The Sims series started on the PC as a popular and difficult-to-describe strategy game that let you control the lives of little computer people in the houses you built for them, as they loved, grew old, had families, and occasionally used the potty. Seven years, several different game platforms, and numerous editions later, the series has become known for offering zany humor, colorful graphics, a gibberish language that its "sim" characters speak (known as "simlish"), and cheerful music. However, the console versions of the Sims games never quite stacked up to the PC version, mainly because the console games tended to focus on collection-based minigames and unlocking hidden items. Also, they never seemed to capture the autonomous, unpredictable artificial intelligence that powered those happy little sims in the PC versions. However, The Sims 2: Pets for the PlayStation Portable is a full-featured port of the console versions of the same game with most of the content intact, including better AI for its sim characters. Unfortunately, it's difficult to enjoy because the game constantly stops dead in its tracks with load times.
The PSP version of Pets offers two primary types of pets: cats and dogs. This version offers dozens of different breeds of cats and dogs, as well as customization options to choose size, age, different ear types, and fur color patterns. And you can be one of those awful, awful people who dress up their pets with an entire wardrobe, including hats, sunglasses, neckerchiefs, and shirts. That's in addition to your pet's personality, such as whether your pet is friendly or aloof, neat or messy, or quick to learn new tricks or a bit slower on the draw.
That's because pets essentially function like limited people in the game. You can't take direct control of dogs or cats, but you can teach them new skills (pet tricks) by spending virtual hours (which equates to several minutes of real time) of your day until they learn how to sit, shake hands, and roll over, similar to how you can improve your sims' marketability by spending virtual hours repeatedly training at skills like charisma, repair, and cleaning. You can use interactions with them to fulfill your sims' social needs (so yes, you can play as a "crazy cat lady" who associates only with her housecats), just like you can with live-in family members. The PSP version of the game, like the other console versions, doesn't let you send your pets to work to earn money--instead, it offers a single downtown area focused entirely on pets and lets you earn "pet points" to spend on chew toys, doggie treats, and other animal accessories. Spending pet points also unlocks the game's many hidden items and social interactions.
Dogs and cats can also interact with each other and, based on the personality you've given them, they may get into fights with the neighbors' pets, or they may get friendly with them. In the meantime, if you happen to care about your house's property value, your dogs and cats are always works in progress, since you must constantly catch even the best-behaved pets in the act of destroying furniture, digging up the yard, or relieving themselves in the house so that you can scold them--which teaches them not to do such things. Patterning your pets' behavior is surprisingly time-consuming and not always convenient--if you want to have a well-behaved pet, you have to always keep an eye on it and constantly drop what you're doing to dash over and scold or praise it--and once you get there, actually giving your pet that feedback takes a little while. It also seems to take quite some time before constant scolding or praising even sinks in with the brightest pets...and if you decide to have any of your sims take a job, that just means less time for your sims to spend together teaching your pets.
This is the main issue with the way cats and dogs work in the game--trying to create the perfect pet, or even a decent one, is difficult to schedule in the bustling world of The Sims 2, where your sims are also trying to make it in the working world themselves, build up their own skill points, pursue their wants and life goals, and take care of their own personal needs for food, rest, and social interaction. While the PSP version doesn't offer the complexity that the PC game's many expansion packs do, you'll probably still have trouble keeping up with the conflicting needs of both your sims and pets, which are both demanding and require separate blocks of time in any given virtual day. However, if you're a console owner and haven't had a chance to try out the PC version of The Sims 2, Pets will give you a pretty good sense of what you've been missing. The game includes improved artificial intelligence over the 2005 console version of The Sims 2 (though you'll still find occasional glitches with characters getting stuck on geometry or having pathfinding problems around simple obstacles), as well as The Sims 2's want- and aspiration-based gameplay, so you could just as easily put your pets in the background and focus primarily on character interactions. The PSP version of Pets only offers a single neighborhood with multiple houses and only a single downtown lot, presumably due to technical constraints; but if that's all you're after, you'll find it here.
Otherwise, the game offers most of the same music soundtrack and audio effects of the console versions of The Sims 2: Pets--upbeat instrumentals, the expressive gibberish language that human characters use, and a number of realistic cat and dog sounds that work just fine. The game offers only one out-of-home "lot" (an out-of-home area that sims can visit by calling a cab in other games), the downtown area where all the pet stores are. These all look just fine and seem to fit in very well with the colorful, though perhaps not cutting-edge look and feel of the console versions of The Sims 2. If you've played the console versions of the game, it's hard not to notice how the PSP game's characters and pets look jaggier, but considering the technical limitations of the PSP, it's a fine-looking game. The PSP also uses a smart camera control feature that makes use of the analog nub and triggers to give you almost of the perspective controls of the console versions, including the ability to play the game in "classic mode," using a cursor to highlight objects and characters to interact with.
Unfortunately, the PSP version of the game suffers from constant load times of three to four seconds. These load times not only happen whenever your sims enter a new area, but also frequently happen when you try to open up a new menu or interact with just about anything in the game--your pets, other characters, and your furniture. For instance, customizing your characters and pets is one of the activities most Sims players greatly enjoy, but paging through various hairstyles, clothing outfits, dog and cat breeds, and fur textures takes much longer than it should. And in terms of gameplay, once you've created your family of characters and pets, The Sims is all about interaction. The only way to accomplish anything in the game is to cook food, talk to people, play with pets, and so on. Like in other games, in Pets, your sims and their animal friends still have various needs, or "motives," such as hunger, fatigue, and social contact, that need to be filled up before they drain away totally, so you can't simply sit still--you have to go out and do things, and more often than not, interacting with nearly anything in the game causes the game to come to a full stop as the game loads up. The constant load times really disrupt the experience and will test the patience of anyone who isn't a diehard Sims fan. Also, for whatever reason, the PSP version of the game offers no multiplayer modes at all, though the single-player game is pretty substantial and the multiplayer options for most of the Sims console games have never been all that compelling anyway.
The PSP version of The Sims 2: Pets offers a pretty complete port of the console versions of the game, which featured enhanced artificial intelligence (which is a good thing) and pet training and socializing that were difficult and time-consuming to manage (which is a bad thing). Still, Pets might have been a good way to take much of the gameplay of The Sims 2 on the go, if it weren't for its constant load times right in the middle of the game. It's a shame that this technical issue brings down what would otherwise be a solid portable Sims game.