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In the court of casual gaming, the time-management sim rests comfortably on the royal dais between hidden object games and Angry Birds clones. Games like Diner Dash and Burger Shop have helped popularize the genre, and it has evolved into a great way to wile away an hour or two while listening to some tunes or watching TV. Enter Spooky Mall, Alawar Entertainment’s newest Restaurant Simulation Lite.
Spooky Mall tasks players with becoming the night-time manager of a local shopping mall, which is unwittingly frequented by ghosts, vampires, mummies, and other ghoulishly unsavory characters. These creatures of the night come to purchase various food items, and players must make their way through various types of stores, keeping all their customers happy and raking in the big bucks to make the mall flourish and prosper.
A Hard Day’s Work
The challenge in Spooky Mall lies in keeping abreast of your clientele’s needs, almost anticipating their next move before they even know what it is. As humble night manager, it falls to you, the sole employee, to make sure all your store shelves are consistently stocked and refilled, letting shoppers do what they do best without interruption: spend money. Keep customers happy, and they will pay handsomely. Make them wait on merchandise, and their patience meter decreases, as does their philanthropy. A customer who has been continuously ignored will eventually leave, taking all their money with them.
Aside from the run-of-the-mill everyday shoppers, there are also special customers who come in every so often. These special visitors bring with them new challenges to keep the gameplay from growing too stale, but also offer some helpful rewards. Mallman, a Superman look-alike, will fully stock every shelf in the store for you if he’s pleased with his visit, while the Vampire will attempt to freeze you and your staff in fear with his special ability. The Headless Horseman, Albert Einstein, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster – they’re all present and accounted for. (Except Wolfman! Why is Wolfman always forgotten?)
Earning money is essential to progress through each stage and advance to the next one, eventually unlocking new stores in the mall to take over in. Funds are also used within each store to buy upgraded displays that hold more items or provide other bonuses. You’ll even be able to hire on additional staff members, like the janitor or the stock boy, and upgrade your store’s decor. And you will want to upgrade, as each round grows progressively harder, with shoppers moving faster and becoming more and more rushed.
Good Help Is Hard to Find
While the game’s design keeps it simple to pick up and master, it does suffer from a bit of repetitiveness during lengthier play sessions. Beating one stage after another gets too routine after a short while; sure, new merchandise and upgrades are constantly unlocked and added to each shop’s inventory, but all the merchandise is essentially the same – just a shelf to click on that needs constant restocking – and the upgrades are doled out in a way that eliminates all planning ahead that might have been required. If three upgrades have just become available, chances are the preceding level gave you just enough money to buy them all, making careful consideration and choosing one over another unnecessary.
Not all repetition is a bad thing, however; the very reason these games work as a method of relaxation is because they contain repetitive actions and make it enjoyable to participate in “the grind”. Spooky Mall is no slouch in this regard. The game’s art style is very glossy and pleasing; characters look crisp (though some of them were a bit reminiscent of the “humans” in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to me for some reason) and the animation is fluent and light-hearted.
The Final Verdict
In the end, there was just a certain amount of additional content that was missing for me. The five stores in your mall offer a total of 100 levels to stock shelves, clean floors, and collect money in. Once the 100th level has been completed, short of going back and replaying a previous level for a higher score (you’ll likely manage a gold rating on your first time through most of them), that’s it. The game is over; there is literally no more content. No hidden bonus levels. No challenge mode. No time trial. With little to no incentive to go back and sharpen my skills at old levels, I felt like the book of Spooky Mall had been unceremoniously slammed shut, and it was easy to quit the program and never look back.
Spooky Mall is a decent time management game with a competent presentation, that falls a bit short thanks to its lackluster way of “dumping” the player upon completion, and a few uncorrected bugs, such as a line of untranslated dialog (presumably in Alawar’s native Russian) during the intro, or a game-breaking bug that would start me off in a brand new store and initialize its final round, without any upgrades whatsoever on my part. This latter bug happened several times, and could only be corrected by closing and re-launching the game altogether. There were also several times when a shopper would get “stuck” waiting for me to restock a shelf that was full to the brim, causing his patience to dwindle away to zero and eventually penalize my score, with no way to fix the problem. While I had a fun time playing the game, my memories of it are somewhat tainted by its overly dry send-off.