Almost two months ago, we ran a review about Pocket Planes, the popular game where you play as an air traffic controller and coordinate planes across the world. I loved the review, so I picked up the game and played it. A lot. For a long time. And at one point, I realized that it was more about maintenance than fun, so I was confused. Turns out, that repetitive action in a video game has a name: Grinding.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a grinder, that’s for sure — but it is a lot of fun. Come on down and take a trip to Springfield with me, and let’s see what Homer and the gang are up to.
It’s a typical day at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, and Homer Simpson is playing a game (what appears to be Smurf’s Village) and he complains about all of the stupid in-app purchases and how it’s very slow going. Alarms start flashing behind him, and just like that, the nuclear power plant blows up, leveling Springfield and leaving Homer alone in the middle of a field.
Your job is to put the town back together again, however you see fit. With each item you place, you gain experience points and cash — and occasionally donuts. The pink-frosted delicacies (mmm … sprinkles) and the money are your currency for the game, so you need as much of both as possible. The further you go, the more people you unlock and the more stuff you can do. But of course, there’s a catch.
Once you’re on the ground and ready to build, you’re walked through a pretty thorough tutorial that knocks out the first few levels quickly. Once that’s done, you’ve probably got four or five characters unlocked, and the next few go along pretty gangbusters from there.
The game makes it clear from the beginning that cash buys you stuff, but it’s the donuts that you really want. These serve not only as currency, but they’re also the catch. See, these donuts can speed up time — and you’re going to need a lot of that.
The Time Part
Being a grinder, to gain XP and cash you need to do tasks that take real time. If you want Flanders to earn $3 and 1XP point, you can ask him to Condemn Science, which takes 45 seconds. But if you want to earn $200 and 46XP, he needs to do Emergency Bible Studies. That takes 8 hours.
These are real hours, not just game hours, so if you want those 46XP, then you have to wait 8 long hours. Granted, you don’t have to actively play the entire time, but still.
So to speed up time, your option is to use the donuts you’ve already earned (which isn’t a whole ton), or buy them via IAP. Technically, you don’t need to buy them. But you’re going to want to, and that kind of sucks.
There is a balance here that I’ve found, however. Some tasks that take 24 hours to accomplish don’t earn as much as a task that’s less than half as long would earn if done two or three times. So if you do that shorter task twice, you’ll actually earn more long term.
The Social Aspect
The game also gives you the option to visit your friends’ cities and then steal their stuff. To test this, I setup different accounts on my iPad and iPhone and tried to get them to connect. It didn’t.
Although this is supposed to give you a sense of integration with your pals, the problem is that connections were sporadic. I could find my iPhone’s game from my iPad, but the other way around only worked once out of four attempts. Whether it was a network thing on their end or not I really don’t know, but the Wi-Fi signal was strong on my side.
When I was playing Pocket Planes, I found myself with my iPad propped up to the left of my keyboard so I could tap the screen occasionally to get something done. That’s exactly how things operated with The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Is it fun? Yes. But since I don’t want to spend a small fortune in IAPs, it’s a waiting game. That can drain on you after time, as it did to me.
But the nice thing about this game is that it’s the Simpsons, not some pixelated characters in an airport. I wanted to add more characters and see how big I could get my city. Sure, I understand that’s where they get you, but I was fine with putting in my time because without using IAP, it doesn’t cost me anything extra.
iPad or iPhone?
In my testing with the app, I put the iPad and iPhone against each other to see which one is more fun. Unfortunately, there’s no syncing that I can tell, so even if I wanted to play the same game on the two devices, I couldn’t. But what I could do is play against each other.
Overall, this game is much better visually on the iPad. The bigger screen makes it much easier to tap everything you need, plus it’s easier to see the characters (which can get kind of small). Don’t get me wrong, I’d play it on either device. But if I had to choose just one, it’d be the iPad.
Grinding games can be a bit annoying, but when you’ve got the right motivation, things become a lot more interesting. The Simpsons: Tapped Out isn’t a perfect game, but with a little bit of strategy and a whole bunch of time, you can do pretty good.
I spent a good few days on the game while doing this review, and I think I’ll probably spend another week or two in Springfield before I leave. I’ll check in every now and again when I remember, but it won’t be the end of the world if I forget. And that’s just fine with me.