The console port of the original The Sims was okay. It did what it had to do, which was translate the game to console, while also adding on some extra features, like a light story mode and multiplayer. It wasn’t bad, honestly, but it did leave some room to grow. So much room, in fact, that less than a year later, EA was ready to release a follow-up. Yet, while Edge of Reality was responsible for the first port, the follow-up seems to have been handed back directly to Maxis, the developers of the original PC game.
Maxis, for their part, wound up taking the groundwork that Edge of Reality laid out and made it their own. Only better.
LEACHING OFF LANDGRAAB
The story mode — this time around named “Bustin’ Out” — is pretty similar to what was in the original console version of The Sims. Instead of the endless sandbox of the original PC title, you move from location to location, completing goals. It’s heavily career focused, as the only goals that are mandatory to complete before proceeding are getting promoted to the next tier in your profession. Many other goals are provided, however, and completing them awards you with various purchasable items and social interactions. These goals vary from simply visiting other locations, to attempted murder by robot.
The story revolves around the terror of Malcolm Landgrabb, the town’s resident rich guy, who has been going around, taking people’s stuff. Amusingly, he’s perfectly justified in a lot of his frustration, especially when it comes to the tenants who turned his summer home into a tacky love nest, or the people who converted his warehouse into a nightclub, rather than condos they had promised. But, I guess he’s a bit of a dick, so let’s all hate him. Your mother, who may or may not be Malcolm’s ex-wife, tasks you with becoming rich and successful so you can boot Landgraab out of his mansion. Yeah, I’m not sure how this world is supposed to function.
Depending on what career you pick out at the beginning, you’re pushed through a number of locations on your way to success. From mobile homes, to gothic manors, to toxic labs; no matter which way you go, you’ll live in some interesting places. Once you reach the end of your career, you move into Malcolm’s mansion. You then have the option of starting over with a new career track, with the ultimate goal being to complete all 7 career tracks. If you quit your job at any time, you can resume from your previous position at any time, so swapping from career track to career track carries no risk. It’s pretty laid back in that way.
SIM MY RIDE
It’s in its personality that Bustin’ Out really comes into its own. The Sims has always had a zany side to it, but with Bustin’ Out, it dives deeper into wackiness than before. The locations include a nudist colony and “The Octagon,” an obvious parody of the Pentagon, and each is pretty well put together. The nudist colony, for example, allows your sim to remain naked after showering and provides the social interaction to ask visiting sims to strip down to their flesh tuxedo.
Along with the wackier aesthetic, there are some pretty cool items that I wish were incorporated into newer Sims games. Things like the sonic shower (a holdover from the first console Sims) and the “miss memo” pod sleeper show a branching out into the fantastical. The touches of sci-fi and horror in some of the items make the world feel more lively and colourful, and it’s willingness to delve into cartoonishness gives it a splash of personality that recent games in the series stop just shy of.
It’s a style of humour that carries through to the characters and the way you interact with them. Everyone in The Sims first console outing was relatively grounded, and while they don’t go too far out in Bustin’ Out, there are some memorable characters. Malcolm Landgraab dashes around in his white suit and top hat, Mom has facial mud permanently smudged on her face, the General is dressed as… a military general. Not everyone is so bizarre, but there are quite a few characters who, the moment they land on your doorstep, you can tell where they’re from.
LETTING IT ALL HANG OUT
The progression itself creates a pretty interesting atmosphere. Rather than the suburban homes that the series is known for, few of the locations you move into are actually houses. Among the many locations in the game, you’ll find yourself in the back room of an art gallery, a shack behind a night club, and in a military base. The game doesn’t seem to have any issues with you bulldozing the location and erecting a home of your own, aside from dollar value and the game’s hard limit on objects allowed in a single environment. Doing so would cause you to miss out on some wicked couch surfing, though.
At the same time, this breaks down a bit in the late game. Things remain hectic at first, as you try to push through your career, build your skills, and accomplish goals, but completing one career means you’ve already spent quite a bit of time on your skills, and each subsequent career is going to take less time. The late game devolves into moving to the locations that have promotions available, then waiting until you have the opportunity to go to work to get a promotion. It’s spinning plates, really. You keep your Sim happy and your relationships in the green until your reach your goal.
It doesn’t help that, in the later stages of the game, you’re constantly shackled to other residents. The first console Sims had this issue as well; you’re given additional sims to control along with the one you create. That’s annoying to begin with, since there’s no advantage to having two Sims under your control, but you can leave the other controllable residents to the mercy of the game’s autonomy system. However, you can only trigger 3X game speed when every sim under your control is either asleep or at work, but your companions are unlikely to sleep when you do, which means you’ll spend a lot of time watching your sim sleep at the comparably slow 2X speed. Really, it would be ideal if you could just toggle 3X whenever you want to, since the skill improvement system works as it always has, and that means a lot of time watching a bar fill as your sim reads a book or lifts weights.
If you want to complete all goals in the game, you’re going to have to get married. Strangely, though, you can’t just marry whoever you want. You need to marry someone out of the free play homes. It’s pretty confusing. You’re also expected to have children, but mercifully you can ship them off to prep school once their grades get high enough. This seems to run counter to the game’s focus on couch surfing, since it becomes a family road trip, but I guess if you want to complete everything…
LEAVING THE NEST
If you’re not up for that, there’s always free play mode, but it’s weirdly hampered by a dearth of buildable lots that lead to a shortage of Sims to befriend. Like the first console Sims, there’s also the ability to play multi-player. The PS2 even included a mode where you could play online, similar to The Sims Online, though it was shut down back in 2008. The GameCube version, on the other hand, also allows a connection to the Game Boy Advance version of The Sims Bustin’ Out, though the console features are, as expected, pretty lackluster.
The Sims Bustin’ Out is an imperfect game, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s probably the best couch surfing simulator out there. Taking The Sims’ formula and tweaking it so that it focuses less on a single location proves to be a successful experiment, giving the game direction and progression that the original sorely lacked. While the PC follow-up, The Sims 2, would add necessary features, such as lifespans, Bustin’ Out manages to outlive the shelf life of its formula simply by adding this momentum to it. It’s still a worthwhile experience today, even while its PC predecessor, The Sims, languishes in antiquity.
It’s not entirely ideal. It’s hampered by facets of the original’s gameplay that it’s too stubborn to drop, like the hands-off progress bar skill building and boring social system. The game’s homestretch feels like busywork, rather than an interesting climax. However, if things get too hectic, you’ve always got the option to slow down and take the game in. Maybe move back in with mom and work on your skills in relative peace while she pees on the kitchen floor.
This review was conducted using the GameCube version of the game. The author used an original disk version of the game that they paid for out-of-pocket.