When we were writing the article about The Sims: Bustin' Out for Game Boy Advance, we read a little bit about the development of these spin-off Sim games. Apparently they all started as one concept of a game for consoles, but then ended up getting split into: The Sims: Bustin' Out for consoles, a completely separate The Sims: Bustin' Out for portable systems (the one we wrote about), The Urbz: Sims in the City for consoles, and The Urbz: Sims in the City for portable systems - the one we're about to tell you all about. The portable Urbz is simultaneously the sibling and the sequel of the portable Bustin' Out -- yeah the development was that fucked.
Apparently Electronic Arts wanted Maxis to try to create a spin-off of The Sims that would launch a completely new hit series. So, the characters in The Urbz are not Sims. They're Urbz. But half-assedly so. In this game, everything is still obviously The Sims, and they couldn't even bother to pretend consistently in-universe that it's not. Since everything that came out of the SimUniverse and particularly Bustin' Out is still relevant (since this is a direct sequel), the word Sim is still everywhere: Sim-oleons, Sim-Valley... even mentions of Sim-City. The only place where we noticed the word Urb at all is in the beginning: the option to create a character is named "Create an Urb", when in other Sim games this would be called "Create a Sim". And that's the last time you will hear about these characters not being Sims. Good. It was a bad idea. At least they didn't even bother cramming it down our throats and ruining the experience.
So, how is an Urb different from a Sim, you may ask? Well, they're... not. They're just... marketed at black people, that's the difference. Just like how evil marketers think it is easier to sell video games if you can market "video games" to teenage boys and the pink "video games for girls" to the girls, this was clearly an attempt to split the market and target the black demographic in particular, so there could be Sims for the white demographic, and Urbz for the black demographic. Just typing this feels disgusting, but that's how it is.
Of course, they attempted to do this by having some obviously old white fuddyduddies decide what it is black people like: Basketball! Graffiti! Gangs! Saxophones! The letter z on the end of words! Bling! The Black Eyed Peas!
Yeah, The Black Eyed Peas were involved in the marketing of this game. Even will.i.am appears in the console version, and the band redid some of their songs in Simlish specially for the game. On one hand, that is awesome and hilarious of The Black Eyed Peas to participate in this. On the other hand... you can hear EA's try-hard that lead to this collaboration from here.
Now that we've talked about the badness surrounding the development of The Urbz, let us make clear that the resulting game was good. Like, really good. Just because EA was being disgusting, that doesn't mean that the actual developers, Maxis and Griptonite, were being disgusting. While EA was pushing to make the game appeal to black people, the developers took the opportunity to do so by putting many non-white characters in the game. We know that normally it goes that the developers have to fight the evil publishers to get more than a token into their game, but here, they were able to create a diverse cast of characters, and they did, and they did it really well. It's a shame that such representation only seems to be possible when the evil marketers want to get their hands into the pockets of a particular demographic, but Maxis and Griptonite put a lot of love into these characters all the same, and we can be happy for that.
Anyway, if you haven't played portable Bustin' Out, we'd say to play that before playing portable Urbz (and, likewise, if you are reading this review before our review of Bustin' Out, to go read that one first). The Urbz is a direct sequel of Bustin' Out, and we think it's one of those cases where you could play The Urbz without playing Bustin' Out, but knowing the references to Bustin' Out definitely enhances the experience.
Please know that this page is going to be full of unmarked spoilers for The Sims: Bustin' Out (GBA), since we can't really talk about what happens in this game without spoiling the previous. However, spoilers for The Urbz are going to be marked.
Now, let's address what you've been probably been thinking about since you've seen the title of this article. The Urbz. God, it sounds like a disease. One you don't want to admit you have. Like a rash that gives you nasty gas. Sorry, I can't come to work, I have... (drops voice, mumbles) The Urbz...
Maybe we caught it from all the whoring around we did in Bustin' Out. Possibly from Daschell.
How it starts
Bustin' Out ends with your character trying to return to space, only to crash land back to SimEarth. Well, you start The Urbz on the top of a skyscraper, in the city of Miniopolis, where the rocket crashed through a sculpture of Atlas, right on the roof. This is, by the way, never pointed at, you just know by looking at it. That's great.
SimValley in Bustin' Out was, in many ways, a peaceful utopia. You see free public restrooms everywhere, phones everywhere, free showers in the gym that anyone can use, free grills on the docks and in the park, and if you need a doctor, the bill is always 20 Simoleons, which is the same price as a meal. Wow. You can pretty much be homeless, and have all of your needs be met for almost free. Including a mirror to practice charisma, available in the gym. And the jobs have short shifts and you go there whenever you want and the pay is decent. This might be why all the other characters (except for you and Uncle Hayseed) seem to be homeless. On the other hand, you'll go to jail for pissing yourself, but.
Miniopolis in The Urbz was clearly similarly utopian at one point in time, having similar free services in the city, but it has fallen a bit from what we assume must be neglect. Now, it is threatened to fall even further from a new menace.
None other than Daddy Bigbucks from SimValley is planning to take control of Miniopolis, and convert it into a dystopian theme park for the rich. Yes, that's the plot. His plan is to buy every building in town, so that he can demolish them and replace them with perfect copies, but with a ticket window where you are charged admission to go into the exact same building. He's going to fuck over everyone who previously lived in Miniopolis, and sell tickets to rich people so they can pay him to come see how poor people live. Absolute yikes. In so many games, we're dealing with villains that want to become gods and destroy the entire universe for evil. In The Urbz, we're dealing with a real-life ultra-rich capitalist-pig supervillain. It's almost too real.
Apparently, between the events of Bustin' Out and The Urbz, our Sim (or Urb, as EA desperately wants us to say) has started living in Miniopolis where she crashed, and is now working as a janitor in the very same building. After a shift of cleaning pigeon shit off the windows, we learn that we've been fired. Or rather, that the building has been sold to Daddy Bigbucks, and he's doing a hostile takeover, and he wants us to get lost.
However, we have nowhere to go, so we make a deal with our forewoman Kris that she'll look the other way and let us live in the unfinished part of the building until we find a living arrangement. Except that five minutes later she learns that she has been fired too - looks like Daddy kept her hired just long enough to let her do the dirty work of firing us, and then fired her as soon as that was done. Unfortunately, neither our character nor Kris can leave the building, because we've been locked in and we don't have the key. As we were already in charge of fixing the water fountains before, Kris assumes we have the mechanical skills to break into the lawyer's office where she knows a key is.
