When you consider that city-building games tap in to our innate desire to build, it’s little surprise that they’re so popular. None hold the cachet of Will Wright’s seminal SimCity series, which has been running strong for nearly 25 years and will launch a long-awaited fifth main entry on Mac later this spring, but all manage to turn a task as tough as urban planning into a fun pastime. Here are 10 interesting iOS city builders that’ll have you plotting roads and zoning residential land in your sleep.
SimCity Deluxe for iPad ($6.99) is a perfect fit with the lean-back style of iPad gaming. Similar in scope and aesthetics to SimCity 3000 on Mac, this iPad version effortlessly translates the full SimCity experience to a multitouch interface. You can build the city of your dreams and then ruin it with disasters, or tackle one of the preset scenarios.
Virtual City ($4.99, iPad; $2.99, iPhone) both looks and plays like a SimCity lite, but it has enough quality to stand on its own. More mission-based in nature, Virtual City keeps you focused on a few specific goals as you build your city and establish transit routes for workers, tourists, garbage, and industry. There’s also a sandbox mode for the traditional city-building experience.
Virtual City 2: Paradise Resort ($6.99, iPad; $2.99, iPhone) expands on its predecessor with new settings, a focus on tourist hotspots, and more missions, buildings, and production chains. The only problem is that the Free Play mode is missing, limiting the replay value after you finish the 52 levels on offer.
Even the city-building genre has latched on to the zombie craze, courtesy of Rebuild’s ($2.99, universal) compelling survive-and-thrive mashup. Starting with a tiny block of adjacent buildings, you'll help a band of survivors stave off the zombie hordes while rebuilding society and expanding the safe zone. There’s more emphasis on exploring and expanding, though.
Reminiscent of SimTown, City Story Metro (free, universal) shrinks the scope down to a single urban municipality. It has some charming touches, and cute, colorful graphics, but the experience is harmed by some insidious nickel-and-dime design choices, which limit your progress at times and thrust TeamLava’s other games upon you.
MegaCity HD ($0.99, universal) turns city-building into a puzzle game with its ingenious 6x7 grid of buildings. Columns must accumulate a certain value before they’re pushed off the left edge, making room for more city building, while landfills and parks can have a huge impact on their surroundings. It’s a challenging, fun, and delightful mashup of puzzling and city building.
Pixel People’s (free, universal) tap-centric mechanics won’t be for everyone, but much like NimbleBit’s popular Tiny Tower, it makes up for shallow depth with compulsive, cheery fun. You build a new society by splicing genes of residents to create clones of differing skill sets, and lay out your Pixel Utopia however you please. Just don’t expect to be challenged.
Venture Towns ($3.99, iPhone) applies the Kairosoft (Game Dev Story) formula to the hustle and bustle of urban life, with your charming little residents finding their way in the big city. You’re responsible for building stores, houses, recreational facilities, offices, and more, all while managing their happiness, earning lots of money, and researching new technologies.
If you ever thought a SimCity-meets-CityVille game would be a good idea, you’ll love the free-to-play take on the genre seen in Megapolis (free, universal). It’s not as cynical as Zynga’s later fare, however, with real money only required if your time is at a premium. Lush visuals and loads of quests and building types belie its simplicity compared to SimCity or Virtual City.
It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but My Country (free, universal) is a deep city builder that gives you control over every facet of the economy, infrastructure, landscape, and even workers. Its simulation is impressive, and My Country’s easy enough to learn, but you’ll need to either spend big on in-app purchases or be very patient about countdown timers.