Reviewed: November 9, 2008
Released: September 22, 2008
Recently released for the Nintendo DS, SimCity Creator is Electronic Arts’ latest attempt to bring the popular SimCity series—a city-building simulation first released in 1989—to Nintendo’s ubiquitous handheld platform. Over a year ago, EA also released SimCity DS, which seemed to be well liked by players, but as I haven’t played it personally, this review will be a standalone article with no references to the previous SimCity DS game.
In any case, SimCity Creator is, like other SimCity games, a city-building simulator. Unlike past SimCity titles, however, Creator follows the development and evolution of your custom-built city from the dawn of civilization through the medieval age, modern day, and even the future.
Probably targeting the younger gaming audience on the DS, SimCity Creator bears significant semblance to the original SimCity games on the PC, but the characters are drawn in a super-deformed anime style similar to that of MySims, and the game itself is simplified quite a bit, especially in the beginning stages.
Like in other SimCity titles, your duty as mayor is to build a fantastic city that your Sim citizens enjoy as a place to live and work. In Challenge Mode, you build a city from the ground up. By this, I mean that your city starts as a primitive community that relies on hunting and gathering for food. As you evolve the city, the structures built in the previous era stay where they were last placed and change with the times. Your Sims learn to farm and, eventually, to use electricity and trade with other countries.
The game is a bit slow going, as your caveman society has very few options: initially, you can only build residential zones and roads that connect houses to food resources. Game complexity ramps up a little bit as time passes, as more building and zone types are introduced, like farmland and commercial zoning, fire and police stations, schools, garbage dumps, and factories. Eventually, you’ll have to make sure you can connect all buildings to electricity, to provide water to all homes, and to link up all areas of the city with railways and roads. It’s all classic SimCity gameplay and is pretty fun when the city is progressing smoothly.
One main problem with Creator, however, is the pacing of the game. The beginning of each era tends to proceed at a crawl, as your cartoon guide doesn’t provide very many helpful hints, and like the guide, the reminder memo listing your objectives for the era is simply too vague to be of much use. As a result, building a successful city falls largely to trial and error.
I also found myself frustrated when fires were erupting all over my medieval European city despite apparently low flammability rates, yet my Sims didn’t have the revelation to set up fire stations until a much later point in that era. With few building options and inadequate instruction at the beginning of each time period, starting out is often rocky, and some of these problems could have been easily eliminated with clearer building tips or other necessary tweaks.
Moreover, some simulated activities in this game, such as constructing buildings and collecting resources, just take time—both in-game and real. Unfortunately, there are only two game speeds, and the faster speed isn’t all that fast when you’d just like the game to get on with it so that you can have enough money to build your next project. In fact, I found that I spent a lot of time with my DS lying on the desk running Creator and racking up cash while I took care of other tasks because it was honestly too boring to sit there waiting around, staring at the screen while the numbers slowly went up.
The clunky user interface is also frustrating. Annoyingly, tapping on any button brings up a descriptive text box, and to actually activate the button and go to the screen desired, the player must tap the button again. This isn’t intuitive; by instinct, most players would think to click on the text box that popped up in order to close it and move on, but in Creator, tapping on the text box cancels the entire button-clicking action, forcing the player to start the whole process all over again. The descriptive text boxes can be turned off in the game options in order to streamline the interface a bit, but it also removes the display of some information that you might want to reference while playing. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Also annoying is the stylus-based building interface. While you might think that the DS touch screen would be a great interface for a SimCity game, Creator unfortunately doesn’t implement it as well as I’d hoped. For the most part, the stylus does much what you’d expect a mouse to do, except that it’s much less sensitive, so that indicating the exact location for something to be built isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There is the undo button, which makes stylus insensitivity bearable for the most part. Inexplicably, however, demolition actions cannot be undone, and one slip of the stylus could easily destroy an entire row of expensive, previously completed buildings—permanently.
Needless to say, since demolition turns out to be virtually unavoidable when renovating a city over time, accidental (and often catastrophic) destruction will happen at least a few times during gameplay, and I often wanted to tear my hair out when a long row of buildings was accidentally taken out along with a road I was trying to replace with a railway. That’s not to mention that there are only two save slots available (each of which can store only one city each), and saving takes forever and a day, discouraging frequent saving and setting the player up for aggravation when demolition goes wrong.
I should also mention that the information sheets on your city’s pollution, crime, food, water, and other levels are sometimes unintentionally misleading. For instance, baffling enough, power plants generating electricity and areas of the city without electricity are confusingly coded a very similar red color, and food sources and areas of the city without food are also both colored red. Surely, the game developers could have chosen a different color to remove needless misunderstanding, but somehow they didn’t think to do that.
Despite these issues, though, Creator isn’t without its fun parts, and small touches—like the ability to draw your own mayoral seal (mine was a cheeseburger) and set your own “slogan” (mine was “Dude,” resulting in building names like “Grand Dude Church”)—help to personalize the game. There’s also quite a few playable historical eras, and these can only be unlocked in Freeplay mode after they’ve been completed in the Challenge mode at least once. You’ll need to build multiple cities to unlock them all, providing an excuse for replay, though with the extremely limited save slots (there are only two), you won’t be able to keep all of them.
Admittedly, the graphics aren’t going to be as crisp as they would be on a PC or other platform this kind of game is usually played on, but given the level of detail required for displaying a city, the graphics are generally pretty decent on the small DS screen. There are two levels of zoom, in case you’d like to view your city closer up. The zoom feature is a nice touch, especially since the artists included quite a bit of detail on the array of different buildings, including European, Asian, and American architectural styles.
The cartoonish and simplistic super-deformed character art follows the trend set by MySims and other recent titles put out for Nintendo platforms and displays crisply on the DS. Whether the look appeals to you will depend on your taste, but it’s agreeable enough to look at.
The soundtrack includes some familiar SimCity themes and reflects the historical era chosen. While there’s not necessarily a whole lot of variety, the tracks themselves bring to mind peaceful wilderness or the hustle and bustle of an urban environment, contributing nicely to the game without becoming distracting. The sound effects, too, are appropriate and effectively convey events such as construction and natural disasters.
In terms of game length in real time, SimCity Creator can certainly take up quite a few hours. While there’s a good deal of building variety and unexpected disasters that occasionally demand the player’s attention, however, the truth is that a lot of game time is taken up by waiting around for resources and population to increase.
If you’re a parent or considering this as a gift for a child, though, you might also be pleased to know that Creator includes some easy educational trivia quizzes during gameplay for bonus points, and the time periods represented in each stage of gameplay do also include historically accurate (if heavily simplified) facts about a real-world culture’s development.
Creator retails for a suggested price of $39.99, and whether this title will be a worthwhile addition to your collection will probably depend on your willingness to be patient through the slow parts of the game, as well as your tolerance for the type of repetitive play often present in city-building simulations.
SimCity Creator carries over some trademark gameplay aspects from the original SimCity series, though SimCity veterans may find Creator a bit simplified for their tastes. Growing a city through multiple eras is a promising game premise, and Creator does have its enjoyable moments, but it’s also peppered with irritating interface problems and a very slow pace. All in all, the game is passably entertaining and certainly not downright terrible, but if you choose to pick it up, be prepared to be very patient. I wouldn’t pick this up for full price, but it could be a decent discount title.