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SimCity Creator

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: The Sims Studio
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Editor/ Simulation/ Edutainment

Graphics & Sound:

SimCity Creator is the console version that fans of the original series have been awaiting. Back so long ago that I'm embarrassed to admit it, titles like SimAnt and SimSafari were getting heavy play on my Apple II. Okay, there I've gone and dated myself... The legacy of SimCity is an amazing journey back in time over the last twenty years, one of the great enduring ideas in gaming. SimCity Creator fills these big shoes admirably, with lots to recommend it to Wii owners looking for something with some meat on the bones. Visual panache and trendy music hasn't ever been a focus for this series, but I'm happy to report that the building models and camera options available in SimCity Creator are excellent. Not exactly known for its character-driven gameplay, the series introduces a host of citizens as assistants and advisers in SimCity Creator. Everything is executed in a cartoon style, including the assistants. Subtle humor is evident as you zoom in on your city and look at the names of different establishments popping up, and when you read the descriptions of your assistants.

There are several ways to view your city, as many ways as an aspiring city designer could ever desire. Standard, angled camera views are available and you can also get into a plane or helicopter to do a fly-over once construction is underway on your city. This is a really neat feature, although it doesn't add an incredible amount of detail compared to just zooming in. It's the interaction that makes the difference. The other options for gauging the state of your city include overlay maps, like map filters. These allow you to see immediately where your construction efforts are having their desired impact, and where additional construction is needed. There are often subtle fixes for problems like crime or fire hazard. Obviously, one well-placed building can even out these issues. More complicated are issues around crime and traffic, which you can see easily enough but which may require more time and multiple steps to fix.


Gameplay:

If you were dating SimCity Creator, you'd describe her as a decent looking girl, with a PhD in Architecture, and an encyclopedic knowledge of city planning, finance, and construction. The depth within SimCity Creator is not immediately apparent. Starting from the Tutorial Mode, you'll have the chance to explore basic controls and conventions. These include the method for creating zones that will impact your cities' mix of residential, commercial, and industrial properties. You'll work through some specific examples of resources available to support your new city and help it grow. Finally, you'll be introduced to the personnel and management side of SimCity Creator. Hiring assistants and choosing your advisers can make a huge difference. Poor advisers or inexperienced assistants won't help you reach your goals.

After you complete the tutorial, you can take on almost anything. Missions Mode takes you through a series of projects, usually with an objective at the end around growing your city and meeting some other special condition. These missions become more and more difficult to accomplish, but practice makes perfect. The ways in which you can develop your city are many. Building high-demand zones will be one path to success, as long as your zones are all supplied with transportation resources, and adequate utility supply. Using one of the in-game tools that takes a poll among the populace can tell you a lot about how people feel in their neighborhoods. SimCity Creator uses a smart feature to follow-up suggestions from people with an auto-recommend that allows you to immediately address their concerns. Your assistants will also clue you in at times on what you can do to make things better. If Missions Mode isn't your thing, there's always Free Mode. No constraints here, no rules, just a tabula rasa on which to lavish your city-building mojo. This is the mode where all options are available to you for the first time, including the fly-over feature, disasters, deals, and the ability to select your terrain and footprint. In the Missions Mode, you'll get a city handed to you, with the mission being improvement, and quick. If you happen to snap shots of your accomplishments during Free Mode, you can later review them in Photo Album, from the Main Menu. The only other option from the Main Menu is a doozy. Contests is similar to what we saw in Mario Kart Wii, with the option to upload track scores for everyone to see and beat. SimCity Creator puts its own spin on the idea of achievements and online tie-ins with Contest Mode. Everyone is provided the chance to build their dream city and try to meet specific criteria along the way.

