MySims Agents Preview: Spy vs. Sims

MySims Agents marks a shift in the MySims series away from free-roaming Sim with adventure game elements to actual adventure game with Sim flavorings.

The MySims series started out as a cutesy, cartoony version of the Sims series for PC and Wii that would let a younger generation of gamer take a crack at the building and customization of the Sims without asking them to navigate sexual relationships and simulated job grinds. From there, the series experimented with a more structured kind of game – like MySims Racing or MySims Kingdom – that had elements of other game genres around to direct gameplay objectives. However, it was still mostly a free-roaming game without much direction.

Now we have MySims Agents, an evolution in the MySims series toward a serious adventure game. Sure, it's still cutesy and cartoony – and about 85% of the cast is made up of Sims we've seen in other MySims game – but this is a game on a mission. And the mission is to become a secret agent.

What Is It?
MySims Agents is an adventure game for the Wii following the rise of a gumshoe detective to world-class agent as he works to recover the stolen Nightmare Crown. Players take the role of this young detective and progress through a series of mostly-linear levels to find clues, interview people and ultimately get to the bottom of the bigger mystery. Most of the gameplay is centered around gadgets that the player levels up over time – like evolving a basic magnifying glass to a high-tech footprint sensor – as well as the leveling of companion detectives that the main character can recruit.

What We Saw
I sat down for about an hour's worth of fiddling at EA Redwood Shores. The save I was playing on was toward the end of the game, so a lot of stuff was unlocked and gadgets were already leveled up.

How Far Along Is It?
MySims Agents is due out in September just before the mega-October rush. The build looked solid to me, although my hands-on time was limited to certain areas and puzzles because they were 100% finished.

What Needs Improvement?
Mind The Puzzle-Platform Ratio: A lot of Agents involves solving agent-y puzzles like lock-picking or hacking a computer. However, there are some platforming sections where the player has to guide the Agent through a jumping puzzle or across balance beams. Depending on how the ratio of puzzles-to-platforming stacks up, these sections will either blend in seamlessly with the secret agent theme or leave the player grumbling in frustration about how James Bond never got mobbed by butterflies and fell off a cliff.

What Should Stay The Same?
Adventure Gameplay: Part of the problem with the adventure-flavored MySims Kingdom was that there just wasn't enough structure to the story. It was hard to care about what the King wanted when there were endless possibilities for rearranging your house décor and endless numbers of Sims that wanted you to build junk for them. MySims Agent zeros in on the story and while it still that "Hey, let's go rearrange furniture in your secret headquarters" gameplay, there seems to be enough structure to the game to propel you out into the world to start solving mysteries instead of aimless wandering around to provoke local wildlife.

Fixed Camera: MySims Agent has a fixed camera that the player cannot control. This works well with the gameplay, because it allows the level developer to hide things from the player that they have to do detective work to find. It also makes Build mode less tedious because the Agent has to stand on a specific spot to enter build mode so that the camera can fix itself in the best possible angle for seeing the building area – a definite improvement over MySims Kingdom.

Smooth Sim Integration: A big part of any Sim game is working on inter-Sim relationships. This element makes its way into Agents through the recruitment system and the special side missions system. As the player goes through the game and meets all different kinds of Sims, he or she can recruit Sims as secret agent operatives. Recruiting a Sim moves them into the Agent's headquarters and the Agent can send them out to do side missions for other Sims, which improves the Agent's relationship with those Sims. While on these special missions, your Agent can carry on with main story missions and receive updates (or pleas for advice) from your other Agents in the field via text message. So it's almost like you're playing two games at once and that way, you can reap twice the benefits. Depending on who you recruit and how you train them, you can have a crack team of investigative Sims – or a bunch of bums that clutter up your basement.

Masks: There're a lot of hidden things in every level like bonus outfits or special items – but the big ticket items are always masks. Each mask a Sim finds has special abilities attached to it, like charisma or athleticism, and hanging the masks on a particular floor of the Agent's HQ trains all Sims that live on that floor in those skills. This is a neat way to customize your crack team of investigators because different missions require different combinations of skills. You can of course pick and choose different Sims from different floors to go on special side missions or take with you on main story missions – but sending an entire floor of Agents to do your bidding is both convenient and cool.

Final Thoughts
I'm looking forward to MySims Agents because I want to see MySims series evolve into solid adventure games. Between the collectibles and the unlockable hard puzzles, there's enough content here to move MySims away from the stigma of "baby's first god-complex game" and toward a series that appeals to everybody. During my demo, one of the MySims development team guys compared the series to The Muppets, saying that it'd be ideal to have a franchise of characters that you could use to tell any kind of story – or in this case, populate any kind of game. I'd be down with that; and I really hope Agents can lead the charge.