The Sims Carnival SnapCity
It's SimCity meets isometric Tetris in this new casual mash-up from Electronic Arts, The Sims Carnival SnapCity. As mayor its your job to build a thriving city and keep its citizens happy and prosperous. Three colors of blocks descend onto the grid, each one representing residential, commercial or industrial zones. When the blocks land and are connected by roads, citizens begin to move in and your population grows. Extras like puzzle zones and natural disasters keep the action lively, but it doesn't take much more than that to keep you hooked on this addictive game.
The core gameplay of The Sims Carnival SnapCity revolves around arranging falling blocks in neat little patterns on the grid. A bulk of the strategy comes from keeping your zones small enough to promote population growth without limiting yourself spacewise. Big blocks won't fit in small spaces, but densely-packed buildings can cause long-term problems for your city. Fortunately there are dozens of block shapes that fall from the sky, ranging from single-tiled squares to more complex shapes, so if you wait long enough you should get just what you need.
As you complete zones a meter fills up on the left side of the screen. When it's full you get a special puzzle block that, once filled with more pieces, can be turned into one of many special buildings. Parks, public pools, police stations, universities, museums and more all become available, each with specific benefits and drawbacks to your city and income.
The game doesn't end with block dropping, however. Just like in SimCity citizens need to be kept happy, plus you need to earn money to build roads. SnapCity automatically balances the types of zone blocks you receive, but it's your job to place them quickly and efficiently to maximize growth. Laying a thick patch of houses right next to an industrial zone isn't the best idea, but sometimes you'll find yourself building strange things in strange places just to save time. This is, after all, a light simulation game driven by arcade-style gameplay.
In addition to the main story mode (which contains several scenarios and 25 different neighborhoods), The Sims Carnival SnapCity also features unlockable buildings and a unique Creativity mode that lets you build a city from scratch and share it with others.
Analysis: When I first sat down with The Sims Carnival SnapCity, I played for nearly an hour without stopping. Arranging falling blocks is second-nature for just about everyone, and having the freedom to create your own areas to complete is very satisfying. You also reap the rewards and suffer the consequences of your block-stacking, which really puts you behind the wheel of your entire gaming experience.
Because The Sims Carnival SnapCity is breaking slightly new ground there are a few rough spots with the interface that need to be ironed out. After half an hour of building your city it begins to take up more than what can be displayed on your screen, forcing you to scroll. Unfortunately scrolling is a tedious process involving incremental [WASD] movements or delayed mouse movements. Neither produce the quick and smooth sliding we need, and the resulting experience is a bit frustrating. Concentrating your block stacking on one side of the screen alleviates the problem, but sometimes you just have to expand your horizons.
Despite its slight navigational flaws, The Sims Carnival SnapCity is an extraordinarily entertaining game. No two cities are ever the same, adding immense replay value to the title. The balance of action, puzzle and simulation elements is the perfect hook and will keep you busy almost all afternoon.