The management simulator genre is one that, while not garnering much commercial attention, is near and dear to many people’s hearts. While not every title hits its mark (especially in their earliest iterations), they provide a level of depth and strategy that’s equal parts satisfying and uniquely enjoyable. With the latest title from publisher tinyBuild and developer Algorocks, the teams seek to make the best they can with the genre, by looking into the enjoyment and struggles associated with running a startup company. Does Startup Panic make a name for itself as a standout title, or does it fall victim to the same fate of many startup companies? Find out in our review.
Startup Panic is available exclusively on PC through the Epic Games Store for $14.99.
The Beginnings of a Company
Startup Panic’s story, like many management simulators out there, takes a very simplistic approach. You’re an average nine-to-five worker who gets treated like less than human at their current workplace (something all too true of many game developers out there). As such, you give up and decide it’s time to take matters into your own hands. From there, it’s an uphill battle as you work to run a successful tech startup while handling your competitors throughout the startup world. Like I said, nothing too crazy, but it’s a premise that gets Startup Panic off on the right foot. This is aided somewhat by events throughout the game’s story, including fresh competition and events to raise your market share higher and higher.
While this is, by all means, a good foot to get off with, Startup Panic has far too little of what would make this special. Beyond an event and quest rather early on in your journey, it does very little to freshen up the gameplay and force you to rethink your approach. The most it does is offer you fresh investors and new competition, but this often feels like the bare minimum rather than something out of passion (which doesn’t make sense given what I’ll talk about later). It feels there could be so much more in this regard, but it’s pushed aside and replaced with new versions of the same mechanic. It does very little to invigorate the late game, and thus hurt the narrative overall.
Working Through Technologically Difficult Challenges
For much of this section, I’d like to reference a similar title from developer Greenheart Games known as Game Dev Tycoon. While there’s likely a stronger comparison somewhere out there, Game Dev Tycoon shares the strongest resemblance in my eyes due to their similarities in difficulty and approach. When it comes to Startup Panic, each new feature for your company’s application requires you to designate 100% towards three different areas. For some features each area will be more worth than others, forcing you to choose where you should focus based on the idea of the feature. This is for the most part quite engaging, allowing you to focus on whatever you think is best and punishing you for choosing wrong. You can go back and fix the errors, but this still forces you to think no matter what stage you’re at. Choose poorly, and you’ll be down quite a bit of funding for the time being.
Needless to say, this takes a much more in-depth approach as compared to Game Dev Tycoon. With the addition of marketing in various game regions, employee motivation, additional moment-to-moment events, and stronger competition, there’s plenty to think about throughout your experience with Startup Panic. To some extents though, I find that Game Dev Tycoon’s “less is more” approach to gameplay is a bit stronger in numerous aspects. Startup Panic’s complexity can sometimes prove stressful given that you’re worrying about eight different things at once. That isn’t always fun, especially when paired with having to send your employees on vacations way too often. It can result in some fast mid-game game over screens, made all the worse by a lack of save slots in favor of real-time saving.
For what it’s worth though, this means there’s hardly a dull moment beyond the early game in Startup Panic. You don’t feel like you’re waiting anywhere near as often once your employee count gets into the double digits, which means you don’t feel quite as bored as you would in games like it. It’s one of the few areas it towers over Game Dev Tycoon, and I can appreciate the attempt at a change of pace. I only wish it was made a little more engaging and realistic, rather than employees needing one-week vacations after one or two feature completions.
Graphically Charming, Audibly Torturing
This section is a little strange for me as the subtitle implies but regardless, let’s start with the good stuff. Startup Panic is done in a 2D pixel art style similar to the vein of games such as Habbo Hotel (if any of you remember that title). While nothing too crazy, I appreciated the true passion and charm throughout the experience. Exploring the background can have you finding hidden little jokes and a particularly stealthy cat throughout each office. There are even references to tinyBuild’s other experiences, something I widely appreciated as a fan of games like Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It won’t wow you, but having another reason to observe the backdrop is never a bad thing.
On the other hand, though, the audio for had me, for the first time in a while, muting a game out of pure annoyance. I get the idea and how it might fit with the aesthetics of Startup Panic, but the music and audio cues often feel increasingly harsh on the ears. I’m sorry to say that hearing a loud ding after a new employee enters the office isn’t the most satisfying sound. At the very least, your own soundtracks fit quite well with Startup Panic no matter your tastes. That’s not worth much, but it’s a silver lining regardless.
Startup Panic isn’t a game that will wow you in any capacity, but it can offer something enjoyable that may make it worth a purchase. There’s a considerable amount of both charm and passion fit into one small package, combined with immense depth that’ll provide more than enough content to chew at. Unfortunately, not all content hits its mark, offering a stressful and sometimes annoying adventure that’ll feel much longer than it actually is. Regardless, if you’re looking for a solid management simulator, Startup Panic an acceptable if not exceptional uphill battle to tech stardom.
- Immense depth
- Interesting ideas
- Charm and passion in the atmosphere
- Solid pixel art style
- Lack of interesting story events
- Sometimes, less is more
- Infuriating audio