Dragon Up (iOS) review

photo-2Dragon Up is a new iOS game from East Side Games. It was tested in the Canadian App Store prior to Christmas, but is now available worldwide as a free download from the App Store.

Dragon Up is heavily inspired by Tiny Tower — even East Side Games has said this — and the influence of Nimblebit’s runaway success is almost immediately evident in the flow of gameplay. Essentially, Dragon Up is a game about making as much money as possible as efficiently as possible. This is achieved by purchasing and hatching new dragon eggs (the equivalent of building new floors in Tiny Tower) and then sending these dragons on various “quests” (the equivalent of stocking floors with saleable items in Tiny Tower) until they come back and vomit up their earnings for a set period of time. Like Tiny Tower, dragons continue to produce income even while the game is not active — the player will be informed as to how much they have earned upon their return.

Dragons have a particular amount of energy with which they can go on quests, and must rest when they run out. Regular visitors to the dragon cave (the equivalent of the people in the elevator in Tiny Tower) bring food to the dragons, which rewards them with experience points. Feeding a dragon its favorite food — an item which matches its color — will give it additional experience. Leveling up dragons allows them to partake in more rewarding quests, and various treasures may also be found to improve their abilities. Occasionally normal visitors will be replaced by wizards, who will provide a variety of benefits such as restoring dragons’ energy or automatically feeding them their favorite food — normally, the piece of food a visitor gives a dragon is randomized. (more…)

Alice’s Mad Tea Party (iOS) review

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is a new iOS game from Poppin Games, the developers of Peter Rabbit’s Garden. Like its predecessor, the game is a premium-priced ($1.99) game with additional in-app purchases of hard currency, and is currently enjoying a brief period of being available for free until Feb. 20. It’s available now from the App Store.

Alice's Mad Tea Party

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is very similar to Peter Rabbit’s Garden in more ways than one. For starters, both games feature absolutely beautiful presentation, with hand-drawn artwork that is very distinctive and bursting with character rather than adopting the usual vector-based “Flash game” aesthetic seen in many other social games. Both games also feature high-quality sound, animation and story sequences to give the player a feel of progression.

And, sadly, both games also feature tired, derivative gameplay that would be better off in a true free-to-play title, because they certainly don’t offer sufficient entertainment value and unique features to justify a premium price point — especially with the amount of in-app purchases available. (more…)

Race 4 My Place review

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 9.11.45 AMRace 4 My Place is a new Facebook game from PopRox Entertainment. The game has been delayed several times, but PopRox’s CEO Mike Gramling has been keeping prospective players informed of development progress via its official Facebook Page — something which the community appears to have responded positively to. As of Feb. 4, 2013, the game is now available for all to play.

Race 4 My Place is a citybuilder with a few key differences from the usual format. The big “unique selling point” of the game is that it offers real-world prizes for completing certain in-game achievements, known as “Contracts.” The grand prize among those currently available is the chance to get a mortgage payoff worth up to $200,000, or a cash option of up to $100,000, and this will be awarded at the beginning of June of this year. There are also monthly game console and iPad giveaways, and weekly smaller prizes of gift cards for various establishments. Each of these Contracts requires the player to accept their terms and conditions before they are eligible, and then some specific in-game objectives completed to enter them into the drawing for the relevant prize.

Race 4 My Place’s gameplay is very simplistic. Players place down residential buildings to increase their city’s population, and businesses to produce goods or earn money. All buildings are constructed immediately rather than forcing the player to wait for hours, but each costs a particular amount of energy to construct. Energy is not restored upon leveling up, which consequently means that the player will inevitably run out of it very quickly. However, herein lies another of Race 4 My Place’s subversions of the usual social game format — there are no in-app purchase options. (more…)

Race 4 My Place launches, bringing real world rewards and cash prizes to social gaming

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 9.11.45 AMLast night, PopRox Entertainment revealed its social citybuilder Race 4 My Place had officially launched on Facebook with Race 4 My Place: Los Angeles.

Although Race 4 My Place is yet another entry into an already overcrowded genre on the Facebook platform, it’s differentiating itself in a major way by offering up cash prizes and real world rewards to players. The other interesting thing about the game is that it’s totally free to play, since requiring users to pay to play a title with cash prizes would turn it into a form of online gambling (which is currently illegal here in the United States).

Race 4 My Place piqued our interest when we spoke to PopRox CEO Mike Gramling at GDC Online in October. When we talked to him, Gramling explained Race 4 My Place would allow users to win things like gift cards, airline flights, movie tickets and iPads, but that there were also significant cash prizes to be had. Cash will come in two forms: weekly and “grand prize” drawings (taking place once every four months). PopRox will pay the weekly winners $1,061 (the average monthly mortgage payment in the United States) and each grand prize will give users the option of a $200,000 mortgage payoff or a $100,000 cash payout. Following each grand prize drawing, the game will unlock a new city for players to start building up.

Social games normally monetize by having users spend money on hard currency, but due to the aforementioned link to online gambling this isn’t a possibility for Race 4 My Place. Instead, the game has players watch video ads in order to do things like recharging energy, acquiring extra goods or hiring people to work at the in-game businesses (though this can also be achieved by inviting friends into the game).

We were able to jump into Race 4 My Place right away, but the game’s official Facebook page notes some users are having issues getting it to launch. Look for our review of the game sometime soon.


Pixel People (iOS) review

Pixel PeoplePixel People is a new iOS game published by Chillingo and developed by LambdaMu Games. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases available of the game’s hard currency.

Pixel People is obviously taking very heavy cues from Nimblebit’s popular mobile games Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, but manages to create a distinctive experience while maintaining the same endearing pixel-art style. The concept of the game is that the player is in charge of a futuristic colony of clones and must splice genetic material together to discover the game’s 150 jobs. Unlocking jobs subsequently unlocks buildings and allows the player’s colony to grow and increase its regular income, but the player must check in regularly on the colony to ensure that all its citizens are getting on with their work. Players may also share their new job discoveries on Facebook — playing communally with friends to discover all the combinations is a good way to make rapid progress.

Basic gameplay in Pixel People involves building houses in order to free up space for new inhabitants, then waiting for new clones to arrive in the “arrival center” facility. When a new clone arrives, they are a “blank slate” and must have their genes spliced in order to find them a job. Initially, two jobs are available — mayor and mechanic — but as the player combines different arrangements of jobs together, they gradually unlock more and more different careers for their pixelated citizens to join. Most of these jobs are discovered by splicing genes together, but some are simply awarded for making a particular amount of progress in the game. The interface gives good feedback on which combinations the player has already tried, which ones will result in a new job and which ones will not work at all — this helps ensure that the player will never waste their time creating jobs they already know. A humorous “news ticker” across the bottom of the screen occasionally provides hints on new combinations, and tapping on buildings with unoccupied jobs allows the player to unlock the genetic formula for the missing careers in exchange for hard currency. (more…)

Royal Story review

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 2.33.05 PMRoyal Story is a new Facebook game from Fun+, creators of the popular Family Farm, which we reviewed here. The game launched this month and has been gradually gaining traction. It is also currently showing up as a featured game in Facebook’s App Center.

Royal Story casts players in the role of a male or female avatar who is the heir to a kingdom. The game’s plot centers around the player’s attempts to restore the kingdom from an evil sorceress’ curse and reunite their family. This is achieved through some rather conventional farming and building sim gameplay that bears more than a passing resemblance to Family Farm’s “supply chain”-based mechanics. Crops are planted and harvested, then fed to animals, which produce resources such as milk and eggs. These resources and crops are then combined in various machines to produce finished products, which can either be sold or sometimes used to complete quests or building projects. (more…)

The Blockheads (iOS) review

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 9.50.17 AMThe Blockheads is a new iOS game from Majic Jungle Software. The title, which is a free download from the App Store, enjoyed a brief stint at the top of the charts shortly after release, and has been positively received by press and public alike.

