Review: SimCity blueprint builds well on Wii

As part of our unofficial Sims Week, we’re bringing you an early review of SimCity Creator for Wii. In case you missed it, we posted an in-depth preview of SimAnimals on Sunday, and we’ll be finishing up with a hands-on preview of MySims Kingdom on Friday.

Infendo visited Electronic Arts headquarters Friday for a demo of SimCity Creator, the latest in the popular and elaborate city-building franchise. After the demo, EA provided us with a final retail copy of the Wii build, which released yesterday alongside a DS version.

We’ve been playing SimCity Creator extensively since, building towering cities and having almost as much fun destroying them, and we’re pleased to report SimCity has made a smooth jump to Wii.

At least, for the most part.

Nearly 20 years have past since heralded designer Will Wright introduced us to SimCity, and the rules of the game have basically remained the same for SimCity Creator. Players start with a bare, grassy field, and they’re tasked with essentially creating a city from scratch while staying within the restraints of their budget.

You start by naming your city and selecting a panel of six advisors. As the mayor of a growing city, you’ll need their counsel on matters ranging from finances to utilities and the environment. Once the bureaucracy is out of the way, you can immediately start building.

That’s where the “creator” tag comes in.

SimCity Creator allows for obsessively deep urban management, but even the most enormous cities come from a simple template. You start by placing zones on your blank grid: residential, industrial and commercial. Keeping with the absolute freedom afforded by SimCity Creator, the quantity and size of your zones are your decision.

After your city has been zoned, basic infrastructure comes next. You’ll need to figure out the most efficient way to supply power, water and roadways to each of your grids. You have several options for these utilities, and each choice has benefits and drawbacks.

Choose wisely, and remember…you’re tied to a budget.

Once the bureaucracy is finished, your zones have been laid and utilities are connected, your city will start to populate. As the series’ namesake suggests, this process is simulated. Residential zones will automatically be filled with housing, commercial zones with big businesses and busy industrial areas with factories and plants.

Finally, this is where things get really interesting. While the game simulates your city’s growth, or decline if you’re not careful, you take care of the management. SimCity Creator allows you to roll up your sleeves and dig into a massive set of management tasks. Check your budget sheet to adjust taxes within each zone separately, adjust expenses, apply for loans, broker deals and approve ordinances.

It sounds like it shouldn’t be fun, but it really is. Once you get your hands dirty, you’ll have a hard time putting down the Wii remote.

And during SimCity Creator, that’s all you’ll be holding. The game controls solely with the Wii remote, and you use the remote’s IR functionality to interface with the game. Laying down zones and drawing roads by pointing at your grid is intuitive and smooth.

The pointer was dropped, however, for icon selection. You scroll through icons and menu options with the remote’s directional pad, a decision that was made, according to senior producer Mitch Ueno, to allow players to move through the icons faster. Using the d-pad also prevents unwanted camera shifts from moving your cursor.

Motion control also makes a humorous appearance in SimCity Creator. To experience the mindless fun of destroying your city, you’ll summon several distinct natural disasters by using gestures. Swing the remote like a lasso, for example, to cause tornadoes to rip through your city. Other disasters include meteor showers, earthquakes, UFO abductions and even monster attacks.

The game’s sparse implementation of motion control makes these destructive gestures particularly satisfying, and all things considered, SimCity Creator lends itself very well to the Wii remote. The SimCity series couldn’t be translated this well to consoles without the Wii, a testament to the innovation and potential of Nintendo’s console.

For all it does well, however, SimCity Creator makes quite a few missteps along the way, particularly from a technical aspect. For all the work you’ll put into the game, the fruits of your labor will look downright rotten—even the most elaborate cities look bland and uninspired. Had the cities been more impressive visually, the act of beautification and improvement would’ve been more rewarding.

The game’s animations, or lack thereof, also leave a lot to be desired. Buildings simply appear and disappear from your grid, as do the cars that travel on your roads. The monsters that destroy your city are particularly disappointing; ugly and stiff, they look like video game monsters that got lost searching for a Rampage audition.

SimCity Creator begs reprieve for these technical shortcomings with the inclusion of several modes and features. Elite city designers, for example, can test their skills in Contests mode. The game offers 30 different online “contests” for players to take their best shot at. The mode is really just a collection of online leaderboards, but online functionality in a Wii game is always appreciated, and SimCity addicts should get plenty of milage out of them.

There is also a Missions mode that challenges players to fulfill unique city-building requirements, as well as a Photo Album mode that stores panoramic snapshots of your creations. You can snap a screenshot of your city at any time and store it to the photo album.

In addition, every character in SimCity Creator has been pulled from the MySims universe, a welcome touch for fans of last year’s MySims title and a clever way to maintain consistency across the Sims brand.

Ultimately, to assign this game a “score” would be an exercise in futility. From a purely objective standpoint, SimCity Creator has plenty of flaws. It looks like an early generation GameCube game, loading times are a bit obtrusive and it has a few other technical shortcomings. People who enjoy the SimCity series and simulation games, however, will likely be having too much fun to care.

The core SimCity experience has remained in tact, and the jump to Wii has benefitted the game more than it’s hurt it. I wanted to have this review up much earlier, but I’ll be honest; I was preoccupied with figuring out a more efficient way to improve my downtown streets.

That says something, right?

For its ridiculous depth, addictive nature and the benefits provided by IR control, SimCity Creator gets three out of four stars on Wii.

DISCLOSURE: Infendo travel accommodations to this event were provided by Electronic Arts, including the following swag: copies of Boom Blox and SimCity Creator, and assorted Sims merchandise.