Archive for the ‘ First Look ’ Category

First Look: Nightclub City

By Cody Musser

Nightclub City is one of the newest Facebook games making its mark on the Facebook crowd with bass-thumping authority. The game is quickly racking its way up to 400,000 monthly users and it’s only been around for about half that time. So, what about it is so captivating that it’s making such headway? Perhaps everyone has figured out that it’s just that much more fun to run a Facebook club than to be in an actual one.

Nightclub City is a sim-type game in which players build their nightclub starting almost entirely from scratch. You’ll get some dance floor, a DJ booth, and a bar, but the rest is up to you. Your avatar is spinning the records in the club, and you’ll get a chance to make a genuinely charming likeness. Even the majority of your club visitors that roll in off the street look pretty cool and the fun style helps to keep the game interesting.

Your record-spinning skills will you have playing sets of pop, techno, or hip-hop music that you can change at will. They’re not bad jams, but after a while you’ll definitely be looking to switch or give the game a muting, at least offering your ears a little break. You’ll hire your Facebook friends as workers in your bar, either as bartenders or bouncers. The bar is where you’ll earn most of your money, via drinks and tips, until you can start building booths for the high rollers. Bouncers will patrol an area and toss out any rabble-rousers starting fights, or you can suggest they do it manually. It’s probably a good idea to toss out the guy puking in the corner, and your club’s crowd will surely be happier for it.

The money you earn is actually the basis for your leveling up, with pre-determined amounts of total earnings achieving your next gained level, regardless of whether or not you spend it. This isn’t anything special, but it seemed a unique way to sidestep a separate experience system. The cash will buy upgrades for your club that include better bars, more thumping sound-systems, seating, decorations, and all sorts of other ways to spruce up your party space. Better sound-systems will net you longer sets, so you don’t have to keep checking back in (well you shouldn’t have to, the game seemed to pause frequently on us – asking if we were still around instead of letting your club continue to work on its own), while nicer bars will get your more money per drink.

These things and other cosmetic decorations will boost the luxury level of your club, gaining bigger crowds and more notoriety on the club scene. At higher levels the luxury and popularity of your club will keep it filled, even considering it grows in size periodically as you level. Keeping your popularity high can be done by occasionally booking celebrities to stop in and wow your guests with some star factor. There are almost 50 celebrities in the game, and they’re all spoofs of real world stars – Bruce Leet, 55 Cent, Beyonce Knolls and lots of other greats round out the list.

Aside from the pauses, Nightclub City has been a great little club-sim so far. Climbing up from the early levels to where your club is starting to look extravagant and celebs are always popping in doesn’t take too long and it’s plenty rewarding. You can look at your friends clubs to see how their crowd is coming and how creative they’ve been with decorating. The developers need to make some additions to the overall features of the game and include a bit more interaction with your Facebook friends; at present the game seems a bit single-player for a social gaming experience.

(Author’s Note: At the time of writing Nightclub City has yet to implement any currency beyond in-game currency. Some comments on their Page indicated a FB currency had been implemented before, but no system could be presently found in Nightclub City at this time by us, at the level we achieved while playing. Surely, expect this to change as the game grows.)

Breaking: Zynga Launches Treasure Isle!

Farmville developer Zynga flipped the switch on a brand new title, this afternoon: Treasure Isle! The game is modeled after one of SGC’s favorite Facebook games, Treasure Madness.

Players are tasked with exploring islands, one square at a time. As squares are dug up, treasures can be discovered. When a full set of five treasures as been completed, a special bonus is earned.

Every tile a player digs spends some energy. Energy refills over time, or can be refilled via fruits found around the island maps, or can be entirely refilled by spending a small amount of real cash.

The game’s big twist and biggest differentiation from Treasure Madness is that players also have a “Home Island.” As players level up and earn gold, more items and buildings are unlocked, allowing players to customize their home space. Players can even plant fruits on their home island that can be harvested for an Energy boost.

