Archive for the ‘ First Look ’ Category

First Look: Zombie Mosh

Zombie Mosh from Menue is the best zombie nightclub social game we have played yet.

OK, seriously though, Zombie Mosh is an amusing take on a couple well-established social game genres. The most obvious influence is Nightclub City and other build-a-business titles. More surprising is that Zombie Mosh has also managed to work in a farming/harvesting mechanic in a logical way. This allows the game to stand out from a gameplay perspective. It obviously has no problem standing out thematically.

The goal of Zombie Mosh is to build “the ultimate undead hangout.” Players have an energy bar that they spend on various actions (more on these in a moment) that refills over time. Completing tasks earns coins, which can be spent on club customizations. A premium currency can be purchased with real cash to purchase exclusive goodies.

As a player builds up their club, it will attract the attention of zombie club-goers. Players earn the bulk of their XP and coins by moshing with these fellow zombies. But each zombie can only be moshed with a certain number of times. After they have reached their mosh limit, they disappear. How to replenish these dwindling zombie ranks, and make the club hoppin once again?

This is where the humans, and Zombie Mosh’s principal innovation, come in. On a regular basis, living humans will make their way into the club. Players can take these humans, bury them in graves they have purchased, and turn them into more zombies to mosh with! It sounds morbid, but it is handled in an amusing and cartoony way.

What type of zombie a human turns into is determined by what type of grave they are buried in. Some graves require just 5 minutes to transform a human, resulting in a zombie that can only be moshed with once. A 15 minute grave is also available early on, resulting in more valuable zombies. Basically, a player is “planting” human graves around their club, and can “harvest” them to create more XP-giving zombies.

In the end, you end up with a pretty crazy scene. An undead band rocking out on stage, entertaining a crowd of both humans and zombies. A variety of graves are strewn around the club, intermixed with the player-purchased decorations. Pretty zany.

Zombie Mosh obviously will only appeal to a certain demographic, but this will likely work to the game’s advantage. Lots of young men might be too cool to play Pet Society, but a zombie game built around a harvesting mechanic? Right up their alley.

First Look: Miscrits: World of Adventure

Miscrits: World of Adventure from Broken Bulb Studios is an exceptionally ambitious game. All of Broken Bulb’s titles have been quality (we’re especially big fans of My Town), but with Miscrits, the company seems determined to prove that social games are capable of richer experiences than they are currently delivering.

At its core, Miscrits is essentially a Pokemon clone. But I’m not using that label in an unkind way. The Pokemon formula seems tailor-made for the social game treatment, and if Broken Bulb didn’t tackle it, someone else was bound to.

Like Pokemon, Miscrits is an RPG (role-playing game). Players explore the wilderness, searching for creatures, called Miscrits, to capture and add to their collection. Players don’t actually do the fighting. Instead, a player chooses four of their captured Miscrits to act as their active team, and it is these Miscrits that are sent into battle.

Each Miscrit has a variety of statistics (health points, attack power, speed, etc.) that determines how effective they are in battle. As players win battles they earn experience points, which eventually allow them to level-up. Each time a player levels up they earn five Training Points, which can be spent to make their Miscrits more powerful. Eventually, a Miscrit can actually “evolve” into a brand-new form.

Like Pokemon, a Miscrit’s most important stat is its element. Each Miscrit belongs to an elemental family (fire, water, nature, etc.), and in battle some elements may be strong or weak against others. So it is important to adventure with a balanced team of Miscrits. A fire Miscrit is very weak against water enemies, but strong against nature, for example.

Miscrits is still very new, with lots of features still listed as “coming soon.” But even in this early state, it is still a very compelling product. The game looks great, with all of the 20+ Miscrits featuring high-quality, detailed artwork. The soundtrack is also lengthy and very catchy.

Like in Pokemon, a large part of Miscrit’s draw is attempting to collect all the available creatures. Some are more rare than others, and it is likely that some can’t be captured by normal means. I currently have seven unique Miscrits in my collection, and I’m already thinking about when I’ll be able to head back out and add some more.

First Look: Spa Retreat

Spa Retreat from social game newcomer Summerlight Studios is the latest in a growing collection of realtime commerce games. It reminds us most of Lolapps’ Critter Island, or perhaps Crowdstar’s Happy Island.

Players are tasked with developing their own private spa by purchasing buildings and decorations. Customers are attracted to the spa automatically, and will enter any spa attractions a player has placed, generating coins, popularity points, experience points, and other bonuses.

