Ravenstone Mine adds a new area and theme, but little gameplay
By Andrew Webster
At one point slated to be a full-on separate release, the Ravenstone Mine expansion for Ravenwood Fair is finally available. And while it may look quite different that its predecessor. the core gameplay remains largely unchanged. But considering we gave the original four and a half stars, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So even though there’s not really any gameplay twists in Ravenstone, the addition of a new, very different area to explore and new characters to interact with make it a great choice for those looking for a change of scenery.
You can access the new area by completeing a short quest, and from there you’ll be given access to your own mine, which is located directly under your fair. It’s dark and dingy and everything looks quite a bit different. But when you start really exploring you’ll realize that everything behaves in a very familiar manner.
Take the rocks, for instance. They’re everywhere and they are essentially the same as the trees you’re used to. They come in different sizes and you’ll need to smash them to clear space using your pickaxe. The even grow back slowly over time, just like a tree. Only, instead of giving you wood as a resrouce, they give you stone. There are even enemies that pop out frequently to thwart your rock-clearing efforts.
In order to get to work on your mine you’ll need to build machines, and these serve as the attractions from the fair portion of the game. Only instead of attracting customers, they attract moles who will serve as miners. Really, despite the new theme, Ravenstone Mine plays nearly identically to Ravenwood Fair. You’re collecting and building new stuff, but how you go about doing so remains unchanged.
But the new underground theme does make a difference. The new visual style is quite the change, as it’s naturally much darker than what players are used to. The enemies have a much more alien appearance, ranging from blobs of lava with multiple eyes to creatures that look like they’re ripped from the Alien films. There’s also a new story. By talking to the moles that come to work for you you’ll start to learn about the mysteries of the moles, including the tragic history of their former king.
The game also provides an interesting dilema. Since energy is shared across both your mine and fair you may end up picking just one and playing in that. Otherwise, you’ll be running out of energy very quickly. Although, interestingly, some of the quests actually require you to collect items from both areas.
We’re used to expansions that add new gameplay features to help breath new life into a game. Ravenstone Mine doesn’t do that. Instead, it simply provides a new area to explore, complete with a drastic visual and narrative change. Normally this would be cause for complaint, but when the core of Ravenwood remains so engaging, we’re just happy to have more of it.
John Romero, a haunted forest, and cuddly critters? Ravenwood Fair makes it work.
By Jeremiah Leif Johnson
Let’s say you come across a hardcore gamer—you know, the kind who wears shirts that say things like “I see fragged people” and “PWN3D!”—and you tell them that John Romero’s released a new game. The geekiest of them will likely have to stop themselves from mimicking cocking a rifle, and others will ask if it’s a sequel to Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, or any of the other seminal first person shooters Romero is famous for. Now tell them that this new game is Ravenwood Fair, a story about cute and fuzzy critters who need to clear a scary forest in order to build a faire. I’m willing to bet they’d laugh in disbelief.
The joke may be on them. Featuring haunting (and haunted) trees that writhe menacingly at your avatar as you clear the misty forest, LOLapps’ Ravenwood Fair contains some of the most remarkable art design for a game of its genre. This slightly gothic ambiance is a nice touch, especially when you toss in syrupy critters such as smiling bears and raccoons that seem at odds with the forbidding shadows of Ravenwood. Indeed, as you take your take your axe to the eldritch tangles, there’s an almost tangible awareness of bringing light into the darkness and happiness into despair. And the trees grow back. Even after your fair has grown to mammoth proportions, the forest will always be there, attempting to take back its land and menace your cuddly visitors. Cuteness has rarely been so effectively used in Facebook, and there are the beginnings here of a much more complex narrative and experience.
That’s not to say that Ravenwood Fair doesn’t borrow heavily from another game: As in Frontierville, an explosion of coins, energy, and food rains down after chopping down a tree or performing virtually any other action, and you must rush to grab these items before they vanish. In addition, a constant succession of quests eases your progress, and a familiar energy bar limits your actions. Beyond this, Ravenwood Fair has comparatively little to do with farming, and you’ll instead find yourself building objects ranging from hot dog stands and stone cottages to sarlacc pegball and the “Ferris Squeal.” (One annoyance is that you won’t know what’s required to complete a project until the last step, which occasionally results in your fairground being crammed with half-built attractions.) Such projects raise your “fun” level, which means that even more smiling critters will drop by in their tunics and smocks to throw pegs at the sarlacc.
Surprisingly, these visitors can interact with you. It’s simple stuff—along the lines of character interaction in the early Final Fantasy games—but it adds considerable spice to what may have merely ended up being a well-made business sim. By clicking on a visitor, a brief dialogue will open up with a wide range of options and choices affecting what the character says next. For instance, Mike the mouse will tell me that he wonders if Marle is around. If you ask who she is, he’ll just say that she was some girl he met at the Millennial Fair. Marle is, in fact, a character in the acclaimed 1995 SNES game Chrono Trigger. It’s not the only time you’ll find a reference to the game in Ravenwood Fair, and, as with the sarlacc, there are plenty of humorous cultural references to discover. As I said, simple, but this is a bold step for Facebook, and it shouldn’t be much of a step to having characters give out quests of their own instead of having them randomly appear while leveling.
At other times the characters will cower in fear at the site of some hideous beast they’ve seen lurking in the forest shadows and you’ll have ten or so minutes to comfort them before your fun level goes down. This can be alleviated by planting items such as a “Happy Oak” in the clearning near your attractions, which keeps characters in a small radius from getting spooked, although you’ll have to revisit it every couple of hours to keep the oak itself happy. Sometimes, admittedly, I found myself wishing that my inattention would cause the forest creatures would snatch my furry customers away if I waited too long, and that I’d have to embark on some quest to rescue them. If I failed or took too long, I’d have to face considerable damage to my fun level or another stat. Now that would be very John Romero.
On a technical level, Ravenwood Fair runs beautifully without much lag, although there was a single instance when I was warned that I was no longer synced with the server, and I lost an important item I had just picked up as a result. Otherwise, there are few issues, aside from a comparative lack of certain cosmetic options that will likely improve as the gain expands. Also, the forest is so dense that it’s fairly easy to waste an energy point if you misclick while trying to pick up coins or other items. Unlike many games with an energy bar, however, Ravenwood Fair makes regaining lost energy a fairly easy process with frequent energy drops from the trees you cut down. In addition, you can turn in 15 items of food that drop from the trees for three energy bars if you need more. As a result, I had cleared whole paths through the forest and was well into Level 4 before I even had to worry about getting new energy. This, surprisingly, makes for a fairly addicting game. Social interactions are basically limited to visiting your friends’ fairs for more resources, but thankfully the comparatively low costs of items ensures that you can do well in Ravenwood without too many friends.
After last week’s debacle surrounding privacy violations on Facebook, Ravenwood Fair is just the sort of game LOLapps needs to clear their name, and it helps to come out with John Romero’s famed guns blazing—even if they are cute and cuddly these days. Romero, officially just a consultant for the project, has stated elsewhere that the team will expand the game if interest is high enough, and it’ll be worth revisiting the game in a few months to see if they’ve moved a step forward with character interactions. As it stands, Ravenwood Fair is a perfectly enjoyable game, but all it needs is a hefty push to achieve greatness. LOLApps is on to something big here if they handle it properly, and I for one can’t wait to see what they have hidden deep in the forest.