Traditionally, The Sims hasn't transitioned to consoles particularly well: the move from mouse-clicks and keyboards to analogue sticks does nothing to streamline the controls, and seeing as The Sims is all about control that's a major problem. The Sims 3 Pets still doesn't fully conquer the issue, but it does a good job of hiding any cracks.
Considering the complexity of The Sims 3 — every button on the controller is used in various configurations to navigate the never-ending stream of notifications and menus — the Kinect features were never going to be anything other than optional. Here it's used to detect voice commands for your pets or Sims: a blue microphone icon indicates when Kinect is ready for an order, and the rest is up to you. Sims fans will know there's an often bewildering array of commands available, but the Kinect portions are streamlined to vague generalisations: "be romantic" instead of kiss, cuddle, compliment hair and so on.
You can't control your whole life with just your voice, but it speeds things up compared to scrolling through radial menus, though the trade-off is a slight loss of control. There's still plenty of commands on offer though — at least twenty — but the one you'll use most is "show voice commands": with no on-screen prompts to show what you're supposed to be saying, it becomes a frantic game of Pictionary as you shout "be kind! Be friendly! Be pleasant!" until you figure out the right saying. It's not a problem for long, particularly if you've mastered the art of writing things down.
You'd expect there to be a huge amount to do in The Sims, and you'd be right: after customising your Sim and pet with a huge array of options it's off into the world to do whatever you want. You can follow separate career paths or team up: if your Sim becomes a police officer, the dog can join in on busts.
Pets are anything but a throwaway addition: they have their own personality traits, career opportunities, romance options and more. Even if you get fed up with your pet (flushing them down the toilet isn't an option) you can eventually unlock the ability to transmogrify them into a Sim, or vice versa: there's even an Achievement for getting two transmogrified characters to marry. It's as bizarre as you'd want from The Sims and it quickly ensnares you with its creative possibilities, letting you create a digital version of your own family then warping it beyond recognition with jewel thefts and astonishing love triangles with maids.
It's not all doll's house stuff though: there are specific challenges to work towards, from catching perfect fish to performing burglaries, and registering as a Mysteriologist opens up an array of quests involving buried treasure and zombie bears.
The limit to how much you'll enjoy The Sims is mostly down to your tolerance for open-ended gameplay, but there's also a stack of menus to work through. Wishes, traits, needs, goals: your Sims are needy blighters, and although you can determine their free will it's still an exercise in patience to micro-manage their daily routine. If you're down for some digital puppetry, you'll lap it up.
There are still a few rough edges though: the game isn't technically brilliant, with stuttering animations and intrusive load times when moving between areas, but it's hardly game-breaking bad and installing the game to your hard drive makes things a lot more tolerable.
The Sims 3 Pets doesn't make great use of Kinect, but its voice commands takes some of the burden from the controller and makes the game a little more accessible. Pets are integrated well and there's no shortage of gameplay for your money, so although it may not be best in show it's certainly the best of its breed on home consoles.