Windows Phone 8 got its first proper taste of Xbox-enabled freemium games when Gameloft’s Real Soccer 2013 debuted earlier this year. But that game reached for players’ wallets so deeply and so often that we could barely enjoy it. Now Gameloft gives us another freemium game, the social city builder Ice Age Village. Don’t let Real Soccer 2013 or Glu Mobile’s Bug Village sour your feelings toward this one; it is less buggy than its genre predecessor and even players who choose not to spend any real currency can have a good time.

License to build

Ice Age Village story and goal

Believe it or not, Ice Age Village actually marries the content of the Ice Age movies with the city building game genre in a fairly organic way. See, 2012’s movie involved everyone’s favorite supercontinent Pangaea breaking up as it had been exposed to Kryptonite, and presumably a bunch of malformed CG animals migrating as a result.

That’s largely the story of the game, told in cut scenes through still pictures and fairly well-written text. The animals of prehistory have lost their homes due to continental drift, and the protagonists of the series, Manny and Sid decide to form a village in order to house them all. Every time the player unlocks a new species to house within the village, that’s another critter making its way to the new safe haven. Heck, even the genre’s staple premium currency of acorns is organic to the movie series. Well done, game and movie makers.

Reap what you sow

As with any game of this type, Ice Age Village gives players two primary objectives: the acquisition of resources and increasing experience levels in order to unlock new content. Three kinds of structures contribute to those ends when placed throughout the village. Note that many unlock and become available for purchase with coins based on the village’s level, while others can be purchased at any time with acorns.

Animals

Ice Age Village

The most important resource producers in the game, animals dole out both coins and experience. They come in all shapes and classes, including mammals, fish, birds, and dinosaurs. Placing a new animal within your village gets the resource train rolling, but in order to maximize output you’ll want to acquire a whole family of that animal: two adults and two offspring. Each new family member costs the same as the initial family member – think of adding to a family as leveling up the unit.

As an added wrinkle, all children (even hairy mammals) start out as eggs. These take varying amounts of real time to hatch, from half an hour to four days. Once the egg hatches, its human owner has twice the total breeding time to pick it up – so a 30 minute egg would need to be picked up within one hour after completion. Take longer than that and you’ll have to pay one acorn to recover the baby. Thankfully the game signals egg readiness with toast notifications.

Fun stuff

These structures include recreational buildings like swings, slides, ice skating rinks, etc. Unlike animals, they only produce coins and cannot be leveled up. On the other hand, retrieving coins from fun stuff always takes only a single tap; the coins then get picked up instantly. With animals, you have to tap to make the coins appear and then either tap the coins or wait several seconds for them to automtically get collected – a bit more work.

Both animals and fun stuff produce resources based on timers. They can take anywhere from 30 seconds to two days in order to cough up their coins. The idea behind games like this is that you check on them throughout the day rather than tear through them for hours at a time.

Decorations

Trees, statues, flowers, and other inanimate objects can pretty up your village. They also increase the coin output of adjacent animals and fun stuff. Planning your village layout to maximize the number of resource producers within the radius of decorations will result in better long term payouts. But decorations cost money and take up precious space, so you should probably wait until your community is well established before splurging on them.

Random events

Ice Age Village Daily Bonus

While many of the resource producers in the game take hours or even days to dole out coins, Ice Age Village does provide some incentives to keep the game up and running for more than a few minutes at a time. The main one is snow piles that randomly appear in open spaces throughout the village; new ones won’t show up when you resume the game after a period of inactivity. Snow piles contain coins, acorns, and tokens to play the Kung Fu Scrat minigame (which itself gives players a chance to win precious acorns).

Scrat, the rodent that audiences maliciously love seeing come to harm in the movies, also shows up at random intervals during active play. Catch him to get a coin bonus that increases based on your village level. For more details on catching Scrat and the Kung Fu Scrat minigame, look to our Achievement Guide.

Small world after all

Ice Age Village expansion

Ice Age Village encourages dense village layouts in two ways. First, the bonus that decorations provide means you’ll want stuff clustered around them instead of spread out. Second and more importantly, space itself is always at a premium.

Players start with only a small amount of usable space. Expansions come in small batches at the cost of either coins or acorns. The coin cost increases exponentially with each expansion. Eventually, each new expansion costs a whopping 10 million coins more than the ones before it. My level 40 village produces between 300,000-500,000 coins a day, so it will take weeks or months to expand once you hit that ten million coin choke point. Gameloft wants us playing long term, after all!

That density-oriented design underscores the game’s two key control problems. One, it’s way too easy to tap the wrong thing by mistake. I can’t count how many times I tried to make an animal drop its coins only to select a different object instead. The problem especially annoys because it would be so easy to fix. Just make it so that a tap anywhere within a fair radius of a structure that has coins or experience to give automatically picks that structure and NOT one that has nothing to give. Bam, players would select far fewer objects by mistake.

The zooming controls also need major improvement. Now, I’m never a fan of pinching to zoom, but at least it works as intended about 90 percent of the time in most games and apps. In this title, it works half the time at most. Far too often I tried to zoom in only to zoom out and vice versa; other times the zoom level just didn’t change with the pinching motion. A simple on-screen button to toggle zoom levels would feel so much better, but at the very least Gameloft should tighten those pinching controls.

Finally, the Facebook and Gameloft Live integration are broken at launch. Gameloft has promised an update to fix them, thankfully. In the meantime, visiting random villages works as long as you don’t tie either social account to the game.

Achievements

Ice Age Village

Unlike Real Soccer 2013, you can complete this game without spending any real money. It will just take a very long time.

Many of the Achievements involve completing specific collections of animals – in other words, maxing out 4-member families of certain species that fall within a collection. A total of five animal families must be bought with acorns, the game’s premium currency in order to get certain Achievements. Acorns are slow to come by if you don’t pony up and buy them with real money, but at least grinding for them over time is an option.

Check out our Achievement Guide for codes for free stuff and a more in-depth Achievement rundown!

Overall Impression

The general crappiness of Bug Village may well cause many Windows Phone gamers to be wary of Ice Age Village. But if you actually try both games, Ice Age Village is about a million times deeper and more competent than its last-gen competitor. True, the controls need work, and the borked social features and mislabeled IAP prices all keep this one from perfection. Some of that will get fixed before long!

But the movie license is so well integrated and surprisingly charming in this context (I say this as someone who finds the movies insultingly stupid), and the number of animals and objects to buy so vast (even with the other versions' Dino World update MIA so far), that Ice Age Village still turns out better than average overall. Low-stress games that users check in on intermittently throughout the day are a great fit for phones. Give this one a chance and stick with it as your village gains a few levels. You’ll either get hooked or at least walk away a few Achievements richer.

Ice Age Village is a free 73 MB download for Windows Phone 8. Get it here from the Windows Phone Store.

QR: Ice Age Village