We do so, and then shit goes down. Daddy catches us red-handed, and would have probably murdered us on the spot, had Detective Dan D. Mann not come to the scene of the crime to apprehend us. We are brought to jail, where we thank him for saving us. He says, no, you're arrested, you're in jail, and you need to be interrogated. But our character thinks this is an upgrade from whatever Daddy was going to do with us. This game is off to a great start.
Detective Dan D. Mann is suspicious of Daddy Bigbucks too, so, after we answer a few questions, we're allowed to go. But we still have the problem of, we have nowhere to go. He offers to leave the prison cell unlocked for us to make use of the prison toilet and bunk while we raise the money to rent an apartment. Oh my god.
So, in this game, you actually start out being homeless and needing to make do, as we were pondering while we were playing Bustin' Out. There luckily are still free grills and water fountains, but there are a lot fewer amenities, and we are clearly in a rough neighborhood with a lot fewer public toilets. Things are tough for us right now. Detective Dan suggests that we make money by playing B-ball on the prison roof (if you don't speak EA-ebonics, that's basketball), and by collecting litter and bringing it to the recycling center for the bottle refund. Yikes.
Who's paying us for shooting hoops anyway? Getting a few cents for each tin can, we understand, but for getting nothing but net, how does that generate money?! Is Detective Dan paying us personally, using this just as a pretext?
Anyway, we finally manage to move into our first apartment, which is actually worse than Uncle Hayseed's barn in Bustin' Out. It's a squalor. Paint has just been smeared half-heartedly onto the walls, as if done with someone's bare hands, and with a quarter of the amount of paint that was necessary. The apartment looks like someone died in there, and they covered it up with bleach. The linoleum is discolored, the carpeting is torn, the bathroom tiles are broken. There are bars on the windows. All we own is the trash that we picked up from the unfinished apartment in the skyscraper, which includes a bed, a dead couch, a toilet, and a shower. Home sweet home. We want to die.
We suppose that Bustin' Out wanted to make some things look grungier than others, but everything more or less looked the same. The entire game also was decent-looking, but nothing incredible. And it had that intentionally ugly style sometimes. The Urbz is actually visually impressive. This was one of the later Game Boy Advance games, and you can tell, because the graphics can't get much better than this. The world has patterns and textures and it's generally gorgeous, while also being grungy to the max, especially in our first apartment here. It also looks so SimCity and it's adorable.
The rep groups and the Xizzle beads
While we create our Urb (cough), we are asked some questions about our character. Depending on how you answer these, you will end up assigned to one of four factions that are featured in The Urbz: the Streeties, the Richies, the Nerdies, and the Arties. Various characters in the game also belong to these factions, and the factions are opposed in pairs - the Streeties are enemies of the Richies, and the Nerdies are enemies of the Arties (for reasons that we, as science-minded artists, strongly disagree with). Our character, Lucy, ended up assigned to the Streeties, which is in-character for her considered how we've been playing her in Bustin' Out.
This faction mechanic lets you get certain special quests from the boss of your group, controls your character perks, and causes you to have natural affinities or rivalries with certain people. Your faction isn't fixed, and you can move to another group by raising your reputation with the members of each group, and then doing a special quest for the leader.
While this mechanic in itself is kinda cool, given that this entire game was created around marketing to black people... gangs. It's gangs. Holy hell.
Combined with this mechanic, there's also the Xizzle perks. When a character likes you, they may give you a so-called Xizzle bead, which is probably a reference to the Mardi Gras necklaces. The city of Miniopolis is very obviously inspired by New Orleans and a bit of Georgia, with vampires, nutrias, swamp alligators, the SimQuarter, and a carnival with associated beads. These beads are used to unlock useful character perks, like the Iron Bladder - essentially, these are the precursors to the unlockable Lifetime Rewards of The Sims 3. But to us, receiving a bead from our friend just sounds dirty.
Once again, while there is nothing wrong with this mechanic... Xizzle. That's the word. Xizzle... Referencing rap slang with no context, just because. Evidently this was EA's doing, since Maxis themselves will lampoon this Xizzle thing in another game later. We vow this.
Meeting the characters
When we were starting Bustin' Out, the game sorta prevented us from meeting too many characters in the very beginning. In The Urbz, as soon as you're out of jail, you can meet half of the town. This is simultaneously great and not so great. Great, because yeah, characters, yeah! Let's meet them and talk to them! Not so great, because we spent the first few in-game days doing nothing but meeting people, and then needing to go back and sleep in the prison, because we had spent too long talking to people and didn't find the apartment to rent yet. Our own fault, to be fair, but the pacing could have been improved by staggering the character introductions. It also doesn't help that, when you are in conversation mode, you can't see your bars drain nor time pass, so you'll usually be there chatting until your character cannot talk anymore for urgent need of a toilet. That's literally what happens when your bars get too low. You won't be able to speak again until the need is rectified.
And so we talk with the people.
Unlike Bustin' Out, where the meat of the dialogue was the filthy things your character said to the other characters, in The Urbz, it's the dialogue of the NPCs to be fully fleshed out. Your dialogue, instead, can only be inferred by the topic of conversation that you choose, and by the characters' answers. This leads to less hilarious forwardness of your character, but a lot more fleshing out of the NPCs.
Also unlike Bustin' Out, in The Urbz all of a certain character's dialogue (excluding event dialogue) is always available at any point in the game, and doesn't get refreshed. All the characters have a lot more dialogue, but we ended up burning out all of it in a binge the first time we met each character, in sheer joy and revelry of wanting to hear everything they had to say. Which was wonderful, but made later parts of the game less exciting. So, we guess that our suggestion for someone playing this game would be: don't actually seek for each piece of dialogue all at once, it'd be better to save some for later, since you have to talk with the characters for the whole game.
Immediately when we were still in the skyscraper, we met three characters: the janitor Kris Thistle, the lawyer Lily Gates, and former lifeguard Misty Waters, returning from Bustin' Out. And immediately when talking to them, we can make so much conversation and learn so many things about them. We can immediately tell that all three of them are fleshed out characters that we are interested in. Even Misty, who we didn't care for much in Bustin' Out. In Bustin' Out, she was not very fleshed out - not the least fleshed out character, but there wasn't much to like. We talk to her in The Urbz, and in five minutes we learn that she's now opening a line of gyms, promoting exercise, that she's written a book, that the idea of dying upsets her because then it's too much lying down and she can't sit still for that long... we learned more about her in this short conversation than in the entirety of Bustin' Out.