The most obvious way Spa Retreat differentiates itself from its competitors is with its spa setting. The attractions players place are things like Pilates Studios, Milk Baths, Chemical Peels, and Thai Massage parlors. Not restaurants or roller coasters.

From a gameplay perspective, Spa Retreat feels more familiar. Players collect bonuses from their attractions, spending energy points in the process. Energy refills over time. Coins must be spent to resupply each attraction after it has serviced a specific number of customers.

The game does have a light risk/reward system. The more spa-goers that enter an attraction at once, the bigger the bonus. With a set amount of energy to spend, clicking on an attraction at just the right moment to earn the biggest EXP bonus becomes more important.

In its current state, Spa Retreat doesn’t do much to impress, although it also doesn’t break any cardinal social game rules. The game plays it safe. Perhaps too safe. Right now, feels very similar to existing titles. The game’s foundation is quite solid – just as good as any of the big hits in the genre. If Summerlight Studios can find a way to separate Spa Retreat from the pack beyond the game’s setting, we think Spa Retreat’s outlook is quite sunny.

First Look: Fantasy University

I’m going to be complete up front, here: Fantasy University is the funniest social game I have ever played.

The game is a text-based parody RPG, with gameplay similar to Mafia Wars or Kingdom of Loathing (or MUDs, for the oldschool gamers out there). Games like this live and die by the quality of their writing. If you’re anything like me you cringe a little when you hear that a game is intended to be a comedy. When it works and the writing is good, it is awesome. When it doesn’t, it is disastrous.

Luckily, the team behind F U (natch) seem to be pulling from a bottomless well of humerous pop culture, fantasy fiction, and game design tropes. Within the first 10 minutes of gameplay, I spotted references to Pirates of the Caribbean (or more accurately all Johnny Depp movies), World of Warcraft, Spongebob Squarepants, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and plenty, plenty more.

No single moment is laugh-out-loud funny, but all the little details add up, and create a very charming package. Players’ lodgings are the Mordorms. As a “Mathamagician” character class, my character deals Abracadamage. Your best friend and neighbor is named Ron Wheeezy. And on and on it goes.

Comedy is a sensitive and subjective thing, and I sometimes felt that FU was trying a little too hard – players take the “Hellevator” up to their dorm room, for example. But I found the writing to hit much more often than it missed. For every very obvious, hit-you-over-the-head joke, there are two more subtle references slipped in.

Besides the writing, the gameplay & game design itself also has a great attention to detail. Your character portrait changes to become more beat up as you take combat damage, for example. The gameplay itself is quite simplistic, but there is more to it than Mafia Wars-style “push button to win.” When in combat, players will have multiple attacks to choose from, and will also have the option of consuming HP-replenishing or stat-boosting items. So far, the combat is about the same depth level as the opening of any standard console turn-based RPG.

FU could do with a little streamlining. Navigating the game world involves a lot of clicking around different icons, and screens like your inventory or character sheet are a little too cluttered and unfocused. But these are side effects of the game being an actual game and not just a treadmill, so it is tough to complain too much.

I went in to Fantasy University with a huge dose of skepticism, but the game absolutely won me over. It’s smart, deep, and has a great attention to detail. Below we’ve reproduced the “disclaimer” gamers have to click through, as an example of what we mean.

Your application to Fantasy University has been accepted!

We are looking forward to having yet another bright young mind take advantage of the unending knowledge of the country’s finest and foremost Adventuring College (that we know of)!

We hope you are looking forward to the challenges presented by a Class-A Adventuring Education, and hope that you will meet any and all challenges with the same kind of fervor and optimism we exhibited in preparing this form letter!

Before you are actually accepted, there is one formality that will be taken care of by this magical letter. It contains a disclaimer form that must be accepted before enrollment becomes final.

