Video Game Reviews

Sims 4: Journey to Batuu

When I heard that the latest game pack in the Sims 4 franchise was based on the Star Wars universe, I honestly thought it was a joke. 

I’ve been playing in the Sims franchise since the first installment of Sims came out back when I was a kid, but Journey to Batuu is unlike anything EA (or Maxis) has ever tried to do with this franchise. Sure, they’ve thrown in the occasional nod to Star Wars–Yoda masks and whatnot–but I never thought they’d create an entire game pack dedicated to a galaxy far, far away… 

When I realized that the Journey to Batuu trailer was no joke, I was one of the simmers who got really excited.

I know, I know. This is a contentious game pack, and some of y’all think that the Sims and Star Wars go together about as well as Mentos and cola.

Volatile.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed it when Sims goes out of its comfort zone. I supported Sims: Life Stories when that came out, and I play Sims: Medieval to this day. 

What can I say? I’m a rebel. 

Now that I’ve played Journey to Batuu for about a week, I’m ready to give my honest feedback about what EA got right–and oh so wrong–with this divisive pack. 

Fan-CAS-tic

Let’s start with Journey to Batuu’s new CAS (Create-a-Sim) items, which are fucking gorgeous. New hairstyles include Rey’s signature updo as well as a twisted-braid-bun-ponytail… thing… that I can’t describe but am absolutely obsessed with. 

This thing. Right here.

Batuu also introduced some new clothes that, while geared toward Star Wars gameplay, I can honestly see myself using on a daily basis. The Star Wars fashion lends itself perfectly toward those sims who like to be comfy. Most of it looks like modern, fashionable lounge wear–the sort of stuff I’ve been wearing 24/7 since the pandemic gave me an excuse to not leave my house. 

Let’s also mention the Star Wars masks, which are in the CAS system. While I don’t agree with the unique Batuu citizens being “sims in masks” — more on that later — the masks themselves are gorgeous and really well executed. #Sold. 

Build Me Up… and Down

Batuu’s build mode items are another slam dunk–and not just for those of us into Star Wars. Sure, you’ve got some items you’ll never use outside of franchise-related gameplay, but other items are completely versatile. I’m currently obsessed with using their new stone floors in my builds, and I love decorating my kids’ rooms with things like the Millenium Falcon model. 

LilSimsie goes through the Build/Buy items much more comprehensively than I plan to, but the summary is that EA really spent time making sure the items in this pack looked right, and it paid off. I’m currently enjoying the challenge of building Batuu-inspired underground houses using some of the new gamepack items. 

I haven’t shared any to the gallery yet. They’re pretty awful. But I’m having fun. 

Fine! I wanted to start over anyway!

A World Without Lots

For many simmers, the real aspect of Batuu that is hard to swallow is the fact that Batuu, itself, is a vacation world with no buildable lots. 

Basically, when you travel to Batuu, you have a choice between three neighborhoods: the Black Spire Outpost, the Resistance Encampment, and the First Order District. The Black Spire Outpost is your neutral zone, where you can meet with scoundrels, gamble at the Cantina, and refill your needs at your little Rabbithole Hotel. 

I’m going to be unpopular and say that I’m actually really happy with the way EA designed this world. Sure, I can’t build there, and that’s sort of a bummer. But the trade-off is that, when you’re playing in Batuu, you don’t have to wait through loading screens to go from building to building. Batuu is largely mission-based, and if you had to wait for a loading screen each time you ventured from the Cantina to the Millenium Falcon, gameplay would drag.

I just want to play the fucking game!!!

Instead, what they’ve offered is a best-of-both-worlds experience, with one fleshed-out area in each neighborhood and a bunch of rabbit holes.

It actually reminds me a fair amount of Sims Medieval. Pop-up dialogue boxes–complete with character faces–lend your missions verisimilitude without slowing you down.

Unlike in Sims Medieval, there is no menu bar on the bottom left to help you find the building you need to trigger the next part of your mission. The result is that I spent a fair amount of time clicking around the Outpost, trying to figure out which beige, dome-shaped building my sim could pee in.

