Pettington Park review
Pettington Park is a new Google+ release, developed by Loot Drop and published by Zynga. The game is a markedly different experience from the developer’s other recent release Ghost Recon Commander, but as other developers and publishers are starting to abandon G+ as a viable social games platform, will this title have what it takes to survive on Google’s social network?
Pettington Park is a game that tasks players with building a successful amusement park for either the dogs or cats faction, who are locked in an eternal struggle for supremacy. The player selects their faction and designs an avatar of the appropriate species upon starting the game for the first time, and is unable to change this choice once play has begun — though their avatar can be outfitted with alternative clothing items. Faction choice determines which team players will be on in the game’s light player-vs-player elements, and also affects the ongoing narrative that runs through the game’s quests.
There are lots of things to do in Pettington Park. Primarily the player will be concerned with securing a source of income in the early stages of the game, which comes from constructing arcade machines. This is accomplished in the same way as building structures in similar titles — structures are placed from the shop, and then require several clicks’ worth of energy plus some collectible resources to complete. Players may ask friends for resources, but most can either be scavenged or purchased, meaning solo players are able to make progress without running into a form of friend gate.
Each arcade machine comes from a particular region, most of which are groan-inducing animal-themed puns on real-world countries, and placing decorations from that region near the relevant arcade machines boosts their profitability and the potential for high scores — for all the machines are playable, offering a variety of minigames ranging from takes on pachinko to match-3 puzzlers.
Pettington Park’s non-player characters will occasionally wander over and play the arcade machines, providing the player with a slow source of income. But if the player wishes to compete in the “cats vs dogs” component of the game, they will have to play the games themselves. This costs “tokens” to accomplish. Tokens are an in-game currency that is reserved purely for playing the arcade machines, and are stored separately from the player’s energy, soft and hard currency stocks. Additional tokens may be acquired by visiting friends, allowing social players to make larger contributions to the “war” effort. Upon completing a play session, the player’s high score is tallied and boosted by any nearby appropriate decorations. The player is then given a rundown of how cats and dogs are shaping up against each other in the overall war effort, and is then encouraged to play more either to secure their faction’s lead or to retake the top spot from their opponents. A detailed weekly “challenge checklist” allows players to see how the two factions compare in terms of specific game high scores, number of plays, number of machines built and total scores. The challenges reset every week, allowing for balanced competition.
Pettington Park is clearly trying to provide something a little different from conventional building games, and in that respect it succeeds quite well. The inclusion of the playable minigames helps break up the monotony of clicking on things to harvest resources, and also provides players with something to do while their energy restores. The player-vs-player component (or, perhaps more accurately, faction-vs-faction) also helps provide an incentive for players to check in on the game more regularly, particularly if they are competing against a friend in a rival faction. The game’s story — in which the player’s avatar is an important character with its own dialogue rather than a passive, silent observer — is gradually revealed through some of the game’s quests, also adds an element of intrigue to the proceedings and further incentive for players to keep playing.
The only question looming over the game is whether it will be a success in the long run. As we have already seen from Wooga’s departure and EA’s closure of Bejeweled Blitz, developers and publishers are seemingly starting to lose faith in G+ as a viable platform. At present, Pettington Park does not feature many avenues of monetization — at present, hard currency is only used for speeding up the “reboot” of an arcade machine after its income has been collected, a couple of vanity items for the player avatar, and energy/token top-ups. For the game to be profitable, it is going to need to attract a decent-sized audience. Judging from the in-game statistic on the number of “Pawchinko” machines built — the first arcade machine players are given access to — there appears to be something in the region of 12,000 players playing at the time of writing, though this is obviously an imprecise calculation. Whether or not the game will be successful in the long run depends entirely on whether Loot Drop and Zynga are able to acquire sufficient users to make the game sustainable. If they can’t, it would be a shame not to see the game launch on Facebook instead — it’s a good quality experience that offers something a bit different from the usual.
A good game that is very much worth playing, though whether or not the choice of Google+ as its launch platform was a smart one remains to be seen.