Club Penguin is a game that seems completely made to get children into social networking and online gaming. While these two things may not often coincide in the same way in games for a larger audience, Club Penguin put a large focus on the social networking part even if games and interaction are its core. To decide if this is something that actually works I received help from my five year old son to play and help decide how well Club Penguin combines these two aspects. This Club Penguin review focuses on the game from the perspective of both child and parent.
Thoughts from a five year old
Having the Disney logo attached to it and being all about penguins were two things that got my son interested in trying the game. The character creator where you can change the color of your penguin was something he really enjoyed, even if deciding on a color to stick with turned out to be really difficult. Moving around took a short while to learn and then he wanted to explore all the stuff on the map and try to find all the mini-games that he could. He could spend a lot of time playing the same mini-games even if he said he didn’t like them. In actuality, he really just wanted the in-game currency provided for playing them. In some sense this shows how the grinding aspect of an MMO appeals to all ages.
While he did not seem to like the mini-games that much, buying new clothes for his penguin and especially decorating his igloo turned out to be time-consuming favorites. He spent a long time browsing through the different shopping catalogs to find things he could and wanted to buy. His igloo also turned out to be a really big interest for him, and he wanted to show it off after every change. Even if the customization might not that broad or compelling, even less so with the microtransaction limitations, it was enough to keep my son interested.
The social aspect of Club Penguin is also something that really seemed to appeal to him. While writing to others and reading letters were out of the question, Club Penguin has a great postcard system. You chose a card you like and send it to other players. These cards all have some funny pictures on them with an easy to understand word connected to the card. As soon as he saw a penguin he thought looked great he wanted to befriend them with a postcard, and after receiving a postcard answer he was happy all day with his new found friend.
Thoughts from the parent
While I personally did not get anything out from Club Penguin with my game time with it, it is a game that was easy to let my son play alone. With social interactions that are all about postcards, pictures, or visiting igloos, I would never have to worry about language issues. It was easy to start the game for him and let him sit at the computer alone. He didn't need any help and could easily handle the controls. Having the game available on mobile devices with the same character is also a huge plus as a parent for when you want the computer for yourself.
My biggest problem with Club Penguin was how integrated the microtransaction items were with the in-game currency items. The real money items were of course the ones the game wanted you to purchase and were the ones marked in special ways or seen in the game world. This problem was then enhanced with these items standing next to the one bought with in-game currency. You could see how bad looking and cheap the in-game currency items were. Adding a child on top of this created a situation where he would be very sad or angry because he couldn’t get the items he really wanted, even if he played a lot of mini-games for more in-game currency.
Club Penguin is a very mediocre game at its core, but it is a game that specializes in letting younger players get into both online gaming and social networking, and it does this very well. If you have played online games before there are more games for you to explore that also have Disney and cute animals attached to them. If your kids have never played online games or if you want something completely safe for them to play, with no bad language, nothing to scare them and something they can handle on their own then Club Penguin may act as a perfect gateway.
There are two main sections to the gameplay of Club Penguin; the social aspect and the mini-games. The social part is mainly walking around the Club Penguin world, customizing your character, talking to other players and sending them postcards. It is very simple to do all these things no matter what your age is or how much you can read. It is clear that the game is aimed at a younger audience and is well made for them. The other part is all the mini-games found within Club Penguin. They differ from each other in many ways and all seem made for the younger players.
Club Penguin is mostly playing it safe when it comes to new stuff. We have seen the social aspects before and all the mini-games are miniature versions of other games out there. Even if housing is something that has existed for a long time in the MMO world, it was nice to see it play a big part in Club Penguin. It was easy to get into, had lots of customizing from the start and my son ended up spending most of his time obtaining his perfect igloo. While everything in Club Penguin has been made before, it has never been made for a young player base in such an easy way before.
There are a lot of language filters in Club Penguin, but during our time with the game we never really encountered anyone trying to type anything offensive. Most of the time the only social interaction we encountered were the easy to make and heart-warming postcards you can send to others. Not having a chat filled with nonsense and only focusing on these postcards really enhanced the experience and helped make a safer and more enjoyable climate for the community.
Club Penguin is not a very good looking game, but it is a game that makes some interesting artwork with its top-down penguin world. It is a look that was easy for my son to find stuff in and that never went overboard with special effects. While I did find it boring, and in the best ways nostalgic since it felt like some old browser MMOs from the 90s, it once again showed that its target audience is 10 and younger. The sound effects of the games also comes in some quirky forms, which at least had my son laughing at certain times.
Club Penguin is a free-to-play game in the most common way. You can play all the game has to offer including every mini-game and location to visit. However, if you want your penguin to look cooler or your own igloo to be highly decorated then you will have to pay a lot for them. This in itself is no huge problem because it is all cosmetic. It does become a problem when the things obtained from in-game currency are mixed with stuff that needs real money, and how the real money items are always better looking. Combining this with letting your kid play is a recipe for disaster since they tend to get very sad for not being able to purchase all the items available in the shop.
Club Penguin is a very stable social experience with some fun mini-games. It is a game clearly made for the younger audience. It is an easy game for younger players to understand, get into with no learning curve and there isn't a heavy requirement on reading or writing. While it didn't appeal to me, since I have seen it all before in games aimed at an older audiences, my son still hasn’t let go of the game. While the core gameplay of Club Penguin is well-made for a younger audience, the payment model is the worst kind for them and something that really brings the game down. Putting all the ingredients together, Club Penguin is that standard chicken soup we have tasted before and are tired off, but it might get the kids into liking soup.