Mission Possible

I’m having fun with the mission system in Batuu, but I’m not sure if everyone will. 

Basically, you can choose to receive missions from the leader of the scoundrels, the First Order, or the Resistance. Depending on where you receive missions from, you’ll have different opportunities available to you and gain renown with different factions. 

I’ve only played with the scoundrels so far, so I can’t speak much to the Resistance or the First Order.

My experience is that the missions can get a little redundant… but no more than anything else you do in Sims. The missions–such as “transporting someone off-world”–are generic enough that it makes sense that you’d do them more than once.

It’s strangely addictive

Certain missions require you to build skills up, and having a Droid or a lightsaber opens up different dialogue options than heading into a mission empty-handed, which makes it feel worthwhile to invest in these items early on. 

I’m enjoying the story-style of Batuu more than I enjoyed Strangerville, as it honestly feels like it has a greater replayability. Instead of there being one mystery to solve, which is then… solved… there are a lot of smaller missions that can be completed over and over again. It’s like how you can choose to follow the same career path with different sims and it doesn’t get old.

Separate… but Not Completely

Batuu feels like it was built so that you can play it separate from the rest of your game. Batuu townies don’t wander into your neighborhood when you go home, and you even have a completely separate Batuu wardrobe. It’s as if you can play your regular game and then occasionally wander into Batuu for a different experience. 

Except… not really.

Because while you’re in Batuu, you’ll still receive notifications about festivals that you’re missing back home, or invitations from friends to attend Singles Night. If you spend long enough in Batuu without going home, you’ll even get notifications that your utilities were turned off because you didn’t pay your bills. 

On the one hand, I get it. In real life, your mortgage doesn’t pause just because you go on vacation. 

On the other hand, Batuu stops feeling separate from the rest of your game when mundane things like homeworld bills keep seeping into what you’re doing. I found myself missing how vacations worked in Sims 3. You had a limited number of days to vacation, but you didn’t age, time didn’t pass back home, and you were free from your obligations.

As it stands, you basically need to create a new save file to play Batuu anyway. In which case, you may as well let the Batuu townies wander in and out and allow me to toggle that on and off in my save, the same way I can toggle seasons or eco lifestyle or any number of other factors. 

Also. As an aside. It’s complete bullshit that I can’t call Kylo Ren when I’m home because I “can’t get a signal” to Batuu, but when I’m on Batuu, my friends can call me constantly to tell me about stupid shit happening in our neighborhood. 

What provider are you even using???

Aliens or Just Convincing Cosplay? 

When it comes to the “aliens” introduced in Batuu, EA swung and missed.

Hard. 

Basically, you’re not dealing with aliens at all. To create the unique alien-esque features, EA just created masks (and attached gloves in the same skin tone) to put on some of the Sims that populate Batuu. 

Don’t get me wrong–these masks are gorgeous. But they’re also suuuuper problematic, especially if–like me–you’re a legacy simmer

Say you make friends with one of the aliens while you’re on vacation on Batuu. You invite them to join you on vacation. Suddenly–and without any real reasoning behind it–they take off their mask, and you find yourself vacationing with a human. You sigh and put the mask back on them.

It’s just like the real thing, right?

Later, you move them in with you. As you create their homeworld outfits, you find the second glaring issue with your “aliens”: the masks only go to their chests, and the arm tones only go to their elbows. This means that you are forced to keep your alien Sim in high-collar shirts with full arm sleeves. It doesn’t matter if they’re swimming or sleeping–they have to be dressed like they’re hiding tattoos from their mother. 

Theeeen you try to have babies with them. I didn’t even worry about the baby stage of life, because we all know that EA shit the bed with that one and infants are little more than objects in the game anyway. I was interested in toddlers

Guess who can’t wear alien masks?

Yeah, that’s right–toddlers. 

And so my dream of bringing Batuu aliens into Windenburg failed spectacularly. More importantly, masks made it impossible to suspend my disbelief with Batuu when I’m clearly dealing, not with aliens, but with people in costumes. 

