Moshi Monsters Moshlings Theme Park is based on the Moshi Monsters website, a popular Neopets-style virtual pet game that lets you adopt a monster, customise its home and play mini-games to collect prizes. The franchise's first video game outing took the monsters to a zoo, and now they're taking a break to vacation at a faraway amusement park. This latest game opens with various Moshi Monsters bailing out of a plane over the Moshlings Theme Park, scattering the little critters everywhere. It's your quest to rebuild the theme park, round up the monsters, and play mediocre digital approximations of carnival games.
The main focus of the game is on rebuilding the titular theme park, over six distinct areas. You play as a different Moshi Monster in each area, and work through a relatively linear chain of Arcade games (carnival-style mini-games) and Rescue Rooms in order to eventually unlock that level's Ride (a slightly more ambitious mini-game). The Arcade games include a Breakout clone, Moshi-themed Whack-a-Mole, a claw-prize game, a pie-flinging shooting gallery, and air hockey. None of them are any more exciting than they sound, unfortunately, though the Breakout clone and air hockey can be fun in short bursts.
The Rescue Rooms are where the game's star creatures are released from their oddly similar-looking prisons, and these are more interesting than the Arcade games, but marred by slow movement and slightly sloppy controls. You tap a button to "call" the monsters towards safety on the left side of a level, while manipulating a grabber and boxing glove arm to clear their way of obstacles and pick up gems and batteries. The touch screen controls are wonky here: sometimes a hard left will register as a right before fixing itself, and everything seems to need to happen "on the beat", which can feel unresponsive. Also, having to hit the "call" button to keep your Moshi Monster moving leftward makes for a lot of awkwardly incessant tapping.
Once you rescue your Moshi Monsters or Moshi eggs, you can play with them in the Monster Habitats and Nurseries. You can drag toys into the playroom or feed them treats, and play little stylus-based mini-games to give them a bath, prepare hot dogs for them (as you do), serenade them with Simon Says xylophone melodies, and help them get through exercise courses. The mini-games are simple, and reminiscent of Flash-based website diversions, though the lack of any customisation makes them a step down from the actual Moshi Monsters website games. Younger players will likely enjoy these — though nearly every activity ends with a prompt to blow into the microphone, so be prepared for some spittle on little 3DS screens.
The final parts of each area are the Ride Regenerator and the subsequent Ride. The Regenerators are simple puzzles, while the Rides are unique mini-games for every level, including rollercoaster runs and and white water rapid rides, among others. These have the most potential of any of the mini-games, but sadly, the controls are a real let down. The first area's ride (a downhill kart ride through a tubular chute) is nigh on uncontrollable, with the touch screen's joystick nowhere near sensitive or responsive enough to gather collectables or avoid obstacles with any precision.
Each of the park's six areas feature these same attraction types, and while some are better than others, the uneven quality only exacerbates one of Moshlings Theme Park's worst problems: nothing is skippable. To unlock the Rescue Rooms in each stage, you need to play the same five Arcade games every time. To unlock the Rides, you have to collect every single battery from each of the Rescue Rooms. The only optional areas are the Nurseries and Habitats — and these are ironically the most enjoyable parts of the game. For a game aimed at younger players, the insistence on beating every game type and finding every last collectable before advancing stages seems like a real misstep.
The biggest issue, however, and one that will be a constant annoyance to kids and adults alike, is that Moshi Monsters is an exceedingly slow game. Not only in terms of pacing, but movement as well. You move your Moshling around the theme park by tapping left or right on the touch screen, but your monsters move with all the speed of Moshi-molasses. It takes an incredibly long time to get anywhere, and your Moshling will insist on stopping at all points en route. There are no express routes in Moshlings Land. To saunter from one end of an area to the other takes about 70 seconds (yes, we counted!) — and that's something you have to do routinely to select from all the different activities in each level, as the side-scrolling areas essentially act as animated menus. It's pointless, tiresome and excruciating enough to make you think twice about traipsing back to the beginning of an area for anything.
Moshi Monsters' presentation is nothing to write home about, though the bright colours and cartoony graphics will probably be fine for the game's younger audience, who are used to seeing these creatures in website form. It's essentially an average looking DS game, and the 3D effect only serves to create depth between the screen glass and the still-flat-looking game. The music is mostly looping, low-sample-rate MIDI guitar rock, with a few catchier tunes popping up from time to time.
There are a few thoughtful touches that younger games will appreciate, however, like the tactile opening of presents by sweeping the stylus back and forth across the on-screen package. Better still is the game's use of the 3DS' features: there's StreetPass integration for swapping high scores and exchanging "Visitors" (monsters that wander around the park and can come with bonuses), and a cool little AR mini-game (using the '?' card included with the 3DS) to unlock bonus Moshlings. These extras don't make up for the game's problems, but they're welcome additions nonetheless.
Sometimes licensed games made for younger players can surprise us, and exceed our expectations. Sadly, this is not one of those times. Moshlings Theme Park eschews the customisation-based gameplay of its source material in favour of generic, forgettable arcade games, cutting out much of what makes the franchise popular in the process. Poor controls and slow movement pull it down even further, and its strictly average presentation does nothing to help. The game comes with a coupon for a seven day Premium Membership to the Moshi Monsters website in the box, and we'd bet that most players would be much happier with that offer than the actual game.