Roman Bowl Review



You don't often see casual games based on sports that play as well as Roman Bowl.
But... did they really play football in the coliseum?

Main screen

Casual games based on sports are rare so, when I find one, I almost feel obligated to write a casual game review on it. The sport in question is football which has long been a subject for PC games. No other sport has the amount of strategy and action involved in each play which gives it almost a chess style quality run in hard hitting real time. Video football games, like the one named after John Madden, have evolved into a very complex state where you can control all aspects of the game including team building and management as well as playing the game. Going through an entire season can be a rewarding but time consuming experience for the avid football game junkie and is undoubtedly the reason behind the success of these games.

What about those of us who aren't so dedicated?

Roman Bowl is the perfect answer to the football junkie looking for a satisfying quick fix that won't require months of time.

Let's review some details.

Roman Bowl is a simple football game that pits various Roman Legions against the Visigoths. The options page allow you to set the number of periods in the game to 1, 2, or 4 and also allows you to set the period length to 3, 4 or 5 minutes. This combination allow for total game times between 3 and 20 minutes. The home team always starts the game with the ball while the visiting team starts the second half with the ball. Since there is no second half in a one period game, it's a distinct advantage to be the home team. You can also set the difficulty level, choose to be home team or visiting team, and set how fast or slow the players move.

Roman Bowl's rules are also a bit different from regular football. There are only five players per side, you have only five downs total to score, and you kick field goals with a catapult. The players are very large when compared to the size of the field so scoring in five downs is easy to do with some practice. There are no punts. If you don't score after the fifth down, the other team takes control at a point halfway from the goal line to your last point of possession. That means if you get stuffed at the opponent's ten yard line without scoring, the other team will take over at their own five yard line. Points are scored the same as regular football with a touchdown scoring 6, the extra point 1, and a field goal 3. You can play in one of two modes, exhibition game or playoff game. The exhibition game is a single game where you can set all of the game parameters. The playoff game mode gives you a series of games to complete that keep increasing in difficulty. There are also trophies you are awarded for winning playoff games or for reaching certain statistics such as 300 yards passing or 200 yards rushing.

Now the important part; how you actually play the game.

Clicking on the "How To Play" option opens an interactive tutorial that shows you how to move the players. The moves are very basic and I'll go over them here.

The home team always gets the ball first and 5 players on each side get into a huddle. A choice of three plays is shown for both teams and you choose the one you want to play. You can only choose the play that your team will run; red plays are for the offense and blue for the defense. The three plays displayed are chosen randomly from a group of about 15 total plays. Left click will hike the ball and the ball carrier will move towards your mouse cursor. Press the left SHIFT button and you can aim a pass at one of your receivers. Pressing left CLICK will pass the ball. After a completed pass, control is shifted to the ball carrier. The team with the ball has red shapes around them while the defensive team has blue shapes around them. Blockers are shown with red squares around them and will automatically try to protect the quarterback. Receivers have red circles around them and run the routes you give them.

Below are some images from a successful pass play.


Pass Play start
My team is the Visigoths with the red shapes around the players. The Roman defense has chosen to send four rushers after my quarterback and hope that their middle linebacker can stop any pass plays.

Pass play ball snapped
The ball has been snapped and his blockers are after my quarterback! I have only one blocker but one of my backfield men is running a route that goes towards the bottom of the screen. I'll run my quarterback towards the lower right side of the screen and hope the blocker and receiver can slow the Romans down.

Pass play completion
It's away! The Romans were delayed long enough for me to get the pass off. The ball is still in the air but his middle linebacker is too far out of position to block the receiver who is located in the upper left side of the screen. After the reception, my ball carrier was able to make it to the five yard line before being tackled.

Block pass start
The 4 Visigoth blockers will stop the run
but the lone receiver must be guarded
Defense is similar. You choose one of three defensive plays to run and you control the middle linebacker. The middle linebacker will run towards the mouse cursor and a left mouse click will cause him to attempt a tackle in the direction that he is running. Your players with squares around them are blockers and will pursue the ball carrier. Those with circles around them act as corner backs and will follow the wide receivers as they run their pass routes. The defense can knock down passes by getting in front of the quarterback when he throws or by being in front of the pass receiver as he tries to catch the ball. There are no interceptions.

Blocked pass
I moved the Visigoth middle linebacker
to cover his receiver & block the pass
Field goals can be kicked once the offensive side is close enough to the goal line. The "kick" button will appear as an option along with the choice of three other plays. Choosing "Kick" will cause all of the players to run off of the field and the catapult to appear on the line of scrimmage and a tower to appear in the end zone. Three sliders adjust the power, angle and bearing of the ball. Wind effects increase with a higher angle of the ball trajectory. A properly aimed shot will destroy the tower and score a field goal. Extra points are scored in the same way. There is no chance for the defense to block a field goal or extra point.

All games are played in the same manner but you can choose from Exhibition games or Playoff games. Exhibition games are a single game where you can set all of the parameters. Playoff games are a series of games that increase in difficulty as you progress. Each game is named after the section of the playoffs that it represents.

Field goal
Adjust the angle, power, and bearing to
"kick" a field goal with the catapult. Wind
effects increase with higher kick angles &
are shown by the small arrows near the tower.

Winning playoff games will also win you trophies. Other trophies have to do with reaching certain statistics and can be won during either a playoff or exhibition game. These trophies include reaching 300 yards passing in a game, scoring on every possession, and other statistical landmarks. Since you can earn these trophies on any game, you can make it easier on yourself by choosing the type of game. For instance, it's easier to win the trophy for scoring on every possession by setting the difficulty to the lowest level and choosing a shorter game where you have fewer possessions. Other trophies, such as 200 yards rushing would require a much longer game. The trophies give you a reason to improve certain statistics but don't give you extra points or game skills.

Below are some images from a successful running play for a touchdown.

Play choice
I'm on the five yard line and want to keep my options open. The first play choice is out since the goal line is so close that my receivers would never get free if he decides to cover them. The third play has potential but he could stop my run if he chooses four blockers and could easily cover my single receiver with his middle linebacker. The second play overloads the bottom side of the screen which allows at least one free receiver if he rushes and allows an opportunity for a left side run depending on the defense.

Run play setup Run play ball snapped Run play touchdown

The first image shows the setup before the ball is snapped. He's chosen the third defensive play which attempts to block the run with two blockers and cover receivers on both sides. His blockers, however, don't line up with mine and I have two receivers on one side.

The ball is snapped! The second image shows the quarterback running in the direction of the red arrow. My blockers neutralize his blockers while my one receiver keeps his cornerback busy.

Touchdown! If you look at the position of his players on the third image you'll see I probably could have run for another 5 yards if I had to.

The basic controls are simple enough but the game takes a little getting used to. Here's a few tips.

If you're having real trouble getting anything done, turn the speed and game difficulty down to their lowest setting. Now that the competition isn't as tough, you can get used to the plays without getting frustrated.

If you want to see how plays are run, select "spectator" from the Exhibition game options. The PC will play against itself and you can see how it runs both offensive and defensive plays.

You can aim a pass while the quarterback is moving. Point the mouse cursor to a distant point on the field and press left SHIFT. The ball carrier will continue to move in that direction while you aim your pass. Left CLICK and the ball carrier will stop and pass.

Before selecting your play, look at the plays available to your opponent. Choosing your play to counteract your opponents options will help you win.

You only have five men on the field and they tend to rush the ball carrier after awhile. Your opponent has a nasty habit of throwing multiple cross field laterals if you bunch all of your players on one side of the field.

For those not used to football terms, the line of scrimmage is the line the ball is on when the play starts. As in regular football, you can only throw a forward pass from behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike regular football, Roman Bowl allows the ball carrier to go forward across the line of scrimmage, turn back and recross the line, and then throw a forward pass. Don't let up on your pass defense just because the ball carrier crosses the line.

Effectively running the ball takes some practice. Remember that your receivers draw off the defensive cornerbacks as they run their routes and can be used as blockers.

Run your ball carrier in a zig zag motion. This will cause pursuing defenders to miss when they try to tackle.

You can push the ball carrier out of bounds but not any of the other players. At the far end of the end zone, his receivers may look like they're out of bounds but they're not. They will catch the ball for a touchdown if you don't block them.

If you want to keep your opponents from scoring, you must stop them before they reach your 40 yard line. At this point, your opponents have the choice of kicking a field goal and they almost NEVER miss.

You can kick a field goal on any down as soon as you get within range. Keep this in mind if you only have time for one more play before the end of the half or the end of the game.

Victory

Roman Bowl is a challenging and fun football game with minimal features and an AI system that works very well. The limited number of plays, only having five total downs, and the simplicity of team controls allow users to quickly start playing football. Frustration or boredom are eliminated by changing the game difficulty and speed to match your skills. Roman Bowl will never be a serious competitor to games like Madden football but it is the perfect game for those who want some video football action without devoting dozens of hours to the game.




This is how I rate Roman Bowl


Cost - A steal at $6.99

Available Platforms - PC only.

Gameplay - Easy to learn the basics but effective scoring takes longer. Reducing the difficulty level and speed makes the game more playable for new users.

Graphics - More than adequate to display little guys on a football field.

Originality - Some of the rules, like five downs, make this less complex and a better casual game.

Strong Points - An AI system that actually works well and is completely adjustable makes this a great minimalist football game. Adjustable game time allow you to play games between 3 and 20 minutes.

Weak Points - Can't block a field goal.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - You can adjust the difficulty and speed levels to match your skills. As your skills improve, increase the difficulty to keep the game challenging.

Overall Rating: 10

Conclusion:Video football junkies looking for a fast uncluttered game will LOVE Roman Bowl. Play games lasting as few as three minutes to as long as 20 minutes at a challenge level that matches your skills. As your skills improve, you'll find this game gets MORE enjoyable since you'll be able to execute highly complicated plays. The satisfaction of completing a multi pass touchdown play with time running out is NOT to be missed. Trying to attain the statistical landmarks needed to win trophies, completing the playoff series, and having a difficulty adjustment that accurately effects game play all conspire to create a game experience that never gets tiresome.


Download Roman Bowl from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $6.99.





Amazing Heists: Dillinger Review



A seek and find based on Public Enemy Number One!

Main screeen

The list may change but only one man will always be Public Enemy Number One; John Dillinger. His crime spree lasted only a short time but it captured the imagination of millions. His exploits are legendary: the fake gun used to escape prison, the bank robbery where the gang posed as a film crew shooting a movie scene, the FBI's botched ambush at the Little Bohemia Lodge, and finally, his bloody death outside of the Biograph Theater. What better subject for a casual game?

Let's review how the game plays.

Choose gang member
The bank robbery will be easier
with the right gangsters
Amazing Heists: Dillinger, tries to capture the mood of not just one bank robbery, but that of an entire crime spree by the imaginative placement of seek and find screens, their subject matter and the inclusion of several mini games.

