When I first read the announcement about a Casual MMO from Big Fish Games, the creator of award winning casual games, I filed it mentally away as a “to look at if I have the time.” It also went to beta in June and launched in August, right about the time when Champions, Aion and Fallen Earth were in beta. Then came PAX when I received an invite to their booth. Created by Tobi Ragiani of Asheron’s Call? Okay. I’ll swing by between appointments. It still did not look like much until I played it. Before long, it was interfering with my Aion beta play.
What’s all the fuss about, then?
The essence of Faunasphere is that it is a 100% web-based, non-violent, pro-environmental casual MMO. You raise adorably cute-looking fauna, zap pollution and build your own world for your fauna to reside in.
You start by adopting one of three fauna available, a Hoofer (Horse), a Sniffer (Dog) or a Scooter (Tortoise) and enter the world, zapping blocks of pollution, digging up plants and with your fauna’s ability, shake trees, dive into pools, lift rocks or root around inside hollow stumps for treasure. Each action yields you Lux – the in-game currency, Egg points, food or quest items and world building blocks.
Gameplay is straight forward. Point and click, to do most anything, mousing over the UI and items in game to bring up tool-tips. The game is linear and gates to new lands must be unlocked by completing goals found in each area, some which are repeatable and excellent for leveling up new Fauna.
The second part of Gamplay is about personalizing your own Faunasphere. This is where you also build Dens for them to sleep, Nests to hatch eggs, Treat Trees to grow basic food, Combine foods to make better food and decorate, decorate, decorate.
The third part of Gameplay in Faunasphere is breeding Fauna. This is how it works. The Egg-layer contributes a gene. The incubator contributes a gene. What pops out is anyone’s guess although gene food can be bought and fed to Fauna to alter their traits. There are a total of 12 Fauna types in game and all players start with one and fauna may not be traded, only eggs, so the rest have to be bred.
Combat and Character Advancement
Players who have a stable of Fauna can switch them out on the fly. It takes a second for that switch to take place and it is a tactic often employed while harvesting items that require Fauna specific ability. Each Fauna has 3 meters. Energy, Happiness and an Egg Meter which is also your level meter. Zapping Fauna and just running around takes energy, so keep your Fauna fed. For each Lux you obtain, you earn a corresponding amount of up to 1.4x Egg points – depending on how full your energy and happiness meters are. Each time your Egg meter fills up, you gain a level and an egg, which your Fauna lays only in your Faunasphere. The first 3 levels fly by. The 4th and 5th, not so much. The rest are a grind. There’s an informal player led level 20 club. Once you hit that, your Fauna can be “retired” as it no longer lays eggs. You don’t earn skills or stats, just a more powerful zap, so leveling is not the point of the game.
Combat? There ain’t none. Oh, wait. I take that back. There are vile, nasty, sentient many-eyed pollution blocks that spit icky green bubbles at you and a Pollution Monster that chomps on your Fauna and spits it back out – if you can call that combat that is... Each of these actions impact your Fauna’s happiness meter and if that meter hits bottom, you’re sent back to your Faunasphere to happy-up. If your energy meter goes down to zero, your Fauna takes a nap to restore his energy.
Food to keep Fauan Energy and Happiness up is plentiful and can be grown in your own Faunasphere. But be aware… making your Fauna eat something they don’t like results in them emoting a few unsmiley faces at you and their Happiness meter going down.
World, Graphics and Sound
The world is made up of cubes. Literally. Cubes of dirt with grass on top, water, ice, and pollution that pops up in fixed and some random places. The environments currently available are pleasantly diverse, ranging from a lush forest area to an arctic with mammoth skeletons, to a hot swampy mire and a dungeon.
It’s a 3-D world with 2-D fauna and basic sound. A few squeaks, woofs, meows and hurrumphs from the fauna, pings, dings and chimes just like you’d expect from an online casual game when you complete a goal or level up (let’s not mention Peggle’s rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth). Graphically, the game gives you certain cues. Items that can be interacted with will glow green when you mouse over them, or even glow when you pass by.
There is nothing fancy or exciting to write home about, just plain bland stuff that works, until you get into some of the fancier Faunaspheres where players have bought or attained through achievements in game. Some of these sport fancy, decorative items from flowers to gold statuettes, and you can hardly move from the lag caused by the sheer number of items and the number of Fauna running around, ranging from pink elephants to blue spotted gorillas.