I’ll never fully comprehend why we love managing the lives and businesses of virtual characters. The Sims and Theme Hospital stick out in my mind as the two games which were always installed, ready to go on my PC as a kid. On some level, there was arguably a desire to feel ‘grown up’ — managing a household, hospital or theme park is what grown-ups do.
Pocket Academy takes the managerial approach to things and drops you in the principal’s chair of a new school. A school with no reputation, no students and very few pixels. Shall we?
Pocket Academy instantly transported me back to 1997, when CRT monitors weighted down our desks and keyboards were white — not because Apple said it was cool, just because. Trees, buildings and characters jaggedly stick out of the terrain made up by massive building blocks called pixels. If the nostalgia of that alone wasn’t enough, the annoying beep-boop-beep music that emanated from many computer speakers and Gameboys alike filled my office.
Taking charge of your school
I took charge of my first school with basic facilities such as a classroom, swimming pool and computer lab. The initial maps were pretty simple with only one teacher supplied to me.
The idea is to build up your school to a status of ‘Major’. I should mention it’s a private school with revenue derived from tuition paid by the parents of children who attend. So building a new class room, training teachers or installing sport facilities is as much about pleasing current students as it is about attracting prospective ones.
Developing your students and school’s facilities
With the basic business premise understood, I set about ignoring the vice principal who routinely interrupts gameplay with ‘helpful’ messages. I spent all of my money building a pretty sweet array of locker rooms, a nurses office and vending machines. As luck would have it, a grant came my way for $5,000 plugging my budget deficit.
That’s the game format of Pocket Academy. The game itself doesn’t stray too far from the traditional model nailed down in the ’90s. However, the developers have incorporated a few interesting features and NPC — Non-Playable Characters, ie characters I can’t control — quirks.
In order to build new facilities for the school which are not available in the catalog, you have to commission a research report. Based on the results of the findings, you’ll either get the green light or not. My first build of this kind was an incinerator. This ‘research report’ feature acts as a speed bump to progress requiring the player to juggle the expansion projects and lay out strategic plans. Or just wing it, like I did.
Students walking around on fire throughout the school instantly caught my eye. Fears of a school arsonist soon abated when I was informed flaming students had a temporary ‘aura’ which would make them unusually likely to pass exams and challenges.
Challenges are roadblocks the game sets up in order to measure academic progress and rate your school. Students have to be selected to complete challenges. If they pass, the school’s ranking will be upgraded. As the difficulty increases, special classes can be commissioned to further educate the young minds. There are several other similar challenges to improve the school — the most important being the constant training of teachers.
Rising through the ranks
These little quirks added originality to Pocket Academy. The vice principal constantly poking her nose in can get annoying, but on the whole I quite enjoyed building up my school to a reputable establishment.
Tetris on acid comes to mind. Well, not really, but all ‘Sim-esque’ games either from, or inspired by, the ’90s boast bright blocky graphics, fridge magnet characters and Rubik’s cube buildings. And that’s all part of the charm.
The terrain on which you have to build your school has hills and bumps, requiring careful planning which I liked and the user interface does the job nicely. I would like to mention that when scaled up to tablet size, the UI does however stretch a little too much for my liking. Perhaps proper support for tablets would be an idea for an update.
Nature items on the map such as trees and plants change colour during the autumn semester which I thought was a nice touch from the developers.
Changing of the seasons
Should you install Pocket Academy and pay the €3.80 price tag? That depends. Did you play Theme Hospital as a kid? If so, then yes, you definitely should. Besides, Kairosoft are great at breathing new life into long-gone platforms, and their game selection reflects that.
Yes, there are annoying aspects to Pocket Academy, and deep down, I almost wish these kinds of games would jump a decade forward into the present. But the simplicity, the genuine thinking demanded of the player and the basic yet addicting game concept keeps me coming back for more.