Glu Mobile has a reputation of delivering hit-and-miss products. Some of their titles have defined what it is that makes mobile gaming a compelling alternative to handheld and home console products, whereas others are misjudged ragtag production cynically designed to micro-manage a player’s disposable income. The recently released Windows Phone 7 version of Bug Village falls into the latter camp.
Available now for what is arguably the most capable platform currently offering mobile gaming experiences, the Xbox LIVE enabled version of Bug Village is an unrelenting attempt to drill a few extra pounds from the player’s credit cards or Microsoft Points balance. At first the videogame appears to be a light-hearted cross between SimCity and Animal Crossing: the player commands the occupants of their village as a disembodied overseer, controlling the development of buildings and industry, depicted as mud huts, bee hives, flowers and piles of junk. As the player progressing through the level system they are able to purchase new houses and production centres, increasing their population and virtual gross domestic product (GDP) respectively.
The basic gameplay premise is actually genuinely entertaining in the short term. Players will use ants and bees to harvest the piles and plants respectively, earning experience points and acorns. Acorns are the currency of Bug Village, and while they may at first seem limited, appropriate management of time and resources will soon see you building up a stock that it is near impossible to diminish. There are limitations in place on these assets however, dictated by time.
Players can assign ants and bees to collect produce from piles and flowers on one of three time scales, differing in accordance to the size of the facility. Piles produce more experience and acorns per assigned worker in the long term, whereas plants are more productive if revisited regularly. In addition to these production options are the Tasks which are assigned with each new level. Ranging from planting a certain amount of a specific decoration to upgrading your bugs’ homes, the Tasks reward the player with bonus experience and acorns. However, nowhere does it offer you an indication of how great these rewards will be until the task is completed.
The third leg of Bug Village’s productivity is the random bug appearances. The green Stink Bugs require three taps to remove from play, the tubby Ladybugs need a single tap to help them on their way and the Ant Lions require several taps to be pushed back into the ground. All three of these bugs offer a small amount of bonus experience points and acorns, but as players strive for the Achievements reliant on these two assets, every little does count.
On top of the basic premise of time managed productivity is the coin system. Players are given ten coins to begin with, and in the tutorial are taught how using the coins can speed-up production significantly, completing work on a developing building or acorn collection instantly. However, in order advise the player in this regard the tutorial commands players use half of their allotted coins before being let off the reigns, and of course, to obtain more coins players must make a considerable financial investment: it costs two coins to complete work on a building, and ten coins will set you back 160 Microsoft Points. It took Electronic Theatre approximately eight weeks of playing several times a day to complete Bug Village, and those two coins could’ve easily be used in every instance. In order to maximise the efficiency of your village, players could well spend as much on coins as they would on a full retail product, if they were so inclined. What’s more, there are certain objects that can only be obtained with coins, albeit unnecessary ones.
Not only is Bug Village an awkward presentation of time and real-world finance management, but it’s also far from being technically sound. Some Windows Phone 7 handsets have reportedly suffered unresponsiveness issues, whereas others find that the screen blacks out completely once the village becomes more populated; the players can continue with their plans as normal, but only if they can remember where the objects they have in use were before the images disappeared. Bug Village is hardly pushing the Windows Phone 7 OS or any of the handsets on which it is based, and so such issues are frankly unforgivable.
Bug Village is a cynical videogame production: a lukewarm attempt to encourage players to splash the cash on an inconsequential virtual village that can easily be progressed without any financial investment, as long as players are willing to revisit every few hours. It’s a videogame that is perfectly suited to those two minute breaks whilst standing in line or being placed on hold during a phone conversation, but the obvious nature of its intention to offer little more than a facilitation of a micro-transaction system soon wears thin. In reality, the only reason to entertain Bug Village is to unlock those all-important 200 Gamerscore points.