| TibiaME

When mobile phones are all about connecting people (if we're to believe all those TV adverts), it is perhaps a little odd that there have been few games made for the mobile phone that really rely on bringing players together through features like Bluetooth and wireless internet connections.

The potential of these connected technologies for gaming is vast. However, with mobile gaming still in a state of accelerated early development, spreading out into the air and beyond apparently doesn't seem like a foremost priority.

TibiaME is a title that makes a bold move into this unbreached gulf. It's a fully-fledged MMORPG, a true multiplayer sword 'n' spells experience that can't help but draw comparisons to early online PC RPGs such as Ultima Online, which ruled the net roost before the now all-powerful World of Warcraft came along and stole its thunder.

Perhaps in order to compensate for the ambition of the game's connected features, several of TibiaME's other features remain relatively basic. The graphics are of the simple, top-down variety, offering fairly muted colours and a generally repetitive visual experience. Dungeons are brown, and the grass is green. Items are very much icon-like, adding little to the bland landscape.

The main game screen is made up of the game window and your inventory. You move with the thumbstick and execute more involved commands (like picking up and using items) by either clicking down on the thumbstick to make a game menu appear at the bottom of the screen, or by using the keypad.

The keypad's buttons are automatically assigned to various tasks, including calling up a map below your inventory on the right-hand side of the screen. Squeezing everything onto the one screen without using any truly separate menu pages certainly makes all of the game's features readily accessible, but it hardly offers a lush overall look.

However, TibiaME makes up for its lacklustre appearance in several ways. First, the gameworld is big, much larger than your average mobile RPG. Knowing that the dungeon/wasteland you're in is only a small part of a huge virtual landscape certainly mitigates the disenchantment of trudging around a generic locale.

Second, your fellow players help to add spark to your environment no end, perking up almost every other element of the game. Battling against scores of giant insects on your own would soon get tiresome in a single-player game, but in TibiaME, when you never know when another real-life player might turn up to give you a hand, dynamic seems much more vital.

The crowd currently partaking in the TibiaME experience seems both friendly and varied, too. We encountered a number of languages being spoken (few of which this reviewer could decipher), but thankfully even many of the foreign players spoke enough English to allow for some quick conversations. We were offered weapons and help in that sort of heart-warming way that is often absent from many current MMORPGs. Although TibiaME can't have that many players compared with most of these PC online games, the world is full enough to stop it from appearing deserted or lonely.

The friendly feel of the place doesn't stop that little green monster from popping up, though. Being surrounded by higher level players, as you undoubtedly will be for at least the first few hours of play, spurs you on wonderfully to get your own level counter higher.

Leveling up is done by gathering experience points gained through killing enemies. Combat, incidentally, is of the simplest kind. You attack any enemy you walk up to automatically, as long as you have a weapon in your 'active item' slot. You don't even need to press a button.

This may sound a little too simple, but unfortunately it's necessary. On our test handset, using standard WAP/GPRS, the lag was very frequent and interfered almost constantly with the gameplay. To try and mask this, movement in the game is very slow, the sort of slowness that almost demands to be written 'sloooooow.'

Movement is also grid-based, but the perhaps slightly dated feel of this will be forgotten behind the judder. Thanks to the simple combat, things manage to remain very much playable, yet the lag will be one of the most characteristic features for most players of the game.

Alas, the technical difficulties don't just end there. During our experience, there were fairly extended periods where we simply couldn't connect to the game, and play was liberally scattered with various kinds of error messages, glitches and game crashes. Much like the lag issue, these don't make the game unplayable as such, but they certainly will test your resolve.

Then again, we should mention that TibiaME is a game that has been available for pocket PCs for some time, but has only just made its way onto the mobile handset. New versions of the mobile edition are being released frequently, so it's likely that many of these technical issues will soon be resolved.

TibiaME is in many ways a 'proper' MMORPG, and is the closest we've seen to a recreation of the core of the online RPG experience that's available on the PC. Sure, it looks dated, but the real problem with the game is the amount that the technical issues (currently) infringe on the gameplay.

So can we recommend it to all and sundry? No. However, if this review has piqued your interest, you should give TibiaME some further exploration. It may be flawed, but it's one of the most interesting mobile developments we've seen in a while, and is certainly one to keep an eye out for in the months to come.


TibiaME is a brave stab into MMORPG for mobiles that succeeds on several of the core online fronts, but is plagued by technical issues that make it hard to recommend for anyone only casually interested in online play