This game was not what we were expecting. At all.
We had already played The Sims: Bustin' Out and The Urbz for handhelds, and then heard they had a follow-up: The Sims 2 for handhelds. We thought that by the time we got to The Sims 2 on the DS, it would have some resemblance to The Sims 2 on PC. Cause it's called like, The Sims 2, and not, you know, The Sims: Spinoff. All those growing pains should be over, right? We heard The Sims 2 on DS had the return of our intimate friends Giuseppi and Dusty, but we thought the game would be more like the traditional Sims with these characters just happening to be residents in town. But instead, The Sims 2 on DS is something completely different yet.
We had previously said that Bustin' Out had some aspects to share with Animal Crossing, but this is even more true for The Sims 2 on DS. This time, it also has the features of Animal Crossing that we don't like: real time requirements and characters coming and going at random (so you have to just wait for your favorite character to show up and hope that they don't leave). Also, the gameplay is nothing like classic The Sims. Instead of decorating a house, fulfilling wishes, or anything like that, you're running a hotel and vacuuming the floor. In fact, we'd be willing to bet that Maxis was intending to make this game be a complete spinoff that had nothing to do with The Sims, but EA was like, no, The Sims is what makes money, so it must be branded as The Sims 2, because we can't just trust you to make games that people will like. Nevermind that the only reason that The Sims exists is because Maxis had the freedom to explore making something like The Sims following the success of SimCity, and that was what let EA rise from a trash publisher that nobody gave a fuck about to instead being known as the publisher of Maxis. After all that, EA sabotaged and disbanded Maxis, and told them that they should "explore other positions" at EA, and sent them to make mobile games. We suppose whoever makes the decisions at EA doesn't know the fairytale of the goose that lays the golden eggs.
In the opening cutscene of The Sims 2 for DS, you get to watch in full CG glory your Sim's car break down in the middle of the desert, in a village named Strangetown. This place is such a hellhole, just being there saps your sanity. No, really, it does. You have a sanity meter, and you watch it drop.
This is a good point to talk about how in this game, unlike in other Sims games, you don't get separate bars for your character's needs (food, bladder, you know). Instead, you get a unified Sanity bar. This Sanity bar seems to internally be made up of the different individual need bars, making it something like the overall Mood meter of The Sims on PC. However, the Mood meter of The Sims on PC was shown together with the breakdown of the need bars. Here, in The Sims 2 on DS, you can't see what your underlying needs are, and so you never really know what your current self-care priorities are. Instead, you can just see that your Sanity is low, and try sitting, sleeping, and showering, but you can't really know which of these activities is most needed at the moment. The only clue you ever get is when one of your needs reaches critical status, in which case your Sim will have a thought balloon telling you that they really need a shower or whatever. But that's your only hint, and it is hard to take pre-emptive measures to avoid having a critical need in the next few minutes.
When we were playing Bustin' Out and The Urbz, we needed to have a mental map of all the public toilets, restaurants, couches, and so on, because at any point in our travels we could find ourselves really needing to pee, to eat, to sit down, and so on, and we'd need to decide the optimal path to the facilities that would alleviate our needs before we would have an accident. In The Sims 2 for DS, if there is such a threat, we never encountered it. It seems to be that, every once in a while, the icon for needing food will blink, and that will cause our sanity to slowly drop, but it's nothing to really worry about, because any source of sanity will refill the bar, even if you don't get to the food right away. So, you'll find yourself with the icon blinking that you need food, but, as long as you keep pissing, your sanity bar will be fine. You can find the pasta you want at your leisure, mostly to make the annoying icon stop blinking. Your "urgency" is not urgent at all.
This makes the game easier, but also takes away all the variety, because, if we are in a situation where we are losing our sanity repeatedly, there's no need to do different things. So we end up just taking a dump repeatedly, even though we shouldn't have any shit left to give at this point. That doesn't really make any sense, which is strange to say in a Sims game in particular, because usually the game design of The Sims makes too much sense -- we'll need to write all about that and link that here, it's an article we've had in mind for a few years now.
But, at least, this mechanic gives rise to us saying hilarious things to each other as we play, like "Go shit until your sanity is restored!" or "I'm losing my sanity; I must find a toilet!"
Speaking of which, there is a hanging piece of meat in the freezer room. You can punch it like a punching bag to refill your sanity. In fact, it's the fastest possible way to refill your sanity. So, in this game, you beat the meat to de-stress. We say that aloud all the time. "Sorry Luthor, I can't cheer you up right now, I'm losing my sanity, and I gotta go beat the meat". This phrase makes perfect sense in context.
Anyway, the first character you meet is an old hick named Jebediah. He says that he'll fix your car, but it will take a few days, so you'll have to stay in the hotel. He says the hotel is not anything amazing, but it has pillows...
We get to the hotel, and the lights are out, and the concierge is sleeping at the desk. And he doesn't give a shit about anything because the owner has left, and he doesn't even know who the hotel belongs to anymore. Anyway, he wants us to fix the power situation. How? By dumping nuclear fuel rods into the downstairs nuclear furnace. Yeah, it's a hotel in the middle of fuckall which is powered by a nuclear furnace. Dear lord.
