App review: The Simpsons: Tapped Out
- — 18 September, 2012 22:00
|Name||Simsons: Tapped Out|
|At a glance:||The only way to speed up events is by spending real money,Cute animations and dialogue ,Too slow to get anywhere, lack of options for building and developing|
|Summary:||A building/sim game that takes too long to achieve levels or interest.|
The Simpsons: Tapped Out has been the most downloaded free app in the Apple App store since it relaunched (after a major bugfix) about a month ago, so two weeks ago, I decided it was time to review it.
For maximum entertainment, a building/sim game - whether it be Farmville, Civilization or Simpsons: Tapped Out - needs to balance the acquisition of resources with storytelling and getting access to new toys. In the case of Simpsons: Tapped Out the balance is all wrong. And the main problem is donuts.
Simpsons Tapped Out is loosely based around the Simpsons TV show. All the main characters are there, eventually, and the buildings are all based on Springfield houses, businesses and landmarks.
As the game begins, Homer has accidentally triggered an explosion at the nuclear power plant because he was playing with his myPad instead of working. Life imitates art, eh?
Your mission is to clean up the debris and recreate Springfield. Initally, you have only Homer Simpson to assist on cleanup duty, but Lisa appears before long and then the two of them can get down to business.
Gameplay depends on building Springfield and earning experience. Buildings cost in-game money - or donuts, which are purchased with real money. Experience, and in-game money, is earned by building or by setting tasks for the characters to perform. Buildings earn money on a timed cycle.
There's a brief tutorial stage, which takes you through the mechanics of assigning characters actions, building, earning and spending money and donuts.
Each character has their own set of actions, which take a set amount of time and earn a specified amount of in-game money and experience. Krusty the Clown can 'inflate his own importance', which takes six hours and earns $225 and 60XP, for example, while Lisa gets the opportunity to practise her sax (four hours), go to school (six hours) or babysit Todd and Rod (eight hours).
To go up levels, you have to complete a set of quest tasks. This might be ok, but until you reach level 6, the only building you can buy - aside from the Simpsons' house itself and a couple of iconic Springfield buildings given as quests - is the Brown House. This costs $365, and provides 2XP and $5, every five minutes. Each level takes several thousand XP to earn. This means you either have to wait a long time for each new quest (most take 8-24hrs to complete) or tap Brown Houses repeatedly. And since each new building costs $3,000 or up - the Gulp 'n' Blow costs you $13,500, the Krusty Burger $24,000 - you also have to earn the money to pay for them.
I wanted to level up rapidly, so I did what any sensible gamer would do in that situation: I became a slumlord (see picture below). I went on a cycle of tap, build, tap build, until I had enough brown houses to produce 250XP per round of five minutes. After two days of frenetic tapping, I was level 15, but my quests were still on level 8.
In other words, things move s-l-o-w. And the only way to speed things up is by using donuts. Want a 24hr building to appear in seconds? Just spend 12 donuts. Want to have a lemon tree, which produces $200 and 20XP every six hours? Just spend 20 donuts.
Donuts cost real money (although there are a couple of cheats to get extra donuts), and you can get 2400 of them for $125. Sound a bit rich? How about 132 donuts for $14? or Maybe 12 donuts for $2.60 is more your style?
Unlike most games of this type, which let you use in-game money to speed things along, in The Simpsons: Tapped Out, your only option to avoid the numerous (and seemingly interminable) 24hr quests is to spend real money. It was tempting - very tempting - but something in me rebels at the the idea of $2.60 for a Kwik-E-Mart (thank you, come again!) when all that will get me is a fast-track to another 24hr quest.
Instead, I waited, and waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
You earn some donuts along the way, but a few sneaky tricks within the game conspire to steal your donuts from you. Most actions have a little green "do it" button, but for some tasks, that's a pink "spend donuts" button. I ran out of my initial supply of 20 very quickly indeed, before spotting it.
Even with very intensive play, I still haven't completed the game, 12 days after I began. The number of hours I've spent on it is likely more than our reviews editor, Harley, spent playing Mass Effect 3. And the worst of it is that at least in Mass Effect 3 you're always doing something, rather than just waiting, waiting, waiting.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out's worst crime is that it's just plain boring. Two of my friends who started at the same time got bored before level six because there's so little to do - see the aforementioned Brown House paradox.
Not only that, but its load times are dreadfully slow, and you can't play offline. At all. I also tried to add friends, but apparently there's a bug with the Origin Master ID - I just couldn't make one to sign in with.
It's a shame, because in many ways, The Simpsons: Tapped Out has charm. From the witty, silly banter in voiceover and dialogue, to the characters individual actions, there's plenty of things to like. I loved, for example, the way that completed houses land with an explosive thud. It visually surprises and delights. I laughed every time Groundskeeper Willie finished a task (whether bagpiping or burning leaves) and dramatically ripped off his shirt , and was amused by Ned Flanders little vocal mannerisms.
Ultimately, though, there are better games of a similiar nature. I'm now playing My Country, which is similar but oh so much better, from it's reward timing, to its resource mechanisms, variety of new toys each level and flat-out entertainment value.
I think The Simpsons: Tapped Out is fixable - making in-game money available for quest speedups would be a great start, and variety of tasks and houses in early game would help - but as far as I can tell, right now it's only number one in the free App Store rankings because of the Simpsons name. I suspect many who download it stop playing within hours. Avoid.