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Pocket Village

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

First, second, and third impressions

Product: Pocket Village | Developer: Wooga | Publisher: Wooga | Format: iPhone | Genre: Casual, Strategy, Time management | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe | App version: 1.1.1
Pocket Village iPhone, thumbnail 1
This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about. Click on the link to jump straight to day three or day seven.

It's been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a freemium builder.

I was initially pleased to be free from the shackles of - what appears to be - the second most populous game genre on iPhone (the endless-runner category just pips it to the virtual post), but I started to miss the 'gather, build, wait' gameplay loop.

I imagine I experienced the same sort of withdrawal symptoms Harry does when he's not tapping cubes.

So, what's in store for me this time, eh? Well, it's Wooga's latest effort: the rather prosaically titled Pocket Village. Is it a warm welcome home for me, with a pie waiting in the oven? Or will this game make me want to move away away from the city-building neighbourhood for good?

First impressions

Freemium builders are like well-worn suede shoes: you can slip back into them with ease, no matter how long you've been parted from 'em. This is because most of them share key gameplay concepts. Pocket Village is no exception.

You mine crystals; chop wood; build extra houses to bring more residents into your village; and construct sawmills and foundrys to refine your two resources into planks of wood and girders of steel. That last one's a bit odd, isn't it? I'm not sure how you can turn crystals into steel, but hey ho.

Anyway. If you've got excess materials or, more likely, you've got no space left in your inventory - as you can only store a small quantity of resources - you can sell them on to a merchant who will give you hard coin for your wares.

You can then use this money on some building types and expanding your inventory. And if you wish, you can speed up these processes with crystals. Any of this sound familiar? Yeah.

The main progression hook seems to be the exploration of new areas on the map, something you can only do if you've got a sufficiently high experience level and fulfil specific requirements. Right now, it looks like this centres mostly on how many inhabitants - or "Pockateers" - you have.

Day 3: Short. Wait

IAPs explained
Diamonds speed up processes, or can be used to make up the quantity of resources you may be lacking for any given task. 40 of these will see you £1.49 / $1.99 worse off.

You can also purchase the soft currency of Coins in bundles. 380 Coins will set you back £1.49 / $1.99.

Neither of these represents good value for money, as a bit of work (and a lot of waiting) will net you an equivalent number of Coins, and you don't get enough Diamonds to play for much longer than you would without them. Certainly not enough to justify the price tag.
Pocket Village is undeniably good looking. It's a moving collage of pastels. An ever-so-sweet world, which is never quite cloying, never quite overloaded enough with sugar to be saccharine.

Each villager has a muffled voice, shifted in pitch to help create the effect of looking down upon a very small race of creatures that would live happily enough in your pocket.

Work on the village, meanwhile, is slow. Very slow.

The number of actions you can request from your populace, such as asking them to build a house or gather berries, is limited by the number of villagers you have. One villager arrives for every house you have, but you'll find that the amount of construction you want to organise per play session far exceeds the capacity of your inhabitants.

So, you commission your Pockateers to make a building in which you can produce Tools (different types of resources for complicated constructions), and you invite a couple to gather resources. This means all of them are busy with a task. You can then either expedite the progress with crystals... or you can wait.

You can count the amount of play time in minutes per session on the fingers of one hand. You can measure the wait, however, in hours.

Day 7: Halted

At Pocket Gamer we give ourselves a week to play lengthy freemium games such as Pocket Village.

This gives us the opportunity to see as much of what's on offer as possible, and report back in a way that reflects the emotional rollercoaster we often go through while playing.

That's the theory, at least, but with Pocket Village it feels like we'd need to extend the review out to a month, as the game is hell-bent on stopping you from seeing new content.

In every element of the game there's something impeding your progress. I'm okay with free games placing a wall of grind here, or unlockable paid extras there, so long as the business model doesn't interfere too much with your enjoyment of the game. But Pocket Village is all about the money.

The most criminal element of this is the lack of storage. Since you can only hold a small quantity of each item, you must be careful not to gather too much of anything. If you do, you'll run out of space to keep other resources, leaving you unable to construct buildings that require multiple types of material.

This limitation can be lifted with premium currency - naturally - or you can sell items on to the trader. But the trader often wants multiple types of resource per single transaction, which is the exact same problem you're trying to fix.

So you inform the trader you're not interested in the trade, and you wait for him to return with new offers.

It's a design choice that breaks all sense of flow and progress. It's there to slow you down, just so you get frustrated and throw significant chunks of change at the creator. I'm not convinced you'll find the return that satisfying, though, as it doesn't seem like particularly different gameplay lies beyond the IAP curtain.

I've been exploring my surroundings by gathering huge quantities of resources, wrestling with an irritating bug that swings the camera wildly off in another direction, and waiting patiently for actions to finish. However, the revealed areas so far have included new buildings to fabricate yet more resource types, and fields full of raw materials I already have plenty of.

I can't say for sure that there's nothing more to see, because I simply couldn't find out. Perhaps Pocket Village transforms into the most engaging world builder yet released in its later stages. Maybe its later hours are a revolution in mobile gaming. Maybe this is to the iPhone what Tetris was to the Game Boy.

Or maybe it's a complete waste of your time and mine, built to extract money from you as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Who can tell?

How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.
Pocket Village
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 29 April 2013
Repetitive, uninspired, and a little broken, this freemium builder slog-fest is best avoided
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