New Club Penguin is letting gen Zers relive the glory days of in-browser gaming

By Mason Berlinka

Published Mar 4, 2023 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

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I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of time during the mid 2000s playing games on the internet. I’m not talking about downloading games or dodgy programs either, there was no Counter-Strike 1.6 or Roblox for me. I was limited solely to the in-browser experience, thanks to my only access to a computer being my dad’s old iMac, a machine that wasn’t exactly known for its graphical processing prowess.

Instead of being outside wreaking havoc on my neighbourhood with the other kids, I was indoors straining my eyes on the internet and living on a diet of Pepsi Max and Monster Munch crisps. There were a number of flash games and text adventures, to name a few. But if I had to pick one, I’d say that most of my time as a pre-teen was spent playing Disney’s browser-based, gen Z nostalgia dream, Club Penguin. There, I spent evenings fondly roleplaying as a catty waiter in the cafe, or trying to overturn the infamous iceberg with other similarly determined players.

Fans of the classic kid-friendly online game will be happy to hear that it’s been revived by a team of dedicated developers, who have brought back the nostalgic title for all ages to enjoy. SCREENSHOT spoke to several people about the New Club Penguin project to learn a bit more about the heartwarming revival.

And it’s not just the penguin world that’s seeing a rebirth either, there’s plenty of ingenious resurrections popping up on the internet, all in tribute to games the chronically-online were obsessed with back in the day.

What is Club Penguin?

Just in case you’re not familiar with Disney’s infamous virtual world, Club Penguin was a social game where players created their own penguin, and could partake in various mini games and activities while hanging out and dressing up their Arctic avatar. There were events players could partake in, as well as various characters and storylines involving pirates and secret agents.

But wait, it’s Disney we’re talking about here, so you can expect how important monetisation was to the original game. A tremendous amount of features were locked behind a paywall in the form of a membership, like the ability to dress up your character in complete outfits for example. I feel so bad for the parents who had to endure their children begging for a membership—unfortunately, I was one of those kids.

What happened to Club Penguin?

Nothing from our childhood is sacred and, to the dismay of zoomer babies everywhere, the original Club Penguin shut its doors on 30 March 2017. The end of the 2D world ushered in Disney’s 3D sequel, Club Penguin Island. Unfortunately, this iteration would be short-lived, as this too closed up shop just over a year later on 20 December 2018.

Kotaku reported in 2018 that a leaked Disney memo revealed that global competition and a declining player base were the main symptoms for the sunsetting of Club Penguin and its ill-fated successor. As the game’s original player base grew up and moved on, Disney clearly struggled to keep the attention of kids in a market dominated by short-form video content.

Let’s also not forget the predatory capitalist membership models that sought to spur on sales through intense FOMO for children.

Many other beloved online games began shutting their doors in the late 2010s too. Moshi Monsters ended support on 13 December 2019 as a result of the death of the Adobe Flash Player, with Bin Weevils following in similar fashion in 2021. The online virtual world aimed at children can’t keep up with the growing popularity of titles like Genshin Impact, and Valorant—even in spite of the dangers that these games present to young people.

What is New Club Penguin?

Is there a Club Penguin-shaped hole in your heart? Don’t worry, the wonderful team behind New Club Penguin are working tirelessly to bring back the game, in all its waddling glory. The fan package builds upon the foundation of the original game, while implementing and updating the world as they see fit. My favourite part of the revival is the fact that all players get access to a membership. Hooray for social equality!

If you’re in doubt about the longevity or success of New Club Penguin, the team announced in February that they’d hit two million registered users. Stellar numbers for a passionate endeavour like this.

I spoke to a few players from the game’s official Discord, who like me, were chasing fleeting childhood memories. User Melinix told me that she first played the game when she was nine, and now that she’s in her 20s she finds the revamped version “sort of comforting.” She continued, telling me that the game was helping her “disconnect from the real world.”

A developer for New Club Penguin who’s online handle is iContinux explained that he had been a fan of the game’s original release, and was initially attracted to the project “just for a bit of fun.” After a brief hiatus, he realised how attached he’d become to the work they were doing, motivated by the positive reaction the team were receiving from the games’ younger audience. “Of course, I appreciate all the ages that play, but we make it for the 6 to 13-year-old range and seeing their reaction in-game, on emails etc, is always so heartwarming.”

New Club Penguin tries to approach the development of their iteration with all ages in mind. iContinux told me that their goal is to make content that’s “hard enough so the older audience can enjoy it, but simple and clear enough that the younger ones can do it without getting frustrated.”

I was surprised to hear that New Club Penguin was reaching its main audience, and wasn’t fueled solely by the flames of nostalgia. If you or your siblings are interested in taking a stroll down memory lane, head to their website and join the Discord to get started.

When asked about other virtual revivals, iContinux vouched for Moshi Monsters Rewritten, saying that the team was having a lot of fun playing it together. It’s not just Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin either, there’s a revival of Disney’s 2003 MMO ToonTown and even one for the insect utopia of Bin Weevils.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and it’s nice to see so many of the games we grew up with being championed by their communities. Particularly when the projects are so often neglected and forgotten by the original creators once the cash stops pouring in.

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