On the case
October 03, 2009
I like MySims Agents. Lots of people won't and for valid reasons. It's repetitive; its gameplay palette is limited to a handful of simple predictable activities; and its target audience resides on the opposite end of the gaming spectrum from the 'core' gang. Based on the quizzical looks I've received from my students, me playing a MySims game apparently doesn't compute. Wasn't I just playing Halo 3 ODST last week?
I like MySims Agents because it's exactly the game it means to be: an affable and stylish mystery adventure with an appealing personality and smart sense of humor. It's cute without being cloying, and it's fun to hang out with. Plus it looks fabulous. Sounds like the perfect date, doesn't it?
EA has struggled to find the right footing for its MySims franchise. The original game - sort of a Mini-Me version of The Sims - established a colorful childlike Mii/Animal Crossing universe and pared the gameplay down to mostly building and collecting. MySims Kingdom added RPG and storytelling elements to the mix, but it still focused on collections quests. Both games had plenty of charm, but after awhile the endless gathering and lack of gameplay variety sabotaged the fun. MySims Racing and MySims Party were essentially exercises in re-branding Mario Kart and Mario Party.
So along comes MySims Agents, and none too soon for the franchise: a game with a unique identity and powerful sense of itself. It's as if Lead Producer Rachel Bernstein and team erased all the whiteboards and asked, "What if we keep the cheerful blocky MySims characters and throw away nearly everything else?" And so, evidently, they did.
MySims Agents de-emphasizes the usual collecting/unlocking/building Sims formula by layering it with adventure/puzzle/light platforming elements. This is where the game finds its voice. You play a special agent "on a mission to uncover and foil the sinister plans of Morcubus, the corrupt CEO of MorcuCorp." As you progress, you receive spy gadgets enabling you to track footprints, pick locks, hack into computers and do molecular forensics, most of which are delivered as minigames. By searching for clues, you identify suspects, eliminate others, and finally solve cases that lead you to the inevitable confrontation with the nefarious Morcubus.
The game smartly sidesteps the old MySims grind by allowing you to use the items you discover and agents you recruit to upgrade your increasingly sophisticated headquarters, enabling you to send your agents on dispatch missions to solve their own cases. As each agent possesses unique attributes, deploying them and equipping the floors of the headquarters where they work requires a bit of strategy. No Grim Fandango-style head-scratchers here, but the designers have wisely figured out how to make the stuff you find useful, rather than merely decorative.
Adventure games have always relied on clever writing and a big sense of style to engage us (I mentioned Grim Fandango for a reason). MySims Agents may not rise to the level of GF in this regard, but it does quite well for itself, with bits of winking dialogue popping up throughout ("The Doctor says I need a gadget, and the only prescription is more megaphone.")
But the real star here is the world itself, courtesy of Art Director Terry Smith. Comparisons to other games are never quite fair, but to me the game looks like a clever alchemy of Sly Cooper's comic book-esque flair mixed with Animal Crossing and Lego Batman, filtered through the MySims design universe. It's a much bigger world than the first few hours of the game suggest, and each environment feels fresh. Despite the limited polygon count, narrow movement tracks and invisible walls, the world of MySims Agents is an inspired series of choices that convey the spirit of the game beautifully.
If you give it a chance (with the caveats I mentioned), I think you'll enjoy playing MySims Agents solo. But if you can, I recommend playing it with a 5-12 year old kid at your side. Give her the controls and let her explore and solve the mysteries herself. You can work together to solve the tougher puzzles, and you can try to guess beforehand who the culprits are. MySims Agents is an accessible game, but not a dumbed down one. If it sounds like your cup of tea, I encourage you to give it a look.