I didn’t know what to expect from Tropico 6 on the Nintendo Switch. I was definitely intrigued, as a fan of the series. Would I have another great sim experience on the go? Would I have another portable PC game to sink hundreds of hours into? Well… no. Sadly, the game has barely survived the switch to a lower-powered console. In fact, unlike a lot of other games where the visuals have been reined-in on the Switch, Tropico 6 loses almost all its appeal in such an ugly form.
The first thing that greets me as I launch the game is a “software closed because an error occurred” message, which doesn’t fill me with hope. I didn’t come across this again, but it wasn’t the best first impression. The second impression I got was when the game asks you to customise your Presidente and their residence. This isn’t the best second impression, either… but we’ll get onto that. From there, the game itself is a blurry Tropico 6. A decent game made a whole lot worse on Nintendo’s hybrid console.
Story & Gameplay — Adequate Translation
The tl;dr of the game itself is: this is definitely Tropico 6. I loaded the game, whizzed through the tutorials (which are still great!), and played a whole lot of Tropico. The tutorials do a great job of introducing you to the game and its different interrelated mechanics. Once you’ve got to grips with the gameplay, this archipelago is your playground, and you can start being that dictator you’ve always dreamed of…
There are some good different game modes, too. The main mode you’re likely to use is sandbox. This is the classic Tropico campaign-style mode. There are also fun ‘story’ missions, which are little vignettes wrapped around gameplay tasks that are kind of interesting, but sometimes written really badly. Tropico’s writing is often like that — you can find it all funny or none of it funny. For me, it was very hit and miss.
It’s also important to note that this game works great with a controller. Just like a lot of PC games recently ported to consoles, some innovative control schemes allow you to do different tasks almost as quickly as before. This is the same for Tropico 6. I didn’t come across any big issues. Admittedly, it is all a bit fiddly, but so is every other PC game I’ve ever played on a console.
I do have one main gripe, however. I don’t think Tropico 6 is actually that good a game, it’s just decent. I played a good amount on PC when it came out, and I’ve played a lot more on Switch now too. While you are juggling different tasks — like trade, citizen happiness, employment, raids, attackers, alliances, factions and their demands, and how all these aspects interact — it very rarely feels like you can make a hefty impact.
You get control over every aspect of your islands — the different industries, the housing, the transport, and a host of other things — but as you place your buildings and watch this miniature world whirr away, it all feels very old-fashioned. I love old sim games, but the way this world winds-up and runs as you interact with it feels like you’re barely a part of it. It’s not even like the spinning plates of an old SimCity, it’s more like a toy train set. You’re just kind of observing an ecosystem. That’s not too bad when you can see the splendour of your ecosystem as it expands, but, as we’ll get onto, you don’t really get that opportunity in this version of the game.
There is still more good than bad in this game, for sure. I like advancing different technologies, building world wonders, completing trade routes, and winning tight elections: all these things feel good to do. But it just feels like they don’t affect your day-to-day all that much. There is a lot of just… waiting around. So, this game is still Tropico, with the different aspects of the world being just as entertaining, and just like all games of this ilk, watching your kingdom grow is thrilling. Or, it was when you could see it properly…
Visuals & Audio — Look on my Works…and despair!
Let’s get the ‘not bad’ out of the way. The audio in this game sounds good on the Switch. The voice acting is fun if a bit annoying. The music is silly if a bit cliché. And the overall aural aspect of this game is adequate in this port. Once you get used to the game, I suspect you will play it while listening to something else (as you spend a lot of the time just letting it do its thing), but it is nice to know the sound is intact if you want it. Something that isn’t there if you want it, however, is visual fidelity.
Now, this is where Tropico 6 becomes an almost pointless exercise on the Nintendo Switch. Visually, it is not very good. Everything is blurry when at a mid- to far-zoom, with your plantations shimmering unnaturally and hard corners of buildings distorting. When you zoom in, the resolution of the textures gets higher (albeit with a slight delay) and things become a tad clearer. But only a tad.
This close-up resolution is good and lets you explore your little town and see it going by. But as you expand, which is inevitable, it is impossible to enjoy the work you’ve put in. If you’ve ever played SimCity, or Cities: Skylines, or even Civilization VI, you surely know that feeling of pride and awe as you zoom out of the map and see how far you’ve come, remembering your humble beginnings. That feeling is vital to any game like this.
I have hundreds of hours in both Civ VI and City: Skylines on Switch — they are great games to play on the go — and can say for certain that seeing your world grow in these games does supply that vital feeling, in spite of their visual concessions. But it just isn’t there in Tropico 6 on Nintendo’s plucky console. The game itself runs fine, other than the annoying freezes when it autosaves, but looks so bad that you can never enjoy the fruits of your labour.
In my review for The Outer Worlds on Nintendo Switch, I said that the visual concessions don’t ruin the core of the game, which is its characters and great writing. The key to that game still shone through in spite of the way it looked. Here, however, the longer you play, the less you get to enjoy the heart of Tropico 6. That feeling of achievement as you survey your grand islands and recall your plucky beginnings is barely here. And that is a massive detriment to it.
Tropico 6 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch and a code was provided by Kalypso Media.