Upon recently entering the Google Play store, I was greeted with a large banner advertising “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” game (I am aware that it has been available on iOS for some time). Looking further into the game it looked to be something along the lines of a SimCity-style game – something I had been interested in seeing on the Play store. As a result, I decided to download the game and try it out. The game is free to download, but is like many other “Freemium” games where in order to advance faster through play, you can purchase items in-game (in this case either game-money or doughnuts).
Game play progresses very slowly with a new building being available to build every day or two, usually dependant on some task being completed by one of the game characters. The buildings are initially quick to build but as time progresses take 24 hours to complete, with some buildings coming in three pieces which can only be built one-after-another.
The game takes you through levels which are reached by collecting ‘XP’ points. As you reach the target for the current level, you are progressed to the next level. Each level has a number of buildings locked to it which, as mentioned above, become available once a specific task is completed by one of the in-game characters. The task is given to the player at some arbitrary time during the level.
Personally, I found the game play tediously slow. I had reason to play once in the morning and then again in the evening, setting tasks for the characters (which earn money and XP). The tasks vary in length from 45 seconds for some characters to 24 hours or more. The longer a task, the more it earns you. Over a period of over two weeks, I had managed to build about six houses, a shop, a pub, two restaurants, a school and the power station.
There are a number of items which are only available to be bought using doughnuts, which are not plentiful in the game unless purchased. The largest single in-game purchase is over £90. This seems an incredible amount to spend on a game when a fully-fledged PC game would not cost more than £40 in full. The fact that a £90 spend would not guarantee not needing to spend any more money means that as with many games, it would be possible to incur massive costs (there are often stories reported in the press of this happening).
At some point during the gameplay (fairly early on) The car salesman from the Simpsons appears and tries to sell you some in-game goodies at a reasonable price (about £20 or $20). The offer he makes represents better value than completing an in-game purchase for the same amount of money as it comes with doughnuts and money, rather than just doughnuts. The car salesman hangs around for three days with this offer. During that time I was not offered any other buildings – in other words, it seems as though the game makers are trying to frustrate you into spending money in the game.
This game requires a constant Internet connection in order to be played. This means that the servers can keep track of game progress (and probably ensure that no one is cheating). This is a source of great frustration as it means that any time that a server is down or overloaded, or when there is no Internet connection, it is not possible to play the game. There were a significant number of occasions when the game could not establish a connection to the server resulting in a “Ooops… something’s wrong” type screen. When looking at games with similar requirements, Simcity has been heavily criticised by fans for the fact that it is limited to online computers only. Currently on Amazon.com, of just over 1,900 reviews Simcity has almost 1,700 1-star reviews – a large proportion of which are complaining about the required always-on Internet connection and server issues preventing game play. The game has been out in the States for a little while now – enough time for the servers to be sorted, yet following the release of the game in the UK, Amazon.co.uk is showing a similar trend of negative reviews with currently 220 out of 249 reviews being one star.
I downloaded the game to play on my tablet rather than my phone. Despite being online, it is not possible to share a game across multiple devices which is very odd – it would seem the perfect feature for an always-online game.
There’s a feature in the game which allows you to visit another city. This isn’t a friend’s city in the Android game – just a random city. This is something you are supposed to do every 24 hours as it allows you to ‘interact with’ and collect money from three buildings in the other city. Interaction means either tapping the building for money and XP or spraying graffiti (for which you get money and XP). Aside from showing the user what another city could look like (given an unlimited doughnut supply), there really is very little point in this feature.
As mentioned above, as the game restricts any ‘cheating’ ability by being always online. The only thing offered by the game is to tap Homer 10 times, which will yield 10 doughnuts and a statue. This works once only. Doughnuts are otherwise hard to come by unless you are willing to drop some serious real money into playing the game.
There are not a great deal of things in the game which are animated. The power plant blows smoke and the people wonder around when not on a task (and sometimes when on a task, depending on the task). As a result I would not really expect the game to struggle yet on the dual-core, quad-core graphics tablet that I use, once there are a decent number of people (10 or so), the game does noticeably stutter. This may be to do with the 300 ppi screen of the Nexus 10, but it really is a surprise to see such a degradation in performance when other games run so well.
When leaving the game, it continues to do some processing in the background (it provides notifications to the device when tasks are completed, for example). I have noticed a massive reduction in battery performance while the game was installed though, causing a need to re-charge the tablet at least twice as frequently, if not more.
The reviews of the game on the Google Play store are largely more positive than those for Simcity, but there are still a great-many frustrated players complaining about issues ranging from slow play to server problems. Here are a small sample: