Early this year EA released SimAnimals, a game that allowed you to engage animals in their natural surroundings rather than in a zoo. You managed and guided their interactions and environments as you progressed further and further into a forest in a game that followed the typical ‘god game’ protocols. Unfortunately SimAnimals for the Wii was torn to shreds by reviewers for being ugly, clunky and boring. The DS version did slightly better, being seen as a fun but limited forest life simulator for kids. Now EA has taken the simulation to Africa on the DS and Wii once again, so let’s see if they managed to do any better.
Tame African Animals and Control the Wild Kingdom!
* Interact with exotic animals in the wild
* Journey through the jungles and savannas of Africa
* Discover wild animals’ secret abilities
* Solve challenges to unlock items, animals, and levels
* Collect unique items to receive badges
* Discover the ultimate secret of the wild kingdom!
While I cannot say for sure what EA’s design goals for SimAnimals Africa were, I know what I have experienced in terms of differences from the original: on the good side the game is much better looking, and the controls and camera are much smoother. However, they have failed to take away the tedium, and while the DS version was much better in the original, they have toned down the DS experience so that now neither version is very good.
The core game play remains the same – you are playing a ‘god game’ where you control a small chunk of Africa that contains a variety of environments suitable for containing a wide range of native African animals. Your larger goal is to keep all of the regions under your control happy; and to do that you need to keep the animals in each region happy; and to do that you need to dive into each area and work on the balance between different animals and make sure the right plants are there in adequate quantities and so on. Sounds like loads to do, right? Sadly it fails to live up to the promise.
I’m thrilled what they did with the game technically. The graphics really pop off the screen, the animals have a fun cartoony feel and exude loads of personality. They really serve as a nice introduction to draw you into each area, and the tribal rhythms and animal sounds are also well done and remind me of walking around Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The camera controls much better than the original, allowing you to forget about it after a while. That is my metric – if I’m thinking about camera control, that is a problem.
So much promise … but so little delivery. While the game is aimed at younger kids, that is no excuse for failing to provide much of anything engaging for them to do. The missions are basically the same task again and again, and worse yet there are too few to keep anyone school-aged occupied for very long. Aside from running the world in ‘bird’s eye view’ mode, you can also settle in to interact with the animals more directly in a series of mini-games that allow you to pet and feed and play with a variety of animals. This again is a feature that sounds better on paper than in the actual game.
That is because after the cuteness wears off, the boredom sets in. Interacting with animals is required to advance your animals which you need to do to make progress. This means petting and playing and going through the same few mini-games again … and again … and again. And looking at each area and each challenge makes you realize that they are largely the same thing again and again – and kids will realize that just as quickly as adults.
Before you say “but that is all there is to ANY of these games”, realize that I know that is true, but have thoroughly enjoyed other Sim-oriented games like SimCity, Zoo Tycoon, and City Life to name a few. Each of those offered not only the same core gameplay we see here, but a much greater depth and breadth of experience to keep you going. That just isn’t the case here. The game only takes a couple of hours to play through on either platform, and once finished there is no real reason to continue.
SimAnimals Africa is a great improvement over the original Wii version, but the DS version is perhaps even a bit worse than the original. Some nicer graphics and sounds are offset by a lack of depth and breadth that simply render the game boring very quickly. If you have a young child who is really enamored with the idea of getting this game, note that the DS game has already dropped to under $20, making it the one to watch. But unless you fall into that category, better to just say ‘I heard it was awful’ and hope they ask for the great new Pokemon game instead.
Price: $49.99 (currently on sale for $36.99) for Wii version, $29.99 (currently on sale for $19.79) for DS version
What I Like:
– Graphics look very nice
What Needs Improvement:
– Game gets boring fast
– Very short with no replay value