I've always loved house-building, life-simulating game The Sims. I was on the bandwagon from day one, ever since meeting the tutorial family, Bob and Betty Newbie, and finding out that they could make a baby by kissing back-and-forth for hours. Just like real life, of course.
Life most people, I would spend hours and hours building massive, hideous rectangles and filling them with storylines ripped right from a soap opera, except with more pool ladder-related deaths than usual.
While playing The Sims 2 in my parents' spare room, I attempted to recreate the Olympians from Ancient Greek myth, before giving up in a panic because of just how much incest was required. In The Sims 3, I had a family that was torn apart when the husband cheated on his wife with some floozy he met in France — but the wife got her revenge by running off with the butler. Who was a robot. In the Sims games, the stage is set for whatever weird story you want to tell, and all the tools are laid out ready for you.
But the mainstream PC games, The Sims 1-4, are relatively normal, all things told. Sometimes you'll get alien pregnancies and vampire invasions, and a few of the expansion packs explicitly add supernatural goings-on, but it's also perfectly possible to live a quiet life in a cottage on the outskirts of town and avoid all the kooky stuff, instead having a totally normal existence where your children have uncomplicated origins and everyone dies of old age. BOOORING.
This is not so with Maxis and EA's console-based Sims entries, which often stick more rigidly to a pre-determined story, and are completely wackadoo. I haven't played too many, because the quality differs vastly from game to game, but I did play an awful lot of The Sims: Bustin' Out on Game Boy Advance. I have learned in the years intervening that almost everyone — at least, in my friend group — has that one spin-off Sims game that they have fond memories of, and also nightmares about, so at least I'm not alone.
The Urbz: Sims In The City is the console game that came out after Bustin' Out, and depending on whether you play the handheld or console version, involves either befriending The Black Eyed Peas, or meeting vampires and travelling through time.
The Sims 2 on DS got even weirder, with cow cults, robots, aliens, and weird things happening in the desert. I highly recommend you read Kotaku Australia's Leah Williams on the subject of how fantastic the game is. I very much appreciate knowing that there's another writer out there with an obsession for a particular niche game. Leah, if you're reading this, let's be pals. (Mine is Fantasy Life, by the way.)
(Oh, and by the way — the Lead Writer for all of those games, Darby McDevitt, would later go on to be a Lead Writer on the Assassin's Creed games, and the Narrative Director of Assassin's Creed Valhalla. What a career.)
The premise of The Sims: Bustin' Out, however, is that your character is visiting their Uncle Hayseed's house for the summer, and you'll have to make money doing various job minigames in order to move out and buy your own house and decent furniture, rather than living in his barn. Haven't we all purchased a mansion while visiting family in the summer? What a normal thing to do.
Along the way, you'll meet a cast of weirdos, who will give you quests, and some can potentially move in with you if they like you enough. This includes characters like Mel Odious, a hippy with inner demons; Lottie Cash, who loves shopping; and Olde Salty, a crazy fisherman. Who wouldn't want to live with a guy you met just two weeks ago? Also very normal.
So far, so Sims, right? Angry hippies and money-grubbing gold-diggers aren't exactly new to the series, after all. But when you get introduced to bizarre new concepts — a homicidal rooster that's loose in town, an angry ghost that wants you to answer riddles, and the ending of the game, which has you acquiring riches, a mansion, and maybe even a lover before your uncle abruptly announces that you're an alien and forces you to get on a rocketship — the game stands out as something a little more unique than usual.
My experience of Bustin' Out was, perhaps, what made it such a memorable game for me: I played it almost entirely after my bedtime, sitting at my desk and listening to Pink's latest album. The sensory trifecta of the game, the darkness lit by a single kinda crappy desk lamp, and the dulcet tones of Pink are now all linked together in my mind; I can't listen to 'Trouble' without vividly remembering the lawnmowing minigame where you can "accidentally" run over your uncle's chickens. There's something about playing a creepy game at night, especially that specific creepiness of mid-2000s kids' games; it amps the bizarritude up by at least 200%. Fact.
