The MMO Gamer reviews its first game made for a mobile device — Tibia Micro Edition from CipSoft.
TibiaME is an entertaining distraction with a balanced amount of depth just right for a cell phone game. The graphics could be compared to the first Final Fantasy for the NES, only without the huge screen-filling bosses, and there is no sound. It has very basic auto-combat, no spells or abilities, and does not have class trainers or even a character stat sheet. It is, however, the only MMO available on a wide range of cell phones, and is based on a very popular PC game. We’ll give you a glimpse into why players around the world keep coming back to this game from 2004.
Tibia Micro Edition (TibiaME) is a dungeon hack successfully realized on a cell phone sized display. It was difficult to get into it at first, but once I overcame the cell phone controls and small screen on the Java emulator, everything started to come along smoothly. You run around and kill stuff, gain experience, kill stuff, get loot, kill stuff, get lost, die, chat with people, and buy stuff. Your main goal is to get to a higher level and maybe one day slay another player and take a piece of their loot. You can meet people and make friends, but this is greatly hindered by the chat system’s lack of a word prediction feature. Everything has to be typed out in text shorthand, and the game does not work with a bluetooth keyboard. The entire combat and movement system consists of the four directional buttons on your phone. You use the number pad to inspect / use / pickup items, and to switch the bottom of the screen to different views. You can toggle between inventory, equipment, mini-map, and chat.
The game was written in Java so it should work on most phones, but the auto-detect download page on the WAP site (wap.tibiame.com) did not properly identify my Treo 700w with Windows Mobile and should have specifically told me that it was not compatible. It took me a little while before I could conclude this on my own. To run the game your phone must have internet and be either a Symbian Operating System (S60) powered device or J2ME enabled, and have MIDP 2.0 support. As I learned the hard way, you must already have Java; you can’t just install Java like this was your PC. The game requires a minimum of 130 kilobytes of space for the most scaled down visuals, and at least a 128×128 pixel display.
OK, so you have no willpower for this type of game
This format is not for everyone. If you have a PC and are playing a current generation massively multiplayer online (MMO) game you probably have no interest or time for a game of this minimal level of detail. You might be turned off by the slow pace of combat or by the complete lack of any combat animation. I can’t convince you to suspend your expectations for 3D graphics and World of Warcraft clones, but I will try to illustrate that when judged as a game on a cell phone with all of the limitations that go along with it — Tibia ME is quite an ambitious and impressive offering.
Is that a S60 enabled device in your pocket?
Tibia ME is the MMO you can take with you wherever you go. The idea of leveling your character any time, from anywhere is quite tempting. It can be played with one hand and is quite a discreet way to pass the time while waiting for your coffee at Starbucks, sitting on the bus / train, or times when you just don’t have access to a PC. With mobility like that Tibia ME and other games like it might one day replace books and periodicals as men’s preferred entertainment in the bathroom. Watch out Maxim Magazine.
No free lunch
Obviously, you must have an internet enabled phone to play. The best option is having a prepaid unlimited access plan, because even when not doing a large download to update the game data Tibia ME uses about 0.5 megabytes of data transfer per hour. TibiaME is advertised as a free game, however to really get the most out of it any player serious enough to get past level 10 should buy the Gold client for $4.99. This will open most dungeons on Aurea, enable the auto-drawing mini-map, and allow you to list who is online. Quite a bit of the content is still locked behind the Premium account. For 3 Euros per month you will get access to all dungeons and premium only areas, which includes all of the new islands like the haunted Ashmor, included in the Autumn update on November 8, 2007. Premium accounts also gain more experience per kill after level 10, lose less experience when they die, and can use the all new portal system for faster traveling between various dungeons and town. I would absolutely recommend paying the monthly fee if you play the game regularly. If you’re just starting out, the free version should get you about 20-30 hours of exploration before you start to get curious about what else is out there.
One thumb combat
Let’s be clear — this is a game with classic 2D tile graphics, but although you can only move in four directions the game offers a great sense of freedom. Because the controls are so simplified it feels very fluid when transitioning between travel and combat. This is not a turn-based game like Dofus where action during combat is controlled by movement or action points. Your character attacks automatically if you are standing next to a monster. It’s that simple. To focus combat you simply face the direction of the monster you want to attack first. Tapping the directional pad toward the monster incessantly doesn’t help, but it sure is more satisfying.
The free movement style of combat reminds me of Adventure for the Atari / PC, and offers a lot of maneuverability where one might not expect any. By using precise Pac-Man style movement players can not only evade monsters entirely, they can actually avoid damage during combat. Although not an intended game play feature, the combination of network latency and properly timed movement patterns can allow a player to kill a much stronger monster. This exploit was a complete accident, but its fun, challenging, and offers a sense of personal accomplishment in a game devoid of any complex combat.
If you cannot escape with your 1987 arcade skills and end up getting spanked by three cave bears, your character will resurrect at the nearest town. When you die in TibiaME you will drop one of the items in your inventory, and lose 10% of your total experience, or 5% if you’re on a Premium account. This adds to the sense of danger one feels when trying to avoid a monster, and makes you think twice before just running blindly through a dungeon. When dying to a monster you will drop something of low value, like a health potion. However, if you die to another player you will generally drop something very valuable like a weapon. Players cannot attack each other out in the open world, but once inside the boundaries of the arena anyone can be attacked by anyone else.
