The history of sim games on home consoles hasn't been the brightest since the control pad interface doesn't lend itself as well to the fine control you would normally expect using a mouse on home computers. The Wii's pointer makes a good mouse replacement of course, so theoretically a game like Anno: Create a New World (the console version of Anno 1404, the fourth in a series of PC-based Renaissance-era sims) should work very well, and it does. Add to that an excellent balance of depth and accessibility and you end up with what is possibly the best game of its kind on the Wii.
Called Dawn of Discovery in North America (Ubisoft decided to ditch the long-established PC branding there), Anno: Create a New World is a capitalist utopian fantasy where all people need is more and more creature comforts to become richer and richer, without any of the unpleasantness of the consequences of ecological destruction or wage slavery. It dispenses with historic political and social conflict by focusing on two fictitious kingdoms resembling those of medieval/renaissance Europe and Western Asia. Whilst they have the same look and feel as their real-world counterparts, they're given the neutral names of Occident and Orient and have largely friendly relations. There are some religious overtones in the use of Christian symbols in some of the icons and terms for public buildings for worship and education, but otherwise the game steers clear of controversy by focusing gameplay on colonising uninhabited islands and helping those colonies to prosper.
After creating one of four possible user profiles (each with four save slots) you can choose one of two game modes. Continuous Mode is the game "proper": it's open-ended and the player's goal is to create settlements, make them as prosperous as possible and then tinker away with them as long as they like. You're able to control the level of challenge by adjusting game world parameters like the number and size of islands, whether to have natural disasters, competing settlements and so on, but it's best to save this mode for later.
Story Mode acts as a primer for the Continuous Mode by having seven chapters which focus on different aspects of the game in increasing complexity. In the background is an overarching storyline of an Occidental prince, William, who is tasked by his father, King George, with founding new lands to remedy the ill-fortunes of the kingdom, currently plagued by drought. This gradual introduction to the game is quite satisfying on its own and has three difficulty levels for replay incentive. The chapters are broken up into parts which have various missions to complete: increasing your island's population base to a given size or finding islands with new resources to exploit such as hemp for clothing or clay for making pottery. Later on in the game you will make contact with the Orient from whom you will gain useful technologies like tea shops (the true sign of civilisation!) and water pumps for the irrigation of parched earth. It's a bit disappointing that there's no option to play as either pirates or Orient in Story or Continuous Mode, but the game experience is still quite solid.
When you focus on an island in the main game screen or the sea map you can see what mineral resources are available there (stone, iron, clay, etc.) and what kind of crops you can grow (grain, spices, herbs, hemp, etc.). If you just want to produce raw materials on the island all that's required is building the fields for crops or quarries for minerals. If you want finished goods like stone or iron for building materials, clothing or pottery, then you'll need to build an additional structure that is either within a zone of influence (shown as a white line some distance from the spot where you're planning on constructing the building) or connected to the raw materials via a road.
The "zone of influence" concept is key to the settlement building process. Buildings that produce goods need to be within the zone of influence of a warehouse or marketplace and connected to it via a road in order to store and distribute their produce. Houses need to be within the zone of influence of a warehouse or marketplace and connected to them in order to receive goods. Houses also need to be within the zone of influence of Firehouses, Rat Catchers, Hospitals and public buildings to receive their benefits. If you mess up your planning you can always smash buildings with a handy "10 Ton Weight" to recoup some cash and then build them again. If your settlement is large enough you'll end up having to build multiple buildings of various types to ensure all your people are covered and receive their benefit. If you fail to do so they will eventually become unhappy and if unhappy long enough then they'll leave your settlement and decrease your tax revenue.
As your island residents increase their "civilisation level" from Pioneer through to Aristocrat they require more and more things both to attain that status and maintain it. You can view their requirements by clicking on their houses, but if you turn on the highest hint level in the options menu your in-game advisors will let you know of the people's demands as well. Happy settlements attract more people which raises up their civilisation level and also allows you to raise their taxes to ensure you have enough revenue to build the settlement further. It's a nice circle you can keep going as long as you stay on top of things like available resources and stockpiles. There are rewards for increasing the number of citizens -- beyond more tax money and having a "better class of people" taking up residence -- which is to increase the ranking of your settlement from Fishing Port (pop. 200) to Metropolis (pop. 2000). The Orient will award new technologies every time you achieve this new status which can be fancy sails, better weapons, trading agreements and more -- many of which will give you yet more money or enhance the happiness of your citizens.
