In play

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Online gaming: It's the hottest type of gaming right now and millions upon millions of people around the world play some type of online game every day.

The most popular type of online game is the Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO) like World of Warcraft. I know I've written an article about this before but lately my son and I have been watching a lot of Cartoon Network and there are three new MMOs out there that are advertised during nearly every commercial break.

As you can imagine, my son started bugging me like crazy to try them out as he was a huge Webkinz fanatic when he was a bit younger. Now he's looking for something a little bit more suited to his age. I'm not going to say that I'm a web-paranoid parent or anything -- he has his own e-mail and such -- but I fear the games might not be safe and he'll be dealing with things over his head. So of course I become skeptical. Below I'll talk about my finds on all three games and let you know if they're safe for your youngsters.

Fusion Fall Rated E10+

Fusion Fall is put on directly by Cartoon Network and features all of the hit characters from their cartoon lineup (Kids Next Door, Dexter [not the murderous one], Ben 10, etc.) Players take on the role of a new recruit in the fight against evil. You team up with players from around the world to fight the forces of Lord Fuse who is trying to destroy Earth through Fusion Matter. Fusion Matter takes on all shapes and sizes and they collectively are the enemies you'll fight in the game. Sometimes they even look like the Cartoon Network stars you're trying to help. The game works mostly as a platformer (Super Mario-style) with many of the missions setting you up to solve puzzles in the area around you.

The game features fully customizable characters and offers a myriad of choices to make your toon "just right." Complete missions to earn new weapons and armor among thousands of other in game items which you can use for yourself or trade to your friends. Also, the game has a trading card series attached to it, and if you purchase a pack of cards, you can enter in codes from the cards in game for special items.

The game has a quick chat setup, which means whatever you want to say to other players has to be chosen from a preset list of phrases. To me this is key in a kid's online game, since restricting chat keeps profanity out and identities safe. When my son and I played Fusion Fall it was still early on in the release, and the game was very laggy and choppy but still playable. From what we experienced, the game is mostly about combat and platforming puzzles and for me (but not for him) got boring pretty quickly. With the addition of minigames or other social activities besides fight grinding, the game would be a pretty solid title.

Wizard 101 Rated E10+

In Wizard 101, take up your staff and join the ranks of fledgling wizards from across the globe to save the magical world (notice a trend here?). When you create your wizard you are placed in one of the seven schools of magic (i.e. Fire, Myth, and Balance) and you begin your life as a wizard.

The combat aspect of the game plays out like a card game where you draw from your deck of spells and summon creatures to fight your enemies. A lot of the focus of the game is based on deck construction and leveling up to gain new spells. Also, Wizard 101 has safe spots (sidewalks) for running through areas, but of you move to the middle of the street you can jump into battles with other players against CPU run enemies (very much like Toontown).

The spells are level spaced pretty far apart in my opinion, making it tough to get new stuff without devoting a lot of time to playing. Also, no minigames! C'mon guys! Don't you know only people my age like to sit around and grind out combat experience for hours on end? You gotta throw out some other fun stuff to keep everyone interested! Plus, I'm not too keen about my 7-year-old becoming a necromancer and throwing around death spells, maybe a poor magic school choice

In my opinion the game is kind of rough graphically, but the creators boast that they designed Wizard 101 to be played on any CPU system (no need to upgrade) unlike a lot of other MMOs out there. The game also features the same quick chat system I talked about before, which is awesome. But in general, it's kind of repetitive and needs added features to make this a complete game.

Free Realms Rated E10+

Okay, now we're talking. Free Realms is put on by Sony Online Entertainment (Everquest), and has been putting together MMOs for a long time, so they know how to do it right.

Free Realms plays a lot like World of Warcraft in that it's very open, very sandboxy and there's always SOMETHING to do. Whether you're out fighting bad guys, zooming in the car races, mining, cooking, collecting stuff, or just hanging out with friends, there's never a dull moment.

Free Realms is the only one of the three games that has character classes (Ninja, Medic, Blacksmith, etc.), which is key for gamers. No one wants to be like every other player, you want your own skills and abilities to set you apart! So run around and have a blast! Go anywhere, do anything and have fun doing it. Also, Free Realms has a card game built in where you can challenge your friends digitally, and also purchase packs of cards in real life to battle your friends outside of the game.

Needless to say, this is the game my son and I stuck with since it was the most fun and enjoyable of the three titles. The quick chat system is also used in this game, which is honestly a must. There are tons of collectibles and items to grab which keep you coming back. And honestly, it's a graphically stunning game which rounds it out to be one awesome experience.

All three games have a free membership for limited gameplay, meaning some features are not accessible, but if you opt for a membership they all are under $7 a month. Try all three for free and let me know what you think in the Facebook comment box below!

Until next time, play on!