It’s like you’re not vacationing on Batuu. You’re vacationing to the Star Wars area of Disneyworld. Except they didn’t accommodate kids there. 

It’s 100% the most disappointing aspect of this pack.

Honestly, they have occult sims. I would have been through the roof if they’d given us just give us one good alien species from Batuu complete with working genetics. As it stands, I’m pretty bummed, because while I can travel to Batuu, I don’t feel like I can ever bring Batuu home with me. And that’s a shame. 

Making the Journey to Batuu

Overall, I don’t regret buying Journey to Batuu. I’m enjoying the missions, I’m having fun with it, and I feel like I got $30.00 of entertainment out of the deal. I mean, let’s be real–it costs nearly that much to go to the theater with Vuk.

The fact that I’m enjoying it personally does not, however, mean that I would recommend it to all simmers out there. If you’re not a Star Wars fan, this pack isn’t going to convert you, and the CAS items alone aren’t worth the cost of the pack. 

Despite having fun with the pack, I’m disappointed with its wasted potential. If they’d fleshed it out, EA could have made a serviceable spinoff Sims game that would have been really fun to play, rather than the sort-of fun Batuu they handed us. In lieu of that, just giving us a genetically-based occult alien would have launched this game pack into my favorites. Instead, it wades in the waters of mediocrity–not bad, but not as good as it could have been. 

I’m giving this pack 6.5/10 stars. And two hands on my hips toward EA for, once again, proving that they don’t think through family play when they create their packs. 

Surf and Turf Reviews

The Thing and Trolls: World Tour – A Lesson in Assimilation

For our weekly Two-Movie Tuesday, which I’ve taken to calling our “Surf and Turf” special, my husband and I each pick one movie to watch together. We don’t run the movies by each other first, and sometimes the pairings can get a little… esoteric. That was definitely the case with this week’s line-up, which consisted of the Thing followed by Trolls World Tour

Let’s take a look at each movie individually and then investigate how they did (or did not) work together as a pairing. 

The Thing Review

About 10 minutes into The Thing, I was ready to fall asleep. Other than some guy in a helicopter trying to gun down a dog and a fair amount of casual xenophobia (McReady mixed Norway and Sweden up so much that I’m still not sure which base was actually near them), the opening felt like To Build a Fire. Characters wandered in and out of supposed-Antarctic bases wearing little more than leather jackets, sometimes shrugging them on as they walked outside, and I fully expected the plot to focus on them getting stranded in the cold somewhere. 

It doesn’t help that the only thing I knew about the movie going into it was a single gruesome, poorly-shot picture of the Thing, which I had grabbed from Google in preparation for this review. 

Six years ago, when Vuk and I met, I’d have fallen asleep or started scrolling on my phone during the wearily slow beginning. I’m glad I didn’t, because what followed was a grisly, horrifying mindfuck that was totally worth watching.  Despite being released in the early 80s, the Thing’s sparse setting and lack of CGI’d effects allowed it to hold up over time and still creep me out ever so gently. 

Good choice, Vuk. Solid. 

Chosen By: Husband

Would Have Paired Perfectly With: Gremlins

Overall Rating: 8/10

Trolls World Tour Review

Trolls World Tour was… weird. 

And, honestly, disappointing. 

The first Trolls movie stood out by perfectly pairing beloved music to what was happening in the story. But, despite having a wider arsenal of music at their disposal in Trolls World Tour, this movie missed the mark. They could have done so many cool things with music, but instead seemed to pick songs at random and hammer them awkwardly in place like misshapen Ikea furniture. 

the map was a disappointment

It wasn’t a bad movie. Justin Timberlake still has the voice of an angel. Anna Kendrick still makes the perfect, vivacious Poppy. But the plot was weak, the motivations of the new characters ambiguous, and the music–the driving force behind the original movie–left something to be desired. 

Chosen By: Me

Would Have Paired Perfectly With: Trolls or The Willoughbys

Overall Rating: 4.5/10

3 Similarities Between The Thing and Trolls World Tour

As I mentioned before, this pairing was esoteric. So much so that Vuk all but bet me that I wouldn’t be able to find my requisite 3 similarities to tie the movies together. 

