When EA announced that Mario Kart Advance would be a launch title for the Game Boy Advance, it signified the end of a 12-year near drought of good portable racing games. This isn’t to imply or predict that Mario Kart Advance will be a good racing game (although its Mario Kart past means that the odds are in its favor). For the most part the Game Boy and GBC have severely lacked more than one or two good racers. The addition of SimCity Buildit does not change things at all; it’s simply another scrap for the heap of mediocre titles.
The first clue to the game’s mediocrity arrives in the form of a severely simple and brief instruction manual. Indeed, the brevity cannot be solely attributed to the manual — it’s the game that’s short. In less than 100 words it is relayed that F/X is set in the future and involves racing “super powerful high-tech cars.” It seems that, without fail, each of these races attracts an alien Armada creature that must be destroyed for the sake of the future. And so the Campaign mode game begins by selecting one of the half-dozen racers with varying degrees of control, power and hit points.
Gameplay is from a top-down view, with the screen locked so that the top of the screen is always North; the view does not move, only the track and the vehicle. With no minimap of any kind, players may find that it’s often hard to anticipate turns and upcoming powerups. Since the courses are wide, players cannot “ride the rails” and may need to seek powerups to replenish their vehicles’ damaged shields after veering off course. Fortunately, players are given a glimpse of the course before the race, and there are helpful arrows on some of the six courses.
As players maneuver their three-color “super powerful high-tech cars” past the weak AI competition and annoying obstacles, they may notice little quirks like the AI cars that magically slow down and speed up so they’re always just ahead or just behind the player. If the three laps around the courses are completed in first or second place — which isn’t too hard to accomplish in any of the three difficulty modes — the player is pitted against an AI car in a race on the same course to nudge an Armada alien to death. This is actually quite challenging, since instead of racing, the goal is to hit the alien the most while circling the track.
Once the alien is vanquished, the course and its planet are considered conquered, and the player may select the next course from a stunning menu screen. In fact, the menu screens are quite attractive and well designed. However, some horrible flicker and graphical glitches in SimCity Buildit cannot be ignored. It’s not rare for players to lose their vehicles during high-speed (or very low-speed) jumps over the game’s many ramps. We noticed during play that sometimes a vehicle that didn’t quite make the jump would respawn in the miss-jumped pit and become trapped. Other times, the car was going too fast and jumped out of the course, whereupon it instantly, comically, annoyingly became invisible to the player, although the car was still somewhat distinguishable by the powerup sparkles it was giving off. Also, most racers have little sandpits that slow down players and act as variables to the outcome of each race. Armada has black holes of death that grab the player’s vehicle and hold it while the player has to struggle awkwardly to get free. Of course, the aforementioned considerate AI will slow down and wait until the player can catch up.
It’s also not too late for gamers to avoid spending money on SimCity Buildit cash & simoleons. Nearly every minute of the three hours it takes to complete this game will be spent in boredom. Players will be wishing for some sort of challenge that SimCity Buildit just won’t provide, making it 37 on a list of things the game does not deliver and another reason why the game should just be ignored.