A port of The Urbz: Sims in the City
Starting out as a humble window washer in the city of Miniopolis, the player is quickly embroiled in a devious plot by the greedy tycoon Daddy Bigbucks to take over the city.
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Los Urbz (2004): El salto respecto a "Toman la calle" es abismal. Personajes inolvidables, minijuegos divertidísimos, una trama tontísima pero que engancha y un loop jugable muy adictivo. Tal vez el estilo artístico sea lo menos destacable, pero por lo demás es impecable (9,00)
By the mid 2000s, EA had raked in massive profits with their SimCity spin-off, a game series you might have heard of called The Sims, and the publisher started looking into the possibility of making other kinds of spin-offs to expand the series even further. One such idea turned out to be Urbz: Sims in the City, a console game that sought to bring the Sims formula to the big city, introducing some new mechanics involving different cliques from the city. EA really hoped Urbz would make it big, not only planning sequels ahead of time, but also integrating the Black Eyed Peas themselves into the game to give it that sweet marketing push.
It flopped, and we never heard the name Urbz ever again. And all of that is, Black Eyed Peas included, is all a moot point, anyway, as that game has nothing to do with the one I'm reviewing. See, this was the 2000s, a time in which, if EA made a game, they made sure it was on all major home consoles, portable consoles and, sometimes, mobile phones. Naturally, it was impossible to have the same game across all three as it was too wide a range of technology, especially since smartphones weren't a thing yet. So instead, EA took care of the home console version in-house and hired other studios to make smaller scale games with the same title for the other platforms. In the GBA's case, they'd already developed a partnership with Griptonite Games for The Sims Bustin' Out, and they left them in charge of creating a similar thing for Urbz.
Why am I telling this whole story? Because there's a beautiful irony to it: EA went through all the trouble of creating and marketing a new franchise, with this new cool branding and these famous singers making cameos... and I found it all completely repulsive, causing me to never touch GBA Urbz until 2023. Had they just said that they'd made a sequel to The Sims Bustin' Out and marketed it as such, younger me would have quickly began saving her allowance, after all, Bustin' Out was a huge favorite. Of course, that's not to say that I wouldn't walk away disappointed, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Like its prequel, Urbz takes place outside of the house in a bit of an RPG-life-sim mix. Your sim lives in the city of Miniopolis and tries to get by as a window cleaner. Their life, and in fact, the lives of everyone else in town, is disrupted by the arrival of Daddy Bigbucks, who decides to buy all the properties in town to construct a giant theme park in their place. To fight back against the capitalist's domination and keep their beloved home intact, you'll join forces with your fellow inhabitants to disrupt his plans, staging protests and upending his partnerships around town.
The game is split into five chapters, all of which follow a quest-based structure: folks around town will show up with an exclamation mark on their head, meaning they have a mission to give you, each of which has its own miniature storyline and objectives that usually revolve around befriending people, obtaining items, raising funds and performing different actions that may or may not require a certain level of a skill. In true Sims fashion, your sim has motives that must be kept high through eating, peeing, etcetera, and also skills, like Cooking and Logic, that can be improved through practice.
To achieve all that, they will need a nice house and money, and in this, Bustin' Out and Urbz distance themselves from the parent series: there is no build mode, with pre-made houses that are made available as rentals in different parts of the story, and furniture that has to be bought from stores and placed from your inventory. Careers also work in a different manner: in true gig-economy fashion, there are no fixed jobs, with your sim being able to perform odd jobs (in the form of minigames) at set times around town for money. They can still get promoted if their performance and skills are high enough.
At first, I was completely in love with Urbz. You often hear people say that they wish they could forget a game and play it again, and that's what it felt: it's the same mechanics, multiple returning characters, the writing filled with satire about daily life, all in a completely different setting -- a sequel I never imagined existed, and never hoped to find. Cracks almost immediately began to show, however, and after the opening chapters, it was clear to me that Urbz had been pushed out in a lot less time than its prequel.
Game balance is completely out of tune, for one. Motives go down very fast in general, but more than that, you now get punished for running by having your sleep meter fall much faster. The alternative to running is using a bike, which handles quite poorly for the narrow city streets and ends up being much slower than going on foot, so in one way or another the game is made into a bore. There are obtainable skills called Xizzles that are supposed to help slow motive decay, but they don't help a lot, and to get all of them, you have to play multiplayer with someone else who's in a different faction than you -- good luck with that. Both Xizzles and the game's four factions -- Nerdies, Artsies, Streeties and Richies -- feel like a bolted-on holdover from the console versions that you can safely ignore to no penalty.
Also, massive shoutouts to the burglars in Miniopolis, who are working overtime all throughout the week. There's a random chance to get robbed whenever you go outside, be it for a minute or a day, and you can bet you'll be saving for a security system pretty soon, because oh boy, Miniopolis makes any major city on Earth look like a playground. The game isn't specific about the odds, but from my experience, the odds to get robbed are somewhere near 75%. I was robbed upwards of five times in a row, and in the early game, my character had to spend a week wetting themselves because their toilet got stolen twice and the store wouldn't restock those anymore. It would have been cheaper -- and less humiliating -- to just move to SimValley.
Now, all of these make some hilarious stories, and could be chalked down to funny quirks of the game. Towards the end, though, everything begins to fall apart. Jobs become more and more luck-based; mechanics begin to pop up that the game never explains and just expects the player to look up online; quest objectives stop making sense, requiring that the player guesses the means to complete them; finally, there are glitches and even a broken quest. Suffice to say, as I got to the final chapter, I was wishing the game would end sooner rather than later.
So in the end, Urbz came, and went, and I was left wanting to play Bustin' Out again more than anything else. It wasn't throughly bad, but I'm somewhat glad EA didn't market it directly to me, so I was free to spend my money on The Minish Cap or something else. Incidentally, I looked it up, and the other GBA Sim games lose the Bustin' Out gameplay, with Sims 2 being a bizarre movie sim with some pretty odd writing, while Sims 2 Pets is the very definition of shovelware. So I guess my portable Sims adventures end with Urbz.
I think this vs Bustin' Out comes down to preference over the things each game does better than the other. Bustin' Out better characterizes the player character, Urbz better characterizes the rest of the cast. SimValley is a more interesting setting mechanically, but Miniopolis's New Orleans slant is more interesting aesthetically. Bustin' Out is grounded (insofar as the Sims is ever grounded), Urbz is more out-there. I think I like the overall gameplay loop to Urbz more, much as I feel there's more purpose to Bustin' Out. I prefer the pay-off for certain character arcs in Urbz, as much fun as the characters are in the out-of-context existence in Bustin' Out. But both are good!