MapleStory M beta preview: Seeds of the maple tree

Credit: Nexon America
Credit: Nexon America /

MapleStory M’s beta demonstrates that Nexon has its head in the right spot in translating a popular PC MMORPG to mobile.

Count me an old fogey when I say this, but I played MapleStory back before it was cool. I first tried the game on PC just after it came out of beta, and while I’m no longer an active player, my memories are fond of the adorable monsters, soothing soundtrack, and deliberately agonizing jump puzzles. MapleStory M seeks to capture the magic of the 2D MMORPG on mobile not by making an exact copy, but by translating what works and adapting what doesn’t quite fit.

In MapleStory M, you’ll find a perfect microcosm of Victoria Island and the surrounding areas. It’s just the kind of miniature world you might expect from a mobile-sized version of a full PC MMO. The island’s main cities, from Lith Harbor to Ellinia to Perion, are recreated perfectly (complete with familiar tunes) and populated by familiar NPCs with familiar problems. Some of the areas between are missing, but that’s okay. Bite-sized travel partners perfectly with travel on a mobile screen, especially when paired with the Auto Questing system.

Bits of the story will also be familiar to PC players, though it’s more on rails and with fewer sidequests. Again, this is necessary for mobile to work. The gameplay loop doesn’t readily invite exploration and discovery. Your focus is on the main quest and on bettering your player for what I presume is the endgame. All roads lead to more currency, which translates into better gear or improvements for existing gear. And in the beta, the currency was plentiful, though I imagine the flow will slow to more of a trickle in the full game to encourage MapleStory’s Cash Shop-loving audience to embrace the microtransactions.

maplestory m
Credit: Nexon America /

As someone already very familiar with MapleStory, I found Auto Questing to be the best way for the PC MMO to translate to mobile. Though the movement controls are functional, they still feel awkward for a game with areas originally designed for frequent platforming during combat. It’s better to let the computer take the reigns and collect 40 ribbons or shells or whatever for you while you putter around with your inventory and skills. I was still able to buff or heal myself as needed while my character made smart decisions about what to attack and with what, though she did occasionally meander randomly into a corner and stand there for a moment, unsure what to do. If you’re new to Victoria Island, you might find Auto Questing to be too fast a tour with no time to see the sights. But the only disadvantage to ditching it is losing a bit of speed.

As far as mobile MMORPGs go, MapleStory M is as solid a game as any, and perhaps a little less overwhelming in its systems.

Embracing the trend of other mobile MMOs, MapleStory M has also added plentiful daily dungeon options for either solo players or parties. Pairing is quick and efficient, and it’s never too complex a puzzle to figure out how to tackle either a slew of enemies or a four-level pyramid. The game wants you to tackle this content early and often, as the rewards are ample and streamlined leveling gets you there quickly. It’s clear that these dungeons and raids (culminating in the iconic Zakum fight) will be the centerpiece of the endgame in the final release. The quests and world will take a backseat, serving only to teach players how to use their skills efficiently when the time comes.

Which they will! MapleStory M mercifully reduces the bloated class system to the basic five Explorer classes, then dilutes them even further to five specifications within those based on later job advancements. I played as a Bishop and was always given enough Skill Points to advance my abilities entirely before the next skill tree opened, though I could tackle them in the order of my choice. There’s plenty of room to map favorite skills for different activities. Admittedly, the narrow focus causes some favorite classes to lose their unique flavors, but to start with, I think it was a smart choice.

maplestory m
Credit: Nexon America /

After almost a week of beta play, my complaints about MapleStory M are very, very few: it takes far too long to load for a session and doesn’t lend itself to short bursts of play well, which is the typical goal of a mobile game. I more frequently found myself sitting on my couch playing for an hour at a time than I did for just a few minutes, as it took several minutes just to load the game in the first place.

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It also seems like between a busy UI and a lot of reliance on the existing game, MapleStory M may struggle to appeal to those who have never touched the PC game. It does a fair job of teaching, but it automatically assumes investment in the world of Victoria Island. But I doubt that will hinder its success in the long run.

As far as mobile MMORPGs go, MapleStory M is as solid a game as any, and perhaps a little less overwhelming in its systems. MapleStory fans looking for a way to enjoy the game on the go will certainly revel in it. It will need a steady flow of endgame content to keep players hooked over time, but given what’s already there and how well the original MapleStory has been served, I doubt we have anything to be concerned about.

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MapleStory M launches for free later this year for both iOS and Android.