I’ve always liked simulation games. Building up theme parks, cities, and neighborhoods is always a good time, especially when you have the chance to cause some mayhem. In Party Hard Tycoon, an indie game developed by Pinokl Games together with Tiny Build, you have the opportunity to set up your own parties and increase your popularity around the city as you steadily climb the ranks and venue tiers to greatness. That is, as long as you can wrestle with some wonky programming and strange NPC interactions.
The game releases today on Steam Early Access later today.
You play as a smart-mouthed party planner just starting out in the big city of Aho Bay. As you throw more parties, grow in popularity, and serve party-goers with more money than sense, various NPCs will contact you for favors. Some of them shady. Will you help a shady cop set up sting operations in exchange for cash, or plan parties with some real animals who may very well wreck your venue in exchange for future benefits? Your decisions could net you cash and fans, or they can end up ruining an expensive party and throw you out onto the Game Over screen.
In Party Hard Tycoon you begin with some starting cash, two cheap starting venues, a handful of fans (guests), and a tutorial that is delivered via in-game text message. One venue costs nothing to book, being essentially an abandoned building, but the other costs $1000 just to get going. You spend your cash booking the venue and hiring personnel, but the bulk of it will be spent on equipment. Each level of venue lets you purchase equipment like speakers, smoke machines, and light shows; food items like sushi tables, beer kegs, and bars; and decor items like bean bags, posters, cars, and dozens of other miscellaneous items to keep the party going.
The game works off of a colors system, starting with green and moving on up to purple, yellow, red, and blue. These colors categorize just about everything: fans, venues, equipment, personnel, and themes. Each in-game calendar day has a specific color, as well, indicating which venues will be available on any given day. Meanwhile, Fans are the people willing to come to your parties. Starting with green-colored fans being the cheapest partiers, each successive color on the list indicates how willing they are to spend their hard-earned money on your parties. For example, if the game shows you that a bunch of greens want to go to your club that night, plus a few yellows, you might want to keep the entry fee and food costs low to keep the cheaper guests happy and fed. Alternatively, higher-paying guests will be expecting much more expensive things to spend their money on, so be sure to shell out the dough for the fancy stuff if you can; the investment will be paid back several times over if a lot of guests eat there.
Each party comes with exactly one waiter, plus two or three other starting personnel. These include servers, hype guys, photographers, and security, and you can only have three of them plus your waiter available at any given party. They require money up-front to work at your party and provide their services. Some of them cost a pretty penny, but can definitely be worth it when properly utilized. For example, if a specific party theme informs you that fights can potentially break out (like at a Punk-themed party), then it would be wise to call in a cop to break up any fights that could ruin the mood of other attendees and cause them to leave (and stop spending their money). Personnel can also help increase the hype meter, which fluctuates up and down as a given party progresses depending on your equipment, decor, what the guests like, and some random events that could either increase the hype or tear the party to the ground. The more hype you get, the more people attend. Some personnel can lead partiers to a specific area and help you gain more Likes and additional fans after the party ends.
As you progress through the game and level up, you will gain access to new venues. Each one requires a certain amount of money to throw a party there at all, followed by the cost of personnel, and the cost of any equipment/food/decor you want to buy. This makes starting at a new location fairly difficult, but sometimes even a small and cheap party can net you enough of a profit to improve the next one.
Themes are, well, the themes you can choose for each party you throw. Depending on the party theme you choose, you could get a hefty bonus to the number fans of a certain color that will attend. Themes include Punk, Chatroom, Rap, and more than a dozen more. Like fans, each theme has a different color associated with it. However, while fans of any color can technically attend any party as long as it meets their criteria, your themes and personnel can only be used at venues of a matching color. While you might unlock half a dozen green themes and venues, you can’t use them on calendar days that require you to run a party at a venue of a specific color. This is why the RNG rewards system can become frustrating when it doesn't give you the venue/theme/personnel you need despite the the calendar almost completely removing the low-level green venue days entirely after a certain point. You are expected to grab the right upgrades despite the right upgrades potentially never arriving.
