When we were playing The Sims 2 for DS, we were getting frustrated with it. We wished it was just on the GBA, with the same engine as Bustin' Out and The Urbz. So we looked it up and realized... there was a GBA The Sims 2. Which is not the same game as The Sims 2 on DS. And not the same game as The Sims 2 on PSP or the same game as The Sims 2 on PC. It's, again, more like Bustin' Out and The Urbz. And yet also very different.
The setting, Strangetown, is nominally the same Strangetown as in The Sims 2 DS, and with the same characters around town. However, this version of Strangetown is a lot bigger, notably without a hotel, and exists as pre-rendered backgrounds rather than ass 3D models. In the overworld, the characters look similar to how they used to be in Bustin' Out and The Urbz, even a little bit upgraded.
This time, the game starts off, and we're in the office of Daddy Bigbucks, the evil capitalist pig we fought against in The Urbz. Well, apparently, in The Sims 2 on GBA, we work for him. He's secretly making a reality tv show/sitcom with unknowing participants. We're in the know, and we're there to stir up trouble to boost ratings. Dear lord, we've sold out. Also what the fucking hell is this premise anyway.
Like in The Sims 2 DS and unlike pretty much every other Sims game, we only have one bar of needs instead of many. Rather than your sanity, this bar represents your performance as an actor. When it gets low, you have to take care of your needs to raise it. It goes down when you act poorly, or get hurt, or when you have a critical need, in which case the appropriate icon will flash over your head. This time, however, you can't quite so much spam pooping whenever the bar is low, as we did in The Sims 2 DS. There seems to be some invisible need bars, because pooping when the icon is flashing refills your meter a lot, but pooping right after you've pooped doesn't raise the bar much. Since we can't see these invisible bars and we can't tell when we're going to need to poop, for a while, our strategy was that, any time we were home, we'd go through an entire routine: poop, and shower, and eat, and drink, and sleep. However, we later witnessed the poop icon flashing right after we pooped and left home, so, pre-emptive pooping doesn't seem to do much good. Just wait for the icon to flash, and then find a place to poop.
Compared to SimValley and Miniopolis, Strangetown is shit with public amenities. We mean, it makes sense, since we're in the middle of the desert. But there's barely any toilets anywhere, and food is only available in the saloon. In the very beginning of the game, we needed to clean ourselves, but we had just started the game and didn't have a shower in our house, and the store wasn't selling one yet. Looking around town, there seems to be no way to take a shower unless you buy your own shower. So we had a very stinky day, until the shop finally stocked the shower we wanted to buy and we finally cleaned ourselves. Luckily, in this game, critical needs don't affect your ability to hold a conversation with other characters very much. That's great, considered that it's so difficult to restore them. So you can have a butt ready to poop, but you can just keep on talking.
We just wish we could see the bars. We're glad that this trend of lumping everything together in the mono-bar lasted all of five minutes, and didn't impact the main series.
Although this game is called The Sims 2 - not Bustin' Out or The Urbz or any other subtitle to put more distance from the main Sims series - this is the game in this miniseries that strays furthest from the main concept of The Sims. We've been playing all of these weird spin-offs, but remember how the main series The Sims plays? They are sandbox-y games where you make a house and characters to live in it, you buy things and decorate the house, you protect your household, and you pretty much do what you want -- maybe help your Sims improve their skills and fulfill their dreams... or trap them in a 1x1 square of walls and watch them scream.
The spirit of The Sims is still unmistakably present in the other spin-offs. In Bustin' Out and The Urbz, you start with a shitty house and work your way up to nicer houses, and it's in your best interest to decorate them with things that refill your needs, help you improve your skills, and please your possible guests or roommates. The Sims 2 on PSP does much of the same, except instead of moving to a nicer house, you unlock more of the rooms of the same house. In The Sims 2 on DS, you are running a hotel, which is weird, but you do get to buy things and decorate all the hotel rooms to boost your hotel's rating, and you gradually unlock more of the hotel.
However, in The Sims 2 on GBA, there is only one possible house to live in, which is never expanded or upgraded in any way. There are no objects that you can use to improve your skills, and no guests that come visit you. There aren't even burglars that break into your house (Giuseppi is completely done with that). And because of the way the needs work in this game, you don't really need many different objects to refill your bars in different ways. In the end, all you need is: a toilet, somewhere to wash yourself, somewhere to sleep, and a source of food and water. Everything else is optional. So, there's not really much joy in decorating your house, because, once you have the basic amenities, anything more is superfluous and doesn't seem to give you any advantage.
