Your Smurfs are dead, long live The Simpsons

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th March 2012.

If you’ve been spending the last few months tending to your Smurfs’ Village on your smart phone, I have some bad news for you. You may have spent hours and hours forcing your little blue children to tend to their crops all day and night. You’ve occasionally broken their smurfy monotony by making them build new mushroom houses in order to increase your village population. Houses inside which your Smurfs will never be allowed to rest. You’ve woken up at all times during the night to play pointless mini-games to earn experience points so you can advance levels and add new crap to your virtual village. How does it all end?

This column isn’t about the rights of overworked Smurfs or the folly of wasting your life keeping imaginary creatures alive. I can’t talk. I had a tamagotchi in the late nineties and my Smurfs’ Village is up to a healthy level twenty four. However, I am predicting that we will all soon be abandoning our blue friends and replacing them with yellow ones.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out was released for the iPhone last week and immediately rose to number two on the Free Apps Chart. It has proven to be so popular that the EA Games server crashed and most players were unable to access the game. On Sunday, the app was pulled from the iTunes store and is currently temporarily unavailable.

Like its Smurfy counterpart, The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a free-to-play time management game that costs nothing to download but has the potential to become quite expensive. The game starts with a hilarious animated sequence that is worth the download alone. Homer, at work in the nuclear power plant, has become distracted at his console playing a Smurf-like game on his “myPad” which results in a radioactive explosion. With Springfield wiped off the map, it is up to Homer to put the town back together, one building at a time.

To earn experience points or XP as well as game cash, players must send Homer to perform various tasks which take different amounts of time to be completed. As you complete challenges and earn points and money, more Simpsons characters are unlocked and new buildings can be added.

Being a time management game, the challenges play out in real time. To grow corn on Cletus’ farm, it will take ninety days, literally. To overcome this, players may choose to use donuts to make time past rapidly. Donuts are the premium currency of the game and are earned very slowly as the game progresses, however, similarly to smurfberries in the Smurfs’ Village, those fine people at EA games will also sell you donuts for real money via your iTunes account. The high cost in donuts of premium buildings and features, combined with the slow rate of free donuts earned, suggests that you might be opening your wallet to spend some hard earned real dollars sooner rather than later,

The game features voices, artists and writers from the TV show, resulting in a novel approach to a familiar genre. The game controls and structure took a little while to get used to, but the lengthy tutorial should have you adding the Simpson’s house and the Kwik-E-Mart to your new Springfield in a few minutes. I managed to play the game over the weekend for a few hours before the server crashed and enjoyed it although I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating on my Smurfs.

My prediction is that you’ll soon be ditching your Smurfs for Simpsons, however, until the game is restored on iTunes, your little blue friends have been spared for a few more weeks.

Published in: on March 6, 2012 at 07:26  Leave a Comment  
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The Smurfs are Shonky in 3D

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This column was originally posted in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th January 2012.

They’ve been absent from popular culture for many years but if you’ve been anywhere near a television or magazine in the past few months, you will know that they are back. They’re annoyingly cute little people, singing and dancing at the drop of a hat, and led by an even more annoying father figure. No, I’m not talking about Young Talent Time. It’s the Smurfs.

The Smurfs were the brainchild of Peyo, a Belgian cartoonist. First published in 1958, it wasn’t until the eighties that Smurfmania hit Aussie shores. At the time, Smurf figurines were exclusively available via BP service stations. I remember harassing my Dad whenever we filled up at a BP to buy me the latest Smurf. I eventually amassed quite a collection and even had two mushroom houses. I really should find these again in my parents’ basement. They might be worth something.

There was the cartoon series on TV as well, which spawned that irritatingly catchy theme tune that will never leave your head once you hear it. Sing along with me. La la la la la la, la, la la la la. Yep, you’re now infected. I’ve also got a few cassettes of the Smurfs singing bizarre songs about Smurfin’ Beer (tea with honey) and such.

Of course, just like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, Rubik’s Cubes and Lindsay Lohan, the general public eventually lost interest and the Smurfs were tossed onto the scrapheap of past fads.

Fast forward a decade or three and our little blue friends with communist tendencies (that’s for another column) have returned. The original cartoons have been reissued on DVD, complete with a Smurf figurine in the box. A new live action feature film, with CGI Smurfs, was released in cinemas in 3D last year and has just hit video stores and shelves.

The spearhead of the Smurf invasion this time comes via our phones, rather than TV or cinema screens. The Smurfs’ Village for iPhone and android phones is an award winning game that is sweeping the world. When I say award winning, I mean that this past year, The Smurfs’ Village won a 2011 Choice Shonky Award.

