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Google Brings Games to Google+ (P.S: Where’s Mario Party?)

Last week Google introduced social gaming to Google+.  I’ll admit I’m not much of a “social game” fan.  To me, social games are very limited in scope and serve more as a mindless time-sink, rather than a interactive adventure.  They lack any real story or purpose…they embody everything about video games that I have to counter when faced with someone that enjoys bashing video games in general.  That said, I know there are quite a few fans out there (if my inability to hide “achievement announcements” fast enough to keep my news feed on Facebook clean is any indication of popularity).

“X” Marks the Spot for Games in Google+

X Marks the spot in Google+ Games

The implementation wasn’t much of a surprise – social games have become standard issue on social network sites and serve as a source of revenue.  The way Google decided to implement the feature, however, was a little interesting.  Social games are found under the new 5th button on your Google+ page that looks like the “X” shape of a directional pad on a game controler (It actually reminds me of the the old Gravis pad from back in the day.  When clicked it takes you to a page dedicated to your social games).

It is a two frame window – main display and sidebar.  The sidebar contains several navigational links.  There you can select from two filters – Featured Games or All Games.  I’m assuming this will expand into a system to sort by genre once the available game library expands beyond some predetermined critical mass.  The third option will show your “notifications” followed by the final area that contains your recently played games.

I like the layout because it is a simple and organized.  You can load into Google+ and select your game within 2 or 3 clicks.

The Games

Most of the games clearly mark themselves as being in “Beta” still, so I will give the developers the benefit of the doubt that the games we have access to are not finalized versions.  I’ve had several instances of crashing or failed loads – enough to take notice.   If you’re going to try some of these out, be aware it can happen.   The games take a minute (sometimes several) to start, at least here in China.  Which is a little annoying given the fact that these are not power hungry games, but it’s not too terrible.  Additionally, I could never get Collapse! Blast to load.  Clearly, there’s plenty of room for improvement, but hey, after 20 years of gaming, I’ve become numb to such inconveniences.

Overall, it’s a nice variety of games that are available.  As of the writing of the article there are 16 different games available for Google+ users to choose from –

  • 7 Puzzle Games
  • 3 City Builders
  • 2 Adventure Games
  • 1 “Worms” Variation
  • 1 Poker Game
  • 1 “Harvest Moon”/”Farmville” Variation
  • 1 “Mafia Wars” Variation

There are far too many games to review in one article, so I’m just going to give you the highlights.

The Puzzle Games

The largest of the group, the puzzle games, are your traditional lot.

Bubble Island

First up was Bubble Island.  It was suppose to be a variation of the game where you use a cannon to shoot certain color gems to hopefully create matches with similar gems hanging from the “ceiling.”  Matching gems causes the gems to disappear.  Any gems hanging underneath the gems that you eliminate are eliminated as well – this generates bonus points and creates a bit more strategy.  The catch is that after the first few stages, the ceiling begins to lower – if any of the gems lower beyond a certain penalty line, the game is over.  If that is too confusing, the easiest way to get general gist is to think of it as reverse Tetris.

Diamond Dash is probably the most boring to me.  The concept of the game is to click on gems that have at least  3 other gems of the same color next to them.  The more gems, the more points.  It is timed with the goal of accummulating the most points before the clock hits zero.  It is simple though, so if you need something very quick, it is an obvious choice.

The better game to give your mind a quick-fix is Bejewled Blitz.  Again the game is timed, but playing under the rules of Bejewled makes it far more interesting.  The only question here is when we are going to see Puzzle Quest introduced on Google+ games.

Sudoku Puzzles is Sudoku.

Flood-It looked boring at first, but once I played a round and lost, I changed my mind.  It isn’t as mindless as I thought.  Granted it’s not thrilling, but I’ll take this over Minesweeper any day of the week.  Your mission is to turn all the different colored blocks the same color by slowing absorbing the blocks by matching their color.

Angry Birds

Last, but not least, is Angry Birds.  Nothing new here.  The only fun thing about this game at this point is seeing if you can beat Mark Zuckerberg’s score on Level 1-1… Still, if you haven’t played it, Angry Birds is probably the best variation on the projectile game that has been around for decades – give it a whirl.

There is one more, but Collapse! Blast is one of the games I never could get to load.  I tried for several days, and on different browsers, but basically it always locked up my browser whenever I attempted to load the game.  I am going to assume it is something on my end, but I must admit that my gut instinct with these “browser based” games is that my  computer’s configuration should not be an issue. (I use the latest edition of Sony Viao’s Z-Series laptop, so power isn’t an issue I know.)

The City Builders

Dragons of Atlantis

Dragons of Atlantis, Edgeworld, and City of Wonder are the three “city builder” games provided in the initial release.  Each is a different take on the genre.  The general traits of a city builder is that the game consists of a plot of ground that can be built upon, various building with various functions that can be built, and some type of limited resource system.  The player must then decided the best way to balance building under the constraints of the resources available to him with the goal of building the most impressive/powerful city possible.

