Sunday, January 11, 2009

MySims Review

Sims for Kids

When I tried MySims at E3, I thought: Oh, no! Another life-sucking game to keep me on my chair for hours on end! As if I didn't have enough with my job, playing adventure or puzzle games in addition to Animal Crossing: City Folk, I feared I would find myself playing this game all the time. Luckily, or sadly, depending on how you look at it, that wasn't the case. MySims is a charming game full of things to do, but it's a little too simple for those with greater plans in mind. It's quite obvious the game is tailored for the younger ones, though some audiences may overlap, as there's enough charm to hold one's attention for at least a while.

The PC version is more than a port of the Wii's MySims, which came out in September of last year, along with the DS version. This version has been expanded with new objects, more characters, costumes, and buildings. Also, it comes with online support, which allows players to exchange friend codes in order to play together in shared areas and chat via keyboard or voice chat. All these new features make the game more interesting and of greater value, although it still doesn't warrant automatic involvement and the subsequent (and sometimes inevitable) addiction.

MySims is a cute life simulator where players help to rebuild a town that was once perfect. Citizens moved out of town because the town's architect left and things went bad, and now it's up to you to bring back the charm that once reigned in this land. You'll get to create your own character, customizing it with cute outfits, different faces, hair styles, etc. It's not a very deep character creator, but it does the trick.

Once you move into your new town, you'll create a home, and then your very own workshop. Then, you'll start socializing with other townsfolk, thus learning the ins and outs of your new life. By using certain objects and exploiting the resources available in your town, you'll start obtaining and collecting essences, which come in handy when building furniture or revitalizing certain things. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game, as it involves collecting and later customizing things. Shaking an apple tree will grant you a very tasty essence, and catching a clown fish will translate into a funny clown motif.

There are only six different essence categories (fun, geeky, tasty, cute, spooky, and studious), but you'll find tons of different essences throughout the game that fit within these categories. Also, depending upon your behavior with the town's characters, you'll earn emotion-based essences. Essences can be placed in your home or other neighbors' properties, always trying to suit their taste. You can use the essences as paint or wallpapers, turning objects and buildings into unique items. Also, it's important to keep the town healthy by planting new trees, flowers, etc. as well as watering them so they don't go bad.

As you help improve the town, you'll notice its inhabitants will feel more comfortable and new ones will start moving in. You'll see them interacting with each other in funny ways, which is a charming facet of the game. By rebuilding different town areas, helping to reopen businesses, and upgrading the citizen's lifestyles with new items you'll build in your workshop, your town will, once again, return to glory and earn you the five stars.

As the town's architect and potential savior of the village, you'll spend a lot of time in the workshop. Here you'll create furniture and other items, starting with blueprints provided by other citizens, or building your own creations from scratch. This aspect promotes creativity, and it's actually entertaining in small doses. The problem is most of the game is based on building / customizing tasks, and after a while, it gets boring. The town's citizens will ask you to create things for them, turning the game into a go-and-get-me kind of game. Not only do you have to create the items for them, but you also have to go first and collect the required essences to apply to the items they ordered. After a while, this becomes too mundane.The keyboard controls on MySims for PC are simple enough and players will get the hang of them after a while. Moving the characters around is a breeze, as you can use the arrow keys, the WASD keys, or simply point and click with the mouse to make characters move. Interacting with other characters and doing things like fishing or shaking trees is also extremely easy, and moving the camera is achieved with no trouble with the Q and E keys. However, things get more difficult when it's time to build furniture, apply patterns, move objects, etc. Handling objects seems more intuitive on the Wii and DS, whereas on the PC version players will have to get accustomed to using the WASD keys. It may be a good way to initiate children in the world of PC gaming, but using the keyboard is certainly more complex than one could wish for, considering MySims is tailored mostly for kids.

When building an object, pieces are placed with the mouse but selected and rotated with the WASD keys, which can get a bit confusing at first. Players have to be careful when selecting pieces and placing them over the blueprint: sometimes the "recipe" will require applying a certain amount of essences to the object, and if you don't use enough pieces where you can apply the essence, you'll have to end up getting rid of the portions you had already used, and thus losing the essences already applied to them. Also, removing pieces from below will delete the ones placed above, which is a bit frustrating. An undo button could have been a great solution, but there's no such luck. One eventually gets used to these issues, but the controls are just not user-friendly enough, especially for the youngest.

Unlike the Wii and DS version of MySims, the PC adaptation offers online support. Through a familiar system of friend codes (found in most Nintendo games), players can visit each others' shared areas and check out what they made, how they decorated, etc. Objects and buildings can even be "packaged" and sent to other players, allowing them to use your very own creations in their towns. All these online capabilities are great, except for the fact that you may not know many people who own the game. Only being able to visit the shared game areas is also a downside, as most players will focus on creating things for their lovely town and not the "outskirts." Activities like playing tag will make it fun for some players though. Who wouldn't be up for some friendly competition?

The soundtrack in MySims is very typical of games like The Sims, and many of the sound effects will be extremely familiar for The Sims or Spore players as well. There's not much to complain about when it comes to the sound experience in general, though the music gets repetitive if you play MySims for too long. However, since the intended audience is kids and early teens, they may not even notice. After all, sim games are always repetitive in almost every aspect, but they're also very absorbing, which is what keeps players coming back for more.

The graphics are entirely bubbly and full of color, perfect for kids and adults drawn by the cutesy factor. If you have a good enough computer, you'll notice everything is very smooth and consistent, and character animations make the game feel more "alive." The high resolutions achieved by the computer blow away the visuals offered on the Wii version. However, one thing I could mention is the general lack of detail in the environments. Everything, from trees to common fruits, buildings, etc. seems a bit too familiar after a while, not leaving much left to discover. If the town was larger, there could be much more to do and see.

If you own a Wii, Animal Crossing (though similar) may be a better option, as it's more in-depth and entertaining, less focused on the "LEGO" factor and more on collecting things, learning about fish, insects, and dinosaurs, as well as working and managing your "finances." The Sims franchise, available for PC and other last-gen game consoles is also a great option, as it's the most realistic and addictive life sim to date. MySims offers a nice sim experience for the younger ones though, as well as those looking into fun and lighthearted games that are easy to play and understand, but it's definitely on the "light" side. There's a whole lot of furniture creating here, but socializing, decorating, and life simulation in general is not as in-depth and entertaining as it is in the regular The Sims franchise. This game grows old after a while, even though its charm may hold your attention for some time.


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