The Sims first appeared on the PC nearly four years ago, and since then, the popular life-simulating game has made the jump to consoles--including the Game Boy Advance--with The Sims Bustin' Out. Though the GBA version has the same name as the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube games, it's actually a very different creation. In fact, it bears less of a resemblance to the large-livin', house-partying original game and is more similar to open-ended console games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon. Like these games, Bustin' Out is a nonviolent game that lets you make friends with your neighbors, tasks you with running errands for extra cash, and allows you to have a private dwelling for your character to build out and decorate.
In Bustin' Out, you play as a computerized person, or a "sim," on a summer visit to your uncle's farm in SimValley. Once you run enough errands and earn enough cash, you can move off of the farm and into a new dwelling, into which you can invite a roommate and a pet. Like The Sims, Bustin' Out lets you customize your character's personality with such traits as neat, outgoing, and playful, and it also affords you a few very limited choices for customizing your appearance. While your sim still has skills like mechanical, logic, and cooking, and still has certain needs (or "motives"), like hunger, rest, and comfort, Bustin' Out's control scheme and structure seem far more similar to a console RPG than to the original PC game. You control your character (who can walk or run) with the D pad, and you can talk to other characters by walking up to them and pressing A to get a series of dialogue options. These other characters tend to hover around a single place or wander randomly in the suburbs surrounding your uncle's farm, rather than show up at your house and autonomously invite themselves in for a chat, as they did in The Sims.
Like Animal Crossing, Bustin' Out provides you with a set of primary goals to accomplish that are usually given to you by key characters, though you can also run errands for various townspeople or play minigames to earn extra cash on the side. As you complete these primary goals, you'll unlock new areas of the suburbs to explore, and you'll make new housing options available, such as the top of a clock tower or a fabulous waterfront villa. You can fulfill major and minor goals by completing simple objectives, like delivering items, making friends with a specific sim, or doing well in a certain minigame. None of these tasks are especially challenging, and the game features a minimap and several helpful menu screens to keep track of your current relationships, inventory, and status. Still, the game does offer a good variety of things to do that are spaced out all across SimValley.
As such, you must also stay on the move, especially since Bustin' Out doesn't have an adjustable clock but instead speeds time along from night to day at a healthy clip. Fortunately, early on in the game, you're able to procure a scooter for traveling quickly. However, you may still find it somewhat annoying that you must drop everything to fill up depleted motives, since they render you unable to conduct conversations with other characters. You may also have trouble with the fact that different minigames can only be accessed at certain times of the day. Additionally, some minigames are less enjoyable than others. However, you can usually find something else to do in the meantime, such as chatting up another sim, running another errand, collecting furniture for your home, and so on.
Bustin' Out also looks and sounds quite good. It's a colorful game whose characters and scenery have a cartoonlike look to them that works quite well for the game, though characters are a bit small and some onscreen text can be hard to read. In a few rare cases, you may also have trouble finding objects that are obscured by buildings, since the game uses a locked isometric overhead view. Buildings do become translucent when you walk behind them, so this usually isn't that big of a deal.
The game's sound consists of upbeat music tracks that play in certain areas of SimValley and also play on stereos and jukeboxes. There isn't much variety in the music, and some tracks seem a bit repetitive--though some areas are largely silent. But even the mostly silent areas usually have some good ambient noise, like crowing chickens on your uncle's farm, for example. The game also has some clips of "simlish," the expressive gibberish language used in The Sims, though most of these clips are extremely short and are used to punctuate the otherwise lack of dialogue. If you're a longtime fan of The Sims and are a stickler for detail, you might be slightly disappointed that several of the simlish voice samples were lifted directly from the previous version of The Sims on consoles, which were, in turn, lifted from Sid Meier's SimGolf on the PC. The samples, though, are still suitable and do work well for what they are.
Bustin' Out is a decently long game whose main goals should take most players 15 to 20 hours to complete. However, you can certainly spend even more time socializing with other sims or collecting extra cash, especially if you own the GameCube version of the game and plan to transfer data back and forth with a link cable. While Bustin' Out for the GBA is clearly a different game than The Sims, it certainly has enough variety to appeal to anyone who enjoys this sort of open-ended game.