Moco Moco Friends
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: 11/17/2015
Sometimes a game comes in for review and you call it just because it looks adorable and you’re not afraid to admit it. Moco Moco Friends is such a game. It’s a game about capturing monsters and making them fight against one another, which should sound familiar, only it’s not the Pokemon clone you’d assume it to be. What is it about and does it hold a candle to similar games?
From the first screen you can tell that Moco Moco Friends is designed to focus on a young girl demographic. This initially made me groan, not because there is anything wrong with that, but because games that are generally focused to appeal to younger female players sadly often feel like they’re phoned in. Especially if the game appears to be a clone of a more popular game. If there’s one thing I want to communicate in this review is the fact that Moco Moco Friends at the very least does not feel like a game where they did a rushed job making a game just to appeal to a younger audience with the hope that it being cute was more important than being a good game.
There’s a lot of good to be said for it. As mentioned the game is similar to Pokemon and other games of that nature where you collect monsters, in this game called Plushkins, and battle them against each other. You play as Moco, a young witch who used Dreamtropy to make friends with the wild stuffed animal Plushkins. By exerting positivity she can make contracts with the Plushkins. Moco has just finished school and is apprenticing under a popular witch who is showing her the ropes. Part of that is working her way towards the Stella Medal, an award given to the best new witch.
The story is kind of interesting because it feels a lot like a typical anime. Moco is a girl who is more focused on food than anything else, and there’s a fun mocking relationship between her and her talking cat-head staff Neko, and she runs into several of her classmates who fit into some common anime character tropes. Still it’s kind of nice to play a game where the fate of the world isn’t on the line and instead it’s more focused on comedy between the characters and their attempts at being the best at what they love while also how they can help each other. They help each other out by finding and closing these dark portals that leak negative energy and make Plushkins into feral jerks, which much of the game revolves around.
Graphically it looks, well, cute. Plushkins look like stuffed animals and everything sort of fits into this weird theme of handcrafted items. The human characters each have a strong character design to them, and the Plushkins are just adorable. One of my favorite things about the game is that damage in battle is represented in the Plushkins by stuffing popping out of seams on their character models. This means in battle you can literally beat the stuffing out of the enemies. The 3D creates a sort of interesting shadowbox appearance out of the screen that looking interesting during some special moves, though you are also not really missing anything by never turning it on in the first place.
The background music and sound work well for the game. Nothing stands out as memorable however.
The game itself is interesting in how it plays. Typically during battles Moco can control up to three Plushkins versus 1-3 enemy Plushkins. Controlling the Plushkins is really simple, the bottom screen displays the commands and you can either tap the touchscreen or use the D-Pad to select an option. Up is to attack, while the rest of the directions can be assigned different abilities as your Plushkins earn them. Prior to choosing the Plushkin attacks you get to determine is Moco swaps one of them out, uses an item, etc. She gets a turn of her own at the start of each round of battle. Using the D-pad this way made the battles move quickly and fluidly and worked really well as a user-interface.
The different Plushkins have different affinities that work like Rock, Paper, Scissors. It’s pretty easy to infer what beats what, like Dark is weak against Light, Water works well against Fire, on so on. There are 8 different affinities so it’s not like you’ve got to memorizes flowcharts for it to make sense. I’d say this makes it kid friendly but I’ve literally had a ten year old completely school me on what affinity beats what in Pokemon so I’d hesitate to suggest that. A lot of the game revolves around these battles, you bring your three Plushkins into a dungeon with you with one in reserve, and all of them gain experience in battle as they level up, grow stronger and fight stronger Plushkins.
The game isn’t an open world game, instead there is a central hub where there’s areas to interact with other characters, craft items and manage the Plushkins. From the hub there is a portal where you can access a list of available dungeon areas. These dungeons are randomly generated smaller scale affairs with typically three levels to them with the third level being a boss character. Within the levels are enemies and also points where you can harvest material for crafting and seeds to grow additional items.
Here’s where we get to some of the stuff where mechanically the game confused me because it co-opts a lot of Free-To-Play-But-Not-Really mechanics. There’s a garden where you grow material needed for crafting items, this takes real life time to grow before it can be harvested, but that time can be eliminated by giving an item to a character. I kept expecting the game to try and charge me real money for that kind of item. It doesn’t and the time limit is really not that bad at all. The game also rewards at certain milestones yarn and shiny yarn to use to generate a random Plushkin, with the shiny yarn generating higher value Plushkins. I kept thinking, okay here’s where they try to charge me for the yarn, but nope. The game also gives out milestone rewards not just for completing tasks but also for just playing daily. Between the typical reward of leveling up Plushkins, unlocking new abilities and areas, this other type of constant rewarding tasks completed, investing time into it, and just turning it on, form a pretty addictive reward loop. Of all the games I’ve played this year I find it strange that Moco Moco Friends is the one that feels like it literally rewards my time invested the most.
Aside from that the game is constantly unlocking new features, though many are what you might expect from this style of game. Through playing the game Moco gains the ability to craft items that she can equip to the Plushkins, or healing items, to all sorts of things. The Plushkins can be trained, which typically means sacrificing one to give experience points to another, raise their max level, change their special moves, evolve or retire them for more space.
Difficulty wise this game is anything but. While there is some strategy to using different abilities and paying attention to attributes, it’s not a hard game if you decide not to pay attention to any of that. Sure the computer will somehow miraculously know you’re going to attack a specific enemy and will cast healing on them, but even then the game is super easy. If you grind even a little or manage your Plushkins well you’ll easily be overpowered right away and can just brute force through battles. I did not use a single healing item during the entire course of the game. In that way this is a game perfect for easily frustrated younger players or beginning players new to this type of game.
Moco Moco Friends may not be as content rich as some similar games that have been around for longer, however it does contain quite a bit of content and should easily distract many young players for dozens of hours. For those considering purchasing it for their child the only downside I can think of is that the game contains a surprising amount of text that needs to be scrolled through. The localization team did a good job and it is amusing at times but there’s only so many times I can hear about someone petting their Plushkin so hard that they’re worried they’re pulling out fur and leaving it bald.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Moco Moco Friends is adorable, has some smart design decision to keep players coming back, and while it might not be the best recruit and fight monsters game out there it’s certainly worthy of sharing the stage and is a charming addition to the genre.