Pick bank to rob
Choose which bank to rob
More become available after a
successful heist.
To start, choose either "Lightweight" mode, where hidden object scenes have no time limit to complete or "Gangster" mode where all screens are timed. Next you will select a bank to rob from a small list. As you complete more heists, this list will grow.

No bank robbery would be complete without henchmen, so you will have to select one or more gang members to go along with you. Each gang member has different strengths that can be of vital assistance during the bank robbery. For instance, the skills of some gang members add time to certain tasks while others make the bank robbery go faster.

Once these options have been chooses, you're ready to rob the bank.

Case the joint

The robbery starts with the first seek and find screen called "Casing the joint" and, as the above image indicates, shows the outside of the bank. There is a list of items you must find on the left hand side of the screen. When the item is found, the item will vanish from the list. The items are arbitrary and have nothing to do with robbing a bank. You can also collect bonus items that give you more money such as wanted posters or coins that spell "Dillinger". You can also pick up items that will help you in the robbery such as vault icons which add ten seconds to the timed screens. As with all seek and find games, there are a limited number of hints that can be used to find missing items. After you clear the first seek and find screen, it's time for the first mini game.

Robbery mini game
Don't let the bank patrons
escape!
The first mini game involves keeping the bank patrons from escaping from the bank and raising an alarm. To do this, you're given control of a gangster that you must move in front of an exit as a bank patron approaches.
A patron turns around when he encounters a gangster allowing you reposition the gangster to another location if needed. If more than four people escape from the bank before the time runs out, you'll lose the game.
The early levels of this minigame are very easy but it gets progressively harder with bigger banks. When you win the game, the "Robbery" seek and find screen will appear.

Robbery

The "Robbery" seek and find screen, as shown above, displays the inside of the bank and plays like "Casing the joint" screen does. Along with the list of items and bonus coins, you will have to find a series of colored keys. As with the earlier screen, you have a limited number of hints you can use. Once this screen is clear, it's time to open the vault.

Crack the safe
Open the safe by placing the
keys in the right keyholes
The vault mini game uses the colored keys you've found to open the safe. The keys must be placed in the proper order for the vault to open. If any key is placed in the wrong order, every key is automatically removed and you must start over. It's vital that you remember the location of any properly placed keys if you want to open the vault before time expires. Some gang members have certain skills that add time to the safe cracking timer. As mentioned earlier, vault icons also add extra time.

Once the safe is opened, the results screen opens to display how much money you got from the heist. you'll notice that your list of banks to rob has increased to give you a broader selection. More gang members with different talents will also become available. After selecting these options, the game will follow the same general pattern: Case the joint seek and find, contain bank patrons mini game, the robbery seek and find, crack the vault key puzzle.

Money

No casual seek and find game is going to capture the danger, tension, fear or, to some, excitement of a bank robbery but Amazing Heists: Dillinger makes good use of the bank robbery motif to add interest, enhance gameplay, and create a very enjoyable seek and find game. The mini games never become intrusive but serve as a diversion from what would be an endless stream of seek and find screens. The choice of timed or untimed play modes allows users to experience a leisurely search for objects or the urgency that the "beat the clock" feature adds. Seek and find enthusiasts will find Amazing Heists: Dillinger to be a solid entry for the genre while novices will find it an approachable introduction.




This is how I rate Amazing Heists: Dillinger


Cost - You don't need to rob a bank to pay for this game.

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - Challenging seek & find screens can be made more difficult by adding a time limit. Mini games add to the fun.

Graphics - Clear bright images enhance the seek and find experience and eliminate the eyestrain found on so many games of this genre.

Originality - The bank robbery motif really enhances the overall game experience.

Strong Points - Well constructed seek and find screens and enjoyable mini games.

Weak Points - The early mini games are too easy but they get more difficult quickly.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - Different options can be set to match the skill of any user. Hints help you find any items you've overlooked and the timed feature adds and extra challenge to veteran seek & find enthusiasts.

Overall Rating: 8

Conclusion:Amazing Heists, Dillinger tries to bring some of the glamour and excitement of '30's era crime to the realm of casual games and succeeds very well. Breaking the seek and find screens into sections like "Casing the Joint" and "The Robbery" help move the story along while the addition of mini games provides a pleasant diversion that keeps the game fresh.


Download Amazing Heists: Dillinger from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $6.99.



Science Girls Review



Anime schoolgirl science majors battling mutant plants? This is just too strange!

Science Girls

You may have heard about the weird Korean guy who "married" his anime girlfriend as a publicity stunt. Well, anime lovers, this casual game review is for you. Science Girls mixes RPG, turn based battle action and schoolgirl anime characters to produce a mildly amusing casual game. It seems a group of anime schoolgirls are about to leave school when it is attacked by a group of mutant plants! The girls search the school, battling ghastly plants all the way, and try to find survivors, weapons, or clues that will help them defeat these creatures once and for all. Their main weapon is their great knowlege of science which enables them to have a chance against the mutant invasion.

The story certainly is original; time to review the game play.

After starting a new game and choosing a name for your character, you'll see the introduction pages which set the story up. You're then shown an overhead view of one floor of your school building which consists of three rooms on either side of a corridor and stairwells at each end. Rooms you have visited will display a classroom while others will appear black with a question mark on them. Some rooms are locked and you cannot enter until you've performed certain tasks.

Science Questions
Learn about plants by answering science
questions
If the room has no mutant plants hiding in there, you can go in and explore the room. As you explore the rooms, you may get clues that lead you to other floors of the building where you pick up weapons, information, or other students who will join your team. When you meet another student, the characters will indulge in some inane conversation that occasionally deal with scientific facts. In some cases, a screen with a multiple choice question related to the science talk will appear that you will have to answer. Incorrect answers don't seem to do any harm.

If you DO run into mutant plants, it's time for combat!

Combat Screen

Combat Screen details
Combat options
The combat screen will appear and display your enemies on the right lower side and your team on the right upper side. Each side can have as many as six team members but only the front three can actually fight. The combat itself is turn based. When each character becomes active, you can select from a series of options such as punch, defend, item, special, flee. Punch, defend and flee are self explanatory while item and special allow you to use special powers or items. If a character in the front row can be exchanged with those in the back row at any time. Usually, this is done if a character is injured or doesn't have the talents needed for the fight. If you are victorious, the character's skills will improve allowing them to fight tougher enemies and liberate your school, once and for all, from mutant plants!!

Last picture

Science Girls is a minimalist RPG game that tries to build enthusiam for science for a younger target audience. The dull fights, mediocre graphics and lack of variety on game screens will not satisfy hard core RPG game fanatics. I know casual games are not on the same level as full featured console games but Science Girls is clunky even for a casual game. Younger audiences may like this game but everyone else will feel like they're playing an 1992 retro game.




This is how I rate Science Girls


Cost - Inexpensive

Available Platforms - PC and Mac

Gameplay - Dull fights and repetitive screens will cure your insomnia

Graphics - Mediocre at best unless you're an anime lover

Originality - Very original idea but poorly executed.

Strong Points - Has science tips that very young players may appreciate

Weak Points - Dull fights, average graphics, banal character conversation...you get the idea

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 4/1 - Gets dull real quick.

Overall Rating: 5

Conclusion:Science girls is an idea that had possibility but was not executed very well. RPG players at one time were more than satisfied with seeing the same screen througout the game and turn based fights that gave you the results and little more. Unfortunately for the publishers of Science Girls, it's not 1992 anymore! This game may be good for very young players who are interested in science but that's about it. There have been very good RPG casual games; Science Girls is not one of them.


Download Science Girls for PC
or
Download Science Girls for Mac
from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.





Born Into Darkness Review



A seek and find game featuring a vampire? Can you only play it at night?

Main screenshot

Vampires have invaded popular media with several movies a wildly successful HBO series so I guess it's only natural that they invade casual games. Born Into Darkness is a seek and find game that involves a man named Nathaniel Black teaming up with Amber Blythe, a female vampire. in a Boston museum to find the "Shroud of Lazarus". The clues found in the museum start them on their world wide quest for the priceless artifact. The back story isn't fully developed and Amber never has to use any "Vampiric" powers but that's really secondary when you're talking about a seek and find game.

Let's review how to play this casual game.

Game play in Born Into Darkness involves finding pieces of certain items that, when complete, can be used with interactive sections on the main game screen. The first screen is a mini tutorial where you are given two items to complete, shown how to find the pieces needed to create them, and shown how to get clues from each of the main characters. You are also shown how to use the journal and how to get extra clues for each character. That is ALL you need to know to play Born Into Darkness. After these commands are explained, the pop up instructions stop and the game continues normally.

Find parts to complete item
Show all needed parts of an item
by moving the arrow over it.
The game starts with you having access to only one room and needing to find two items. One item is the key, which will unlock, and give you access to, the storage room while the other item is a pulley that will allow you to move a curtain to access the stage. Some items, such as the key, have only one part and when that part is found, the item is complete. Other items, such as the pulley, need several parts to complete it. Moving the mouse over the item will show a small window displaying the parts needed to complete it.

Once the item is complete, you can use it on an interactive part of the screen. For example, using the key on the door will open it and allow you to access another room. The key will then vanish from your inventory and another part will appear. Usually, you'll have two items that you'll be trying to complete at any time.

Interaction with screen
Get the crusader's message!
The cursor turns into a hand when
moving over special sites. Left
click to activate it.
You can find where to use items you've completed by moving the mouse around the game window. When you move over an interactive section, a magnifying glass will appear. You will then be told what the item is, what it can be used for, and what is needed to get it to work. Once an item is complete, click on it with your mouse, drag it over to the interactive section, and the item will be automatically used. Interactive sections of the game window only become active when the appropriate item is available for you to find. For example, the case that will house a set of stone tablets will not become interactive if you're still working on the key and the pulley.

Information on the items you want to complete and what you're supposed to do with them is also available in your journal. Click on the "Journal" button on the lower right side of the game window and the journal will appear. It will tell you what items need to be completed and what interactive part of the game they are to be used with. It DOESN'T tell you where the interactive sections are so you'll have to search the area when new pieces become available.

Interactive area
One of your completed items
goes on the model stand
Journal
Your journal has important information
The game is comprised of several sections which represent areas that Amber and Nathaniel are traveling to and are shown on a map. Each section consists of a series rooms where you search for items to solve a series of puzzles that will give you more information about the mystery and allow you to progress to the next part of the game. Your progress is charted on the green progress bar that show how far you have progressed in completing all your tasks and will help you decide when the best time to use a clue would be.

