It arrived shortly after midnight on Tuesday, the same day as the release of the desktop version, and I was all over it. “Pumped” would probably be the best way to describe me at 12:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning as my iPhone was syncing with my Mac mini and the Sims 3 ($9.99, iTunes link) was being installed.
I only briefly tested the game last night, but today, I spent many an hour becoming well acquainted with EA’s (s erts) latest offering for Apple’s (s aapl) mobile platform. So much so that I was tempted to run out and buy The Sims 3 right away. In some circles, they call that a “starter drug.”
But does The Sims 3 for iPhone hold up as a game in its own right? After playing for several hours, and looking at all aspects of the stripped-down portable version, I think I can finally answer that question.
The Sims 2 was quite the graphics pig by Mac standards. I remember being able to run it on my black polycarbonate MacBook, but just barely, and it definitely wasn’t a pleasurable experience. Sims 3 for iPhone acknowledges the limits of the platform, but still gives you a look and feel that is true to The Sims franchise.
One of the limitations of the portable version is a significantly reduced character customization engine. People generally look similar, but at the resolution the game is rendered at, it isn’t that big of a deal. You can still get a character to more or less resemble yourself, so long as you’re fairly average-looking.
There are some clipping issues in the game where there shouldn’t be, and the isometric perspective and camera controls sometimes make it annoying to perform certain actions and interact with other Sims. Some graphics (the fish, specifically) are just re-colored to cut corners, which I find a little sloppy in a game of this caliber. By and large, though, graphics issues are minor and not cause for serious complaint.
Music is typically Sims-ish (light, whimsical), but is only really active when you change locations/activities. It fades out pretty quickly, and then you’re left with absolute silence (no sound effects, either). Buying a stereo allows you to play Sim-ish music, and hear that now-familiar nonsense language, but it quickly becomes grating, in my opinion. Sound is definitely not this game’s strongest suit.
Generally, controls work the way you’d expect them to on a touch-sensitive Apple device. You tap things you want to interact with, which brings up a menu of options from which to select. Some menus have sub-menus, and some are can be scrolled through in order to access more options (took me a little while to figure this out). But they’re relatively simple, which is a smart move considering the platform.
Camera controls are also fairly straightforward. Slide your finger around the screen to pan the camera, and use a visual slider on the right-hand side of the display to zoom in and out. To rotate the view, you touch with two fingers and move your fingers clockwise or counter-clockwise accordingly. Pinch-zooming seems like it would’ve been a perfect fit, but it’s possible developers decided against it due to interference with camera rotation.
Mini-game controls leave something to be desired. While cooking, you have to tap on boiling pots to select and raise them, then shake your iPhone to cool down the pot you’re holding. The game is incredibly easy, but such fidgety controls and odd positioning make it a little frustrating at times.
Your main task in The Sims 3 is to keep your Sim happy, hale, and hearty. This goal is a lot easier to achieve than it is in the desktop version, having presumably been tuned down to accommodate the more casual mobile platform of the iPhone and iPod touch.
To give you an idea of how easy it is, by the end of the first weekend (I started my job at City Hall on a Thursday), I was Vice President, romantically involved with my boss, and friends with everyone in town. Shortly after that, I married another woman, and upgraded my house. At no point did my satisfaction meter dip below “Very Happy.”
There are some interesting new elements for veteran players thanks to mini-games like cooking, repairing things and fishing. I’ve described the cooking game above. To repair an object, for example, you have to swap out broken parts for good ones on a circuit board before the timer runs out.
Fishing, for me, is probably one of my favorite aspects of the game. To do it, you buy a Fishing Kit at the hobby shop, visit the lake in the middle of town, and tap on a Fishing Spot action icon. You can catch a few different kinds of fish, all of which carry a different value at the town’s store. I quickly mastered the fishing skill, and it then became a very profitable hobby. Much more profitable than my day job as Vice President, in fact. Fishing bought me an upgraded house, a big-screen TV and a fancy new bed, all in one day.
Depending on what you’re expecting, you might want to pass on The Sims 3 for the iPhone. It starts out as a fun, addictive little game, but it quickly becomes boring and repetitive. And the speed with which you accomplish goals results in little satisfaction when you do well. EA may have wanted to dial down the difficulty to accommodate casual players, but even the most casual of players will find this far too easy, I fear.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It’s still a Sims game, and as such, I’ll probably keep going back to it just to accumulate enough cash to buy all the nicest furniture available. Also, the demo at the initial iPhone 3.0 event and some in-game clues (the Pawn Shop, for instance, which isn’t yet open for business), leads me to believe that EA has much more planned for The Sims 3.0 following the release of 3.0.
For now, save your money for something more important. Like The Sims 3 for Mac.