MMObility: Find yourself in this updated list of location-based MMOs

Life is Crime screenshot
Location-based MMOs have a long way to go. I can only imagine how the genre will appear in 10 or 15 years and how common it will be to load up a virtual world on our mobile devices. Even with the advances that still need to be made, location-based gaming is pretty darned impressive. Think about it: These are games that use the real world as a playing field. While most do not employ the literal square mileage of the Earth in exact scale, most of these games can boast a very large map. These titles can also utilize the weather and other events that happen on it at any given time, blending them with our real world so that it appears there is a secret, veiled world right beside us.

I wanted to recap some of my favorite location-based MMOs for those who might need some advice on which ones to try. My favorites are marked with a "latest update" marker, but all of them are worth checking out. So pull out your phone or tablet and get to it!

Parallel Kingdom screenshot
Parallel Kingdom: As of right now, this has got to be my favorite location-based MMO. Really it's more of a strategy sandbox, similar to how a massive (and I mean massive) tabletop game would play if players also had the options of maintaining a house or town, PvPing, going to dungeons, tweaking a skill-based character, crafting and a million other activities. While the game's graphics are not on par with, say, Lord of the Rings Online, it's important to note that the game is going for something completely different. Parallel Kingdom can be played on pretty much any device and in almost any way. Here's a recent livestream interview I did with PerBlue's community manager. It might answer some basic questions and help introduce the game to any new players.

Halloween is all the rage in the Parallel universe right now, and of course Parallel Kingdom has to follow through! PerBlue has added cool Halloween swag, trick-or-treating, and other bug changes and fixes.

Parallel Mafia looks similar to Parallel Kingdom and plays in similar ways as well. The big difference in my opinion is that the PvP community is much more aggressive in this title, and there are a few more slightly adult themes and designs as well. Be prepared to fight for the right to be the top on your block! Or the mall... or the bookstore...

Parallel Zombies really sticks out from the Parallel lineup because of its action-based combat and more obvious and frequent missions. Players have to survive zombie hordes, gather, or craft goods like ammo, weapons, or addons, and continue to explore and defend their local area. Travel is encouraged, as with all of the Parallel titles. I often take out my phone and get my character to explore the local area I am in. If you like darker titles but enjoy action and a faster pace of gameplay, check this out.

Life is Magic screenshot
Life is Crime is a slower location-based MMO that really concentrates on a player's local area. For example, I am busily exploring my local area while also keeping an eye out for opportunities to commit crimes, special "packages" to drop for a later pickup, and chances to climb local ladders to power. Most of these activities happen within my actual neighborhood instead of spread out in the world, although travel is possible. This title is a bit more hardcore than the others, and it's more of a turn-based RPG social game than anything. I like the art and enjoy the UI, but gameplay and response is a bit sluggish. Still, it's a very interesting take on location-based gaming.

Life is Magic: I am dying to play this one, as I noted in my recent GDC Online coverage. Imagine using the real-life world as a map, but covering that world in a shiny, plastic coating of cartoony images instead of utlilizing what is basically a Google map with icons on top. Add in real-time movements, real-life locations that are transformed into fantasy taverns, libraries, and other buildings, and make it all accessible from multiple devices. And oh yeah... add in some awesome turn-based combat that resembles something you might find in a Final Fantasy classic title rather than a location-based MMO. Essentially this is a AAA offering, a high-quality MMO that I believe will help propel location-based MMOs into the hands of those who doubt the genre. No offense to any of the previous titles I mentioned, but many of them just don't pack much of a graphical punch. Life is Magic looks great, ran flawlessly when I saw it in person, and feels massive. It's due to release sometime "this fall," but you can check out the above article from GDC for a bit more information about how it plays. As soon as I find something out, you'll probably hear me screaming it from my front yard.

Fleck screenshot
Fleck: My, Fleck, how you have changed since I last played you. Fleck is a very unassuming location-based MMO. You pop in, start collecting flowers, performing basic quest-tasks, socializing, travelling the world, and killing zombies. (record scratch) Yep, I said killing zombies. For some reason, adorably tough zombies pop up and grow in this otherwise innocent-seeming MMO. Your job is to wipe them out, if you so choose, and to help other players destroy the zombies in their neck of the woods. It sounds strange, but the combination of MMO, social game, sandbox builder, location-based MMO, and zombie apocalypse works very well. This one gets big props for having some of the most satisfying artwork out of all of these titles. Top-heavy characters, fat flowers, and bright colors... it has it all. I was shocked when, after being away from the game for quite a while, I logged in to find that on top of building a house in my real-life location I could also build in my "backyard" -- an instanced area that is reserved just for building and planting whatever I want. I can invite friends to it and host parties. It was quite a shock to see everything that had changed!

More great Halloween stuff has recently been added to the cash shop, like Frankengnome. This guy is supposed to scare those who wander into your yard and is a permanent display item that is available only through Halloween. Self Aware Games, though, updates this game about once a week or so, so it's very possible that by the time you read this, something completely different will be happening in the game.

I predict that location-based MMOs are really going to be huge, and very soon. Already many of these titles pull in good numbers, but we have to remember that as mobile tech spreads farther and farther into the world, mobile gaming will go with it. What better type of game than one that allows players to exploit their real-life location? Not only do location-based games make us feel more immersed in the game, but they make us feel more immersed in the locations we take over, defend, and reinforce with other players. The success of Foursquare acts on these same principles, overlaying a hidden fantasy world on top of our own mundane surroundings. It's brilliant when you think about it.

Keep an eye out as more of these games grow, and especially keep an eye out for Life is Magic, the one I am drooling over. Once that comes out, I'll be calling in sick for a week or two.

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.