For one reason or another, video games that require little input from their players have grown in popularity over the years. These “idle games” as they are called (your Cookie Clickers, Clicker Heroes, and Soda Dungeons) seem to be a response to some kind of change in human brains and attention spans, but I’m not here to talk about anthropology at this time.
Today, I’m going to talk about IdleOn: The Idle MMO, a relatively new entry into the idle genre that seems to be a bit of an oxymoron on the surface. It combines a genre that can be significantly hands-off with another that is infamously and intoxicatingly engaging, to the point that it has actually ruined people’s lives. Are you in danger of having your life ruined by playing IdleOn? Probably not, but it is a lot of fun. Let’s check it out in this review.
For better or worse, it’s very clear that IdleOn’s presentation and tone are wholly representative of its creator, Lavaflame2. This Montecito, California-based indie dev imbues IdleOn with what feels like his own personality and sense of humor, and that might not appeal to everyone. I personally enjoyed it, but it’s clear from the jump that this game is very targeted to appeal to a specific group of people.
It’s worth noting that the version of IdleOn I played was the Steam version. Lavaflame2 seems to develop his games with smartphones as the target platform and then port those games to PC which causes a number of issues for me, but I’ll get to those in a bit.
Stop and Stare
Lavaflame2 has at least two other games available from what I can tell, and they all have a simple yet colorful pixel art presentation. In the case of IdleOn, this approach to visuals makes it reminiscent of the Game Boy Advance RPGs that consumed so much of my time as a kid, and that alone kind of got me hooked. I’m willing to bet that plenty of other people got hooked by that nostalgia, because IdleOn reportedly has more than four million players. An impressive number for a game of this scale, no doubt.
The actual visuals of the game are not an issue. What is an issue for me, is that, on PC, the game’s UI doesn’t seem to be scaled properly. It starts in a small window where everything looks fine, but I tend to prefer my games to be full-screen. Expanding that window to match my 1440p monitor understandably made everything seem stretched out. I would prefer proper scaling, but I can’t hold this against the game too much. I’m sure the majority of players are on smartphones, where this isn’t an issue, and it’s nice to have access to this growing community on another platform. If you installed IdleOn on a Steam Deck or similar handheld PC, it would probably be a much better time, and even closer to replicating those golden days of the GBA.
Tumbling from the Top
IdleOn’s tongue-in-cheek opening sets a pretty good expectation for the rest of the experience. The player character quips and jokes via text boxes with a lighthearted self-awareness as you click around to figure out how the game works. The protagonist even says, “Where are the Tutorial Arrows that force you to click? I guess we have to figure out how to play by ourselves!”
That made me chuckle just a little, and thankfully the game isn’t too difficult to figure out. It is a mobile game after all. You click to move, attack, and interact, and that’s it. After you take down some creatures and are shown how to collect resources and craft, you’re faced with a Dark Souls-like creature that sends you all the way to the beginning of the game, losing all of your equipment and levels on the way down as you bump and flop through different levels in the game. Another well-earned laugh, and a classic RPG mechanic reimagined with some personality rather than being re-hashed the same way we’ve seen over and over again.
When you finish falling, you’re at the ACTUAL beginning of the game, and this is where you create your character. There are a surprising number of options in terms of presentation, class, and cosmetics, but I had some trouble claiming a name for myself. Even silly, off-the-dome names like “Jeve Stobs”, “Jimson”, and “BingBong” were all somehow taken. I spent two or three minutes finding a name, but I guess that’s just the situation in any MMO with a significant number of players.
From there, it’s a pretty standard MMO/RPG. Take quests from a quest-giver, punch slimes and smaller creatures until you can level up and upgrade your weapons to fight bigger monsters, and keep going so you can chase that little shot of dopamine you get every time you level up. It’s pretty effective, and there’s plenty of guidance from the NPCs and, I kid you not, Lavaflame2 himself, that I never felt lost or confused about what to do next.
But IdleOn had one more mechanic for me, and it just so happens to be the backbone of the entire experience.
After reaching a certain level, you’re forced to create another character. In the time I’ve spent with RPGs, my understanding is that you only make another character once you’ve maxed out your current one, but that’s not the case in IdleOn. According to Lavaflame2, creating multiple characters is essential to the experience. You can create a secondary character and set them on autopilot to fight or collect resources while you progress with your stronger character, and the cycle goes on and on, even when you aren’t actively playing! It’s pretty clever, and I enjoyed this twist on a genre I’ve played so much of in my life.
And overall, that’s what I would say about IdleOn as a whole. It’s fun, creative, and filled with personality in ways that most games aren’t these days. I prefer a video game experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and IdleOn: The Idle MMO definitely delivered on that.