By John Walker on January 10th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.
I have long held a fascination with the role toilets play in games. Where films and TV almost never feature a character visiting the lavatory, games can’t offer enough of them. Bathrooms are faithfully recreated, most often for no narrative purpose in the game itself, and so very frequently with flushable loos. What is it about this medium, that’s otherwise so willing to fill levels with pointless locked doors, that makes it so interested in the potty?
So surely, with this in mind, a game all about toilets must be the pinnacle of the medium? Right? Right? Here’s wot I think of Toilet Tycoon.
No, obviously not. But the sheer existence of Toilet Tycoon was clearly only ever about gaining attention for itself. Despite being from 2006, a canny Anvil Soft have noticed the recent attention some of the more obscure German simulations have been receiving from the wider press (which is weird in itself – what was once only Jim getting over excited about a fork lift truck sim or similar now seems to have gripped the masses), and re-released it via a smattering of download services. A press release out today is seemingly designed to garner the attention of idiots, who’ll be stupid enough to write about it on their websites because it’s got “toilet” in the name.
It’s awful. You probably already figured that out, because it’s called Toilet Tycoon. And the reason we’re all hearing about it is because by some unholy means, it became the best selling casual game on Amazon.com for a moment.
Despite being originally released in 2006, it genuinely looks as though it were made in 1996 – incredibly awful design, graphics, and menus, at a minuscule and unchangeable resolution, that can’t task-switch, and has a ridiculously clumsy mouse cursor. It looks like it was made by a half-dead badger using GeoCities. There’s no introduction, tutorial, nor attempt to explain your aims in a useful fashion. Help buttons tell you about what’s on screen, but not why you’re using it, and oh goooood griiieeeeeeef iiiiiiiit’s soooooo sloooooooowwwwwwwww.
But what about the game beneath it all? Well, you know when you do a perfect poo – those ones that come out neatly and quickly, and when you go to wipe there’s nothing there? It’s not that. But as it happens, nor is it one that gets clogged up in the u-bend and floods your bathroom with wee-poo. It’s just a bit of a frustrating dump that takes too long, and leaves you feeling like there’s still more to come out.
You pick your number of opponents, either beside you or AI, and then take them on in gathering a public toilet empire in a town split into four districts. Except, forget anything you just imagined – it’s far less ambitious than that. You buy a restroom, from say a quiet estate (polite, clean customers, but little foot traffic) or maybe in the red light district (a lot of traffic, money to make in condoms, but rather unpleasant clientèle). No, see, you’ve imagined something more ambitious again. Each has four stalls, into which you construct toilets from various upgradable parts, and then set a fee per stall. Make money, improve your loos, charge more, buy new buildings, look at the time, make coffee, wish you could task-switch without it breaking the mouse cursor, finish one game because you’re writing about it, stop.
Along the way you can hire people to vandalise or vomit in rival bogs, send health inspectors who’ll levy fines, spy on them, and spread rumours about how bad other proprietors’ facilities are. All of which aren’t as interesting as you just imagined.
But for a moment, for a point in the middle of a game, you settle into a rhythm and you end up playing a management game about toilets without really minding. Because it doesn’t matter if it’s a toilet, or a restaurant, or a hospital – that core mechanic can entertain. But here it’s for about a five minute window in between the hour or so either side. And the rest is horrible. The biggest issue being that as soon as someone’s in the lead, there’s nothing the opponent can do to take it back. The only way a location can be lost is if you get all four stalls found to be wanting by an inspector. But, er, there’s no logic to this whatsoever. You can have a room with four stellar loos, state-of-the-art tech, even cup holders (no, really), and spick and span. But during your opponent’s turn it seems they can be made dirty through use, and bad enough for an inspector to remove it from your portfolio. There’s no gradual degradation you were failing to keep up with, nor indeed any option to pay for ongoing maintenance – somewhere a dice invisibly rolls and you lose.
But really, I’m giving this rubbish far too much credit by bothering to explain what’s wrong with it, since the creator didn’t bother to actually let it end. Even after someone’s awarded the title of Toilet Tycoon and told they’ve won, the game carries on for ever, even if the opponent has literally nothing they can do. Let alone that the whole exercise is such a half-arsed lazy mess, an embarrassing construction that exists solely to be an amusing concept, no matter what it actually offers.
So don’t bother reading the above.
But if there isn’t a pun thread under this, I’ll quit.