Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 18, 2007
Almost a decade ago, the PC gaming world was swept away by Will Wright's The Sims. This quirky little game, in which the player controlled every aspect of a virtual character's life, quickly caught on around the world, and it wasn't long before gamers of all stripes were feeding, bathing and romancing Sims in a second life that let them live out all their inner fantasies. The Sims spawned numerous sequels and expansions, each of them adding new little wrinkles to the Sims' world. While the game was a hit among the PC crowd, there was always a question of how to bring the experience to the console market. How do you condense a completely free-roaming game with no real set goals or endpoints in a constantly evolving world onto a console game disc? EA has tried to strip down the experience and bring it to the Wii in My Sims, but the game merely shows why there's nothing quite like the original.
My Sims is set in a crumbling, dilapidated town that was once a vibrant and thriving community. Once long ago, there was a man who had the power to harvest "Essences" and build whatever the townsfolk dreamed of. He built up a beautiful city, but disappeared soon thereafter. Ever since he's been gone, the town has fallen into disrepair, and most of the residents have left. However, there is hope, as your character has arrived with the power of the Essences, and the mayor has a plan to lure back all of those residents who have gone off to live in other cities — as well as attract a few new friends along the way.
The gameplay of My Sims is exceptionally simple. Actually, it's nowhere near complex enough to bill itself as a true Sims title. When you first arrive in the town, the mayor will lead you to a plot of land and walk you through how to build a house. Basically, you grab some premade blocks, shuffle them around, add windows and doors and voilà, you've got yourself a love shack. Once that's done, you'll build a workshop in a similar manner, and this is where the majority of your work takes place.
You see, your one and only objective is to build things for the Sims who move into your town. Some requests are simple, like chairs and tables; others are more complex, like stereos and arcade games. When you chat with other Sims, they'll jabber on in Simlish about what items they need, and then give you blueprints that show you how to build them. You then return to your workshop and set to work. Successfully finishing projects and giving new items to the ever-needy townsfolk increases your town's star ranking, and the point of the game is to restore your town to its former five-star glory. As you progress, new Sims will show up at the town hotel looking for a place to live, and you set off to build their houses and other things that they need and want.
Whenever a neighbor gives you a set of blueprints for a task, My Sims provides you with a number of preset building blocks, and you simply point and click the Wiimote to grab the pieces and put them in place. This simple interface allows you to let your imagination run wild, and create pretty much whatever you want when it comes to furniture. So long as you fulfill the vital points of the blueprint, the game doesn't care if your table has five legs or if your stereo has eight speakers; you can do whatever you want. In fact, not soon after you start, the game will force you to think outside the box in order to be successful. The reason for this is that in addition to building the furniture, each item must also contain a certain number and type of Essences before it's considered complete. Essences are applied to furniture as a sort of paint, and they are what give your creation its style.
Actually, the Essences are meant to be the title's big gimmick, but unfortunately collecting them turns out to be a monotonous, time-consuming chore. All Essences must be prospected, whether that means digging them up from underground, shaking them out of trees, fishing, or talking with certain Sims. While it is a cute experience at first, it gets incredibly boring after about 10 minutes. Further compounding the issue is the fact that all Essences are confined to very specific locations, so if you need a particular ingredient to finish a task, you'll likely end up trudging all the way across the map in order to find it. Unless you like to spend hours upon hours walking in circles digging up stone and crayons, you'll become quickly frustrated by all the busy work.
Further compounding the dull gameplay is the fact that you may build furniture and prospect for Essences, but there are really no other significant interactions. In previous Sims games, you were tasked with maintaining a complex social and personal life by providing for every aspect of your Sim's welfare. This game has no such depth, as your Sim never needs to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. You can simply spend all day and night building items for the townsfolk and suffer no ill consequences, and you rarely ever need to interact with anyone outside of getting blueprints. Thus, the game becomes a one-trick pony, and the one trick isn't anywhere near interesting enough to keep you coming back for more.
The game's graphics are also rather "unSimly," as the characters roaming the town look as if they'd be more comfortable in the latest Animal Crossing title. All of the characters are short, with large square heads and severely blocky bodies. They're cute, and creating your character is quite fun, but it's just very different from what series veterans have come to expect. The game is also frustrated by a too-closely following camera, and its constant insistence to sit at a three-quarter view five feet over your shoulder makes it difficult to see where you're going. There's a limited ability to move the camera using the control pad, but it never really seems to situate where it does any good.
While the Wii has recently gone a long way in showing that it has some graphical capability, My Sims isn't going to convince anyone. The characters and animations are rudimentary, and even with things so simple, there are still a lot of frame rate problems. One top of that, every time you enter or leave a building, you're forced to sit through a long loading screen, an issue I thought we go rid of around the time of the original PlayStation. Sadly, this is one of the more graphically weak games I've seen in the current console generation.
The music and sound also aren't likely to win any awards, as they don't really do much to warrant your attention. The music is appropriate, bringing in a lively Italian tune as you wander by the pizza parlor, or a funky techno beat as you pass the dance club, but it all sounds very dated. Most of the music is reminiscent of what one would hear in an old Nintendo 64 title, and while listening to characters speak in Simlish is still somewhat endearing, there's really nothing to be gained from trying to follow the conversations. Much like the rest of the game, it seems like the musical efforts are half-hearted at best.
The control scheme works very well, and the point-and-click interface of building furniture is quite well-implemented. It's easy to grab a piece, rotate it around until it's just right, and pop it into place without any headaches. The only time the building controls get a bit wonky is when you try and place an extra piece on your creation for the sake of aesthetics. Occasionally, it's difficult to line up the pieces just right, but with a little patience and practice, you should be able to create whatever you see in your mind's eye.
It's unfortunate that My Sims is the first console-exclusive Sims title because it's not going to win any new fans to the franchise. With an overly simple, boring, repetitive game, newcomers are going to question what all the fuss is about. While I think the building and prospecting aspects of the title could have been interesting components for a larger Sims game, there's just not enough here to consider it a fully realized title. Those who are already fans of the series would do well to stick with all of the expansions that are already on the market, but anyone curious about getting into the simulation genre should definitely look elsewhere.
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