You can’t blame EA for knocking out this spin-off in super quick time to rake in a bit of festive cash. There’s no Harry Potter movie this year, the next Medal of Honor isn’t due until 2007, and James Bond has leaped over to Activision, leaving only their annual sports updates and Need for Speed to keep the shareholders happy. You can blame them for the less than appealing price tag though. On PC it’s only Â£14.99 because it’s an expansion pack, but as a console game they get to charge full price. You win this round, PC boys.
As the name suggests, it’s The Sims 2 with added animal husbandry. This means that you can still make houses and decorate them, go out and get jobs, make new friends and cook dishes using an array of recipes just like you could in The Sims 2. You can also have direct control over your Sim or use the traditional point and click interface, and your Sim’s needs still demand a watchful eye – making sure they’re not hungry, getting enough sleep and going to the toilet regularly. However, unlike The Sims 2, there’s no story and only a few challenges. Instead it’s all about looking after cats, dogs and caged animals of all shapes and sizes.
It all starts off with a simple tutorial, in which you can choose to create a house and family from scratch or take over an already made family and abode. A crazy old cat woman with countless cats tearing her furniture to bits, and lumberjack with a trio of wild dogs are just two of the lives that you can enter. You can buy things for your pets, pamper them, teach them tricks and even breed them. Fail to give them enough attention and they’ll misbehave; don’t let them out to go to the loo and they’ll make a smell on the carpet. Unfortunately there isn’t an option to rub their face in their own mess.
Even though it’s a hideous place, with ugly detail-free Lego-like buildings, the town centre is where the all action is. Aside from a couple of toilets (insert obvious ‘dogging’ joke here) and a coffee shop for your Sim’s own use, you’ll find a bakery full of animal treats, a salon, a toy store, a gift shop and a place to sell existing pets in order to purchase new ones. At the salon new clothes, including shoes and hats, can be purchased, and it’s here that your pets can be washed and groomed. In true Sims fashion the product descriptions for the items you can buy are all amusingly written. We didn’t notice any llama references though. You would have thought it’d be rife with them.
The stars of the show are nicely animated and fairly lifelike, but the rest of the presentation isn’t up to much. The controls are easy enough – just a push of a button is needed to view stats or switch characters – but it’s dull menus and plinky plonky music that annoy. These minor gripes notwithstanding, it’s all a bit aimless. Yes, you can try to teach your dog all the tricks available or try to unlock all the fashion items, but it’s not really a game in the traditional sense. Still, if you like Nintendogs…