MMObility: Manyland is deceptively simple and surprising

Manyland screenshot
Is the primitive 8- or 16-bit design movement becoming too much of a good thing? At first it presents a cool way to see and interact with the game world, and it does so with a style that is familiar but in many ways more fresh than anything we've experienced for a while. But, then we grow used to it and it starts to feel a bit dated... even though it's only been introduced (in its unique way) in recent years!

If you're a designer and you design a game with mining and artwork that looks like something that came from an 80s arcade, do you risk a backlash from writers and gamers who yawn and say "ah, more Minecraft stuff?" Of course you do. That doesn't mean that fun things can't be done within the genre, and Manyland is a great example of that. It's also free and runs right in your browser, so you have zero to lose in terms of checking it out!

Manyland screenshot
You'll start off in Manyland seemingly alone and without any clue as to how to explore or build. Luckily the game does not seem to let danger find you right away as it does in Minecraft, and pretty soon you'll be popping around the world by using your arrow keys. The up arrow makes your goofy-looking little character jump as you come across really strange blocks with different properties. If you find something that looks cool enough you can simply grab it with your mouse, save a copy of it in your inventory and use it in your own creations and building your own blocks.

Blocks are super simple to create. Just hit the "create" button in your inventory and a large menu opens to reveal a building tool that is zoomed into an individual blank box. You'll need to make a solid border in order for the object to be created, but thanks to the fact that you can also adjust the opacity, color, and properties of each tiny square within the block, you can easily make something that the rest of the game has never seen.

The game world is huge and "endless" according to the official game FAQ, so I found an area that looked relatively unclaimed and started to build. But wait, how would I get out onto the air in order to build in a nice, clean blank space? Earlier in the game I picked up someone's brick creation, so I dragged out several to make a platform.

Manyland screenshot
Once I did that, I opened the creator:

Manyland screenshot
And soon I had a cloud design. Not bad, eh?

Manyland screenshot
I stacked some together and then became the owner of a cloud foundation.

Manyland screenshot
Immediately I thought about how I could make more cloud blocks, and blocks that offered more variety but that could be placed in any order and still match up from end to end. Control-click let me delete blocks I didn't want and right-clicking while dragging a block let me rotate it. My mind began to fill with many new ideas as I built. The more I built, the more I could think of ways to use primitive color, lines, and shapes to make much larger creations like a castle, a river, or something more interactive. Finding blocks like a basic teleporter inspired me even more. I created three of them and found myself giggling as my character flew in and out of the teleports, sometimes flying high into the air when I adjusted placement just a bit.

Exploring the world is a blast because it's easy to come across massive builds that span several screens. Some very enterprising players combined their abilities and made a fantastic "roller coaster" that pushed my character along a series of tunnels and ramps by utilizing a "pusher" block that simply forced my character forward. Basic game mechanics allowed the group to make a "ride" that was nothing more than stacks of tiny bricks, but a ride that also made me smile from ear to ear. Adding properties like "living" or "harmful" to individual blocks is easy enough to do and many of the more advanced options open up as a player's level increases from one to five. Even with my limited, low-level access to block properties, I was able to create some cool stuff. You can borrow blocks as well, so I was set to conquer the entire game!

But, not so fast. For now the game is in open testing and honestly, it feels like it. It's a very primitive builder and I have yet to actually see another player in the world. I imagine that such a large world will hurt the game in some ways, similar to the empty-ish server I found in Deepworld -- a mobile builder that I loved a while back and will cover in the future. It's concerning because building in such a social way is only fun when other players are around to look and help. It looks like the concern has been noticed and addressed on the game's official Facebook page. You have the ability to "friend" someone but I haven't found any other player to even talk to or ask to be my friend!

Manyland is not entirely original, of course. We've seen a dozen open-world, old-school-looking builders before. The advantage that Manyland has right now is that it works as intended, is simple to join and to participate in, and it is being built by a developer who knows that good, basic tutorials or guides do much for open-world games without detracting from the openness of it all.

Check it out free at the official site. You can even use a Google or Facebook login to get going immediately!

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.