We get the vibe that Strangetown is intended to be located near Area 51, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and perhaps some of the fuckall areas near the California/Nevada border. We live in California and haven't gone touring that far south yet, but we did take a road trip to see the ghost town of Bodie. Bodie is a big empty city (much bigger than you'd imagine a "ghost town" to be), but on the way there, we passed through some little tiny specks of towns in the middle of nowhere. When our Sim Lucy is walking around Strangetown, we can't help but think of Bridgeport, which notably has the one main road through town, a hotel, a dive bar, a general store, and that's about it. Just like Strangetown! But the Bridgeport hotel didn't have a nuclear furnace (as far as we know!)
Anyway, we stoke the nuclear furnace with some nuclear glowsticks we find lying around as always. We want to note how these nuclear rods have been present in all of these handheld Sims games, but with a different purpose each time. Also, we wonder if they were a reference to the opening sequence of The Simpsons.
Now that the power of the hotel is on again, we can see that the floor is covered in filth. Jebediah comes in, and proposes to us that, in exchange for fixing the car, we should vacuum the floor. Why does he care so much about vacuuming the floor? Anyway, we're hostage here, so we don't have much of a choice. We're given a vacuum, and we vacuum the floor. Lucy isn't having a good day here.
Because of all this ruckus, the mayor Honest Jackson comes in to check what the hell is happening. Hearing that the owner of the hotel has suddenly skipped town, he's terrified of the impact this will have on tourism. Yeah, tourism is his concern here. Somehow, tourism is the main source of Strangetown's revenue, which Honest Jackson uses to fund his extensive recycling program. Obviously, this mayor is playing SimCity with this town - and he's honestly freaking the fuck out. Here comes in no one else but Momma Hogg, the mother of Dusty Hogg, who tells us that we better calm Honest down. Personally. By restraining him.
And so we do. This is the introduction to a mechanic that will be fundamental to this game. You play a minigame in which the character is gesturing in some way, and you have to choose the appropriate reaction.
This minigame kinda sucks, since the graphics are such that you can't easily tell what the gestures are, and sometimes other characters walk in the way, obstructing the view of the gestures. This is not an intended hazard, it's just, the minigame is happening in the overworld, and characters just might walk by. And sometimes the colors of the background make it hard to see what is going on: the background darkens when the minigame starts, you might already have been in a dark place, and good luck understanding what Giuseppi's gestures are while he's wearing a black leather jacket and black gloves in front of the essentially black background, on a tiny DS screen. How are you supposed to see anything? And even if you can see the gestures, how are we supposed to know that one hand means yell and two hands mean wave your hands?
So, this minigame boils down to a quick-time event with three choices, and you just have to memorize the cues. This is repeated all over the game, so, it will get old pretty quickly. Also, every character uses the same gestures. Which is kinda good, because it would be hell to memorize dozens of different gestures, but also kinda bad, because this was a good opportunity for character building that was lost.
For the time being, though, we calm down the mayor, and all is well. The concierge finds a letter on the desk that tells us that now we own the hotel. The letter is really creepy and tells us that we need to save this town and we're bound to do this for some cosmic reason and... oh my god we're only here because our car broke down and what did we get ourselves into.
Since we now own the hotel, we're told that we better renovate it. The person who is best with his hands in town is Tristan Legend, who is currently out in the desert contemplating the meaninglessness of life following the untimely death of his significant other due to giant scorpion abduction.
So, we play the minigame to cheer him up. After a few hugs, some tissues, and a good pep talk, Tristan is back to his old self, nevermind the scorpions, and ready to hammer some nails for us.
He builds the hotel's casino, which for now, is our primary source of income. No, not income from people playing games at our casino, no, it's from us playing the card game ourselves and winning at it. Somehow, this pays us, the owner of the casino. Look, just play your minigame and be happy.
This card game is called Keelhaulin' and we think it was invented specifically for The Sims. It is pirate themed and makes use of all the strange piratey characters introduced in the previous games, like Olde Salty and Pepper Pete, plus new pirate characters. It's poorly introduced by the rules, but once we figured it out ourselves, it is fun and smart. We half-wish we had the special cards in real life to play for real.
After Tristan shows us his work on the casino, we go back to the lobby, and there's an alien invader who has come to conquer Earth: Emperor Xizzle. His name totally casts shade on the unfortunate forced-marketing ploy of the Xizzle beads from The Urbz. We imagine EA paid to have exclusive rights to it, and now have to do something with this word "Xizzle" that they spent so much to secure. Anyway, we're told that the aliens come here to invade every week, but don't worry, we can repel them with water. Tristan muses that, since their weakness is water, that must be why they always seem to start their invasion in the desert.
It's hilarious that Maxis turned the supposedly hip gangsta beads of cool into the name of this amateur alien admiral that speaks like his dialogue has gone through multiple rounds of online translation. And yeah, his quirky dialogue is of great amusement to us. We vow this!
