The Tech Revolution Is Here: and It Comes in Your Choice of Red, Blue, Purple or Green.
Nowhere to Go But Up
Startup Panic begins deep within the drab desk-hive of EveryTechCompanyEver, where a nameless drone contemplates their existence and self-worth amongst the dozens of cogs lifelessly toiling away with the hopes of one day achieving… something? Whatever those aspirations were, now long forgotten, are lost within the white noise of surprise deadlines, pointless meetings and unpaid overtime.
One wing, one prayer and one existential crisis later, that same drone, now a bright-eyed entrepreneur, finds themselves back in their bedroom. The only cube that’s worth ever willingly confining oneself to, your bedroom will serve as the ground floor for the greatest social media startup ever to claw its way out of obscurity.
Or it might become a mausoleum, one among thousands, a fitting resting place for your defunct platform’s forgotten ashes.
From Red to Black… to Blue
Your mission as CEO is not to worry, but to lead and invest your capital wisely in your company’s development, employees, and office space. Initially, your platform will only rein in a handful of users. After implementing ground-breaking features like profile pages, comments and image hosting, a noticeable surge of new registrations and increased income will come about.
Easy enough, but with increased traffic comes an increased workload and need for fresh talent. More staff necessitates larger offices, better amenities and employee development. And herein lies the crux of Startup Panic‘s management-style gameplay: balancing your income against mounting expenses while similar (often better-funded) enterprises fight you for scraps of market share. You can opt to specialize in different sectors once you’ve progressed through the seemingly robust tech-tree: Chat, Social-Media, Video, and Gaming. However, it’s here you begin noticing shortcomings in developer Algorocks‘ debut simulation.
Features you implement are different in name and color only. Apart from the clever tongue-in-cheek writing and pithy descriptions, each new technology boils down to a simple ratio of potential income versus maintenance costs with an added upfront fee.
This ratio is contingent on your workers’ skills, separated into Aesthetics, Usability and Technology. Each is prioritized differently on sliders depending on employees’ strengths, weaknesses and project needs.
Successful Features bring revenue and the ability to purchase Traits, mostly static percentage changes and slight cost differences. Any losses are supplemented with Contract Work; one-off gigs subject to the same rigorous criteria as adding Features.
As Wide as an Ocean. As Deep as 14-Year-Olds on Twitter.
Startup Panic embodies much of what we picture when imagining eccentric Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: gorgeous, articulate, with a sense of humor and brimming with ideas full of potential. And for $5.99, you too can embody the can-do spirit of an executive yuppie.
Vibrant, charming pixel-art coupled with cheeky, cynical digs at modern startup culture demonstrate an intimate understanding of what lies just underneath the romanticized veneer: risking it all for the sake of making one’s mark on an oversaturated market. Bootstraps. Steve Jobs.
But like many of those entrepreneurs, style only goes so far when there’s little substance. This isn’t to say Startup Panic is a bad game; taken for what it is, ignoring what it could have been. All in all, you’ve got yourself a solid time-sink that ought to kill a few afternoons.
It’s only when you compare the potential behind the many genuinely compelling mechanics to their execution that the steep price tag comes into question. The lack of depth and repetitive gameplay does little to justify any cost past 99 cents.
Employees are utterly devoid of anything unique outside of a handful of shared sprites and slight statistical changes. Features and upgrades do not interact in meaningful ways outside of monetary gain, except Furniture, which gives staff skill buffs and fills out your office for workers to (not) interact with.
You can establish marketing campaigns throughout the world to carve out a share in places untouched by competitors. Yet, geography and surrounding cultures have little influence outside of age-demographics and technology preference.
For a game centered around growing an online platform from nothing, you would expect to see it evolve over time… or just see it, period. The only things you’ll see changing are numbers and graphs.
Eventually, you’ll make your way to the top. Maybe you’ll leave it all behind and start anew. Probably not. If you’ve played the game once, you’ve played it every way it could be. And that once bright-eyed entrepreneur inside you will weep, for there are no more markets to corner.
Is It Hardcore?
No, but it could have been.
While fun for a while, the main gameplay loop is too shallow and the mechanics too half-baked. The sharp writing and excellent presentation are praiseworthy, but even they can’t make up for the game’s lackluster execution of its promising concepts.