In my room there are two full bookcases jam-packed with games for every system released in the States since 1995. Adjacent to the bookcase is a closet dedicated entirely to storing games and gaming paraphernalia. My HDTV has six different consoles attached to it, and the table on which it sits also supports two PSPs, a Nintendo DSi and a custom-built gaming PC.
With all these options at my disposal, you’d think I’d have better things to do than play the stereotypically terrible games large publishers expel onto Apple’s iPhone (most often as a clandestine advertisement for their more traditional, bigger-budget versions). Yet I recently spent an entire weekend curled up on my couch with the miniaturized version of The Sims 3, a feat that I consider the highest praise for a game whose quality isn’t just surprising, it’s damn near miraculous.
The iPhone version of Sims 3 is not simply a shrunken iteration of its PC/Mac brethren. While it shares the desktop version’s aesthetics and general “run a tiny person’s life, complete with bowel movements and romance” structure, it trades customizability for more varied gameplay. Unfortunately, you’ll have far fewer character designs and clothing choices at your disposal than in the desktop versions, and the tools to customize your character’s home are similarly stripped down. But what EA has added more than makes up for the loss of what are essentially superficial game mechanics.
Taking a page from any number of quirky DS titles, Sims 3 iPhone offers you a handful of mini-games representing your character’s hobbies and essential life skills. Classic activities like cooking and repairing appliances are now accomplished by completing simple games of skill. To cook a meal, you must acquire the proper ingredients, place them all on your stove, then stir your pots as they come to a boil. Repairing appliances is a simple matter of pulling off defective components and replacing them with functional analogues.
New to the series are hobbies like fishing and gardening. Once you’ve acquired the necessary gear, you’re given the chance to travel to the proper part of town and indulge in your chosen pastime. Fishing in particular is quite entertaining: By simply mimicking a fish’s movement with your lure and reeling in at the proper time, you can accrue huge numbers of fish, all of which can be sold for a large profit. It’s even possible to remain unemployed, subsisting entirely on the profits you earn from the fauna of your local lake.
Sims 3 iPhone also features a new emphasis on Xbox-esque “goals.” Like that console’s Achievements, players earn special awards for accomplishing certain tasks. Whether they involve kicking over garbage cans or meeting all the other inhabitants of your tiny virtual town, these 70-plus goals gradually unlock new items for you to purchase, along with that familiar feeling of simulated accomplishment.
Even with the additions to Sims 3 iPhone, the crux of the game is still living a virtual life. If you’ve played any of The Sims games over the last decade, you know how it works: You get a job, make friends, woo members of the opposite (or same) sex and make sure your Sim attends to all of his or her needs. It’s apparent that while EA had to ditch some important customization options, it did its best to maintain the core gameplay that has made the series so popular. Visiting the bathroom, climbing the corporate ladder and finding a suitable love interest to “woohoo” with is exactly as simple and engrossing as the game’s computer predecessors.
Since the iPhone lacks a proper keyboard, EA had to make a few adjustments to ensure everything worked elegantly. Luckily, The Sims lends itself quite well to a touch-screen interface. You choose actions via a simple floating menu around whatever object or person you have selected. Aside from a few minor graphical hiccups that are really only noticeable when you have more than three Sims on screen at once, this touch-based gameplay is extremely smooth.
Coming on the heels of EA’s iPhone translation of Spore, which was little more than a stripped-down advertisement for its PC/Mac counterpart, I didn’t have much hope for the iPhone version of The Sims 3, but the company has really put together an excellent handheld game here. It won’t entirely replace its big brothers in the hearts and minds of Sims fanatics, but it isn’t meant to. Instead, Sims 3 iPhone was designed to offer series devotees a $10, pocket-sized hit of their chosen gaming narcotic while they’re away from their computers. Since I’ve been fighting off the urge to play the game the whole time I’ve been writing this review, I’d say EA succeeded nicely.
Bottom Line: Though Sims fans will find some of their favorite options left out of the iPhone version of The Sims 3, the game nonetheless offers a very competent translation of the hyper-successful series.
Recommendation: Buy it. For $10, The Sims 3 offers some of the most addictive, entertaining fun on Apple’s portable device.
Earnest Cavalli is currently trapped in a tiny, windowless room, pacing back and forth and wetting himself repeatedly.