Reviewed: November 14, 2008
Released: October 28, 2008
With the worldwide success of the adorable MySims franchise, game publisher Electronic Arts has released the first of two scheduled sequels, MySims Kingdom. A companion piece to the Wii version of the same name, MySims Kingdom for the Nintendo DS is a simplified sandbox simulation that puts you in control of a customizable character charged with leading the revitalization of a small piece of a troubled kingdom. As the king’s loyal subject and the land’s chief architect, you will investigate an alien evil, invigorate the gloomy citizens, explore a variety of landscapes, and restore your vandalized village to its five-star, fairy tale beginnings.
As with most sandbox simulation games, MySims Kingdom is an open-ended mix of customization and exploration within a world of strange places and quirky characters. The game begins with the creation of your avatar. Piecing your person together is a fairly simple and pleasantly detailed operation that involves choosing the gender, skin tone, eye shape and color, and hair style for your journey and picking out the clothes and accessories for your first day on the job. The options are plentiful, making for hundreds of variations of appearance and style.
Once your character is assembled, the adventure can begin, but don’t let the name fool you. While it does say MySims Kingdom on the cover, you won’t find any castles, dragons, or knights in this land. Instead, you’re stranded on an island under attack by a strange, interstellar vandal. What’s more, the chief residents of this exotic locale are a vegetable loving, neurotic town overseer and an eccentric scientist, Dr. F. If it weren’t for the infrequent visits from the land’s far away ruler, King Roland, I’d think I was playing the wrong game.
As in the previous MySims game, your chief task is to restore the area to its gone, but not forgotten glory. To do this, the innovative Dr. F arms you with the powers to collect and manipulate the essences of the land itself. These essences—represented by various natural elements, such as fire, water, and earth—are drawn out of the homes, plant life, and decorations of the town, and it is up to the player to remember which objects yield the desired essences. Once collected, essences can be used in one of two ways: first, you can combine two elements in Dr. F’s wondrous Synth-O-Tron to create the scenery needed to beautify the land; secondly, you can bring the essences to the local foreman, who will construct the homes, shops, and public buildings for your expanding town.
Once built, these objects, houses, trees, fountains, and all, are added to your inventory and made available for placement in one of eight different regions. As pieces in themed sets, such as sci-fi, lovely, and cute, the items must be carefully arranged to meet the needs and tastes of the residents. This adds an element of planning and experimentation to the experience as players must figure out which essence combinations and gyrations—you use the stylus to shake the Synth-O-Tron to one of five ends—bring about the needed items in the appropriate themes. With so many possible items to extract from and objects to create, it is a challenge to figure out and remember the right combos, but it usually doesn’t take a long time to happen upon the required essences and wanted scenery.
As essences are discovered and pieces are assembled, your inventory becomes stocked with a menagerie meant to add attitude and substance to the environment. This is player customization on a major scale; while many sandbox titles allow players to furnish your homes and property, MySims Kingdom turns a large island into a veritable blank canvas begging for color and creativity. Each of the eight exterior zones, ranging from riverside grasslands to snow-covered hilltop retreats, is split up into a sizable grid that can comfortably fit homes and shops for four citizens, as well as landscape improvements. It is the placement of these improvements that determines your town’s overall score – from one to five stars – and brings about a renewed sense of joy and prosperity to the local citizens.
The sheer size of the town rejuvenation activity is impressive, yet the overall experience felt fruitless. First of all, my town’s rating went from one star to four stars in about ten minutes. This came about after mindlessly placing objects throughout the zones, leaving me to believe that little thought or skill, such as matching themes to character personalities, is required. Also, once the objects are placed, you cannot interact with them. Public telephones, trees, fountains, and tables simply occupy space, to be looked at and not touched, like so many glass ornaments locked away in your parents’ china cabinet.
The same holds true for the game’s main collection-oriented activity, the stocking of the local zoo. Similar to the museum in another well-known sandbox sim, your island’s zoo has structure and design, yet lacks content. It’s up to you, town savior, surveyor, and sightseer, to find the lost animals and return them to their homes. To do this, you are given a three-shot camera, which you use to capture images of animals near landmarks at specific times of the day. Once you’ve photographed the creatures and returned the evidence to the local zookeeper, it’s only a matter of time before they are returned for your subsequent viewing. Again, it’s a very tedious activity that lacks any sense of player participation and interaction.
