Even for the unversed, lurking amongst the rows of hot, sweaty, blackened shark eyes rolling spotlight-wards during Nintendo's E3 press conference, it wasn't difficult to pick the odd one out up on stage. Standing before us were Toru Iwatani, Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima and Will Wright. Over the years, three of them have designed groundbreaking, fantastically entertaining videogames. Once upon a time, the other fellow had a decent stab at it, but has since proceeded to sit around counting the money. And, on the evidence here, intends to carry on doing so.
So go on Will Wright, stand up and show us what you've been up to since The Sims Unleashed...
The Sims Superstar is the latest in a long line of expansion packs for a game once described as an apologia for commercialism. How long? Well, not counting the various compilations, "deluxe" packages, console ports and so on, this is the sixth individual expansion. If you're an avid Sims follower, then you'll probably count The Sims Bustin' Out, Hot Date, House Party, Livin' It Up, On Holiday and Unleashed amongst the possessions dotted around your frequently rearranged, sick, urine and fly-covered abode. No wonder EA makes so much money.
And now, somewhat perversely, they're offering your insipid digital avatars the chance to bask in some of that money grubbed limelight, in the role of a movie star, famous musician or fashion model, swanning around the cosy Hollywood-esque enclave that is Studio Town, a place where your Sims will have to find the right people to rub shoulders with, perform on stage and pamper themselves to distraction, all the while you mind their various comfort levels as ever.
As with Unleashed, the highlight of the expansion is the Sims' new environment, complete with mud baths, spas, karaoke stages, movie lots and studios of every description. Everything is lovingly created in the traditional Sims style, and as you can only make a trip there once a day, you have to spend a lot of the time making new star friends, and making a suitable impression on them. Your ascent through the ranks of somebodies in Studio Town is measured through a system of star points - as you make famous friends your rating will go up, and as you become more famous, you can start to accumulate more luxurious "fame objects". You can even collect celebrity autographs, have Andy Warhol [from the grave? - Ed] direct your photoshoots and hire butlers to chase crazed fans out of your house.
Over the hill
Unfortunately, like all the other expansions before it, Superstar makes little or no change to the fundamental Sims formula, which - even for those of us to whom it still represents a modicum of entertainment - is wearing thinner than some of the anorexic fashion flamingos you're busy trying to swoon. And so in order to progress you'll need to repeat tasks over and over to build up a level of efficiency, as well as juggling those dreaded comfort levels. And let me tell you, even the best agent in the world can't cover up for incontinence, furious paparazzi-inspired temper tantrums and falling asleep in the street.
So, once again, it's difficult to enjoy the delights that Studio Town offers, particularly as you only get one trip there per day, and if you're not on top form when you make your entrance, you may have to waste some of it dashing off to take care of the trots. And if after a while your Shakespeare or Axl Rose impression isn't cutting it, and your jingles, demo tapes and ballet dancer legs haven't caught anyone's attention, you may even have to pack in the prima donna routine and put in a few hours at your old job to finance a comeback. All of which adds up to a frustrating experience.
The sad thing is that Superstar stands up as one of the best expansions for The Sims, but as the latest in a series of six it's about as exciting as news of another Friday the 13th sequel. Although it's obvious that Maxis still has ideas (what with another expansion planned for the end of the year, and a true sequel thereafter), our patience is wearing thin, and even at £15 the cynical Superstar isn't glamorous enough to light up our lives. Buy it if you still play The Sims.