Title:

  • Yoot Tower

Genre:

  • Simulation

Developer:

  • OPeNBooK 9003

Publisher:

  • Sega PC (US)

Release Date:

  • 1998 (Mac, US), 1999 (PC, US)

System(s):

  • Mac, Windows

Box Art Credit:

  • Mobygames

Systems Used:

  • Classic Mac OS, SheepShaver on Mac & PC, PC

Trivia:

  • Known as "The Tower II" in Japan

On Wikipedia:

Before you start reading, let me tell you two things.
1. In case it wasn't clear, I really did/do enjoy SimTower despite its problems.
2. This review will probably be one of the longest reviews on here for a single, non-episodic game. This will probably be as long as SimCity 4's review was if not longer. Additionally, please switch the text encoding to Unicode for this review in your web browser, you'll need it.

Many years ago, I played SimTower and considered it one of my favorites in the library (and as that review states, it was easy for me to say since the library of games I had at the time was quite limited). One day at my grandfather's house (home of classic Mac shareware and the Apple IIGS, which I failed to mention in my Milestones 2000 review) when my uncle and aunt were visiting (from Louisiana, home of where my love of Nintendo was forged, see my Super Mario RPG review), I came across one of my aunt's magazines. She often brought along sci-fi periodicals and the occasional Mac magazine, but I think it might have been the former since the magazine I remember was of the "digest" size, but I remember seeing it...a screenshot of a game that looked a whole lot like SimTower but wasn't. It looked a lot more colorful with things I knew couldn't be done with SimTower. A sequel seemed to exist, but I had no confirmation of it. Was it even on Mac? (That was a big question at the time, as the PC received more games than Mac did).

The "postage stamp-sized" pictures in this review are taken from the actual now defunct website.
This is the only GIF, the only one not tiny, and the only one with a caption.

Later on, I discovered what it was, there was a real sequel called Yoot Tower, and I scoured the website, saving every picture I could (postage stamp-sized, due to the slower modems at the time) as well as reading every review I can find (stuff like this, which has since been removed from the Internet but I saved a text copy of it years ago here). Unfortunately, by the time I really "discovered" this proper, it was five years old and couldn't be bought in retail easily. When my brother finally managed to find a copy through the Internet that he had at his dorms, I was elated. Before you ask, "Why Yoot Tower?", it's because it was named after the creator of the game, and instead of Maxis porting it, it was Sega PC, which had no rights to the Sim name. In Japan, there's no discrepancy, it's just The Tower and The Tower II. This is a bit more confusing considering that the original The Tower (or SimTower, as it's better known) was ported to iOS and it was named...Yoot Tower. Well, this is for the real thing!

I was able to play it on the family's PowerWave, a hand-me-down from my grandfather. It ran Mac OS 8.6 and had a comparatively huge screen. It wasn't anything big by today's standards, perhaps 17" (or maybe 21", and I'm just guessing since it's been so long), but it was enough and it was wonderful. That was enough to single-handedly revive the system for me. I quickly updated my folder on that computer from the hodge-podge it was of custom folders of various degrees of quality to a system of colored folders with new organization. I thought it was very sophisticated, although the backup copy seems amateurish stocked full of pictures and text files ripped from the Internet as well as various little things I wrote in AppleWorks, kind of an equivalent of Microsoft Office at the time. It was less bloated, less full featured, and came with a halfway decent "paint" program that was or at least would be equivalent to Paint for XP had it not been crippled with a low resolution. These folders (as of the saved backup) included things like "Game Reviews", "Images", "Japanese Lessons" (it was mostly for Pokémon and I never really got into it, especially after the website that published the lessons only stopped after 9...probably just as well, that sort of thing is the foundation of otaku/weeb behavior, and we can't have that), six whole folders dedicated to Pokémon (Episodes, Merchandise, News, Pictures, Potpourri, and TCG) plus another folder called " Pokémania.com Files", with stuff that would've gone to a fictional website that I had (today the URL redirects to a "Mega site of Bible Information") and of course a folder named "School". The "Pokémon Potpourri" was basically miscellaneous stuff. I think I got the idea from some cookbook (or something) from a parent-teacher publication with that being the "everything else" section.

Anyway, what made Yoot Tower really interesting was a few factors. First, it was actually released on the Mac before the PC version, and the Windows version seems to suffer issues at least when I played it on XP that the Mac version did not have. The second thing is it really was the perfect sequel in so many aspects. Many of the reviews from when Yoot Tower was released rated it average at best because they thought it was too similar, and to those people, they just don't really "get it" because basically what Yoot Tower did is hide a robust sequel behind a familiar facade and make what was good about the first one great. This is like saying Donkey Kong Country 2 isn't good because it looks and plays too similarly to the first DKC (not that DKC2 didn't present other problems).

