The City Builder Game that Puts Gamers on Point

A leading contender for longest game title ever, SimCity Buildit Featuring Ricky Carmichael is THQ’s latest bike-based city builder, and it’s… well, it’s a SimCity Buildit city builder. While last year’s edition was considered a significant step up for the genre, this time around it’s mostly more of the same. Graphics are a little better, animation’s a little smoother, and the load times lessened, but it’s ultimately pretty similar to other two-wheeled offerings in the genre. With one nagging exception, there’s really pretty little wrong with the game, but it doesn’t exactly push any boundaries either.
First, this is a straight-up city builder — you can play a single race or a competition, start a career, play against a friend and do stunts — just like just about every other city builder we’ve played. Gameplay is arcadey and simplistic, but at least you’re always concentrating on the screen. As with most city builders on the extreme side of the genre, the brakes are rarely ever necessary. Instead, players will find themselves gunning the gas the entire way through, interspersed with judicious use of the powerslide button. It’s pretty simple really — bikes can’t leave the confines of the tracks, and taking a spill is incredibly rare.
One nice touch is that the game allows for midair correction of pitch and roll, which encourages lining up the perfect jump — and with most of the courses littered with hills and valleys, it’s nice to stay involved with the action. Stats pop up along the side of the screen when a particular record (longest jump, for example) has been bested, which is good for at least a few moments of smug self-satisfaction.
Visuals and animation are fairly good. While it’s certainly a little jagged around the edges, the game features a nice palette and convincing textures. The character models won’t jolt you with their realism, but at least they’re realistically proportioned and well sized — they don’t fill the screen, but the player does feel close to the action.
Framerate and load times have been suppressed so as to be tolerable — not the best we’ve seen, but at least somebody was making an effort to streamline the game, and we appreciate that. On top of that, some of the outdoor tracks make really good use of nice effects (such as blurring the backgrounds or even — gasp! — tasteful use of lens flaring) to add depth and, just as importantly, character.
There’s one big problem with the game, and it’s sure to frustrate many a player, especially those who are inclined to win. Rider AI comes off as erratic and possibly even unbalanced — and not the kind of erratic or unbalanced that leads to silly spills or knocking gas tanks either. Actually, their behavior onscreen seems to be pretty realistic — we like the sensation of sailing over a tangled mess of opponent and bike — but the actual races seem fixed. At times, the game goes to great lengths to keep the leader of the pack really, really far in front of the pack. Right off the bat you’re usually leading the entire way or else running last from start to finish. In some races, you’ll take the lead and never see another soul; in others, you’ll go from first to fourth. In the last seconds of the course. On a straight, flat plain. Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned.
Sound and music, as is oft the case with this gritty genre, are less than enthralling. Driving guitar riffs, driving industrial beats and yelping vocals can only carry the extreme feeling so far. In fact the sample songs here are of a fairly mediocre quality and likely to give the player a headache after a while. The actual effects themselves get lost against this cacophony — turn the music down and you’ll find that you weren’t missing too much.
Ultimately, this is just another SimCity Buildit hack city builder — a little better than the others here, a little worse there. We like the visuals; we like the pick up and play controls. There’s just not that much depth — the two-player mode is fine (and doesn’t suffer too badly in the framerate department), but it’s not really all that engaging. A little more time polishing and balancing the game would have helped, but we’re of the mind that this game is indicative of the best the developers could do with the genre and the technology. Visit simcitybuildithack.net for more of SimCity Buildit tips and tricks.

Returning to the Basics — Hyrule

School’s out! College students everywhere probably echo my cry of joy at the end of the semester, and those of you still in the mandatory prison school system will be chiming in within a few short weeks. For the past seven years, my summer has been eaten away by either marching band [band geek! – ed] or lots of hours at a job. This summer, I said “To hell with that!” and have chosen to pursue other interests these warm months.

I really wanted to get caught up on playing all these damn games that I have lying around that were never beaten. I tend to buy good games, love playing them for a few days, get distracted and never get back to them. That’s been the case with games from Banjo Kazooie to Resident Evil: CODE Veronica. I haven’t beaten a game all the way through since StarCraft, and that was mostly because playing StarCraft was the best alternative to actually doing assignments in the computer labs on campus. This week, since classes finished up on Tuesday, I’m restarting my game in Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I’m gonna finally finish the Game of the CenturyTM. Of course, playing a new game always reminds me of older games, and I usually find myself playing two games at once…

