Category Archive: Google+ Game Review

Nov 20

Collapse! Blast Review

I have fond memories of Collapse!, by Gamehouse, back in high school. It was a simple and fun game during the rise of flash games. Playing Collapse! Blast on Google+ brings back many of those memories, but I find it difficult to find the original charm the old game had.

The directions to play Collapse! Blast is as simple as a single picture: click on any combination of 3 adjacently-placed, like-colored blocks to make them disappear. While this gameplay is similar to Diamond Dash, Collapse! Blast differs in a few ways. First, the blocks do not take up the entire screen. Instead, they rise from the bottom, imposing a new peril: letting the blocks rise to the top of the screen is instant game-over (don’t worry, this doesn’t happen often). Second, destroying an entire column of blocks causes the blocks on the outer edges to converge inwards. Third, Collapse! Blast adds a risky but rewarding strategy, where one can deliberately raise more blocks to gain more points. This last part makes the game significantly more entertaining than Diamond Dash, where no similar risks exist.

Interestingly, Collapse! Blast also tweaks its “physics” every week, changing how quickly you get score multipliers, Frenzy Mode, etc. Also, as you play more, you gain more Experience Points to earn power-ups, such as Bombs and Thunderbolts. This helps even the odd, but they come in very slowly. You’re probably bored by the point you get the last Colored-Bomb, even though the next item helps give you massive points. It’s quite unfortunate this terrible progression provides little curiosity or gratification.

Perhaps the worst offender, however, is its Life system. Much like Diamond Dash, Collapse! Blast offers only a palpable 3 lives to play through each game in succession. While the game will initially award you with extra levels to keep you playing, you’ll quickly hit a point where the game simply prevents you from playing further. One regains a life after 5 long minutes, or after asking a friend for help. While it’s true that by gaining more experience points, you’ll eventually increase your life meter up to 5 containers, that only means you can play 5 or 6 games successively before getting annoyed by the “wait 5 minutes” pop-up dialog. By then, you might as well stop playing.

Collapse! Blast is a legitimately fun game that I want to enjoy, but doesn’t let me. The core game mechanics is, by all means, very fun and frantic. There’s a big satisfaction for setting up large groups of blocks for elimination. Yet, this is hindered by one of the worst energy system ever created on a Google+ game. In a rare bit, I find this single flaw so glaringly bad, I cannot get myself to play the game longer.

Nov 14

Triple Town Review

Triple Town is a puzzle game developed by Spryfox. Due to its beta state, features such as the menu are missing. That said, just by the gameplay alone, Triple Town is one of my favorite Google+ games due to its complexity hidden under its simple rules.

The premise behind Triple Town is simple: connect 3 like-elements to combine them into a bigger reward. Each upgraded element has a higher point value, increasing your aggregate score. Once the entire 6 x 6 board is filled, the game tallies up each element’s points, and rewards you with coins respective to your score.

Despite this simple goal, the tutorial is actually quite long. After merging 3 grasses into a bush, and 3 bushes into a tree, the tutorial introduces several elements to help your score: an Imperial Bot, which removes an element from the board; a crystal, which works as a wildcard for merging two like elements; a storehouse to retain a single element for you; and finally the store which contains elements you can buy for upgrades. Impeding your goal, however, are moving bears and teleporting ninja bears that both take up a space. Defeating them requires trapping them, or by using an Imperial Bot to turn them into gravestones. Sadly, the game introduces these elements all at once, making it hard to keep track of which element does what. In addition, the game merely leads you to the next move, and its attempt to explain what the move does is rather lacking.

Still, I really enjoy playing Triple Town. The game has a simple but rewarding risk system: the element you place on the board are random, though it’s typically a grass. With the inclusion of the storehouse, you frequently end up gambling if the next move is a bush or not to combine them better. While the store sells a bunch of bushes and tree for easy upgrade, the price is hefty, and its a bit unrewarding. Dealing with bears also requires a good amount of strategy, as they will always appear to annoyingly take up a space. Walling them into a corner works wonders, but holds the risk of being unable to combine elements for a long while. Playing the game longer helps you develop better strategies to deal with different scenarios, and it’s always fun to know what the next element upgrade will be after a merge.

Like most games, Triple Town has an annoying energy system. The number of moves are limited to a ceiling of 100 moves (unless you buy 200 moves from the store), and they regenerate at a slow pace of 5 minutes. Despite this, though, the game does store your last session, so you can play it later without the risk of, say, your tomatoes rotting in the farm. In addition, the price for 200 moves are, while hefty, attainable after 2 playthroughs, so it’s not as annoying as it seems.

While strictly one player, and not very social, Triple Town more than makes up for its shortcomings by providing complex strategies for better scores in an otherwise simple game. With the store to even the odds, no time-based tasks, and a generous amount of coins given after the end of each session, the game rarely feels annoying. This, plus the extremely addicting gamble system of predicting your next move greatly helps the gameplay.

Oct 29

City of Wonder Review

City of Wonder, developed by Playdom, is a construct-your-own-city simulation with a historical slant. As such, City of Wonder adds one more dimension to simply just constructing a city: it also allows you to construct your own history to better technology, artworks, and/or military. While this certainly makes the game unique, the complexity and slow growth makes it difficult to enjoy the game in the beginning. It does, however, get much better further into the game.

Starting City of Wonder is similar to CityVille: a Cultural Adviser guides you into collecting new populations, money, and cleaning up cultural decorations. And, well, that’s it. Goals are introduced in the upper-right hand corner, but unlike CityVille, only one goal will appear at a time. From this ever changing goals, however, all the actions are introduced, including farming, planting, visiting other cities, researching new technology, developing a military, building markets, decorations, monuments, homes, and so forth. Finally, Expeditions are introduced, allowing you to either exchange culture, trade, or go to war to other colonies.

City of Wonder has a few advantages and disadvantages compared to CityVille. On the advantages side, City of Wonder does not use the energy system in CityVille, allowing you to conduct any activity as rapidly and as long as you’d like. Instead of the energy system, you’re only limited to the amount of resources you have left to build and expand your territory. This is quite a huge relief, considering how so many games rely on this trope too much (Bejewled and Angry Birds being notable exceptions). Another advantage is the unique Expedition system. Your attacks, trading skills, and cultural sophistication are all dependent on the kind of buildings you’ve created. Thus, you have to strategically construct a city tailored towards a certain attribute, while sacrificing others.

On the disadvantages side, City of Wonder “builds-up” slower than CityVille, and has a worse GUI. Visiting you’re friends cities are not very satisfying, since the only action you can take is to collect from their Embassy. Since there’s no reason to explore other peoples’ cities, there is no aesthetic competition. City of Wonder also feels less animated, which is a bit of a double-edge sword. While it’s convenient that resources are collected automatically simply by clicking on a farm, it loses the gratification of collecting the spurting items via a mouse. Spam-wise, City of Wonder demands less from your friends, but more from your credit card.

I personally thought City of Wonder was a slightly less entertaining than CityVille, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad at all. I found it quite satisfying playing it, even though its GUI is rather unwieldy.

Oct 29

CityVille+ Review

CityVille, developed by Zynga, currently stands as the most played game on Facebook. I’ll admit that I did not enjoy FarmVille much, another popular game by the same developers, and had a very reserved opinion when starting up CityVille. That said, I was pleasantly surprise. CityVille manages to be an addicting game due to its clear objectives and a decent strategy, despite the horribly implemented interface, and even worse demand for spam.

When you start CityVille, it introduces you with a house and a farm. A guide, Samantha, will direct you in how to build a house and collect rent from it. After that, your tutorial is done: nice, short, and easy. Immediately after the tutorial, however, the Goals (akin to Xbox’s Achievements) are listed on the left-hand side of the screen. The first few will teach how to do other activities, including farming, starting a business, and expanding the population. The most interesting goal is one that requires you to visit your neighbors. Your list of neighbors already include one computer-generated character, Samantha herself. Her city acts like a model city: it has nearly everything you can place and decorate in your city. Additionally, the goal teaches you the different things you can help in a neighboring city, such as collecting money, touring the population to a specific business, and even setting up your brand. The game, of course, limits your activities in the neighboring city and forces you to go back home. By then, however, you’ve already been sold the ultimate objective of the game: making your own city like Samantha’s.

As mentioned earlier, CityVille is addicting. It starts very quickly and smoothly. It has so many things to do, including building houses, maintaining business, farming supplies, decorating the town, and expanding the ever-growing population. The goals are listed in a visible (if annoying) fashion, providing rewards to further compel you to achieving the ideal city. And of course, there’s always you friendly neighbor Samantha, reminding you what you could do with enough cash or persistence. The consistent drive to build and expand the city to your own liking is a compelling tried-and-true experience by several Sims games, and it certainly works wonders here.

Until you run out of Energy. Typical of any Facebook games, CityVille at one points just halts your actions entirely because you don’t have enough stamina to continue. You’re forced to wait five minutes once the energy meter runs out to recovery one unit, and even then, the thirst to continue playing is immediately dried up by the next action you take. As much as I greatly dislike this Arcade-like monetizing, it does pose a bit of an advantage. Knowing your energy bar limit forces you to plan on the best course of action to take to best supply and profit off of your own population. Are you willing to sacrifice an entire day to re-supply your reserve? Or do you need it immediately? Do you want to take the rent from that house now, or when the rent is available to all of your residents? The latter has a huge advantage. By collecting many items at once, your bonus meter fills, supplying extra cash at the end.

Perhaps the part I like least about this game, however, is its constant insistence that you remind your friends you’ve played this game. This tends to be less of a problem in Google+, because those game reminders do not appear in the homepage, but it does get annoying for the player him/herself after a while. Even worse, there’s only 3 ways to expand your population and area of play: inviting more friends, then demanding certain roles, paying cash, or leveling up.

The latter two revolves around CityVille’s 2 currency system: the Coins, which you collect through normal activities, and Cash where one can buy with real money. Leveling up also gives one cash, to later hire different city jobs. I haven’t paid my dollars to convert to cash yet, but I’m assuming it’s using Google Checkout.

Despite it’s glaring flaws and rather cluttered user interface, CityVille still had it going with its constant demand for new activity, requirement to carefully plan your next steps, and the ever-looming goal of creating your dream city. I definitely recommend trying it, well over FarmVille, but I warn you, you’re going to want a lot of friends to help out.

Aug 16

Google+ Games Review

I figured for studying purposes, I’d play the Google+ puzzle games, and see how they were like. I’m a sucker for puzzles game, after all, so I figured I’d play the following games: Angry Birds, Bejewled, Diamond Dash, and Bubble Island. In each game, since I’ve already played a game similar to these games already, I focused on the methods they seem to either monetize or advertise.

For advertising methods, Angry Birds was easily my favorite. By starting a level, you’ll immediately notice a friend’s avatar on the upper-right-hand corner, indicating his/her best score, along with your own. It creates a friendly sense of competition with your friends, as everyone tries to beat everyone else’s score. If you complete a stage, and manage to topple your friends score, you’re given an opportunity to share that score, and/or brag to your lesser friends how you’ve managed to top their high score. The social aspect is beautifully integrated into the game, managing to be inviting and competitive, without being annoying.

Bejewled was comparatively interesting. The game lists a few power-ups right from the get-go, though only one is available. By playing a brief 10-seconds game, you can gain a few coins to purchase the listed power-ups, and try again. Reaching a certain score allows you to share that score to your friends. Also, if certain items seems too expensive, it seems you can pay-up real dollars to obtain more coins. I personally liked how the system doesn’t prevent you from obtaining power-ups; but you can get them faster if you pay. Since it doesn’t penalize non-payers, nobody gets left out.

Bubble Island, a Bubble-Bobble clone, plays pretty much as expected. It’s cluttered high scores UI, though, attempts way too hard to make you invite your friends. Practically every button (and there’s a lot, let me tell you) except one attempts to spam your stream or invite your friends directly. The last button leads you to the next stage. Perhaps the worst annoyance is the “retry level” system. While the game occasionally rewards you a free retry, the rest must be regained by inviting your friend. Essentially, if you fail a level without a retry, you can’t play the game anymore. This annoyance is somewhat disheartening, especially since the level progression was carefully calculated.

Diamond Dash, though, manages to make things worse. The Collapse clone requires that you pay one heart to progress through the game. Play enough games, then it’ll prevent you from playing further until you invite another friend. To play further without invites, you’ll have to refresh the page again, making the game go through the excruciating load screen. It’s high-scores panel manages to look exactly the same thing as Bubble Island as well. This was, by far, the least pleasant experience I had with these Google+ games.

Overall, I think Angry Birds shows the best way to implement Social competitions. The invites or share requests are non-intrusive, and context sensitive. Beat someone else? Brag about it! Can’t solve a puzzle? Ask your friends! Or, of course, just buy the black eagle (skip-level item). It encourages collaboration and creativity without being annoying about. This design is extremely encouraging, and I hope to see other games follow suit.