SimCity Deluxe improves on the earlier iPhone SimCity, but doesn’t quite capture the spirit of its PC counterpart.

City-building fanatics who dabbled in 2008’s SimCity for the iPhone have long been hoping for some tweaks and revisions that might bring the portable release closer to the high watermark set by the series earlier entries. EA has delivered on their hopes and dreams, but rather than issuing a few small updates, the publishing powerhouse took the title back to the drawing board in an attempt to improve on what was missing the first time around, releasing it as the brand new title SimCity Deluxe.

SimCity Deluxe plays like a superior remix of 2008’s SimCity. Much of what’s offered here is eerily similar to the previous entry – something that EA seems to have acknowledged, as the original game was quickly removed from the App Store when Deluxe made its debut. Despite the new look, the gameplay feels largely inspired by SimCity 3000, just as its predecessor did. Like any good package with a “deluxe” moniker, this one has made a number of additions and tweaks that improve the overall experience.

SimCity Deluxe

Most notably the game has undergone some gentle tweaking with the user interface. What had previously felt cluttered thanks to an overwhelming number of buttons and indicators has now been streamlined to display the same amount of information while occupying slightly less visual real estate. Players may not notice a big difference if comparing solely on screenshots, but when trying to see your city beyond a clunky UI and a large swiping finger, every little pixel of real estate counts.

And you’re going to want to see this city, because things look gorgeous. The previous edition drew much of its influence, both visually and in terms of gameplay, from SimCity 3000. The look of SimCity Deluxe, however, is decidedly more in line with SimCity 4. The care and detail that have gone into every building, be it tenement high rise or Arc de Triomphe, will blow you away the first time you zoom in to check it out.

“The first time” is a phrase that summarizes both SimCity Deluxe‘s strengths and weaknesses quite well. The first time you resolve a water routing issue is incredibly satisfying, as is solving a widespread fire crisis, or keeping up with your residential housing supply – but the first time most of us did this was back in 1989. The formula has grown a little stale in recent years, and its engaging nature doesn’t translate as well to a portable device as one might hope. I can still happily while away an afternoon playing SimCity 4 on my PC thanks to the depth and breadth of the gameplay offered, but the quick play nature of the iPhone doesn’t allow for the lengthy commitment a game like this requires. Even running at 3x speed, the checks and balances experience of SimCity just begins to feel monotonous on the iPhone. The fact that this game lacks some of the deeper elements of the PC versions doesn’t help, either.

SimCity Deluxe

The starter cities and accompanying scenarios included in Deluxe offer up a great starting point for gamers looking to jump into the experience without starting a new city from scratch, and manage to provide some solid goals for an otherwise aimless SimCity experience. You can rebuild a city and entice residents to stay after a meteor shower has laid waste to much of the infrastructure. Or upgrade the mass transit system to meet the needs of the impending 2012 World Games in “The Queen’s City.” Or maybe you’d rather try to get the garbage level down to zero after a series of festivals has left Berlinville littered with trash. With 7 scenarios in all, players looking for a unique challenge should easily get their fill.

With a slick visual makeover, an improved user interface, and a variety of starter cities and scenarios, SimCity Deluxe is closer to the release that we were hoping for when we first got our hands on SimCity more than a year ago. It may still lack the lustre and depth of the PC builds, but those who’ve played the earlier iPhone edition will notice a marked improvement in Deluxe. It’s far from the best iteration of the series, but with a lack of real competition in the mobile marketplace, city-building fans will have a hard time finding a better choice of urban development on the App Store.