Skip to main content

SimCity: The OG city simulator still rocks

When I ordered an Analogue Super Nt to begin collecting and playing SNES games, I knew which game I wanted to play first: SimCity. This game hasn't been rereleased since the Wii Virtual Console in 2006!
Analogue Super NT
SimCity was created by Will Wright as a PC game, published in 1989. Nintendo worked with Maxis to have it ported to the Super Nintendo for their new console's launch. The SNES version is a huge improvement over the original, with better graphics, pop-up advice screens from Dr. Wright, and, most importantly, gifts. But let's start at the beginning.

SimCity was the first ever city-simulation video game. Your goal is to build up a city as successfully as you can. You can play however you like, as it is not possible to "beat" the game, but the main achievement is reaching a population of 500,000, at which point your city becomes a "megalopolis." The maps are fairly small (and some have a lot of water), so the only way to achieve this is to have a lot of high-density buildings.

The things you can build are displayed on a menu on the left edge of the screen. Since there was not yet a mouse for the SNES, the designers wisely made it so the SELECT button instantly jumps the cursor to the building menu; pushing it again moves it back to where it was on the map. The most important buildings are residential zones (red), commercial zones (blue), and industrial zones (yellow). Each of these zones is a 3x3 square, costing $100 each. For these zones to develop into buildings, they need electricity. A coal power plant costs $3000 or a nuclear plant $5000. The advantage of the nuclear is that it doesn't pollute. Electrical lines can be used to connect buildings that aren't adjacent.

For zones to develop beyond the lowest level, they need roads or rails. Rails are twice as expensive ($20) but don't cause traffic or pollution. As a result, it's recommended never to place roads, which is very unrealistic! Also, a lot of us figured out that commercial and industrial zones need only one square of road or rail to develop, which allows for building the dense patterns of zones you'll need to hit 500,000 Sim citizens (they weren't yet called "Sims" in 1991). Residential zones require their roads to connect to a potential workplace (not just other residential zones or nowhere), so they should connect to commercial, industrial, or a fire/police department.
I took this picture of my TV when I finally hit megalopolis.
The development of commercial, residential, and industrial zones is determined by a meter in the top-right of the screen. It shows whether each kind is in demand or decline. When demand is topped out, build more of that type; when it's not in demand (or declining), build other types. For example, if you build too many residential zones, demand for them will crash because the people don't have enough places to work (high unemployment). Build more commercial and/or industrial. Whenever possible, it's better to zone for commercial because it doesn't pollute and has the potential to become high-density. However, commercial demand tends to crash, so be careful.

As your city grows, various problems will develop. Problems are shown at the bottom edge of the screen, such as "Build more roads" (which can be ignored) or "Citizens demand a stadium" or "Crime very high." Crime and pollution hurt land values; residential zones built in such areas tend to produce low-density hovels. If you don't give the citizens the stadium they demand, residential demand will become stuck at 0 until you do. The same will happen with commercial (the seaport) and industrial (the airport). These two buildings produce high pollution and so should be kept away from residential zones. The standard SimCity hack for dealing with pollution is to place industrial zones, the aiport, and the seaport on the edge of the map, so that some of the pollution is off the map! One oddity of the game is that hospitals and schools pop up randomly. Getting 3, 6, and 9 of these gives you libraries, but once you have all three libraries you can safely bulldoze any schools and hospitals in order to squeeze in more citizens!
The best addition to the game for the SNES was the inclusion of gifts. These are special buildings, such as the aforementioned libraries, you receive as a reward for accomplishing certain milestones. For example, you get the bank when you have spent almost all your money, a fire department or police HQ for every six fire or police stations you build, respectively (up to three), a fountain after 50 years having passed in game, and a Mario statue when your city becomes a megalopolis. The police and fire HQs provide larger radii of coverage, and the bank lets you take out a $20,000 loan every 20 years. The other gifts don't do anything except radically raise the value of the land around them. Laying park does the same thing, but much less effectively. One of the best strategies in the game is to place eight buildings around a gift (called the "Doughnut Blocks" method in the game's epic 84-page manual). The gift will usually cause all eight buildings to achieve their highest form, which is when two commerical or residential buildings merge to form a rectangular "top." The bonus provided by the gifts is so potent it will enable tops to develop even in high pollution or high crime areas! Having a lot of tops is the only way to reach 500,000 citizens. You can even shoot for 600,000 citizens and get a special message from Dr. Wright. (If this is your goal, map 061 is the easiest because it has the least water and thus the most land area for packing in so many Sims.)
The manual is amazing, a relic of a bygone era.
There is a menu at the top of the screen with various options (pressing START moves the cursor to it instantly). You can change the game speed or pause it (useful when making major changes that will temporarily remove power lines or roads), "inspect" your buildings to see what level of development each is, save and load your game (there are only two save slots, unfortunately), turn the music off, adjust your tax rate or police, fire, and transportation funding levels, consult various graphs and maps, and see how many of each building type you have ("totals"). The maps are especially useful for checking where you have crime and pollution problems. You can also see a "voice" screen, updated annually, that shows how popular you are and what your major problems are, such as high taxes, unemployment, crime, unaffordable housing (not actually a problem because this is the only way to get to 500,000), and pollution. Supposedly if the number of people complaining is below 20%, you shouldn't worry about it. The menu also has a disaster screen that lets you trigger disasters. Plane crashes will happen whether you like it or not (you should bulldoze everything near a flame to stop the fire from spreading), but the others will not trigger on easy mode unless you make them. These include flooding, earthquake, fire, tornado, and an attack by a Godzilla-like Bowser!
In addition to the main game, SimCity also includes eight scenarios (two need to be unlocked), where you are given a pre-built city with a serious problem to fix within a certain number of years. For example, San Francisco has a fire and Boston suffers a nuclear meltdown. The most fun scenario is probably Las Vegas being attacked by aliens (which can't happen in the main game)! To unlock it, you must beat the first six scenarios. The scenarios are a fun diversion, though it's the main game that will occupy you most of your time.

