This city builder just shot to the top of my wishlist because it lets you design, build, and decorate every single building in your town

Ever been idly clicking through the Steam store and something causes you to immediately hit the brakes and add a game to the top of your wishlist? That happened to me today while looking at upcoming city builders. There’s just something about an isometric city builder with retro pixel art that immediately appeals to me, so Metropolis 1998 grabbed my attention with just a few screenshots.

Thing is, the more I looked, the more excited I got, because there’s a lot more than just a cool aesthetic at work here. Underneath that retro exterior, there’s some pretty advanced stuff going on.

One of the most interesting and appealing features of Metropolis 1998, especially for those of you who like building houses in games like The Sims 4, is that you don’t simply zone areas for residential and commercial use and then wait for buildings to pop up. You can design, build, and decorate the buildings yourself. Like… all of the buildings.

Homes, shops, restaurants, service buildings, you name it: you can build them all from the ground up. Draw the perimeter, segment each room, choose flooring and wall types, connect them with doors, add stairs and upper floors, and then fill them with lovely little pixelated furniture pieces like beds, chairs, lamps, dressers, plants, TV sets, and everything else you might find in a game like The Sims. And you’re free to design and build absolutely everything, not just homes but office buildings, hospitals, restaurants, libraries, and even the police station and fire department. Wow.

You don’t have to build everything yourself—Metropolis 1998 also has pre-existing buildings you can simply plop down into your town. But even using prebuilts, you can modify and redecorate them however you like. You can also create blueprints from your custom buildings to use over and over. It’s a really extensive and impressive building system, and once you’ve built or placed some homes and businesses, little citizens will begin driving through your town, park their cars, buy a home, move in, and find a job.

There’s another promising feature that will interest anyone who loves city builders. It looks like your metropolis will be able to get really big—I’m talking about a hundred thousand citizens and vehicles—without melting your PC and tanking your performance. That’s not just due to the pixel art graphics but Metropolis 1998’s pathfinding algorithm capable of supporting hundreds of thousands of agents in a single city. (You can learn more about it in this interesting developer video.) As someone who usually has to abandon cities when they get too big in games like Cities: Skylines 2 or Farthest Frontier, I’m excited to see a city builder that looks like it can support a really massive population without slowing everything to a crawl.

Metropolis has been in development since 2021 and while there’s not a release date yet, the free demo on Steam is well-worth checking out, especially if you want to build and decorate lots of adorable little pixelated houses and shops. (Note: You want to do this.) It’s not a game quite yet, as such, but it’s still lots of fun to play around with, especially when tiny little citizens start moving into the houses you’ve built.