Review: The Sims 3: Pets (3DS)

November 18, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan

Ah, Sims 3. We’re doing this dance again, aren’t we? It’s been what? Three reviews now, this year alone? Having just put the finishing touches to my review of Sims 3: Pets on home consoles and only recently reviewed Sims 3 on 3DS a few months back, I guess I’m in as good position as any to judge how well the former title performs on the latter format…

That’s right! Sims 3: Pets is on now available on 3DS. Does it purr nicely or try to scratch your eyes out?

I think I’m suffering déjà vu… again!
I’m almost fed up of writing this type of sentence due to the amount of times I’ve done so recently, but just as is the case in any Sims game, in Sims 3: Pets on 3DS you dictate what happens in the little space that your created Sims call home. You have no set plot, no real objectives; you write your own stories by playing in its purist form. In some ways it’s not unlike some of the finest Western RPGs, in that your experience will be both unique and very personal to you. You’ll treasure and grow attached to your little creations, because you created them. You’ll find yourself telling other players (and sometimes even non-players!) of the misadventures and mad stuff you’ve discovered. That’s where the Sims series has always come into its own.

However, just like the previous attempt on 3DS, in many ways it’s still a cut-down experience. While the series never had any set stories as such, in having Challenges open to you, the full versions of the game always offered some gentle direction when you needed it, at least enough to get you thinking about and experiencing some of the wildly varied things you can do of your own accord.

Without that, Sims 3: Pets on 3DS definitely suffers because of it, and at worst, there’s a distinct lack of things to achieve. This means you end up with a game that’s more about managing lives and lifestyles than exploring your town and doing depraved and crazy stuff that’s worth talking about.

That’s not to say that this version of Sims 3 hasn’t improved at all over the previous iteration. Far from it; it’s definitely a far more enjoyable game, and one that’s almost the handheld product it should be.

Good doggies!

Better controls = better game…
The creation tool is once again a very stunted version of what’s possible with the ‘full’ game. Facially, you can pretty much achieve what you want (minus the 3DS camera functionality this time around), but you still have limited options when it comes to body height and shape. While the choices in clothing lack the sheer numbers and customisation of other versions, there is just enough to help you create something unique for you. The creation process remains one of the most fun parts of the game.

If you’re like me, you’ll find more fun in creating the animals this time around, mainly because it’s new. Again, here you have less choice than on the PC or 360, but you’re pretty well catered for when it comes to breeds and markings for the cats & dogs you can create (no horses here). You can actually add a bit more personalisation to your animals, though, thanks to props. For example, my canine companion walks around sporting steam-punk goggles, but I could have dressed him in any number of silly hats, dragon wings or other accessories.

One thing I noticed here was that you can’t choose their age, only their size between two options, and I realised that the same is true of the humans. There’s no age indicator anywhere in gameplay, and even at this point after putting a ton of time into the game, I’m not entirely sure that they actually age in any way, shape or form. With that the case, can they even die?

The good news is that you now create up to three family members of any combination you want instead of the paltry one you could last time around, and you can manage their relationship dynamics as you want. You can also create non-playable townies at any time from the start menu. Not only do they appear in your town and visit you from time to time, but they’ll appear in other people’s games if you catch them via Streetpass.

While challenges are out, traits, skills and wishes are still very much in, and before you complete the Sim creation process, you’ll have to give them characteristics and a lifetime achievement wish. What I found odd here is that there are no animal-centric ones to give to the humans, meaning you can’t make a Sim that’s better with dogs than cats, for example, and the dogs and cats also share the same list of traits. Unless you’re a skilled player and are used to the plate-spinning that usually ensues with this game, then I’ll advise you to give your Sims positive traits like neatness and friendliness, or in a dogs case, loyalty rather than other, more destructive tendencies. If you do, you’ll find the game will run a little more smoothly.

Now, onto the game proper; the first thing I noticed was that the controls have seen a complete overhaul, and the game plays so much better for it. Where the previous iteration used the bottom screen for much of the management with an awkward, top-down map of the areas, it merely functioned, even after you got used to it. Here navigation is a joy from the off and more in-line with the home console versions.

Once you’ve selected your Sim using the icon on the bottom screen, you move the cursor with the circle-pad to something or someone you want them to interact with, and click A to see your options. This system not only feels natural, but it frees up the entire bottom screen, meaning that they can use it to present all of the important stats and menus in a much more user-friendly way. Furthermore, camera control is managed by the shoulder buttons rather than fiddly touch-screen buttons, and to complete the list of sensible upgrades, the game’s speed is intuitively mapped to left and right on the d-pad. Everything is where it feels it should be.

The one benefit of the old system was that building, purchasing and placing items was nice and easy with the touchscreen, and thankfully EA have seen fit to keep that exact same system here, only it’s all organised better. So when you switch to build mode, the top-down map returns and you can place your items with relative ease using the stylus. What about the other big issues with the previous game?

