Considering we've played like every other game named The Sims 2, why not round it out by playing The Sims 2: Pets for Game Boy Advance? If you've been following our previous reviews, you've already guessed that, in spite of the identical title, this game has nothing to do with the Pets expansion of The Sims 2 for PC, but is rather a completely different standalone game (no matter how Wikipedia has it organized).
As soon as we turned on the game, we are introduced to a world presented in a similar art style as Bustin' Out and The Urbz. It's not quite as detailed or charming, but still, there's cute isometric pixel art of the city and characters walking around with their pets. And we are suckers for that sort of art style.
We re-create our player avatar Sim that we named Lucy, and we are ready for action. It turns out that, in this game, Lucy has made the big mistake of renting a house in the town of Barkersville. Lucy must have thought the town was named after the founder who was presumably named something like William Barkers, but alas, this is not the case. The town is named Barkersville because of the inordinate number of dogs in town. And cats. There are more pets than people here, and that's because everyone has to have at least one cat or dog -- not by law, but rather because anyone who doesn't have a cat or dog is publicly shamed until they give in to peer pressure.
That's what happens to our Sim, Lucy. As soon as she arrives to town, people confront her, asking her where her pet is and if she is a dog-person or a cat-person. Lucy has never had a pet before, as her in-game dialogue states that everyone in her family was allergic. The townsfolk find this unacceptable, and push her to go to the pet shop immediately, or adopt their spare pet, or to at least walk other people's dogs so that she is not deprived of the joy of pets. Lucy reasonably points out that she would want to prioritize getting some basic amenities like a bed or a fridge or a toilet installed in her empty house before she runs out to get a cat, but the townsfolk give her the side-eye at the thought.
As we played the game, we tried to delay getting a pet until Lucy was more settled in. But the peer pressure was out of this world. Everyone who sees her asks her, "Have you gotten your animal?" as if it were a form of greeting. Luckily, the player responses we can choose from are almost all in a tone that is fed up with this shit. You can pick one exasperated response or another exasperated response. The game isn't making any attempt to present this town as a beautiful thing. Lucy knows this is absurd and is quick to point it out.
In the end, we made it for three in-game days before we finally went to the pet store and Lucy got a fucking cat so that everyone would shut up.
In this game, you can have a dog or a cat, and they can be all the colors of the rainbow, but all dogs always look like pointers, and all cats always look like shorthair cats. Why didn't they bother making any different types of dogs or cats in The Sims 2: Pets??? It looks like you can get a penguin if you have enough money, but the emphasis is on dogs and cats, and they're all the same. How boring.
So, on day three, we got a cute little black cat, which we named Chaos. The game wanted us to purchase a pet as soon as we started playing, but we waited, so we have the benefit of three days' wages saved up that a more naive player would not have. And still, we're having money troubles. Purchasing a cat drained our funds so much that now we cannot afford cat food. Oh no.
But in this game, making money is tough. We're back to relying on bottle refunds from the excessive litter we pick up all over Barkersville. This is a very strange thing. All the townsfolk are courteous to scoop their pets' poop, and when we are walking dogs, we get an extra tip for cleaning up after the pets. But despite how civilized everyone is when it comes to animal feces, people toss cans and batteries and old newspapers everywhere, even right next to the plentiful public trashcans. What disgusting litterbugs!
Apart from scrounging bottle refunds, our only initial form of employment is the aforementioned pet walking. We are able to take dogs and even cats (!!!) for a walk, and we need to manage to keep them from breaking free from their leashes or destroying anything along the way. This is not easy, but we only get paid around 100 simoleons a run. Considering that everything in the shops costs at least a few hundred simoleons, this is a pittance. Don't these people care enough about their pets to pay their harried pet walker a bit more for the trouble?
An added difficulty is from what we can only assume are intense blue laws in Barkersville: we are not allowed to do our dog walking job on Saturday or Sunday. That means we only get the opportunity to earn our measly 100 simoleons up to five times a week (if we manage to catch the narrow time window when our boss, Amy, is in the right building for us to request dogs to walk).
Keep in mind that Lucy regularly needs to pay her rent for her little apartment, at 300 simoleons per in-game week. With this horrible pay, and this exorbitant rent, Lucy would be having a hard time supporting herself already. But now she has a cat too.
