By Jared Newman | Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:00 am
At a glance, Adventure World looks most other Zynga games — colorful, cartoony, isometric, with lots of things to click on. But Adventure World has a rare quality among Zynga’s social games: you can beat it.
Zynga is best known for open-ended simulations. In Farmville, for instance, you cultivate an ever-expanding plot of land. In CityVille, you cultivate an ever-expanding metropolis. In Mafia Wars, you cultivate an ever-expanding criminal empire. Whereas these games provide a sandbox, Adventure World offers structure — and a break from Zynga’s usual theme of resource management.
I haven’t played Adventure World, but I got a hands-off demo of the game with Nabeel Hyatt, General Manager of Zynga’s Boston studio. This is the studio’s first effort under the Zynga Boston moniker–it went by Conduit Labs before the acquisition–and it’s also Zynga’s largest game yet, at 40 times the size of previous Zynga titles.
Adventure World is the first of what Zynga refers to as “social adventure games.” You play as a member of the Adventure Society, in a search for the lost secret of El Dorado. Each level of the game contains traps to avoid, enemies to fend off and a collectable idol at the end, which acts as part of a key to the lost city. And once you’ve completed the game’s five areas, there’s not much else to do — at least until Zynga releases expansion packs with more levels.
How quickly you move through each area depends partly on skill. In another rare move for Zynga, players can take damage from traps or foes, reducing their energy meters. Every action in the game requires energy, so when the meter drops to zero, players will have to wait for it to recharge to progress further.
As with Zynga’s other titles, Adventure World doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Up to a dozen players can work together simultaneously, hacking through obstacles and solving puzzles. Over time, players can upgrade their tools and unlock new ones, so players with little experience will want to recruit veteran adventurers with better gear. The more work you distribute among friends, the less energy you’ll have to consume.
Of course, Adventure World will be free to play, with the option to buy new tools and upgrades. And it’s a Facebook exclusive, underscoring a new dilemma for Zynga: With the launch of Google+ Games, Zynga will have to split time between two social networks. For ambitious new launches like Adventure World, it’s an easy choice–Facebook has way more users–but I assume Google won’t be happy if Facebook keeps nabbing all the new IP. Hyatt wouldn’t comment on how it’ll divvy up games from now on.
Admittedly, I’m the kind of gamer who turns up his nose at most Zynga’s titles, but I think much of that has to do with my aversion for open-ended simulations. (I never fell in love with Sim City, either.) With Adventure World, I’m glad to see Zynga head in a new direction — one with that combines structure and plot with a social hook.
The game will launch within weeks, but no release date is set yet.