Have you ever had the urge to hold complete and utter control over an otherwise meaningless life, having a spineless whelp carry out your every whim? Hey, whatever floats your boat. But you’d probably be a fan of micromanagement games. From the Sims to Civilization, gamers have enjoyed this unique aspect of gameplay that focuses on creation, rather than destruction. LDW Software has created a slew of such games, from Plant Tycoon to Little Palm Pet. Their latest offering, Village Sim, is possibly their most deep and engrossing project yet, with enough micromanagement to satisfy your urge as a gamer, but with a small enough scale to work on the Palm PDA.
The game starts you off on a desolate island with five or six castaways with nothing but raw materials lying around, a few huts, a research table, and a berry bush. You are then left to help the castaways survive and reproduce by building adequate housing, acquiring new food sources, and matching them to get “busy”, all the while discovering new secrets about the island you live on. Each castaway may have a skill that they are particularly good at, which is represented by a series of bars, each monitoring a different skill. As someone performs a task, the skill bar that applies to it fills, and the character becomes more efficient at that job. For this reason, you may delegate specific villagers to specific tasks.
Each of the five different jobs has a profession and application. Farming and fishing will make your character a more effective farmer, and they will be able to harvest and plant crops more efficiently, and will also be able to catch fish when you earn that skill. Research will make a villager into a scientist, which helps to accumulate skill points, which are used to upgrade certain professions universally so that you can do more, up to a maximum level of three (i.e. level 3 science will allow you to accumulate skill points faster than level 1, level 3 fertility means quicker mating than level 1). Breeding allows you to breed your villagers faster, healing means that you can heal people faster and with a higher success rate, and construction allows you to build new types of buildings and other structures. The progression of each of these professions in each of your villagers is essential to survival. There is also a total of twelve island “events” that you can accomplish by using these professions to their full extent. For instance, you can use villagers who specialize in construction to unblock a stream of pure water, which is an island-changing event that gets listed as one of the twelve. They can then use the pure water to fertilize an infertile field, yielding a full bloom of flowers and a skill point bonus, which is yet another island event.
Still, there are many other factors that could threaten your survival. The game includes many random island events that can either help your characters or hurt them. For instance, you may find a potion by a tree, and have the choice to drink it. If you do, you could be imbued with the maximum amount of the healing statistic, or die a slow, painful death. A character could eat a berry that turns them into an infant, or get snatched away by a mysterious monster into the jungle for what we can only assume is a grisly fate. Fun for the whole family!
Of course, you can increase the population of the island by simply having two villagers mate. By dragging one villager onto another, they have a chance of hooking up, at which point they will enter what must be the most VD-infested hut in the village to procreate. If the attempt is unsuccessful, the two will walk out with a bonus to their breeding stats. If it is, the woman will undergo what apparently is a half-second gestation period and have a child, which puts them out of any kind of work on the island for the in-game equivalent of two years, but the new child may inherit a stat bonus from one or both of the parents. Mating is required, as, like in real life, villagers will die from old age (though you can increase the medicine level of the village to extend it). Thankfully, like all the other skills, you can check a box next to it to set them to perform that action while you are not playing, so any breeder can find a mate and procreate while you are not paying attention, and farmers will be set to farm, etc.
Speaking of which, this feature is one of the biggest draws of the game: Passive development. If you resume the game after a period of inactivity, the game will take a few seconds to update itself, recreating the effects of what has happened on the island in your absence. Earlier in the game, when the villagers need your help more than ever, this can be a hindrance, as a day’s absence will spell doom for your colony. However, once their skills improve – Namely, their ability to gather food – you can leave them alone all you want, as food will be plentiful. Thankfully, the developers were smart enough to allow you to control the flow of time. You can set time to move faster when you are away, make it move at a crawl, or simply freeze time so you can control the pace of the game at your leisure. However you do it, coming back to the game to discover new surprises is always fun and a great concept that keeps the game fresh and interesting.
Controlling your villagers is as simple as dragging them to a task. Using the stylus, you simply pick a villager up and drag them to a station that will engage them in a stat-improving task (the research table for research, a field for planting and harvesting, etc). As your skills progress, new “stations” open up, such as construction spots where you could not build before, or a fishing area. It is remarkably simple, and, providing that your PDA is calibrated correctly, efficient and easy. However, you may sometimes find yourself having to continually guide a wandering worker back to his/her station, but it is more of a minor AI problem than a control problem. Everything works like a dream.
The smaller scale complements the Palm platform by allowing you to view everything at once, yet allowing you to do so many things at the same time. There are no fancy 3D graphics or full motion cutscenes to speak of here. The graphical draw of this game is its wonderfully cartoony hand-drawn graphics, utilizing vibrant color and inventive appearance to make the game jump out of the screen. Character sprites, while small and pixilated, have a genuinely fun and interesting presentation, and each of the sprites has a different appearance rather than having only a few generic classes. The graphics truly shine further into the game, when the “sprucing up” of the island reveals colorful results, but for a game on such a small scale, the art works wonders for the overall presentation.
The sound in the game is relatively average. There is ambient sound, such as crashing waves, which add to the atmosphere, and your villagers have tiny grunts that they exude as they are picked up and directed. However, there is, as the developer puts it, “a total of 3 amazing original Soundtracks and ambient sound effects!” And these can start to get old pretty fast. Most of the time, the soundtrack consists of a simple island rhythm, which is slightly catchy at first, but may get on your nerves as time passes. The problem is not quality, but quantity.
Any fan of micromanagement deserves this game on their Palm handheld. The game itself is simple and inventive, offering a unique, time-based style of gameplay and an original presentation that will last for a long, long time. The multitude of options and abilities can be as simple as a jigsaw puzzle or as deep as an RTS, depending on how you play the game. Either way, it still stands as one of the most entertaining games on the Palm today.
Playing Hints and Tips
- Focus on getting food first, then more skill points. As soon as you gain the ability to fish, food becomes the least of your worries.
- There is a secret island event that involves a master builder villager in a spot on the southern end of the map. Try and find it!
- If you truly get stuck, read our step-by-step Walkthrough.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
The unique and vibrant hand-drawn graphics compliment the game nicely, and the varied character sprites mean that similar characters will be few and far between.
Average at best due to the lack of variation in the musical selection, but the quality of the sound is wonderful.
Managing the characters and monitoring your progress is just as fun as any other micromanagement game, with little to no frustration involved.
Despite the fact that time moves in a constant flow, I found myself checking on my characters every five or so minutes, even though I knew there would probably be no change. The aspect of new developments as you’re not playing is a major draw and will keep you playing the game to and through the end.