The iPhone gaming community have been raving for a while about this one and they got it absolutely right. It is a leap of faith to buy a Japanese game that has been ported to the iPhone without any consideration to visual aesthetics, translation, game mechanics or even instructions, but oh boy!, this one has convinced the crowds.
Game Dev Story [iTunes link] by Karoisoft puts you in the shoes of the manager of a software company who is ready to conquer the gaming world creating games for every platform available and ultimately, creating your own console. The setting is really appealing to simulation and time management game fans, offering an easy to pick up experience and high doses of fun.
I must warn you first about what you're getting into: while some cult iPhone games are absolutely nuts (read Robot Unicorn Attack) they are perfectly fit and ready to ship to the AppStore. Game Dev Story is one of the worse ports available for the iPhone as the game doesn't even make use of all the screen space available... It is really noticeable that is wasn't build to be played on an iPhone: black spaces, tiny text and small buttons can test your patience. After one attempt, I decided to play it on the iPad at a double screen resolution, which thanks to the pixel graphic style it is quite bearable.
The game mechanics follow a simple pattern: get a basic team consisting of a coder, writer, graphic designer and a music artist and produce the best video game you can - or the one you think will be a top seller. During the production every team member will contribute with points towards the final result. Games in Game Dev Story have four main attributes (fun, creativity, graphics and music) and direction points such as niche appeal, polish, approachability, cuteness, innovation,... You get the idea.
Let's remember that this is not one of those 16-bit cool retro games like Hook Champ or The Incident. Game Dev Story is proper old school and brought to the western gaming world thanks to the iPhone. Back from a previous PC life and played on mobile phones with buttons, it won't play naturally right.
While team members can increase the game's points, the game direction is determined by your expertise as a gaming studio and are unlocked as you progress through the game. One you have finished your product, you debug it and send it to the reviewers (this is the familiar part for me), who will score it and determine whether it is the game of the century or pure crap.
Launching games into the market is your only source of income in addition to contract jobs for third party companies. While these are good if you are short of money, they should be avoided as your fans want you to release as many games as possible. There is an economic element to the game that is crucial to succeed. Every game genre that you choose has a different cost and more talented employees have higher wages. There is an advertising part and a market part, but they are so small that barely affect progress.
Playing a game as limited as Game Dev Story, gives you the feeling that every customisable option is a blessing. You can name your games and release sequels as well as attend the trade show Gamedex and Global Game Awards to build up your reputation. All these wouldn't be as fun without that lost in translation Engrish funny element that you get with some Asian titles. There are plenty of jokes, nods and details that geeks will love. Perhaps those intended puns are one the biggest triumph of the game: consoles and competitor games will sound pretty familiar. You will see how Intendro has released a console with a motion controller called Whoops or the popular portable GameKid. Or maybe Sonny conquering the market with the PlayStatus 2. Staff members are pretty wicked too, with a guy called Stephen Jobson sending you his resume at some point.
The thrill of creating your own games is supported by an RPG-type of levelling up the skills of your employees, use potions and boosts to increase performance and select great game genre combinations while the company breaks even. If there is a greater feeling than winning the Game of the Year Award (with reviews over 37 points) is to create your own console. The secret is to level up one of your employees to level 5 in every core skill (coder, writer, design and music) and you will be able to convert them to Hardware Engineer. Notice you will need some of the change job cards that the salesman will offer you during his visits. Once you complete the design, it will be released and you will be able to develop games for it exclusively without having to pay any license fee to other console manufacturers.
Despite the terrible and obvious shortcomings in Game Dev Story, once you get used to the visuals and understand the game mechanics, it becomes a really addictive drug. The whole rush to do even better than your last game, increase your fan base and be the best developer of a platform will keep you playing until your eyes cannot handle it anymore. The experience with an iPad was not bad at all, and the fact that you can play your own music leverages the tunes you can listen in my walkthrough videos.
Overall, an addictive game that male geeks would prefer over Sally's Spa. It is rough in every way but guarantees a good fun session even if you are picky about quality: I though I could not look at it and ended up playing well over 50 hours for this review.