[31 January 2012]
Though there’s a rich history to simulation video games in general, the subgenre of social simulations (or perhaps more appropriately, virtual doll houses) has existed for much less time. Though arguably introduced with Little Computer People in 1985, these kinds of games didn’t really take off until the release of The Sims in 2000. On the surface, social simulations appear to offer a good degree of opportunity for crossover appeal. The gameplay largely skews towards the casual. Titles like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and the aforementioned The Sims generate gameplay out of a compunction to create and maintain order, stylistic customization, virtualized social interaction, and a sense of either empathy or gleeful sadism in how the player chooses to treat their virtual beings.
Despite having no hardcore element with respect to reflex or strategy, these kinds of simulation games can be remarkably addictive in that they require frequent, regular attention in order to maintain the status quo within the player’s digital community. Given that virtual doll houses can be played satisfyingly in short bursts, they are a no-brainer for portable gaming. Further, management games in general seem well suited to a touchscreen interface, given how UI-heavy they tend to be. As such, it’s not surprising that the appearances on the DS by the three previously mentioned franchises were largely well received.
Although the Nintendo 3DS has sold well, particularly since its price drop, the library of quality titles for the console is still somewhat sparse. For the past several years, Nintendo has clearly established a reputation as a company responsible for innovative hardware and high quality first and second party software. But this same hardware innovation has led to them being somewhat eschewed by much of the third party game development industry. Nintendo control schemes, though forward thinking and sometimes downright prescient, certainly force developers to think of new ways to approach game creation.
Since development for more traditional systems seems to lead to the release of the same title for multiple consoles, it’s not surprising that Nintendo’s systems often suffer from a dearth of quality 3rd party content. While Nintendo normally does an admirable job of providing an example to follow, in the case of the 3DS, they clearly dropped the ball in not releasing it alongside a Mario, a Zelda, or a Metroid game. Nintendo’s contributions to the 3DS launch lineup were little more than half-baked tech demos, and as such, third parties were left buttressing the launch of the console alone.
Given the popularity of the franchise, as well as its generally positive reception on the DS, The Sims 3, must have seemed like a fantastic launch title for the 3DS. A new title in a series with the kind of crossover appeal that The Sims enjoys might well have pushed fans to pick up the new console. But many titles released alongside the 3DS seemed to be more interested in hitting release deadlines than in either quality or innovative use of the new technology, and The Sims 3 was no exception. Many noted that the game had removed far too many expected features, lacked polish and had noticeable bugs. Further, the use of the 3D capabilities of the system was rather limited.
While the word “Pets” is certainly applicable to The Sims 3: Pets, things are a little more complicated than that. The reality is that, coming around seven months after the release of its predecessor, The Sims 3: Pets almost serves as a mulligan for The Sims 3, fixing many of the issues that plagued that title, and providing a much truer Sims experience to 3DS owners. As such, The Sims 3: Pets is the game that Sims fans have wanted since the console launch.
The titular pets do nominally add some variety to the experience. They provide new sentient creatures to populate your virtual doll house, and there’s something neat about your Sims interacting with pets that have their own personalities and needs. Those looking for a more robust pet simulation experience are likely to find Nintendogs + Cats more to their liking, but that kind of simulation isn’t really what The Sims is about.
For those who like the unique brand of management gameplay that The Sims is known far, The Sims 3: Pets is hard to beat. Keeping an eye on the basic needs of your Sims, be they human or pet, remains as oddly compelling as it always has. As such, The Sims 3: Pets is largely successful, though its appeal may be somewhat limited. It’s hard to imagine the inclusion of pets drawing in new players who heretofore have had no interest in the series. Longtime fans will likely have some fun with the pets, though it’s clear that they don’t add a dramatic amount of depth to the mix. However, when, all is said and done, however, The Sims 3: Pets is the best available option for playing the addictive series on the go.