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Kairosoft has built a tiny cult empire on the strength of the simulation genre. Its first game, Game Dev Story, won the hearts of many game reviewers (including ours), and since that entry the formula hasn't deviated very much. Unfortunately, the "Story" series is starting to get a little bit long in the tooth, and we're hoping Kairosoft will branch out soon. Sadly, this formula is starting to overstay its welcome.
If you're familiar at all with any of Kairosoft's games, then you'll know precisely where Mega Mall Story is going. Starting with a blank mall space, you have to earn money to build new stores that will in turn earn even more money (so you can build even more stores). The formula most closely resembles Hot Springs Story, however, the mall space is much more restricted than in that take on the genre. In Mega Mall Story, the shopping center only ever has a few possible locations for your stores, which means that almost every mall will look practically identical at all stages of the game.
This is compounded by the fact that stores in the game open up on a rolling basis. You earn loyalty points from your customers that you then use to purchase the plans for more stores, but all stores cost different sums. It's a problem because every user will unlock the cheap stores first (or else you wont be able to advance) and then move on to the expensive stores as the mall grows. Such an approach kills the sense of personal ownership because you know that every other player likely has the same mall layout with identical stores at that point in the game.
Moreover, old Kairosoft tricks that were easy to ignore at first are getting more obnoxious. At this point, it's becoming obvious that the company can't figure out a way to keep the game exciting without randomly awarding the player egregiously large sums of money for practically no reason. We work in the magazine business, so it's kind of hard to suspend disbelief when your mall/game/resort gets a $200,000 reward just for placing high in a magazine's year-end awards.
The difficulty of the series is becoming a problem too. It's another one of those aspects that is easy to ignore at first, but becomes more obnoxious the more you play these games. There is almost no chance of losing in the "Story" games, and little risk of making a bad choice. Some strategy in store placement will earn money more quickly, but there's very little to mess up here. This gives you the feeling that you're strapped to a conveyer belt moving slowly but steadily towards victory. That's not to say that there isn't some merit to the experience though. Building and placing your mall can still be fun if you don't think about it too hard, and the game is adorable as usual.
The bottom line. The latest "Story" game is the weakest effort to date, as the routine has gone stale, flaws are more visible than ever, and the mall setting introduces a batch of new problems that drag down the experience. We highly encourage you to check out some of Kairosoft's earlier iOS titles if you're new to the series. However, we also encourage Kairosoft to innovate on its formula or risk stagnation.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 3.1 or later
Adorable 8-bit characters. Lots of fun stores.
Little difficulty. Bland setting with minor customization.