It seems like it was just yesterday that I romped through and reviewed the Game Boy Advance version of The Urbz: Sims in the City
, Maxis and EA's "revamp" of the non-PC Sims
series. In fact, it was more like a couple of weeks ago that I did just that, but I once again had to take to the streets of Miniopolis on the brand-spanking-new Nintendo DS portable system, a piece of kit that touts creativity and uniqueness for a new generation of videogames. What did we get? The same damn game as the GBA design, only this time it's using two screens instead of one. By itself it's still a good game and very fulfilling if you haven't even picked up the "other version." It's just a little underwhelming to get nearly the same experience on a system that's supposed to offer gamers so much more.
The Urbz: Sims in the City
- 26 locations
- Eight mini-games
- Five virtual "pets"
- Exclusive Splicer Island
, developed by handheld development studio Griptonite, takes the themes, graphics and audio assets from the Game Boy Advance game and moves them the Nintendo DS hardware. The team created the original The Sims: Bustin' Out
for the Game Boy Advance back in 2003, and this is made clear right from the get-go since the design and gameplay elements of The Urbz
is extremely similar to Bustin' Out.
The original's"Goody Two Shoes" art style has been pushed aside in favor of a more "gritty" environment, though the game doesn't have quite the "urbaness" that the console version pushes on the player. You'll encounter occasional graffiti on walls and litter scattered around the area, but the "hip urban" theme isn't quite as saturated as the console's Urbz
on the Nintendo DS is an extensive adventure that covers a much larger area than the GBA version does, adding a new "island" that enables more things to do, including a couple of touch panel mini-games and a virtual pet side-quest.
Much of the playtime does involve a ton of tedious busy work, which may turn off a few people to the overall production. This is the Sims, after all, and though you only care for one Sim character instead of multiples, your on-screen persona requires an enormous amount of hand-holding in order to remain healthy and at peak performance. As you work your way through the progress tree you have to deal with the admittedly annoying tasks of sending your Sim/Urb character to bed, to the bathroom, to the shower. Since the game's task and level designs pretty much revolve around these menial duties, without them Urbz wouldn't be that meaty at all and quite easy to beat. But they do start grating on your nerves the deeper in the game you go, especially when you simply want to finish a specific task without needing to hit the john every ten minutes.
There are far more character elements to keep track of, though. Along will keeping tabs on your person's hunger, fatigue, and bladder levels, you'll also need to earn "credentials" with the inhabitants of the world. Earn creds with the Nerdies, Streeties, Richies, and Arties by conversing with them positively, which will open up the tasks that they require of you to move deeper into the game's structure. Talk about things they like, and avoid things they don't like. The conversations do get a bit tedious since it's a simple matter of remembering the positive subjects and repeating that selection over and over and over. It's very difficult to actually get a character to hate you in this game, in fact you have to really try your darndest to get on a character's bad side.
Urbz's handheld production really is suited well to the portable market since its gameplay is near endless and encourages the occasional "pick-up-and-play" moments. Even after the main tasks have been completed you still have the "Sims" esque element of complete customization of your pad, creating a livable space with the hundreds of items that can be purchased and collected along the way. The game's still not as versatile in its customization as the PC and console games, which is just a little disappointing since the DS is far more capable than what's being pulled off here. The design's like this because of GBA restrictions, but the DS and its advanced hardware is meant to relieve developers of the restrictions and open up creativity. But instead this game falls victim of a short development time so we get a two-screen version of a game that was designed for one screen in mind.
That's not to say that the game's just a GBA port. The majority is, no question; the main isometric view, using mostly rendered graphics, offers a slightly wider viewpoint due to the Nintendo DS' higher resolution. But the team shove most of the menu options down to the lower screen, which changes things up a bit since players now have the added function of navigating menus while their character sleeps, sits, craps, or watches television. It's very PC-like in this case, and it's nice to have the ability to multitask instead of watching your Urbz waste the day away on a menial (but important) personal task.
Even though most of the functions of the game offers touch screen functionality, the element is completely inconsistent. Most menu systems can be done via touch panel, except when creating your character. Entering in text for the character's name must be done via the D-pad. Since The Urbz requires the use of D-pad/button combinations for most of the gameplay, the touch panel designs should have been made in such a way that the stylus wouldn't be needed. Conversations between Sim characters use a menu with big, fat, meaty buttons that's perfect for finger-touching. But when it comes to inventory management, the buttons are incredibly dinky that it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong part of the screen using digits.
The hint at exclusive, non-GBA stuff comes at the very beginning of the game, but it will take a good few hours for the game to get going and open up the unique tasks and mini-games that are made specifically for the dual-screen system. But even in the new DS portion, the game rarely takes advantage of the system's hardware abilities beyond the touch-screen function. Graphically, this stuff isn't much more than Game Boy Advance fare. Which is definitely better than average on the GBA, but for Nintendo DS...we're expecting a lot more out of a "more advanced" version, especially when we have to spend an extra ten bucks over the GBA edition to play it on two screens.
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