It's been ten years since we last got an oddball, story-based Sims game. There was a brief heyday in which we received Bustin' Out, Urbz, Life Stories, Castaway Stories, and The Sims Medieval within the span of a few years — many of which were deeply flawed, underfunded, or shallow, but all of which attempted to revamp the well-known series in interesting ways. It makes sense that EA and Maxis are focusing their efforts on the multi-million selling main series, rather than making cult favourite spinoffs that aren't even guaranteed to be million-sellers, and I certainly can't reasonably expect them to return to the weird stuff — but all the same, I miss it.
Sometimes, when I write my Memory Paks, I realise that my memories are best preserved as perfect snapshots in time. I can't replicate the feeling of playing Pokémon Snap at an afterschool daycare with way too many sticky children and carpets that smelled like cat pee; even if I could, it wouldn't be the same. Actually, that might be a good thing.
Other times, the Memory Pak memories remind me of game experiences so good that I can't wait to relive them, like the twists in Ace Attorney, or that first time that Link steps out of the Temple of Time as an adult. There are memories, and there are moments, you see — some you can revisit, and some you can't.
The Sims: Bustin' Out isn't something I can revisit. It was a very specific time, place, and game, which was also a very specific product of its era. It's aged relatively well, I think, but I don't think I'll play it again any time soon — I'm just wondering if we'll ever get to return to the wacky side of Maxis... or if we should at all. Maybe the wacky days of the 2000s are best left in the past.
I loved the story mode of this game, after playing this game and dabbling with the Sims 2 on PC I was surprised that there was no story mode, the series lost a large part of the appeal for me because of that, I like having an established goal where you feel like you are progressing rather than just making your own story.
I loved The Sims Medieval. Definitely one of their best spin-offs. I wished they did more with it but they focused too much on Sims 3. Which was strange because they never seems to fix the glitches that were there. Sims 4 is getting a lot of attention but it would be nice to see a new story-focused Sims game for the Switch, and not just a port of what is already available on PC xbox and playstation. Sous sous!
I had Sims 2 Pets on DS which is perhaps the worst game I’ve ever played. Other than that, the Sims Stories spin-offs were literally exactly what you’re looking for if you want pre-determined spin-offs. They run on lower end PCs too.
Had Bustin’ Out on GCN, hated it. Had The Urbz on DS, thought it was relatively decent.
I used to play this as a kid and really liked it despite not understanding everything that was going on due to language barrier. I bought a legitimate copy ~10 years later and still enjoyed it. I never finished it though so that description of the ending caught me off guard. It's a silly game.
Nice to see the GBA versions spotlighted. I'll have to check out the other Memory Pak articles.
Yup, I never played this one, but Urbz on GBA was utterly memorable. I'm still not sure it's a GOOD game mind you, but it's unforgettable in it's bizarreness.
I still go back and play Bustin' Out every now and then on my GBA or on emulators on my phone. It's always been a favorite of mine and I agree that I miss having these cool spin off games.
I still like the Sims... it's just hard to enjoy when getting the full experience nowadays costs hundreds of dollars. I mean, at least there aren't any loot boxes or microtransactions...I guess. Though getting the late night scary prank phone calls from the original Sims will always be my favorite Sims experience.
"They're coming soon. Maybe you should think twice about opening the door."
❗This is my moms favourite Game of all time.
Removed - inappropriate
Was this the one that had Nicky Nack’s Bricka Bracks? I think so. I loved this one on GBA! I miss a lot of my GBA games and wish I still had a functional GBA.
I'm not that big on Sims but this sounds way better than the main games. I want to start buying more GBA games at some point so I might have to get this one.
The Sims for Gamecube sucked. I never played the GBA version.
