Universal Film Mogul is a new Facebook game from Large Animal Games, the team behind the two Spartacus tie-in games on Facebook as well as the slots game Lucky Cruise. The new game was developed in partnership with Ubisoft and, as the title suggests, Universal Partnerships and Licensing.
The game itself is a rather conventional hidden object game in which players alternate between building up an isometric-perspective studio backlot with various items of movie-related paraphernalia and scouring hand-drawn recreations of iconic scenes from Universal movies for objects with an often-tenuous link to the movie in question. Unlocking new movie scenes is achieved by earning enough “Studio Points” by purchasing and placing items in the backlot; money to furnish the backlot is either acquired via in-app purchase or playing the hidden object scenes.
The game introduces all aspects of the gameplay with a rather obtrusive, non-skippable tutorial of the breed that darkens out all of the screen except the thing the player is supposed to click on. Since the gameplay is so conventional for the hidden object genre, an option to skip past all this would have been appreciated, but thankfully it does not go on for too long before the game proper begins, at which point the player’s experience is guided by quests that are more easily ignored when required.
Building the backlot is a case of selecting items from the in-game store then finding a suitable location for them. Positioning does not matter in “strategic” terms, so it is up to the player to make their backlot as aesthetically-pleasing (or chaotic!) as they please. Some larger items require either the cooperation of friends or the expenditure of hard currency to finish building — it would have been nice to have the option to earn the required resources through normal gameplay, but that does not appear to be possible here. Once items have been placed and construction completed, they then contribute to the studio’s overall Studio Points total, and new hidden object scenes become available to play at various milestones.
The hidden object scenes themselves are fairly straightforward, though there is a pleasing number of different possible objects to find in each scene, making the first couple of replays slightly more challenging than the usual “memory test” these games become after a while. There is a single, non-monetized “hint” option available, which highlights the rough area on the screen where a random object is and then recharges over time. The game is rather obtrusive about pointing the player in the direction of this hint function — not clicking on anything for more than a matter of seconds causes a large blue arrow to begin pulsing above the hint option, drawing the eye away from the scene itself and proving enormously distracting.
Players are awarded points for finding each object, and finding multiple in rapid succession builds up a combo, which allows them to score more points. At the end of the level, the player is awarded bonuses according to how accurately, quickly and “skilfully” they found the objects — though no real explanation is given as to how accuracy and skill are differentiated. The player’s cumulative score for all attempts at the level is added to a potential five “Golden Woodies” rating, replacing the usual star ratings of hidden object titles with depictions of Woody Woodpecker. Various quests require that the player earn a certain number of Golden Woodies on specific scenes, so the player is forced to replay early scenes several times.
Every so often, the player is given special objectives, supposedly from Universal themselves, that tend to require them to earn a certain amount of box office takings. Box office takings are tracked separately from the game’s main currencies, and can only be acquired by purchasing scripts from the in-game shop, then casting and filming a movie. This is a simple process that requires the player to either cast their friends in the iconic roles of various Universal movies ranging from King Kong to Bridesmaids, or to expend energy on being presented with a random selection of fictional actors, each of whom costs either soft or hard currency to hire, and each of whom contributes a certain amount of guaranteed box office takings to the production. Once the movie has been cast — and the player is free to cast the same person in all roles if they desire, bizarrely — they are given the choice of four different production qualities. Higher-quality productions take longer and cost more, but guarantee higher box office takings. The period of real time it takes to complete the movie may be bypassed using hard currency.
The game’s social features include a largely superfluous “visit your friends” feature which simply provides players with bonus social currency which can be expended on a limited selection of items, and the ability to share high scores on Facebook. Each level also has a leaderboard allowing friends to track their best scores against each other. Monetization stems primarily from sales of hard currency, though the game also incorporates an energy system to throttle play. Energy is used not only when starting a hidden object scene, but also for smaller tasks such as requesting actors to star in movies. It restores on every level up, but by the time the player reaches about the fourth or fifth level of experience they will find both soft currency and energy running out well before they earn enough experience to continue progressing.
The Universal movies license is a nice touch, but it is somewhat underused — there are no clips from the movies, for example, and the hidden object scenes are hand-drawn recreations rather than actual images from the films in question. The fact that fictional actors are used when casting movies also hurts the feeling of authenticity that the game is clearly shooting for — particularly when the actors in question are supposedly “legendary” but are quickly revealed to be complete fabrications after a quick Google. Presumably securing likeness rights for real actors would have been prohibitively expensive, so it’s an understandable compromise — if a somewhat disappointing one.
On the whole, though, despite the fact that this is a game that plays it very safe for the most part, Universal Film Mogul is a competent, if relatively unremarkable, hidden object game for Facebook that will doubtless attract the attention of film buffs, at least in the short term. It would have been nice to see a bit more made of the various movie licenses, but for many players, the novelty of scouring a Back to the Future scene for the flux capacitor and Marty McFly’s puffer jacket will be enough to maintain their attention for a while at least.
Universal Film Mogul is a brand new release and as such detailed user statistics are not available at the time of writing, though Facebook reports the game currently has “9,600+ monthly users.” Check back shortly for a detailed breakdown of the game’s performance via AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
A competent hidden object game that should make more of its impressive lineup of licensed content.