The Croods is a new iOS and Android game from Angry Birds creator Rovio. It’s a tie-in with the new Dreamworks movie of the same name, and is currently available as a free download from the App Store and Google Play, with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency.
The Croods sees players taking control of the prehistoric family from the movie and guiding them through various misadventures as they attempt to become self-sufficient and invent various items. Basic gameplay revolves around trapping ten different types of animal, feeding them the correct food to tame them, building them a home and then feeding them to make them produce useful items. These items are then subsequently used to build other structures, trap more types of animal and invent various items which unlock new areas on the game map.
Players’ progression through the game is measured through the usual experience point system, and also through a sequence of quests (here rather aptly referred to as “chores”) provided by one of the characters from the movie. Players earn small quantities of experience points for everything they do, but practically speaking they will have to complete the quests in order to progress at anything approaching a satisfying rate, since quests offer significantly higher rewards than single actions.
Most activities in the game take varying amounts of real time to complete, and these delays may, as usual, be bypassed through the expenditure of hard currency. The player is provided with a generous allowance of this upon first starting the game, which means most of these timers can be bypassed for the first few hours of gameplay, but once these “crystals” have been used up, the player then has the choice between the game’s pace slowing massively, or paying up to continue at the pace they are accustomed to.
Social features for the game include the ability to connect to Facebook and invite friends, but at present there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do when visiting neighbors. The “fake friend” the game provides players with implies that there will be something to do with friends soon, but at present this is a largely unnecessary feature. In the meantime, it is also one of two features — the other being cloud saves via a proprietary Rovio account — that mean the game requires a network connection to play, or at least start; the connection dropping once the game has begun appears to allow the player to continue playing for at least a short time. It is arguably not unreasonable for a game intended to be played on mobile devices to require a data connection, but given the recent controversy over EA’s SimCity game and its “always-online” requirement, this is something that developers should probably take care with, at least in the short term.
The Croods isn’t a particularly bad game — its audio-visual presentation is good and captures the personality of the movie’s characters quite well — but its gameplay is somewhat uninspiring. At heart, it is yet another licensed property that has been adapted into an isometric-perspective game about waiting for timers to expire. While these types of game are demonstrably popular and profitable, it’s disappointing to see a developer as creative as Rovio taking what appears to be the path of least resistance for many mobile game designers. With this in mind, it’s tough to recommend The Croods with any real enthusiasm, but the movie tie-in factor coupled with the fact that the audience still seems receptive to this type of “freemium” experience means that it will likely enjoy some success at least in the short term.
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