IGN Review of Sims 2: Castaway
We wish we could say an adventure game about being trapped on a deserted island was a great original idea. Balancing basic needs with exploration is an obvious choice for an adventure title, so obvious that it's been done before... twice. Still The Sims 2: Castaway, developed by Full Fat, creates a survival-adventure that is less about actual survival, and actually manages to be fun, despite it's flaws.
Castaway starts with the player's Sim falling into a crate, which, in turn, falls off of a boat, and gets washed ashore a tropical island. With only the tattered, yet stylish, clothes on his or her back, the player's Sim must figure out how to survive. If it sounds familiar, it's probably because the DS has seen two Lost in Blue titles that essentially did the same thing.
What sets Castaway apart from the Lost in Blue series is the signature Sims elements. Instead of three things to replenish for survival, the Sims on the island have the full gamut of needs, from hunger, to sleep, to needing to use the little castaway's room.
The game is not merely about survival, and it's not even the main focus. Sure there are a lot of things to take care of, like eating, but it's all pretty easy to accomplish. Food is always in abundance, and there are tons of areas to take care of most of the other needs. Instead, the game is more of a point and click adventure title, focused on exploration of the island and using the environment for the Sim's benefit.
There's plenty to explore and collect too. Castaway features three islands to wander around on: a large main island, and two smaller ones. Each section on the map has things to do or collect. By walking around, players find new things to eat, and various objects that can be crafted into useful tools. The motives system does limit the ability to explore the island at great lengths, and at times feels like a handicap that needlessly extends the game time. Still, no Sims game would be without it, and luckily as the game progresses the player can get upgraded items to help fill up the meters faster and more efficiently, giving more time to explore.
In addition to exploring, players are going to have to work if they want to get the objects they need. A few touch screen minigames highlight some of the more important aspects of island life, like squashing bugs. Players can hunt for bugs (used for dying clothes, making food, and trading), as well as go spear fishing, and start a fire. It's not a lot, but it definitely makes the whole experience feel more real. We felt just like Tom Hanks, minus going crazy and talking to a volleyball (instead the Sim can go crazy and talk to a skeleton).
The story for Castaway is pretty simple: get off the island. To do that the player must search out other inhabitants, and help them with various tasks to earn necessary items and information. It takes a solid 10 hours of gameplay to complete the story, and that's if the player stays focused. With so much to collect and make, the story mode is easily delayed. We wish there was a little more to the story. Since the characters speak in Simmish the dialogue isn't vague. If players look carefully at the speech bubbles they can actually see a picture retelling of how each castaway got to the island, which is one of many funny and clever details the developers put into the game. Still, with such a large and mysterious island, with crashed airplanes, dead pirates and treasure filled temples, some more exposition would have been nice.
The island is not only large, it's rather nice looking too. There are a variety of environments - jungles, beaches, caves - and they all combine create a distinct island feel. The Sim can climb up to cliffs and look out onto the ocean, or delve deep into the island. The game moves from night to day, and the weather changes, and the game does a nice job of changing the environment. The top screen slowly changes with the time and weather, a detail not noticed unless the player is really watching. The characters and objects themselves are less impressive. Some of the fruits and vegetables are one color blocks. One thing the developers did right was not zoom in on the Sims too much. Even when characters are conversing the camera isn't so close that the Sims look really blocky and flat like they did in The Sims 2: Pets. The player's Sim only has a couple options when it comes to customizing their face or hair, but there are dozens of clothing options that can be unlocked.
Besides clothing, the game lacks a lot of the customizing elements that really define The Sims. While the player can create decorative objects and upgrade their living space, there's not any sense of design. A couple rocks mare the only area where items can be placed, and the bed and fire pit are set in their spot. It's not a huge deal because players will be busy exploring, but it's still a bummer to know that our living area looks exactly the same as everyone else playing the game.
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