To efficiently repel the alien invaders, we need to get a Super Soaker from none other than Giuseppi Mezzoalto. In this game, his bio tells us that he is no longer a criminal, but merely a shady character. Note that we are purchasing a gun -- a water gun -- from a shady character. Heehee. It's his personal childhood Super Soaker, and he's a bit reluctant to part with it, so the price is steep at 250 Simoleons. Ah well, we pay up, get the Super Soaker, figure out the needlessly complicated touch-screen controls, douse Emperor Xizzle with some good old dihydrogen oxide, and stop the alien invasion. For now.
It will be a regular occurrence that aliens will swarm the town, and it will be up to us to repel them with Giuseppi's trusty Super Soaker. While we can appreciate the pump-action to boost the water pressure like a real-life Super Soaker, just, the controls on this are atrocious. You have to use the D-pad to walk in the overworld, and the left and right shoulder buttons to turn the camera to try to get yourself aimed properly at these moving aliens. You then need to make sure the water is pumped enough, and touch a different part of the touchscreen to shoot. There's also a different aiming view, but that just moves the camera suddenly overhead and makes things worse rather than better.
Additionally, if you get close enough for the alien you're aiming at to touch you or to zap you with their ray gun, a UFO will catch you in its tractor beam, and you will get abducted. You will wake up on the floor of your office, sanity down near zero, and notably walking with your butt-cheeks clenched for several minutes. Guess what happened on that UFO... We need a long shower and toilet session after this.
For the record, in The Sims 2 for PC, you can use the telescope to look at the stars and boost your logic. The downside is, there is a chance that aliens will come and abduct you. Afterwards, the abducted Sim may be pregnant. ...This includes male Sims.
We go back outside, Super Soaker pumped, to try once again to face these probing aliens. But we need to work all these buttons and touch-controls all at the same time to hit a moving target. How many hands does this game think we have? In fact, the only way we were able to repel the aliens successfully was to have Rosy attempt to aim with the button controls while Denise worked the Super Soaker with the touch controls. It required more than two hands indeed.
(We later discovered that you can also squirt water by pressing A. That makes matters a bit easier).
One of the biggest problems of this game is that it is on the DS and was going for a fully 3D world, and it had touch screen gimmickry. We don't see why it couldn't have used the same engine as The Urbz, which worked beautifully. But in this game, moving anywhere is a pain in the ass. You have to move your Sim and the camera separately, and there's walls that get in the way of seeing what you are doing, characters walking in the way of seeing what you are doing, sometimes even the speech balloons of other characters in the way of seeing what you are doing. And the 3D of this game is ugly and so low-poly that we can't tell what we're even looking at without a label. At one point we bought a pet jackalope, and it looked like a cone with three sticks on it. It's not adding anything for this game to be in 3D.
But we're through the tutorial, and now the plot starts...
Frankie's penthouse takeover
A mafia lord named Frankie Fusilli arrives in town and demands to stay in the hotel's penthouse for free. Frankie Fusilli is clearly a man who gets what he wants. If things don't go his way, he tells us, things may mysteriously become broken: furniture, walls, legs... yeah, we get the picture. So Frankie Fusilli gets the penthouse free of charge.
Frankie also appears in The Sims 2 for the GBA (wait for that review), but we feel like The Sims 2 on DS, while inferior in every other respect, does a better job of introducing the character of Frankie. In the GBA game, Frankie is definitely a mob boss, and definitely someone you don't want to cross, but we're mostly able to keep up a friendly rapport with him. There's really only one part where he is directly a threat to us, when he was annoyed at us and was contemplating feeding us to his pet shark, but we managed to talk our way out of it. There was one other time when he asked us to do a favor for him, and if we fail to do what he wants, he happens to be distracted and somehow lets us off the hook.
For contrast, in the DS game, Frankie shows up and demands to stay in the penthouse for free. And we don't want to give him one of the only two rooms we have at this point for absolutely free. We have like no funds, and how are we supposed to make any money with someone taking over the penthouse, of all places, for absolutely free. But it's really an offer we can't refuse.
Frankie sets himself up in our penthouse, and makes a habit of calling us for every little thing. However, he, of course, doesn't just tell us what he wants over the phone. He asks us to come talk with him in person. Note that, since we are running around putting out fires, tending to drunken sailors in the casino, and periodically quelling alien invasions, we might not really be in the best position to drop everything and run to see Frankie the moment he happened to call. Besides, Frankie is all the way on the top floor of the hotel, which is not the most convenient location to get to. But Frankie is not a patient man. If too many minutes pass after his first call, he will call again, and be notably annoyed. We don't want someone like Frankie to be notably annoyed. Once, enough time passed for him to need to call us a third time, and that's when he started discussing the potential fate of our kneecaps. We luckily made it to the penthouse before things escalated any further.
Frankie demands certain improvements be made to the hotel simply for his benefit. He also asks us to pay him large sums of money for this or that reason. And just, he has us totally by the balls here. We're stuck giving him whatever he asks for, we have to rush to the penthouse at his beck and call, we have to hand over our hard-earned cash, and we have absolutely no means of resistance.
In the DS game, interacting with Frankie actually feels like interacting with a mob boss. It is not a pleasant experience, but rather one of fear and coercion, where we not only must go along with whatever he says, but we must coat our interactions in a layer of forced politeness with the hope that he will spare us and please go away soon.
