They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, the creators of Nintendo's sublime Animal Crossing: Wild World should feel suitably sincered. EA's latest addition to its wildly profitable Sims series is less an homage, more a carbon copy of the colourful world according to Tom Nook.
Everything from the basic premise to the graphics and gameplay seems a little too familiar as your cute character moves to a new and rather dilapidated town. Once there, your task is to make new friends and generally become a model citizen, thereby attracting other settlers to the ailing island.
Still, this isn't to say the experience doesn't have its benefits. MySims is an enjoyable enough game in its own right, given that EA has done a decent job of creating an appealing world in which to live out your virtual life.
You might wonder about The Sims label, though, as MySims has little in common with previous entries in the series. The amount of customisation and social interaction is far less pronounced, and the need to obtain a job, stay healthy and nurture complex relationships is all but absent. Think of it as The Sims Lite.
Ironically, this may turn out to be a good thing. In keeping with the younger audience that's likely to be exposed to the game on the DS, MySims is a lot less daunting than previous Sims games. Some of the more mature themes previously explored in the series are absent, too, so before you ask, there isn't any nookie.
Instead, the first few minutes spent in the company of MySims sees you creating your manga character – choosing gender, shape of face, type of eyes, hair style, clothes, etc – and then happily trotting around the township introducing yourself to the thoroughly fed-up population. At several points, you'll find yourself attempting to pacify these surly residents using the icon-based chat system. For example, one rather particularly distressed character requires words of encouragement in order to keep the conversation flowing.
This is achieved by simply tapping the appropriate symbol enough times on the touchscreen before the clock runs down to zero, and thus filling the 'happiness' gauge as you go. It's a basic system that becomes old far too quickly. Indeed, it would have been more interesting to present the player with a range of responses and give them the option to be kind, cruel or merely indifferent to the plight of the townsfolk.
Several mini-games also become available as you progress on your quest of civic duty. These range from fishing to paragliding and racquetball, and although they're a valiant attempt at injecting a little spice into proceedings, they never really succeed in holding your attention for very long due to their simplistic nature. The chances are when you've played them once, you're unlikely to bother visiting them again.
Nevertheless, by performing these various tasks you're able to increase the standing of your new island paradise, something that's displayed via its star ranking. The higher it is, the more attractive proposition the town becomes for future tenants. You also get various tasks to perform for the inhabitants. There's a depressed policeman, a designer who's down on confidence and a forest ranger who lacks trees. You'll feel a definite sense of pride as you see the island become more populated and slowly but surely return to the vibrant cultural epicentre it used to be, with shops selling flowers, cakes, and clothes. Eventually, even a nightclub and casino show up.
But as with most urban regeneration, the key issue with MySims is there's little incentive to keep playing once there's no more space for expansion. As soon as the houses and shops are full of fellow Sims, the game feels like it's ground to an rather abrupt halt.
And this is where the comparison with Animal Crossing: Wild World becomes significant. Packed with content, that game always gives you something new to aim for, whether paying off your mortgage, buying new clothing, or extending your house. MySims doesn't dangle any such carrots to entice further exploration. All you're left with is another day of chatting to the inhabitants until the sun goes down and it's time to start over again.
Regardless of these faults, it would be churlish to get annoyed. MySims is clearly aimed at a younger, possibly less demanding audience. The brand, combined with overly cute characters and eye-catching colours, will presumably entice many nippers to pick up the DS.
Older gamers shouldn't be fooled, though. We've played Animal Crossing: Wild World, and MySims doesn't come close. On that level at least, neither sincere flattery or imitation really cuts it.