[an error occurred while processing this directive] Hello Kitty OnlineHello Kitty Online Closed Beta Review – Gateway MMOG
– 30 May 2008

The most anticipated MMOG for 2008 (amongst tween girls), Hello Kitty Online is, as you would expect, a cloyingly-sweet, pink-filled wonderland of talking animals set to a chirpy soundtrack.

Hello Kitty Online is free-to-play, micro-transaction (that is “cash shop”) funded.

To the disappointment of some, you do not get to play Hello Kitty or any of the other Sanrio characters. Instead, you create a human character, who is transported into a “dream world” that is Sanrio Land, to help the Sanrio characters do stuff that they are too busy looking cute to do.

The sprite-based graphics and isometric perspective (2.5D) are technologically, oh, about 10 years old. Diablo was released in 1997, and HKO has utilized none of the advances since. While graphics are hardly a major factor in a game that targets people who usually play Neopets, the lack of a zoom or perspective-changing camera restricts the ability to make videos or even take nice screenshots.

Another weakness is the lack of customization options. While there are several hair styles and faces, there are no dye-kits or any other way to change the colour of your hair or items. Hopefully, these options will be available at launch, possibly though “cash shop” items, and this restriction isn’t a limitation of their client (the 2D first client of Ultima Online had dye-kits and you could choose hair colours at character creation).

Unlike traditional MMOGs, with an RPG-base, HKO has no classes, and character advancement comes from a use-based skill system. Your character is tasked to do such things as collect various fruit (foraging), wood (lumberjacking) or minerals (mining), and to craft items from them, learning recipes from “skill books” to create furniture (carpentry) or clothes (sewing).

There are no skills to use, no spells to cast, combat simply take the form of beating down creatures with your “wand” (it starts off as a broom, advances to a mike stand, and then a fly swatter). You smack your enemies until they have spinning stars over their heads (literally), then you move on to the next one. This non-fatal method also resolves one of the oddities of traditional MMOGs, that of “spawning mobs.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it a touch odd that monsters just appear out of thin air, and disappear into oblivion when dispatched.

This is the most dumbed-down MMOG ever, and serves as a nice gap between persistent browser-based gaming and the complicatedness that is traditional MMOGs, which can prove overwhelming for new players. There is a multitude of quests, given out by fully voiced Sanrio characters. While the quests are mostly of the “fetch and gather” model, the ever increasing quantity of the quest requirements draws one in in typical Skinner Box fashion. Though nowhere close to the life-destroying addiction that was Diablo 2, by the time you are asked to collect 150 Wool to repair My Melody’s damaged hood, you have so settled in to the click-wait-click-wait Zen state that is harvesting that 150 no longer seems like such a big number.

While the Closed Beta can be “completed” in less than two days, the world map indicates that the game world is huge, and there are various cards, keys and pets to collect. Each character has a farm, in which you can grow crops and, also, build a house, itself customizable.

Also, in what is a remarkable achievement in online gaming, the game, even in Closed Beta, is relatively free of bugs (and those that existed weren’t game-breaking). This is likely due to the simplistic nature of the game, as well as its technological-backwardness, but the developers deserve credit nonetheless, and they responded to my one bug report (a trading exploit) with an earnest desire to fix it.

The Closed Beta ended on 1st June.

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