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Game Review

When MySims for Nintendo's Wii first landed on my desk, I'll admit I wasn't excited. My disillusionment with the whole Sims line is most likely linked to one summer's day when I was a kid and the two sisters from next door goaded me into playing with them and their Barbie dolls. I agreed to be Ken. But after a few minutes I realized that this guy was boring. (He didn't have a G.I. Joe rifle ... or even a helmet!) All Ken was supposed to do was change clothes, chitchat with Barbie in the Barbie playhouse and then disappear for hours at a time ... at work.

What's that got to do with Sims, you ask? Well, many moons later, the first Sims game came out and I couldn't help but see it through that same playhouse filter. And in my defense, even the game's designer, Will Wright, called it a digital dollhouse. You move your little character around. Make him sleep. Make him chitchat with neighbors. Make him go to work. Yawn.

So how is it that MySims has actually helped assuage my digital prejudice?

If You Rebuild It ...
To kick MySims off, players create an avatar by pointing the Wii's wireless remote at the screen and cycling through a selection of cute facial expressions, cute hair styles, cute voice types and cute outfits. Once your cartoonish little character suits your fancy, you set him or her loose in a cartoonish little town. He (I picked a he) is deemed the official builder. He's an important guy because this zero-star town has been in decline and needs to be built back up to its five-star glory.

Building a house and a workshop becomes the first order of business in the new burg. Then kids can pump up some civic pride (and bulk up their reputation as a friend) by interacting with and helping out their neighbors. (Sims "talk" with a simlish gibberish and their requests are then printed on the screen below.) Residents have unique needs to be filled that include furniture construction, room decoration, tree planting and house building. The process is uncomplicated and relies on choosing from a diverse collection of prefab cubes and shapes, fitting them into a blueprint pattern, adding creative touches and then painting the finished product.

The townspeople (chefs, kooky scientists, landlocked pirates, etc.) have personal interests that impact the way they relate to others. They can be interested in things that are fun, cute, geeky, studious, tasty or spooky. To appeal to those interests, you build things and paint them with something called an essence. Essences are found in dozens of objects all over the town such as fruit, old tires, tears and even spiders. They can be gathered up around trees and gardens and when talking to other Sims. Or you can play minigames such as prospecting in the hills or fishing in a pond to increase your supplies.

... They Will Come
What essence you predominantly use in your town will shape its appearance and alter the incoming citizenry. A happy pizza chef, for example, will love things with a tasty essence like apples or oranges. But bat and spider essence will draw dark-natured residents.

These goth-looking characters are the only negative part of this kid-friendly game. They like to decorate their homes with candles and skulls, and they have their furniture painted with the essence of, say, voodoo dolls. And the music around their houses is a little Halloweenish. I built something for one such girl and she replied, "I have a dark nature so I can't say thank you. But I acknowledge that you built this for me." Another guy dressed in black wanted to sit and write "grim poetry."

Even these characters, though, are more cute than scary and will readily laugh with you when you're nice to them. On the other hand, if your Sim is especially mean to someone, he can end up in a Tasmanian devil-like whirlwind of a fight. But the minute you start being nice again, you win back the friendship.

No More Barbie Blues
So, with what essence is MySims painted? It's a colorfully charming little game that's simple enough for the younger set to pick up quickly. It doesn't have as much depth in the social interaction area as some of its Sims predecessors, but it also doesn't move in toting their negative moral baggage.

Looking for some dollhouse-style action and interior decoration challenges? You'll find that here. And for those like me—who aren't—there's a world of explorable caves, forests, beaches and deserts with enough tasks and objectives to keep the Barbie boredom at bay.

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