Though they share the same name, the DS version of SimCity Creator has little to do with its Wii cousin. Most of the superfluous features of the console version have been ditched, and the Mission mode has been streamlined giving the game a more cohesive feel. The DS version of SimCity Creator is great for newcomers to the city-building series, and different enough to be worth a look from veterans.
Your purpose in Creator, as in every SimCity game, is to build and manage a thriving metropolis. The customary Free mode lets you build a city of any size with few restrictions. However, to make the best of it, you'll need to play Challenge mode, in which you can unlock new buildings and zones. Challenge mode focuses on your long-term mayoral abilities. You start in ancient times, at the dawn of civilization, when your only concern is making sure your citizens have enough hunting trails. As your population grows, you'll move to a new era in which you'll be given more to manage. This process repeats through modern times and up to the present day. Unfortunately, there are only two save slots to share between both modes. It's disappointing that you can't alternate between multiple cities in multiple eras at the same time.
The fun of Challenge mode comes from seeing your city evolve from grass huts to futuristic skyscrapers. Before shifting into a new era, you'll be given a choice of style. You can model your city after ancient Asia or the English renaissance; from there, you can enter into a time of American prosperity, European industrialism, or Asian development. Each era is more complicated than the last, heaping on new responsibilities as technology advances. The gentle learning curve makes this game a good starter for new SimCity players.
SimCity veterans know how attached to a city you can become after hours of tweaking. That is especially true in Creator, given that your time in charge spans multiple generations. You can share your pride and joy with friends by sending them pictures of your city. If your friends happen to, for example, choose an Asian style over your American style, they can send some of their unlocked buildings to you for use in Free mode.
Progressing through multiple eras is easy thanks to some well-implemented controls. Using the stylus like a mouse, you can drag and drop roads, buildings, and zones on the grid. Everything is organized well, and the statistical layouts on the bottom screen remain mostly uncluttered. Handy guide bubbles pop up whenever you tap something to let you know what it is you're about to use. Some of the icons are a little too small, though, so you'll often have to tap multiple times to select the right one.
Given the large scope of the game, it's impressive to see what EA was able to pull off with the presentation. Each era has distinct architecture that sets it apart from the others, and the buildings are full of little details that give each city its own personality. Like in the Wii version, the MySims characters make frequent appearances, usually accompanied by some hit-or-miss (mostly miss) self-referential humor. They come to your office and ask for money, encourage you to build certain structures, or simply complain. Oddly, the one place they aren't featured is the Sim Sheet, a word-on-the-street feature that lets you know how your citizens are feeling. Instead of MySims, you get strange, walking icons similar to those seen on bathroom signs. As for the music, it changes to suit each era, but it gets repetitive quickly.
Built on a solid foundation, SimCity Creator offers hours of enjoyment, both in its Challenge mode and standard Free mode. Despite a few limitations, this is definitely a step in the right direction for the series on handhelds.