But I did. 

Proving, once again, that women can do anything. #Feminism. 

Here are three (loose) similarities between The Thing and Trolls World Tour. 

The Crazy Old Coot

Although this is a small scene in both movies, it was so strikingly similar that I had to include it as a similarity. Basically, when shit starts to hit the fan, the Old Coot of the civilization loses his goddamn mind and starts destroying stuff. 

In Trolls, it’s played for humor, with Poppy’s dad denying their history and eating the invitation mailed to them by the Queen of Rock. 

It’s less humorous in the Thing when the (scientist? doctor?) realizes any one of them could be possessed by The Thing and begins destroying their communication and transportation to keep from infecting the world. 

I said NO TECHNOLOGY, damn it!

But in both cases, the Old Man sees the end of times on the horizon and decides that destruction of property is the only solution. 

Isolation from The World

Both movies deal with civilizations that have been isolated from the rest of the world for a significant period of time. 

In Trolls, the Pop trolls have been isolated since the six strings of music were separated an uncertain amount of time ago. 

In the Thing, the isolation is due to the main characters being from a scientific research base on Antarctica. 

In both movies, isolation from the rest of the world colors the actions of the characters and is a driving narrative force.

Assimilation

The central theme to both movies is that the antagonistic force is trying to assimilate everything in the world and make it the same. In Trolls, the Queen of Rock is trying to make all trolls Rock n Roll trolls. In The Thing, the monster is trying to make… everything… the thing. 

LOTS OF MEEEEE

Of course, Trolls, as a kids movie, sort of hit you over the head with the moral that individuality is good and sameness is lameness. 

The Thing was less didactic, and at the end of the movie, you still can’t be sure that assimilation hasn’t won out. But the thread of assimilation that ran through both movies actually held them together as a combination and kept the pairing from feeling unpalatable. 

Overall Surf & Turf Rating

The Thing and Trolls World Tour made for a strange combination. I’m all for watching something cheerful after something scary, but there was just something unsettling about moving from the gore of The Thing into the acid-trip that was Trolls World Tour. It wasn’t bad. It was just odd, pairing about as well as ice-cold water and circus peanuts (which, incidentally, is what I ate while watching these movies). 

Double Movie Rating: 5/10. 

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Surf and Turf Review

Aliens & Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Every week, my husband and I enjoy Two-Movie Tuesday. He picks one movie, I pick another, and we watch them together. Then, I review the success of the double feature, looking at the movies individually as well as how they fit together as a pair. I call this the weekly Surf & Turf Special. (You can decide which of us is Surf and which of us is Turf). 

This week, our Surf and Turf special consisted of Aliens followed by Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Aliens Review

Aliens was my husband’s choice, following last week’s selection of Alien. He’s currently choosing movies that I “should have seen by now.” 

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t looking forward to Aliens this week. I respected Alien when we watched it last week, but it was slow. It was plodding. It had that classic early-horror-movie feel from when directors didn’t know how to make cuts. I expected Aliens to be more of the same. 

I was wrong. 

James Cameron did Aliens proud. Not only did it hold together more tightly than the first movie, but it also held up well over time. I mean, the aliens themselves weren’t as scary now as they probably were when the movie was released in ‘86. But it lacked the terrible CGI that so often makes old movies cringe-worthy. Use of real set pieces and actors lent the movie verisimilitude.

Most important take-aways from the movie: 

  • Newt is exactly how I imagine my toddler in about 4 years (except, you know, with more PTSD)
  • Nuking it from space is the only way to be sure. 
  • There is something inherently demeaning about a grown man calling a grown woman “kiddo,” and it should always make you want to smack his stupid face. Always. 

Chosen By: Husband

Would Have Paired Perfectly With: Alien 

Overall Rating: 7/10

Dora and the Lost City of Gold Review

I chose Dora fully expecting it to be terrible. Because, let’s be real, when the College Humor Fake Trailer for a movie turns out almost identical to the real trailer, you know you’re in for a shit show. 

