OMG - I Like a Social Game?

If you know me, you know I sort of HATE social gaming. I love casual gaming that involves completing objectives on my own or competetive games, but social games sort of are neither of those things. I play Words with Friends on my Samsung Galaxy Tab (Android FTW!) but not on Facebook - and it’s a competetive game so it doesn’t count. I love playing Ticket to Ride, Catan and Carcassone on my XBLA too. Again, I like competition. So what on earth has me playing a non-competetive social game on Facebook?

Simple: The Sims Social. I finally caved and did what all my Facebook friends are doing - playing The Sims Social. I expected to hate it, just like I hate Farmville and Mafia Wars - and I was disappointed. I love it! I’m completely addicted. In fact, I need more freakin friends to ask for things from. You can add me as a Facebook friend ( if you want to play The Sims Social with me - or challenge me to kick your butt at Words with Friends - up to you.

So the premise behind The Sims Social isn’t all that different a regular Sims game (of which I’ve bought almost all of them and played countless hours in). You have to keep your Sim fed, bathed, emptied and well rested. You are given various obejctives in which you gain rewards for completing them. Your sim also needs fun and social experiences in their life to be truly happy - inspired even! The catch is that just about everything costs energy and energy is limited. It’s replenished when you level (yup leveling!), and friends can send you energy - or you can just wait it out as it replenishes over time. You need lots of friends since most things in the game require your friends help, like building a room or putting together a bed. You can go visit their houses and see how they’ve decorated as well.

Of course, there’s a monetary aspect for people who don’t want to wait or ask their friends for help - you can purchase currency to skip steps or replenish energy for cold, hard cash. I haven’t felt the need to spend money - yet.

And I’m the queen of Words with Friends - I sure with they had leaderboards.

My DS Round-Up

In a rare moment when I find myself with time to play games, I usually pick up my Nintendo DS and get a quick fix in with various games I have in my library. Included among them are Super Princess Peach, Brain Age, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and my newest acquisition, Trauma Center: Under the Knife.

Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Five Minutes a Day! is the first stateside release of the Touch Generation brain training games Nintendo is pushing. This one is quite entertaining. The only criticism I have of it is that it really lives up to its name. I have no desire to sink more than 5 minutes a day into it. I play the few brain training games they have, that include doing simple mathematics, testing memory, and counting syllables. After that, I take the Brain Age test. I’ve gotten to the point where I pretty regularly score around 20, unless I try my hand at the voice recognition training games. It has a really hard time recognizing me saying blue, so my age really takes a hit as a result. Otherwise, it makes me feel smart. Interestingly enough, my son does really well at the color game. He’s 3 1/2 and can’t read yet. The game requires you to say the color of the word, not read the word. So, if the word is red but its color is blue, you say blue. He knows his colors very well — so you can imagine he doesn’t have to stress his brain much to do well at the one and he loves it. Brain Age is worth a pick-up, it is a bargain price of $20, so go get it.

Super Princess Peach is quite the enjoyable little platformer. I don’t feel that it does quite enough with the stylus, as its main use is selecting Peach’s emotions, and sometimes I found controlling this to be a little less than accurate. However, the platformer itself is solid and I really enjoyed the twist of Peach saving Mario. Girl Power! On a serious note, this is a great game and worth playing for anyone who likes platformers.

On the other hand Animal Crossing: Wild World is not my cup of tea. I found the gameplay generally boring. I’m not a Sims kind of girl (although I found Urbz for the DS to be very engaging) and Animal Crossing I think really appeals to that side. There is no story mode, no objectives. I’m sure there’s plenty to do for the achiever personality, but I had a hard time keeping my eyes open long enough to find out what. Our reviewer, Gamermom, wrote an in-depth review of Animal Crossing and really liked it, so be sure to check that out if you are wavering. If you like the idea of an open world with no villains and no objectives, it might be for you.

Finally, Trauma Center: Under the Knife epitomizes the potential of the Nintendo DS. In this fun little game, players are the surgeon and have to slice patients open and repair their injuries. Everything plays out with the stylus and is such addictive fun. I wish there was more to the game. It is not that it is short, it is just that once you’ve mastered each level, there’s nothing else to do. This is the game that the DS was made for, though, and if you own a DS, go get this game immediately and add it to your library.

