|System: Wii, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Redwood Shores||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 21, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Deep within the forest and away from the prying eyes of humans, the serene calm of nature initially abounds. Bugs flit to and fro along the colorful plants situated besides the babbling brook; fish break the water surface for a quick snack; squirrels chatter and collect nuts beneath a nearby tree.
As new creatures wander out from the thicket, the scene becomes a more complicated mish-mash of roaming critters vying for the available food resources. If keeping all of the woodland denizens and plant life in a small patch of forest happy is anything like the hands-on micromanagement found in SimAnimals, then Mother Nature must be an exhausted deity indeed.
EA's efforts at branching out and scaling back the complexity of the more hardcore titles in the massive Sim franchise in an attempt to appeal to broader audiences have yielded mixed results. The cutesy presentation and family-friendly appeal of MySims (and MySims Kingdom) succeeded in capturing the attention of casual gamers and younger players, but the latest Wii-ward foray into kiddie-sim territory is a bit of a stumble. The DS version of SimAnimals narrowly escapes some of the problems found in its console counterpart and provides a decent forestry simulation experience attuned to the interests of younger audiences. Managing small chunks of wilderness and attracting new plants and animals to inhabit the green terrain is a mostly fun and intuitive process, yet it's not for everyone.
SimAnimals doesn't waste any time thrusting you right into the meat of the game. You won't find any cushy anthropomorphic tales filled with quests to locate lost pals or save-the-forest from some evil force threatening to unleash a devastating eco-disaster. Instead, you're dropped onto the first of many plots of land you'll encounter throughout the game, given a bare-bones tutorial and explanation on how to play, and left to your own devices. While this is to be expected from anything bearing the word "sim" in the title, it's unfortunate that a game so clearly designed for kids lacks even a basic storyline to encompass the gameplay.
Once you're given access to a patch of earth in the forest, you'll use the meager starting resources at your disposal to populate the grounds with different plants and other elements in hopes of drawing animals to visit and eventually take up residence in your humble stretch of the woods. Critters will gradually filter in, and you'll earn their trust and friendship by feeding and occasionally petting them when appropriate. You'll interact with animals and objects via a floating hand that serves as your worldly avatar. Visiting animals will casually roam around eating food, sleeping, and interacting with one another. They'll come and go as they please until given enough incentive to stick around for awhile. If you provide the right elements for them to create a home - like a hollowed out log or twigs to build a nest - creatures in good spirits will move in to the area permanently.
Keeping your furry residents happy is the key to progression in SimAnimals. Cheerful animals will continue to exude happiness points that slowly fill a meter on the screen. Conversely, unhappy animals - critters that run out of food sources, aren't treated well, or end up in the losing end of a tussle with another animal - emit negative mojo that depletes your meter. You can't progress to the next area until you've maxed out an area's happy points. Once this happens, you can move on to the next chunk of forest or continue to hone and improve the one you've just spent a lot of time on. While new areas contain elements that attract different kinds of creatures, you can also import resources (creatures, plants, etc.) from maps you've already played by going back and dropping them into your handy pouch.
Aside from specific goals - like attracting a certain animal, interacting with them in a certain way, and getting them to move in - introduced every so often to give you a mega happiness boost and something specific to work towards, the gameplay is largely the same from one area to the next. Each setting provides new plants and animals to utilize and play around with, but you'll be going through the same motions in every locale. There's plenty to keep busy with; you'll always find a plant that needs to be watered, seeds to be planted, animals to be fed, and other issues to manage. Still, it's a little disappointing that almost everything you'll need to know about the entire game can be gleaned from the first few minutes of play. Even if the gameplay is quite enjoyable, repetition sets in early on.