Each character has three hints they can offer which is shown by three gems on the circles on the left and right of the main game window. The skull on the lower right of the game window represents Amber and the cross on the lower left side represents Nathaniel. To get a clue, click one of the three gems and then click on the item that you need help with. Asking for a clue from Amber will turn the entire window red and highlight the needed piece in an oval. Nathaniel's clues turn the screen purple, moves the piece away from the background, and highlights it with beams of light behind it. They are very good visual effects.

Amber's mini game

If you're really stuck and find that you've used up all of your clues, you can always get some more. Clicking on the cross or the skull circle will bring up a mini game that will award you extra hints if you win. The games are similar. To renew Amber's clues, you must identify a certain number of ghosts by mouse clicking on them before a preset amount of time expires. To renew Nathaniel's clues, you must identify a series of specific phrases from a swirling group of words before the time limit expires. The picture above shows Amber's mini game.

End picture

Although it doesn't contain anything especially "vampiric", Born Into Darkness is an engaging seek and find game. Unlike many games of this genre, the story actually leads the game forward and draws the user into the mystery. The items you need to find and the puzzles you solve pertain to the story and the dialog helps move things along instead of being useless filler between puzzle screens. The only drawback to Born Into Darkness is that hard core seek and find players may find it too easy. You only have to complete two items at any time and some of these items only have one piece. Most seek and find games have you find items from a game window loaded with items that you'll never use. To add variety to those games, they have you find different items if you replay the screen. By contrast, pieces to an item in Born Into Darkness don't appear in the game window before the item itself can be assembled. The sudden appearance of new pieces on a previously empty game window often makes them very easy to find. I found the engaging story made up for any lack of difficulty in game play.


This is how I rate Born Into Darkness


Cost - Can you say cheap?

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - A bit easy for a game of the seek and find genre.

Graphics - Very good. The hint graphics are worth viewing even if you know where all of an item's pieces are.

Originality - Including a Vampire in a seek and find game is original but Amber really isn't very "Vampiric"

Strong Points - The engaging story line draws you into the mystery and keeps you searching. Other games of this genre often give you no incentive to keep playing.

Weak Points - Diehard seek and find fans may find locating item pieces to be too easy.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 2/1 - The game is easy for a seek and find but the story line makes up for it.

Overall Rating: 7

Conclusion: Born Into Darkness tries to cash in on the current Vampire mania by including a vampire as a main character. Unfortunately, the character never uses vampiric powers to do anything and the game play is a bit on the easy side. The engaging story line and multiple level puzzles redeem the game and provide for a captivating gaming experience.


Download Born Into Darkness from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Zuma's Revenge - Adventure Review



Is it possible to improve on a casual game legend? YES, and Zuma's Revenge - Adventure is all the proof you need!

Main Page

Quite a few years ago, a casual game came out with some really new ideas, great gameplay and was an incredibly addictive experience. Zuma proved to be a huge success and was hailed by some casual game reviews as the "perfect casual game". This success left the game developers with a nasty question; how do you improve on "perfection". It seems they've found the answer with Zuma's Revenge! - Adventure. It's tough to capture the excitement and addictive game play in any casual game reviews but I'm going to try.

Let's take a closer look.

Combo Shot
COMBO SHOT --
Blue balls explode. The
yellow balls close the
gap and explode next.

The story behind the game isn't well developed but it doesn't have to be. You're a frog that has to stop a line of colored balls from reaching an idol in order to stay alive. You can stop the line of balls by shooting a colored ball into the line and creating a match of three or more colored balls. This causes the balls to explode and increments the Zuma bar at the top of the screen. When the Zuma bar is filled, new balls will stop entering the game field so you just have to destroy the ones that remain.

Zuma's Revenge - Adventure keeps the action riveting by slightly changing the game field for each level by combining three basic modifications.

Dual Lines
Shoot fast to keep either of the two
lines from reaching the end.

First: change the path of that the balls take. Moving the path further away makes shots tougher to make and increases the time each shot takes. Looping the path of balls in a circle blocks shots to parts of the line. Some levels add an extra line of balls.

Second: change the location of the frog. Usually, it is in the center and can rotate in a circle. Other levels may put in on a sliding bar that only allows shots in one direction or allow the frog to jump between to locations or lily pads.

Third: increase the number of different colors in the ball line. More colors require a larger number of shots to destroy the line.

Fortunately, you have a series of powerups that allow you to fight back.

Powerups

Lightning power up
Lightning Powerup. Select one ball
& shoot
Destroys all balls of the selected color
All balls of the selected color
are destroyed
As you play the game, you'll notice that some balls will change to display special symbols.
Destroy these and you'll gain a powerup.
Powerups are gained by destroying a ball with a special symbol on it. The powerups are listed on the image shown above and help you either alter the progress of the balls (slow, rewind) or help you destroy them (bomb, accuracy, lightning, tri-shot, or laser). You can use some of the powerups, such as laser or tri-shot to trigger other powerups. Proper use of the powerups is needed to win the game.

You'll naturally want to run up the score as high as you can and there are special techniques you'll want to use.

Gap shot
Gap Shot - Shoot thru the gap
to hit the red balls
Below is a list of special shots that result in more points:

Chain - the number of sequential scoring shots - higher is better

Combo - destroy one chain that causes another to be destroyed

Gap Shots - shoot through a hole in the line to destroy a group of balls

Fruit - fruit will appear and is usually blocked by the line.

Ace the level - large bonus if you complete the level before the "Ace" time.

No loss of life - A large bonus is awarded if you complete the level without losing a life

Extra lives - you get extra points at the end of the game for each extra life you have.

Boss Battle

Another great addition to Zuma's Revenge - Adventure is the Boss battles, one of which is shown in the image above.
There are six Boss battles and each is located at the end of one of the six sections of the map. The bosses are the six Tikis guarding the island and, as you would expect, they get more difficult as the game progresses. Each new Tiki has more powers than the last which keeps the game challenging. The battles themselves are modifications of the regular game play.

End picture

Zuma's Revenge - Adventure has accomplished the amazing feat of improving the perfect casual game. New features, fast gameplay, and constantly increasing challenges keep this game fresh and addictive. This is the type of game that you just don't get tired of and wind up playing many, MANY times. The Boss battles add a new element to the game play as well as a bit of humor. Download and play this game; you WILL be hooked! Zuma's Revenge - Adventure has only the 60 levels of the "Adventure" part of the game and is missing the smaller "Iron Frog" mode, "Heroic Frog" mode and "Challenge" mode. The "Adventure" mode is the heart of the game and the largest section. This version of Zuma's Revenge only costs half as much as the full version.


This is how I rate Zuma's Revenge - Adventure!


Cost - Not a budget buster at $9.99

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - Fast, fun and addictive. You WILL play this game more than once.

Graphics - Sharp, colorful with great powerup effects. Also has a 1920 x 1200 game setting

Originality - Small modifications such as modified frog location and new powerups really breath new life into a classic casual game. The Boss battles are also a big improvement.

Strong Points - Fast and addictive with great graphics.

Weak Points - "Zuma's Revenge - Adventure" contains ONLY the 60 "Adventure" mode levels and does NOT contain the smaller "Iron Frog" mode, "Heroic Frog" mode or "Challenge" mode.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - Perfect balance of action and challenge.

Overall Rating: 10

Conclusion: - A GREAT game. Zuma's Revenge - Adventure retains all of the good features of the original Zuma and goes beyond with some great new features. The "Adventure" mode is the heart of the game and the low cost makes up for the missing "Iron Frog" "Heroic Frog" and "Challenge" modes. Beautiful graphics, great powerup effects along with fast, addictive gameplay make Zuma's Revenge - Adventure an amazing gaming experience.


Download Zuma's Revenge - Adventure! from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Be A King Review



Is it Real Time Strategy or Time Management? "Be A King" and find out!

Main Screen

The publishers of Be A King have tried to create a casual game that captures the essence of the real time strategy game genre. You'll find all of the standard RTS features like collecting resources, building various structures to improve your city, and creating a strong defense to keep everyone safe. The "essence" of Real Time Strategy may be here but the gameplay is not. Be A King plays more like a slow moving Time Management game.

Let's take a look at the gameplay.

The game starts off in 950 with the usual story of a poor and savage land in need of a mighty leader, you, to set things straight. After the set up story screens are done, the main map will appear and display a path through your kingdom with various settlements on them. You have to go to each of these in order and clicking on the first will bring you to the tutorial level.

Main Map

Dirt Circle
Buildings can only be
placed in dirt circles
The first town you go to is a forest scene with a bunch of dirt circles in the center of it. The dirt circles are the sites where you can construct buildings and are the only interactive areas of the town. The first town is obviously the most simple but the general pattern of the town layout remains the same for higher levels. You'll get more circles and more choices of buildings but no more interaction with the town site.

Goals
Click the info tab to display goals
Each level has certain goals that you must achieve before moving onto the next level. These goals usually comprise of reaching certain population or resource levels, creating a certain number and style of buildings, or a combination of both. You can see what these goals are for your current level by clicking on the "Info" tab on the bottom menu bar.

Buildings come in four categories that are houses, food production, military and service. Properly managed, these buildings will result in an increasing population, abundant resources, lots of money and is safe from enemies. Failure to strike the proper balance of these types of building will cause you to lose the game.

To create buildings, you must have resources, money and workers. The specific items needed to create each building can be found by clicking on the "Buildings" tab at the bottom of the screen and moving the cursor over the building's icon. Select a dirt circle and click on the building icon to create the building of your choice. No construction will be started if you're lacking materials. You can buy more materials by clicking on the "Material" tab at the bottom of the screen and if you have enough money. If you're short of workers, you can purchase more by clicking on the "workers" tab on the bottom of the screen and selecting the worker button.

Barracks
Barracks - Your
first line of defense
The first building to create should be the barracks. It creates soldiers that you never see. What you will see is it shooting at intruders as they come closer to your town. The more of them you build, the faster that enemies will be destroyed. As you play higher levels, you'll get the ability to build Mage Towers that will attack your enemies with more force.

House
Build houses so your
population will grow
Now that you're safe, it's time to build some houses. Your population will NOT increase unless you have enough housing space for everyone. To accommodate an increasing population, you must either build more houses or upgrade them to bigger houses that hold more people.

Too many people and not enough food creates starvation. The answer to this problem is to build farms which create food. As with houses, you can accommodate increasing demand by building more farms or upgrading them to bigger farms.

I won't mention all the available buildings. All of them will either create more resources, such as food or money, or act as multipliers to the production you already have. For example, building a mill will increase existing food production by 25 to 70 percent. Most buildings can be upgraded.

Rufus
Albert Ruffus
Your Advisor
Sam The Eagle
Sam The Eagle
Albert's Twin ??
If you get a little confused when you start the game, there's no need to worry. You have an advisor named Albert Ruffus who pops up from time to time and gives you advice on what you should do. Albert's timely intervention can prevent mass starvation of your people or zero population growth because you forgot to build enough houses. As helpful as Albert is, he has a disturbing resemblance to Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

Along with Albert's helpful advice, you'll get other characters making quest announcements that you can either accept or reject. Some quests are a waste of time while others yield valuable resources or money. The quests appear as small boxes on the left side of the game window. Click on the box and the quest dialog box will appear where you can accept or reject the quest.