The cat needs to eat, and cat food aint cheap. The cat needs to piss, and we can't afford a litter box yet, so Lucy is resigned to mopping up cat piss whenever little Chaos hears the call of nature. This seems to be a returning plotpoint for our Sim. This mopping takes up valuable time (and hygiene points) that Lucy could be using to scrounge for recyclables (to earn some change) or go for a work out (to be better prepared next time she's taking pets for a walk). The cat also needs to entertain itself, and considering we can't afford any cat toys yet, the best fun in the house is destroying the bed -- which, when destroyed, needs to be replaced, and quickly, unless Lucy wants to end up spending the night sleeping on the floor in a puddle of cat piss.
Clearly, we have made a horrible, terrible mistake. Why did we ever cave in to peer pressure? The townsfolk are only concerned that we have a pet, not that we have the means to take care of it. How is Lucy going to support herself, let alone this cat?
The unintended moral of this game: getting a pet is a very important and expensive decision that should not be made lightly.
And because of these monetary troubles... here's the story of how Lucy plunged deep into the abyss of depression and poverty.
Things were going relatively okay, until Lucy went to take a shower and the shower broke. But Lucy couldn't repair the shower because she was too lonely and desperately needed some human interaction first.
When this happened, it was 4am in in-game time, so no one was around to socialize with. By the time dawn broke and the first early-birds were awake and available to meet outside, Lucy's hygiene had fallen to a critical level, so she was unwilling to talk with anyone for fear of how stinky she was.
So, Lucy was caught in a paradox of needing to socialize before she could shower, and needing to shower before she could socialize.
She also needed to fulfill both needs before attempting any sort of draining activity, so in the meanwhile, dirty dishes accumulated in the sink and cat piss accumulated on the floor, and Lucy couldn't bring herself to resolve these issues.
We decided to wait until the shops opened at 9am to buy a new shower, so that Lucy could clean herself in it enough to talk with someone, which would give her the sanity to focus on repairing the first shower, so that she could then clean herself fully, socialize fully, clean the stinking cesspool of her house, and sell the second shower to recuperate her funds.
This would have been a wonderful plan... if Lucy had enough money for a second shower. But she was about 300 simoleons short.
Lucy had no hope of getting that money. Given her mental and olfactory state, going to work was completely out of the question. And there was no way Lucy would find enough recyclables on the ground to sell to raise those funds before stinking to death.
In the end, Lucy found a sink in a public restroom, and she washed her hands in that sink for three hours, until she felt confident enough to approach a random stranger and play rock-paper-scissors with her pruney hands, thereby fulfilling her social needs enough to repair her shower, get clean, and start putting her life back together.
But still, even if now we're in a better condition to do stuff, and we can level up our skills and progress in our ranks... there is very little to actually do in this game. By far the most exciting thing is the dog walking mini-game, and that's not saying much.
Eventually, we've leveled up the dog walking game to the maximum, but we only earn about 400 simoleons per run, and we can only play it once a day, five days a week. That's peanuts compared to everything we still need to buy. For ourselves, we have the most basic of basic amenities, and then everything else we own is for our cat: we have a food bowl for the cat, the cat food for the cat, the scratching post to try to stop the cat from destroying the little furniture we do have, a litter box so that the cat doesn't need to just piss on the floor anymore, and a ball of yarn to train the cat to catch so that we can attempt to earn money at the pet training mini-game.
Right, the pet training mini-game, the bane of our existence.
In preparation for this game, we need to teach tricks to our cat during our spare time - especially on in-game weekends, when Lucy can't work anyway. To start teaching tricks to the cat, we have to obtain trick scrolls. There is no fun way to obtain these scrolls -- they are not hidden in the world or anything like that; the majority are simply pricey items in the shops for you to buy with your limited money, and a tiny few are rewards for completing quests. These scrolls somehow contain the secret knowledge required to teach our cat a trick. Note that the scroll is not a TM from Pokémon and doesn't outright teach our cat the trick, but rather only enables us to start attempting to teach the cat how to do this trick.