Between this and the Steam Deck, maybe there needs to be a PC Life website
PC MASTER RACE NINJA APPROVED (please get the joke)
The Sims Bustin Out is the version I played the most also. Really enjoyed it, but I had it for my N Gage QD phone at the time...
It was a good port of the game. The N Gage had quite a few good titles, (Ashen, System Rush, Pathway To Glory) even if overall it sold very poorly...
I have this on GameCube but actually played it first on PS2. Great fun, but would be much better with a mouse to control it!
I just finished playing though Sims 2 on PSP two weeks ago and started a second playthrough of the DS version. Haven't tried Bustin' Out but after this I kind of want to. These games are completely bonkers and they just don't make anything like them now!
I remember this, enjoyed a lot initially but then grew out of it and never managed to finish it. Thanks for bringing those memories back!
@BANJO I think the N-gage was terribly underrated due to the form factor and all. There was Asphalt 2 which was a really fun and solid arcade racer and not evil MTX-ridden cash grabs that those have become now. N-gage 2 (the service) had a beautiful fishing game called Creatures of the Deep - I miss it dearly.
@San_D As you say the N Gage was very underrated, the revision with the QD model helped, but it just wasn't enough.
I remember Asphalt 2, a very good racer.
Gameloft also did a few solid Splinter Cell ports for the platform.
I also used the N Gage 2 service on my N95 phone and picked up quite a few of the games. Yes, Creatures of the Deep was a highlight of the service. Pitty the service didn't succeed...
Nokia by that point had quickly slowing phone sales due to the rise of the IPhone. As a consequence the N Gage brand quickly went by the wayside as Nokia had to turn their attention away from games.
I still have my N95 phone with about 20 of the Ngage 2 games installed on it, Creatures of the Deep being one of them. Very tempted to get the phone out of it's box to play some of the games again. (Providing it still works)...
@San_D @BANJO I had an N-Gage as well. Everyone who didn't own one always made fun of it but in recent years I've seen more people like me who had one and agree that it wasn't even all that bad. Or maybe it's just nostalgia.
I had Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Bomberman and Rayman 3. Beat all 3 multiple times. THPS was a solid port of the original game, only missing some music. Bomberman, as far as I know, wasn't a port of an existing Bomberman game. Story mode was fun. Never got to try out bluetooth multiplayer. Rayman 3 is the same game that's on GBA. At least for the most part. Fun game.
It's also fun hearing one of you had N95. I wanted one but ultimately ended up with N81. I didn't get any N-Gage games for that device but I think it had a demo of Metal Gear Solid Mobile. I was really bad at it (I'm still not good at stealth games to this day) but I found it fascinating that you could take pictures with the phone's camera and it would create a camouflage based on the picture.
I still don't know why EA hasn't put Sims 4 on Switch. Seems like a no brainer!
@nessisonett Funny enough, I wound up with Sims 2: Pets for DS back in the day hoping that it was a continuation of the handheld universe that ran through Sims Bustin' Out, Urbz, and Sims 2. I could go on about how betrayed I felt when I realized they'd pivoted to shovelware with the release of Sims 2 Pets, but it's like you say: Probably the worst game I've ever played, too.
@Late Great to hear from another former N Gage owner. The original sold 2-3 million, so a few people had one. I remember a couple of people making fun of it at the time also, but I didn't mind, it had some great games. (More people asked to try out the games on it than criticised it overall).
Regarding the games, Tony Hawks was a fantastic port, it controlled really well and looked amazing, PS1 graphics on a phone in 2003 made it ahead of it's time. I remember trying Bomberman too, it was a good game to pick up and play for a few minutes, Rayman 3, a solid port also.
The exclusive FPS Ashen was a great exclusive shooter, with solid level design and eerie music. Glimmerati another favourite of mine, a top down racer with lots of style and a decent career mode were other highlights.
The N81 was a decent phone, I remember thinking about possibly getting one when I ultimately got the N95.
