Wednesday, August 21, 2013

App Review: My Muppets Show

Disney's latest app for iOS and Android is My Muppets Show.  As is often the case with Disney's mobile games, My Muppets Show is actually a Muppet themed re-skin of the existing game My Singing Monsters. Given its musical theme, it's not hard to see why Disney decided that My Singing Monsters' format would be a good fit for the Muppets, even if it feels a little forced at times.  The app tasks you with creating digital versions of all your favorite Muppets, as well as a few newcomers designed just for the game, as well as cleaning and decorating a stage for them to perform on.

For the most part, My Muppets Show is a relatively standard FarmVille style simulation game, probably the most frequently seen genre for mobile devices next to endless runners.  All the obligatory trappings are present and accounted for:  currency for buying new characters and performing tasks, a second much more valuable currency that is hard to acquire but is also required for certain things, lots of busy work to attend to, menus to navigate, and lots of timers to wait through.  If you've played any games of this type before, you'll feel right at home here.

So, ultimately, what's the goal of My Muppets Show?  Simply put, it's to get lots of Muppets on stage.  Each Muppet has an instrument to play, or a little vocalization to sing.  The more Muppets you get on stage, the more the music builds, eventually turning into a full-featured song.  It's a pretty clever mechanic, and it helps that the songs you are creating are quite catchy.  It also helps that the Muppets who speak and sing are voiced by their actual performers, which provides a nice sense of authenticity to the experience.

By mixing two Muppets together you can "digitize" new Muppets to add the show.  It's a little bizarre but it works well enough as a method for obtaining new characters though the outcome is pseudo-randomized and it can be frustrating when combining Muppets doesn't produce the character you're going for.  Feeding Muppets various types of food helps them level up and produce more money, used to unlock more content and purchase more resources.  Rinse and repeat.  You start off in the classic Muppet Theater, but after filling it out, you can unlock other stages that provide a blank slate for building a new show with different characters.  It's a bit strange that you have to start from scratch again on each stage, but it's also fun to build up multiple shows simultaneously.

Normally, these types of games hold little appeal to me since, frankly, they barely qualify as games.  There's no over-arching goal, no plot, and really no gameplay to speak of.  You tap on some stuff, wait for the timer to tick down, and then tap on some more stuff.  Games of this type are also a breeding ground for heavy handed in-app purchases.  These kinds of games are usually free to play, but many actions are often preceded by a lengthy wait-time that can only be skipped by using some of that elusive extra special currency that is so hard to acquire.  The most desirable unlockables are also usually locked away behind prohibitively high fees.

Typically the only way to reasonably get enough elite currency to get the job done is to spend some real deal money, and games will often introduce further artificial limitations the longer you play without paying anything.  It's an incredibly popular tactic in mobile gaming these days, and one I find rather tasteless, especially in games that don't have much actual gameplay to speak of in the first place...

To a certain degree, My Muppets Show is guilty of most of the above mentioned problems.  That said, My Muppets Show does a surprisingly good job of avoiding the annoyances typical of the genre.  Diamonds are the elite currency here, and you are able to spend real money to stock up if you so choose.  Thankfully, diamonds aren't critical to enjoying the experience that My Muppets Show has to offer.  The main annoyance you'll have to put up with is waiting for timers.  Most actions in My Muppets Show are followed by a wait.  Waits for some tasks, like removing garbage from the stage, are fairly quick.  Tasks like acquiring new characters, on the other hand, can take up to twelve hours to complete.  You can skip these waits, but that requires far more diamonds than you normally have on hand, so if you don't want to wait you're going to have to fork over some cash.

However, if you don't mind waiting, My Muppets Show can actually be pretty enjoyable.  Beyond the wait times, what you see is what you get, so you don't have to worry about the game impeding your progress further the longer you play.  It's a good game to play for a few minutes at a time.  I often load up the game in the morning, do the tasks available at the time, get all my timers going, and then set it aside for the rest of the day.  Then I come back to it at night and repeat the process so I'll have progress to check up on in the morning.  The wait times are the main restriction to contend with here, so as long as you don't mind setting the game aside for a while to let the timers tick down, you won't need to spend a cent to experience My Muppets Show.

Ultimately, My Muppets Show is an enjoyable little diversion.  Despite adhering closely to the conventions of the genre, it's still a notch above the typical FarmVille-esque game. There's not a whole lot of actual gameplay as a result, but unlocking new Muppets, building up the number of performers in each song, and sprucing up each stage is compelling enough to keep you coming back for a few minutes each day.  It would be nice to see the Muppets in a game that aspires to be a little more than a typical freemium title, but they manage to pull it off with a fair amount of class.

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