Having a pet in video game form has become all the rage. Since Nintendo unleashed Nintendogs everyone and his dog (excuse the pun) wants in on the action, so it's no surprise that the legendary Sims series wants in. The Sims 2 Pets on PSP is almost a direct port of the game on PlayStation 2 and GameCube, and therefore plays like last year's The Sims 2, but adds pets into the mix and features some nice AI improvements that help improve the overall console Sims experience. Sadly, it also suffers from one near game-breaking PSP only feature.
If you've played a console version of The Sims before you'll know what to expect. It's all about achieving life goals, whether that be a long-term thing like getting a good job, or something very much in the present, like simply eating some food to ease hunger. As the title of this game suggests, pets are now part of the family, and each is treated like a Sim, albeit a rather limited one that can't get a job and needs constant looking after.
The variety of pets on offer is really the game's biggest weakness. Given that pets are the focus of the game, a selection that's limited to dogs and cats is rather disappointing. You can create your animal from a number of different breeds and there are numerous appearance criteria that you can tweak to give your pet an individual look - including, if you're one of those cruel people, pet clothes. The number of breeds on offer isn't bad, but a few more species would have been preferable.
How your pet looks is just one aspect of it though; how it behaves is the key. As in real life, how you treat your pet during its early years will shape its personality. This is important as a bad pet isn't ideal to have around the house and it's not likely to get on well with other pets down the park, especially if you make it into a psychotic maniac. It's very tricky to train your pet though, as it takes constant attention, so if your Sims have jobs it means less time for little poochy.
Actions need to be carried out as soon as you see your little darling doing something naughty, in order to hammer home that destroying the house isn't good. Each time this happens you need to go through a rather long disciplining process, and it takes a really long time before the bad behaviour trait is trained out of your pet. You could alternatively encourage bad behaviour, but that might not meet your Sims' social needs.
Focussing on people and character interaction is also possible, and this area has been enhanced over the previous console version of The Sims 2 thanks to improved artificial intelligence. You only get a single neighbourhood and downtown area to play in, but it's no different to previous console Sims 2 games, so shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone. Various bonus items can unlocked by spending pet points on toys for your pets, and these should keep fans occupied for a fair while.
So far, so good for the PSP port, but now comes the near crippling PSP only feature: an abundance of loading. Players of The Sims 2 Pets on the PSP will have to suffer 3-4 seconds of loading almost every time they open a menu or attempt to interact with something in the game. In PSP reviews the biggest complaint is often lengthy loading times, but here the issue is the frequency of pauses. You'll get used to it after a while, but plenty of players won't be as lenient. Strangely for a PSP game there are no multiplayer game modes at all, which admittedly isn't a huge problem, but surprising nonetheless.
The Sims 2 Pets isn't anything more than The Sims 2 on consoles with pets. It feels like an expansion pack, and if that's what you want, you won't be disappointed. Overall gameplay improvements make Pets a better game than The Sims 2 was last year, and animal lovers will no doubt spend hours creating their ultimate cat or dog, but the PSP game is severely hampered by frequent loading.