Oh well, while Frankie has taken over the penthouse, we need to do our best to play SimHotel with the one other room that we can rent out. The characters that come into the lobby can be checked into that room. So, like Animal Crossing.
Although this game is very ugly, and not in a good way, we have to give credit to the way the hotel is designed. It looks like a real place that could exist, and the layout of the rooms makes sense. Except for some of the off-the-wall unlockable rooms, but that's later.
The first character we ended up renting a room to was Sancho Paco Panza, the confused zoologist. Now he calls us every three minutes for every possible conceivable reason. First, he was so dissatisfied with the quality of the room that he demanded a vanity mirror, or else he might do something drastic. Note that he doesn't want us to add a vanity mirror to the room, no, no. He wants us to personally hand him a vanity mirror so that he can put it into his pocket to keep, as like, consolation. After we do that, he seems to be on better terms with us, and he flirts with us. Once, he called us to tell us that his passions were aflame for us. Also the room, since he accidentally set it on fire. So we had to run to the room with the Super Soaker and put out the fire that he somehow started in the shower of all places. What caused this, excessive friction? What the hell, man!
Later, he calls us because he lost his phone, because aliens scare him, to ask us our shoe size, to cheer him up, to say he hates tumble weeds, to request another make-out session, to rescue him from the freezer room, just, Jesus Christ. Also note that when we went to save him from himself in the freezer room, we found him there, and he was horny.
Oh, yeah, we need to talk about our Aspirations. When we created our Sim at the beginning of the game, we created Lucy, who has been our character in Bustin' Out and The Urbz, who we have been playing with in a way consistent with her dialogue from Bustin' Out: as an absolutely unashamed fucker. So, when the game asked us what Lucy's primary aspiration was, we picked Romance. We didn't quite know what this meant yet, but it turns out, it is beyond perfect. This aspiration gives Lucy the perk that men around her will be more likely to be up for romance (note that we're still in heterosexual land). Romancing will help restore Lucy's Sanity. If you look in the character information screens, you will see that some of them are currently, and we quote, "in the mood". Doing enough romancing will let Lucy essentially level up and get a more resilient sanity bar. So it is in Lucy's interest to kiss as many men as often as possible. This is the actual game mechanic. Wonderful!
So, yeah, when they are "in the mood", the characters get actually and visibly horny. They get giant pink hearts above their heads, but that's the most subtle aspect of it. They also start walking crotch first and moaning in Simlish. If there were a few more polygons, they'd have boners! Our lobby is full of horndogs! We're not really complaining but... how exactly did the censors decide to rate this 10+? And can you imagine this hotel lobby full of horny old men...? And the "hotel manager" is keeping them all satisfied?
What is this, SimBrothel?
This romancing is another form of that gesture minigame. When Giuseppi leans back, you should show off your bod, wiggling your hips and emphasizing the assets. When Giuseppi cups his ear, he wants to hear you sing. And when he leans in, he wants a big smooch. If you do this correctly for the entire length of the mini-game, our relationship improves and our sanity goes up. Along with something of his.
So yeah, when we hear Giuseppi or Dusty or Luthor or Tristan are "in the mood", we come running, wherever they are. Especially to their hotel rooms. When Kent Hackett or Frankie Fusilli are "in the mood"... uh... it's very important that we go vacuum the floor, yeah, bye.
It's not just for romancing that we go around doing these minigames. Characters will be angry or broken-hearted or even "loopy" (we can only assume this is from having had too much grape juice to drink), and it is up to us, the hotel manager, to restore everyone's good mood. Messing up at the minigames will deplete our sanity, so it is best that we are relatively stable ourselves before we attempt helping someone else. This game has a mechanic where you need to take care of yourself before you can effectively take care of others. Aw.
While this minigame sucks, it is notably somehow better done than the entire Brokenhearted mechanic of Ni No Kuni, which we ripped apart. That's sad, considering that Ni No Kuni is about dealing with grief, and a hotel simulator did a better job of tackling this concept... but let's give The Sims 2 on DS some well-earned credit here.
Improving the hotel
At this point, our primary goals are to keep everyone in the hotel happy (especially Frankie Fusilli), and to improve the hotel itself (sometimes explicitly due to Frankie's demands).
At this point, we only have the one rentable room and the Casino to make money, maybe finding a penny in the vacuum and selling the random gourds that spawn around. When we rent a room, the guest stays up to three real-time days, and we won't get paid until the guest leaves. So we've started playing the game, we're ready to do stuff, and we can't make real money until Sancho checks out in three days. What are we going to do for money in the meanwhile? Our only choice is to play Keelhaulin' until we want to walk the plank. We did say that we liked the game and we'd want to have the deck to play it, but sparingly, not fifty times in a row, just to be able to buy a couch!
