During my time with EA's latest foray into virtual people management, I realized that a handheld game was actually the optimal experience for The Sims: with its more limited scope than its console and PC counterparts, you're able to set your own level of investment, whether that involves lots of furious management of your imaginary pet and/or their owner, or a more casual style of play where you simply let them do their thing with minor nudges here and there.
So the platform is a match for the material. But does that mean it's any good?
It's a bite-sized Sims experience on your 3DS, meaning you'll be creating and customizing a person and/or pet, putting them to work, making new friends, and building that extension on your home that you always wanted. At its core, this is the same game we've been playing for the better part of a decade with stereoscopic visuals and the ability to manage furry friends.
Getting the feel of the series down
If there's one thing The Sims Studio can be congratulated on, it's finding a nice balance between the expansive, sometimes busy experience of the PC and console versions of the game without sacrificing too many of the options available to you. Your initial view is limited to your home and the block it's on as other Sims and pets wander on and off your property. You're able to fast-travel to other locations in town and interact with the other Sims there, giving the overall world a feeling of being broken up but never exactly walled off.
They make great pets
While the pet selection has been limited to cats and dogs (down from horses in the other versions of the game), it's never really to the game's detriment and you'll have plenty to do in terms of customizing and assigning behaviors to your new pet(s). Some of the most compulsively enjoyable time I spent with the game was when I had my shiba inu pup burrowing in the yard for treasure or having him befriend/menace the neighbor folk. The game exists in a nice place between the very specific focus of something like Nintendogs and the sometimes random oddness of The Sims.
A lot of systems management
First you have to switch between the Sims in your household. Then you have to toggle between the several menus to identify and mess around with the Karma Powers, but of yeah, did you remember to toggle the game speed back to normal time because it looks like it's night time and your Sim needs to sleep. But it's three in the morning, why do other Sims keep coming to your house? And on it goes until you feel like you might need to put The Sims 3 down for a minute to take a breather.
I'd hesitate to describe the systems here as daunting, but there are a lot of them and there is something of a learning curve to the whole thing that might be off-putting at first.
Functional but inessential 3D
AKA the "post-conversion effect." You know, like the big summer blockbuster films that that, five months from release get a 3D conversion, as soon as you sit down with them it's evident that this wasn't exactly intended to be a three dimensional experience. The Sims 3 Pets likewise doesn't really take advantage of the 3D in any particularly interesting way in terms of creating a sense of depth for the game's world. This series has never really been about visual flash, however, so you're probably not coming to this portable incarnation looking for any kind of 3D graphic innovation.
Worrying about doggie death
That is, if you don't have the cold, steel heart of a robot. For the rest of us, when those meters start getting low for our virtual pet and he's hungry/dirty/has to pee and we still haven't quite figured out yet how to get him through the actions that will keep him/her in existence... well, it gets a little hairy there as you worry you might be seeing a tiny little pet tombstone.
While The Sims 3 Pets represents a streamlining and in some ways, narrowing of the EA's virtual pet and person experience, there's still a decent amount of depth—to both the benefit and the detriment of the game. The actual gamification of The Sims experience is welcome here but you'll have to be prepared for something of a learning curve as you'll have to struggle against an unexpectedly complex series of menus which present the only real obstacle to enjoying the game.
The Sims 3 Pets is available now for the 3DS.