Neopets might not sound familiar to the more serious sect of gamers, but the Internet phenomenon of Neopets.com is no joking matter. Similar to the handheld game, Tamagotchi, Neopets are virtual characters that you must adopt and care for using an economy called Neopoints to purchase items and food. The Web site is incredibly intricate and popular, so it makes a good amount of sense that those behind the license would try to capitalize on some of that popularity by creating a full-fledged game within the Neopets universe. Of course, the problem with the console version of Neopets is that its major attraction is the license and not the gameplay. Like Neopets.com, the game is targeted at a primarily young audience, but unlike the Web site, it combines some overly simplistic mechanics with some terribly frustrating ones. It's likely that fans of Neopets will be happy to see formerly 2D creatures come to life in a 3D mock-up of familiar environments, but that excitement will be horribly undermined by the no-better-than-average gameplay. For a good Neopets experience, you're probably going to get more-consistent entertainment from Neopets.com than Neopets: The Darkest Faerie.
This game will appeal to small children and furries.
The game lets you control two young characters, a lupe (wolf-looking creature) named Tormund, and an acara (twilek-looking creature) named Roberta. In the beginning, you'll learn the ropes--the ins and outs of combat-based gameplay--with Tor, as you aim to elevate his status from farm boy to knight. In the second act, you control Roberta, niece of the king and diplomat, as she hones her sorcery skills. Eventually, the two join up, and you're able to switch between the characters on a whim, using the best of both of their abilities in succession. The gameplay is somewhat similar to combat-based platformers, only there is barely any platforming here and the combat is at its best when it's avoided. Instead, the primary focus is exploration, as well as item collection and management. You'll find, earn, and purchase a number of different items, which all serve to boost your statistics, whether it's in the form of petpets, consumable items, or motes, this game's version of materia (made popular by Final Fantasy). In many ways, this makes Neopets: The Darkest Faerie more akin to the gameplay of the life simulator at Neopets.com--that is, if you didn't have to also deal with long, tedious exploration and annoying combat.
The game begins on Tor's family farm, where you learn the gameplay mechanics by completing Tor's daily chores. The one main story mode that you pursue takes you from just another day on the farm to the big city of Meridell and eventually on the quest to defeat the darkest faerie. Along the way, you'll find side quests and hidden treasure maps that help give more depth to the spacious environments. But the gameplay never really evolves from simple tasks, which are chained together by backtracking through massive areas. Interacting with characters and most activities can be done by standing in the appropriate place and pressing the square button. For the most part, accomplishing an objective simply requires getting to the right place and interacting with something, although there are also a few platforming and jumping sequences within the game. At any point you can quickly access the mission objective menu that will give you a vague idea of what objectives you have left to complete. Although, the cribbed version on that screen is never as helpful as the one-time text you get when you're first given the mission. This is just one way in which the gameplay can get confusing, so it's crucial to pay attention to the dialogue at all times.
The mote system is like a simplified version of materia, which is one of the best things about this game.
From time to time an indicator will appear on the in-game map to alert you of when you're in the proximity of your next quest, which you can access anytime during gameplay. However, most of the time, especially if you're not in the vicinity of your objective, there will be no clue about where to go. In fact, there's no text on the map other than the name of the current location, and there's no way to scroll through maps of areas you've been without just running there yourself. This leads to a tremendous amount of trial and error, as you follow vague directions and occasional signposts to find the location of your next objective. For a game with such simple mechanics, the navigation is surprisingly tedious. Otherwise, the vast environments are nice, and you'll be able to break apart tall grass, plants, and barrels to uncover health items and potions.