SimAnimals, a simulation game for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS, puts nature in your hands, literally. You play as an animated hand as you tinker with the different forest environments by interacting with the creatures and plants found there. Because you can touch, pickup, and move all of the animals and plants, it is a fascinating experience that is hard to put down.
Full of more than 30 animals – including waddling porcupines, playful bears, smelly skunks, and determined beavers – and more than 80 plants, the game's overall theme is for you to help each animal and plant find happiness.
When you enter an environment, you will see a bar graph on the top of the screen indicating that the environment isn't happy. As you do things in the game, your actions have consequences either expressed as happy-faced or sad-faced energy that is aggregated on the happiness bar.
For example, if you put your hand over an acorn tree and shake it back and forth with the Wii remote, a seed might fall out. If you pick up that acorn and drop it on top of a squirrel, it will eat it and then emit happy energy. On the other hand, if you pick up a skunk, whirl it around, and fling it in the nearest stream, it will emit a sad energy. Likewise, if you pick up a tree and plop it into a soil it doesn't like, it will release sad energy.
To help you, the game offers nature lessons, and presents you with challenges that earn medals and unlock other animals and plants. You can choose which of these challenges to pursue. Most teach you more about how to interact with the animals and plants in a positive way, but a few have surprising consequences. For instance, if you pursue the challenge to make a skunk to spray your hand, your hand icon faints and drops to the ground.
As you make the first location happy, the next will unlock. Each location features different animals and plants. But you will find that you may need to introduce animals and plants from previous locations. You can do this by using the game's backpack.
Your backpack can store seeds, animals that you have befriended, and even a lake's worth of water. Befriending an animal is a process that involves feeding it and winning its trust so that you can pet and play with it. It may even turn over and have you tickle its stomach.
There are many things that make this game so compelling, including outstanding graphics, lyrical music, and a fabulous artificial intelligence, but the most attractive feature is that this game lets you explore the delicate balances found in nature. You can learn what each animal and plant needs, the interconnectivity of animals and plants, and the effects of pollution on the forest. Electronic Arts consulted with an animal behaviorist so much of the information presented in the game is true to nature. There is even an encyclopedia that helps you figure out what animals eat and what plants need.
There are also fantasy parts of the game, and they greatly enhance the fun. For example, you can wield lightning to destroy intrusive plants and there are fantasy plants that, when eaten, create wacky results including enlarging animals to three times their normal size.
Because this is a nature simulation, animals get eaten and plants die. But since it's an "E"-rated game, fights between animals are shown as a cloud of dust and then one animal simply disappears. Procreation is shown as affectionate actions like rubbing necks, nothing more.
Interestingly, predators in this game can be retrained to eat plants instead of animals, so if you want to spend your time making sure no animal eats another, you can.
SimAnimalsis a wonderful nature game because it teaches by letting you learn through your actions. To play alone, you have to be able to read; but for younger children, the Wii version offers cooperative play for up to four players. This is a great way for a parent and a child to go on an interactive nature walk together.
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