We’ll have more on Treasure Isle very soon. For now, check out our introductory screenshot gallery:

First Look: Social City

City-building games from small to mid-size publishers have been gaining significant ground on Facebook the last several months. So it was only a matter of time before the “big boys” noticed, and rolled out city simulations of their own.

Tiki Farm developer Playdom is the first major publisher to get in on the space, with Social City. Rather than being a close copy of any existing title, Social City thankfully has a pretty unique take on town-building. I’m especially happy about this because Playdom’s last game release was Tiki Resort, which was (to put it nicely) very similar to an existing game, Happy Island.

Social City has three major types of buildings – leisure, factory, and housing. It is critical to have a balance of all three to maintain a healthy, growing city. This mixture ensures that your Social City evolves in a more natural and balanced way. You can’t just build row after row of houses and still progress.

The game flow breaks down like this: Your factories work on “contracts” and are the primary sources of money and XP. They can be short-term contracts that take only 5 – 20 minutes to complete, or long term (24 hours is one early option). The money earned can then be spent on housing. Each house or apartment built doesn’t provide a static number of residents. Instead, they are “harvested” over time. Each hotel, for example, provides +75 to your population every 60 minutes. Smaller homes might provide 6 residents every 10 minutes.

After you have gone through a few cycles of population growth by clicking on your houses when they are ready to raise your population, a town’s happiness will begin to drop. Players need to ensure they have enough leisure buildings to keep their growing population happy. These buildings are things like restaurants, movie theaters, gas stations, etc.

And that’s basically it. Factories earn money over time, houses raise population over time, and leisure buildings provide a set amount of town happiness, essentially capping how large your town can grow.

So far the game has been a lot of fun. I have felt compelled to come back every day for several days straight. I foresee a potentially long-term problem with this game design, however. Since happiness is static and doesn’t increase over time like population, players will need more and more leisure buildings to be able to keep growing their city. It seems like players will eventually have every square filed with leisure and won’t be able to gain any new citizens, no matter what they do? Hopefully Playdom has considered this.

In any case, for the time being, Social City is one of the more enjoyable Facebook city simulations. Readers should definitely check it out.

First Look: Bad Apples

Bad Apples from Metaversal puts a unique spin on the very well-known “match 3″ puzzle sub-genre. With a great, polished art style and innovative gameplay, this title could become a very big Facebook puzzle hit if Metaversal takes the time to build in social hooks.

The basic gameplay should be familar to puzzle game fans. Players swap two fruits, and when a set of three is matched, they explode and earn the player points. The hook is that the board is also littered with “bad apples.” Match these, and the player actually loses points. Match too many, and it’s game over.

So what’s the solution? After a few rounds I figured it out. A third type of fruit, a spiky crusher fruit, is also present. This fruit moves down its column, crushing the fruit immediately beneath it at the start of every turn. So the trick is to line up the bad apples underneath the crusher, so it will eliminate them for you, allowing you more room to match the good fruits. Strategic! Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty levels are available.

The game looks great and is a lot of fun. So what’s the downside? Bad Apples on Facebook is essentially an advertisement – a demo of the iPhone version. The Facebook release isn’t limited – it includes all the iPhone features. It’s a full game. There is just zero Facebook integration. You can’t invite your friends, you can’t compare your score to theirs… there are no social hooks of any kind.

Bad Apples is fun and free, and definitely worth playing. But without any social hooks it is unlikely to ever become a big hit. Fingers crossed that Metaversal realizes this and is prepping some Facebook-specific improvements.

First Look: Island Life

Island Life from Metaplace is a new challenger to the Facebook farming crown. As the name suggests, rather than using a traditional farm setting, players are given their own little tropical island to to grow and decorate.

The most noticeable differentiator between Island Life and its peers is the game’s art style. Most Facebook games go for a more cartoony, stylized 2D look. Island Life’s style is a stark contrast. It isn’t accurate to say that it’s “realistic,” but… almost. The decorations and other objects in Island Life have a 3D look that resembles plastic, or almost clay-like. If anyone played Donkey Kong Country back in the day, or Puzzle Pirates more recently, I think there are strong visual similarities to those two titles.

