Old games, take a bow.
“SimCity” and “PaRappa the Rapper” share the distinction of being titles that more or less invented new gaming genres. Every sim and tycoon game in the past 20 years owes a nod of respect to the game that made urban planning sound like fun. And “PaRappa” not only changed minds about the relationship of games to art, it also kept fingers glued to PlayStation controllers, matching button presses to musical rhythms.
Now both games make their debuts on portable platforms and ask players to relive their former glory.
You may wonder why it took Sony so long to invite “PaRappa” over to the PSP. It might appear that this lovable rapping pup’s best days were behind him. However, given the success of “Guitar Hero,” “Dance Dance Revolution” and countless other games that aped the format of matching button presses to beats in a song, it seemed the perfect time to take “PaRappa” out of retirement. It wasn’t like Sony needed to worry about over-exposure of a prime property. Besides, what the PSP does well is what “PaRappa” likes to strut. From the ironic art-school graphics to the polyphonic funky beats, the game was designed as a multimedia showcase.
With a few improvements to the graphics and little else, the game pops on the glossy PSP screen and brings back memories. Ten years later, the experience is just as weird, funny and frustrating as it was the first time around. Maybe we’ve gotten better at playing rhythm-matching games. But the closely packed PSP controls make grabbing the right button a challenge, and the icons you are supposed to match seem to zip by like a housefly on the diminutive PSP screen.
“SimCity DS” faces a different challenge. The original game was simple enough, and it would have fit right on the tiny Nintendo DS screen. But, as every fan can tell you, “SimCity” continues to grow, just like a real urban area. Every iteration of the series adds new graphics, technical flourishes and intricate simulations. “SimCity DS” tries to put as much of this legacy into the DS package as it can, and ends up feeling like a tourist’s suitcase that’s stuffed with a few too many items.
If the DS version was your first visit to this classic game, you may find yourself falling into its timeless charms: zoning land, fiddling with budgets and generally trying to please your citizens. If you’ve played “SimCity” much in the past, it may seem to you that the DS version somehow captures too much of the game’s administrative minutia and not enough of its playing-in-the-sandbox fun.
Why bother with a retirement home of gaming? A little respect for your elders shows that the structure of interactive fun has to do with something besides mind-bending graphics, massively multiplayer networking and increasingly sophisticated dynamic worlds. While all that stuff makes for some great games, “PaRappa” and “SimCity” prove that simple ideas done well stand the test of time.