It’s very rare for me to spend time playing an MMO, as I usually get easily distracted from ‘grinding’ and my internet connection simply can’t cope with the game’s mediocre graphics. However, the past few weeks have been an exception because I’m stuck spending Easter at my parent’s house. I’ve caught up on a good few handheld titles, but in between Journalism revision I just can’t help but need that home gaming fix.
So after looking at a few Massively Multiplayer Online games, I slumped with TalesRunner. Created in South Korea by Rhaon Entertainment, the track running racing game has found huge success in Thailand and Mainland China. It’s now been translated by Gpotato, the same company behind other MMORPG hits such as Flyff and Rappelz. Unlike these passive point and click affairs though, TalesRunner tries a different avenue by offering fast, accessible action. You’re going to find yourself frantically running, skiing and swimming to get to the finish line before your friends.
So apparently, King Henry wants to boost morale in his townspeople by offering the “Fairyland Sightseeing Racing Competition”. Not surprisingly, this has conveniently allowed the level designers to create maps based on Arabian Nights, Jack and the Beanstalk and other common fairy tales. The winners of this legendary competition will receive a stone too, capable of fulfilling any wish. Not only that, but every player gets the coined phrase of being a “Tales Runner”. How trendy. As with any MMO though, players are rarely going to be fussed with the context. As long as it gives a remotely logical reason to race, what else are you looking for?
There are around nine different characters to choose from, but only two are available to select at the start. They have the most easily spread stats, making them fairly forgiving for newcomers. After a series of quick tutorial missions, you’ll have all the controls you need to compete. Arrow keys alter the direction of your runner, Ctrl is used for jumping and there are two buttons for boosting and items. There are additional techniques such as a Rage Meter, timed boosts and double jumps, but these are optional and mean that TalesRunner is incredibly easy to pick up and play. Unlike most MMORPG’s, this is something you can easily load up and show to your friends.
Once you have the tools to race, you’re thrown into a menu screen that is packed with over the top colours and options. Similar to the golf MMO Albatross 18, the interface has a home screen with instantly large pop-ups for tips and clothing advertisements. Having played a few MMO’s now, I found ‘My Room’ (where you upgrade and equip your character), the shop and game options fairly quickly. However, to someone that is new to the genre this would be instantly bewildering. Very little help is given and players are left to simply discover for themselves what they should be doing next.
Luckily, the community is very friendly in TalesRunner. Hostile users can make or break an online experience and thankfully the majority of players were friendly and inviting on my server. Rather than look up a guide in your web browser, it’s always positive to be able to simply ask another Tales Runner how to solve a problem. The Messenger and Friend Request system is simple, but streamlined so that building a clan and talking to peers is very easy.
Rhaon Entertainment has created a wealth of game types to keep users interested. Survival 30 player races, Time Attacks and Relay Races are just some of the modes on offer. I’m always impressed that in a game that is free to play (their revenue is made through optional paid items and website advertising) the development team continue to add content. As the player gains experience new characters, levels and difficulty channels open up. This means that you’re always discovering something new and playing other people that are at an appropriate skill level.
The visuals, soundtrack and packaging have obviously been made with a younger audience in mind. The characters are small, cute and with bright eyes, complimented by equally vibrant and innocent maps. There is no blood when you hit each other and no explicit lyrics in the soundtrack or voice acting. TalesRunner doesn’t take itself too seriously, so if you’re looking for dark mythology from titles such as World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, this is not the MMO for you.
What really makes or breaks an online title is how addictive and responsive the game runs. On a connection speed of 3.5Mbps, I found that there were noticeable but small amounts of lag. In traditional MMORPG’s, this isn’t a problem because there is nearly always enough time to recover. However, in a game as frantic as TalesRunner this can pull you straight out of an immersive experience. With so much reliance on timing for boosts and jumps, races involving large amounts of runners can quickly become frustrating.
This aside, when TalesRunner runs smoothly it’s a joy to play. The controls are simple to understand but difficult to master, making each game frantic and competitive. That ‘just one more round’ instinct is present and you’ll find yourself filling hours with ease. The power-ups are balanced and the levels are built well for the desired number of players. Loading and draw distance is also never a problem for the above average graphics and engine.
If you’re feeling the impact of the recession, an alternative option is to play a free MMO like this one. It offers a unique experience that is casual, accessible and great in short bursts. If you’re willing to take some time with TalesRunner there is certainly depth below its cute visuals; just make sure you have a very stable internet connection.