Five iPhone games that show the spectrum of simulation on the iPhone

Nov 30, 2009
Games

Real life is a bore. And while some fantasy games veer too far into the fantastical and can sap all your free time, like World Of Warcraft, sometimes all you need is a good, plausible diversion. The iPhone can ably oblige. A natural starting point is one of game-designer Will Wright’s perfected masterpieces, The Sims […]

Real life is a bore. And while some fantasy games veer too far into the fantastical and can sap all your free time, like World Of Warcraft, sometimes all you need is a good, plausible diversion. The iPhone can ably oblige.

A natural starting point is one of game-designer Will Wright’s perfected masterpieces, The Sims 3 ($4.99). Unlike its predecessors, The Sims 3 has no end goal: You craft the human of your liking with his or her ideal personality, no matter how impossible (Want to have a great sense of humor but also hate jokes? There’s an app for that!), and set them on their way to mingle, date, furnish your apartment, or whatever else you feel like. The camera has gotten a lot more awkward in its transition to the iPhone from the computer and console, and your Sim isn’t smart enough to understand more than one request (being instructed to go to the bathroom and then get a snack is somehow impossible for them to grasp), but “The Sims 3” is just as enduring as ever here.

The same can be said for SimCity ($2.99), but only die-hard fans of the city-building game should follow its journey to the iPhone. The tutorial spanning 16 different text-heavy menus is daunting to even the most earnest newbie, as are core mechanics like setting tax rates, plotting roads and distributing electricity to a new city. The fact that you can’t see a lot of your city at once unless you’re zoomed absurdly out and the touch screen is much clunkier than a mouse doesn’t help, either. Just because everything can be ported to the iPhone doesn’t necessarily mean it should — it doesn’t really make sense in the context of quick bursts of gaming while on the train.

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Farm Frenzy (99 cents) sets its sights considerably lower and arguably yields greater success. Though it doesn’t have all its facts straight for a farm simulator (since when are rampant bears a rural threat?), the right amount of chaos can be found in this time-management game. You must keep your animals happy and safe so they keep cranking out eggs, which can be sold to purchase upgrades or more animals, but in long spurts, the whole thing feels awfully twitchy and repetitive.

Fish Tycoon (99 cents) is about as exciting as its name suggests. Part Tamagotchi, part puzzle game, and half simulation/tycoon game, Fish Tycoon lets you run a pet store with an ulterior motive: You breed about 400 different species of fish with the ultimate goal of discovering seven “magical” fish that can fetch a fortune with your more well-to-do clients. Problem is, though, breeding is time-consuming. It can take a half-hour for a pregnant fish to give birth, and the game continues on whether you’re playing or not — if you’re not interested in waiting. Why, then, does anyone need to play it?

Build-a-lot ($2.99) is another example of a simple premise executed masterfully for addictive play sessions. You work with the mayors of different real-estate markets to flip houses. Though some of the elected officials you team with don’t seem to be particularly sharp (one mayor randomly prompts you to help out and build one of those “post offices” and “libraries” neighboring towns have had great success with), the game’s core is. You’re saddled with arbitrary goals to meet in each city, like amassing enough properties to earn a minimum amount of income on rent from tenants, or building a specific amount of a certain kind of house. Your only opponent is the time limit. If nothing else, Build-a-lot helps you think strictly as a capitalist: Were it not for that pesky mayor, you’d beg off building that dumb library since it doesn’t bring any money in.

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David Wolinsky

David Wolinsky is the Chicago city editor for The Onion's A.V. Club and is also the  undisputed 1994 Blockbuster store champion at collecting bananas in Donkey Kong Country.

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