So many games involve death and destruction that SimCity remains as much of a breath of fresh air today as it was in 1989, with the opportunity to lay the foundations of a town and nurture it to city status still captivating and time-absorbing.
Yet even as you deal with the self-inflicted fallout of misguided decisions, the learning experience is hugely satisfying. It’s no wonder that there was such a clamour for the recently released fifth major installment of the series – even though it introduced some significant changes to the formula.
SimCity Deluxe (69p, iPhone; £4.99, iPad) is closer to the classic versions, though. Sadly, it lacks cloud-based syncing of cities, so you can’t carry on a game between devices. Landscaping tools are omitted and the terrain is completely flat, which limits the opportunity to give your city a unique feel. Otherwise, a satisfying amount of complexity is retained from other versions.
That includes three levels of density for residential, commercial and industrial zones, a variety of ordinances to generate income, and 10 types of disaster looming to lay waste to your hard work. Thankfully, placing power lines and water pipes for your Sims can be set to automatically occur, eliminating one of the game’s more fiddly aspects.
Positioning things on the landscape is achieved with an anchor point, which is dragged to put things exactly where you want them – and many other city-builders for iOS have replicated this technique.
Megapolis HD (Free, Universal) shuns the zoning approach and expects buildings to be individually constructed. The city limits are heavily restricted at first; expansion is achieved by taking on quests that grow the population. Some goals seem natural, but some, such as placing a Japanese house and sakura trees, don’t inspire a sense of freedom to create the city of your dreams.
Taxes aren’t automatically collected like in SimCity; you must tap buildings to do it, which resets a countdown timer to the next time money can be collected. This fills in time, but it isn’t fulfilling. Many other city builders for iOS employ this approach, too. Constructing a building is a complex process because parts have to be acquired. A sports centre, say, requires iron beams, concrete blocks and fitness equipment.
One method is to ask neighbouring cities – computer-controlled or real online players – to gift them. The favour can be returned to help their city. If parts are unavailable, you can fall back on trusty megabucks: they’re quickly acquired by spending real money on In-App Purchases.
If you want your Megapolis to have some real pizzazz and identity, you can purchase real-world buildings as IAPs, but be careful: some single-building landmarks range in price between £13.99 and £69.99. If your kids might play, be absolutely sure you’ve locked out the ability to buy IAPs!
City Story Metro (Free, Universal) is another goal-driven take on the genre. Its music is brighter and breezier than SimCity’s groove, and it’s the most cartoonish of these alternatives. City Story’s goals make sense when it comes to developing infrastructure. Upon building a particular business, contracts can be taken out for it to supply things into the economy. As time passes, units of power are generated and income is reaped from inhabitants.
Fulfilment of contracts can be sped up by spending purple gems. Items that can be added to your city are obnoxiously weighted towards making an In-App Purchase. The two most basic house types can be added using the in-game currency, but they take hours to generate more income. The next house type generates income every few minutes, but it requires purple gems – City Story’s version of Megapolis’s megabucks – to purchase it at all.
Expansion of the city is tightly managed. Only a certain number of industrial buildings can be added until the population reaches a threshold. To offer constant city re-development, buildings aren’t fixed in place, but can be dragged to new plots.
Your chance to play as Caesar comes in The Settlers (£2.99, iPhone; £2.99 iPad). A free version is available as a taster, and it’s more palatable than most thanks to the absence of IAP.
The Virtual City series leans more towards detailed infrastructure planning and resource harvesting, lending it a shade of old PC favourites such as Transport Tycoon, though erecting buildings is part of it as well. It’s more heavily structured by its level-based approach: after completing one, you’ll often find yourself transplanted to another one to help raise its economic game.
Growth is achieved by establishing production chains. Once key buildings – such as a mill and a bakery – are in place, you buy trucks and assign routes for them to carry resources along the chain. There’s also housing and public transport to consider, and refuse to clear, so a city isn’t inundated with waste.
Virtual City (iPad, £2.99) is available in this full version, or in a free version, with a few levels as a taster, and the full game unlocked through IAP. This game includes a sandbox mode, but that’s developed on in Virtual City Playground HD (Free, iPad). It takes place on one landscape, and while it’s more of a sandbox overall, the city limits are restricted at the start; goals have to be followed in order to raise capital to expand them.
EA makes another city-building game for iOS besides SimCity. The backstory behind The Simpsons: Tapped Out (Free, Universal) involves an explosion at the nuclear power plant, leaving Homer to recreate Springfield. With successful missions, he discovers fellow cast members and their respective businesses.
A social element introduces a multiverse of different Springfields run by other players, which you can visit to take limited amounts of income from them daily. Characters can be assigned tasks to earn cash derived from their personality (Homer can lounge in the pool, or Lisa play the sax), though they take real time (in some cases, hours) to complete.
Notification Center is used to tell you when a character is free to take new orders. Things can be hurried along by spending donuts, which are quickly acquired through not-so-delicious IAP. However, fondness for the characters is encouragement to play the slow game.
The Wizard of Oz Game (Free, Universal) roughly follows the film’s narrative, and reuses imagery and audio from it. Starting out in Munchkinland, you’re tasked with growing the population to help you build the Yellow Brick Road so you can meet the Wiz and get Dorothy back to Kansas.
Tap Paradise Cove (Free, Universal) has a tropical island for a setting. Placing buildings isn’t as simple as choosing where to erect them. You have to harvest the resources for construction. Yes, you’ll holler ‘IAP ahoy!’, but there’s action to be had too, in which you build ships to protect your bounty from nasty pirates.
Finally, for a burst of nostalgia, hardcore Sim fans might enjoy Yoot Tower (£5.49, iPad), where you’re charged with growing a skyscraper packed with offices, condos, hotel rooms and more, ensuring people have everything they need.
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