Farmville zynga

Zynga Is Adding Playable Ads to Its Games

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Zynga, publisher of a slew of free-to-play Facebook games (like FarmVille), is putting playable advertisements in its games. Players will be able to play ads for companies like Progressive Insurance in order to win in-game cash and other rewards. Basically if you’re playing FarmVille, you might get a Progressive Insurance pop-up mini-game; if you play the mini-game, you’ll be rewarded with some FarmVille crystals. However, not all mini-games will give rewards. It’s unclear at this point whether or not it will be obvious which mini-games offer the rewards.

This probably sounds like a nightmare to parents, and understandably so. While adults may be subtly influenced by advertising over time, kids are a lot more susceptible to it—and a lot more likely to give in to the desire for things like crystals. This is probably a good opportunity to go over some media literacy 101 with  your kids. The good news is it doesn’t seem like these mini-games will offer the opportunity to spend actual money, but they will be hooked up to social media accounts.

Zynga was formed in 2007. The company has a large roster of games. You might want to check if you or your kids are playing any of these, just so you’re aware of the new ad policy:

Pocket Platoons

Pocket Platoons Review: Tasteless and Not Fun

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Platforms: iOS, Android

These days, we have endless choices for mobile games. Few games stand out. Those that do are innovative, or at the very least, moderately fun. Unfortunately, Pocket Platoons is neither. It feels like it was cooked up in a lab to be the next Farmville, and it’s not fun. Set in WWII, Pocket Platoons is a combination of two genres. The first is where players design and customize a base from the ground up using in-game currency to purchase decorations. The second is the turn-based strategic combat game, similar to Fire Emblem. Read More

star girl

Why Kids Shouldn’t Be Playing Apps Like Star Girl

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Last week, I attended the Digital Kids Summit in San Francisco. The very last presentation of the conference was a panel in which Warren Buckleitner of Children’s Technology Review courageously called out the people who market and distribute mobile apps and games to kids. He wants parents to understand just how far some apps go to manipulate kids, and he wants app developers—as well as app distributors like Google Play, the App Store, and Amazon—to do something about it. Read More

chain chronicle

Chain Chronicle Review

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Platforms: Android and iOS
We played on: Android

Chain Chronicle is a pretty straightforward mobile RPG from Gumi Entertainment. It’s entertaining, though it has a slow start. The story is almost interesting, and the character designs and animations are pretty. I can’t say it’s one of my favorite games ever, but for a free mobile game I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The gameplay is fun, though repetitive; all battles pit you against the same enemies, with the same structure, but there’s room for strategy. Unfortunately, the plot and dialogue are contrived and stale, but the character designs are lovely.

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angry birds 2

[Review] Angry Birds 2

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Platforms: iOS and Android Devices
We played on iOS (IPad)

Angry Birds 2 is the first official sequel to the pop-culture phenomenon. It’s already been downloaded millions of times. Much of the gameplay has remained the same. But the ever-changing consequences of failure take out all the fun.

The Story

The premise of the story remains the same. Mischievous green pigs have stolen eggs from the birds’ nest for no explicable reason. Having their eggs stolen makes the birds angry. And really who could blame them? Now Red, Chuck, the Blues, and the rest of the gang are trying to reclaim their eggs from the pigs, who have barricaded themselves in flimsy structures. It’s a silly story, but the story in this game is inconsequential. It’s the gameplay that matters, and that’s the part that falls short in Angry Birds 2.

angry birds 2

One thing the game has going for it is the beautiful graphics.

It Sure Is Pretty

Angry Birds 2 is leaps and bounds above the first game in terms of visuals. The birds, environments and pigs all look crisper and more colorful. The new animations add another level of humor to the game; debris, and sometimes the pigs themselves, will coming flying right at you. The backgrounds for the silly gameplay vary as well, with some stormy rain along with sunshine. It’s exactly what I expected for the sequel. No complaints there.

angry birds 2

Your bird winds its way through a map as in just about every other free-to-play game. So uncreative.

The Gameplay

The same recognizable gameplay is at the center of Angry Birds 2. You wind up your birds in a slingshot and toss them at the variety of structures the pigs have built. In this version of the game all of the birds are delivered to you in a set number of cards. Run out of cards and it’s game over. This is trickier than the original game because you have to conserve your cards to make it through each level’s multiple stages. You can earn extra cards by filling up a destruction meter, which can mean the difference between failing and streaking by with the pass.

Another change is that this time around the game is free-to-play. Unfortunately the implementation of that monetization model is the same dry formula we see in many games today. In fact, it looks they took Candy Crush Saga and covered it in Angry Birds paint. You progress through the numbered levels on a winding path through various environments. You have five lives that regenerate over time. If you run out of those, you can use the premium currency, which takes the form of gems. Gems can, of course, be replenished with real money.

angry birds 2

One of the spells allows you to shower the pigs with rubber duckies.

Angry Birds 2 also employs another staple of the free-to-play universe in the form of boosts. They’re called spells in the game. The spells come in the form of cards, just like the birds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find these spells humorous. One will let you freeze all of the pigs’ structures while another will let you inflate the pigs’ heads to ridiculous proportions so they break down their own defenses. The funniest, though, is the one that unleashes a rainstorm of rubber ducks down on the pigs. The introduction of boss battles and an arena are good additions as well.

Like it or not, the free-to-play model is here to stay, and I don’t have a big problem with it. It’s a shame Angry Birds 2 doesn’t do anything creative with the formula, but at its core I think it’s fine.

What’s not fine is the way the levels in Angry Birds 2 are set up. The original Angry Birds was a great physics puzzle game. You had a specific set of structures that you needed to knock down. You’d figure this out through normal puzzle solving. Finding the right bird or using the environment in the right way was a matter of trial and error. At the same time, you were trying to destroy as much as you could to get the highest possible score and the coveted three stars. If you failed a level, trying again meant the same structures and environmental conditions.

The score and the stars are still there in Angry Birds 2, but instead of a specific set of structures and environments to puzzle out, you sometimes get a new setup every single time you fail. Sometimes the differences are subtle and you wouldn’t notice them unless you were looking very closely. Honestly, I didn’t even notice the changes into well after level 30. For example, the first time through a pig appears on the top of structure, but in the replay he’s beneath it. Or a normal wooden block turns into a TNT box. In other cases the changes are jarring, with structures being complete different in the replay than they were the first time around:

angry birds 2

On the left: Level 28 on the first try. On the right: Level 28 on a retry. Can you spot the differences?

Because of this, the score and the stars don’t really mean anything. Getting a higher score than your friends could mean only that you passed the level with an easier setup than they did. It’s this element that sucks all of what I loved out of the first game—hammering away at the same puzzle before finally figuring it out. That was a feeling of achievement. Angry Birds 2 doesn’t give me that feeling. So why should I continue to play it?

The Takeaway

Angry Birds 2 is a lot prettier than its predecessor, while still keeping the light humorous style that is a hallmark of the franchise. The-free-to-play model is unoriginal, but not surprising. The surprise comes in knowing you won’t get a chance to do any real puzzle solving because if you fail a level, you may not encounter the same structures the second time around. This gives the birds a broken slingshot before they’ve even had a chance to fly.