At this point, we looked online and found out there is another card game to play: Moogoo Monkey, returning from The Urbz. We were excited at the prospect of being able to switch up from Keelhaulin', so we checked on how to unlock this. There isn't just one, but even two ways to unlock it:
- You can use the dual-slot feature of the DS systems that also have GBA compatibility, and put The Sims 2 for GBA in the GBA slot while playing The Sims 2 DS. So, first of all, you need to own a system that still has GBA compatibility (it was dropped from later DS systems), and secondly, how fucking likely are you going to own BOTH The Sims 2 on GBA AND The Sims 2 for DS? How did you even know they were different games?!
- Or, you could play The Sims 2 for DS on December 14.
The dual slot system was out of the question for us. And we were playing this game in late December. Just our luck. We need to wait an entire year to unlock Moogoo Monkey when it won't even matter anymore...
So, we bite the bullet, overdose on Keelhaulin' and nothing but Keelhaulin' until all we can say is yarr, and finally manage to plunder enough booty to rebuild a few more rooms and a few more services. We rebuild the Club, which is known as the "Cannonball" Coleman Lounge, and is indeed visibly run by our old pal Coleman from Miniopolis! He doesn't talk, and it doesn't make much sense for him to be here, since he seemed to be very tied to New Orl- Miniopolis, but we are happy to see him!
The club has a feature of a DJ keyboard knobby switchy thingy, which lets you record from your DS and remix it with sounds and just, woah.
We also rebuild the art gallery. The collection starts full of blank canvases, and you can draw on them using a simple paint program and the DS stylus. Nice! You can leave your masterpieces in the gallery for Sims to admire or buy, or you can put these paintings all around your hotel. You can decorate the expensive suite with MS Paint-level scribbles and dick drawings all you want!
While you're painting, the other Sims in the room will come around and clap for you. It's really cute. Rosy painted a butt with explosive diarrhea, a cumming dick, Denise's boobs (wearing glasses), and an elbow. The cumming dick was rated by the game as a Magnum Opus. And then the Sims decide to buy these paintings for thousands of Simoleons. We're pretty sure Pepper Pete bought the dick, with a message telling us that he was sad and our painting cheered him up. Wonderful. Isn't that what art is all about?
By when we rebuild all of the rooms, we're making money passively by our guests staying in the hotel, taking brochures, buying our art, and so on. At least we don't have to play card games until we drop, but now that we're rich, there's very little left to even do.
There is actually another minigame beyond card games though, but it won't get unlocked until you have rebuilt the government laboratory and have acquired the metal detector. After that, we can find mummified aliens in the desert and autopsy them to harvest their organs. Let's recap the progression through the series here: (Click to reveal Bustin' Out spoilers)
- In Bustin' Out, our character was an alien, and we played the popping germ minigame.
- In The Urbz, our character may or may not have been an alien, and we operated on a garden gnome.
- In this game, you autopsy alien mummies and sell their organs. Eek.
This minigame is shit. It's like Operation for assholes, using a DS stylus. You have to be absurdly precise and trace the border of the organ without touching the organ, but exactly on the edge of the organ, and not any wider. There must be a tolerance of literally one pixel. Not even Rosy's artist hands can do this. An actual surgeon would fail at this game. Nevermind, it's not fun. It's just an early DS stylus gimmick.
The Sims 2 on DS is simultaneously really easy and really hard. Really easy, because it's very unlikely that you'll pass out, because even if you fail at interacting with characters, the interaction just ends and you're left with a little bit of sanity which you can refill by spamming pooping or by hitting the meat, and then you can immediately try to have the interaction again with no penalty. Raising money for the hotel starts out as hellish grinding, but soon you'll passively become rich, once you rebuild enough of the hotel. This means that the game is hardest on the first day you play it. You pop the game in for the first time, you want to play this new game, but there's nothing to do, because you have to wait eight hours for the first room to be unlocked. That's pretty shitty, though it's a critique we have for real-time based games in general.
And yet there are some things that are absurdly hard. Failing at fighting the aliens with the Super Soaker results in a one-hit kill, and you'll be punished by having to hobble around the office for the next few minutes. No health bar, they hit you once (and they have range), and you're dead. And this is while you're trying to aim with complicated controls. The alien autopsy minigame, as we said, is also unreasonably hard, to the point of being unplayable. When we have the metal detector, we are sometimes given quests to find a specific thing in the desert, but this is nigh impossible. You only get ten attempts before the metal detector runs out of battery, and you have to keep running back and forth to the nuclear reactor to recharge it (what kind of metal detector is this?), and you have an entire desert to scan while you lose your sanity under the desert sun. There's also another minigame in which you dress as a rat-themed superhero, the Ratticator, and catch bad guys, but it is a needlessly complicated quick-time event thing, and we just don't.
Even the interacting minigames are really hard in the beginning because you don't know what the other character's cues mean and you're just thrown in the deep end of the pool, and then later, when you know the cues, these minigames are all the same, and they're boring.
So, essentially, this game has a lot of problems with balance.
In this game, skills are raised by just finding these spinning icons in the world. That's it. In Bustin' Out and The Urbz, you level up your skills by practicing them, or reading about them, or going to university (in The Urbz), or, if you find the super secret ninja and spend all of your money, you can raise them instantly with an item. In The Sims 2 on GBA, you just buy skill books which function like the ninja's items. This is very lame, and removes an aspect that made this game 1) a game 2) like the main Sims. But in The Sims 2 on DS, you don't even do that. You just randomly find these things, and now your skills are raised. What the hell.
