The fantasy MMORPG market has had a glut of titles practically since its exception. The only way to make a name for yourself nowadays is to find some sort of niche genre and become the best in it (or hope no one else comes along and does it better). So these last few years and the next few we are seeing the next influx of online games, each nestled within their own little sub-genre.
One such game is Disney’s Toontown. Seeing the need for an online game that children and their parents can play, they created a world filled with toons that fits the bill perfectly.
Toontown is named after the suburb of Hollywood in the now-classic movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (And who isn’t glad that legal snafu is all cleared up now?). But instead of Bob Hoskins, Toontown Online is populated by toons that players create themselves, as well as honest-to-gosh Disney staples like Mickey and Donald.
While you install, you are treated to a cute Quicktime movie which explains the problem that Toontown is facing. A bunch of robots, called the Cogs, were inadvertently created and are trying to take over the whole place. There they go, just walking down the street like they own the place. Oh wait, they do, since they just went into that business and turned it into a soulless corporate high-rise. Whatever shall we do?
Well, first, you have to create your toon. You can choose to be a boy toon or a girl toon (the only noticeable difference between the two are some clothing options, and the girls have eyelashes, in classic cartoon fashion). Next is the choice of animal head (mouse, cat, dog, horse, or rabbit, at last count), body type (skinny, fat, or medium) and leg length (short, medium, and long, if you couldn’t guess). Then you choose what you would like to wear, between a vast collection of shirts and shorts (or skirts) – the white gloves are mandatory.
Then you are put into the Playground of the Toontown Central neighborhood. Every neighborhood has a playground at its center, with up to three streets connecting to it. Each of these streets connects at the other end to a street in another neighborhood, which of course leads to that neighborhood’s Playground. There are no side streets, but the main streets do wind quite a bit.
The Playgrounds are where toons come to relax, replenish Laff Points (what your ‘hit points’ in this game are called) and buy new gags to use against the Cogs. It’s also where you can see various celebrities of the Disney Universe, such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Pluto.
The economy in the game is very simple. To buy the gags, you need jelly beans (one per gag). To earn jelly beans, you must go on the game trolley and play some interactive mini-games. These games range from tug-o-war to swimming through hoops to a Pac-Man-like maze. How well you do determines how many jelly beans you get. If you don’t have enough to buy all of the gags you want, you can always play again until you do. You can play as often as you like, even if you don’t need more jelly beans. And now that you can use your extra jellybeans to buy stuff from Claribelle’s Cattlelog, the incentive to play trolley games to amass your loot has increased.
What do these gags do, I hear you ask? Well, the Cogs have absolutely no sense of humor, so playing jokes on them actually damages them. Different gags do different things, like a throw gag (you start with a cupcake) does more damage but is less accurate than a squirt gag (like a squirting flower). When you do enough damage to the Cog, it self-destructs, and you gain experience for the gags you used. When you reach a certain level of experience in a type of gag, you will get a new gag of the next level, which does more damage, and earns more experience. However, if you use it fighting a Cog of a lower level than the gag, you won’t earn any experience for it.
The Cogs have some tricks up their riveted sleeves too. Various things such as clip-on tie and pound key will rob your toon of its laff points. If you lose all of them, the Cogs take away all of your remaining gags and send you back to the nearest Playground to build up points, buy more gags, and try again.
When Cogs have been around a street long enough, one of them will buy out one of the local shops and convert it into a thoroughly depressing grey monolith of a corporation building. To convert it back, you and some friends (I would not recommend doing this alone) have to enter the elevator, which will take you to the first floor of the building, where there are some cogs for you to fight. After defeating them, you hop in another elevator and go up to the next floor, and so on. On the top floor, you face the boss of the building and his cronies, and if you defeat them, the next scene you see is the building reverting to normal. The shop inside will now have framed pictures of all of you (until the next time it’s bought out, that is). If you do this enough times, you will get a star over your head, and maybe even get into the Hall of Fame listing at every Toon HQ.
Certain toons of Toontown need your help, and they are willing to reward you for it. When you go into a Toon HQ, you can get a task, which can be to deliver something to one of the shopkeepers, or defeat a certain type of Cog, or even take down a Cog building or two. The rewards can be increases in Laff Points, part of what you need to get another type of gag, or an increase in the number of gags you can carry. There are even "just for fun" tasks that pay off in new clothes, jellybeans, or even temporarily change you by making you small or with a really huge head for a short while.
Probably the one thing that makes this a perfect game for children and adults alike is the chat system. Generally, you have a large list of sayings and responses to choose from, mostly organized by the situations you would need to use them. This enables adults and children to communicate on the same level, and there is no fear of your children being exposed to any questionable language. A free chat option is available, but the parental password must be entered to use it. Even then, what you are saying comes out as "arf arf, etc." (or "quack" or "meow" as appropriate) to anyone passing by who hasn’t entered their parental password. Very elegant.
Toontown even gives you the game for free, which is something other online RPGs don’t do. When you pay the monthly fee, you just download whatever software is necessary to run it on your computer. This makes it possible to keep everybody’s version up-to-date, as it checks for updates right before starting the game.
Toontown is quite possibly the best family-oriented MMORPG out there. It has all the easily-recognizable Disney toons that kids of all ages enjoy, a definitely toonish sense of humor, and a totally safe environment (Cogs excepted) for children to wander around in. It easily earns the 4.5 gems I am awarding it.