If there's one phrase that gets me excited for a new MMO, it's "cross-platform." I know that's not very slick-sounding, but when I hear those words, I envision playing the same game across multiple devices. I can sit at my PC, move over to my bar, take a seat on my patio, sit down in the bath (with the tablet carefully held over the side) and finish off a dungeon while I'm lying in bed.
The Missing Ink is not only attempting to be a unique title by offering the type of access that we normally see only from Spacetime Studios or HTML5 browser MMOs but presenting a very unique-looking game, one of paper cutout figures and Burton-esque curly trees dotting a wavy landscape. There's also a building mode promised, although I haven't experienced it yet. But will this multi-platform approach work? Well, I took a look at the alpha and have enjoyed what I've seen so far, but I must warn you: This is not a review. It's hardly even a preview. It's just a peek into a strange, new game. The following opinions and gameplay bits are subject to massive, sweeping changes.
As it is right now, I was unable to play The Missing Ink on any of my Android devices. The only options available currently come through the browser using Unity or by download. Eventually, the developers promise to have the game available on any device in your house; they've even put out videos showing off what that might look like. The advantage of being so accessible is that players can literally jump in from anywhere, even if just to check up on guildies or run a quick dungeon. The formula has worked well for the previously mentioned Spacetime Studios and its pack of Legends titles.
The fact that The Missing Ink might be appealing to younger players makes going cross-platform more attractive. I've personally heard many stories from players who wanted something to play alongside their tween children and so jumped into a game like Pocket Legends, with the child on an iPad and the adult on the PC. It's that drop-in design that makes a game even harder to resist. If the game is actually good, then the player finds a reason to drop in again and again.
I'm hesitant to give any first impressions about a game that is currently in a testing phase. Not only will the game be changing much over the next few months, but playing in a largely empty world is nothing like playing with the public. Still, it's not hard to imagine how the game will feel once released. It's quite polished right now, as far as graphics and essential gameplay are concerned. The really unique feature about the title is that player avatars are represented by flat, paper cut-out figurines instead of muscle-bound, three-dimensional warriors. It sounds really strange, and it is really strange, but it works. Of course things could change, and the avatars might become something much different later on, but it looks to me like the game is designed to keep up with the two-dimensional feel.
The funny thing is that these paper avatars are running around on some lovely landscapes. The rolling hills and trees look almost like a cartoon, while some of the fire effects and fluff remind me of something out of the now defunct Earth Eternal. It's an odd mix, for sure, but it feels tied together and is definitely unique. I'm not entirely sure why the designers went with such an odd design, but I can only imagine that crafting flat avatars saves a lot of time. The avatars are animated slightly, just enough that a player can tell when her character is performing an action, but imagine the time saved by not having to build armor and weapons that have to bend and mold to hundreds of different body sizes!
The whole thing doesn't feel gimmicky, either. It feels like a storybook adventure, complete with customization for your paper doll. I was able to choose from a number of preset looks and found I can unlock others later on. In another unique twist, I was able to use almost any weapon combination I wanted. I could have a standard sword and board or hold a gun along with the shield. There were battle axes to choose from, staffs, clubs, and more likely all other sorts of weapons and items to find. While I enjoy using a weapon that causes the most damage, I ended up enjoying the tiny gun along with a shield. I could pull a mob with the gun and then smash it with the shield when it got close. The sandboxish options were nice to see, but I haven't gone far enough to know how deep they go.
In my short alpha experience so far, I have seen only one really glaring issue. Of course, things can and probably will change over time, but presently, the game feels very quest-based. While being a linear MMO is not some sort of death-knell, it has hurt other games in the past. A designer can come out with the neatest ideas and coolest avatars, two-dimensional or not, but if the game is mostly kill-10-rats quests and a lot of running around, then unique features will do almost no good. I've seen some beautiful games become nothing but bland repeats due to the fact that its questing or leveling was the same as we've seen in countless other games. Hopefully the alpha for The Missing Ink is showing off but a small chunk of what it plans to do. So far, it's mostly running and killing.
The building mode promises to add some needed flair to the otherwise (seemingly) standard questing. I hate to say it again, but remember that this is an alpha I am referencing. The screenshots and videos look very promising. You might think that the flat figures stick out from the rest of the game, and they do, but it feels nice. I can only imagine a large battle with a score of flat figures, looking like a moving stack of cards. If PvP is anything like fighting a monster, it will be pretty interesting. When you finish off a mob, it often drops loot bags as its paper weapons go flying.
What can I say? I'm attracted to different MMOs. This one appears completely unique and blends a lot of different genres. As the developers say, The Missing Ink is "as multi-platform as possible with fresh ideas [and] a unique concept." They aim to "not to take [them]selves too seriously."
Color me intrigued.
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.