Collected together, the Sim titles from the past two decades make for one of the most flexible brands in gaming’s short history. From the sombre starting point that was the original SimCity through to the tongue-in-cheek charm of insect farming release SimAnt, via theme park development and hospital management games, the series has constantly proved its ability to adapt.
The biggest reworking of EA’s seminal series came with the Sims games, which almost count as a genre in their own right. Largely thanks to a huge range of updates and expansions including dating, university and pet editions, along with the infamous H&M Stuff clothes shopping disk, the Sims games have courted non-gamers and dedicated players alike, but they have always seemed a little too dull for the Nintendo formats.
Which brings us to MySims, a colourful Nintendorisation of the urban cool of the Sims games. Gone are the well proportioned city-dwellers and their tragically hip lives, as they step aside to be replaced by wide-eyed, lollipop-headed ‘pre-teen’ adults loose in a saccharine world. The premise remains very much the same though. Rather than governing a community by controlling the infrastructure of a city as you would have in the days of SimCity, you dictate its success by influencing the interactions of the people.
On the Wii, MySims is a far more elaborate game, but condensed to fit onto a DS cartridge it is essentially a slender adventure game, that is perhaps most comparable to Harvest Moon. Sadly though, it doesn’t quite have the charm or substance that Nintendo’s fantastic farm-’em-up fostered so effortlessly.
Once you pass through MySims’ very basic character customisation tool, you are thrust into a quaint shore-side town that is suffering something of a recession. Dissatisfied tourists are holidaying elsewhere, local shops are barely turning a profit and happy-go-lucky residents are beginning to feel discontent.
Beginning with some simple and humble challenges that typify the opening of a Zelda classic, you begin to explore the town and meet new friends and acquaintances. Your ongoing mission quickly becomes focussed on luring in new tourists and residents, helping the town to blossom and flourish and enhancing its atmosphere.
As a day and night cycle keeps the townsfolk moving and the objectives changing, your main concern is interaction. Successful conversations with visitors are key to securing their return, but rather than speaking through recognisable words, you must instead use trial and error to see what kind of communications any given character needs to feel happy. As a timer ticks away, icons appear on screen symbolising exchanges like ‘converse’, ‘encourage’, ‘listen’ or ‘cry’. As you select the correct responses, a happiness bar associated with your new acquaintance begins to fill. Upon maximising the bar you gain a new friend, earn some cash, and most importantly, boost the appeal and popularity of your new home.
As you explore the town, various tasks such as decorating desolate flower beds or looking for hidden objects will fall into your lap, meaning you will have to chat using actual conversation with established residents like the major and policeman, and spend your cash purchasing needed objects.
The main way many of these tasks present themselves to you will send a judder down the spine of jaded gamers and rightly so, as MySims DS is packed with numerous mini-games. From assembling flower leis to paragliding, you will face various challenges that often completely cast aside the need for a stylus, which is an odd choice given the benefits a touch screen can give to mini-games. Most lose appeal quickly, and their monetary rewards quickly become redundant as your pockets inevitably swell with reserves of cash.
Despite a smattering of personality and charm, it is a real shame that a game that teeters so precariously on being irresistible is in fact a little empty and repetitive. The notion of saving a failing town filled with deserving characters is an alluring one indeed, and each time you snap your DS shut you do feel a pang of guilt, but every day spent with MySims just feels very similar. Talking to residents and being at their beck and call can grow tiresome, and the plodding pace and empty game world does little to help the game’s cause.
There is a nice model of progression in place that links your popularity with certain townsfolk to new options related to their employment, and the tool to design and rearrange the room you sleep and live in is in equal parts simple and involving. The interface as a whole works brilliantly, though it must be remembered that this is a game aimed at youngsters.
Regardless, in this era of affordable computing and IT classes at primary school, even the under-fives are worryingly technologically literate, meaning children no longer need patronising through game design. Ultimately MySims DS will appeal to young gamers, but there are better titles out there for them, and youthful adults looking for the charm and escapism of Harvest Moon will likely experience disappointment.
MySims does look great, and has an overall level of craftsmanship that is only tarnished by a slight lack of originality. The musical score is also well produced, but will feel terribly familiar to Harvest Moon fans and players familiar with cute gaming worlds in general.
If you are a huge Sims fan, this simple ‘town in your pocket’ might hold some worth for you, but if you are looking for something with a little more depth then it is probably best to opt for the more ambitious Wii version. If you’re hoping to get a game for a youngster that is brimming with innocence, good morals and fair longevity, again MySims DS may warrant a trip to your game store, but for older gamers and casual players alike, this good-natured release is sadly somewhat empty of appeal.