Free for all arena
Aurea, the first island players visit after newb-ville, has a town with an arena. Some even refer to this town as “arena town” or Aurea as “pvp island” just to be concise. I didn’t find it for a week, as I was only interested in exploring on my own, figuring I could pretty much stumble over everything the game had to offer. Once I found Aurea I immediately saw a group of people standing around a fenced area of dirt called the sandpit. I talked some trash, walked straight in and attacked someone from behind! When their auto defense kicked in I was dead in two rounds. Apparently my victim had 30 levels on me. Oh well, it was fun… until I found my new Fire sword missing. I tried to convince myself I’d left it in the storage depot (the bank), but I knew what had happened.
Much like my favorite multi-user dungeons (MUDs) from back in the day, when you die in the player versus player (PvP) zone, you lose your items. In TibiaME players only lose one item from their inventory; you won’t drop an item that is equipped. Even as forgiving as that is, losing my brand new sword when I was just two levels from being able to use it was quite a blow. I immediately put my communication skills into overdrive and sent a private message to my victim. I groveled and pleaded, and my victim laughed and dropped the red sword icon on the tile next to me. Snagging the sword and sprinting off, I was a little confused. “I wouldn’t have given it back,” I thought. “Not after what I said about his mother.”
Not characteristic of a role-playing game
Although primarily non-existent in the world of TibiaME, there are certain instances of role-playing occurring when players interact out in the world. Whether its choosing to take pity on someone and giving them their loot back, or to interfere with them by dragging monsters on to them, players can define themselves by how they treat other people — and how they get their kicks. Other than that, there is no way to specialize abilities or to differentiate oneself from other players. Warriors of equal level will use every weapon with the same proficiency, and Wizards are all exactly the same as well. The only way for a player to enhance their character is by upgrading weapons and armour.
As it is, the only choices the player makes most of the time involve repetitious tasks like swapping out a fire weapon for a soul weapon when fighting the undead. While this has a hint of strategic flavor to it, it hardly helps the game identify as a role-playing game (RPG). That’s like saying the early Final Fantasy games were RPGs merely because the characters had equipment slots. You were also the protagonist in a story, and while TibiaME has some well-written quests and excellent English translation, the point of them is always to send you off in the direction of some group of monsters. There are named monsters and useful quest rewards, but there were no big bad bosses or story arcs to keep my motivation clear. There did not appear to be any other elements to the game. After completing a couple quests I just killed monsters all day, and while the grind is the same in World of Warcraft, at least it offers a choice about the role you will play.
Keep it pure
I really enjoyed reviewing TibiaME, and it would be nice to see it keep growing. In the future CipSoft should continue to do what they’re doing right. Staying away from instancing and non-persistent areas of the world is a must. I was very pleased to see that CipSoft had truly embraced such a pure vision of dungeons. Exploring with the possibility of actually running into people adds a very nice sense of life to the otherwise monotonous grind. If I can scrounge around a dungeon and pick up other people’s garbage to make some cash, I feel like the area isn’t as stale and boring as some barren instance.
In an effort to add more player interaction to the game there should be certain dungeons where PvP is enabled and players could still block each other’s path. This would be an exciting area to adventure in when you can really focus on the game and can afford to risk combating other players for control over an area. I have heard that there is a PvP change coming soon where players who die in an arena will lose 2% of their total experience. I think that’s a wonderful addition, and adds quite a new dynamic for higher level players who could stand to lose millions of points if killed.
It would be nice if the game mechanics allowed for some items that could actually buff a character with haste or a blade-turn – to affect game play in some way. This would be in lieu of some form of character development, skill training, or class specific epic quests at regular intervals.
Aside from that CipSoft should stick to their guns. I suppose there are a few things about the game that have gotten you hassled by the user base. If players used to grief others by blocking the exit to a dungeon with their body, its good that you removed collision. That is affecting the player’s free movement. If some players are botting and using scripts to level while AFK, that’s removing the human element of the game and reducing it to a bunch of automatons. Keep up the harsh punishment you’ve been issuing. However, when it comes to the damage evasion exploit, don’t fix it. Let players squeeze what challenge they can out of a very by-the-numbers combat system. You have players all over the world, some of whom don’t have a PC at home and only have their cell phone for their connection to the internet. If they want to attempt to kill a dragon 10 levels above them for the chance that it might drop some rare loot, let them try. That isn’t hurting anyone.
Something is keeping players interested after three years. As host of the network you have had a very hands-off approach to moderation. Your stance on game interference is respectable.
“… Players have to get along with each other or look for a different hunting area. We cannot interfere in this matter.”
“… try talking to [the other player]. You will find that peaceful solutions are more often possible than you would think.”
It is very optimistic to basically say, “play nice now,” and leave the players alone to work it out, and I applaud you for that. Stand by your mantra. Keep the player’s liberty as a focus, and that may be your biggest attraction.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Recommendation: If you need a good cell phone game you should pay the $5 and download the Gold version. Try it for free right now on your PC.