The only bonus thing you can do seems to be to get something to sit on, and something to look at. While in this game you never get a critical need to sit or a critical need to destress, there do seem to be hidden bars for sitting and entertaining yourself, because doing so will refill your need bar substantially, and if you repeat either interaction, you get a minimal boost - same as the mechanic of pooping when you need to poop and then trying to poop again. So, we got a chair to sit upon, and a lava lamp to admire, and added them to our routine of interacting with every object in the house to refill the bar before going out. But that's it.
In Bustin' Out, we eventually got a nice house full of nice things, including a pottery wheel to level up our creativity, a carnivorous plant that bit us more often than we could admire it, a sarcophagus that opened when you interacted with it, and a Daschell to... you know. In The Urbz, we had an electric guitar to entertain ourselves with, a pet pig roaming the house, and the column with the three oranges that Giuseppi gave us as a present proudly on display. In The Sims 2 on DS, Denise made an entirely green bathroom to take joy in admiring, until Frankie decided he preferred every other color better and scrambled it. In The Sims 2 on PSP, we decorated our mansion and made out with the maid on the sofa. In The Sims 2 GBA... we just had a place where we could crash. With a lava lamp in the bedroom and some shark jaws down the hall that we thought would be important at some point, but they never were, so they were just kind of stashed there.
Also on the point of improving your Sim's skills, in most Sims games, you primarily improve your skills by practicing them. In Bustin' Out and The Urbz, there also was a secret way to "cheat" - if you manage to find the secret ninja character, Heidi Shadows, who only shows up on particular in-game days in particular locations at particular in-game hours, you can buy really expensive items that instantly raise your skills one point just by using them. But in The Sims 2 on GBA, the only way to raise your skills is to go to a random guy in a T-shirt, who just happens to be in the desert selling instant-use skill books. He's always there, so this is not a sneaky special ninja, and this is the only way you can do it. How lame! And you need to use this service if you want to play the game. Why did they take out essentially half of the game? And it's another way in which it's more distant from The Sims main series.
With the primary simulation aspects of The Sims so de-emphasized, this game is actually closest to being like an adventure game which is focused on character interactions, and in which you also need to take care of yourself every once in a while. While that's fine in itself (in fact, we think more games should have mechanics where characters need to eat and drink and sleep), it is very strange that this is happening in a game with Sims in the name.
Talking with the characters
In Bustin' Out, you get to hear your own lines, the characters' short responses, and the plot-related dialogue. Your lines and the characters' responses refresh throughout the game. In The Urbz, you don't hear your own lines except in plot-related dialogue options, but the characters have long responses to your topics of conversation, and there is a lot of plot-related dialogue. Unfortunately, however, the dialogue does not refresh during the game, so later on you'll be spamming the same interactions all over. In The Sims 2 on GBA, the whole way of talking with characters is different. Like in The Sims 2 DS, you play a minigame with the characters to boost your relationships with them. All the readable dialogue, instead, is plot-related. But man, there's a lot of it. And, since it follows a storyline, nothing is ever repeated.
The relationship-boosting minigame is sort of like a turn-based RPG system, in which you pick your action, and it can succeed or fail. There are three kinds of interactions you can have with characters: friendly, romantic, or intimidating. You can start friendly interactions with all characters, romantic interactions with some men if you're female and some women if you're male (some characters are not romanceable), and intimidating interactions with whichever characters can be intimidated at whichever point of the plot you're in.
So, during a friendly interaction with someone, you are given options such as, chit-chat, entertain, and hug. Some characters apparently respond better to one kind of interaction. It's hard to tell though, because the success rate of your interactions may not be very high, so you don't know if your friendly attack "missed" or if you picked the wrong thing entirely. There also doesn't seem to be a rhyme or reason to the timing of this. It's just, spam the interaction that seems to be hitting the most right now. In the main Sims series, repeating the same interaction over and over is generally frowned upon, because it makes the other Sims bored, but this doesn't seem to be a problem in The Sims 2 on GBA.