Well, I was disappointed to discover there are still no services to rely on outside of fire-fighters and the police, which means that you can’t hire a cleaner or call in a repairman when things break. In the last game, this was a major issue, as things broke way too often and fixing them took an age. You spent most of your time mending and cleaning than doing anything fun, and it was that which hurt the game the most.

Thankfully, in Pets, things break less and they’re far quicker to fix, so when your sink starts spurting water, it’s not quite the same heart-breaking drama it once was; although, it would still be nice to call someone in to deal with it for you. To counter-balance this, the levelling system seems quicker, meaning that you’ll get the skills to quickly deal with all this stuff at a faster rate, and thus the game flows a lot better as a result. You at least feel like you have more time to do the things you want.

The animals are oddly a little more humanised than in the other versions, and by that I mean you can do very human things. Often I’d find my dog sat on the couch watching TV and he was learning while doing so. A nice touch is that the animals use the fire hydrant outside as their mobile phone, using their scents to invite friends over and leave messages; funny and disgusting! They still have their own separate skill-set too, though, so over time cats can become great hunters, while dogs will become adept at digging for treasure. It’s totally worth leveling them up, as they can be great little money earners.

Of course, all Sims will have little wishes that they’d like to be fulfilled in gameplay, be it to sit down with a good book, go play in a sprinkler or make a move on a special someone, and by guiding them towards those simple little wishes, you’ll earn Lifetime Happiness points. These can be spent on permanent modifiers that will make running the household easier; for example, you can make someone a quicker cleaner or have it so they can eat for free at restaurants. With the animals you can make them quick learners or make them better behaved. It’s a nice little system that rewards you for putting your Sim’s wants first.

Speaking of making a move on people, forging relationships is also a quicker process and again, this was a huge bugbear in the previous game, one which made reviewing it a chore. Here it’s an enjoyable process and a lot more like the Sims should be, as you can be best friends with your pets and find yourself partners in a quicker turnaround time. I probably don’t need to tell you how much it helps with a portable version.

I did have some problems, however; every time I was just about to ‘seal the deal’ with some Woohoo (Sim sex), something would always happen before I could get chance. There were points where even though they were both happy and married, something random would always crop up that meant they wouldn’t be in the same bed together unless it was for sleeping. As such, despite putting a lot of time into the game, I’m yet to determine whether they can have physical relations or children. Given that you can’t select your Sim’s age in the creation process, I’m guessing that the answer, especially for the latter, is negative. Unfortunately, without getting them amorous, I’ll never know…

Karma powers are back once again, and this time they are more evenly balanced between negative and positive actions, allowing you to temporarily modify your Sim’s well-being or fortune. Usually, these are earned by doing challenges in the other versions; however, here you actually spend the 3DS’ Play Coins that you get by carrying your console with you.

Now, if you’re like me and have finished the system’s inbuilt Streetpass games twice over, you’ll have built up quite a collection of Play Coins over the past few months, meaning you can spam the hell out of the positive Karma (ones that give you money or make you instantly refreshed) with zero consequence. In the other versions, if you overspent on good karma without doing enough challenges, there was always a chance that the game would then punish you with a bad karma power for doing so. Here you don’t have that worry, so you’ll only use the bad karma when you’re feeling really torturous.

Sim life's a beach!

Nice fluffy coat?
While a lot of the general set-up has changed, visually it hasn’t, though it does now boast a smoother frame-rate. Otherwise it’s that classic, cartoony Sims look, only with lower textures and optimised for the handheld. The animation of the animals adds a lot of charm, and they remain realistic in physical behaviour in spite of the less powerful platform. They can, however, be hard to spot on the smaller screen, especially when at the standard camera distance.

The 3D effect is definitely well used again, at times making it seem as if you’re peeping through the windows of your neighbours, such is the depth on offer.

In short, it’s an attractive game that for reasons beyond its control, lacks the pure ‘oomph’ of the other versions.

My dogs are barking!
Audibly, it also performs as pleasantly as it did before. Homely noises hammer on your ear drums, conversations are held in sheer gibberish, and dogs and cats now accompany the other sounds of life.

Elsewhere, it’s identical to other versions. You’ll still shudder when you hear that noise of a mild mishap or serious disaster, and shudder more once you’ve completed a wish, especially after the 230498230498234th time…

Worth taking for a walk?
Even though it’s still very much a cut-down Sims experience, please don’t let that detract from just how much of an improvement this is over the previous game on 3DS. Even lacking the direction and fun of challenges, it’s a game that you can end up playing mindlessly, such is the strange urge to tinker and experiment.

It doesn’t do quite enough to make itself a must-buy for the system, lacking the sheer content of its bigger brothers. It’s still fun, though, even with its limitations, lending itself well to dip-in, dip-out gameplay, and you can do much worse for your 3DS collection than to pick this up, especially if you’ve got a hankering for some Sims on the move.


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