Virtual City Playground is the free follow-up to G5 Entertainment’s Virtual City, keeping many of the first game’s basic concepts, but adding in a new style of gameplay that will be familiar to players of games like Zynga’s Cityville. The biggest change is that, instead of just paying to purchase a garbage truck or build a new factory, you also need to expend energy, which is the slowly self-regenerating bane of your existence, recovering at one point per five minutes initially. Energy is definitely a game-changing dynamic, with significant impacts on the game’s pacing and play style. But are those positive impacts or negative?
The Good Stuff
Supply chain management can be more fun than you’d ever think possible – Sentences you never think you’d say, especially in the context of a video game review. But Virtual City Playground, and the gameplay it borrows from its predecessor, can be quite fun. Building your city isn’t just about placing buildings, it’s about routing trucks to deliver supplies and products, running buses between residential areas and entertainment venues, and picking up the mountains of trash. The buildings are the foundation of your city, but its the transportation network that generates the real wealth and gives you the resources to build more buildings. Upgrading your buildings and vehicles will increase your earnings, allow you to buy more, and more, and more, including more land for your city to grow.
Instead of scenarios, Virtual City Playground offers a variety of missions (at least 200, according to the Achievements) that walk you through many of the basics of the game, building up to complex management of pick ups and deliveries. But there is something oddly fun about managing the assortment of trucks, garbage trucks, and buses that will populate your city streets, and the challenges are generally easy enough but come at such a quick pace that there’s always something to do. It never really becomes a true open world game (oddly enough, that option was in the original Virtual City), but there’s still enough to do, following the missions or just adding buildings, to keep players entertained.
The actual supply chains themselves are the same as the last game, including magazines, cosmetics and automobiles, but Virtual City Playground features plenty of new houses and entertainment buildings to add, as well as a host of famous landmarks.
It’s free. Kinda – Downloading Virtual City Playground from the App Store is free, but once you get into the game, you’ll see plenty of opportunities for microtransactions. Specifically, you can purchase more city credits (money) or invest points, which let you unlock buildings earlier than the game allows from level ups, or to purchase landmarks, which increase the recharging rate of your energy and make your city look better in the process.
Frankly, there’s little reason to purchase city credits unless you are thoroughly impatient since the first handful of missions will set you up with a functioning economy and a steady stream of income. Invest points, on the other hand, can be much more useful since you will want to get landmarks built in your city as quickly as possible. There’s a fine balance at work between what you can do for free (given enough time) and what you’ll be tempted to pay for, and its up to each gamer how much they want to augment their city through in-App purchases.
This game has a crazy number of achievements – If you go for that kind of thing, Virtual City Playground has more than 90 achievements to be earned, with most of them earned naturally through the course of play, and many without you even realizing you are working towards them.
The Bad Stuff
The absolutely horrendously bad pacing - I can’t help but feel that Virtual City Playground could have been so much more fun if I could play it for more than a few minutes at a time. And yet, every time I sit down to get into the game, I can’t fully immerse myself in the experience without feeling like the game doesn’t want me to immerse myself. Or if it does, it subtely wants me to keep paying for the privilege by making microtransaction purchases feel more and more necessary to maintain any sense of pacing.
Because the game requires energy for everything you do (from construction to upgrading to rerouting trucks) and your energy is always in limited supply, Virtual City Playgrounds plays a dangerous game of hurry up and wait. Dangerous because rather than waiting and coming back to the game, gamers might just as easily move on to something else. You can help things along by working hard (or paying) to get landmarks built, and thus improve your energy regeneration rate, but when you might have to NOT play the game for a good hour just so that you can play for a couple of short minutes, it feels like a terrible design choice.
But then Zynga has made millions pioneering this model, so it will definitely appeal to someone. But after Virtual City’s scenarios let you play at your own pace, even in that game’s less robust sandbox mode, feeling so constrained here, in something that I really WANTED to invest my time into, devalues the experience.
The Parent Stuff
Virtual City Playground isn’t a kids’ game and, truth be told, won’t be that interesting to most teens either. But, if you can get them to check out the game, there are some basic lessons to be learned about how businesses work, and the under-appreciated management of supplies, inventories, and public transportation. Sadly, “Hey kiddo, wanna play a game that teaches you about waste management?” isn’t the most enticing offer for anyone.
Other than a general lack of interest, there’s no questionable content for parents to worry about and the game’s presentation is very well organized, with challenges and processes explained very clearly (save for the occasional spelling mistake).
That said, freemium (free to play, with in-game purchases) games and children should always be a concern for parents, since our younger gamers often lack the patience that Virtual City Playground demands, and then they’d be wanting to buy more credits, more invest points, and doing whatever they can to artificially boost their energy levels. That might not be a big concern with this game in particular, but something that parents should always be aware of with freemium games.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Virtual City Playground is a mixed bag, maintaining many of the good things about the original title and adding plenty of new buildings to add to your city, but the switch to energy-based gameplay sucks a lot of the life and fun potential out of the game. If you can get past the pacing issues and settle for short bits of gameplay over an extended play session, Virtual City Playground is different and free, and in spurts, can be quite fun. If you’ve ever played Cityville or SimCity, or any city-building games that fall in between, Virtual City Playground is worth the download for grown ups, with the caveat that you’ll either have to pay to play, or spent plenty of gametime not playing the game.