I generally attempt to be as apolitical publicly as possible, but I feel pretty confident in saying that wherever you live, whatever your political bent may be, you probably have a gripe about your government. Maybe it’s big, maybe it’s small, but by Jove, you know you could do a better job than these clowns in City Hall/Washington/Downing Street/wherever! Well, for people with medium political aspirations and a Super Nintendo, the opportunity to take a whack at municipal leadership came in August 1991, with the game we’ll look at today, SimCity, brought to you by Nintendo and Maxis!
As the title implies, SimCity gives you the opportunity to build a town from literally nothing, eventually growing it into a Megalopolis of over 500,000 residents. You begin by selecting a map from 999 pre-made layouts, and a difficulty level, which decides how much money you begin with and adjusts a number of factors in the game like tax revenue. Then you can dive in and build your town, primarily by plopping down square zones on the map, Residential, Commercial, and Industrial, which are pretty self-explanatory; your SimCitizens need places to live, work, and shop. Of course, it’s a bit more complex than that, as you’ll have to provide your populous with a network of roads and public transit, police and fire protection, stadiums, airports, and power plants to keep their lights on. It’s also critical to plan the layout of your city before slamming down buildings, because all of the maps feature bodies of water, either oceans surrounding their island or rivers that cut through the map, so you’ll have to work around them to ensure you have enough space to cram in as much as possible.
It’s not always smooth sailing, though. Your residents are quite happy to complain about anything and everything, from the pollution caused by industrial areas to high taxes to traffic, and are all very welling to vote with their feet and move away. Aside from that, there are disasters that can crop up from time to time (or when you get bored and decide to burn everything to the ground), like fires, plane crashes, and yes, Bowser rampaging through your city like Godzilla. Mostly, though, the disasters are few and far between, and your day-to-day challenges come more in the form of laying out your city for maximum efficiency and making sure the people’s complaints are assuaged as much as possible, as well as making sure you have money rolling in every year; police, fire departments, and roads all require a certain level of funding for upkeep, which means roads will crumble and small fires can turn into raging infernos if their budgets aren’t being met.
Now, there are a couple things that will jump out at you fairly quickly as you grow your city. First off, as I said, the zones are all perfect 3×3 squares, you can’t change their shape or adjust their size, so even if you try to get extremely creative with your city planning, you’re more or less gonna end up building in a grid pattern if you’re shooting for Megalopolis status. Granted, you can try to mix and match up how you put zones together, but you’re gonna have to Levittown the crap out of your city for the sake of efficiency, which is a little disappointing. Two, for some reason, crime is an ENORMOUS problem, even on the easiest difficulty, to the point where if you try to bunch all your industrial zones into one section of the map to keep pollution complaints down, you’re also gonna have to start slapping down police stations on almost every block, lest it turn into the Wild West over there. On the upside, at least you know that there is something concrete you can do to affect crime, unlike housing costs, which will usually be the biggest complaint your residents have, and as far as I can tell, nothing you can do really drives that down, and success only seems to drive them up again. Third, a lot of the things your city needs to really get to growing, like airports and stadiums, are rather expensive, and a growing city of, say, 30-40,000 can realistically hope for about a thousand dollars or so of profits in a good year, so there will be stretches of time where you basically have to sit and wait around for a few years for enough money to roll in that you can plunk down that seaport already.
Since this is an obvious PC port, you might be wondering how well in converted to a 16-bit system, and I’m happy to say SimCity handles quite well on the Super Nintendo. While a control pad isn’t quite as efficient as a mouse, it does well enough, and you can press Select to snap to the build toolbar or the information toolbar up top, as well as press X to dismiss all the toolbars and get an unobstructed view of your fine town. On top of that, the Super Nintendo version has a couple features not found in the original version. If you achieve certain milestones, like reaching a certain population or laying down enough roads, you can unlock gifts that provide bonuses to your city, like amusement parks that provide an additional $100 in revenue every year, or a police headquarters that suppresses crime over a wider area than a regular police station. Also, you have the assistance of an advisor named Dr. Wright, who you can click on for an idea of how your burgh is progressing; if your town has any particularly glaring problems, he’ll point them out and give some suggestions on how to counter them.
Graphically, the switch from PC to Super Nintendo was an upgrade, in my opinion. While you’re still getting a purely 2D experience here, the zones and special buildings do exude a little more character than the computer iterations. Ferris wheels turn at the amusement park, high-end residential buildings and commercial zones look appropriately impressive, and in a nice touch, the seasons actually change, going from the bright greens of summer to the browns of autumn to a snowy winter. Granted, traffic is still made up entirely of black dots moving on the road, but HEY LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE LITTLE CHUGGA-CHUG TROLLEY GOING AROUND THE TRACKS! There’s also some nice background music here that changes with the size of your town, starting from a gentle, lulling tune while you’re a tiny village that becomes a much more energetic piece by the time your population reaches six figures. It very much feels like Nintendo attempted to inject as much of their spirit into this version of the game, and while the changes are subtle, they’re very welcome.
Even though you’re working with a rather small set of building blocks, there’s still a great deal of replay value here. There’s literally almost a thousand maps to choose from, and it’s interesting to see how you can squeeze as many people onto each one as possible and experiment with different ways to lay out a city. A city with no streets and an extensive railroad network? Go for it. A city broken up into quadrants built up entirely of one type of zone? Sure, why not? A city with one-zone blocks and tons of intersections? LET’S SEE HOW BAD WE CAN MAKE TRAFFIC! Also, for players wanting a more specific, short-term challenge, there are a handful of scenarios available for play, like rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake that ravaged the city or Tokyo after the well-documented 1961 Godzilla attack. Of course, these scenarios are rebuild-centric, there’s not really any “see how quickly you can reach 20,000 citizens” missions, and that’s a little disappointing.
Overall, SimCity on Super Nintendo is an excellent game, and holds up pretty well even today. It’s obviously not as refined or complex as later versions, but that might work for some; you might not care to go so in-depth as to worry about water lines and elevated highways. If you’ve played the PC version already, there’s not really that much here that’s new to make you need to go track this version down instead, but on the flip side of the coin, this is the rare PC port that survived the transition intact and even added a few new sprinkles to the cake, and if you’ve never played the Windows iteration, this is a perfectly acceptable way to get into the SimCity franchise. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a city-builder that’s not quite casual but not intimidating to get into, or anyone looking to see how a beloved PC game can be ported to consoles seamlessly.
Retains all the quality of the PC versions and adds a couple new wrinkles, handles very well despite not having a mouse for control.
You’re going to be building in squares and grids all the time if you’re looking to reach Megalopolis levels, and there’s no way you can keep up with every complaint your SimCitizenry has.