There's a phrase which is sometimes used to describe a disappointing film: "It feels like a trailer for a much better movie." That's approximately what Sims 2: Pets for N-Gage feels like.
For those who have been on another planet, the Sims series is essentially a computerised dolls house where you can take care of people and/or animals usually in a normal-looking domestic environment. Sims 2: Pets on N-Gage concentrates on bringing up a puppy in a small bungalow with a back garden and nearby pet supplies shop.
The breeds available are Chihuahua, Labrador, Mutt (aka mongrel or mixed breed), Pug and Whippet. There's also a special robot dog you can unlock if you progress far enough.
The game begins in a very promising fashion with options screens that let you customise the owner and their dog. You don't control the dog directly, but you can call it to you, teach it tricks, play with it and take care of it.
In essence this is a small collection of mini-games:
- Ball & Frisbee Throwing: You throw a ball or frisbee for the dog to catch by clicking at just the right moment on a sliding scale. Click at the wrong moment and the dog doesn't catch anything. Gameplay is identical for throwing balls or frisbees.
- Teaching Tricks: Basically a two or three step dance mat game without any music, use the direction pad to click in the directions shown on screen in order and the dog gets closer to learning a trick such as sitting or rolling, and then praise it afterwards. Do this often enough and the trick is learned, with the dog able to perform it when selected from a menu. There are 10 tricks to teach in all, but the gameplay is virtually identical for all of them.
- Dog Patting: Similar gameplay to teaching tricks, but there's no actual trick at the end of it, just a happier dog.
- Dog Cleaning: Again, similar to teaching tricks but all you get is a cleaner dog.
- Discipline: If your dog does something naughty such as scratching the carpet, a timer appears on the screen and you have to click the direction pad button before it runs out. This makes the owner talk in a stern voice, and eventually the dog learns not to do whatever it did.
- House Training: The same gameplay as discipline, but involving the dog peeing or pooing while indoors. Eventually the dog learns not to do this and is house trained so it only does its business outside. Remember to clean up after the dog by clicking on the pee or poo.
When you combine the duplicates, it means there are actually only three minigames, none of which vary or demand any skill, and they don't get more difficult or interesting over time either.
In theory simulation games like The Sims are meant to sidestep conventional gameplay by offering a customisable world which you can shape to your liking, but Sims 2: Pets for N-Gage doesn't do this. You can't customise the owner or their flat at all, and you can't buy the dog anything except a bed, ball and frisbee (and even those are from a very limited selection).
Another comparison one might make is with Nintendogs, where the sheer joy of seeing the puppies playing together can be enough in itself, but that isn't the case with Sims 2: Pets because there's only one puppy per game. There is no interaction between dogs. Sims 2: Pets also has a far more limited range of locations with just the living room, kitchen and garden.
A third comparison might be with Tamagotchi, where the pleasure comes from simply taking care of a creature and watching it develop, but that doesn't really happen in Sims 2: Pets as the puppy never changes and it doesn't seem to require much taking care of either. This reviewer's puppy ate once a week according to the in-game timescale, and there was never any pressure to balance one need against another.
Sims 2: Pets doesn't have bad gameplay, its problem is that the gameplay is missing. It's not an arcade game, it's not a "sandpit" game, it's not a collect-em-up game, it doesn't pass muster as a puppy simulator, and it's not really a proper virtual pet game either.
There is incidentally also a human career aspect but it's so minor that it's barely worth mentioning. You get a wage every day which you can use to buy toys, food, shampoo or beds for the dog, and if you get promoted the wage goes up. Promotion seems to happen automatically as long as you keep taking care of the dog, and very soon you reach the top of the career tree so money ceases to be a problem.
There's also a list of "goals" which earn you bonus cash, but that too isn't really worth talking about. It's an ever-changing list of four things you would do anyway like patting the dog, throwing it a ball, giving it a bath etc, you don't really need to even look at it to earn these bonuses. Even the bonuses themselves become insignificant once you've been promoted to very high salary levels.
