Being different doesn't always mean being better.
As with most EA franchises these days, a portable counterpart to a console blockbuster has been released on the GBA. Typically, you’d think that this would result in a severely watered down experience with little to set itself apart from the other version, save for the lack of technical power. Surprisingly, though, this game takes a few Sims mechanics (making friends around town, mini-games, create-a-character, etc), and puts you through a story-centered adventure title. Unfortunately, while this shift from the norm is admirable, it simply feels dull in the gameplay department.
The first thing you’ll notice is the exemplary presentation. Fluid character animation and dynamite environment design fully express Strangetown (real original, EA) with the kind of beauty I’ve rarely seen before on the GBA. As per usual, sim-speak (i.e. gibberish) is prevalent and sounds great, accompanying the catchy score in a fabulous way.
Story-wise, you’ll be following the role of a start-up actor, playing the part of a new neighbor in Strangetown to his unknowing fellow residents. You see, Daddy Bigbucks is producing a new reality show and he’ll need your help to make things interesting. After all, a reality show is outright boring if there’s no drama! You’ve got to keep the ratings up.
To do that, you’ll be carrying out various plot simulations, where Bigbucks will set up a scenario and you’ll have to fulfill objectives to make the story go your way. To make things more viewer-friendly, you’ll even be able to buy plot twists with currency made throughout your adventures. Also on sale are upgrades to your conversation approach (which will decide how easily you’ll be able to befriend/intimidate/romance people). With clever writing and hilarious characters, the story’s really a lot of fun to progress through.
However, as aforementioned, the gameplay isn’t so hot. While it sounds great on paper, The Sims 2 on the GBA is a lot like my least favorite part of an RPG; the part where you have to go around town, talk to Person A to unlock this conversation with Person B so that you can get Item A, and then use that item to talk to Person A again and progress the story. It’s literally Fetch-Quest/Conversation: The Game. At first I had fun trying to woo people into loving or hating me, but since their reaction is completely random (which will sometimes mean your death; ill-received conversation techniques result in the lowering of your HP), there’s no strategy in it - it’s pretty pointless, really.
The saving grace in this facet is definitely the mini-games. Although varying in quality, there are some really great distractions present that’ll help you along when you’re strapped for cash. Such highlights include a sorting game (very reminiscent of the mail game from Wind Waker), driving a car around a safety course for a commercial, and a tractor game where your score is decided by how much cow manure you’re able to collect. All in all, they’re very entertaining.
I never thought I’d say this, but not even cleaning up poop can save The Sims 2 (GBA) from being a pile in its own right. Sure, it’s got an award-worthy presentation and cool mini-games, but when the central gameplay isn’t worth its weight, I simply can’t recommend it in good faith.