As guests attend your parties, you will get Likes, which are essentially experience points. As you progress and level up, you gain additional personnel, themes, and venues. While the game does throw a lot of them your way with its frequent level-ups, these rewards are, unfortunately, randomized. Since the game forces you into higher-tier party types and customers as you progress through the game’s calendar, this might put a real wrench in your plans if you don’t get good rolls here. You cannot simply purchase anything outright; you have to wait for the game to give it to you. I feel like the game would be far more forgiving if it gave you a random item for a given tier a certain levels, like 10, 15, and 20.
I have a few more gripes about how some parts of the game were executed, unfortunately. When a table runs out of food, you can just click on the server icon and select the table to refill. However, when you have multiple tables that are being taken from, you have an option that says “Serve All,” which refills all available food objects at the party. Good, right? If only the server actually refilled the object closest to him, or prioritized the one that needed to be refilled the most. Instead he seems to always choose at random which one to fix up first, be it right next to him or on the other side of the club. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be punishment for players who don’t click their food stands one at a time like good gamers, or if it’s just an odd design choice that tends to keep the server from being as efficient as he can be. At least there’s usually another waiter personnel who can be directed to specific areas, but that means taking up one of your three valuable personnel slots.
In addition, party-goers don’t seem to be the sharpest tools in the shed. I mean, they’re probably high out of their minds every night, but complaining about there being no music at the venue when they are standing right in front of the very expensive speaker I bought specifically to satisfy them, that’s when things get frustrating from the player’s perspective. Guests also love to complain about objects being in the way of doors, especially when said objects are clearly a solid ten pixels out of the way of any route to or from the door. Sometimes they’ll shout out, “I can’t get over there!” while standing in front of a speaker, then proceed to walk straight through it and toss me a downvote for the trouble.
I think the key here is “clarity.” I was never sure if the movements of the guests meant anything except for proximity to food tables and fights, or if they’re just window dressing for the algorithms going on underneath the hood. When the guests I’m trying to please don’t react properly to my efforts, it’s borderline insulting that I’m punished for it— sometimes severely. It's as if the game is saying, “I’m sorry, dear player, but you put that sofa one pixel too close to the door, so you’ve lost ten Fans who thought it was in their way. Whoops! Better luck next time.” The game plays by its own rules and doesn’t tell you what they are most of the time. Even in the tutorial, the friendly woman giving you advice mentions that every room should have music except the bathrooms, but on several occasions I’ve seen a guest standing around like a dope in the bathtub asking where the hell the tunes were.
I only hope that the full release of the game fixes some of these gripes of mine. As it is, most parties are a chore to sit through as ungrateful guests tell me off for not giving them what they wanted, before walking right past it as they head for the door.
Graphics and Audio
The pixel graphics in this game are charming, and feature a surprising variety of guests with unique little animations. The color palette includes every color across the spectrum, making the game really pop, especially in the little light shows you can put on for your guests. The venues had an equal amount of work put into them. The free-to-use squatter house is filled with garbage, cracks, and tons of little details letting you know just how far into the slums you are. Meanwhile, the higher-end locales sport an equal level of detail showing how classy they are. Overall, the graphics are nicely detailed and add a lot to both the venues and guests.
While the soundtrack does fit well with the theme of the game, it feels like a party-themed game should have far more music tracks than it does. There are maybe four in-party tracks and that’s it. They are repetitive and get old pretty quick despite how well they fit with the game. As for sound effects, they are fairly standard: coins clinking together whenever you make money at a party, and… actually, that’s pretty much it. You can only hear the music and the jingle of cash falling into your pockets. And, to be honest, that’s probably all this kind of game really needs.
There is a great game hidden under the flaws, but they can become glaring enough to bring it all down. The graphics are great, and the game has a real spirit of fun to it that I admire. I like simulation games, but Party Hard Tycoon can unintentionally turn itself into a chore for the player. All of the pretty pixel graphics in the world can’t make up for a game that feels like work. I played a pre-release version, so maybe the full release will fix some of these things, but there is no way to tell until the game is released. I, for one, am crossing my fingers that the developers over at Pinokl Games do right by this game and show us what they can do with it.
|+ Colorful graphics and vibrant style||– Awkward guest and personnel behaviors|
|+ Many venues and decorations to purchase||– Randomly gained rewards can hinder progress|
|+ Feels great when a party comes together||– Game punishes you hard for small mistakes|