Anyway, if you succeed at this minigame, your performance meter will be refilled. If you fail, you'll pass out due to poor acting, and you will be scolded by Daddy Bigbucks. Just think about this. How many times have we passed out because Luthor wasn't in the mood to kiss us? Imagine kissing someone a few times, but then they refuse a few more kisses, and so you just pass out. In the other games, you pass out because you are hungry or tired. In this game, you can pass out because Luthor doesn't want to kiss you anymore for today. But actually, you are not passing out because of what is literally happening, but because of your own poor acting. So, you pass out from... breaking character? Bad ratings? Embarrassment?
By the way, after you pass out, you have to go through all of your pooping and eating and admiring the lava lamp to restore your performance bar, and then you're good to go again. But if Luthor still doesn't want to kiss you and you pass out again, now what do you do? You just pooped, so pooping again won't help. You just ate, so eating again won't help. You just looked at the lava lamp, so now it has lost all charm. You just gotta wait until you need something. This is very strange. Then again, we're in Strangetown.
Like in The Sims 2 on DS, we picked the specialization of Romance. In this game, this means that, in each episode, we should have a good number of successful romances going on, to keep the ratings up. We guess that's our character Lucy's specialization as an actor. Is it acting if it's just something you do all the time?
Daddy Bigbucks wants us to do these things to manipulate the town into liking us. We're not doing this to manipulate anyone, or for Daddy of all people! We're doing this honestly! We're not kissing Giuseppi because Daddy wants us to! We've been having an ongoing relationship since the first game!
In this game, it's implied that you're not the same character as the one in Bustin' Out and The Urbz. In fact, it's almost implied that the events of those games only sort of maybe happened. Daddy, for one, is not confined to Nutria Island, Giuseppi has changed careers but not in a way consistent with The Urbz. So, this is a spinoff... of a spinoff. What the hell are we getting into.
This game features several minigames again, which we have to play to make money - even though Daddy is right there paying us, he says that we shouldn't look too suspicious with all this money, and we should blend in, so we should work normally and pretend that we need to make a living. Really though, Daddy is stingy.
One of the minigames is the Keelhaulin' card game, which was also in The Sims 2 on DS. There's a part of The Sims 2 on DS where playing this game is pretty much the only thing you can do to make money to progress, so you just have to play it over and over until you are sick of it. Here, though, playing the card game is okay, since it's only one of many games. If you space it out, it's still fun. In fact, here, you can only play it once an in-game day.
Also of note is that you can level up the games, like in Bustin' Out and The Urbz. While The Sims 2 DS version of Keelhaulin' was always the same, here you have to gradually unlock the special cards: the second level introduces the grog, a later level introduces the cannons, and so on. This helps to keep things fresh, and gives you incentives to improve. So, basically, they had the perfect formula already in The Sims 2 on GBA, and somehow fucked it up in the DS version.
Keelhaulin' on GBA is also better because the interface is more compact, yet has more information on it. And it also has superior controls. In the DS game, you need to manually move the cards with the stylus and flick them to the top screen, which is annoying. In the GBA version, you can just select the card you want to choose with the buttons like a civilized human being. To think that the DS version is the inferior one here...
Some of the minigames are set up as if they were commercials. Sometimes, you'll be going through the plot, and Daddy will stop you and declare it's time for a commercial break. One commercial has you running from a terrifying anthropomorphic cola cup, like the Kool-Aid man of cola. You have to tap A to run, but running causes the cola to bubble, so sometimes you have to press down to drink from the cup and relieve the pressure. Sometimes there are obstacles too, so you have to time this drinking maneuver when you're not about to jump. The game goes on until the horrifying abomination cup catches up to you (it's inevitable) and swallows you whole. Wow.
Another one is the driving commercial. You're driving a car, and there are those car commercial phrases spoken over your footage. When the commercial voice says "It's fast", we better show off that aspect of the car, and we gain points if we do. When the commercial voice says "It's an all-terrain vehicle", we have to drive in the dirt and show that off. And we better not crash the car, 'cause that's expensive and it comes out of our paycheck. This is implying that those commercials are not staged, edited, or even planned, but rather filmed candid with a hapless driver who is suddenly told to drive in the mud.
