Early this year, Electronic Arts put out a game titled SimAnimals which allowed gamers to manage and play with an assortment of cute woodland animals. It was a part of the popular The Sims series, albeit with animals and plants rather than humans and neighborhoods. The game did well enough to get a sequel in the form of SimAnimals Africa. The new title reminds me a bit of EA's old game, SimSafari, due to the exotic location, although this new title is certainly better visually than its predecessor and has more interesting animals at the player's disposal. Even so, it lacks in the long-lasting department and in creativity, which is a shock considering how ambitious the game appears to be at first glance.
The title takes place in Africa as the player is instructed by special animal totems about the ways they can help make certain areas of Africa be healthier and happier. The animals there need help, and the player is required to make friends with the animals and find ways to make them happy. The player utilizes an omnipotent hand and can look down on the landscape or focus in closely on each animal. Bonding happens as the animal gets attention from the hand, and it can be fed, pet, played with, and moved around. A new experience here is that the player can actually become the animal and then run around to accomplish certain goals. Each animal has their own special abilities, such as the giraffe being able to swing fruit down, the elephant shooting up water, and the lion devouring everything in sight. Like in SimAnimals, the animals do fall in love, breed, and have cute little babies to coo over. Also as before, the predators try to eat the prey, and this can lead to some very emotional moments after the player spends time with a zebra only to have it eaten. It's the circle of life!
Visually this game is very cartoon-like and this works brilliantly for the style and atmosphere. It is colorful and pleasing to look at, plus there is a jungle musical beat in the background that helps the African vibe. The visual glitches from the first game seem to be gone, and this time around the animals look well detailed and attractive. The player can 'level up' their animals by playing games with them or just giving appropriate attention, and then the animals will be capable of doing greater acts. For example a hippo digs holes, and after reaching level two in strength it can dig in areas it was too weak to dig before. Other animals are more interested in being the pets that are smothered with love by the hand, and those special creatures get more attention from the rest of their herd. The Wiimotes are used in logical ways, such as petting the animals by moving it up and down, and by pressing buttons at the right time to catch flowers in the air. The animals have want meters such as food, drink, and play, and there are less concerns this time around about making plants grow and overpopulating the area.
The game has a strong concept, and with the neat African theme it really should have been better. However, the problem is that it all gets boring very fast. Even though it is not exceptionally long, one will be tired of the game before reaching the end. I finished it in only a few hours, and after the millionth time petting the zebras until they liked me, it was, simply put, boring. Everything is repetitious, especially the mini-games because there are really only two of them: a ring toss and a drum jumping game. Both are entertaining the first few times, but not after that. Perhaps if each animal had their own special mini-game it could have been spaced out better. There are only eight species too which is a real problem, especially considering the rich world of Africa they had to explore. In SimAnimals there were almost too many animals, but at least that never got very boring.
Some of the changes made in SimAnimals Africa are great ones. Interacting with the animals is more entertaining with special mini-games and it makes everything more personal. Each area has its own set of level making decisions that are small and easy to navigate. The game looks better and moves more fluidly, and while the camera is not perfect, it does not distract from playing. The set up of the game is interesting, it is just that the execution feels lazy. There is so much more that could be done here, and since it really works early on, it is disappointing that everything becomes repetitious and tedious. If they threw in more diverse animals and made each one distinctly different, with special mini-games and perhaps even petting techniques, it could have worked. As it is, SimAnimals Africa feels more like an expansion pack then its own game.
That being said, this is probably a great game for a very young gaming audience. It might keep the interest of anyone between six and nine, so for that age bracket this is a successful game. Fans of the first game will find much to like about this sequel, although they might be unhappy with the lack of species and smaller world.
SimAnimals Africa is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for comic mischief. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS.