I hope by now you have read Game Rant's appraisal of the in-beta MMO from Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. We thought it may also be useful to inform you as to whether the game appeals to children. After all, this game is described as a family-friendly experience, suitable for all ages. So what better way to test that statement then by unleashing my five-year-old son, John, upon it, to see what would happen.First, let me give you a quick primer on John. Since he is my son in particular, he was exposed to video games very early in his life. He can wield a mouse and keyboard and an Xbox 360 controller with equal skill, and he is probably better than you at Portal.
Like most 5-year old boys, John loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He loves the animated series, the action figures and even their accompanying LEGO sets equally. I read the comic booklets to him at bedtime and had to kick him off this computer so that I could write this piece.
John wasn't immediately enthralled by Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. The beginning of the game found us struggling to get what we wanted out of the character creation mode. If you plan on playing this with a child, be ready for this conversation:
"OK, pick your guy. No you can't call him that. No you can't be Anakin. You just can't. The game won't let you. Because he already exists in the canon. No you can't have him either. No, I know, you can't be anyone that you know from the show. It's complicated. Look, just pick something. Anything. It really doesn't matter. It's just a game."
The build we used only offered three races and a very limited set of customization options for each. Because this is a LucasArts property, the character creator locked out any remotely Star Wars sounding names we tried out for our character. Our initial attempts at variants of "Skywalker" were apparently all spoken-for, as you'd expect, but we did get lucky with John Skywalka. That is until I received an email the next day informing me that the name was unacceptable and his new name was going to be Marcen Greenrocket, whether we liked it or not. This then caused a disparity between our account name (John Skywalka) and our avatar's name (Marcen Greenrocket). Here's a tip for LucasArts: If you want to appeal to children, stop being such overprotective sticklers about your intellectual property. It isn't as though we were about to launch a lucrative career as John Skywalka and suddenly unravel over 30 years of canon.
The game's "overworld" consists of a series of rooms your avatar can run around in. In these rooms, various daily contest games are offered and other players go about their business. John didn't spend a great deal of time in these areas, though I have a feeling he may once he accrues several friends to hang out with in his Senate Suite. At first he avoided this segment of the game entirely, sticking with the mini-games exclusively, but it was only after very specific questioning that I discovered this was because John didn't know how to get from this overworld back into the mini-game menu. Once we both discovered that clicking the big green button on the bottom of the screen brought up the mini-game menu at any time, the prospect of just walking around the overworld instantly became more appealing to him. I noticed he chose to spend more and more time in between mini-games exploring the overworld as he became more comfortable with the game's layout.
Aside from the pleasant distraction this provided, however, exploring this environment lost its appeal rather quickly, since there was little else for him to do in these areas. They are all essentially communal zones that contain stores in which you can purchase various Star Wars related accoutrements to help personalize your experience. John only noticed this in passing and didn't seem overly interested in investigating these stores.
I do plan on explaining the in-game commerce system to him soon and hopefully he will see a few items he likes that I can set as goals for him, teaching him the art of saving and spending prudently in a fun way (and without him realizing). I actually caught myself making mental notes here and there of certain items and their respective Credit costs. If in the near future, John decides he wants a lightsaber or an Astromech droid to follow him around, I'll know just just how many mini-games he needs to complete in order to get it, and he can plan accordingly.
There are two currency systems in Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Station Cash, which is real money you fuel with your credit card, and the aforementioned Credits, which are points earned by taking part in mini-games. Both can be used to purchase in-game items, but many items can only be purchased with one currency or the other. As a parent, I find this system to be extremely agreeable with my spending sensibilities. Obviously, I want my child to be able to involve himself in this experience and enjoy himself, but I don't want to go broke doing it. My main fear at the outset was that my reluctance to spend real money would limit John's enjoyment of the game in some way - for example, only allowing him half the experience or limiting his play-time in some way. Thankfully this isn't the case. Granted, Subscribers, or "Jedi Members" as they are called, get complimentary accommodations -- such as the Senate Suite I mentioned earlier -- and can play six additional mini-games that regular members cannot. That said, there is still so much to do for the children of thriftier parents that in no way would I say the non-subscription experience is a lesser one.
As I have already mentioned, aside from the overworld, the other 50% of the game consists of mini-games. This is where John spent (and still spends) most of his play-time and where Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures really blossoms as a child-friendly product. These mini-games are all variations of existing mini-games you will be familiar with, only with a Star Wars twist. The input schemes for most of the games strike a nice balance between being easy for kids to pick up and providing a nice gradual difficulty curve. As John played several games, from "Starfighter" to "Stunt Gungan" to "Lightsaber Duel," I noticed that the first stage in each was satisfyingly easy for him to complete, while the second stages were tweaked just enough to defeat him, but not discourage him from trying again. If any of you reading this have a five-year old, you'll be all too familiar with that razor's edge of challenge vs. frustration. That John can participate in the majority of these games at five years old, and remain actively engaged in their challenges exemplifies SOE's masterful execution of the family-friendly mini-game.
Here is a video I shot of John playing through several of the mini-games available in Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. He begins with a little Starfighter, which is a Starfox-style on-rails space combat game. After completing the level he then moves on to the Lightsaber Duel, which is surprisingly similar to Dance Dance Revolution. He finishes up this session with a little Stunt Gungan, in which you launch Jar Jar Binks into the air and try to keep him airborne using a variety of explosive objects.
Before I introduced John to Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, he used to spend most of his PC game-time on the LEGO website, playing various LEGO-themed mini-games, and Noggin.com. Now, however, he almost exclusively plays this. Many parents out there already know of a few key websites out there that operate as hubs for digital child-friendly activities and you can add Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures to that list. There are many games here in one place, and many develop key skills in children, such as saving and spending money, strategy, awareness and eye-hand coordination. Granted, I'm not saying that this will replace school, but as a parent, you want your kids to learn naturally through fun activities when at home, rather than brow-beating them with math books. The restricted, fenced-in environment of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures hits that sweet spot perfectly.
Other parental boons here are the parental controls. When John entered his age at the sign-up screen, I was also prompted to supply my email address as his parent. All his in-game activities that I should know about, such as purchases and his initial character-creation, are first sent to my email account for my approval before they are executed. Additionally, the canned avatar animations and communications options are enough to allow players to interact sufficiently, but are also primitive enough to curb any unpleasant activity.
The game critic in me is screaming that Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures isn't the best-looking game by any stretch, but that isn't the point. As a widely-accessible online game that gives kids a shared Star Wars experience with other kids in a safe environment, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures excels. My initial concerns about the overworld's small size and the simplistic nature of the mini-games were tempered considerably when I remembered, somewhat obviously, that I don't want my child glued to a PC for hours at a time, World of Warcraft-style.
As a parent, I can't recommend Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures enough. If you have a child that is remotely interested in the newer Star Wars spin-offs, they will love this, and so will you.
I'll leave the final segment to John -- my muse for this piece. He was a good sport throughout all of our time with Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, and provided great feedback so long as I kept the goldfish crackers coming. As the perfect specimen of this game's target audience, what were his final thoughts?
Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures is out now for the PC.