Review – Urbz: Sims in the City (Handheld)

Way, way back during the Nintendo DS’s post-launch software drought, I was hungry for games. My mother, as awesome as she is, caught a copy of the DS version of Urbz: Sims in the City marked down at Blockbuster Video and picked it up for me. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into, as this was before I had tried the rather mediocre console version of Urbz, and I wasn’t sure how the handheld series would progress past Bustin’ Out. It was probably best that I went in with no expectations, since I wound up coming out impressed. Now, it didn’t light my world on fire, exactly, so this is the first time I’ve replayed the game, but it has left a good taste in my mouth.

While the console version of Urbz was a new, urban take on the Sims’ formula, the handheld version is a follow-up to the handheld Bustin’ Out, which was more of an adventure game than a life simulator. That’s perfect, since Urbz on console sort of sucked and Bustin’ Out had a great gameplay loop that they just didn’t cash in on. Let’s see if they finally stick the landing with Urbz.

Anyone who played Bustin’ Out on GBA will feel right at home here. (Image source: Mobygames.com)

CITY SLICKER

What’s sort of weird from the offset is that Urbz is technically a direct sequel to Sims Bustin’ Out. I can’t get too into it without spoiling the ending, but it’s set up in such a way that if you haven’t played the previous game, you won’t be lost, since the narratives stand apart, but people who have played Bustin’ Out will see references and notice that some returning characters will claim that the player looks familiar. It’s subtle, but a nice touch.

As for the plot; it’s a weird one. Daddy Bigbucks — who was a jerk in Bustin’ Out, but now is straight-up evil — is attempting to buy all of the city of Miniopolis to turn it into an urban theme park. You find yourself fired from your job when Bigbucks manages to buy the building you work in, and you’re shunted out into the city to make it on your own and foil Bigbucks’ plan. Along the way, you work at a series of jobs, befriend the residents, and cure vampirism. It’s neat.

STREETS OF SIM CITY

Like The Sims Bustin’ Out, you’re let loose on the town and left to look for people with exclamation marks over their heads to receive objectives. The game is split into multiple chapters, and the goal is to progress through the five main ones. The missions are a smidge more varied than they were in Bustin’ Out, and rarely just involve attaining a certain profession rank. Instead, you’re more likely to find yourself solving mild puzzles or tracking down the location of a specific NPC or critter.

Urbz on handheld makes a token effort to reproduce the social system the was the focus of the console version by putting most of the NPC’s into one of four social groups: the Nerdies, the Streeties, the Arties, and the Richies. The benefit to schmoozing up to any of these groups is rep points, which gradually unlock special items that you can use at your pad. It’s not very exciting. Aside from that, the only thing that the handheld version lifted from the consoles is the urban environment, and even then, barely. Really, a good portion of the map is bayou.

Its connection to The Sims is tenuous to begin with. Its predecessor, Bustin’ Out, felt like its own game with its own personality, but there were moments while playing Urbz that I completely forgot about The Sims connection. It features its own characters, its own sense of humour, and its own gameplay loop. The only real connection is the fact that your sim has needs, like hunger and energy, a variety of skills that assist you with your professions, and you can decorate your apartment, as well as a few other isolated areas scattered about.

The DS version is essentially the same experience, but it does have touchscreen menus. (Image source: Mobygames.com)

CITY LIVING

Your sim’s needs tie into the main gameplay loop quite well. Often, you have to set out into the world to accomplish whatever you can before you finally have to return home to recharge. It gives a sense of groundedness to the adventure, which is comforting.

Bustin’ Out had an issue with its narrative never really going anywhere until it takes a sudden left turn at the eleventh hour and just ends. Urbz keeps the sort of wackiness that was found in Bustin’ Out, but tells a better paced and more satisfying tale. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but most chapters throw in a curveball that keeps things fun and interesting. The game world is divided into a number of sections that get unlocked as your progress, which provides a nice pace and keeps things from getting too overwhelming at the beginning.

It does begin to drag, though. Skills are now built quicker by tapping the A button and can be picked up instantly for a steep price at the university, so that at least speeds up the moments where you’re waiting for a bar to fill to get the next skill point. Jobs are done by playing mini-games and they’re a bit more fun than Bustin’ Out’s, but not substantially.

THE GUTTERS

There were two versions of the handheld Urbz: one for GBA and one for DS. As I implied in my preamble, I played the DS version, but the differences between the two are pretty minor. While there’s touchscreen menus on the DS, the graphics are practically identical, as far as I can tell. There is some differences in mini-games, a few extra sims in the DS version, as well as a few content bonuses for the DS. It’s mostly negligible, but worth noting.

It’s also worth noting that both versions have some pretty major bugs. Personally, I was prevented from 100% completing the game because a certain recyclable item stops showing up later in the game, preventing one of the reputation missions from being accomplished. It might be worth reading up on them before going into the game.

Otherwise, I really liked Urbz. It’s an appreciable improvement over The Sims: Bustin’ Out, taking the things that worked well in that game while trying to solve its problems. It’s not always successful, but it is an overall superior product. Its bizarre story, enjoyable gameplay, and excellent pacing make for a pretty pleasant time. It’s at least a lot better than the console version of The Urbz.

7/10

This game was reviewed on a New 3DS XL using an original DS cartridge of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 97 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.