SimCity DS

SimCity DS
SimCity DS Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Tiny city-building simulation
MtAMinutes to Action 4
Keep Playing? No
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Besides Super Mario World, SimCity was one of the first games I got for my Super Nintendo Entertainment System way back when. Countless hours were spent creating the most glorious cities…and then throwing total havoc their way. It was one of the first simulation games I’d ever played, and watching the seasons change, residential zones flourish, and roads fill up with traffic was extremely satisfying. Alas, I traded in my SimCity cartridge for something else (hopefully not Shaq-Fu) because I was young and stupid once. Now I’m just less stupid. Moving forward, I dabbled in later PC versions of SimCity, but never found any of them to be what I used to love. Maybe SimCity DS will be the one to warm the cockles of my heart?

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 – SimCity DS starts with a traditional logo screen, and impressive city examples scroll by below on the touchscreen. They are complex and well-built, a lofty goal. I’m then shown a small menu map: Post Office, Build a City (which is highlighted), Museum, Options, Save the City, and Tutorial. Let’s just build a city and see where it goes. Name? Qwerty sounds good.

02 – Now I get to pick the land I want to build my city on. There’s a wide variety of spots, some right along the water, others completely cut off from all things wet. Each one gets its own difficulty setting and starting funds. I pick a place that's all land for now. Easy difficulty and basic funds of $50,000 should set me down a good path. Onwards to…a loading screen? 

03 – Julie McSim, the game’s head advisor, welcomes me, “This is a momentous day for all of Qwerty City!” You know it. She gives me an earful about the things I will need to put down to create a strong, well-constructed city: a landfill, a hospital, a police station, roads, power plant, and blah blah blah. I’d like to play now. 

04 – “The city is in your hands now, Mayor Paul!” Uh ohhh. Hopefully I won’t run it asunder. In control now, and here’s the layout: the top screen is a zoomed-in shot of your city, and the bottom touchscreen is either an extremely zoomed out shot of your city or a bunch of menus for budgeting, constructing, and playing with numbers. When not in menus, the in-game time is flying. I’m having a hard time figuring out the building menus. 

Simcity ds oil Power Plant05 – Thankfully, Julie McSim is there to help. She tells me what everything is that I click on. So let's build a power plant and some roads around it for now. I place it down and hear a rewarding electrical bzzz noise. Roads are next; placing them down in a line is not as simple as one might expect, with the stylus dragging them left or right against my desires. 

06 – There’s a problem. The building screen is quite small, and you can only zoom in once, and it’s still not enough to get a good view on things. I also made the mistake of trying to use the “move” tool, which would theoretically allow you to move around the map with the stylus, but instead sends you flying off screen. It’s too sensitive. 

09 – Just spent a good amount of time building up Qwerty City. It now has two residential zones, some trees, a nice big park to visit, and some water. Back in real time, I watch as my population begins to grow. Or rather, I squint and see that something is happening on-screen. 

10 – Oh no, a riot in the city! Already? What could they even be rioting over? My advisor says I should build a police station near the scene. Will do! And a hospital for the wounded. Is there a morgue available? Hmm, nope. 

12 – Without warning, a fire broke out. Seriously? Is this from the riots? No, evidently not considering it’s just a tree in the far corner of the map. The news ticker tells me that some of my citizens formed a bucket brigade, and before I can even contemplate’s annual economic report time. Yup, already. Julie McSim gives me the rundown: there’s a surplus of $30,000! “It's good to see things going so well.” Guess she didn’t hear about the riots and forest fires. 

13 – I can check out more specifics on the budget sheet from the hub menu. I do. My head explodes from boring.  

Simcity ds Police Fire14 – The news ticker suggests a water system. I purchase a pump station and a water tower and plop them down near the residential zones. Drink up, hobos! 

 16 – Qwerty City’s commercial zones are flourishing. I'm up to a population of 125! Julie McSim interrupts this excitement with a message that someone is here to see me. I’m asked to return to the office. I have an office? 

17 – Oh, it's Professor Simtown. That’s his name, and his head is freakishly huge. Like the Red Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Anyways, he brought me a gift for getting over a population of 100. A post office! Sweet. I love mail. Oh’s for sharing mail with other “mayors” via WiFi. I doubt anyone I know plays SimCity DS so it’s basically feckless. 

19 – After plopping down a post office, a library, and a university, Julie McSim warns me that I've used half of my funds already. Whoops. Slippery fingers, I guess. How do I earn more?  

20 – Another fire broke out. Looks like Qwerty City is doomed from the start. 

22 – Built a zoo with hopes that this help with my money woes. I also asked my trusty advisor for some advice. No help. The chat option just gets her to tell me she was cute, sweet, and popular in high school. Congratulations. I was in art club. 

Simcity ds Economic Collapse23 – Feeling frisky, I raise residential taxes from 7% to 10% and pray no one notices. Still in the red each month. Hmm…the financial managing aspect of SimCity on the SNES was never my strong point. I liked building hapless towns and sending a tornado their way.  

 24 – Yet another annual economic report. Man, time flies here. A surplus of $10,000. Not as good as before. The zoo is not helping. 

26 – Trying to read the news ticker messages is maddening. The text moves very slowly, hindered even more by lag as your city functions and grows. Yes, there’s lag on a Nintendo DS cartridge. 

27 – Another day in Qwerty City, another fire. Gonna let this one burn out on its own, just like Smokey Bear taught me. 

28 – Doot doot doot. Just watching my town grow (or not grow). For my next trick, I will watch the paint on the wall dry. 

29 – Okay, enough of this. I’m taking action into my own hands and raising commercial taxes to 10%. Now my population is dropping like flies. Good. Didn’t want any of you smelly hobos to stay anyways. Bye bye, money! Bye bye, people! 

30 – Oh good, another fire. Never could’ve predicted that. Now I am just waiting for the year to end. Oh, a surplus of $5,000. Julie calls that “average.” Wish I could set her on fire. Can't even scour the menus to see if it's possible because our thirty minutes with SimCity DS is up!

Simcity ds EarthquakeHalf-Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 04 
Gameplay: The basics from previous SimCity iterations are there—um, you build a city—but this one is bogged down more by unnecessary menu managing and an unfriendly control scheme. Also, not everything is explained. For example, those pesky fires plaguing Qwerty City? Yeah, you can blow them out using the microphone. Julie McSim didn’t tell me this, the Internet did. 
Fun Factor: I suspect there’s a ton of fun to be had here, but it’s just not easy to find. If you don’t start your city off strong, you’re going to head down a bad path where, as you are trying to set things right, fires and riots are breaking out to the left and right that there’s more stress than smiles. More times than not, I felt like I was playing an Excel spreadsheet. Also, placing and deleting items via the stylus demands a steady hand, making for…sore fingers. 
Graphics and Sound: Hands down, SimCity DS’s biggest problem is that it’s not a good fit for the system’s tiny screens. The maps and view of the city are already small enough, and then they get reduced even more. You can only zoom in once, and even then, there’s a lack of polish to the buildings and trees, most of which come across as grainy globs. Sadly, the seasons changing means nothing graphic-wise, and I do miss seeing tiny cars on the roads. It’s a real shame one can’t witness their city’s evolution at these resolutions. I’d comment on the music, but I don’t even remember any of it. 
Overall: If you’re looking for city building simulation, look elsewhere. If the wishy-washy controls don’t put you off, the gameplay most certainly will. This one, an uneven mix of hardcore and casual gaming ethics, requires far too much dedication to be remotely enjoyable.