February 12, 2009 11:52 AM | Michael Rose
Released this week over on Direct2Drive, IGF 09 Student Showcase winner 'City Rain - Building Sustainability' sees players forming a city by placing falling buildings onto a plot of land. Objectives must be met to progress and the happiness of your residents is essential to moving on.
If you gave the original free version a download, the only difference you'll really find here is the overhaul graphically. The interface has been revamped to have lots of lovely curvy edges and just generally look a bit more polished. The landscape itself has changed ever so slightly, if unrecognizably.
The gameplay has survived pretty much untouched - it still feels like some crazy hybrid of Sim City and Tetris. Dumping homes, schools, police stations et al onto the playing area, simple missions are given which must be followed to progress - 'Build 2 schools' or 'Keep crime low'.
While attempting to complete these objectives, your popularity with the city dwellers must be kept high by attending to their needs, which are helpfully displayed as progression bars in the bottom-left corner. Now and again special buildings will also become available and can be bought through the menu using the money you're scamming from your residents.
There's also a huge emphasis on being environmentally friendly. You'll be scolded for dumping rubbish on the land and certain missions go out of their way to make you 'save the world' - take into consideration that, early on, you receive an 'Environmental Police Station' (which is basically a police station in the trees) and you'll understand what I'm getting at.
Going back to the scolding, there is a hell of a lot of it. Your advisor Catherine loves nothing more than to make constant pops at your building abilities and will revel in telling you exactly what you are doing wrong at every available moment. She seriously does not have a single motivating comment to make - although maybe that says more about the way I play.
However, if you can see past City Rain's silly message and overbearing narrator, you'll find a fair amount of fun to be had here. Trying to keep a a balance between citizen happiness and objective completion becomes increasingly difficult, especially with the time limit involved. Later levels also see rather packed levels with falling blocks needing to be placed into the gaps in the right places. As you can imagine, placing a school or park next to a chemical plant can spell disaster.
Aside from the main game, there's also the bonus puzzle bonanza Blockmania. Throwing all of the City Rain rules out of the window, it's a simple case of placing all the Tetris-style blocks of houses onto the playing area. The twist is that same building types can be planted on top of each other to save space. Once it's been deemed that you've citied the space up enough, a tornado will come, rip the place apart and then ask you to do it again, but a little bit harder this time.
City Rain is a great concept to Mother Gaia Studio have pulled it off pretty well. It's a little rough round the edges in places, but with a good few hours of gameplay under its belt and online ranking to keep you coming back for more, this city-building simulator is worth a peek, especially for puzzle fans.