CoasterVille is a new Facebook "invest and express" game from Zynga, this time centering around the fine art of theme park design and management. It's available to play on the social network now.
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By Pete Davison From Inside Social Games
CoasterVille's core mechanics are very similar to most of Zynga's other sim titles. Players purchase various buildings using soft (or, occasionally, hard) currency and expend energy on their construction. Further energy must then be expended on collecting income from them every so often, and in the case of theme park rides, may also be spent on "boosting" performance to increase income of the special "thrill" currency. Certain buildings and rides require specific resources to be collected before they may be constructed or upgraded, and these may either be found by "searching" buildings, asking friends or purchasing with hard currency.
For the most part, then, CoasterVille appears to be just like most of Zynga's other titles, but the main factor that distinguishes it from, say, CityVille or FarmVille is the level of customization that is available to players. The big attraction for fans of theme park games will be the facility to design one's own rollercoaster and gradually expand it as finances allow, but players are also able to "paint" their land with different terrain types, rename their park and even, led by a series of quests, construct various "themed" areas in their park, beginning with a "Magic Kingdom"-style fantasy area.
Much like Zynga's last few titles, CoasterVille takes full advantage of the latest technologies available to Facebook games. Most notably, players may start playing without having to click through permissions dialogs (though are prompted to do so after the initial tutorial to "unlock" the game) and may also opt in to the CoasterVille "community," which theoretically allows players to add friends in the game without requiring them to be Facebook friends first. Unfortunately, much as with the last few times Zynga have incorporated this functionality, it's not made at all clear how players can take advantage of this, as clicking one of the "Add Friends" buttons only appears to give players the option to recruit people from their own friends list — and it is not explained clearly anywhere in the game.
The gameplay is mostly solid and the excellent, fluidly-animated 2D graphics and high quality background sound give the game a very pleasing audio-visual aesthetic, but by far the biggest annoyance is Zynga's continued reliance on energy mechanics as a backbone to their monetization. In the case of CoasterVille, the player's energy will likely run out before they have reached the fourth level of experience, meaning they will hit a progress wall relatively early in their career just as things are starting to get interesting. When tested, following the quest objectives to the letter caused energy to run out just as the game was starting to encourage players to build their first themed area of the park.
This pacing is probably entirely deliberate, encouraging players to pay up or bug their friends just to see "what's next" and in that sense it makes sense from a business perspective. But for many players the frustration factor of having a solid wall placed in front of their progress until they are willing to pay up may well cause them to shut down the game and never come back — particularly as it comes so relatively early in their virtual park management careers.
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