SimAnimals is the latest game in the “Sim” franchise, and is obviously targeted at a younger audience. Available for the Wii and DS, it allows players to get up close and personal with the forest and its inhabitants. While younger players will not be able to play through the game on their own, an older sibling or parent can easily pick up a second Wii-remote (up to 4 supported simultanously) and share the experience.
The game started in a small corner of the forest, from which a tutorial guides players into the games basics. The tutorials are goal orientated, teaching players how to feed the animals of the forest as well as how to make them happy in other ways. Once the tutorial is out of the way, the game becomes more open-ended, and while there are suggested tasks which can be performed to win medals, younger players are welcome to just play around in their surroundings, interacting with the animals.
Similar to previous “Sims” games, keeping the animals happy scores you “happy energy” which adds to an overall happiness meter. Conversely, if the wants and needs of the forest creatures are not met, then negative energy will subtract from your meter. Clocking up your happiness meter opens up new areas of the forest, so it is in your interest to attend to the needs of the animals. As you enter each new area, another tutorial introduces further aspects to the gameplay, before letting you roam free after completing the tutorial goals.
The game can be as open-ended as the player wishes it to be, although experienced gamers will want to complete the tasks required for unlocking achievement medals. Tasks include attracting new animals and encouraging them to procreate, with certain conditions needing to be met before animals appear or move into your forest. At times the game feels a little “Viva Pinata“-ish.
In order to perform some of the tasks, you will have to backtrack to previous regions. For example to plant a certain tree where it does not already grow, you will have to search for a seed in another area of the forest. This adds a strategy and memory element to the game for older children. Younger ones will require assistance to complete tasks if they wish to, or they can just be happy to play with the animals and keep them happy.
The game can be played with the Wii-remote along, or a nunchuck can be used to control the camera. Anyone familiar with the Wii-remote pointer function will easily be able to guide their onscreen cursor to interact with the forest. Most of the objects on screen can be interacted with and shifted to new locations. This includes trees, other plants, and of course the animals. Adding water to dry land can turn it into more fertile soil, and certain plants can also affect their surroundings.
Where SimAnimals falls over is in the graphical department. Of course the Wii is hardly known for its graphical prowess, but this felt a lot like a bad N64 game. The jaggies are terrible, and the frame rate is choppy while scrolling on screen. How a game could have been released in such a form is a little difficult to comprehend. The cynic in me thinks that younger gamers are hardly going to complain about frame rates and jaggies, so why bother trying to fix them? There are pictures of cute animals on the box and children judge games by their cover art anyway.
SimAnimals could and should have been a lot better. The open-ended gameplay and ability to interact with almost anything in the forest environment would be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, but this Sunday afternoon stroll is ruined by the graphical problems. The Sims games are popular for a reason, and this should have been a game to allow younger players to get a good taste for the franchise. I can imagine that children will still enjoy the game and not notice the flaws, but parents should not be so forgiving.
Open-ended nature of gameplay, play with almost anything.
Technical flaws are a deal breaker although children won’t be wise enough to notice the con.
The ButtonMasher verdict:
Could have been so much better and in its current form parents could be accused of some kind of torture by allowing their children to play this game.