MetropolisMania is one of those rare, capricious games that manages to get by on sheer charm and unpredictability. The game is basically a city-building and management simulation in the vein of the SimCity games; but whereas the SimCity franchise focuses on actual city-building mechanics, MetropolisMania instead revolves around building communicative relationships with your townspeople and finding ways to make their lives convenient and happy. Though the game suffers from some pretty outdated graphics and a number of gameplay quirks that provide some occasionally major frustration, its unique style of play and often hilariously translated dialogue make for an enjoyable and unusual experience.
In MetropolisMania, you take on the role of a metropolis maker--a friendly, gold-suit-wearing fellow who has been given the seemingly impossible task of reviving humanity's communication skills by building a new metropolis. At the beginning of the game, you are given this task by your boss (who works for the government--though which government remains a mystery), along with an explanation of how to build your city and how to be successful in your task. Your basic tools early on consist of a piece of magic chalk that creates roads, a list of applicants who want to live in your city, and a cell phone, which you can use to communicate with your residents. These are also practically all the tools you'll need throughout the game. You will also receive a salary, based on how well you do. If your approval rating remains high and you meet the necessary population goals for each town you build, you'll get a raise each pay period.
To build your city, you'll start out building a few roads and then begin placing applicants' homes and businesses in appropriate locations. After a bit of time, each building you place is constructed, and your townspeople move in. Building your city is definitely the least involved aspect of the game; rather, you'll spend much of your time building relationships with your residents by frequently talking to them. Though your townsfolk don't usually have a whole lot of relevant info for you, they're glad to tell you when they have a friend who would like to move in or if they have a complaint. Complaints always involve something that's lacking from that resident's part of town, like a playground or a family restaurant. Complaints are tricky, because once you agree to take care of the complaint, the clock begins ticking. The only way to solve the complaint is to find another resident in town who knows somebody who owns that particular kind of business and wants to move to town. If you can't find anyone fast enough, the complaining resident will simply move away.
While the gameplay in MetropolisMania isn't terribly complex, it's certainly got its charm, and the interaction between you and your townspeople is really quite something. MetropolisMania was originally released in Japan and was then translated to English, and the translations are bizarrely literal. Each type of resident in the game has his or her own classification, designating what type of personality every individual character has. These classifications range from the mildly odd, like "middle-aged workaholic man" and "nerdy kid who is knowledgeable," to the utterly insane, like "mom who likes to gossip in park" and "shameless girl with heavy makeup." Additionally, conversations in the game are equally nonsensical and amusing and don't really give you much relevant information, save for when you're occasionally asked to solve a riddle or are given a choice between two items and are asked which one you prefer. Though the dialogue can get a tad repetitive depending on how many of the same character type you have living in your town, there's a pretty wide array of characters, and more often than not you'll find plenty of unpredictable dialogue.
For all its charm, however, there are definitely some frustrations to be found in MetropolisMania. For starters, the game requires you to be completely accurate in your placement of roads and buildings. You have no ability to demolish or move anything you create, so you have to be spot-on to begin with, which can be troublesome. Since you are controlling a person and not just pointing and clicking certain areas of a map from a top-down perspective, you have to constantly judge and rejudge where your metropolis maker is standing and determine if he's in the appropriate spot; otherwise you'll end up accidentally blocking off roads or leaving too much wide space between buildings. Controlling your character is even more irritating--you can only move forward and backward using the left analog stick and side to side using the right analog stick. You can turn right or left using the left stick, but only if you stop first, then turn and move. Occasionally you'll find yourself stuck in between corners of buildings because you can't turn or move in the necessary direction to get out. Thankfully, there is a jump button that will allow you to escape these periodic tight spots.
In terms of presentation, MetropolisMania isn't especially well done on either the graphical or audio front. The game itself just doesn't look particularly good and is reminiscent of a PlayStation game. Though there's certainly something to be said for the game's cartoony look, it's all very simplistic, and once you get over the kitschy nature of the character and building design, there isn't much else to appreciate about it. There isn't a whole lot of audio in the game to speak of, except for the repeating in-game music and effects that present themselves, and while they are repetitive, they aren't too bad. Speech in the game is nonexistent, except for the few cutscenes where your boss gives you the lowdown on your current mission, and his voice acting is pretty awful.
If you can look past MetropolisMania's presentational shortcomings and few key gameplay flaws, what you'll find is an undeniably quirky, entertaining, and surprisingly addictive sim game, with a budget price tag. However, the game is certainly not for everyone, and its many idiosyncrasies may prove to be too esoteric for your average gamer. Still, at the very least, any fan of city-building sims or enthusiast of bad Japanese-to-English translations should at least give the game a rental, since you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by what MetropolisMania has to offer.