Hero v monster
Hero vs Monster
The most action this
game has to offer
In order to perform a quest, you must have at least one hero. You obtain them by clicking on the "workers" tab and selecting the hero icon instead of the worker icon. Since you have no direct interaction with the quests, there is no way to improve your chances of success unless you count crossing your fingers. Heroes, are very expensive to hire so don't go overboard and spend all of your money on them. Herons can also be used for defensive purposes as long as they are still in your town and not out on a quest.

Just when you thought everything is going well, you get attacked by robbers or monsters! Your enemies will appear out in the woods and start moving towards your buildings. When they get close enough, they will attack and destroy your buildings. If you have a Barracks or Mage Tower then these buildings will start shooting at the intruder and, hopefully, destroy it before it reaches one of your buildings. Enemies are destroyed faster if you have more than one defensive building since each building will fire if an enemy is in range. If your defensive buildings won't defeat your enemies, use your Hero to attack them. Remember that your Hero is not invulnerable and can be killed by the attackers. Once your goals are reached for a level, a fireworks display appears over your town, and you continue on to the next level.

Level Complete

Be A King can never really decide if it wants to be a Time Management Game or a Real Time Strategy Game. What would you call that? Real Time Management? Whatever you call it, it will likely disappoint fans of both genres.
There's all building and no interaction! You can create military buildings but you can never control the army or even see it! Quests are common but have no action except a pop up window that tells you the if the quest was a success or failure. Gathering resources is done completely by your choice of buildings that you've constructed and the only interaction you have with workers is deciding how many you want. Your "Herons" aren't very heroic and are actually sort of inept.
I know some will argue that Be A King is a building game and is not designed to have interactive features as in a Real Time Strategy Game. That argument is true but time management building games create exciting gameplay by adding "beat the clock" features which Be A King does not have. It does have monsters and robbers that will attack your village more often if you take too much time but it lacks the urgency needed to develop exciting gameplay.

Hard core Time Management or building game junkies may like it but I found it lacking.

Completed Screen




This is how I rate Be A King


Cost - No casual game is REALLY expensive.

Available Platforms - PC Only

Game play - This is either a Real Time Strategy game where you can't control things you create or a Time Management game without any urgency. It falls short in both genres

Graphics - Very good

Originality - Original idea but what's new isn't always good

Strong Points - If you just like the building phase of RTS games then you'll probably like Be A King

Weak Points - A hybrid of game genres that doesn't quite work

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 3/1 - I found the game slow. Some games seem to reach out of your monitor, grab you by the collar and drag you in. Be A King reached out and pushed your eyelids down.

Overall Rating: 5

Conclusion: A valiant effort to blend two genres of casual games fell short with Be A King. This game will certainly disappoint RTS fans while time management junkies will find it tepid at best. The users who love this game are the those who like the building phases in RTS games and can do without the action. Buildings must be constantly upgraded and defended while you balance your needs for workers, heroes, and resources. What Be A King lacks in urgency, it more than makes up for in complexity.


Download Be A King from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $6.99.




Mr Jones Graveyard Shift Review



A time management game about running a cemetery? Have game developers been watching too many horror movies?

Game window

Mr Jones thought he had his retirement all set with his new house in the forest and his faithful dog Kranky. Unfortunately, Mr Jones has found he can't live without his girlfriend Mimi who wants him to join her in the Caribbean. The problem is that Mimi has some REALLY EXPENSIVE tastes and needs things like a yacht and a million dollars in spending money! What's Mr Jones to do? How will he raise that money?

By opening a cemetery, of course!

It sort of strange that a time management game would be based around those who have eternity to deal with but that's the premise of Mr Jones Graveyard Shift. Mr Jones will attempt to raise the money so he can join his demanding girlfriend by selling graves ranging from very modest plots to lavish crypts for VIPs and the wealthy.

Let's see how he plans on doing this.

Tool Bar

The game starts in Mr Jones' yard next to the empty field that will become the graveyard. You can move Mr Jones by either right clicking on a location or selecting the walk icon from the toolbar (shown above) at the bottom of the window and left clicking on the location you want to go to. No that you can move Mr Jones, let's find some customers.

Customer Icon
A customer is here!
Talking to a customer
Talking to a customer
Now and then, a square with the picture of a vehicle will appear on the lower right side of the game window. This indicates that a customer has arrived and is waiting in front of the house; click on the square and Mr Jones will walk to the vehicle. Click on the person next to the car to find out what kind of funeral they want.

The customer will tell you what they would like at the funeral and the price range they are considering. The important information you should get from the conversation is:

1) They will NOT pay you more than the maximum amount of money they have stated regardless of what you put near the grave.
2) You don't HAVE to give them what they request. In many cases, that would cost you more than what the customer has already stated they will pay.
3) If you give them something extra they DIDN'T ask for, they will still pay extra for it.
4) They will pay LESS if you give them something they said they didn't want.

Now that you have a customer, let's get to work.

Supply boxes
Get supplies
from these
boxes
Fancy Grave
Make sure customers
will pay for extras.
Click on the shovel icon to dig a grave, then left click on the area where you want it placed, move the cursor with the mouse and a green oblong rectangle will appear. When it's in the proper position, left click on it and Mr Jones will start digging the grave. Once the grave is dug, you can put three types of items around it: flowers, a headstone, and other decorative items. You can find these items in the appropriate boxes located at the top left and bottom right of the cemetery. Click on the icons in the tool bar will move Mr Jones to the closest one.

The headstones range from pine board crosses to elaborate and expensive stone monuments. Remember to get a headstone that matches the customer's price range or the funeral will cost you more than the customer will pay! Flowers also come in a wide variety of types and prices. The other structures are a bit more varied and include items such as benches and fountains of different qualities as well as other items such as lamp posts.

Funeral
Funeral Service
After everything is in place, select the chisel tool to engrave the deceased's name on the headstone. If you are working on several graves for different customers, be sure to select the proper name. Once the name is chiseled onto the headstone, a coffin will fall from the sky into the previously empty grave and the funeral party will arrive. After the funeral, talk to the man standing beside the hearse to collect your money. Clicking on the square with the dollar sign will move Mr Jones to the customer to get paid.

Your pay will be determined by how well your followed directions. The customer gives you a price range and you try to prepare a funeral that will pay the maximum amount. You will not get any more than the maximum amount stated so don't place $50 worth of items around a grave for a funeral with a $25 maximum budget. Adding items increases the bill while adding items the customer specifically asked for will generate the largest increase in the bill. Conversely, adding items the customer specifically asked NOT to include will generate a penalty that lowers the bill.

That's the basic gameplay but there's a few more features that add even more interest to the game.

Supply Van
Click to go to
the supply van
You start the game with a limited number of supplies and, once they're gone, you must buy some more. A square with a van on it will appear next to the ones with customer vehicles indicating the supply van has arrived. Click on the supply van square to move Mr Jones to the van. Click on the person standing beside the van to open the buy supplies window. Buying too many items at once will leave you short of cash and unable to purchase items needed to fulfill customer requests.

Zombies
Nothing ruins a funeral
more than a zombie!
After the funeral is over and you have been paid, you can remove items and use them on new graves. The problem is that removing items from a grave lowers its value and causes the deceased to rise from their graves as zombies!! Zombies aren't really what paying customers want to see and cause a penalty that lowers what new customers will pay. To get rid of the zombies, you must add items to restore the original value to the grave.

A little planning goes a long way to maximize your profits. Some customers will request the grave be placed by a small tree and will pay extra for it. These locations are limited and should be saved for more expensive funerals that will pay the highest premium for the location. You can also add walk ways to the graves which will increase their value. The longer the walkway, the more expensive it is, so place the premium graves closest to the gate. You have two days to complete the funeral arrangements which means you don't have to get the graves ready in the order that they appear. In some cases, you may want to complete several less expensive funerals in order to use the money to buy expensive items for higher budget graves.

As time goes on, the game window will get dark meaning night time has arrived. Mr Jones can continue working or he can go to bed. Working at night is difficult since you can't see anything but sometimes necessary in order to complete a grave site. Click on the house if you want Mr Jones to go to sleep for the night. Before he goes to sleep, Mimi's list will appear with a selection of items that you can get. Remember, if you buy too many items, you'll run out of cash to buy items for new grave sites.

Mimi's list

At this point, you must be thinking "I don't believe this! A casual game review about a graveyard? All I can say is that Mr Jones Graveyard Shift is a really bizarre concept for a game but it really works. The time element is different from many time management games since it allows players as much time as they want to gather the needed money. Graves must be completed in two days but how quickly you gather money is up to you. This feature gives the game the feel of a "Graveyard Tycoon" type sim. Some may be put off by the morbid concept of the game and anyone involved in funeral arrangements of a loved one knows that funerals aren't fun at all. Mr Jones Graveyard Shift, however, is NOT real life and those able to view the theme of the game in the proper context will find it clever, imaginative, engrossing and a lot of fun.


This is how I rate Mr Jones Graveyard Shift


Cost - VERY CHEAP at $6.99

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - Wide variety of tasks and graveyard management keeps the game challenging.

Graphics - Very good

Originality - A time management game based on a graveyard? I'd say that's a new idea!

Strong Points - Interesting gameplay, original concept, and a large variety of tasks keep this game engrossing.

Weak Points - Impatient players may not care for the slow start caused by the constant tutorial hints. The tutorial hints, however, are needed to learn how to play the game and can be easily turned off.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - The gameplay presents increasing challenges without ever getting impossible. New items becoming available keep the gameplay from getting stale.

Overall Rating: 9 -

Conclusion:Mr Jones Graveyard Shift creates a "sim" like environment that challenges and entertains. The concept is very original but may turn some players away. Those that give Mr Jones Graveyard Shift a try will be rewarded by a unique gaming experience and will certainly be glad they did.


Download Mr Jones Graveyard Shift from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $6.99



Huru Beach Party Review



Take care of a beach resort populated by creepy, square faced people.

Main page

Lindsey - Our Heroine
Lindsey - Our Heroine
Lindsey Huru Humi Doll
The actual Lindsey
Huru Humi Doll
Huru Beach Club is an action maintenance game that follows Lindsey's attempts to earn enough money to enter a volleyball team tournament by running a beach resort. The gameplay involves your character performing a series of repetitive tasks that become more demanding as the number of both customers and tasks increase. You must act quickly or your customers will loose their patience, get angry and leave. Since the game is based loosely on the popular Huru Humi dolls, all the characters have square faces and are kind of disturbing.

