MapleStory Live is another adaptation of the popular MapleStory role-playing game franchise from Nexon, with previous adaptations including MapleStory Thief Edition, MapleStory Cygnus Knights Edition and spinoff title MapleStory Cave Crawlers — the latter of which we reviewed back in January. The game is available now as a free app for both iPhone and Android devices. In the latter case, a separate paid Deluxe version offers additional benefits; iOS players may upgrade to an equivalent “Premium” version using in-game hard currency.
This review is based on the iPhone version, tested on an iPhone 4S. The Android version was incompatible with our usual Motorola Xoom test device.
MapleStory Live casts players in one of two different character types, only one of which is available upon initial download — the other must be unlocked using hard currency. Rather than taking the more freeform “MMO” approach of its PC-based big brother, MapleStory Live casts players in the role of a set character with their own fixed narrative to follow. Although the game is connected to the Internet and allows players to communicate indirectly with one another by using “ad boards” scattered throughout the world, MapleStory Live is primarily a solitary experience.
MapleStory Live’s base gameplay combines platform game and role-playing game mechanics. Players control their character with virtual on-screen buttons for movement, jumping and attacking — though there are also options for tap and swipe-based controls, both of which work significantly better than the standard setup. Other on-screen interface elements allow players to review their character’s status, view the map of the area they are currently exploring and purchase items from the in-game “candy shop.” The default “virtual joypad” controls are sluggish and unresponsive at times, making the game’s frequent jumping sections somewhat frustrating for those players who haven’t yet found the alternative control options. Some virtual buttons are very small, too, making it easy to tap on the wrong thing for those with fingers any larger than “skeletal.”
“Candy” is the game’s hard currency, acquired through in-app purchase. Candy items range from temporary character boosters to content unlocks for higher level characters. Players may also purchase an “unlimited” ad board coupon, allowing them to post as many messages as they like in what passes for this game’s “chat” system.
The game is clearly designed for MapleStory veterans, as the game wastes no time in throwing players into the action without a lot of explanation. Even the in-game tutorials assume a certain degree of prior knowledge of the game and its terminolgy — though to be fair, it’s not hard to work things out for anyone who has played a similar type of game in the past. It is, however, easy to see how MapleStory Live would be daunting and discouraging for complete newbies who want to see what all the fuss is about. Oddly, though, there are a number of eminently mobile-friendly minigames scattered throughout the game’s quests, most of which work far better on the small screen of the phone than the main gameplay, and all of which are easily understandable to newcomers. It’s a curious blend of overly-complex and phone-friendly.
MapleStory Live has decent presentation, with an endearing pixel-art aesthetic and reasonable quality backing sound, but the screen is very cluttered, and the game does not offer a dedicated tablet version, meaning players are limited to playing on the tiny screen of a phone — or blowing the game up to double its usual size on iPad. The clutter problem isn’t helped by the huge banner ads that appear in the top-center of the screen at times, occasionally blocking out important game information. Any free-to-play game has to monetize, obviously, but there are far more elegant solutions than what is seen here — and with the Candy Shop’s many offerings, MapleStory Live certainly isn’t short of other income streams.
MapleStory Live is a decent mobile adaptation of a well-established franchise, but it puts across a very strong impression of “trying too hard.” It’s trying to squeeze too much information on screen, trying to provide too many features at once and trying to be an adaptation of a complex online PC game on a tiny screen with no physical buttons. Couple that with the fact that the main draw of the PC version — the ability to play online with other players — is missing here, and it’s difficult to see why anyone but the most devoted MapleStory fanatic would want to play this.
That said, there are already plenty of devoted MapleStory fanatics across the globe willing to play on their phones — Nexon claims that the Thief and Cygnus Knights mobile editions of MapleStory have been downloaded over 15 million times to date — so it’s entirely possible that being accessible to newcomers wasn’t on the agenda for this new version. By hooking established players of the franchise, Nexon is far more likely to convert them into paying players than if they were courting those who were simply curious.
MapleStory Live is not yet listed on the App Store leaderboards. Check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for iOS and social games and developers.