Campaign The Game is to advertising what Kairosoft's Game Dev Story is to videogame development. A simple simulation experience where you manage your company driving clients mad for a slice of industry recognition. Developed by Brazilian Insolita Studios and Thomas Egas, Campaign allows you to design your own advertising campaigns, assemble a team of copywriters and designers and bid for the most prestigious accounts with your whacky creative combinations.
If you have played Game Dev Story, Campaign follows it's structure religiously -- both the good and not so good design decisions, to the point you get a little uncomfortable with all the similitudes. The mechanics run in parallel, using the receptionist as your assistant who tells you what's going on. The game is an infinite cycle of choosing a client, selecting a theme and style for the campaign and execute it.
You begin with a team of four members with their own preferences and skill points. Their own tastes have an impact on the outcome as they unlock themes and styles you will use for your campaigns.
Using the fashionable Alberto Lasquerre gets you to work with film celebrities, fashion and pop stars. You never know what you're unlocking and are only guided by his traits. In Alberto's case, he is labelled as famous, popular, en vogue and peaceful, so I guess it makes sense he hangs out with celebs.
Choosing the right mix of staff members is critical as you're only given 12 themes and 4 styles to choose from, which rotate depending on the workers' traits. Since you're penalised for repeating combinations, this means you need to replace team members every now and then to give some variety to your creations.
Strategic bizzare ideas
Just like in real life, the briefing includes a target audience you must reach with a right selection of "medias" within the budget. This area is extremely cryptic for the first-time player as it's more of a trial and error process where the only indication of how popular your combinations are is once you get the campaign results.
One aspect that makes Campaign The Game a very simplistic simulator is the lack of any economic management. Your agency is never constrained by budgets, has to pay staff or is liable for failed campaigns. The only payments received are diamonds, which allow you to increase the agency status and bid for top tier clients, and stars, which allow you to hire more skilled team members. Unfortunately, there's no micromanagement or planning involved as these to things take care of themselves.
It's all about the pixels
The colourful pixel art has been carefully animated to keep the player distracted during the grinding stages. The game is filled with references to the eighties and very recognisable cameos from Mr. Spock, Rambo, a DeLorean flying past or Kubrick's The Shining. These are all lovely touches but they appear so frequently that lose the novelty factor pretty quickly. Playing on a modern device is a massive disappointment: all those tiny bits and texts aren't sharp enough for the Retina displays.
The texts are also filled with jokes and WTF moments that will surely entertain the players familiar with the trade. Look out for the revision stage just before completing the campaign when the client makes some unusual requests to enhance your work.
I can't deny the theme is very appealing and advertising agencies, or perhaps what the general public thinks advertising agencies are all about, makes for a very interesting simulator. In Campaign, the developer has honed a favourite of mine and many readers almost too close. There is little iteration on the formula — as Kairosoft has done in the last year — ending up with a game that isn't only repetitive, but doesn't hook you in the way it should. I believe that the absence of budget control is key here: you're left with a mix-and-match of ideas to create your campaign hoping to obtain a good multiplier and collect more diamonds.
Overall I would recommend a careful approach if the whole advertising theme isn't for you. There are more refined simulators that have nailed the gameplay to become pure time-sinks. Campaign doesn't feel like this.