I waited for the release of Plant Tycoon with baited breath. In 2002, when I had a palm pilot (I’ve since migrated to the PPC), I was obsessed with my virtual plants. I would water them on the subway, check them on the bus, cross-pollinate after rehearsal, and sell my plants while working behind the desk at an uptown cybercafe. When I poured coffee on the entire thing I was in shock and didn’t speak for an entire evening – mostly because I lost my Palm Pilot, but I was secretly grieving for my plants. It was a matter of time before the game would move on to a bigger screen with more detailed graphics, and time it did take. It took 5 years.

The core game of Plant Tycoon hasn’t changed much, to tell the truth. You have 3 rows of 5 pots in your little greenhouse. Into these pots go soil, water, and seed, sometimes fertilizer. As time goes by (and slowly, it does, unless you manipulate your PC’s clock – but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?), your plants will shoot, and after some more time, they will bud. Here’s where things get interesting: when your plants are fully mature, you can start pollinating. Plants in Plant Tycoon have set of genetics for each seed. When you cross-pollinate, you create new kinds of plants that are “unknown” species until they are fully mature. The goal is to create 6 special “magic” plants. There are over 500 possible varieties. There are no hints as to what these plant varieties could be. Good luck. 🙂

Once your plants produced seeds (or not – you don’t HAVE to pollinate) you can save them to your seed box to be planted later. You can place tags on your plants to sell them in the nursery or trash them to make room. If you destroy your original plants by accident, you can always buy stock seeds from the Supplies store. It restocks once a day in case of accidents.

What I’m saying is, you better get a screen grabber and a pen and pencil ready, because in order to make this more than just trial and error, you will be taking a LOT of notes. One of the features on my wish list for the PC version of Plant Tycoon was a full family tree, or genealogy chart, as you go on through generations. What LDW gave us, however, is the same info given in the mobile Plant Tycoon – you will find out about each seed’s parents as you click on them, and that’s about all it’s going to give you. The rest? Write it down. You’ll regret it later if you don’t. One really “missing” feature is the names of plants being displayed when you click on a seed, after it has been planted and should be in a family tree. The images don’t really help much, to tell the truth.

A lot of the old features carried over: more expensive soil and water is a necessity for your fragile cross-pollinated plants, decorations brings in more customers, etc. The soil system works quite well, but I always found the nursery decorations to be little more than vanity buys. Your customers will eventually buy all your plants if you leave them there long enough, regardless of whether there are enough of them.

Since Plant Tycoon is so closely modeled after the original, it’s really the little things they added to the game that really makes it shine. In the old game, you used to have to drag the soil from the bag every time you pot, and drag and drop every tool as well. This is greatly improved by the new system where you only have to click on the soil once to pick it up, and use it multiple times before putting it back. I’m not sure if I like the new watering system that simulates the time factor in watering a plant, but some may enjoy the simulation of, uh…watering. (This is coming from someone who enjoys the simulation of plant growing because she has a black thumb, btw.) I love the Latin naming system – it’s a lot easier to keep track of my plants now!

The HUD hasn’t changed much. The old HUD was very well designed for a handheld device, but a straight transfer to PC made it look pretty cumbersome. A better approach would be having all of the specific plant related activities attached to the plant by pop-up menus. It would certainly make pollination easier. There are a lot of quirks from the old menu that was simply there because of space constraints – for example, the handy seed box only holds 8 seeds, which is a very odd number considering that there are 15 pots. Also, now that we’re on the PC, why are we restricted to 15 pots? You can get extra tanks in Fish Tycoon, so why not extra nurseries in Plant Tycoon?

Plant Tycoon adapted the Virtual Villagers collection game, with a bug net that can catch bugs as you see them going by. This works well in theory, but in reality you’d be watching your plants a lot less than your villagers. The chances of you collecting all of those bugs are pretty low, unless you spend a lot of time watching your plants.

Here we come to the core problem of Plant Tycoon. Plant Tycoon is a real time game, like the much-lauded and popular Virtual Villagers series, as well as Fish Tycoon (which all came out technically AFTER Plant Tycoon, since Plant Tycoon is more of a re-make for PC than it is a sequel of any sort). The only issue with that is, of course, that plants are very much unlike people and fish. Watching fish swim is mildly amusing. Watching people can be very entertaining. Watching plants grow is like, well, how should we put it – as much fun as watching grass grow? It was perfectly acceptable in a mobile game since it was mobile – it was a matter of whipping out the Palm to check on my plants to see if they budded yet and nurse them like my pets, but quite another to load up a program on the computer to do the same.

The only way this could’ve worked is if it was an interactive screensaver. Which it isn’t. Another way would be an active desktop extension; which isn’t there either.

Aside from a major graphical update – my, the plants are absolutely gorgeous! – and the ability to prune your plants of dead leaves, Plant Tycoon doesn’t stray far from the original. In my opinion, that may be just as well – the original was such a great addicting game, so why change near-perfection? It is definitely still one of my favorite games, and one to keep on my computer for posterity. It doesn’t exactly promote organic plant growing aside from one mention of “Bio-organic Plant Food” in the supplies, but it’s a great learning tool for patience. It only takes a few minutes to play at a time, and the problem is that a few minutes is all you’re going to get before you have to wait a few hours again.

So I do recommend Plant Tycoon, but with a warning: If you didn’t like Fish Tycoon, you’re not going to like this either.

Plant Tycoon Hints
Plant Tycoon Helper 1.0

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