Agreement: I, Justin Davis, do solemnly swear that I will do my best to uphold the traditions and integrity of Fantasy University and will always remember that I become the property of Fantasy University and that any accidents or punishments that may befall me up to and including death, dismemberment, depression, apathy, illness, decapitation (real or imagined), fraud, theft, delusions, nightmares, food poisoning, Rapture, stolen organs, borrowed organs, hallucinations, leg trauma, lupus, being burned alive, water torture, tickle torture, plain old torture, spasms, night sweats, day sweats, pant sweats, restless leg syndrome, restless elbow syndrome, poverty, canings, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, plain stroke, extortion, blackmail (which is technically different from extortion), blindness, deafness, loss of an ear, loss of one or more shoes, dew crotch, being forced to watch bad comedians (you know, the really bad ones where half of you wants to feel sorry for them, but the other half can’t stop laughing at how awful they are), and jury duty are all considered perks of the University and must be enjoyed as such. Furthermore, it remains the right of the University to… Geez, does anyone even read this crap? I spend 24 hours a day down here in this well, shackled to this printing press, writing up legal documents for you people BY HAND, and for what? A few half-hearted chuckles? My humor is all I have to give, and I try so hard, but what’s it all amount to? You’re never going read this anyway, and that’s okay. My wife will probably run off with some romance novelist, who she’ll fall in love with after he writes her into every single one of his best sellers. That’s cool, I’ll chill down here, with the rats, and the constant trickle of dank sewer water. No really guys, it’s fine. I’ll just keep making you laugh throughout this entire game, as you never once question where such brilliant humor stems from. You’ll never realize that every joke you read is really told by one lonely guy trapped in the bottom of a well, and that’s a fate I’m willing to accept. Bye forever.

First Look: CityVille

Social gaming juggernaut Zynga has finally flipped the switch on their long-awaited town building title: CityVille! Is the game destined to become a mega-hit like nearly every other Zynga title, or is it merely a re-hash of the town building concepts others games have introduced? Social Game Central is here to give you the full scoop.

The first thing we noticed about CityVille is that despite being a town-building title along the lines of My Town, Social City, and Millionaire City (among others), the game actually has more in common with Zynga’s own FrontierVille than any of their competitor’s titles. Players have an energy bar that refills over time, and must spend this energy to complete most in-game tasks, including constructing buildings, chopping down wild trees, and supplying businesses with raw goods.

Also like FrontierVille, gamers are guided through the game by a lengthy series of missions. Some are quite simple (Harvest Four Carrots), while others require more preparation and more help from neighbors.

Although CityVille is still quite easy to pick up and play, the game is probably the most complex Zynga has ever made – to progress, players will need to keep track of all aspects of their city’s health. The bulk of CityVille’s gameplay revolves around smoothly managing a chain of supplies. All elements are interconnected. For example, to raise their city’s population, players will need to have enough money to build homes. Players earn money via their town’s businesses. These businesses only produce money if they are supplied with raw goods, which are collected from farms.

It is certainly more complex than FarmVille or FrontierVille, but it never feels overwhelming. Players produce goods via farming plots, turn those goods into cash via businesses, and spend that cash on homes, decorations, and everything else they need for their cities to thrive.

CityVille’s social element is a major departure from other social games, including Zynga’s own. Rather than lean on news feed posts, CityVille instead has players reaching out to their social graph on a one on one basis, asking individual friends for help via notifications. Players need 7 employees to staff their police department, for example. Rather than making a news feed post asking for employees, players can instead bulk send notifications asking for help to up to 60 of their friends at once. We’re still mulling over the ramifications of this major change, and will have more thoughts on it soon.

Our first impression of CityVille is positive. Like all Zynga titles, it is very polished, and already has lots of content for players to experience. We’re disappointed that the game doesn’t seem to make much effort to break new ground in the way FrontierVille did earlier this year, but we don’t think that will stop this city building title from becoming a big hit.

Playfish Launches Pirates Ahoy!

Wow… it has a busy day for game launches! Another new title from a major developer has made its debut today: Pirates Ahoy from Playfish! The title is a Treasure Digging game, similar to Zynga’s Treasure Isle and zSlide’s Treasure Madness (the original).

Like those titles, players have an energy bar that refills over time. Players can spend their energy to dig up islands one tile at a time, in the hopes of discovering buried treasure. Along the way they will also dig up gold, and food, which can be eaten to restore energy.

The biggest difference between Pirates Ahoy and its predecessors is the game’s thematic strength. We have been saying from the start that treasure digging titles are a great opportunity to be more story and exploration-driven, and Playfish seems to have nailed this element. In Pirates Ahoy, players actually control a pirate ship sailing across the sea. Players win treasure maps by battling sea monsters, and at that point these maps are explored and dug up tile by tile.

Another twist in Pirates Ahoy is that treasures must be “restored” after they are found. Players must spend gems and metals to complete the restoration process. Right now the only way to get more gems is by occasionally digging them up at random, or by purchasing them with PF Cash. Our hunch is that fellow treasure diggers will eventually be able to send gems to one another a free gifts.

