If only the real world worked like Anno. Plonk a Rat Killer down in among your settlement of houses and that's rat infestations sorted. Plonk a Fire Station down nearby and any fires that break out are dealt with in a blink of an eye. Plonk a Public Bath down and everyone smells of roses. There's no, "sorry, sir, he's out on another job at the moment", or "sorry, madam, we weren't able to save your house from the raging fire because we got stuck in traffic on the way". No, in Anno, as long as you provide the people with public services, they work a charm, and everybody's happy as Larry.
Lambeth Council take note. You wouldn't have five in six people moaning about paying their council tax if things worked like they do in Anno. Give the people what they want, and they're happy. And you know what happens when people are happy? They're willing to pay high taxes.
This, basically, is how Anno - Create a new World, the series' debut on Wii, works. It's a top down Civilisation/Settlers-style game set during the heady days of pirates and posh English seamen. Originally a hardcore PC strategy game, Anno on the Wii is a somewhat downsized affair, with a cartooney art style and heart-warming sound affects that fit perfectly on Nintendo's family-oriented console.
Don't let that put you off, though. As far as Wii games go, Anno is positively brain-busting. On the surface, and during the easy as pie story mode (which is nothing more than a 10-hour tutorial), the game is a simple affair that poses little threat to your expansion and settlement management. But play the game on continuous mode and it quickly becomes apparent that a lot more micro-management is required to win.
The careful placement of Market Places in relation to your resource production buildings, for example, so that they're being supplied with resources like food and building materials to the maximum efficiency, is essential if you're to keep your ever-expanding population smiling. Even something like road construction, which ties all of your buildings together, requires much forethought if you're to get your civilisation to the fifth and highest level: Aristocrats.
The game doesn't really teach you how everything works, leaving you to figure out much of the advanced stuff on your lonesome. This is perhaps Anno's biggest failing, because in continuous mode your big settlements can quickly start to spiral out of control and, like a baby crying, it's often hard to work out why.
They moan a lot, in fact. Barely a minute goes by without the game alerting you to some complaint. Quick! The people want clothes. Quick! The people want herbs (whatever for?). Quick! The people want you to do a dance while juggling plates with your feet. Sometimes, you just want to slap your tax-generating people in the face, grab them by the scruff of the neck and shout: "Do it your bloody self!" Keeping everyone happy while expanding your influence into new islands can quickly become difficult because you're managing so many things all at once. But this is good, in a way, because without this challenge Anno wouldn't pose any.
What most impresses about Anno is how well developer Keen has repurposed PC Anno for the Wii without losing the essence of what makes the series what it is. Pointing and dragging is all you need to get by and it works. Pressing the B button brings up a radial menu, ala Halo Wars, that gets you to every building the game has to offer as quickly as you need it to. When bad things happen, like rat infestations and fires, pressing on a UI button hurtles the camera to the scene of the crime in a heartbeat, allowing you to deal with the threats the game poses quickly. It's not until later in the game, when sea combat is introduced, that the ship-dragging starts to become fiddly and annoy.
And, really, for a Wii game, Anno looks great. Yes it's cartooney, but the art style fits the tone perfectly, and the production values are excellent. The buildings are well animated and colourful, the sound effects are appropriately pleasant and the voice acting is, actually, well executed, if a tad cheesy. In short, bravo Keen. Bravo.
While the story mode only lasts about 10 hours or so, depending on the difficulty level, continuous play mode could theoretically keep you going forever. Here the shackles are off from the get go. Anno's got a strange, inoffensive charm to it that makes it a pleasure to play, almost therapeutic. In fact, the only thing that prevents it from getting a truly great score is the lack of multiplayer.
Fans of economy management and resource gathering games on PC will probably find Anno's Wii incarnation too dumbed down for their tastes. But Wii owners won't find anything else like it on their console, and could do a hell of a lot worse. It's well executed and breezy, but not without its flaws. Now, perhaps we should send a few copies to the government...