Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Electronic Arts
It would be easy to see the name SimAnimals and assume you're in for an experience that's going to be similar to what you'd find in The Sims or SimCity only with virtual animals instead of virtual people. In fact the game is more like a less inspired Viva Piñata with less interesting animals rather than adorable piñata. It's a game that's squarely aimed at younger children but it's not as intuitive or as enjoyable as it could have been.
You'll begin the game by choosing one of the five available save slots and selecting the Mii character you'd like to use to represent you. During the game however you won't see your Mii onscreen. Instead you'll just see a hand (reminiscent of Black & White on the PC) that you'll have to move around the screen to carry out your actions. On starting a new game you'll find that you only have access to a small part of the forest in which the game is based and the only animal you'll have to interact with is a squirrel. During the course of the game you'll unlock the other sections of the forest, thirty-four animals in total, find over eighty different plants and earn forty-six different medals.
Your main goal is to keep the animals happy. You'll do this by showing them affection and keeping them well fed. A happy animal emits happy energy whilst an unhappy animal gives off sad energy. Initially the only way you can keep the animals happy is to provide food for them. Whilst they may initially be hostile to you, you can pick up the animal in question and place them in an ideal spot to feed. As they begin to take a shine to you, you'll be able to have them eat the food out of your hand and eventually you'll be able to stroke them by waving the Wii remote from side to side whilst the hand cursor is over the animal in question. Ultimately of course you'll be getting them to pair up so that they can breed. In addition to animals you'll also have to keep an eye on the plants and even move some of them to more desirable locations.
If you were expecting SimAnimals to have any sort of educational value or be fairly realistic you're going to be in for a disappointment; the game certainly isn't trying to be a Wii version of Zoo Tycoon. The very idea of putting animals in your backpack seems silly enough but when you start dropping large amounts of water in there you know the game is not even attempting to be realistic in any fashion. The method of obtaining seeds from plants in even more far-fetched. You'll simply wait until you see some butterflies hovering above the plants and then you'll need to place the hand cursor over the plants and wave the Wii remote from side to side to make a seed appear which you can then replant. The seed does its stuff almost instantaneously and within a second or two you have a new batch of fully grown plants.
There are some problems with SimAnimals that are tough to forgive. The controls feel fiddly and you spend too much of your time simply waving the remote from side to side. The game can be controlled with just the Wii remote but it's better to have the nunchuck attached to make the camera control less of a chore. Of course with the game being aimed at younger children it's a shame that the game's controls aren't better. If the game's controls are more awkward than they should be, the game itself is actually far easier than it should be. It's just too simple to win the affections of any given animal and you never feel as though you've accomplished anything when you manage to do so. Younger children may appreciate this lack of challenge but there will come a point when even they feel as though it's all too easy. It could even be argued that the animals just don't have that cutesy appeal that keep children interested in the game for long.
The game's presentation is a real mixed bag. Thankfully the game won't cause deaf gamers any problems. Tutorial messages are shown in text. All objectives are shown in text and all of the important information in the game is shown visually. Graphically the game isn't that good. In fact I would probably say it looks like a PlayStation 2 game except for the fact that there isn't a PlayStation 2 version of the game. It would be easier to forgive the graphical quality if there were no performance problems. Some load times are on the long side and the frame rate isn't as good as it should be with there being some really noticeable slowdown at times. There are also some graphical glitches present in the game, such as animals getting stuck on various objects, which is rather unsightly.
SimAnimals is a game that in theory at least, should have been very popular with younger children. For a variety of reasons the game doesn't end up being anywhere near as enjoyable as it should which is a real shame and in some respects a missed opportunity. There are performance and control issues which mar the experience and it's fair to say the game doesn't look as good as it could have. The animals lack that cutesy charm and game lacks that certain something that will keep children coming back for more. Definitely one of the weaker "Sim" titles to date.