By: Matthew Striplen
Honestly, who doesn’t dream about going on a magical adventure? Moco Moco Friends puts you in the shoes of Moco, a young girl starting her journey across the land to catch and train creatures to fight at her side. Wait a minute… this all sounds rather familiar.
Moco Moco‘s layout feels very intuitive, especially during combat. The interface is essentially the same as modern Pokémon games, but with a few unique functions. When you’re doing the actual dungeon crawling, Moco handles smoothly and changes directions with ease.
Moco Moco might be the only 3DS game that looks better in 3D than 2D. Although the overworld radiates with color, the details are a little lacking, most notably on poor Moco’s face where her iris and pupil-less gaze clashes with her otherwise cutesy demeanor, but turning on the 3D functionality fixes this issue somehow. The lack of detail becomes a theme, as the large, colorful shapes are rendered beautifully, but small details, such as faces, suffer.
Considering the huge amount of dialogue in the game, it’s disappointing that Moco Moco only has a few lines of Japanese voice acting rather than being fully voiced or even English localization. Its music remains appropriately cheery from start to finish, and the catchy tunes are sure to get stuck in your head pretty fast.
Let’s take care of the donphan in the room, Moco Moco Friends bears a striking resemblance to the Pokémon series. The main premise is pretty much identical: a young protagonist goes on an adventure to catch sentient creatures to train for battle and to be the very best, like no one ever was. *Gotta catch ’em all!*
Sorry about that… However, if you substitute Plushkins for Pokémon and witches for Pokémon Trainers, then you basically have the same concept. The differences lie in the execution.
The biggest difference is that Moco Moco is a traditional dungeon crawler, as opposed to Pokémon‘s open world experience. Each dungeon is filled with items and a handful of wild Plushkins to battle. After working your way through each floor, Moco will usually face off against a boss, though the challenge is never too great.
Unfortunately, each mission Moco undertakes follows a nearly identical formula. 1) Person X asks you to find a McGuffin, 2) Enter dungeon and fight your way to the top, 3) Defeat the boss and return with said McGuffin, and 4) Rinse and repeat. Plus, most dungeons can only be distinguished by color scheme — layouts, items and enemies all appear in similar ways. Since Moco Moco targets young children, its repetitive gameplay may fail to hold their attention.
Instead of having random battles, wild Plushkins can be seen wandering around on the overworld, though the number in the party won’t be revealed until the fight starts. Once Moco enters into battle, another difference becomes clear. Moco can only carry a maximum of four Plushkins at a time, but can deploy three at once.
Each Plushkin’s strength is based on Moco’s ability to supply them with magic. Magical attacks drain one point apiece, and at the end of every turn Moco replenishes a point. However, every Plushkin is capable of a melee attack, which does not require magic. Magic attacks are based on elemental types, which have a strength and resistance system similar to Pokémon.
Another notable feature is the auto-battler. Players can choose one of four auto modes: no skills (no magic), healing first, balance and full power, all of which are pretty self-explanatory. This function might be great for speeding through level grinding, but the auto-battler defeats the purpose of the game. Why bother playing a game when the computer can do it faster and better?
Although Moco Moco says the system is designed for kids who don’t understand battling yet, this still undermines the goal of the game by offering a crutch instead of hints. Additionally, just because someone is young and inexperienced does not mean they are not intelligent. Solving puzzles is fun, hence the genre dedicated to it, and the auto-battler takes away the joy of figuring out something for yourself.
Acquiring more Plushkins happens randomly. After defeating one, it may approach you and ask to join your team. Although the player may accept or deny it, the player cannot actively seek out a desired Plushkin. Sadly, you can’t rename them either, which makes distinguishing between two of the same Plushkin type more difficult. They can be summoned by using special items in the hub world, but the actual type cannot be specified.
Moco Moco also features a relatively intricate crafting and training system. A wide variety of items, including equipment, can be crafted from supplies collected in dungeons. The strength of your Plushkins can be raised by training them, or by spending currency to unlock new abilities, or by evolving them.
One of my biggest pet peeves is loading screens. As someone who grew up on ’90s games, especially disc-based games, loading times were ubiquitous and protracted. Although Moco Moco‘s load times aren’t too hefty, loading screens appear before and after almost everything. Want to talk to an NPC? Just wait a few seconds. Want to enter a battle? Wait. Want to walk into the next room? Wait.
In fact, the main reason the loading screens are so terrible is because they tell the player, “This is a loading screen. You are now waiting and not having fun.” If the developers tried to hide the loading times, there’s a good chance that most gamers wouldn’t even notice them.
Moco Moco Friends is a cutesy RPG aimed at young gamers. However, the similarities to Pokémon cannot be overlooked, as the premises are nearly identical. The battle system holds some promise, but the auto-battler removes the incentive for players to hone their skills. Although the game will provide a few hours of fun for little ones, the overall experience is not a memorable one.