Face it. If you haven't tried a Zynga game, you've been curious. They don't get to 100 000 000 monthly active users by being unpopular. And whether you like to admit it or not (because let's face it, a lot of "real" gamers look down their noses at facebook games), you've probably farmed a ville at some point.
So to hell with pretence. How's CityVille?
I bit the bullet and tried it out.
More after the jump.
So, as with FarmVille, FrontierVille, and all the other Villes (I'm assuming - I've only played the three)(no, really; don't judge me, okay?) the game starts off with a tutorial designed to lead the greenest of gamers into the action. The game has experience points, in-game money, Zynga money that you have to actually buy, and all that other stuff we're all totally used to now, I'm sure. But listen, I'm not going to explain the basics to you. If you're on a website for gay gamers, chances are you've graduated past being an entry-level player.
If you're going to play CityVille you're going to have to wade through a lot of prompts from the game asking you to post to your friends' news feeds, email them, ask them to join, and so on. I don't want to start a review being too negative, but the pop-ups are annoying, and they never really go away. You should know that before you start.
The basic design of CityVille is building houses for people to live in, and then giving them things to do. It's a bit like a less-complicated cross between SimCity and the Sims. You can build roads, houses, condos, towers, and businesses of all sorts. If you don't build lots of businesses, people won't have jobs and no one will move in to your city. You can also (quelle surprise) farm within your town limits. That's how you get the goods you need for your businesses to function. As you build, produce goods, and add citizens to your town, you gain money and experience. As you gain experience, you can build more types of things. Building more things gets you more experience, and so on. Eventually you can expand your city and build all kinds of fancy things.
You are limited by the amount of energy you have, though. Most actions take up one unit of energy; and if you want more energy you can wait for it to regenerate, visit friends' towns, or buy it with real-life money.
If all this sounds like an on-line Super Nintendo game, that's because CityVille is at its heart a simplified 16-bit game, right down to the ¾ view. But what sets Zynga games apart, and part of what has made them so insanely successful, is how well they have adapted to their platform. Being social makes the game a lot more fun. Visiting friends' towns gets you bonuses, like heart points (which don't do much except show off how often you help your friends), and energy. The more friends you have who are playing CityVille with you, the more of these bonuses you can get, and you can open up business franchises in their cities. Visiting friends also has an intrinsic fun to it - what are they building? How far along are they? What do they have that you don't? Some items are also unlockable only by getting a certain number of friends playing with you (free advertising for Zynga) or by paying real money for Zynga "cash". It's genius marketing, really. The alternative to paying money into the game is to push the game on your friends; so, even if you're not forking over cash, you're giving the game free press.
This is basic point-and click, baby. Nothing complicated about it.
Graphics and Sound
Though not at all ugly, it's all just wallpaper. The graphics and sound are just sort of there.
Like I said, there isn't much that separates this from a standard 16-bit era game. Though not exactly inspired, the art direction is cute and clean, yet higher resolution since it's on your computer and not on a mid-90s TV. Everything looks cartoony, and is very much in the same vein as all the other Zynga games. The music and sound effects, like I said, are just sort of there. I turned them off after a bit because the repetition got too much. Not because I didn't want anyone to know I was playing CityVille. Not at all.
So while the game's not hard on the eyes or ears, it's not going to win any awards for sound direction or art design. It may look 16-bit(ish), but it's no ChronoTrigger or A Link to the Past.
But, to be honest, comparing CityVille to two of the greatest SNES games isn't fair. It's like giving the MCAT to a bunch of kids who want to be lawyers. And the thing is, for all its on-the-surface simpleness, there's actually a surprising amount to do in CityVille, especially when you start adding friends.
Speaking of Friends...
I decided to ask one of my CityVille neighbours why she plays it. Her name's Jacquelyn, and she was gracious enough to lend me her thoughts. She said CityVille reminds her of games she used to play, like the Sims and Theme Park. She's also played other Zynga games before, and enjoyed them. I asked her what draws her to them, and she said she sees that her friends are playing them, and they're free, so why not? Jacquelyn used to play games like Ultima Online and WOW, but dropped them because they were taking up too much of her time, and (in WOW's case) demanded too much money for her liking. Zynga games, on the other hand, are free and you can devote as much time to them as you want.
What Jacquelyn said really crystalised for me what it is that makes CityVille so popular. It takes a lot of elements from other, successful franchises and merges them into a pure expression of "casual" gaming. It's approachable, amiable, social and very, very accessible. It exists in the blue waters between tic-tac-toe and MMORPGs, giving casual gamers a flavour of heavier fare, and heavy gamers something to do in the spaces between titles.
...and it gives you something to do while you're stalking your friends on Facebook.
What do you guys think? Played it? Going to try it? Let us know below.