Adventure Bay sails at top speed

Spoiler alert! Adventure Bay tops the list of the best social networking games I played since the iPad’s release. It adds new wrinkles to a tried and true formula and may well be the game to try if you’ve never played online before, or are growing tired of the ones you play now.

It’s been a week since New Year’s Eve and I’m still not ready to return to work. I’m surprised I’ve been able to bang out the blogs I’ve written so far. It isn’t writers’ block or the usual post-holiday blues.

Nor is it laziness. I know it’s not laziness because I’ve been working very hard playing the games released around Christmas time to see if they deserve reviews. Not to mention the games I became aware of because I discovered AppShopper, the app the App Store should have been (and which I will review soon).

I’ve played hidden object games, puzzle games, strategy games. I finally downloaded the Hasbro/EA games once they dropped the prices to a dollar from the outrageous prices they were charging. Except for Risk. I downloaded Risk for the full price and the next day they announced the sale.

I’ve been petting kittens and looking for coins in couches, farming in Farmville, cutting strings with knives to feed candy to frogs, looking for clues in a detective noir game ironically released in full color. (Don’t they know what “noir” means?) I’ve been squashing and bowling zombies, interviewing virtual employees, and wondering if I didn’t take a wrong turn with my life somewhere because there has to be more to life than iPad games.

Most of all, I’ve been sailing the high seas in Adventure Bay. I can’t believe how much time I spent reviewing Adventure Bay. I actually made it to Level 30, the top level, in two weeks.

I know other people got there quicker, almost 500 players (to be almost exact). But I did it without buying bucket loads of spice, the game cash they always try to suck you into buying. (Okay, I bought one bucket load, but that’s singular.)

And I did it with no help from Carol who took one look at the game and decided she was gamed out. (Although, to be honest, she discovered Touch Pet Cats and readers will know that once she found a game with kittens she would never be tempted by a game with ships).

In some ways I’m disappointed that I made it to the top level so quickly because now I will have to tread water until ngmoco:) and Bonfire productions decide to add new levels and new islands, which usually takes two or three months. On the other hand, I’ve played so many ngmoco:) games by now that I’ve learned a lot of the tricks to help me blow through the levels.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel Adventure Bay is the best social networking game I’ve played on the iPad. It’s not my favorite, but it’s exceedingly well-designed and implemented.

Following a faithful formula

Adventure Bay adopts a popular pulp formula: the south seas adventure story. You govern a small island and need to establish business and trade.

The Farmville formula remains embedded at Adventure Bay’s core. Readers may well know it by rote by now. You begin with a small plot of land to grow crops. You add more plots and also add shops for other players to visit. With the money from your shops and plots you add more shops, more plots, and expand your island.

In this game’s case, however, the characters play a pivotal role. They aren’t just decorations attached to the buildings. The buildings and activities follow them. As you level up and earn new characters you can take them on treasure hunts to find different totems. Characters include a boxer, cook, voodoo priestess, fire dancer, adventurer and gorgeous heroine.

New building provide a character who can explore the seas and look for treasure.

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Adventure Bay adds a number of wrinkles to the Farmville formula. As you earn new characters you can assign them to ships. The higher your level, the better and faster the ships. Each ship takes a player to a new island to collect treasure and fight armed pirates, soldiers and skeletons.

The voyages require strategy when players arrive at the destination. Each island requires more moves than a player’s character is allowed to make. So players have to decide where to move. Each move may unearth treasure or an obstacle to make their search more difficult.

Players start with two tiny schooners and upgrade their fleets until they have three galleons to lead their explorat ions.

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Different characters search for hidden treasure and fight a variety of bad guys.

Click image to see full size

Each shop and crop produce additional swag that players must collect and add to their treasure chests. Even decorative objects may generate booty and revenue, so players need to pay attention to what they add to their islands.

Social networking involves more than visiting other islands and ordering from players’ shops. You can also boost the speed of their ships to help them complete the voyages more quickly. In return, players send treasure chests back to your island to add to your bounty.

As you add items to your treasure chest you unlock more treasure, more money and more experience points.