After you get used to how weird the characters look, the game is actually very fun.


Customers
Customers have arrived !
The game starts with your character standing at the entrance to the beach with nine spaces for customers. Clicking on the customer will give them a chair and allow them to sit on the beach. Once they get in, they get demanding. The first thing they ask for, frequently, is lemonade. Customer requests are shown by conversation balloons that appear above them depicting what they want. Clicking on the conversation balloon brings up a window where you can take care of the appropriate request. In the case of lemonade, you must click on a row of coins to try to get the glass as full as possible and generate the most cash. After this is done, your character takes a time consuming walk over to the lemonade stand, gets the drink and delivers it to your customer. Since your customers tank up with enough lemonade to float a battleship, this task alone often keeps your mouse clicking and your character running.

As the game progresses, you'll add other refreshment items, such as Ice Cream and Bar Drinks, to the beach resort. These items are served in a similar manner with an action required on your part to generate the most value. In the case of Ice Cream, you must make three choices to match the Ice Cream selection chosen by the customer.

Food and beverages are not the only items your customers demand.

Banana Boat Dock
Banana Boat dock with
green ad balloon
Life Ring Stand
Life Ring Stand with
red ad balloon
Recreational services also have to be attended to, such as passing out life rings to swimmers and selling tickets to the banana boat ride. You also have to clean up the beach after each customer leaves. Click on the conversation balloons that appear above characters to provide them with a service. When you click on more than one conversation balloon, a number will appear that lists the order in which the services will be performed.

All of these tasks must be done quickly because your customers eventually lose patience, get angry and leave if they are ignored too long. Watch their faces to get an idea of how long you have; their patience vanishes shortly after their smiles fade.

A nice addition to Huru Beach Party that isn't found in other games of this genre is the ability to hire help. You still have to address a customer's demands, but it's the hired help that walks across the screen to actually get things leaving your character free to address the next task. Umbrellas are also a big help. They keep customers happy longer allowing you to use the extra time to address other tasks.

As you make more money, you are allowed to create improvements that either enhance an existing service or add a new one. For example, improving the lemonade machine makes the lemonade faster while building a banana boat dock allows you to offer your customers boat rides.

Riding the Banana boat

In some cases, you can add a new service and it doesn't catch on with the customers. When this happens, you can advertise the service and a colored balloon will appear over the building. This will draw more customers to the service and make more money for you.

Map

After you complete a few rounds, you'll be able to expand to new beaches and add even more improvements. The map will appear and display new beaches you can open as well as buildings you can either add or improve. You are locked out of certain beach areas until you generate enough resources to open them.

Mini Game

To break up the game play, mini games will appear between certain levels. These are fairly simple and will boost your point total. An example of a mini game has you click on items on a conveyor belt to separate drinks from food.

Square Faced Huru Humi people


The first thing to strike you when you play Huru Beach Party is the disturbingly strange square faced characters. Once you actually see a Huru Humi doll looks like, it becomes obvious what the game publisher were trying to capture and the characters will seem much less strange. Since you're no longer wondering why everyone looks so weird, you'll notice how great the gameplay is. Huru Beach Party's fast action takes the "casual" out of casual game while adding some features to the time management genre that set it apart form its peers. The ability to hire helpers, the variation of services on different beaches, the large amount of improvement options, and the mini games combine to create engaging gameplay in a game genre noted for repetitive actions. Lovers of action maintenance games will find Huru Beach Party a real treat.


This is how I rate Huru Beach Party


Cost - Very cheap at $9.99

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - The large variety of tasks and mini games keeps Huru Beach Party from being repetitive like many games of this genre are.

Graphics - There are some VERY STRANGE looking people in this game but it's amazing how quickly you get used to them.

Originality - New ideas such as hiring helpers and the variety of tasks really add to this game.

Strong Points - Great gameplay and innovate game features.

Weak Points - The characters could give you nightmares!

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 2/1 - This genre of games tend be repetitive by design and the first few levels can be sort of slow.

Overall Rating: 8

Conclusion: If you love the action maintenance style of games, you'll have to have Huru Beach Party. A wide variety of tasks and building improvements combine to great a superior gaming experience.


Download Huru Beach Party from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.




Jewel Quest Mysteries Review



A seek and find game about an archaeologist looking for treasure and ancient secrets? Haven't we heard this before? Not like this!

Main screenshot

The original Jewel Quest is a very popular match three game that spawned a number of sequels. Most sequels take the major game concepts and add a few extra elements to improve what was already a winning formula. Jewel Quest Mysteries breaks that mold by adding seek and find elements to the game by retaining some of the match three action. This hybrid or two game types really works.

Let's see how.

Journal
Journal entries move the
story along
This casual game starts with the usual archaeological tale of lost jewels, in this case an emerald. Using the Archaeologist's notebook to move the story forward, you're shown a map where the location of available quests are. Upon selecting a quest, you're given either a seek and find task or a match three puzzle.

The object of a match three puzzle is to move a jewel icon on the jewel board to an adjacent square so a sequence of three or more of them match. The matching gems then vanish and are replaced by new ones that shift down from the top while the tiles behind the matching gems turn gold. The ultimate goal is to turn all of the tiles on the entire puzzle gold by matching gems. This is how a typical match three game works.

more corners make the puzzle harder
More corners make
the puzzle harder
The match three section of the game becomes more difficult with advancing levels through a variety of modifications. Here are a few of those modifications. If more types of gems are added to the board, it becomes harder to match three of them. The hardest section to match is in any of the corners. Jewel boards that have more corners are harder to complete. Advanced gem boards have gems that have to be matched more than once in order to vanish. Some non gem icons are introduced that give negative points when matched and remove gold tiles.

Wooden Hanger
Oversized wooden
hanger is in the
upper left corner
In addition to match three puzzles, there are seek and find pages as well. Seek and find games have the user view a cluttered scene and try to find certain objects. Different games handle this in different ways. For example, some games have the user solve puzzles discovered objects and the objects are proportionally sized based on the surroundings these objects. Jewel Quest Mysteries, uses neither of these options. Finding the objects is enough and the objects are not sized proportionally to the rest of the scene. overly large or small objects are harder to find since the context of the scene offers no help and your search must focus on only the shape of the object.

To make the search more challenging, they must be completed in a certain amount of time. Users are discouraged from randomly clicking by getting a 30 second penalty whenever they click three times on objects with no result. You can avoid the penalty by not clicking on all of the located objects at once. It's better to mix certain choices with two experimental clicks.

Upgrades

You can collect gold coins and gems from either the match three jewel board or from the seek and find screen. If you get stuck in a seek and find puzzle, you can get help by using three gold coins. Gems can be used to purchase upgrades which can improve a weak section of your gameplay. Upgrades for seek and find include longer clock time, hints finding jewels or the ability to hold more gold coins. Upgrades for match three include puzzles that start with tiles that are already gold. You can skip certain puzzles but you forfeit your point bonuses at the end of the level and any specials, such as gold coins, that you may have collected.

Completed match three

Jewel Quest Mysteries has done a fine job of combining two types of game genres into a challenging hybrid that surpasses either genre individually. The two sides of the game are tied together by the player's ability to use specials gained in one area to help in another. Not only have the winning concepts of the original Jewel Quest been retained for the match three section, but the overall Jewel Quest look has been adapted to create a successful seek and find element as well. Even the music is engaging.



This is how I rate :


Cost - Less than $10

Available Platforms - PC and Mac

Gameplay - Both the seek and find and match three parts of this game are handled very well. Upgrades that allow you to improve weak parts of your gameplay is great feature.

Graphics - Well drawn graphics make for a challenging seek and find experience. You won't miss an item due to lousy lighting.

Originality - Blending two types game genres was a great idea.

Strong Points - The concept, gameplay and general appearance of Jewel Quest Mysteries is all top notch.

Weak Points - Some may have a problem with the objects not being proportional to the rest of the scene. I felt it added to the challenge.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - The puzzles are challenging without becoming impossible. Any problems you may run into can be offset by wise use of your upgrades. The different types of puzzles keep the game interesting.

Overall Rating: 10

Conclusion: This game is a winner. If you like match three or seek and find, you'll find something you like here.


Download Jewel Quest Mysteries for PC
or
Download Jewel Quest Mysteries for Mac

from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.




Tri Jinx Review



Match three meets Tetris in this innovative game.

Main game window

Tri Jinx is yet another match three game with an archaeological background story. It seems your father is stuck in the tomb of the triclops and you have to return the sacred amulet to save the day. As it's name implies, the game has a "Triangular" theme; the triclops, the amulet is a triangle made of four other triangles and all of the match three pieces are triangles. Despite the hackneyed story line, Tri Jinx has added some new ideas to the match three genre to create a really engaging and challenging game.

You have your choice of playing in Adventure, Arcade, or Puzzle mode. Let's take a look at Adventure mode.

Solve Puzzle
Solve puzzle to open the gate
Open Gate
Gate Open
The match three board is in the form of a circular gate that swings open after a few levels are completed. Unlike other games, the match three pieces aren't stable but fall from the top of the "gate" and tumble down the existing pieces into a random pile. Clicking on any group of three adjacent pieces of the same color makes them vanish and allows the other pieces to fall down and take their place. If the pieces build up to a point where the falling pieces are stopped, or if the timer bar runs out, the pieces will all turn to "stone" and you lose the level.

They add a few extras to spice things up.

Three idols
Three Idols-Red one is getting filled
Unlike most match three games, you don't have to fill up a board by matching icons on top of it. Tri Jinx has three or more idols on the top with hollow centers to fill up before you proceed to the next level. The idols are empty in the center and fill up each time you match pieces of the same color. Matching pieces that are not the same color of the idol will still give you bonuses but it won't help to complete the level. Once all the idols are filled, they crash to the ground and the level ends.

The color and number of idols changes for each level. To start you have three different colored idols but later levels sometimes have two or three idols of the same color. There is even a gray idol that will accept any color match. Later levels have more than three idols.

Stone pieces are added to the puzzle in later levels. The stones restrict the piece movement and cause them to pile up in unwanted areas. As the level increase, the stone placement makes the puzzles much more difficult. The stone pieces can be destroyed or moved by using a bomb.

As the pieces fall, they land on top of other existing pieces and pile up making the bottom rows inaccessible. To prevent this you have the option to rotate the board by a quarter turn in either direction by clicking on the rotate arrows. Doing this twice in the same direction essentially turns the board upside down and causes all the pieces to tumble to the bottom in a different order.

Scoring is based on three things:
1)How quickly you complete the level The timer bar is circular and goes all the way around the board. The faster you fill the idols up, the more points you will score. If the timer bar runs out before you fill the idols, you lose the level.

Red wheel bonus
Red wheel bonus using
a wildcard piece
Triangle bonus
The Triangle bonus
creates a bomb
2)How many pieces are left on the board.
The fewer pieces that are left on the board, the higher the score.

