The Sims: Bustin’ Out GBA Review
So, once again the Sims is set to spread all over the gaming world like some kind of virtual duckweed… actually, duckweed isn’t so pretty – lets say ivy… creeping and covering all consoles in its path. Can it conquer the GBA? Read on to find out…
The graphics of the game are fairly pretty, and certainly not the worst (or the best) that the machine has to offer. The game takes place from the increasingly-popular isometric view, with all of the buildings lovingly recreated and looking pretty spanking. Helpfully, these buildings fade to a slightly transparent form when your character steps behind them so that you can see what you are doing. Less impressively, standing too close to a low wall will make your Sims feet appear through the top of them, something which just looks a little lazy.
Similarly, beyond the pretty backgrounds, there’s really little to wrote home about in terms of graphics. The sprites and colours are hideously limited – a girl must wear a skirt and a bloke must wear trousers, although you get about 6 colours to choose from when “choosing” your clothing. There is a little more variation among the NPCs, some of which are quite distinctive (you can hardly fail to notice Dusty Hogg the huge slobby biker or the equally-stereotypical bald boxer Mad Willy Hurtzya), but for the majority most of them share very similar models with slightly different hairstyles and clothing colours. This can make it difficult to distinguish between the characters while wandering around the town, and doesn’t really make for the most interesting of communities. Also, the objects in game are bland and indistinctive, rather like their human counterparts – although fans of the series will no doubt recognise the ever-popular white oven and turquoise fridge. I doubt that the appeal of the overall appearance of things will hold much appeal for anyone else.
Like the missions in the console-based versions of the game, this is less of a Sims and more of an RPG in style – you still have to take your character to the toilet and feed them when their needs bars drop, and naturally still get to decorate your house, but now you control the character in third person rather than clicking on an item to interact with it. The game starts you off as a new resident in SimValley, being put up as a guest in your uncles house. The first parts of the game act as a tutorial, as your uncle explains how to pick up and use objects, and introduces you to the concept of working in the game. Unlike the PC version of the game, you take active control of your character while they work, be it mowing your Uncles Field or serving up beers at the local Biker hangout. These minigames are not outstandingly amusing, but fail to become hideously tedious due to the variety offered – sadly though, the controls, particularly in the grass-mowing events are troublesome and almost impossible to use effectively. Basically, in this event you are expected to mow weeds while avoiding rocks and flowers; the awkward controls of the tractor, which mean that it is impossible to turn at anything higher than a ten-degree angle, coupled with the speed and size of the machine compared to the screen, mean that hitting things becomes almost inevitable in spite of any care you put into avoiding them. Similarly, the beer-serving game appears to follow some kind of invisible barriers that mean your shots are frequently inaccurate regardless of your care. While sometimes frustrating, the penalties for these mistakes are not too severe, so great irritation is avoided. Luckily. As well as this, money can be obtained through collecting cans/cogs/plutonium rods on the floor and selling them off to the local scientific research centre.
The day is yours, to run around looking for jobs and errands to increase your status. Like the console iterations of the game, obtaining objects in your catalogue is achieved by buying, or being given/finding things. This means that getting everything will take ages, especially seeing as the local shop will only hold 4 random items a day. As well as buying things from the store, pets can be bought from the animal shelter, strange nick-nacks and key items from the curio shop, and books read at the library. Luckily, the drag on Sims motives isn’t as bad as in the PC version – going to the toilet will no longer cripple your Sims hygiene if they don’t wash their hands, and so on. It also seems easier to fill up the motive bars, even with the worse furniture available, and friendships no longer decline with the agonising rapidity of the PC incarnation of the game – you can effectively leave a good friend for several days and only have their bar drop a few points. A new bar has been added to this version – the “home” bar, which will decrease the longer you stay away from your house, resulting in homesickness. Having these bars too low will mean your character complains frequently, and will also stop you from talking to people, so it is still important that you attend to them. The robber make a return in this game, and if your precious bed/fridge/shower are stolen, you can always return to your uncles house to borrow his stuff and boost your motives, which is cool but doesn’t make the collection of furniture very compelling. Thankfully, in spite of your abusive treatment of your Sims in denying them the basic necessities of life (showers/food), they never truly die; losing all of your key health points will result in you collapsing, and being resurrected by the Genie in the local hospital. Sadly, your Sim will still allow their bladder to release itself in public if you don’t allow them frequent toilet breaks, so its wise to attend their needs.
Conversation is carried out in a separate dialogue box, with a picture and a gauge to show the characters reaction to your words. While this is neat, the options and responses are highly limited, so it eventually becomes a matter of memorising reactions so that you can pick the right thing to say next time. It also gets very boring very quickly – I never speak to anyone unless the game says that I have to boost relationships. You can give people items in order to try and win their affections, hug them and even kiss them. These NPCs will wander about doing different things each day, although most will have a favourite hangout that you can catch them in at the right time of day.
