Virtual Families is the latest addition to the impressive lineup of simulation games from Last Day of Work, makers of the Virtual Villagers series. Virtual Families takes the basic concepts of Virtual Villagers and brings them home — literally. No longer are you concerned with a village of people trying to survive the ravages of the wild. Now it's just a single family in a single house. While the concept may seem over-simplified when compared to Virtual Villagers, you'll find that it's less about simplifying the game and more about concentrating on the details.
You begin by adopting your first virtual person. This is a very important choice to make early on, as the attributes that you settle on will affect how the rest of the game plays out. You can go through any number of different people to adopt. Each has their own physical appearance, profession, salary, likes and dislikes, and opinion on whether or not they want children. This last attribute is of particular importance. Couples who do not both want children can still have children, but you will have to work extra hard to keep them happy. Depending on how you want your virtual family to run, choose wisely.
Once adopted, your person moves into their house. You start immediately showing your person where and how to do certain things. Depending on their profession, show them their work area, be it the computer room, the shop outside, or the kitchen. Place them on the various pieces of litter scattered about the house and show them how to keep the place tidy. If you have played any of the Virtual Villagers games, you'll already understand the mechanics at work here. As your person learns behaviors, you can use one of two paddles to either praise them for an appropriate behavior, or to punish them for an inappropriate behavior.
As the game plays on, you will receive marriage requests from various suitors. Each have their own attributes, professions, and likes and dislikes, and views on children. The important thing here is to find one that is the best match for you little person, although the temptation to go after the one with the big, fat bank account and well-paying career will be hard to resist.
Whether you choose to remain single or to take that marriage proposal, the next thing to think about is growing your family. As a single parent, you may be given the opportunity down the road to adopt a child. As a married couple, you can try to make a baby at any point in the game. Keep in mind that there are factors involved in this process, such as how long it has been since the last pregnancy, the mood of either of the parents, etc. It's not 100% guaranteed to produce offspring, but it usually does. Once a child is born, the mother will have control for the first few months. After that point, the child will be another member of the family, which will require the same behavioral shaping as the parents once did.
There are a number of other things that can and need to be done around the house during the course of the game. You'll notice almost immediately that the floor is in disrepair in sections of the house. There are a number of other problems, as well, such as the leaky watering hose outside, or the garden shed without a door handle. Many of these problems will require the purchase of tools and other items to complete which of course will require funds, so your career of choice is very important. Money is also used to buy house upgrades, such as bathroom fixtures or a new flat-screen TV.
Just like Virtual Villagers, Virtual Families continues to run even when the game isn't open. It is an important aspect of gameplay, since your family will continue to evolve, even when you are not around. As long as they have food your family can survive a couple of days without interaction, but if you're not going to be able to play for a couple of weeks, you may want to go in and pause the game before quitting. You don't want to come back to a house full of skeletons, do you?
Virtual Families 2 is out! Check out our review and walkthrough for Virtual Families 2: Our Dream House!
Children that you have will grow to about 18 years, and then go off to college. When it is time for the current generation to move on, you will be given the option to give the house and all of its assets to one of your kids. At that point, they will move in and the game cycle will start again. Going to the Family Screen will allow you to keep track of multiple generations of people that have lived in the house. How many generations can you create?
Analysis: At first glance, Virtual Families seems like little more than a stripped-down version of The Sims. The limited effect that you have on the environment of the home and the house itself is quite evident. You don't have the option of creating a different living space for your families; you can't even move the furniture to a different part of the room. With the exception of upgrades, there is little you can do the physical house. This allows you the time to focus on the interactions with your little people.
The level of interaction with the virtual people in the game is totally up to you. Unlike The Sims, you do not have to watch your person's every move. Your virtual people will do things like get up in the morning, go to work, and eat without extensive prodding from you, as long as they have the supplies and materials required to complete a task.
I've never been a huge fan of the character designs for the Virtual Village series, and the characters in Virtual Families are almost identical. Something about the way the head gets positioned on the body at times, depending on what the person is focusing on as opposed to where they are walking, or what they are working on, just seems unnatural.
Virtual Families is a natural progression of the Virtual Villagers series, and the results are quite good. While Last Day of Work has already announced a fourth Virtual Villagers game set for release later this year, I hope a sequel to Virtual Families isn't out of the question!