It's also nice that the first three characters we meet are three fleshed out female characters, all completely different from each other. Later, meeting more characters, we'll meet more female characters that are interesting too, so we can say that our critique of Bustin' Out in which the female characters weren't as varied as the male characters... they learned from their shortcomings, and this game fixes that problem.
In town, we walk around, and we reconnect with a few old friends. Dusty is back! Yaaay!
Giuseppi is back! He's done his time in jail, and he's out on parole.
When we heard that there was a sequel to Bustin' Out and that Giuseppi was in it, we were hoping for some more back of the van action with him, now that he's out of jail. But... there's no more van. A lot of things are different now. The prison experience has clearly changed him. One of the first things we notice about him is that he's more somber. He's lost his baby face. And he can say really sad things, sometimes. He's still got the Eyyyy!, but not so much anymore. If the conversation touches on his role in the cosmos, and justice, and politics, he gets sad and says sad things. If you talk to him about lighter topics, though, then you can hear the Eyyyy! and see him smile again.
While we no longer see our dialogue and know we are saying such filthy things to him anymore, we can flirt with him and teach him new rude gestures, and he can give us pep talks about being properly intimidating and insulting. He doesn't accept compliments, because he doesn't want to look weak, and he doesn't accept apologies, because he doesn't want us to look weak, either. Compare that with Bustin' Out, where he did like compliments. In Bustin' Out, you told him something good about him, and he was all, "Thanks, I really appreciate it". In The Urbz, if you tell him a secret, he says, "Thank you for trusting me, but I can't say the same. But nevermind". He still feels that what you say is good, but he's burnt now, and he used to believe it too, but now he can't. He's also made efforts to change, but he struggles with society not letting him do so. He says he's been looking for hobbies that are legal, but hasn't found any that suit him yet. He goes to the market, and people look at him like a thief, even when he wasn't doing anything wrong. We're so sorry. Thankfully, we get to the point where we can hug him.
We thought that Giuseppi would be out of jail and things would be pretty much the same as in Bustin' Out, but The Urbz tackles the concept of, what happens to someone when they go to jail and then get out of jail, in a serious and realistic way. We were not expecting this game to go there, but we're glad they did.
We also meet Doctor Maximillian. Since he's moved to Miniopolis, he seems to have added an extra L to his name and become a germaphobe, and he's also much more timid in general. In SimValley, he was glad to hear that he was the only doctor in town, because that meant he'd make more money. Here, he's terrified of the idea that he's the only doctor in town, because he's dealing with all these sick people, and he has no doctor to go to when he inevitably catches something. We guess that he gave some thought to that teasing line that we told him in Bustin' Out of, where does he go when he needs a doctor? Even at 100% relationship, it's really difficult to get to kiss him, since he's so scared of getting ill. He really needs therapy. Or at least a second general practitioner in town.
We meet Lottie Cash. In Bustin' Out, she was the vapid rich girl who lives off her parents' money. At the time, we'd heard the rumor that her money was running out. Now, she's in Miniopolis working at a coffee shop, because her parents wrote her out of the inheritance, and are instead donating vast sums to charity. She doesn't know how to deal with that. She reveals to us that she doesn't know how to clean a toilet (having cleaned one with her bare hands without realizing that there's another way to do it). She tries to maintain her expensive lifestyle, and she can't with her pay in a coffee shop. She hates the smell of coffee.
Talking about the new characters. One of the first new characters we met was Ewan, the construction worker. We like him. He talks in a very ponderous and zen-like way, to then say something very mundane. All of his dialogue is a gem. He's also attractive, and everyone thinks he's attractive. And, this time, they actually made him look somewhat attractive. He's also a friend of Dusty, unsurprisingly.
So yeah, this time around, we're dating a biker, a thief, a construction worker... and the germaphobe doctor, but he's having trouble dating us.
Wandering around town, we enter a building which we learn is where the local newspaper is written. We notice that the character in there is in a wheelchair, and that the building is built with giant ramps to reach the second floor. The Urbz features a character in a wheelchair, in a wheelchair-accessible building! Yaaay! And the character, Lincoln, is not an old scientist, nor is he dealing with the tragedy of whatever happened. He's an average middle-aged man who has a young daughter. He even cracks a joke about keeping his arms in shape by wheeling uphill for fun. He's nice, but a bit paranoid about all the conspiracies he's had to research to write about in the newspaper.
We meet a little street punk named Crystal. Just Crystal, no last name, because all the big stars don't need no last name. We took her on a date in which we had to impress her for 24 hours straight. Tall order, but we delivered. (After failing a few times). This is not said to be a romantic date, but it's set up like one. It's a lot like the date mechanic that would later be implemented in The Sims 3, with the entire thing of, bring me to some cool place! Let's eat something! Now bring me somewhere else! And maybe magically you hit the perfect date. Here in The Urbz the parameters were less mystical, but we think this might be the progenitor of that idea. Also, we did this as the female character, so we had a lesbian date with this fun punk.
At night, we meet Berkeley Clodd, a man in a pink suit and a hat. He looks like Facilier, the voodoo witch doctor from The Princess and the Frog (though he definitely predates Facilier - The Urbz came out in 2004 and The Princess and the Frog in 2009). His background is snake oil. And. His voice. He's like, smooth and poisonous. He's sophisticated, but dangerous. We fear for our organs in his vicinity. Nevermind Giuseppi, this is the one creeping around that we're afraid of. In the first game, Giuseppi was our fuckbuddy and our friend. Now, we're talking to him about important topics. But, with Berkeley, there is absolutely nothing trustworthy about him. Steer clear, if you value your kidneys. Because he values them too.
In the university, we meet a few strange people. There's Polly Nomial, who admits to have eaten the dictionary. Her dialogue is hilarious in which it's all technically correct, just said with the most grandiloquent word choice possible. There's also a kid that has spent the entirety of the game so far asleep in the lecture hall. Too real.
