Ngmoco Gets into City Building with We City on iPhone

We City iPhoneIn mid-July we took a look at Ngmoco’s mobile FarmVille competitor, We Farm, and noted the announcement of another coming title to the We series: We City. Well, as of last week, the company has launched We City for both the iPhone and iPad, bringing Ngmoco’s take on social city builders to the mobile realm.

City-builder through and through, We Farm mimics the core elements of many of its predecessors, including Playdom’s Social City and TeamLava’s City Story. Nevertheless, while the game’s central mechanics may have been done before, it does come with a rather interesting means of progression, which makes playing and building up one’s city quite gratifying — even if the app runs sluggishly, at best.

Players jumping into We City have the same goal as they do in virtually every other city builder on the market: make the biggest and best city you can. One of the differentiating elements, however, is that this Ngmoco title has an extraordinary variety of décor with which to decorate, allowing users to create everything from a metropolis, to a resort town, to suburbia.

AirportIn order to earn an income, players must construct factories. Obviously, this is where typical city building features comes into play. Players build these factories — the number of which is limited by level — and fulfill contracts that take a set amount of time. Fail to return in time, and the contract “spoils,” but thankfully, players can enable push notifications for whenever they are completed.

The other means of earning income is through the structures themselves. As players level up, more and more houses, apartments, and recreational buildings become available. While lacking the active control of the factories, these buildings will periodically earn extra coin in the form of “rent.”

None of it is terribly extraordinary from a functional stand point, but the level of detail the user is allowed for decoration is surprisingly high. Players can place virtually everything including trash cans, pigeons, stop lights, and dozens of other items. Moreover, the game doesn’t appear to lock objects in on any grid system, so users have a very organic level of control on where to place everything.

ResortsAll of this décor is very gratifying to place, because different structures will generate different elements in the game world. Like Social City, We City feels very alive with any number of city sounds and people moving through the world. Unlike the Playdom title, however, We City appears to generate types of non-player characters based on the structures themselves. This includes firefighters, bodybuilders, and even helicopters. Adding new buildings not only makes the city look better, but they actually seem to bring it more life.

Unfortunately, some of these decorative items and structures are rather obnoxious to place, especially on the iPhone. The level of control is nice, but the iPhone’s small screen, coupled with the tiny size of many decorative items, makes it a little awkward to place elements. Additionally, the game runs quite sluggishly — a problem that has dogged several of Ngmoco’s social games.

No matter how many times we tried, the game tended to chug at a low frame rate. This made the app painful to use, and the video latency made it extraordinarily difficult to place things where they were wanted. Adding to the problems, the game incorporates a sort of quest system, that gives the player direction. While this is nice, the pop ups (either when a new one is available or an old one completed), only added to the slow down. These slow responses also made accessing menus slower then should be acceptable and even led to the game crashing a number of times.

We CityIronically, one of the slowest loading aspects was the social elements. Sadly, even when getting it to work, it falls short of the social mechanics in games like City Story. Players are able to add neighbors and visit one another’s towns, but the problem is that there is a steep threshold for compared City Story. In order to add a friend, they must own the game, must own an a platform that can run the game, and must have a Plus+ account. Even though friends can access and invite users through networks like Facebook and Twitter, it does little good if any of those three elements are missing.

It is true that many social, mobile games have similar requirements, but here, it is the only noticeable option for social play. In City Story, players can access the towns of any player of the game, and then add friends if they want to. In other, non-city-builders, players can at least compete with one another via achievements or leaderboards.

In the end, despite its strengths, We Story is okay at best. The problem is more than just that the game is a remake of other city-building titles — which may be fine for iPhone players who haven’t seen the Facebook equivalents — but it simply doesn’t run well. Even for a free application, the sluggish… well, everything, about the game is going to deter many a user, and coupled with crashing certainly doesn’t help any. If Ngmoco can fix the technical problems, We City should have no trouble becoming successful.