So, SimAnimals: it’s a kind of cartoon ecosystem where you play as a benevolent mother/father nature. Starting with a small area of woodland, you set about making it a pleasant place for 25 species of animals and 50 species of plants to live – not all at once though, as certain species are confined to later levels deeper within the forest.

You interact with everything via a floating hand cursor. Grab hold of an empty spot of land and you can drag the world beneath the camera, a bit like controlling Google Earth. You can also pick fruits from the plants, pick up entire trees and position them elsewhere, poke, prod, slap and cuddle the animals, or just float around and see what the forest creatures make of their strange, white-gloved overlord. When you manage to bring animals together to create mini-animals, the offspring can be named so you can follow their progress in the game world. Sweet and fluffy.

The interface is just your floating hand cursor and strips of icons that can be summoned from the screen edges. Pick up a withered bush from a dried-out spot of land, drop it near a river and happiness will ooze out of it – at the moment this is represented by smiley faces, which you can click on to be transported to their source. The burrow of rabbits living nearby may also be quite pleased, as they’ll have something nice to munch on, and they’ll multiply. But too much munching will harm the plant, releasing unhappy vibes into the air. The game world carries on regardless of what part you’re looking at. You’ll be notified if something important happens.

Your options could then include collecting seeds from the plants, watering them and growing enough for everyone to eat. Or maybe directing some of the local predators towards the fluffy bunnies, and seeing if a few well-fed foxes, wolves and bears might outweigh the benefits of a thriving rabbit population. Animals form family groups which will learn to trust or distrust you and up to three friends, according to how you play. And you might have to introduce various creatures to fill gaps in the food chain – for example, stopping foxes eating rabbits by providing nesting places for birds, so the foxes just take a few eggs instead. It’s deep, unique and very nicely suited to Wii, with a sandbox mode for casual players and specific goals for experienced gamers. If the developers can strike the right balance between simulation and game, this is going to be great.

Sep 8, 2008