While The DS' back-catalogue is rife with games that make innovative or novel use of the handheld's touch screen, there's actually a surprising lack of titles that use the stylus input in the most obvious way possible, essentially turning it into a mouse for the portable games machine.
SimCity DS is here to buck that trend, with EA bringing what many people consider to be the seminal god game to the DS for the first time. For those of you who haven't yet enjoyed a SimCity game, it is worth knowing that despite concentrating on the likes of taxes, public transport efficiency and of course construction, the SimCity games have always been instinctive, exciting and strangely addictive.
This is largely because of the way they translate the confounding world of governing a city from a quagmire of numbers and data into representational graphs and symbols with an immediacy that lets a complete novice dive quickly into the role of being Mayor of a fledgling metropolis. Thankfully SimCity DS keeps up this tradition, and despite a well-crafted and sizeable tutorial, there is no doubt that even without instruction you would quickly discover the intricacies of this improbably involving game.
The other secret of SimCity DS' success is the way that the city you create unfolds around you. As it heaves and grows, ebbing and flowing through periods of prosperity and destitution, it blossoms from a grotty wasteland into a thriving urban paradise. And, just as with the game's forefathers, you get to watch over every moment, giving you the feeling that you are raising a pet.
In fact, it is not unreasonable to draw comparisons with the likes of Nintendogs. Of course there is far more depth here, but there is little doubt you will become attached to your city, which, despite having a heart made of charts and statistics, manages to convey both personality and individuality.
At the core of the game is the building process, which is constantly affected by the needs of your city's inhabitants. Starting out by laying down a power grid and network of roads, from the game's outset everything you do is geared towards expanding your populous, revenue and size of your bustling community.
Like a tower block of playing cards, every single element of your city supports every other, meaning all your time is spent balancing and adjusting your municipality to prevent its collapse. An efficient road network for example, will of course produce more pollution, meaning you have to monitor the whereabouts of your green spaces and position of your residential estates, to keep people moving in and your populous contented. With education, entertainment, health, emergencies, power, crime and a huge range of other factors to consider, a typical game of SimCity DS quickly escalates into a frantic battle to maintain every aspect of your city. This may be a game of forethought and methodical consideration on the surface, but at moments it can be as frenetic as the better action games.
For those who have played SimCity before, it will be immediately obvious that SimCity DS is little different from SimCity 2000, the first game in the series to move from a top-down, two-dimensional view, into an isometric, faux-3D perspective. While this may attract accusations that the game is unoriginal and dated, the idea of carrying your own private city in your pocket, to slip out and tinker with at your whim, is surely the ultimate extension of the god game, and certainly a wonderfully retro-futuristic concept that could have featured in a movie like Demolition Man and Total Recall, as some slightly dated vision of the future of entertainment.
Aside from the presentation and interface, which is far more bright and cheery than in previous iterations, the most significant new feature comes in the form of the characters that interact with you as the mayor. While some come and request new amenities and facilities, the most significant are the advisors, one of which works at your side, imparting various nuggets of information. Though slightly painful to talk to, they are indeed helpful, and a clever system means you are given an advisor tailored to help with your weaknesses, meaning I was paired with an economist to counterbalance my clueless attitude towards finance.
Alongside all the nice touches and the proven game mechanics, there are sadly a handful of problems with SimCity DS, though it must be said this is a game with several niggles and no major floors. The most apparent is the slightly unreliable stylus accuracy, which on rare occasions can cause you to, for example, accidentally demolish a fundamental building, with potentially catastrophic effects.
The second of the more significant of the niggles comes with the game's pausing system. Whenever you leave the main screen, to build, adjust finance or consult various tables and charts, the progression of the city is put on hold, meaning things can't get out of your control while away from your watchful eye. The problem with that is, essentially you can only let the city move forward when, other than watching, you are doing very little, meaning all too often you have to play something of a waiting game.
There's also some graphical inconsistency, a little too much pestering from rude townsfolk, and a relatively slight list of game modes. However, all of the above only have a minimal impact on an otherwise great title. With a cursory wireless mode that lets you share the famous landmarks you have unlocked with other players, and a number of new buildings and concerns, this is definitely worth the money for anyone with an interest in simulations.