Thankfully, life and interactivity come to each region in the form of mini-games. From ski jumping in the snowy north to ghost hunting along the southern coast, there is a wide variety of entertaining, engaging games to discover and master. Through simple exploration and discussion, you’ll find the hidden games scattered throughout the map. Each game, run by one of the town’s colorful characters, has specific hours of operation and rules for advancement. Additionally, there are the three standard difficulty settings, easy, moderate, and difficult, that give beginning and expert players the appropriate challenge and chance for success. Playing these games is the best way to earn money, allowing you to purchase home improvements, clothing, and accessories. The higher the difficulty and the better your score, the more money you will receive.
These games inject a lot of life into MySims Kingdom. In fact, I found them to be the chief reason for coming back to the game again and again. In particular, I enjoy the tennis mini-game, which happens to be the very first one you find. Little more than pong with added depth and better graphics, the tennis game allows players to practice with simple returns, play against the town’s young tennis pro, and compete against a friend via wireless multi-play. While simple in design, the game challenges players to react quickly and strategically, all while listening to one of the game’s delightful background tunes.
Those familiar with the first MySims games will feel right at home with the visual style and orientation of MySims Kingdom. Like its predecessor, the game’s characters and environments are light and colorful, and the textures are smooth and simple. Especially impressive are the renderings of the main character and his or her gear as they are presented on the top view screen. Unlike many lighthearted simulations on the DS, players of MySims Kingdom are given the opportunity to see a beautifully detailed, mobile representation of their Sims. This larger view can even act as a dressing room mirror to make character customization—typically difficult and impersonal on a small screen—easy on the eyes and open to the imagination.
Overall, the creators of MySims Kingdom did an excellent job integrating the dual and touch screen features of the Nintendo DS with the graphical interface of their sandbox sim/mini-game hybrid. As is typical with most DS titles, the bottom screen allows for stylus or D-pad control, while the top screen serves as an informational tool and menu screen. Throughout the different modes of play, you can expect a charming mix of adorable character behavior and ample instructions and updates on gameplay and progress. While they are merely visual and not interactive, these small graphical enhancements serve as subtle reminders that there is life on King Roland’s island in peril, and, regardless of issues with stiff gameplay and cold conversations, the characters are meant to be cheerful and entertaining.
A necessary component of any successful sandbox simulation is the integration of a repetitive, yet catchy soundtrack, and the music of MySims Kingdom is certainly one of the five-star features of this otherwise run-of-the-mill title. Dynamic and soothing, the simple melodies accompany you through and set the tone for your adventures in the king’s troubled kingdom. Most of your time will be spent with the four songs that coincide with the four parts of the day/night cycle, including a quick, peppy number in the morning and a soft, slow waltz to lull you off to sleep at night.
Also, the sound effects are adequate, neither detracting from nor adding to the overall feel of the game. They only stand out to any great effect during the various mini-games, providing many necessary action cues and alerting you to both successes and failures. Noticeably absent, however, is the mumbling Simlish that accompanies most conversational sounds in your typical Sims game. Without clear visible emotes or audible replies, the characters become yet another cold, static element in the already lifeless environment.
The keys to the MySims Kingdom can be yours for the standard DS title price of $29.99. Fans of other cute sandbox games, like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, should find this to be a reasonable price, and for players who enjoy the added challenges and fun of mini-games, the small expenditure is certainly worth it. Playing through the central storyline, as simple as it is, requires about 10 hours of gameplay, while the ongoing activities, such as furnishing your many homes, discovering new blueprints, and beating high scores, should keep gamers revisiting the island again and again.
A chip off the old MySims block, MySims Kingdom for the Nintendo DS throws out the competition and career building found in the more established Sims titles. Instead, players are treated to campy characters and myriad mini-games in their very own virtual playground.
Tasked with revitalizing a king’s crumbling island getaway, you will spend a lot of your time choosing and maneuvering furniture, flowerbeds, and homes to literally shape the world to your liking. The mini-games and occasional plot arc provide funds and resources to add to your decorating arsenal and allow you to take breaks from the duties of chief architect and developer.
If the game had been well executed, I would call it a mix of Animal Crossing and WarioWare; however, even with frequent interior and exterior redesigns, the characters and landscapes feel cold and static, and the addictive mini-games aren’t plentiful or important enough to carry the weight of the game. In addition, the story seems to get in the way of exploration and innovation, two key components of any exciting sandbox simulation. While the graphics and music are delightful, the troublesome game mechanics and lifeless environment are overshadowing and, at times, downright annoying.
Still, for the fan of cute sandbox simulations, this game will provide hours of enjoyment. If you’re simply interested in playing mini-games, landscaping, or interior decorating, I’d say you’re better off looking elsewhere.