Previous console Sims games have left us a little cold. There was something about those self-consciously kooky characters and their worthy-but-dull daily routines that made us think the entire series is much better suited to casual players on the PC, where the games rank among the all-time bestsellers. But MySims could be the one to change our opinion.
It's clearly something completely different, and the simplified structure is designed from scratch, exclusively for Wii. The aim is to attract residents to your run-down town, kick out the people you don't want there, and turn the place into a community that reflects your own personality.
There's no plot to follow, so you can choose to accept or ignore the requests given to you by other residents. Deliberately messing up a task will upset a Sim, and there's also a 'be mean to' button if you really want to irritate them. But they're so sweet, it'll take a heart of stone to deny them. Build them a nice piece of furniture, painted in their favourite colours, and they'll bounce on it in a happy, expressive sort of way. If that wasn't reward enough in itself, you might also get a free 'essence', which you can incorporate in future designs.
Designing objects using the create-a-thing mode is one of the cornerstones of the game. By combining building blocks, it's possible to make practically anything. A chair, for example, could be customised to look like a dog, a motorbike or in fact something fantastically rude, just as long as it has some sort of a flat seat and a back so that Sims can usefully interact with it.
As you complete tasks and unlock new themed areas to expand your town, you'll gain access to more elaborate building blocks, such as curved pieces. You'll also have an expanding collection of 'essences' - decorative objects that can be incorporated into your designs or used to paint things with pretty patterns.
Love thy neighbour's sofa
While you can always enter houses and start moving furniture - to the delight or annoyance of the residents - you have to gain the trust of your Sims before you can customise their personal appearance. As an example of the game's 'blank canvas' style, one of the designers told us it's possible to give the whole place a Wild West flavour by sticking saloon doors on the buildings and forcing everyone to wear cowboy outfits. Whether the Sims'll appreciate this kind of thing is another matter.
The similarities to Animal Crossing don't really go much further than the cute visual style. In terms of gameplay, MySims seems more like Harvest Moon, with social engineering instead of farming. The ability to rearrange buildings adds a SimCity feel - which will no doubt become increasingly important as your town spreads out over what appears to be a fairly large playing area.1
The controls are in the process of being refined. At the moment, moving the main character around is done entirely with the analogue stick, and the only motion controls we've seen are in the object-editing screens. It's all liable to go through several more revisions, although it already seems to work reasonably intuitively.
So, a Sims game to actually look forward to on a console? These are strange times indeed.