Most people with a history of gaming will be familiar with slashing bushes for Rupees in The Legend of Zelda franchise. Well, it was a fun thing to do, but the developers at Canada’s DJArts Games have really enjoyed it, because they’ve turned that basic concept into an entire game with Bush Whacker for Facebook.
Unlike the console inspiration, the bushes in Bush Whacker do contain much more than just a few gems and bombs. The game is essentially a hybridization of adventure, exploration, and collection. Its core concept seems a bit absurd, but is, in truth, surprisingly fun — at least at first. While simplicity can make for a phenomenal game, and collection can produce tremendous longevity, its core does tend to get rather old.
The point of Bush Whacker is, first and foremost, collection. Around the world — currently 16 regions and three towns — players are tasked with the slaying of that almighty threat: Bushes. In true Zelda fashion, users click on a bush and whack it with their sword, consuming a set amount of energy. From the corpse of this foliage-filled foe will drop any number of random items.
The key items to collect are nine puzzle pieces that are found in each region. Collecting them will allow the user to piece together a simple puzzle of a random, and bizarre, looking monster (e.g. a panda with crab claws). Once put together, the puzzle will spawn the critter in the world, and it’s up to the player to capture it. No worries though, as it doesn’t actually fight back, but it will take up to three swings and a considerable amount of energy to catch.
Once caught, these odd creatures are ferried off to the small town of Haven, where the player resides, and are plopped down into a small petting zoo in the backyard of their virtual home. In fact, this marks the next element of collection, which is to find and buy items for said house.
Conveniently, the house is of a decent size, although size may not turn out to be much of an issue as finding items to place also appears to be quite difficult — after playing for some time now, all we’ve found is a nifty, decorative cape for our avatar and a potted plant. Supposedly, more items can be purchased in Haven’s store, but there doesn’t seem to be anything available at this time.
Energy items are self-explanatory, but consist of food and the like that instantly replenish used energy. As for quest items, these are objects needed to access certain features and areas of the game. For example, players can fish, at the cost of zero energy, but require a fishing pole. If they wish to enter the mountains, they need to buy climbing boots. In order to purchase anything, both gold and specific gems (agates, citrines, aquamarines, etc.) are required. These too, are dropped from bushes.
As far as whacking bushes goes, there are a variety of them to trim down. Typically, the more energy a bush takes to slice up, the more experience and reward comes from it. Additionally, there are also random monsters that wander about as well (they do not attack). The difference is that these have chances to drop multiple items, but usually require more energy.
To try and keep things interesting, the game also implements two powers that utilize the resources of Mana and Power. The former allows players to utilize a spell that will instantly destroy everything in a region. At first, it can only destroy objects that require one energy point to destroy, but this can be upgraded through the purchase of magical trinkets. Power, on the other hand, acts as a multiplier. The more Power one has stored before unleashing it, the more whatever the user slays will drop. This means if power is stored up to four and used, the next plant whacked will drop four times the loot.
The game also tries to create a sort of progression curve, by literally gating different areas of the world. In order to proceed, players have to acquire a certain level (to pass a “fierce” looking warrior), find a key, or purchase a quest item. The problem is that this method feels very arbitrary.
Fact of the matter is, is that there really doesn’t feel like there is any progression at all. Bush Whacker is very fun at first, but running around and smacking bushes and creatures loses its novelty very quickly. Most of the time, it’s mana, power, or coin coming out of the slain, but that just isn’t all that satisfying. In essence, this app is similar to games like Treasure Madness or Treasure Isle, but in those titles, the progression is two-fold: Players get a ton more items to collect in the form of treasures (here, they are few and far between), and each region — or island — is a grid that is physically, and visibly, completed, meaning that once a grid space is dug up, it’s dug up. In Bush Whacker, everything infinitely respawns. Furthermore, in the case of the Zynga app, there is a lot more decorating to be had with one’s island. After another hour with Bush Whacker, we still only have that one potted plant.
As far as social elements go, these are fairly basic. Currently, these consist of a simple leaderboard, the gifting of energy packs, and visiting each others’ virtual homes. Of course, this isn’t the type of game that requires tremendous social interaction, but as a Facebook title, it feels remiss not to have more.
In the end, Bush Whacker is a nifty little title that’s surprisingly fun at first. Sadly, its simple core mechanic comes off as too simple and quickly becomes repetitive. For the most part, this stems from the lack of progression the game seems to present, with endlessly respawning bushes and creatures. The game already has around 25,000 monthly active users, but it’s hard to say how it will do in the long haul. As Treasure Isle has proven, these collection-oriented adventure games can do well, but unless some of the repetitive core elements and lack of seeming progression are fixed, the outlook seems unclear.