Review by Jerrynsteph4eva
"Unique MMO that grows dull after a short while...especially since there haven't been any content updates in a long time!"
In the early 2000s, gamers everywhere became addicted to an emerging new type of game: MMORPGs. While MMORPGs can trace their roots back to the 70s and 80s (with non graphical massive multiplayer games known as MUDs), the release and subsequent success of Ultima Online and Everquest led to the addiction of many gamers and soon everyone was scrambling online to play an MMO as companies tried to figure out how to make one their own. Soon, the market was filling up with games like Final Fantasy XI, Shadowsbane, Maple Story and everyone's favorite: World of Warcraft. However, many of these MMORPG games offer an environment that is unsuitable for younger players (especially due to emerging laws to protect children), usually due to either their complex nature, their unrestricted chat features (which can cause kids a heap of trouble if they talk about any info that could identify them) or simply the social nature of the games that could pair kids up with twisted individuals. However, that's when Disney came up with the idea to market an entire MMORPG for kids. The result? Toontown Online of course!
I first came across Toontown around 2003, right after it was released. Having seen an advertisement for the game, I signed up for a three day free trial. I was amazed at how much fun I had playing the kid's game. The gameplay was addicting, the atmosphere was crazy and the community was nice. However, soon my free subscription expired and I moved onto bigger and better MMOs. Skip forward to 2011 where my fiancee and I fondly recall the memories we had playing the game. We soon mosied over to the Toontown's website and were shocked to find that the game had converted to the ever-so-popular freemium model. After playing through free mode for a few weeks, we soon purchased memberships and tackled the premium version of the game. But how does Toontown stack up today and is it a good game for kids? Read on.
Like many MMORPGs of the time, Toontown's story is somewhat simple with no real set storyline (mainly to create the illusion that the world is living and breathing and like ours has no real end). However, the basics of the game is that you live in a cartoon world filled with other cartoons (players). Life was peaceful and giggly until the cogs came around. The cogs, evil robotic businessmen with no sense of humor, are intent on taking over Toontown and actively seize the buildings of the good toons everywhere. However, since they hate to laugh, using various cartoon gags on them will cause them to overload and short circuit. Your goal as a toon? Help the good citizens of Toontown fight off the evil cogs of course! Like I mentioned before, the story won't win any awards but kids will eat it right up.
As far as graphics go, they're actually well drawn and though they're beginning to look dated, they still capture the kookiness and cartoon vibe they're trying to achieve. In fact, as soon as you pop into Toontown, you'll likely notice that you truly feel as though you're wandering around in a Disney cartoon (or at least a virtual Disneyland area). There are a couple issues I have with them (mainly their overuse of the 2D sprites in a 3D environment) but the cartoon vibe really overrides any feelings of uncertainty you may have about the graphics.
As soon as you've signed up, you can create your toon and start exploring Toontown. Prospective players can choose from creating a dog, cat, horse, rabbit, duck or monkey to represent their virtual self and can alter their height, weight, clothes and colors (which can actually be set individually, i.e. purple arms with red legs). It's really fun to see how players customize their characters and you can get even more clothing options after starting the game up. You can then name your toon, either by choosing up to three pre-approved words or by submitting your custom name to Disney for approval (one of the many ways they keep kids safe in Toontown). If it's approved, you're good to go. If not, you have an option to resubmit a different name or choose a pre-approved name. You can then go through a simple tutorial or skip it and go directly to the action.
The gameplay in Toontown is somewhat simple and easy to learn. Like many MMORPGs, you start off in a starter town and you're free to play the game however you see fit. You can explore, chat with the nearby players, head towards one of several different towns, compete in mini games or grab some quests from the town's quest center. Of course, like many MMORPGs, you can't go very far without battling and the battle system in Toontown is pretty unique.
You see, rather than have the typical gain X EXP and level up system that's pretty much standard, you have several different levels for each of your potential weapons. As a starter, you only get two level 1 gags (pie and squirt) which must be bought for 1 jellybean per gag (the game's virtual currency). Of course, to make things more strategic, you can only hold up to so many gags before your bag gets full and each gag is one use only (meaning if you use them all and get into a battle with some cogs, you're pretty much helpless). As you use each gag, you'll gain 1 point of EXP after the battle is over for each successful gag you hit the enemy with. For example, if you hit a cog with three pies and one squirt gag before it explodes, you'll end up gaining that much experience after it does so (later on you gain much more for each progressive level you unlock). Once you finally level up the gag, you get the next level of the gag, which is usually more powerful. While gags only go to level 7 each, you'll be using plenty of gags before you even come close to hitting the mark so it's not really an issue. As you progress in the game, you'll also get to unlock new gag types by completing quests.