3)Bonuses
You get bonuses for matching pieces of the same color in certain shapes. For instance, you get a bomb bonus for matching four pieces in the shape of a triangle and you get a point bonus for matching six pieces of the same color in the form of a circle.

Bomb
Click on the bomb
to destroy stone pieces
next to it.
There are also specials to help you out. If you match three groups of the same color in a row, you create a scarab of that color. If the scarab is unused, you get additional points, if you use it, it will destroy all pieces on the board of that color. The additional benefit of using the scarab is that the remaining colors will now be easier to match. The bomb, which was mentioned above, has the added benefit of destroying adjacent pieces and stone pieces. This is very useful when the stone pieces form a wall that prevents pieces from reaching the bottom of the board.

The other two modes use the same puzzle board with minor variations. Arcade mode has no time limit and you try to get as many points as possible until the pieces back up. Puzzle mode displays a full board and has you search for patterns among the puzzle pieces.

Good Job

Tri Jinx has a really novel approach to the match three game genre that works perfectly. Increasingly harder game board patterns keep the gameplay exciting while new specials constantly change game strategy. I have to admit that I was dangerously close to becoming an incurable Tri Jinx addict while writing this casual game review. Always challenging, never exasperating and always engaging, Tri Jinx will have YOU addicted in no time. For match three game lovers, Tri Jinx is a must.


This is how I rate Tri Jinx


Cost - It's practically free at $9.99 !!

Available Platforms - PC and Mac

Gameplay - ADDICTIVE! This game grabs you and holds you in front of the screen.

Graphics - Very good.

Originality - The new ideas in this game completely transcend the match three genre.

Strong Points - Very engaging gameplay with three different modes to try. You won't get bored with this game.

Weak Points - The story line is sort of lame but most of them are with match three games. It never gets intrusive so it's really a minor point.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - The difficulty constantly increases without ever getting to the point that you want to pull your hair out. The result is a very engaging game that will tie you to your PC for longer than you planned.

Overall Rating: 10

Conclusion: If you're looking for an enjoyable, exciting, addictive and replayable game, then download Tri Jinx. The new features transcend the match 3 genre to create a unique game playing experience. If you still need an excuse, take a look at the very low registration cost. Tri Jinx is a great game value and a game everyone should try.


Download Tri Jinx for PC
or
Download Tri Jinx for Mac
from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



King Mania Review



Real time strategy meets acid trip ...uh, I mean fantasy? What a great idea!

Main game window

King Mania is a casual game that takes some of the more familiar aspects of the "Build and Kill" genre and breathes new life into it with some innovative ideas. The story places you as a king who has no other hobbies but to go to war; which he does constantly. You start with a map displaying your path to victory with all the areas you must conquer along the way. Clicking on one of these locations opens the main window where you can attempt to defeat your enemy.

Here's how King Mania is different from many others in this game genre.

Enemy Castle
Enemy Castle
The action takes place in an ethereal world of odd buildings comprised of castles, wizard towers, villages and more. Your goal on each is to capture the enemy castle by building up your army, defending your own castle, and taking his castle. You start each level with at least a castle. Other buildings on the level will be the enemy castle and several neutral buildings. Taking these buildings serves the dual purpose of providing you with more resources and keeping them away from the enemy. You can easily tell who controls which buildings. Your buildings have blue circles around them, neutral buildings are not marked and enemy buildings have red circles around theirs. Actually, the enemy circles looked kind of orange to me, but maybe it's my monitor.

Enemy Units
Enemy unit
information
Castle Info
Total units (10)
seen in upper corner
Attacking units (6)
shown on green bar.
Information for any building you control is accessed by left mouse clicking on it. The box that appears displays the number of peasants and soldiers inside as well as the number that will be sent on any attack. You can increase or decrease that number by clicking on the red boxes below the unit icons. You may be tempted to send all your soldiers to attack but leaving your buildings defenseless will certainly prompt a counterattack and probable loss of that building. The overall production of the building will be shown in the status bar located at the top of the game window. To find out information about enemy or neutral buildings, just move the cursor over it. Two icons will indicate the number of peasants and soldiers in the building.

Fierball attack
Fireball Attack!
To attack, just left click on any of your buildings with soldiers and right click on your target. The preselected number of soldiers will leave your building and march towards the target. If you have a larger force, you'll take the building and use it to help in your conquest. The same technique is used to send soldiers to reinforce buildings you already control.

Although you can't build anything new, you can enhance the buildings you have which adds a new aspect to the game. There are four basic types of upgrades, enhancement of the building's defense, creating new offensive units, increasing resource or unit production, and creating or enhancing spells.

Defensive and production upgrades make your buildings more efficient and harder to take over. The offensive and spell upgrades are more interesting. You can build monsters and dragons to lay waste to your enemies or create spells like fireball to inflict massive damage. Some of the effects are really impressive.

Screenshot

King Mania can be thought of as Real Time Strategy Lite. There is no long buildup phase, armies move to their objectives and fight each other inside the building so you never actually see it, and there are only five types of buildings with a total of 31 upgrades. What takes the place of micro managing troops and villages is a very aggressive gameplay; it starts fast and stays that way. Since there is no buildup phase, successful attacks require few soldiers and must start at once since early conquest of neutral buildings is essential. If your conquests go too far, your forces will be spread too thin and you will lose much of your gains to the enemy. Even with the best planning, your enemy will send multiple attacks to your weak points and you will have to constantly redeploy your forces to stop the invaders. King Mania is a really engrossing game that will provide hours of great gameplay.


This is how I rate King Mania


Cost - Really cheap at only $9.99.

Available Platforms - Pc and Mac

Gameplay - Fast and furious. Once the battles start, you'll be scrambling to keep up. The introductory tutorial levels are a bit slow but they have to be so you can learn the game. After that, you'll have to find the right balance of offense, defense and resources to find final victory.

Graphics - Very original graphics place you in an ethereal world that really sets the tone for this game.

Originality - A fresh look at the RTS game genre with the focus on action.

Strong Points - Very aggressive gameplay for those who like RTS with lots of action.

Weak Points - Not as much planning and building as in typical RTS games. If your favorite part of a game is the planning aspect, you may not like this game. The attack AI could be a bit tougher.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - Lively gameplay keeps you constantly alert as you juggle defense, offense and resources. Increasing difficulty along with new building enhancements appear with new levels and keep the game challenging.

Overall Rating: 9 - The attack AI could be a bit tougher which lost it the one point.

Conclusion: King Mania is new take on the RTS genre that focuses on action. Superior gameplay and graphics at a low price make this a great game value.


Download King Mania for PC
or
Download King Mania for Mac

from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Plants vs Zombies Review



I think whoever wrote this game was watching a little too much late night TV. Plants Versus Zombies?? Sounds like someone tried to mix "Little Shop of Horrors" with "Night of the Living Dead"! Whatever their inspiration was, the results are impressive.

Main Window

Plants vs. Zombies is one of the strangest casual games I've reviewed. In this game, you live in a nice house that's across the street from the cemetery -- which turns out to be your main problem. It seems that zombies keep on wandering across the street to try to get into your house and eat you. Like most zombies, they hunt human flesh and limp around like a 40's version of the mummy only without the wrappings. Once they get across the lawn to your house, the game is over and the zombies win. Unlike other zombie games, you don't have an array of shotguns, miniguns, big-guns or nuclear bombs to stop them; you only have plants!

But these plants are special!

The game window shows your lawn with only the edge of the road on the right and the edge of the house on the left. Zombies head towards the house from the road across your lawn which is where the battle takes place. The yard is not visibly divided but plants and zombies stay in one of five horizontal lanes with no crossing over.

The first few levels are tutorials to show you how things work and they limit the lawn to only one lane. The basic plants are introduced and you can see how they can stop zombies.

Chomper
Chomper

Chomper Eating
Chomper Eating!
Plants can be divided into three basic groups: production, defense and offense. Let's start with the offense. Your basic weapon against rampaging zombies is the "pea-shooter" which, as it's name implies, shoots peas at zombies as they stagger across your yard. If you rely only on pea-shooters, you'll need one in each of the lanes that the lawn is divided into. Plants only shoot straight across the lane they're in and won't effect zombies in adjacent ones. As the levels progress, you discover new seeds that allow you to grow more aggressive plants. Cherry bombs, Chompers, Snow Peas and others all have unique strengths and weaknesses that you have to balance to successfully defeat the zombies. For instance, Chompers will devour zombies whole but are vulnerable when chewing. Since Cherry Bombs are explosive, they will destroy zombies in multiple lanes.

Zombie attacks a Wall-Nut
Zombie attacking
a Wall-Nut
Potato mine takes out a zombie
Exploding Potato Mine
Takes out a Zombie!
Sometimes, there are just too many zombies to shoot so you need some defenses to slow them down. A few of the options you have are the Wall-Nut and the Potato Mine. A Wall-Nut acts as a wall to the zombies and they must destroy it in order to get by it. The Wall-Nut does not stop your peas so you can attack and destroy zombies while they're busy trying to clear the obstruction. Potato Mines will blow up an zombie that steps on them but they must be given a chance to arm themselves. Unarmed Potato Mines are easily destroyed by zombies.

Sunflower Making sun points
Sunflower making
sun points
You are limited to the number of plants you can produce by the amount of sun points you can get. Sun points come in the form of small suns falling from the sky that you must collect. You'll quickly find that the falling suns won't produce enough sun points to create the plants you need but you have another option: the sunflower. Plant a few sunflowers and, after a short while, they will start producing sun points. Your first impulse would be to plant about 15 of these but they have no offensive and will be quickly destroyed if not protected. Eventually, you'll get to levels where the zombies will attach at night when you'll have no sun falling from the sky. For night battles, you'll have to rely Sunflowers and special plants designed for night battles such as Puff-Shrooms and Sun-Shrooms.

Let's see how the game actually plays.

To start, the yard is usually zombie and plant free. If there are plants that you need to remove, you can use the shovel icon. At the top of the window, will be a series of six seed packets that you can choose from. Select a packet and place it anywhere on the lawn to grow that plant. Seed packets have a recharge time they must go though regardless of how many sun points you have so you can't simple create 20 pea shooters in 20 mouse clicks.

As the zombies progress across your lawn, you'll have to balance offense, defense and production to keep them from breaking through. The first zombie in a lane that makes it to the house will get run over by the lawn mower, but that only works once per lane. Any other zombies getting to the house will cause you to lose the game.

Zombie Bucket
Zombie Armor!
Zombies may not be very quick but they do adapt. As the levels progress, you'll notice zombies will arrive wearing metal buckets on their heads to protect them from the pea shooters. Others will hold newspapers in front of them to fend off attacks until the newspaper shreds. On the offensive side, zombies in track shorts will use a pole to pole vault over your Wall-Nuts and attack plants behind them. Just when you think a new plant gives you the edge, the zombies find a way to counter it.

