At first glance, I wasn't sure whether I'd even be able to get my two young "testers" interested in the game. They've tried similar-looking games like Club Penguin but never seemed to stick with them for very long. Surprisingly, not only did they enjoy it, but they pretty much took over, and my little space alien hero was shoved aside as we spent most of our time playing their two characters. Read on for some first impressions!
The story behind the game is that cute little space creatures, named the "Glows," have been kidnapped by Lord Shadowbot, and it's up to you to find him and rescue the Glows. Despite the good and evil conflict in the storyline, it's fairly danger-free. There are bad aliens that you bump into while out in space, but overall travel is safe, and the world is more about fun and engaging activites than it is about conflict and threats. The storyline seems mainly a way to get players interested in exploring the world around them.
Little Space Heroes offers two choices for chat when you first register. You can select open chat, or you can choose safe chat, which has a filter and is moderated. In addition, if you come across a player in game who's disruptive, you can ignore him and click on the moderate button to send a report to the moderators.
Speed of entry (the "mom, I want to play now" factor)
It's very easy to get right into playing. It's a browser-based game, so there's no download involved. There are three characters to choose from, and you can customize their outfit colors and hair. I wondered whether my two young playtesters would be disappointed in the somewhat limited customization, but it seemed like just the right balance. There was enough to choose from to let them make a character that was to their liking, but the choices are limited enough to let them get right into the game, which is what they really wanted to do.
The last step is a quick registration that asks for age, username, password, and email. After that, you arrive in town at the Space Academy and check in to get your own space helmet and journal. Then you're encouraged to learn the basics of space flight and earn your own spaceship. From there, though, it's up to you what you choose to do, and there are lots of different things to see and games to play.
What to do in game
The game offers several paths for fun, and players can engage with the game in several ways. You can walk around town, use the map to jump directly to the area you want to visit, or even fly in the skies overhead. There is also a player journal that lets you keep track of badges you earn in game. In addition, there are lots of fun spots, like carnival rides, a restaurant, a tree house, and a farm. But a few of these areas look like they're still in development, and others have not yet been revealed, like the corked-off path to the library in the Space Academy. So as beta continues, I'm sure we'll see even more content added to the game.
Exploration doesn't stop at your home planet, though. Your spaceship allows you to take off and visit other planets. There is a Crystal planet, where you can adopt your own "glow" pet, and several "themed planets," such as jungle and snow. There are also minigames out in space, like "space race" and "gravity boots," where you walk from asteroid to asteroid to collect gems.
The game is free to play, and while it's still just in beta, it looks like there will eventually be a membership plan with added benefits. There are several shops where players can purchase outfits, musical instruments, and cute little critter pets, and the game also offers a barber shop and hair salon, so players can alter their appearance. As the game continues to develop, there seem to be more and more additions to the shops. Coins can be earned by playing minigames or collecting gems that are hidden throughout the world.
Age appropriateness (target age group)
The target age listed on the website is 6 to 12, but younger players could easily get into the game and have fun with a little help from parents. It's a text-based game (no voiceovers), so early readers will need a hand with reading the story and instructions, but much of the UI is easy to understand, and there are plenty of visual cues in game to aid in figuring things out. The vast majority of the game is done with the mouse, using the buttons to click on things and fire the bubble blaster and moving the mouse itself to steer.
Outside fan art/creative opportunities
I love when games offer activities for the kids to do once they log off. Little Space Heroes has a page devoted to coloring pages, printable bookmarks and stickers, cut-out masks, and desktop wallpapers. In addition, it looks like the devs will soon be adding downloadable paper crafts to print out and assemble.
Little details in game
The world of Little Space Heroes encourages kids to explore and interact with things around them. Each character has a bubble blaster, and shooting it at objects around you can cause things to bounce and shake, with an occasional chance at a little gem dropping for you to scoop up. There's even a Bubble Blaster Park, where players can take aim at cut-out targets and try their hands at launching themselves to the top of the bubble buildings. At the Space Suit store, there's a fun little device that gauges whether your outfit is "hot or not." There are the usual social hubs as well, like a theater, a concert auditorium, and an aquarium.
Overall, Little Space Heroes is light-hearted and fun. It offers a colorful, friendly world, with lots of interactive objects. The games are easy to get into and are just the right challenge for the target audience. I'm eager to see how the game develops as it wraps up beta because several times, my two testers wondered aloud what sorts of things would be added to certain areas once the game is ready to launch. (And it led to them coming up with lots of different ideas!) We enjoyed the vertical feel to the world and the ease of being able to jetpack right up into the air any time we wanted to. With winter coming, Little Space Heroes seems like the perfect game for a cold afternoon (after homework is done, of course!).
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to firstname.lastname@example.org.