IGN Review of The Sims 2: Pets
Welcome to Barkersville, the happiest little pet-obsessed town on the planet. Based on last month's moderately well-received PC Sims 2 expansion, the latest handheld Sims offering has players creating not only a human character, but selecting from a variety of pets as well. Gameplay revolves around keeping both the Sim and their pet happy and healthy. Although there's still a huge amount of depth here, the series loses some of its steam in an attempt to merge The Sims with Nintendogs, producing a product that doesn't quite bear the charm of either.
The game is structured similarly to previous Sims games; The player creates a human character (through a surprisingly deep set of options), wakes up in a pretty empty house and from there must do whatever it takes to keep that Sim happy. The playable Sim has eight primary concerns: sleeping, eating, keeping clean, using the toilet, relaxing, watching TV, interacting with people and spending time at home. Each of these has a separate meter that can be toggled on and off at the bottom of the screen. The object of the game is to ensure that the player's Sim is always satisfied in each of these eight areas. This generally involves figuring out how to make cash in order to buy the appliances and furniture necessary to keep them happy. When a meter empties, the Sim will become irritable and refuse to perform certain actions. In extreme cases, they may pass out from exhaustion or wet themselves publicly. So although the player is controlling their character directly, the game still retains that babysitter feel from the start of the series.
Added into the mix this game are pets. The player selects a pet and must take care of it in addition to their Sim. Pets must be fed and given attention, and have individual attitudes and moods that change based on their and the Sim's actions. Pets can be taught tricks and later entered into pet shows to show off what they've learned. Additional pets can be adopted from the local pet store, with a selection that's updated daily. Much of the basic gameplay is greatly simplified over the PC games, using minigames to determine actions and events rather than just selectable options. One example is engaging other Sims in discussion by playing a DDR-style challenge where topics of discussion must be selected as they fly by. Success in these minigames impacts how other Sims relate to the player's Sim, their pet, and how the two relate to one another. Statistics related to all of this can be viewed through the menus.
Barkersville is a surprisingly well-developed little town. Just about every store type is represented here, giving the player a hefty amount of daily activities. Like previous Sims games, this one focuses heavily on attribute-building, so if the Sim spends time working out, their health will increase. Spend time fixing broken contraptions, and their handyman ability will increase. Nearly every object in each building can be interacted with, many in multiple ways. The town does feel a bit empty of life at times, with usually only one or two Sims (and their pets) wandering around each area or building. But the levels are so well-designed and heavily interactive in terms of what the Sim can walk around and make use of, that exploration never really gets old.
What is lacking here is much personality, especially in the pets. What worked for Nintendogs, and even the other versions of The Sims 2 Pets (including the Nintendo DS version) is that the 3D pets are so adorable and spunky that they carry players through occasionally bland game design. The pets in this game are too tiny, too pixelated to care about. They move with a very limited number of animations and aren't incredibly responsive. As such, the pets in this game feel more like a weight chained to the leg of their master than a true companion. They rarely scamper, and getting pets to focus on a particular object or exercise is occasionally difficult. Since pets have collision with the Sims, they often get in the way of accessing doorways and objects.
The game also feels a little unbalanced, as though pets were tacked on to an already complete game. It's sometimes difficult to adequately care for both the Sim and the pet at the same time. A game design that took some of the care away from the Sim and focused more heavily on caring for the pet might have worked better. It's not difficult to get so caught up in catering to the Sim's needs that pets go ignored for long stretches of time. This also doesn't seem to have much of a negative impact in the game; although ignoring pets doesn't take advantage of the training minigames and competitions, the pets don't pass out and follow their master regardless of how they're treated.
Graphically, EA does a fantastic job. Environments look ripped right out of the PC version of the game. They're varied, detailed and offer a good deal of interactivity with the Sims and their pets; if something looks like it can be walked behind, used or affected by the characters, it probably can. The Sims themselves also look great; although pre-rendered, they're pretty indistinguishable from their PC counterparts and feature hundreds of animations from eight different angles. The frame count on these animations is pretty low, but visually it stays pretty true to the style of the PC games.
Music is above par for the Game Boy Advance. It moves the story along without distracting, and some of the radio tunes are pretty catchy. I found myself really getting into which station my Sim would listen to as he ran on the treadmill each day. Sound effects are sparse but capture the feel of the original games, right down to the gibberish simspeak.
There are 4 save slots so multiple players can use the same cart, and the option to save at any time in the game really makes this a good pick up and play title.
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