As for what concerns the other minigames, there's a really difficult flying stunt jump game where we seem to always crash. One interesting thing about this game is that, when you're done, you'll find yourself on the opposite side of the cliff from where you started, because, yeah, you jumped off that cliff, you're no longer there. There is also a chop shop game where you have to sort car parts into the proper bins at full speed. It's a fun reflex kind of game. And it's funny that it ends with sirens blaring and your character cowering because the cops are raiding the chop shop. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is a game in which you have to feed bigfoot with chickens with the right color in the right order. You have to use logic and probability to guess what is the right combination before time runs out. And there is also a poop scoop game, which plays very similarly to the lawnmower game from Bustin' Out, except, instead of mowing the lawn and mind the petunias, you're driving a poop scoop tractor, scooping the cow poop for methane, and dodging cows and radioactive debris.
This game doesn't really have a plot, per se. It's a series of episodes without any continuity beyond the returning characters. Just a bunch of disjointed, wacky hijinks. Like one of those sitcoms. We mean, that's what this game was setting out to do, and it succeeded. But this also means that we don't need to talk about the reasons why anything is happening, and instead we're going to mention a bunch of events that we found interesting about this game.
Each episode starts with the Goth family, yes, the Goth family from the PC Sims games, turning on their TV to watch another exciting episode of Strangetown. Think about the nested universes here. We the player play the PC Sims as an overseer, the characters of the PC Sims then watch the spinoff universe on TV, and we the player control a character in the spinoff universe too. Wait until our review of The Sims 2 for PSP for more on this topic.
Once the Goths settle into their couch, you then get to see the "opening sequence" of the show, which is modeled after the opening sequence of a sitcom from the 80s, and is absolutely spot-on. It even has the cheesy starting out in space and showing SimEarth and then zooming in into Simerica and finally on Strangetown, and then showing the entire cast one by one, and when their name comes up, you get a static frame of a different expression on their face... you have to know what we're talking about. Anyway, this parody version is perfect and couldn't have been improved.
During each episode, beyond following the plot-related objectives and fulfilling your actor's aspiration, there are also two extra things you can do to achieve a better score at the end of the episode. Not that we need a numerical incentive to do sidequests - we're playing this game for the characters in the first place, so it's good that we are given a few opportunities to interact with them beyond the boundaries of the plot. So, at some point during the episode, a character will be looking for something - generally this character will be off the beaten path of the main plot, so you have to go everywhere and talk to everyone to see who it is that is going to need your help this episode. It is definitely a hidden thing - finding it is tricky, and achieving what you need to do is also tricky, since it requires understanding the clues of the characters and then finding the right things and the right people. Some of them are branched, too - for example, at one point the hidden quest was bringing a ray gun to Xizzle, but along the path you also have the option to give it to Penelope instead, since she wanted some proof that there are aliens here. Generally, these sidequests are appropriately fun to solve, not too cryptic and not too obvious.
Then, at the end of each episode, the visual switches back to the Goth family on the couch, and each of the four family members will rate the episode on different scales. You can replay each episode as many times as you want after first unlocking it, so the completionists don't need to replay everything from the beginning, and you are given an incentive to continue playing.
Upon our arrival to Strangetown, Dusty, the giant biker built like a giant biker, barked for us to meet him in the saloon. It sounded bad. But it turned out to be a welcoming party! And he gave us a welcome mat as a housewarming present. Dawwwww.
The second thing that happened is that we really needed to poop (yes, this is mandatory and scripted), so Daddy had to quickly install a toilet for us in our base, so that when we'd hurry home, a toilet would be there. We arrive, and... there's an alien sitting on the toilet, reading the newspaper. He tells us to give him some privacy, please, before he melts the eyeballs out of our sockets. We had to intimidate the alien to get off our toilet, and then we had to squeegee the radioactivity off the toilet. What in the actual fuck.
Speaking of the aliens. We met Captain Xizzle in the DS game, and he had funny dialogue, but there was so little dialogue in general in that travesty of a game that, actually, we could not really have any conversations with him beyond a basic introduction, and the rest of the time, he was busy trying to invade the town. But in The Sims 2 on GBA, Captain Xizzle is a full character, and you get to talk to him a lot. His dialogue is the neural network trying to do pick up lines. He's amazing. You look like a thing and I love you.