You see, the game is free to download and the premise is easy. Similar to SimCity and Farmville, the object of the game is to grow and develop your village. Starting with a few Smurf workers and guided by Papa Smurf, you must grow crops, build houses and slowly build up your population. After a few easy levels, the objectives become time based. And by that, I mean extended periods of time. Growing a crop of golden corn takes ten hours. Papa Smurf will often send two workers away for a mission taking 24 hours.

For those players, such as me, with minimal patience, Smurfberries allow you to bypass the clock and make crops grow and complete missions instantly. They can also be used to purchase extra items for your village which will also help you move to the next level faster. You start the game with a few berries but then you must buy them, with real money. 50 Smurfberries will set you back $5.49. 2000 Smurfberries (yes, this is actually an option) will cost $109.99.

From a consumer perspective, this game is deserving of its shonky title. It is really easy to rack up a large bill on your (or your parent’s) iTunes account. There are reports of gamers unknowingly spending hundreds of dollars on Smurfberries.

From a capitalist view, it is brilliant. Charge people money to buy virtual currency to purchase virtual features for their virtual village. It really is money for nothing. Why didn’t I think of this?

Be warned, The Smurfs’ Village is extremely addictive. This writer got up at 4am this morning to harvest some virtual tomatoes just to avoid paying for Smurfberries…again. My village is now at level 14 and I have 25 hard working (they don’t sleep) Smurfs under my control. How does this game end anyway? Probably when I lose interest (likely) or go broke (even more likely).

The Smurfs are back and they are taking over the world, one iTunes account at a time.

Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 06:41  Leave a Comment  
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Why aren’t cassettes collectible?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd May 2011.

When it comes to music, many people have an affinity for vinyl. The gatefold sleeve is the perfect size to appreciate the cover artwork and design. The music somehow sounds more alive to the ears. And halfway through the album, you get to have a short intermission as you turn the record over.

For me though, growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the music format of my childhood was the cassette. There certainly was a record player at my home in Olola Avenue but placing the needle on the record was all a little too challenging for my coordination at the time. Playing records at the wrong speed was amusing for a while. Everything played too fast sounded like The Chipmunks, with the exception, of course, of The Chipmunks.

History has shown that cassettes were anything but collectable. They were small and cheap looking. Their size reduced any fantastic album art into a postage stamp and they tended to warp into a twisted mess when left in the sun on the dashboard on a hot summer day. And every now and then, the tape player would decide to eat the cassette, spilling the precious brown stringy contents of Through the Roof ’83 everywhere.

There are several notable cassettes that I remember fondly from my childhood. Despite my assertion that tapes aren’t collectible, I still have these gems packed safely aware somewhere. I’d love to update them to CD but so far I am yet to find them anywhere. I can’t enjoy the cassettes either because, just like a VHS player, I don’t have a tape deck anymore.

Magic Monkey was a soundtrack album to accompany the classic ABC series Monkey Magic. Released in 1978, it features the music of the Japanese band Godiego. My favourite tracks were the closing credit song, Gandhara, and the catchy theme song. I still can recite every word of the title sequence monologue. “In the worlds before monkey…” I’ve seen no sign of this album on CD even though the complete Monkey Magic series has been released on DVD.

The Disco craze in the late seventies didn’t last long. In fact, it came and went faster than The Village People movie, Can’t Stop the Music, could be written, filmed and released. But that’s another column, plus I own the soundtrack on CD. I may regret admitting that. Disco still managed to trickle down to children’s records and that brings me to two cassette classics.

Mickey Mouse Disco was released in 1979. It sold two million copies at the time, peaking at 35 in the US charts. Featuring vomit inducing disco versions of Disney staples such as Chim Chim-Cheree and It’s a Small World, it is pure saccharine. I’d love to cruise down Summer Street with my windows down pumping this album out. Alas, it is out of print in all physical formats.

Not wanting to miss out on the Disco dollars, the Children’s Television Workshop (and the letter C) released Sesame Disco in 1979 as well. Featuring Disco Frog, sung my Kermit the Frog and the English language destroying Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco sung by Cookie Monster, the album is a hoot and now impossible to find. Me miss me album of Disco.

My final MIA album is Father Abraham and the Smurfs. Unleashed upon the world in 1977, selling half a million copies, this album pairs the titular blue creatures with bearded Dutch singer Pierre Kartner. The Smurf Song from the album went to number one in sixteen countries, but my favourite track is Smurfing Beer (you don’t get drunk and it isn’t dear).

I’d also like to mention that there are several Young Talent Time albums on my must find list as well as two classics where the casts of A Country Practice and Neighbours attempt to sing popular songs, but I don’t want anyone to think I have bad taste in music.