When adapting a big game to a handheld system, how much can be stripped away before the game loses its identity? The Sims 3 on the 3DS tries valiantly to retain the series' absorbing life management, serving up some of the easygoing dollhouse joy that Sims addicts have come to crave. Yet while the superficial fun is retained, the loss of certain features and the restructuring of others make The Sims 3 more predictable and hollow than it might have been. It's still entertaining to watch your sim interact with others, gesticulating wildly while telling a joke. But the delicate balance of mundane activities versus social ones has been upset, so you spend more time repairing television sets and less time going out for a night on the town. Both Sims fans and newcomers will initially take to this portable people farm. All too soon, however, the fun transforms into something far more insidious: tedium.
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The basics remain the same from the PC and console versions of The Sims 3. You create a little digital person called a sim and customize his or her features, clothing, and traits. You also select a lifetime wish to work toward, such as becoming a rock star or leader of the free world. Sim creation has been pared down, but there are enough choices for you to make a somewhat authentic-looking version of yourself, your best friend, Oprah Winfrey, or an individual born of your imagination. The jaunty music pulled from the other versions of the game sets the stage for the cuteness to come, and its pizzicato strings and catchy melodies continue through the game. The soundtrack is a delightful comfort, brightening up the day as you guide your tiny person through everyday life. This means getting him to work on time, emptying his bladder when he needs to go, and watching TV or playing on the computer to unwind. Sleeping, reading, and shopping are all tasks you assign to your sim, and as long as he's not too unhappy, he'll perform these tasks as you queue them up.
There is some fun to be had here, as franchise fans would rightfully expect. Unplanned events are possibly the most enjoyable ones. For instance, your wannabe chef might start a fire while cooking up some mac and cheese. The stove erupts in flames, your sim goes into hysterics, and you can either try to get your sim to handle it himself or have him call the fire department. (Or, if you have a fire alarm installed, firefighters will come automatically.) If you'd rather keep things less dramatic, you can play your guitar for tips, which not only earns you simoleans, but also improves your guitar skill. And if you don't want to play Mr. Nice Guy, why not pick a fight with another sim? The resulting cartoonish scuffle is a hoot to watch and makes it tempting to make more enemies than friends.
The superficial joys provide a few hours of entertainment, but they are sadly undercut by the frustrations that soon set in--most of them a result of how the game has stripped away elements of its big brother on the PC. For example, appliances break far too often, so your shower or sink will spew water everywhere, forcing you to repair it and mop up the spills. Yet unlike in other versions of the game, you can't hire a maid and call a repairman. Thus, you waste time dealing with puddles when you'd rather head to the bookstore. (There are two different town hubs to visit in addition to your own lot.) The game may indicate that your handy sim wants to improve his repair skill within a certain time period, but you have to wait for something to break because you can't tinker with electronics as you might in other versions.