We all live in a city (or town). But have you ever wondered how it was all put together? Building, planning, and design have always been a small interest of mine. I always enjoyed putting my house together in games like The Sims and Go Vacation. Tycoons like RollerCoaster Tycoon and Planet Coaster are also some titles that I enjoy. Combine them together and you get a city builder/business tycoon, and that’s Cities: Skylines. If you’ve ever played the classic that is SimCity, then this concept should be very familiar. While I’ve heard of it many times before, I’ve never tried the game myself. But after getting sucked into Cities for several hours, I can see why SimCity turned out to be such a hit.
In Cities: Skylines, you take on the role as the mayor of your very own city. There are a selection of environments, each possessing different factors such as certain natural resources (like oil), access to natural bodies of water (very important), and climate. Regardless of which map you pick, the goal remains the same: to take your settlement from a small town and expand it to a metropolis. To do this, you must properly build and maintain the infrastructure of your settlement, organizing it in a way that allows for maximum efficiency.
There’s a lot of little things that you need to keep track of, such as making sure your roads are laid out correctly, that emergency services are placed in good locations, and that neighborhoods are near parks to increase land value. This is just a small rundown of things that you’ll need to pay attention to. It’s for this reason that my time with Cities: Skylines has been a healthy mixture of joy and confusion.
Making progress in Cities all depends on how well you lay everything out. As you zone out different areas for Industrial, Residential, and Commercial purposes, it always needs to match the demand of the population. If you build areas that the citizens don’t want, buildings will be abandoned and must be demolished. As you’d expect, funds are limited (unless you use the included money cheat), so building the right areas at the right time is essential to achieving growth and bringing in profits. Citizens also want to be taken care of with enough services like health care, garbage collection, and being kept out of noisy areas. Even building residential areas near industrial areas that are prone to pollution will result in a drop in overall happiness. Resources are also finite and shortages can occur. For instance, your power grid and water supply can be overloaded, thus leading you to have to build new power-generation plants and water-treatment services in order to match the population.
As your city expands, juggling all these odds and ends becomes progressively more difficult. I noticed that early on when I had a small town, I was able to get into a decent groove and profits were rolling in. My people were happy and all seemed well. However, as the population grew, things gradually fell out of balance. It can be quite stressful trying to micromanage every little complaint. And again, I still haven’t mentioned everything. Other obstacles come into play such as buildings catching on fire, robberies, and traffic jams. The list goes on.
Due to Cities having so many layers, it really would’ve been nice if more detailed tutorials or guides were included. But no such thing exists in this version of the game. You’re pretty much left on your own in terms of figuring everything else by means of trial and error. Or you can do what I did and looked up the various YouTube videos explaining all the intricate details of the mechanics. After all, it’s been over three years since the game originally released on PC.
With that in mind, now’s a good time to bring up how the folks over at Tantalus have handled bringing such an intensive game over to the Switch. Cities: Skylines has garnered a reputation for being a taxing game on even capable hardware, so it was surprising to see it brought over to a hybrid system. Some concessions were necessary, although understandable. Textures and effects are fairly bland and muddy, and the resolution appears to be locked to 720p regardless of whether playing in handheld or docked mode. Considering the framerate, it’s no surprise why this is the case. When zoomed out, the Switch is able to maintain a sort-of decent framerate of 30 FPS.
But as your city grows and you try zooming down to street level, this results in a massive degradation of performance. It usually ends up hovering somewhere in the 20FPS range, if not a little lower. While unfortunate, this isn’t really that surprising. After about two hours of playing in docked mode during one session, I paused the game and heard my Switch’s fans blasting at full speed. I’ve never heard the system kick up like that other than after some time with Rocket League. Indeed, Cities: Skylines is really pushing the Nintendo Switch to its limits in terms of CPU capabilities. From that perspective, it’s impressive that it was even possible on the system.
While the visuals had to be pared back due to limitations, it would have been nice if the game played to the system’s strengths. In its current form, Cities totally lacks touch controls or gyro/pointer controls. For a game originally designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse, having these alternate control methods would’ve been a great replacement. But alas, they’ve gone unused for whatever reason. This mainly gets in the way when it comes to having to place streets and select specific objects on the screen; the extra precision almost feels necessary. Hopefully, these control options can be added in an update at the very least.
Another omission of the Switch edition of Cities: Skylines is only including two DLC packs (After Dark and Snowfall). Far more have been released on other platforms, but have not been brought to the Switch (at least not as yet). Not having them isn’t a huge drawback, but the more the merrier, right?
Despite these drawbacks, Cities: Skylines is still a fun game on Nintendo Switch. I ended up getting sucked in surprisingly quickly, and I can see myself spending a lot more time trying to build up my city. It’s essentially a game you can keep playing forever, after all. If the framerate can be improved at all and gyro + touchscreen controls can be added, then this will make for a truly stellar port. Nevertheless, it’s still a surprise that Cities has been brought to Switch at all, and it’s managed to be competent enough to be worth a try.
A review code was provided by the publisher.