In the same way that many of us feel nostalgic for the children’s TV programmes we used to watch, gamers often feel nostalgia towards the games that they would play as children. Console classics like Pokémon, Spyro the Dragon, and Sonic the Hedgehog immediately come to mind when gamers think of their favourite childhood games. Others may remember games like Runescape more clearly, the online games where we met people from across the world that we may have never spoken to again.
For me, the game that immediately comes to mind is the recently deceased Club Penguin. Released in 2005, Club Penguin was a web-based MMO designed for children, where you created a penguin avatar, played mini-games, and talked to strangers through a moderated chat. While it was free-to-play, you could throw real life money at Disney, the owners, to access clothing or pets that were a colour other than red or blue. After 12 years, on March 29th 2017, Disney pulled the plug to focus on their new version of the game, Club Penguin Island.
Unfortunately, Club Penguin Island is not a mobile port of the original game, and instead seems to be a bland and clunky money-making machine. A paid membership is required for most of the gameplay, including to finish the tutorial. You can have a 7-day free trial, but not without selling your soul to the devil and giving Disney your card details. There is also a lack of gameplay content which, compared to the range of activities the original game offered, is very disappointing. At the time of writing, the game’s rating on the Google Play Store is at 2.4 stars.
The game’s closure and replacement with an underwhelming game was unsettling. I cannot pinpoint the age I was when I actually started playing Club Penguin but I have played the game, on and off, for half of my lifetime. It feels slightly existential when something that you have engaged with for a huge chunk of your life disappears and is replaced with a pile of garbage, a feeling which I think was only heightened by the triggering of Article 50 on the same day. As such, I would like to reflect on the best bits of the original game, and what I hope Disney will add to its currently poor successor.
Puffles were the game’s cute, fluffy creatures which bounced around lots and made happy noises. They cost 400 coins each, which was fairly cheap, and you could play with them, take them out for walks, and feed them. By the time the game closed, there were tens of variations of puffles, including rabbits, cats, and dragons, but unfortunately a paid membership was required to have a puffle other than the standard red or blue one.
Although they were quite nice to have, in the earlier years they seemed to lack any real purpose other than to say ‘look I have a pet’. To make them feel like more than just a demanding item of clothing, the game started to add locations such as the Puffle Hotel; while this was exciting to an extent, they got very boring very quickly, and the puffles continued to be more of a collector’s item than an exciting gameplay element.
Despite this, you couldn’t help but feel emotionally attached to the floofball that you had acquired years ago and couldn’t remember the name of. As the game closed, many members panicked about what would happen to their puffles; unfortunately, it seems that my red puffle named The Aztecs has been released into the wild, never to be seen again. Disney has announced that puffles will be added into the new game, and hopefully more functionality and gameplay will come with it, but it is unlikely that our puffles from the original game will be revived. RIP The Aztecs.
The thing that kept me coming back for more in the original Club Penguin was the range of mini-games that it offered. The game had 27 mini-games in total, which is fairly impressive, and ranged from single-player arcade games to multiplayer ninja battles. Playing mini-games would award you coins to purchase in-game items, so you would often end up playing 50 games of Cart Surfer in a row to make maximum profit.
Even the mini-games had hidden surprises that enhanced the gameplay. The popular pizza-making game, Pizzatron 3000, allowed you to pull a lever and instead make dessert pizzas. A game inspired by Dance Dance Revolution called Dance Contest allowed you to click on DJ Cadence and play on Expert difficulty if you found Hard mode too simple, or wanted to embarrass yourself. The mini-games, even without these hidden extras, had huge re-playability value, both through the sticker achievements and the personal drive to get a slightly better score.
Club Penguin Island currently has no mini-games, even for paying members, which genuinely horrified me when I tried the game. There’s a little cave area where you can swim around, but gone are the days of unique mini-games, and Disney doesn’t seem to be prioritising bringing them back, which is truly disappointing.
As an MMO, you expect the game to have a fairly good multiplayer communication element, which I feel it definitely did. The game’s limited chat system that some servers used was often a bit disappointing, because you were limited to telling a random penguin joke or listing off countries and places, but the open system was quite fun. Often, you would see penguins inviting other penguins on dates, or pretending to play house or something, which was slightly adorable, and a lot of players ended up with that one friend that you would always get excited about when they came online.
As a children’s game, there were some strict limitations on speech, meaning that if you swore or bullied another penguin, you were banned. I remember being banned for 24 hours one Christmas Eve for saying a swear word because I knew I couldn’t play the next day anyway and wanted to see what happened. Recently, you’ve probably seen a surge in Club Penguin memes and banning speedruns, which I think highlights the amusement that the game’s chat system can provide, even if you’re no longer a 10 year old wanting to invite people to your igloo party.
The very charm that has kept Club Penguin in our hearts and minds for so long has been stripped away by Disney, and their consumerism has upset both young and old players of the game. If an empty mobile walking simulator doesn’t appeal, then it appears that you’re doomed. Thankfully, in anticipation of this disappointment, a fan-made clone called Club Penguin Rewritten has become very popular, so unless Disney reports them, you can continue to have your nostalgia fix.