Update: Pingvinas is now only 80 Microsoft Points. 

Pingvinas is the Lithuanian word for penguins.  Why would they even need a word for that?  Does Lithuania even have penguins?  It would be like Southern California having its own word for polar bear, or Kansas having its own word for intelligence.  Well I don’t need a unique word to describe what I think about Pingvinas.  I thought it was pretty good, but it’s hardly without flaws.

Pingvinas is a strategy board game where you maneuver your team of 2 to 4 penguins across a grid of icebergs trying to collect the most fish.  To start the game, you take turns with your opponents placing your penguins on any iceberg that has only one fish on it.  Once all the penguins are placed, you can then move one of them per turn to another iceberg that is adjacent to the one you’re standing on, or to an iceberg that’s in a straight line from where you’re standing.  Once you move your penguin, the previous space it occupied sinks.   Every iceberg has between one and three fish on it.  Whoever has collected the most fish when there are no more possible moves is the winner.  It’s a lot like various peg-based games that you’ve seen over the years, and in fact this game is directly based on a popular board game called “Hey, That’s My Fish.”  Which in some European countries is known as Pingvinas.  Fancy that.

The game is fun, especially on Xbox Live.  With AI opponents, I found even the smartest ones (called “extreme” here) make really dumb moves.  Like any board game, it’s just better to play with real people.  Even then, the retarded AI managed to rear its ugly head.  As a game of Pingvinas nears its end, the game has a default option where all remaining moves will be taken care of automatically by the AI, even if you’re playing with only two human players.  At first, Brian and I applauded this design choice as a great way to eliminate several minutes of useless game time, especially when the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the computer was way less than intelligent and could potentially cost someone a victory that, if left to the human players, would be inevitable.  Once the board has been broken apart and your penguins have been nearly completely marooned from each other, the AI takes over.  Now in theory, that’s the correct time for it to take over.  The only “optional” moves left would be ones that you would use to intentionally get a lower score.  Guess which moves the AI does.  Yep.  And so you’ll see situations where a penguin is alone with only two possible moves: move left or move right.  No matter what, this will be the final move that penguin is capable of doing.  On the left, you have an iceberg with one fish.  On the right, the iceberg has three.  I swear, without fail, the AI took the iceberg with the single fish every single fucking time.  If you had a string of icebergs left where option one was get every one of them and option two was only get a couple, it would always end up getting the fewest possible.  I figured that maybe it was possible the game still had some kind of fail-safe in place that would prevent someone who had basically already had won from losing because of this.  That wasn’t true either.  It took me a while to set up the circumstances where I had enough spaces left where I would win the game if the auto-finish moved correctly.  It didn’t, and I lost.

Thankfully, this dimwitted feature is optional.  Just make sure that you turn it off before beginning a game.  Some other bugs weren’t so optional.  The game crashed on me once while I was trying to select the color of my penguins.  Another time, Brian and myself were halfway through a game when it just refused to let us play any further.  We still had plenty of spaces left, but the game was busy having a sulk.

Glitches aside, Pingvinas is a lot of fun and I do recommend it.  This is the type of strategy game that I would love to play online as often as possible.  Which brings me to the main problem with it: the price.  240 Microsoft Points is too much for what it offers.  Yes, it is fun, and that’s all that should count.  But in reality, most people don’t want to pay 240 Microsoft Points for a game they perceive as being an “amateur game.”  Gamers get those for free all over the internet, or on their phones.  Meanwhile, you can get some absolutely spectacular games on XBLIG, or elsewhere, for $1.  Pricing something like Pingvinas at $3 in a marketplace with such low support as Xbox Live Indie Games seems like suicide to me.

I lost several hours this week to jAggy Race, a game I got for free* on my iPhone that slays your typical $3 XBLIG in quality. I feel the average gamer will play a game like this and then question why anyone would have the nerve to charge $3 for their "amateur" game, whether they're right for believing that or not.

Maybe it shouldn’t be this way, but it is.  Gamers have come to expect to pay more and get less from their mainstream games.  A full disc release doesn’t typically get you what it used to.  Games are smaller, typically easier, and expected to be finished in a week or so.  Games like Skyrim are the exception to that, but in general most gamers expect less from their gaming dollars.

The opposite is true of indie gaming.  It’s where gamers go when they want to stretch out their budget.  Your game might have a value quality higher than the $3 you charge for it, but it will get ignored because that price buys three other games.  Considering that some of those $1 games are of unbelievably high quality and playability, seeing games like Pingvinas come out with a 240MSP price tag almost seems arrogant.  I personally had no problem paying for it, but my months on XBLIG have taught me that 240MSP games don’t sell and that I was likely to never find anyone other than Brian to play the game with.  Such a shame.  It’s a really good game, even if the AI makes more mistakes than a condom tester on her ninth trip to the abortion clinic.

Pingvinas was developed by Mobisation Germany

240 Microsoft Points anxious await the hits that Trailer Park King 2 will be bringing in sometime soon in the making of this review.

*jAggy Race is now apparently 99 cents in the iMarket.  I swear, it was free yesterday. 