I have the Metal Gear Solid game you speak of. It's one of the best games on the N gage 2 service. I tried out the photo taking feature which you could implement into the game, it worked quite well.
There was also a Resident Evil title which had fantastic graphics for a mobile phone game when it released.
I really will have to dig the N95 out to try out some of the old games.
Never got into these games. I have a real entertaining life and have no need for "life simulators".
Was it the Urbz or Bustin' Out that had you recreate "The Devil Came Down to Georgia" by competing with Satan in a fiddle contest to win a fiddle made of gold?
@ATaco they added some of the old prank calls into an update for the sims 4 a few months ago. When I got one I was shocked 😳
Fantasy Life is so good 🥲
i opened this article expecting the ps2 (and i believe gcn?) version, which i still go back to sometimes. its easy as hell as an adult, but somehow i hugely struggled with it as a kid lmao. now im really curious about the handheld game
@Late @BANJO N95 was THE phone. It even had TV out, which pretty much meant you could play it like a mini console. It wasn't super polished though and modern day HDMI ports are much better, but back in those days N95 seemed like magic.
@San_D It certainly was at the time. I used the N95 on the tv to view photo's and videos and play a few games.. It really did seem ahead of the pack back then....
I dont remember which one it was but I had a Sims game on GameCube that had splitscreen multi-player in it and my son and I would play that for hours. I wish I could remember which one it was.
The "My Sims" games on Wii were quite good.
I'm surprised we haven't seen a Sims game on Switch yet
The Sims: Bustin' Out (GBA) is one of my absolute favourite games of all time. I was crushed when it didn't release in Australia. I didn't even have a GBA, but I would have spent all of my pocket money on one had it been released. I had no other choice at the time but to play it "via other means", and man, oh, man, I absolutely loved the game so, so much, which made its no-show status all the more baffling (though the N-Gage version was later released in Australia to little fanfare). The music, the atmosphere, the characters. It was such a fun and satisfying game and so, so memorable. I eventually procured a copy via eBay and fell in love all over again. In fact, I played it as recently as last year, and I would strongly disagree with the notion that the game hasn't aged well. I think it's just as much fun now as it's ever been, and I still yearn for a new game (or even a remake) in the same spirit, though I won't hold my breath.
The Urbz: Sims in the City (GBA/DS) served as a direct sequel (with a new art style), and while it wasn't quite as magical an experience as Bustin' Out was, it included many QoL improvements and additional content that in many ways made it a better game overall (though Bustin' Out is still the "one to beat" in my estimation). Tragically, the GBA version wasn't released in Australia either, but the DS version was (as a launch title when the DS was released in early 2005 in Australia).
The Urbz: Sims in the City was what made me spring for my first console (handheld or otherwise), being the Nintendo DS, and I fell in love with the game all over again after having played the GBA version "via other means" (the DS takes advantage of the higher resolution and has an additional "episode" of content). I was also really looking forward to The Sims 2 on both GBA/DS as the reveal trailer indicated that, unlike The Urbz, that The Sims 2 on GBA/DS would be two completely different games, which cemented my decision to buy a DS at the time.
The Sims 2 (GBA) recycled the same engine as the two GBA games before it, but it was just... bad. The gameplay was tedious and repetitive, the relationship mechanics were awful and arbitrary, and the game as a whole just wasn't any fun or particularly memorable. The reality TV concept was promising, the graphics were more or less consistent with the last two games, but sadly, the only thing that this game had in common with the last two were merely superficial.
The Sims 2 (DS), which I still play to this day, was a fun little game (and utilised a brand new 3D engine), and it too served as a sequel to the handheld iterations that had come before it. Although it was a little light on content, it seemed to set a solid foundation for some promising new games to come.
Sadly, no such game ever materialised.