Far too many sequels just add window dressing to a concept or even take things out, but good sequels keep pretty much everything what people liked about the original and added new stuff. The differences between the 1989 SimCity and SimCity 2000 are a fantastic example, because SC2K kept everything from SimCity that made the original such a success in the first place, added an entirely new graphics system and tons of new items, yet still made it compatible with the original (the same code base). In comparison, SimCity 3000, which while retaining some compatibility with SC2K didn't offer nearly the amount of new stuff and mostly did window dressing. SimCity 4, the last GOOD SimCity game and the end of the original series as far as I'm concerned, was forced to throw out the compatibility but retained the look and feel while adding new content.

Anyway, Yoot Tower changed the game by splitting up everything into distinct "modules" (drawn from files), from individual items to the scenarios in which you build. Instead of one tower, you get three to pick from. There was Hawaii, in which you built a touristy structure with condos and hotels, Tokyo, a fast-paced version of the original that focuses on dense building and efficiency that most resembles the original game in many aspects (sorry, the "lowering rent to make people stay" trick doesn't work here), and Kegon Falls, an interesting scenario in which instead of a true tower, you manage a structure that primarily serves as an observation point for a natural waterfall, with thirty underground stories to build a hotel and amenities. That wasn't all though.

In SimTower, you could pick "Classic" or "Modern" movies. Modern movies grossed more, but were more expensive to make. They mostly consisted of a sound effect and a small picture of what was going on. In Yoot Tower, the movies appeal to different audiences (children, adults, women) and it was expanded to a small (on average 30 second) short QuickTime film. These films are incredibly bizarre, and we'll get to that later. In SimTower, retail stores were just randomly generated buildings that all grossed roughly the same depending on their placement and how much rent was, but in Yoot Tower you could adjust what the stores tended to focus in and strategize that way.

The only big problem in all of this was it just wasn't nearly as polished as SimTower was with some translation quirks and a lack of marketing tending to doom it. So much for it being one of the things as an attempt by Apple to push the Mac as a gaming platform. Additionally, the time with the PowerWave was short-lived, as a few weeks later, it suffered a failure of some sort and never started up again, though it was moved to the iMac, which also ultimately died. Currently, I play it sometimes on SheepShaver, which has some audio problems and I've never gotten the videos to run properly. So it's not perfect. The Windows version, which I tried, didn't doesn't seem as well-polished as I remember the Mac version being, including in interface as well. I just can't play the Windows version or the Mac emulated version without feeling like it's a bastardized version of the original Mac version I played (the newer version of SheepShaver does run it better than my MacBook did, but QuickTime problems prevent it from actually showing the movies properly), and all three scenarios just don't feel as tight as the original SimTower did. Part of the problem is fragmentation, the other problem is just isn't as Westernized as SimTower was.

The Hawaii scenario is one half of the original SimTower and focuses more on condos and your tower being a tourist destination. There's still a cathedral like SimTower except the floor limit is much less (topping out at 45). You can add skywalks at least, something the original SimTower never did.

The Tokyo scenario is similar to SimTower but much harder. The same stars are there (5 star and Tower are the same thing). Despite some cool items to place, I never really liked the Tokyo scenario because offices would leave, and unlike SimTower didn't all come back if I lowered the rent. It has some cool items to place, though, including a supermarket and a school. But these are kind of ruined because of their "item mix" (see below).

In many ways, Kegon Falls was my favorite because it offered an entirely fresh take on the classic Tower experience. Rather than building a tower, you build 32 stories underground to observe a waterfall, which is in the background and changes with the seasons, with the flow changing and going eerily silent in winter, when the entire waterfall freezes. (Luckily, you discover the hot springs early on to keep your hotel going through the winter months)

Yoot Tower also uses product placement to great advantage. Both versions feature a placeable GameWorks item, which I wasn't really sure actually existed because I was a kid from a small college town where there wasn't (and still isn't) much to do, and it could've been fictional (the "coffee.com" shop, which was then and is now owned by Peet's Coffee & Tea, and didn't operate stores as "coffee.com", unless it was only in Japan). GameWorks was real and owned by Sega at the time. Imagine my surprise when I found a 1998 mall directory (for Grapevine Mills in the Dallas area) in early 2004 no less, featuring GameWorks quite prominently!

While the Mac version (released first) featured an Apple billboard, the Windows version features Sandals Beach Resort and Air Jamaica. The Windows version also has Orange Julius and 1-800-FLOWERS as shops.

