Monday, April 23, 2012

Alright Then, Just A Small One...

I get plenty of use out of my iPod Touch. I listen to podcasts on it (mostly Mayo and Kermode, sometimes the odd MMOcast). I watch a lot of YouTube. I convert my DVD movies and watch them on the tiny little screen, where the experience survives astonishingly unimpaired. I even use it to listen to music (mostly Lana del Rey and Peggy Sue at the moment, thanks for asking).

Surprise surprise, attacked by a boar
One thing I don't often use my iPod Touch for is playing games. I've tried a few. Ravensword looks great and oozes atmosphere even though the two-fingered control system leaves half the screen obscured most of the time, but looks aren't everything and I soon found the combat very annoying. Battleheart I played once, which was one time too many. Fabled Lands I did enjoy to some degree but it's fundamentally an animated "Choose Your Own Adventure" book and I never liked those all that much to begin with. Author Dave Morris has a blog of the same name which I found a lot more interesting than the game.

Daily Mail sub-editor in missing preposition shock!
The one game I do regularly play on my iPod is Broken Sword, superbly converted for the new device with a lot of additional content. The iPod format suits a point-and-click adventure much better than it does any attempt to mimic the movement and combat controls of an MMO. Tapping objects or characters on the screen when you want to examine or use them is, if anything, more intuitive than using a mouse and in the case of Broken Sword the top-class voice acting and soundtrack are deeply immersive over earphones.

Was Ireland ever this sunny?
I guess the market leader in mobile MMOs is Pocket Legends. It was the first app I downloaded when I got the iPod and I played it for an hour, amazed just to be holding an MMO world in the palm of my hand. I don't think I ever logged in again. Maybe Order and Chaos has overtaken Pocket Legends as the small-screen brand leader in MMOs now. I wouldn't know. I haven't tried it. Maybe if they add pandas...

Anyway, I'd about given up on finding something that looks and plays like an MMO only at 1/10th scale. Then I came across Elemental Knights.

Explosivity to the max
I'm not saying that Elemental Knights is good. It's not, or not especially. It appears to be a standard Korean style grinder with anime graphics and a fairly obstreperous cash shop. But it very much is an MMO. It doesn't just have all the elements, it has them all in the right order and working as you'd expect. The quest-givers stand there giving out typical "kill this" "fetch that" quests, the mobs in the newbie yard hop about oblivious to their inevitable imminent demise, big damage numbers float into the air as you thrash about with your unfeasibly huge sword, junk goes into your inventory, lights flash as you level up etc etc etc.

The controls are extremely easy to use and unobtrusive. Your character can be steered with one hand, which means you can actually see most of the screen all the time, which is nice because what you're looking at is a quirky, attractive world. Well, the little I've seen of it so far. I'm not making any great claims for it, but I've played it half a dozen times so far and had a passably amusing time.

Plants have girls' names, boys have hair ribbons.
All in all, though, I find the iPod screen just too small for MMO gameplay. It's pretty hard to read the quest text and very fiddly to manipulate the menus and inventories. The same wouldn't apply to a Tablet device and that's where I would like to see some real, full-feature MMOs turning up. And a good one would give me that last push I need to make the purchasing decision that I've been putting off for the last 12 months.

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