Back when Xbox games for Windows Phone were more of a thing, Gameloft published a free to play city building game called Ice Age Village. That particular genre is mostly worthless, but many of us suffered through it any way for the Achievements. I do mean suffered, because Ice Age Village is a buggy game and the Windows Phone version was never updated with bug fixes or new content.
One year later, Gameloft brings a sequel called Ice Age Adventures to Windows Phone and Windows 8 and RT. The new game is still technically a free to play city builder, but vastly improved production values (Hello, voice acting!) and several design changes make for a much more enjoyable experience. Will it hold gamers' attentions without Achievements, though? Yeah, if you can tolerate the IAP mechanics, you'll probably have a bit of fun with it.
Saving the herd… again
Ice Age Adventures starts with nearly the same premise as the last game. Something bad happens, and all the animals in the Ice Age entourage get separated. Sid "Suffering Succotash" Sloth is charged with rescuing them. Soon he will recruit Manny "Man, Ray Romano is annoying" Mammoth and Diego "Promise you don't date my daughter Gwen" Saber-toothed Tiger, and the three will work together to find more animals.
Now, I don't care for the Ice Age movies (and I have endured several), but Ice Age Adventures' storytelling is still impressive. Every little exchange between characters is fully voiced-acted by very good sound-alikes of the voice actors from the films. There are way more discussions than you'd expect, too – Gameloft went all-out with the story in order to keep players motivated. The story doesn't go anywhere (of course), but kids will love the many conversations between characters.
Rebuilding the island
Although the goal of saving lots of animals is the same as in Village, the way you go about doing so differs greatly here. Sid and team actually get to visit new locations via ship, adding an element of exploration that you seldom see in games of this type.
When you reach one of these places, you'll find a variety of obstacles to clear, including trees, rocks, ice, enemies, mushrooms, and more. Tap one of these objects and one of your three heroes will clear it out of the way (some take two taps), gaining shells (soft currency) as a reward. Getting rid of stuff consumes berries, which function as energy in Ice Age Adventures. The berry costs get a lot higher as you reach new islands, limiting players' ability to zoom through the game.
Each island also hosts several buildings from which you can earn various prizes, including animals, berries, shells, items, and on rare occasions, acorns (premium currency). Simply tap a building and its roulette wheel will spin and then pop out the item.
You can revisit buildings to try for better prizes, but they take anywhere from ten minutes to several hours to become active again. This gets annoying when the building has an animal or item you need, because some of them have very low and unfair drop rates. It might take quite a few visits to get that item you're looking for, to the point that it delays progress in the game.
If the animal-hosting building decides to be kind and award you the creature, you'll still have to play through an endless runner-style minigame as Sid in order to actually rescue the animal. The minigame isn't really endless – you'll find the animal halfway through a level that lasts for a couple of minutes, and you win by reaching the end of it. Fail and you'll have to either spend acorns to continue or wait a few minutes-hours for the mini-game to open up again.
Alternately, some animals sit within circular prisons of ice. To free these guys, you'll need to complete a match-3 minigame within a certain number of moves. The puzzle game is usually fair (once you fully learn the mechanics), but sometimes it just doesn't give you enough moves. Failure means you have to spend acorns for more moves, or wait a few hours to try again.
After rescuing an animal, you'll want to return to your village and build it a home. These cost more and more shells, to the point where you'll eventually have to save up for a while just to build a new home. You can't rescue additional animals until the first creature's home has been built – not unless you spend 50 acorns (~$3.50) for an extra nursery slot. Each animal home produces berries over time.
Back in the village, you can play an endless running minigame using tokens that you dig up from snow piles or receive from friends. Instead of Sid, this version stars Scrat the Masochistic Squirrel. It actually goes on forever or until you die, which is really easy to do. Rescuing certain animals will cause those creatures to randomly spawn as power-ups within the Scrat game. They enable bonuses like a berry magnet, a one-time shield, and the ability to destroy obstacles for a short time.
The Scrat runner mostly pays out in berries, although you can also get a few items needed to unlock new areas if you survive long enough. I don't care for the minigame, though. Gameloft uses the same 3D engine in all of its Windows Phone 8 games, and that engine is fairly poor. The game runs at a low frame rate on my Lumia 1520. It's not unplayable, but the hardware can do so much better. Also, scientists tell us that most endless runners are boring as crap. Who am I to argue with science?
Get far enough in the game and you'll unlock a second island on which to extend your village. This island allows you to spend your tokens to play the match-3 minigame. It can be an excellent source of shells if you do well.
The mini-game has a few advanced mechanics that you might struggle to figure out on your own. Matching five of the same item creates a meteor, of course. Touching two meteors together will eliminate all of the items on-screen. Touch THREE meteors together and the whole screen will fill with hearts, which is very useful for completing puzzles.
Limp social features
Like most games of this type, Adventures offers Facebook connectivity for cloud saving and social features. The social features are disappointing, though. First, the game replaces some player names (but not all) with random animal names, making it difficult or impossible to tell who those players are.
Second, you can't visit friends' villages or send them truly useful items. All we can do is gift each other mini-game tokens. Tokens max out at five, so I usually can't even accept most of the tokens my friends send. Not very engaging! But if you're looking for a few friends for token sharing, be sure to stop by the Ice Age Adventures thread in our forum.
Ice Age Adventures suffers from many of the typical free to play trappings. It's far too easy to spend premium currency by mistake, and everything costs too much as well. Sometimes you won't be able to make progress in an area unless you have items that the game never gives you. In these cases, you'll have to spend acorns to unlock the area (as pictured above). I expect you'll have to make at least one in-app purchase in order to reach the second island as a result.
That said, the exploration sequences and mini-games offer some enjoyable diversions from the typical free to play city building monotony. The voice-acted story is pretty good too, probably more so for fans of the awful movies. And hey, it's a universal app!
I think Gameloft is on to something with the mixture of city building with honest-to-goodness game play. People who can tolerate the energy and IAP mechanics will certainly enjoy Adventures, at least for a while.
- Ice Age Adventures – Windows Phone 8 – 89 MB – Free – Store Link
- Ice Age Adventures – Windows 8 and RT – 92 MB – Free – Store Link