Virtual Families is a life simulation that aims to mimic real life in a fun and engaging way. Does the game succeed in providing a satisfying gaming experience? Read on to find out.
Cute Premise Provides Great Potential
The beginning of the game announces that there is a secret world of little people living inside of your computer and that they would be a lot happier if you adopted them. This is a surprisingly good setup for gameplay. If you've installed Virtual Families, there really are little people 'living' inside of your computer. This straightforward and literal approach to explaining the game world is strangely endearing.
Lots of Little People to Choose From
Players are given the opportunity to select the first little person they adopt. Each randomly generated individual is a beginner at a specific job, and they will advance further in that selected career path. These careers vary from math teacher to mustard bottler, and the more whimsical careers are a charming addition.
Each character has their own unique look that sets them apart from the rest, and the first two characters may be named by the player as well, though the computer provides some suggested names too. The suggested names are fairly odd and foreign sounding, like if someone who wasn't very fluent in English tried to concoct an English sounding name. In addition to a career path, each virtual person has their likes and dislikes, a bank account with some savings, and may or may not want children. Pick carefully, because this selection will impact your gaming experience for a long time to come.
Welcome to Your Humble Abode
Once you've made your selection, you will be taken to the home of your virtual person. The home is spacious and has everything your little person needs including a kitchen, living room, laundry room, office, bedroom, bathroom, nursery, garden and more. It's a good thing that the house meets all of your characters' needs, because they won't be leaving.
Upgrades may be purchased later on from the store.
Before long, a marriage proposal will come through, and you may accept it or wait for another potential match. It's very important to aim for compatibility between these first two people. Once married, the game will encourage your two lovebirds to make a baby. The children your virtual people have today will be the people you interact with and take care of later, so children are extremely important.
Click and Drag -- It's That Simple
For better or for worse, the only way to get your people to do anything is to click and drag them to an area; they have to figure out what you want them to do themselves. They can flat out refuse if they really feel like it, though this is rare.
For example, clicking and dragging a person to the kitchen work station will prompt them to cook a meal, while dragging them to the fridge will encourage them to eat a quick snack. In this way, players can help their virtual people keep up with their needs. Do they need a bath? Drag them to the shower. Are they tired? Go put them to bed.
When they aren't being directed by you, they will do things on their own as well. If you like the behavior, click the praise glove and pet them with it. If it's a behavior you'd like to discourage, click the scolding glove and make your displeasure known. Praise and scolding will shape their personalities, so use both interactions wisely.
Beyond that, there is no way to interact with the environment.
Time to Make Babies
Clicking and dragging the husband over to the wife or the wife to the husband will make them embrace and in extreme circumstances will prompt them to make a baby. There is nothing distasteful about them making a baby; all it consists of is an animation of falling rose petals and some awkward looking dancing. There is no pregnancy or anything like that; the baby simply poofs out of thin air. Players don't have the opportunity to name this child.
This is where the first major flaw of this game really comes through. Once the female has had the baby, she will be out of commission for a good long time. Trying to get her to work on anything related to her career will fail, yet she is perfectly capable of doing more difficult things like laundry, picking up the house or cooking. The game doesn't tell players how much longer the baby will remain glued to the female's hip, and this is frustrating. The male is the only one that can advance with the career path at this stage of the game, and he never has anything to do with the baby at all.
It's Extremely Slow Going, Yet Too Fast At Times
Everything in this game takes ages. Clicking and dragging a person to the garbage will give them the idea to take it out, and then players are left watching them walk at an extremely slow pace all the way outside to the cans and then back again. Eating, working and especially sleeping are painfully slow as well, and this is magnified when the female is occupied with the baby. Speeding up time a little bit during gameplay would have been a very wise idea.
The game will continue even when players have shut the game down, meaning that you will likely miss out on big happenings if you fail to check in on the virtual world enough. Both of these problems stem from the fact that the game is set in real time.
The graphics in this game are pretty darn abysmal. The backgrounds look decent, but the characters are really lacking. For example, when a character is brushing their teeth there is no toothbrush; there is only a sound effect with the character twitching by the bathroom sink. Yet when preparing food, there is a cutting board that characters carry around. When characters are chopping greens, it looks like green particles are coming up out of their backs.
The worst is the baby, which appears to literally be attached to the woman's hip. There are no arms around the baby or anything; it's just hanging there. Would it have been that hard to actually make it look like the woman is holding the baby? The intentionally underwhelming graphics are confusing and detract from the gameplay experience.
Conclusion - Slow and Boring
This game had serious potential, but the fact that it's slow and boring ruins what could have been a very fun experience.
Review by Alice Flynn
Alice Flynn is a gaming enthusiast and journalist from Los Angeles, CA. She is currently obsessed with obscure foreign dramas, making tofu taste edible and the latest, greatest computer games.
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