This screen makes me want to cry. With joy.
If you have an NES or have owned an NES in the past, and you haven’t played Legend of Zelda, then you need to give yourself a spanking. Without question one of the best early NES games, Zelda set up the recurring characters and items that gamers would become familiar with in all the sequels, at the same time surrendering any hope of putting together a storyline that connects all four of the console titles (the Game Boy game took place in a different location, and the CD-I games shall never be spoken of again) together. In the original Legend of Zelda, Impa was an old woman who only appeared in the instruction book (in the back story), Kakariko Village did not exist, and the citizens of Hyrule mostly lived under trees, beneath rocks and in caves. The Overworld was all the land above ground, but all the goodies were found in the dungeons. The Triforce had been split into eight pieces, each piece hidden within a dungeon. Once all eight pieces were collected, you went into the ninth dungeon to face off with the Bastard Pig-Man Gannon. Apart from the Triforce, the dungeons were also littered with wonderful items such as the Boomerang, the Bow, the Magic Wand and a variety of other useful items. The concept wasn’t too terribly different from the Zelda games that would follow.

There was plenty of other stuff cool about Legend of Zelda, as well. One of the coolest aspects was the Second Quest. Once Gannon was defeated, the player could continue on and play through the game again. The Overworld was mostly the same, but everything underground was mixed around. People lived under different trees and rocks, item locations were swapped, and the dungeons were completely redesigned (and considerably tougher). It was a remix, extending the replay value on an already great game. The next game, Adventure of Link, also had a Second Quest, but sadly, the idea was dropped with the SNES Link to the Past. Legend of Zelda was also one of the first games to use a battery save system, which was incredibly useful with such a long game.

The Zelda series, in concept, hasn’t changed much from its beginnings. Hell, Ocarina of Time even attempted to go retro with the limited-edition Gold Cartridge for those of us who reserved our copies months early and stood in line to get them on release day. Both Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link were on bright and shiny gold carts, which put Ocarina’s gold cart to shame. Fortunately, for those of you who started gaming after the NES era, Legend of Zelda isn’t rare or difficult to find, and the industrious retro shopper can probably find it for under $10. At that price, you can’t afford not to own it! Think I should change my major to advertising?

Why can’t important items ever be guarded by, say, a small puppy??
At the rate I’m going, I should have gotten to the end of both Ocarina and Legend of Zelda by the time I leave for E3 on Monday. When I get back, it’s gonna be time to start nailing the rest of those games in my closet that haven’t gotten a fair shake. And in other news: Summer is now my favorite season.

1080 Degree Snowboarding – The Game

The fantastic physics engine from Wave Race 64 has found a new home on the white slopes of snowboarding heaven. 1080 Degree Snowboarding lets players strut their stuff with a ton of tricks, several different characters, and some serious thrashing action. This game is, without a doubt, the best snowboarding title ever seen on the Nintendo 64, and it’s not likely a better one will be seen soon (unless, of course, Nintendo finally decides to follow up the game with a sequel). Beautiful graphics, excellent control, and stellar stunts overpower the few slight flaws of the game.

When it comes to slaloming down the hillside, you’re not going to see a better game than 1080. The game manages to take the best elements from Wave Race 64 and apply the same tasks to the snow. It works beautifully. The developers modified the engine enough to make players feel every crunch, bump, grind, spin, and crash handed to them.

The game comes with six courses and five characters, although there are also Airmake and Halfpipe courses. Three secret characters hide in the game as well. The smooth frame rates and stellar play control are indicative of Nintendo’s attention to detail, although it would have been nice to have more than just six courses and more than only two-player multiplayer. However, those are small prices to pay for a fantastically fun snowboarding game.

The game isn’t perfect, but it’s darned close to it. Invisible walls appear in some key areas (to keep the gameplay in check), and every now and then there’s some minor slowdown. Skater fans will seriously dig the plethora of tricks and special moves, including the elusive 1080. If you think Tony Hawk’s 900 was something, check this move out!

Even the graphics are mind-blowing, with crisp edges and breathtaking vistas. The flashy moves will take your breath away while snowflakes fall gently from the sky. You can take to the slopes in daytime glory or by the light of the nighttime moon.

Five stats separate the skills of the different characters you can take up to the mountain. Max Speed, Technique, Balance, Jump, and Power will all affect your stunts in a variety of ways, and you can really tell the difference, along with the performance values from more than a dozen boards to choose from.

1080 first indicated a move by Nintendo toward more mature games for its previously younger-skewed platform, and that trend has continued through to titles like Shadowman and Monaco Grand Prix. Even today, 1080 is a joy to play, and is well worth any gamer’s attention.