By Andrew Webster
If FrontierVille was crossed with Tangled, it'd probably look a whole lot like CastleVille, the next big release from Zynga. It's a game that offers some familiar core gameplay mixed with new, and in some cases quite interesting features, and wraps it all up in a very Disney-inspired fantasy world.And Zynga has launched a brief 48 second trailer for their upcoming release.
CastleVille is the first release from Zynga's Dallas studio, which was formerly known as Bonfire Studios, which itself was created after the closure of Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios.
As with most Zynga games you'll be controlling an avatar as you play, but in the case of CastleVille you'll be able to customize that avatar quite a bit. Jackson describes the character creation as "quite elaborate," letting you alter everything from skin and eye color to hairstyle and outfit. You can even wear a chicken suit if you like.
As far as how it plays, it looks like CastleVille will have two main focuses: kingdom building and exploration. The kingdom building looks pretty familiar, as you can clear out space to build homes and other buildings, as well as decorations and such, many of which require specific resources. Some of the buildings will earn you money to further invest in your kingdom, and you can build homes so that the various characters in the game will become loyal to you.
But in order to meet those characters, you'll need to explore. When you first begin much of the world is covered in a darkness called gloom. As you explore and open up new areas you'll not only increase you're castle rating, but also find treasure chests and meet new characters, who in turn will give you more quests to further the story. And since you're essentially free to clear away the gloom-covered areas in whichever order you choose, the story will unfold differently for different players depending on their choices. There's also a combat element that includes both random encounters and large-scale events that can have an affect on the game world and the characters that dwell within it.
In a nice change, CastleVille is also doing away with many of the pop-up windows that can make Facebook gaming annoying, particularly if you're playing in full-screen mode. Now, when you want to do something like share rewards a tiny notification will appear at the side of the screen, but you won't get the standard obtrusive window you're used to. CastleVille also gives you an added incentive to visit your friends, as the reputation points you earn from doing so are actually a form of currency for buying specific in-game items.
Of course, as with any new Zynga release, it's clear that the presentation has been vastly improved. Not only is the art style very reminiscent of a fantasy-themed CG movie, but it's also full of plenty of animation, from falling trees to fish jumping around in shallow ponds, that make the world feel a bit more alive. It's all rather charming. And while music is rarely emphasized in Facebook games, Zynga is putting quite a bit of effort into how CastleVille sounds. The game's six-song soundtrack was recorded in Seattle by a 75 piece orchestra and a full choir.
Zynga has been releasing new games at a furious pace, but surprisingly each one continues to look more impressive than the last. CastleVille is no exception. Its fantasy world looks rather inviting, with a story and characters to keep pushing you forward through the experience. And it appears that Zynga has plenty of future plans for the game, with both crafting and trading elements set to be added after release, and mysterious portals located on the map that will be utilized in a future expansion.
CastleVille "is slated to launch in the next couple of weeks," according to Zynga.
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