Hand's On Preview Of Makin' Magic

Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 23:10

"Maxis has taken the high road with the last few expansions, offering plenty of new gameplay challenges as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sims: Makin' Magic."

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The Sims Makin' Magic

The seventh time's a charm for Maxis's series.

by Steve Butts

Maxis has made a bundle of cash off of their Sims franchise. And though it's clear that gamers will flock to the stores in droves (or drive to the stores in flocks) just to purchase titles that merely add lots of new toys, Maxis has taken the high road with the last few expansions, offering plenty of new gameplay challenges as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sims: Makin' Magic.

We recently had a chance to sit down and take a look at the game and explore its new features. This time around it's pretty clear that Maxis has pulled out all the stops and is going for a much zanier feel than previous expansions. Taking their cue from shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, The Addams Family and Charmed, Maxis have crafted a new expansion that allows your Sims to cast spells to help build relationships, ease the burden of housework and generally make your life more fun.

After installing the expansion, you'll find a strange box on the doorstep of your Sims' houses. When you open it, you'll discover Magico's Magical Starter Kit. It contains Version 2 of the Spell Book, a convenient hole in the ground portal, a wand recharger, some Magic Coins and a few other surprises that'll get you started on your road to home-brewed witchery.

The Spell Brewer allows you to combine dozens of ingredients to create new spells that are stored in your wand. You begin the game with just three ingredients -- butter, toad stools, and toad sweat -- and you can combine these to create a spell that will temporarily turn a Sim into a toad. You'll use your cooking skill when combining these ingredients and a higher skill level means you'll get more charges from the brew than a character with a lower skill rating. The spell book shows you which ingredient combinations work but you won't know what spell they create until you bite the bullet and try it for yourself. Eventually you may even stumble across a clone spell that lets you create a double of yourself that will go to work for you.

There's also a Charm Maker in the box which you'll use with your mechanical skill. You can fill this device with a range of ingredients as well. This time around, the ingredients you'll be using are solids, not liquids. The range of items you can place into the Charm Maker run the gamut from mundane to magical -- bee's wax, diamond dust and even dragon scales are all to be found in the game. In terms of spell types, the Charm Maker grants you a wide variety of options. You can create a Rain of Riches charm which will sprinkle your house with lots and lots of treasure which you can then sell to raise some cash. You can use the Perfect Garden charm to keep your flowers and lawn nice and pretty.

A range of enchantments are also here for your casting pleasure. You can use these temporary enchantments to bring some of the inanimate objects in your home to life, at least for an hour or two. While the enchanted refrigerator's wildly swinging doors is plenty fun, you'll get more mileage out of animating things in your yard. The pink flamingos turn in to Vegas-style show girls. These ladies are great to spell up right before a big party. They basically run around being nice to everyone and giving people backrubs. Any party you go to that doesn't have these pink and white feather-clad beauties sucks as far as we're concerned.

But Mom and Dad aren't the only ones getting in on the act. Makin' Magic includes plenty of spells just for kids. Their unique charms allow them to summon an invisible friend (who promptly and hilariously gave our dear little tyke the cold shoulder) or even temporarily change their appearance. One of the most powerful charms is the Age of Instant, which permanently transforms children into adults.

But you'll need to be careful that your spells don't backfire on you. There are a number of reasons why things might not work out exactly as you planned so you'll need to be on your toes. If you try to cast a spell on a Sim who also knows that spell, you run the risk of having it turned back on you. You can also have horrible catastrophes for just being greedy or using spells without a real need. Cast the Perfect Garden spell when thinks are already rosy outside and suffer the wrath of dozens of animated garden gnomes bent on destroying all your plants. Cast the Horn of Plenty spell when no one in the house is hungry and you'll have a sudden infestation of toads. You'll have to go around kissing each of them hoping you'll find a prince who will move in with you and become part of the family. If you try to magically increase everyone's mood when they're already pretty happy with things, all you'll do is force everyone in the house to pee themselves.

At this point, there's usually nothing to do but head to Magic Town while your skeleton servant mops up the floor. You can either pop there yourself using your hole-in-the-ground portal or you can call up a giant balloon to take the entire family along with you. This entirely new locale has three distinct themes (four, really, but we'll get to that in a minute) that have their own look and feel. A nice Halloween lot offers more obvious visual frights than the large carnival lots or the gypsy fair lots but you'll find plenty of magic at all three.

You'll also find plenty of quests. Vicky Vampiress and Apothecary Todd are just two of the vendors who are willing to trade ingredients and other magical items for favors and trades. Though you can buy items with Magic Coins, you may find better deals through barters. Knowing that Vicky Vampiress hates garlic, you can probably take it off her hands in exchange for some harmless bees wax. If you want the really choice ingredients, Wizard's eyelashes, for instance, you'll probably need to go on a small quest. In our example we had to head to a graveyard and arrange the stones in a particular order.

More challenges await for those who want to try the new magic performance objects. The basic entry-level object is the trick table. Once you're done pulling rabbits out of hats, you can graduate to levitating your lovely assistant, Wanda (get it? Wanda?) or poking swords into her. The performance objects reach their peak with the Dueling Arena. Here you square off against another wizard in a turn-based spell selection game. You each get four spells of various colors and have to pick a spell color that dominates the color of the spell chosen by your opponent.

But it's not all work and there are plenty of opportunities to have fun without getting your pointy hat all singed. The Haunted House rides are large roller coasters that can be assembled in a variety of ways -- well, whatever variety you can get from the nine main pieces that is -- and you can even create these rides on Vacation Island if you have that expansion pack. (There are other connections with previous expansions: Superstar's obsessed fan leaves black roses can be made in to fame-boosting charms, Unleashed's pets can transform into humans, etc.) You can also build your very own mini-golf courses.

Magic Town also has a special fourth lot reserved for residents of Magic Town. That's right; if you have enough Magic Coins you can buy yourself a house here and never have to leave. The visuals here are very Addams Family-like with some really interesting touches. For instance, you won't have flowers in your yard. Instead you'll have large crystal structures and beanstalks stretching up the heavens.

As always, it wouldn't be a Sims expansion without plenty of new items and toys. There are almost 200 new objects, many of which are tightly integrated into the overall game experience. The bee hive, for instance, is a new skill object that lets you create bee's wax and honey that you can use as ingredients or sell for cash. The skeleton closet comes with an automatic housecleaner and repair technician. If you're lucky you can even buy dragon eggs which you can take home and...well, you know how eggs work.

This seventh and final expansion pack for The Sims is due out on the 28th of this month, just in time for Halloween. Look for our review then.


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