Review: Sim City DS (Nintendo DS)

Sim City DS
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Genre: City Building Simulation
Release Date 6/20/2007

Although Electronic Arts is best know for its Madden franchise, I’ve always found myself more interested in their older, (and in my opinion) beter franchises. Jordan vs Bird, Marble Madness. The Bard’s Tale. Mutant League Football. Even Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (Console version). Give me those over the modern EA sports and fighting games any day. Slowly but surely it appears EA is going retro. Earlier this year they released Theme Park on the DS. I love that game. I love playing an evil park owner. And now, Sim City DS becomes my next purchase. I decided to grab it because I have generally enjoyed the Sim City games, even if there are little to no differences between the original PC version, the SNES, the Sega Saturn or the recently released version. Aside from some visuals and a few platform specific tweaks, it’s 99% the same game of trying to make a town thrive and survive disasters. Although I don’t find it as fun as Populous, it’s still a fun game to pick up on rare occasions.

I felt like stepping outside my usual zone of Adventure, RPG, 2-D Fighters and Shooters for a change and picked this up to see how well EA made use of the touch screen and how the SC franchise holds up in regards to portable gaming. Is it worth your $29.99, or should you just pay eight dollars for the SNES version on the Virtual Console?

Let’s Review

1.Modes

You have two specific modes in Sim City DS. The first is “Build a City.” It’s pretty cut and dry what you do here. You take a piece of land that ranges in difficulty and starting funds and then you build a city. You add a power plant, water source, zone for industrial, residential, and commercial and watch your ideas come to life. You’ll deal with everything from fire to strikes to pollution to earthquakes. This mode is the heart and soul of the Sim City franchise. The game does not end and so you can potentially play this mode forever. Just remember you can only save one city per cartridge.

The second mode is “Save the City” mode. You’ll choose from one of eight pre-created cities suffering from a particular disaster. It’ll be your goal to not create, but fix these cities in an allotted timespan. Warning, loading times for these are insane.

There are a few other modes like “Post Office” that lets you send messages to other gamers playing Sim City DS. There is Landmark mode, which lets you unlock famous pieces or architecture from across the globe. Here’s a hint: try the last names of famous authors, artists, and composers. I’ll give you a free one right here: CAMUS. In all those, these are extras that you can’t truly play with. They will just revolve around guessing passwords and mailing unlocked landmarks to other people who have this game back and forth. Of course, how many people are you going to encounter that actually have this game? Exactly.

In all, you’re getting the same exact Sim City that you’ll known and loved for two decades, but with the ability to take advantage of the DS’ wi-fi capabilities. What’s here is enjoyable, but in truth, there’s not much here. There are less “Save the City” modes in this version then there were in the 16 bit version of this game, and the tutorial that introduces you to game isn’t as helpful as you’d think it would be. It’s also veeeeeeerrrrrrry slooooooooow.

You’ve got a decent amount of stuff here, but EA as usual is resting on its laurels. Considering Sim City games have been around since 1989, that’s kind of sad. But an enjoyable game is an enjoyable game, even more recycled more then Street Fighter II.

Modes Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

If you’re looking for something, look elsewhere. Regardless of what mode you are playing, the graphics are tiny and pretty bland. There is little to no detail to anything you put into your city save for the landmarks.

This game does feature some humanoids. Your advisor (who can be one of a number of people. Trust me, take the advisor personality quiz when you first boot up the game.) will be one of these, but the drawings and animation are very crude. All the female characters look like she males, and regardless of gender they will have a thin body with an oversized head (No, not Chibi). It’s really bad considering what could have been done with the system. Same with the various obnoxious people who come to your office throughout the game. You will get the same people wanting the same things repeatedly. The old man who wants your to outsource your trash, the schoolgirl who wants more train stations, the old lady who wants more hospitals and so on. All the characters are hideous in design as they are repetitive. No thank you.

You know it’s bad when the prettiest graphics are the occasional firework displays you earn. The game in general isn’t hideous; it just hasn’t changed much visually in two decades. It’s going to be pretty unattractive to the modern or casual gamer, although retrogamers will appreciate the nostalgic feel coupled with the use of the touch pad. Theme Park looks a lot better on the DS than this does, and that’s a shame as Sim City is the franchise that kept Electronic Arts afloat for a very long time.

