) is the first ever massively multiplayer 3-D online game for kids, and it is making quite a splash! It’s called “massively multiplayer” because this game is played online with thousands of other children. By paying $9.95 a month, parents sign up their kids to play in the fascinating world that is Toontown.
Here’s how it works. When kids first start the game, they are shown a video of how Scrooge McDuck unwittingly unleashed an army of money-grubbing robots on Toontown. These business robots, known as Cogs, are trying to take over colorful Toontown and turn it into a black and white corporate metropolis.
To enter Toontown, players design their own animated toon. Upon arrival in Toontown, toon-kids join forces with other toons in the fight against the evil Cogs.
Since Cogs can’t take a joke, all toons use gags to defeat the Cogs. Newbie toons are equipped with squirting flowers and muffins to throw. To defeat a Cog, toons must confront them. A toon can take on a Cog by itself or it can form a team with up to three other toons.
During a confrontation with a Cog, toons select gags to use on the Cog. Cogs come with different levels of skill, and the toon gags correspond to those difficulty levels. It may take several rounds of using gags on a Cog before a toon can wear the Cog down causing it to self-destruct. When a toon throws a gag at a Cog, if it misses or if it isn’t strong enough to defeat the Cog, the Cog will retaliate with a business tactic which zaps the toon of its joy. Each toon’s joy level is represented on a special “laff” meter. Toons may find themselves barraged with “red tape,” “double talk,” or a “bounced check.” If a toon’s laff meter gets too low, the toon becomes sad and it is transported back to a playground where it can chill out and play games to get happy again.
Toons need lots of gags to defeat Cogs. Gags are acquired by spending jellybeans—the currency of Toontown. Players earn jellybeans in many ways—but the easiest is by playing trolley games in the Cog-free playgrounds of Toontown. These jellybean-earning games are simple arcade games of skill and chance like maze hunts, tag, and tug-of-war.
Toontown is a sprawling metropolis of six interconnected neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is themed around one of Disney’s favorite characters so kids will explore in Donald’s Dock, Minnie’s Melodyland, and Daisy’s Garden. In addition to a central Playground where toons can hang out, restore their laff meter, and be safe from Cogs, each neighborhood contains streets on which toons will encounter Cogs.
This game has a very clever framework that keeps kids interested in playing for days if not weeks. Each toon reports to the Headquarters where it is given a task or mission. At first, these missions or tasks are a way for kids to learn the rudiments of the game. When players gain experience, they are offered separate task tracks that allow them to earn new kinds of gags or increases in their laff meters.
Toontown also has many fascinating social aspects. There are two special ways to communicate with other players. One, called Speed Chat, allows all toons to talk to each other by selecting standard phrases from a pull-down menu. You will see toons saying “What task are you working on?”, “Thanks,”or even “Toontastic!”
For children who actually know each other offline and have secured their parents’ approval, there is a special way to arrange instant messaging within the game. This “Chat” function is only available to players who are “Secret Friends.” The Chat function becomes operational when players share a game-generated sequence of letters and numbers offline. With this safeguard in place, only players who know each other offline can actually instant message within the game and parents need not worry that their child will be approached by an unknown adult.
The gameplay also encourages toons to become “friends” and work cooperatively. On the streets, Cogs have taken over some buildings in Toontown. Toons can reclaim a building by defeating a group of higher level Cogs within a building—but this can only be accomplished when toons work together.
I have had a wide age range of kids test this game for weeks. Across the board, kid-testers loved the game because it is constantly challenging and changing. Since it requires reading, it is appropriate for children 7-up and is even fun for adults. Parents, this game is so captivating that you may enjoy playing it with your kids—I do!
Toontown Online will only run on Windows using Internet Explorer 5 or higher. Disney offers a free 3-day trial for families wanting to check it out.
Disney is planning monthly expansions options including an upcoming Cog Headquarters to challenge advanced players. Kid- testers said they hoped these new options include more games that involve logical reasoning. This is the most exciting new technology concept I have seen in years!
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.