The Wii original migrates to PC with sharper visuals and a wider variety of content.
It was once a happy town; a place where people went to spend their lives without all the hustle of the big city. Lately, however, things just haven’t been going so well. People have been moving out and the town itself is beginning to look quite barren as a result. The local hotel is suffering and there aren’t any truly unique attractions to lure new residents. It all started after this one special resident—with a unique power to imbue his creations with Essences—left without explanation.
But that’s where you come in. Remarkably, you’ve got the same unique power. You’re a bit of an expert architect; a craftsman who can build everything ranging from small furniture pieces to entire buildings. And perhaps most importantly, you also possess this elusive ability to suffuse your projects with these so-called essences—magical elements derived from a host of everyday items, such as fruits, rocks, and even dead tree stumps, which can dramatically alter the mood of furniture and buildings to which they’re applied. You’re known for your talents, and you’re just what the town needs.
Starting off, you take a few moments to customize your sim to your liking. This includes selections of hair style and color, skin tone, eyes, mouth, outfit, and face paint. While there’s a good selection here, it truthfully isn’t the most versatile system for creating your look-alike (nothing like the Mii engine anyway, much less the new Xbox 360 one). You can also affect the pitch of your Sims’ voice, though regardless of what you choose here, your character is still going to sound absolutely ridiculous when speaking. In my case, my Sim sounded strikingly similar to Family Guy’s Chris Griffin, which I guess counts for something.
Next, you meet the mayor, Rosalyn, who escorts you to your new home… which—egad!—hasn’t been built yet! Following an expression of her embarrassment, Rosalyn then walks you through the process of building you own home out of the provided pieces. This will be your first experience designing a structure. The interface is pretty simple—very much like simply stacking blocks as a kid—though there are some notable hang-ups, such as when you wish to fit a block into a space behind another block or between two others. For these sorts of applications, the “slide under” mode works fairly well, but you still run into situations where you feel like the game is making things too hard on you. Rotating the blocks via the nonsensical keyboard shortcuts can also prove rather beguiling. Either way, the designer conveniently highlights blocks which would fit to make life easier on the architect, so that’s a nice feature that expedites construction.
There’s a fair bit of customization to be had between the pieces themselves, their sizes, and their colors (which can be adjusted via Paint Mode). You can choose between wall types (stone, brick, colored vinyl, etc.), roofing, a few different windows and doors, a couple of different chimneys, and some other assorted variations. In Paint Mode, you can also opt to “paint” a piece with a particular essence instead of a color, thus altering the mood and appeal of your creation. As you progress in the game, people will begin to request that you create things for them, and those requests come with increasingly specific essence requirements, so this is crucial to fulfilling people’s needs.
If you’ve played the Wii version of the game, everything here is precisely the same—though there are more people, blueprints, essences, and other content in this version of the game (and there ought to be!).
(Excessive Amounts of) Time is of the Essence
These essences, of which there are nearly 100 types (of several varieties), can be found literally all over the place. Collecting them is the most time-intensive (read: monotonous) task you’ll be pitted with throughout the entire game. The first place you’ll be introduced to them is in the town garden, where you can shake trees to make fruit fall, which you can then collect to reap essences (sound like Animal Crossing yet?). You can also plant fruit in the ground to grow new trees, which will need to be watered until healthy (truth be told, you can actually grow an entire tree by waiting and watering a few times over the course of around two minutes).
Everything you collect will grant you a different type of essence—Red apples give you Tasty essences, for instance, while Dead Wood grants you essences of the Spooky variety. If you’re really in a pinch and you need some of a particular type of essence quickly, provided it grows on trees, you can fertilize a tree… which causes it to sprout fruit more quickly, but also damages its health in the process. Plenty of watering can then restore it to normalcy afterward. You can also fish and prospect for different types of essences. Prospecting is an easy mini-game where you follow a metal-detector-like notification system to the location of buried treasure. Prospecting in different areas will earn you different types of essences.
As you progress and your fellow townspeople begin to request that you run errands and produce specific items of furniture for them, you’ll need to keep a healthy stock of each type of essence—or at least know where some is readily harvestable. Producing furniture takes place in your shop, which you’re asked to construct shortly after moving into your home. The process is highly similar to building structures, except you’re given blueprints to go by and are blessed with the additional convenience of a “ghost” image which you simply fill in with the proper pieces.
Once you complete enough tasks, your village will eventually gain a star level, making it more appealing to prospective residents and giving you the opportunity to access a new area each time. The first area you’re able to access—the cave—is lame, but the subsequent rewards are considerably more enticing. Upon star level 2, you’ll be able to open the way to the forest, which provides seven more building lots and a load of new treasures from which you can extract essences. After that, there’s the desert, which is equally rewarding. There are five star levels in all, and you’ll have to reach them all if you wish to unlock all of the essences, building lots, and thus every last one of the dozens of prospective townsfolk. Each townsperson will provide you with four building tasks as well, so you’ll be collecting plenty of blueprints throughout your work. Overall, the game world is pretty big for this type of game, probably providing something in the neighborhood of twice the explorative area as Animal Crossing.
It’s true that MySims was almost certainly inspired by Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, but there are some pretty distinct differences. While they both share many common elements, such as the primary goal of creating the most comfortable living environment for yourself and your neighbors as possible (thus maximizing the number of townspeople), Animal Crossing places a lot more emphasis on furniture sets (and rare items—there is but a fraction of the number of items in AC to collect in MySims) and the benefits of proper decoration. MySims, on the other hand, is a lot more focused on collecting mass amounts of essences and completing your requested building tasks subsequently, thus satisfying residents, earning access to new areas, and luring new townspeople.
MySims is ultimately considerably more customizable (you can even redesign any of the existing buildings in your town by simply visiting the mailbox and modifying the structure at will), but it ventures too far out of the “carefree” category and instead presents you with a neverending list of tasks which ends up feeling very much like a bunch of chores. Collecting essences, for instance, quickly grows tiring, and after a while you’ll probably begin to ask yourself whether it’s even worth all the trouble to go out and try to prospect for a bunch of rare essences. Over the course of my time with the PC version of the game, I only reached Star Level 3 in my town, and yet I had already begun to dread the thought of collecting more essences and building more furniture. There’s just a lot of that going on all the time, and it really isn’t enjoyable enough to stand as the core of the whole experience.
The game itself is fairly well-designed, with crisp, lush environments and probably the cutest characters this side west of the Mii Channel. The music is dynamic (it blends and changes as you travel from place to place), though it quickly grows annoying (think piano recital). Although some people would probably take offense to this conclusion, the whole experience smacks of a child’s game, and the level of appeal to be found in such monotonous “collect-a-thon” tasks does very little to dispel that sentiment (somehow, Nintendo’s original Animal Crossing managed to shake the “kids-only” stigma and consequently spread through college campuses everywhere). Kids, on the other hand, are likely to enjoy the experience very much. The characters are cute, the reading level is moderate, and most of the tasks are guided well enough to where your average youngster probably wouldn’t have much trouble deciphering the processes.
One other way in which MySims and Animal Crossing share similarity is that both offer a system of very limited online interaction (but it’s there nonetheless). MySims features its own peer-to-peer online play, supporting up to eight players who can play tag and hide-and-seek and interact with one another, something that’s new to the PC version. You can also export/email creations to others who have the game, which is cool, if not a bit archaic in approach. At the end of the day, both series feel very restrictive in their online components, though that’s probably suitable considering the primarily young demographic which they are certainly targeting.