Universal Film Mogul review

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.