We have plunged deep into the handheld Sims games from the early 2000s: The Sims Bustin' Out (GBA), The Urbz: Sims in the City (GBA/DS), The Sims 2 (GBA), and The Sims 2 (DS). Do you know anything about The Sims games on PC? If so, you can forget them, because these games aren't really like The Sims at all. They have some elements of The Sims, but, for the most part, they're completely different.
In The Sims on PC, you build and decorate a house, and then play by overseeing a household, helping the Sims of that family meet their needs and fulfill their dreams -- or drown them in a pool without a ladder, whichever. In these handheld games, instead, you directly control a single Sim who is your player avatar. Your player Sim has needs and skills like in The Sims, and you can decorate your house, but the similarities end there. You spend most of the game going around town and talking with the other characters along a fixed plot.
In The Sims on PC, Sims do not have any intelligible dialogue, and what they are talking about can only be inferred by thematic icons in their speech bubbles - for example, there will be a balloon with a ghost icon, which means they're talking about the supernatural. In these handheld Sims games, instead, all characters have actual, readable dialogue - and a lot of it. In fact, the character interactions are meant to be the main focus of the game. That could have so easily failed, but it succeeded, because the writing of these games is amazing.
You know how in The Sims the descriptions of the objects are hilarious, intelligent, and on-point? Now take that kind of writing, and apply it to several whole video games full of characters. The writing of the handheld Sims games is fun, irreverent, and even dirty, but also poignant - poignant for real. Often game writing makes us complain that it was trying to be poignant, but ends up being hamfisted and pathetic. We also complain a lot about games being afraid to fully execute their own concepts, or missing out on ideas that could have been and would have been so cool if the developers had thought about it for three minutes and dared a little. These games, instead, went there. And not just as a fluke - consistently, and in many different directions. The characters are well-written and fully fleshed out, and they are revealed bit by bit through their dialogue, their actions through the plot, and what other Sims have to say about them. There's even dialogue that seems unimportant and just silly at first glance, which later comes back like a boomerang to become unexpectedly meaningful.
The settings of these games are actually pretty realistic, for being so silly. Wacky things happen, but the world is grounded in reality. You can clearly tell how each town featured in these games functions - you can see where is the power supply, the water supply, the food supply, the entertainment area... they would be successful towns in SimCity!
You can read our reviews of these games on Staircase Spirit to learn about them in more detail. These articles were written as broad reviews of each game as a whole, and you can read them even if you haven't played them, spoilers marked and all. If you aren't familiar with these games, you might want to read these reviews before continuing to read this site, since this site offers a more in-depth and in-universe look at a particular character who is our favorite.
Why didn't we know about these games?
Out of the two of us, Rosy had played the GBA Bustin' Out back when it was new. She can't remember exactly how this happened, but it did, and she liked it. Fifteen years later, something got loose in her head, and she suddenly remembered the existence of this game, and wanted to try it again - it was a fond memory, but was it as good as she remembered? She started playing the beginning again, and yes. It was good. She recommended to Denise that we play it together.
While we were playing these games and enjoying them, Denise often asked, "Why have I never heard of these games before? They're so good". We thought about this question, and we think we figured out why.
It's really hard to discuss these games, because they share their names across multiple platforms - PC, consoles, and various handhelds (including the Nokia N-Gage) - while all being completely different games.
In a brilliant (and by brilliant we mean dim-witted) maneuver by devil-spawn publisher EA, the console-based Sims games were marketed as if they were exactly like The Sims on PC, even though they weren't - the reasoning being that The Sims was popular right then, so they needed a game of The Sims on every system, to trick people into buying all of them! On top of that, the handheld versions of these console games were marketed as if they were exactly like the console games, even though they weren't. The different handheld games were marketed as all being exactly the same as each other, even though they weren't. What a mess!
To further complicate matters, in the middle of this series, EA tried to use these games to create a breakaway series, The Urbz, which are totally not Sims, but they are Sims because we want you to buy it, but they are Sims in the City, so they are Urbz, and... just give us your money. They hired comic artists for promotional materials (referred to as "comix"), and they planned a whole line of toys, and they even worked with The Black Eyed Peas for the music and made will.i.am into a Sim -- Urb -- uh -- character ✽ -- and expected The Urbz to be the next big phenomenon... Needless to say, that didn't quite happen, even though the games themselves were just fine.
Ironically, this marketing ploy of confusing naming, together with the unreasonably high expectations EA had for these games, may have been the reason why they didn't sell too well and were eventually cancelled in spite of their quality. Nobody knew that these games were good games that stood on their own and weren't poor ports of better games, so some potential audience must have been lost due to this confusion. After all, if you saw these games in the store without knowing what they were, you'd probably think something like, "Why would I want The Sims on the GBA when I could have it on the PC? That can't possibly be as good." By 2003, when Bustin' Out was released, everyone knew that the handheld ports of well-known games are just lame shadows of the true games. Plus, EA pissed money away trying to create a sensation around them, which never works. If they had simply released a game without too much fanfare, they probably wouldn't have lost so much money on the venture.
Besides, if EA wanted these games to be popular, how would the people who even played these games and enjoyed them even manage to recommend them to a friend? "Hey, hey, have you played this great game, The Sims -- no, not that Sims, the other Sims, Bustin' Out -- no, not the one on console, the one on handheld, it's completely different!". In fact, they might not even know they were completely different games, since these were still the early days of the Internet, and it was still hard to look this up in the year of our Lord 2018.
By the way, we would like to point out, in the meanwhile that we have been writing this website and discussing EA's greedy maneuvers that did nothing but damage good things... as of May 2018, they've gone and officially canceled The Sims. Sigh.
So, in the end, what do we even call this series? I mean, think about it. This series, all sharing a unique continuity, is made out of these games:
- The Sims: Bustin' Out
- The Urbz: Sims in the City
on GBA ✽
- The Sims 2
- The Sims 2
on DS ✽
Yeah, think about it... The numbering here is:
There are two Sims 2s, neither of which is the second in the series. That's how fucked up this got. ✽
We can't call it the Bustin' Out series because the console Bustin' Out games are completely different, with different characters and everything. We can't call it the Urbz series, because the console Urbz games are completely different, with different characters and everything (and what is Bustin' Out then?) We can't call it The Sims Handheld series because there are other handheld Sim games that are unrelated to these, with different characters -- you get it. We can't call it The Sims GBA series because one is DS-exclusive, despite sharing the same name with a GBA game and a PSP game that are both something else entirely, and don't forget the PC game with the identical name.
If we were able to retroactively use god powers to fix this, we would have called them something like Sim Adventure, and number them in a reasonable way, maybe with subtitles to clarify what each game is about. We would also like to use these god powers to resurrect Maxis and let them resume making good things without EA's meddling and sabotage...
But since we don't have these god powers, we privately refer to these games by one unifying feature they have: we call this series... "the Giuseppi Sims". And this is what we're here to talk about.