You remember SimCity, don’t you? It’s a classic. I used to play it on my grandma’s old computer running Windows 3.1. It was ancient: horrible graphics, unintuitive menu-based interface, and some blatantly broken gameplay mechanics. Regardless of these flaws, it had one enormously important quality: it was fun as hell. There’s a reason I used to play that game so much. Seeing your city grow from a couple of farmhouses to a budding metropolis large enough to rival Tokyo was always a unique experience no matter how many times you did it. Then unleashing Godzilla on your unsuspecting citizens when you got bored ensured a memorable ending to a game that didn’t really have an ending.
Then came a ton of SimCity sequels. I haven’t played any of them, unless you count The Sims, which is completely different.
Now I’m back playing more SimCity, this time on my iPod Touch (courtesy of Ryan, who paid for the game and the Touch). Though I never played any of the sequels to SimCity, I can tell right away that this game isn’t one. Instead, it’s just a remake of the original Windows game, with slightly better graphics, slightly more broken gameplay mechanics, and a menu-based interface that works just as badly as ever. It seems that Maxis took the word “remake” literally and remade the same game, flaws and all. But that shouldn’t be a bad thing, right? SimCity is still a great game, and having it on an iPod or iPhone should be a blast. Well, yes and no.
The biggest complaint I have (which applies to most iPhone games, to be fair) is the controls. Nothing is improved whatsoever from the original game. While the original had a series of menus along the top of the screen, the iPhone version revolutionizes this design by moving the menus to the bottom of the screen. It’s pure brilliance. Basically, the menus are exactly the same. The only difference is the addition of a few sliders where there used to be text boxes, and some extra graphics to liven things up. Oh, and now there are advisors that serve no purpose other than to explain the already-self-explanatory items in the news ticker. Amazing.
Zoning is now a huge pain to do because it requires you to draw with great precision with your thumb. That can be pretty difficult to do when you keep missing the tiny adjustment buttons (which results in the camera flying around unexpectedly), or your thumb gets in the way of the screen. Thankfully the game allows you to zone and build while paused, which is a habit you must get into if you have any plans to be successful as a mayor. Trying to zone quickly will only result in wasted money, which can be a big problem thanks to the aforementioned “slightly more broken gameplay mechanics”.
Classic SimCity had a very simple system for taxes, operating at the same level of simplicity that RollerCoaster Tycoon’s ticket prices did several years later. If you read the newspaper, you’d see an editorial about how taxes are either cheap or expensive, then you’d raise or lower taxes accordingly. Getting citizens to think that taxes could be higher was as easy as lining your residential areas with parks and keeping industrial zones on an island somewhere far away from civilization. Doing this would cause property values to skyrocket and citizens to become instantly stupid, with a strange love of throwing all their money at the municipal government. While not exactly realistic or difficult, this system made money pretty easy to come by while keeping the game engaging. You still couldn’t build a thousand airports right away, but you knew that you could eventually as long as you paid attention.
It seems that the creators of the iPhone version wanted to make money a million times harder to manage, however, so a few new financial options have been added. Instead of just regular “taxes” like before, you now have to decide the tax rates for each type of zone. Also, “education” has been added to the list of things you have to pay for every month. Aside from these, there is now a system of ordinances that can drain your funds before you even realise that they exist. This system is basically just a list of things you can address in your city — some things, such as Pro-Reading, will drain your money but cause property values to rise. Some ordinances do the opposite, such as Parking Fines, which will bring you money but cause everyone to hate your city. I find these ordinances to be rather annoying, to be honest, but they do add another dimension to the financial gameplay, so I’ll forgive them.
My big problem with the new financial system is the taxes, really. It’s like all the citizens in your city are suddenly realistic — none of them want to pay taxes anymore, no matter what the situation. That sounds like a step in the right direction (for a simulation game), but it limits the size of your city pretty badly when people complain that a residential tax of 5% is really high, even when the city is littered with parks and forests, with industrial zones ostracized beyond belief. It makes money really hard to come by. Maybe this issue could be solved if I fiddled with the ordinances some more, but I really can’t get the hang of them yet. Maybe eventually.
One alteration to the core gameplay is the addition of water towers and pipes. In the tutorial, the game explains that the electricity system has been vastly simplified, since you no longer need to build wiring all over the city. I thought that seemed like a reasonable change to make until the game introduced me to water towers, which are pretty much the exact same thing as the old electricity system. You have to build towers near water, then run pipes from the towers to every building in the entire city. But water only travels so far without losing pressure, so you have to extend your water towers’ reaches by building pumping stations all over the place. The whole system is fine, but it makes me wonder why they bothered changing the electrical system.
In summary, SimCity on your iPhone or iPod is a pretty good deal. It’s not perfect by any means, since all the problems that were fixed are only replaced with more problems. Still, it’s a fun game and remains pretty faithful to the original concept. If you want to play SimCity on the go, this is the game for you.