Once we have a scroll (and remember to use it, rather than just leaving it in the inventory), we can give the cat the command to do the trick. If it does a good job, we can reward the cat, and if it fails to do the trick, we can scold the cat. Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the cat's understanding of what you're trying to teach it. This takes time, which is somewhat realistic, since you're trying to teach an animal what the word "sit" means. To display that, the game shows a slowly filling lightbulb for each trick - the more full it is, the more the cat understands it, and the more likely it is to succeed at doing it on command.
This sounds really cool in theory. The problem is, the only way you can access all of these trick commands and the ability to give the cat reinforcement is...
The menu system in The Sims 2: Pets on GBA is somewhat reminiscent of the menu from The Sims on PC, where, when you click on a Sim you are controlling, you get a menu featuring the Sim's head in the middle, and bubbles around the head naming all the categories of interactions the Sim can currently do, arranged like petals of a daisy. This makes it look like the Sim is contemplating the possibilities, looking at the "thought bubbles" as your cursor hovers over them. In this way, you can click on the "Romantic..." bubble, which lets you see a full circle of flirty interactions currently available to this Sim. Given the immense scope of interactions available at any moment when playing The Sims, this menu is a monumental achievement - it might be a bit intimidating at first, but it is very usable and informative despite its massive scope. Maxis clearly did a lot of work to make such an intuitive and versatile menu system.
The menu of The Sims 2: Pets on GBA, on the other hand, looks superficially like that, but sucks. Your options are still arranged around a circle, but rather than like petals, they're like on a merry-go-round. The circle is in 3D, so there is a back and a front, and we rotate the circle to unveil the options in the back. We can never really see all the options available at once, but just small portion in detail at a time. If an option is not selected, your only hint is a faraway icon in perspective, with no label. The icon is usually not helpful in distinguishing your options, because, first of all, whoever picked these icons had very questionable logic, and secondly, many of the choices reuse the same icons. And since the menu needs to be rotated, you can't even use visual memory of a certain option's position in the list to your advantage. There is no "near the top" or "near the bottom". The best you can remember is that a certain option is next to another option. But by then, you're already one option away from what you were looking for, so that hardly helps.
To access the menu for teaching tricks to our cat, we need to be facing the cat, and press A to bring up the menu.
Facing the cat and pressing A sounds like the most basic action, but in this game, somehow, even this is difficult. If Lucy isn't close enough to anything, opening the menu will give us the option to call for our pet. We accidentally do this all the time, since we are trying to do an action on a target that is generally moving away from us. Wouldn't it have been easier if the function to call for your pet had been assigned to another one of the plentiful unused buttons on the Game Boy Advance?
But anyway, we manage to face our cat and press A. The menu options at this point have the icons of:
- A paw print on a red circle - "Command"
- An identical paw print on a green circle - "Pet"
- An identical paw print on a blue circle - "Trick"
- Three building blocks (one red, one green, and one blue) arranged in a small pyramid - "Teach"
Guess which option lets us give a command in order to teach our pet a trick?
It turns out that the correct answer is "Trick". This opens up a menu to let us select the type of trick we want to command our pet to do. More categories of tricks are unlocked over time, and by the end of our playthrough we had:
- A dog's head - "Basic"
- An identical dog's head - "Cool!"
- An identical dog's head - "Awesome!!"
- And still the same dog's head - "Amazing!!!"
Let's have our cat stand on its hind legs. Hm, what sort of trick was that again? We check under "Basic" and, so far, we have unlocked five "Basic" tricks, all represented by the same dog's head. We cycle around, and no, "Stand on 2" isn't in the Basic list. Let's try looking under the "Cool!" tricks. So far, we have unlocked six "Cool!" tricks, and all of them are also represented by the same dog's head. We cycle around (probably more than once considering we forgot what trick was showing up initially) and realize that is not the right menu either. Okay, is it an "Awesome!!" trick? So far, we have unlocked five "Awesome!!" tricks, still all represented by that same dog's head. Ah, okay, we finally found "Stand on 2" - we didn't realize that was considered specifically an "Awesome!!" trick. Considering that the "Awesome!!" menu also includes backflips, we would have not guessed that backflips and standing were at the same level.
