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Virtual Village 4: The Tree of Life

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Continue the story of the mysterious island of Isola, and the tribe of lost refugees. The island's chief is worried that life is slowly diminishing on the island and has selected a tribe of explorers to find the source of Isola's troubles. They discover, and inevitably populate, the hidden eastern shore of the island. Uncover fantastic mysteries, unravel the story of Isola, and save the Tree of Life in Virtual Villagers 4!
Explore the coast of Isola
Exciting new puzzles
Save the Tree of Life!


Something is wrong on the lush island of Isola. Life is drying up. Animals are disappearing, and the once bountiful environment is no longer providing. The chief decides to put together an expeditionary force to head off to the hitherto unexplored eastern shores, where, it is hoped, the root of the problem might be found. So begins Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life, the latest chapter in Last Day of Work’s popular casual sim franchise.
We start by surfing through a broad selection of villagers with the aim of creating an ideal initial tribe of five. We choose from men, women, and children ranging in years from toddler to middle age. Each has varying strengths in the game’s five skill categories: farming, research, building, parenting, and healing.
Generally speaking, the older the character, the greater his or her skill level. However, your best bet is to select a mixture of villagers, some old, some young, some male, some female, perhaps one with a baby (a clever way to quickly and easily bump up your tribe’s population by one), and definitely one child—because, as in as in previous entries in the series, kids are the only villagers capable of finding and picking up important artifacts, including scientific instruments, pieces of a mausoleum archway, tubes for a giant wind instrument, and edible mushrooms, which come in very handy when other food sources dry up.

The first thing you’ll note upon arriving at our villagers’ new home is that there is much to explore. Beautifully hand drawn, the village is filled with herb-giving plants, blossoming flowers, various rock piles and formations, the ruins of huts and docks, streams and waterfalls, and plenty of other, more subtle features that take a surprisingly long time to notice and find.
Most of these environmental elements hold some sort of mystery that needs to be discovered and solved. Clearing debris in a stream, for example, will allow it to encircle the village’s centerpiece tree. The diverted water will bring an end to one of the majestic waterfalls, but reveal a keystone that a villager with adequate research skill can examine, move, and place beside the tree to direct the water into a small pool in which our villagers can swim. It will then continue on to create a life-giving stream that will help restore a patch of dying reeds to vitality.
Discoveries like these take place regularly throughout the game as we slowly work to solve sixteen primary puzzles. Achieving most of these milestones is only possible through fortitude, hard work, and a dogged determination. Acquiring tech points, which are necessary for advancing the tribe’s knowledge of medicine, science, construction, and dendrology (the last of which is necessary to cure the game’s titular tree), requires much time and even more patience. And ensuring that our villagers are building their skills—by, say, repeatedly dragging and dropping them onto unfinished huts or the village laboratory—takes a special kind of resolve.

Of course, the irony is that, try as we may, micromanagement is all but impossible. As with its predecessors, Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life continues on day and night, whether the game is running or not. That means you can only guide your little villagers so much before leaving them on their own. When you eventually do come back you may be surprised at what they have accomplished, what mistakes they have made, and who may have died, either through starvation or old age.
But this has always been part of the series’ appeal. That it’s necessary for us to step back and let our little villagers live their lives on their own is a large part Virtual Villagers’ distinct charm. It turns players into the gaming equivalent of worried parents. We end up booting up the game whenever we have a chance just to check up on our little tribe and make sure that they’re on the right path.
Another feature sure to keep players coming back is the game’s trophy system. Trophies aren’t new for the series, but there are an unprecedented 80 achievements waiting to be unlocked in this latest installment, ranging from the simple—having a pair of your villagers mate successfully—to what can only be described as the obsessive—such as collecting 1,000,000 units of food or bringing 100 villagers to the level of skill masters. I don’t even want to fathom a guess at how long it might take a compulsive player to earn them all.

To say that Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life is just more of the same is both accurate and an over simplification. To be sure, returning players will instantly recognize its design, interface, and play style (and lament deficiencies shared by its predecessors—we still can’t scroll out to view the entire village, alas). But the simple truth is that this game, like its forerunners, is an undeniably fun and long-lasting play bursting with clever new environmental conundrums.
Put more simply, if there’s something wrong with Virtual Villagers’ formula, then I don’t want Last Day of Work to make it right.