The Blockheads is an open-world sandbox game heavily inspired by Mojang’s popular game Minecraft, which is also available on iOS in a somewhat more limited form than its original PC and Mac counterpart. Unlike Mojang’s title, however, The Blockheads unfolds from a side-on 2D-made-from-3D-objects perspective rather than the first-person viewpoint of Minecraft, and maintains its inspiration’s blocky art style. This perspective is somewhat more fitting for a touch-based control scheme and eliminates the need for awkward virtual joysticks, instead controlling everything through simple taps and menus.

Like Minecraft, there is no real “goal” in The Blockheads; the game is whatever the player decides to make of it, and very little guidance is given from the very beginning of the game. Essentially, the game revolves around harvesting resources from the world (ideally using the correct tools) and then using the various gathered items to craft things. Initially, the player will need to craft various different types of workbench in order to create different types of items — a tool bench allows for the creation of items to aid with harvesting and mining, for example, while a woodworking bench allows for the construction of items such as doors and beds. Once the player has a good base camp set up, however, it is entirely up to them how they choose to proceed — there is a large, randomly-generated world out there for them to explore that extends up into space and down into the planet’s core as well as wrapping around on itself after about 15,000 blocks. (more…)

Disney City Girl review

Disney City Girl is a life simulation Facebook game from Disney Playdom. It first came out in November, and has been showing up on the Emerging Facebook Games charts recently. It’s also available to play on Playdom’s web portal.

Disney City Girl casts players in the role of a girl who has graduated from college and decides to move to New York in an attempt to make something of her life. There is no option to play as a male character — unsurprising, given the title, but there is very little in the game that is not relevant to both genders. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see Playdom limiting its audience like this — the game is clearly heavily inspired by The Sims, which ably caters to players of both genders and all sexualities rather than limiting itself to the narrow stereotype of the shopping-obsessed girl.

It would not have been too much of a stretch for the game to be called something along the lines of “Disney City Life” and provide the ability for both genders to represent themselves as they saw fit, but sadly it is not to be, it seems. According to the developers, this is because the “paper doll” mechanic of dressing up an avatar is supposedly more popular with female players, and that female avatars get more interesting clothing. While this may well be true, it seems unnecessarily exclusionary and feels like pandering to stereotypes. (more…)

Village Life review

Village Life is a Facebook game from Playdemic. It’s seen fairly strong growth recently, showing up at No. 18 on our Top Gainers by MAU chart on New Year’s Eve.

Village Life is a game in which players take control of a small community and must guide it to prosperity. Rather than taking a simple citybuilding/FrontierVille-style approach, however, Village Life focuses much more on the people who inhabit the village rather than the act of building a sprawling but soulless community. The game begins with players naming a husband and pregnant wife duo, completing a few basic tutorial quests and establishing a small base camp. Shortly afterwards, the husband, wife and children are introduced to two more villagers (also renamable) and the game proper begins.

Gameplay in Village Life largely consists of taking care of the villagers’ core needs. This is achieved by looking at the thought bubbles above their heads, which indicate they are hungry, in need of shelter, thirsty, looking for a relationship or desiring a specific building/structure to make use of. Clicking on the thought bubble brings up a more detailed explanation of what they are interested in and provides the opportunity for the player to trigger a quest to fulfil the want if it is a multi-step process. Players are also free to manage the village in their own way if they so desire. (more…)

Nemo’s Reef (iOS/Android) review

Nemo’s Reef is a new iOS and Android game from Disney Interactive, based loosely on the Pixar movie Finding Nemo. The game sees players following the further adventures of Nemo and his father as the latter is assigned a class project to build a new reef. It’s a free-to-play title with in-app purchases of currency, available now from the App Store and Google Play.

Nemo’s Reef is a simple building game in which players must plant various types of undersea plant in an attempt to attract different types of fish and produce income. At heart, it is essentially a well-disguised citybuilder — players produce goods (in this case, algae) to supply other structures (in this case, “living plants”) and subsequently attract additional population (in this case, fish). There is no real “goal” to the game as such beyond attempting to attract all of the available types of fish on offer in the game, many of whom are characters from the Finding Nemo movie. (more…)

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