Okay, now we give the command to the cat to "Stand on 2". We watch the cat to see if it performs the trick - there is no visual or auditory cue one way or another; you just need to be familiar with the animation to know if the trick was done correctly. In some cases, like with jumping, this is easy to tell. In other cases, such as with waving the paw, the animation is hard to see and easily mistakable with offering a paw to shake. In any case, now that we have determined if the cat has done the trick or not, to make the practice be effective, we need give the cat positive or negative reinforcement. First, we need to face the cat again (it might already be walking away), and press A to bring up the menu. Remember the options from before: "Command", "Pet", "Trick", and "Teach". Which will let us reward our pet for a job well done? You have to hurry, as, if too much time passes, your reinforcement will no longer be effective.
It turns out that the correct option is "Teach". Often, we get confused at this point and select a few other options before finally landing on the right one. In this menu, there is a blue smiley with a tiny thumbs up - "Praise" or a red frowny with a tiny thumbs down - "Scold", and, depending on our inventory, a strange globular mass - "Treat".
So, now, we want... Wait a minute. Did the cat do the trick right or not? We forgot. This will happen a lot when you're practicing the same trick fifteen times in a row and was it this time or the previous time that the cat did it right?
Once we are trained by the menu system to be able to do this tricky maneuver, we can teach tricks to our cat. By the way, teaching tricks to a cat. We've been glossing over it so far, but it's time to point at it. We don't know about you, but the cats that we're familiar with would never be able to be trained in anything. For example, Rosy's parents' cat Luna is a very intelligent cat -- she is clearly able to understand what you want her to do... but she is also smart enough to know that she can completely ignore you, or even do the opposite just to spite you. For example, when it is time for lunch, Rosy's dad gets out the tablecloth to start setting the table. Luna knows what is going on -- that's why Luna comes running from the other side of the apartment to jump onto the table just as the tablecloth is landing, so that she can be under the tablecloth, and then Rosy's dad needs to shoo her off the table, and this is all just a wonderful game to Luna, which she plays every single day. Luna is smart enough to open zippers with her claw to get into bags that she knows she's not supposed to get to and to eat the bread within. Luna once ate pizza dough and had to be rushed to the vet; afterwards, rather than seeking it out, Luna was afraid of bread. Luna understood that loaves of bread are related to the dough that nearly killed her. Speaking of eating, Luna has trained the family to know that when she's rattling her food dish, she wants food. If the rattling is ignored for long enough, she will bring the bowl to you and stare expectantly.
All this to say, if Rosy told Luna to sit, and she sat, it would be either an accident or a miracle. If she told Luna to do a backflip (as this game expects you to teach your cat), and Luna did it, Rosy would be calling for an exorcist.
We strongly, strongly suspect that this game was designed around dogs, and, at some point during development, they just retrofitted cats into the same game. That might explain why the town is called Barkersville, and why all the icons are of the same dog's head, and why you walk dogs and cats, and why your pet cat follows you all around town, and why you can whistle for your cat to come, and why all the tricks you can teach your pet are relatively reasonable things to teach a dog, but not so much with a cat...
If we had chosen a dog at the beginning of the game, this would have been all perfectly reasonable and we wouldn't have thought much was amiss. But considering that we adopted a cat, well, now we can see that this is all very silly. Or we somehow got the most agreeable and obedient cat in existence (even though ours was notably advertised as being very naughty, lol).
So, anyway, you do all of this to teach your pet how to do tricks on command. But this is all preparation for the animal training competition mini-game. Now, we ripped the trick teaching mechanic a new one, but we do want to give it credit for being a good idea, just very poorly executed. With the animal training competition, it's a shitty idea with an even shittier execution.
When we enter these competitions, we have to select the tricks we want to do as part of our routine, and then to get our cat to perform the tricks we have to do a shitty rhythm game. We press the arrows as they reach the top of the screen, and based on how well you timed the button presses, the cat does the trick more or less impressively. The cat is graded by our trainer Otis and, apparently, his two identical brothers... there's only one Otis normally, but somehow in the mini-game there are three Otises (or is it Oti?), each with different preferences for different kinds of tricks. For the most part, they are just staring blankly at you with their identical bored expressions - understandably. Except the one triplet who really loves watching our cat catch the ball. It looks like he came. Ew.
