Ever since David Crane and Richard Gold created Little Computer People for 8-bit computers in 1985, gamers have been fascinated with life simulation games, as demonstrated by the huge sales success of The Sims series. However, The Sims is also a series that has suffered from 'content filtering', as the PC experience has been watered down for consoles and diluted even more for the handheld versions. The Sims 3 on DS partially rectified this by transitioning from the structured mission formula of The Sims 2 into more open-ended gameplay, so the 3DS launch of The Sims 3 is perfectly placed to pick up its predecessor's baton and expand upon the foundations of a decent DS game.
Consider that baton well and truly dropped, as The Sims 3 on 3DS is an unfinished mess of a game and it is surprising that EA Redwood Shores' testers did not pick up on such blatant faults. Then again, the cynics amongst you may suggest that EA rushed this game out to grab some early 3DS launch sales. The frame rate is inconsistent and the top-screen animation can lock up completely, for example our Sim became fixed in mid-air jog as he was exercising on a running machine.
However, the core Sims gameplay is largely intact and it is still fairly compulsive to be in control of the life of a small computer person residing in the peaceful town of River's Bend. There is a focus upon directing your Sim's achievements towards accomplishing a 'Lifetime Wish', however it is not designed to be a game in which you aim to complete it. There are stats that you can grind towards based on six different skills (Guitar, Cooking, Athletic, Logic, Handiness and Charisma), but this game is most enjoyable when you use it to build the story of a life. It also becomes far more interesting when your Sim gets married, as you are able to juggle managing the lives of two Sims in one household, although despite lavishing our partner with love and compliments she still cheated on our Sim shortly after the wedding. C'est la vie.
In what may be a nod towards real life, the gameplay becomes repetitive as you not only juggle your Sim's everyday wishes, but manage their mood through Moodlets, which often results in a large amount of repeated busy work. These revolve around feeding your Sim regularly, making friends, building relationships, housework, looking after them when they are sick, DIY chores and ensuring that they sleep well by turning off background noise like a stereo. It is also important to achieve a work-life balance, as your Sim goes stir-crazy if they only work and hang around the house, so you need to send them into town for some fun a few times a week. Scotty from Star Trek must also live at River's Bend as this is achieved by beaming them from your single home to a paltry choice of two locations, the shopping complex at Union Park or the entertainment-focused Industrial Centre. It is also unusual that a visit to town makes time stand still: leave your house at 6pm to spend some time at the Gym, as well a bit of groove time at The Red Door nightclub and when you return home it will still only be 6.01pm (if only real life were so generous with leisure time). With two town areas and one household lot, this game is far from an expansive sandbox and it is a meagre number of locations compared to The Sims 3 on consoles.
The Sims series is not renowned for its graphical effects, but this version is especially lacking in variety and finesse. The default view on the top screen includes environmental pop-up as walls and furniture appear from nowhere, which looks worse in 3D and is only improved by pulling back the camera. Most of the game will be played by looking at the functional top-down touch screen and it is telling that the most visually attractive part of the game is a bird's-eye overview of River's Bend on the title screen. The audio fares better as there is a charm to the Simlish language; it's effective at expressing the Sim's emotions through warbles and gibberish, plus it is fun to hear the radio tunes belting out songs with Simlish voices.
Regarding 3DS specific features, there are My Name Is Earl-style Karma Powers, which are built up by fulfilling your Sim's wishes. Once enough Karma Power has been earned you can unleash an earthquake (by tilting the 3DS), wind (blow into the 3DS mic) and zap them (rub a crystal with the stylus). It is fun to experiment between blowing a cloud of funk, or a flurry of butterflies, but do not expect Populous DS levels of God-power here. The inclusion of StreetPass is welcome, with which you can share your Sim with other 3DS gamers and invite their Sim into your town. This links to the ability to create your own 'Townie', to populate the town with Sims that have your choice of personality. You can also take a photograph of your face with the 3DS's camera and place it side-by-side with a Sim's avatar so you can mould its features to match your own.
The touch screen controls suit the gameplay well, it is finicky but workable to select icons, direct Sims and interact with household items, although you will want to use the precision of the telescopic stylus, because some objects like plates are tiny. It also takes a while to become accustomed with what each icon represents, as it's not always obvious what they signify, which can be clumsy when assessing your Sim's Moodlet.
The limited number of locations and recurrent bugs are unfortunate, because the way in which the content inter-relates between Moodlets, Skills, Wishes and Careers is deep enough to build a unique experience. The game would have benefited from more development time, for example it does not include basic features like an autosave: you have to systematically save every bit of progress and suffer the long save times. Load times for visiting a town are also lengthy.
'Sim'-ply put, it is difficult to recommend this game, especially to owners of the DS version of The Sims 3. For any romantic gamers, the process of wooing a spouse is similar to The Sims 3 on Wii, although while you can still call your partner over when you're relaxing in bed and 'Make Out', the option to WooHoo did not come up in 20 hours of review time and there is no mention of Sim pregnancy in the manual.
The Sims 3 is a strong contender for the title of ‘Worst 3DS Launch Game’. It has a sickening amount of bugs, is unfinished and reeks of a game that has been rushed for launch. It is a shame, because the core open-ended Sims gameplay works well, but with only one household lot and two town locations the lack of variety means that much of the life simulation gameplay becomes laborious and a chore. Even ideas like Karma Powers and limited 3DS-specific features such as StreetPass implementation are not enough to recommend it. Buy a cheap copy of The Sims 3 on DS instead, or alternatively wait for the forthcoming Animal Crossing 3DS. If you really must own a 3DS Sims game, then with patience it is highly likely that another one will become available within the machine’s lifetime.