Sim City Creator (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris
The Sim City line of games needs little introduction as it has been around for the best part of 2 decades now. Having graced the PC and many consoles in various forms, it remains firm favourite of many gamers and at some point or another, we've all played one of the games in some form. Taking another stab at bringing the franchise to Nintendo's handheld console, having already released SimCity DS the year previous, EA has developed SimCity Creator which looks to be more of an attempt at making the franchise accessible to the new gamers who've flocked to the DS. But has watering down the content left the core experience structurally sound or is it destined to crumble apart?
SimCity Creator takes a different stance to the city development game than we've seen in other SimCity titles. Whereas before your objective was to create a modern metropolis, here you start off at the dawn of creation and attempt to build a city which can stand the test of time and progress through the ages up to the future age. It's a big change to the formula, and one that would certainly be an interesting idea to see further implemented in future titles, but it's a change that doesn't quite work out for a couple of reasons.
At your disposal are 2 main gameplay modes: Challenge and Freeplay mode. Freeplay mode is your standard mode where you have a location and aim to build a city with no limitations and markers to meet the progress. The issue here is that this mode is hindered immediately from the outset. If you wish to create a city within a specific time period outside of the dawn of creation, you'll have to play through the majority of the Challenge mode before you are even able to do as such. It therefore makes what should be a jovial and simplistically entertaining mode a chore because of the criteria needing to be met before the full set of options are available to use.
In the Challenge mode, you'll start at the beginning of time and work your way through to the future, creating a city and gathering a certain population to unlock new structures and buildings which allow you to progress on to the next historical age. Throughout all of this, your tools for the planning and construction of your society are limited in comparison to previous SimCity titles to a handful of options, only allowing you to place items in cleared areas and not allowing you to demolish anything you've constructed meaning that you'll need to be incredibly precise otherwise any mistakes cannot be undone. Yet due to interface and control issues, this isn't the easiest of things to do and as such, you'll find yourself having more trouble than you should with planning your city out, an issue further confounded as a result of a camera system which is too zoomed out.
With your tool set limited, it seems that the game is aimed more at newcomers to the franchise but the inclusion of various density maps, showing population density, food and other things, means that it's not as accessible as EA have made it out to be. The maps are things that franchise purists would normally use to make the most efficient cities but due to their size and design, they're incredibly hard to decipher and not very useful. Interface issues plague the majority of the gameplay and the watered down tools make the experience less fun and less engaging than its predecessors. Long saving times also slow down the process of the game and with there being only two save slots available, you'll have to make some tough choices about which cities to hold on to which quickly becomes an annoyance when you consider the amount of time you'll put into creating each.
The game provides a slight amount of alternative modes for play alongside the main two. A local wireless mode allows you to communicate with friends and share cities and creations through the form of pictures with one another which can be seen in your in game gallery but it seems like a missed opportunity as you cannot cooperatively create towns or even share creations. The longevity is there for the game, thanks to the Freeplay mode but the restrictions here that require you to fully complete the Challenge mode will undoubtedly turn many gamers away.
Construction and careful planning of your town or city through the ages is entirely handled by way of the DS' touch screen. Through this, you'll navigate all of the menus, place locations for houses, pathways and other structural elements integral to the development of a successful city while being given the option of using either the d-pad or stylus for manoeuvring the camera. It seems like the perfect setup but the controls are plagued with issues. Due to the size of some of the menu icons, it can be troublesome to navigate to the piece you want and similarly, it can be equally difficult to place structures on land in bulk due to poor touch screen controls. This issue is further confounded by a bizarre delay in the detection of input on the touch screen, with there being at times a couple of seconds between your press and the game actually carrying out what you want. The same can be said of the d-pad, used to move the camera, with this experiencing a long delay in the game detecting your movements and replicating them. It makes what is already a long and time consuming game much more cumbersome than it needs to be and makes the process of urban planning at times a nightmare.
SimCity Creator is not what you would call a pretty game, even in comparison to similar micro-management titles on the handheld. The overall look of the game places it somewhere in the 16 bit era, with buildings and other structures looking muddy as a result of the camera being zoomed out too far. You can zoom in the camera but with only one degree of zoom available, it does little to give you a better look at the locations so you can plan out your development. That being said, the buildings do show a greater deal of detail than just about anything else visually in the game, with locations looking bland as a result of poor design work having been done for creating the likes of trees, water and the land and some of the animal inhabitants. However, this detail only truly comes through when you progress on to more modern ages and the buildings themselves get bigger.
Some parts of the game have borrowed from the styles incorporated in one of EA's other titles, MySims. Throughout your play, you'll constantly be interrupted by and have to answer to a MySims caricature who feels slightly out of place given the context of the game, even when you get into modern surroundings. It provides a contrast to the otherwise dull visuals when playing and does for the most part look a lot better than everything else on offer.
Music has never truly been a big part of these games, and this statement remains true throughout this title. With the exception of being used for creating some sense of ambience, sound is used scantly throughout SimCity Creator. Each of the ages has its own style of music that fits it well but beyond lingering in the background and feebly attempting to create some atmosphere, it does little to bring you into the game or bring home the sense of actually developing within specific time periods.
The touch screen houses all menus and is used for navigating these and placing items while the top screen shows the actual in game visuals. It's how it should be done with this style of game but with poor touch screen controls, the dual screen use never becomes more than average.
The formula that has remained consistent across the years with the SimCity titles didn't need changing yet here, EA have attempted to make the game a more accessible experience but dulled it to the point where it lacks any of the enjoyment of the other games. Being able to develop your city across different time periods is a very nice touch but a poor presentation, clustered interface and unresponsive touch screen controls make SimCity Creator too cumbersome to truly be enjoyable. Purists will still relish the opportunity to create their own cities from scratch but its lasting power will wane quickly due to the issues it harbours.
Pro: Being able to develop a city across different time periods is good fun, being able to see other players creations is a nice touch
Con: Controls are too unresponsive and cumbersome, presentation isn't particularly great, game lacks the fun of other similar games
Final score: 6.2