There's a professor that is only known as "The Professor". You can't have a conversation with him, and his only function is as an access to the lecture minigame, which allows you to quickly raise skills. The Wikia says this character might be Daschell Swank from Bustin' Out, but we don't think so. If it's Daschell, somehow, he got all the color and life sucked out of him. Our character previously certainly sucked things of his, but it shouldn't have had that effect. Maybe too much university did that to him. Really, though, we don't think it's the same character, because the resemblance is very vague (just that they both have orangish hair and have the same standard male voice), and this professor seems to teach every class, while Daschell was specifically an art professor. Also, you can't flirt with him, so it can't be Daschell. This professor seems more straight-laced, while Daschell was much more Swank.
While we were going around, every once in a while, we would hear some tooting sounds playing over the soundtrack - in fact, Rosy first thought it was just part of the soundtrack, but Denise pointed out that that character over there has a saxophone! The character in question is "Cannonball" Coleman, celebrated jazz musician. He's cool. And now that we know about the tooting, he's easy to locate in town.
In the SimQuarter, we meet a fortune-teller called Mambo Loa. She is the spoilers. Literally. Everything she says is a veiled spoiler that you won't understand until later. Just like in The Secret of Monkey Island. Tee hee.
We meet Luthor L. Bigbucks, son of Daddy Bigbucks. He's another supervillain, obviously, but in a different way. He's bald like Lex Luthor (no, he shaves, he says). And he's got a very notable scar across one eyebrow (the circumstances of which we never learn about - was it a shaving accident?). He grins in a pointy way. And he wears a suit jacket with a red shirt inside. If we didn't know any better, we'd think he's a vampire. He's awful, but in the way in which you still kinda want to be his friend to hear him talk and see what he does. He's the leader of the Richies, which made it hard for us to get him to like us, but we eventually became friends. He has some hilarious lines like, if you ask him about the cosmos, he says "I'm the only heavenly body anybody in this town needs to worry about". We're stealing that line.
Talking with him, we also learned that his eighteenth birthday will be in two years. HE'S SIXTEEN. No way. He looks 35. He acts 35. He sounds 35. Sixteen. We guess he's another one of those ageless entities of evil that are sixteen, like Count Waltz from Eternal Sonata.
We meet an old lady who goes by Gramma Hattie. She's unstoppable. She's an activist for everything important. Everything she says, we go YES! YES! You can hear the creaky wisdom of what she says. Almost all of her dialogue is things we can't believe they're in a video game.
For us, the main draw of Bustin' Out was that we could go around and say filth to everyone in a consequence-free world. In The Urbz, there's a lot less filth, but a lot more consequences. The things the characters say are often pretty heavy. In Bustin' Out, we marveled at how they sneaked so much kink into a video game. In The Urbz, we marvel at how they sneaked so much social commentary into a video game. It's making us think about what the characters are saying, as they're joking and being very silly, but also hitting us in the gut.
Basketball aside, another mini-game we have is playing doctor with Doctor Maximillian. While we played doctor with him in Bustin' Out, this time, we're actually, seriously, playing doctor. We're operating on a garden gnome. Yet Dr. Max takes this very seriously. We're really worried about him. But the game is fun. It is a unique puzzle game in which you have to find specific consecutive combinations of bones, skulls, eyes, brains and DNAs in a grid. It's a tough brain twister, but it pays well. Even though the garden gnome always dies at the end.
There's also a comedy club game, in which you have to finish telling a joke while you're being pelted with tomatoes. You run to the mic, tell half the joke, then run away and stick out your tongue while the tomatoes hit the wall where you were just standing. Then run back to the mic to finish telling the joke. It's hilarious. Sometimes, someone blows a kiss to you and gives you flowers, which refills your time. And the music and setting is totally inspired by Seinfeld.
The monkey card game, Moogoo Monkey. The way it was presented was more confusing than how it's actually played. When you get it, though, it's a fun game, sorta Poker-like. And you're playing against the other characters, which is fun.
There is a whole minigame in which you can race a motorbike which you can customize according to your preferences. You can even race against Dusty Hogg himself! If you beat him, he gives you a motorcycle, which you can ride through town and make it go vroom vroom.
In the beginning of the game, we got the hoverboard, and that was a mess. We couldn't use it at all. The time it took to make it move was more than running there. So we put it on display in our house and that was it. At the time, we hoped there would be the return of the scooter, but even better! We get Dusty's personal motorcycle. Yaaay.
Later, there is the bumper boat minigame, in which you're piloting a bumper boat, also against the other characters, with the goal to knock your friends into the mouths of hungry alligators!
Cooking and carving
This game features an inventory of ingredients - lemons, apples, chocolate and so on, that you can pick up around town or buy in the market. There are also random pieces of wood that you can find. In the beginning of the game, we weren't sure what to do with any of these. But later, when you start outfitting your house with appliances, you can do cooking and carving, which is what these items are for.
For the carving, you only need a workbench, and your wood. You use the workbench, and can smooth the wood down to a block, and then hopefully carve something nice. The resulting items can be put in your house (apparently? We had trouble with this) or sold for money. One of the items you can carve is none other than the Chainsaw Chicken from the very beginning of Bustin' Out. It came back!!
This carving mechanic is cute, but, unfortunately, it is plagued by a horrific bug. Placing the workbench in your house sometimes causes other furniture to disappear forever. This is especially bad in this game, since there are some objects that are one-time only things that you can never get again. We lost a unique seasonal Halloween pumpkin this way.
Luckily, The Urbz features hideouts, which are unlockable furnishable places hidden throughout the city. They are unlocked by becoming best friends with certain characters - for example, becoming best friends with Ewan gives us access to a little alcove under the bridge, where he likes to go to think, and becoming best friends with Giuseppi gives us access to a broken down schoolbus where he used to live in tougher times (the poor thing, oh no). So, as soon as we learned about this bug, we moved our workbench under the bridge, where it couldn't eat our precious objects.
As for the cooking, it took us like half of the game to figure it out, but it was good when we did. It is kinda complicated. When talking with the various characters, they might tell you about a recipe that they know, with the ingredients required in the correct proportions and in the right order. However, these recipes are not stored in a cookbook that you can read later - except for Gramma Hattie's cookbook which comes with two recipes, for everything else you have to write the recipes down on a piece of paper yourself. Luckily, considering that Denise was already writing down all the characters that appear in this game for her survey, we had a notebook handy - whenever we saw these recipes, we could tell that these would be important later, and wrote them down.
