previews\ Sep 21, 2008 at 8:00 pm

SimAnimals - WII - Preview

Within the realm of the EA Games’ Sim franchise, players have controlled the lives of people and have built and managed cities. SimAnimals is bringing a new take on the whole element of simulation with SimAnimals, a game that masks some strong gameplay elements with real-world behavioral patterns beneath a veneer of cuteness that should please and entertain most gamers who pick up the title.

Whew! That was a mouthful. But SimAnimals is that cute. The game, available on the Wii and Nintendo DS early n 2009 will give players the opportunity to progress beyond the backyard of their Sim neighborhoods and into the forest. There they will encounter various species of animals (32 in all) with distinctive behavior.

The game is actually designed for the ‘tweens age group – players from 6-15 – so the control scheme has been designed for ease of use. There is even four-player cooperative gameplay available on the Wii that follows the fundamental gameplay elements.

“The game is not hard to play,” said creative director Charles London, “because we know our demographic.”

SimAnimals Wii screenshots

In SimAnimals you go into the forest and are tasked with taking care of the animals there. Of course, being that these are wild creatures, they won’t trust you initially. You will have to earn that, but feeding them. The Wii-mote is used as a hand to pick up items and move them in the world – whether that is food that you can deliver to the animals, environmental elements (like sticks for the beaver to use to build a dam), or even pick up the animals themselves and move them.

If a bear is harassing your beaver, you can simply pick it up and move it to another location in the forest. It probably won’t like you for that and you may lose some trust points, but better to move the bear than to see it have a meal of fresh beaver.

(In fact, in a scenario that was played out, the beaver built a pond and a duck came to visit, which was eaten by the bear.)

In addition to animals, there is also a plant game. You can only plant certain plants in the right soil, and if you are successful in the botanical phase, you may end up with a rare plant that might give your animals some interesting buffs. The game also has a goal panel. You achieve the goals to unlock animals. Animals can be placed into a backpack (which serves as the inventory) and moved around. You can also store food in the backpack to feed to different animals. Do not, though, get the idea you can teach a meat-eater to be a vegetarian. The animals all have certain base behaviors that will not change much. You can build relationships between animals that may override predatory behaviors but generally you cannot teach an animal a species-contrary behavior.

The animals also have finite lifespans. They will age and die. But they will also mate and have offspring.

SimAnimals Wii screenshots

The game is an expanding sandbox title. There are different levels and there are problems to solve, like pollution, that may travel through the levels. And if you dam a river at a higher level in the game, it will have a trickle down (pun intended) effect in that the downstream levels will dry up. But animals and locations lower in the level chain will not be affected by changes (in terms of environmental or animal lifespans) if you are not actively playing those levels.

The look of the game is very nice. “We want this game to be real enough so you can believe,” London said, “but still keep it a little cartoony.”

The world of SimAnimals is very touchable and players who get their hands on it might well find time slipping by quickly.

SimAnimals was one of the featured performers are EA’s Bloggers’ Day event in San Francisco this past Friday, but it was clearly one of the star attractions. This is a game with certainly a lot of potential, and with a lot of fun built in.

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