Naturally a pocket version of virtual doll's house The Sims will have to be reduced in some manner. There simply isn't the capacity to allow for the ever-expanding world these next-generation matchstick men inhabit. But the remarkably inventive nature of its alternative gameplay ought to be something the franchise could retain on any format – regardless of the other restrictions the game might face.
In The Sims 2 Pets, there's an obvious theme to the gameplay that shouldn't really need any further explanation than the title provides, but here it is nonetheless: The Sims 2 Pets centres on you taking care of a virtual pet within the Sims universe. A simple concept, but one that lends itself to the handheld platforms remarkably well, as we can see from all the other virtual pet-styled games available.
Being beneath the Sims umbrella comes with both benefits and woes, however. Obviously the prolific success of the franchise is a powerful selling aid, yet it comes hand-in-hand with some pretty lofty expectations, and Pets doesn't really deliver on them.
You begin your Barbara Woodhouse life by choosing one of five different puppies as your new best friend. You can choose from Mongrel, Chihuahua, Whippet, Labrador and Pug, though it's difficult to spot any real difference in the gameplay depending on the breed. Aesthetically, of course, it's nice to have this small option so you can match the dog to your new Gucci handbag.
In good Sims style, each aspect of your virtual companion's life is measured by a series of gauges, each one signifying which essential duty you need to perform next to keep this artificial life form happy (and alive). Taking care of these duties forms the crux of the gameplay by combining a few key mini-games with the antics of the pup. Playing ball, throwing a Frisbee, petting the dog, bathing it, disciplining it and training it don't really differ a great deal in actual gameplay, however, and these games feel like a jarring break from the progressive, expanding experience we expect from The Sims.
The closest Pets comes to a game of The Sims is in monitoring the gauges and ensuring you've got the supplies and abilities to enact your duties. Mostly this involves going to the pet shop to buy a ball, food or shampoo, or heading into the appropriate room in your miniscule house. The mini-games themselves are oriented around simple (and difficult to fail) rhythm tests, often only requiring a single button press to win.
The diluted nature of Pets's gameplay makes it feel like more of a spectator sport than an active participation in the Sims universe. Neither does it really compare to a typical Tamogotchi-type of cyber pet game, since the dog never really grows or progresses. Instead, your effort seems to be spent on monotonously trying to maintain the status quo.
This lack of progressive gameplay robs The Sims 2 Pets of any real purpose. You can keep playing for hours, but with no particular goal available (other than one locked breed of dog, which I won't reveal here as it's the only reward you'll find) the futility of the whole thing quickly bubbles to the surface of this shallow game.
Visually and audibly, on the other hand, it's quite superb, as the dog bounds, rolls and skips playfully about your virtual heels. But this only seems to compound the disappointment, as the excellent animation hints strongly at what sort of game this could have been with a lot more thought about the nature of the gameplay.
The thin silver lining is that, should the developers decide to follow Pets up, there's some top notch ground work in there to make it an invigorating, dynamic game.
Until then, however, there really is very little to keep you entertained, and taking into account the weighty price tag we're forced to further doubt the validity of such a watered down addition to the superb Sims franchise.