|Here at stately ESCmag Tower, we tend to overlook Web-based games. That's a shame, because there are plenty of great ones out there. One has become a daily must-play: Kingdom of Loathing (www.kingdomofloathing.com). |
Kingdom of Loathing is at once a gentle satire of some of your favorite games (mostly old school) and a clever, addictive game in its own right. While at least half of the game is taken up by battling various enemies, the rest of it is a great (if sometimes nonsensical) blend of puzzle-solving and inventory management. Oh, and let's not forget crafting, which can get monotonous in traditional MMORPGs but seems to stay fresh here.
That's in large part due to the surrealism of the game. The currency here is not gold but meat. Meat is also the duct tape of the kingdom: You can use it to fuse items together or power vehicles. Bad puns aren't just groaners; in many cases they're opponents. Oh, and let's not forget the ability to be playing a Zork homage one minute and a Final Fantasy parody the next.
The game begins with a heavy dose of surrealism. You can choose to be the rough equivalent of a fighter, thief or magic user, only here they're the Seal Clubber and Turtle Tamer; Disco Bandit and Accordion Thief; and Pastamancer and Saucerer. The latter title in each grouping is more, well, group-oriented, whether by being able to create items or cast group spells.
Need a helping hand? Find a familiar. Certain items can be placed in a Terrarium and then taken along on your adventures. I don't want to spoil too much, but clicking on an item's picture generally tells whether it will spawn a familiar. Each type of familiar does something different: One transfers hit points to you in battle, while another eats the bodies of fallen opponents and gives you HP and mojo (magic) points, while yet another hinders opponent attacks. There are, I think, eight in all; it's hard to keep track at this stage in the game's evolution, when updates are coming weekly and sometimes daily.
Most of the input is point and click. Navigating? Point and click. Trading? Point and click. Fighting? Well, point and click plus a few pulldown boxes for using items or special skills. Somehow, it never gets old.
By the way, don't even ask about graphics and sound. There is no sound, and the graphics are very intentionally crude stick drawings. It's sort of an in-your-face to graphics-heavy but content-light MMORPGs. There's certainly no lack of content here.
The puzzles are difficult mostly because they're so darn out there. Sometimes you get hints; one boss requires a distraction, meaning you have to dress up. (In fact, wearing items of a set unlocks certain outfits that give you both a celebratory tattoo and sometimes prevent the monsters in that area from attacking you.) But another quest can only be solved by combining certain scrolls, I guess by trial and error. I sure never figured out a logical explanation.
Okay, so it's not all trial and error. You can visit Asymmetric's forums for hints, but be prepared. Rather than outright spoiling puzzles, the players adopted a fiendishly fun love for haiku (well, mostly senryu, but we'll let that slide) and use the poetic form to hint at puzzle solutions. Sure, you can go elsewhere online to get the answer poetry-free, but that's not nearly as fun.
Kingdom of Loathing is free, but recent popularity and the surge in bandwidth costs have the folks at Asymmetric Publications to ask for donations. Give $10 USD or more, and you get an accessory that boosts your stats. Plus the satisfaction of knowing you're supporting some really talented budding developers. It's well worth it.