How to make a League of Legends kids can play, according to Disney Melee Mania's developers

Disney Melee Mania
(Image credit: Apple / Mighty Bear Games)

In the two years since Apple Arcade launched, it’s collected over two hundred family-friendly games that are lighthearted takes on gameplay genres that are usually pretty intense. Its next game, Disney Melee Mania, seeks to do the same with the mobile battle arena (MOBA), essentially making a League of Legends-style game that kids can play with their favorite Disney and Pixar characters.

While Pokémon Unite launched earlier this year with a simplified take on the venerable MOBA formula pitting teams of players against each other, Disney Melee Mania trims away even more systems to preserve the bare elements of competition. 

MOBA veterans may be aghast that Disney Melee Mania has no lanes, towers, computer-controlled minions, or even skill progression, but the result is the leanest version of the game type we’ve ever seen – which could be a perfect onramp for brand-new players to learn the genre.

In other words, the next generation of League of Legends esports stars could take their first MOBA steps with Disney Melee Mania, and have fun playing their favorite Disney characters, too, when the game comes to Apple Arcade in December.

But how do you throw Apple, Disney, and League of Legends in a blender and get a game that’s approachable for kids yet retains the competitive gameplay hooks MOBAs are known for? Mobile game studio Mighty Bear Games, makers of Disney Melee Mania, explained to TechRadar how it’s done – and why they decided to attempt the alchemical mix of so many seemingly incompatible things.

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After a kid-friendly battle royale, why not MOBA?

Mighty Bear Games already had a good relationship with Apple after releasing their kid-friendly and food-themed battle royale game Butter Royale on Apple Arcade, as the studio’s Chief Growth Officer Benjamin Chevalier told TechRadar over email. 

“We've had a good working relationship with Apple creating Butter Royale, so when working on our next game, the opportunity to work with Disney as well came up and we couldn't pass up on the chance to work with some of our favourite characters and IPs growing up,” Chevalier said.

The Mighty Bear Games team settled on making their next game a MOBA given how much they enjoyed playing those games in their free time. But they weren’t satisfied with the status quo, and strived to make their project accessible and appealing to someone who has never played a MOBA before.

“We identified areas of the genre that could be made more accessible, like long session times, complex abilities, and complicated game rules,” Chevalier said. “While ideating, we also tried our best to not be beholden to the standard tropes of the genre.” 

As Chevalier put it, no MOBA mechanic or system was sacred: while lanes, minion waves, and towers are all standard elements of the gametype, the Mighty Bear Games team felt they contributed to complex rulesets that players needed to internalize and master to be good in the genre. Accessibility would be central to the game, at all stages of the match.

“It was also important to us that a player would not feel like a liability to their team, no matter their proficiency with the MOBA genre, so that was why we didn’t include individual champion progress in each match,” Chevalier said. “We wanted all players to be able to contribute in some way to the final match outcome.”

There’s still some complexity: player-controlled champions will have a mix of offensive and defensive capabilities, and there are elements around maps, like turrets and power-up crystals, to shake up matches. At launch, the game will have two modes: the combat-focused Team Rumble and king-of-the-hill-like Spotlight Dash.

Rest assured that even though champions don’t gain levels and progress throughout matches, they still have ultimate abilities – though they’re more elaborate and have more impact on the Arena (map) when used, as well as longer recharge times to put emphasis on the champions’ other two abilities. 

Disney Melee Mania

(Image credit: Apple / Mighty Bear Games)

If you give them Disney-Pixar, will they play?

Apple Arcade was designed to be family-friendly, which doesn’t just mean inoffensive content. The Mighty Bear Games team made Disney Melee Mania such that parents would feel comfortable letting their children play it, but it helps that Apple’s gaming service has family-sharing features and no in-app microtransactions.

It’s another question whether kids will want to play the game. The roster of Disney and Pixar characters will certainly be a big draw, and Mighty Bear Games has assembled an eclectic mix of old and new icons from both companies to appeal to many different eras and genres of films from the two entertainment powerhouses.

The twelve champions at launch include iconic characters like Elsa (Frozen), Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story), and Mickey (from Fantasia’s ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ segment), Moana, Mulan, Jasmine (Aladdin), Frozone (The Incredibles), Eve (WALL-E), and Wreck-It-Ralph, along with supporting characters like Timon (Lion King), the Manticore (Onward), and Bing Bong (Inside Out). Mighty Bear Games had reasons for their selections:

“There are many factors – an important one is diversity and inclusiveness. We wanted to feature lesser-known characters as well as characters who have traditionally been popular but may not have gotten the limelight in other mediums, like games,” Chevalier said “We also worked very closely with Disney to put together an ideal roster for fans to love.”

While Chevalier was coy about which characters would be added next (if you watch the trailer embedded in the tweet above, a certain classic Disney witch makes a conspicuous appearance toward the end), he urged fans to keep an eye out for new champions and surprises on their social channels. 

In keeping with Apple Arcade’s policies, all new characters and additional content (like costumes and extras) are included in the service’s subscription. The game will also have limited-time events for players to earn new stuff, the first being the Timon-focused Hakuna Matata – and what a wonderful phrase to start a young player on a lifetime of enjoying MOBAs.

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.