Crispy Gamer

MySims (Wii)

Look up ?money tree? in the dictionary and you?ll likely see a picture of Electronic Arts? The Sims franchise.

Considered one of the top-selling gaming franchises in history -- spawning three official games, innumerable expansion discs, as well as console and handheld versions -- The Sims has ballooned into a pop culture phenomenon for EA, breaking through to young and old, male and female, and bridging the gap between seasoned and newbie players.

And now that the Wii is enjoying much of the same mainstream success as The Sims series, it seems like a perfect fit to create a version of the game tailored to the popular platform.

Introducing MySims, the first Wii game based on The Sims, which retains some of the character and accessibility of past games, but focuses more on building structures than building relationships.

Consider it a digital toy that?s one part Mii Design Studio (where you can create an on-screen avatar from multiple options), one part LEGO (as you must construct buildings and items for townsfolk), and one part Animal Crossing (as you spend time collecting objects and decking out your surroundings).

Let?s go through these three main mechanics one by one:

In the Mii Design Studio -- sorry, the Making Your Sim screen -- you must design and save the person with whom you?ll be spending a dozen or so hours. Not coincidentally, the Sims options look an awful lot like the Nintendo Mii characters, but with a few more aesthetic options. You can customize your Sim?s skin and hair color; tweak the eyes, mouth and nose shape; add face paint or glasses; select their outfits including hats, shirts and pants; and even change their voice to your liking. If you don?t have the time or interest to create your own custom Sim, simply select the random button (a pair of dice) and go with what it gives you. By helping out Sims in the game (more on this in moment) you can unlock additional hairstyles, clothing and accessories.

Interestingly, you don?t select the gender, but you can tell which facial features and clothes are male or female (at the risk of stereotyping) or feel free to create an androgynous Sim, if you like. Give him, her (er, or it) a name and you?ll start the game as the new Sim on the block.

The second part of the MySims gameplay begins when you move into a town that has seen better days. You?ll meet hapless members of the community -- such as a down-on-his-luck restaurateur, a mad scientist, a florist, a sci-fi geek, an adventurer and a fitness instructor -- who will each tell you what they need. The first step, however, is to seek out the mayor, Rosalyn, who gives you a place to live -- and you?d better get to know your pad well, as you?ll be spending a lot of time here and dressing it up to your liking.

At least you get to design your home yourself, which is the first experience you?ll have, using the Wii remote to build your residence. For the most part the wireless controller works well as you pick up, position and place blocks, but it can get a bit confusing to use the control pad?s up and down buttons to alter the size of the blocks, while the left and right buttons are to rotate them. Be sure to add doors, windows, a roof and paint to complete the job; over time you?ll have access to fences, statues, columns and other accessories to spice up the joint.

Similar to The Sims games on the PC, decorating your home on the inside takes more patience and care, but you?ll acquire furniture, appliances and many other objects to make your house a home. You?ll also need to construct a workshop, where you?ll be building and customizing new objects soon enough.

You?ll spend plenty of time helping townsfolk build structures or items they need, beginning with the mayor who asks you to build her a podium in your workshop and deliver it to her at the town hall. Soon you?ll be designing and building everything from jukeboxes and pizza ovens to laboratories and pirate ships. You can stick to the blueprint or indulge in a little creative expression, but you?ll likely want to stick closely to the template for the first few items you?re building. When building, you?ll use the Wii remote to move blocks around a grid-like interface by following the colored icons.

The third major gameplay mechanic is called Essences, which range from apples and stones to hearts and diamonds to trouts and crabs, and you can collect them in a myriad of ways: harvesting them from the ground, trees or water; socializing with your new friends and catering to their needs; and of course by building items. Essences can help you build and paint special items, depending on the types of Essences found. So long as you have enough Essence in your Sim?s backpack, you?re good to go wild.

While personal comfort (hygiene, hunger, bladder, energy and so on) and social interactions with other Sims were key in past Sims games, it seems to have taken a backseat in MySims, which places a stronger emphasis on building objects and collecting and using Essences. This might be fine for some, but it felt like a watered-down version of what made The Sims game so great to begin with -- so why bother calling this a Sims game at all (besides the obvious branding-for-profit reasons)?

Boosted by high production values, MySims can, however, be a fun diversion for the Wii, between its generous customizability, open-ended sandbox-style gameplay and collectible component -- but fans of previous Sims games need be aware this is a very different experience, for better or for worse. At best, younger players might want to rent the game for the weekend to see if MySims weaves a similar magic spell as the addictive games that came before it.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.