It did not disappoint. 

I’m not saying there were no good moments. During a scene in the beginning when Dora pretended to speak to the camera, her dad looked genuinely terrified and then announced, “Eh. She’ll grow out of it.” It was a scene thrown in there for the benefit of any adult who’s ever screamed “it’s behind you, you jackass!” at Dora to the utter chagrin of their enamored toddler, and I loved it. 

Maybe instead of staring at us you could try TURNING AROUND

On the whole, however, Dora and the Lost City of Gold felt like a wannabe kids-Indiana Jones that fell just shy of the mark. The humor was en point, and Michael Peña hit his notes perfectly, but the plot was weak, the ending was predictable, and the inclusion of a stupid talking fox ruined an otherwise totally kind of realistic-ish movie. 

For example, instead of a stupid talking fox, they could have…

  • Not had a fox at all. He’s not in every episode of Dora. He didn’t need to be in the movie.
  • Just had a dude named Swiper steal the kids’ map, as a nod to Swiper the Fox
  • Had a childhood friend dress up as a fox named Swiper, and then show up later on to steal their map
  • Have a real, non-costumed, non-talking fox bowl them over and knock their map out of their hands

I mean, the movie didn’t suck. If our daughter turns out to be a Dora fan down the road, I could see myself sitting through the movie again. There were enough funny parts to make it a lark for adults. Unfortunately, they did just enough right with the movie that the things that went wrong felt less bad-movie-night funny and more… disappointing. 

Chosen By: Me

Would Have Paired Perfectly With: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Overall Rating: 4.5/10

3 Similarities Between Aliens and Dora and the Lost City of Gold

My husband and I don’t choose our movies based on how well they’ll pair or what they have in common, but when you watch two movies back to back, you’re bound to notice commonalities. Here are three themes that helped these two movies pair together.

Strong Female Leads

Whatever my complaints about Dora, she is undoubtedly a bad-ass and a great role model for young women. She goes on adventures, knows multiple languages (at least three), has awesome wilderness skills, knows tons about animals, and isn’t afraid to be herself. Weak plot aside, Dora is the type of main character you want your daughters to look up to. 

And if your daughters are older and likely to battle aliens, they can’t match Ripley for level-headedness and good common sense. 

Truer words were never spoken.

I also loved that our strong female leads weren’t there just to be a romantic interest. There was maybe a hint of something between Ripley and Hicks, but the movie never got into it. This is also the second movie with Ripley in it and the first time romance was even hinted at, which I think is pretty damn forward of the 80’s. 

Meanwhile, in the world of Dora the Explorer, teenaged Diego got a romantic interest, but Dora had other things on her plate.

Thank you, Nickelodeon. 

De-Emphasis on Money

In the words of Dora’s mom, “Exploring: Good. Money: Bad.” 

It turned out to be a major theme for both movies, with antagonists fueled by greed and a love of money, and protagonists fueled by… other… priorities. Like family. And not getting eviscerated by Xenomorphs. You know, important stuff. 

Bad-ass Hispanic Representation

One of the cool things about Dora has always been the sprinkling of Spanish throughout episodes. The movie out-staged the show in this regard, and was laced with a trace of Hispanic culture that felt less cartoon-y and more genuine than the TV show. 

As for Aliens, it features one of the best Hispanic characters I’ve ever seen: Vasquez. That girl could bench any guy in the corps. She is brutal with a gun and her tongue is as sharp as any knife.

And yes, she died. But she died in a gloriously bad-ass conflagration which is absolutely the way you want to die (if the alternative is acid-spewing alien parasites). 

Three thumbs up. 

Overall Surf & Turf Rating

These two movies actually paired really well. Aliens was stressful, Dora was hilarious. Neither movie was fresh and groundbreakingly original–at least not in 2020–but they were both enjoyable on their own, and they paired like an agéd cheese and a really cheap boxed wine. 

Or maybe like an agéd cheese and a box of grape juice.

Double Movie Rating: 6/10.