A review copy of Pingvinas was provided by Mobisation Germany to in this review.  The copy played by the Chick was purchased by her with her own Microsoft Points.  The review copy was given to a friend with the sole purpose of helping the Chick test online multiplayer.  That person had no feedback in this article.  For more information on this policy, please read the Developer Support page here

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Indie game reviews and editorials.

12 Responses to Pingvinas

  1. Dcon6393 says:

    Nice review, it did look like a fun game. The fact that it has online multiplayer is nice to. My theory on XBLIGs is to make the game under 50 mb so you can sell for a dollar. This gives you best chance for success. The only people who are really going to pay 240 msp for an indie game are the indie fans. 80 mb gives you more sales, which means more people, which means more friends to tell about your game. The only exception is Minecraft style games. Sell those at whatever price you want

  2. idk if I agree with your comments on pricing. I read this a long time ago and it forever changed my views of selling software:

    In my own experience, I charged the max of 400msp for a text-based drinking game, and it sold disgustingly well. Then I made a cute twin-stick shooter with 30 player online and charged just a buck – I don’t think a total of 30 people bought it.

    In the end each dev must do what’s right for them. Do I want maximum exposure, or to focus on my best fans? Is the price meant to be perceived as an insignificant barrier to more fun, or a cost paid to own a quality product? Do you want to fight to get your New Release into another list ASAP, or will you focus on marketing outside of the built-in XBLIG channels?

    I think if more developers took real risks, stopped fighting for top downloads and top rated, and instead focused on building an indie community that exists within and outside of xbox, everyone would profit – and we’d stop seeing as many zombie-anime massage-gallery “games” meant only to follow a fickle zeitgeist.

    And to that end, is a beacon of hope. I just hope you don’t continue the fallacy that just because a similar, free game exists, a developer who put possibly 1000 hours of work into something doesn’t deserve to charge the same as a small starbucks latte. And that $3 (or $5) is for a product that could have real, lasting value.

  3. Starglider says:

    The presentation is good, XNA Arcade quality at least. For the AI the devs probably lacked experience with efficient heuristic search algorithms; getting these to run efficiently on the in-order X360 CPU is a rare skill. For sales I don’t think 80 vs 240 MSP is the main issue, rather the main problem is that the X360 is not a natural platform for board games.Games like this are easy to find on the PC (for free) and phones and both mouse and touch are more natural than an X360 controller for them, plus you’re much more likely to find online competitors.

  4. Kairi Vice says:

    Just so I’m clear, I recommend Pingvinas for purchase and I have updated the article to reflect that.

  5. John Getty says:

    people charge less for app store games because there is a MASSIVE market of people to sell to, even compared to XBLA. You can’t compare a $1 app store game to a $1 XBLI game, it’s just not a fair comparison at all. By your logic, no one should ever make a game again unless it’s up to Angry Birds standards (which is $1)

    • John Getty says:

      Oh and I’m referencing the picture of the race car game you put in the middle of your review 😉

    • That’s completely wrong on the App Store. People charge $1 out of desperation. As the App Store became popular, prices raced to the bottom in an attempt to stand out. Now there’s hundreds of new games every week, so people have to charge $1 to get stand a chahnce of getting noticed.

      A $1 game on the App Store isn’t making good money unless it’s in the Top 50 sellers or so. In app purchases can change that to an extent – it’s far harder to get people to make the initial purchase than it is to get them to spend more, assuming that you’re offering something they want.

      • John Getty says:

        So are you saying Angry Birds, Spy Mouse, Where’s The Water?, Bejeweled, Cut the Rope, Tiny Wings, and Tetris were all $1 as a desperate attempt to make money? No. The people who make crappy games charge $1 as a desperate attempt to make money because they know they can’t charge any more than that for their crappy games.

        GOOD games under a SMART company charge $1 because they know there are like 85 million app store users out there (according to an old Steve Jobs article, so it’s probably way more now) and they know their game can reach people and top the charts better at $1 than at $3. It’s not because they are desperate.

        Also, Apple doesn’t put prejudice on a $1 game over a $5 game on their “New and Noteworthy” list. A good game is a good game and will make that list regardless.

        Success on the app store has NOTHING to do with desperation, for the companies that actually put out quality games. You need to learn a little about marketing before you make bold statements like “you are completely wrong” and then proceed to not know what you are talking about.

        • I’m saying those games charge $1 because that has become the standard price for iPhone games. $1 became the standard price because the vast majority of the tens of thousands of developers were struggling to get noticed and dropped their prices to try to stand out.

          The 85 million users is irrelevant. You should never lower your prices just because a market is larger. Your aim is to maximize users times marginal revenue, not just users. $1 is the sweet spot on the App Store supply/demand curve because the supply is so much greater than the demand. And in any case where supply greatly exceeds demand, the vast majority of suppliers end up failing to make a profit.

  6. Pingback: Tales from the Dev Side: Magic Seal Pelts by Ian Stocker « Indie Gamer Chick

  7. This type of game has been overdone before. It’s cool that it is a hex grid instead of a rectangle one. Thank you for you in depth review. I’m glad we have this xblig review blog now.

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