The Sims 2: Pets
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-11-17 Nintendo DS Virtual Life T (Teen) EA

I had to start this review with a sort of clarification, since I'm sure review sites will soon begin comparing The Sims 2 Pets to Nintendogs, if they even review it at all.

The idea behind a Sims game is the Sims mechanics that we are familiar with: fulfilling needs and motives, building, furnishing. If you want a virtual pet, sure, you play Nintendogs. If you want a Sims-style vet simulation, that's what The Sims 2 Pets for the Nintendo DS offers.

This handheld Sims-branded game puts you in the shoes of a sim virtual vet in charge of a small pet clinic. After going through a somewhat clumsy character creation screen with a decent amount of hair, face and clothing options, and creating a pet for yourself, you arrive at your small lot where furniture is already set out for you. Welcome to your pet care clinic!

The game controls via the touch screen and the stylus, with the D-pad and buttons moving, zooming and spinning the camera.

Your job as a player is to monitor your Sim character and fulfill his or her basic needs. Sims veterans such as myself already familiar with the greening up process won't have a problem finding a short daily routine for the virtual doctor to go through before taking over the clinic's affairs.

Bladder, hygiene, comfort and energy are the same as always: use the toilet, shower, sit and sleep to fulfill those needs. Social has a little trick up its sleeve, since you can interact with your mail box to increase your social meter. As for hunger, get ready for a cooking mini-game.

To cook, you need to obtain a recipe and respective ingredients. The recipe tells you what you need to cook a certain dish, at what temperature and for how long. Once you attempt to cook something, you need to keep moving the frying pan to keep the heat at the temperature it needs and let it stay at that temperature for the time it requires to cook. However, mixing random ingredients that don't make any particular recipe or cooking the food badly doesn't really matter, since the sim will still eat it, which in the end makes this mini-game a little redundant.

But the game doesn't focus the action on your sim, but on the pets instead. The core of the game is in the veterinarian practice itself. As you run a clinic, now and again someone will walk in with a sick pet for you to have a look at. Get used to this process, since it's what you will do over and over to gain money, reputation, unlock items and eventually move to a bigger house and buy better furnishings and vet supplies.

Tapping the distressed pet owner brings up an interaction menu. You need to pick "examine pet" and it will automatically take you to the examination table. The owner will tell you little about the pet, only that it doesn't look good, it smells, or it seems ill, so it's up to the diagnosis tools to find out what's wrong.

The basic tools are the hand (for calming down nervous patients and improve their mood), food bowl, stethoscope and brush. The comb lets you check for fleas by repeatedly brushing the pet. The stethoscope assesses general health and finds if a pet has the flu. Other tools will appear in the diagnosis process if you have other advancements. If you buy the x-ray machine right away (I recommend it) you will be able to snap a shot of the pet, if you get it to stand still, to look for fractures or ingested items. A medicine tool appears if you have purchased flu medicine for pets so that you can administer it.

So, to sum it up... The x-ray detects swallowed objects and broken bones; the comb detects fleas and hygiene problems; feeding reveals the hunger meter, finds worms and cures; stethoscope reveals the flu and overall health; medicine cures the flu.

After the diagnosis, you can admit the pet by tapping the large blue bin. You then pick how long the pet should stay. If the pet isn't well by the time the owner comes by to pick it up, your reputation goes down and you don't get paid. You can only keep up to three pets per kennel at any given time (you can purchase additional kennels, but you need a bigger house to put them in) and if you have no space for a new patient, you have to recommend them to another specialist.

Every time you tap the blue kennel, you can monitor their health status, motives and skills. You can pick them up at any time and take them to the appropriate station according to their illnesses.

If a pet has hygiene problems, it needs a few days and some good scrubbing. Take it to the sink and bathe him with regular soap or comb it on the grooming table. If it has fleas, you must use flea shampoo. To get rid of worms, feed the pet some worm-be-gone at the diagnosis or grooming tables. To cure the flu, you need to administer the medicine on the diagnosis table. Curing broken bones involves buying bandages, wrapping the pet up in them and placing a cone around their head so they don't pull them out.

To remove swallowed objects, you need to buy an Extractor, which is a pretty large machine. I removed a couch and sink, and then moved the desk, stove and grooming table around so it could fit in the clinic. The extractor is a pretty funny machine to use, since it pops a box around the body of the pet and then it works like an arcade claw machine, diving for toys.

Every treatment must be done every day, for a few days, except extraction.

But at this point you're wondering where to buy all these things. Thanks to the convenience of your computer and catalog shopping, you can click on the desk and spend your simoleons in whichever way you please.

You will want to purchase soap, dog and cat food, flea shampoo, de-worming food and flu medicine as your first supplies. Once money starts flowing in, you can invest in some accessories for the pets, which improve their appearance and add a little bonus to the vet bill. An alternative is to buy supplies, patterns and a sewing machine and make some of those accessories yourself. Between oversized sunglasses, socks, pants, tops, hats, an eye-patch or a mustache, pets can look pretty ridiculous while on the grooming table, but as long as that appearance meter ranks high, their owners will be happy.

Aside from bathing, grooming and treating pets, you get to play with them and teach them tricks. Playing ensures the pets' social meter goes up and puts them in a good mood. Teaching them tricks puts you into a rhythm mini-game where you tap and hold down the stylus to mimic the notes on the screen. Succeed three times and the pet will learn that particular trick. The more you teach them, the better your payout at the end of a pet's stay.

A major difference from other Sims games is that time skips after the clinic closes, so you only control your character from 8 to 5.

On the technical side, I expected a bit more from the graphics. Everything is rendered in full 3D, and there is good detail and definition on the house and furniture. But the characters and pets are made of very low-polygon models and look pretty blocky. The animations aren't too bad and I was especially amused by the dance and play dead tricks, but I expected cats and dogs to react differently to a ball or another toy.

Most of the sound effects are well done. Cat meows, dog barks, simmish are interesting to hear, but the music will probably get to you quickly. You can either turn it off or change tunes by interacting with the stereo. There were two sounds that seemed out of place to me, the shower and the blow dryer. They could sound like a bunch of things, but not a shower or a blow dryer.

Last but not least, once you've unlocked the largest house for yourself, there is little more to do other than keep treating pets to earn money and buy the expensive furniture, so in the long run, the game becomes repetitive.

These problems aside, The Sims 2 Pets on the DS moves fluidly and has the same open-ended type of gameplay that is the trademark of all The Sims titles. It's a pocket vet with a sim component that you can play a little bit here, a little bit there, with the advantage to save at any time, and the wi-fi feature lets you trade items in your inventory with other players.

If you have always wanted to care for and nurse four-legged friends to health on the go, The Sims 2 Pets is your solution. But don't expect it to hold your interest for hours at a time.

Special thanks to Molly Strobel and EA for providing a copy of this title.