You’re on your way from someplace much cooler to someplace much cooler when your car breaks down in Strangetown, and the Sims 2 game begins. A local yokel says he can fix that, but while you’re waiting (it goes without saying that the required part’s on backorder in Strangetown), you take over as manager of a creepy, rundown hotel, in this little town of odd events.
Almost everyone who’s played the Sims knows that the ghosts, alien abductions and general parmanormal silliness are the best part of the Sims, so the makers of Sims 2 for the DS toned down the time spent watching your Sim sleep or cook dinner, and increased the zany encounters.
You play as one Sim, not a household, and the story is much more linear than the PC versions. It’s also no longer a sandbox game. Players have limited control over hotel guests, but important penthouse guests arrive, check in, and send players on unavoidable missions. I happened to like the penthouse missions, especially goth cultist Ava Cadarva, but it wasn’t the almost-unlimited sandbox play style we knew and loved in other Sims games.
The NPCs are hilarious, and as you play, you discover more about them, especially the friendly builder who moonlights as local superhero, the Ratticator. (No, I’m not telling who) The Strangetown shopkeeper resembles the alien boy from the PC Sims, grown up and collecting parts for his spaceship.
There’s a lot of room for interaction with the NPCs. A player will often find an NPC needs to be cheered up, calmed down or even restrained if they’re going a bit loopy. You can also impress or romance characters. To do this — and this makes the game — you must select the right action from a choice of three posibilities by watching the other Sim’s body language and choosing what they need. You kiss a Sim who offers you his cheek, console a crying Sim, use your calm hands when a Sim waves his angrily. This part is so well done! Although there were more possible interactions in the PC version, I thought the DS was more interactive and more fun.
As you build more in the hotel, more options are available to you. There’s an art gallery where you can draw pictures with the stylus and sell them for Simoleons, a stage to mix music, and a casino for gambling. There are also random events, like in the PC Sims, but instead of a Sim child bringing a friend home from school or the fridge breaking, Strangetown is attacked by aliens or mobsters.
Unfortunately, the interface is awful. It completely fails to take advantage of the stylus for navigation. Players use the buttons to move, and when you either step on or bang into an activatable object, then you use the stylus on the touchscreen to select the interaction. So, clumsy keypad for navigation, and then stylus-only for one-touch actions, that should be a key shortcut. It’s almost like the interface is designed as a joke, or a twisted test of just how good the Sims franchise is. How awkward would Sims have to be before I stopped playing it?
Also, the game is one long clipping error. Sims stick their arms through each other and walk through furniture, and it’s impossible to navigate without bits of the scenery covering the screen or getting odd peeks into nearby rooms. The graphics are patchy. Columns reflect off the tiled floor in the Modern Guest Bedroom, but when my Sim takes a shower, her heel and ponytail clip through the curtain. Choppy graphics on a tiny screen and mashing the thumb button to move… that is exactly why I’m not usually a fan of handheld game systems.
Overall, Sims 2 is an addictive game, with a very unfriendly interface. There’s some room for improvement with the graphics as well, but given a choice between disappointing graphics and a great story, or gorgeous graphics and a lame story, I’ll pick the first one every time. And the Strangetown world and storyline need no improvement.