Small, blue, lives in a mushroom? Must be the Smurfs! Freemium game Smurfs’ Village has rocketed to the top of the app charts in just a few short days, baffling folks who are wondering what all the fuss is about.
I wish I could say that it’s just that fantastic of a game, but honestly, I suspect that the huge spike in popularity is the result of well-intentioned parents handing their phones over to their kids, not realizing that Junior easily can rack up a huge bill for Smurfberries in just a few moments.
Here’s the breakdown, folks. Although Smurfs’ Village is modeled on the friendly blue creatures we all know and love, the actual gameplay is a variation on the Farmville freemium model you can find all over Facebook and the App Store. You’re responsible for creating your own little Smurf village, but buildings can take hours or even days to complete, or you can speed things along with the use of magical Smurfberries.
Here is where you should pay attention, especially if you’re going to let your kids play unsupervised. Although the game is free to download, Smurfberries can be acquired through in-app purchases using real money, and we’re not talking pennies here. A wheelbarrow of Smurfberries will cost you $59.99, which could buy you a real wheelbarrow at the hardware store. You can lock the ability to make in-app purchases through your device settings, but consider yourself warned!
Aside from the highway robbery of the Smurfberries, Smurfs’ Village can be a pleasant, if lightweight, diversion. Naturally, for such high profile characters, the production values are sky high, and a lot of care has gone into making Papa Smurf and the rest of the gang all look perfect. The graphics are gorgeous, animations are smooth, and the overall effect is very smooth, polished, and professional.
As your village grows, you’re treated to brief cutscenes describing how the Smurfs will once again triumph over the wicked Gargamel. You’ll also unlock new minigames that let you do things like make potions with Papa Smurf or bake cookies with Greedy Smurf.
But, when all is said and done, it’s really just another Farmville clone, and it comes with some irritating downsides. One, building a social network requires the use of Facebook, so you either have to friend a bunch of strangers or hope your friends and family are as Smurf-obsessed as you are to play with others. Two, it uses the annoying crop withering mechanism to keep you constantly checking in with the game. Three, all data is saved locally, so don’t ever delete the game or your village is toast. This also means you’re stuck playing the game on whatever device you start with. And finally, back to the Smurfberries. Although they’re not technically required to play, it’s really difficult to progress without them.
Bottom line, the game feels like one long, beautifully illustrated attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of you. It’s clear they had some really quality effort going into the game, but the end results feel overwhelmingly bland and greedy. If I really need a freemium fix, I’d rather stick with Pocket Frogs.
Here is a video demo of the Smurfs’ Village app on the iPhone
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