Platforms: iOS, Facebook
Publisher: Game Insight
Release Date: January 23
Why build a city when you could build a resort town somewhere the beaches are inviting, the water is clear and the tourists are plentiful? That’s obviously a rhetorical question in real life, but a real one in mobile games thanks to Road 404 and Game Insight creating “Sunshine Bay.” This free-to-play city-builder treads a lot of familiar gameplay ground but manages to give players a little more reason to care about their virtual vacation spots thanks to extra emphasis on story and characters.
If that sounds strange, consider how most mobile city-builders work. While you’re generally free to construct the city you want within the constraints of your available space and resources, it’s the quests and missions that often shape your decisions, especially in the early stages.
“Sunshine Bay” is no different in this regard, except instead of short goals and relatively faceless characters giving you direction, it actually makes an effort to have people with personality lay out the reasons for doing things. Hence, while you’re learning how to build docks and buildings and sending boats on excursions for the first time, you’re also transporting guests to a big poker tournament and rescuing a female sailor with an unusual story to tell. There’s even an underlying enigma to unravel as you progess, which is why you were selected to run the resort in the first place.
That helps elevate the game over similar titles even though the nitty gritty of what you’re doing is going to feel plenty familiar. A big part of the active play is keeping boats coming and going from increasingly distant destinations in order to earn coins, experience points and items. The ships need both fuel, which regenerates over time, and passengers, which can be “harvested” from residential structures at regular intervals.
The dry land portion of your resort is also home to power plants to produce enough electricity to run everything and stores, attractions and the like to earn extra coins. The mix of structures and your cruise ship enterprise is enough to make sure you have something to do at most times, though the pacing of things like the yacht excursions (some can take hours) means this is a game that is most suited for playing in short bursts.
Leveling up gets you more Cash, the “Sunshine Bay” premium currency, plus access to more things to build and upgrades to the stuff you’ve already got. Completing the quests helps in this regard, of course, and it’s nice to see the way several of your quests at any given time usually ask you to do the same or similar things. You might need to find a lost bathing suit for one character and ferry passengers for another, but both of them will require you to send a boat to the Bahamas.
The big drawback is how hard it is to grow the usable area of your vacation spot without having friends that play. Each expansion after the first few costs either Cash or coins, with the latter option only available if you’ve got a certain number of neighbors. This limitation is a throwback to an era of mobile/social gaming better left behind, and it forces you into a situation where you have to decide between paying, bugging friends or a lot of grinding.
That last option is made more tolerable by the sharp graphics, especially for a game of this type. The waves are always perfect, little people are roaming around town on what appear to be Segways, and boats are shuttling off to whatever destinations await them (and occasionally through each other, collision detection be darned). Character design tends toward the cute side, which is typical for the genre, though some of the bustier females seem to be calling to a segment of the gaming population that doesn’t usually gravitate to games like this.
At it’s core, “Sunshine Bay” is a mix of tapping, building, collecting and resource management you’ve likely played before. It’s definitely dressed up nicer though, and it’s got a warm tropical breeze blowing through the whole time. Sounds nice, right?
+ Has more personality than your average mobile city-builder in both characters and quests
+ Pleasant graphics set the tone
– Core gameplay solid but not particularly innovative
– Hard to expand the size of the resort without nagging friends or buying premium currency