The Sims have found their way onto seemingly every platform in existence at one time or another, so I guess it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that the latest game in the franchise The Sims 3 ended up as one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 3DS. So how does the Sims experience translate to a handheld? And a 3D one, at that? Well, let me break it down for you...
Regular readers of this site might already be aware of my obsession with Animal Crossing. However, my love for that life sim doesn't quite translate. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am not the biggest fan of the series. I've never really understood the appeal of The Sims. And not having played The Sims 3 on either a PC or another console, I can't address exactly how it differs from those versions. I can only take the 3DS port for what it is.
Although I have to say that from my past experience with the series, The Sims 3 on the 3DS feels pretty much in line with the rest. You create a Sim and set them off to live their life while you monitor them and steer them along their path (except for when they don't listen to you). It's just as tedious and complicated as I recall, so it would seem that all the gameplay is pretty much intact.
When creating a Sim, you can use the 3DS camera to take a photo of yourself which it will use as a basis for your facial features. It works well enough, although you can totally tweak your features afterward to get just the right look. Oddly, hair options are extremely limited. So is clothing, although you can unlock more options as you play You also choose your Sim's personality and life goal. Mine's ultimate dream was to basically be a big slut and have as many boyfriends as possible. Then you pick a house, move in and start living.
The 3DS screen is used for a dynamic view of the action, and holding down a trigger button allows you to use the analog stick to move the camera around for a better view. The touch screen contains a top down map of the area you're in, surrounded by a cluster of various tabs and buttons that you use to monitor your Sim's moods and goals. It's actually a little cluttered, visually, and the overhead map makes things small enough that it can sometimes be tricky to tap on exactly what you mean to. Another annoying thing is that from above, it's hard to tell who the other Sims are without tapping on them to check their name.
The graphics are good, although nothing too impressive. The Sims are well-rendered, as are the environments, although there are a lot of clipping and pop-in issues. Nothing game-breaking, but it can get distracting. The sound is a little grating, because my Sim has a habit of leaving the TVs and radio on at the same time, so you'd end up with a bit of a cacophony sometimes. Also, while you can turn the radio to another station, there's only four stations and they all only seem to have a few songs each. So there is a lot of repetition with the music. But when conversing with other Sims, the Simlish is as adorable as ever.
In addition to your home, you can also venture into town, with two separate locations to choose from. One is a downtown area that has a restaurant, gym, and disco as well as a few other features. The other is a park, but it's not really a park, just a collection of buildings that include shops, a restaurant, a spa and a library with a little grassy area and trees in the middle. It's nice to get out, but the weird thing is that time moves differently outside of your home. The game warns you of this, but it wasn't clear until I left and came back once exactly what it meant. Basically, if you leave your home and spend hours and hours in the town, when you come back, time will pick up exactly where it left off. Which makes absolutely no sense. For the first week of my Sim's life, I didn't even go because once I got home from work I had enough to worry about without trying to have fun. It wasn't until Saturday afternoon when I ventured to town that I noticed upon my return that it was still Saturday afternoon. I suppose this is so that when you get home after work you can still try to let your Sim have some fun without having to worry about household chores before bed. But it's disconcerting and makes it hard to plan your day. Also, with some of the buildings in town, you don't get to follow your Sim inside. In the library or gym, you can, but in the club or restaurants, you just have to stare at the outside of the building until your Sim finishes inside. You can try to steer the camera into the building, but it'll just show you what's behind it (more buildings). It's a bit lame.
Time is really my big issue with the game, and the franchise in general. Everything takes so damn long to do. Not only does it take an hour to make dinner, but it also takes an hour to eat it. And don't try to use the fast-forward button to speed up time during cooking, because each time I tried that, it would catch fire! And because everything takes so long to accomplish, it's hard to have any fun. I mean, with all the sinks leaking and showers breaking and toilets clogging and TV's fritzing out... I had someone over for dinner (where you can't invite them to eat, you just have to select "serve dinner" and hope that they stick around for as long as it takes you to cook it to grab themselves a plate) and our whole evening was ruined by two separate leaky sinks creating floods in the kitchen and bathroom. That, and the fact that my Sim wouldn't repair anything because he was too tired. Amusingly, my house guest stuck around during my nap and repairs, but then it was actually time for bed! (And he wouldn't stay over!)
Instead of the separate meters I recalled that monitor your Sim's mood, bladder fullness, sleepiness, cleanliness and whatnot, there is now a little window where these little "Moodlets" as they call them show up. So it'll let you know when your Sim is about to get hungry or tired or needs something else. But while sometimes it gives you plenty of time to prepare, sometimes it doesn't. I kind of missed the meters letting me keep a constant update on his status. They also added a "Karma" system where you earn Karma Points that you can later use to create different effects like when I made money rain from the sky by tilting the 3DS. Other Karma Powers require you to blow into the microphone, so at least they're trying to use the unique features of the 3DS.
I appreciate that The Sims 3 lets you create a male Sim and then whore it up flirting with every single man in town (well, not everyone is receptive to your advances), but I still didn't have that much fun with it. I guess it's a pretty good Sims game because I found it tedious to micromanage everything and frustrating when my Sim would just ignore my orders and go off and do his own thing. (I found having extended conversations with other Sims difficult as my Sim kept wandering off after each section, so I'd have to tap the NPC again and select another conversation option so he'd wander back.) So in that respect, I suppose it's a pretty accurate representation of The Sims experience on a handheld. The 3D adds little, although it's clear that the 3DS's graphical capabilities are being used to make the Sims and environments look this good. So maybe if you're a die-hard Sims fan, this might work for you, but I wouldn't run out and buy a 3DS for it.
The reviewer played a copy of The Sims 3 that was provided by EA, and managed to decorate a house, nearly burn it down three times, call the police on a robber who tried stealing a chair and a shower stall, romance a bakers dozen guys (but couldn't get any to go any further than kissing), explored the two areas of town, worked two jobs (got fired from the first one), repaired multiple leaks and fritzed televisions, worked out a lot and learned how to make pancakes. This all took just over six hours, according to the 3DS Activity Log!