As well as the imminent alien invasion, another threat we have to fight against are... ladybugs. There was a section where we were shrunk, and there was a ladybug invasion in progress, and now we have to use our tiny Super Soaker loaded with bug repellent to fight ladybugs, which are huge and terrifying when you're tiny. They're carnivorous! Ridiculously, there's even the queen ladybug as a boss battle.
Another plotpoint that happened was that Ara Fusilli, daughter of mafia boss Frankie Fusilli, wanted to sneak into the casino, but her dad had bought the services of Giuseppi to keep an eye on her. Considered that Frankie has been giving away radioactive couches as wedding gifts to people that crossed him in the past, that was probably a bad choice for Giuseppi to accept his money. And considered how well Giuseppi looked after us in the previous games, it was probably a bad choice of Frankie to ask him to look after his beautiful young daughter. It's a good thing we're interrupting this before anything horrific happens in any direction. Ara wants us to distract Giuseppi. How do we do this? We buy him a paddle ball. We give it to him, and he turns into a kitty. He used to always play with the paddle ball, and now he wants to beat his childhood record of four hours straight. And now he's there in the overworld playing with the paddle ball and doesn't want to be interrupted. Daw.
Despite our fears that distracting our friend while he is under the employ of a ruthless mafia lord would have terrible consequences, after this, there seem to be no negative repercussions. So, later, he gets to be the butt of another plotpoint. Giuseppi had cleaned the stables of all the manure, and we had to re-manure the stable. He was so proud of how pristine it was. And then we dumped poop all over it. Sorry, Daddy is paying us to do this... We know you would do the same. (We can still kiss afterwards).
Luthor L. Bigbucks, son of Daddy Bigbucks, is also back. It turns out that he too is an unknowing participant in this whole reality show. Daddy gave him six hundred million simoleons and the task to invest them in real estate in Strangetown, and told him that he wouldn't be allowed back home until he succeeded in spending them all. Which is notably impossible, considering the entire town isn't worth that much. This is twisted and sick and cruel and unusual. To give him more money than god, which he cannot spend, and which forces him to be stuck in this hellhole. Because he would never willingly be here.
Yikes, we didn't think we'd be sorry for someone who's just been given six hundred million simoleons as spending money, but what is money for if it can't buy anything and you're trapped somewhere against your will?
So, he can't leave, and he's being filmed without his knowledge as he kisses us, with his father watching and making the footage into a tv series. Poor Luthor. Someone call the police.
This is kinda implied to be the reason why Luthor is in the hotel in The Sims 2 on DS -- because he's done with his father's bullshit and he willingly gave up his inheritance to live his own life, away from his absurdly abusive father. Go, be free, Luthor!
So, Daddy Bigbucks' motivations are to 1. make a bunch of money, 2. torture Luthor, and 3. get back at Frankie over something that happened in the past. The hierarchy of evil here is amazing. But poor Luthor is caught in the middle. Luthor is rightfully terrified of Frankie, and Frankie keeps doing displays of dominance towards him. At one point, one bonus mission was to deliver a lava lamp to Luthor from Frankie, as a wedding present for a wedding that Luthor would be going to. Luthor was at first terrified at what kind of message could Frankie be trying to send him. But then he remembered what was this for. Tell him thanks... I think... Please don't kill me.
It's good that we played the DS game first, because Frankie got a better introduction in that game. He had us deliver the severed cow head to the mayor, which then exploded. We know what kind of person he is now. He also threatened our kneecaps, and wouldn't tolerate us taking more than five seconds to reach him after he called us.
Honest Jackson got a better introduction here, though. The DS game had him randomly flip out immediately upon meeting him. Here, he gets established as the honest and good, recyclables-obsessed mayor before he gets involved in any sorts of wacky hijinks.
Sancho, too, got a better introduction in this game. In the DS game, there was the flavor text that he is a zoologist, and he has an animal-print shirt, and that's about it. In this game, we see him manage the town zoo and work with animals! There was a part where he wanted to give a fuzzy beetle as a present, which is kind of an adorable thought. Unfortunately, for the sake of the ratings, we had to spoil it. Apparently this fuzzy beetle is like the creatures from Gremlins, and if it gets wet, it sheds its fur and looks very scary. We are sorry that we had to mess up the cute gift.
