Cruise the strip in cute and cuddly style.

So I hear that these “freemium” games are getting fairly popular. Especially on Facebook. One such game is apparently called Car Town, and it involves players managing their own garage and racing their friends. Since then it’s been expanded into Car Town Streets, offering the same adorable vehicles and races with the addition of town building. And now all the automotive cuteness has come to the iPhone.

When players are first introduced to their new home in Car Town Streets, things are looking rather bleak. The town is deserted, the streets are empty, and most of the screen is inhabited by this drab and depressing shade of brown/gray. Thankfully, with a little luck and plenty of TLC, things are bound to pick up again, and that’s where all that game stuff kicks in. As with many town management titles, there are a number of buildings to unlock and construct after earning the proper level and enough cash. These structures provide jobs (i.e. boost happiness) for any cars that may inhabit the city, enable bonuses to fuel production (i.e. energy needed to race), act as little pit stops to earn a tiny bit more cash every now and then, and so on. It’s not all that dissimilar from other free-to-play builders, so most players should feel right at home.

Car Town Streets

Where Car Town Streets begins to differ is in the cars themselves. Each vehicle acts as its own citizen, in a way. They wander the streets, “perform” jobs, earn cash and experience in real time, and are generally the lifeblood of the town. Finding them is a little more complicated than merely browsing a showroom, however. Although that is an option, but it requires lots and lots of hard-to-earn Special Money. The less costly but more time consuming method is to go out looking for these rides. Several areas can be searched; each with their own selection of possible autos to find and their own cost for entry. Once entered, players need to tap on a series of GPS map-style pins until they clear the board and, hopefully, find a car or two. Once that’s finished it’s time to “build” the car; a process that doesn’t cost much but can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to complete, depending. Once finished these vehicles can be given tasks, added to a player’s offensive/defensive racing team, or both.

Car Town Streets uses a lot of mechanics that are prevalent in many a free-to-play game, but it manages to pull from a reasonably large pool and combine elements with others that aren’t generally paired in such a manner. It’s got the town building, the zoo-style management with animals (i.e. cars) earning all the cash and needing to be fed (tuned-up) and kept happy (jobs) to earn the optimum amount, collectible aspects with a large list of vehicles and random acquisitions, and even combat (racing) that utilizes separate offense and defense stats coupled with a general car “cost” to determine a player’s team. It all comes together surprisingly well.

As great a combination as all of this turns out to be, it still fumbles a bit with the overall execution. Namely, everything seems to take just a liiiiiiiiiiittle bit too long. The initial load time on start-up takes quite a while, and once it’s finished the game still lags a bit for a few seconds until everything catches up. Tasks also take just long enough to complete so as to feel tedious. I totally understand the need to push the “speed up” money in a freemium game, but I really don’t think it should take 6 hours to clear a small rock. A big one, maybe, but not a tiny one. The same goes for constructing buildings–even the early ones. About the only element that doesn’t suffer from this problem is the rate at which offensive fuel refills, which allows players more of a chance to race for trophies but not much else if they aren’t looking to spend any money. It’s a shame, really, because it derails any attempt at playing for longer than a few minutes at a time.

Car Town Streets

There are plenty of reasons I can imagine that have resulted in Car Town Streets‘ popularity. It’s got a great visual style, it combines several elements from other free-to-play games in a creative way and actually pulls it off, it’s got plenty of cartoony cars based on real-world models (hurray, a Pinto!), and it can be oddly satisfying to nab a rare ice cream truck. It’s just a shame that, in the transition from Facebook to iOS, no one seemed to consider the possibility that the somewhat ridiculous wait times would be a problem.