So, when we finally got a stove, we tried to cook something, but it didn't seem to do anything. Apparently, we had no mixes to bake. What?
It turns out that, to cook, you need two appliances: a mixer and the stove. In the mixer, you attempt making the batter for whichever dessert you're making. When that is successful, you can try to bake it. We say try, because both steps can fail. You can mix things wrong, we guess. As for what concerns the baking part, we see that sometimes, the cake just explodes. Raising our cooking makes these accidents less likely, but still entirely possible. What is our character doing that she's making cakes explode? Also, in some cases, it's kinda silly to need a mixer and an oven. Is that really how you make a chocolate rabbit or a tiramisu? Maybe that's why they explode.
The really wonderful thing about these recipes is that it's not just that each character has a random recipe to tell you. Which character tells you which recipe reveals things about the character. For example, Luthor tells you about carameled apples that he likes to make. He says that otherwise he barely knows how to cook, but he does this on his own, even though he must have 59 maids and more money than god. Think about it. For another example, Giuseppi tells you about his dad's Strawberry Tiramisu. In the brief conversation we have with him about it, you learn that he is very proud of his dad, that his dad is dead, and that he misses this wonderful dessert that he clearly can't make the same way that his dad did.
In general, this game does an incredible job at revealing characters through each and every game mechanic and minor detail. They didn't waste any opportunity for character building, and nothing is a throwaway mention.
Our fight against Daddy Bigbucks
In Bustin' Out, we were distrustful of Daddy Bigbucks, but he wasn't presented like a complete and utter villain yet. We knew he was a piece of shit person, but the game didn't address it beyond the dialogue he had. Now, we're vindicated by him being the absolute supervillain in this game. We were right.
We've been trying to thwart his plans. We've stopped him from shutting down the bumper boats, we've stopped him from buying Olde Salty's floating casino, we've participated in a protest against him, we've even worked with his son to revitalize the museum that he wanted to shut down. We've made him turn red with rage and scream at us more times than we can count.
The sting operation
To figure out what wrongdoing is Daddy up to, Detective Dan D. Mann asks us to help him with a sting operation. He heard that a secret message will be delivered to a contact who plays just one hand of Moogoo Monkey at the casino. He needs us to intercept the message and bring whatever it is back to him.
So we go and play just one hand of Moogoo Monkey, as we're told. Note that we only ever can play one hand of Moogoo Monkey each day, but that's ok. That just adds to the joke.
Who was hanging around the casino, but none other than Giuseppi? After our one hand of Moogoo Monkey, he approaches us and says, "I've noticed you've played just one hand of Moogoo Monkey. Would you be interested in playing another?".
Here our dialogue options are:
- To completely blow it (No, I'm doing this for a secret miss-)
- To blurt out, no, that's enough, because we're going to die soon.
We went with 2. Giuseppi takes that as funny, says that Daddy B sure sent a joker, and plays along, saying that he hopes that we check the message board before we "die". That sure was a poor choice of words to say die, because then Giuseppi can sound pretty creepy threatening when he jokes with that.
So, after all of this sneaky secret stuff, we go to check the message board, following his instructions. On the message board, there's a note that says: "Lucy - Check the bush near the museum". In just plain English, our name spelled out just right there. All that sneaky secret stuff, to put this perfectly readable message on the public message board. Lol.
Ok, so we check the bush. We get another note, that says that we'll find our answer ~beyond the grave~. Giuseppi is so clearly playing along with that die thing. So, we later get access to the graveyard, and behind the tombstone, we find another note, saying to give this note to someone with a feather in their hat. We know that's Berkeley the creepy creeper, so we go to deliver the note. He gives us a briefcase to return to Giuseppi.
Now, at this point, the game says to deliver the briefcase to Detective Dan. But we saved, and wanted to know what would happen if we just tried to give it to Giuseppi. When we try to give it to him, he very awkwardly shuts us down all, no uh h I have to go over there, bye. HM.
Normally, when you try to give him something that he doesn't take, he says, "Nah, forget about it. I don't want to be carrying that around". But here, he gets a special line of dialogue in which he seems to be very trying to stop you from blowing a cover or something. We really hope that he's undercover. That would be awesome. And make sense. That would make way more sense than the idea that he's working for Daddy Bigbucks. And it would explain why Detective Dan says that Giuseppi is not who he says to be. DUN DUN.
So we go deliver the briefcase to Detective Dan. He puts this giant, obvious recording device on the briefcase, and tells us to go bring it to Giuseppi now. We deliver it, and Giuseppi asks, you didn't do anything to bug the briefcase or anything stupid like that, right? And our options here are:
- No man, I'm cool
- No, Detective Dan did.
We picked 2, because it seemed like one of those jokes that it's so honest it's a joke. Giuseppi laughs along, and takes the briefcase saying that he's going to count all the Simoleons that Mr. Clodd put in it.
The plot thickens.
The bayou, and troublesome laws
Later in the game, Daddy's attempts to stop us become more and more extreme and terrifying. Click to reveal spoilers...
First, he threw us off the pier and into the bayou. We woke up deep in the swampland, saved by two hicks, Bayou Boo and Crawdad Clem. There, we have to find our way back, amongst carnivorous plants, a misunderstood alligator-man, and the devil. Yes, the devil is a character in this game. He's known as the Red Man. The last minigame to be unlocked is with him, and it features dueling fiddles with him. Just like in the song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Wow. This game is amazing. Plus, earlier in the game, Cannonball Coleman gave us his golden fiddle, which we can use to double our score in this duel with the devil. This implies that Coleman's name might be Johnny, and he's previously beaten the Red Man at his game. Wow.
When we finally make our way back to the city, we are jailed instantly... for running. Yes, in the meanwhile that we were in the bayou, Daddy Bigbucks outlawed running. The monster. And then you have to play an entire section in which if you press the B button and break into a run, you're jailed and fined. This is also the part of the game where you have to get your popularity high, so you have to talk to people all over town, while you can't even run. Daddy apparently managed to outlaw running citing "noise pollution", but even Detective Dan rolls his eyes as he is forced to apprehend us, and agrees that this law was specifically made to target Daddy's opposition. The fiend.
But thank you Dusty for the motorbike. It's the only way to travel.
