Review: Bug Village (Xbox Live)
Now this is a pretty modern slice of style in the Xbox Live arcade. Bug Village, from Glu Mobile, is another free game to download, but unlike some of the other titles, I'd be happy to show this one off as a sample of what Windows Phone can do. Neither are there any unsightly adverts on show - Glu Mobile are going to make their money out of you. Yes, Bug Village is one of the first freemium games for our phone platform.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
First up, freemium... it's a game you can play for free, but if you want to speed up the game play, pick up different items for your Village, or just do some different things, then you'll need to spend money to get some in-game credit to spend.
If you've experienced games like Farmville on Facebook, or Tiny Tower on iOS, you'll know what to expect from Bug Village. Essentially you have a big garden to build in, and you can build ant huts and bee hives on one side of the ornamental stream - on the other side, you can build resources for your ants and bees to exploit (mostly flowers for the bees and piles of rubbish for the ants). Send over the ants and bees to collect these piles to earn acorns (the small currency) and experience (so you can level up), refill the piles, and do it all over again.
You also have a large currency, which is gold coins. While you can earn acorns through playing the game, the only source of gold coins are the ten you get as you start a new game (and you are forced to burn two of them during the initial tutorial) or buy buying them from the Windows Marketplace with real money. This is the core of the freemium experience, you can play along for free, but every opportunity is going to be given to tempt you to use just one coin to get to something nice just round the corner. And then the developers have their equivalent of a purchase - with a good chance at making the same again when you feel the need for more credits.
Mixed in with this are instant tasks to get some more acorns and experience, as you stand up ladybirds who have fallen over, push annoying lion ants back into the ground, and banish stinky bugs from the garden.
To be honest, there's not a lot to do here, but that misses one of the point of Bug Village. It's not a game that is played over an hour, it's geared towards popping in for a few minutes at a time throughout the day to tend to the piles of rubbish, water the flowers, and be the fixer-upper handyman around the village. If you think of Bug Village in this way, it works out quite nicely. It's always there inside your phone, running in real time. Need to wait an hour in the game? You'll wait an hour in the real world (or you could put your phone offline, advance the clock, run the game, and then set everything back to how it was... honestly, what some people will do for Xbox achievements).
I love the touch that doing eight fifteen minute tasks on the piles of rubbish will earn you more than doing a two hour task on the same pile of rubbish. It's all about getting your attention and keeping you coming back into the Village.
The problem with this approach is that coming back to the Village takes time. When the "open the app, look at the menu screen, wait for the Village to load" cycle takes longer than the "check out what's happening in the Village", then something is wrong.
Now, if Bug Village had a few more things to do when you visited the Village, perhaps the developers might have got away with the approach they have, but as it is, Bug Village is lacking the spark that makes freemium games work. First up, it's just not addictive enough. It looks great, the levels of zoom are smooth, the graphics and animation are top notch, but there's nothing inside the game that makes you want to go back and work at it.
Windows Phone as a platform makes a lot of play about being connected to your world, and the glance and go ability of live tiles. Bug Village would be the perfect place to have a Live Tile that does something. Alas not, it's just the game icon; no alerts, no warning of impending ant lion attack calling you back, it just sits there like a wasted opportunity. Nor can you bring your friends in to help your village, talk about the world building on your Facebook, or have any sort of competitive element to the game. Yes, you do have your achievements to collect, but these are mostly the "do a lot of something" variety and will take a good week or two of playing to reach half of them (during which time you'll be tempted to use your eight coins to get there faster, and then you'll be thinking about picking up a few more).
Bug Village is an important game for Xbox Live - it's a new genre that's proved successful on other platforms, from social networks and websites to tablets and smartphones. Proving that the concept and user base will accept a freemium model will give others the confidence to get involved and bring some fresh thinking and mechanics to a freemium game on an always connected social device.
Bug Village is a good start, and it's worth looking at so you can understand the basic concepts of games like this. But there's so much more that could and should be done in a title like this. So this is a nice start, but I'm expecting a lot more in the future.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at