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Big Pharma review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Klabater
Developer: Positech Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E

I’m going to admit something right off the bat when it comes to Big Pharma: I did not get very far into it, at least in terms of playing through its dozens of challenges and scenarios. On the one hand, this means you should take everything else I have to say about the game with a massive grain of salt — I was able to go far as a gameplay video took me, and then I had very little idea what to do next and spent the rest of my time with the game flailing about.

On the other hand, I feel like my experience speaks to what it’s like to play Big Pharma on the Switch if you have no prior experience with the game. It’s not just unfriendly towards new players, it seems actively hostile. It may have been well-liked by certain corners of the PC universe back when it first came out there in 2015, but it’s really hard to see what the fuss was about if you’re playing on a Switch.

Some of the problems come down to absolutely terrible user interface design choices. It should come as no surprise that the game asks you to do quite a bit of reading — it’s a business management sim, after all. For some reason, however, Big Pharma decided to use a ridiculously tiny font, which means that you’ll be squinting at screen after screen of text if you want to know what to do next.

On top of that, they decided to layer screens on top of each other, so you have to quit in and out of different screens to do what Big Pharma asks of you. I’m not averse to figuring out how to play a game, but when the very first tutorial screen is layered on top of another screen you’ve got to be able to read in order to know what you’re doing, it speaks to a certain indifference on the part of a game to helping newcomers get their feet.

The content of those tutorials isn’t much more helpful either. It feels like the person who wrote the tutorial didn’t pay any attention to what’s happening on screen, and the end result would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating. Right off the bat, for example, the game tells you to move your cursor over a certain bar. However, it never tells you how to gain control of a cursor that can be moved over any bar. (I ended up giving up and guessing what to do next based on what was being shown in the pictures.)

These little disconnects persist. The game tells you to buy a vaporizer to start production, but there’s no vaporizer to purchase. There is, however, an evaporator, which seems to be what the game calls a vaporizer. Similarly, the game tells you to select a “markers” tab, which is actually a typo for the “makers” tab. Elsewhere, the game tells you to buy 3 vaporizers/evaporators, when you actually need to buy 4 of them. At one point the tutorial tells you to name a drug, only, as far as I could tell, you can’t do that in the console version of Big Pharma. Individually, none of these things are dealbreakers, but together they suggest a certain indifference — if not outright hostility — to newcomers to the game.

These gripes aside, there’s one part of the game that more or less works like it’s supposed to on the Switch: the puzzle aspect. You have to lay out your drug-making machinery on a factory floor, so you need to give real thought to how you’re going to place them and connect them so that ingredients flow in and pills flow out. It’s not really the core part of the game — that would be the research and pricing and all the other management-y things that are a pain to carry out with a controller — but it’s the one part that’s intuitive enough on the Switch that not even lousy porting can get in the way.

It’s a pity the same can’t be said for the rest of Big Pharma. I have no doubt that, in the right circumstances, it could be a lot of fun to play. Those right circumstances, however, are clearly on a PC. The Switch version of this game was thrown together with no attention or care as to whether things work, and unless you’re well-acquainted with the game going in, you’re not going to get very much out of it.

Klabater provided us with a Big Pharma Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C-