We all have those games (at least, those of us that play them) that are the "greatest games," the ones we can trot out whenever someone asks for the best games of all time or what have you. Oh, maybe we don't have them listed in a strict order, and the lineup may change depending on our whims or memories, but we pretty much know Those Games.
Then there are the other ones. The niche titles that haven't happened to remotely break into the mainstream (I'm lookin' at you, Ico, Disgaea and Katamari). The ones that have too many flaws or quirks for most people to look at them seriously. The ones that, frankly, even a lot of hardcore gamers have never heard of in their lives, or at least heard of then promptly forgotten. You know, the ones that you'd be hard-pressed to stand around and name as one of the Best Games Ever objectively, but that you go back to play time and time again, or just hold dear to your heart for some reason.
These are some of those games that I've decided deserve their little time in the spotlight, dragged out of whatever dark corners they're dwelling in by this point. I'm not going to state that these games are amazing, or for everyone, but there's something about each of them that has stuck with me, and in some cases drawn me back repeatedly even while other arguably "more deserving" games sit around barely touched. I'm going to cover one game at a time, and we'll see where this series takes us.
Heck, I may even cover some games that I don't really technically love and remember fondly, but that I think shouldn't be forgotten for some reason or another. We'll just have to wait and see.
Developed by Natsume
Into the world of sim-building games like Sim City, the various Tycoon games and the like, comes Metropolismania. You are the Metropolis Maker, a man in a really gaudy yellow suit whose sole job, nay, driving goal in life is to make bigger and better cities - not only creating the roads and laying out where the different houses shall go, but bringing in citizens, the right businesses, and other services to create a thriving community.
Even when it first came out, this title was a cheap budget game put out by Natsume, not advertised, and probably sold in very small quantities. I can't even remember where I picked mine up - I think it wasn't in our local shop, and I had to pick it up online, but I'm not 100% sure. Totally niche, in other words.
Due to its nature, the production values on this game are noticeably low. There are very awkward translations - heck, one topic of conversation might be said to be about sports, but then later references to it will talk about it being "fun to drink," some phrases are awkward, there are misspellings, and so on. Graphics include super-deformed characters with the large heads and small bodies, and not a lot in the way of flashiness or anything, well, major. The game doesn't do anything groundbreaking, but at the same time due to the quirky gameplay it's still fun and slightly addictive, IMHO, and I've come back multiple times to play the game again and again.
I like a lot of the sim-type games to start with, and here you not only plan out a town and watch it spring up, but there are more gameplay elements added as you must wander through the town you're building and talk to the different people, build up friendships, search through your friends and acquaintances to find the right type of new inhabitants to meet current citizens' needs. In the process there is a vague story for most of the levels, and you find yourself having to figure out just what's going on and solve that side story for the level along with the normal goal of a certain number of residents and a certain percentage of the city being a certain building type. (In one level, you need a certain % to be businesses, while in another you need agricultural type buildings, and so on.)
You start out the first level with a few residents and one or two common businesses in your waiting list that you have to place around town, so you lay out a road with your magic chalk (I know I know, snicker), and decide where each building is going to go. Although it's not a huge problem now, you have to be careful because people on the waiting list will eventually place themselves at an available spot in the town if you don't place them yourself, and since some buildings are Bad when placed near certain other ones, this can screw up your planning. But as mentioned, placing the actual buildings is only the start.
Once you have the footprints of the buildings placed they slowly spring up over the course of a few "hours." (an hour game-time is a few minutes in real life, each day in the game represents a month more or less, and you get a salary on the 6th and 12th "month.") Then the next step begins - you need to start talking to the people to make friendships with them, and once you have a high enough level to be an acquaintance, you can start asking for introductions. When they become "friends," you add them to your personal friends directory (once you buy it at one of the specific shops at least). Both of these are important.
The introductions allow you to get certain types of buildings - super stores, groceries, restaurants, or even just residents - to meet the requests of the citizens. If you leave a request gone unsolved for too long, the resident will move out, so you need to use your introductions and ask around to find the right person to come in and make things right. And the friends list allows you to call those friends even once you start a new town, so you can eventually start solving requests in that way - if you have a request for a police station, for example, call one of the old policeman friends from a previous town who hasn't moved in yet, and have him come to the new town to make the citizens happy. You can also call these friends from anywhere in town rather than having to hunt them down on foot and talk to them in a city of perhaps more than 1000 people, which is another plus.
The game introduces new types of buildings/residents and new complexities at a fairly good pace throughout the various levels, eventually introducing things like agricultural buildings, post offices where you can change the town name, new store types, and so on. And as mentioned most levels have something else that starts to go on behind the scenes - in one level for instance you have to solve some parents' concerns about mysterious activities of their children, and eventually bring a caveman family into your town, while in another you have to get to the bottom of a harmful new cult springing up in your town and taking over. There are also other little things to find if you look - like real estate offices that allow you to buy your *own* home, tailors that let you change your outfit (which you should do ASAP because, ew. The man may be able to create great cities, but he has the fashion sense of a blind magpie), book shops that sell "CDs" that add new songs to the soundtrack that changes each day, etc.
Eventually the fairly repetitive nature does wear on you and you burn out for another few months on the game, but there's something about the quirky fun of it that still brings me back later, and I imagine might have the same effect on others. If you even consider this game, expect very little in the way of graphics, sparkling translation, and general production values, but if you don't need perfection in those aspects you might just find a fun little game to occupy some off-moments for a while to come.