It's time to travel back to Isola! Yes, that magical island paradise with the odd wildlife and mysterious ruins is back in Virtual Villagers 4: The Tree of Life, the latest installment in the Virtual Villagers casual sim series by Last Day of Work. The powerhouse of the field, the game by which all other village simulations are measured, is back to delve deeper into the secrets of the island!
The story begins with a recap of the first three games. After fleeing an erupting volcano, some of the descendants of the original settlers accidentally find the west side of the island, complete with abandoned children, and make another thriving settlement. The second settlement having gotten too big to sustain them, the villagers send out a scouting party that discovers ruins at the north end of the island, and learn much about the history of those who have gone before. Now, the chief of the northern settlement is uneasy. The magical plants and animals that make Isola such a welcoming place to live have begun to die off. What to do? Why, send off yet another expedition, of course!

During the intro, the first of the new changes found in Virtual Villagers 4 kicks in. Rather than being stuck with a randomly generated group, you get to customize an expedition party of five. Choose from a plethora of characters of different ages, genders, talents, and personality quirks. Once the selection is made, the real fun begins. Create a thriving settlement using those five people while simultaneously investigating and solving the riddles of this new area of the island. Find food, build shelter, research technology, and explore every inch of this strange new place while keeping the villagers happy, healthy, and thriving.
For the four or five of you who have never heard of the series it's simple. Complete tasks by picking up a villager and dropping him or her onto a particular area, like a berry bush to gather food, or the foundations of a hut to build shelter. Set some villagers to research and use the resulting tech points to purchase more advanced technology, allowing the village to grow and prosper while attempting to solve the mysteries of the island. Villagers who stay on task will accumulate knowledge, skill, speed, and expertise. Help them solve the riddles while keeping them dry, warm, and fed.
Virtual Villagers 4, like all the games in the series, runs in real time. That means even when the game is off, time is passing and events are happening. If you're going to be away for very long, slow down or stop time for your little friends. Otherwise, when you come back, well, occasionally it's not very pretty. Villagers can die of disease, starvation, or old age, leaving behind nothing but a skeleton and it's not fun to come back to those. Because of the time it takes to accomplish some of the tasks, Virtual Villagers 4 is a game best played in short segments, rather than in a marathon live session.
Gameplay has changed little from the first of the series, but new tweaks have been added, along with new puzzles to solve, new collectibles to collect, and a new mystery to solve. At the center of the story is the titular Tree of Life, a banyan tree that is near death. The central story revolves around this tree: why is it dying, how can it be saved, and why is it affecting all other life on the island.
Analysis: Virtual Villagers is one of the most popular village sim games around, if not one of the most popular casual games series in general. Virtual Villagers 4 doesn't change the formula much, but adds new layers of complexity that lengthen the gameplay and gives the player something to do beyond solving the central 16 puzzles. The later puzzles are especially complex, requiring a vast interwoven synthesis of technology, nature, manufactured goods, and manpower to solve. More fun for the Virtual Villager fan!
The hand-painted backgrounds and cutscenes are even more gorgeous this time around, enhanced by a wonderful, haunting soundtrack to set the mood. The menu controls which obscured the left side of the screen have been condensed and moved to the bottom, leaving the view of the stunning vistas unimpeded. The collectibles, a carryover from the last two installments, have been incorporated into the gameplay itself instead of being tacked on as an unnecessary side task. The little villagers have a wider range of clothing, hair colors, hair styles, and personality quirks than ever before, moving them ever closer to real, live virtual people rather than disposable pawns. If there's any complaint at all about Virtual Villagers 4 it's this: the jerky little animations of the villagers are getting a little old. It would be nice to see their movements smoothed over and made less cartoon-like.
Nevertheless, Last Day at Work has upped the ante and produced some fascinating, engrossing, occasionally frustrating but still marvelous casual gameplay that is fun for the whole family. Fans of the series will find a whole host of new things to love, and new players are sure to be hooked by those charming little islanders. Long after all the mysteries are solved you may find yourself revisiting your industrious little people to make sure they keep on thriving. Check out the gift of gameplay that keeps on giving!

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