Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: June 12, 2007
The Wii version of Sims 2 Pets is lagging behind all of the other versions by a good year or so, probably owing to the total overhaul the game required in order to be ported to the Wii hardware. Regardless, it's set to be the first Sims title for the Wii hardware and can expect a healthy fan following based on that alone. The Sims is the darling of the casual game set, and the Wii is perhaps the ultimate casual gaming platform. Sims 2 Pets, with a whopping five million copies sold, is perhaps the most popular Sims expansion and as good a place to start in bringing the franchise to the Wii as anywhere else.
The gimmick of Sims 2 Pets is that it lets you create any dog or cat you want, with a wide variety of possible breeds and personalities, and put that pet in a virtual world of your own design. You can give your pet a human family and a house to call its own, and opt either to indulge in an outrageous fantasy or recreate your own life down to the finest detail. The diminished power of the Wii hardware, as compared to the original PC platform of Sims 2 Pets, doesn't seem to have damaged the basic gameplay any. The interface has been fully retooled to take advantage of the Wiimote and Nunchuk, and EA has used some clever tricks to compromise the graphics as little as possible. The meat of the game, the AI and customization options, don't appear to be significantly diminished from other versions of the title. The graphics, of course, don't stack up to the original PC version, but that shouldn't even be expected.
Instead, what's impressive is how attractively the game incarnates the original Sims aesthetic using the Wii's diminished power. Pet and character models are clearly diminished in poly count, but the textures are crisp and detailed, giving the illusion of greater fidelity. There are wide ranges of clothing and accessories you can use to customize both pets and humans. The human Sims move no less naturally than they do in the original titles, and the movements of the cats and dogs are wonderfully evocative. Any pet lover who went into this title with a critical eye would find the pet behaviors about as authentic as this style of game could hope to evoke. Animations aren't "generic"; different breeds have slight touches of individuality to their motions. Big dogs are more likely to restrain themselves to keep from hitting humans or furniture, while smaller dogs are extremely energetic and have little grasp of damage they could do. Cats are simply, well, cats: endlessly curious, climbing over everything that holds their weight, and affectionate but nearly impossible to train.
Sims 2 Pets contains all of the features of your average Sims game in addition to the pet-centered material, in the interest of letting you customize the world your pet is going to inhabit. You can customize your Sim humans down to the finest detail, as well as their houses. Your Sims can get jobs, have their own wants and needs you must satisfy, and start up families of their own. Some of your Sim's needs, such as affection, can be satisfied with the presence of a friendly pet. A Sim that wants responsibility might be happy training pets, and one wanting a job might work in a pet store. Of course, your Sim may also have pursuits wholly unrelated to their pet, instead coming home to them at the end of a long day.
The "point" of Sims 2 Pets is simply to play a creativity game with your pets and the world around them, making exactly what you want. If all of the time and effort this demands intimidate you, then you can play with one of the preset "stories" that Maxis included in the game. These stories feature pre-made pets, humans, and houses, and can help give you an idea of what is possible if option blur makes it hard for you to enjoy the more freeform, sandbox-like portion of the game. In these stories, you focus purely on the secondary goal of making sure you keep all of your various Sim humans and pets as happy as possible by satisfying their wants and needs. So it's important to maintain relationships between pets and humans, and between various humans, while also making sure pets or other important fulfillment factors never go neglected. The trick is that you can only give orders directly to human Sims, while pets are always purely reactive. You can only train a pet for, say, a career as a performing animal or even just for house living, if you can do so through the actions of one of your Sims. Weirdly, this means that it is possible to play the game in sandbox mode without any pets at all. Instead you can just opt to play it as a traditional game of The Sims, focusing on developing your human families. It's a game of micromanagement that is tedious to the wrong sort of gamer, and amazingly addictive to the sort of person inclined to enjoy it.
Whether playing in sandbox mode or in one of the "stories," the goal of the game is largely just to increase your options as you maintain your humans and their pets in a state of happiness. This means unlocking "milestone" achievements by doing certain things, and making it possible to purchase new and better items like house furnishings and goods for your pets. Players who intend to be spending a lot of time with Sims 2 Pets will probably want to invest in the game's breeding system. This lets any player take two pets and, following a certain series of in-game steps, breed them to create a new, unique animal based on the traits of its parents. As you develop your pets, you need to make them happy by teaching tricks and letting them reach their own milestones. Some pets may even want their own careers. Your game takes place in a community that actively changes and grows as you reach new milestones with both your human and pet Sims, so it's to your advantage to do exactly what your pets and humans seem to be interested in.
This being said, don't mistake Sims 2 Pets for a perfect port. Its developers freely admit that content has been cut from the Wii version, although they are not eager to talk about exactly what's gone. Instead the developers prefer to emphasize the new interface developed for Sims 2 Pets, designed to optimize convenience for players using the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Still, a study of the original Sims 2 Pets interface reveals that the option to own birds and "womrats" appears to be missing, as does the bizarre option to become a werecreature. Wild animals and their ability to wander onto your property also appears to be gone. Whether or not pets and Sims age in this title is still up in the air. What's been added are a slew of interface options that, frankly, would've been interesting in the PC version. Foremost among them is the "blueprint" option when in the game's build mode, used when setting up houses and other architecture. In blueprint mode, you use the Wiimote as a sort of pencil and draw out the desired floor plan for your house onto a grid. Then you can use the pointer to apply floors, set up wall locations, and even apply paint. The interface looks and feels incredibly natural, and seems to set Sims 2 Pets for the Wii far above the other console ports of the title.
It's hard to imagine that anyone interested in Sims 2 Pets hasn't already played it to death on some other platform, but the Wii has reached out to new and casual gamers so successfully that a new version of Sims 2 Pets actually has a shot at finding an audience there. It appears to be a solid title, with attractive graphics and the core Sims gameplay features. With the retooled interface, the Wii version of Sims 2 Pets stands to be a title that can help amuse game-starved Wii owners for the six months or so it'll be before the hardware sees its exclusive Sims title, My Sims. For a Sims fantastic, that's a long time to wait without something new to play, and the new interface options are enough to make Sims 2 Pets feel a little new, even if we all know it really isn't.
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