You’ve seen a lot of The Sims over the years. In this latest offering, you’ll find one of the most delightful simulations ever — especially if you’re into the outdoors and wildlife. This Wii game includes 60 kinds of wild animals that appear in a typical U.S. forest, including my favorite, the wise and mysterious owl.
Electronic Arts for Wii (also for DS)
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 8.0
Pros: Deep, fun simulation; many cool animals, plants and environments.
Cons: Graphics could be better; icons onscreen get in the way of play; no online mode.
PICK IT UP AND PLAY
Learning to play is super easy. Your Wii controller shows a hand icon on the screen. You pick up, touch and move both flora and fauna (plants and animals) to make the forest your own environmental oasis. If you’re nice to the animals and feed them, they’ll be nice to you. If you neglect them or are mean, they can get pretty nasty. Some animals just won’t get along with others, so you have to watch how you populate your surroundings.
You begin your journey at the forest’s edge, near a big, brick house. You hear the sounds of the forest, the trickling of water, the chattering of squirrels. The first animals you encounter are small ones: mice, rabbits and birds. By feeding them, you gain their trust, so you can eventually pet them. They smile like humans when you touch them.
But don’t tickle or touch them before they trust you, or they’ll freak out. When you pick up an animal from the skyview angle, be careful not to drop it from too far above. It won’t like it (who would?) and you’ll lose some trust.
QUEST AT YOUR OWN PACE
You’re asked to complete various tasks to get these creatures to move into your patch of the outdoors. For instance, to get a rabbit to make a home, plant and grow carrot patches. To get a mouse, place the hand icon over the branches of some pine trees. Shake the Wiimote back and forth and collect 10 pinecones after they fall to the ground. That hungry mouse will move in quick as a flash. Birds are a little harder to lure, since they’re shy and skittish at first.
Above the action on your screen is what’s called the Happy Bar, which increases when you care for your wildlife. The main keys to happiness are a full stomach and occasional petting. To the lower left, you have a backpack to carry food … and a few animals as well.
As you complete various quests, more areas open and more animals are discovered. Sometimes, challenges will pop up one after the other. Don’t worry: There’s no time limit. Just complete them at your own pace. Plus, a friend or two can join in anytime to help you out.
UNLOCK FUN AND FACTS
When butterflies flit above clover or flowers, shake your Wiimote above them. Out will pop a seed for growing food. Put it in your backpack to feed an animal later, or plant it right away. As you unlock these things, you can see info about them in an encyclopedia. Actually, Electronic Arts overstates what this is. It’s nowhere as detailed as a big reference book, but it will give you a few fun facts.
As you trek deeper into the forest, you’ll meet all manner of beasts along with various challenges. While these animals can look cute, they’re pretty wild. Bears rear up and growl. A beaver gnaws on trees to fell them for its lodge. A red fox eyes you suspiciously.
It’s not like a Scout trek where you might have to wait a long time to see, say, a great horned owl in an open field as evening falls. The animal action keeps on coming.
A FEW DRAWBACKS
As you move around, you might wish the graphics were more realistic and less jaggy. But this is the Wii, and its powers are limited. Nonetheless, SimAnimals makes you feel like you’re right in the woodlands.
Although you can play with just the Wiimote, I found it’s easier to move around by adding the nunchuk. Even when I used both, I still found myself accidentally clicking the bar on the bottom of the screen (which keeps you aware of your challenges).
The same goes for the info on the right of the screen. When you’re trying to pick up animals or nuts, sometimes it just gets in the way. Another drawback is that there’s no online play.
CONNECTIONS AND CHANGES
As you progress through the 11 areas in this varied ecosystem, things your animals do in one area will affect other areas. If a beaver makes a dam in the river, another part of your stream might dry up. If you have too many mice in one meadow area, you might want to take them to the thicker forest.
All the while, things change in time. Night falls and many animals sleep (unless they’re nocturnal). Acorns sprout into green sprigs after they fall from a tree. And, when a log rots, mushrooms might grow from its softening, earth-filled bark.
When all is right with the SimAnimals kingdom, you can enjoy the peacefulness of nature, listen to the game’s cheerful music and just live the good life for a while.