game is split into two halves: the island management section -- the game keeps calling it a "resort,"  but like I said, I did my best to keep it rustic -- and the exploration and combat section. The two combine to make a nice little feedback loop: while exploring, you'll tame more allies, who will in turn help harvest your resources, which allow you to expand your island and strengthen your equipment. It's a tidy little dynamic and should feel familiar to long-time Kairosoft fans.

It's worth nothing, though, the Beastie Bay is relatively opaque with its higher order mechanics -- it took a lot of experimenting to figure out how to upgrade my buildings, for example. I still can't figure out why I'm not allowed to build any more hotels for the unending legion of tourists washing up on my docks. Sometimes, useful mechanics or items are just blocked off weirdly and will become unlocked after players clear a certain dungeon or rescue a certain townsperson. Beastie Bay isn't really a hard game, but there are a lot of moving parts, and newcomers will need to do a bit of tinkering to get a feel for it.

The simulation aspect of the game is particularly engaging, though. There are always new areas to develop and -- thanks to a "destroy" command -- re-develop  as you start to master the game's mechanics. All of the different units, resources, and facilities work together based on proximity: allies can only gather fruit and lumber near their nests; generators can only send electricity a few blocks; and only students living near the fighting school can enroll. As you gain more land, you'll start zoning things off so that no resource is wasted. Your island will likely start to plateau after a few hours, but after you break through it, Beastie Bay is almost infinitely customizable, depending on your goals and interests.

Beastie Bay's combat, however, doesn't fare quite as well. It uses a pretty rudimentary rock-paper-scissors structure, and players have access to basic attacks, special skills, and items. It's basic stuff, with an extra party-switching mechanic mixed in for good measure: you'll lead in with a main, three-ally party, with another three in reserve. The idea is build a well-rounded group and switch in and out as necessary.

The problem is that Beastie Bay's combat hews a little to closely to its obvious Pokémon inspiration: switching party members or using an item takes up the party's entire turn. Most party-based role-playing games let each team-member use an item without ruining the whole round. It's a minor thing, really, but Beastie Bay has some jagged difficulty spikes and an absolutely ruthless AI: Unigorillas, for example, have an almost preternatural ability to target my healers before wiping out the rest of my party.

Dungeon crawling in Beastie Bay is mostly just a tool for taming more allies to work the island, and for unlocking new research and facility types to use in the more engaging sim portions of the game, but Kairosoft made it harder than it needs to be.

Difficulty annoyances aside, Beastie Bay's combat dovetails nicely with a surprisingly broad collection of micro-systems and economies: weapons can be crafted and upgraded; investing in neighboring countries will lead to better wares in your own shops; allies are ranked based on raw power and potential growth, and can be trained in repeatable dungeons or a training school; the list goes on. None of these mechanics are particularly deep individually, but they combine to make Beastie Bay an engaging sim that focuses more on breezy self-expression and self-improvement than meeting arbitrary challenges or being the first to land on the moon.

A note on in-app purchases: the free, ad-supported version of Beastie Bay is robust and enjoyable and, as far as I can tell, in no way different than the paid version. $4.99 strips the game of advertisements and lets players use their iDevice's landscape mode. Landscape mode is, admittedly, the superior way to play Beastie Bay, but there's an inordinate amount of well-designed, well-executed fun to be had for free.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Sunny Isle needs a museum and some more beach chairs.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Boobi

    The game is engaging and the usual pixel style Kairosoft look does not work for me here. Playing in portrait mode you will also run into many graphical errors. Texts running off screen. Wrong language uses etc..

    • MidianGTX

      Kairosoft's "look" has always been their weakest attribute. I can't stand looking at any of their titles for more than 30 seconds, but I imagine that for a lot of people who can, there's no limit to how low they'll go graphically in the search for good gameplay.

      • kirby83

        kairosoft's graphic approach isnt "low" in my book. even though we could say that there is some recycling in their designs, i still find it mucho charming to be honest.

        5$ to make ads go away seems a lot though. make it a buck and i'd buy it instantly.

      • MidianGTX

        I guess some people just love their pixels blurred!

  • curtisrshideler

    I'm tempted, but I'm still playing Dungeon Village and the soccer game. I'm still way too addicted to FF ATB to pick up another Pixely time waster. But great review guys. Really makes me want to play a game now!

    • WeirdingWay

      "I'm still way too addicted to FF ATB"

      W
      T
      F

      I got a copy of E.T. for Atari, Superman 64, Duke Nukem Forever, and Diablo 3 you would be interested in.

      • riChchestMat

        You are just rude. He likes the game so leave him alone.

      • Benegesserit

        No. The more people like him there are, the more incentive developers have to produce cheap, lazy, terrible games.

      • 12yam

        Lol yr an idiot

      • Cheeseball

        Nice way to descriminate like a moron.

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        @ Weirding -- you were rude,but also funny, so kudos and tsk tsk.
        That said, if you're gonna INSULT...
        W
        T
        F
        is Zygna? HA HA HA

    • http://www.facebook.com/meiko.kato.12 Meiko Kato

      Thing is, you can't really compare FF ATB to Kairosoft games. That Squenix game is a totally mindless money grab whereas Kairosoft's are building and management sims. They don't exactly qualify as generic Pixely time wasters, in my opinion.

