Neopets Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing Review
Neopets began as an online web site where users could create and raise fantasy animals known as "neopets" and "petpets." On the site, users can customize their pets, send them into battle against other people's pets, and go on quests and play mini-games in order to aquire goodies and upgrade their pets' abilities.
The PSP game incorporates many of the concepts found in the web-based Neopets game. Players can outfit their chosen petpet with different clothing and weapons, go on quests handed out by villagers, explore the various dungeons situated throughout the land, and upgrade their petpet's abilities through training. Players can also take their petpets into the battledome to fight against CPU or human-controlled monsters (via local WiFi play).
Unlike the web site, which is primarily point-and-click in nature, the PSP game is a fast-paced "hack and slash" style role-playing-game. Players walk around the world of Petaria and battle enemies in real-time, which means that with each press of a button the on-screen character will swing its weapon, cast a spell, or consume an item. If you've played Untold Legends, it's very much like that.
Gameplay is typical of the genre. The world map is segmented into sections containing settlements, jungles, and dungeons. In settlements, you can visit shops and talk to friendly petpets who usually have something to add to the story or a quest for your character to do. There are monsters to fight out in the jungle and dungeon areas. The main distinguishing difference between the two is that dungeons also contain simple switch-based puzzles and a boss at the end. Combat consists mainly of pressing the X button to make close-up attacks and the triangle button to cast long-range spell attacks. When you run low on spell points, or your health is almost gone, you can tap the select button to access whatever equipment, items, and potions your character is carrying.
One nice thing about the game is that monsters stay dead once you slay them. They don't re-appear when you leave a room and come back. Their dead carcasses just lie there, reminding you that the area is safe while putting some extra stress on the already-taxed graphics engine.
Not so nice are the sluggish controls. There's a brief delay between when you push a button or move the analog nub and when your on-screen character actually makes the attack or begins to move. Early on, it's annoying to take damage because your character stood there for a half-second before casting a spell or turning around. Thankfully, the slow-poke controls become less bothersome as you push deeper into the game and upgrade your character's attributes, since you'll be doling out more damage to enemies and taking much less damage from them.
The process of upgrading a character's attributes in Wand of Wishing is fairly non-traditional. Like some other, lesser-known RPGs, the game forgoes the common experience-based leveling system for a pay-as-you-go style system. Enemies out in the wild may leave behind neopoints or items, but you don't earn experience for slaying them. Instead, increasing your character's stats involves redeeming the tokens you win in battledome matches, which generally cost anywhere from 250 to 50,000 neopoints to enter. As you can see, how much you're able to grow your character is directly correlated to how many neopoints you collect from fallen enemies and piggybanks out in the wild.
An optional way to further upgrade your character's attributes involves the catching and collecting of tiny creatures known as "petpetpets." When you find one of these wee buggers, you need to lay out some food so that they'll sit still long enough for you to grab them. Once caught, you can equip a petpetpet just like you would a shirt or a helmet. Each petpetpet gives your character a boost in a particular group of categories, but, while you may collect more than a dozen of them, you can only have one active at any given time. Fans of the Neopets web site will no doubt appreciate that petpetpets were included in the PSP game, even if in such a modest fashion.
The main hurdle I foresee for some players, particularly those eyeing this game as an alternative to their web-based Neopets addiction, is all of the "upgrading" that has to be done each time you enter a new area. When you reach a new settlement, you'll quickly discover that all of the creatures and enemies in surrounding areas are much stronger than your petpet is. In order to catch up, you absolutely must swap your old equipment for new equipment and bulk up your petpet's attributes, which means paying a visit to nearby shopkeepers, the battledome, and the local trainer. Players that just want to play the game may not enjoy all of this forced upgrading. Then again, people that enjoy customizing their characters and exploring the game world probably won't mind it one bit.
There really isn't much more to the game. Neopets fans will dig the characters and story, which takes players through a solid 20-hour romp through their favorite universe, but, as far as gameplay is concerned, the game employs a few tried and true concepts and doesn't break any new ground.
Similarly, the graphics and audio are solid, but not spectacular. On the one hand, the jungle environments are detailed, the animation is smooth, and everything is sharp and colorful. On the other hand, the scenery and many of the enemies come across as generic, and the system sometimes has trouble keeping up with the action without "slowing down." Ultimately, the graphics earn the nod because of some of the nicer details that can be seen, such as crashing waterfalls, as well as the game's use of the Havok Physics Engine, which causes objects to splinter when you smash them and enemies to fall back when attacked. Audio consists of a forgettable mix of fantasy tunes and creature effects, although the crickets and streams that provide the background noise for jungle settings are so lifelike that they're smile-inducing.
It's also probably worth mentioning that some amusing cinematic scenes appear from time to time to advance the story and add spice to the goings on. They're cute and funny.
All told, Neopets Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing is a competent (but extremely generic) hack and slash RPG that makes good use of the Neopets brand. Role-playing enthusiasts will probably deem it too underdeveloped for their tastes, but Neopets fanatics and younger players should come away satisfied.
3/14/2006 Frank Provo