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  ‘Nicktropolis’ Fails on Many Levels  
Posted 2007-02-01 by Tony Walsh
‘Nicktropolis’ Fails on Many Levels
The horror... the horror...
The popular Nickelodeon network has launched a beta version of Nicktropolis, a web-based virtual world for kids featuring brands such as Spongebob Squarepants and Danny Phantom. I took ten minutes to try it out today, and in short, it's bloody awful. Everything about the service is terrible, from its surface presentation, to the usability and navigation, to the account-management process, to the actual experience of "living" in the world.

The registration process is easy enough, but has no means to prevent adults from signing on as kids, or kids signing on as parents. Creating an avatar, or "NickSelf," was a painful process, involving extreme lag between clothing and hairstyle choices. The avatar design is primitive, with few customizable options, and low aesthetic appeal. The avatars aren't so much characters as much as walking cursors. Worse still, the avatar apparently must be re-created every time one visits Nicktropolis. At least that's how it was for me.

After creating an avatar, I chose to try to unlock the ability to chat using a list of approved words. This is ostensibly a parental control but is easily accessed by any kid with half a brain. However, the interface for choosing communication options is confusing. Clicking on an empty checkbox fills the box with a lock. A locked lock, not an open one. So what am I doing--unlocking a feature or locking it? Later on, I would be presented with a parental login box requesting a password I was never issued or informed about.

I then visited what seems to be a main options screen with a few buttons (but no avatars). I was attracted to a cluster of cartoon characters entitled "Nicktoons Boulevard." I clicked on this button and then chose to visit Bikini Bottom from the Spongebob series. Another menu-style screen with no avatars (but a few attractive buttons). I chose to enter the Krusty Krab restaurant, and was forced to choose a new avatar more appropriate to the brand. Not a cool cartoon character like the series, however, but a an ugly 3D style creature. Joy. I then stood in front of the Krusty Krab. But not as it appears in the cartoon, or even any of the fine video games based on the TV series. No, instead I'm faced with a boring-looking 3D style storefront. I try to enter. I inexplicably fail. After a few more attempts, I am finally permitted passage.

Inside, the Krusty Krab bears a passing resemblance to the locale in the cartoon, but rendered in the same awful 3D as the rest of the virtual world. There are no characters from the show here. It's desolate and boring. It has no appeal to me, and I can't imagine how it would appeal to a fan of the show. I leave.

Nicktropolis bears an uncanny resemblance to Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom, which uses Sulake's Habbo Hotel engine. I suspect Nicktropolis either uses the same engine, or has cobbled a copycat piece of crap. The bottom line here is that Nicktropolis not only fails at supporting what makes the brands appealing, but it fails at offering users a fun experience. To fix this would take a complete overhaul of what's already been built and launched--and I doubt that's ever going to happen.
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