Dragons of Atlantis pits you as a member of 1 of 4 factions battling for domination on the sinking Atlantis continent.  While the background setup story suggests there is a conclusion to this game, that is in fact a misnomer.  As with each of the titles, there is no “endgame” to these titles.  One can only continue to build and fight off invaders until either you get bored with the game or the  game is shut down.  Edgeworld is the space version of the genre in the set. City of Wonder stands as the “Care Bear” version of the three as it removes the attack/defend element that is an integral part of the other two games.

All three games play well.  And the soundtrack is pretty good in these as well, though it will get old eventually after you’ve spent several hours in the game.  If you’ve played any Civilization or SimCity game, you’ll probably be underwhelmed by the options and controls available to you.  Still, if you’re stuck at the office and enjoy this type of game, definitely check them out as they aren’t bad.

Adventure Games

Zombie Lane

Not a whole lot to say here.   Dragon Age Legends has been available on other platforms before and it’s not bad.  Personally, I think it is a good game for what it is, but it may be overly complicated for this genre.  Zombie Lane is a point and click adventure where you are tasked with missions that help clean up the zombie infestation on your street.  Both are decent for what they are though it becomes a little mindless eventually.  These definitely require more focus than the the city builders, so playing them while at work can be tricky.

The Poker Game

The poker game, Zynga Poker, is a good transplant of the Zynga’s poker game.  Nothing much has changed over other versions, log in to the game, select some friends to play with if you desire, and then hit play to head to the table.  If you don’t bring your friends you’ll be assigned to a table with other human players.  The game keeps track of various stats like weekly winnings and highest winnings for the day by your friends.  Personally, I feel like this is the most “social” of the “social games” available.

The Other Variation Games

Crime City

The final section includes the other variations of social games you’ve probably seen or at least heard of from your “social game addict” friends.  The first is Monster World.  It is basically a Monsters, Inc.-ish “Farmville” game.  The next is Wild Ones.  Wild Ones build on the old PC game “Worms” but allows you to chose different animals and fight against your friends or random people.  Personally, Worms is a classic that can’t be adequately mimicked, but Wild Ones is an acceptable attempt.

The final one is Crime City.  This is Mafia Wars, but you have an Avatar that you can lead around and command to do your dirty work for you.  The game is essentially identical to Mafia Wars beyond that aspect in my opinion.  That said, it is still fun.  Hey, there’s always something satisfying about beating an informant into a pulp.

404 Error:  Games on Google+ Mobile App Not Found

Don’t look for any of the above titles on your mobile app, they aren’t there…yet.  Honestly, I don’t see why something isn’t offered within the apps.  Yes, most of these games have independent apps, but why not make Google+ the portal to these games just like it is on the browser.  Full integration.  Maybe we’ll see this in the future or when apps are finally replaced by browser-only software.  It would also cut down on the need for 200 different apps on everyone’s phones.  Finally, it would allow you to hide your games within your social networks so you wouldn’t have to explain why you play Monster World to your boss after he borrows your phone at dinner to make a call.  Seems like its win-win-win all around.

It seems like a great opportunity to allow (force) people to play the games with their other friends on the go.  I can just see the Atlanta Journal article back home in Georgia stating that the latest 20 car pile up on I-75/85 was caused by a driver involved in gang related shooting…in Crime City…ok, maybe these games shouldn’t be on mobile platforms.

Missing the ‘Social’ in Social Games

I’m not sure why we really refer to this genre of games as “social games”  because they are far from “social” in my opinion.  A quick game of Team Fortress 2 provides more “social” interaction than these games.  Granted, listening to some 13 year kid banter on about how “Bad-A” his last kill shot was isn’t exactly building some sort of mutual relationship, but still at least I know that I’ll never hire him if we ever cross paths in real life a decade down the road.

In most cases the “social” side of these “social games” consists merely of a MMO-style text chat box and the obligatory recruit your friends into your army, gang, harem…ok, maybe that last one hasn’t happened yet.  …Ok, now someone in Japan has read this article and is now hard at work on “Harem Hoarder Xtreme” …oh, the wonders of the internet!  But let’s face it, social gaming is as social as an IRC channel was 20 years ago – it’s “social” because no one has created the game that really screams social yet.  The bottom line is the current social system just doesn’t foster social networking and interaction other than demonstrating to you the negative effects of nagging your friends can have once they block you.  It would be neat if if Google somehow integrated the “Hangout” feature with games to create a virtual “Mario Party” setting.  Mario Party on Google+ now that would be cool – get on it Google!

What google+ social gaming should have been: Hangouts + Mario Party

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