We didn't see any logic to the appearance of these skill point things as we were playing. They just seemed to spawn in different places every once in a while, very rarely. We wondered if their appearance was tied to the plot, or simply to how long we had been playing. So, our strategy was to just wander everywhere all the time. We figured it would be easier to not even bother to specifically look for them, and we'd just get them whenever we happened to see them. They didn't seem to matter too much anyway. In The Sims 2 on GBA, you HAD to raise your skills to progress with the plot, so you had no choice but to buy the skill books periodically. They also had an obvious impact on the accuracy of your blown kisses and so forth, so there was a tangible reason to be buying them. In The Sims 2 on DS, what do they even do? We don't know.
So at the end of the game, Optimum Alfred has locked us out of the penthouse, where he is hiding important blueprints that we need to recover. The concierge very helpfully informed us that Alfred seems to leave the penthouse unattended between the hours of 6pm and 10pm whilst he recharges his batteries.
We were a bit pissed, because it was around 11am on Sunday morning that we were playing this game, and we're basically told, go away and come back tonight. This is why we hate these sorts of real-time based games. We wanted to play the game on Sunday morning and afternoon. We were sitting here, playing it, and the game says no. Why does the game say no? Doesn't the game want us to play it? No, the game wants us to be its bitch, and it only wants us to play with it when it decides we can play with it. It's like playing with a cat, which notoriously only happens when the cat wants to. Except that when the cat wants to play with you, the prize is that you get to play with a cat and pet it. When The Sims 2 on DS wants to play with you, you're still stuck playing The Sims 2 on DS.
If you want to make a game that takes real time into account, please don't do it like The Sims 2 on DS. Don't create a situation where the player can't continue until they fulfill a real-time requirement. For a good example, look at Pokémon Gold and Silver. There were cool things to do at night, and cool things to do in the daytime, and lots of cool things that you could do always. And never was a main-quest event tied to the real time. It's cool that Lapras only appears on Friday nights, but you're not ever blocked by a wall saying that you cannot continue the game until you catch Lapras, which effectively means that you cannot continue the game until Friday night. It took us a long time to catch Lapras, because we were 10 and Friday night is not when we were able to play video games.
Also, the game doesn't know how our lives go and what our game-playing schedules are like. For Denise, as a kid, during the hours of 6pm to 10pm, video games were essentially off-limits. It was dinner time, wrap up your homework time, and bedtime, and no video games right before bed! Maybe it would be possible on the weekend when she could stay up a bit later, but that would also be prime family time of having takeout and watching a movie... and just, the game is not the top life priority!
Also, we can imagine exactly what it would have been like trying to explain to our respective parents why we needed to play the video game now and why it couldn't wait until Saturday morning, but it had to be now, between the hours of 6pm and 10pm. Denise was lucky enough to (eventually) get her mom to understand that she needed to save her game before she could stop playing, and sometimes, she was in battle, and you can't save the game during battle. Thank you mom, so much, for understanding this concept and then instead of "Turn off that game right this second", you instead cut Denise the slack to say, "Finish that battle, save, and turn off that game!" Thank you mom, so much.
But, then, you have a game like this one. Imagine telling your parents that, no, really, you have to do this now, between 6pm and 10pm, because that's the only time the door is open and the robot is not there... We can already hear the tirade about how this is absurd and those games aren't real and you're addicted and in my house, my schedule, and the game is promptly taken away and banned.
But anyway, not having the concern of parents' rules anymore, we thanked our lucky stars that this was the case, grumped that we had to do this and that when we're choosing to play the game we can't, but, okay, we save, we turn off, and we return to the game at the appropriate time.
...And we still can't go in the penthouse. What? Why not? Did we misremember the time? We open the questlog, and... what. It says we need five points of Mechanical to break into the penthouse. But, the points are just found at random. Oh my god. We only have two. How are we ever going to do this?
We looked it up, and apparently, the points spawn in certain locations at certain hours in certain days of the week. And if you've gotten a certain one that spawns at a certain time already, it won't respawn, you got that one. Oh lord and all that is farts. The next mechanical point won't spawn until 8am on Monday. And it will only exist for EIGHT hours. We're not even sure if we got it or not! Denise is at work at that time, so, basically, we're screwed. Just, fuck you game. Why do you want us to bend over when you want? And this is even with the benefit of looking it up and finding some guide that some other poor soul must have compiled with their own blood and tears. Imagine playing this game when it was new, without that. You'd just wander this game forever, hoping to get this goddamn skill point at random. This is artificial game-lengthening at its absolute worst.
So, it took us about two weeks to manage to get those last three mechanical skill points. We were wondering how many people have even gotten to see the game past this point, and how many just can't continue and throw the game out the window, as it deserves. We were also thinking about, if you wanted to get all the skill points, would you need to wake up at ridiculous times? Several of them spawn at midnight. So you would either need to stay up after midnight, or you'd have to catch them before 8am. And there's no way to keep track of which ones you got. You're not even supposed to know there is a schedule or what it is. The game is expecting you to just play it forever at all different times of the day until you wander into the points by happenstance.
