The latest Nintendo DS title in the The Sims series from EA, SimAnimals takes you through a lighthearted mission of returning the land to its original natural beauty. Playing as an omniscient hand you will take care of 10 different locations by cleaning them up, growing plants and attracting new wildlife.
This simple management game is charming thanks to its numerous goals and achievements which offer hours of game play that can easily be enjoyed in long sessions or short bursts. SimAnimals is reminiscent of the Viva Piñata series on the Xbox 360 and DS but unlike its counterpart, this game presents no real conflict and offers a more linear and manageable gameplay experience.
Starting out in a backyard, you will be introduced to the game’s basic functions. You are equipped with a backpack in which you can store practically everything, from seeds and plants to animals in need of protection and even rain clouds. As you slowly rebuild this garden, squirrels and bunnies will be attracted to the area.
Each area comes with two goals to achieve, whose completion will determine your medal ranking. These goals vary and generally include multiple steps like attracting an animal, letting you pet it, having it build a nest and it giving birth to offspring.
As you progress through the game’s new areas, you will unlock more and more types of animals and plants, which will attract other species and so on. Some areas will be littered with debris that you will have to remove before animals can feel comfortable. There is a total of 72 plants and 20 animals ranging from rabbits and birds to deer and wolves. Each species has specific requirements in order to establish its home in an area.
When tending to plants, you will find yourself constantly checking their status to ensure that they are well watered and have enough room to grow. Certain plants require more care than others. Some will only appear when the area is in very good shape and help to attract the fussiest of animals. Plants left untended for too long will die off.
Animals can also get scared and leave if they are not treated well. You will be able to gauge your progress within an area by checking the happy-point meter on the top screen of the DS. This bar counts the total of happy faces released by plants and animals to unlock two special abilities as it fills up.
At one-third up the meter you will gain the ability to create wind. At two-thirds through you can create lightning which is useful to remove large waste, but that ability can set plants and trees on fire. When the meter is full you will have unlocked the next area. There is no penalty for losing all of your happy points.
The controls are relatively simple. I found it easiest to use the d-pad to manoeuvre around the map; however, you can also touch the edge of the touch screen to move around the map in any direction.
Most of the game’s actions like tree shaking, petting animals and pollinating plants are performed using the stylus and shoulder buttons of the DS in tandem. Using the wind skill requires you to blow into the microphone.
The audio in SimAnimals is minimal but suits the game well. Levels contain no music but include subtle sound effects when performing actions like shaking trees, watering plants and earning happy-points. The menus play song loops of a cheerful and kid-friendly variety.
The in-game graphics feature basic 2D animated sprites and relatively detailed environments. The world map is very basic, a single image with sign posts pointing to the game’s ten areas. The colours could have been a little brighter, but I find myself saying that a lot on the DS. There are a few pieces of in-game art which remind me of story book pictures. A few more of these images would have helped give the game a bit more personality.
I have played some of the The Sims games in the past and was never very fond of them. However, I found SimAnimals to be a very enjoyable management-style game. Its seemingly unlimited number of unlockable plants and animals made me smile with every little bit of progress and thanks to its basic and forgiving gameplay, SimAnimals turned out to be a surprisingly good casual game.
+ Lots of Gameplay for a Casual Game
+ Moves at a Comfortable, Manageable Pace
– Bland, GBA-esque Graphics
– Sparse Sound and Music