I generally don’t like to go to sequels of blockbuster movies because my expectations are so high based on the success of the original that I’m almost always disappointed. Well, one of the challenges of writing reviews is that sometimes I’m tasked with judging the pros and cons of an iPhone game that is based on a successful PC/Mac game like Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children. I realize there are really two different audiences to consider: the “fans” and the “newbies.”
If you like PC simulation games, then you’ve probably enjoyed the Virtual Villagers series that launched on PC back in 2006. If you’re a rabid fan of the series, then you’ll not be disappointed by the iPhone port of the second installment called The Lost Children which originally hit the download portals in early 2007.
Essentially, you’ll find everything you would expect only shrunk down to fit the iPhone. The high quality island graphics, the cool little animated characters, the cute sound effects, and the clever puzzles are all there for you on the iPhone. You’ll find familiar tasks like repairing huts, doing research, and playing match-maker to little virtual island people. One of the cool features of the original series is that everything is based in “real” time. So, even after you stop playing, island life goes on without you. With your experience playing the PC version, you’ll have fun since you know how to play the game, and you won’t be bothered too much by its flaws.
But if you’ve never played Virtual Villagers before and your expectations are set by other excellent games designed specifically for the iPhone, then you might be disappointed in this particular iPhone version of the game.
First of all, a newbie must play with the tutorials turned on. You’ll find your finger wandering around, wasting time and eventually you’ll stop playing because you don’t know what to do or how to progress in the game. Second of all, you need to have terrific close-up vision (reading glasses are a must if you wear them) if you want to read the text or even be able to discern the subtle differences in the characters. Everything is literally “shrunk” for the iPhone without really taking into account the size of the iPhone display. If you’re patient and you really like the sims style of gameplay, you’ll get sucked into helping the villagers and find yourself spending hours working your way through the tasks.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll find a lot of gameplay to enjoy and no shortage of fun and varying activities. Your tiny villagers can be tasked to do a number of chores, including gathering food, building shelter, and more. You can even do research which allows your villagers to build tools and make discoveries that help them develop their civilization. All of those well-thought out elements of discovery and puzzle-solving that made the PC series a mega-hit are present in the iPhone version.
However, whether or not you’re a big fan or brand new to the Virtual Villagers series, you will be frustrated at the number of crashes you may experience. At first, I thought I was doing something wrong, but then I checked the reviews on the App Store and read some forum postings where many others reported the same crashes I experienced. Unfortunately, the version of the game I played crashed on me over and over again. And each time it crashed, I lost all my progress and had to start over again. Definitely not my idea of fun.
Normally, a wildly popular, highly inventive, beautifully executed PC game ported to the iPhone like Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children would be an instant hit. But my belief is that iPhone game developers shouldn’t rely on old fans alone. And no customer who buys an iPhone game should have to deal with repeated crashes that force you to lose your progress in a game. Even so, I recognize that there are some fans out there who will happily fork over small change because they want to have the game on their iPhone. For those who’ve never played the Virtual Villagers games before, consider yourself forewarned. Like movie-goers who willingly line up for blockbuster movie sequel number four, some fans will overlook the flaws and have fun anyway.