Free Realms: Well, At Least They Got 50% Of The Title Right

It's a flying elf.  Quick, get the fly swatter!
It's a flying elf. Quick, get the fly swatter!

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.

10 thoughts on “Free Realms: Well, At Least They Got 50% Of The Title Right

  1. mlepinski April 30, 2009 / 1:31 pm

    I played Free Realms last night as well, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s not going to get me to dump my LoTRo subscription any time soon, but it seems like a nice game to log into for a short period of time when I’m looking for something different (or when no one I know is online in LoTRo).

    In particular, I really enjoyed the trading card game and the Bixie Defense mini-game. I did end up buying a couple of TCG packs [one of which contained a dog pet … ???], but you can play around with the begining of the Card Duelist quest line without buying any cards (the starter deck they get you works perfectly well for the quest matches that I got to).

    Ultimately, after reading several blogs on the topic, I think I’m less bothered than some about the “no so free” aspects of the game. I guess I’m of the mindset that I want enjoyable games with high production values to make money (so that companies make more of them!), and so if the hybrid subscription/RMT model works for Free Realms then more power to them. (In particular, the portion of the game that you don’t have to pay for seems a lot better than the “Free Trial” of most MMOs.)

  2. Pete S April 30, 2009 / 1:44 pm

    It’s a shame a company can’t make a game for kids and keep it a game for kids, in a way. I’m not pointing fingers…I was playing it last night, too!

    But I don’t think we ought to be too down on it, given that it wasn’t created for us. Mouse wiggling minigames, simple combat, matching items…that seems right for the 6-12 set.

    I’m with you on the Pay Us Guilt stuff, though.

  3. Capn John April 30, 2009 / 2:57 pm

    LOL at your wife nabbing the name Tinker Bell ! That is COLD! 😀

    Hmmm, you do realize she could probably eBay her account for a gazillion dollars, right? Maybe…possibly…actually, probably not. But if you could, that would make you guys Gazillionaires!

    Well, your wife would be a Gazillionaire, you’d just be a kept man. But you’d be kept by a Gazillionaire, and there’s no shame in that 😉

    Glad to hear Free Realm’s “Add Friend” mechanic works intelligently, unlike W101’s horrible attempt.

    I created an Account and played a bit of the Beta (before release) and was a little put off when it hung while presenting me with a Quest during the “Tutorial” and cut off the “Accept” button. I was stuck talking to the Quest Giver with no way of Accepting his Quest, and no way of Cancelling the conversation. Hitting Esc. just brought up the Menu, it didn’t cancel the current conversation. I couldn’t even move away to break conversation that way. I finally Quit the game. Of course when I reloaded it the Quest Giver was working just fine.

  4. Wade April 30, 2009 / 5:05 pm

    I’ve been playing it now and then since the (very short) closed beta. Still waiting on my free beta thank you gift (a hat, wow… … a whole outfit would have been better)

    Still has bugs, I ran into several just today, or perhaps glitches would be more accurate. All graphics related for a change, so no crashes or hanging.

    I like the kart racing and demo derby so far. The TCG is okay, but so much of that is luck of the deal. I usually either win 12-0 or lose 4-12, depending on which of us gets the better early cards. Combat is so-so, maybe will be more interesting when I get enough stars to add more fight skills.

    If they would have gone with either RMT OR a subscription I would have been fine with the game. But you need to sub AND pay for stuff. I may just stick to racing for free now and then, and nothing else.

    I just got it to be able to recommend or not to people that have younger kids, so not a big deal.

    The game engine and graphics are very nicely done and smooth. Wish some other games were as good!

  5. Starayo May 1, 2009 / 3:50 am

    I’m a level 20 postman, who moonlights as a ninja. I haven’t had this much fun in an MMO… ever. Free realms is fantastic, IMO.

  6. foolsage May 1, 2009 / 11:24 am

    I found the combat to be rather pedestrian; the Brawler didn’t really do much for me. The racing and demolition derby were the best jobs for my taste. Cooking was tolerable but seemed pretty pointless; it’s just a do-it-for-it’s-own-sake process. I didn’t dislike the game, and can see how it would appeal to 6-10 year olds, but I think FR will have a hard sell satisfying most adults for any length of time; the shiny wears off quickly. In trying to appeal to everybody, they’ve created a game that appeals to, well, kids, and a small subsection of adults.

    A Sniper job would be awesome though. Boom! Headshot! I doubt it’ll happen though, as it’s not really thematically fitting. Pity.

  7. Zeev May 2, 2009 / 2:01 am

    Again, SOE will decide in 3 months that *free* realms is not pulling in enough subs, then hammer out a brand new horror game to patch over Free Realms in about 3 weeks. It will fail and SOE might finally be absorbed into SCE and we can be done with Smed already. History repeats itself.

  8. Anjin May 4, 2009 / 3:49 pm

    Hey, Archers get a Sniper Shot ability at level 15. Kick it Legolas style like me.

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