Pocket Creatures

6.5 Overall Score

Written by on May 27, 2010 in

Woah! Hold up there. Put that thing back on your pants. This isn’t about Pokemon, so we don’t need the DS. If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad, go ahead and bring it out, show it around so you can feel special, then put it away. This unfortunately won’t be a game you will want to spend your hard earned nickels on unless it happens to be on sale for free.

Starting out in a hatching room your creature gets the help of your friendly finger to burst through its egg and begin the exciting journey that we call life. This first room is scattered with food, so I decided to be a good stereotypical American male and give every available morsel of food to my creature (lovingly named Bazoo) and watch him instantly plump up like a Christmas ham.

iPhone shaped stone tablets will frequently appear to give you instructions on what to do next. This is annoyingly done with full screen imagery, covering the game world with a multi-page illustration of things you can do. To make things worse, the Z-Ordering of screen objects becomes broken by these full screen tutorials causing particles to often poke through and show on top of them. Plus, the game does not pause when they are displayed, so as I hear my creature crying or whining while I’m viewing the tutorial I decide to act like a Good Father ™ and and bang through the screens without reading them to see why little Bazoo is freaking out.

The first tutorial tablets you get teach you how to move your Creature and how to get him out into the game world. I follow their instructions and without haste chubby little Bazoo is bouncing around in a forest kingdom full of wonder and fancy… and 2D art. The developers, for some reason, have decided to give us a cute, animated, 3D object for the protagonist of the game, however everything else is just a 2D texture slapped on a 2-polygon plane. The result is unfortunately not that incredible. The textures are very sexy, I’ll give them that. When placed next to the animated Creature, however, they just don’t look right to my eye. Plus, whenever Bazoo gets too close to something, he intersects with it causing interesting Z-Layering issues where parts of Bazoo would be in front of the 2D object, and parts of him would be behind it.

The remainder of the game is pretty much like a Tamagatchi, only combined with the Ooze from the second Ninja Turtles movie. The game world has a decent amount to do, providing you have the patience to figure things out or wait for the game to show you what to do. You can coax other animals out of hiding (more non-animated 2D objects that look flat and boring and inappropriate alongside Bazoo), which can be used as tools. The platypus, for example, can be used as a shovel to dig up objects and roots. You can feed almost anything to your Creature, and make him like it. Since I taught little Bazoo that poo is the tastiest treat in the world, he was often sick, and I had to dig up many roots to feed to him and keep him healthy.

There are many objects in the game world to pick up and store in your bag, however many of them I never did find a use for, like the skulls and gravestones (or at least they look like gravestones… maybe they are just vertical rocks). Seeds can be found laying around, and using the platypus to dig holes, you can plant them and grow various kinds of plants. I buried a few seeds and watched them grow, however the dynamic for this was honestly not all that exciting.

Poking your creature will make him angry and allow you to shock things with lightning clouds by drawing lightning on the screen in any pattern you desire. Unfortunately, in one of the many places that the developer’s Q/A team fell short with this game, it is easy to crash Pocket Creatures when drawing lightning if you decide to go nuts and draw all over the screen. This would have been a very simple crash to prevent by simply capping the amount of lightning you can draw on the screen, which is what Pocket God does. It is a case where they should not have said, “Well nobody will do that!”, because it was the first thing I did when I learned I could draw with lightning.

Another place that the game falls short is the menus system. Earning Achievements is poorly thought out, as when you earn one the game does not tell you what you earned. It only displays a popup with badly aligned text informing you that you have earned… something. I honestly still have no idea what achievements I won in the game, because the in-game Achievements screen requires me to go into OpenFeint to see what I earned, despite listing out what appears to be trophies for each achievement. Tapping these does nothing. Sure, I could have gone into OpenFeint, however the principal here is that I should not need to go into extra menus outside of the fiction of the game world to learn what I earned. It’s just bad design. And regardless of that, pressing the OpenFeint symbol on the Trophy screen doesn’t actually do anything, so opening OpenFeint from within the game appears to be broken, anyway.

The in-game menus, such as the Trophies screen, is another poorly designed feature, as the method to close these is not well thought out. As a gamer who has been playing games for nearly 25 years and making them professionally for 10, I expected that clicking outside these drop-down menus would close them. However this only gets the attention of my Creature, keeping the menu in the way. To close the menus, you have to tap the stone representation of your Creature’s face in the top-left corner. This led to a number of frustrating moments where I wanted to close a menu and would, by instinct, tap outside the menu rather than the stone face. This is something that could have been quickly resolved in a single session of focus testing and watching what people do.

Pocket Creatures is not a bad game, not by any means. In some circles it might even be called cute, and its similarities to Tamagotchi will probably garner it a number of fans – including Apple, who (as of the time of this writing) has placed it in the Staff Favorites category in the App Store. As far as this reviewer is concerned, however, I don’t believe the game is really worth the $2.99 they are asking. I’m a huge fan of sandbox and creation games, so I’m not against the game at all. It really comes down to the lack of decent Q/A, an incredibly poor menus system and a general bad flow of gameplay. Progression through learning what you can do is painfully slow, and much of the game world is not obvious in what you can and cannot do (such as being able to enter and exit one stone cave but not any other opening in the game). The graphics are pretty, even of they don’t all fit together, and the Creature himself is cute and generally well animated.

This is a game that younger children will probably enjoy, however the lack of speed in which things are introduced may caused boredom fast, especially in the same younger children that the game appears to be targeted at. If you happen to run across a day where the game is free, go ahead and grab it and play it, but unless the developers address the slow game progression and bad interface system, pass up spending money on this one and just buy a kitten instead.

A copy of the game Pocket Creatures was provided to The Married Gamers for the purpose of examination and review.  When not writing reviews and articles, Dave Calabrese runs his game development company, Cerulean Games, Inc. and enjoys the mountain air of Denver, CO.

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Author: Dave Calabrese View all posts by
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dave has always looked towards creative mediums as a way to showcase untold stories and to entertain others. From a young age, Dave would spend hours in his family's home creating home-made board games and writing stories. His father worked in the game industry, which allowed Dave the early insight on another direction he could take his creative inspirations in. He eventually found a job in the game industry, and seven years later had a stack of published games under his belt and a number of award winning titles to bulletpoint his resume with. Dave continues to pave the way to the future of the games industry by telling stories and entertaining through interactive mediums which will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you come back for more.

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