Two problems here:
- You don't know our lives! What if we can never play the game on Tuesday, for whatever reason? What if we can never play it before or after a certain hour? Some parents impose time limits on their kids' video game time. We think that's a barbaric practice, but it's something that happens. As a kid, Rosy could not play video games for more than two hours per evening, so she had to learn how to speedrun the first levels of Duke Nukem II to ever be able to see the later levels before the time limit was up, and she never got to see the end of the game until she was an adult and got it on Steam and played it on her own schedule. Some of these skill points might just appear on days of the week and at times that you are never allowed to play the game as a kid, and then you can't get these points, and then the game is unbeatable for you. Fuck you, game. We're mad for the sake of anyone whose life was made worse by this game and its stupid schedule.
- Okay, so you expect us to play this game for long enough to randomly encounter every location at every possible time. There's nothing more to do! How many times are we going to check in this guest and console this other guest? It was repetitive on day one, and by now, our hotel has 100% rating! We have no goal! We have more money than god from just selling our dick drawings! The game is over! Except the plot is not! If you wanted us to play the game forever, you needed to give us more to do!
But anyway, at long last, we can get the blueprints, give the blueprints to Emperor Xizzle, and we fight Optimum Alfred and his robot cronies as the Ratticator. We get a cutscene of us being Batman, and... credits.
During the credits, they show a group shot of only some of the new characters. No love for Jebediah or Kayleigh. And no love for any of the returning cast.
Okay, after the credits, we see the end of the game. Emperor Xizzle says that now that this fake evil has been vanquished, he can resume being the real evil. I vow this! And he goes away. We receive a letter that congratulates us for our 100% score, and apparently now we own the town. We're mayor? And that's it. Our car never gets fixed. We never get to learn who wrote these letters. Was it the previous owner of the hotel? Was it Mayor Honest Jackson, who has for some reason disappeared from the game? Was it the Ratticator? Was it Jebediah? Was it any combination of the above?
Oh, yeah, Honest Jackson didn't make the poster either, and is no longer in the game. We read a theory that he was inside the chest that, at one point, Frankie wanted us to bury in the desert, but while we were carrying the wiggling chest around, we saw Honest Jackson in the City Hall, so that can't be it. He seems to disappear shortly afterwards, though. Even if you call him, he says he's in the City Hall, and he's happy. We thought he was HONEST Jackson. Has he become invisible? Is there a secret room? Well, in any case, at least he's happy.
Why does this game not feature a budget?
Like in Animal Crossing, every time you stop playing the game for a few days and return to it, things will be messy, and someone will be chewing your head off. There will be dust all over your hotel, ick piles, and you have to go around vacuuming and mopping. You could call a maid, but it's presented as something of a lazy shortcut, rather than rolling up your sleeves and doing the vacuuming by yourself. But, realistically, shouldn't this hotel have to have maids, rather than the hotel manager needing to do it all personally? And shouldn't you have to decide how many maids you need based on the size of your hotel? Or the schedule of when they clean what rooms? And shouldn't you have to decide how much to budget toward their salaries and cleaning supplies, and your decision in this area will impact the cleanliness and quality of your hotel -- and you could both under- or over-do it? Nah, just, call the maid for today if you don't feel like vacuuming yourself, you loser.
The hotel also features a casino, which only contains one(ish...) card game and some slot machines. You have no control over the games in the casino, how much to budget for prizes, and other Sims using the casino doesn't even make you income. It doesn't impact who comes to your hotel or who doesn't based on their affinity for or their dislike of casinos. It doesn't cause more crime (notably the effect of having casinos in SimCity). Nope, here, building the casino is just: you unlocked the mini-game! It's not really your casino, even though you had it built in your own hotel.
Later you can equip the hotel with a sushi restaurant, but its only purpose is that you can buy yourself sushi to have a portable sanity-restorer in your pocket, or perhaps a gift for another Sim, so you can pull some nigiri out of your pocket and offer it to Luthor - we're sure he'd love that. The restaurant doesn't make you any money apart from just boosting your hotel's rating, and there is nothing for the player to do there. You don't get to make any sort of decisions regarding what's on the menu, or how fresh are the fish, or how many tables, or the color of the tablecloths, or how many chefs... nothing. nada. zilch.
Somehow, this is a Sim-game featuring managing a hotel... in which you don't manage jack shit.
There are no characters
No managing is needed with the characters and their rooms, either. The characters don't seem to have any sort of animosity or friendship with each other... for just one example, Misty and Luthor had a thing in The Urbz, but there's no hint of that in this game at all.
The characters don't care who else is in the hotel and the vicinity of their room to the other person. They don't care which room you give them. It doesn't matter if you put Giuseppi in the luxury suite (we imagine this would make him very uncomfortable) or Luthor in the tiny room (there's no way he would put up with that) and there's a whole jungle-themed room that doesn't seem to really suit anyone except for maybe Sancho, but no one cares one way or the other.
