For years Sims on the PC has been capitalising on a "more is better" philosophy that paved the way for clutches of novelty characters, pets, furniture, clothing, restaurants and careers that have been fed into the series through expansion packs and sequels. But on 3DS the game avoids this Chinese buffet, opting instead to take these features and peel them back until you get a basic impression of what they probably once offered. This is the Scotch egg method of delivering Sims content: It's not big and it's not flashy, but it's portable.
The 3DS version of The Sims 3 is a smaller version of its PC and console counterparts, both literally and figuratively, and it's reasonably faithful to its peers. You design a character, buy a house, get a job, make friends, buy furniture, sell furniture, watch telly, sleep, wake up. You have access to their mood and relationship statuses along with a list of their particular Aspirations on the lower screen, used in the game as a home to all the menus. The same screen gives you a top-down view of your house and doubles as a makeshift point-and-click area, letting you use the stylus to interact with your Sim and their household objects.
Occasionally you'll be given one-off questions that affect your career trajectory. "A band asks fans to send in drawings, do you send in a video?" asks a pop-up window to my character, a now-grown Rebecca Black who's attempting to revive a career in the music industry. Generally speaking it's impossible to guess the correct answer offhand, and in this case clicking Yes is the wrong choice. "The video is embarrassingly bad and gets more than a million hits online. She is now lonelier. Job performance decreased." It's almost too perfect to be true, but those accidental storylines have always been the beauty of the Sims.
Unfortunately most of the features of the original title have been cut down for the sake of the device. On 3DS you can only design one Sim per household, compared to the 8-person families of other platforms, which means mulling about the house is an oddly lonely experience and the only way to interact socially is by associating with the neighbours. While you can invite friends over, the amount of Sims you can contact by phone highlights just how small the world feels now, with the address book limited to friends, police and firefighters, leaving out the maids, gardeners and babysitters of other Sims titles.
Even travelling to town, while necessary to maintain your Sim's mood, ultimately feels claustrophobic. Town is made up of two not dissimilar locations, Industrial Centre and Union Park, which lets you access a few basic social areas. Unfortunately most of the town seems to be completely off-limits, effectively putting an end to any hopes of a city you can explore. While you can go ahead and tell your Sim to have a meal at a local restaurant the result is a bizarre, zoomed-in focus shot of the outside of the building until they finish eating and their cabin fever has subsided so they can be taken back home.
The karma points system from the console game has made it onto the 3DS, although the number of rewards and punishments available to spend on your Sim is massively reduced to a grand total of three karmic events: Earthquake, Electrocution, and Butterflies. It's implemented with the platform in mind - for instance to reward your Sim with a gust of butterflies you blow into the microphone - but because the punish/reward system isn't a featured attraction like it is on consoles the result feels more like an attempt to pack in the relevant features in the most minimalist way possible.
The 3DS' main offering to the game is the facial recognition tech which lets you take a picture of yourself using the device and turns your face into a basic Sim recreation. Sort of, anyway. It doesn't make any distinction between gender or skin tone, so often you're left with a bi-racial simulation-you until you fiddle with the settings, but even beyond that it seems to have difficulty making a reliable caricature based on your facial features. The 3D effect creates a slight depth of field but with that comes an oddly blurry-edged softness which means details like fingers, shadowing, or subtle facial features don't show through. So the final product is a facial recognition system that takes your more obvious features and over-exaggerates them, while more subtle features might as well have been guessed.
It's obvious that sweat has gone into translating all of Sims 3's features onto a hand-held device, but beyond the core game - the eating, buying, working, cleaning Sims - the game feels too lightweight and its features too incidental. The franchise has successfully managed to spread itself across multiple platforms, but it seems as though the 3DS takes more away from it than it adds.