It can’t be easy to bring one of the most famous and beloved games of all time to a major new platform. SimCity fans are a notoriously detail-oriented bunch, and EA Mobile would have felt their wrath if it had brought anything less than its ‘A’ game to the iPhone port. Happily, the publisher went to great lengths to make this version of the game as complete, and as playable, as it possibly could have been. This is not a flawless recreation of the PC classic’”the hardware’s limitations don’t allow for that’”but we found that the game’s minor quirks and issues were overshadowed by that all-engrossing SimCity gameplay.
For those unfamiliar (we bet there are three or four of you out there), SimCity is a city planning game that stands as famed designer Will Wright’s seminal work of genius. It was one of the first games to combine open-ended design and procedural logic into ‘sandbox’ gameplay, offering the player complete control of his or her own experience. As Mayor of your city, you are The Decider. Your only goal is to enjoy yourself, whether that entails building your burg up into a city on a hill–or dooming its residents (known as Sims) to life in a hopeless slum.
Of course, nurturing a successful, growing city is far more difficult than destroying one. The game’s economic guts are based on a marvelously complex series of interrelated factors, and maintaining the right balance requires constant attention and experimentation. For instance, if you zone too many industrial areas without setting aside land for housing, your Sims will have nowhere to live. If you do the opposite, unemployment will skyrocket. Police stations control crime, but they also take a bite out of your monthly budget; parks gradually improve land values, which in turn boost tax revenue, but occupy valuable real estate. In other words, there’s a reason why many real-life city planners hold PhDs!
This version of SimCity puts all of the basic building controls at your fingertips, quite literally. Zoning, transportation, utilities, and municipal buildings spring out of a left-hand touch menu. Getting the size and placement right when building seems kludgy at first, but soon becomes second nature. We also really appreciate the convenient time controls, which allow you to pause the game or speed all the way up to triple pace. Drilling down into the nuts and bolts of the city budget and advisors isn’t quite as easy, but it’s still manageable–it takes three or four button presses. The only really inconvenient functions are the research graphs and map overlays, which require you to dive in and out of menus repeatedly. We think the interface works pretty well as a whole, and you will too, as long as you can accustom yourself to navigating at a somewhat slower pace.
The game looks solid, if not spectacular. The isometric graphics aren’t going to wow you with their visual splendor, but there are a ton of different buildings and structures to explore, and they only start to look muddy at maximum zoom. The render speed is not quite up to snuff, though; both scrolling and zooming are noticeably laggy. We’ve always loved SimCity’s music, and this game picks out four or five of the series’ best tracks’”part jazz, part world music–for your listening pleasure. The game booted us out a couple times during extended play sessions, but a restart seemed to fix the problem.
We should also mention that this version of SimCity isn’t technically complete. A few features like subways and elevated terrain are lacking, although you are unlikely to miss them much. However, we did find ourselves wishing for some one-off scenarios or challenges to test your skill against specific circumstances, like SimCity 2000 used to have.
SimCity doesn’t qualify as a miracle port, but it’s a great portable version of the classic, and we think that it’ll satisfy almost everyone. Also, SimCity is one of those rare games that never really gets old, so it’s sure as heck worth $9.99. Your office awaits, Mr. or Mrs. Mayor!