This one felt a little nostalgic because when I was younger, I was a huge fan of both ‘Sim City’ and ‘Zoo Tycoon’ and the fond memories I shared with my brother and cousins long ago. The tutorial is a bit messy, but I found that the grants and objectives do a good job at guiding me to each new mechanic and each aspect I needed to micromanage. The title is pretty self explanatory: you are in charge of funding a high school that brings in tuition from freshmen all the way to seniors. You start off with very limited materials, which make your school start off feeling like a military school. As you play the game you are able to unlock more comfy and luxurious amenities to support your students’ success and your chances at meeting class quotas. The biggest motivating factor I enjoyed in the game was the aspect of taking on grants with a deadline, and meeting the requirements before time ran out. This alone constantly gave me something to work towards and was a great way to slowly unravel that which Academia has to offer. It starts off a bit slow, with you creating offices and classrooms, but as your funding increases, you begin to manage budgets, student performances, school sports and events, etc.
There’s only a couple game modes to explore, being the sandbox mode and the game proper, granted there is a wealth of mechanics to dive into when loading a new game. There’s a sandbox mode where budgets and consequences are thrown out the window for spontaneous infrastructure and bureaucracy built on your wildest dreams. Where you can never be in debt and your roads are paved in gold, not literally, but yeah. This is basically a non-game that can still be pretty fun, just like how creative mode in ‘Minecraft’ enables brilliant artists with way too much time to make things that mildly impress me for ten seconds before I continue scrolling through my feed. Wow that got way too real and oddly, specifically cruel at the end. Disclaimer: ‘Minecraft’ is a cool game for boys and girls and everything between. Anyways, where was I… ah right, yeah, Sandbox mode exists and there’s not much more to say about it.
Now down to the meat and potatoes mode. When you boot up a new game you are given a gigantic plot of forest land to rapidly bulldoze through for the sake of your classroom buildings. You start off with fifteen to thirty students between ninth to twelfth grade, and their tuition will be your lifeblood as you constantly provide sustenance to your blood god in exchange for nourishment, and by that I mean build shit so that you can meet grants and obtain a steady windfall of money. Grants are tasks that slowly introduce the new mechanics of the game. You will not start off automatically as a profitable school, the government doesn’t give you jack shit to get things going, so you would better hurry up with those grants if you want any hope of building your school.
Honestly, I really enjoy how the game drip feeds new content and new toys to play with. You start off just making rooms, but soon you have to hire staff from the job pool, research new amenities and infrastructure, manage your class sizes, and prepare to whoop some rival school ass. And all of this sounds kind of complicated, until you realize that the game has a beautiful learning curve via the grant system. As you continue the game you get more and more varied objectives which allows you to focus your attention on sanitation vs making your students happier vs creating diversified school facilities. There’s really not much more to say: you flesh out a tech tree of new features that expand what you can create in your school, take care that your students are able to get good grades to raise the reputation of your school, make sure your students are happy so they don’t become delinquents, and make sure you manage your upkeep all throughout so you aren’t bleeding money. Events are an interesting surprise that can reward you for being on top of certain requirements, although early on some of them can feel a bit punishing. And that’s all you really need to know about the game at a base level.
Admittedly, the UI can get a little fiddly, having to switch from zoning, to building, to objects, but you get used to the workflow, and the search bar makes finding objects a breeze. I like the fact that hovering over any incomplete building will show you a laundry list of items you need inside to complete construction. If you fuck up somewhere, like forgetting to put a door to access a building, the game will quickly warn you and call you out on that shit. It helps organize my scatterbrained monkey brain. Same with students’ grievances; I was very sad to learn how many kids were pissing themselves early on until I finally unlocked janitorial and bathroom tech. Scatalogical surprises aside, I enjoy the basic feedback loop of unlocking new menu items, figuring out new things I could toy with, and slowly populating my screen with more and more stuff.
Academia: School Simulator is pretty unassuming in terms of it being a casual simulation game, but I found it to be a captivating and zen game, similar to how ‘Animal Crossing’ plays out. It doesn’t do anything too crazy, but I’d say it’s even more enjoyable for me personally compared to ‘Animal Crossing’ because it scratches that itch of constantly checking boxes in a list and instant gratification at every step. You constantly feel like you’re making progress and learning faster and more efficient ways to manage your time. It’s one of those games you can pop in to check out your school for a bit, while still having a little bit of stress to motivate you to get your shit together. The game doesn’t constantly breathe down your neck, but it gives you enough pressure to make gameplay that much more engaging. Just to be clear, you can always choose to slow down gameplay and play more methodically and less time-crunchy, but I appreciate how there is a way to screw things up that makes me care about honing my budgeting skills. I think Academia: School Simulator, despite recently releasing outside of early access and still needing some balance changes, bug fixes, and quality of life changes to make it great, is as it stands, still pretty good. Anyways, TL;DR, I liked it and it gave me good vibes of my childhood playing tycoon games.
A review copy was provided by the devs.
Hellfirebam has awarded Academia: School Simulator the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval.