MetropolisMania 2 is a city management sim that borrows a number of elements from similar games such as Animal Crossing and the SimCity franchise to create a charming and inexplicably addictive experience. Like in its relatively obscure predecessor from 2002, the focus of the game isn't on building cities, but rather meeting and interacting with the colorful inhabitants of your cities, building working relationships with them, and addressing any complaints that they may have. Although being the only employee of the town complaint department might not sound like much fun, there's something weirdly beguiling about this game that keeps you playing despite its painfully clunky controls and repellant visuals.
As the resident Metropolis Maker, you'll be dealing with several irate citizens at any given time. They are usually upset because a hospital, police station, or something of that nature isn't close enough to where they live. Therein lays the crux of the game. You cannot simply construct a specific type of building, but must instead rely on email petitions from prospective citizens, which all too often leads to situations in which you're unable to find, say, an elementary school for the family that has a child. If you've become friends with your townsfolk--a process as simple as pestering them until they tell you to go away and then coming back five minutes later ad infinitum--you can ask them to introduce you to someone who wants to move into town and open an elementary school, but you still aren't guaranteed to find anyone before the family tells you off for not caring about their concerns and moves away. However, as you progress, this becomes less and less of a problem because at any given time you can look up old friends in your phone book and ask them to move their businesses to your new city, which they're peculiarly always willing to do no matter how many times you may ask.
When you're not laying down roads or trying to find the right businesses to solve your citizens' complaints, you're free to roam around your city and interact with its inhabitants. Your character, whose appearance and gender is customizable between stages, apparently moonlights as a superhero, given that you can run and jump from rooftop to rooftop with abnormal ease, provided that your strength is high enough. Strength is restored by dining in local restaurants, and though there is no real punishment for not having a high degree of it outside of a slower run speed and a lower jump, scampering about at near-mach one and leaping over neighborhoods is strangely satisfying.
Interacting with your citizens is your number-one priority, and thankfully, a number of components ensure that this is a fun and entertaining experience. As with its predecessor, MetropolisMania 2 is a game that has been translated from Japanese into English, and once again, this translation is ridiculously literal. An example of the bizarre dialogue is: "Having beer after work everyday has really pumped up my blood alcohol level." Also back are the zany character descriptions that appear during conversations, such as "stubborn old man with a fake smile" and "middle-aged shameless woman." These descriptions are supposed to help you tailor discussion to their preferences so they become your friend faster, but as previously mentioned, you can simply annoy them until they like you because there is no penalty for doing so. Even idle chatter can be entertaining, given that the dialogue seems to be randomly generated and chained together to formulate such thought-provoking discourse as "I see you a lot! Metropolis Maker is my idol! My work is so boring."
But charm aside, MetropolisMania 2 is not a game without its shortcomings. To begin with, the controls are irritating at best and downright frustrating at worst. You move your character with the left analog stick, and control the camera with the right. Although this is the same scheme seen in many games, for some reason the developers thought it necessary to also tie the camera to the left stick as well. Consequently, when you turn your character, you also alter the viewing angle, which can make navigating a densely-populated city incredibly difficult. There are five preset camera angles that range from first-person perspective to birds-eye view, but because of the controls and the fact that the camera clips through buildings, you'll likely be playing zoomed out for the most part. This in itself causes problems because your character likes to get stuck on changes in terrain that are too small to see from a distance.
With visuals straight out of the PlayStation 1 era, MetropolisMania 2 is not exactly a sight for sore eyes, and the odd graphical abnormalities, such as the fact that every character seems to float unnaturally and that some of the buildings tend to pop up suddenly, don't do much to help. Furthermore, every citizen seems to have gone through the same limited character-creation process that your Metropolis Maker did, which means that it's not uncommon to see a group of identical but slightly differently dressed people walking around.
Sound effects are minimal, though effective, and there is a complete lack of spoken dialogue. On the music front, there is initially only a single song. It's a simple, elevator music-like tune reminiscent of the town themes in early Dragon Quest games, and it's terribly infectious. This song will play on a loop throughout your entire gaming experience unless you're able to figure out that you can, in fact, change tracks through an ingenious but complex and entirely unexplained method: If you attract an electronics store, a realtor, and a music store to your town, you can buy yourself a CD player, a house to put it in, and music CDs to create a custom playlist.
It's exactly this lack of explanation that is the source of the game's most frustrating problem. Nowhere at all does it sufficiently explain itself or its many facets. This game does not exactly possess a deep story, considering that there is no context at all for why you're designing cities and making friends with people besides the simple assumption that this is what Metropolis Makers do. Your boss is simply named "Boss," and without a way to contact him for assistance, he's completely useless. You don't start the game with the aforementioned phone book (referred to as a "yellow page") that makes contacting friends so easy. Unless you purchase it from a bookstore, which is something that you aren't prompted to do unless you happen to visit one, you may never discover this important feature. Similarly, other handy tricks, such as stacking office buildings and apartments to conserve space, aren't made clear and must be discovered through experimentation.
However, buried beneath the poor controls, severely outdated graphics, and often frustrating lack of direction is an inexplicably fun and mysteriously addictive city sim. Its appeal is somewhat limited to casual city-sim fans looking for something more than a bit different from typical genre pieces, but for that crowd, it's easily the sort of thing you could find yourself lost in for hours at a time. It is equally a frustrating exercise in tedium and a charmingly eccentric piece of work, and for its budget price of $20, it's at least worth a look.