Zynga Gets Adventurous with New Facebook Game Treasure Isle

Despite surveying users about Social City and trademarking hotel game names, it would seem that Zynga has a few surprises up its sleeves. After the release of the simplifed card game Poker Blitz, we suspected something bigger was also in the works — that was its first new launch since December.

But what we got was not a city builder or hotel management title. No, Zynga went with a very different concept as it released its newest Facebook game, Treasure Isle, last night.

In a nutshell, Treasure Isle is almost a quasi-farming title. Taking a page out of the growing number of tropical farming titles, this app has combined some of the popular elements of FarmVille with an old, almost point-and-click adventure. To that end however, the core objective is not to grow a bustling island farm, but is reminiscent to an older Facebook title called Treasure Madness. What is that, you ask? Seek out and find buried treasure across chains of islands within Caribbean-like sea, then build a tropical inhabitance.

Essentially, each island is broken up into an invisible grid space, and players expend energy to search each grid one at a time. Doing so will have one of a handful of results. Sometimes the player will find treasure, sometimes gold, sometimes nothing, sometimes fruit, and sometimes items to share with friends.

Regardless, of what is discovered, each dig earns a small amount of experience, which obviously levels your character, which, in turn, allows users to visit larger islands and unlock more decorations for your personal one.

This is where the farming and virtual space elements come into play. In Treasure Isle, users do not grow crops or trees to make money; they do so to hunt longer. Players can actually grow a crops to place in their backpack to eat while they’re out adventuring, thus restoring lost energy. Additionally, they can grow various “gem” trees that can be harvested and used as keys to unlock parts of the game’s 15 islands. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you can manually plant more that two plots of crops, but perhaps this will change as users level up and expand their island.

The fastest way to earn gold is to complete treasure sets. On each island you visit, there are one or more sets of treasure that consist of five pieces. Once completed, they are logged (as a sort of achievement) and can be sold for hundreds to thousands of gold.

Curiously, however, it does not seem like you can revisit a completed island – one in which you have dug up every grid space.

This gets tricky. It is quite possible, that the player will not find every piece of treasure needed to complete a set within that island, even if they dig up every grid space. However, it seems that only that island will give that particular treasure (i.e. the second island, Sunny Shores, gives Tiki Idols). Now, socially, players can send each other treasure they find, which is a great thing, but currently, if you do not find all of the treasure pieces, then that appears to be the only option to complete a set.

Perhaps that’s sort of the point? The company has been planning to add more truly social features to games, chief executive Mark Pincus highlighted in an interview with us at the end of 2009. It has honed group-driven quests in role-playing games like Mafia Wars so in some sense Treasure Isle combines that with the farming mechanic that has done so well in FarmVille and other games.

Anway, the game still offers plenty for the player to do on their own. As new islands unlock, greater amounts of treasure can be found and larger numbers of tools are needed to discover them all. From shovels to dynamite, players must purchase and use these to explore every inch of an isle. As a simple example, you cannot search through trees and plants until you buy a machete. This requirement actually adds a small amount of length to Treasure Isle. Though they are not terrible expensive, one often finds that most of their money has already been spent on leisure island decorations, and has to wait until the energy slowly recharges to go out and earn more. No, no, we didn’t do this… it was our, umm… friend… yeah…. Oh well, you spend money faster than you earn it sometimes.

While buying and earning tools does add a little to the game, the biggest boost to longevity comes from the islands themselves. They get very big, very quickly as you progress through the adventure. That said, it can take a few days to dig up an entire island in the upper levels. Combine that with the gates that require gems to unlock, and you have yourself a pretty long game. However, since islands don’t seem to be visitable once finished, the game play seems currently finite. A curious choice for a social game, and it will be interesting to see how Zynga improves the longevity (not that it isn’t long already). We can imagine all sorts of expansions taking users to, say, New York City’s Little Italy, Cuba, Moscow, Bangkok and Las Vegas — or given the all-ages them, maybe more purely G-rated locations like midwestern farms, Antarctica, space, etc.

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that Zynga’s attempt to allow emailing to users was much more creative this time around. As opposed to forcing players to allow it (otherwise they couldn’t play), like in Poker Blitz, players can dig up a “locked chest” which you must email to a “locksmith” to have opened. Doing so will sign the player up for email updates, and they’ll get whatever is inside as a reward.

Overall, Treasure Isle is a very fun game. It is a bit odd that Zynga would make a game that seems finite, but by the time anyone completes all the islands, that issue will likely have been resolved. Moreover, the tropical change is a welcome change of pace, and the limiting of crops on an island really focuses more on the creative, decorative element of the game, rather than seeing hideous virtual mega-farms that have about 10,000 crops, with all the buildings and animals crammed in one corner. Once Zynga’s cross-promotion kicks in, you can expect this game to grow pretty well, pretty quickly.