As the Tropico series has shown over the years, governing an island is not an easy task. That’s especially so when you take into consideration that you are ‘El Presidente’, the dictator of the fictitious country of Tropico, where corruption comically runs hand in hand with the growth of the nation running under your thumb. Tropico 6 is the latest entry in the long-running franchise that has seen its share of hilarious, often strikingly on-the-mark satire of what would be like to run a banana republic without any ethical worries, all the while keeping up with the happiness of your citizens, but most importantly, being able to stay in power for as long as you can, and lining your pockets more and more as you go.
For someone who’s been born in a country where the theme of Tropico rings a little too close to home sometimes, it’s been weird getting into these games over the years. The version I played the most out of was the very first Tropico, and at the time, it fell in more with strategy games I blew through and loved, like Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, its sequel Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty, than it did with other more serious city management games like SimCity. In Tropico, I never quite made the connection of actually wanting to build a small country from scratch and maintain it, but rather seeing how far I could get playing in a way that would normally go against my natural judgment. Hence my stronger connection between Tropico and real-time tactics than actual management.
Tropico 6 is changing that notion in my head somewhat the more than I play it. Maybe it’s because I’m a little older now, and have grown to appreciate the humor that’s been part of the series since the get-go more than I possibly did before, or maybe it’s just the fact that I can more easily get detached from certain types of games now that there are some that actually have something to actively say. Tropico 6 is so downright silly at times that it’s easy to overlook some of the horrific decisions you take because when you think about it, it’s just what the game is all about: being comically evil, greedy, and ridiculously careless for the sake of having a fun go at it. At the same time, there are extensive and complex management systems running under its hood, that similarly to previous Tropicos, help elevate it beyond merely being a satire and something closer to a game you have to actively pay attention to.
The standout aspect of Tropico 6 that helped elevate it about the other titles that I’ve played is the fact that as El Presidente, we’re now able to run an archipelago instead of only a single island, which puts more pressure in how things are run, and gives more options to expand Tropico as a country. Granted, the main gist of the game remains staying in power for as long as possible, and most importantly, growing richer and richer, dodging outside influences seeking to take command of what you so sweatingly build.
Building and keeping tabs on your production, export, and other, well tabs, is incredibly seamless and easy, mainly because most of it works automatically, allowing you to tweak minor aspects in order to suit the needs of specific moments, such as turning the dial on production on certain buildings in order to bump exportation. Obviously, pushing these further come with negative side effects, and the whole balancing game comes into play when workers start picketing, for instance. You can just as easily turn your watch dogs on them and reach an uneasy nationwide peace, but as your trusty advisor Penultimo tells you during the tutorial, if you want to reap the benefits in the present, you can only look so far in the long run.
It’s a good thing then that there incentives to keep busy in Tropico 6 outside of simply starting an island nation from the ground up and going from there, which you can totally do if you’d like in sandbox mode. Missions work well in training you by tossing crazy objectives your way that help dial in the many gameplay aspects, such as trickling in propaganda in order to sway the public interest your way in regards to international policy decisions, or simply throwing your dictator hat away in favor of a pirate’s, pillaging your way from nothing to absolute glory — I’m yet to reach the latter, but have become quite proficient at groveling at the former.
For all the humor that’s injected into Tropico 6, it’s impressive to consider how busy of a game it can be, and at the same time how slow it can get once gears start clicking into place. Tropico has never shied away from the fact that you spend a lot of time watching things happen and reacting upon them accordingly, and Tropico 6 is no different. Micro management is crucial to paving your way to success, but for all the moments of positive terror trying to figure out just what the heck is causing your approval rate to plummet when you have just about every other lever and tab set to just the right amount, there are many stretches where you’re merely sitting around waiting for something to happen. Granted, for significant moments to actually be so, there have to be quiet ones as well, so this is in no way a knock against Tropico 6, but merely a note letting you know that this game is by any means a white-knuckled race. It takes time to grow, and even at an accelerated pace as you bump up the in-game clock 4x, you’ll still move relatively leisurely.
Coming in after a break from the series has helped me appreciate Tropico more as I dig my way into Tropico 6. From the very little of the follow-ups that I’ve played since the first, it feels that for as little as Tropico seems to have moved in terms of theme and ambience, it’s grown its niche quite admirably. I can think of few other games of this type that have as much personality as Tropico, and that have managed to keep that going for as long as this has. SimCity once carried a similar weight with cartoony characters and a sense of humor, but that’s long gone, along with that franchise. It’s impressive to see Tropico reach its sixth game and still champion its way of being a pastiche of clichés that poke fun at different facets of politics and society, even so far as featuring the Axis as a superpower — their leader a man physically incapable of smiling, in his own words — and playing around with the notions of balancing capitalism and communism in order to suit your whims.
If you’re like me and haven’t played one of these in a while, Tropico 6 is a fantastic jumping in point. I’m still breaking into it myself for the first time in nearly a decade, and have been enjoying it thoroughly. For anyone new to the series, its unique sense of humor, beautiful visuals, and breezy pacing are sure to captivate you, or at the very least, warrant a look or two. El Presidente demands it, and what El Presidente wants, El Presidente gets.