I used to start out just about every review of an online game making some sort of comment about how I don’t really like online games. I'm beginning to think that’s not really the case. What I don’t like are games where if you’re not in the “elite” you’re pretty much dead when you step out on the battlefield. I also don’t care for games where people pretty much expect you to chat or make the game as much about taunting as actually playing. Thankfully The Rats Online (free with IAP) handles all of these things in just the right manner. Its simple nature makes it easy to get into, and the nicely organized list of folks you need to exact revenge on makes it worth coming back in periodically to see how things are going.
In The Rats Online You lead a rat colony and your goals are simple: survive, explore, and grow. You start out with a single room in your sewer, and as you feed your rats they will acknowledge their satisfaction by banging their heads on walls, gates, or whatever will give way to an adjoining room. Most rooms contain some sort of treasure, whether it is blocks of cheese or some sort of bonus item. Each room also contains either a goal chest or a dungeon. The goal chest requires you to complete three goals before revealing its contents, while the dungeon expects you to defeat multiple rat skeletons before giving away the treasures it contains. Initially these are both easy ways to get extra goodies, but eventually you will have to work to earn the chest no matter which way it is presented.
The real heart of the game, however, is pilfering from the other players. Pop on over to a competitor’s sewer and help yourself to some cheese, or better yet stuff one of their rats so full of gouda goodness that the rat explodes and you can collect some souls. You can do multiple things in one visit, but the chance of each successive event being fruitful is less and less. A stuffing attempt can fail or you can get caught stealing the cheese, both of which will result in the loss of points and no haul for that raid. Just remember that this attack is not anonymous, however, and don’t be surprised if the player retaliates with like actions. After all, that’s the fun of the game! It’s like built in taunting without actually having to say anything to the other players. It would be nice if you could leave a customized calling card, though.
You can sign into the game either through Facebook or via the developer’s own login system, but I believe the rankings are strictly associated with their server, regardless of how you log in. When you use Facebook you can send invites to your friends through the game, and I’m not sure how it handles that feature if you just use their system. There are no achievements in a Game Center sense, but every third room you unlock contains a chest that will only open after you perform certain tasks. You do have an overall point ranking, and apparently this not only goes down when you fail at a raid attempt, but it must drop when others raid you as well. The moral of the story is that while you don’t have to play every minute of the day, you don’t want to let your rats go for days without a visit.
Aesthetically the game feels very much like a cartoon. The backgrounds are nicely detailed, and the characters are silly but well designed. The animation is fluid and things like the rats banging their heads to break open new areas or getting splatted into a small circle when hit with a mallet hearken back to the days of Tom & Jerry. The audio does a good job of augmenting that Saturday morning cartoon feeling with all the grunts and groans and occasional potty moans that accompany the rats’ actions. I like the fact that you can hear noises from rival clans in the distance. The one thing noticeably missing is music. There is a small riff when you enter into a raid situation, but other than that you only have the ambiance of rat sounds.
The Rats Online is certainly not a very in-depth game, which makes it perfect to pick up and play for just a few minutes at a time. It’s easy to understand and keeps things balanced just enough that you find yourself willing to push for that extra piece of cheese on a raid, even if you do fail. It would be nice if there were a bit more of a variety of things to steal, and watching your pack would be much more entertaining if the rats did something besides just walk around. Of course background music would be welcome as well. But given what the game does have, it’s worth checking out and at least putting some investment into it.
Overall Score: 3.5/5