Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 22, 2008
In 2007, Electronic Arts sought to reclaim the legacy and money-making capabilities of its SimCity franchise by saying goodbye to the modern age of gaming and traveling back to 1999. SimCity DS was pretty much a port of SimCity 2003, which in turn was really only a slight update of SimCity 2000. The endless complication of the sprawling sandbox that is a SimCity game didn't hold up quite as well as it did back in 1993, and EA must have realized that the franchise was in need of a serious reboot.
Enter SimCity Creator for the NDS, a game that still holds onto all the relics of the early-'90scity simulator but adds something that the original creators never thought of: a learning curve. For the first time ever, your SimCity travels through time, and you have to build it up from a collection of huts by a river into a hunter-gatherer society, an agrarian monarchy, and then you have to work it up into the modern age and keep it thriving. Each new age you reach gradually introduces its own set of challenges, and with it, the game finally feels like it has a purpose other than frustrating you with minutiae.
Unfortunately, it also feels like it's catering to a completely different audience than your standard sim player. This is no longer a game for the Civilization player or someone with a penchant for destruction that can only be satisfied by crushing thousands of civilians in one fell swoop. In order to play the classic style of sandbox game, you have to complete the main game more than once, which is a time-consuming process to say the least. Then there are the revamped, kid-friendly visuals to further throw off old fans. While the main game still looks as dated as the previous iteration on the DS, the adviser screens unveil a cutesy "chibi" style that's completely out of character with the rest of the series.
SimCity Creator still plays just fine, and is much much more accessible than it ever was. You start out at the dawn of civilization, where your only building restriction is the amount of logs that you have, which you can use to set up the basic residential, farming and trading zones to found your city. You also get a chance to set up some dirt paths for pedestrian traffic, and build a few places for Sims to relax and hang out. Your only goal is to increase the population and keep the city well-fed, and soon enough, you can move onto the next age.
You get a choice between two different regions of development (Asian or European), but the gameplay remains similar between them. You're granted terraforming capabilities to put water where you need it and take it away where you don't, and you have a plethora of new ways to keep your population happy and under control. For the first time, you have to worry about your income and taxes, and you have to manage a police force, firefighters, schools, hospitals and recreation, while still feeding your citizens. As you move into the industrial age, you have to decide if you want your city to rely on farms or industry, and then you move onto the next set of ages.
From there, you really develop the bits and pieces that make SimCity Creator so complicated, but they're introduced gradually, and once you've set up power plants and some public transportation, there's not a whole lot left to learn. Eventually you have to manage water, traffic, crime, trash and more, but each thing comes bit by bit, introduced by the intolerably cute little chibi advisers.
The interface is very friendly, with a clean set of tabs spread across the bottom screen so you can move between building screens, info sheets, economic management and options. Once you get used to it, keeping up with the city's demands becomes quick, efficient and addictive. It's easy to check up on the hunger levels of the city and put down some farms or factories, and then check on the flammability to see if a fire station would be a good idea for the area. Then you can work on laying out the roads for your new little residence area and set out the necessities of life for the fine folks who will be living there.
Unfortunately, the touch-screen isn't all that accurate when it comes to finely crafting the more delicate areas of your city. The screen can be a bit finicky and imprecise when laying out areas with the stylus, which is mostly made up for by the "undo" button. Unfortunately, you can only go back by one action, and you can't go back at all when you deconstruct an area. That means that if your stylus slips down one square from where you wanted to be, you're stuck deconstructing that college and rebuilding it, putting a big crimp on your finances. Most of the time, there are ways around this if you expand the box so you can't afford to deconstruct it, but these scenarios shouldn't even have to exist. The lack of an undo is just inexcusable; it feels very inflexible that you can't draw a few straight lines without lifting your stylus from the screen. You are incapable of building a bridge that zig-zags, without a major terraforming expense, and drawing roads becomes repetitious and occasionally frustrating.
Still, the ease of building the city is surprising, especially for veterans who get over the dumbed-down learning curve, the limited starting capacity and the stylus interface. The conversion of the town from age to age is pretty seamless and fascinating, and there are plenty of incentive to meet the requirements for the next age. Each age is its own unique little game, and that's exciting and wonderful.
Despite some little glitches, the outdated graphics and the obvious catering toward a younger and more inexperienced audience, SimCity Creator is a step in the right direction for the ancient, lumbering SimCity games. The ease of use will hopefully draw in the casual gamer for hours and hours (and then even more hours) of city structuring and fine-tuning because there's nothing more rewarding than seeing your city thrive. It's addictive, pure and simple, and that's exactly what SimCity should be.
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