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Ever since some bright sole created games for the PC, we have been building virtual cities and destroying them with tornadoes and Godzilla’s. The transition of these games from PC to home console has been regretful, however, as past examples show (Sim City 2000 on the PSX). The main reason is because of the limit of buttons to use, and in a close second the limits of hardware (I won’t bore you with any technical mumbo-jumbo).

It seems that living out here in Europe we get left behind when it comes to trials with new genres. Enter Natsume with Metropolismania, albeit a rather quiet release. This is a wacky Japanese game developed soley for the PS2. But is it the change we all crave?

Ladies and gentleman, this is the new trend; take wacky Japanese games, translate them to English and then release them low-key on the un-suspecting European market. I only found this going through a dusty collection of ‘new’ PS2 games in a run down shop in York a few weeks ago, and was surprised it had ‘PAL’ written on the disc and the box and instructions written in English. “funny” I said to myself. “never heard of this before”.

And so, after nervously handing over 15 notes to the old man behind the counter, I embarked on playing a game that most UK gamers have probably never heard of. Infact, I laughed to myself. It probably wasn’t reviewed because it was of such poor quality. But deep down inside, I felt I had spent wisely, despite never coming across any news or previews of the title in my three-month old TESCO’s bag.

Just watching the intro movie made me laugh but at the same time shouting out ‘cool’. It appears that town developers have gone berserk and now people have forgotten how to live in a civilised manner. You are hired by the government as a ‘metropolis maker’ and must restore order by building successful towns and meeting your targets.

You start off in a lush landscape with differing ground textures and various woodland. Small streams turn into big rivers which in turn run into the sea. All in great 3D with a comical view. You can zoom out to a Sim City-type view or go up close ala GTA III style, with buildings towering over you.

To build houses and shops, you must lay down roads. However, residents are to be selected a piece of land and will take time to build their homes. When your people have settled in you can go into the houses and meet them. Chatting and giving presents makes them like you more, which in turn makes them more helpful and, in the long run, more useful.

Once shops are in place, you can go and chat to the owners and whatever customers are shopping in there at the time of your visit. It is in these shops that you can buy items as presents or as items for your own personal use (i.e. an address book) with your monthly salary that you get from the government. With these presents you can gain extra points in terms of friendship and trust from the residents (like in The Sims) if they accept your gift. It is important to know what interests the person has by chatting to them regularly.

As you invite more civilians to live in your town, it becomes more important to visit them each day to see how they are coping. As you get to know them more, your reputation as a metropolis maker will rise and when it gets high enough you will have a flurry of phone calls from specialist chain stores or high-profile residents to live in your town.

It is these that can solve certain problems that will arise in the course of each day. Some people may want to work in different industries so they will ask that you invite the requested workplace to set-up shop. The annoying thing is that not all are accessible at the start of the game meaning you might fall out or annoy those with complaints. Those with children will demand the appropriate school or free-time activities (playgrounds etc) and others may want to live closer to the workplace.

Add these things together in the course of one day (about half an hour) and it leaves you whizzing around the town greeting people with gifts, answering queries and cursing your bad luck as you cant find the answer to a problem.

However, the game starts to get rewarding when you have many ‘best friends’ in the civilians and you will gain access to their phone number. This means that you can phone them from your menu rather than walk across town to talk to them. Basic rules apply though, as obviously they cant answer you if they are asleep or out at work.

When you complete your objectives, your boss will pop up asking you if you want to progress to the next level. If more than 80% of the folks are in your phone book then it would be wise to start a new and fresh adventure, otherwise stay on and make friends. Declining a promotion can be hazardous to your reputation if you then proceed to mess up and fail to meet demands. It is a good idea to make many friends though because when you move onto your next job you can ring them up and invite them to live in your new town, making problem solving much easier.

Metropolismania is easy on the eyes and it is great to zoom in and walk along the streets in the evening or early morning as the light effects really are great. Don’t go expecting Final Fantasy X graphics but more cartoony elements to a great atmosphere. The music is one you will want to turn off after a few minutes as it is just a simple tune stuck on repeat (remember Theme Park on the Mega Drive?) but the sounds effects of the sea during storms and on sunny days are brilliant, as is the wind and birds chattering.

After a few days of delaying toilet breaks and phone calls to ‘her indoors’ the adictivness starts to wear off thinly. You see, nominating land to residents and solving complaints is all you do. Yes it is satisfying to finally install a gas station to lower the unemployment rate but it would have been better had Natsume added features like a theme park, in which you build each ride and can have go’s on them as well as the odd mini-game here and there (taking a big leaf out of Theme Park World).

Despite these niggles you will find yourself coming back for more and will constantly be starting new games and building cities with the roads set out as your name.

What Natsume have done here is introduce a game that lets the player interact with the virtual people, shoving you onto the shop floor if you like. MM is a fun game and is something new that many will be more than satisfied with. And at the bargain price of £30 brand new it should be worth looking out for.

So yes, I was surprised but over the moon that my curiosity had paid off. Those with patience and willingness to try something new should definitely give MetropolisMania a go.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

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