Delicious design

The designers and illustrators working with the Bonfire team have done a great job of capturing the kitsch colors and quality of those old south sea movies. I almost expect to see Yma Sumac appear from behind a waterfall in full regalia and singing Kuwayay and Xtbay in her full 32 octave range.

The colors are lush and verdant (which makes sense since the game takes place on a tropical island) and the characters are drawn with a cartoonish flair straight from my childhood Saturday mornings watching Tex Avery cartoons. I would go so far as to say that the visual element of the game is as appealing as the game itself.

More variety

Like Restaurant Story, which I reviewed yesterday, Adventure Bay also gives players more freedom to personalize their islands. They can develop their islands as fortresses or resorts and as they climb through the levels they get to choose the island centerpiece. In most ngmoco:) games the centerpiece is determined by the players’ level.

Of course, freedom to choose comes with a cost, and personalized island upgrades must be purchased.

Spicing up the game

By now readers will have been wondering if there isn’t a hidden in-app purchase involved and those readers will have been right. It comes with the territory. The in-app cash cow for the developers is called spice and it’s the most expensive game cash of all the ngmoco:) games. I think it’s a little less pricey than Farmville’s farm cash, but not by much.

In other games players buy their theme upgrades by earning coins through the sale of game products to other players. Adventure Bay demands all upgrade purchases to come in spice. And a lot of it.

You also need spice when your explorers run out of steps and the island they’re exploring is still only halfway revealed. For five more spice, players get five more steps (which often is about a third to a half as many steps as they need). Fortunately, you have the option of abandoning the search with the booty you’ve collected, which is my preferred strategy, but it’s very frustrating to know you’ve left treasure behind.

The spice requirement for upgrades may well be my biggest quibble with Adventure Bay. In most games, when players purchase an item to place in their game, they have the option of backing out. Adventure Bay players discover the upgrade they clicked on is now permanent, and they are 50-100 spice poorer, even though they didn’t really mean to click on that option. Even worse, they will now have to spend an equally high amount of spice to recover the upgrade they had in place.

This happened to me when I accidentally clicked on the 65 spice fortress option after I had purchased the 50 spice governor’s mansion I prefer. To get the governor’s mansion back I would have to spend another 50 spice (or a total of 115 spice to correct my mistake), which would cost me $19.99 in real dollars at the spice store.

All of the island upgrades require spice, and the more elaborate the upgrade the more spice you haver to buy. If you make the wrong choice, you have to buy even more to replace it.

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I contacted ngmoco:) support and they begrudgingly gave back the 65 spice I accidentally spent (which wouldn’t have happened with the verification dialogue you usually see with purchases). But they made sure I knew they didn’t want to, they only did it because it was the week before Christmas and they would probably never do it again. This still meant I would have to spend 50 spice to get my original mansion back (for a net cost of 100 spice), so I wasn’t completely satisfied. But at least it wasn’t a total loss.

I decided to keep the damn fortress rather than go back into a hole with spice.

Slightly Unstable

Sadly, Adventure Bay has a tendency to crash, most often during explorations to other islands. In my experience 1 in 5 explorations will result in a crash. If you’re lucky, you will at least get credit for the exploration, but you will still lose the loot.

The game also crashes occasionally when players try to visit other islands, although this happens far less often. I suspect ngmoco:) will work the bugs out eventually, but they tend to be less speedy about it than other developers.

Adventure Bay isn’t the first social networking game to add additional puzzles and quests. The Danish import The Smurfs has additional challenges (although far less challenging) and Team Lava has already jumped in with a disappointing knock off Treasure Story. The iPhone game Touch Pets games require players to interact with and train their pets.

I do think think Adventure Bay delivers the best challenge, however. Sure, it will never provide the challenge of Chess or contract Bridge, or even a perniciously devious hidden object game. But for Farmville-style games, which remain extremely popular, it goes a long way forward.

Jenny Manytoes rates Adventure Bay

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over Adventure Bay. It’s fun, it’s stylish, and while the in-app purchases can be incredibly expensive, you can also avoid them completely and still fill your chest full of sparkling shiny swag.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Contact me at Email iPad Envy, or
Email The Hidden Grimoire.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars - Biscuits, Entertainment, Games, Social Networking Games. Bookmark the permalink.

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