In terms of actual form and function, there's more micromanaging to do, and while it's a novelty, it doesn't necessarily make the game stronger. You can not only place shops and restaurants specifically (in SimTower what shops or restaurants placed were simply window dressing, it wouldn't matter if you placed a burger restaurant, an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a Japanese restaurant, and a Chinese restaurant, or just all ice cream shops), but you can dictate what shops sell what, like if you wanted an electronics shop to focus more on audio and video than computers or other electronic goods. Unfortunately, many of these categories make little sense. Remember that supermarket item I mentioned? Well, the four items you can adjust include "Perishables", "Cosmetics", "Dishes", and "Underwear". I know it's supposed to be in Japan, but those are the categories they picked?

The best part of Yoot Tower by far, are the aforementioned movies. You can have the full run-down of them here, but what was a bit off-putting was that some of them looked like they had evaded the ESRB completely, despite being fairly modest. (Highlights of that include "6 Plus 1", "Shadow Party", "Zombie Pursuit", and other questionable dialogue like at 3:36) Recently (in relative terms) I had and uploaded the expanded set only in Japan, with some of them being "spoof" sequels of the first. That's what the thumbnail is, a movie of a guy turning into a tempura shrimp when the moon is full. All of them are great and don't need you to understand Japanese to get most of them. I like the one with the woman bringing beer for two dudes, the title is 奥様は元ホステス which appears to be translated as "Your Wife: Former Hostess". Nice.

Movies weren't the only one to not see an English release. There were other modules released in Japan, including additional items and whole modules (the last one you had to buy). The Statue of Liberty module was actually planned for the U.S. as a free download, but never made it. I did collect a few materials related to this elusive add-on, including the description from "Macintosh Gaming Joho" (which I archived the entirety of).

OPeNBooK 9003 has released "Towerkit CD-ROM: The Statue of Liberty". It is an add-on kit for The Tower II, the original Japanese version of Yoot Tower, where player redevelops The Statue of Liberty into a resort hotel while takes a role of a boss of two employees. It features role playing-like scenario based on a comical love story and new items such as jazz club and Christmas shop. Requires Japanese version of The Tower II, additional free HD 10 MB or larger (90 MB or larger recommended). Available as hybrid CD-ROM at retail stores in Japan.

...and I procured the PDF manual too but I can't read it or translate it, and I can't even put it up because I wasn't going to go digging it for it before "press time". (EDIT: For Carbon-izer 23, it has been added). Anyway, making sense of the description I think I did come across a screenshot where the characters were the silhouettes like always (colored differently) and the story was pushed through dialogue boxes. Additional items I came across including a swimming pool and stores for Munsingwear and Glico. You can see my old blog post on it here.

That wasn't the end of it, as there were several other add-ons released in Japan. Luckily, MGJ has information on a few of them. In March 1999 and November 1999, respectively, OPeNBook 9003 released at least two expansions (I should dig around for more, but I promised I would get this review out).

OPeNBooK 9003* has released Towerkit CD "Kyoto Station": Gamera 3*. Kyoto Station is a new add-on scenario for The Tower II* (original Japanese version of Yoot Tower) based on newly released Gamera 3 film. It contains the Map of Kyoto Station, Kyoto-specific tenant items such as various Japanese restaurants and souvenir shops. It also includes special final event of a monster battle and emergency-related items such as a radio station and an insurance agency. Requires free HD 100 MB or larger, full retail version of The Tower II. Available as hybrid CD-ROM at retail stores in Japan.

In November 1999, OPeNBook 9003 "Towerkit CD: Christmas Story - Santa Claus-ni Nareru Yoru". Here's what MGJ had to say about it: It is an expansion kit for The Tower II, the original Japanese version of the popular building management simulation game Yoot Tower. Set in a fantasy world, player develops a town of Santa Claus desolated for many years, and revives it by placing attractive items. It contains all-new graphics, items, sounds, and events with the theme of Christmas as well as [a] unique heartwarming story. Requires free HD 180 MB or larger, full retail version of The Tower II. Available as hybrid CD-ROM at retail stores in Japan. Japanese software.

In any case, there is more information available on the Japanese side of the Internet but good luck trying to find it. Despite promises, none of these expansion packs ever made it stateside. It would've been nice if any of them did or if there were a few based out of the United States, maybe other New York buildings, like the World Trade Center or Trump Tower (before both acquired stigmas that would make them unviable for mass release, though for different reasons).

At least Yoot Tower is versatile enough to still be workable in Windows 10 as per this Japanese message board, but Yoot Tower joins other titles like Grim Fandango and SimCity 4 as feeling woefully incomplete. While the other two were screwed by corporate overlords, Yoot Tower just feels like it could've made a great cult classic game that would still be appreciated today but it has fallen into obscurity. I hope I can share more information about Yoot Tower with you in the future, such as that manual.

07 May 2017

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