by Marty Demarest & r & & r & SimCity DS & r &
Rated Everyone; Nintendo DS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & mmediately upon being appointed mayor in SimCity DS, I signed an oath pledging to "create a city sound and whole and to safeguard the health and happiness of its citizens." I named that city Playvil. (There were only spaces available for seven letters -- I thought even shoelaces had enough memory for 8-bit, 8-character names these days.) Then I took a brief tour of the facilities and spent some time doing what every mayor should do -- getting used to the view out of the DS's dual screens.
The top screen shows the city as it actually is, a concatenation of slightly fuzzy two-dimensional buildings. On the lower screen, the same city section is represented as squares on a graph, where all the planning of districts, roads and utilities takes place using the touch screen. As I worked below, I could simultaneously see the actual city built from my plans on the upper screen.
SimCity DS dispenses with the more tedious parts of civic infrastructure, such as plumbing and power lines. All I needed to do for my city was provide access to water and connect a power plant to the grid of buildings. Zoning required much more micromanagement that was entirely appropriate to the touch-sensitive DS. I was thankful I wasn't trying to manage the city from the backseat of a summer vacationing car when my citizens started demanding that I install fiddly little fountains and other public niceties.
In the early days, citizens had "high regard" for me as their mayor. They praised my economic policies, which were primarily based on low taxes for homeowners. It was easy keeping up with the population's demand for blue-collar jobs and white-collar commerce. Without a million management details to distract me, the streamlined simulation failed to make me mess around with my city. It consistently hovered in the magic spot where the population supported the quality of life it desired, making SimCity DS the most utopian of SimCitys.
Eventually, reports of contentment and "amazingly average" grade school test scores prompted me out of my idyllic inertia, aided by requests from a few oddball citizens who made their way into my office. A teenage girl wanted more zoos. A soldier of fortune kept requesting that the city plant more trees. Santa flew through town in an attempt to keep me busy. And yes, I noticed that the landfill was getting full. And the power plant that I started with was winding down. Even in Playvil, it turned out that there was a lot of work to be done.
THE GOOD: After becoming familiar with SimCity DS through the edgeless smoothness of the plain simulation, the game's disaster scenarios were exciting, even if they only involved solving a city's financial collapse entirely by building and rezoning. Of course, there was the requisite alien attack.
THE BAD: SimCity DS uses the DS's wireless hookup to accomplish practically nothing (swapping buildings with other SimCity DS owners). That's typical of publisher EA's "use every feature" attitude, which has resulted in the videogame market being flooded with shallow demonstrations of a new artform.
THE BOTTOM LINE: SimCity DS simplifies the SimCity formula enough to make it feasible for hand-held gaming, while still simulating a city that feels full-fledged.