For the longest time, microtransactions were prohibited in Windows Phone games. Microsoft’s Beards & Beaks dabbled in offering PDLC (premium downloadable content) last July. But no third party games offered PDLC until Gravity Guy’s January update. Before you can buy extra stuff for those games, you’ll first need to purchase the game itself. Bug Village, on the other hand, is the only freemium Xbox Live title so far. The game itself is completely free; developer Glu Mobile makes its profits from the title’s optional content purchases. While this style of game won’t be for everybody, you can color me excited for the potential of future freemium Live titles.
If you build it, they will come
Bug Village, like Smurfs’ Village and several other freemium titles, is a town-building game. Your bugs will be constructing their homestead in a human’s back yard. The yard is divided into two halves by a stream, over which someone has kindly constructed a bridge for the insects. The left side of the village is dedicated exclusively to bug homes and decorations, while resource mining takes place on the right side. The village itself never expands beyond its initial borders, but you’ll certainly pack the allotted space with objects and insects as time goes on.
At the start of the game, you’re given a single ant. The object of the game is to rise through the experience level ranks by completing tasks. Chief among the tasks is gathering acorns. Acorns are the primary resource of the game, used to build new insect homes, decorations, piles, flowers, and purchase food. Ants gather acorns from piles. Starting from level 5, you’ll recruit bees, who gather acorns from flowers for some reason. Maybe they’re trading the pollen and nectar for acorns behind the scenes – who knows? Completing tasks also awards you with XP, which in turn leads to leveling up and increasing the number of bugs, piles, and flowers you can have at one time.
Watch the clock
The process of gathering acorns (as well as building or upgrading bug houses) takes real-world time. Whenever you select a pile or flower (and have the appropriate number of free bugs to mine it), you’re given the choice of three task durations. These start out in relatively small increments: 15 minutes, two hours, and six hours from a small pile. But the larger, higher paying piles and flowers can take anywhere from one hour to two days to mine. Lengthier tasks pay larger amounts of acorns and XP, but shorter tasks actually pay better per minute.
The idea isn’t that you sit at your phone with the game running for an hour while a task completes. Instead, you play Bug Village in small spurts throughout the day. Check in, start or complete whatever tasks you can, and then check back later. Some gamers won’t see the point of this play style or get much fun out of it. Others like me will enjoy playing the game over the long term in tiny increments. It’s designed to be addictive, and it certainly can be, if it fits your lifestyle and you give it a chance.
Food for thought
Gathering resources isn’t the only thing for players to do in Bug Village. For one, you’ll need to feed your little workers regularly. Food costs acorns, but as long as you’re completing tasks you’ll be taking in much more than you spend on nutrition. Keeping the food meter in the green (nearly full) when completing tasks results in a fair acorn and XP bonus, so it’s worth doing. Besides, if you let the meter run empty (which takes about 33 hours), your bugs will fall asleep, cancelling all ongoing tasks.
Once every experience level or so, the game presents a new optional quest. These include building a certain number of objects, completing specific tasks, and more. Quests pay big and provide something else to focus on other than the normal grind. Then again, at level 21 the new task is to reach level 22, which you’d already want to do anyway – not very creative.
Games like this benefit from a little randomization – something beyond your control that necessitates a reaction. And so three different visitor bugs pop up at random intervals: ladybugs, stinkbugs, and antlions. Tapping the ladybug (who has fallen over) once sends her on her merry way. It takes three hits to eliminate a stinkbug, and he teleports to a different location after each hit. But if let him live too long, he’ll stink up the village with gas clouds, obscuring the screen. Antlions supposedly scare your ants but don’t actually seem to harrow them in any way; multiple taps knocks them back into the ground.
While I like the idea of the visitor bugs, their implementation leaves much to be desired. For one thing, they really should make sound effects to alert the player when they appear. Instead, the only sound effect any of them plays is when you rescue a ladybug. Worse, all three bugs have major hit detection issues. They often appear right next to flowers and other objects. The game prioritizes everything else over these bugs, so you’ll end up selecting a pile when you really wanted to hit an insect. Also, the stinkbug in particular has a ridiculously small hitbox. Even when he’s not obscured, it sometimes takes me ten or more taps to register a hit. Double tapping the screen zooms in and out for some reason (ugh), and naturally the game tends to zoom instead of hitting him too. The developers have told me these issues may be fixed in a future update.
Handful of coins
We’ve come all this way and I haven’t even touched on the PDLC yet! Bug Village’s second currency is coins, which cost Microsoft Points (i.e. real-world money) to buy. Coins can get you exclusive bug houses, decorations, piles, and flowers. They can also be used to instantly complete tasks rather than waiting for a timer.
All players start with 10 coins in the tutorial, but it also forces you to spend them. Other versions of Bug Village refund the coins after the tutorial ends, but not this one. Hopefully this gets fixed in a future update. At any rate, coins purchases are entirely optional, so you needn’t buy them if you don’t want to. For more information, see our premium content analysis.
Bug Village is something of a flagship title on Windows Phone, but it’s not perfect. For starters, every time you launch the game, it plays a loud and annoying jingle when the Glu Mobile logo pops up. Turning off the sound in-game does nothing to kill the logo sound, which can be disruptive when you’re booting up the game around other people. There’s a reason not one other mobile Xbox Live title plays a sound during the startup logo screens…
Also, Bug Village is a lengthy game by design. If you play without cheating, it will take about two months to ‘complete’ (i.e. get all the Achievements). The game drip-feeds new content like bees and antlions as players progress through the early levels. But after level 12 or so, the new content stops coming and it essentially turns into a grind. Glu Mobile would have been wise to include new mechanics and more meaningful content in order to retain player interest at higher levels.
Finally, the game launched with a few annoying bugs that were quickly patched out. A few problems still linger though. The one that keeps popping up for me is the display sometimes turns black for brief periods of time as I scroll around the village. This appears to result from placing a large number of objects in the village and is pretty much unavoidable. It definitely makes the game less enjoyable as time goes on. A few other gamers have reported that their visitor bugs stopped spawning, but it hasn’t happened to me.
Bug Village’s scant 7 Achievements were almost worth only 100 GamerScore, but thankfully Microsoft decided to allow free mobile games to offer the full 200. None of the Achievements require the purchase of coins to earn – just a significant time investment. Reaching level 25 and earning 300,000 acorns will take 6-8 weeks of dedicated playing. If that seems like too much trouble or you just don’t like this style of game, cheating by playing with the phone’s clock works too. See this Achievement Guide for the how-to.
Microsoft was wise to open the platform up to freemium titles, which do big business on other mobile platforms, PC, and Facebook. Bug Village works great on Windows Phone since you can play it whenever you have a few minutes to spare and then not worry about it again for hours. The content is a bit light for the time investment, but the game remains addictive. Now that Glu Mobile has shifted their business to freemium games, I look forward to more free stuff from them in the future.
Aspiring entomologists/architects can find Bug Village here on the Marketplace.