In the modern world of capitalism it’s a commonly accepted fact that when a company hits upon a successful concept they’ll flog it for all it’s worth. This is clearly demonstrated by EA’s highly lucrative Sims franchise - in the past year or so we’ve already experienced the delights of Sims 2: Pets and MySims, two very different takes on the core concept that has sold millions worldwide.
Sims 2: Castaway is yet another stab at moving the franchise into new and hitherto uncharted territory, although it does bring to mind the ‘other’ famous survival series currently available on the DS – Konami’s inconsistent but charming Lost in Blue.
Castaway essentially takes the core Sims concept and drops it into a survival scenario – your ‘Sim’ is marooned on a desert island after booking a cruise on a rather unlucky ocean liner that promptly capsizes. This obviously presents a series of issues that aren’t explored in previous Sims games – you have to ensure your on-screen avatar gets enough food and water as well as finding proper shelter.
Good use is made of the touch screen for various tasks – for example, when fishing you can stab at your prey with the stylus to ‘spear’ them. The most effective use is undoubtedly related to creating fire for warmth and cooking – using the stylus you must rub two sticks of wood together and gently blow on the DS microphone to get things started. Ok, we’ve seen stuff like this before and the now obligatory utilization of the ‘innovative’ features the DS possesses is becoming a little stale these days, but it’s neat all the same and certainly helps to immerse you in the game.
Cosmetically Castaway is passable, but never really impressive. 3D on the DS has a tendency to look a little rough at the best of times, with only Nintendo itself seeming to have the ability to create anything that looks half-decent. As it stands the graphics in Castaway are fairly faithful to the original PC titles, with the characters showcasing decent levels of detail and animation. From this reviewer’s point of view they remain utterly charmless, but with millions of copies sold worldwide it’s clear that some people find these Sims engaging enough to actually care about them.
Although it tries hard to differentiate itself from other entries in the series, the longer you play the more ‘traditional’ Castaway ultimately becomes; essentially you’re trawling the island for objects that can be placed within your makeshift home. Unless you’re a hardcore Sims fan then this all becomes incredibly dull very quickly and the aimless nature of the gameplay means that if you don’t possess a freakish desire to accumulate all the possessions the island has to offer then you’re going to be very bored indeed – the touch screen mini games will only keep you entertained for so long, as they quickly become repetitive.
Konami’s Lost in Blue franchise may not be perfect but it certainly presents a more interesting and engaging challenge than Castaway because it wisely focuses on the tension created by being placed in such a precarious and uncertain position. EA are obviously wary of messing with the core concept of The Sims too much and are scared of alienating the existing fan base with radically sweeping changes to gameplay - sadly, in being so cautious, the company has missed the chance to craft a taught and nail-biting survival epic. Castaway does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s Sims on a desert island – which therefore renders the change of location almost irrelevant.
If being stranded far from civilization and with no hope of rescue were anything like how it is presented in Castaway, it would be a tiresome, yet relatively carefree existence. Fans will no doubt lap it up but if you’re befuddled by the appeal of this massive franchise then Castaway is unlikely to alter your perception.