The Sims franchise, in my books, is the freshest thing to hit the gaming world since Infocom produced Zork back in the 80s. I love The Sims. I will rave to anyone who will listen about The Sims. I own all of the expansion packs (except for the Christmas one that came out not so long ago). Let’s just say I’m a fan –I’ve probably been playing the Sims for the better part of ten years.
Now that you know a bit about my background, I hope you’ll take me seriously when I tell you that The Sims 2 Pets for the Nintendo DS is one of the worst games I have ever played. If I didn’t already own a copy of the Sims 2 Pets for the PC, this version would nearly be enough to make me question my faith in EA Games. As it is, I can hardly believe that this game could have The Sims tag attached to it and not expect to lose some die-hard fans.
I realise that the DS is a bit of a limited platform – graphics lag far behind that of the PSP, sound is usually not great – but successful DS games have always succeeded via their superior gameplay rather than fancy graphics and the rest. I hate to say it, but this game appears to be cashing in on The Sims’ good name in order to move some units before anyone realises how terrible it is.
Enough of the rant, let me give you some examples. You begin the game as a new veterinarian, fresh out of school. Luckily enough, you’ve landed a sole-charge business out of your tiny home, and you’re open for business! The first day is spent doing things such as creating a new look and outfit for yourself, choosing your own new pet (cat or dog), moving into your new home and treating your first patient. Cool right? The game patiently takes you through the tools of the trade, which enable you to figure out what is wrong with each of your clients’ pets that come through your door. A stethoscope helps you determine if a pet has the flu; brushing them with a special brush checks for fleas; and an x-ray tool can tell you if a pet has swallowed something strange or has a broken limb.
Examining pets initially is quite fun; you never know what ailment you are going to wind up with and have to treat. The problem is that caring for sick animals becomes repetitive (and then boring) extremely quickly. A dog with fleas has to be washed with special shampoo every day for three days (if you use the cheap flea shampoo), which means that every day you have to take the dog out of its kennel, take it to the bath, soak it down with water, put shampoo on it, rinse it off and then dry it with the hair dryer. If you have three pets with fleas in your kennel, the novelty of treating fleas becomes pretty old, pretty fast. Even an appearance of Hillary Duff with her worm-ridden chihuahua does little to break up the tedium.
Interaction with other Sims is completely unsatisfying as well. You rarely get a chance to engage in good conversation with a Sim, because the ones you meet are either in your waiting room (and get grumpy if they have to wait too long) or in the park, where your vitals seem to drop so quickly you barely have a chance to say “hello” before you have to rush home to the toilet. The park seems to offer no real value either, as you can always predict there will be a sim at either end, but absolutely nothing inside. You could walk around, I suppose, but there’s really nothing to look at once you’re there.
Cooking also becomes a pain in the neck, as you have to buy individual ingredients and cookbooks, and then cook everything together over the right heat, for the right length of time, in a wee mini-game. This could be cool (case in point: I’m strangely drawn towards “Cooking Mama”) but instead becomes really tedious after a while. Furthermore, the fish curry (or similarly complicated recipe) offers what seems to contain the same nutritional value, in terms of how long it staves off the hunger pains, as the fried egg. Why would anyone bother cooking anything more expensive or complicated?
Gameplay is intended to be enhanced by certain unlockables, such as upgrading your house when you earn enough money, however there are only two further houses that you can buy. You can progress through various vet rankings, based on your reputation score. There are also meant to be items that are unlocked as you progress through the game – although I did not come across any of these during the time I played. Once you have the largest house and outfitted it with new furniture however, there seems to be little to compel a player to continue with the game.
And that’s it in a nutshell – diagnosing and healing pets, raising your stats and income, buying things, and the occasional walk in the park. Gameplay is limited, the music rapidly becomes annoying, dialogue is repetitive and at around $70 for a new copy of this game, I believe EA Games fails on all counts in providing Sims fans with a reasonable extension of its current franchise. Worst of all, you spend so much time looking after everyone else’s pets that you wind up with no time to play with your own. Adults will most certainly be disappointed; children may give the game a little more time before they tire of it. Cross your fingers and hope the next release is better.