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SimCity 4

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I hate to admit it, but I need the Spin City crew to step in and do some damage control. You see, I’m the mayor of New York City — and it turns out I’m pretty lousy. After only 15 minutes in office, my health-care workers are picketing and I’ve had to legalize gambling and install a toxic-waste dump. On the upside: I balanced the city budget (a difficult task even for real-life mayor Michael Bloomberg).

Such is my predicament in SimCity 4, the latest sandbox of life from designer Will Wright. Now best known as the man behind The Sims, Wright first made his mark with 1989’s SimCity. In that game, you are a city mayor with a simple goal: Plan and build a bustling metropolis with good schools, low crime, and no traffic. More than a decade later, the fourth installment of this city-planning venture doesn’t change the formula much, but it does feature fancy new graphics. And like the original, you zone a virtual plot of land for commercial, residential, or industrial development, and construct roads, power lines, schools, and maybe even a baseball stadium. Build it well, and Sims will come.

The game is such an architectural playground that you can build on it for hundreds of hours and never get bored. But beware: In large cities, there’s so much to micromanage that you sometimes feel like a cir-cus plate spinner. At the same time, you’ll marvel that Wright makes perusing city financial statements entertaining. He could do wonders for IRS tax forms.