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Darkest before the Don: ‘Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon’ Review

Before he was on The Apprentice and long before his presidential ambitions, Donald Trump was mostly known as an eccentric real estate tycoon, operating one of the biggest real estate companies in the world. For some reason, someone somewhere thought “what if we made a video game out of this?”, and for some even worse reason that idea wasn’t shot down immediately, but rather congealed into 2002’s Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon, an actual real game starring the actual real Donald Trump.

The idea of the game is kind of sold by the title. It’s a game completely revolving around the buying, renting, and selling of real estate while Donald Trump tracks your progress. The idea of the game is for you to build up your fledgling real-estate business to eventually go toe-to-toe with The Don himself to see who will stand as the real-estate investment king.

This is honestly, completely unedited, the first screen in the game
This is honestly, completely unedited, the first screen in the game

If that idea sounds tragically boring to you then congrats, you’ve clearly spent more time playing video games than the designers of this game did. There’s a very good reason management tycoon sims are a niche market: they only appeal to a very, very small amount of people. Know why Roller Coaster Tycoon is the best known management sim game? Because of the roller coasters, not the management, that’s for darn sure.

There are five cities you’ll need to operate in: New York, Atlantic City, Los Angeles, London, and Paris, each with their own time zone. You can only make decisions in each city between 6am and 10pm, so you’ll need to switch between cities to stay ahead of the clock. In each city you can buy plots of land to construct new buildings, splitting between condos, offices, or shops. After setting up a build order you’ll need to wait for the building to go up, then choose to either sell floors for large lump sums, or rent them for a steady cash flow throughout the rental duration. You can also purchase pre-existing buildings, including those put up by Trump to undermine his organization.

For what it’s attempting to be, Donald Trump Tycoon actually handles remarkably well. The menu is clean, albeit a little bulky, and information feedback is simple to read and understand. The tutorial does a good job of explaining the basic concepts to you and the whole thing can be picked up in a matter of minutes. There’s a lot of minutia that actually makes it feel like a real-estate management sim, like haggling on the price of lots or construction materials, or managing all the different properties to make sure your tenants are happy.

Much of the game is watching things happen. Slowly.
Much of the game is watching things happen. Slowly.

The issue is, of course, just how mind-blowingly boring the whole experience is. Buildings can take a while to construct, especially when you’re working on a budget, and it’s rare that you have enough money to work on more than one project at once. There are long, looooong stretches of nothing, more than most other games would dare to offer. Even if you’re into real estate you’ll probably have more fun reading news articles and watching TV shows than playing this game.

Of course, let’s answer the burning question you no doubt have: what is Donald’s interaction with the game? Yes, Trump himself is featured, not only in name and face on the box, but he does voice-overs between levels setting up your objectives. These voice clips sound like they were recorded in Trump’s bathroom during his lunch break, with way too much echo and Trump himself sounding like he’s half asleep. Still, it is a bit more than most celebrity endorsed games from the early 2000’s, and as eerie as it may be to have Donald Trump speaking to you, as far as all the research indicates it really was him and not a sound-alike.

Actually, by unfortunate circumstance, Donald’s voice comes across as one of the better pieces of audio in this game. The music loops very quickly, and you’ll want to turn it off almost immediately. It’s not really worth listening to anyway, since its mostly generic background music you can find on any royalty free site for a few bucks. All of the other voice-overs, with the exception of the cheery tutorial woman, were terrible. Clicking on pedestrians on the streets offers the same three lines that barely register a chuckle the first time and get more and more annoying or bizarre the more you do it.

Donald Trump Real Estate Tycoon is a probably the best execution of an outstandingly bad idea for a video game. It’s hard to call it a bad game, since it was marketed as being a real estate management sim and does exactly that. It’s not a game that should be played, regardless of how you feel about the man on the box, that’s for sure. If nothing else it’s an odd monument to a simpler time, when celebrities only did cheap video games instead of presidential campaigns.

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