New York Nights: Success in the City Hands-On

It takes a hands-on to climb the social ladder in Gameloft's new social sim.

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Even though it's only a month into 2005, we've already played more innovative, high-quality mobile games than we did during any given three-month chunk of last year. Long the domain of simple meter-based sports games, branded platformers, and casino packages, the industry is starting to branch out toward the unexplored reaches of social simulations and story-driven gaming. Gameloft's upcoming mobile schmoozer, New York Nights: Success in the City, joins a group of soon-to-be released games, like Centerscore's Surviving High School, that make an experimental brew out of adolescent dialogue and the banal details of daily life. After sampling an early build of the game, we've decided that we're definitely going to be coming back for more.

Spending money without having a real job is glamorous!
Spending money without having a real job is glamorous!

New York Nights: Success in the City is a facsimile of the grand social maelstrom that is the Big Apple, and it takes place from a trendy, young up-and-comer's isometric perspective. At the beginning of the game, you customize your young fella or lady with a name and look of your choice. Of course, you can go with the standard Euro boy-band look, or you can try a shaved head. After that, you choose a name (the default male name is Sebastian), allocate attribute points to your beauty, health, humor, and culture skills, and then get socially mobile on the unrealistically friendly streets of NYC. You've got 40 days in the city to become a "success." You've also got a small amount of seed money to invest at the gym or at a salon, as necessary.

Externally, the game looks and plays like a cousin of EA's The Sims franchise. You use the D pad to move your character around New York's isometric indoor environments, and anything you can interact with, be it a hottie or an inanimate object, is indicated by a cursor as you draw close to it. All the game's actions cost you some combination of precious time, funds, and attribute points, depending on what you're interacting with. For instance, if you decide to sit down to eat a pizza, you'll get a five-point boost to your health attribute, but you'll lose one beauty point, an hour of your day, and $7. Meanwhile, tossing back a drink at the local watering hole will net you eight humor points, but it will cost you 90 minutes and $34. Taking cabs to and from the game's various locations, such as your apartment, the gym, the club, and the theater, will cost you money based on the distance you're traveling. Of course, you may occasionally need to eat or sleep, because your social avatar isn't a nuclear-powered robot. If food or sleep is needed, an icon will pop up telling you so, and you'll start to lose points from your stats. In case you're running low on funds, New York Nights includes four simple minigames that represent different jobs. The first job is at the coffee shop, where you have to remember customers' "orders" by playing a Simon-esque minigame.

Attribute points are important because they govern your interactions with the game's eight characters. Some girls won't give you the time of day until you get your beauty or health score above 30, for example. Similarly, guys who think they're the second comings of David Letterman only like to talk to equally humorous individuals. One of the objects of the game is to make as many friends as possible, so effectively shooting the breeze with other city dwellers is a necessity. When you're first introduced to a character, you'll usually rate as a stranger, which is represented by a 0 on a 125-point friendship gauge. You'll get a droll introductory paragraph about the character's background, and you'll hopefully deduce his or her interests and dislikes from there. At that point, it's time to use the conversational arts to worm your way into that character's confidence. The range of conversational topics includes sports, movies, music, games, and love, among other options. Chatting about the right topic will earn you a smiley face and friendship points, while bringing up duds or painful subjects will either elicit no reaction or penalize you. As you progress through the ranks from stranger to acquaintance to buddy to friend, new interactive options will open up. You'll be able to tell potty jokes, gossip about other characters, ask other characters out on dates, and flirt with abandon. You have to make careful use of all these options to get your friendship scores to the upper ranks, because even successful topics will run dry after a while. As you become bosom buddies with other yuppies, as well as make money, your popularity rating will inexorably rise...until you rate as a success.

Never, ever, ever be late for a date.
Never, ever, ever be late for a date.

Success in the City has a look all its own. It's cutesy to the max, but it works. Since the screen on our test handset, the N-Gage QD, is too small to display facial features, the characters' personalities shine through in their choices of dress. For example, the uptight West Coast diva Kelly wears a strapless black evening dress of some kind everywhere she goes, while your childhood buddy, Joe (who's into music and sports), just looks like a slob. The game makes great use of bright colors throughout, and the animation is generally smooth. New York Nights is also masterful in its use of sound, so there are several different ditties for all the locations, as well as carefully placed sound effects. The combination of decent music and sound effects is exceedingly rare in most Series 60 Java games. Unfortunately, the demo version of the game we played was quite buggy and crashed on us several times. Obviously, Gameloft has some bug-squashing to do in the next couple of months to get this game ready for consumption.

New York Nights: Success in the City struck us as a game loaded with content and playability. The sheer number of things you can do in the city is astounding for a mobile offering, and everything seems to fit together pretty nicely. As a result, you really do get the feeling that you're living in a city while playing. We can't wait to see if this game delivers on its immense promise upon its release in early March. In the meantime, stay tuned for more details.

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