But yeah, all this is a rhythm game.
Remember the Guitar Hero-ish mini-game in Bustin' Out? How it was a rhythm game about playing music? And how as you leveled up the game, and played the guitar better, the music got more and more rad?
Well, that doesn't happen in The Sims 2: Pets. There's just this basic, boring, awful beat, like, the most basic of the pre-recorded beats that you can play out of an electric keyboard, and that's it. It's essentially a metronome. The beat never improves as the game levels up, or as you play more or less well. It just gets faster at higher levels. In some ways, more speed makes the game easier, since the lowest levels are so slow, you might lose because you passed out from boredom before the arrows ever crawl to the top. But anyway, the beat has nothing to do with what the arrows are doing, and a cat doing backflips has nothing to do with rhythm or arrows or anything.
Have you ever seen a real pet competition? One where you have to lead your doggie through some sick obstacle course and have it do all the tasks correctly along the way? This could have been a fun mini-game. Some sort of quick-reflex sort of game, or planning out your combos, or something, anything. This makes us long for the contests from Pokémon, which are ass. Why could they think of nothing better than rip off Guitar Hero?
And every time you do the competition, it has so many rounds. Each round is the same shit over and over. It could have been just one round for all it matters. Each trick has a preset sequence of arrows, and you don't have that many tricks, so you'll be seeing the same arrows over and over. Rosy can tell you the sequence of arrows for some tricks, and Denise has fallen asleep.
This pet training competition is so awful but so featured. You have to play it. Not only is this minigame intended as your primary means of making money, but, sometimes, characters will challenge you in a trick duel. There are multiple places in the plot where you cannot progress until you get a certain award at a contest or beat a character at a duel. And just playing it is not enough. You have to win at it so, so many times.
Once again: remember how in Bustin' Out sometimes you needed to be at a certain level of one of the mini-games in order to progress with the plot? Remember how it gave you an option to pick the mini-games that you preferred to level up, so that if you hated or were just too bad at one of the mini-games, you were never forced to do well at it? Yeah, that's the opposite of what is happening here.
You need to grind at this training crap so much. And the only way to get better is to grind at training your pet. You need to find more tricks and then spam teaching your pet the trick, and then you can win at the competition so that you can get more tricks to spam teaching your pet and none of this is fun and arrrrgh.
There's so much emphasis on picking your moves for the competition, and Otis advises you all, it's important to stick to your routine. But it doesn't seem to actually matter? Just pick all your best moves and do them. There would seem like there would be more points for a logical progression and like, combos or something. Your pet can only roll over when it is in the lying down position. Your pet can only shake hands if it is in the sitting position. We want to devise a good sequence of moves to boost our score and prevent us from falling asleep... but there is no such thing. It doesn't matter. This game sucks.
The characters have no character
You also may have noticed that in our long tirade about this game so far, we have named exactly two other characters: Amy who is our boss for pet-walking, and Otis who is our three-in-one judge for the pet competitions. Previously, when talking about the other Sim spin-off games, we had so much to say about all the characters, and how much we loved them. Why not here? Because there are virtually no characters. There are unique characters with full names and portraits and routines and a little blurb telling you about their personality, but that's it. If you talk with them on the street, they all have the same dialogue. They get unique lines during plot events, but very little in quantity and very shallow in quality. For example, Raphael is a painter. He's been working on the same painting for years. Every day he goes to the easel and adds to this same painting of the clubhouse. He loves this club... but he is not a member. And that's all there is to say about Raphael. And he is one of the most major characters of the plot.
These characters have nothing of importance to say, but you still need to talk with them to receive and fulfill quests. They have a tendency to disappear and reappear at random, so, having played other Sim games, we thought to buy a phone, which in other games helps us locate the characters around town. We call someone on the phone and... we get one line of dialogue. "Oh Lucy, I was just thinking of talking with you." This dialogue is, once again, completely interchangeable no matter who you just called. You can't ask the characters where they are, you can't invite them over, and nothing interesting is said, so we just wasted our money with this phone.
