The Sims: House Party is the second add-on for Maxis' extremely popular life simulator, The Sims. Like the previous add-on, Livin' Large (which isn't required to play House Party), House Party adds new household objects, home-decorating themes, and character skins. But most of Livin' Large's additions didn't really add all that much to The Sims' core gameplay. In contrast, House Party's new features, which focus primarily on social interaction, enhance the basic game considerably, since they let you throw wild parties and make building houses even more enjoyable.
If you're reading this review, you're probably already familiar with The Sims--the original game let you control the lives of miniature computerized people, or "sims," by either choosing to play as a family of pregenerated sims or by creating them from scratch by customizing their appearances and personalities. Once you'd chosen your family of sims, you'd place them in a house that you could design and build from top to bottom and then manage their lives. You could satisfy (or ignore) their needs of food, rest, amusement, and social contact by feeding them, providing beds for them, entertaining them, and letting them interact with other sims from the neighborhood.
If you're familiar with The Sims, you know that one of the most enjoyable and intriguing things about the game is its social system--the way your sims interact with other sims who have similar or different personalities. You also know that maintaining relationships with your sims is one of the most difficult parts of the game, especially if your sims are trying to pursue careers and don't have much spare time to get to know their neighbors. Fortunately, many of House Party's new features let you entertain and socialize with many different sims at once and often also let you fulfill other needs at the same time. For instance, if you buy the new punch bowl item for your house, sims will mill around it and exchange conversation. And once they've drunk from it, they'll be less hungry and more "entertained"--though if they drink too much, they may get rowdy. Other sims will gather around to watch if one rides the new mechanical bull item, and the sim riding may even increase its body skill (which may help it advance in certain career paths).
Some of the add-on's new items and services don't just help with parties; some are also extremely useful in general for saving time, space, or both. For instance, House Party lets you purchase pre-prepared meals, like roast turkeys, which saves the time and trouble of cooking (and learning to cook). Or you can hire an expensive caterer over the phone to cook meals for parties or for large families, and if your sims happen to be lonely, the caterer himself will gladly chat with any sims who happen to be hanging around the kitchen. House Party also features a new table, called the "artist's concept table," which is extremely small but can seat four sims. This saves a lot of space in cramped rooms and lets you focus on filling up your sims' house with more interesting fixtures.
Designing, building, and furnishing houses have always been some of the most enjoyable aspects of The Sims. And House Party features all-new items, as well as new interior design motifs that'll let you prepare your house for the perfect luau, hoedown, or rave. If you've played The Sims before, you may have enjoyed building houses specifically for making your sims comfortable or fitting a certain décor. House Party's new fixtures, wallpaper patterns, and items let you design houses specifically around throwing parties and give you plenty to work with. For example, you can plan to throw a luau out near your swimming pool by putting down a campfire and lining the area with tiki statues, or throw an ultramodern dance party with a DJ turntable in front of a lighted dance floor.
When you're ready, you can use the game's new phone option to throw a party and invite all your sims' friends over. Parties are an excellent way to get large groups of sims together in one place (without having to make multiple phone calls) and to maintain relationships with multiple sims at once. Once your party has started, you can use some of House Party's new items to entertain your guests. You might try the oversized novelty cake, which hides a private dancer (either male or female). The dancer will jump out of the cake and flirt with the guests, who'll be either intrigued or jealous. You'll be able to tell whether your guests are having a good time if House Party's "party crasher" character sneaks in--however, if your guests aren't enjoying themselves, House Party's "mime" character will show up instead and will try to entertain guests by performing a classic mime's routine, which includes "sitting on an invisible chair" and being trapped in an "invisible box."
Regardless of what sort of parties you throw, if you enjoyed the original game's quirky sense of humor, you'll likely find all the new items and characters to be just as amusing. It seems that Maxis has consciously attempted to get more mileage out of what makes The Sims funny: humorous descriptions of furnishings that you purchase, quirky character animations, and clever use of "simlish," the sims' gibberish language. Fortunately, the developer has succeeded on all counts. Many of the fixtures you can purchase have descriptions that are as amusing as those of both the previous add-on and the original game. And though sims still look the same--hand-animated polygonal models that live in 2D houses--their look has aged well. Sims also have a number of new animations that are extremely funny. Put a sim in a dancing cage at a dance party, and it'll jump, twirl, and climb up the bars. Seat one around a campfire and command it to sing, and it'll whip out an acoustic guitar as the other sims will sing campfire songs in simlish. Simlish itself is featured more prominently than ever in House Party. In fact, the game's soundtrack features more than 20 all-new songs that include rap, disco, and techno music, and all songs are delivered convincingly in simlish.
Though House Party does add an entirely new gameplay focus to The Sims, it doesn't change the game's basic structure or fix its few underlying flaws. House Party's camera is still a bit sluggish, and the expansion hasn't improved the sims' pathfinding--nor has it introduced any way around the game's inherently inconsistent pacing. You'll still find yourself speeding up the game to skip through mundane activities like eating or cleaning up, as well as pausing the game to make sure your sims go through a sequence of important events, like greeting someone at the door and then quickly returning to the party for another dance. And like The Sims, House Party doesn't let you follow your sims to work.
Then again, House Party isn't about work; it's about throwing parties that can actually help your sims maintain relationships while holding down steady jobs. The expansion's new items and fixtures let you host elaborate dinners, dances, and pool parties, and since it adds an additional three empty neighborhoods (for a total of eight different neighborhoods), you'll be able to create even more miniature communities. Like Livin' Large, House Party doesn't fix any of The Sims' inherent flaws--neither game was intended to. House Party was made for throwing wild parties for your sims and creating even more varied homes for them to live in. And it does just that.