MOBAs (or multiplayer online battle arenas) aren’t the best games for children. Genre staples like DOTA 2 are incredibly complex games that can make even the most seasoned gaming veteran confused. They generally require communication with teammates and tend to make heavy use of microtransactions, both of which are terrifying prospects for anyone hoping to leave a phone with their kid to keep them occupied.
Disney Melee Mania alleviates a lot of the problems that put an age barrier on the genre. Available now exclusively on Apple Arcade, the mobile game is the rare MOBA that actually feels kid-friendly, even more so than Pokémon Unite. Its simplistic gameplay will make League of Legends fans scoff, but it’s a harmless introduction to gaming’s most inscrutable genre.
Disney Melee Mania is a 3v3 multiplayer game featuring a host of Disney characters — though not the ones you might expect. Rather than pulling in old favorites, the game features a somewhat eclectic cast of characters. Frozone from The Incredibles, EVE from Wall-E, and Inside Out’s Bing Bong are just a few of the characters currently featured in the game. There are only 12 characters to choose from at launch, though Maleficent and the Beast are both on the way.
Each character has their own abilities, three apiece, that are all simple to use. Elsa can toss ice at mid-range as her base attack, shoot a row of icicles that freeze enemies as her special, and summon a giant yeti as a super. The Lion King’s Timon is more of a close-range attacker who slashes with his claws and summons Pumbaa as his ultimate. Players can equip a few passive perks once they level up, but otherwise, their moves are locked.
The game has all the markings of a normal MOBA, but every aspect has been simplified, for better or worse. Teams are dropped into a small arena that doesn’t feature lanes. It’s a more open space with some grass to hide in or walls to duck behind. In the game’s primary mode, a circle appears in the center of the map intermittently. When a team stands in it, they’ll gain points. It’s a tiny version of king of the hill that only takes a few minutes to play and doesn’t require much coordination or communication to win.
Alternately, there’s an even simpler team-versus-team mode where players get points for defeating an opponent. In both cases, the score is clearly communicated at the top of the screen in big numbers.
The only other system here is that robots will appear on the field from time to time. When defeated, they’ll drop a crystal that’ll boost the team’s overall power level up to a cap of level 15. A boss will spawn late in the match that’ll drop three crystals once defeated. It’s the only piece that could stand to frustrate kids as failing to grab crystals can put teams at a frustrating power disadvantage that only snowballs if they don’t get how the system works.
The simple mechanics might sound a little painful if you’re a MOBA veteran, but it’s great news for kids who aren’t literate in the genre. If they run forward, they’ll always be able to find a battle and jump in. The objective is clear too since there aren’t multiple points to juggle or strategies to learn. They can just tap the buttons on screen and watch their colorful Disney character attack. And since Apple Arcade games don’t feature microtransactions, there’s no fear that little Timmy will accidentally spend $500 on Buzz Lightyear skins.
Disney Melee Mania’s shallow gameplay won’t win over many adults, but it doesn’t really aim to. It’s essentially a “MOBA 101” course and that’s something the genre desperately needs. The simple controls, easily repeatable gameplay, and short matches are a perfect way to start kids on the genre young and help them understand the basics (it’s also great news for me, who spent a few hours absolutely wrecking children to test the game). Start them here, move on to Pokémon Unite, and pray that they don’t want to become League of Legends addicts after that.
Disney Melee Mania is now available on iOS devices with an Apple Arcade subscription.