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The Sims 2

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts


NDS Review - 'The Sims 2'

by Hugh McHarg on Jan. 23, 2006 @ 12:21 a.m. PST

In The Sims 2, you direct your Sims over a lifetime and mix their genes from one generation to the next.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Release Date: October 24, 2005

Buy 'THE SIMS 2':
Xbox | GameCube | NDS | GBA | PC | PlayStation 2 | PSP

One Life to Live

No one – not quite yet, anyway – expects a simulation game to actually simulate a life in any strict sense. What you really hope for is a game world rich enough with tasks, choices and purpose to let you engage with your Sim in an entertaining way, no matter how mundane the activities that occupy most of its time and yours. Otherwise, your Sim lives a joyless life, and you quickly grow bored helping him or her live it.

Despite the extra challenge of recreating human existence on two tiny screens, the Nintendo DS version of The Sims 2 succeeds modestly, populating its small world with just enough characters and diverse-enough goals to make your Sim feel like more than the sum of its animated parts. It achieves much of that success – for better or worse, depending on how much of a purist you might be – by embracing a trend toward narrative at the expense of simulation. If that's not an issue for you, and if you can overlook the visuals and awkwardly controlling touch-screen mini-games, the DS makes a fair home for your portable Sim.

Story elements take hold almost immediately upon your arrival in Strangetown, as you're installed as the manager of the desert burg's only hotel. If the nuclear-fuel-consuming furnace doesn't alert you to the odd goings-on around every corner, mobsters, robots and aliens arrive to put a finer point on Strangetown's strangeness. When metallic goons and off-worlders aren't complicating your life, you've got the main business of satisfying demanding guests, improving your hotel, romancing amorous Strangetownians and fulfilling the goals of the tyrants occupying your penthouse to keep you busy.

The goal system lends your Sim's life much of its direction, handing out story-driving tasks from the penthouse while other hotel guests constantly make petty demands for fancy, cream-colored toilets and a more conscientious approach to keeping your hotel tidy. From goth cow worshipper Ava Cadavra to meatbag-hating mechanical janitor Optimum Alfred, the penthouse-dwellers ratchet up the story's nutty factor with goals involving mystical Prime Heifers and revivified mummies. As circumstances grow increasingly difficult to manage, a careful hotel-improvement choice lets you assume the role of a Strangetown superhero (revealing what kind of superhero gives away which room you need to build) under whose guise you can more easily prevent ne'er-do-wells from overrunning your town. Once all this kicks in, though, it's the story – not micromanagement of your Sim's life – that delivers most of the fun.

You also spend much time dealing with your guests' emotional neediness in addition to their requests for food and luxury bedding. Overhead icons reveal their states-of-mind as you approach. You can ignore their despair or flirtatiousness if you like, but the happier they are, the less likely they are to storm off without paying their bills. When you do choose to get involved, you play a somewhat awkward but engaging mini-game that makes you respond appropriately to their hysterical hand-waving, high-fiving, grasping for a hug and other such gestures. Tap the right response on the DS' touch screen, and they'll react favorably and, little by little, come around to your way of thinking. Respond too slowly or inappropriately too many times, and they'll stomp off in a huff. When you successfully work your charms, on the other hand, happy guests often reward you with an extra fuel rod or a handful of Simoleons.

Tending to your own Sim's well-being feels more mechanical. Were The Sims 2 not so story-driven, taking showers and naps may not feel like as much of a nuisance, but as it is, having to use the bathroom to replenish your sanity meter becomes just another simple-minded obstacle between your Sim and the next interesting plot point. If you go too long without meeting your Sim's basic needs, you risk a nervous breakdown that takes you out of the action for a bit. So it's best to get some food or take some soap to your smelly Sim as soon as its body language and the overhead icons let you know it's time.