Other than the art style, Island Life should feel familiar to veteran Facebook farmers. You grow short or long term crops, harvest to turn a profit, plow the fields, and then repeat. Animals and trees can be purchased for bigger lump sums of cash, and can be harvested repeatedly. A wide variety of tropical decorations are available in the shop.

In fact, my biggest criticism of the title is that it doesn’t seem to do much to innovate or differentiate itself on a gameplay level. Island Life is fundamentally sound, but with literally dozens of Farming titles available on Facebook, any new challenger needs to provide a unique take on the genre in order to truly break out.

Still, if the screenshots below are attractive to you, you could do a lot worse than to give Island Life a spin. The game is being updated at a fast clip, and the core user experience is enjoyable. The game is growing at a modest pace – a month ago it had 15,000 daily players. Today that number has more than doubled, to 32,000 daily players.

Playdom Launches Tiki Resort

In a direct challenge to Crowdstar’s smash-hit Facebook game Happy Island, Playdom has launched an island management title of their own: Tiki Resort! Although the game technically launched last week, Playdom is only just now turning up the heat on the game’s ad campaign and making a big push to gain new players.

We’ll have more in depth impressions of Tiki Resort soon, but one thing is for certain right from the get-go: if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Crowdstar should be positively blushing. The game works in a very very similar manner. Tourists arrive by air and by sea to your tiny island, and they spend money in shops that the player has bought and placed. After the shops have earned a certain amount of dough, you can collect the money and spend it on shop upgrades, new decorations, or new shops.

The similarities don’t end there, though. Just like Happy Island, tourists will make little messes that players can click to clean up. Also just like Happy Island, players can pay a small amount of real money to upgrade buildings instantly, instead of waiting for the standard upgrade period.

I think competition in the Facebook game space is a good thing – it elevates everyone’s game (so to speak). Crowdstar SHOULD have another company nipping at their heals, in order to ensure that they don’t get lazy with Happy Island. I do wish the first competitor to launch didn’t have a feel this similar, however.

Still, we give every game at Social Game Central an equal chance. And we’ll be putting Tiki Resort through its paces in the days to come, and will have full coverage. So stay tuned!

First Look: My Casino

My Casino caught my attention because it’s one of those game ideas that is obvious in hindsight, and yet until now no one had tried it. Who wouldn’t want to grow a casino from a tiny, seedy little box into the next Wynn or Bellagio? But… can the game rise to meet my high expectations? The verdict is still out.

The core of the game is similar to other time-based, appointment games. Players buy slot machines and table games and place them in their casino, and after a certain number of hours can return to collect profit from each table and machine. The length of time between collections varies according to the specific game or slot.

In this early stage, that’s really just about all there is to it. Virtual players will enter your casino and play the table games, but whether the table is busy or not, it seems the same amount of time has to pass before the profit can be collected. Casinos can be decorated with a few basics, but this doesn’t seem to have an impact on your income.

Right now, the biggest knock against the game is that it has a fairly low-budget feel. Which makes sense, considering it probably IS low budget (the game seems to be indie-developed). The graphics for the character models and decorations would have been standard a year ago, but most new Facebook games today feature higher-quality visuals. Plus, on my machine, the game runs a little slowly.

My Casino is promising, but it needs a little more meat on its bones to compete with better-funded titles. And it needs to innovate on a gameplay-level to match its innovative premise. Right now, it feels as though you could be building any business. If the game takes steps to make the player feel more like a casino baron, that would go a long way towards improving the fun factor.

Click here to check out My Casino.

First Look: Happy Farm 2

Happy Farm 2 from Chinese developer Five Minutes just launched last week, on February 8th. In that time it has already grown to over 700,000 daily players on Facebook alone (the game is also available on Chinese social networks). What makes the game so interesting to me is that it’s an actual sequel to a social game.

Although this isn’t exactly unheard of (Playdom launched Mobsters 2 last year), it is very uncommon. I can’t imagine Zynga making Farmville 2 and running the risk of splitting their player-base. Instead I think they would be much more likely to just continue making improvements to their existing product.

