City-building games typically have a fair number of menus, and you usually need a large amount of screen real estate to manage all of the land, properties, and resources at your disposal. On a personal computer, this isn't a problem. Today's large displays--800x600 pixels or higher--provide ample room for overseeing your progress, and between the mouse and keyboard, all of the data you need is just one or two clicks away. The Game Boy Advance doesn't have a large screen, however, and its input options are limited to just six buttons. For any game that's specifically designed for the GBA, these shortcomings don't pose much of a setback, but for SimCity 2000, which was originally developed with the PC in mind, these limitations hamstring the game so much that it's impossible to enjoy it.
Full Fat, the game's developer, does deserve credit for keeping the GBA version faithful to its PC counterpart. You start out with some land and $10,000, which you need to use to buy a power plant, lay down roads, put up power lines, and designate portions of the land into residential, industrial, or commercial zones. Once the infrastructure is in place, people gradually begin to settle in your city and populate it with their homes and businesses.
Your goal is to keep the city growing and the population happy. That means responding to people's demands by building schools, police stations, fire stations, museums, parks, and any of a dozen other structures as the need arises, and expanding the city when it fills its current bounds. The key to SimCity is recognizing and handling problems quickly. If a portion of the city runs low on power, you need to build an additional power plant. If an earthquake occurs or aliens invade--just two of the many disasters that can happen--you need to send out firefighters and bulldozers to contain and clean up the problem. As time goes by, you'll gain access to new technologies, such as trains, buses, airports, and fusion power plants.
All in all, it's pretty easy to dive right in and get a city going. You can play year by year in the main mode or try the scenario mode, which challenges you to survive a natural disaster and recover a certain amount of the population within a limited number of years. One of the nicest aspects of SimCity 2000 is that the city comes alive as you play. Houses become high-rise apartment buildings, small shops transform into skyscrapers, warehouses turn into factories, and new construction sites pop up every time you zone a new portion of land. It's details like these that make you feel as though you're in charge of a vibrant, growing metropolis.
A few compromises were made to get the game running comfortably on the GBA, but they'll probably only perturb those people who were hoping to take an exact duplicate of the PC version with them on the road. Most of these changes are graphical cutbacks meant to lighten the load on the handheld's CPU. For instance, in the Mac, PC, PlayStation, and Saturn versions of SimCity 2000, you can observe cars, buses, and trains moving along on the streets and rails of your city. The streets in the GBA game are completely bare and don't display vehicles of any kind. Underground features, such as sewers and subways, are also absent from the GBA game.
For various reasons, sadly, SimCity 2000 is a real pain to play on the GBA. The isometric viewpoint allows large buildings to obscure smaller problems, such as broken roads and house fires, and the cramped screen resolution makes it tough to keep track of all but a small portion of the city. The default view only displays a swath of land roughly 10 by 10 acres in size, but most cities are 20 times that size. You can zoom out the camera viewpoint in order to see the entire city, but the graphics become so tiny in the process that discernable details just disappear.
The menu structure is extremely cumbersome as well, mainly due to the limited number of buttons you have to work with on the system. In the PC version, every menu had its own button. Here on the GBA, each menu you bring up has multiple options and lists to wade through. Push the B button and you can view information about the property you have highlighted. Tap L and you'll bring up the construction menu, which lists all of the various structures and objects that you can build. Tap R and you'll bring up map options that allow you to zoom and rotate your city. The select button brings up a list of maps that let you check out various aspects of your city--zoning, roads, power grid, police coverage, and fire coverage. If you want to slow down or speed up the passage of time, enable automatic budgeting, or disable natural disasters, you can access these options from the start button menu. If you're laying down an object, such as a power line or police station, you have to push the A button again to confirm its placement. SimCity 2000 is a game full of tiny tasks, and all of these menus just get in the way of performing what ought to be simple one-step choices.
The graphical compromises that were made to put SimCity 2000 onto the GBA don't hurt the game all that much. There's still plenty of micromanagement, and you can waste hours just building up your own personal metropolis. Unfortunately, the system's screen and button layout prove to be limitations that the game can't overcome.