There comes a time for everyone when your mom takes away your car privileges until you get out of the house, you slob. Seriously, what is your deal? Get a job. Your father didn't fight through Contra 2 without the Konami Code to support a good-for-nothing kid. That's how my life story started. It's also how My Life Story starts, an entertaining time management simulation from Game Fools. It's set in an unnamed small town, where your mom owns the only house and she's kicking you out. Time to find a job! Fortunately, like any fictional town, there are job opportunities ripe for the taking.
The game starts with a short tutorial. You have four bars that summarize your needs: Fun, Energy, Hunger, and Health. One larger bar, Happiness, is the average of those four. Every activity in the game affects these bars in some way. You might go to the club for a relaxing night out, but it'll drain your Energy and Hunger while boosting your Fun. Like your mom always said, everything is important in moderation. If you overdo it, it's a round trip ticket to the hospital, costing you half your bank account and a big chunk of your week. Just like real life!
Every activity is measured in hours, and everything, even pretending you're John Travolta, counts towards the weekly total. The white clock at the bottom of the screen counts off the hours to the weekend, when you go home for a well-deserved rest. Over the weekend, your possessions in the house help recharge your various stats according to their quality. My Espresso maker gave a big boost to my Energy, while my crappy VCR gave a small boost to my Fun. Your surroundings matter too: as soon as I upgraded from the Shady Apartments to the hip Camelot Condos, my weekend bonuses were doubled. As you become more successful, this changes your playstyle significantly, as you go from relying on the coffee shop's stream of caffeine to waiting until the weekend, when you can drown your fatigue in a river of espresso.
Added to this is an interesting mechanic borrowed from tabletop games like Risk and Monopoly as well as the Xbox Live achievement system. As your character lives his or her life story, they'll be presented with decisions at the various buildings they frequent in town. Marked by a yellow exclamation point, these decisions usually result in boosts and drains to your stats or cash reserves. However, answer enough of them positively and you'll get the Optimist award, accompanied by a Life Card.
Life Cards are like Community Chest cards in Monopoly: they give you bonuses to your stats and other benefits. The 'Day Spa' card replenishes all your stats at once, while another, 'Gut Bomb', means you never get hungry in the week that it's active. Life Cards can be lifesavers, covering your hospital bills when you forget to watch your Fun meter, or giving you a steep discount on all the cash services in the town. You only gain them when you win Awards, but fortunately you win Awards for doing pretty much everything in the game, from visiting the spa to sitting in front of the TV. It adds a lot of freshness to what could otherwise be a pretty boring sim.
Ultimately, that's the goal of My Life Story. You have two ranks, Experience and Education, which determine what jobs you're eligible for. Each job gets you a varying amount of Experience while stressing you out and damaging your needs bars. For example, my brief stint as a bouncer paid very well, but it wasn't fun and was quite unhealthy for me. Similarly, studying at Dreams University drains all your bars quickly, just like real school. More than once, my character collapsed at school from exhaustion, malnutrition, or severe depression. The game is done when you have both bars completely filled and you achieve the best job available based on your education, career and life decisions.
Analysis: Like the Sims, balancing work and pleasure for your avatar is a lot of fun at first, but watching bars fill gets old quickly. The retro pixel graphics and often funny comments from the people in your town help for a bit, but eventually the game starts to drag. That's when the game turns from a Sims-like virtual life simulator to a time management sim, courtesy of the game's weekly structure.
Some activities boost or drain activities more quickly than others. The real meat of the game is in determining the best jobs and relaxing activities to get the most experience out of every week. At one point, my character was moving from her job as a video game tester, which drained her health rapidly, to the coffee shop to replenish her energy and then to the gym to try and counteract the effects of sitting and playing games all day. That's when I realized the game had become a stunningly accurate representation of my life.
That part of the game is pretty fun! Unfortunately, if you play your Life Cards right, eventually you'll find that you've figured out the best way to replenish your stats, and then the game becomes a merciless slog through one job after another. This isn't helped by one late-game unlock, which replenishes all your stats super-quickly for the right amount of cash. In theory, this cash limit stops you from just using it all the time, but at that point I had enough money saved to buy Atlanta.
All in all, if you've run out of things to do in the Sims, then you'll like My Life Story. There's a lot of replayability if you're into the gameplay, since every career and educational choice affects the outcome of the game. There's a lot of humour in the game too; every character has something funny to say, and more often than not I found myself chuckling at the game's jokes at its own expense. If you want a simple, pleasant-looking and sounding career-building sim, then My Life Story is for you.
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