Zombie Bowling
Wall-Nut looks for
a strike!
After a number of levels, you'll find that the number of seed packets you have access to is higher than the six you're allowed to use. When this happens, you'll be required to choose which six plants will be the best choice to beat the zombies for that level. Choose wisely!

In between some levels, you'll be able to play mini games to get more points. One game offers you plants to use from a scrolling menu that can be planted instantly. If you choose wisely, you'll be able to stop the zombies and get extra points. Another game gives you a Wall-Nut that you "bowl" at oncoming zombies for points. When the Wall-Nut hits a zombie, it will deflect into other lanes and score more zombie hits for higher scores. Even more minigames are offered at higher levels.


Choose your plants

Plants vs. Zombies is a really innovative and fun game that belongs in a genre by itself. The variety of plants and the humorous zombie defenses keep gameplay fresh and challenging. The best part of this game is it's replay ability. Many games are ready for deletion the moment you complete them but not Plants Versus Zombies! The second go around will be just as good as the first producing an amazing gaming value.


This is how I rate Plants vs. Zombies:


Cost - Very affordable at $19.99

Available Platforms - PC and Mac

Gameplay - Excellent! Fast action that keeps you thinking keep the game engaging and exciting.

Graphics - Top notch cartoon style plants and zombies really fit the concept of this game.

Originality - Plants vs. Zombies??? Need I say more? You don't get much more original than this.

Strong Points - Originality and challenging gameplay.

Weak Points - None. As with any great game, I do wish it were longer.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - Never a dull moment with this game!

Overall Rating: 10 - Excellent in every way. If someone says there's no new ideas for computer games, show them Plants vs. Zombies.

Conclusion:An amusing concept with great gameplay makes a winning combination. Plants vs. Zombies lives up to the hype to produce a superior gaming experience.


Download Plants vs. Zombies for PC
or
Download Plants vs.Zombies for Mac
from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price is $19.99.



BC Kings Review



Warcraft meets the Flintstones in this unique take on Real Time Strategy gaming.

Fortifications

I love Real Time Strategy games but think this genre of game should be renamed "Build and Kill". EVERYONE I know who plays these games ignore war strategy and win by building massive settlements that can create huge armies that crush their foes by numerical superiority.

BC Kings is a Build and Kill.. I mean Real Time Strategy game that's set in prehistoric time with features that include dinosaurs, bone armor and cave men. As with other games of this genre, you go on missions that require you to change resources into fighting units by creating buildings and developing technology. The ultimate goal is to destroy your enemies.

The game starts with a few easy tutorial levels that show you the basic game controls and introduce you to the two heroes. If you've played any RTS games, you'll find the controls very familiar. With each new level, you gain the ability to create new buildings that will produce new units and technologies.

Bonesmith
Bonesmith allows
new units and
technologies
The buildings follow a typical RTS pattern of houses for population, a main hall to produce workers, barracks for infantry, stables for cavalry units, religious temples, workshops and so on. BC Kings put a "cave man" feel on this by making the cavalry units "dino riders", the workshop a "bonesmith" and having catapults are hauled around by dinosaurs. Buildings can be used to either create new units or to upgrade your technology. Technology upgrades mean better weapons and armor as well as the ability to create new units.

Defensive structures can also be built. Walls with gates can create an enclosed fort to keep your enemies at bay while watch towers expand your view of an area and attack any enemies in the area. The gates of your fort automatically open when one of your units goes near it allowing them to enter or leave without your direct interventions. This can cause trouble if you place your infantry or cavalry units too close to the gate since they will charge out to engage any enemies that attack and let them in your fort. It really defeats the whole purpose of building a fort in the first place so keep your infantry and cavalry away from the gate.

Bone Mine
"Bone Mine"
Send workers here
to collect bone
Gone Fishing
Workers fish
to get food.
You'll find your building programs quickly grinding to a halt if you don't provide a constant supply of resources. In keeping with the prehistoric nature of the game, your main resources are Stone, Wood, Food and Bone. To collect any of these resources, send a worker over to a source of needed material and click on it. The workers will collect the resource and return them to the Keep until you give them another task or the resource runs out. You can build a camp next to the resource and gathered items will be delivered there instead of at the keep. Since your workers won't have to walk all the way to the keep, they will not be as exposed to enemy attack and collect resources quicker.

Most of the resources are obvious. Sending your workers to trees, animal skeletons or piles of stone will collect the appropriate resource. Food is a little more variable since you can get food from berry bushes or from fishing.

Workers can also find food by killing a mammoth. A single worker will lose a battle with a mammoth so take several when hunting.

Kill the mammoth Start the harvest Group Effort Picked Clean
After the mammoth is down, you can harvest the meat in the same way other resources are harvested. After all the meat is gathered, only the bones remain which can also be harvested.

Mammoths can also be used to create extremely powerful military units. Select a spearman and have him catch the mammoth to create the Mammoth Rider. You'll have to balance your need for food with your military needs.

The military strategy is similar to other RTS games. You must create a good mix of cavalry, infantry and ranged units to do well in battle. You can assign hot keys to groups of units to make control of them easier but once a large battle begins, complicated battle plans become difficult to perform. It's best to stay with the basic battle rules; protect your ranged or shooting units with infantry, keep your hero alive, and have a bigger army than he does. You can set how aggressive you want your troops to be but they have an annoying habit of wandering off to attack the enemy when you want them to stay in a certain place.

Mammoth v Mutant
A Mammoth Rider
attacks a Mutant Spider
You're first enemies in the tutorial levels are the "Boneheads" which are another caveman tribe. After you've learned the basics of the game, you meet your main enemies which are the mutants. Mutants?? I found that a little strange but at least it's easy to tell your guys from his.

Mutant Pod goes up in flames
A Mutant Pod goes
up in flames!
As you can guess, the mutant army consists of many strange creatures that get their resources from acid mines. My favorite is the giant spider with the human skull! Since you never get to play the mutants, you don't know the full extent of their military units. Their fortifications look different from yours but act in the same way; watchtowers shoot at you and walls keep you out. Buildings on both sides catch fire to show damage and can be fixed by workers. If the damage is too severe, the building is destroyed.

In many of the quests, you'll reveal secret doors that you must go through to win the level. Some are merely passages to different part of the same map while other reveal entire new maps with even more secret doors. Action only occurs on the map that you're presently playing on so you don't have to worry about leaving one map and coming back to find that your troops were slaughtered in your absence.

If all this weren't enough, BC Kings also offers multi player games over local area networks. Players are limited to being human.

Victorious

BC Kings has certainly not redefined the real time strategy genre but has created an excellent example of it. A variety of military units along with really bizarre enemies make for lively and engaging combat. New units and technologies on both sides require constant adjustments in combat technique and help to keep the game interesting. For real time strategy fans, BC Kings is a must!


This is how I rate BC Kings:

Cost - REALLY cheap for a game this size!

Available Platforms - PC Only.

Gameplay - Challenging and captivating!! If you like Build and Kill games, you'll love this.

Graphics - Could be better but certainly adequate. My main complaint is the night games are too dark.

Originality - A great copy is much better than a lousy original. In the case of BC Kings, you'll find that units, buildings, and technology look different but act the same as with other RTS games. You'll quickly forget that issue once you experience the great game play. If you love this genre of games, the lack of originality won't be a problem.

Strong points - Great RTS action.

Weak Points - No really ground breaking features and the night scenarios were a bit too dark.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/1 - The great gameplay of BC Kings produces a near perfect balance that makes victory difficult but never impossible.

Overall rating - 10

Conclusion: BC Kings is a great game that fans of Real Time Strategy games will love. Great gameplay with challenging missions will deliver a huge amount of gaming enjoyment at a very low cost.

Download BC Kings from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



The Odyssey: Winds Of Athena Review



Save your fleet from every ghastly creature from Greek Mythology in this unique strategy/action game.

Main Screenshot

Let's face it, seafaring in Greek Mythology was a really lousy experience. Can you name a Greek myth involving a boat where it DIDN'T sink? In The Odyssey: Winds Of Athena, you take huge fleets past the perils of the ancient world and try to save, well, some of them.

Let's see how this is done.

The game starts with your fleet of tiny ships at one end of the screen and you're tasked with getting a certain number of them safely to the exit point. The first level isn't very tough since you only have an island in the middle to worry about. As with many games, the first level teaches you about the controls before giving you something challenging.

Wind gauge with arrow
Clockwise raises wind
Counter clockwise lowers it
Wind is created
The gray circle
grows as the wind
increases.
There are only two controls, wind and current so it's a quick study. To create wind, you place your mouse in the center of a circle, hold the left mouse button down, and rotate in clockwise quickly. The faster and longer you move the mouse, the stronger the wind is and the faster the boats will move. The wind dies down after awhile or you can slow it down yourself by spinning the mouse counterclockwise.

This is fine as long as you want your ships to move in the same direction as the wind but disastrous if the wind is blowing straight towards a rocky shore! This is where the second control comes in; current. To create a current, hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse over the water. White lines will indicate a current. Creating a current in front of your ships will drag them away from danger and, hopefully, toward the exit point on the map. Your initial reaction is to create a huge current and drag all your ships to safety at once. Large currents, however, create eddies near the shoreline that will cause your ships to circle back where they started.

Watch the eddys
Currents cause eddies
that send your ships
the wrong way!
You have wind and current on your side, what could go wrong? As the levels get higher, you start seeing more narrow passages and rocks that make navigation hazardous. Next come the monsters. What would a game about ships Greek Mythology by without the Cyclops or Harpies? There are often more than one cyclops per level and they make themselves obnoxious by throwing rocks at your ships. The cyclops have really bad aim and you can use the cursor to catch the rocks they throw and drop them away from your ships. The best place to drop them is on the cyclop's head which slows him down as he rubs his head for a few seconds.

The harpies come flying in, pick up your ships, and carry them off. If you hit them with your cursor and left click, they'll drop the ship; hopefully in the water. In later levels, you'll have to allow the harpies to grab your ships long enough to carry them over land bridges that block your exit before dropping them in the water. The last monster I'll mention is the whirlwind which blows your ship off course and, most probably, into the rocks. Below is a reduced screen shot of harpies and a cyclops attacking your ships.

Harpies and Cyclops

When first playing this game, I got the feeling it was sort of like Lemmings meets Odysseus. Instead of a bunch of lemmings to save, your now have ships to save. Unfortunately the similarity ends there. The challenge to Odyssey: Winds Of Athena is that the game controls are designed to give you marginal control over your fleet of ships. There isn't as much strategy as there is waiting for an opportunity. For example, when your ships have to go from left to right on the screen and have harpies grab your ships to carry them across a land bridge, you have to wait for harpies flying left to right. Harpies going the other direction carry your ships off and you'll never see them again.



