Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Release Date: October 28, 2008
PC gamers are no strangers to The Sims, the funny little fellas who live inside your PC and go about their daily business under your voyeuristic supervision. Console gamers, on the other hand, have always experienced watered-down Sims experiences, and it's no wonder sofa players have been left wondering what all the fuss was about. That changed with the release of MySims on Wii, which was a happy middle ground that tried to combine Animal Crossing with The Sims and succeeded. Now the same game has landed on the PC with added multiplayer, but how does it compare to its aging relative, The Sims 2, with The Sims 3 just around the corner?
The first thing to be aware of is that MySims isn't a direct competitor. It's been squarely aimed at the children's market, in much the same way as Animal Crossing, but without any of the subtleties, depth or surprises that made a man of my age addicted to the latter for a while. It's bright and colorful, and a perfect Sims "lite," if you think that The Sims could be a little too complicated for your little one or if you're the type of prude who doesn't want your tykes seeing heavily pixelated nudity. A typical stint on The Sims could contain more over-the-top drama than a soap opera, but MySims avoids that entirely, which should already put off a fair number of those who got to this stage of the review.
You know, that's probably a good thing. The linear story line, simplistic interactions and (if you're anything like me) complete absence of opportunities to sow seeds of misery will alienate those players quickly. With that said, if you treat it in the spirit it's taken — a living sim aimed at the younger player — there's a lot of entertainment here, and it's definitely what you'd call a gateway drug into other members of The Sims family.
Yes, that's right, I said "linear story." This immediately sets apart MySims from the original Sims games (excluding the "life stories" spin-offs) and makes it an entirely different proposition. In MySims, the town you're set to make your home is in disarray; it's completely run-down and in a bad state of disrepair. You're a legendary builder, and it's up to you to restore the town to its former glory by taking care of the plants, building houses and even constructing furniture for the not-grateful-enough citizens of the fair town.
That right there is pretty much the gameplay. You construct a house and workshop for yourself, and then you go around asking everyone what they want and need. They'll give you instructions — they want a bed, for example, or a freezer for their shop — and you make it for them. You complete the mission, you get a new blueprint to make furniture for yourself or someone else, and your town's popularity will increase a little, thus encouraging new Sims to make your 'hood their home. It's simple but surprisingly addictive even for a grizzled hardcore gamer like myself, so I can only imagine what kind of gaming crack this would be for the little ones. There are certain aspects of each blueprint that you have to include to make the requested product, but there is room for some creativity by changing or adding bits. The game actually insists on this creativity by making the Sims require you to use different essences, which are kinds of paint that you collect by interacting with people and things around the town. They may require you to color five pieces in "bacon essence" (curiously found from digging in the ground, which doesn't sound hygienic) on a structure with only three blocks involved, forcing the player to add extra bits onto the construction and play with the available bricks.
Despite this limiting-sounding approach to gameplay (get task, find essences, do task, get task), it's very easy to lose several hours at a time to MySims, mainly because of the flexible and easy-to-use construction options. The designers have done very well in this respect, with a good balance between flexibility and ease of use, allowing the player to make all kinds of weird and wonderful items by using the hundreds of available block designs. If your children (or you, own up!) like LEGO, there's a real sense of wonderment in continuing to come up with stylish furniture to decorate your Sim's house. In that respect, it really beats The Sims 2, where you were limited by the catalogue of furniture provided by the game.
The only downside to this is that some of the PC controls may be a little difficult for tiny hands to master. MySims on the Wii had very chunky tactile controls, and the move to keyboard and mouse loses something in the translation. For example, you'll be using both the mouse and the arrow keys to rotate and move building blocks around, which is fine for you and me but is perhaps a little too much for children. Similarly, some of the subtleties require a degree of hand-eye coordination, which could prove frustrating to first-time gamers. In other ways, of course, the PC version is hugely superior: The horrible load times are greatly reduced (though not eliminated), and the visuals are far better with support for higher resolutions and generally more impressive graphical touches.
The presentation is as polished as you would expect from an EA product. The characters have a delightful chunky cartoon style about them that clearly shows their personalities, and the backdrops are generally a pleasure to look at. The music and sound could have been ripped straight from The Sims, with the typical hummable easy listening backed up with the "Simlish" gobbledygook language spoken by the townspeople. There's been a slight improvement here with a greater variety of accents for the different townspeople, even if this leads to some predictable stereotyping (the mustachioed Italian pizza chef, the geeky games arcade owner, etc.). Despite this, the whole community lives in an almost creepy harmony, and there's none of the petty neighborhood feuds to fuel, as there were in the grown-up versions of the game - the most vindictive thing you can do is move someone's bathtub into their living room.
Of course, with the inclusion of multiplayer, the pleasantness of the villagers could be offset by the unpleasantness of your friends on EA's online playground for the game, if you really wanted. Once you've registered your CD key to make the game officially tied to your account, you can travel to a shared multiplayer garden space and hang out with your friends in a miniature social network. There you can play games, share items and chat with up to seven others. It's a nice touch and a big improvement on the Wii's single-player-only system. It's just a shame that they couldn't have combined the two communities somehow. As it is, it's a fun diversion if you have friends with the game, but you can largely take it or leave it. If they'd made it truly cooperative, allowing you to work together on building up a shared town, then it would be something worth shouting about.
That's basically what most people above the age of 12 will say about MySims: It's OK but hardly worth raising your voice over. For a child, though, as a gateway drug to the wonderful world of gaming, it's pretty hard to fault: It looks nice, it's charming and it's got solid gameplay dynamics behind it. Adults can stick to waiting for The Sims 3, but for kids, MySims is definitely worth a bet, even if you may be better suited to the more child-friendly Wii console.
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