Animal Crossing: Wild World Review (DS)

Animal Crossing: Wild World is a clever and engaging game that has taken the traditional simulation game and transformed it into a ‘personal MMO.’ On Monday, April 10, 2006, 105,833 players logged in and played the game, according to the statistics on Nintendo’s Wi-Fi gaming hub. As of March 5, 2006, over 2 million copies were sold. So what’s so captivating about it?

Animal Crossing is at heart, a simulation game, where you set up your house, garden, furnishings, clothing and museum collections. Your first sessions in this game are likely to revolve around a series of tasks directed by Tom Nook, and the initial pay-off of your initial mortgage. This experience is not much of a grind. You are given multiple options for how to make money (bells) in the game and the first mortgage is set at an accessible level.

In keeping with the life-simulation theme, Animal Crossing is a persistent world. Your village clock follows a typical day. The sun rises and sets. Villagers eventually retire for the night, and the stores close. Sunsets in Animal Crossing are lovely. The game follows the seasons, and in the winter the world is covered in snow. In the spring, some of the trees turn pink, and the fall is speckled with fall color. Weeds grow and you have to pick them. Flowers wilt, although watering them will bring them back to life. It has a peaceful, almost bucolic feel.

The DS version has let go of the series of fed-ex tasks that dominated the play of the GameCube version. On the DS, your relationship with others in the village is ultimately up to you, and there are no obvious penalties for not fostering relationships with townsfolk. If you do, they are likely to reward you with presents, or tips about the game.

The port to the DS has a nice integration with the stylus, and you can choose to use it or buttons. It also takes advantage of the dual screens. On occasion, balloons with gifts will float past the top screen, and you can use a slingshot to pop the balloon. It’s hard to keep an eye on both screens, however, and if you are wandering through the village it’s very easy to miss the balloon as it goes by. The only take-away with the DS port appears to be the inclusion of the old NES games that were present in the GameCube version. Playing those older games was one of the more charming elements, and it’s unfortunate that they do not seem to have been brought over.

One of the nicest aspects to Animal Crossing: Wild World is that it lends itself to 10-15 minute play sessions. In that time, you can accomplish a nice chunk of the day-to-day business of the game, and progress at a reasonable pace.

It is, however, a hard game to rush through (unless you prefer time travel.) The village economy can be encouraged along through orchards bearing non-native fruits. It is well worth exploring the Wi-Fi capabilities early on so that you can gather fruits from other towns, even if you don’t intend to play in other towns very often. Tending to the orchards over the course of a couple of weeks will supply you with a booming economy. You won’t bat an eye at the incredibly high prices for later mortgages. Well, maybe you will, but they’ll translate as time and money and it’s all perfectly doable.

The game does reward diligent attention to ‘taking care of business’ and tending to your home, furnishings, and gardens. This adds a nice cooperative component to the multi-player aspects of the game. Your home will accommodate up to 3 roommates, and they can all assist in paying off the mortgage, furnishing the house, etc.

There are two schools of thought on how to approach Animal Crossing gameplay. Admirers of the Happy Room Academy diligently work to payoff the mortgages and acquire a mansion, attend to their furniture collections and pay special attention to the use of color in their homes. They are consistent donors to the museum, and make sure that the museum has pristine collections of art, dinosaurs, fish and bugs.

Other players take a more “brew your own” approach, and ignore the HRA letters while they create their own environment. You can create tiles using a wide variety of color palettes and tools, and then place the tiles throughout the village. Through carefully planned tiling, you can ‘landscape’ your world to be anything you can imagine.

Is Animal Crossing: Wild World really a MMO? If you consider your village an instance, and open your gates to encourage visitors, it does have a MMO quality. Developing a robust economy would be very difficult if you didn’t visit other towns, and there are some stages of the game that you can only get if you participate in the multi-player aspect (for example, the final upgrade to Nook’s store is triggered after a guest visits and makes a purchase in your town.) It is fascinating to see what others have done in their town, and it certainly fosters a sense of cooperative competition.

All in all, Animal Crossing: Wild World gets 4 out of 5 stars. Our scoring system reserves 5 out of 5 games for those that have universal appeal, and simulation games such as this do not appeal to all gamers. It is, however, a brilliant example and definitely wins ‘best of breed.’ It will be fascinating to see what Nintendo does with the Animal Crossing franchise in the future.

RATING: 4 out of 5
Our Scoring System