The Sims 2: Pets (DS) was absolutely abominable and one of the worst games I have ever played. It felt more like a bad student project than a game produced by a behemoth like EA. In fact, it's one of the ONLY DS games that I have ever traded in. Buggy, downright ugly, and stupidly repetitive. I cannot recommend anybody in their right mind waste their time or money with this shameless cash-in garbage. Its only redeeming quality was its soundtrack (comprised of some cool indie pop/rock and R&B tunes lifted from the PC expansion pack of the same name).
The GBA installment looked to be far superior to the DS game in every conceivable way, but I am yet to play it to any length. (1/2)
The Sims 2: Castaway (DS) seemed to utilise an enhanced version of the same engine used for the abominable Pets. It wasn't a terrible game by any stretch, just painfully average, and I was never motivated enough to see it to completion.
I would give my heartiest of recommendations to Bustin' Out (GBA), The Urbz (DS), and to a lesser extent, The Sims 2 (DS) for those looking to play the very best of what the handheld Sims games have to offer. The Sims 2 (PSP) also seems to be a sequel to the GBA/DS games before it (with some returning characters), but I haven't played it to any length, but that too might be worth procuring (subsequent Sims games on PSP appear to be watered down ports of the PS2 games though). (2/2)
I loved the handheld games so much that I even made a machinima series using The Sims 2 (PC) back in 2005 that was set in Miniopolis (the setting of The Urbz on GBA/DS) with Detective Dan (pictured above, left) as the protagonist as he solved murder mysteries that devastated the city. Only five episodes were ever made (nine were planned for the first season), but I had cancelled the show after suffering a hard drive failure (and while some elements had been backed up at the time, the raw footage was not, which I intended to preserve for prosperity).
The series was really rather terrible though, but I have otherwise fond memories of working on it. I still wonder what could have been had I seen the series to completion.
After spotting a pre-release screenshot of Detective Dan as the "Sheriff" of Strangetown in The Sims 2 (DS), I had then planned to relocate the series to Strangetown for the show's second season in 2006, but this obviously never materialised. One such episode was to titled "Saved By The Bella".
@kducky11 ey really? It's not locked behind any DLC right? I might just jump back in to see if I experience any lol
What a strange time to post this story. I'm literally on chapter 3 of 5 in this game.
@Tasuki It might be The Sims: Bustin' Out, that one had co op. The other sims console game that had co op was called The Urbz: Sims in the city. If you remember being able to freely walk around instead of using a cursor, then you were playing The Urbz.
@Silly_G @ARPK I feel vindicated that other people have actually played the abomination that is Sims 2: Pets on DS. I have massively fond memories of Sims 2 on PC but that game is absolutely awful. Glad I have the full Sims 2 collection now on my laptop to remind me of the good ones!
@nessisonett I've also played it — got it for Christmas, I think? It was such a sad and weirdly disappointing change from previous Simses.
@KateGray My sister got it with her pink DS Lite for Christmas probably in 2006. Needless to say, Mario Kart DS and Harvest Moon were played a lot more.
I have a lot of fond memories of playing the PS2 version of Sims Bustin' Out. Didn't know there was a GBA version, but it sounds completely different to the console version.
I love this game, the gba version specifically.
I even hunted down a copy of the DS sequel, The Urbz.
@nessisonett after the excellent Bustin Out and Urbz, and the different but still great Sims 2 on DS, The Sims 2 Pets (DS) was like a slap in the face from every direction and by multiple hands at the same time…. It killed the series…
I mean, not the Sims in general, but the handheld spin-offs.
After that, I did enjoy The Sims 3 on DS. Ironically I found it better than the 3DS versions, even though the characters were Ugly with uppercase U.
I played the original and the expansions on lunch breaks at work. Okay, and quite a lot during work too.
There’s a free download you can get for PC and it’s still great fun.
@Poodlestargenerica which was your favourite minigame? I really enjoyed the lawnmowing one, although I also liked the petri dish one — shame they were the two furthest apart in terms of when you could unlock them!
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