Like Treasure Isle, players have a home island they can expand and decorate. Again, Pirates Ahoy benefits here thanks to the strength of its theme. What players are actually developing is a functional pirate headquarters. Players can purchase workshops such as distilleries that earn coins over time.

Our first impression of Pirates Ahoy has been extremely positive, but we might be a little biased, because (as regular readers undoubtedly already know)… we love all things pirate themed. The actual treasure digging action itself isn’t very different from the other games out there, but by focusing on and heightening the sense of exploration and adventure (even the game’s soundtrack is swashbuckling), Playfish’s entry stands out from the pack.

Play Pirates Ahoy.

Broken Bulb Launches Office Wars!

Broken Bulb Studios, the independent developer behind the original Facebook city sim My Town, have flipped the switch on their third title: Office Wars!

As its name implies, Office Wars is an evolution of another Broken Bulb title, Ninja Warz. Only instead of growing an army of ninjas and arming them with samurai swords and shurikens, players are growing an army of office drones and arming them with coffee mugs, pencils, and (later on) Jackhammers. We aren’t sure which concept is more terrifying.

Half of the fun of Office Wars is that it is stuffed full of pop culture references. The neighbor help minigame involves smashing a printer with a baseball bat in a remote field (ala Office Space). One of the earlier weapons is a red stapler, also a reference to Office Space. Some of the references are more subtle. One weapon is a Sabre water bottle – a sly reference to TV show The Office. Finally, some references are more for video game nerds than office culture aficionados – we spotted a Companion Cube from Valve’s hit game Portal.

The gameplay itself is fairly simple. Players purchase employees, and arm them with weapons and armor either purchased, or found on the battlefield. Then players battle it out against another player’s office army. The battles themselves are fully-animated, and automated. Whoever has the superior stats for their fighters comes out on top.

Players earn XP for winning fights and eventually level-up. As players level up and earn achievements, they earn the unfortunately-named BP Points (Brownie Points). This premium currency can be spent to power-up your employee’s stats, or purchase other premium goodies.

Office Wars isn’t too different from Ninja Warz, but overall it is a nice evolution of the formula. It has more humor, a more relatable setting, and little details like the ability to train up individual stats give the entire experience more depth.

Try out Office Wars now!

Playdom Launches Fanglies!

Playdom, the company behind Social City, Wild Ones, Bola, and a variety of other Facebook hits, has been on a tear lately. The company has been releasing new games at a very fast pace, and it seems they have no signs of slowing down. Today, the company flipped the switch on their newest title – Fanglies!

Like many of Playdom’s recent titles, the game doesn’t fall into just one of the many social game genres that have formed over the past year. It is part pet game and part town game, but players will also manage businesses, dig for treasure, fish, and plenty more.

The entire experience is managed with an energy bar that refills over time. Nearly every activity a player does costs some energy. In this way the game might be most similar to Zynga’s newly-launched FrontierVille.

When players begin Fanglies, their tiny village will consist of just one creature, and one building. As they complete activities like pulling weeds or fishing in the nearby pond, they were earn XP and level up. This unlocks more “Fanglies” for players to purchase. These creatures will then join your village. Each has their own personality. Mr. Coppercoal seems to be a rich, evil baron (complete with monocle), while Pouts comes off as an Emo girl.

Players can unlock and purchase new buildings in the same way. Early on players gain access to a Cheap ‘N Nice furniture store, and a Parks ‘N Gardens decoration store. Players can then put these stores to work, building furniture or other goodies. One nice touch is that these stores can be used to make money, OR to gain cheap decorations. For example, players might be able to construct a birdbath over 12 hours for 20 coins. They can then keep the birdbath for their village, or sell it for 450 coins.

Fanglies has launched in a fairly feature-rich state. There are item collections, joint neighbor construction projects, lots of cute ways to interact with your villagers, and plenty more. Even so, it’s easy to see the ways Playdom could expand the concept even further. Whether this one will turn into a Facebook hit remains to be seen, but so far we’re liking the game’s chances.

But don’t take our word for it – try out Fanglies for yourself!

First Look: Baking Life

By Cody Musser

Baking Life from ZipZapPlay is an example of a Facebook game that is on a meteoric rise in terms of popularity, and there are a few good reasons for it. It hits the same niche that other popular games like Café World hit, its number of players has skyrocketed by nearly 500,000 in the last month alone, and the game is well-balanced and simply put, really fun.

The game begins by whisking you into your new scantily equipped bakery and crafting a couple treats to offer your first guests. As with most social games, you’ll pay to make the products and then gain experience and profit from selling them. For each product, whether it is a cinnamon role or a pecan pie, you’ll also do a quick click-through of some of the actions in building the recipe before you pop it in the oven. This is neat, and makes the game feel a bit interactive (if click-heavy at times). Leaving anything in the oven too long will result in some burnt baked goods, and you’ll be out the money you spent on the recipe.

Beyond the standard recipes, players can create a personalized cupcake of their own flavorful inspiration, and send that item to friends or sell it to customers. My mint wrapped orange cream cupcake with key lime icing and chocolate sprinkles was… well, it was something. It would have been really nice to see this level of customization extend to the other bakery products in the game, beyond the cupcake, which doesn’t have much value.

Friends will also assume the roles of your hired help (if you choose to ask them to), increasing in number when you expand your bakery. You can visit their bakeries and marvel at how tasty an orange cream themed bakery looks, and wonder why there aren’t more in real life. The only other interaction with friends seems to be gifting them the occasional item. This is one of Baking Life’s only faults – it seems a little single-player heavy for a social game. Additional elements in this regard may always be added, as Baking Life is still listed as a beta.

When it comes to your own bakery, you’ll be mixing up the décor to fit a style all your own. While I went with a simple, rustic theme, the options are endless for a menagerie of rainbow flavors to adorn your walls, flooring, furniture and more. Your ovens and display cases are the big features of your bakery, and as such, you’ll be updating them in quantity as well as appearance. However, it doesn’t seem that the nicer ovens offer any benefits beyond appearance over the starting options. It would have been nice to see this extra level added to the gameplay as well.

With all the cookies out on the table, it’s easy to see why Baking Life is growing so rapidly. The game is well streamlined and balanced in comparison to many other Facebook games, the setting is charming, it’s not asking too much or too little from its players, and monetization is already in place via Facebook credits to purchase more cash and the occasional exclusive item. The social aspects and the depth of the customization could stand to grow a bit, but we don’t doubt that they will in time. For now, Baking Life is a solid, charming social game that could make anyone as happy as it will make them hungry.

Zynga Launches FrontierVille!

A brand new game from FarmVille developer Zynga was launched today: FrontierVille! The game has been in the works for a long time. We first heard whispers about it way back in January, and then a few months later in April many more details were revealed. But now, the game is finally live, so no more rumors! Players can check the game out for themselves right here. Be warned: there might be a few growing pains for the young game. We had a heck of a time just getting it to load, the first time we logged in.

In FrontierVille, players begin with next to nothing – just a wagon, a few crops, and a plot of land overrun with trees and grass and rocks. The goal is to slowly and steadily clear and cultivate the land, build a cabin, and eventually, raise a family. The experience might sound similar to FarmVille, but the two are quite different – FrontierVille uses an Energy system and is much more of a traditional RPG.

Players have a set amount of energy that refills over time. Every action a player takes, whether it is chopping down a tree, harvesting a crop, constructing a building, or feeding an animal, spends some of this energy. So players have to prioritize and decide what is most important to them. Do they want to spend their full energy bar on constructing that cabin, or feeding those hungry animals?

Everything a player does earns rewards. Either XP, coins, food, or wood. XP increases a player’s level, coins are used to buy items from the marketplace, food can be eaten to give a player an energy boost, and wood is used to construct buildings. One nice touch is that these rewards, even the XP, actually appear on the game screen itself when a task is completed, and players must click on them to collect them. If a bunch of rewards are clicked very quickly, a special bonus is earned. Think of it like a rudimentary combo meter.

To keep players on the right track a robust quest system is in place. Quests begin very easy, tasking players with feeding a few animals, or constructing a cabin. But over time we’re sure the quest goals will become more long term, designed to remind players what they are working towards.

FrontierVille is very simple and easy to understand, but it seems to have a bigger scope than Zynga’s previous titles. Players start with quite literally nothing, but will eventually grow their little plot of land into a bustling frontier town! Right now a General Store, a School House, and an Inn are all listed on in the FrontierVille marketplace.

We’ll have much more on FrontierVille in the days to come. For now, check out our FrontierVille picture gallery below.