Nearly everyone who has ever played SimCity on the SNES has used the easy-to-execute glitch that gives you a million dollars. This is achieved by first spending all your money with at least one police or fire department. When the annual budget screen pops up in December, begin to hold down the L button (this pauses the game). Accept figures, then immediately re-open the budget screen and fully fund police, fire, and transportation. Once that's done, let go of L. The cost of funding causes your money to become negative, which causes it to roll over to $999,999!

I prefer not to use the glitch because it makes the game too easy. With the glitch, you can speedrun SimCity to megalopolis by zoning the entire map immediately in a well organized, optimized pattern. But I like the money management aspect of the game, as it adds depth and longevity. By learning how the game calculates land values for gifts as well as transportation routes, I was able to get my city on easy mode, without the glitch, to 600,000 citizens. I've even started a city on normal mode—which means you start with half as much money, collect less annual revenue from taxes (the game keeps this a secret from you!), and disasters like fires and nuclear meltdowns can occur at random! It takes patience to play with limited money, as you must wait for tax revenue to come in and not go on massive building sprees, but you can leave the game running while you do something else. Just be sure to save it before you leave the room in case of a disaster!

SimCity is a great game if you like creating. It was basically the Minecraft of its day. It seems primitive today, but it holds up really well, in my opinion. I wouldn't keep playing it indefinitely when SimCity 4 exists, but if you enjoyed it as a kid, it's still fun. Even if you've mastered the megalopolis, you can try the different scenarios or—the ultimate challenge—try to get to 500,000 on an island map! Or, better yet, just build a fun city that is what you want and don't worry about population! The game is so robust, and it singlehandedly birthed an entire genre. Thanks, Will Wright!
Grade: A

Linked Reviews
"The graphics aren't going to win any awards, but they do the job perfectly. SimCity offers months and months of gameplay."
— Damien McFerran, NintendoLife, 8/10

"Nintendo's SimCity launched alongside the Super Nintendo in 1991, and it supported its core gameplay of city management and construction with a generous helping of Nintendo fanservice."
— IGN, #35 of Top 100

"Nintendo crafted a totally unique rendition of a classic city-management simulation for Super NES, and it shows off the potential of the console in a totally different and decidedly less flashy way."
— Jeremy Parish, Super NES Works

"This is an ideal entry in the legendary franchise, a tremendous choice for a launch title, and one of the Super Nintendo's elite offerings."
— Daniel Greenberg, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the SNES Library, 5/5


Popular posts from this blog

Rock n' Roll Racing: 30th anniversary

Although not marketed as a sequel, anyone who has played Blizzard's RPM Racing will recognize Rock n' Roll Racing as its successor. They are both isometric racing games with weapons, similar to Rare's classic R.C. Pro-Am on the NES, but Rock n' Roll Racing is the superior game by far. You can enjoy Rock n' Roll Racing solo or with a second player. At the beginning, you choose your racer from six colorful, punky characters: Tarquinn, Snake, Cyberhawk, Ivan, Katarina, or Jake. Each is good at two skills from among acceleration, top speed, cornering, and jumping. Olaf, from The Lost Vikings , is secretly available by holding down L, R, and SELECT while Tarquinn is selected. Olaf is busted because he's good at all four skills! Four characters race and attack one another's vehicles with lasers, missiles, and mines. You begin with only one laser shot per lap. Between races, you can purchase additional shots and upgrade your vehicle's armor, tires, shock abso

Mega Man X: 30th anniversary

Thirty years ago Mega Man X brought Capcom's beloved blue bomber into the 16-bit era, to great acclaim. In a creative twist, Mega Man X (called X for short) is a new robot, not the original Mega Man . As with Super Metroid, Super Castlevania IV , and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past , Mega Man X uses the winning formula of remaking the original NES game but with more and better. Mega Man X, like his predecessor, faces eight robot masters, now called "Mavericks." Instead of "men," they are made in the image of animals: Chill Penguin, Storm Eagle, Launch Octopus, Spark Mandrill (a kind of monkey), Armored Armadillo, Sting Chameleon, Flame Mammoth, and Boomer Kuwanger (a Japanese stag beetle). An opening stage ends with X being defeated by the robot Vile, a henchman of Sigma, who wants to destroy humanity using something called "Reploids" (the Mavericks?). Fortunately, a "Maverick Hunter" robot named Zero jumps in to save X. He encourages