Magi-Nation: Battle for the Moonlands
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-05-03 PC RPG E (Everyone) Cookie Jar Entertainment

When one thinks of children;s games, thoughts normally revolve around innocent platformers and educational tools centered on normally inanimate but now talking objects. However, it's always nice to see a title that breaks away from that mold and offers more challenge to kids who can really handle it. For the most part, Magi-Nation: Battle for the Moonlands is one such game.

Named for and based on the Kids' WB! TV show of the same name, Magi-Nation is an online role playing game (played on flash) that challenges the target audience of 8-14 year olds to explore the Moonlands by taking on the role of a Magi hero very much like 15 year old Tony Jones, the main star of the television series. Your goal is to travel through the various realms of the Moonlands, such as the forest land Naroom and the cavernous Underneath while battling creatures from the Dream Plane with varying shapes and specialties.

Your first moments in the game will be spent on the character creation screen, where you can change your skin tone, hair style and color. You'll also choose your own specialty, or alliance, with one of the four schools in the game. For instance, the school of the Underneath focuses on earth skills while the school of Orothe, located on the ocean floor, appropriately specializes in water. At the end of the character creation process, you will be given your first Dream Creature, which can later be used as an ally in battle. You are also given your first spell (Aegis), with the goal being to learn more spells as your progress.

After going through the basic tutorials of gameplay, you'll be given different mission options, such as "Moonlands Explorer", that challenges players to find a hidden treasure chest on one of the ten randomly generated floors of each realm, and "Time Attack", which requires you to defeat all of the Dream Creatures in a specific space within a specific amount of time, with each level requiring you to defeat more and more enemies. There's also a mission called "Shadow Hunter", which makes you track down and defeat rival Magi, but it should only be handled once you've leveled up considerably through other battles.

Speaking of battles, they are turn-based and semi-random, meaning that you can see your enemies randomly pop up on the screen, but you can't always avoid them. For more experienced gamers, the battles at first are very slow moving, almost unbearably so. You can magine (summon) your Dream Creature into battle so that it can take the damage you would otherwise receive, or you can simply go it alone; but, be sure to take into account the fact that magining a Dream Creature consumes your whole turn, so you are back to the long waiting time for your next action.

While this long battle time may be boring for some, the added time allows players to really think through their moves before being committed to any one action, making it great for the young children most likely to play the game. And, as you gain in levels, and therefore speed, the battles do receive a speed boost, upping the excitement level found in each, since you are no longer waiting forever for a bar to fill.

Likewise, additional levels garner you additional EP (life points), allowing you to take some focus off of your life bar and place it on the combat at hand. It also allows you to stay away from home base, the tree village of Vash Naroom, for longer amounts of time, since you don't need to recharge as often.

Leveling up is done through your basic "gaining experience points" system; however, you must move from one level to the next manually, by going to the ?‚£Level Up?‚´ menu and selecting that option. This is because you can also level up your Dream Creatures, but since all of you share the same EXP pool, it makes the whole process only that much lengthier.

As for the menu itself, there are various branches that have shortcuts on the stationary bar at the bottom of the screen, such as your backpack and Aegis. These menus are very intuitive, and are perfect for the young age group the game targets. For instance, the status menu allows you to equip and remove items like staffs and arm cuffs by placing an image of your character in the middle, with branches coming from each customizable body part. These spots glow when you've hovered over an item that fits its spot. This allows young players to simply point and click on items, instead of trying to figure out how to use them themselves.

Like in other games, you're inventory will start out small, requiring you to sell off duplicate items often, but as you earn more Moons (the basic currency in the game) from battles, you can afford larger and larger packs. Or, if battling for Moons isn't really your thing, you can take a large shortcut and engage in the game's Micropayment system, which allows you to spend real money on game cards that contain redeemable codes. These codes give you Gems in the game and grant you access to special shop items such as larger packs and potions.

Whether you purchase gems or not, along the way you will undoubtedly come across another special group of objects known as animite shards. These shards are creature specific, and after gaining enough for a specific Dream Creature, you can take the shards to the Dreamsmith who will forge a stone out of them that you can then use to summon that Dream Creature in battle.

After you have reached level 10, the game will take a turn from being entirely single-player to allowing a multiplayer option. By talking with Ranger Dex back in Vash Naroom you will be granted access to the battle arena, where you can duel with either random opponents or friends that you invite.

One of the best features in Magi-Nation is its status as a free-to-play online experience with no downloadable content required. Being played solely through flash animation also means that the game is available to basically anyone with a high speed internet connection (or a lot of patience if on dial-up). This is great for parents who want to allow their children to experience different gaming opportunities without shelling out the big bucks for a home console or computer upgrades.

Being based on an animated television series gives the game little leeway in terms of graphical styling. That being the case, the game offers visuals very reminiscent of not only the series itself, but also a very classic feel from other TV shows from the 1990's, with few rough angles and lots of bright colors. However, the classic feel does little to take away from the detail found within the different environments, as the background images are highly detailed and filled with things like exotic plants, bookshelves, and lighted torches.

The sound department is also nicely done, albeit slightly repetitive. The battle theme is one you'll hear a few times too many, since battling is the main aspect of the game, but the sound effects are believable enough to keep things from becoming too annoying. For instance, water attacks actually contain the sounds of splashing water, so even with all of the magical characteristics of the game, a bit of realism has been retained.

All in all, Magi-Nation: Battle for the Moonlands is a deep enough RPG to keep both young children and die-hard RPG fanatics entertained. However, the battling can become a bit repetitive, especially in the early levels when trying to gain experience takes precedence over actually exploring the landscape. That fact alone makes this one title that really has to be looked at as it compares to other games within its target audience. Sure, this isn't another World of Warcraft, but for younger children, it just might be the next best thing.