By the way, just talking with the characters is not enough to satisfy your Sim's need for social interaction. We can understand this, considering that their dialogue is shit, but... To refill your bar of social needs and to boost your relationship with a particular Sim, you need to, guess what, play a mini-game!
And what kind of mini-game? The best way we can think to describe it is like... a driving game. Where you need to be in the correct lane to run over the emoticons which vaguely represent the topic of conversation. Or to juggle. Or play rock-paper-scissors. What the hell.
This mini-game is extremely de-emphasized (thank god). We only do it when Lucy's social bar is low, and only just enough to raise it. We never want to do it if we don't have to. Later, Lucy finally got enough money to buy an obsolete computer, and we learned that Lucy can "Chat" on the computer, which lets her refill her social needs without needing to do this garbage. This is now the option we choose all the time. We've fallen a long way from Bustin' Out, in which we wanted to talk with every character all the time and hear all of their wonderful unique dialogue.
The character with the most personality is Jade Pingree, the awful snoot of the clubhouse of snooty. It's refreshing to meet a character with a personality, but the personality in question is not exactly pleasant.
She won't let us join her snooty club of snooty until she deems us worthy. To her, it's not good enough that we have a cat that is trained to do some things or that we won a competition twice with it. No, we need to fetch her a library book because she's too conceited to get a library card for herself. And even that's not enough, we have to win the next level competition too. And that is also not enough, because we need two recommendations. Celina will be willing to give us her recommendation... for a bribe. She wants a homecooked meal. So we go home, but she specifically said she wanted dinner, and so we wait for the right window of time when the meal that can be cooked at the stove is called "dinner". We do so, and we set our house on fire in the process. We think, aha, now it is good that we got that stupid phone, and we call the fireman, but the fireman doesn't come.
The fire in this game is broken. We've had an accident three times now, and only once did the fireman actually come after we called them. At least, we think they came, because they left us a bill. We didn't actually see any fireman arrive, and most of our stuff was reduced to ashes, so, if they did come, they were too late, but they billed us anyway. The other times there was a fire and we called the fire department, we didn't get a bill, so we assume they didn't even come? The fireman on the phone just said, "This will be our best response time ever!" and apparently never came. Once we called them, and they said the fire was our fault because we have too many electronics. First of all, what? We barely own anything. And second, rather than victim-blaming, can they please put out the fire since that's their job? Then again, makes sense that the fire department in this game is shit, considered that... there is no evidence that they even exist in town. And if there are actual firefighters in Barkersville, they'd all be playing with their dalmatians instead of doing anything useful.
So, in this case, we managed to cook the meal even though the stove burnt down. For some reason, we also get sick. We're not sure if it's because of the fire or just some strange coincidence. Anyway, we brave our nausea to carry this plate in our hands across town to bribe this asshole. We find Celina, we give her the plate, and she acts as if the plate is not there. The plate vanishes, but she doesn't acknowledge that it ever existed. Now we're sick and puking everywhere and in no state to do errands. We hang around the clubhouse hoping to throw up all over their nice carpets and expensive shoes.
It turns out that the correct way you prepare her the meal requires three steps: fetching the food from the fridge, preparing the meal on the counter, and then cooking it with the oven. It doesn't need to be specifically dinner rather than supper, but it needs all three stages and at least like, level seven cooking skill to be accepted. Before, she didn't tell us, but she didn't like our meal because we didn't do the step of preparing it on the counter. We just got the food from the fridge and cooked it on the stove, because... what's the problem with that? We didn't even know there was a purpose to owning a counter. We didn't know that our meals were deficient in counter. We had no way of knowing what we were doing wrong without the help of some other poor asshole on the internet who figured it out and posted about it. Thank you, fellow asshole. Cheers.
At least our character is beyond done with the shitty antics and attitudes of the residents of Barkersville. No matter how nasty or insulting they are to our character -- and they can be hella nasty -- our character usually just replies to every passive aggressive comment with just, "OK." Not even engaging. You know, Lucy, more power to you. Amy says, "Hm, you were good with walking two or three dogs at a time, but maybe four is just too much for someone like you to handle." "OK." "Just so you know, Lucy, the goal wasn't to destroy all the vases along the path." "OK." "Your showing at the competition was so poor, the others are going to wonder why you are even here." "OK." These assholes' attempts to be nasty are too pitiful to register. Lucy has better things to do than to care about your shitty opinion. She's dealt with Daddy Bigbucks in The Urbz. Jade is small fry in comparison.
