Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 24, 2005
The Sims is a well-loved game franchise now. The ability to make your own world from one household up feeds the average video gamer's God complex, and seeing your little gibberish-spouting homunculi fulfill their deepest aspirations warms the cockles even the most grizzled gamer's heart. It's the best-selling PC game in, well, ever, and has spawned more expansion packs and spin-offs than even EverQuest, which is known for making such cash-begging advances. It's only natural, then, that a sequel would come, and with it, support on pretty much every major console, including the handhelds. However, due to the lack of mouse and keyboard, Maxis has had to rethink the series with every incarnation and, as usual, the handhelds get the short straw and have to go feed the sharks.
The Sims 2 is the story of your Sim, an actor working for Daddy Bigbucks on his newest TV show, Strangetown. You see, Strangetown is a town where strange things happen. Once you throw in a hired actor and a few behind-the-scenes workers, you've got unwitting reality show gold, or, at least, that's what the game would like you to think. Somehow, a bunch of characters from the previous GBA games (The Urbz: Sims in the City and The Sims Bustin' Out) have managed to show up here in Strangetown, so naturally it should be great fun to pester them.
You start in the Create-A-Sim mode, which like all GBA Sims games, is horrendously watered down and bare-bones. You can make a male or a female, both of which have possibly three outfits between them. It makes one wonder why exactly the NPC Sims look so much better than you. Perhaps it's due to being an actor, or perhaps due to the freakish radiation from your clogged toilet, but it also seems like your Sim has a head approximately three times larger than that of any of the other Sims in Strangetown.
You're dumped afterwards rather unceremoniously into your house, which is constructed oh-so-inconspicuously atop Daddy Bigbucks' boardroom. The introduction is the typical handheld Sims fare: get some furniture, talk to some people, chase the alien away from using your commode (you thought I was kidding about the "radioactive clogged toilet" thing, I bet), and so forth. After the introduction, however, you're yanked back into the boardroom, told that the show is getting reviews from THE GOTHS [sic], who are apparently a Sim family from the real game, and allowed to choose which episode to play.
However, once you've gotten past the introduction and perhaps one more episode, you've seen all the game will ever offer you. The choice in episodes often ends up amounting to nothing more than "fulfill a 'plot point' (game talk for a mission goal), go to the next one, play some mini-games, repeat ad nauseam." Mini-games are amusingly – or perhaps disgustingly – disguised as commercial breaks, taking you away from the dull action and placing you in dull action elsewhere, like driving a car or running from an enormous anthropomorphic can of soda. I wish I were making this up, but it's the game's one best point – there's enough weirdness to make you occasionally chuckle.
However, the ineffable Sims-ness has been shattered into miniscule pieces. Instead of those "Basic Needs" that every Sim had to take care of now and then – sleep, food, using the john, etc. – your Sim has a single bar, representing sanity or stamina or whatever it is that causes you to pass out when you run out of it. The needs themselves have been replaced by a single thought bubble over your Sim's head, showing exactly what you need at any given time. And your Sim will need, quite often, and quite randomly; unlike the bar in the other games, which actually gauges what you might need, I've had to make my Sim shower, go to sleep, then use the restroom, then grab food, then water, then use the restroom again – all without ever stepping out of my house. Fortunately, this is a worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, it does still happen, especially on the episodes which require a lot of running around, which means the most time away from your house as humanly possible.
Likewise, your "aspirations" have been broken up into "being friendly/romantic/intimidating." There is no room for growth; you simply pick an aspiration and have a few conversations of that type each episode. Were Sims 2 an RPG, the conversations would be the battles - you can go up to another Sim and either simply ask them what's up, or engage in a Friendly, Intimidating, or Romantic conversation. Engaging in those conversations places you in a separate screen with a list of commands ranging from "Hug" to "Kung-Fu Moves," depending on the type of conversation you've engaged.
You pick a command, and it either works, or it doesn't. When it works, you fill up a little bauble to the side of the scene, and when it doesn't, your Sim's stamina drains - sometimes slightly, sometimes considerably, depending on the episode. Fill the other Sim's bauble completely, and you succeed in the conversation. Fail, and you pass out like the drama queen you are. Thankfully, succeeding in conversations fills your Sim's stamina completely.
Sadly, that's all the game amounts to – engage in conversations, play mini-games for money, use money to buy swanky gear for your house or to buy items needed for the plot later on. Distressingly, it gets even more linear than that. Your conversations have no bearing on the plot in the slightest; sweet-talk that other Sim all you want, but s/he will never show you any more romance than a few levels in a "Romance" stat on the sub-screen. Dialogue never changes, and choices are few and far between. In addition, apparently less-common relationships are simply passé in the reality TV world, as you can only ever engage in Romantic conversations with the opposite gender, and you never can with the stranger characters in town. I still weep that my female Sim will never be able to woo Bigfoot.
Sound is annoying at worst, forgettable at best. The music is maybe a few notes tinkled out of a keyboard, and sound effects tend to consist mainly of characters babbling in "Sim-glish" at you. Each character other than your own apparently mute Sim has a piddly two lines of dialogue, even, consisting of one "I go along with that conversation option" and one "I don't go along with that conversation option." If you play the game, play it with the sound off; you won't miss anything. Graphics, likewise, are rather lackluster. They don't seem to have evolved at all since The Sims Bustin' Out, and appear to have gotten even grainier than before. The only thing decent is the controls, but really, how difficult is it to make "move around and talk to people" easy to handle? It's not exactly rocket science.
There is absolutely no replay value. Once you complete the episodes, you're done. There's no unlockable content - aside from one episode you can only get if you link to another poor soul who purchased the game - and the mini-games get boring after the first five play-throughs. The episodes will maybe take you a few hours to complete, leaving you with a played-out game in perhaps a quarter of the time of the average GBA title.
The Sims 2 is a wonderful sequel to the first game, full of fun and addictive qualities. The versions you'll find for the consoles and PC are, at least. The Game Boy Advance version, however, is nothing more than a cheap cash-in ploy by EA and Maxis made to sucker in fans of the more intricate, more in-depth, more worthwhile PC and console series. You can do a game as in-depth as The Sims on a GBA – The Urbz: Sims in the City and The Sims: Bustin' Out proved that indirectly. Everything in the original concept is in one of those two games somehow, and it simply needs to be put together into a single package. The Sims 2, on the other hand, takes the game forward in an entirely wrong way and leaves it as little more than a cannibalized license. Sure, you might recognize a few things as being relatively Sims-like, but it's all spread over a boring, frustrating, stupid game like a thin veneer of candy over a swarm of bees.
If you want to play The Sims on the road, get the spin-off The Urbz, which does absolutely everything The Sims 2 does, only better. If you really, really must insist on playing a hackneyed set of non-intuitive missions set up like a reversal of The Joe Schmo Show, then at least get the Nintendo DS version of the game, which features such things as more mini-games and graphics which won't cause headaches. Avoid the GBA version of this game at all costs – those $30 could be used for so many better things.
More articles about The Sims 2