Version Reviewed: 1.0 (iPhone OS 3.0 Tested)
Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Graphics / Sound [rating:3.5/5]
Game Controls [rating:3.5/5]
iPhone Integration [rating:4.5/5]
User Interface [rating:5/5]
Re-use / Replay Value [rating:1.5/5]
We've all played a little thing called Habbo Hotel, and if you're not admitting to having done so, we'll take it as it's probably been your guilty pleasure, at one time or another. It's a concept first introduced by Finland-based Sulake, who consequentially now dominate the market.
The basic idea behind Habbo Hotel was simple. Create a virtual online world where anyone in the world can create an account and meet new people, while doing other reality-like based actions in the form of their virtual selves - and it proved popular. In fact, Habbo today has several million accounts registered, and has even managed to gain the attention of real-life well established bands and brands, making Habbo not only a place to meet online, but a virtual goldmine for advertisers.
Bobba Bar is a little different though. Firstly, we look at the name - Bobba Bar. This isn't a full virtual world like Habbo is, but instead it's a selection of virtual bars. Still boasting that Sulake style in-game play we all love, Bobba Bar is basically an online chat room, with visuals. In order to get going you'll need to create a Bobba.com account. Once that's sorted you'll create the virtual you. From the app's 'Avatar Creator' you can change and customize everything down from your shoes, to skin colour. Tapping a certain region of the charters body will allow you to change that item. Changing an item is as simple as swiping left or right. Below this is a colour scale, allowing you to change the appearance of your clothes, or currently selected item(s).
After creating the virtual version of you that you want to use, and logging into your account you'll be thrown into Bobba Bar itself. From the main screen there are four tabs along the bottom, including: Places, People, Inbox and Me. The first is Places, which we'll revisit a little later. For now, the 'People' tab lists all the people you've friended either by yourself, or on your travels around Bobba Bar. In the left right you'll find you'll find two options. The first is 'Invite Friends'. There are currently only two ways to invite firends to bobba Bar. Mail, and Twitter. Choosing the tweet method sees you having to surrender your account login in-app (which I've never liked anyway), but Sulake say they won't 'store' the password. The second option is to view your followers. Just like Twitter, followers in Bobba Bar are people who are currently following you, but you've yet to add or follow them back in your own friends list. To add a friend to your list from this section, just tap tham, and tap 'Add Friend'.
The next tab, 'Inbox' is pretty straight forward. This is a storage area for 'private messages' sent to you while online. Now although I like that you can look at messages sent to you, the app doesn't yet let you see the messages back as a conversation. Each message sent is displayed as sort of an individual text message. Open the 'Me' tab and you'll have the option to edit your avatar - Oh, I forgot to mention that you can edit your avatar at any time, anywhere. The system will just switch out the old you, with the new you, in real-time.
'Places' is where you want to be though, and that's where all the fun really starts to begin. Bobba Bar is currently a closed community of preset virtual bars, and these bars are split up into different genres. These include: Flamingo Discos, Tech Bars, Romance Bars, Terrace Cafes, Sports Bars, Beach Bars, Office Bars, Gamer Cafes, Summer Festivals and Block Parties - Some of which are in a different language, so make sure you check that. Quick note to the Apple fans out there; the Tech Bars have iMacs! Tapping any of these places sees that specific virtual room constructed in front of your eyes. Once fully loaded, you're free to take a look around!
Controls are very simple. Each room is tiled, and to move to a certain tile you just tap and your character starts moving. Throughout your time in these rooms, conversation is flying everywhere, between other citizens of Bobba Bar. These short messages are shown in chat bubbles located at the top of the screen. Each message is displayed for about 5 seconds, and then moves up and off-screen. This is one of my caveats with Bobba Bar; Messages move off-screen too qucikly! .. What makes this even worse is there's currently no way to go back and view previous messages in this on-going open conversation. Don't blink, will you? ..
If there's one thing I like about Bobba Bar though, it's that it's free to play - and when they say FREE, they really do mean FREE. Although there's not a lot you can do in Bobba Bar except chat with others, get a drink and start mingling, all this is free. Need a drink? Just move to a bar, type what you fancy aloud, and the bartender will take care of you. If they don't serve it, they'll tell you.
However, it's not the free drinks which will keep you coming back to Bobba (okay, maybe .. a little), if anything it's probably going to be its stunning 'Habbo-like' visuals. They're just vibrant and inviting. From the virtual characters, to green grass and moving seas, the bobba bars are definitely a relaxing place to spend several minutes. I say minutes because there just isn't anything you can do - Yet. Apparently, according to floating rumor, Sulake is working on bringing 'custom room building' to the Bobba Bar experience. I think this is what it's missing really. Just something to justify it's replay value. Something of substance. Essentially if and when the app gets this functionality, it will be Habbo. Well, ish.
There are a few other additions I'd like to see though. Besides being able create custom rooms, with custom objects (at which option I think we might see in-app purchasing introduced), I'd also like to see some form of trophies or rewards to completing certain tasks within certain bars. Another possible idea I like is the sound of being able to tap of a piece of furniture, and leave a note - Maybe even with location data?
Summing up, Bobba Bar definitely seems to excel graphically, but it's not there yet. The lack of features means replay value is almost non-existent, and from a company like Sulake, with Habbo under their belt, I honestly expected more. Regardless, feel free to add me as a friend. I'm razorianfly.