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Review: The Tower SP (GBA)

Many people are not aware of the history of this game. At first glance, most people would call it a “SimCity rip-off”. However, this is completely false! It is SimTower, with a few cultural differences between the Japanese and North American versions.tower1.png

The Tower is a construction management simulation game designed by the infamous Yoot Saito while his original company OPeNBooK Co. was around. During this time, SimCity was a critically acclaimed game and was a major factor in Will Wright’s popularity in the simulation game industry. Saito’s The Tower was published in North America by Maxis and the game was renamed to SimTower as a way of standing out better in stores and increasing sales. The name change worked to benefit Maxis, but never replaced the critical acclaim of SimCity. Again, I must stress that Will Wright had nothing to do with this game in any way.

After this, Saito retained all the rights to the game, with the exception of the name “SimTower”, and stuck with the name “The Tower”. OPeNBooK later joined forces with Sega, and made a new version of his game for the PC and named it “Yoot Tower”. In addition, he created The Tower for the unsuccessful console, the Panasonic 3DO, and was only released in Japan. These versions were more complex than SimTower with different types of buildings that had various effects on a residents stress levels (e.g. restaurants, restrooms, etc.).

tower2.PNGYoot Saito formed another company, Vivarium Inc., which is well known for the Dreamcast game, Seaman, a pet simulation where the player uses a microphone to speak with the character directly to interact with it in addition to regular caretaking activities. OPeNBooK later on merged into Vivarium Inc and continued to develop more games with Sega.


The Tower SP is another game made directly by Vivarium. It still retains the visual similarities with its previous versions and makes good use of the GBA hardware with better controls and a better interface. The letters SP is a reference to the latest revision of the Game Boy Advance, the SP version, which is more compact and opens like a laptop computer and the newer Nintendo DS. This is the first time I recall a GBA game adding the letters SP to its name, where other games would use the word Advance.

The player takes on the role of a constructor for Yamanouchi Construction and needs to construct a building that people can live and work in, while making sure that everything is easily accessible, in good condition, secure, clean and making profit at the same time. As the building gets a higher population, the player is allowed to add different things such as a hospital and a train station to accommodate different people. The final objective is to have more than 40 floors, a population of 2000 and a wedding must take place during a weekend to receive a 5-star rating and the label of “tower” status. At the time of this writing, I have a 4-star rating and a population that fluctuates between 500 and 1900 and I am starting to slowly redesign the placement of everything to make it less stressful for the residents so they people don’t leave so much. It’s very challenging.tower3.PNG

The controls on the GBA are much better than the PC versions since there are buttons mapped to functions such as construction, increasing the rate of time, saving, reading help documents about various structures and examining people and rooms. In order to speed time, the player needs to hold down the A button. At first, I had a problem with this, because I’d end up holding down the A button for several minutes just to watch people move in to empty condos and fill up offices, then I realized the reason why they force players to hold down buttons is because there are messages that show on the screen such as “Single 40s female demands restaurant” and “Elevator #3 too crowded” which may or may not have a fatal impact on people’s stress level causing them to leave the building completely and it is important that the player has a chance to deal with these issues.

In addition to managing stress, the player needs to ensure that they are always making a profit with everything in the tower. This part requires plenty of patience. If the prices are low, people will move in, but move out if it’s too expensive and the stress level rises again. A trick I love to use is to lower the prices of offices and condos, and slowly raise it as people move in. One thing I had to do often is after a lot of people move in, I hold the A button to speed up the time and simply wait and watch as my money grows to 1 million dollars or more so that I can spend more time expanding.

tower4.PNGAs the player’s building expands, it will need more cleaning staff. Every morning, they will go through each floor and clean as much as they can. If there are not enough cleaners, there will be rooms left dirty, cockroaches will grow, causing more stress, forcing residents to leave the building. The player is capable of directly taking part in maintenance in strange ways. For example, the player can select a dirty bathroom and rapidly press A to clean it, saving the cleaning staff time when they do their daily routine. When a new restaurant is made, sometimes the player can select it and press A to increase the chances of residents to buying food there. This is a very miniscule way to add more player action so that they’re not always just waiting for money to roll in every time.


There aren’t too many bad things about this game, being that it is of the simulation genre. The thing I like the least about The Tower SP is the complexity of the rules. For example, a building can only have 4 elevators with a maximum of 4 carts and they cannot expand over 20 floors, people can take a maximum of 4 stairs at a time, there can only be 1 big elevator and can only be accessed every 10 floors, there is a limit to the number of restrooms, etc. The list goes on. Although, as the player gets a higher star rating, the president of Yamanouchi Construction will inspect the building once a year and give advice to make the building better.tower5.PNG

As a simulation game, it certainly lives up to the genre’s name. There’s just something about constructing a large building filled with little pixilated silhouettes that I find so appealing. Even with the complex rules and limited graphics compared to the PC versions it’s still a good game for anyone who is very patient and likes simulation games such as SimCity.


towermario.jpgWhile I was reading about this game, I found out that Vivarium Inc. made another sequel to this game for the Nintendo DS in Japan, appropriately titled “The Tower DS”. They did this to celebrate The Tower’s fifteenth anniversary. When The Tower SP for the GBA was released, most of the reviews for it were negative due to the fact that it is fairly long for a portable game and is still wrongly called a “SimTower rip-off”. The Tower is virtually unknown to most people, and the label “SimTower rip-off” causes so much confusion amongst people.


Due to the negative reviews, I don’t believe The Tower DS will ever reach North America in English. Reading text is a very important part of this game, and is nearly impossible to expand a building if the player is unable to tell what residents demand, so it’s not a game I can import from Japan and still understand. It makes good use of the dual-screens, so I don’t need to scroll up so high, since both screens display the tall tower better than on the GBA.

The only reason why The Tower DS was mentioned in some game news pages is because people saw the statue of Mario standing similarly to New York City’s Statue of Liberty, and there will be a point where the player can add rooms inside of the statue of Mario.

In addition, Sega did not publish The Tower DS. It was published by another Japanese company called DigiToys Inc. I don’t know if this is because Sega wasn’t interested in The Tower, since they were willing to produce a sequel to Seaman for the PS2 in Japan. It could also be due to the fact that The Sims and Spore are dominating the simulation game market here. Those are great games, and it’s a shame that Vivarium Inc. developed 2 games that we will most likely never see in English.

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