Of course, what's an MMO without a social aspect? The game's battle system is certainly unique in that ANYONE who runs past can join ANY battle (so long as it doesn't exceed four battlers). That means that if you forgot to pack a few extra gags and run out, a lot of the time a random passerby will jump in and save you. This also helps when you're looking for a specific cog for a quest and notice someone battling it, as you can simply jump in and grab credit for the kill so long as they don't kill it before the next turn (which eliminates the extremely annoying elite enemy hogs who continually steal elite monsters so no one can fight them or grab the spoils, of whom are SO common in other MMOs). Unfortunately, this goes in reverse too and any cogs who walk into your battle will join it so long as there aren't four cogs already in the battle, meaning that tired toons may find themselves annoyed when another new cog joins the battle they're so close to losing. Luckily, toons can escape ANY battle and teleport back to the nearest town they've visited and if they're unlucky enough to have lost the battle will simply return to town with zero life points, walking around slowly until their life automatically regenerates one point.
Of course, pretty much every MMO has some sort of quests in them and Toontown has quite a few of them available in each town. There are two types of quests in this game: important quests (which offer you unique upgrades such as new gags, bigger wallets and gag bags or teleportation access to a town) and just for fun quests (which offer jellybeans or temporary effects like a bigger head or a tiny body). Like other MMOs, Toontown will only offer you so many important quests before one of them has you go to the next town, where you'll find new important quests. The quests themselves usually involve fighting cogs, but some have you go fishing.
Toontown also offers some cool other features for those of you who are bored of taking down cogs or exploring the virtual world. To start, your character has their own unique housing district, which contains six houses (one for each possible character you create) that you can decorate how you please. Here, you can even access your "cattlelog", which allows you to order new furniture, clothes and even cool things like fishing pole upgrades, new speedchat phrases and doodle tricks. You can fish in your own private pond (though there's no fishmonger here to buy them from you) or play with your own pet doodle, which you can purchase from a shop. You can even garden your own plants, which can grow new gags or simply new flowers that you can sell for jellybeans. The best part is that your house is completely safe from anyone and only your friends can visit you while you're in your house.
Like I mentioned, players can also go fishing, which is pretty simple and has you simply flicking your rod onto a black circle to catch a fish (which can then be sold for jellybeans). Each town has their own fishing pond with different fish, so it's worth exploring around to try and fish in different spots. You can also fire up a quick game of miniature golf with some friends or even do some go karting. Disney even has special days every week where you can play fish bingo (where everyone fishing tries to catch and mark off fish on the same bingo board to claim there prize) and other minigames.
The main minigames, however, take place in any particular town and offer a Mario Party style gameplay (and is the main way that you get Jellybeans). Each town has a trolley that up to four people can hop onto. The toons are then taken to a random minigame, where they compete together to win Jellybeans. These minigames are random and range from playing tug of war with cogs to a pac man style game. While there aren't many minigames, they are quite a bit of fun to play, especially with the other members of the community.
If you're tired of blowing up random cogs on the street, you can also take on the more challenging buildings and factories, which pretty much require a group of toons to beat. Every so often, a cog will walk into a normal building and take it over. These buildings can then be entered by toons to fight a certain number of cogs depending on how many floors the building has (which is randomly chosen when the cog takes the building over). The further up you go, the harder the cogs get and the better your chances are of finding one of two exclusive cogs of that particular cog type (of which there are four). Should you win, the building is restored and the pictures of the toons who took it back are proudly placed on the wall of the building, as well as their toon name. This is a really cool feature and one that makes you feel pretty proud when you take over a building, as anyone who enters the building (until it's taken over again) will see your name and picture. Factories are similar to buildings, except they cannot be taken over and require much larger groups of toons, as they're considered the cog's home bases. Instead, you take down a boss and can earn exclusive rewards which are worth the difficulty of beating them.
I'm sure by now that many of you are wondering just how kids are kept safe in this environment and it's obvious that this game is built from the ground up for kids. For starters, players who don't know each other only have two options if they want to talk to each other: use pre-approved messages called Speedchat or type their own messages, which are automatically filtered for inappropriate words or words that may contain sensitive information (such as numbers, which may give kids the ability to give out their address or number) and replaced by the generic sound of the animal (for example, one may turn into rruff if said by a dog). In order to have pretty much unfiltered chat with someone, you have to know each other in real life and give each other True Friend codes, a unique code that consists of a long string of numbers that expires in a short amount of time and can only be given to players outside of Toontown. While this allows you to pretty much skip the filter system (to a point), it only appears to your true friends and Disney still offers safeguards for the system. Words they deem unacceptable (such as swearing) will make it so the message doesn't show up at all on other's screens to protect kids. Also, Disney monitors everything said in chat and should you say anything they find inappropriate, they'll ban you for it (even if you simply whispered it to a true friend).
Since the game is freemium, you're also probably wondering what the limits are on the game. The most obvious one is the gag limit. You're essentially limited to two gags: pie and squirt, which can only be leveled up to either 2 or 3 (I can't remember which). This severely limits your arsenal of attacks and practically stops you from going anywhere but the first few towns (though you can wander off, you likely won't survive). Another thing is that you can only get important quests for Toontown Central, which end right before you get the ability to get your third gag. You also get a lot more limitations, such as only one toon per account, limited selection in the Cattlelog and the inability to go in factories. This ultimately leaves you stuck in the first area of town, so I highly suggest you pay for the premium version if you have any inclination to play this game for a while (though it helps give you a feel for the game first).
NOT SO GOOD:
Not everything in Toontown is amazing and though it's fun for a while, it wears off really quickly. The most glaring reason is due to the game's freemium version. If you can't afford the game's monthly fee, you're stuck with an extremely limited arsenal of weapons and are practically forced to stay in the game's first town. Even if you pay for premium and level up, when you revert back to freemium you lose the ability to use a lot of the weapons you've unlocked and likely cannot complete your accepted quests. While it's ultimately an MMORPG (and by that nature, will require a monthly fee to get any sort of cool features), I feel as though they limited the game TOO much. I mean, compare the free version of this to the free version of Runescape and you'll see what I mean. Runescape offers you pretty much the entire game, but restricts certain high level areas, equipment and skills and offers you a ton more quests for free than Toontown. While it doesn't have the same atmosphere, it makes you wonder if Disney is simply trying to be greedy.
Second is the frustrating and repetitive nature of the game. While you may be thinking "can't you say that for all MMOs?", there are several reasons that Toontown grows old really quickly. The first is because of the quest system. While most MMOs offer quests as a way to escape grinding (battling numerous enemies to level yourself up) and offer a change of pace, 90% of Toontown's quests revolve around battling, making the gameplay monotonous and pretty boring. In fact, you can say that there's really four types of quests in Toontown. The first is "Destroy X Cogs", which can vary to include "Destroy X (type of cogs)", "Destroy X cogs in X" or "Destroy X (specific cog)". I'll go more into that in a minute. The second is "Take over X buildings" or "Take over a X story building" or the similar "Take down X factories". The third is "Find X item from X cog". The last (and ONLY one that doesn't have to do with battling) is "Fish for X item". As you can already see, you're going to be doing a LOT of battling to get to the end of this game.
However, the most annoying quests are the "Destroy X (type of cogs)", "Take over X factories" or the "Find X item from cogs". For the first, the game will want you to find a specific cog, which doesn't sound so bad. However, way too often it will be a rare type of cog that only appears in a specific place, very rarely or at the top of buildings. Luckily, servers have invasions where every cog is replaced by a specific type of cog so if you use the independent website "Invasion Tracker", you can find which servers have which invasions to help. However, more often than not, this means you're likely going to have to search up and down streets for hours, hoping that your cog type spawns.
While factories and buildings are ultimately fun, they're also extremely difficult and without experienced toons, you'll fail numerous times. Though this is common in MMORPGs, this is even more common in Toontown due to the average age of the player, which I'll get to in a minute. This makes taking down building and factory quests pretty annoying, especially when you have to take down harder ones like 3-5 story buildings.
The last, Find X item, is probably the most annoying quest in the game. Most of the time, you have to fight a specific cog and, in my experience anyway, it rarely drops the item in question. If you pair this up with a rarer cog like a Legal Eagle or a Mingler and add to the fact that you often need multiples of the item in question and you'll see how frustrating this quest can be. But wait! There's more! Should you finally GET the item in question, you'll often have to deliver it to a random building on one of the streets. About 80% of the time, a cog has taken over the building in question so you either need to swap servers till you find one that doesn't have the building taken over or find a group of people who are willing to help you take it over. Then, they sometimes ask you to find another item! Just to give you perspective, my fiancee was stuck for almost a month on an item fetch quest and we played pretty much every day for at least three hours.
Of course, MMOs require at least SOME interaction with your fellow players and this one is no different. However, due to the lower age target, most of the players online are pretty immature and unpredictable. While you may find a few that are helpful, polite and knowledgeable, chances are you'll find players who remain completely silent, use random attacks that prolong or mess up a battle (such as luring a trapped cog) or simply try to screw you over (such as leaving on the first floor of a building so you die or ignoring you when you ask for healing). This can lead to many frustrated moments.
One last thing is the Disney people. While the true friend chat is extremely useful, you're almost better off not using it. Why? Because Disney heavily monitors the chat and is pretty ban heavy. Take me for example. One of the NPCs in Donald's Dock is named "Pickles", which I thought was a funny name. So whenever I would go into Donald's Dock, I would shout "Pickles! How are ya buddy?" and watch as people laughed at me for talking to an NPC. Unfortunately, Disney banned me for a month because of it. Why? The only thing I can guess is that they thought I was referring to something pickle shaped, but then why name the NPC Pickles in the first place? I've also heard rumors of people being banned for referring to pizza and other innocent words, so you really have to watch yourself when you play the game.
All in all Toontown is a really fun experience at first, but gets dry and old quickly. If you have real life friends to play with, it diminishes the effect for a while, but ultimately, this game gets old pretty quickly due to the fact that 90% of the gameplay is battling. While you do get some cool stuff from the quests and buildings/factories are fun, the immature community makes it hard to get a good group together and it's practically the same as battling (just with a few bells and whistles). Try it out for a few months on premium, but that's likely all it will take for you to grow bored of the game (though kids will likely eat it up still).
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 08/09/13
Game Release: Disney's Toontown Online (US, 10/06/05)
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