  • Greyskull

    I'll be honest: While I own 3 Kairosoft games (the school one, Grand Prix Story, and the soccer one), I still have NO IDEA what anything does and have barely touched them. If any games cry out for better documentation, its Kairosoft games.

    • WeirdingWay

      They love to bury the game in hidden mechanics.

      • Dr Fretzels

        Clearly two cases of casual gamer-itis

      • WeirdingWay

        Even Demon Souls was properly documented. Is that a casual title?

      • SporadicMovement

        Or you could let that hand go and actually figure things out for yourself? It only took me about 10 minutes of gameplay to get the gist of the mechanics. The ultimate laziness...

      • WeirdingWay

        Every piece of professional software has documentation. Not to mention nearly every electronic product you buy. Why should games be any different?

        Figuring things out for yourself is supposed to be about doing things the most efficiently, not simply how to play.

        The ultimate laziness is on the company's part. They're crappy ports of games you would have played on a Motorola RAZR back in the early 2000s.

      • TheRyno

        You should go watch Egorapter's MegaMan video, it shows that games don't need to be documented if you can just figure it out.

      • Cat Astrophy

        Kairosoft is the absolute worst at conveyance.

  • Woodlandstar

    I think you mean the in-app purchase unlocks landscape mode? The free version is already in portrait mode.

    • Benegesserit

      Did the writer also get it backwards as to which mode is "superior" for playing on?

  • araczynski

    yeah, loved dungeon village, even through their menu systems pretty much suck. this game i couldn't get into, had enough of their menu systems and not being able to skip/dismiss every stupid little animated incidental notification menu. oh well, maybe they'll stop making their games look like 10 year old ports some day.

    • Benegesserit

      Oh yeah totally with you on the animations. They really break the flow of the game. They're no better than mini-loading screens. I found myself mashing my thumb on the screen all over the place trying to find the hidden skip button.

      • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

        Liked Dungeons, can't say I "loved" it. Didn't seem like what I did really impacted stuff very much.
        As for this EPIC FAIL, I found the skip button -- I exited the app, and deleted it. SKIP!!!
        Now just waiting for TA to give it 5 stars. HA (Sorry, I'm feeling jaded right now.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/meiko.kato.12 Meiko Kato

    The review forgets to mention that once Wairobot becomes a resident of your island, it unlocks an IAP store where you can buy medals, level scrolls, and slot scrolls. Lots of farming and/or waiting for premium and regular currency awaits!

  • gecko_cz

    The game is good so far.

    But does anyone knows how to change equipment on the allies? I am stuck here. Makes the game quite annoying.

    • visualplayer

      Menu, allies. Choose your ally. You'll see a screen with stats. There's a green scrollbar to the right. You can scroll past the stats to the equipment page.

      • gecko_cz

        Thanks a lot. It works! Back to play :-)

      • witedahlia

        Thank you!

  • cuw

    If this game had at least tried to support the larger iPhone 5 size by pushing the ads down all the way to the bottom of the screen and making the game window then fill the "window" it currently occupies with ads+game it would look alright. Instead I have this tiny cramped window in a sea of black bars and ads and I'm expected to pay to make it look better? At least give me an initial impression that the game could potentially look good.

    Resolution scaling is not something that is difficult in iOS. The fact that a game can launch from such a big name dev, and not support widescreen almost 6 months after devs were told to implement the scaling features is inexcusable.

    To me this reeks of poorly ported android software with the same piracy averting IAP + ads mechanism used there. The game could have launched at 1.99 without ads and they would have made more money then they will now with this mess.

    • homosaur

      The market shows exactly the opposite, despite what you claim to want. All the top grossers are free to play or heavy on IAP like Angry Birds. Just because you'll buy something doesn't mean the market cares.

      • cuw

        Angry birds is littered with IAP? Last I checked everyone of them was extremely polished and sold for at least $1.99 the top IAP grossers are going to be free to play crap from gameloft it doesn't mean that every company needs to occupy that segment and kairosoft certainly didn't. They had a "premium" feel to their games and sold at above $3 in some cases and they sold well. This is the opposite it's a game that doesn't feel premium asking for money when it's initial appearance is that of a bad port.

  • SporadicMovement

    Why are people expecting games like this to look like a console game? "Oh yeah, Pokemon was crap, it didn't look like Halo 4!"

  • http://twitter.com/Dweeb1 Dweeb

    Do I have to pay for the IAP upgrade to enjoy the full iPhone 5 screen? Does this just not support the iPhone 5 resolution at all?!

    • ntp.mhlk

      I have pay for ad-free and amazing...
      it's still same screen not a fullscreen.
      WTF.

  • http://twitter.com/guentheralex Alex Guenther

    Sorry... how is awareness of public transportation's existence a "political belief"? How is that a "great story"? Why would it be "perhaps apocryphal"? Trains run smoothly and efficiently in real life. And in SimCity. What the heck was your point?

Beastie Bay Reviewed by Joseph Leray on . Rating: 4.5