There’s more than one way to skin a city-building game. The delightful Triple Town already showed the world that the basic gameplay concepts and the core mechanics of SimCity could be distilled into a turn-based puzzle game. Now MegaCity tackles the genre, boasting a “Tetris meets SimCity” hook that turns your city into a never-ending carousel of urbanization.
It’s fun, clever, challenging, and original, but the reliance on a luck-based building queue holds MegaCity back from utter brilliance. Let’s take a look.
MegaCity presents you with a grid of seven tiles across and six down. Each tile can hold one building. You push buildings from the queue on the left to an empty place on the grid, with the aim of reaching the points target listed on the right in every column. Once the left-most column hits or surpasses that target, it disappears — your score goes up and all columns shift across to reveal an empty one on the right edge.
Red is bad; blue and green are good. Vacant blocks don’t count toward your score.
Points relate to the satisfaction of residents. Each non-residential tile — with the exception of parks — affects the value of one or more surrounding tiles. A prison tile reduces the value by one point of all tiles attached to its corner, for instance, while a library has the opposite affect.
You need only worry about the value of tiles with residential buildings on them, however, since these are what the column totals are based on. It’s important to remember to put at least one residential tile in each column, then — at least until you unlock the demolish move, although even then it’s a risky move.
Your target starts at +4, then increases over time as you clear more columns. It doesn’t take long to escalate to +8 or more, placing you under ever more pressure to plan ahead. Attaining a high score gets easier as more of the 10 extra buildings are unlocked.
Unlockable buildings introduce greater strategy while also paving the way to higher scores.
These unlockable buildings differ from the initial set in that they bring bigger bonuses — the High Rise, for instance, is a residential building worth four times a tile’s inherent value (positive or negative), while Landmark adds +1 to all tiles on screen. On the flipside, a few buildings also come with significant downsides. An airport adds +1 to all tiles in, above, or below its row that are to its left, but reduces the value of three other surrounding tiles.
A delicate system emerges where you must balance the need to increase land value with that of keeping enough free for residential, made more complex by buildings that have a negative impact on surrounding tiles. A bank might be just the thing you need to get a column over the target line, but the fallout is that the column to the right of the bank takes a big hit.
You’ll struggle to keep residential buildings away from the cesspools that invariably develop around landfills and downwind of power plants. Every move becomes a trade-off between several factors, all weighing on your mind and making you question whether there’ll be enough of the right buildings coming up to keep you alive. It’s hard in a “this is awesome” kind of way.
One of the scenarios in Challenge Mode teaches you about damage control; things can and do turn very bad without warning.
But the very conditions that create this compelling ebb-and-flow tension also give rise to MegaCity’s greatest flaw. Building a city is not a game of Tetris; you cannot just plunk a factory or prison down in the middle of a dense, high-class residential area. In MegaCity, however, this becomes a necessity.
Why? Because buildings amass randomly on the queue. You can pop one in the Save Tile box for use later, but sooner or later you’ll either have to push it out for a more disadvantageous building — reluctantly played as the lesser of two evils — or be stuck with a second tile of this kind — this time without any escape. It adds a sense of chaos and uncertainty, a la Tetris’s propensity to withhold the straight piece when you need it most, but it negates player agency.
You see, town planners actually have quite a lot of say over what gets built — and where. They plan ahead as far as they can, setting up a delicate balance between the needs of commerce, industry, and city residents. MegaCity introduces an element of luck that is completely at odds with its own system of rules.
Sooner or later, it condemns you to live or die by a roll of the dice. A skilled Tetris player, even with that game’s strong random element, can play indefinitely — ability always trumps luck. No amount of skill can stave off eventual defeat in MegaCity, however. You could play a flawless game and the system will still defeat you before fatigue does.
This is the problem with MegaCity. For all its cleverness, challenge, and compelling feedback loops, it eventually leaves you feeling as though the long-term prospects of your fledgling city are beyond your control.
You’re likely to keep playing after this realization — at least for a while — because the rules governing the value of tiles on the grid remain a challenge to conquer in and of themselves. But it’ll wear thin, and this game with so much promise will lose your interest.
With mechanics, ideas, and presentation as fun as this, MegaCity should have staying power to rival fellow stripped-down city-builder-cum-puzzle game Triple Town. But it gets something twisted along the way, and now it’s just a passing phase. Granted, it’s one that will keep you engaged and happy in the interim. But MegaCity falls victim to its own futility.
Analysis aside, MegaCity is a riveting and challenging puzzler that puts a fresh spin on the city-building formula. You’d be well advised to give it a shot. Challenge Mode could use more scenarios, and an undo option would help immensely with wayward taps, but the pros vastly outweigh the cons.
MegaCity rises high, then falls only after extended play.