One day, you’re standing on the dock, waving goodbye to a friend, when you slip and fall and land in a crate, which is sealed and loaded onto a cargo ship, which is caught up in a storm and your Sim is shipwrecked on a deserted island! Your poor shipwrecked Sim must survive on this island, at first by finding food, building a shelter and starting a fire.
The zaniness we love about the Sims arrives in The Sims 2: Castaway once you’ve gotten a handle on sleeping and not-starving. Your Sim can build an SOS sign for Dharma initiative-style airdrops of random things, like a victrola or a candy bar. As you collect island items, you can cook tasty dinners (your Sim was getting tired of bugs and raw fish), make new clothes, make tools or decorations, build a new house, make a canoe and just create all kind of island crafts. You can even make and play an ocarina! And, as you explore more, you’ll also befriend the other island refugees, and check out the ancient temple. All tropical islands have an ancient temple, don’t you know?
I’ve written such angry things about sparkly pink shopping games as “girls’ games”, that I hate to admit when I fall into a traditional girl pattern, but, well, I love pretend cooking. I like it in World of WarCraft, too, if that make me sound any less like an eight-year-old girl. I also like making Sim clothes and playing dress-up. Castaway avoids being an unappealingly feminine game by also having survival puzzles and mini-games about fish-catching and fire-building. Oh, and the game’s not pink, which is always good in my book.
Sims 2: Castaway seemed to make much better use of the DS interface than Sims 2. In the regular Sims 2, you’re forced to ignore the stylus, and use the clumsy buttons to navigate, but you can’t put the stylus away completely, because you need it to select menu options that really should be hotkeys or at least accessible by arrow keys. Sims 2: Castaway takes better advantage of the DS-specific interface, using either the stylus to move, and even creating minigames that require use of the microphone. The top screen is used to display the meters that are very familiar to Sims players.
One interface annoyance is the crafting book. When crafting, your Sim cannot create multiples of the same item. You need to select the crafting spot, tap Craft Things, then click the item you want to make,which leads to a screen showing you what materials will be reguired. On this screen, you must click Make. Then you’ll see a picture of what you’re making, and you must click OK. Then you see a picture of what you made, and you’re forced to click OK one more time. If you want to make a duplicate (or a second item), you’re back at the crafting book, and you need to do it all over again. And if your item is on the second or third page of the crafting book, it can be even longer. And if you need three of one item to make something special, well, seems like EA figured out how to most of the suck the fun from a crafting game.
I was a big fan of Sims 2 for the computer, so I expected to like Castaway. It was even better than I expected, with the exotic island theme, a zany but cohesive storyline, and all the adorably realistic animations we expect from the Sims.