MySims originally launched on the Nintendo Wii, the first attempt by EA to port its mega-cash cow franchise The Sims for a console audience. The fact that we're now getting a PC port of the Wii game based on the hit PC franchise is confusing enough, but add the fact that MySims came out around the same time as the Wii/Nintendo DS follow-up, MySims Kingdom, and it's enough to set your head spinning even more.
To be perfectly clear -- because even EA wasn't when we asked for a copy of the game and were sent MySims Kingdom instead -- this review is going to take a look at MySims for PC.
MySims was designed to spin off the Sims franchise in a more kid-friendly direction, and that it did. Instead of a realistic world filled with heady challenges like getting a job, paying the rent and finding a life partner, what you get is a simplified Animal Crossing-style town with empty lots for you to fill with houses, restaurants, a museum, an arcade and other fun stuff to entice a more stumpy and cartoonish group of Sims to move in.
Gradually, your run-down town will transform into a thriving neighborhood. One of the most rewarding aspects of the game is simply watching the different Sims interact with each other and the environment. They'll chat (in their random Sims gibberish, of course), gesturing with their cute little stumpy Sims arms. The little Italian chef Sim pulls tomatoes out of his apron and starts juggling them, the creepy museum curator draws arcane symbols on the ground and holds a s?ance, the stuck-up boutique owner preens into her mirror, and so on.
There's a carefree aspect to MySims that isn't present in the rest of the Sims games. Basically, you're free to eat ice cream, dance, sleep, splash in the fountain, play arcade games, and whatever else you choose, and these activities have no bearing whatsoever on your physical or mental well-being. There are no stats to obsess over, no depression or loneliness, no money worries, no endless schlepping from the fridge to the bathroom to satisfy those two most basic and essential bodily functions. The only goal you have is to grow your city; the rest is all just eye candy, and much of it terribly cute.
Unfortunately, growing the city introduces a different kind of tedium. Before a new Sim will agree to move in, they need a house, which you must build by piecing together the body and roof, as well as windows, doors, chimneys and even fences and lawn ornaments.
Once the new resident has moved in, though, it's just the beginning. They will start issuing demands about various bits of furniture that they simply must have in order to function properly. The ice cream girl, for example, isn't satisfied until she has a fridge, a sink, a counter to hold the ice cream, a table and a chair for her customers to sit on.
So, you have to build all this too, one by one. Building interior items is a much more involved process than simply slapping a roof on top of some walls. You must piece together little bits of the item until it meets certain minimum shape requirements, much like Lego. You're free to go beyond that and improvise with your own personal spin if you so choose, or you can just stick to the template.
Sims will also ask that the items you craft for them incorporate various "Essences," which are gathered from the environment. You can shake an Apple Tree to gather the Apple Essences that drop from it, or chop the whole thing down to get some Wood Essences; go fishing for the Essences of various sea creatures; get Happy and Sad Essences from being nice or mean to Sims, and so on.
Building cool stuff like a giant arcade cabinet for the town's resident videogame nerd was fun, but I quickly started to resent the requests for mundane objects like beds and chairs. Theoretically, the template allows you to save time by more or less just selecting the correct pieces and snapping them into place, but in practice it can be tricky to place items just right. After five minutes of struggling to get a bed knob positioned just right onto a headboard, I decided that, screw it, the mayor could just deal with having a three-post bed.
The PC version comes with a handful of new features, the most significant of which is a new multiplayer component. No, you can't go and visit another Sim's town, but you can hop on the train and go to the "Garden," a customizable online environment where players' avatars can meet up, play mini-games like tag, and chat with friends via an instant messaging system. The garden is also the only place you can grab unique Essences like Kittens and Textbooks (both of which, strangely, grow on trees). You can create items and send them to friends as well.
It's cute to see the mayor, after you've built her a podium, go up to it, tap the microphone as it feeds back, and then start to practice her speech. Or the Italian chef walking around outside suddenly throw down a towel on the grass and have himself a picnic lunch -- which you're more than welcome to join in on. This social ecosystem becomes richer and more rewarding the more Sims you're able to attract, but it's just a shame that doing so involves so much mundane object-building and resource-gathering.
Fiddling around with the bits of furniture can start to grind after a while unless you're the kind of meticulous person who doesn't mind obsessing over and personally crafting every nook of your Sims empire. For me, it was just something to put up with so I could watch my Sims do more cute stuff.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.