In 2007, Electronic Arts released a unique spin-off of its Sims franchise for Wii. MySims, with its colorful, stylized presentation and simplified play mechanics, provided a great foundation for sequels to come, but proved a little too shallow with its treatment of trademark Sims AI and options, as well as light on polish, to really wow us. Missing from last year's iteration were advanced Sims character interactions, a bigger, open world to explore, a robust online component, more Wii control options and less technical decencies with regard to its framerate and load times, both sluggish. That we still scored the game a 7.0 rating is testament to the quality of its core controls and challenges, most of which were fun despite any surrounding issues.
This year, the series returns to Wii with MySims Kingdom, a title that sparkles when compared to its predecessor. Kingdom dons some smart new control and presentational advancements, not to mention enhanced visuals, a refined framerate, dramatically increased load times, and a new, focused storyline complete with varied world themes. By nearly every measure, Kingdom is a better undertaking than the original, yet it's also a game that has stepped even farther away from the Sims franchise to which it owes its existence. The title unfolds in surprisingly linear fashion, its character interactions still shallow, a mere doorway to the collection of play-driving essences.
Kingdom again features a simple character creator in which you intuitively point the Wii remote at various facial and body features to trigger new and different texture sets -- whole faces, hairstyles, shirts and pants. It's not daunting in the least, clearly designed to be as easy to use as possible for a wide variety of gamers. Of course, as is usually the case, mechanics designed to be so user friendly often arrive at the expense of depth and the character creator in Kingdom is no different, as you will quickly learn that you cannot modify individual facial features or accessories. Absolutely a misstep for a game whose main character -- you -- is so personal and important. So if your goal is to design a Sim that looks anything like you do, better cross those fingers. The developer has again stubbornly sidestepped the possibility of Mii implementation, or Sims based on Miis, which is unfortunate.
Watch MySims Kingdom in Motion.
I think the EA made the right choice in its decision to create a more focused storyline. The kingdom theme works well, offering the perfect setup to explore the various regions that comprise the world. The cinematics, all of them in-game, adequately tell the story with lots of character-based humor. King Roland is seeking a new Wandolier to journey from area to area in order to lend a helping hand and restore order and prosperity to his kingdom. As a Wandolier, gifted with a magical scepter, you uniquely possess the powers to use essences to jump hurdles, most of which revolve around building and painting. The Wandolier mechanic suitably explains exactly why you're able to roam about the world and constantly construct buildings and objects.
There are all sorts of sickeningly sweet characters to interact with, including, most notably, your two closest friends Buddy and Lyndsay, who are usually at your side during your quest. The presentation of the Sims falls directly in line with other Sims titles, except, of course, for the more cuddly, deformed look they take on. While there are happy, sad, angry, good and bad Sims to be found at every turn, their behaviors have little impact on the way you advance through the title, another shortcoming. You can choose to be mean or nice when socializing, but in my experience there's really no benefit to the former save for the fact that you receive a certain type of essence as a result. If you try to coax an item from a Sim, you will usually only have luck if you are being nice to them and not the other way around. Furthermore, the game doesn't consider any of your previous actions so if you have been kicking someone in the shins and punching them in the gut for fie minutes straight, all you need do is give them a quick hug and you'll be the best of friends once more. Compared to the more advanced AI systems in other Sims games, Kingdom doesn't comes up way short and as a result I oftentimes feel this title has more in common with Animal Crossing than it does its predecessors.
There are a host of major improvements, though, so if you liked the first tile I think you will enjoy Kingdom even more. First up are the newly themed areas, which add much-needed variety to the exploration process. Whether you're traveling through the main Capital Island or traversing the seas to western or future-themed islands, you will be pleased by the change in scenery and the new challenges that await. The downside to this is, of course, the more linear way in which the islands open up and the story advances. In Kingdom, you are usually on a series of assignments that lead to the next major twist and the game holds your hand through the process, telling you what to do and refusing to let you piece the puzzles together yourself.
The framerate is noticeably improved, even as the graphics look cleaner, characters more refined, backdrops larger and more interactive. Meanwhile, load times -- a real flow-breaking issue with the first title -- are all but gone. The first time I walked from the outside world into a house without a second's delay, I couldn't believe it, especially since long pauses were previously so prevalent. Meanwhile, the developer has implemented the Wii remote more satisfyingly when possible. When prospecting for gold or chopping wood, for example, you will now swing the peripheral, which feels good. You can also jump now, a minor, but welcomed control adjustment.
Easily the biggest advancements, though, relate to the speedier delivery of the construction mode and the new tools and mechanics available to you, the Wandolier. In the original MySims, you had to journey back to your shop to build items. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Now, you can trigger the construction mode on the fly at key hotspots strewn about the world -- and again, there's no load times whatsoever. Of course, you can still build all manners of houses and objects, applying doors, windows, roofs, paint, or cobbling together an assortment of beds, chairs, tables, toys and more, all with the Wii remote. But now you can also put together more clever interactive items, like gears that bring power to items and pipes that supply water to plants. Figuring out how to build these items takes a little more brainpower and is ultimately more enjoyable.
MySims -- the same game that shipped for Wii last year -- now features an online mode for PC users. However, such a feature remains glaringly absent from Kingdom, one of the biggest omissions from the sequel and one of the major reasons that I have to recommend Animal Crossing: City Folk over the title if you seek any genuine community component. EA, stop stalling on this long overdue option. Please include it in next year's inevitable iteration.
©2008-11-21, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved