Say this about Game Insight: when it has a good thing, it knows not to mess it up. Since mobile gamers ate up the more story-focused take on city-builders presented in The Tribez, it didn’t stray too far when plotting a course for the sequel. Besides torturing the standard concept of pluralization even more, The Tribez & Castlez doubles down on the narrative and graphics while retaining most of the core gameplay from the original.
The biggest difference since the first outing is the setting. The Tribez & Castlez moves the action into the future, relatively speaking, by having the scientist who helped the Tribez crash-land in a medieval kingdom run by a Prince Eric. Given the fact that said landing smashes the magic crystal that holds Gobools, Trollums and other fantasy monsters at bay, the least he, Aurora and the tribezmen can do is help him rebuild and defend his land (and if you can figure out how all the tribezmen fit in the ship, please let me know).
Repairing the infrastructure is a delicate dance of resource management. Housing structures are needed for workers, used for all other tasks. Everything else you build costs something — gold, food, wood, stone, etc. — while producing something else. As you upgrade structures, you’ll be able to choose whether to produce small amounts of resources quickly or set the buildings for longer cycles to get higher yields.
And unlike other games of this type, there’s actually a point to continuous play since a number of achievements can be earned by completing tasks during a single play session (others are cumulative over all of your play). That’s important, as achievements allow you to level up faster, unlocking more structures and helping to advance the plot. You can also earn gems, the game’s premium currency, via achievements.
Free gems are good. The omnipresent “deals” asking you if you’d like to buy more at great rates aren’t as nice, but the game does have to be monetized somehow. It’s also a little too easy to accidentally spend gems to speed up tasks, as simply highlighting a building and then tapping on it again without another tap somewhere else can kick your tribezman into turbo mode and deprive you of some precious gems.
The other bummer is that even once you’ve cleared out every bush and tree and filled in every hole, the development of your kingdom is very much on rails. Many areas can’t be accessed until you’ve completed certain quests or reached a minimum level of influence by building decorative items. However once the requirements are met, you can add new plots of land with (lots of) gold or gems.
A variety of quests propel the story and give you some direction as you carry out your tasks. With at least three going at any time, there’s almost always something to do, and they’re the best way to appreciate the way Game Insight has populated the game world with quirky personalities and vivid character designs. Those are details you don’t often find in city-builders, which is what The Tribez & Castlez still is at its essence.
Some quests require you to fight off attacking monsters, which can be done by automatic defenses or workers; preferably both. There are also outposts outside the castle that need to be tended to once you’ve advanced far enough, as well as the ability to visit your friends’ kingdoms to help them out. Other social features are what you’d expect, but you need to be careful with the Twitter and Facebook integration options — they’re opt-in, but they send out tons of notifications to your followers if you activate them and don’t uncheck every achievement and level-up.
On the other hand, if you have lots of friends who enjoy casual games, they might appreciate being told about all of this game’s small details. The world certainly feels alive, with workers going to applaud Prince Eric when the red carpet rolls out for him, and an ominous dragon shadow that passes over your castle at regular intervals. On a visual level, this is state of the art for a mobile builder in just about every aspect.
Alas, The Tribez & Castlez is banking an awful lot on those visuals and the brave new world inhabited by its characters. The gameplay might be familiar enough to breed contempt from big fans of The Tribez, but for anyone looking for a mobile builder that can be played either in short bursts or longer sessions, this extra dose of the last letter of the alphabet isn’t bad.
+ Transplants characters from the first game into a colorful new setting
+ Relies more on story and personality than most games of its genre
+ Top notch visuals and animation
- Too easy to accidentally spend precious premium currency
- Social media integrations get very spammy if used
= Core gameplay very similar to the first Tribez