Pass Me My Tool Belt: Virtual City Playground Review
This game was reviewed on the iPhone.
G5 Games brings a city builder that aims for the sky, but does it pass the building inspection?
City builders and simulators are as old as videogames themselves, with the likes of Sim City being the gold standard, offering addictive and rewarding gameplay that provide hundreds of hours of entertainment. The advent of mobile gaming, and of the touchscreen, has meant that the genre that had gone quiet in recent years has undergone somewhat of a renaissance with a plethora of city building and simulators seeing releases across the various mobile platforms. G5’s latest title, Virtual City Playground, wants you to build the city of your dreams; unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that doing so is a bit more difficult than it needs to be.
Although the growth and expansion of your city is the ultimate goal, it isn’t something that is made easy to achieve. The small square of land you start out with is soon outgrown, prompting the purchase of some new land. It is here where one of the more obvious flaws of the game comes to light. Expansions are paid for using credits and investment tickets, with each expansion costing roughly twice as much as the preceding one. The acquisition of the required credits is simple enough, but it’s the investment tickets that cause problems. These investment tickets are rewarded for levelling up your city, which is achieved through building and upgrading, or completing production chains. However, they are never awarded in any great number, so amassing the amount needed for expansions later in the game becomes an overly time consuming affair. There is the option to purchase tickets, and credits, through micro-transactions. While these are relatively inexpensive, I am of the opinion that micro-transactions have no place in a game such as this. In a game where expansion is a key component, it seems odd that it is so awkward to acquire the tools needed for development.
This feeling of awkwardness isn’t limited to expansion of the play-space – it’s felt throughout the control scheme and gameplay mechanics. Touchscreen devices seem ideally suited for games like Virtual City Playground; the ability to directly interface with the world ought to make micro-management simple and effective. The reality, though, is somewhat different. Even a touchscreen as excellent as the iPhone4’s lacks the fidelity needed to provide the accuracy that allows you to truly be the master of your city. It’s commonplace that you try to touch a building or vehicle only to activate something completely different, and although you can zoom in you still find yourself suffering the same problem.
G5 has included a five button menu that lets you oversee various aspects of your city, from vehicle management to building, which is helpful but not without problems. The most obvious of these issues is the inability to manage individual buildings, meaning you have to touch each building if you want to upgrade or demolish it. Further to this, vehicle management is somewhat cumbersome. Choosing a single vehicle, from your collection of van, dumpster or bus, automatically moves the camera to its location which can become a little disorientating and more than a little annoying, especially when you’re trying to simply upgrade a vehicle. The ineffectiveness of this menu system is disappointing, because it has the unrealized potential to make the management of a hectic game fluid and simple.
As a whole, the control scheme feels loose and inaccurate. City builders and simulators are about having the ability to be omnipotent. Unfortunately, in Virtual City Playground you feel less like an all-seeing god and more like an overworked administrator.
It’s not all bad news though. Virtual City Playground excels graphically, providing some excellent visuals. It’s a bright and colourful affair throughout, with a surprising amount of charm that is typified by the red-haired assistant that helps you through the initial stages of your city building career. As your city grows so does visual splendour on offer. The more complex buildings have moving signs or chimneys that spew forth towers of smoke. The vehicles that traverse the roads between buildings are equally impressive. Although simple, they move in a believable manner and are what brings your city to life. All this is achieved without any slowdown even when the city has been fully expanded and fully built.
The high standard of visuals comes with a price though. For a game that is most enjoyable in short bursts, you’ll find that you are spending more time looking at loading screens than you are actually playing the game, and it only gets worse the more you develop your city.
Treading familiar ground, Virtual City Playground doesn’t offer anything new or exciting. It is a fairly standard city builder that has a few faults that really slow down the gameplay, resulting in a less enjoyable experience. The charming art style and sheer mass of things to build and upgrade doesn’t make up for the cluttered screen, awkward controls, and poor load times.
Virtual City Playground is enjoyable in short bursts, but it lacks the addictive and rewarding gameplay that has made city building simulators such stalwarts of the videogames industry.
Virtual City Playground receives a 3.75/5
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