Sometimes you get to be the heavy, too, so don't think The Sims 2 is all about whiny townsfolk and their talkshow moments. Thick-necked human and supernatural goons land in Strangetown from time to time, scaring its residents who in turn look to you for salvation. At first seeming like a welcome diversion, these interludes activate various modes of touch screen combat that make up the game's most frustrating aspect. Strangetown's aliens, see, have made the excellent choice – a la Signs – of coming to a planet with abundant water, even though it's quite deadly to them when sprayed from your water gun. When you're lucky enough to land a few drops, they go down easily. The touch screen interface feels so jumbled and arbitrarily assembled – with a pump to build up pressure, a targeting selector, and the fire button placed haphazardly across the screen – that it is indeed luck rather than skill that most frequently vanquishes the enemies that threaten the denizens of Strangetown.

Plenty other mini-games await around Strangetown, including basic arcade games worth only a brief glimpse to an alien autopsy that lets you harvest alien organs for cash as long as you can keep parasites from devouring the extraterrestrial flesh. While the mini-games certainly aren't reason enough in themselves to vacation in Strangetown, they are decent once-in-a-while pick-me-ups when being caught between the evil designs of the Prime Heifer and Horus Menhoset IX gets you down on your Sim's lot in life.

When the necessity of earning your keep forces you to stop playing stripped-down Space Invaders knockoffs, Strangetown offers plenty of ways to make Simoleons you can use to build rooms, buy koi ponds and quest items demanded by whoever happens to be running the show from the penthouse. You can use your metal detector to scour the desert for metal bars of varying preciousness and spaceship parts to sell back in town. Guests pay to stay in your hotel, of course, but you can squeeze cash out of them by painting your own masterpieces in the hotel art gallery. Guests buy them for reasons of their own, sometimes because they think you're a genius, other times because you've painted filth that their moral code requires them to buy and destroy. Gambling in the form of slot machines, Keelhaulin' Cards and scratch-off lottery tickets offers a chance at something-for-nothing if your Sim's work ethic is lacking, and you can compete wirelessly to slightly broaden the scope of your Sim's world beyond the confines of your own DS.

Your Sim's life proceeds according to real time as measured by your DS' internal clock. That means that when you go to Town Hall for a permit to build your hotel's Asian Emporium and the clerk tells you it's going to take handyman Tristan Legend eight hours to build it, you've got some real-world time to kill before you find out what you can do in your hotel's new addition. You can tinker with the clock to try to get around the harshness of time, but don't be shocked when your concierge deems you a time-traveling cheat and you find yourself having to repel a full-scale alien invasion to atone for your temporal hijinx.

The visuals of The Sims 2 push the limits of your tolerance for blocky, pixelated environments more than the graphical limits of the DS. A shimmering heat effect glosses up the daytime desert, but that's one of only a few graphical flourishes that adorn the flat, detail-deprived desert town. The Sims themselves fare better, with thoroughly differentiating facial features that complement the broad comic writing that defines their personalities. The animations don't impress with smoothness, but they are stylized in unique ways that make it entertaining to watch Tank Grunt gesture wildly and Misty Waters slink around. The ability to create your own music and play it in several spots around town helps maintain interest in the audio presentation, and while Strangetown rarely feels ready to burst with interesting characters, enough of them roam the streets and haunt your hotel's hallways to consistently fill your headphones with Sim chatter.

Free Will Is an Illusion Anyway

Despite feeling – and looking – somewhat limited in scope and ambition on the Nintendo DS, The Sims 2 offers a reasonable measure of fun if you're willing to forego the pleasures of simulation for a more narrative-oriented experience. The pleasure of discovery here is not of the “What can I do?” variety, but rather the “What happens next?” sort. Depending on what draws you to the Sims universe in first place – actually performing simple acts and reaping the simple pleasures of a simulated life, or engaging in the fantastical whimsy of a cartoon-world story – The Sims 2 might be worth a few hours' investment to find out what's going down in Strangetown.

Score: 7.4/10

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