The Sims like you’ve Never Seen it Before
Back in 2000, when the original Sims game was released, very few people probably knew the effect that these types of games would have on the gaming world. Life simulators have since become a popular genre, with games such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing being primary staples. Though people tend to want to get away from reality when they play games, some find it both interesting and humorous to take on challenges that revolve around repetitive, everyday life.
Someone once told me, “repetition is sometimes good,” and from looking at the above mentioned simulations, I can certainly agree. The Sims 2: Castaway is the third console installment in the Sims series, with the plot revolving around being stranded on a deserted island. It may not be the most original concept in the world, but the idea was bound to come up eventually. And while this may just seem like another useless expansion, a few new gameplay elements really help Castaway stand out.
Just like in previous Sims installments, you will begin by creating your individual character. From appearance and clothes to unique attributes (like what profession you excel in), Castaway offers several interesting customization options. After making anywhere from one to six Sims, you will begin your proverbial “three hour tour” on the ocean waters. Little are the newly created vacationers aware of the hazardous storm on the way though, and within a few minutes are virtually swept away by the tide. When your Sim comes to, it will find itself stranded on a large tropical island, covered in debris. Your job will be to survive on this island, all the while making friends with the other islanders, acquiring food, exploring the land, and honing your crafting skills. Though the plot may seem a tad overdone, the above mentioned tasks are truly where the game shines.
Performing jobs in the game feel very much like previous Sims titles, with a lot of the options being centered around quick selection menus. Unlike many other titles on the Wii, the Wii-mote is not used nearly as much in Castaway as the other control option, the Nunchuk. Using the Nunchuk analog stick, you can move your virtual avatar from point to point, collecting objects and useful data along the way with the Z button. Tilting the Nunchuk up and down will allow you to shuffle through the option and item selection screens. And as said earlier, the Wii-mote, though limited in use, does have moments where it is needed. There are times where you will be forced to pick up certain items with the A button, which is something that really could’ve been done with the Nunchuk. Despite this, the game controls very well and feels as if it was built from the ground up on the Wii, which is something that a lot of other third party titles can’t brag about.
From the acquisition of wood and grass for clothes and shelter to locating fruit and water for eating and bathing, the title centers itself around the regular completion of everyday tasks. Other examples include: fishing with a personally made spear, extracting materials in the environment for building purposes, and scouring the area for lost items or treasures. Every day on the island will usually present a new obstacle that needs to be taken care of and must be balanced with necessary chores like cleaning, decorating, and maintenance. Knowing when and where to travel on the island is also important to factor in, since on certain days, it will be vital to get a lot done quickly. Though that doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally go for a midnight stroll along the shore with a friend. The combination of exploration and multi-tasking makes for an interesting change to the series, which usually revolved around living in an average, suburban neighborhood.
Another primary purpose of the title revolves around interaction with other Sims. As you wander the island you will eventually come across other abandoned individuals who, like you, just want someone to talk with. Speaking of which, a lot of the discussions in this game are traditional Sims fare, with little pictures and funny noises being the highlights of communication throughout. By raising the personality of another Sim, you can then have them join your little “tribe.” From there, you can give your newly found friends tasks such as hunting, fishing, or building. Even the local monkeys can be befriended into giving you a hand, which is one of the humorous highlights in Castaway. Even though everything sounds well and good so far, the game does have some communication quirks. It seems that when these Sims gave you their loyalty, they all forgot how to do common things such as eating and bathing. This will result in you having to micromanage each Sim and ensure that they stay up to good health. It is not really a problem early in the title, but as time goes on, you may eventually get burnt out on the tedium.
As said earlier, Castaway revolves a lot more around exploring the environment than previous simulation titles. One of the main things you will be doing while trekking through the island is searching for skill books. These books, along with raising your individual attributes, will be the primary way of improving your Sim. Each manual you find will contain plans for creating different tools such as: larger houses, clothing patterns, furniture, and more (looks like you weren’t the first group to have crash landed here).
Alongside showing you what items you need and where to acquire them, the prints will also explain what skill level you need. These “levels” are broken into different categories and by performing different tasks, you will raise each one depending on the factor involved. The issue here is that sometimes you will get confused on what job to perform to raise a certain skill. Also, the game only lets you know when you have gotten a new skill once, making it even more difficult to keep track of just what you can and cannot do. Bummer.
Though the game thus far sounds like nothing more than a collection hunt, Castaway never really goes overboard with it. If you can occasionally look past the repetition in some of the objectives, you will find a relaxing game experience similar to that of the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing series. As with those, you always have some small thing to maintain, such as health, finances, building materials, and food, but they are easy enough to keep tabs on. Also, upgrading your individual attributes will come naturally, as you continue to improve while going about your daily life. Nevertheless, it is the interaction with the other islanders that really shines as the centerpiece of the game. Whether it is traversing to a nearby part of the island to look for new arrivals or strengthening your relationship with the other Sims, the core community element of the Sims series is still there and better than ever.
Along with a new setting and task system, the game also features a new visual style. Characters are a little smaller than in early installments and the environment has a mix of both 3D and cel-shaded graphics. There could have been a little more detail on the islanders and the land occasionally gives off a very “sketchy” feel to it. However, for a title that was primarily built around the Playstation 2 and the Wii, it really holds up rather well. It does perhaps give off the impression that the developers should spend a bit more time working on next generation versions though, rather than making them direct port-overs with different controls. While the visuals may not come off too stunningly, the audio department fares a lot better. Unlike the last few Sims games which borrowed a lot of music from previous versions, Castaway brings along a tropical island set-list, with a lot of songs you’d expect to hear at the beach. Overall, the sounds help give off the impression that you really are stranded on a far-away island. Whether that is a good thing or not is entirely up to you.
In closing, The Sims 2: Castaway is a unique approach to the series and is one of the more pleasant simulations to have come out this year. With plenty of new tasks to accomplish, people to find, and lands to explore, there is little more you could ask for in terms of content. Sure the visuals could have been better and there are a few gameplay kinks that could’ve been worked out, but for a Sims fan, it is right on target. Newcomers to the series will fit in quickly, and if you don’t happen to own a gaming PC, then all the more reason to pick up this particular version anyway. It may not be the best simulation ever or even in the series itself, but it makes for a rather lengthy adventure with plenty of charm. Try not to burn yourself out though.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The visual style is new to the series, but the game suffers from a lack of detail. 3.9 Control
The Sims control well and the layout in which everything is presented makes for a low learning curve. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voice acting is as you would expect from a Sims game, with the focus being on humorous hums, whistles, and mumbles. Music helps add to the setting. 3.8
Like with any simulator, things can get a tad monotonous, but there is plenty to do overall. Expect at least fifteen hours of game-play, even more if you are a fan of the series.
3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.