Version tested: DS
I think the most befuddling thing about Animal Crossing was how incredibly simple it seemed. Watching people trying to describe it in reviews was always amusing; it's nearly impossible to explain how a game in which all there is to actually do is fish and run errands could possibly be anything other than boring and pointless, and even harder to pinpoint that something that makes it so much more than the sum of its parts. After all, it's a game in which you do nothing much for a few hours a day, over the course of months and years. It makes absolutely no sense.
It's only when you play something like this that you realise how complicated Animal Crossing actually is. MySims could be called a simplified version; it's got the town, the flowers and fishing, the item collecting, clothing customisation and mad inhabitants, but no mortgage, no time sensitivity and, sadly, no Magic Something. Playing it made me appreciate Wild World's depth all the more. I think its secret was that altogether, there actually was an absolute ton of things to do and see; it's just at any given moment in time, only a tiny portion of them were possible.
But I'm in danger of selling MySims DS short here. This is not a cynical, cold-hearted copy. MySims is its own game, and it gives the whole 'portable town' idea a good-hearted go. Having designed your little cartoon Sim, whose appearance can be completely changed at any time, you arrive in a dilapidated resort town. The challenge is to revitalise it, persuade the local businesses to reopen and bring more and more tourists to its various attractions - all by chatting with the locals, and playing various mini-games. The removal of the mysterious complexity that made Animal Crossing so addictive is more than likely a conscious decision to make the game accessible for a (much) younger audience. That said, though, some of the similarities made me raise an eyebrow - the music, for instance, and the menu design, or the very familiar silhouettes in the rivers and seawater.
The differences, though, are plain once you start playing. MySims' characters don't move in and out; as you improve the town by planting flowers, carrying out errands for characters, unlocking minigames (attractions) and chatting up the local tourists, they move in, usually to start up a business, and they stay there, attracting visitors to their shops. The flower, furniture and clothing shops arrive pretty quickly, but it's a little while before the cakemaker, the casino and the nightclub open for business. As the island improves, you gain access to different areas; the place is pretty small, but new areas mean new minigames, which help liven up proceedings for a few passing minutes. There's a nice sense of progression as the island opens up, and the bus and ferry services come back into business, but the game never exactly makes things difficult for you; it's easy to open up everything in the game in about five hours.
The problem is variety. A typical day consists of getting up, speaking to every main character in town, doing what they want, and going to bed again. The mini-games - like racquetball, which is a tad clumsy, or fishing, or paragliding - are available at certain times of day, but after the second or third time there's really no point in playing them, except to fill your already bloated coffers with Simoleons. MySims is so incredibly generous with money that everything seems a little meaningless - you never have to really earn an item, and there's no incentive to spend two idle hours fishing in order to fund a house expansion and/or prevent Tom Nook from breaking your legs.
It's clear that the characters are the intended focal point. Each has a distinct personality, and your relationships with them are what drive the game onward; you build up the forest area at the behest of the shy and retiring ranger, who's concerned about island wildlife, and convincing the furniture-designer of her self worth opens up the option to design your own patterns, for instance. At one point the island policeman goes into a spiral of depression over the thought of dying alone, and refuses to patrol the island anymore unless you bring him cake for a few days. But although the characters are cute, they simply aren't deep or interesting enough to support the whole thing; there's nothing that really motivates you to come back to MySims after a day or two of play.
There's nothing seriously wrong with MySims. It isn't broken and it isn't soulless, but it is pretty shallow. It's cute and passably entertaining, but there's nothing here that compels you to return to the game, and it's quite clearly aimed towards the younger end of the market. MySims DS is EA's family-friendly take on an existing idea; the Wii version is the one that innovates. [More on that when we get it - Ed].
6 / 10