Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: October 23, 2007
The Sims gaming franchise is a perfect example of the growing trend of game producers releasing titles across multiple platforms. The Sims 2: Castaway was released on five different platforms: DS, PC, PS2, PSP and Wii. Unfortunately, the disadvantage to this marketing strategy is that with the numerous differences in hardware and design, game quality and features varied significantly between releases. The focus of this particular review is the Wii version, and we'll see if the design of The Sims 2: Castaway holds up well in this incarnation.
Regardless of the platform, The Sims 2: Castaway is a single-player game only. You find yourself shipwrecked on an island after you and a selected number of friends have gone out for a relaxing day of sailing. Of course, your primary objective is to find a way of being rescued, but before you can get help, you must first find a way of helping yourself. You will accomplish a series of goals to further your progress, including building elaborate shelters and even a raft, so that you can explore other local islands. Castaway is fairly intuitive to play, but be prepared for some repetitive resource collecting until you can find additional help. There is an in-game tutorial to help get players up to speed.
Having also played Castaway on the PSP, I can say that the Wii version looks pretty good. Small items, such as coconuts and plants, are much easier to identify and locate in this release of the game — presumably because I'm not looking at a four-inch screen. Color styles are vibrant, and animations are entertaining while also demonstrating the power of body language to communicate a wide range of moods. Controlling your Sim is also much better here, as you use the Nunchuk to move your Sim and to select objects in the game while your control stick is used to access menus and adjust your camera view. Although using two controls takes a bit of getting used to, you quickly find it a much preferred means of navigating through the game. One of the more unique features of the Sims is noticeably present here, with the characters regularly sounding off in their nonsensical "Simlish" language that is both cute and annoying at the same time. The soundtrack is very upbeat and "tropical," so even though you're stuck on an island, you will be wandering around with rhythm.
The first task you will have to perform is the creation of your Sim. Castaway has a fairly detailed Sim editor, which allows you to customize each of your Sim's appearances, personalities and even occupations. Occupational choices range from artist to doctor and have a direct effect on the skill levels with which your Sim will start at the beginning of the game. Skills play an important role by helping your Sim with building and accomplishing other game tasks. Skill areas include: body, charisma, cooking, creativity, logic (puzzle-solving) and mechanical (building).
As with most other Sims games, you will be required to maintain your character's wants and needs while assuring his or her overall well-being. You monitor and react to eight different "motives," including bladder, comfort, energy, environment, fun, hunger, hygiene and social. Most of these are self-explanatory, but the environment motive is about making improvements to the Sim's environment so he or she feels more at home.
The game does a decent job of easing you into the care of your Sim. Not all of the motives are required to be satisfied at the outset; they are systematically unlocked as you progress. Although there can be a great deal of tedium, as you have to regularly attend to each of the motives, you will discover numerous methods of streamlining the process of filling each of the needs. For example, it is possible to train chimps found on the islands to help gather food and other resources. Learning to cook meals and adding various ingredients also helps manage the hunger motive much more efficiently than simply eating bananas and coconuts.
There are basically three jobs that need to be performed on a regular basis to be successful at playing Castaway: gathering fish and other food, collecting building resources, and cooking food. After finding additional castaways on the numerous islands, you can form tribes and you can assign specific jobs to others. This is highly desirable because it allows you to focus less on resource collection and more on completing goals. Islands are usually divided up into at least three or four regions, and you'll have to visit each of an island's regions multiple times to find the necessary resources to complete objectives and construct tools and objects.
Because Castaway (like all other Sims games) requires a significant amount of record-keeping, organization becomes important. Castaway does a fairly good job of keeping track of everything while you play, from the numerous building plans that you will either find or be awarded, to keeping inventory of all of your gathered food and resources. You can also access personal statistics for your Sim and move quickly between island regions through the use of the island map. Unfortunately, Castaway suffers from the same excessive loading issues that are apparently present in all of versions of the game, though they aren't as extensive in the Wii iteration.
Overall, Castaway is not an extremely challenging game. The most difficult part is keeping track of resources and goals as you progress through the story. A hidden benefit is that with its non-violent and relaxed gameplay, the game offers parents a nice alternative to the increasingly violent and mature titles that are being routinely released these days.
I found the gameplay in The Sims 2: Castaway to be quite entertaining and, to a point, addictive, especially after delegating a large amount of the repetitive resource gathering to island primates and other castaways. The game suffers from frequent loading, although the load times feel shorter in the Wii version. Keep in mind that the title is single-player only, although it still is well-suited for enjoyment by the entire family (I particularly enjoy becoming a castaway consultant for my kids while they play). Sims fans and fans who like a more relaxed style of gaming will certainly want to add this title to their collections.
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