The fun in the game is the planning, development, and sometimes destruction of a SimCity. The complexities of building and running a city aren't dumbed down here; this is all based on the same financial and process management philosophy that made the entire SimCity series such a hit. There isn't a micromanagement approach taken, considering the zone system, but special buildings are earned as you progress and can be used to stimulate growth and happiness in your city. No multiplayer makes this a title that two friends can't share, other than swapping stories about how they resolved certain missions. There should have been a more universal upload/download feature that would have allowed players to see what creations other folks have produced. Free Mode does allow you to select from a wide variety of pre-built models, or roll something strictly on your own. If you don't like what you created after a bit, or just get bored with being a benevolent leader, you can call in a variety of natural disasters, and at least one unnatural disaster with aliens apparently stopping off at your city before getting on with their global devastation. Those with limited patience may want to destroy pieces of their city constantly, just to keep life interesting. Sending tornadoes, aliens, or meteor showers into your city might seem insane, but that's just because you're at first very attached to your creation and unsure of how to help it grow. Once you realize that the city is sustaining its growth or become a stable system, it might be time to shake things up...


Difficulty:

The biggest feature in SimCity Creator that you'll use to offset difficult situations is the pause button. The only true pause button is connected to the management tool-set. Opening the tools' dashboard only takes a little bit of screen real estate, but does a lot. Since the assumption is that you want to change some piece of the city or make a measured assessment on the state of things, freezing the game helps keep things steady until you make a decision. When the clock is running, it is possible to speed up the passage of time. This is especially nice when you have a two-part mission and complete the first part. In many cases, population is a good indicator of success, so you can satisfy whatever condition is placed on the mission and then speed up the game to power through a rise in population. Dropping or slow-growing cities are the most challenging, since you can't be exactly sure what is causing the decline. Asking citizens and your assistant is smart, but you'll also have to pull on some simple business lessons. Increasing tax revenue from any zone increases the city's coffers, but may alienate individuals or businesses. If taxes are low, you'll likely attract people, but may be unable to maintain their infrastructure thanks to your non-existent revenue. Keeping these items in balance is what makes SimCity Creator a game you'll keep on the shelf. There are definitely obstacles along the way that you'll need to overcome, but all the tools you require to save yourself are at your disposal. There's nothing twitchy about SimCity Creator that requires great reflexes; this one is all about having a big brain and using it.

Game Mechanics:

Motion controls aren't needed here, but are worked in through the flying mini-game you'll do from time-to-time. The D-pad controls all menu selections during the game, which are easy to access. Submenus can sometimes be confusing, especially when they aren't contextual with the game. Knowing when to use a particular resource is part of the learning process, but the tutorial explains to you what will have to be done, by what, and where. Understanding the inner workings of each resource in the game, like nuclear or wind power generation, is beyond me. What I can grasp is the mix of energy and resources needed in a game to complete a mission or just maintain a thriving city. You'll have warnings in some instances, but I would have liked a more visible warning from the system. There are only limited options to share content between your Wii and a friend's, which seems like a missed opportunity. The community of folks that will be using the editor are connected only via the Contests Mode. The sense of accomplishment is potentially great for winning a contest, but something smaller and more personal, like being able to trade finished cities with friends or upload them to a central site, would have been even better. The smart touch of bringing up certain buildings in response to citizen feedback didn't permeate enough of the game. Building certain utilities is made more tedious by the lack of immediate feedback on whether you succeeded. After putting down some water pipe, you should be presented with the option to display the Data Map showing where water service is currently available within the city. Instead, you have to back out of the construction interface through about three levels and go to another menu option a few levels away to view data on water. On the flip side of the coin, the tools available from the main screen include everything you could possibly want, including the fly-over feature and the option to cause destruction in your city.

These are nitpicking things to try and suggest ideas for how to make a good game better. SimCity Creator is a niche title since it doesn't use any of the twitch reflexes some of us have been honing over the years. It also doesn't feature a dark storyline, raging monsters (okay, it does have some of those, especially if you count aliens as monsters), or angst. Calling SimCity Creator a light or casual game doesn't do it justice, because it does require some heavy involvement, especially in the beginning. The later stages of building a city are almost tedious in comparison to the raw, start-up feeling you have upon cracking open a new city in Missions or Free. Even so, there are limitless ways to enhance your city, judging by the many pages of building and assistant silhouettes at the beginning of the game that can be unlocked as you attain more success. Special buildings can be earned and placed to boost morale, causing the population in your city to skyrocket. Here's hoping that SimCity Creator rockets to a good place on the sales charts so more SimCity games make their way to the Wii. SimAnt, I'm waiting for you!!


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Microsoft Xbox 360 Baja: Edge of Control Windows Time Stands Still

 
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