Early in the Wii's lifetime, Electronic Arts was one of the first developers to create a franchise catered specifically for Nintendo’s new generation. It was called MySims, and it hoped to mix the ideology of their popular Sims series with Nintendo’s stylized Miis, turning the spotlight onto ease of accessibility. The first game was MySims, and had the most in common with the parent series, blending the life-simulation of The Sims with the style and gameplay of Animal Crossing. Generally speaking, critics panned the title for lacking originality and, for the most part, a purpose, when Nintendo was gearing up to launch a full fledged Animal Crossing on the system relatively soon after.
The complaint of lacking originality continued with each iteration the MySims series, through MySims Racing and MySims Party. Each release, while interesting enough in its own right, simply didn’t hold up against Nintendo’s first-party offerings, and it was hard to justify playing Racing or Party when Mario Kart and Mario Party were simply better games, and had been out for over a year. This time around, things are different. With MySims Agents, EA can’t help but be original, since there’s no Wii Secret Service title or Mario Investigator game for them to emulate. Instead, there’s a magnifying glass, a city full of people with problems, and a devious plot afoot.
Well, about as devious as could be expected from EA’s kid-friendly series. It’s all light hearted, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a laugh or two to be had. The writers had fun with the game, and filled the story with gaming and geek culture references. While the targeted demographic for the title might not completely understand why a mad scientists saying, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this” is hilarious, the humor isn’t lost on everyone. Other jokes, too, call out to the few mature gamers (or reviewers) that might get their hands on this title, and succeed in making the experience much funnier than anyone would have likely anticipated.
Still, humor alone can't carry a title, especially when it's only in small doses. The core of MySims Agents follows an actual story, instead of catering to the crowd that treats the Wii as a party console. Players control their own customized character, who starts off as an investigator in a small town. Throughout the story, which focuses on attempting to stop Morcubus, an evil criminal mastermind, the player needs to play spy in several different locations and situations. Early in the game, the cases feel somewhat inconsequential. In actuality, this isn't entirely true. It might seem like finding the owner of a dog or capturing whoever was responsible for stealing someone’s maps might be simply tutorial levels, and while they do teach the mechanics of the game, they’re interconnected. This becomes a quick theme in Agents; nearly every case has a purpose, and all of the crimes are, in some way, related to one overarching story.
After some time solving small-scale cases, a man comes to town and promotes the player to the role of Special Agent. This doesn’t just serve as a signal that the missions are about to become more complicated, it also means the player has access to his own headquarters. After a quick introduction to the building and its inhabitants (including an adorable fan-fic writing secretary), the hunt to discover Morcubus's evil plans is afoot.
Solving cases, as expected, involves a goodly amount of puzzle solving and clue finding. There are two parts to this: gathering information from characters, and using different tools to actually find tangible evidence. By chatting up suspects, they will give information that can usually either be validated or proven false. If the Mayor says that he went to Gino’s Pizza for dinner the previous day, it’s worth checking with Gino to see if this is indeed the case. If Gino doesn’t remember, than it means looking for another way to figure out who is telling the truth. In that way, it’s reminiscent of a very watered down Phoenix Wright.
Besides being much simpler than Wright, it also differentiates itself in eventually having the Agent scan the Mayor’s leftover pizza to figure out how old it is. The other half of an investigation is clue finding and analysis, which is done by using the Agent’s equipment. The player’s magnifying glass shows footprints, the wrench can fix items and salvage materials, and the crowbar can be used to bash or pry open objects. Later in the game, each object is upgraded to expand its use, but with the exception of the wrench, which eventually becomes a gun that can rearrange objects for platforming, they usually retain their core purpose, albeit with different visuals. Generally speaking, all of the tools are used in every mission, and there’s a good deal of following footprints and salvaging materials to be done before any case is closed.
At times, using these tools means more than walking up to an objecting and hitting “A.” In some cases, little minigames are initiated, to make hacking computers, picking locks, and analyzing data a little more substantial. They’re all done with puzzles, most of which are actually fairly fun and challenging. There aren’t too many of them, but EA made sure to space them out well, so it never becomes as played out as the pipe connecting minigame of BioShock. Platforming is also called upon from time to time, though it's not a focus. This is good, because it's also not very fun. It’s not that it’s really all too difficult, especially since falling from even the highest ledges results in little more than the Sim rubbing his butt, it’s just that the camera angles aren’t conducive to entertaining platforming. If EA decides to expand the MySims Agents series, it would be great if they could fix this, because the game's lack of infiltration is to a slight detriment.
While the core of the game is amusing, it can get repetitive fairly fast. It’s very linear, and there’s nary a moment where the game isn’t holding the player’s hand through gameplay that isn’t very hard in the first place. Still, this isn’t really a bad thing, since the target audience for this title is on the younger side. Even then, it's worth mentioning that, despite being guided through the game, EA managed to make it feel as though all the choices are being made by the player, instead of having the entire game feel like a tutorial. It’s explicit about where to go and when to go there, but it doesn’t seem condescending, and lets the player feel in control.
From time to time, it lengthens the leash, and allows for some genuine problem solving, but these sections are few and far between when compared to the rest of the game, which is essentially a dotted line from start to finish. At times it's possible to be stumped, and there are few sections where the solution feels strange. It's remarkably polished for what it is, and should serve as a wonderful introduction to the genre for anyone unfamiliar with gaming.
The only time when the dotted line becomes forked is in the dispatch missions, which prove to be more addictive than the actual game itself. Just as was the case in Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, there’s an option to send groups of characters out to complete missions. Instead of sending weary adventurers into caves to fight goblins, the Special Agent in MySims Agents sends squads on dispatch missions, of which 50 are available. As the story progresses, more recruits are added, and can be placed onto floors of the Headquarters with other agents.
Each recruit has his own set of stats, and since they're sent out as a group to tackle the missions, placement is important. The missions requires different skill sets, and have a range of difficulties and, of course, rewards. When compared to the rest of the game, which feels almost like a guided tour of the story, the dispatch missions are actually fairly difficult, even if the outcome sometimes feels randomized. Objects found and rewarded for missions can improve the agents’ skills, so there are many different ways to set up the HQ and organize groups for the dispatch missions.
The rewards for these missions are either more objects to boost the agents, paints to decorate the HQ, additional agents, or new clothing options for the main character. Usually, saying that a major aspect of a game like MySims Agents is dressing up a character wouldn’t really do much in terms of critical appeal. However, later in the game, additional costumes are unlocked, allowing players to outfit their character with the armor Isaac Clarke wears in Dead Space and costumes that look like they were ripped straight out of Tron. They don’t give bonuses, they’re no more than cosmetic changes, and the loading screens to change costumes are longer than they should be, but there’s some strange allure that can’t be ignored in collecting different outfits in MySims Agents. It could be built into the fact that it’s simply funny to wear a hilarious hat and have people be taken seriously. Who knows?
At times, it feels as though MySims Agents is like a film made for children that's filled with nods at parents to keep them awake for the entirety of the movie. It's also likely the best title in the series. It’s great to know that, when they needed to be, the developers were able to muster up enough creativity to create something fairly unique, all without falling victim to the design follies that usually trap Wii developers. It’s charming, which is shocking when considering how manufactured the entire MySims series has been up to this point. There’s nothing in the game that will likely pull in anyone outside of the game’s 9-14 year-old demographic, but it’s fun enough to justify giving a look on a rainy weekend for everyone else.