Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Ever since The Sims skyrocketed to popularity, the sandbox simulation title has seen expansion after expansion and spin-off after spin-off. While not every title in such a large franchise can be solid gold, The Sims has proven that it's a franchise that's here to stay. The Sims 2: Apartment Pets tries to downplay any Sims-like interactions in favor of providing a Nintendogs experience. You can pause the game time to mess around with virtual puppies, cats, hamsters and just about anything vaguely pet-like.
Unfortunately, there's just not a whole lot of Sims magic left in this tired rehashing of a long-loved series. Everything has been streamlined and downgraded to make it function on the DS, but while the system is technically capable of running this watered-down game, it's clear from the first 20 minutes that The Sims 2 was just not meant for Nintendo's handheld console.
For one thing, the graphics are severely limited in their capabilities. It's immediately noticeable in a few areas: frame rate issues, the blocky and limited range of movement of your Sim, the severe lack of appearance options, and the dearth of apartment furniture selections. You can tell your DS is having a hard time when it starts running at half-speed because there are more than three objects on the screen. The game has a cluster bomb of issues that explodes about 10 minutes into the game, as soon as the "story" begins.
According to the introductory sequence, you've been left in charge of your irresponsible uncle's pet salon and apartment. The slob keeps in touch and gives "helpful" advice via e-mails that you can check on your PDA. (Why would they put a computer in the room if you can check your e-mail on a PDA?). For the rest of the game, it's your job to keep your uncle's business going so you can live at his place for as long as you can bring yourself to play the mind-numbing mini-games.
The focus of Apartment Pets is in the title, and I'm not talking about the "Apartment" part. I don't know what would possess someone to take care of a half-dozen pets in a one-bedroom apartment, but apparently your Sim is just crazy enough to do it. Fortunately, rather than spending hours of your day cleaning up doggie doo from the yard or vacuuming the fur in every corner of the house, your only responsibility is to keep the pets entertained. You can do this by buying them toys and dressing them up, and they'll occasionally express their desires via thought bubbles. At the outset, you may get an e-mail or two to let you know what you should be doing to satisfy them. Sometimes you'll just have to lay down a few Simoleans (the Sim currency) for a new article of doggie or kitty clothing, or you may have to groom them and play games with them.
The clothing options are fairly limited, and after just a few hours of gameplay, you'll find that the novelty of dressing up your virtual dog like a pimp starts to lose its charm. Unfortunately, the other interactive elements in Apartment Pets are even more boring than buying bows and hats.
A majority of the game is spent "curing" pet ailments, either in your apartment or down in the pet spa. The advantage of helping out animals in the spa is that you get paid for your efforts. When you're caring for the pets upstairs in the apartment, you're lucky if you get a slight rise in affection from the ungrateful animals. They may wag their tails and look happy as you're hosing them down or dousing them in perfume, but it's not really reflected anywhere but in the mini-game screen.
The act of grooming usually boils down to three things: brushing, washing and perfuming. That's because just about every cat and dog in the game is dirty, smelly and unkempt. I wish that were just slander against the game, but just about every "patient" that comes in has three problems that are fixed in the exact same way each time.
The grooming mini-games boil down to simple repeated motions or activities done against a timer. As soon as you figure out that you have to stroke very carefully along the arrows to brush your dog, or that you have to constantly press the L or R shoulder button to make perfume spray, you've conquered the biggest challenge in Apartment Pets. The timer is extremely generous, and the tasks are so simple that if you're failing, it's more likely a fault of the touch-screen than human error.
These mini-games will take up about 90 percent of the activities in the game, as there isn't much of anything for a Sim to do. There are in-game activities that you can tell your Sim to perform, but none of them have an incentive. The only real needs of a Sim in this game are bathroom breaks, sleep, food and social interaction, and all of these occur so slowly that you could probably go more than a week without satisfying any of them and still keep your Sim happy. The developers clearly couldn't bring themselves to detract from the obnoxious pet games more than absolutely necessary. They even make the noises so obnoxious that you'll dread not grooming a pet because you'll have to hear the same obnoxious whiny loops over and over again.
You'd think with such a narrow focus on pets, the developers would have gotten everything perfect in The Sims 2: Apartment Pets. Dogs move like dogs, and cats move like dogs. There are only about five different cats and dogs in the entire game, and they all react to everything the same way. You can even dig up the yard with your apartment's cat if you really feel like it. At least the other pets that you can play with react differently (you can't play fetch with them), but the interaction is limited to feeding and clothing them so you almost wish you could play fetch with your pet parrot. At least he'd have something to do. Ultimately, Apartment Pets fails at just about everything it tries to do. It's not The Sims, it's not Nintendogs, and it's not fun for anyone. Maybe it's time this franchise stuck to what it was good at, and left the pet simulation to every other developer on the DS.