By Andrew Webster Gamezebo
CastleVille isn't the kind of release that will revolutionize social gaming. It doesn't remake the wheel or have any crazy ambitious concepts. It's a game that sits firmly in the framework already established by games like FrontierVille and Ravenskye City. But thanks to some subtle but very welcome tweaks and arguably the best visual and audio experience on Facebook, it's still a great game. It may not be the most original, but it's definitely one of the best.
CastleVille takes place in a world ripped straight from an animated feature. Despite its 2D visuals, the game is reminiscent of CG movies like Disney's Tangled or the Shrek series. It's a fairly standard world filled with fantasy and magic, brought to life thanks to some solid animations. Trees rock back and forth as you chop them down, rabbits scamper about in the forest, and fish jump around in lakes. These aspects don't affect the gameplay at all, but they do make the virtual world more inviting.
That gameplay, though, will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the many similar games, especially FrontierVille. You start out with just a small plot of land and a few decorations, but eventually you'll be able to build up a bustling kingdom. You'll have to chop down trees and mine rocks to gather resources and clear space, as well as use magic crystals to uncover new areas trapped by a mysterious force known as gloom.
And this is one of the more satisfying elements of CastleVille. Because, as opposed to a game like CityVille, you're not simply purchasing new land to build more stuff on top of. Instead, it feels like you're actually discovering something as you fight off the gloom. You'll meet new characters and uncover treasures (usually in the form of decorative items) that gives this aspect of the game an extra dose of wonder. Technically you can uncover the gloom-filled areas in any order you want, though with the way the requirements and quests work, you're much more likely to do them in the same order as everybody else.
Aside from that the game really feels like a beefed up version of FrontierVille with a whimsical new theme. There's a new crafting system that's lets you create resources and other useful items, and item placement is now a much deeper aspect of the experience. Placing crops near water, for instance, speeds up their growth, while putting a logging mill near lots of trees increases its output. There;s also plenty of smaller, but much welcome, features added, such as the way walls and fences automatically create corners, making the placing them a much more intuitive process. And then there is the fully orchestrated soundtrack, which is easily the most impressive you've yet heard on Facebook, truly creating the feeling that you're in an epic fantasy world.
But while several aspects of the game have been changed for the better and there are lots of new features to dig into, typical annoyances still remain. Progress is extremely dependent on the amount of friends you have playing, as you'll need them to staff important buildings and gift items necessary for expansion. Energy also runs out far too quickly, though it's nowhere near as bad as something like Adventure World.
CastleVille isn't the kind of game that will win over new players. It sticks far too close to an already established formula. Instead, it offers a beautiful, refined experience for existing "Ville" fans with more things to do and a more inviting world to do it in that's full of character. It fixes some problems, retains others, but adds enough to make it a worthy successor to the line of games that FarmVille kicked off.
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