Later, we help set up a play making fun of Daddy Bigbucks. We got Dusty Hogg to play the role of Daddy Bigbucks. He agreed, because he's up for controversy! We love Dusty. And he looks strangely great in Daddy Bigbucks' suit.
Daddy gets pissed off, declares he will be "going back to the beginning!" and storms away.
We're not quite sure what that means yet, but later, we see his son Luthor, and he asks a word. He sounds honestly very concerned about his dad, who is nowhere to be found. He tells us that Daddy was last seen spending time with the Nerdies, but they don't like Luthor, and would we find out what happened, please. Even if we're not exactly on good terms with Daddy or Luthor.
Luthor is clearly in a bind though. And we feel a bit sorry for him. It's not his fault that his dad is an asshole. While he was born in the lap of luxury, and he's definitely no angel, he's also not evil. We immediately assumed he was a supervillain, and the way he talks doesn't really help this perception, but he doesn't actually do anything evil. In fact, quite the opposite. Our first major questline with him happened because Daddy wanted to demolish the museum, and Luthor thought that was lame and stupid, and instead, asked us to help him revitalize the museum by buying more exhibits. Luthor's motivations were not totally pure, since his goal in all of this was to have a cool hangout for him and his rich friends, but it resulted in a museum being rebuilt, so that's very nice. Also, unlike his father, he's mostly content to enjoy his own riches. Daddy goes around demanding that everything goes exactly the way he wants; Luthor clearly just likes sitting in his indoor swimming pool sipping expensive wine with his supermodel girlfriends, and not bothering anyone else. And imagine what it's like to have Daddy as his father, who goes by Daddy and has everyone call him Daddy. Luthor doesn't even get to be treated like his son, since Daddy is everyone's Daddy. And there's the entire conundrum that, even if Luthor is aware that his dad is evil, he's still his dad, and he cares about him, and doesn't wish him ill, even if Daddy doesn't treat him like a son. Poor Luthor. Though he's otherwise rich beyond reason.
We talk with the Nerds, and through our conversation, they realize that maybe collaborating with Daddy Bigbucks was a bad idea. Wow. Smart people. They were so caught up in their astrophysics, they didn't stop to think about that. Polly tells us the backdoor of Daddy's security system, and, if we're smart enough to have half of an idea of what we are looking at, we can steal the blue prints.
We bring the blueprints to Luthor, who looks at them and understands what they mean. Considering we don't... sixteen year old Luthor with his unearned Ph.D. is probably pretty darn smart. He infers what Daddy's plans are, and vows to personally go put a stop to it. We're not sure that's a good plan, but he's determined... and after the end of this quest, we make sure to check on him now and again, to see that nothing bad has happened to him. But he seems alright.
As we are walking around, we are suddenly jumped by a ninja!!!!!
We wake up in a cage with Mr. King, who sold out to Daddy Bigbucks back at the beginning of the game! We learn that Daddy's secret blueprints are actually for building a time machine. And when he said he would go back to the beginning, he meant that he would buy all the property in town before anyone bought it in the past, and then the town would be his. This is the only purpose he sees a time machine is good for: to spite the town for not just letting him buy all of it, and to get back at us for making fun of him in a play. Eek!
As Daddy Bigbucks time-travels away, he says that he's going back in time to get back at us, and Gramma Hattie, and even his goddamn meddling son. Ah.
The time machine explodes, and Mr. King assumes Daddy bit the dust, but we don't think so, naturally. But the explosion lets us escape.
We now doubly keep an eye on Luthor, just in case Daddy does something in the past to make him never exist. We make sure to bring our relationship up to 100 now, just in case, and to kiss his bald -- we mean, shaved head -- while we still have the chance.
Note that Luthor will accept a kiss from you even if he doesn't have the background of hearts that indicate a crush. Yeah, that seems right.
Before we played this game, Rosy learned the plot involved vampires! Yay!
Here's where the vampires come in. It's not as vampiric as we got our hopes up for, but it was still cute. Click to reveal spoilers...
So, earlier, when we were escaping the swamps, we lost Bayou Boo behind a secret spinny wall in the mausoleum. This tomb-exploring and secret-wall thing would later be very featured in The Sims 3: World Adventures. Anyway, our character didn't think much of Boo's sudden disappearance, and just continued on her way. Poor Boo. Then again, as soon as we got outside, we were arrested for running, so we couldn't really investigate much.
Later, we find Boo chained in the mausoleum, clearly as a fun snack for the resident vampire(s?) to play with and take drinks from. OooOOOooo. So, Boo's a vampire now, complete with clay-style fangs and a flannel Dracula cape, lol. He begs us for help.
With enough mechanical skill, we can bust open the lock and free him from the chains. And if we talk with Mambo Loa, we learn that the cure for the early stages of vampirism is lots and lots of chocolate. This isn't in any lore that Denise (the vampire nerd) is aware of, and if there's a joke, we're not sure we get it, but that's okay. Maybe Maxis got vampires confused with Dementors? Or maybe the idea is, remembering how good chocolate is can make you stop thirsting for blood? Who knows.
This part was fine enough, but somehow seemed more get-stuck-able than the rest of the game so far. After all, you never get the literal recipe for the vampire cure, which is a Chocolate Bunny made from three pieces of chocolate. When we got the quest, Rosy's first thought was the dessert recipe Roxie gave us for Chocolate Decadence. But that's not it. You just have to guess that "lots and lots of chocolate" means a combination of nothing but three bars of chocolate. This isn't really something you can really guess and know if you are on the right track, since you can always fail at cooking. In fact, we had two failures of mixing before succeeding to get the batter. If we were just guessing in the dark, how many times are we going to try to mix nothing but three pieces of chocolate and see it fail before we give up on that?
Anyway, we give Boo the chocolate, and he's cured! Not only is he cured of vampirism, but it seems that the chocolate also cured whatever was making him so quiet before. He now has lots of new dialogue talking about how he was a vampire, while before he only had two lines of dialogue. He's the only character in this game that gets new dialogue through the game.
Things you can do in your house
We also managed to move from the dump to the nice house in the SimQuarter (so, are they Sims or Urbz?). There, we managed to make things nice enough that we decided to invite some people. The option always existed, but we were too ashamed of our trash apartment that looks like someone died in it to invite anyone. So, as soon as we were in a presentable home, we invited Giuseppi, who liked our new house. We learned that, if you invite a friend and they like your house enough, they will give you a special unique present that is only received in this way.
