|System: Wii, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 21, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
EA has really been expanding its Sim franchise in recent years, especially on the Wii and DS. With Sim expansions like Castaway and Pets being ported over to the platform from the PC and the emergent MySims franchise growing rapidly, many speculated what kind of title would be next for the franchise. At last year's E3, SimAnimals was unveiled as the next Nintendo-exclusive Sim title, and many were excited for this all-new, wildlife-centric Sim title. However, it takes more than cuddly bears and squirrels to make a great game, and SimAnimals falls short of its potential on more than a few occasions.
The basic premise of the game is nearly identical to that of Viva Piñata. You play as an invisible groundskeeper who is charged with planting and shaping different areas of the forest to attract small animals like mice and rabbits. Once these animals have been attracted to your area, you will have to meet certain challenges in order to make the animals become permanent residents. But, your work doesn't end there! After the animals become permanent residents, you will have to ensure that they have plenty to eat and, eventually, are able to find another animal to mate with. As the game progresses, you will have to deal with the appearance of carnivores, like weasels and bears, which will need to feed on some of the smaller animals in order to survive.
The game's structure is stage-based, with the entire forest area divided into a handful of small sections. Each of these sections will have to be unlocked and has different features (like bodies of water or flat, grassy plain) that make it suitable for different species. Once you unlock each area, you will be given a set of objectives that involves attracting new residents and keeping current residents happy, which generally involve giving them a food treat or a quick pet with the Wii-mote.
One thing that really disappointed me about SimAnimals was the very generic feel of the gameplay. Although management-style games don't necessarily need to be inventive to be fun, SimAnimals just has a little bit too much repetition. For instance, in an early stage you need to attract rabbits by planting carrots. Once you plant the carrots, the rabbits will come and then you will have to pick them up, place them on the carrots, and then pet them to make sure they stay. Then you will have to repeat the process, but with clovers if you want to attract mice, robins, squirrels, etc. The gameplay never evolves and, unlike Viva Piñata, does not feature any mini-games or fun housing challenges. Simply plant, feed, and pet, and you are good to go. Despite this, the game will probably appeal to younger players who enjoy titles like Nintendogs
There is one glaring element that is enough to make this pretty good game into a bad one: the graphics. The visuals in this title are sub-par on every level, from the level design to the animal animations, and really bring down the overall quality of the game exponentially. Each area uses the same basic structure, design, and color palette, and it is difficult to distinguish one place from another based on visuals alone. However, even though the sparse design is annoying, the worst part of SimAnimals' visuals is the framerate, which never seems to be consistent. During animated animal "entrance" scenes (when you first spot an animal in your forest), there is generally a lot of chugging, and the different animals move around like short-circuited robots rather than real wildlife. There are also plenty of jagged lines and pixelated elements permeating each level, which just makes these poor graphics even worse.
Aside from the blatantly sub-par look of the game, the controls are actually quite good. The whole game has a point-and-click interface, which uses the Wii-mote like a giant cursor. You can mouse-over animals and plants to touch and interact with them and then press the B button to pick them up. You can also mouse-over different status and objective menus. Camera control is also effortless and uses the D-pad to move around and the Nunchuk's C and Z buttons to zoom in and out. The one qualm I have with the controls is that when you progress to a certain point in the game, your screen becomes crowded and precision becomes an issue. However, this is not a problem in most stages and can generally be alleviated with some patience or extreme zooming in.