Itâ€™s quite possible that youâ€™re currently wondering just what on earth a Neopet actually is. And itâ€™s a fair point. Not many gamers will have heard of Neopets (a Nickelodeon & Viacom consumer product), but Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing is set to change all of that. In short, theyâ€™re cute, theyâ€™re cuddly, theyâ€™re heroic, theyâ€™re insanely appealing, and one of them is destined to rescue the powerful Wand of Wishing from the paws of the evil Werhond before he can return it to his master, Archos. Oh, and save a few worlds tooâ€”all in a dayâ€™s work for a Neopetâ€¦or is it a Petpet?
The story opens as gypsy girl Megan and her faithful Petpet are pursued by the nefarious Archos and his slavering pack of Werhonds. Megan is searching for the fabled Wand of Wishing, and with it she intends to reverse the evils that Archos (who was once her friend) has wrought upon the world of Neopia. Archos manages to corner the desperate gypsy and, though she discovers The Wand before Archos can reach her, Megan is unable to unleash its power as one the Werhonds races forward and snatches it awayâ€”only to then disappear through a mysterious portal. Meganâ€™s Petpet also leaps through the open portal before it snaps shut, whereupon the Petpet finds itself transported to the world of Petaria. Here it must attempt to track down the Werhond, retrieve The Wand of Wishing, and save Neopia and Petaria. Insert dramatic music here.
Petpet Adventures offers players the choice between four distinctive Petpets, which are the Doglefox (a golden-furred mixture of a dog and a fox), Meowclops (a one-eyed gray cat), Krawk (a cute and well-armored crocodile), and Mazzew (who can best be described as a bug-eyed purple mouse). Essentially, the gameplay unfolds as a scaled down real-time action RPG, and character progression through leveling up via experience points is replaced with a more simplistic training program that raises the stats of the playerâ€™s Petpet. Each town or village encountered by the Petpet houses a â€˜trainerâ€™, who will grant entrance to the training arena for a set fee, and then the player must face-off against an A.I. enemyâ€”or even against a â€˜realâ€™ opponent wirelessly. Once the battle is won, the player can then trade their accrued training point(s) and increase their Petpetâ€™s specific statistics. The game world also offers up various goodies to further boost stats, though players will often need to work hard or search patiently in order to secure them. Menus, inventories, and stat screens all display the normal selection of RPG elements for the discerning player. Cycling through specific pages such as main inventory, quick selection (a pouch belt worn around the waste of the Petpet for swift item usage), magic scrolls, food rations, armor, quest journal, map screen etc., are all easily navigated and implemented without any undue fuss.
Petpet Adventuresâ€™ central storylineâ€”finding The Wandâ€”advances by accepting and completing a wealth of primary and secondary quests (mostly menial tasks), often assigned by NPCs throughout the game. These gradually open up new areas within the game world and steadily evolve the core narrative. Itâ€™s the usual RPG structure, and certainly nothing especially creative. Indeed, most quests and NPC tasks are fairly easy and donâ€™t involve the player looking all that far or trying all that hard for the necessary solution(s). However, successful completion of the secondary quests and tasks does garner some handy goodies that can help during the game. Though chatting to NPCs for related info is possible, gameplay is strictly linear in execution and thereâ€™s absolutely no chance of enjoying an exploratory sandbox experience with Petpet Adventures. Individual environments (physical areas) of the game world are all self-contained, and adjoining environments are completely inaccessible until the current section has been completed (which thus fails to promote a tangible desire to return later). Moreover, the hunt for The Wand soon dissolves into the playerâ€™s Petpet confronting the Werhond after ending a certain section, only for the pesky thing to flee to a â€˜newâ€™ area and have the Petpet follow. Itâ€™s rinse and repeat until The Wand is finally secure. That said, the overall gameplay atmosphere in Petpet Adventures is obviously geared to a younger element of the gaming demographic and therefore its overt simplicity is perfectly acceptable. Itâ€™s fair to say that â€˜seriousâ€™ RPG fans arenâ€™t likely to reach for this type of adventure to quell their needs.
In-game combatâ€”both attack and defenseâ€”is performed simply through single button allocations and the fighting itself is a mixture of melee (clubs, swords, etc.) and ranged attacks (arrows, magic spells, etc.). Again, the ease of battle control echoes the general feel of the game as a whole, and no concentrated button combinations, elaborate spell casting, or perfectly timed blocking and movement is required to advance steadily through Petpet Adventures. Enemy A.I. is perhaps a little unbalanced in terms of its often faultless aim, especially with ranged attacks, and players may experience slight twinges of battle frustration while running from arrows and spells that seem imbued with heat-seeking technology. Best to adopt the â€˜Ramboâ€™ approach at that juncture and abandon any considered tactics and just pile in as quickly as possibleâ€”unless of course youâ€™re tasked with picking off distant and inaccessible foes.
Aesthetically, Petpet Adventures is an immediately attractive game; its fully rendered opening cinematic is beautifully produced and the in-game visuals certainly donâ€™t disappoint. Character sprites are fairly small and (obviously) low on surface detail amid the lush and dense environments, but their animation is smooth and weighted (which is a valuable commodity in videogames). Oddly, close up shots of your chosen Petpet sport a stapled expression that never changes, regardless of the situation. Itâ€™s bizarre to face perilous tasks and bloodthirsty enemies with an ominously composed demeanor, directly preceding considerable hacking and slashing. Specific level environments are always appealing, be they villages hidden amid thick forestry, sprawling and shadowy cave systems, or expansive castle interiors. Petpet Adventures always performs well enough in terms of presentation to coax players ever onward. Game sound is also thoroughly respectable, and cute character noises accompany dialogue text rather than human voiceovers, which works surprisingly well in conveying a world where speech as we know it may not be used at all. Ambient effects are equal to the task and never grate the ears or dull the senses, even though they offer nothing especially noteworthy. Music is pleasant and catchy during moments of casual plodding, yet also convincingly eerie and threatening in times of danger. Again, nothing too extravagant, but certainly befitting the gameâ€™s general appeal.
Despite the low-level evolution of its RPG elements, Petpet Adventures still plays well, and its visuals and sound complement an easily accessible gameplay mechanic. Puzzles, tasks, and item collection may be largely without dramatic challenge, but the cuteness of the overall PSP package and the obviously youthful target audience make forgiving the gameâ€™s simplicity an effortless affair. Hardcore RPG players are well advised to seek their thrills elsewhere as Neopets: Petpet Adventures: The Wand of Wishing is for the decidedly greener gaming fraternity and those looking to peacefully play away the hours on a car or train journey. And, in closing, itâ€™s still not clear exactly what a Neopet is.