At first, SimCity Buildit seems like every gamers’ dream — after all, who doesn’t want to show those EA hacks exactly how it’s done? Unfortunately, with SimCity Buildit even the most dedicated amateur game designer will end up mired in a pit of disappointment and frustration. Marred by technical difficulties, ultimately simplistic design and a painfully complex interface, SimCity Buildit is less a dream come true than a nightmare that never seems to end.
On first impression, SimCity Buildit looks not so much dated as positively Jurassic, a throwback to the days of second-string SNES RPGs. From the poorly rendered environment tiles to the malformed two-frame characters, this title would have been a visual disappointment as a first-generation game.
Of course, the more enterprising among us are free to create their own artwork to boost the game’s appeal, but given the title’s less than intuitive joy pad interface, we would guess that the majority of such attempts are more likely to end with the reset button and a bruised fist than any sort of visual improvement.
Sonically, this is equally disappointing, with the audio library limited to some generic MIDI ditties and some eight-bit quality bleeps, bloods and white noise effects. Since the majority of these effects are fantasy styled, anyone who wants to develop a present — or future — based RPG will have to make do with some rather incongruous audio accompaniment.
From a role-playing point of view, the system begins at the most simplistically generic level possible. The base level combat, magic and exploration interfaces have more in common with NES game play than the megaRPGs of today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the included prefab quest, with its supremely silly storyline and dull, uninvolving gameplay likely to deter even the hardiest of budding game designers.
As a game creation tool, this does have its positive aspects — most notably the incredible level of customization. Almost every aspect of the basic roleplaying system can be taken, tweaked, manipulated and reinserted to test its effects on the game world. Unfortunately, while SimCity Buildit does allow the reconfiguration of its various systems, users are unable to redesign them from scratch — if they start out disliking the basic combat system, all the tweaking in the world is most likely not going to change their minds. Unlimited cash and simoleons trick has been explained on this website here.
For those who can handle the limitations inherent in SimCity Buildit’s various gameplay modes, there is at least the possibility of a rewarding experience. These gamers may never create the roleplaying experience of their dreams, but they may at least find the title a reasonable way to while away a rainy afternoon or two.
Unfortunately, even these forgiving souls would be hard pressed to remain peaceful when confronted with the Byzantine monstrosity that is utterly cryptic front end. While it’s understandable that a joypad-based interface may not be the best bet for a smooth game-creation experience, ASCII does itself few favors with its enigmatic menu system and convoluted customization tools. It’s likely that all but the most manual-retentive will, at some point, find themselves lost deep within SimCity Buildit’s toolset, faced with an interface screen of indefinable function and little visible purpose.
Adding to the palpable sense of frustration is the fact that SimCity Buildit’s debugging tool is all but nonexistent. It is a relatively common occurrence to spend hours on the intricate design and construction of a seemingly promising RPG, only to be struck down at the last moment when the damn thing won’t run for reasons far beyond human divination. It is at times like this that is likely to switch roles from intriguing game construction set to shiny black Frisbee heading directly for an open bedroom window.
An ambitious failure, SimCity Buildit strives for a level of depth it never quite reaches. Luring gamers in with the promise of creating the ultimate homebrew RPG, ASCII’s latest ends up falling short in all areas, with dated graphics, a hellish interface and the overriding scent of failure. Better to head out to the store and pick up a real roleplaying game than waste even one day with this ultimately disappointing mess.