- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008

A legendary land-management simulation returns to Nintendo’s hand-held system in(Electronic Arts for DS, $29.99).

The SimCity franchise has been around in various formats for 20 years, with this latest version crossing slightly into Sid Meier’s Civilization turf. However, rather than concentrating on the militaristic aspects of a society, the player controls the pure building of a city while maintaining a level of social, cultural and economic development to please its inhabitants.

The game requires a player to assume the role of a city planner/manager as he uses resources, drags elements onto a landscape and builds up residential, commercial and agri-industrial zones.

His effort begins at the dawn of civilization and extends to the micromanaging of a congested metropolis through to the modern age, loosely wrapped around historical time periods.

The tasks become increasingly more complicated as the resources evolve (beginning with simple placing huts around hunting grounds) and immediately more time-consuming as he decides to follow either the European Renaissance or Open Asia Age paths.

Buildings and services such as a fire department, garbage dumps and prisons are placed on a three-dimensional grid on the lower DS screen while the top screen shows a 3-D view of the actual landscape.

The second level of management comes in balancing revenue and expenses as the planner watches a budget sheet, raises or lowers taxes, and maintains a comfortable life for his citizens by adding more amenities.

Success translates into more humans staying in your city and being content. Both benchmarks (increases in population numbers and a 100 percent approval rating) lead to entering a new time period.

Citizens are monitored via meter and by getting a side-scrolling view of them (click on a person to read his thoughts).

An extra level of aggravation can be found when a natural disaster or riot wipes out pieces of the community. Fires, earthquakes and tornadoes cause major damage.

Unfortunately, the fun falls flat due to bland graphics, waiting for populations to populate and one of the slowest save options in the history of mankind.

The DS touch screen allows for clunky movement around the burgeoning city as the player drags the stylus over the screen. It also acts as an easy way to click and build items and to micromanage a PDA’s worth of statistical resources.

Learning time: A selection of cartoony, omniscient observers slightly explain the socioeconomic dilemmas facing a human-run habitat during each historical period, justifying the title as almost educational.

As far as the game mechanics, it certainly takes an organized mind to handle the minutia while the action will hone decision-making and accounting skills. Better yet, the simulation includes “green” elements in the building process so youngsters can monitor pollution levels.

One element that would have firmly placed the title in the role of a teaching tool, is an encyclopedia to cover background on the game’s famous landmarks, such as the Tower of Babel, or important periods of mankind, including the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution.

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