Rise and Shiny recap: Pockie Ninja

Well, it's nice to finally get back to my regularly scheduled columns after attending E3 last week. I have to say, I loved all of the new games and gadgets that I got to check out at the event, but I missed the rhythm of my columns. So this week I decided to get back to Rise and Shiny in full force by attacking Pockie Ninja, an odd-looking little game that I have been hearing about for quite a while. In fact, it doesn't take much to see that it has grown pretty popular, but I still wasn't sure why.

So I signed up (thank you, Facebook connect!) and jumped into the game. It should be noted that a lot of the game has not been translated very well. This is a real problem when you consider some of the learning curve involved in Pockie Ninja. Sure, the English is there, and there are words that I know, but they are often arranged in such a strange order or just come out sounding so... odd that I have no idea what is going on.

Click past the cut and let's see if I can explain what I found.

Apparently, Pockie Ninja lets players pick out some of their favorite characters from famous Anime series or books and pit them against each other in non-controlled, My Brute-like arena fights. Now, I'm not exactly new to Anime. Hell, I grew up on Robotech and others, but I know enough to know how much I cannot stand Naruto and other "loud" Anime cartoons. I literally do not understand the appeal of such annoyingly goofy characters. I get the allure of cute or nicely animated cartoon heroes, but shows like Naruto are neither animated well nor cute. They seem as though they are literally trying to be annoying. Perhaps "makes me want to shoot the television" is as popular in Anime as "damn, that's cute"?

"It's not as though the players have nothing to do with the outcome of the fights. Basically, the role of the player is to plan out strategies and abilities of her character so that it can perform in combat."

Either way, the characters in Pockie Ninja are loosely based on those more popular characters. They are miniature versions, and the animations during combat and otherwise are fun to watch. I took missions as in any other normal MMO that offers missions, but then I could instantly teleport to the location and go into combat. Once in combat, I just sat back and watched the fight happen automatically. Now, don't worry; it's not as though the players have nothing to do with the outcome of the fights. Basically, the role of the player is to plan out strategies and abilities of her character so that it can perform in combat. It's more like making a powerful collectible card game deck than creating a controllable avatar. It's a very interesting take on an MMORPG.

There is a huge variety of abilities and items to choose from, so constantly tweaking your character's powerset is a game in itself. I was sure I had a pretty good set of powers, but then I would meet an opponent that brushed me aside like so much litter. I would take out a few powers, replace them with new ones, and try again. It was surprisingly fun. I enjoyed watching the battles, too, and would learn about weaknesses as I watched. In a moment of brilliant design, the developers allow players to save and share their battles with anyone they want, just by sharing a link. If you click on this link, for example, you will see a battle between me and a tree monster. Pretty cool, huh?

I think it might be safer to describe Pockie Ninja as a MUD. Really, when you look at the game more deeply, you see basically the same innards you would in a MUD. It's mostly text-based, animations are minimal except during fights, and movement is not controlled by WASD or arrow keys. I smiled to myself when I thought of thousands of 13-year-olds playing a MUD in the year 2011. This MUD-like gameplay means that it can be enjoyed on almost any device that runs Flash. It's a great game for late night laptop gaming or for checking in on a few minutes at a time. You can even participate in mass fights, dozens at a time, and come back an hour later to see how they panned out.

It might sound as though all of this non-interaction between the player and the world would make the game feel cold or non-immersive, but I felt really connected to my little animated freak as he pummeled his enemies with sand blasts, monster chops, and general kicks to the head. The chat is always very busy, and players can and will actually group up to take on certain areas or dungeons. So while the game does skirt the edge of what an MMORPG is, I'd still place it in MMO territory.

However, my main issue with the game is how confusing it can be. The text, as I mentioned before, is very hard to understand at times, and the definitions of abilities and powers can often be useless. I had to learn everything through trial and error, and the community was so busy talking about different fights or selling items in the chat that not a single one of my questions was answered. I even tried private messaging certain players in the hopes that I could get some answers, but out of the dozen or so I sent, I only received one reply. Unfortunately, this is often the case in a game that not only offers world-wide access but also attempts to attract a much younger audience. I found some guides and walkthroughs on the official forums, but once again the amount of inside-baseball speech made the guides useless. If I knew what half of those terms meant, I wouldn't need a guide in the first place!

In the end, despite having a great time with this odd little game, I have to say that I have hit a wall. Yes, I can always do more missions and challenge more players to duels, but why? Where is the explanation or the lore to make me feel like I am doing it for a reason? I'm completely down with a game that just wants to be fun, but with so many characters and abilities to choose from, you would think that there would be more to do than just kick the crap out of each other. If only the developers would take the time to clean up a lot of the language within the game, that would work wonders. Strangely enough, the moderators warned constantly of the English-only nature of the server I was on, but I still could not understand half of what the game was trying to tell me.

I would like to see the game expand to offer larger battles between hordes of players, and I would love to see some more polish. I adore the MUD-like nature of the game and really enjoyed watching the animated battles, but the entire experience made my head feel like it was full of cotton. I just didn't get half of it, and that made it half as fun.

Next week I will be looking at City of Eternals, a Flash-based vampire MMO. It's been around for a while, but this is the first time I have taken a deeper look at it. If you would like to join me, my character's name is Beau. Also, follow me on Twitter below so you can see what I think while I play it.

Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!
This article was originally published on Massively.