You can view the status of your warehouse levels by clicking on any warehouse or marketplace and then clicking on the goods icon in the pop-up window. You can see the amount of goods stored in tons and then buy or sell as required, though many goods are quite expensive so you're better off securing your own supply. If you run out of cash then Big Daddy King will float you a few grand, but you really don't want to go that route if possible as it hurts your pride and your final score for the Chapter. Each chapter is rated in stars according to the time taken to complete, efficiency and exploration with the highest recorded and viewable in the save/load screen.
The scenarios in Story Mode are quite varied. In some you need to start from scratch with new islands, others have you starting out with established settlements or pick up right after the previous chapter. Unlocking new areas for exploration requires sea charts earned through various achievements. There are many different achievements focusing on different areas of play so you can concentrate on hunting for treasure, increasing population or amassing gold as you see fit.
Whilst the game is largely centred on peaceful interaction, the story does throw up a bit of conflict in later chapters wherein armies and warships are constructed to fight roving Corsairs and take out their bases. This reveals warfare to be the weakest aspect of the game. You recruit troops using barracks and put them on battleships to send them to pirate bases and the like, but your ships can only hold a few so you may need a small fleet to take out a pirate base. The problem is that you cannot move multiple ships in unison which can make military campaigns a little tedious as you move your fleet to the shores of the enemy island one at a time before establishing a beachhead for your assault.
Aside from shortcomings in fleet control there are a couple of areas where more information could have been provided in the online help or manual, such as shipyards requiring a lumberjack's hut within their influence zone in order to build ships or easing settlement planning by letting you know that public and defence buildings don't require roads to connect them to anything in order to function. After playing Story Mode you should be able to figure out what the different settings do in Continuous Mode, but it's still a bit odd that nowhere are these detailed in the game's online or offline instructions outside of the three that can be changed via the in-game options menu.
The controls may lack in the ability to control multiple ships at the same time, but for the bulk of the game they're quite good. You use the pointer to control your on-screen cursor and press and hold to grab the screen and drag it about to pan the camera around the island. + and - allow you to toggle between three zoom levels, whilst is a shortcut for bringing up the construction menu or duplicating the building your cursor is presently hovering over - handy for creating neighbourhoods and large fields quickly. If you like you can add the Nunchuk and perform camera pans with the instead of holding and using the pointer; and will duplicate the zoom function of - and +, though we preferred the remote alone for simplicity's sake.
Ships can be moved about manually by clicking on them and then simply dragging your cursor (which changes shape to indicate you're steering a ship) in the direction you want to go; alternatively you can set waypoints and send them off on auto-pilot. A simple circle of buttons in the lower-right corner of the screen serves as your "nerve center," but if you need a little hand you can summon a help screen by pointing the cursor at an object and pressing up on the when you see a prompt. There's a good set of online rules (excepting omissions noted above), but you'll also have your advisors who assist to varying degrees depending on the tip level selected in the options screen.
Naturally the visuals aren't as detailed as those of the PC version, but the developers have done an outstanding job within the limitations of the Wii's graphical capabilities. Structures are sufficiently detailed to allow for easy recognition of different kinds of crops and buildings - which are also colour-coded to allow for quick identification in a burgeoning metropolis. There are loads of nice little touches if you decide to simply look around your settlement: if a firehouse is near a burning house you can see a little man with a bucket of water run over to put out the fire and people are generally milling about with wagons to ship goods to-and-fro or out tilling fields. If you have diaries or pig farms you'll see little livestock walking about and in undeveloped areas animals like leopards and camels can be seen frolicking (at least until you pave over their homes).
Audio is equally a treat. The voice acting is fantastic with bits of banter between advisors in the game and during cut scenes. There are also nice little touches when you click on various buildings with the sounds of cows or pigs emanating from dairies and pig farms, iron hammering at the forge, stone chiseling at the stonemasons, etc. Of course when you have key mission goals unachieved your advisors will continually chime in that you should do something else, but if it gets annoying you can turn off the voice option at any time as well as adjust the light happy music or sound effects levels independently.
A second player can join in to make useless tiny buildings that "look nice" by clicking anywhere, but otherwise they just have an on-screen pointer to bug "player one" about what they think they should be doing. A true multiplayer option with splitscreen support or competitive online multiplayer would have been nice, but as a single-player experience it's hard to fault.
Anno: Create a New World is a pretty rare beast: a sim game with a story mode that's accessible to newcomers yet has sufficient depth to appeal to veterans. Whether you're a longtime simulation game player or just curious, you should definitely go pick this one up!