Electronic Arts
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/5/2007 3:11:18 PM ET 2007-10-05T19:11:18

And now for a break in our regularly scheduled "Halo 3" programming, we turn to something completely different…

Here we have a little title called "MySims," a game you play on a little machine called the Wii…you might remember it? While everyone has been busy fragging aliens, saving the universe and just generally getting their Master Chief on, this game has had me visiting a brightly-colored-if-desolate little town where I've been helping its bobble-headed citizenry solve some extremely pressing issues.

For example, I've helped an exceedingly-chipper flower-shop owner give her store a badly-needed sprucing up. I've helped a walking Italian stereotype named Gino Delicioso build a new pizzeria. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy-lovin' Mayor of this burg has made me her go-to-girl in a scheme to lure more tax-paying residents to this podunk, backwater, no-star municipality of hers.

Yes, with nary a member of The Covenant or the Flood in site, things have been moving at something of a slower pace here in my neck of the Wii woods. But trust me, facing down urban planning quagmires and civic revitalization issues can really get the blood pumping!

OK. Not exactly. But that doesn't mean that this whimsical little game doesn't have its whimsical little charms.

Here, Electronic Arts has given its signature "Sims" franchise a Nintendo makeover with "MySims" games appearing exclusively on the Wii and the handheld DS (this review focuses on the Wii version of the game). What that seems to mean is, the popular life simulation franchise has been simplified, cutsified and, in some ways, revitalized.

You begin "MySims" by creating an avatar for yourself. And here it appears that everyone's favorite computer-generated human beings have been clubbed over the head by the Cute Fairy. That is, the Sims of "MySims" are stubby, childlike figures with giant heads and pure anime pumping through their veins. When creating your own personal Sim, you can tweak the face, hair and clothes to suit your taste. However, the customization options aren't as varied as most of us have come to expect. For example, you don't have different body shapes or sizes to choose from. And whether you like it or not, your avatar will turn out adorable-as-the-freakin'-dickens.

Next, you're sent off to a town that's gone from a five-star hot spot to a zero-star not spot. Thus, when you arrive, there's pretty much one thing on everyone's mind — returning their city to its former glory. As with traditional, open-ended "Sims" play, you'll have to talk to the local residents (those few Sims who still live in the town, that is) and start running errands and doing favors for them. Since you're a builder by trade, your primary job will be to create houses, shops, furniture and other items for the residents and would-be residents, increasing the town's splendor — and its star rating — so more people will move in. And the building aspect of this game is where "MySims" really does a great job sucking the player in.

Given a variety of blocks of different shapes, you use the Wii's motion-sensitive Remote controller to manipulate the blocks, stacking them and fitting them together to fabricate whatever item you're working on. When building a house, for example, you can create a fanciful cylindrical tower topped with a purple cupola, or perhaps a pink structure that tilts to and fro with a skylight on top, or how about a more traditional square home surrounded by a tasteful picket fence. And with a variety of doors, windows, wall hangings and yard decorations to choose from, you can really add some flair and individuality to your creations.

In addition to constructing buildings, residents will ask you to create various furnishings for them — chairs, tables, beds, sculptures. You'll be given blueprints for these items which offer some guidelines to follow, but the fun is found in adding your own personal tweaks and twists to your creations. The more items you make for residents, the greater the variety of blue prints and building materials you'll be given access to. And since the Wii's motion-sensitive controllers are intuitive tools to use here, you can easily lose yourself for hours in the building process.

Meanwhile, as your town's star rating rises, you'll be able to unlock new areas to explore. Likewise, the more you customize your town, the more you'll attract new residents — a weird scientist, a sushi chef, a goth boy, a girl who insists on dressing like a pirate. But this is where "MySims" parts ways with former "Sims" games. That is, the social simulation and personal management aspects of the game are, ultimately, thin to nonexistent. You don't have to keep your Sim rested or employed or fed and you don't have to make sure she relieves herself on a regular basis. As far as relationships with other Sims go, you can be nice to them or even mean to them, but there's not much to it beyond that.

This simplification of traditional Sims life is certainly a good thing for young players or those who are new to this type of game, but seasoned "Sims" fans may find this watered-down approach a bit of a bore after a while.

There is another facet to the game — collecting "essences." Essences, which can be grown on trees, dug from the ground, fished out of the water, etc., act as a currency of sorts that's needed to create the various furnishings the residents request from you. Hunting for, growing and earning these essences adds a certain depth to the game but isn't particularly engaging. (Another negative that must be mentioned: the lengthy load screens that seem to greet the player at every turn. Grrrr.)

All in all, it seems like an alternate title for "MySims" could have been "JuniorSims" or perhaps "SimsLite." This is fun-if-fluffy family fare that very solidly earns its "E" rating. More…er…mature gamers will be entertained by the building portion of the game but should note that in addition to the characters' relentlessly merry manner, the scenarios and relationships remain relentlessly clean cut here. There will be no hanky-panky or other questionable behavior in this town.

In fact, adult players forced to watch these Sims giggle, tickle each other and blow bubbles for hours on end may find themselves desperate for a little "Halo 3" shooting spree.

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