Social Park lets Facebook gamers build their own amusement park and have a little fun with the rides
Amusement park sims haven’t had an easy time of it lately, given Zynga’s closure of Roller Coaster Kingdom and the decline of a lot of other games in the genre. It would be nice if Social Point’s Social Park was trying to breathe new life into the genre, but if anything it seems to serve as a reminder of why these sorts of games don’t really last.
You can build your own amusement park in Social Park, full of colorful rides that feature detailed animations when in operation. You collect money from given rides over time, which some rides activating mini-games you can play. This is all fine in concept, but there seems to have been little thought put into any of Social Park’s game-play and even less thought put into its user interface or localization. What should be a virtual taste of fairground fun rapidly becomes a chore thanks to these oversights.
The park-building part of the game is simple and straightforward. You buy rides, food stalls, decorations, and footpaths from the game’s store and arrange them as you see fit. You unlock more building pieces for your park as you level up, some of which do cost real money. You can collect money from your rides every so often. Otherwise, you can watch visitors activate them as they wander around the park. Sadly, the number of visitors you can have is tethered to the number of friends you can get to play the game with you. If you can’t get any friends to play, you’re stuck with a measly thirty. This doesn’t hamper your ability to advance, but you’ll have to look at most of your park sitting idle in later levels.
Social Park’s problems as a game stem from some questionable design decisions and a really poor localization. It’s hard to tell what language this game was originally published in, but it definitely wasn’t English. Some of the mini-games you get to play when collecting money from rides have instructions that are poorly explained at best, forcing you to try and figure out through trial and error what’s required to succeed. While the match-3 and Alien Attack games are simple to play, Flying Dog and Helicopter have more complicated controls and essentially useless instructions. The titles you gain upon leveling up aren’t quirky and silly, as they might be in a Zynga game, but simply incoherent and sometimes unsettling due to the bad translation. (I can’t say I ever wanted to be a “Creamy Pitchman.”)
The interface issues are two-fold. Social Point tried to implement quests in the game, usually a good thing. Instead of an unobtrusive quest screen or menu, though, there’s an enormous display featuring a talking mascot fellow’s head that takes up a large portion of the lower-left corner of the screen. There seems to be no way to close this quest interface. You can shuffle through available quests but don’t get rewards for completing them. Instead, you’re constantly being badgered to buy more rides or try to add more neighbors or add more footpaths. Anyone old enough to remember how irritating that “Clippy” mascot from older versions of Microsoft Office got should have a good idea of why this talking character’s constant presence really damages the game’s fun factor.
Other parts of the interface are simply bad. If you attempt to turn the annoying sound effects off, or turn off the music, you’ll find that these options are ignored by every mini-game you play until you build a mini-game with its own volume control (like “Flying Dog”). Then, changing the volume control for that particular mini-game will somehow affect every mini-game available to play in your park. Frequently the game will ask you if you want to post something to your Facebook wall, with the option to accept or skip. Often, even if you tell the game you want to skip the post, it will begin trying to make the post anyway. You’ll have to skip it twice, which is very annoying. Trash randomly spawns in your park, which is typical for these sorts of games. In Social Park, so much trash spawns so rapidly that you can spend minutes at a time pixel-hunting for trash once you’ve built up a good-sized park. Some rides don’t become transparent correctly when you’re looking for trash, which makes an annoying task into a headache.
Social Park is a game with solid fundamentals, but it badly needs to improve in future iterations. The interface problems need to be fixed, the quest-giver mascot needs to go away, and the in-game text needs an overhaul. Right now its attractive ride graphics are enticing, but the actual gameplay is full of needless, pointless frustrations.