Desperate Housewives: The Game Review

Desperate Housewives isn't much of a game, but it does a pretty good job of telling an original, interactive soap opera story in the quirky tone of the hit show.

The typical video game player might quickly dismiss ABC's hit TV show Desperate Housewives as nothing special, but the show's composition of wit, humor, and intrigue has made it a huge success, a meticulously crafted guilty pleasure. Besides, the show has a great hook: It's narrated by a woman who mysteriously, tragically died in a pristine, seemingly perfect suburban community. This dark edge permeates a mostly light and upbeat show, and it's also integral to the computer game adaptation. Desperate Housewives: The Game looks like a Sims clone, but it's really more of a point-and-click adventure game that tells an original story in the vein of something from a season of the TV show, complete with all the philandering, double-crossing, and skeletons in closets that define the series. There's very little in the way of challenging or exciting gameplay in here, but Desperate Housewives: The Game succeeds in capturing the spirit of the show. And in so doing, it delves into some subject matter that very few other games have dared to broach.

The priceless look on this kid's face is entirely coincidental.
The priceless look on this kid's face is entirely coincidental.

In the game, you play as a woman who has just moved into a nice two-story home on Wisteria Lane with her teenage son and successful doctor of a husband. So, rather than let you play as any of the stars of the show, the game instead lets you interact with them in different ways by role-playing as a character you create. Initially, you'll get to meet and greet with the other wives on the block, who demonstrate their personality quirks a little too forcefully here compared with the show, partly due to the soundalikes who provide their voices. For example, Lynette Scavo always sounds frazzled and exhausted here, since she's trying to raise three kids while holding a steady job; and the pretty Susan Mayer is constantly insecure. Nevertheless, fans of the show will find both the likenesses and the dialogue of these characters to be fairly close approximations of their selves from the show.

The show's housewives ultimately aren't key players in the game's storyline, which revolves around your own character and her mysterious past. However, the game does a decent job of letting you interact with them, as long as you don't scratch too deep below the surface. By presenting you with different dialogue options and social interactions, the game lets you be a good neighbor, a nasty bitch, or somewhere in between. You can tell a lot of the dialogue choices are meaningless, but the story does present you with some mutually exclusive goals on occasion, and it even has multiple endings based on the actions you take at the end. Many of the story's plot twists can be seen coming from a mile away, and sometimes you're forced to choose from a completely ridiculous set of dialogue options that will feel inconsistent with how you're trying to play the game. But the ridiculous quality of the plot ultimately works to the game's advantage, much like the show itself. In short, the story starts off fluffy but gradually escalates into something very different and more consequential.

Desperate Housewives is a very easy game to play, though it appears to have more depth than it really does. The resemblance between this game and The Sims series is unmistakable, and indeed, some of the gameplay elements seem like vestigial traits from that series. For instance, you have meters representing your character's need to maintain a good appearance, be happy, and so on, and you refill these needs by doing things like primping your hair and watching TV. But none of it seems to have any bearing on gameplay. Your character doesn't really need to eat or sleep, even though you can do these things. Yet nowhere do the "virtual life" aspects of Desperate Housewives seem more superficial than in your choice of attire. Yes, you have the option of going to the shopping mall and purchasing different clothes for your housewife alter ego (you may also update your home with better furniture, different flooring, and so on). However, how you're dressed seems to have no impact on gameplay at all. So, for instance, you can walk right into Lynette's house wearing practically nothing, walk past her three young kids, and go use her computer without anyone saying anything.

There are a few basic minigames included to help pass the time. You can tend to your garden by spraying pests and keeping your flowers watered. You can cook a variety of dishes with some mouse clicks and side-to-side stirring motions. And you can play Texas Hold 'Em either in a fake online setting or against the other housewives. All of these minigames come up as part of the storyline, and none are particularly engaging.

The rest of the game boils down to going from point A to point B, completing a mostly linear series of goals usually just by talking to the right people. The game leads you by the nose the whole way through, and some of the goals are quite tedious, involving jaunts back and forth from the shopping mall or treks all around the neighborhood. Thankfully, you can double the game speed and instantly "teleport" between the different homes on Wisteria Lane, which helps keep the pace going. The entire game is structured like a season of the show, as a series of brief episodes all bookended by some oblique narrative from Brenda Strong, the show's narrator. It'll take you maybe 10 hours to play through, so there's more to the story than you'd probably expect from a TV show-licensed computer game.

Poker and a few other minigames are there to give you something to do in between all the chatting and gossiping.
Poker and a few other minigames are there to give you something to do in between all the chatting and gossiping.

One aspect of Desperate Housewives that was borrowed a little too faithfully from The Sims is the overall sluggish feel of the gameplay. Simply talking to another character forces clunky little animations as the two characters arrange themselves so that they're perfectly face to face. The different housewives look recognizably similar to their TV counterparts, but other than that, the game really isn't much to look at. Flat lighting effects and saturated colors make this look much more like a generic computer game than the TV show. Apart from your character, all the other characters are fully voiced, and the voice acting is passable. There's not a lot to say about the rest of the audio, though the musical score sounds straight out of the show, with lots of playful plucking of violin strings and the like. The only other aspect of Desperate Housewives' presentation that will likely catch your eye is how the game is laced with some real-world products and advertisements for those products. You'll see real banner ads while using a fake in-game Web browser, for instance. In fairness, there's some clear product placement on the show itself, and most of the in-game ads here are appropriate in context.

A lot of games based on movie or television licenses are flat-out bad, either because they're not any fun to play or they don't have any new or interesting material in them. Desperate Housewives is a different story. You can tell that the developers at Liquid Entertainment, known for some solid and inventive real-time strategy games, really dumbed this thing down so that, presumably, a nongamer might like it more. That's a bit of a shame, but on the flip side, Desperate Housewives is fully competent fan service, basically a computer-game version of an unaired season of the show.

The Good

  • A faithful adaptation of the show's playful but mysterious tone
  • Lengthy original storyline gives you some role-playing-style choices

The Bad

  • Not much actual gameplay, since you'll mostly just talk to people
  • Undercooked virtual-life elements are pointless
  • Some bad dialogue and voice acting hurts the plot

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