MMObility: Two new MMOs, one tiny screen

Elemental Knights Online screenshot
You know what I love about discovering new mobile games? It's that moment when I realize they are actually pretty good and might give me some real MMO action on my smartphone. The biggest issue I have these days is separating the true MMOs from the social, multiplayer and singleplayer games that bombard the market. While I enjoy games from those genres, many of them arrive on my phone disguised as something else. Many of them even call themselves "MMOs" without having any real multiplayer interaction or persistence.

So you can imagine how happy I am when I find real, persistent MMOs that are available for my HTC Inspire Android phone and iOS. Yes, there are more of them out there than you might think. Let's take a look at a couple of new ones that I have found.

Elemental Knights Online screenshot
The first game I would like to talk about is called Elemental Knights Online: The World. Frankly, I was disappointed that the title doesn't have more words in it, but once I downloaded and installed the game, I found a pretty neat MMO. The art style could be described as chibi -- character models with massive heads, made to look almost like children. Much of the art in a chibi-styled game is the same; there are generally no "adults." This helps to alleviate any discomfort at the thought of actually playing a child-like character. Like the art in Glitch, the bobble-headed art-style is just that: a style.

After navigating my way through a series of often untranslated or confusing login pages, I took the tutorial and found myself in a small town with many other players around. As soon as I saw the other players, I was relieved. As I mentioned earlier, "MMO" seems to mean different things to different developers, so I was happy to see that it means the same thing to Winlight, publisher of EKO:TW, as it does to me. I took my first few quests and set off into the world beyond.

Elemental Knights Online screenshotThe story and setting of the game will not be surprising. What is surprising is the combat system. It's a bit reminiscent of Final Fantasy XI in the way it locks players into combat with a creature, and all normal movement controls are used to adjust positioning during the fight. It works well for smartphone play. I have found that the more frantic the combat, the more uncomfortable it can be to play for extended periods. If you have to slash your fingers around or constantly tap the screen, the phone moves around and you find yourself adjusting it more than you'd like. The combat in EKO:TW is straightforward, is slow but not boring, and occasionally features neat effects.

There appears to be some level of customization in the game as well. Players can "fuse" items together, making them stronger or visually different. There is a cash shop that generally sells potions and other standard items, and the game has real-time chat too. Basically, if you can find it in a standard, downloadable MMO, you'll find it in EKO:TW. The only point of comparison I have for it is Vendetta Online or Pocket Legends, but EKO:TW feels more like an MMO that has been shrunk down to smartphone size than those other two. The screen even flips between horizontal and vertical modes but plays the same during both. While there are plenty of examples of botched translations or blocky characters in the game, overall it feels complete. I've yet to see how deep the gameplay goes, but I plan on wasting several hours of my evenings on the couch playing this one. You can check it out for $4.99 on Android or for free (as of the time of this writing)on iOS.

The Infinite Black screenshot
The next game I want to show you is called The Infinite Black. While the name conjures images of a goth metal band, it's really talking about the blackness of space -- you know, cold, dark, bleak, standard sci-fi MMO stuff. I'm pretty tired of seeing sci-fi MMOs that rehash the exact same settings, feeling and look that we've all seen before. In TIB, there are even starports that blatantly resemble Deep Space Nine. I've seen this before, and it's a shame that such a neat little game borrows such common stuff. The game is in beta, so maybe we'll see some changes to the graphics before launch.


"I like this design because it works great for the phone. A player can click, wait, and see the results."

Still, the gameplay is cool and comes from the school of what I call "representative gameplay." Instead of requiring players to control a single character on the screen through button mashing or constant clicking, gameplay is represented by texts, dots, and symbols. In the case of TIB, the point of the game is to explore, conquer, and collect items to sell. You've heard the story before in many other games, but I like the way that the developers have made movement spread over a series of interconnected squares. To jump to the next area of space, you simply touch the next block and then hit jump. You can even scan any area in space for 100 credits, then work your way to that area. You have to be a bit careful, though, because many areas are filled with enemy ships. On the outskirts of space you'll find stronger enemies and PvP. Luckily you can avoid most damage from NPC enemies if you are just passing through on your way to another spot.

Combat consists of selecting an enemy and watching what happens. There might be a lot more to it later on in the game, but it appears the point is to outfit your ship and prepare for the worst, not click your way through combat. I like this design because it works great for the phone. A player can click, wait, and see the results. It's not boring, really, and it does help with playing on the smaller devices.

I wish more mobile developers would use representative gameplay instead of trying to literally recreate the standard PC MMO experience on a four-inch screen. Sure, it can work in some cases, like EKO:TW or Pocket Legends, but indie developers especially need to think outside of the box when making their games. As long as they think out of the box when it comes to graphics and avoid using stock images like the ones in TIB, the market will continue to grow.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article was originally published on Massively.