by Marty Demarest

Tropico: Paradise Island is an expansion pack for last year's thoroughly charming tropical island city-building computer game Tropico. So while this means spending an additional $20 to enhance a game that you already own, the features packed into Paradise Island could make even those who don't own the whole game go out and pick up both.

Chief among the features that made Tropico so enjoyable was the game's flexibility. Computer owners who wanted to tinker with an open-ended, no-win-no-lose city building program could while away hours planting mango farms and constructing traps for tourists, and more aggressive players could take on unstable economic and political conditions to their dictatorial hearts' content. A limited number of well-chosen structures allowed players to aim for disparity or democracy in the qualities of their virtual islanders' lives, occupations and entertainments. And it remains the only game I know of that allows you to take on the role of a former pop-singer turned Communist rum baron. (The award-winning Caribbean soundtrack didn't hurt, either.)

Not only does Paradise Island maintain that feeling of flexibility, but it tweaks the gameplay to perfection. Simple changes (such as the ability to rotate buildings and speedier construction) mean that, in no time at all, you'll be developing that luxury hotel on the island's best beach and funneling dollars from the Yanqui tourists into El Presidente's Swiss bank account.

But there are more substantial alterations. A bevy of new tourist attractions are available, and the new spring break visitors and eco-tourists can drive the island's economy in different directions than before. Heavy-handed players will enjoy an easier martial-law system, which not only allows pesky political rivals to be thrown into the dungeon, but also "reformed" into sycophantic devotees. Add a slew of natural disasters, and even more infectious music, and Paradise Island may be the recession's answer to a tropical vacation.

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