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Zynga, Montopia Cheat Gamers With Mediocre Pokémon Online Substitute

Opinion

By Scott Craft on September 17, 2012 10:46 AM EDT 0

Zynga's new cash cow, Montopia, cheat gamers who think they're finally going to have the opportunity to play a free,
Zynga's new cash cow, Montopia, cheat gamers who think they're finally going to have the opportunity to play a free, "Pokémon Online" substitute.


 Every moment spent playing Montopia cheats players out of their time, and maybe even a few dollars, with the worst attempt at creating an online Pokémon experience that I've ever seen.

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Few are unaware that Zynga's business model is dependent on the company's rampant, yet consistently terrible, practice of cloning highly successful games. Sometimes Zynga's developers try to cover their tracks, by merging the gameplay of several titles into an unholy abomination fit only for your torturing your worst enemies, but it isn't usually difficult to figure out which console, mobile, or PC hits inspired the company's latest cash cow. I won't pretend to recognize all of the hijacked material in Montopia -- thanks to a personal preference for mobile titles like New Super Mario Bros. 2 over "games" like CastleVille -- but I know a damn Pokémon rip-off when I see one. And this tops every fake Pikachu product under the sun.

I'm certain I'm not the only gamer who's hoped for an online Pokémon adventure; an online title with real longevity, but not one that drastically departs from the Gym Leader and Coliseum gameplay that the Pokémon series is known for. I'd also like such a game to come from the brilliant minds at Nintendo and Game Freak but, if designed properly, I'm sure I could settle for a similar title emerging from another developer. But there hasn't been a single company -- not even Nintendo -- that has tried to create such a game, until now. Enter, Zynga's Montopia mobile, a game for iOS and Android.

Let me be clear about one thing: Montopia is not the "Pokemon Online" adventure that I hoped for. It's not even close. In fact, Montopia is such an awful attempt at cloning one of the most fondly-remembered gameplay experiences of my childhood and teenage years, I'm actually pretty pissed off about it.

Montopia's gameplay is essentially that of Pokémon, albeit with a slightly modified version of the leveling and evolution system. Rather than leveling your Pokémon-but-not-really-Pokémon via battling -- which strangely does not really exist in Zynga's awful "Pokémon Online" wannabe -- players will increase the number and strength of their monsters via a strange and confusing fusion system. There don't seem to be any real prerequisites for the fusions, and the game does a poor communicating each fusion's effects to players. The game tells me that its making my minions stronger, but a simple tap of the screen certainly doesn't leave me feeling like I did much to earn it. Building your squad of Montopia monsters doesn't take much effort either, thanks to daily raffles and micro-transactions available to those who remain (quite unsurprisingly) unfulfilled by Montopia's "random" encounters.

The creatures found in Zynga's Montopia bear striking resemblances to many of the 646 Pokémon that have been introduced by Nintendo.
The creatures found in Zynga's Montopia bear striking resemblances to many of the 646 Pokémon that have been introduced by Nintendo.

 Even "battles" - if you can call them that - require little action outside of the occasional finger tap, and the action between Montopia monsters never even makes its way on-screen. A "tale of the tape" screen reminds you what attributes accompany the monsters you selected for battles, the screen flashes a bit, and then a victor is crowned. A couple of seconds after initiating the battle, you'll be shown the battle's outcome and a prize(s) if you win. Montopia never stops telling you that you've done something but, the problem is, you're never really quite sure what that something is.

There aren't any decisions to make about powers or abilities; strategic swapping of monsters for peak performance, or decisions that would actually make the conquering of Montopia feel like a challenge. It's the sort of "game" that could probably be played without ever removing your phone or from your pocket, or taking a peek at the screen of your tablet.

Montopia cheats players looking for a challenge on-the-go, with gameplay that does not require anything in the way of skill, reflexes, or the slightest bit of brain power. Everything in the game is accomplished via a simple tap of the screen. It doesn't even generally matter where your finger lands on the screen. Just tap it. With a single tap you'll find special items, new monsters, treasure chests in the middle of roads you can't stop following, and somehow level up along the way. You'll complete stages, earn gifts, and receive invites to "crews" that never seem to have any real purpose or sense of achievement accompanying them. Everything that you do in Montopia can, and will, be done with the use of a single finger. I recognize that gameplay mechanics of older titles like Tetris and Pac-Man aren't exactly rocket science, nor are modern titles like Angry Birds or Fieldrunners; but at least other games require players to be looking at the screen to guarantee forward progress.

Montopia is only available on Android and iOS devices, meaning anyone who plays the game has at least occasional access to the internet. If you have web access, then you also have access to a number of virtual marketplaces where you could acquire any number of Nintendo handhelds from the last two and a half decades. If you're the impatient type, you could probably even locate a used game shop or two in your area that sells classic consoles and portables.

My advice: Buy an incarnation of the Nintendo DS, and any of the numerous Pokémon titles that have been released since 1998 (preferably one that includes online battles and trading). Then, and only then, will you truly have the opportunity to play a game about pocket monsters the way it was meant to be played: Free of micro-transactions, non-existent gameplay, and truly competitive online competition.

Whatever you do, don't let Montopia cheat you out of your time or money. Even a moment spent playing the game would be better utilized advancing the story of Ash Ketchum or his successors.

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