Video game publisher Zynga is on a bit of a roller coaster. In recent weeks, the social gaming giant dealt with news good and bad. But most industry analysts agree that the San Francisco-based studio can put most of its difficulties behind it with some new hits. Zynga launched CityVille 2 today on Facebook as its first attempt to reverse its recent ill fortune.

Zynga East, one of its first external studios, developed this latest social game. Traditional gaming veterans Brian Reynolds (Civilization III) and Mark Nelson (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning) led the team with a goal of producing a city-building game with vast appeal.

“CityVille was a runaway hit that brought players a truly social and fun city building experience. It quickly catapulted to the number one most-popular social game, and it stayed in that spot for more than a year after it launched, reaching 100 million monthly players at its peak,” CityVille 2 director of design Mark Nelson said. “Drawing inspiration from the original CityVille as well as FrontierVille, CityVille 2 immerses players in a storyline peppered with quirky and interesting characters while also delivering a beautiful 3D town where players can compete with or play with friends as they build their unique city.”

The new standout feature in CityVille 2 is the “whodunit” storyline. Early in the game, a house fire sets into motion a series of events that lead the player through a mystery narrative. Nelson said he really wanted to bring the type of engrossing plots he worked on in Oblivion and Kingdoms of Amalur to a genre that usually glosses over that kind of storytelling.

Other new features include:

  • Fully 3D visuals
  • A full day-night cycle
  • Timed minigames
  • Unexpected events
  • A perk system

When I saw CityVille 2 in action, I was most interested in the timed minigames and the perk system.

The minigames add a sense of kinetic energy to a genre that is otherwise often static. In most social games, players wait around, click a button, and watch something happen. CityVille 2 borrows from developer Intelligent Systems’ Paper Mario platforming franchise by asking players engage with timing games that increase the effect of an action when performed properly.

The perk system fosters customization through active and passive effects. It’s like the perk system in any role-playing game. Nelson described a particular perk that would allow one of the city’s shoppers to go on a shopping spree which would boost the area’s economy by a certain percentage.

Zynga wants players to approach CityVille 2 like a bag of toys. It’s designed to work well for different kinds of players. Players that want to re-create their city can do that. Others that want to solve the game’s mystery can do that. And anyone else that just wants to mess with their in-game citizens can do that.

Will CityVille 2 reverse Zynga’s recent slide? I don’t know, but I actually want to give this game a try.