Mi Casa Es Su Trabajo
Playing Monopoly Junior is one of my most joyous childhood memories. I remember shuffling the box out from under my twin-sized bed, unfurling the rectangular carnival-themed board, and clasping the flimsy paper fives and ones between my small hands. Compared to the ubiquitous standardized Monopoly, this pint-sized version was minimal and sugar-coated, but that’s what made it short and sweet. Hopscotching my way around the board, I could see a fireworks display for two dollars (must have been the 1940's), take two dollars from “Uncle Pennybag’s Loose Change”, and ride the “Loop The Loop” – and finish the game in time for my friends and me to sneak some ice cream from the fridge.
In what is essentially “The Sims Junior”, MySims tries to rekindle those memories. It finger-paints over the complex workings of The Sims with simplified goals, cheerful colors, upbeat music, itsy-bitsy characters, and a simple story. A suburban town has turned to ruin with the disappearance of the town’s most gifted resident, an old builder who could use Essences in his work. Now, many of the town’s lots are empty, the gardens are filled with dying trees, and deliberately placed logs and boulders block your path to other areas. Mayor Rosalyn has searched far and wide for a person like you, another builder with a green thumb for Essences, and so with a quick hop off the local train, you begin your quest to spruce up this tiny, tattered “Sim City” Animal Crossing-style.
Among the first on your to-do list, after brushing through a drawn-out tutorial on how to construct houses and furniture, is collecting the cutely shaped Essences. These tiny, spinning objects allow you to paint lifeless blocks with a special pattern or color, which can turn a simple chair into a person’s favorite possession. Essences can be found everywhere and most of them need to be grown. Watering a tree will make yellow blossoms, green apples, and all sorts of organic materials appear, waiting for you to shake them off their branches. Fishing in a lake will earn you sharks, octopi, and tires. Talking to the townsfolk, to whom you can be nice or mean, will give you emotional Essences such as Happy and Angry.
In fact, whimsy is what MySims does best. There’s nothing quite like a spooky tree sprouting eyeballs and ghosts, or a metal tree that needs oil instead of water. Just growing a new tree, in place of one you just chopped down for wood, takes the tender love and care of about… twenty minutes. In between tending to the garden and prospecting for video games, crayons, and mega lizards, you can join your fellow neighbors for picnics, tea parties, and dance-offs. Nothing is left untouched by an air of light-hearted, cute fluffy-wuffiness.
Unfortunately, in your efforts to turn this humble village into a five-star hotspot, it doesn’t take long to understand why the old builder left. As much as it is oddly pleasant for the townspeople to all talk in Sim-speak, they never stop whining:
“I want a bookcase!”
”I want a bed!”
“I want a television!”
“I want a refrigerator with twenty orange Essences!”
Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag.
You have, in essence, volunteered to become a parent to children who graduated from college but are still asking for money - and what’s more, you are intentionally trying to spoil them. Adding insult to injury, instead of people coming to you, you are the one who has to walk to their house to receive a task, wait for the screen to load, walk to the workshop, wait for the screen to load, build their requested item, wait for the load, walk back to the person’s house, wait, open the menu to “give stuff”, wait, place the object for them, and wait again for the person to give you what? Another task. Further, if you don’t have the right amount and type of Essences, then you can add gruntwork and more loading times to the list. Now you know why Martha Stewart always looks pissed.
Worse yet, your frequent reward for doing all of this are blueprints. That’s right, pieces of paper that tell you how to build something for yourself. The gift for working pro-bono is more work. Sure, it’s one thing to spend your time building a house for a needy family in Extreme Makeover Home Edition. It’s quite another to be a slave to a bunch of grinning, materialistic adults – and then go home to do your own redecorating.
Eventually, you will wish that you could just build Home Depot and have them take care of themselves.
Creativity, however, can alleviate much of the monotony, and the game’s many editors certainly give you a lot of blocks to choose from. You can click and drag, resize, and rotate pieces to create most anything you can think of, like a hideously spiky toilet bowl and matching towel rack, and then give them to you one of your acquaintances - for relationship points, of course.
Inconsistencies and unfriendly interfaces, though, hinder much of what you can build. Not only are you limited to an average number of objects that a space can have, but the space inside a room doesn’t reflect the house exterior at all. You can build yourself a mansion lined with ornate windows, built with modern shapes and multi-floor designs, and bordered by cylindrical columns, but all you’ll have inside is a single rectangular floor separated into three fixed rooms. For décor, you can decorate other people’s houses with televisions, bongos, and ornate bathtubs, but you can’t decorate your own house with cool things until you unlock them. Stranger still, you can’t create rectangular blocks when building houses, and if you happen to delete something, there’s no undo button.
Where the game should remind you of Monopoly Junior, it just reminds you of Monopoly. The first hour is caught in the excitement of possibility - and then someone gets Park Place and Boardwalk, and the rest boils down to dice-rolling for hours and hoping that you don’t land on the wrong property. There may even come a moment when you want to sit in jail for three turns just to avoid them. Whimsical, playful, and bright, MySims surrounds you with fun - but what you do is work.