SimAnimals Preview: Where It’s Okay To Feed The Bears
A lot of games crossed my path when I had a small achievement addiction about a year ago; one of the most unique ones was Rare’s gardening sim “Viva Piñata.” I initially put off playing the game because I didn’t think I’d be interested in the daily ins-and-outs of a Fudgehog, or a Sparrowmint, plus the art style was a little too cutesy for me. Low and behold, I eventually got around to putting some time in on it, and it was actually quite fun – well most of it. Aside from the annoying camera controls, there were a handful of other problems I had with the game, mostly the tediousness of the maintenance tasks, and eventually I moved on. When I was done I a) was surprised by how much time I actually spent on the game, and b) was shocked by the fact that I got sucked in by a freaking gardening sim. It’s a shame that, in the end, it left a bad taste in my mouth, and I have yet to give its’ sequel “Trouble in Paradise” a chance, mostly because I’m certain some of the same annoyances are going to be there. However, last week, I had the opportunity to check out a title that could make me forget about “Viva Piñata” forever, and it’s coming from another unlikely place, the producers of “The Sims.”
I thought the days were long gone where every possible thing on the earth got to have the “Sim-” prefix tossed in front of it, and in turn had a game made about it, but apparently I was wrong. The early to mid 90’s felt like Will Wright has a god complex and he was working through and his issues manifested in everything from ants to helicopters (I know those games weren’t directly made by Wright, but they still carried his brand, so I hold him responsible – down boy). Well, it looks like those days may be back as “The Sims” franchise branches out into quasi-familiar territory with the upcoming “SimAnimals” title.
While “The Sims “team have worked on animal based games in the past, “SimAnimals” takes a more traditional “Sims” approach to tending to a forest full of life. You basically need to make everything that’s alive in the forest happy – from bears to lettuce. You start the game off close to civilization and you slowly expand your control over different areas of the forest as you make the area you control content in a variety of different ways. If your squirrel needs some food, you give him an acorn. If your baddger needs a home, you give him some sticks, and if your oak tree is dying you water it. Essentially it boils down all the tedious crap in “Viva Piñata” and just leaves the god part.
I got a peak at the Wii version where you get to take your Mii into the living breathing forest and mess with stuff. You control everything with an interactive, on-screen hand, that the AI in the game is completely aware of. For someone that doesn’t spend too much time in the Sims’ world, it’s a unique experience because it chips away at the fourth wall of gaming when the small woodland creatures you just fed are playing with your hand in the game. Outside of the hand, the controls are pretty simple, as the Wii remote essentially serves as a mouse cursor and allows you access to the menus as well as your backpack which houses your inventory. And, since it’s always nice to have control options, you can play the game with or without a nuchuck to control the camera.
The game is opened up as you increase the happiness of your flora and fauna, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep it that way. Since torture is almost as essential in a “Sims” game as going to the bathroom is, naturally one of my first questions was whether or not you could kill the animals, and, yes, you can, but it’s not quite as satisfying as in, oh, say, “Cabella’s Big Game Hunter.” They made sure to include that for the boys, and for the girls, there’s 85 different plants they can grow. I’m not being sexist, EA’s the one that play tests the game, and they’re the ones that told me what each gender is interested in doing; boys like to kill, and girls like to garden.
The game boasts a few other “authentic” features as well. For example, there are day and night cycles, during which you’ll see different animals emerge. If you want a raccoon to join your forest, you’re most likely only going to have him come at night, since they’re nocturnal. Also, there’s animal sex … kinda. Much like “Viva Piñata” a form of procreation has been included, in order to keep the forest going, but, thankfully, there’s no annoying mini-game every time you want a baby animal to play with. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to go watch Animal Planet if you want to see the full on XXX version of beastly sex; I was privledged enough to see two deer “do it” and all they did was rub necks, and a baby deer appeared almost instantly. What do you want… it’s a “Sims” game… targeted at kids… no pixilated genitalia here.
On the less authentic side of things, you can unlock rare plants that you can use to screw with your animals. For example, if you complete a certain series of tasks (which are not required in the main game) you could unlock seeds for a plant that, if eaten by an animal, turns it into a giant. Other rare plants change your animals colors, shrink them, and so on and so forth.
Even with all those animals “doing it” and growing to disproportionate sizes it was a completely diferent aspect of the game that I thought was the game’s biggest surprise – multiplayer. “SimAnimals” includes a 4-player local co-op mode that lets you and three of your friends interact with the forest at the same time. Even more interesting is that each person in the forest has a different relationship with each plant or animal. So, one squirrel might like you but hate your friends. One slight drawback is, in true co-op fashion, only one person can control the camera, so you need to make sure your communicating well with your teammates if you want to see your forest flourish.
So, I never thought I’d be interested in a “Sims” game that didn’t have the word “city” in it, but I was caught a bit off guard with “SimAnimals,” and even a little enamored. I know I feel like kicking my own ass for saying that, but it looks like it could be a lot of fun for anyone that picked up “Viva Piñata” or someone who is just really into taking care of virtual carrots.