App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Kairosoft took the App Store by storm (as well as an app could, anyway) a while back with the release of Game Dev Story; a game in which players run their own video game company. They followed it up a bit later with Hot Springs Story, which had less nerd-appeal but offered more simulation options and was every bit as tough to stop playing. Now we have Pocket Academy, a game which is just as good at devouring time, but still retains the one big problem found in every iOS Kairosoft game: initial accessibility.
So what's an iOS gamer to do once they've successfully dominated the video game industry and created the world's most popular spa? Run a high school, naturally. While it may seem like just as much of a random leap as the transition from game developer to resort manager, the game itself does actually feel like a true progression of the series. Pocket Academy takes the emphasis on individuals found in Game Dev Story (i.e. hiring teachers, making sure students keep their grades up, etc..) and combines it with the resource management and construction from Hot Springs Story (i.e. building classrooms, locker rooms, lounges, cafeterias, and so on). It's a near-perfect marriage, with a setting that's bound to get a little more attention from iOS gamers than a Japanese resort. Granted, this is still very much a Japanese high school, but the cultural differences are a little less blatant. That and everyone remembers high school.
The best thing about Pocket Academy is the very thing fans have come to expect from Kairosoft: The way it devours minutes, hours and even days indiscriminately like a cute and unassuming kaiju monster. It also features some added depth by way of the combination of elements I mentioned before. Now players can micromanage individual teachers (thus improving their ability to shape young minds), have specific classes take special tests to hopefully bring up their GPA and even create clubs for students to join. My first choice was a glee club. Shut up.
Unfortunately, while Pocket Academy shares all of the qualities that make its older siblings so popular, it also carries some of the baggage. There is a little bit of a tutorial, and the game keeps players relatively in the loop with regards to necessary tasks by using the school newspaper, but there are still a whole lot of nuances to learn; the game does nothing to teach them. The biggest problem this creates is a lack of funds which can totally cripple a playthrough after an hour or so. Unlike previous games, money is earned a little less overtly (tuition, snack purchases, etc.), and I feel like the how-tos of raising cash should have been given some attention. My advice for new players? Show restraint: expand slowly, make sure there's always a few grand in the bank, build money-making facilities like gardens and chicken coops (don't ask) and above all else try to complete as many tuition-boosting challenges as possible.
It's the same song and dance that we've all come to expect from Kairosoft: excellence and addiction wrapped snugly in oversight. Anyone who hasn't found the other two titles to be anything special won't have their minds changed, but fans will most certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of Pocket Academy and its slightly more involved (when compared to past titles) simulation aspects. And once that school has hit number one and alumni are arriving to the reunion by way of personal jets and such (exaggeration), there are four more scenarios to master with different terrain and local demographics. Enticing, no?