Platform: Nintendo Wii, DS (Reviewed on Wii)
The Sims franchise, dating back to SimCity, has been consistently innovative, paving the way for casual games to find their way mainstream while containing a deep-rooted hardcore appeal. SimAnimals, the latest addition to the series, looked like it would continue this trend, like a modern day version of SimAnts. The Wii and DS seemed like the perfect platforms to begin with, and early information about the title left most gamers interested. Hell, a simpler version of the Sims with Bear and Deer in place of people seems like it would be enough to succeed on the Wii, and surely they’d be able to pull that off, right?
After about twenty minutes you’ll think that SimAnimals is The Sims meets Viva Piñata. This is not the case. In reality, SimAnimals is Viva Piñata with a light coat of Sims, simply covering aspects that made Piñata unique with smiley faces and hearts to confuse you into thinking that EA did anything other than copy Rare’s title. Whereas SimAnimals has you shaking trees to find acorns and attract squirrels, Viva Piñata would have you shaking trees to find chewnicorns and attract squazils. Actually, I think a chewnicorn is a unicorn piñata... Either way, it’s uncanny, and it doesn’t help that Viva Piñata came out years earlier and looks a decade better. Other mechanics, like predators being added into the mix and unlocking different locales, don’t do enough to vary the gameplay.
That’s not to say it doesn’t work, it just feels a little too “borrowed.” Pleasing animals in different settings lures more animals into the scene, and so on and so forth. There are a few ways to get them to stay, but usually giving them food and petting them does the trick, both of which are done using the Wii remote’s motion sensor. It’s inconsistent and not entirely entertaining even when it does work, but not broken by any means. In fact, that really sums up all of SimAnimals. There’s nothing to stop you from playing, the gameplay makes sense and progresses smoothly, but there’s also nothing at all to keep you hooked, and it all feels uninspired, to say the least. The charm of The Sims is nowhere to be found here, and SimAnimals feels soulless, like the shell of a good idea gone awry.
Animals are blocky from far away and muddy up close, and despite attempting a cute style, it’s far from a good looking game. The framerate isn’t anything to brag about either, and dips frequently, generally on animal entrances, which seem to put the dying framerate on a golden platter for all to see. Multiplayer is a mess, allowing all four players to play tug-of-war with the game’s already questionable camera. There’s some value in the game for the younger audience, to be sure, but they might still be better served picking up any other Sims game, no matter how much they might be intrigued by the concept of The Sims in the forest.
There’s just not much more to say about it; there was potential here, but it just didn’t go anywhere. The animals aren’t characterized at all, and look and act about as bland as the game feels. It could have been an educational experience, teaching gamers about the ecosystem and nature. It could have been a Sims clone in the forest, twisting the formula around and turning the environment into a neighborhood of sorts. Instead, SimAnimals fails to find its niche as either, and and occupies an uncomfortable point somewhere in-between. Any potential for creating a unique Nintendo spin-off of the Sims franchise is lost here. The only thing that stops it from receiving the “shovelware” label is the fact that it is indeed playable; there are just too many games that succeed where it fails for SimAnimals to be a passable title.