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There’s something about the Nintendo DS that makes it perfect for retro remakes from a certain era. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the first handheld console to have something that can replace a point-and-click interface, and maybe it helps that the 256 x 192 screen resolution isn’t a million miles away from the old 320 x 240 VGA standard, but the thought of conversions from the golden age of PC gaming has a strong appeal. Age of Empires DS has already come and gone, while the news of a DS Civilization filled me with equal parts delight and trepidation – would I ever exchange words with friends and family again? Revolution is rumoured to be toying with the idea of a new DS Broken Sword game, and Blizzard has been gauging interest in DS conversions of StarCraft and Diablo. If only LucasArts would release DS versions of the Monkey Island games; surely someone can see a golden opportunity sitting there.
So it’s easy to see why EA has chosen to revisit SimCity on the format. Even if The Sims has stolen the glory from its forbear, there are still a lot of people out there for whom SimCity is a solid favourite. Really, if you liked SimCity in the old days, why wouldn’t you like a version you could take anywhere and play in the palm of your hand? In fact, SimCity DS sounds like many a commuter’s dream come true. You can build a city on your way into one.
And in some respects this is a very sensible conversion. The developers have placed the main city view – similar to the isometric 3D view from SimCity 2000 – on the top screen. The bottom screen, meanwhile, switches between a map view, a grid-style selection screen and the various data maps, graphs and budget screens. While in map view, you can drag a small rectangular panel around to scroll the main view from place to place, and by clicking on the zoom icon in the top-right corner you zoom into the grid view, where you place zones, buildings and roads. It takes a little getting used to, but after an hour or so you’ll be racing around the map and placing zones with the same sort of speed that you would have done using a mouse. There are, unfortunately, only two levels of zoom in the main and grid views, but given the resolution of the DS screens, anything further out would probably have been ridiculous. And though it’s sometimes hard to draw roads or add buildings as accurately as you might like (trust me, you’ll be reaching for the bulldozer a lot more than you used to) it’s not something that breaks the game.