In any case, I took the English version of Happy Farm 2 for a spin, and I came away impressed… mostly.

The basic gameplay loop will be familiar to anyone that has played any other Facebook farming title. Plant crops, sell fully-grown crops for a profit, use that profit to improve your farm, plant more profitable crops, etc. But beyond that, Happy Farm 2 has a certain confidence about it and is unafraid to go about things in a unique and original way.

First off, new farm plots actually have to be purchased, and they aren’t cheap – I could only afford about 5, starting out. This keeps player progress a little slow and ensures you won’t have a mighty plantation after just one day. Second, some crops can be harvested over and over again, just from one planting. You still have to wait the required time, but no need to buy more seeds. The actual act of planting is different, too. Instead of clicking, you just drag and drop seeds over the farm plot.

Another neat addition (and one that I suspect might make its way into Farmville soon) is the ability to go inside and decorate your farmhouse. It grow larger as you level-up and there are a wide variety of decorations and pieces of furniture to choose from.

The last major innovation is that there is a fully fleshed out town to wander around and explore, with lots of shops. New items and seeds aren’t just bought from a menu – each store is an actual store with a physical presence you can walk around and explore.

Overall, I came away impressed. The game has great production values, is already full-featured, and plays smoothly. But… with the English version catch on? Maybe. The biggest knock against the title is that it is full of broken English – instructions and other text-based elements can be hard to understand. That and minor gameplay cues make it clear that the game was developed by a foreign company.

Check Happy Farm 2 out yourself by clicking here.

Details on Major Bejeweled Blitz Update

Popcap announced this morning on their Bejeweled Blitz fan page that they were looking for players to beta test a new version of the uber-popular gem swapping game. I hit the link, expecting some small user interface enhancements and other minor additions. Imagine my surprise when I saw coins, boosts, and other huge, brand-new features. Never fear, Social Game Central is here to give you the complete scoop, with lots of accompanying screenshots.

Bejeweled Blitz players now earn coins with each and every one-minute round they complete. There are a couple of ways to earn them. At the end of the game they are awarded according to how well you did. It seems like you earn 100 coins per medal you were awarded. Also, during the match itself, coin blocks will randomly fall from the top of the screen. Match these, and earn 100 coins as well. Or wait until the end of the game – you get the coins either way.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Players can spend 3,000 coins to buy one of five boosts:

Mystery Gem
Puts a random special gem on the board at the beginning of the game

Detonates all special gems on the board. Usable once per game.

Scrambles all gems on the board. Usable twice per game.

+5 seconds
Adds 5 seconds to the end of the game.

Free Multiplier
Puts a multiplier on the board at the start of the game.

Hands-on Impressions
These are definitely cool upgrades to Bejeweled Blitz. I’m not a great player so I was only earning about 500 coins per round. But once I had saved up 3000, I bought a detonator. The free multiplier is probably the smartest boost in terms of improving one’s score but… the detonator sounded more exciting.

The purchase actually awarded me *three* detonators, to my surprise. The detonator exists as a gem on the board itself, in the bottom-left corner. All I had to do was click it, and it lived up to its name, exploding all the special gems I had created. Beware, however. In another round I clicked the detonator with no special gems on the board, and it still used up one of my charges.

Our complete guide to the new Bejeweled Blitz coins and boosts, with lots of screenshots (click any image for full-size):

The boosts announcement. They won’t always all cost 3000 coins:

Facebook Bejeweled Blitz New Boosts

You’re shown your coin total as soon as you load up Bejeweled Blitz:

Coin Gems fall in from the top the same as normal gems. You earn the 100 coins whether you match the gem or not:

You’re also awarded coins at the end of the game based on your score (please ignore my poor performance):

Once you’ve saved up enough, you can buy a boost from the main menu:

Buying the detonate boost gave me three charges, and placed a special detonate gem on the corner of the board:

…that’s about it! Exciting. As soon as this update goes live, Social Game Central will be here with all the news on how much these boosts cost, and any other changes made between the beta and the final launch.