Kid’s games. For me, the phrase brings to mind tedious exercises in bland, cloying dialogue, nonsensical stories and dumbed-down, poorly implemented gameplay; games no one over ten could enjoy. But sometimes, just sometimes, a game aimed at children is just plain fun. Such is the case with MySims Agents.
The Setup: Corporations are Out to Get You
Agents is the latest in Electronic Arts MySims series. Conceptually, I don’t like MySims, which uses the Sims name to create children’s games that have nothing to do with the Sims series. It’s sort of like making a toaster and calling it the “Star Wars Toaster” so people will buy it.
The one MySims game I tried, MySims Party, was a fairly wretched mini-game collection.
In spite of my misgivings, I had to try out Agents, because it was billed as a “mystery-solving adventure game,” and it is very difficult for me to resist anything with “mystery” and “adventure” in the description.
Agents follows the adventures of a local detective who gets selected by a government agency to investigate a series of mysteries set in spooky mansions and ancient ruins populated by a mad scientist, a yeti, a zombie butler and a giant squid. Every case connects to MorcuCorp, a mega-corporation run by Morcubus, who is so evil that he will take time out from his plans of world domination to steal a little girl’s puppy.
Agents has that cynicism about the powerful often seen in children’s entertainment. At one point your avatar (who can be male or female and of either sex; I chose a girl named Sam) discovers a letter from a local politician that reads, “Dear Morcubus, Thank you for the donation. Of course I will not close down your evil factory,” a missive worthy of Rod Blagojevich.
Gameplay: Mainly Easy but Enjoyable
Gameplay is a mix of exploration, puzzle solving, mini-games and platforming. Agents is structured like a traditional adventure game, with “Sam” following clues and interviewing suspects to find out what to do next. The game pretty much leads players by the nose; whenever Sam finds a clue she announces the next necessary step. If you forget, you can call up a help screen that tells you what you should be doing.
Sam carries a variety of detecting tools. One tool can trace footsteps, useful in finding out where a criminal came from or went to. Another can be used to manipulate boxes in order to create platforms to allow access to new areas. Sam also uses these tools to initiate mini-games. Picking a lock involves a disappointingly simple sliding-box mini-game. Scientific analysis of mysterious substances involves a trickier game in which items must be fit together properly. Repairing objects is the most difficult of the mini-games, you must use cogs, fan belts and mirrors to get complex machinery working.
The weakest sections of the game are the poorly designed platforming sequences, in which the agent must jump from rooftop to rooftop or walk along narrow beams. Jumping feels very inexact, and I fell far more often than seemed justified. Since you can’t die this is no more than inconvenient, but it is far less fun than it should be.
Besides the main story arc, players can also optionally send agents out to solve local cases. You recruit agents who you’ve met in previous cases, each of whom has strengths like athleticism or charisma. You put these agents on teams, and can use items found in the game to increase agent strengths. Then you send them out on cases which require particular strengths.
Agents report back on their cases by phone as you proceed with the main story. Sometimes they just tell you what they’re doing, while occasionally they ask you a question on how to proceed. If you ignore the question for a while they make the choice on their own.
This seems like an interesting idea, but in practice it is just annoying to have to keep answering your cell phone to get vaguely humorous updates, and after a while I simply stopped bothering sending agents out. The idea has some merit, but a few important phone calls would have been vastly preferable to a dozen trivial ones.
With colorful visuals reminiscent of those of the Lego series, this pleasantly humorous game offers easygoing fun for children aged seven to seventy. In spite of its unsatisfactory and rather inane finale, the game deserves a place alongside terrific kid’s game like Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat From Your Head to Your Feet. I will probably always approach children’s games with trepidation, but thanks to games like MySims Agents, I will continue to give them the chance to surprise me.