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Enter the World of Zellians
As a fan of city-builders that manage to weave together complex (but not frustrating) management strategies with the ability to create artistic, beautiful landscape designs, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next Pharaoh, which will probably always be the stick I use to measure games of this type. While World of Zellians is nowhere close to being in this elite category, it does have several characteristics that put it above similarly-themed contemporary strategy games.
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The story begins with Zorm, a world renowned city-planner, taking you on as a student. After a detailed series of tutorials, which are quite well done by the way, Zorm leads you off on a journey around the world to help various rulers rebuild their crumbling kingdoms. Along the way, Zorm gets irked that you manage to accomplish something that he claimed couldn’t be done. He abandons you after warning that you’re doomed to fail without his assistance.
At first, Zorm’s departure seems like a welcome respite since you no longer have to worry about him popping up in the game to give you unneeded advice. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that someone is deliberately trying to sabotage your city-planning maneuvers as a host of additional challenges appears with each new scenario. Just in case you’re slow to realize this yourself, the rulers of the new kingdoms you are visiting are quick to point it out and ask you plan to do about your troublesome former teacher.
By today’s standards, the plot of World of Zellians is fairly engrossing – enough to make you want to keep playing level after level just to find out what’s going to happen next. The characters that you meet along the way have interesting personalities, and the humorous dialog should cause you to chuckle at least once or twice.
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics and sound in World of Zellians may not win any awards, but the music is catchy and the animations are artistic and clever. I would have liked it a little more if the housing and some of the other buildings took on different characteristics when you moved on to a new terrain (Would people who live in a forest build their homes the same way as those who live in a tundra?), but the introduction of new buildings in each geographic area does mitigate this a bit.
If you try to build a large city with a substantial number of people moving around, you may run into some performance issues, especially on older machines. However, I didn’t encounter this much since no bonuses were given for overbuilding. If you stick to just the requirements needed to pass each scenario, you’ll probably be fine. You may want to be a little more cautious in the free form setting, though.
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It’s a good thing that World of Zellians has such a fun storyline – otherwise, the gameplay would easily become monotonous after a few rounds. Even though new challenges are introduced at each level, they’re basically all of the same form: achieve a population of X, build Y shoe shops, accumulate Z materials, etc. But what about keeping the population happy? That’s a staple in any city-builder, right?
Not in the World of Zellians.
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For some mysterious reason, Zellians are always happy. Additionally, they seem to maintain this happiness without eating or using any resources. All they ask for is that their houses are connected to the road and that the road is connected to the spring – the water source for the town. Of course, you’ll have to build other structures to fulfill the goals of each scenario, but the Zellians themselves could care less about them. They’ll visit them if they exist, but won’t complain a bit if they don’t.
Related to this is the absence of any kind of rules about where you should build certain objects. Want to put a couple of dozen ice cream stands in between a few pig ranches? No problem. Want to put all shops on the opposite side of the map from your citizens’ houses? The Zellians don’t care! Thankfully, the fisheries and a few other buildings encountered late in the game do have to be placed on or near water, but other than that, there are no requirements. This absence of building requirements coupled with the shortage of space in some scenarios makes it easy to fall into the habit of creating cities that make Houston look like a planner’s dream. (Sorry, Houston, you’re a great city, but you’re definitely not well-planned.)
Another annoyance in the game is the inability to rotate either objects or the terrain. On one hand, this does add a little complexity to the strategy for completing each scenario since some have very limited space. However, it also detracts from your ability to build “pretty” cities. And, if you’re scoffing right now at the idea of pretty cities, then you’re not a true city-building fan.
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Despite some frustrations with the technical aspects of World of Zellians, I still managed to enjoy several hours of gameplay, looking forward to see what would happen in each new scenario. On the other hand, now that I’ve “finished” the game, I doubt I’ll be going back to replay it again. Also, even though the free play mode was something I was excited to see when I first began playing, I found that the game seemed to lose a lot of its charm when not in story mode since the free mode has no goals to accomplish or any other criteria that can be used to rate yourself in subsequent play.
With all that being said, World of Zellians has a great storyline that should provide hours of entertainment even if it isn’t destined to become one of the great classics. It may not require a lot of intense strategy, but it is a fun way to pass a rainy afternoon.