Ready your clickin’ fingers!

Like boredom in Iowa, farm games are unavoidable. Even if you don’t play them, you’ve probably received an abundance of Facebook requests from friends and family who do. It matters not that you’ve only met Tim once — if you can aid him in his quest for virtual crop dominance, the two of you could become the best of friends. FarmVille has in many ways been the poster child of this craze, as evidenced by its massive user base and licensed products like ice cream. And now, with the launch of FarmVille 2, Zynga is hoping to deliver the final blow to the seams that hold the requests section of your Facebook profile together. Will the weird, licensed ice cream return, too? I’m certainly counting on it.

Despite the number at the end of the title, FarmVille 2 isn’t meant to be a sequel to the original. It improves on a lot of aspects of the first game, sure, but it’s a largely different game. Its appearance is emblematic of that, boasting Flash 11-enabled 3D graphics and a fluidity in its visuals that you don’t often see in sim games. Nearly everything has a life of its own, from the swaying crops to the dancing animals.

FarmVille 2

But the cosmetic improvements are only a fraction of what’s changed in FarmVille 2. To put it another way, they didn’t just put lipstick on the pig and call it a day. For starters, the game has an actual plot. You’ve returned to the farm you grew up on, with ambitions to restore it to its former glory. It’s not the most involved storyline, admittedly, but it fills your mouse clicks with a little more purpose.

Friends, the ever-important element of any social game, have shifted roles a bit. They can be hired as “Farm Helpers,” and then put to work on whatever the player wants. If you click and drag a friend’s character to your still-growing crop, for example, it will immediately be ready to harvest. You can also visit other farms and acquire useful resources for yourself. 

FarmVille 2

Where the actual act of farming is concerned, Zynga has made a few interesting additions. Instead of clicking on each section of your crops until everything is grown or planted, you can just click once and hover your cursor over it all. But don’t expect to just grow and harvest to your heart’s content; water, a finite resource, is required for most actions. It can be attained by investing in wells on your farm, but you can still expect to run low or out of it at times. If you play social games with any regularity, though, you’re probably already used to that.

It’s hard enough to develop a social game that hooks people in any meaningful way, but reigniting a stagnant genre has a set of problems all its own. Zynga is one of the few companies out there with the right skillset and captive fanbase to pull it off, and FarmVille 2 certainly moves the genre in a new and interesting direction. Launching today, it won’t be long until we know whether or not a revival is in the cards.