Livin' for the city.
The suburbanite Sims, weary of parakeets and doling out cups of sugar to the unruly youngsters, have decided to go out and get a life. Armed with only their status bars and work ethic, they brave the harsh grid of pitbulls and ruthless fashionistas in the big city in an effort to do it like The Jeffersons. Can they once again pull off the Hurculean task of bringing together the masses under one Synagogue of Simmish?
Put it this way: if it were a religion, I'd probably convert to Simmism. This version of The Urbz is addictive, fun, and a decent way to break in your brand new DS.
You begin by creating and naming either a male or female Urb. After some basic customizing, the little freak is then dropped into the city of Miniopolis, where resident Simillionaire, Daddy Bigbucks, is plotting to tear down the whole city and open an amusement park in its dust. Your mission - which you must choose to accept, of course - is to do everything in your itty-bitty Urb power to stop him.
Your first job is as a squeegee-packing janitor, wiping bird poop off skyscraper windows, in which you have your first disheveled residence. Your meager earnings go into a fund so you can, one day, afford your very own fern. There are loads of subquests to complete in the Urbz, from being tossed in jail, going on a date and purchasing museum exhibits to beating a mad fiddler at his own game. Each set of completed subquests will unlock new regions of the impressively expansive city. Thankfully, you can acquire a hoverboard or a motorcycle to take the strain off your wee peds.
In refreshing contrast to its home console brethren, this Urbz port (as well as the GBA version) plays like an Adventure/RPG rather than the usual cursor-driven simulation we've grown accustomed to over the years, and it works well. You control your Urb with the D-pad, run with the B button, and physically interact with objects by pressing A, while the touch-screen is used for navigating the menu trees. Earning money is done through varied, simple, and entertaining mini-games spread throughout the game which include shooting hoops, dodging tomatoes as a stand-up comedian, riding motocross, and playing card games, among others.
You may earn promotions in such jobs through building your usual set of skill parameters, like 'body' and 'cooking', and that's when the Simoleans really start rolling in. It is easy to accumulate a lot of money in The Urbz by going to "work" every day, which is great since it keeps these mini-games more of an option than a necessity, keeping them fresh. That is, of course, if you don't need a wall lined with plasma TVs, and who in their right mind wouldn't want that if their job is shooting basketballs? Another option is taking cooking or creativity classes if you don't have the patience to wait through the manual buildup.
In a nod to Animal Crossing, different furnishings are available every day from a thrift shop or online. Some objects, such as cooking ingredients and recycleables, are scattered in certain locations throughout the city for you to use and sell. In addition to giving you loads of things to do, Maxis has balanced money-making with expenditures brilliantly; as soon as you have too much loot is as soon as you'll need to rent out and refurnish that Skyline Penthouse.
However, they didn't quite work out the balance between gameplay time and object cost. Provided that you go to work every so often and can afford that penthouse, you've pretty much owned every object there is in the game. More goodies would have been, well, good.
Too offset this, they threw in the ability to create pets, a mini-game where you use cooking ingredients make various desserts, and the ability to have any of the city folk move in with you. It might be small on objects, but it's big on options.
Of all the things to do in The Urbz, character dialogue and keeping your drive meters at livable levels are the least entertaining, though their rewards are the most crucial. Character interactions are done with a top-screen character portrait, while the touch-screen is occupied by various dialogue choices, each of which yields either a positive or negative reaction with a little semi-witty text blurb. Each character has their own style, and it's usually pretty easy figuring out what dialogue makes a certain character happy. Why in the world would a sailor care about art? A cyberpunk with a purple mohawk might just like to talk about music.
As you get better at being a friend-making machine, beware of blowing past a critical bit of info, else you'll be wandering the streets with no idea what to do next. The ability to sift through the specifics of each objective would have helped ease the pain of being lost.
Making friends or enemies is critical to completing subquests or in earning Xissle beads, with which you can buy passive Urb upgrades such as higher resistances to your ever-decreasing bio drive meters. In classic Sims style, the hunger, rest, cleanliness, comfort, fun, social, house quality, and good ol' mother nature bio drives are back and stronger than ever. These urges are a nuisance to manage, but when your Urb is taking a shower with the cleanliness meter slowly filling back to green, the touch-screen menus allow you to browse for new furnishings, check your inventory, skills, goals, and so forth, so you won't mind the small wait. By the time you've brushed up on your current status, your Urb will be done and ready to go onto the next task.
Meter upkeep, like in other Sims games, keeps you able to work, interact socially, and hold it together. Since there is no way to kill your Urb, you instead pass out and wake up in the hospital. A bummer to those little people who like to burn ants with a magnifying glass, the Urbs are bulletproof.
The look of The Urbz is entirely functional but does not show off the DS graphical capability, though the visuals fit the cartoony nature of the game. Characters, environments, and objects are sprite-based and are bright, lush, and animated. The music is likewise appropriate to the atmosphere, combining a sense of haste with a sense of home, depending what kind of music is blaring from your sound system. Simmish is, of course, in full effect, though most characters sound like they are in need of a cough drop.
The Urbz is an addictive game that any fan of games like Animal Crossing will appreciate. It doesn't take full advantage of the DS capabilities, but it's still one of the better games currently available. Look above you for the hovering diamond and give it a shot.