Today my wife and I tenatively jumped into Free Realms, the Fisher Price simulator that comes across as the offspring of The Sims, World of Warcraft and Bejeweled. Oh, and Nickelodean. And Baby Einstein. And Mario Kart. Basically, it’s a schitzophrenic game that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up, so it refuses to do so and clutches every toy it can grab close to its chest.
Free Realms gives one the feeling of being a baby once again, who is apparently throwing a tantrum because the game keeps waving different shiny toys in front of one’s face in an attempt to shut one up with something colorful and pointless. I never thought I’d say this about a MMO, but… there’s just a wee bit too much fluff here. It’s like I’ve gotten on a non-stop boat to the It’s A Small World Ride and I’ll never see Pirates of the Carribean again.
We’re trying it out — well, the “free” part of Free Realms, which is everything except 40% of the quests and 100% of the pets and lots of other goodies that Sony wants you to steal your parents’ wallets to pay for. This is yet another effort on our behalf to find a video game that interests both my wife (casual, Peggle-playing she) and myself (Mr. I Stayed Up Until 2:00am Last Night To Finish A Dungeon). With luck and time, FR might be that game, but there’s some serious speedbumps along the way.
The first is its incredibly patronizing approach to character customization. I don’t know why all tween-and-younger games do this, but all character creation options are just this side of a Tiger Beat cover (they do still publish that, right?). Perfect cute fashion and looks and dimples, ta da. Want to be a short fat weirdo? Perhaps looking to recreate your daring “brace face” look? Nothing doing. You’ll look GOOD, darn it, and enjoy your brief sojurn among the beautiful people of the world before being coldly dashed back into the decaying skin suit of your life!
Once through the tutorial, Free Realms turns into an amusement park of options and rides without anything overarching to focus on (such as storylines, zone progression, etc.). You just wander around, do whatever strikes your fancy, and click the ginormous candy buttons that fill up 1/8th of the screen, in case you’re five years old and navigating the mouse with your mouth. Bite down to accept the quest, junior!
In theory, I do appreciate the jobs concept — jumping in and out of different classes which are leveled up separately — but some definitely got the short end of the creative stick. Cooking and pet training seems to be a lot of mouse wiggling and tracing, which amused this 32-year-old man for about as long as it took for me to find the “Cancel” button. Combat is semi-realtime with an extremely streamlined interface and set of skills — gee, should I click the “1″ or the “2″? Choices, choices! The only thing that caught our immediate attention was the racing karts/demolition derby, which is a smooth ripoff of Mario Kart without Toad’s overpowered set of skills.
I also peeked in at the trading card game (they don’t even say “trading card game”, it’s all acronyms, baby: TCG ftw!), and there’s real promise in that. Y’know, if I didn’t want to spend $4 a pop for 10 random cards.
That’s another thing about Free Realms that gnaws at me (and I knew it would) — it’s a game that allows you to play for free, and gives you a guilt trip the entire time because of it. You’re not a member? Why not! We have kids to feed too! Oh, you became a member? We still want you to pay for all this RMT stuff so that your kid’s virtual puppy can look better than his friend’s virtual kitty! It’s like walking by an endless stream of panhandlers in Candyland.
Okay, okay, I’m being a bit harsh for a game that is most definitely not targeted toward me, and for what it is, it does it well. Very polished, wide variety of gameplay, and the kids are going to go bonkers for it all. I guess I’m just not a “little something of everything” guy, but more of a “lot of a few things” player. We’ll give it some more time, and hopefully find a balance that pleases us both. It was a lot simpler to find each other in game and hook up as a group, which already puts it head and shoulders above Wizard 101 (oh yeah, and we can talk without worrying about a filter cutting off 95% of the English language in fear that we’re using “dilatory” in a perverted sense).
I’m just looking for a “Gunner” job. Sniper headshot on that baby bunny = 45 stars!
P.S. – My wife snagged “Tinker Bell” for her fairy character. I told her she just made a million little girls cry for claiming the rights to it.