On first impressions, SimAnimals sounds like yet another Sims branded spin-off: like The Sims Castaway is The Sims on a desert island, and The Sims: Pets is The Sims with pets.

Except for the font on the front of the box, however, SimAnimals has very little in common with the famous series. It's not a game that has players directly nursing the needs of those in their care by giving instructions to use the toilet and take out the bins. Instead it's quite a realistic nature simulation, which introduces a whole ecosystem to your DS.

In that regard SimAnimals has a lot in common with Rare's Viva Pinata, which released on DS last year - although its animals aren't made of paper and full of sweets, obviously. So like in Viva Pinata you plant trees and seeds, water them until they grow, and then shake them to get more seeds and food for the animals they attract to your wood.

Once the animals arrive, the game becomes less of a gardening experience, introducing animal bonding and objectives that include finding the animals a home by making sure you have a mature tree or tree stump or whatever that particular animal likes to live in within your wood.

Also Viva Pinata-like, you can play matchmaker and get two animals to fall in love. Once they've done what they do on the Discovery Channel and the inevitable babies are born, your woodland will not only be a pretty canvas of colourful flowers (if you've been studiously watering it), but it'll run amok with happy animals. That will fill up the happiness meter, which is the game's way of letting you know how well you're doing.

SimAnimals is as delightful as this sounds. It's a very playable management game and, despite clearly being aimed at younger gamers, it can be enjoyed by anyone.

Experimenting with planting a lot of one type of plant spawns new, mysterious foliage and this, in turn, attracts new animals. There's also the simple pleasure of designing a woodland since you can grab and move anything around the screen with ease.

There's just a nagging feeling it that could have been more delightful though. SimAnimals gets close to excellence in some respects, then slightly disappoints. The visuals are colourful but not that special. The animals are cute enough, but don't really do an awful lot.

But there are some interactions that are very sweet. Once you've unlocked Wind, you can hold down the L and R shoulder buttons and blow into the DS microphone to send a breeze rippling through your wood. This has multiple effects, including knocking fruit from trees, pollinating plants and sending your animals flying all over the place (some like it, some get cross).

You can also win an individual animals' trust by hand-feeding them, then holding your hand close until they sniff it and roll on their backs to be petted.

The problem is this is time-consuming, and often the animals get narked or completely ignore you. In the meantime, while you're trying to get assorted birds, rabbits and bears to like you, all your plants will be shrivelling into dry patches of brown.

And that's another problem. While there's the promise of lots of animal interaction and fulfilling breeding programmes, what SimAnimals really consists of is watering lots of things.

This convoluted action involves moving to the nearest body of water and holding the stylus against it for a few seconds to fill a rain cloud, and then moving it onto a thirsty plant. Repeat often for all of your trees and plants.

It's not only thirsty plants that require this action either - you have to water tree stumps to hollow them out for homes and the junk that's been dumped about the place to get rid of it.

SimAnimals lacks the all-encompassing polish and variety of a really addictive game. It's too pedestrian, with too few positive or negative consequences for your management efforts.

Animals come and go all the time, so there's no great sorrow when you've killed all your rose bushes and the rabbits up and leave: you know they'll be back in a few minutes, while the only rushing about you have to do is with a rain cloud.

Of course, this gentle approach means the game won't be difficult for younger gamers to pick up. The touchscreen controls make it simple as well, although adult gamers may curse the lack of information provided by more grown-up management games.

For example, if you want to check an animal's status you have to tap on it, which means finding it, and you might accidentally whack it over instead, which makes it rather angry.

Still, these foibles aside, SimAnimals is compulsive to play. Its hook comes from its frequent delivery of simple pleasures - like a new acorn tree sprouting or discovering a baby squirrel has been born. It also comes from the way your woodland is always delivering new surprises with new plants and bigger animals.

Younger gamers might not dig the flat visuals. Older ones won't dig the lack of menus and simplistic structure. But anyone who enjoys plotting, designing and watching flowers grow and animals frolicking will enjoy what SimAnimals brings to their DS.