There are a number of troublesome elements however that just end up aggravating the player more than anything else. Firstly, there is the irritating scooter glitch; when you obtain this item early in the game, which can be used to get around town a lot faster than on foot, it is easy to get off it too close to another person or interactive object, and not be able to get back on again without positioning your character within about a hairs width of the item. This particularly true with the NPCs – apparently you can talk to them when you are several inches away with your back to them. This is highly frustrating.
Secondly, the NPCs have a habit of just disappearing at certain times of day – you could be out in your uncles farmyard, go inside the house to talk to him, and then come back out to find him outside already. This detracts from the gameplay somewhat – nothing is more irritating than having to take your Sim to the bathroom while chatting someone up, only to come back and find they have vanished without a trace so that you cant even find them. Not to mention it just doesn’t look good.
Next, and possibly most irritatingly, there is the issue of the Veloci-Rooster. This bizarre piece of poultry will appear randomly every now and them when you change screens, and is marked by a loud crowing noise. He seems to have little purpose but to simply chase you in an attempt to kill you if you end up in the same part of town as him. If you are on the scooter, you are safe, although you cant seem to drive past or over him so you can get backed into a corner. However, if you happen to be on foot he will run you down in an instant and kill you, leaving you to get reincarnated by the Genie in the hospital. This is all the more annoying for the fact that you could be doing one of the jobs, like the fishing game, and come out of it only to have the rooster appear on screen and kill you before you have a chance to move. Your scooter stays where you died, and so you run the risk of again being killed on the way to get it. It doesn’t happen often, but it is irritating and random enough that it will make you wonder why they bothered when it happens.
The scooter, as previously mentioned, can be another bane. It doesn’t appear on the map when you get off, so if you leave it somewhere to do some exploring on foot it is easy to forget exactly where you left it. Worse is the fact that if you leave it behind a tree or building, it becomes even more difficult to spot at first glance.
The rest are just niggly pointers…your character can only carry 8 items at a time, which makes buying and carrying objects for other people can get mildly annoying – especially one task that sees you having to hand out 10 fliers to people in the town and two trips to the curio shop before it closes in order to get them all. When your Sim is trying to tell you that they are unhappy, the animations can go on for too long and are often repeated three times in succession – while this gets across their point, it is annoying as hell to have to wait for several seconds while they tell you their desperation for the toilet rather than just getting on with relieving it.
Finally, there is connectivity abound if you own the GC version of the game, or have a friend with the same GBA version. You can trade Sims with your friends, unlock a Paradise Island by connecting to the GC version of the game, and even get a bonus games cabinet revealed in the GC game. You can also download your GC Sim into the GBA, and can trade them back when you are done – great for on-the-move level ups. With 2 save slots, you can have a couple of Sims on the go at any one time, which really opens up your gaming options.
A number of the classic Sims tunes have been put to good use here, the majority of them remixed and tweaked to sound a little more modern and fresh. Similarly, the voice samples have been lifted straight from the PC game, and all recreated perfectly. There are a couple of audio samples that sound a bit tinny, like your Sim whining for the toilet, or the sounds the cats make…other than that, everything is pretty good. I think the most irritating issue I have with sound is the fact that the scooter sounds like a spaceship most of the time – although the sound-bites are limited and are frequently repeated, this nothing new to the Sins series in general, and the nonsensical ramblings that they come out with are somehow quite charming.
There are only 5 levels in the game, which reach for an ultimate goal of moving into a swanky house. Like the other console versions of the game, the longevity is found in the fact that obtaining all you need will take an age – this means that you can play for a very long time without really feeling that you have achieved anything much. While this sedate pace may aggravate few, many will no doubt find that being able to do things at your own pace is a relief. You don’t get fired if you don’t attend your jobs in this game – in fact, you can alternate between jobs as you see fit, and there is no time scale to finish the game at all. However, some people may see the fact that it just takes so long to get things done as a cheaters way to making a longer game – actual scripted events in the game are few and far between, with the remainder of the time being spent earning money to spruce up your home and life. While this may not appeal to everyone, in essence this is really what the Sims has always been about.
As the first handheld game of its type to hit our shores, I think this offers something quite different to anything else on the market, and carries it off quite well. It lacks the polish of certain other titles on the platform, but at least offers a nice twist on the series without making the game absolute rubbish; the approach taken for brining this game to the handheld is excellent. I would certainly say that all die-hard Sims fans should check it out – after all, who would miss the opportunity to take their Sims where ever they go? – and the current uniqueness of the game should be enough to attract rpg/life-sim fans who are waiting for something to tide them over until Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. The game is curiously addictive, and will certain gobble up your free time…at least until you end up in a 9-5 work cycle before dashing to the chippie for dinner, and suddenly realise that you’re reliving your real life in digital form. That may not be so much fun.