Retro World takes players back in time on several old-school adventures

Retro World from Entertainment Games, Inc. is a well-produced Facebook game combining elements of point-and-click adventures, hidden object games and puzzle-based minigames with a healthy dose of  ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s nostalgia. The game has been available since mid-November, but has been gaining traction in recent weeks due to strong marketing efforts centering around the addition of new I Love Lucy-themed content.

Retro World is actually several games in one. The core experience is a series of TV show-like “episodes”. During each episode, the player interacts with characters, finds objects, solves puzzles and completes minigames. These sequences are all short, self-contained stories ostensibly based around one of several different fictional television shows. A tutorial episode known as “The Audition” sees a virtual Dick Clark introducing players to the game’s interface and some of the characters that the player will encounter in the episodes, though completing this is not mandatory. At the time of writing, there are three different episodes for players to challenge besides the tutorial — two in a ’60s spy thriller series reminiscent of shows such as The Saint, and one in a light suburban comedy called Kat the Brat.

Gameplay during these episodes involves hovering the mouse over hotspots on the screen and clicking to interact. Clicking on arrows that appear over exits allows the player to move from location to location; clicking on characters allows the player to start a conversation — often with multiple dialog choices — and clicking on objects allows the player to interact with them. The player also has an inventory of items collected throughout the course of that episode, and these items may also be used on items in a scene or characters to solve puzzles. Occasionally progression through a story is dependent on the completion of a simple minigame, though these may be skipped by using the game’s “Boost” resource. This recharges every 30 minutes, but may also be topped up immediately by spending Facebook Credits.

Aside from the adventure episodes, players may also play a variety of minigames in the “Arcade” section. These range from Mah Jong to a Tetris clone and a simple fishing game. Players are able to challenge their own high scores and brag about their achievements via their Wall, but there is no leaderboard facility to compete against friends at this time.

The game makes heavy use of Wall posts for viral promotion. Every time the player achieves something noteworthy or humorous in the adventure episodes, a Wall post popup automatically appears, inviting the player to share it with their friends. This is optional and there is no discernible benefit to the player for doing so, but the posts in question generally provide enough of a tease to intrigue readers who are not already Retro World players. Besides these regular Wall post nag screens, however, social features in the game are rather limited.

An exception to this is the specific asynchronous multiplayer mode dubbed Hide & Hunt, in which players challenge friends to locate objects they have hidden in a variety of retro-themed scenes. At the time of writing, this feature seemed to have some technical issues preventing it from starting a game, and the “Find a Random Opponent” facility is currently inactive as the team at Entertainment Games improves the matchmaking system.

Retro World is a well-produced game with a very distinctive aesthetic. During the adventure episodes, visuals are presented as photographic backdrops with digitized characters over the top. Clever use of the parallax scrolling animation technique and object “layering” provide scenes with a 3D effect and allow the camera to pan and zoom around according to the player’s actions. Characters each have several poses that are displayed according to what they are saying to the player at the time, helping enormously with the characterization — a key feature in ensuring user retention in a story-based game. Outside of the episodes, minigames tend to take the form of photographic characters combined with more cartoonish, hand-drawn backdrops. The art styles clash somewhat in these segments, but the game retains a distinctive aesthetic and steadfastly refuses to submit to the popular flat-shaded cartoon look of many social games.

Retro World’s long-term success will be dependent on a variety of factors: a steady stream of new content: the addition of further social features such as leaderboards in the Arcade games; a better implementation of Hide & Hunt’s matchmaking facility; and whether or not Entertainment Games are able to negotiate further nostalgic licenses besides I Love Lucy and the likenesses of Elvis and Dick Clark that currently appear in the game. From a monetization perspective, the game would also benefit from a wider variety of things for players to spend their in-game currency on. At this time, the only thing it appears possible to spend these “Retro Bucks” on is a series of custom photographic avatars — perhaps some form of virtual personal space which the player is able to decorate with purchased nostalgic memorabilia would be a good addition.

It’s too early to call whether or not Retro World will see long-term success, but in the meantime it is well worth playing to see a good example of how episodic, story-based gaming can be handled via the Facebook platform. The game currently has 100,000 monthly active users and 5,000 daily active users. To follow its progress, check out AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.

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Retro World’s long-term success will be dependent on a steady flow of new content, but for now this is an interesting, noteworthy experiment in Facebook-based episodic adventure gaming.

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