Birdopolis is the debut Facebook game from Massachusetts-based developer Nuukster. It showed up as the No. 1 emerging Facebook game at the end of last week.
Birdopolis sees players attempting to build a backyard that is attractive to as many different breeds of bird as possible. This is achieved through several steps: firstly, birds must be attracted to the yard by building specific structures that appeal to certain breeds; secondly, birds must be “spotted” in a simple minigame where the player must keep a pair of binoculars trained on the bird; thirdly, the player’s “friendship” level with the bird must be increased through repeatedly spotting them and, as the player’s grade of affinity with the bird increases, playing tag and taking photographs of them dancing.
Players have the option of focusing on either the Western or Eastern United States when they begin playing. This affects the types of bird that appear over the course of the game, giving the game a very light educational feel. This is supplemented by the occasional speech bubbles that appear over visiting birds — clicking on these reveals trivia about the bird in question.
Progression through the game is controlled both via a traditional leveling system and an ongoing plot — a rather silly, childish affair regarding a bird who performed badly on the bird equivalent of “American Idol” and is now attempting to rebuild some semblance of dignity. The plot isn’t overly obtrusive and has its mildly amusing moments, but does feel a little at odds with the game’s educational content at times. That said, it provides a clear structure of quests and objectives for players to work towards, with the only problem being occasional “downtime” of various types: sometimes the player is stuck waiting for a specific bird to appear, and sometimes the player is left without any specific objectives to complete. While the latter issue will please players who prefer not to have their hand held too much in games, at the same time it may prove daunting to those who prefer to follow a clear “checklist” of things to do — it also makes the game’s pace feel a little inconsistent.
Monetization is handled through hard currency sales. This may be spent on energy or premium items, some of which are more effective at attracting specific birds to the yard. Certain “rare” birds may only be attracted through the purchase of premium items, so completionist players may feel obliged to pay for hard currency in order to get the most out of the game.
Birdopolis is a well-presented game. Its graphics have an attractive hand-drawn storybook look about them and the sounds incorporate authentic, realistic birdsong sounds and unobtrusive music. The game at least tries a few different things over and above traditional social “building” games — the “spotting” and photography mechanics are two good examples — but at its core it’s still a game about spending energy to click repeatedly on things. It would have been nice to see a little more creativity in the base gameplay, and the potential for educational content is also underused. While the occasional “bird facts” that pop up are a good start, the simple addition of something along the lines of a “bird encyclopedia” would have allowed players who find themselves interested in finding out more about ornithology to learn something. As it stands, the game feels like it doesn’t quite know where it wants to fit in — does it want to be a cartoonish, silly game with little grounding in reality, or an educational experience where players can discover an interest in birdwatching?
This doesn’t make it a bad game, of course — so far as games of this type go, Birdopolis is quite a good one, above-mentioned flaws aside. There’s not that much incentive for players to play “socially,” but there is certainly plenty of content to explore, and none of it appears to be friend-gated, at least in the early stages. This makes it particularly friendly to solo players and thus has the possibility of attracting and retaining players who are self-conscious about “spamming” their friends with requests and Timeline posts.
A good-quality, fun game — albeit one with a mild identity crisis.