Giuseppi gave us... a column with three oranges on it. What is it. It's a still life sculpture with... three oranges. We put it in the kitchen. It actually looks really nice. Just, dude? Why is this your special unique gift? Are you okay?
Originally we were thinking that, if we were designing this for Giuseppi, we'd have him give us a toy van... maybe a desk guillotine... maybe handcuffs? Then we realized that this column is a reference back to his comment that he is an avid collector of still-life paintings and sculptures, which is phrased in such a way that you could see still-life as being distributive over both paintings and sculptures, and that sounds silly, but there it is: a still-life sculpture. Lol. Thank you. It looks nice.
In between things, we decided to give the pets a whirl in this game, after our failure to own a cat in Bustin' Out. You can get a pet either from a lady adopting out cats and dogs, or from the carnival for more exotic animals. We decided to get a pig from the carnival.
The first thing that happens upon buying the pig is that it gives us a naming screen! Aw! We named our pig Hansel and brought it home.
We are pleased to announce that they fixed pets in this game compared to Bustin' Out. First of all, there's no limbo backyard for your pet to get lost and piss all over. Secondly, as far as we saw our pig, it never pissed anywhere. And, it has more interactions with you. You can pet it, play with, and walk it, which makes it follow you everywhere you go, outside of the house too. Yay!
Your pet has its own needs, and if you don't walk or play with it enough, it will let you know with a little icon over its head, same as you.
So, in this game, we recommend getting a pet. It works, and it's cute. It made us want to have a pig in real life.
Reality TV, and the Daddy Bigbucks Movie
There was also the quest where you go to Paradise Island to participate in a reality show, as a spoof on Survivor. We were told to go there empty-handed, and so we did, but we weren't told to go there fully rested, so we weren't. We're given the task to find four coconuts and then answer some trivia questions. As you do this, the game gets a tv-overlay, which is hilarious. However, we got too tired by the time we could find the four coconuts, and Lucy wouldn't talk to anyone anymore out of exhaustion. There is nowhere to sleep on the island, so she passed out on the beach. When we came to, the show was over, and we lost our chance. Ah well. At least that must have been funny for the viewers.
This entire reality show concept would later be expanded in its own game, The Sims 2 for the Game Boy Advance.
The next major quest was to get popular enough that Lily Gates, the lawyer who works for Daddy Bigbucks, would give us tickets to the premiere of the Daddy Bigbucks movie, which Max asked us for (if you were playing as the male character, your date would have been Crystal). We manage to get our popularity up enough, and we go to the movie theater. We are told to dress all in black for this, which is achieved by changing your clothes, giving that mechanic a plot-related use. Hee hee. It's a formal event.
When you get to the theater, there's half of the town all dressed up. Dusty Hogg in a tux. Wow.
Ewan and Kris appear together. As we've been noticing, they're also together anytime we go to the local club. OOOH.
We are stopped by Daddy Bigbucks who tells us that we're screwed, and that he went back in time and got all the land. We exit, and Mr. King tells us that, well, if that's the case, we need to create our own time machine and go back and fix it. Easy!
The time machine
Here we were a bit stuck, because we talked to everyone in town and nobody seemed to have the exclamation point over the head signifying a plot-related interaction. We were told that "a honest science-minded person" might help us. Thinking of the Nerdies, we tried to figure out who this person could be.
We thought, well, Polly sold out to Daddy as per the previous quest, so it can't be her. Max is not quite honest, even though he's not in league with Daddy, so it can't be him. He's told us before that he's twisted the arms of politicians by diagnosing them with limited time to live. And you could argue that, considered how much he's disgusted by the idea of being a doctor, it's sorta dishonest for him to be a doctor at all. Nobody complains about him, but we know that he can't deal with being in the same room with his patients, and would rather operate on garden gnomes, so... that rules him out. Lincoln is one of the nerds, and he's honest, but could he invent a time machine? The quest log says we need an "inventor" and that doesn't really describe Lincoln. That leaves Sue Pirnova, the astrophysicist, but she doesn't seem to want to talk to us about that. Maybe it's someone else who is not a Nerdie. Maybe Ewan? He can build things...
It turns out it is indeed Sue Pirnova, but at the time we didn't have our relationship with her up to 70, so the exclamation point wouldn't show up at all. That could have been better. Either show the exclamation point and, if she's not friends with us enough, make her say that she doesn't trust us, or put a clearer hint in the quest log, or make King say that it should be a close friend. Anyway, she can do this for us, just as long as we bring her 10 nuclear glowsticks to power it up, and get someone to do the building part. This is where Ewan comes into play. So we were half-right.
We even go up to him and ask him to borrow those handy hands of his. When we do get to hear our dialogue, sometimes it can still be dirty. Yay!
By going back and forth in the bayou (and dueling fiddles with the devil since we're at it), we eventually collect the ten glowsticks. We had some glowsticks before, but we didn't know this was coming up, so we sold them for money, whoops.
So now we're ready to use the time machine, right? Or are we?
Where, or rather, when are we going? Daddy just disappeared, how are we supposed to find him? We're told that maybe someone who's close to him knows. Or maybe one of the shadier characters in town.
We both jumped up in our chairs and knew what was going to happen.
We find Giuseppi, and...
Yay! We were right!! Our character was oblivious, but we knew it! He's been a double agent all game long!!! He says he's not with Daddy Bigbucks - how could he - and also not with Berkeley, who he thinks is a snake. He's working for Detective Dan for truth and justice!!! Yaaay!
This means that when we were doing the briefcase thing, he was absolutely messing with us, down to even asking us about the obvious bug that Detective Dan put on the briefcase. And it also means that that dialogue that we saw when we tried to give him the briefcase was absolutely put there on purpose, as a hint. This game is wonderful.
In so many games we encounter situations where we'd want to do something different than what the game says, but that should certainly result in something. An example that has been taunting us since our childhoods: why can't we bring the Legendary Birds to Professor Oak or Bill in Pokémon Red and Blue, and why won't they react? In Ace Attorney there are a lot of moments where you'd hope that showing something to someone would have a different effect. Most importantly to Edgeworth, where you'd imagine that showing him the stuff that's going on during certain cases should really make him say something, but he just gives the default "I've nothing to say about that" answer. And Ace Attorney is even one of the best games about this kind of stuff, having a healthy amount of bonus dialogue.