We want out
The more we learn about Barkersville, the more disturbing it gets. We knew as soon as we arrived that this town is kinda deranged in how focused everyone is on pets. But now that we've been talking with people and seeing the social hierarchy of this place, we realize this town is straight-out scary. There are elite citizens led by Jade, who is an awful woman with a literal pink dog named Precious. Jade is in multiple spats with the librarian and the other club members, and she's cruel to this guy who worships her, and she essentially rules the town, just because her dog is good at juggling, so she wins every competition. Your ability to succeed in this town is primarily determined by how many backflips your pet can do. And woe on you if your pet is only your trusted companion. What good is a dog if it can't juggle?
Meanwhile, the town is simultaneously manicured to hell, but covered in litter. There is a man in the park who pays you for collecting recyclables, but he doesn't care to pick up the trash right at his feet. You can pick up the litter in his shadow and hand it to him and he will pay you; he himself cannot be bothered, and neither can anyone else.
This town is so fake that even the windows in our apartment are fake. There's always bright wonderful sunlight streaming in the window at just the right angle to leave warm spots on the floor for our kitty, and through the window there are always clear blue skies and green grassy hills as far as the eye can see. Bullshit. We live surrounded by roads and buildings, and it's midnight! These windows are like landscape paintings with light fixtures! Inside it always seems like afternoon, so we head out to go to the store or whatever, and are surprised to realize it's 3am. Oops.
The developers couldn't bother to make even the barest nighttime effect for the windows, but outside is another, scary story. At sunrise, the entire overworld is RED as if to signify that we need to escape from the planet before it explodes - all that's missing is an obnoxious klaxon. Nighttime is BLUE like the American DVD of the 5th Pokémon movie.
Speaking of dystopia, all the food in town is only available if you pay. There are grills in town, which in the other Sims games would be available for you to cook with, but not so in Barkersville; these grills seem to only be for decoration. You can't even sit in public, as the chairs are also just for decoration.
Unlike Miniopolis, Barkersville is not a socialist utopia full of free public amenities -- rather, quite the opposite. The best you get is the shower and toilet at the gym, and everything else, you must pay out the wazoo. We've been playing the game this long, and while we are no longer destitute, we still can't afford anything nice, between paying for our pet and replacing burnt furniture, and the burglar keeps stealing our cat food, and our kitty keeps destroying things, and the fridge is shorting out every other day, and the sink is clogged more often than not and just... life is hard enough for us in this game. What about poor Hugo?
We learn that Hugo Tooheck (yeah, that's his name) is actually literally homeless. So few of the characters in any of these games have visible homes, we've joked about how the characters are homeless or how you could survive being homeless in Miniopolis, but, in this game, Hugo is canonically homeless.
And Hugo also clearly has some sort of problem. He talks about a giant invisible rabbit named Nibbles, and he considers discarded soda cans valuable treasure. We're learning all this as we are supposed to convince him to take his pet to the vet for its past-due check-up, and the veterinarian is casting shade on him as if he was an irresponsible pet owner. Dude, there's a tragedy here. You know he's literally homeless and scraping together what living he can from picking up litter. His dog is fine -- what Hugo needs is a human doctor. But there's apparently no human doctor in Barkersville. When we faint, we receive a doctor's bill, but we're not sure this doctor actually exists. Maybe we were also treated by the vet. Or maybe the doctor is three dogs in a lab coat. Labradors, of course.
We came to a point where the only thing we can do to progress the plot is have a duel with Jade at maximum difficulty, and between the fact that to have a chance against her you need to grind your pet for in-game weeks at all the hardest tricks, and the fact that dueling her is super hard... you know what, you're not the boss of us. You can't fire us, we quit!
And now we're free.
