The Sims 3

How do you fit an entire life in your pocket? It’s a tough question, but it’s one that The Sims 3 needs to answer. Bringing the best selling video game franchise of all time to the iPhone is a big challenge, even for EA. From birth to death and all of the relationships, careers and home furnishings that happen in between, The Sims is known for its epic scope. Can all of that really fit onto a portable device?

The Sims 3 on the iPhone does an excellent job of taking the complete Sims 3 package from the full PC version and downsizes it into a portable-friendly package. And while that downsizing means that a good portion of what’s offered in the full version is missing, the developers managed to retain the one thing that was truly important: the Sims 3 experience.

While the basics of Sims 3 will be familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the previous games, a number of revisions have been made that greatly enhance the overall experience. Unlike previous Sims titles that emphasized staying at home, The Sims 3 is all about going out on the town. Leaving your home and heading out into the neighborhood leads to a wealth of new experiences. Meeting new people, shopping, getting jobs, and participating in activities like fishing all happen while exploring the outdoor environment. And don’t worry about looking for an outhouse or a snack bar, The Sims 3 focuses far less on the mundane daily aspects of life and more on the big picture this time around.

And that’s what really sets The Sims 3 apart from it’s predecessors, even in this portable incarnation. Instead of constantly micro-managing your Sim’s needs (eat, poop, sleep, repeat) you’ll work on developing your Sim’s individual skills. For example, in previous Sims games you’d need to feed your Sim when he was hungry. In The Sims 3 you’ll need to prepare a meal and improve your cooking skill through a mini-game. But to do that you’ll first need to learn some recipes from the restaurant across town and buy the ingredients from the corner store. But you’ll need money for those ingredients, so you should catch some fish to sell (through yet again another mini-game). Instead of keeping an eye on bladder control issues, the pocket version of The Sims 3 has you working on improving your Sim’s abilities as a person.

As those familiar with the franchise know, The Sims has always been an information heavy game. Bringing up data on your character’s happiness, relationships, jobs, skills, etc.. has been a central part in getting to know your character and deciding what to work on next. It’s downright baffling to think that they could somehow manage to squeeze all of that information onto the you’ve come to expect from the series. What’s more, the information at the bottom of the screen is context sensitive. If you’re in a conversation with another sim the standard info will disappear and statistics regarding your current friendship level wit that other sim will pop up. The game always knows what info you’re going to need and pops it up before you’d ever think to look.

Adding to the solid gameplay is the new Goals & Wishes system. Periodically new wishes become available that range in scope from “cook a meal” or “catch a catfish” to “get married.” There’s even some weird stuff in there like “sleep in 3 others Sims bed” or “use another Sims shower.” You can lock up to 4 of these wishes in as goals at any time, which gives you something to start working towards in case you’re at a loss for what to have your Sim do next. It’s a fantastic little incentive system that will keep you coming back to portable version of The Sims 3 day after day.

It would have been nearly impossible for everything from the PC original to be shrunk down to size to fit onto the iPhone version. Despite doing a fantastic job of capturing the things that really matter in the game, what aspects of the Sims were clearly left on the cutting room floor? In a word, customization.

One of the first things you’ll notice upon booting up the game for the first time is how limited your character design choices are compared to the PC version. Hair styles, skin color and clothing offer up minimal choice, and your characters face can’t be modified in any way. Once you get into the game and start shopping around you’ll notice that your home furnishing options are also lacking when compared to what we’ve grown used to. And don’t expect to be knocking down walls and designing a house exactly to your tastes. You’re going to need to treat this one like a rental property and learn to live with how little can actually be tweaked. While all of this sounds like a turn off at first, you quickly realize that this serves as a vehicle to get you to focus on what makes The Sims 3 stand out from its predecessors.

When The Sims was originally released in 2000, the closest any of us could get to recreating the experience on the go was the Tamagotchi. Now less than 10 years later The Sims 3 has offered up the complete Sims experience for the mobile minded gamer. If you’ve ever enjoyed a past version of The Sims, another life-simulation knock-off, or yes — even a Tamagotchi, consider The Sims 3 on the iPhone money well spent.