Tapping out “The Simpsons”

It’s very rare that I get properly addicted to a game, mainly one on iOS, don’t get me wrong I enjoy mobile games a lot I just play them when I have a spare minute to kill waiting for a friend or on the loo and not every waking minute. The game that has hooked me this time is The Simpsons: Tapped Out, a freemium city sim from EA and the creators of The Simpsons.

Now this isn’t a review or anything, more of an explanation of the game and what it does well (from both a customer and designer point of view) and what it does wrong. First a little explanation of the game (must not turn this into a review!)

Originally released and then pulled due to technical problems in March, The Simpsons Tapped Out was re-released in August and has quickly become a popular app for iOS. The game revolves rebuilding the town of Springfield after Homer blows it up (in awesomely animated short). Players rebuild well known buildings which spawn characters from the show which can be set to do activities that generate money and experience for the player. The game features quests given by characters which yield a bonus and the player can visit friends to receive boosts. As this is a freemium game players can purchase and then use the in-game currency, doughnuts, to buy exclusive buildings, decorations and characters.

The Good

Let’s start off with what the game does well and what I liked:

Firstly this is trademark Simpsons humour, as EA worked closely with the creators they were able to use the actual art style and drawings from the cartoon as well as sound bites from past episodes. Although the past 3D games suffered a bit due to the fact they were in 3D and focused on a much bigger story, Tapped Out does well to retain the humour of the show while adding in some nice little references to other bits of geeky media (check out Cletus’ farm if you get a chance). The little nods, the art style and animation and the pretty funny videos that occur when certain buildings are built help make it more immersive and like your actually part of an episode.

Secondly and probably most important, this game is addictive! It really gets the whole action and reward cycle spot on and although some buildings can be a little pricey in terms of cost and time the game does a great job of always having something for you to do while at the same time rewarding you for the actions you take. Buildings continue to make you money regardless of what you do while setting characters to do jobs is what keeps you coming back. Luckily the game does give you some control in this offering different jobs for each character, some take 30 minutes to complete, some take 6  hours while some take 24 hours so there is some freedom here. It lets the player go at their own pace and lets them structure the game around what’s going on in their own lives (for example making characters do a 8 hour job just before going to bed, waking up and finding it complete). All this creates an addicting experience that slowly can become part of your daily routine.

Third and what could be debated heavily is that the game makes use of EA’s online platform, Origin for social interactions and the game’s server. Yes people do hate Origin and see it as evil (please grow up if you do, it’s a rival company trying out their own product) but it’s good to see this kind of service used for games other then PC ones, hopefully the game will be popular enough to get Origin into more mobile games and get players better connected.

The Bad

Now let’s have the things I didn’t like, and the things that harm the game:

As may have seen in a previous post I believe that loading times can easily harm a mobile game, The Simpsons: Tapped Out seriously falls at this hurdle. I play the game on my iPhone 4 and end up waiting up to a minute for the game to load! It’s because the game has to log into the servers first and recover the saved data from the previous play session. This is painful when I quickly want to jump in for a quick go or have little 3G coverage. Hell even having a decent Wi-Fi connection still means a long wait before I can do anything, sometimes the game just crashes! This does cause a bit of a barrier to entry and has sometimes stopped me from picking up and playing.

Secondly due to the game’s mechanics the game can sometimes become quite monotonous and feel too much like a grind waiting for characters to finish jobs to start the next mission or getting enough money to buy a new building, while this a fault with the genre in general and not really the game it is a shame that not even EA could think of a way to break up the grind heavy gameplay with something fresh. Something like random events (pretty sure there are thousands of other things that can happen to Springfield) or even mini games (Homer beer drinking mini game please!) could easily make the game more engaging.

Another problem I keep finding with the game and frankly one of the biggest is the way the game deals with premium items and purchasing funds to buy these items. As explained before doughnuts can be purchased with real world cash to buy in game items such as buildings and characters, some of these premium items are quite cheap costing only a doughnut or two however they do little to gameplay and look like rehashes of existing items. The good stuff, the premium buildings and characters cost between 30 doughnuts all the way to 200! Now this is ok, people can choose to buy these or not, they aren’t vital. The problem is with the cost of doughnuts, these things are not cheap – 12 doughnuts cost about (sorry using dollars at the moment, will update with real values when I can). To buy just one premium character it costs a good it may not seem a lot but a single character does little, the most expensive building in the game costs about ! Again this may not seem like much but for a mobile game it is a bit much, and I have not seen many people with premium items. Lowering these costs and adding more premium items could help spur more in app purchases, at least from me. (I want Lenny and Carl dammit!)

The final problem I found is that the game does lack quite a bit of polish, simple things like voices for certain characters when tapped and animations are missing. The build menu could also use a little work as it can be hard for newcomers to find certain buildings and it does take a bit of trial and error to select certain in game objects for moving and deleting. This kind of thing can easily be patched and doesn’t really break the game.

I’m a little hesitant to do a conclusion so as not to seem like a review but if asked the game is a quite enjoyable city building sim and is packed with fun Simpsons humour and references. I just hope EA continue to patch and fix problems in the game to make it an even better experience.

At the time of posting a Halloween update has gone live which brings in new content and some fixes, it seems to have cut my loading time in half and adds in random events that do break up some of the grind. No word yet on if the Halloween content will remain after October or if something new will be patched in, time will tell! 

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