Graphics Rating: 4/10

3.Sound Rating

Nothing to write home about here. In fact, I spent most of the time with the sound muted as the music was pretty poor and actually took my mind out of the game. Ever have one of those games where you’re wondering how a score managed to make it into this game? This is one of those. Thankfully the sound effects are far better than the music. Everything from Santa’s sleigh jingling every Christmas to the sound of buildings going up or townspeople going, “Oooh!” when you put up a landmark, it’s all well done and quite cute.

When you think about it, the audio qualities of this game have always been the least important aspect about it. Just let me get into my rocking chair and tell you about how when I was a kid, Sim City didn’t have any noise at all and you were lucky if your new fangled Apple IIe even had sound capabilities in half the games you played on it. Kids today!

Good sound effects but bad background music. I have to chalk it up as a mediocre audio experience and advise you that it’s better with the sound off.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Here is where the game has completely changed to suit the DS. Instead of using a mouse or a controller like a mouse, you’ll be using the D-Pad and the touch screen in tandem to make things happen.More often than not you’ll use the D-Pad to scroll around your city and watch things being built, and then the touch pad for everything else. Signing a contract? You’ll use the stylus to sign your actual signature. Want to make a street? Draw it with your stylus. You’ll also use it from placing buildings to setting off fireworks to mugging Santa Claus(not a joke).

The controls take a bit of getting used to at first because occasionally you’ll be a box off on your graph paper style map, but that’s what the undo command is for. The only problem is you’ll have to immediately do the undo command or it won’t accept it. More the most part the controls are incredibly solid and comparing it to the SNES or Saturn versions, Sim City DS is a lot more intuitive and nowhere near as hard to mess up.

You’ll have an overview map. While on this map the game advances in time, with buildings going up, population coming and going and money going in and out from your budget. However, you can’t build on this map, you can only watch. To build, you’ll click to the system menu and choose the build screen, here you have a menu of options and sub-options to choose from. It’s all very simple and the game tells you the effects of each potential choice. You’ll notice some choices aren’t available at first. That’s because you have to earn them either by putting money into research or earning them.

There are other menu’s to choose from such as a budget worksheet, a data sheet that graphs how your city in doing from year to year, decade to decade or even century to century, and a tab that gives you a series of maps showing what areas have the most land value, crime, pollution and more. There’s a pretty intense amount of stuff to look at. Remember though, time ONLY ADVANCES on the overview map and while there, that is all that can happen, so the came has either flurries of action, or you’ll be setting it down and waiting for time to advance.

Every Sim City has had a solid engine and pretty easy to grasp controls. I have to say this is the best out of all the systems and PC versions I’ve played. The game feels like it was meant for the Stylus and touch pad and I don’t think I could go back to playing any of the other versions after this.

Control And Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

This is a hard category to discuss with Sim City DS. It’s much like the Pokemon Rps in this regard. You can only have one save, and the game never actually ends. You just play the same city forever until you get bored and feel like starting a new one. Sim City does have the mini simulations in “Save the City” mode, but Sim City also doesn’t offer as much to do in the main game and much of it is sitting and waiting.

Although the potential is there to play the same city forever, I can’t think of too many gamers I’ve ever known that have played the same city for more than a week. After a few hours of playing, I already had a city with a population of 25K and a good portion of the available land built up. Half that time was just sitting, waiting and being bored. Still, the potential is there for those with OCD or if you want to have the game running in the background while you do something more invigorating.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

The big problem with Sim City is that it’s not designed to take into account various styles of play. If you want your city to grow at all you have to do some very specific things. For example. You can’t have a city without cars. You have to have roads along the various zones. Otherwise the population and land won’t build up. That means no cities with railways only. You also have to pretty much build your commercial area directly next to your population and your industry far away for anything to happen. What if you want a city that bans cars? Too bad. Or a creepy Dickensian city overpowered with industry? Too bad.

Once you figure out the very strict patterns the game forces you to work in, it’s a pretty easy game to make your homemade city flourish. In fact, no matter how many cities you make, they’ll all end up have the same basic design pattern. The only thing that will change is the size of your zones or what non zoned features you’ll be using.

In truth, the game isn’t that balanced. Sure you could switch out a coal power plant for a nuclear one or some wind ones, but the only thing that changes there is the amount of pollution. It’s sad that the Sim City hasn’t evolved enough since 1989 to let you try some wacky things. In the end, it’s like every Sim City game. I play 2-3 cities to see what can or can’t be done in order to get the city to take off, and then my real city where you zone land, put up monuments and watch everything grow. On rare occasions you’ll have a fire (the only real disaster that seems to crop up in the the main game on this version), but those fires tend to be nowhere near your actual built up land.

The game can be quite annoying your first time playing it, as you’re not sure what you can do or not do in regards to getting anything to happen. That first “year” can be exceptionally slow, aggravating and boring. Once you realize the game doesn’t allow much, if any, variation, you’ll do quite well.

There’s not much substance to the game, even with a great deal of options. It’s pretty simplistic and all you have to do is follow the same basic pattern that you first discover that works and your city will flourish. In that regard the game is balanced, but due to the lack of any real challenge, repetitiveness it’s a rather mediocre experience.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

This is the umpteenth release of this game. Even some of the “Save the City” scenarios are the same as previous ones. At least this DS has the landmark features and the new interface. Still, if you’ve played one game of Sim City, you’ve pretty much played them all. Regardless of system or even if its on a floppy disc. Hey! Remember those?

Writing this review is reminding how amazing this game was when it first came out. In 1989 Maxis got GOTY awards from practically every gaming magazine on the planet for it. It was wildly innovative and one of the most original games ever. If I was reviewing the original version, it would be scoring a lot higher in this category. However, as the game hasn’t really evolved over the years in terms of options, graphics or gameplay, it’s hard to give a rehash of a rehash of a rehash high marks, even if the original would’ve gotten a ten here.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

When you pop in Sim City for the first time, it’s pretty addictive. You have so much to do and so many items to choose from. Do you want a high yield residential area to start, or something smaller? Do you want a lot of industry as it grows fast, or do you want to keep it small as it pollutes heavily. When that piece of land is barren and just asking for you to start a small little hamlet, it allows your imagination to soar. When those first building start erecting before your eyes, the game sucks you in big time. It’s a lot of fun to see the early stages take place.

As the game goes on though, it gets pretty monotonous and dull. Watch as you spend years saving up for the Defense Force because you don’t want to take out a loan. Thrill towards leaving your game on for five to fifteen minutes while nothing at all happens. Watch as the same people bother you at your office with the same exact comments over and over again. Tap Santa every year at the same time for several hundred dollars. By the mid game, the life is sucked out of you. By the time you hit 100,000 people, you could really give a shit. By the time you hit a million? Well, 99% of the people that play the game won’t because they have better things to do with their lives.

Think of the addictiveness of Sim City as a slide. It starts off super high, but plummets quickly.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

I think most gamers can have SOME fun with Sim City DS. It’s a nice little game to play once every few years. I can’t imagine anyone hunkering down and putting as much time into this as other games, simply because the reward here is so little and it takes forever to get any. Wow! I have can have buses about 10 hours into playing. Wheeee. It’s so weird to refer to this as a “Niche” game. I remember when it was THE game. But looking back, even when it was a game pretty much everyone owned, it was never one people played for long stretches. Sim City is a game you play for a while, then let it go for a long time, then come back and start over.

As long as you know the basics, you’ll have some good times. Is it worth full price? No, it’s not. It’s not a long term game for anyone.

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Some games age really well regardless of their re-release or how many remakes they’ve been through. Street Fighter II is a good example, as are the different KoF games that come out ever year. Pokemon manages to keep itself fresh by releasing games with different genres than the standard turn based RPG in between each edition of the RPG. Each of the Fatal Frame games has a great story to go with the standard game play. These are examples of things that are basically the same each time but manage to mix it up enough that it feels distinctly different with each incarnation. Sim City DS really doesn’t add anything new. If you’ve really been dying for a portable version of the game, well here it is. Knock yourself out. For the vast majority, you might as well stick to the SNES version you can download from the WII Virtual Console. It’s 8 dollars and you can do the same exact things and it has better (and cuter!) graphics.

The controls on this game are great. It’s the best I’ve ever seen in a DS game. It’s just too little, too late for Sim City DS. If they had done a little more to make the game stand out or even released it more towards the beginning of the DS’ lifespan, it’d be a little better. Now it just feels like practically every other EA game they’ve released in the past few years. It’s just drawing in the audience with the name and smacks of laziness and a lack of effort being put in. It’s not a bad game. It’s just mediocre for 2007.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Modes: 6/10
Graphics: 4/10
Sound: 5/10
Control & Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score: 54 /100

Final Score: 5.5/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Sim City DS is fun at times, but generally it is just tedious. I’d recommend waiting for a price drop, because at thirty bucks it just feels lackluster. This game is a classic and one of the most influential in all of gaming. It just hasn’t aged well with today’s generation of quick reward seeking and low attention spanning having gamers.