You can argue that all of the city-building games now popular on Facebook descend from Will Wright’s SimCity, but none of them resemble that game quite as strongly as CityZen does. CityZen incorporates classic SimCity play mechanics like disasters and keeping your townsfolk happy by carefully arranging roads and public amenities. Where other city-builders might have you level up by attracting citizens, CityZen progresses in a more SimCity-like manner. You level up simply by making your city bigger and bigger, keeping your citizens as happy as you can.
CityZen throws you right into the game with no formal tutorials, though there are optional hints you can choose to read as you level up. Your goal is to level up by improving your city, which means building businesses and then houses that can provide employees to your businesses. How much money you make is irrelevant, beyond needing money to fund more buildings. In practical terms, the only thing that matters is figuring out the most lucrative combination of businesses and houses you can build at any given level.
You unlock more different types of businesses, houses, and public amenities (like parks) as you level up. Right now this means your selection of things to build at any given level is pretty limited, unless you opt to spend real money on some of the wacky themed seasonal items. The buildings tend to be strictly realistic, which may put off players used to games that let you begin building totally ridiculous and silly things right out of the gate. The cities you can build in CityZen are very relaxing and quaint to look at, though, with little cars constantly driving down the streets.
CityZen’s most unusual feature is its “disaster” feature. This actually worked two different ways during the test period, due to the game still being in very active development. The first way was that disasters would randomly befall your town. The damage wasn’t permanent, as it is in SimCity. Instead, you got big cash bonuses for using the disaster to destroy all of the buildings in your town. The second way was more social, giving you bonuses if your friends destroyed your town for you. The main disasters available for a starting player right now are a rain of meteors and a seasonal disaster involving flaming jack o’ lanterns falling from the heavens.
CityZen has a lot of great possibilities as a more down-to-Earth sort of city-building game. Its main problem right now is that the game is being updated so regularly that there seem to be frequent periods of server instability or where the game is outright unplayable due to lost progress, programming errors, or buttons becoming unresponsive. These are typical growing pains for a recently-launched social game, though. Once CityZen settles down, then it’ll be a fine city-builder for fans of the genre, or fans just nostalgic for SimCity’s glory days, to try getting into.
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