Despite the names, this game is more like main series The Sims than The Sims 2 on GBA is. In The Sims 2: Pets, there are separate need bars, and you practice your skills, and there are bigger and better houses that you can move to in order to upgrade your living situation. However, you barely get to do any of that, because, instead, the focus is on training your pet. In the end, we end up training our pet as much as we can before our needs become too critical, and then we have to do the Sim-like tasks of feeding ourselves and taking a shower and so forth -- but it's an annoying interruption, and there is nothing fun in doing so. For example, you can take the food out of the fridge and just eat it. Or you can take that food and prepare it on the counter and/or cook it with the oven. The difference seems to be simply how long it takes you to feed your poor Sim and how many opportunities there are for something to go horribly wrong and your food becomes poison or your house burns down. There is also no indication of what your Sim is cooking and how, and no difference if it is breakfast or dinner or supper. In the main series The Sims, it is fun to watch your Sim make all the different recipes, like Eggs Machiavellian, and see the cute preparation of a meal involving eggs and watermelon. But in The Sims 2: Pets, there is nothing to make it interesting. The Sims-y aspects of this game are boring, and feel like a distraction from the Pets part of the game -- which is also boring.
Honestly, this game is simultaneously more and less than what we were expecting. We were imagining something like Nintendogs where you simply care for your virtual pet and there's no major plot or anything like that. The Sims 2: Pets actually has a lot more plot and a lot more gameplay than we were expecting. But it has a lot less Pets than we were expecting from a game called The Sims 2: Pets.
Thinking about it, The Urbz is a better Sims Pets game. In The Urbz, there is a lot more variety of pets you can have, you can name your pet, you can pet your pet, it can follow you around town... and these side-features of The Urbz are generally much more satisfying than anything the game named The Sims 2: Pets offers. In The Urbz, you also need to specifically take care of the needs of the pet, which here in The Sims 2: Pets for GBA we're not even sure if our pet actually has needs. Sometimes we'll see the "need food" icon flashing over our cat's head, but it eventually just goes away, whether Chaos actually ate anything or not. The only pet-related feature that The Sims 2: Pets has that The Urbz doesn't have is the mechanic of teaching your pet tricks. However, this is all just menu hell, not fun, and not even actually a game in any way, so... who cares? So The Urbz is a better Sims Pets game on GBA than the game named The Sims 2: Pets.
Honestly, we forget that we can pet our pet in The Sims 2: Pets because there is absolutely no satisfaction or benefit in doing so. They missed the opportunity to have an affection bar of some kind or in any way emphasize the relationship you have with your pet. They also missed the opportunity to make your pet do fun things with you. We go out to play chess in the park, we go to the gym and run on the treadmill, we visit the vet's office, and no matter where we are or what we are doing, the cat just meanders around. Why doesn't the cat react to what we are doing or where we are? Why can't we practice chess against our cat? Why doesn't the cat run with us on the treadmill? Why doesn't the cat act unhappy and scared at the vet's office? The developers had so many chances to add little fun things that would have improved this game immensely, and they didn't take a single one. The best we get is that, sometimes, the cat goes to stand on its hind legs in the shower. And we're not sure what that's about.
The final nail in the coffin for this game is the barriers to do anything are too high. To get to the next point in the plot, you need to win the pet competition twice - that's tough. To get to the next next point in the plot, you need to buy a computer - an expensive purchase that necessarily requires days and days of grinding, because that's the only way to make money in this game. We like a challenge, but this game is a slog from beginning to end with no feeling of accomplishment or advancement. We do the master level dog walking, and we still get paid peanuts. We save up our peanuts to buy a dishwasher, and it immediately explodes. The shops are full of things that we can never afford. While realistic, this is a game of The Sims, in which the general goal is to be able to improve your house and decorate it in ways that you could never do in real life, and this unbalanced economy essentially locks you out of this part of the game. And if there is a point later in the plot where it gets better, we've already had more than enough of this game, so if that's the case, they put the point where you go over the bump far too late.
The best aspect of this game is the graphics. They're not the best ever, but they're cute and we can't hate them. Everything else, though, is atrocious. Even the music is farts. The gameplay is grinding with a side of more grinding, interspersed with needing to shower and feed yourself. We would advise you to stay away from this game, because, while it doesn't seem all that bad in the beginning, it never improves, and there's no satisfaction from doing anything. Just go play The Sims on PC with the Pets expansion, or The Urbz, or something else, please.