Saturday, April 4, 2009

An island game that has nothing to do with LOST.

It's another game review! Virtual Villagers 2 for the iPhone/iPod Touch is a surprisingly deep "society" simulator. I would imagine it's somewhat similar to The Sims, though I've never played The Sims for any respectable amount of time. It's a port of a PC/Mac game by the same name, and the developer, Last Day of Work Software, did a great job taking it mobile.

Virtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children

The setting is an island village, and your characters, which are two adults and some kids, are stranded on this island with no help in sight. They must fend for themselves, and it's up to you to help them. What do they need to survive? Well, there are five "skills" that are necessary for your villagers to become practiced in. Farming is self-explanatory, and it includes all forms of food production and gathering. Building allows the villagers to create the necessary structures. Research allows the villagers to develop scientific advancements needed for long-term sustainability. Healing is.. duh, for healing sick villagers. And finally, parenting is kind of a misnomer because it's actually just the skill that makes a villager want to "go inside" with another villager and procreate.

When performing certain actions, a villager's skill level goes up for the appropriate skill. That is, when a villager goes fishing, waters crops, or picks coconuts, his or her farming skill increases. A villager's research skill increases the more he or she performs research. And so on. For each villager you can look at their status screen to check their proficiency in each skill, as well as set their preference. So if you check off "Farming" the villager will gravitate toward farming. Sometimes a villager will be incorrigible, and no matter how many times you drag them to do a job, they'll say "huh?" Skill levels for each still follow this order: untrained, trainee, Adept, and Master. The higher a villager's skill level, the better they will do at that job. Any villager that manages to attain Master status in three or more professions gets the title Esteemed Elder, and you get a bonus prize.

Kids (ages 2-13) cannot work but they can pick mushrooms and rare items. Mushrooms increase food supply (no food means your villagers will eventually starve to death) and the other items get added to a collection. I'm not sure what you get when you complete your collections but I've finished the butterflies and require more stones, shells, and beetles. When they turn 14 they are considered adults as far as being allowed to work, but they still can't have children yet (thank goodness!) Your villagers eventually grow old and die, and when old they start to slow down and get sick more easily.

So what's the real point of the game? Well, for one, keeping everyone alive. Your village must grow in population and you need to keep the food levels up to sustain it. You must strike a balance between more villagers (meaning more able-bodied workers) and having enough food to feed them. The other point of the game is to explore the island, which is surprisingly detailed considering its small size, and discover its many mysteries. There are 16 "puzzles" in the game, some of which you NEED to solve in order to sustain your village for a long time, and others are somewhat optional. Here's a free hint. The first one is Building a Fire. Duh.

The kicker about this game is that it kind of runs slowly. You interact with them to push them on the right course, but it's not a game you can sit and play all day. So when you quit the game to do other things, it keeps running, like in games like Animal Crossing. So if you go away for too long, or didn't tell any villagers to do farming, you'll come back to your game with a bunch of skeletons lying on the beach. Sadness.

Despite the great detail and depth of Virtual Villagers 2, it's still a great game to pick up and play for a few minutes while waiting for your laundry to finish or for your inconsiderate neighbor to move their car so you leave your driveway to go to work. The music is nice but somewhat repetitive, and the sound effects the villagers make when you pick them up and drag them around are pretty funny. There is a Pause function, in case you're not going to be playing for a while, just so your villagers don't all die out.

As of this writing, Virtual Villagers 2 is on sale for $1.99. I don't know how long it'll be on sale.
App Store Link