The first time you play SimCity should be a moment you remember for the rest of your life. The fascination that grows as you realise the connection you have to those poor souls living down in your metropolis, is a unique and compelling game experience. Hyperbole maybe, but this is a game that really did cut its own path, and create a whole new genre along the way.
My first encounter with the SimCity phenomenon, back on the Amiga, was probably aided by the fact that I hadn't heard of the game before. News had reached the various magazines that a strange educational tool was now selling like hot cakes on our good old 16-bit systems. After the reviews backed up the collective hunch that this was a special little game, I forked out the £19.99 and gave it a punt. I spent the next four or five weeks engrossed in the finer points of city economics, town planning, social experimentation and traffic control. Whilst it didn't directly help my Geography G.C.S.E., it was certainly a lot of fun and felt more productive than blowing aliens away or playing virtual football with tiny little men.
SimCity DS is a game that has been on most people's wanted list since the system's launch. Its requirement of extra screen real estate, point and click placement and stop start action made it a marriage made in heaven. So here we have it, the desire of many hearts, it's SimCity, it's on the DS and it's in shops today!
The game is based on the SimCity 3000 engine, and therefore inherits certain visual and gameplay elements. This version, which is one of the more advanced versions of the simulation, plays with a more environmental edge than previous outings; waste management becomes a key factor in a successful city. It also introduces agriculture as a new form of industry and provides three different densities of each type of zoning: residential, commercial and industrial. Land value of each of these zones is also taken more seriously and is reflected by the different styles of buildings that are constructed in a particular area. Finally, it introduces varying land heights and slopes that also affect the buildings that can appear on a particular tile. With all this in mind it is pretty clear that EA have had their sights set high with the DS title, opting for the more complex and challenging implementation of SimCity 3k over the simpler 2k edition.
The transition to a handheld medium, although lusted after by many, is not without its ups and downs. The two screens lend themselves nicely to displaying both the town and statistics simultaneously, something that was always a problem with SimCity where you had to fight for screen space to display all those stats alongside your developing world. On the DS it not only makes more sense to separate the two, but it also makes progress and problems a bit easier to follow and identify.
The graphics of the buildings themselves however are not as rosy. Somewhere in the conversion the buildings have got dirtier and fuzzier. Whereas the PC version looked pretty good in its reasonably high resolution, the DS obviously didn't support the same number of pixels and had to compromise on the quality of the graphics. This didn't have to be the case, a quick glance back to the original SimCity shows how even with a much lower resolution you can still achieve very clear and distinctive visuals.
More positive is the use of the touch-screen. This is perhaps the ace card of many DS games, and does SimCity proud. It just feels right to tap on the various options and lay down roads and building zones. This really adds to the physicality of the gameplay as you are actually touching the world you are building, something that even the mouse control couldn't provide.
If you are new to the concept of a City simulator, the title provides a comprehensive tutorial and advice throughouy the game. There is plenty to get you hooked into the constant tweaking and improvement that drives players to keep going into the small hours edging ever closer to perfection. Unfortunately, the characters that deliver the advice and wotnot are really rather poor. Not only are they poorly drawn but, more worryingly, they have about as much character as the Microsoft paper clip; you could quite easily imagine that infamous advisor popping up in place of one of the advisors with 'Looks like you are trying to build a city, can I help?' Microsoft quickly moved away from these real life help avatars in favour of more standard help and I think SimCity would have benefited from the same.
Despite various misgivings about the implementation, and lack of re-working in certain areas, this game is still able to deliver the desired City planning-on-the-go experience. The genius of SimCity shines through as you battle to get your city into equilibrium whilst returning a profit. The desire to add just one more feature still takes your beautifully balanced ecosystem and tips it over the edge. This is still SimCity, king of the sand box.
But this is a game that could have been so much more. If only it had received the sort of touch generation's look and feel recently applied to titles such as Picross DS or Puzzle League, then this could have eclipsed even the PC title. As it stands SimCity DS should keep you entertained for some time, and serve to introduce a new audience to the joy of town planning.
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