|Genre||Tiny city-building simulation|
|MtAMinutes to Action||4|
|Buy from Amazon|
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?
(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.
05 – 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 helping...it’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.
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 wait...it’s for sharing mail with other “mayors”
via WiFi. I doubt anyone I know plays SimCity DS so it’s basically
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.
23 – 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,
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!
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.