Here, there was this optional dialogue that you could only access if you thought to play the game to the max and explore that possibility. And they put it there, for you to only find it if you wondered what would happen if you gave Giuseppi the briefcase. It's not advertised in any way, and surely not every player did this, it's just a reward for thinking about this game. Thank you Maxis and Griptonite. You are gems.
Giuseppi tells us that he knows that Daddy went to 1870. No date, apparently. Giuseppi suggests us to go to December 31st, because that would be certainly the right year, and certainly after whenever he went, so we can be sure to arrive after Daddy has already left. Our double-agent fuckbuddy is so smart.
So we bring the time machine to the roof of the skyscraper, where our rocket previously crashed (it has been moved away by Daddy, presumably). We enter the time machine, and it actually gives us several different options! Before going to the right time, we try the other possibilities.
We can go to a bajillion BC. There's just trees and the T-Rex skeleton from the museum, lol. Our character doesn't even bother exploring before going back to the present.
We can go to the Future. There, we are greeted by a Planet of the Apes post-humanity scenario, with the Statue of Liberty on the beach and all. Wow. But our character also decides that we're not doing this.
We can go to one year before, in 2003. We land in the Hayseed farm. There's Uncle Hayseed and the chickens and the assets from Bustin' Out, and there's a little guy fixing the tractor. It's not using our current character model, but it looks like the guy on the front of the cover. We're not sure why it's not using our very same character model, since the character is absolutely implied to be also you, but maybe you didn't play with the same exact character and they chose the very default as default. There must have been a long meeting about that.
But all of this Easter egging aside, anyway, we go to the correct time. All we need to do is find the flag that Daddy Bigbucks put there, and remove it, and thereby change the deed.
We arrive, and there we meet ... Ephram Earl? In the flesh! He's alive, and he's not crazy yet! We talk to him, confusing him a lot because he doesn't know us yet, but he follows what we want, and promises us to hide the flag where it won't be found, and protect the flag forever. Even if it drives him crazy. Even as a ghost. Yeah. Yep.
Fun exercise: what time paradox is here in place to cause Ephram Earl to be crazy and have unfinished business as a ghost "before" we went to the past and altered the timeline? Or, does such a concept of "before" not exist? It depends on how this game is doing time-travel, and how silly it's being (very).
The endClick to reveal spoilers...
So, we go back or forward to the present, and Daddy comes to gloat about how he now owns the town, and how he's going to announce it to everyone. We play with him, and tell him, hm, have you got any proof? "Yes, of course", he says, "the deed".
"Oh, why don't you read that to us?"
The deed has been altered to surely own something, but it's certainly not the town. Daddy screams and yells and admits to his timeline tampering, and luckily that's where Detective Dan comes in. He has heard his confession, and takes him away. Wow, there's a law against malicious time travel?
End of the game!
We have the glorious victory walk through town with all the characters saying hi and cheering for us. At the end, we talk with Mr. King, who congratulates us on our success, and tells us that now we are the respected top cat in town. He and Gramma Hattie will be around to make sure we don't get a big head though.
We ask him what will happen to Daddy now. Does he go to jail? Well, no, apparently not. However, he can live on the only plot of land that he rightfully owns.
Which turns out to be Nutria Island. Earlier in the game, we had to go to this little island in the middle of the river where dancing nutrias live, to bring one back to the carnival. Now Daddy gets to sit there on this little stupid island with the ridiculous nutrias dancing around him, and Lloyd the alligator-man being overly friendly and pissing him off.
The ending credits roll, and the ending music is a sound-effect remix, complete with toilet flushing and Giuseppi's Eyyyy! and Yowww!
After the end of the game, we can continue playing if we want, but the plot is over. You can talk to Daddy Bigbucks and get all his dialogue, if you're interested. And we can finally give him his medical report...
Let us explain. Like in Bustin' Out, this game also has the mechanic of the characters giving you an errand to run where you deliver something to someone else, as quickly as possible. While this was very featured in Bustin' Out, it's kinda hidden in The Urbz, because it's in the secondary dialogue menu that we usually don't think to check. One of the first times we asked for an errand, Doctor Max told to deliver medical records to... Daddy Bigbucks. Whom you can't deliver to, until the post-game. And you can't get another errand until you deliver this item to him. And you can't drop it or do anything with it. So we had Daddy's medical records holding up a spot in the inventory for the entire game, and impeding us from accessing this entire mechanic during our playthrough. Whoops.
So now in the post-game, we're free to finally do all the errands we couldn't do before. We're going to go on an errand binge, because it reveals some more things about the characters, based on who's asking us to deliver what to who.
Another thing we did was go to the time machine again... and it has a new date, in 1984. It lets us go... to a cute pixelated and chiptuny town. These are the Easter eggs that matter.
We couldn't have asked for a better sequel. Even if this is a sideways sequel, simultaneously the port of a completely different semi-related game, and the sequel to Bustin' Out on the GBA. It's amazing, and how have we not heard of it before? We feel like it should be on a recommended list right alongside Day of the Tentacle. We listed Day of the Tentacle in particular because The Urbz has a very similar tone and clever silly sense of humor.
Compared to Bustin' Out, the only gameplay critique we have is that we no longer hear our own dialogue, and the characters' dialogue is not refreshed through the game. However, this is partly offset by how much more character dialogue there is. It also has a couple glitches that we encountered, but nothing gamebreaking.
A few minor issues aside, in every other area, The Urbz is a more-than-worthy successor to Bustin' Out. The graphics are gorgeous, the way it plays often makes more sense, you do more varied tasks (including having a date, changing your clothes for plot reasons, racing Dusty Hogg, TIME-TRAVELING). It's also longer, but not in a superficial way. There just is more content. And there is continuity as few things we've played have. And also explains what happened after the end of Bustin' Out. What happened to Giuseppi? What happened to Lottie Cash? Where did the Chainsaw Chicken come from?
All in all, please play this game. It will be entertaining. There are games where we love them, but we recognize that they might not be for everyone. This one? There's no way you aren't going to enjoy the writing of this game. Unless you are Daddy Bigbucks. In which case, go back to Nutria Island.
- The Spriter's Resource Page for The Urbz