IGN Review of Sim City DS
SimCity on the Nintendo DS seems to make logical sense. The design of the system is right, and the game is tried and true. Electronic Arts made sure that it kept the portable city builder as close to the grander PC versions as possible. So far so good. Now if only EA had stopped there, instead of adding stupid extras, and making the game look gross. The Nintendo DS almost had a great sim game.
The premise for SimCity DS is simple enough. Players take the role of mayor, and build a city from scratch. As mayor it is the player's job to build residential communities for the citizens to live in, industrial areas for work, and commercial sections for shopping and entertainment. The trick to the game is balancing these three areas, while at the same time making sure the city as a whole has the basic necessities like power plants, roads, water towers, police and fire stations, hospitals, schools etc. There's a lot to take into account when building the city, including density of areas, how far to space buildings, and of course, money management. SimCity DS is definitely not a game that is easily beaten, since it technically is never really beaten. But building a large, thriving city will take hours upon hours of work, and probably a few tries.
For anyone that has played a SimCity game, especially some of the later PC ones, this should all be familiar. In fact it's a bit simpler than the PC versions. However, for players that are brand new to metropolis building sims, SimCity DS offers an extensive tutorial that teaches the player how to use nearly every building and option. It even offers a basic mode of gameplay that gives the player extra money and starts with a city that's already had the basics placed. It's a nice touch for people that may be new to the series, since the game can seem daunting.
The veteran player can skip the tutorial and head right into the game. Different maps are set up to choose from, each with a corresponding difficulty, which decides the amount of starting money, as well as a few other factors. Even the most skilled player will probably find the hard maps to be overly difficult however. It's not that the game is really any harder; it's just that the player has significantly less money to start off with, so it takes a lot longer to really get going. Still the gameplay is addictive, and even when the going is slow, it's hard to put SimCity down. There's always something to do to help improve the city, and when things seem to be running smoothly, some disaster will strike to keep the game interesting. Nothing shakes things up like an alien invasion! One of the new features for the DS version is a more hands on approach to running the city. When disasters or celebrations occur, players are thrown into a minigame like scenario. Apparently mayor actually means God, since players can use their stylus to pluck abducted people out of tractor beams or explode fireworks. And by blowing into the microphone, the mayor can put out fires. It's an interesting gimmick, but it feels a little childish. If that's the aim the developers were going for, great, but the rest of the game is somewhat complicated and requires patience and a lot of planning. Not exactly kid fare. The other new feature involves communicating with other mayors wirelessly. Players can send letters to other players, with a short summary of the state of their city. When players send letter to each other, they earn monuments that can be placed in their cities. Again, another cool feature, but one that seems geared more towards a younger crowd.
SimCity DS utilizes the touch screen for the entire game. The d-pad can be used to move around the map, but everything else is controlled by tapping selections. Seems like the perfect plan since a lot of the building mechanics require point and click and dragging. Unfortunately, when it comes to building the city, the touch screen controls become a problem. The camera doesn't zoom in very far, so it's very easy to accidentally hit the wrong grid square when placing buildings. Normally it's not a big deal, since the developers stuck in a handy undo tool to fix mistakes. However, things like the bulldozer cannot be undone, so if a slip of the stylus causes a player to destroy the power plant, too bad.
Add onto the bad controls the fact that the game is ugly as sin, stylistically. The character design of the citizens is tacky and sometimes disgusting, and the city often looks grungy due to the less than stellar colors and textures. The animations are rudimentary, but for the most part that's fine. There is a significant amount of detail with some of the buildings, though the denser packed sections look kind of bland.
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