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Mac Monday: Virtual Families, part 2

There's a weird sort of additional interaction between you and your character. Every now and then, you'll see them sit down at their computer (and the house comes with two in place already, ready-made for a couple) to start typing, and a few seconds later you'll get a message that pops up on screen telling you that they're doing okay, but they're lonely. Just wanted you to know, in case you forgot that the name of the game is Virtual Families.

With the character selected, you have access to additional elements, like the Details screen, which presents stats like Profession, Level, Salary, Progress (which seems sort of arbitrary, as you don't have much to go by when considering how to actually progress through the game); a separate section for Happiness, Health, level of being Fed, and Energy; and a reiteration of the basic stats that you saw when you chose this character. Without going into this screen, you can also assess what the character's currently doing in the Action field, and how they're feeling in the Status field.

Additional screens display your current family; the Store, which lets you buy objects to make your character happy; Collections, which displays empty sets of things like coins and bugs; and Trophies, which gives you the clearest roadmap to what's possible in the game, featuring things like "Marry Rich: You married someone with more than $200 in the bank", and "Sleeping Dragon: You praised someone who was practicing Kung Fu". Seeing some of these did make me want to try to get some of them, but the overall means to doing so seems so avoidably clunky that it hardly seems worth the effort.

Part of what would have made this game more user-friendly would be a means to zoom out and in; it's a drag (no pun intended) to navigate around the house, and there's no keyboard-driven way to do this. Additionally, a way to speed up the action would have been more than welcome -- watching your character amble slowly from task to task is frustrating.

Finally, and this is something I don't usually like to harp on, I'm not crazy about the art style. Obviously this is completely subjective, but there's a dive toward making these characters overly cute with their big eyes and Muppet-like hairdos that goes against the grain somewhat. I have to imagine their brief included the mandate to differentiate themselves from The Sims as much as possible.

Ultimately, if you're into this kind of game, you'll have already found The Sims, and benefited from its numerous iterations; playing Virtual Families seems kind of like a step backward. Alternatively, if you've never played The Sims, this game might be playable, but there's so much of an emphasis on marrying and making babies that it might be a little off-putting to those of us who play games to escape the real world. Judge for yourself: you can grab the Mac demo here, and the PC demo here.


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