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MMObility: Puzzle Pirates is perfect on the iPad, but Fleck falls


It's been a week of ups and downs for me. The mobile MMO market is the often-ignored stepchild of the greater genre, so when a great new MMO comes along, I rejoice. And when a fun, older MMO closes down, I feel like weeping. As the mobile market begins to take over all of creation (and will probably make time travel possible as well), it's so good to see a game like Puzzle Pirates finally make its way to mobile devices. Sure, it's just iPads for now, but an Android version is marked for release this summer. This is a game that has been begging for a mobile release for some time now.

Meanwhile, Fleck is an odd little MMO by Self Aware Games that I have covered in the past but that is soon closing down. I love the look and feel of it, but its real-world-based gameplay might be too odd for many to enjoy. Still, it had issues finding its footing.

Let's talk about both in today's MMObility column.

Puzzle Pirates screenshot
First, Puzzle Pirates. Ah, what a perfect game for a tablet! When I first played with an iPad -- and later other tablets -- I wondered how long it would be before we saw the fantastic puzzle-based MMO on touch devices. It's made for touch, with puzzles that feature sliding parts, color-matching, and big, beautiful buttons. For those who have never played Puzzle Pirates, its description might sound like a romp through a candy-colored playland that is reserved for children or casual soccer mods and dads. The truth is that the puzzle-based gameplay hides some of the most in-depth team play you can find in MMOs today.

"There are other jobs, and they all work together in real time while we're being commanded and steered by the the player who owns the ship."

For example, I can join a crew of fellow players and jump onto a player-owned ship. Each player takes a different job at a station. I like to do bilging, a game of matching that affects how quickly the ship can move. It represents a bilge pump that keeps water from filling up the ship. Other players will work a sailing minigame, another for cannons, and another one for carpentry that helps keep repairs coming. There are other jobs, and they all work together in real time while we're being commanded and steered by the the player who owns the ship. You can even fill out some of the positions on the ship by NPCs or join an NPC crew for those times when you can't find other players.

The result is a game of ship-to-ship PvP that is dependent on the abilities of players and the way those players interact not only with the puzzles but with the rest of the crew. Once a player ship catches another, the players grapple and then fight hand-to-hand via a multiplayer puzzle. It's absolutely brilliant, so brilliant that the first thing I thought about Star Trek Online was, "Why can't it have multiplayer ship interaction like Puzzle Pirates?"

The game works fairly well on an iPad. It does crash once in a while, but I have only an iPad 2, so that might have something to do with it. Some puzzles, like carpentry and brawling, do not work as well with the touch-controls. They work, don't get me wrong, but not as well as others like bilging. In a game that offers puzzle-based gameplay for everything from gambling to crafting, it has to be a smooth experience. Luckily, this is no watered-down version. This is the same game you'll find in the standard version, the same community and servers. I actually prefer the mobile version because the puzzles feel so much more natural on touch, and the UI has been designed to slide away when not in use. For lack of a better description, Puzzle Pirates on the iPad was meant to be.

Fleck screenshot
On to sad news. You've likely read about Fleck on Massively before. It's a game that overlays a virtual world on a map of the real world. Players have as many goals as they like, but basically the point of the game is to build a unique housing area based on a player's real-world location or in an instanced and private "backyard." Dotting the map are real-life landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Hollywood sign, and players can visit them to unlock different achievements.

On top of the social world and all of the cool building features (I have a house located on the spot where my real-life house is!), there are zombies to deal with. Yes, zombies. Occasionally players will encounter zombie pods growing around the world. These pods can be allowed to grow into powerful creatures or can be dispatched before they mature. The advantage of growing zombies is that they hand out a good amount of experience and possibly other goodies when they are killed. Players invite each other to zombie fights in the hopes of maximizing experience. The fact that it's hard to describe the game might point to some of the reasons that the game is closing. It's a great title and works well in the browser and iPad, but it's so... odd.

"I have to admit that I had issues figuring out what I wanted to do in the game. Over time I would log in just to collect flowers and kill a few zombies."

I have to admit that I had issues figuring out what I wanted to do in the game. Over time I would log in just to collect flowers and kill a few zombies. It's a blast to explore in Fleck, but I'm not sure that the real-life map as a background is the best choice. It just sort of sits there and remains blank in most places. I've praised Life is Magic as an example of how to make an in-game, real-world-based map because it takes that blank map and covers it with a cartoony coating. Fleck is a game that suffers from the classic location-based problem: It works well only where many players congregate. Where there are fewer players, there's less to do.

The in-game cash-shop can be accessed with real-world cash or in-game coins, but prices are mostly too high. If a developer is going to make a game that obviously attracts younger players, it needs to to consider just how much money younger players have and are willing to spend. I'm only guessing, but the heavy prices, empty areas of the map, and housing maintenance might have been too much for younger players.

Either way, it's been a fantastic week thanks to Puzzle Pirates' glorious iPad incarnation. I'm sad to hear about Fleck's soon-to-be passing but can understand how Self Aware Games needs to move on. I'll be keeping an eye out for the studio's next project!

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.

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