SimCity iPhone Released, Initial Impressions Provided

Electronic Arts released the iPhone version of SimCity today, and ever a fan of urban simulation, I spent the $9.99 to give it a spin.

One important thing to note about this game is that it looks nothing like the screenshot below (left), which was widely circulated by EA in its early stages. The entire UI has been overhauled (see below, right) to its great benefit. nope More comparable to SimCity 2000 than 3000, the SimCity iPhone game has all the features would-be urban planners expect in a solid version of SimCity. The usual assortment of zoning options, transportation methods, and civic buildings are at your disposal, along with famous buildings and other bonuses.

The music tracks have largely been ripped right from previous SimCity games. There's the typical scrolling news ticker, with clickable headlines for event updates. There are advisors--albeit strange, anime-styled ones--and ordinances and plenty of charts. You can speed up time, and generate landscapes, and trigger disasters to your wicked heart's content.

The end result is a very worthy version of SimCity, with only a few annoying compromises.

Of course, the iPhone-specific features will gather the most attention. Dragging and zooming with the touchscreen works well overall, making tasks like deleting large swaths of city with the bulldozer relatively easy. Panning around can feel laggy at times, as the game re-renders the scene with each drag of the screen, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Similarly annoying, but not quite unwarranted, is the way the building lists have been implemented. Players can build roads, lay zones and other typical actions within the overworld map. But due to screen size restrictions, the game unfortunately loads a separate menu screen for the selection of larger buildings.

To its credit, the menu features a cover-flow style interface, allowing you to flick through power plants and police departments fairly quickly.

Probably the most lacking area of the game can be found in the roads, those basic SimCity building blocks that almost define each version of the game. After playing SimCity 4, it's a bit depressing to head back to a world of non-diagonal road work. To make matters worse, zones don't automatically lay roads as you build them, requiring an entirely manual approach. For road fans, this is probably a plus--for me, a frustrating setback.

The roads also don't display a satisfying amount of traffic from the zoomed-out view, despite serviceable animation in other areas, such as smokestacks and ships.

But for $9.99, it's easy look past these minor quibbles and be content with this otherwise satisfying version of SimCity.