Posted by Damien McFerran
EA's astonishingly successful Sims series is given a lick of 'cute' paint. The result is MySims - but is it any good?
Electronic Arts is a company that can make or break a videogames console. Although the publisher’s output isn’t always associated with quality, the popularity of its franchises can prove vital when it comes to winning the console war. When EA famously shunned the Sega Dreamcast, many industry experts rightly predicted the console would struggle in the West as a result. Wii owners should therefore take heart that Nintendo’s market leading machine is rapidly becoming EA’s favourite platform. While the 360 and PS3 are getting almost identical versions of each EA blockbuster – basically making the choice between the two totally redundant - the Wii is instead being treated to some truly unique experiences built around its strengths.
The next Wii-exclusive from EA is the highly anticipated MySims. A sugar-coated extension of the best selling ‘virtual world’ simulator, this cute and cuddly game deviates from the mature themes of previous titles in the series to present an altogether more wholesome product; more akin to the excellent Animal Crossing franchise – in fact the similarities between the two games have led many other reviewers to accuse EA of slavishly copying Nintendo’s popular series. Although it’s impossible to deny that the developers may have looked towards Animal Crossing for inspiration, MySims brings enough to the party in the way of new ideas to make it stand out from the crowd.
After booting up the game, your first task is to create a ‘Sim’ in your image. You can change things like hair colour, clothing and skin tone. However, sadly the degree of customization provided never reaches the astonishing levels of that seen in Nintendo’s ‘Mii’ creation tool. It’s a shame that players aren’t permitted to import their Mii into the game, given the striking similarity between the two virtual avatars. Still, there are enough options here to ensure players can craft a character unique enough to call their own.
Once you’ve successfully created a Sim you’re 100% happy with it’s time to send them out into the world. You are sent to a town that finds itself down on its luck. Using your construction skills you are expected to restore the former glory of this sorry-looking settlement and encourage other Sims to move there as a result. This is achieved in a number of ways. Performing various tasks within the game helps you to increase the happiness of the current residents. Constructing new buildings and amenities will raise the profile of your new township, and so on. What you build is usually dictated by the Sims that are looking to take up residence within the town – for example, a chef needs a restaurant in order to ply his trade.
Central to the ‘building’ aspect of the game is the collection of ‘essences’. These are basically the building blocks that allow you to produce items or create structures. So if someone asks you to make a piece of furniture, for example, then you have to make sure you possess the essence required. This usually involves a bit of detective work. But, thankfully it’s not too hard to source the most important essences. This aspect of the game could have possibly been handled a little better – it doesn’t really make a great deal of sense to have go digging in the earth in order to discover the necessary components to build a wooden chair, for example. After a while though, you don’t really question it that much and it at least creates tangible objectives within the game itself.
One area where EA has really embraced the possibilities of the Wii is in the control scheme. Although the game doesn’t really ask you to do anything extravagant in terms of utilizing the Wiimote, the interface has been constructed with it firmly in mind. Navigating the game world, digging for essence and knocking together new items in your workshop – all these activities are handled perfectly. It could be argued that such a game is perfectly possible on a console with a traditional control setup, but it certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near as intuitive or as much fun to use.
Although previous Sims games have been gloriously freeform and unrestricted, MySims is slightly different. In order to truly progress, the player is expected to complete various objectives, and only by increasing the standing of the town can you fully unlock all the game has to offer. New items become available that permit access to other locations around the town and as these areas are revealed they mean additional land on which to build new houses. This in turn means more people will move in.
When the town is near complete it truly is a sight to behold – a buzzing, vibrant metropolis that is pleasing to the eye and will entertain you even if you choose just to take a stroll around it. It’s unfortunate that once you’ve seen all the game has to offer it doesn’t really give anything else. Animal Crossing kept players captivated for months because it felt like a living, breathing world; MySims lacks that distinct quality. The fact that the social element - so central to previous titles in the Sims franchise - has been all but removed also damages the long-term appeal of the game.
Ultimately, MySims represents an interesting alternative to both EA’s Sims series and the aforementioned Animal Crossing. It’s far from perfect and one can safely assume that EA will be publishing plenty more variants in order to fine-tune the concept, but it has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment and innovation. Younger players will undoubtedly warm to its charms faster than older ones, but MySims further extends the appeal of the Wii as a console for everyone – such a game is sure to attract players of all ages and as such ranks as yet another worthy edition to the growing catalogue of Wii software.