The graphics in Sims 2: Pets are generally very good, with nice bright colours, and smooth fast 3D. Most importantly of all, there is adorably realistic animation for the puppies. The locations are also nicely designed, especially flourishes like the Japanese objects in the kitchen, though it would have been even nicer if there were more locations. Some textures do look pixellated but the smoothness of the 3D makes up for this.
The interface works well too, with a single menu and a series of objects in each room that let you choose an activity. Although this sounds awkward, the camera moves so quickly and smoothly, with an automatic selection system, that it actually feels very intuitive.
There are also some very nice graphical touches too, such as the slow motion catch the dog makes of frisbees, and the way you can see what your dog is dreaming about, which will be familiar to anyone whose real life dog has growled or "run" while asleep in the corner.
The sound is very good, with nice effects, music clips and speech. The speech is the usual Sims gibberish, which you'll either love or hate. However, although the speech is good, the range of phrases in the game is far too small and gets annoying very quickly. As it's gibberish anyway it might have made sense to chop it up into groups of syllables, and let the game assemble them into words at random, allowing for a much larger variety of phrases.
All the breeds in the game, including the unlockable robot. Incidentally, pugs don't look anything like this...
There's no multiplayer of any kind, though there is a league table of high scores. However, as points are laughably easy and very boring to obtain, all that the table tells you is how long certain people have been able to put up with Sims 2: Pets.
A word about N-Gage Point Pickups in Sims 2: Pets is also in order. This reviewer played for about 3 or 4 hours in total, by the end of which they managed to collect 980 out of 1000 possible NGPs mostly without even trying (and the remaining 20 were apparently unobtainable due to a bug). This is ludicrous, no other N-Gage game lets you get all of its points so easily and so quickly. It devalues the entire concept of point pickups.
Some N-Gage-compatible phones (e.g. Nokia N82, N95, N95 8GB, N96) have a TV Out feature which lets you connect the phone to a television set. This can be used for playing N-Gage games, or for any other phone function.
All N-Gage phones are compatible with Bluetooth keyboards that use the HID Bluetooth standard, and such a keyboard can be used to control games or any other phone function.
The graphics suffer greatly when viewed on a television screen, they're still just as fast and smooth but the 3D object textures are incredibly pixellated and look quite nasty. The sound is good through the TV speakers though.
Bluetooth keyboard controls generally work on Sims 2: Pets, though there's a slight delay between pressing the keyboard's selection button and the game acknowledging the command. This makes it difficult to hit the mark when throwing a ball or frisbee, though other gameplay aspects aren't affected that much.
Sims 2: Pets has a good graphics engine and an easy-to-use interface. It's made even more easy to use by on-screen hints that appear when you first encounter a new aspect of the game, so practically everyone should be able to play this straight away.
Unfortunately the developers have neglected to provide an actual game, either conventional or unconventional. There's absolutely no enticement to continue playing, this game doesn't feel as though it's been properly playtested.
The tasks you have to do are far too simple and boring, they don't develop at all, it's simply a question of how often you want to repeat them. Even if you do go through the tasks, the game can be 100% finished in just a few hours.
That wouldn't matter if it worked as a fun virtual toy or an intricate dolls house, but it's neither of these things: there's nothing to customise, only two or three items you can buy, and nothing ever changes. The only major unlockable is a mechanical dog which behaves just like the normal dogs.
There are too few breeds, just five (or six if you include the robot dog). It would have been nice to see more available, perhaps as unlockables or even as downloadable content. Dog sim fans enjoy a good choice of breeds just like football sim fans enjoy a good choice of clubs.
Worst of all though you never really feel any kind of attachment to your virtual pet. It doesn't have any kind of individuality or personality, and it doesn't grow or change either so there's no feeling of achievement. The dog won't even try to collect balls or frisbees which you've mis-thrown, and the mini-games in general don't involve any proper team work. The animation of the dog is good but it doesn't vary enough to suggest a creature with a personality.
The score we've given this game reflects its value as a full price title. However, if you want to rent it with a day pass or week pass you may well get a lot more value from it, as the entire game can be played in just a few hours.
If anyone from EA is reading this with future sequels in mind: keep the graphics engine and interface the same, but put some meat on those gameplay bones.
AAN Score: 55%