Jimmy "The" Neck, the random bandit who also appeared in The Sims 2 DS, gets to be an actual character! He's so dumb... but in a good way. We want to be his friend too.
Optimum Alfred, instead of being the centerpiece of one of the most annoying quests we've had the displeasure to play, is just a regular character here. He beeps. We like him.
The last thing before talking about the ending is we want to tell you probably the best quote of the game. At one point, Dusty tells us about a tattoo he wants.
We love this. He's adorable. And it shows why he and Ewan were friends in The Urbz.
The ending is kind of a letdown. It doesn't have a final culminating point, really. The most it gets is, there's the moment where everyone realizes they're on a tv show, and you can side with them and destroy the cameras, or side with Daddy and convince the people that it was all a joke.
During the climax, we learn that Optimum Alfred has also been in the know about the reality TV show, and he's not the cute robot that we thought he was. He refers to the plinking and the poinking as being in character. Yike. Later, when we talk to him, he's got a bad attitude. Although that might have been part because we blew him up and destroyed his "Niceness Programming".
After the end of the game, there's also a special unlockable reunion episode. It's always been there in the menu to taunt you, but can only be unlocked by linking games with someone else. Imagine how this must have been like to own at the time. What are the chances that someone else you know and in your general vicinity has The Sims 2 on GBA of all things, and that's the game you're going to link together with a link cable? All just to get this last chapter.
We used Gameshark codes to access it. Thank you, Gameshark.
The point of the reunion episode was, according to the game itself, to bring back everyone's favorite characters. The plot involved bringing in three of them from out of town: Ara, Kayleigh, and Giuseppi. Then they all stand around and say hi. And that's pretty much it.
This game had a decidedly different tone than the other ones in this series, because it was written by another studio entirely. They got some things right, some things less right. For the most part, the writing was just generally flatter. And not kinky at all. Very vanilla in every way. There were some good jokes, but not really the same zaniness. Probably some of the most shining dialogue was with Emperor Xizzle.
The game puts a lot of emphasis on the new characters, but then doesn't really do much with them. For example, there's Auda Sherif. We know he's an actor, and that's it. He mentions the movies he's been in, and says that he needs to practice his lines. Kayleigh Wintercrest is a nuclear physicist who works at the power plant, but her primary role is to say some technobabble to excuse whatever is happening in the plot, and we don't really know what she's like as a person. Ava Cadavra has a total Addams family vibe and is out in the creepy greenhouse, but never has any plot development at all. There's the character of the yeti, who only appears in the non-secret secret episode, and then only to have a few lines, if you bother to go visit the igloo. Why did they have all these characters that they didn't do anything with?
Also, the characters that do get spotlight never really get a full arc. There's the whole deal with Luthor getting stuck in this situation and then discovering that it was a trick, but we don't get to see the consequences of that. Giuseppi works for Frankie and for Tristan, failing both times, but that's inconsequential, and he just seems to vanish halfway through the game -- maybe he knew well enough to leave before any kneecaps got busted. Frankie and Ara are in conflict with each other, Frankie being overprotective and Ara wanting to go out and have fun, but this never really has any sort of conclusion. There are the aliens plotting an invasion of the planet, but we got to see very little of them. Burple in particular had very little function beyond sitting on the toilet at the beginning of the game.
We've since learned that half of this game didn't get made. Looking in the code, there are remnants of many other episodes that are unfinished. Maybe that explains it. Unfortunately, this was meant to be a very character-driven game, but the characters that come from previous games are often out-of-character, the ones that were introduced in this game are undeveloped, and the best you get is a couple funny jokes. To be fair, the jokes are funny, but, beyond that, there's no real meat to this game. This game doesn't have the shining characterization of Bustin' Out or the dramatic and intelligent storytelling of The Urbz.
All in all, coming from the other games, this game was passable to mediocre. We were excited to see Giuseppi and Dusty and Luthor again, so that was a motivator for us, but the game didn't have much of them or of anyone else. We had already met some of the new characters in The Sims 2 for the DS, and we were expecting to find out more about them in this game, but they also didn't get much. And we can't imagine enjoying this game in isolation. Without already knowing the characters, we're not sure if this game would manage to draw us in - and even if they did manage to spark our interest, nothing ever goes anywhere, so by the end we'd be disappointed.