If you were thinking that The Sims 3: Pets would allow your existing sims to frolic with virtual puppies and kittens, Electronic Arts has a little surprise for you. Rather than allowing console devotees of the popular series to import their sims from the original release into this newest outing, EA has released The Sims 3: Pets as a stand-alone game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That alone is enough to make this offering feel inferior to its more robust PC cousin, but a different setting and the limitation of only playing with cats and dogs (as opposed to the PC version's horses, snakes, and other assorted beasts) make it feel like an entirely different game. Even so, if you meet it on its own terms, there's a lot to like, including new karma powers, a collection of "mystery" quests, and, of course, the loveable companions themselves.
The console versions of The Sims 3: Pets may only allow you to play as cats and dogs, but the options for creating them match the PC version in complexity. If you want to create a digital incarnation of your favorite pet, for instance, you can start by choosing from one of the more than 100 available breeds or use the extensive customization interface to bring your memories to life. If you pick up the limited-edition copy of the game, you can even choose from 10 less orthodox pets, such as a Mabari War Hound from the Dragon Age series. As a small bonus exclusive to consoles, you can create pets from any age group, ranging from puppies and kittens to adolescent and fully grown pets. As with any other sim, you can also customize your pet's personality traits, voices, goals, and more.
Indeed, one of the most significant improvements The Sims 3: Pets makes over previous pet-based expansions for The Sims is the ability to individually control your pet much as you would any other sim, which means it's possible to play the expansion with only minimal human interaction. This attention to making pets almost as important as their owners extends to the console-exclusive karma system from the initial release. Not only is gaining karma easier because you can now attain it by completing challenges, but you can also gain six new karma powers, such as the ability to make all the pets in a given neighborhood go feral or the ability to transmogrify pets into another species if one of your sims develops an unusually deep relationship with the pet. If you're feeling particularly rabid, you can also use one of your powers to call down a meteor on a sim's head.
However, the ability to control each pet doesn't mean that the cats and dogs you encounter are any more complex than their human counterparts. And to be sure, the odd pet careers that characterized The Sims 2: Pets have largely taken a backseat to more believable pastimes. Instead of following their dreams in the fields of show business, service, or security, for instance, cats and dogs can only contribute to their households by hunting and digging, respectively. In the case of dogs, this means you can occasionally expect Spot to come trotting up with a treasure worth 1,000 simoleans that he found hidden in your neighbor's flower bed. In the case of cats, it means that your cuddly Siamese might hunt down smaller animals. Beyond that, dogs can use their digging talents to help out the local police force's K-9 unit while cats can use their hunting skills to scout for ghosts.
Perhaps the most intriguing new feature in the console versions is the optional "Mystery Journal," which introduces five new extensive quest lines, which feature everything from your pet's efforts to join a secret society to your cat's ambitions of world domination. If you've played the World Adventures expansions for The Sims 3, you may recognize this feature as a modified form of that game's popular job board. Mysteries never offer anything other than some decent items and a couple of achievements or trophies for completing them, but they do provide enough content to partly account for the expansion's $50 price tag.
Nonetheless, beyond the introduction of pets and the Mystery Journal, The Sims 3: Pets is almost exactly the same game as The Sims 3, aside from some welcome additions, such as the inventions from the Ambitions expansion. But that also extends to the technical limitations of the consoles. Players used to the open expansions of the PC version may find the small, four-or-five house neighborhoods of the game's suburban setting a bit confining (especially when compared to the relatively sprawling expanses of the PC version's Appaloosa Plains). And the frequent loading times that occur when players move from one part of Sugar Maple Coast to another make the decision to leave for new scenery something of a chore. These loading times improve significantly if you install the game on your hard drive (a clear improvement over the original game), but even then, you have to contend with sims that refuse to move when you forward time and bouts of lag as you move your camera from one point to another.
In the end, the console version of The Sims 3: Pets works best as cuddly entry point to the series. Even if the pet-specific content somehow disappoints newcomers, the groundwork that made the original release of The Sims 3 so enjoyable is still here, along with some worthy tidbits from expansions that have come before. It's just too bad that you can't enjoy the company of your new furry friends while playing as a sim you've created in an earlier release. That aspect alone might be a deal breaker for players who've already invested so many hours in their other sims. While it's almost impossible to deny the charm that oozes from every furry denizen of the console version of The Sims 3: Pets, the ultimate appeal of the game depends on whether or not your love of cats and dogs outweighs any reluctance to relive the basics of the original Sims 3 release.