The Urbz is the latest evolution of developer Maxis' Sims franchise. The series rose to prominence on the PC a few years ago, but it has since begun a second life on home consoles and portable systems with the advent of last year's The Sims Bustin' Out. Whereas other PC franchises are sometimes oversimplified beyond recognition or just done wrong when they come to other platforms, especially portable, The Sims has managed to do right by its franchises and the consoles to which it has been brought. As a result, the franchise has managed to stay true to its roots and actually evolve at the same time. The Urbz marks a new, inventive take on the Sims concept. The Game Boy Advance game takes its cue from its console cousins and will serve up a portable variation on their urban Sims experience. We had the chance to get a look at a work-in-progress version of the game and verify its street cred.
The Urbz experience on the Game Boy Advance is a tiny version of the console game's big city life sim. The game will use a variation of the mission-based structure used for the GBA version of Bustin' Out and it will task you with guiding your Sim on the long, hard road of living in the big city. When the game starts you'll see the rocket ship that ferried you off to presumably bigger and better things at the end of Bustin' Out has brought you to the roof of a building in a strange new place. You'll have a total of five urban neighborhoods to explore on your road to becoming "down": Sim quarter, urbania, bayou, carnival, and glass town. You'll be able to mosey over to each neighborhood once you've completed and opened up a number of objectives.
All told, the five neighborhoods will offer 25 areas for you to explore as each 'hood has its own unique spots for you to poke around. The game will differ a bit from its console cousins in that when you first start the game you'll have to answer a number of deep, probing psychological questions that will let the game pass judgment on you and assign you to one of the different groups in the game: arties, nerdies, streeties, and richies. Each group will have its own unique quirks to set themselves apart.
The gameplay will once again put you in direct control of a virtual person of your own design. However, as with Bustin' Out, the game places less emphasis on the standard Sim needs, such as hygiene, and lets you focus more on living your virtual life. In fact, it will be possible to earn special motives, such as insomnia, that let your Sim pretty much go without sleep. Your daily life is filled with events and various tasks that will have you interacting with the denizens of the neighborhood and collecting all kinds of stuff. In the material sense, you'll find over 120 new objects, including a sensory-deprivation tank, personal skydiving machine, and a boogalooga box (it will make sense when you see it probably).
In the less tangible arena, you'll also get "xizzles," power-ups you'll earn in exchange for beads. You'll get the power-ups from Darius, a character from the console version of the Urbz who works double duty and makes a cameo appearance on the GBA. As with Bustin' Out, your game experience will also include a liberal dose of minigame action in eight new games, such as Moogoo Monkey Madness (arguably the best title ever to use the word "monkey"), and Motocross Mayhem, an Excitebike-style racer that lets you tool around in customizable bikes. Your Urbz experience won't just limit your vehicle interaction to the minigames, thanks to the inclusion of your trusty scooter, a fanboat, and a graviboard, a pseudo skateboardlike mode of transportation.
In addition to the single-player game, The Urbz will also offer a meaty multiplayer option via the Multiplayer Café within the game, which will let you link up with up to four other players with whom you can trade rare items, play minigames head-to-head, and even unlock new features. The only thing lacking in this year's game is connectivity with the GameCube Urbz which, while not integral to the experience, would have been a nice touch.
The presentation in the game sports an upgrade over Bustin' Out, and the graphics have been considerably bumped up. The game modifies the unique art style first seen in last year's game to better suit the new look of the Urbz. The game's color palette uses some darker hues in order to give the visuals some grit. The character models, especially your custom main character, are looking better; you'll have more options when building your virtual self to help make it personalized. The various neighborhoods all have distinct personalities, thanks to the aforementioned color palette choices and overall design. The audio is robust and features a generous selection of voice samples and music.
All told, The Urbz is shaping up to be an excellent companion piece to its console counterparts. While it would have been nice to see some kind of connectivity with the GameCube game, the various minigames and four-player support make up for that omission. If you dug Sims Bustin' Out on the GBA or are looking for an addictive experience to help pass the time, you'll want to keep an eye out for The Urbz when it ships later this year. Until then, check out some exclusive media for the game here.