Review: Ngmoco Godfinger
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS
Presently released only in Canada with a near-term release planned for the rest of the world, Godfinger (Free*) is the latest entry in Ngmoco's freemium game arsenal, given away as a free download with an incentive system in place to make subsequent purchases. In Godfinger, the player is given a small planet to grow and rule with godlike powers. You start Godfinger with a single person on a very small planet and must convert that person to become a follower by impressing him with wonders. Initial wonders include basics such as rain and sun; more advanced wonders such as lightning and floods become available as you progress through the game.
Godfinger presents its planets and characters as cartoony two-dimensional art, effectively flat people and the cross-section of a roundish planet that can be panned and zoomed using normal touchscreen controls. It lacks any background music, instead providing only ambient background sounds such as chirping crickets and leaves rustling in the wind. Followers make simulated noises in the form of whimpers, grunts and sighs to express their moods, and appropriate sound effects are used when triggering wonders such as lightning and rain.
The big goal in Godfinger is to grow your planet and your power by generating gold and experience; you do this by repeating the initial act of converting a follower en masse—once you convert numerous people to followers, they will worship and work for you. Followers gathered around a totem pole create “mana,” which is required to exercise your divine powers, while other followers can be put to work on buildings such as farms to generate gold. The gold in turn is used to build more structures where your followers can work or rest. You must also expend mana to use your divine abilities to keep your buildings powered, such as making it rain on a farm; followers will tire out and must be given time off to rest at structures such as tents, fountains and campfires in order to remain productive.
As with Ngmoco’s other, similar release We Rule, you generate more experience over time, which lets you level up, opening more buildings and wonders for your use, collectively allowing you to expand your planet, terraform it, and create ponds and lakes that your people can fish in. Over time, zombies appear, and you must defend your people against them by using your divine powers.
Godfinger follows a similar time-dependent model to We Rule: gold and mana require time to generate. There is also a cap on the maximum amount of mana that you can accumulate at any one time and the amount of gold that can sit uncollected at your buildings. Uncollected gold will eventually rust and followers worshipping you while your mana level is full are merely wasting their energy. Again like We Rule, Godfinger runs on Ngmoco’s servers even when you’re away from the game, and push notifications can be used to notify you of events requiring your attention so that you can return to the game to take care of them. In their default configuration, the push notifications actually start to get annoying, as things happen pretty quickly in the background—farms run out of power, gold accumulates, workers tire out, and so forth. Fortunately, push notifications can be customized within the app so that you can stop notifications for events that you may not care about. Even so, however, Godfinger doesn’t feel as if it’s paced quite right: it’s neither fast enough to play in one sitting, nor slow enough to walk away from for any extended period of time.
Compared to some of Ngmoco’s other recent games, Godfinger has a relatively limited social system. The social features primarily consist of turning your followers into “mystics” that can be used to expand your world; any given follower can be associated with one of your Plus+ network friends—whether they are a Godfinger user or not—at which point that follower assumes the name of your friend and becomes a mystic, identified with a little halo over their head. Mystics are necessary to activate runes that are used to make your planet larger. You can also send postcards to your mystic friends to let them know how your planet is progressing, and daily gifts are also available to those of your friends that are Godfinger players. The real goal here, however, seems to be to encourage players to accumulate more friends on the Plus+ network, effectively turning your friends’ list into another form of in-game currency. Ngmoco’s Eliminate does the same thing, rewarding you for bringing more people into the game.
Much like We Rule, Godfinger uses the “freemium” model to aid impatient players who want to advance more quickly through the game. An additional currency called “awe” is used to speed up the game, with small amounts of awe being awarded as you level up, and larger amounts available via In-App purchases, ranging from 35 awe points for $3 to 750 awe points for $30. Unlike We Rule, awe can be “spent” directly to buy piles of gold (10,000 gold pieces for 90 awe), replenish your followers’ energy or resurrect them from the dead, recharge your mana, power-up your buildings or speed up their construction. All of these are tasks that can be accomplished in the game over time, however awe allows them to be completed almost instantaneously in exchange for real-world money. For better or worse, we did find that the “awe” system in Godfinger was less addictive than in We Rule, perhaps because there’s just less going on in the game that needs to be accelerated, or perhaps merely because we didn’t find Godfinger to be quite as compelling.
In many ways, Godfinger feels like an expansion of the popular Pocket God novelty app, minus the warmth; Ngmoco even includes a feature that lets you toss your followers around the planet to compete for distance on a Plus+ network leaderboard, highly similar to a feature included in Pocket God. Unfortunately, Ngmoco’s additions to the prior formula feel shallow: the social features are virtually irrelevant, all of the characters are essentially nameless unless you turn them into mystics by associating them with your Plus+ friends, and the game largely involves a repetitive cycle of building new buildings, collecting gold, and building more buildings, without even offering much variety among building types. By comparison with We Rule, which received our limited recommendation as it provides a compelling game for those who are willing to spend the time or money on it, Godfinger falls into our “okay” rating category as it’s far less engaging with more awkward pacing. The only really entertaining aspects of Godfinger are based on messing with your followers, and users who are into that sort of sadism would be much better off checking out Pocket God with its considerably more open-ended play model. It’s easier on your iTunes Store account, and the pace of its updates has demonstrated a devotion to pleasing users—at no charge—that Godfinger will be hard-pressed given its “freemium” pricing to ever match.