Reviewed: Ovtober 16, 2009
Released: September 29, 2009
The biggest challenge for any reviewer tasked with evaluating a kid-friendly franchise is to be able to step out of the traditional circle of critical comfort and look at the game not purely on its technical merit – but on the value that the target audience will find with the material. Electronic Arts’ MySims series of kid-centric titles is the perfect example of a franchise that is in many ways shallow and lackluster as viewed by adult eyes, yet holds a whole world of excitement and enjoyment for preteen gamers looking for more than just another character-based platformer.
Earlier MySims titles have explored a wide range of gameplay models – from the traditional framework of EA’s grownup Sims franchise, to a Mario Party styled minigame collection. The newest title in the franchise, MySims Agents, aims to appeal to gamers’ inquisitive nature, with a detective-come-secret agent storyline set in a moderately free-roaming cityscape. The result is a highly engaging and enjoyable gaming experience for reading-age kids with a penchant for mystery.
A moderately featured character designer allows gamers to build their own bobble-headed Sim agent by selecting gender, color, hairstyle, and clothing. Throughout the course of the game, players will unlock countless accessories, hairstyles, and outfits that can be added or removed from their character at any one of the many in-game mirrors scattered throughout the indoor areas of the city.
The city is actually surprisingly large and detailed for a Sims title. Each area is unique – from the cozy suburbs, to the city parks, to the downtown business districts, to the inner city alleyways – there is a lot of land to ground to cover. MySims avoids bogging down the Wii by breaking up the city into separate levels that can be traversed via subway or plane. The short cutscenes that play during the travel help mask the moderate loading times as each area is accessed.
The real meat of the game are the “cases” that our young sleuths must solve, each of which comes in one of two varieties:
The standard cases follow the central “evil scientist bent on taking over the world” storyline, and are found by searching out characters marked with exclamation points and helping them solve their issue at hand. While the early cases seem independent and unrelated to each other, as the game progresses along the connections between characters start becoming clearer, and eventually the plotlines tie back together nicely. There are a few twists and turns thrown in to shake things up, but for the most part the story stay on a fairly predicable path.
The second flavor of missions comes in the form of “dispatch cases” – which we would call “side missions” in any other sandbox style game. Basically these are missions that are assigned by out of the player’s headquarters (or HQ) and can be completed for additional unlockable costumes and decorating objects.
This is precisely where the Sims formula kicks in – allowing gamers to paint, design, and decorate their own HQ – which is effectively a 5-story high-rise penthouse in the middle of the city. Why a full five stories? Because the game allows gamers to hire junior detectives, and assign them to dispatch cases and help garner even more unlockables. This is a great addition to the franchise, and serves a greater purpose of introducing young gamers to the concepts of resource management without being overwhelming.
Solving cases is as simple as asking the right character the right set of questions, and using the correct tools to track down the correct set of clues. The game seldom leaves anything up to question, and as so, this sandbox game is a bit of a hand-holder. But it definitely keeps the kids on the right path, and that’s half the battle – so it cannot be all bad.
I would strongly suggest that any gamer playing MySims be at least of reading age, as anybody who has played a Sims or MySims title can tell you – there is a always lots of text to pore over when it comes to the Sims. True, the game has a full library of voiceovers – but all are in the fictional Simlish language and completely unintelligible. Well, maybe not completely unintelligible – like the Lego titles, the characters do a pretty good job of conveying emotion through their vocal inflections and body language. Still, there are times where gamers are going to be forced to read certain clues to solve the case at hand.
There are a number of platforming sections – taking gamers with making the correct jumping and balancing sequences to get to the out-of-the-way platforms and hidden areas. The platform jumping can be a bit tricky, as it is hard to gauge the distance and angle of jumps – especially those a off angles of the camera view. Luckily, falls are not fatal and it is usually a quick trek back to the site of the location in question for a second attempt.
Visually, the game is a real treat. The different areas are all seem more colorful and alive than in previous iterations of the franchise, and the newly added elevated areas and platforming locations give the game a sense of depth not realized before. I especially like the urban areas with their weathered brick walls and graffiti – it gave a real sense of trekking through the back alleys of the town. The characters are cute in a anime-styled bobble-headed big-eyes sort of way, and they all look fantastically funny in their goofy Men in Black suits, robot costumes, and even Tom Clancy style stealth ware (complete with night vision glasses).
As for the sound – you just gotta love Simlish. The cute little phrases and comments always put a smile on our faces. My kids still kick into the Simlish greeting “Hooba Noobi” whenever we mention the game. We have not had this much fun with jibberish since Kung Fu Panda caped off the Wushy Finger Hold with the coveted “skadoosh!” The sound effects are surprisingly adequate, capturing the correct ambiance for each setting – the park sounds like chirping birds and wind – the city sounds like cars and sirens. It does a lot to help reinforce the idea that this is a living, breathing city, making the overall experience that much more authentic.
As for the value – my kids have been glued to MySims Agents for a good two weeks now and spend just as much time solving cases as they do changing outfits and rearranging their HQ. It’s kind of like a virtual combination of dress-up, dollhouse, and action figures – with a detective themed video game thrown in to boot. After two weeks, we can still use it as a bribe for getting homework and chores done, providing far more longevity than Wii Sports Resort – and to parents, that is the ultimate value.
In conclusion, MySims Agents is one of the best games to come out on the Wii yet this year – at least for the pre-teen gamers out there. Agents does a fantastic job of introducing young gamers to the concepts of open world and resource management gaming genres – and helps stimulate their inquisitive nature all while having a blast. Older gamers might want to look elsewhere, but for those that fall between the years of 6 and 12 – you won’t find a better game.