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PC Review - 'The Sims Makin' Magic'

by Ben Zackheim on Jan. 30, 2004 @ 2:27 a.m. PST

Brace Yourselves! The Sims are Makin' Magic! In this expansion pack finale for The Sims original series, your Sims can cast magic spells to improve their love life, wreak havoc on visiting neighbors, or put an end to their tedious chores. An all-new magical carnival-themed destination, exciting new gameplay, and a whole new cast of quirky characters await you in this powerful pack of magical high jinx.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Maxis
Release Date: October 21, 2003

The Sims started as a "dollhouse" game. The idea came from creator Will Wright's experience with the 1991 Oakland fires. Wright's house burned down and he had to rebuild from scratch. Even in the face of personal disaster he found himself analyzing how he and his wife went about creating a new household. It might not have been very fun but it was fascinating to Wright.

Eventually he spotted a game in the experience. He had already started the Sim City series so he had some clout in the business. If he could make a fun game where you controlled a SimCity, then he wanted to take the next step and create a game that would make controlling one household just as entertaining. But Wright found himself struggling against people, even peers, who could not see his vision. With ten years of respect in the game industry and millions of copies of his products sold, people still doubted the idea. After all, it's one thing to have thousands of options while minding a town but how fun could it be for you to manage meals, throw parties and get a good night's sleep. "Internally, The Sims was a huge struggle getting it released, much more than SimCity,'" Wright told David Becker of CNN. "We had an official product-selection committee, and I gave my spiel to the committee, and they actually rejected it; they thought we could not do it. At which point I kind of took the whole thing underground. It became my black box project."

And it's a good thing. Wright's The Sims asked the fascinating questions…If you had to start over how would you build your life? What are your priorities? If you have any regrets then how do you address them? As Wright rebuilt his life from scratch he noticed that the process was a window into who he is. As it turns out micromanaging a life into shape is addictive as hell. After you play The Sims for awhile you realize how dead-on the designers are about human nature. We see the mechanics of pettiness, bravery, jealousy, even love. It's those moments that make the game so addictive.

And now, after several expansion packs, comes the final addition to the original game (before the much anticipated The Sims 2 arrives later this year). The Sims Makin Magic lets you dip into the dark arts. New magical items are at your disposal, letting you add a little spice to the daily grind. In a typical Sims way, Makin Magic is both fun to play and a deep study of what makes us tick.

Makin Magic borrows from tried and true clich├ęs from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. A mysterious fellow shows up and offers you some basic ingredients to get started - toadstools, butter and toad sweat. Mix them all together and you get the Toadification Spell; the first of many spells available in the game. Be careful when and where you do your spells, though. Just as in the Potter books, if you show your talents in front of a non-magical Sim, you'll get a visit from the Spellchecker and could get a fine. Also, there are repercussions for every spell you cast. If you don't watch it you can have a bunch of snakes slithering around the bathroom or lightning strikes in your kitchen.

As expected, there are many spells and charms to learn in the game. Love spells make someone fall in love with you. Transmogrifying spells turn the lawn gnome into a gardener. Cleaning spells make the skeletons in your closet do the cleaning for you. You can hatch dragons to eat your refuse and your pests. You also have a slew of new kitchen tools that let you churn out the victuals. Spells require the Sims Spellbound Wand Charger by MagiCo (and a wand), while charms require the EverAfter Crafter. Remember any spell or charm you use can interact with the environment around it in unpredictable ways. So be careful. Or don't. It's more fun when you aren't.

As with other Sims expansions you get a little spot to visit where you can put your newfound talents to good use. Magic Town is where you'll cavort, trade and learn from fairies, magicians, wizards and other oddballs. You get there by either jumping in a magic hole or by flying in a balloon. There are a lot of weird characters walking around Magic Town so keep your guard up. Many are nice but some don't want to be seen with you and others are just plain nasty.

Magic Town is a brand new neighborhood that offers many ways to learn your craft but it also gives you a bunch of tools to keep your Sim happy. You can have some fun on the rides in Coldwind Meadow or shop at the wizard's mall of choice, Serra Glenn. And, as usual, you can just make new friends.

But the fun's in the spells! One of the most entertaining ways to build your bank account and perfect your talents in Makin Magic is by performing your magic in front of a crowd. You can show off tricks like Mummy's Tomb where you revive a mummy (make sure you have enough experience or the thing could turn on you). You can also do some of the old tried and true tricks like make your assistant levitate and pull a rabbit out of your hat. Each trick that you perform successfully gives you Magicoins and each one you blunder gets the jeers of the crowd.

Besides finding, earning or buying money and ingredients for your spells and charms you're given the option to go on miniquests. Speaking with magic vendors will yield quests like Toadstool Challenge, where you must touch as many toadstools as you can in a given time. The Sleeping Cloud quest pits you against a cloud of sleep as it tries to make victims of nearby Sims. You also have standard RPG quests like Delivery Mission and Find the Item. The quests could have been more sophisticated but they do add to the gameplay and there are enough of them to keep you busy.

As you get better at casting spells and charms you get some funky stuff popping up around your house. Some of it's just for show but some, like crystals, can be used to learn new abilities. The general feel of your house changes as you get better. It's a cool effect. Of course if the neighbors start to get suspicious you can always move to Magic Town. There are a few houses for you to choose from in case you want to stay with your brethren forever and ever. Or you can stay in your old home and be the most popular host in the hood. Nothing like some tricks to keep the party-goers coming back for more.

But out of all the little side tasks in Makin Magic, I enjoyed the duels the most. You can go up against an NPC in a minigame where you test your magical skills in a pinch. You get four spells in your queue at the start that are represented by colors. The NPC goes first in the four-round fight. He'll throw a color at you and you need to throw back one of the two colors that beats his color. When you win a round you get to watch your opponent get blasted with ice or fire. Nice touch. Every round you win yields more coins.

There's nothing too special on the graphics front. None of the expansion packs are designed to revolutionize the game. There are some nifty spell effects that add a brand new palette to the game. And the colors and objects in Magic Town are certainly a welcome and bizarre addition to Sims lore. The music for the game is a little disturbing (though well-done). Circus tunes and carnival refrains string themselves through the game.

The expansion packs have been a successful venture for Maxis in a number of ways, adding depth to the gameplay and giving the designers some fresh chances to show us human nature, Sims-style. I have to say that I think this pack blends with the original game the best. It feels like a good fit. The addition of spells is just what the franchise ordered. It's a fitting tribute to the simulated reality that The Sims has become famous for -- and a great way for the original game to bow out. Enter The Sims 2.


Score : 8.6/10

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