Also, between The Urbz and this game, cell phones were invented in the SimUniverse. We now notably have something like a Nokia phone that gets text messages and has ringtones. The interface is pretty accurate to a Nokia phone. The characters can send you messages, and you can call them and even prank call them, but they don't have unique character-specific lines, the same lines being instead repeated all over the game. Boo! Why?? Would Giuseppi really call the police over us prank-calling him? He would be impressed! Or maybe giving us some pointers.
It turns out that, except for specific plot events and a few small exceptions, all the dialogue of this game is interchangeable. Anyone can say the same things as everyone else. This is a major letdown, especially after playing the character-rich game of The Urbz, where every little detail was taken as an opportunity to further each Sim's characterization. Isn't the point of The Sims 2 on DS that we want to have our favorite characters stay in the hotel, and interact specifically with them? Or invite someone new and meet this character based on what happens during their stay in the hotel? But if it's always all the same stuff no matter who it is, what does it matter that there is more than one character?
So, final conclusions on this game: It's crap.
The saddest thing about this game is that it could have been good. Very easily. The concept was good, a weird concept, but we don't see why not. Sim Hotel Manager, with aliens, robots, and a whole cast of characters that you should care about. Except that this game feels like the alpha of itself. It's functional, but not polished, and not fun. Everything feels like a placeholder, but it's the final.
And we're not talking about the graphics. The graphics are ugly, but the real problem is that there is so little to do in this game, with so little variety. You can rebuild the entire hotel in a few days of gameplay, even with the artificial needing to wait eight hours for the rooms to be built and until people check out to make money. After your hotel is rebuilt, there's nothing left to do. What point does anything have anymore? There are no goals left, and no goals you can set for yourself. You can try to become friends with everyone and unlock their secrets and the concept art, but you can do that by spamming the same interactions over and over. You can decorate the hotel, but there's only so many different toilets, and you can't even set the goal for yourself to design a nice room, because your guests will mess it up any moment now and switch the colors of the toilets at random. And the interface for putting things into the room is awful, so you even hate the experience.
Most of everything is cosmetic. In the end, even the fact that there is more than one character is cosmetic, since every character has the same animations, the same AI, and the same dialogue, with very few exceptions. We rebuild all of the rooms, all of the special features, and they're just there.
It could have been so easy to add actual manager aspects. This is a hotel manager simulator in which you manage nothing. All you can do is move furniture, poorly. You never have to budget your funds, it doesn't matter who is or isn't in the hotel, it doesn't matter what furniture is or isn't in the hotel. Nothing matters.
Compared to games that are merely bad and that we'd just unceremoniously dump fifteen minutes in, this one pisses us off because the result isn't good, but there definitely is an underlying idea that we would want to see completed and polished and balanced and good. We wouldn't want another completely different game of hotel manager simulator. We don't want just a hotel manager. We liked the idea of having THESE characters in THIS setting in THIS hotel. But then, they didn't do it. We can so easily see all the places where, if it had been us making this game, we would have implemented different mechanics to give it variety and so on... but we can never remake this game. And even if Maxis came down from heaven and gave us their blessing to make another game like this... its time has passed. It's over. It had a chance, and that chance was wasted on... what exactly did they blow the budget on? The 3D? The touchscreen gimmicks? What happened here?
It even has a few aspects that are interesting, but are never explored. Strangetown is a place that saps your sanity, which is hilarious and should give rise to interesting mechanics... They have aliens and Penelope there studying why they're there, and an ancient Egyptian pyramid somehow under the hotel, radioactive waste all over the place, an elder god in the basement... which of these things is the one that makes you lose your sanity? But this is never addressed beyond that, it's just, that's why your bar drops, and why the other characters need to be consoled. They even seem to have forgotten that they had this idea after the first time it's introduced.
At the beginning of the game when Frankie arrives and demands to be in the penthouse, it makes sense, and we're going along with the plot because it makes sense, he's a mafia lord acting like a mafia lord. But then, the same plot happens again with Ava Cadavra taking over the penthouse. She says she wants some privacy to write her songs, and requests us to accommodate her religious preferences by building a shrine to cow Satan. Sure... but pay for the room! Why are we letting her off without paying for the room? With Frankie, it was under threat of breaking our kneecaps. What's Ava Cadavra going to do? Are we that scared of her gothic fashion choices? Then this plotline happens a third time with Optimum Alfred taking over the penthouse, and that also doesn't make sense, and culminates in that five Mechanical skill points thing that would make even a nun curse. The plot is just artificially inflated. It feels like Frankie was meant to be the main plot, and then everything else is extraneous. But the gall to repeat the same plot thrice, for less and less established reasons!
The highlight of the game was Giuseppi saying "shuka de blinkin" when he wants a kiss. No offense to Giuseppi, but that's not saying much.
- Strangetown Funk: Let's Play the Sims 2 For DS, an on-point written let's play of the beginning of the game, from which we borrowed the screenshots of Honest Jackson, Tristan Legend, and Emperor Xizzle's dialogue.
- The Sims 2 DS Wikia, one of the most extensive but extremely niche wikis we've seen. This links you specifically to the page explaining the skillpoint spawn times because ajdkwhnkwhne.