Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: December 2, 2003
The original version of The Sims on the PC has sold more copies than any other PC game to date. It has a slew of expansions, which are still coming to this day. For a series that is as new as The Sims, it's amazing to think about the sheer amount of software available with its moniker plastered on the front of the packaging, from the massive selection of PC titles, to the more recent console and now handheld editions. It's plain to see that EA/Maxis have found a formula that the gaming public is just eating up - and the non-gamers of the world are catching the Sim bug, too. It was only a matter of time before the series graced such an important platform as the Gameboy Advance, and now that it has, it must be asked: does the game survive the transition from PC/console to the much more underpowered handheld market?
In making its way to the Gameboy Advance, EA/Maxis had to cut a few corners, which I imagine we were all expecting to happen. But here, the changes are drastic. This version of The Sims plays more like a watered-down-but-still-more-complex version of Animal Crossing than an actual Sims title. Instead of controlling the aspects of your Sim's lives by pointing and clicking, then waiting for it to play out, you control just one Sim directly with the D-pad. Hardcore Sims fans may immediately dislike this control scheme, and they have reason to; it drastically changes the mechanics of the series for the first time. But I cannot say this enough: It works. It works very, very well. You see, it has to be remembered that this is a handheld game. Most of the people who will play this will be on the bus, going on short car rides, waiting for a flight, things of that sort. The gameplay has to be adjusted to meet those needs. Things are more fast-paced, easier to do (since you don't have to wait around for your Sim to react to commands, and there is no way he/she can ignore your button presses), and, in some respects, a lot more fun in the short-term. EA/Maxis have done almost everything they should have in turning The Sims into a successful handheld game. To sum up the new experience, it's as if Animal Crossing was combined with The Sims, and turned into a GBA game. It doesn't have everything from both of those games, but enough elements are present that there's a lot of fun to be had in this little cartridge.
The game begins with a simplified version of the Sim creation process, where you select the sex and appearance of your Sim. Since everything in this game is pre-rendered, your choices are severely limited in comparison to the PC and console versions. It's a shame that one of the best aspects of The Sims series is so crippled in Bustin' Out on the GBA, but it would be unfair to expect so much out of a handheld game. It would take a lot of work to pre-render so many different combinations of hair, shirts, eye color, face type, etc. It's nice that the developers did add what little customization is there, as they easily could have given us one Sim type to play for the entire game.
You begin the game in your uncles' farm, living in his house. To make money, you have to mow the weeds off a portion of his property, in a fun-but-irritating minigame. I know it's supposed to be a job, but when the game itself refers to it as a minigame, shouldn't it be fun? Either way, it's your first way of getting money. You are given promotions depending on your performance, which are somewhat easy to obtain. Once you have enough money, you can start buying items to furnish the barn your uncle lets you live in. Later in the game, you can keep making money in this way, or by unlocking other minigame jobs, such as serving drinks, or making pizzas. Sadly, none of these games are very polished.
There are Sims throughout the town, who have lots of interesting things to say. Unlike the PC and console versions of the game, the conversations take place in English. Once again, Sims fans will definitely have a problem with this, but I really enjoyed it. The conversations are really well written, and make it a fun challenge to become friends with the Sims you meet. Each person reacts differently to the comments you select to say to them, so you have to learn their personalities in order to gain their friendship. You'll even have conversations that poke fun at the game itself, with comments like, "Why am I the only Sim that seems to have a house in this town?" This almost makes me wish you had such a fun way to communicate in the other Sims games.
As you meet the various goals throughout the game, more and more of the village you live in is made available for your use. This is both good and bad. It's good because there is a lot to explore, but it's bad for the same reason. When you are given a goal that forces you to track down a single person, it can be extremely frustrating, as not only are there a lot of people to meet, but the village is so large, you may spend days (in Sim-time) just trying to track down one person. Sometimes, it's easier, such as trying to find someone who works on the docks, but more often than not, it's irritating, and nothing more. On the plus side, there are a lot of different and amusing places to visit, many of which are a lot of fun to look around in, such as the Gym, where you can beat on punching bags and admire yourself in the mirror, or the pet store, where you can buy all kinds of weird and interesting animals for your home.
While there is a lot to look at in Bustin' Out, it's not really that much of a pleasure to. The graphics are extremely below average, especially looking at some of the recent GBA releases. If you use the Gameboy Player, it's even worse, as with most pre-rendered games on Nintendo's handheld. The isometric perspective is okay, but having to point diagonally on the d-pad will be a big annoyance for some people. I dealt with it by using my Gamecube controller's analog stick, which felt much more intuitive.
Sadly, one aspect of The Sims did not survive the transition to the Gameboy Advance one bit - the sound. The music is well over on the mediocre side, and while some of it is good, it's mostly inappropriate for what is happening in the game. It's somewhat uncomfortable having extremely loud and upbeat music playing while you're simply wandering around not doing much of anything. The sound effects themselves are a bit muted, which may have a lot to do with the hardware, but there have been a lot of recent titles that have showed us that high quality good sound is possible on the GBA.
The GBA version of The Sims: Bustin' Out can be connected with the Gamecube version, and used to unlock certain features of the game before you normally would by playing the game alone. It's not anything special, as with most GBA-to-GCN connectivity features so far (Pacman VS. being the major exception), though it is a bit amusing.
The Sims: Bustin' Out on the GBA is an interesting, fresh take on The Sims franchise. Sims fans will likely find themselves uncomfortable with the way the game plays, since it is more like Animal Crossing, or Shenmue without the battles, than The Sims, but don't let that stop you from giving this game a try. I must point out that it is not meant to be played for long periods of time; it's obviously been crafted from the ground up with the handheld format in mind. If you frequently find yourself with just a little bit of extra time on your hands, this is the game to play.
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