Being washed up on a desert island is never going to be a good thing. Unless you're taking part in TV series Shipwrecked, of course, and are therefore in for three months of dossing around in the company of impossibly attractive teenagers of the opposite sex wearing nothing but skimpy swimsuits and a garland of flowers.
All other scenarios are unlikely to be as pleasant. And the one you find yourself in at the start of The Sims 2 Castaway isn't to be recommended: after your cruise ship sinks like a modern-day Titanic, you wake up on a deserted beach. Deserted but for some driftwood and a few coconuts trees, anyway.
So begins a Sims adventure even harsher than normal. In most Sims games, you start off in a house with about as much appeal as a two-bed terrace in Moss Side, but at least it's a house with a roof and a toilet.
In Castaway, you're lumped with finding some vines to make a shelter out of, bathing in the sea and – yes – peeing behind a bush. Clearly there's no fridge and food needs to be found – on bushes or up trees in the case of fruit, or by spearing fish in the sea.
To begin with, exploring your new island home is done out of necessity, just to find fresh water and something to eat which isn't a banana. But doing so unveils whole new challenges on top of basic survival. Turns out there are other castaways scattered about, all with their own camps, and they'll ask you to help them out in various ways in exchange for new items.
There are so many of these sub-missions – some of which open up new areas of the island, others which just earn you a new tool or food source – they can become overwhelming. Especially if you lose track of what you've done up until that point.
Moving around in the game is very intuitive (the DS version arguably wins out over the PSP and home console versions for this very reason). Each area is played almost like a point-and-click adventure. While you can move your Sim by tapping the screen where you want them to go, it's even easier to tap an item, select an action from the sub-menu that appears, then hit the left shoulder button to speed up your Sim while they walk there. The D-pad also works to instantly scroll around each new area without even moving your Sim, so you can check everything out very easily.
Also, instead of having to trek around the island, X brings up a map screen with all the areas you've been to marked up with icons, which you then tap to teleport instantly to that location. It makes the game far less of a slog than it would have been without this function.
The DS controls are utilised differently in each of Castaway's mini-games. There are some inventive uses, our favourite being the fire lighting. You feel a complete idiot doing it, but there's some satisfaction in rubbing your stylus up and down a log and blowing into the mic to ignite a flame. Fish spearing and bug splatting are good, too – both require stabbing at the screen at the right moment to get your flounder or, um, yummy and nutritious insect.
While survival is clearly an important part of the game, it's wisely not been made too difficult. Wise because a constant cycle of fishing, cooking, eating, squatting and sleeping would have been very tedious. Your 'needs' bars empty quite slowly, and being able to warp yourself to bed or to the camp fire makes topping them back up fairly painless.
This leaves you to concentrate on the main objective, which is collecting things. There are hundreds of seeds, clothes, food types, tools, shells and rocks to find, and also templates which makes it possible for your Sim to craft new items for themselves. In this respect, it's not much different to previous Sims games, but where previous Sims have a catalogue of household goods to buy, here you have to make your own from vegetation. Even your originally sparse camp eventually starts to look quite welcoming, with a few bits of driftwood furniture and the sort of shell decorations Linda Barker would go batty for.
It is the type of objective non-Sims fans are going to be baffled by, though. The slow-paced sort of pointlessness of it all tends to be love or hate territory, even if Castaway does also offer a generous batch of fetch quests and memory challenges (of where you saw an object you now need) on top of all the collecting.
Where it disappoints, then, is in its linearity – you're forced to complete certain tasks in order to reach further areas. And in its inability to sustain interest, too. In more traditional Sims games it's easier to chart your progress on the ladder of life than here, where it's all hidden away in a journal that you're constantly having to check.
It's easy to get stuck, as well, and end up trudging around miles of identical looking jungle trying to remember where you last saw a rotten plank of wood.
You never see them having to do that on Shipwrecked. And that's why, ultimately, it's considerably more exciting than The Sims 2 Castaway.