Game Review: Zynga Trims Down CityVille for iOS

CityVille HometownIn June, we noted the coming of Zynga’s next major iOS title, CityVille Hometown, and just last week the game hit the Apple App Store for both the iPhone and iPad devices. Now, the newly released application sits within the to free iOS charts ranking in at #18 and #40 respectively and continues to grow.

A trimmed down version of the popular Facebook city-builder, which hosts north of 87.6 million monthly active users and 17.7 million daily active users, it is important to note that it is not connected to the primary CityVille title. It’s an independent app all on its own. That said, the game still boasts many of the mechanics longtime Facebook players are used to, but gives them the ability to personalize their city a bit more. Unfortunately, the lack of direct Facebook cross-platform gaming feels like a trade-off.

So for anyone that has been in hiding or disconnected from the Internet for an extended period of time. CityVille is the top social game on Facebook. As such, Zynga is bringing it to mobile as part of their general migration into the space. CityVille Hometown will be familiar to users in that many of the basic mechanics are present. Players still build businesses to make money, grow crops to acquire supplies to run said businesses, and consume bits of energy (that recharges over several minutes) to perform actions such as building a structure.

CharactersWhen starting the game, users are given a small spot of land. They must tap trees to remove them, and work to attract new residents. There are a handful of stats to manage, including revenue, goods, population and a population cap. Revenue and goods have been noted already, but the other two are not any more complex. In order to attract new non-player residents, players merely build housing structures (which will hold more citizens as they increase in cost and level) and community buildings (e.g. a post office) to raise the population limit.

Beyond this, players will also collect daily revenue from homes, and can also place decorative elements that will increase the percent value of this for nearby structures.

What makes CityVille Hometown a bit different is that the game touts a greater level of customization. This goes beyond the naming of one’s city, as Zynga grants the ability to custom name virtually everything in the town including businesses and individual characters. Additionally, these characters will constantly give players new tasks to accomplish. Nevertheless, these are nothing terribly special as they consist mostly of “build X amount of Y” type quests. They are slightly tailored to a loose “personality” in that some characters give decoration-based tasks, while others might be more business oriented.

NPC TasksWhere Hometown feels the most streamlined, however, is actually in the social mechanics area. Considering the roots of the game, this is a bit surprising. As it stands, it is extraordinarily limited when compared to the Facebook rendition of CityVille. It basically lets players give gifts and visit friends’ cities for daily rewards (like boosting their reputation in the same fashion as on Facebook). Other than this, some structures require friends to gift specific items (e.g. a “key”) in order to complete their construction. On this same note, however, it is worth stating that these can often be completed by spending either virtual currency or large amounts of in-game currency.

Of course, this is only an early iteration of Hometown, so more social mechanics are on the way, including a train station feature, which on Facebook allows users to buy and sell goods based on how many friends play with them. Whether or not this will be the same is unknown, but the likelihood is that it will be.

Now we come to the key qualm that many a user is finding with CityVille Hometown. While the game is still about as entertaining as the Facebook version, many users are complaining that they are unable to add neighbors effectively. Unlike older iOS city-builders like TeamLava’s City Story, Hometown has no way to befriend other random players for mutual benefit (at least not within the app itself). While the game utilizes Facebook Connect to find potential friends, this does little good if they don’t have an iOS device. Even if the game comes out later for Android, the friending limitation will still be present until there is a more effective means to add other users through the app.

Facebook FriendsThankfully, neighbor requirements have not been terribly demanding in early levels of play.

In terms of the game’s monetization, virtual currency (“Cash”) is purchased in quantities ranging from nine ($0.99) to 1500 ($99.99). This can then be exchanged for earnable in-game currency, or used to purchase premium items, city expansions, and energy.

Other than the current social concerns, Hometown also still has some interface bugs to work out as well. Most noticeably, objects often get stuck on each other when being moved around town in the build menu, structures slightly behind others can be hard to tap, and every once and a while the game likes to lock up when returning to one’s town after visiting a friend. Regardless, only a day after release (June 30th), Zynga had already updated the title with some bug fixes (as well as special 4th of July virtual items), so these noted issues will likely be resolved quickly.

Overall, CityVille Hometown is about the same as the original and about the same level of quality. That said, it is streamlined and doesn’t really have the same depth of social play that the Facebook version does, opting instead for more personalization. Perhaps Zynga will eventually fully connect both versions of the game.