This is how I rate The Odyssey: Winds Of Athena


Cost - Another under $10 game

Available Platforms - PC Only.

Gameplay - Even the most talented player of this game will have marginal control over the fleet which is my main problem with this game. The monsters and natural hazards do add some interest to the game but I found most of the levels fairly similar.

Graphics - Good for this type of game.

Originality - This is a really new idea and could have been much better if some more features were added.

Strong Points - The originality of this game is its strong point.

Weak Points - I think it could use a few more features to make it more interesting.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 4/1 - I quickly lost interest in this game due to the repetitive nature of each level. I like a strategy game that you plan your actions not one where you perform the actions and hope for the best. The game isn't frustrating at all to play. The controls are supposed to only give you marginal control over your fleet.

Overall Rating: 6 -

Conclusion: I feel the challenge of a game should not be based on lousy control. It is a new concept for a game that many may like - give it a try.


Download The Odyssey: Winds Of Athena from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Virtual Villagers Review



Virtual Villagers is a sim game for those who don't like too much interaction

Main screen

The idea behind Virtual Villagers is that a small group of people are separated from their tribe and wash ashore on this beautiful island paradise. With your help, they can reap the bounty of the land, discover nature's secrets and prosper. It's sort of what life would be like if God were a busybody who told you where to go and what to do every minute of the day.

As with most sim games, you have a limited number of tasks to perform just for basic survival. Food must be gathered to keep everyone alive and new huts must be built or the population never goes up. To improve the villager's quality of life, research must be done to discover new technologies such as medicine.

Let's see how the game is actually played.

Virtual Villagers is not a large sim. The map is small, so the options your villagers have are limited. You direct your villagers by grabbing them with the cursor and dumping them where there's work to be done. Food is usually gathered by fishing or from a berry bush. Grab any villager and drop them on either of these objects and they'll start gathering food and filling up the storehouse. Some villagers are slow learners so you have to dump them at their assigned task several times before they stop wandering off. When a villager repeatedly performs the same task, they become proficient at it and can pass the knowledge onto other villagers.

Doing Research
A villager
doing research
3 Researchers
Three villagers
produce research
faster
Research is done by dropping villagers at a long table where the move things around and develop technology points. If you drop a villager on strange plants or other new objects on the map, they will research that and gain knowledge. The healing power of some villagers becomes enhanced when you research certain plants. Building is done using a similar drag and drop technique. The technology chart is shown below.


Technology chart

Now and then, one of the children will find a new object that only they can collect. Pick the object up and you get a bonus when enough of them are collected. Mushrooms can only be collected by children and can be used as a food source. Aside from collecting a limited number of objects, the children usually just play until they reach 14 or 15 when they're old enough to work.

Selecting a villager
Selecting a
villager
You can also drag and drop the villagers on each other. When you drop a healer on a sick person, the healer will heal the sick person. When you drop a male on a female or a female on a male, they wander off into a hut if they are compatible, have sex, and in some cases, produce a baby. If they aren't compatible, one of the villagers runs away making you feel like a lecher or some kind of creep. I know the Sims made great use of this feature but it seems a bit awkward in this game.

Unfortunately, you quickly run out of things to do. The technology points are produced at a snails pace as is your population. Women who have babies stop working to care for the baby until it is older which takes quite awhile. Researching individual items takes some time but they appear in a limited number. The map is very small and can be explored in ten minutes. A view of the map is shown below.

Small Map

The game gets around the slow pace by having the villagers continue to "work" even when you're not playing. I think the game does this by determining how much time has passed since you last played and then calculates the progress your villagers would have made had you left the game on the entire time. You'll notice increased amounts of anything the villagers were working on such as food or research points and that all the villagers are older. The game does NOT run in the background while you're not playing it.



This is how I rate Virtual Villagers:


Cost - Like most casual games - cheap - less than $10

Available Platforms - Pc and Mac

Gameplay - The game commands are easy to learn but progress takes a long time. This is a good game if you like a sim but don't like spending hours at time playing it. You give your villagers tasks, turn the game off, do something else until the next day. You can then check their progress and give them new goals. This is a very slow starting game.

Graphics - Nicely drawn and clear. You can easily tell the villagers apart.

Originality - This game reminds me of Giga Pets meet The Sims. A great idea if you don't want to devote too much time to a game but still like to see the progress. It's not so great of idea if you like to get into all of the details only to find out there's nothing left to do.

Strong Points - A great sim if you don't want to invest considerable time in the game.

Weak Points - A poor game if you're looking for a complex sim.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 4/1 - I found the game dull but I like sim games where there's lots of things to do.

Overall Rating: 6

Conclusion:This game is a great idea if you want a sim that you can successfully play for short periods of time. More in depth players may find this a bit light but not everyone likes devoting months to a PC game. The complexity of the game grows as you go along but the early play may not hold your interest long enough to get there.


Download Virtual Villagers for PC
or
Download Virtual Villagers for Mac
from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Alabama Smith In Escape From Pompeii Review



Alabama Smith?? Yes, it does sound a lot like that famous archaeologist whose adventures we watched in four movies, but it isn't.

Game Window

Alabama Smith In Escape From Pompeii is a seek and find game that tries to capture the mystery and excitement of lost secrets in faraway lands. It starts with our hero, Alabama Smith, being selected to study at the University of Naples for the summer and getting mixed up in a dark mystery.

That's the premise of the game but, since this IS a seek and find game, the actual gameplay is a bit less exciting. Seek and find games require the player to look at a cluttered scene on their PC and locate objects. In some cases, finding the objects is enough but in other cases, users are required to either solve puzzles with these objects or create an object from several parts.

Alabama Smith In Escape From Pompeii requires you to use different objects to solve puzzles that open cabinets to reveal more objects or uncover secret passages to reveal entire rooms. Many of the game screens are very dark which is an attempt to capture the "Archaeological Adventure" feel which has been a movie staple since the 1930's. Unfortunately, it just makes you squint and look for the gamma adjust on the game and then on your monitor.

Kind of dark in here

As with all seek and find games, a large monitor helps.

Help Bar
Click the
help bar
for clues
Regenerating Help Bar
Help bar
regenerates
with time
If you get stuck on a puzzle, you can click on the gold bar next to Alabama's picture and gold sparkles will be displayed where a missing object is. Make sure you've already grabbed all of the visible objects before using this or you'll waste a clue. The gold bar takes awhile to regenerate so you can't get multiple clues at once.

This game has another seek and find standard which is finding the difference between two screens. According to the "story" you have to put things back before leaving a room so you're presented with side by side images of a scene that's identical except for the items you must find. As before, you can use the hint bar if you get stuck.

Find the missing item

Not Much Action
Not much action in this scene
The worst part of this game is how they move the storyline forward in such an intrusive and longwinded manner. Alabama Smith has a jarring resemblance to "Frodo" from "Lord Of The Rings" and keeps on popping up to announce to himself that he's made a great find or to talk to another character. The lousy "Clutch Cargo" style animations between Alabama and the other characters consist of graying out the side of the screen with the listening character while a text bubble appears next to the talking one. I can deal with the bad animation but they seem to take forever to convey very little information. I've seen this handled much better in other games of this type.



This is how I rate Alabama Smith In Escape From Pompeii:


Cost - Cheap - less than $10

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - This is a decent seek and find game. Unlike many seek and find games, items are proportionally sized based on the surroundings which makes finding them more intuitive. You won't see any light bulbs the size of a basketball!
Unfortunately, it is marred by the really dark scenes. You can stare right at something and not see it due to the lousy contrast. Maybe your eyesight is better than mine and this won't be a problem.

Graphics - Very Dark! You'll be searching for the gamma controls in no time. The "Clutch Cargo" style non animations between search scenes get annoying and really don't add anything.

Originality - There's nothing original in finding ancient lost secrets. The gameplay doesn't break any new ground either.

Strong Points - Challenging puzzles.

Weak Points - Too dark to see objects in many cases.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 1/3 - Some of the puzzles and scenes are really good in this game but are so dark that you'll be pushing your mouse toward the help bar in no time at all! I know the dark screens try to create a mood but they've gone overboard in this case and raised the frustration level.

Overall Rating: 6

Conclusion:This game has many things going for it, interesting story, good puzzles, and attractive artwork. Unfortunately, much of this is ruined by screens that are too dark and needlessly overlong conversations between characters. If you can turn the brightness WAY up on your PC, this may be the game for you, however, I was left in the dark.


Download Alabama Smith In Escape From Pompeii from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Build-A-Lot Review



Frustrated developers take heart; Build-A-Lot is here.

Build-A-Lot is a sim program about building, buying and selling houses with the dual purpose of creating the worlds best neighborhood while making huge amounts of money. Sounds fun? It is.

Build-A-Lot Game window

You start on the tutorial level which literally points to the vital controls and tabs you need to play the game. As with most sim games, you're given an assignment you have to complete within a certain amount of time and which requires you to perform several actions. To keep the game interesting, the assignments become tougher with each level and require more action on your part. Most of the game controls are in the bottom menu shown in a reduced view below.

Bottom Menu

Let's get to the specifics.

The main screen is a group of roads with empty lots or houses. You're given a combination of empty lots, houses or just money to start the level. Your assignment can range from earning a certain amount of money to creating a certain type of neighborhood or combinations of both.

The main point of the game is building.

House going up
House going up!
You need four items to build a house: a vacant lot, materials, workers, and a blue print. The tabs on the bottom change the bottom menu to access different controls. As you build houses, you'll run out of material and have to buy more by clicking on the materials tab. Materials are cheaper if you buy more of them but large purchases could present a cash flow problem and prevent you from buying other houses or vacant lots. They also take longer to deliver which could cause construction delays.

Grayed out buttons
If you don't have the resources
for an action, the buttons turn gray
Certain builings will require more workers than you have to build them so you'll have to hire more by clicking on the workers tab. Bigger houses and commercial buildings become available as the game progresses when the blueprints become available for purchase.

At the start of many levels, you already own vacant lots which appear as a brown area next to the road. You can only build on the ones you own which will have blue flags on it. You can build on the lot by selecting the lot then selecting a building that you have a blueprint. The building options will be grayed out and unavailable if you don't have enough materials, workers or a blueprint. The missing items are indicated to the left of the building options.

Upgrade Option
Upgrading houses increases the rent
you collect.
Once you complete the building, you can start collecting rent for it and make money. The rent you collect is higher for larger houses. You can also increase the rent by adding improvements. Click on the star icon and a worker will go to the house and add improvements as long as you have enough materials and enough available workers. Each improvement shows up as a star next to the house and you are allowed up to three improvements.

Lot for sale
Lot For Sale
If you have no empty lots you can demolish a house you already own and build another one. This makes no sense unless you're building a larger house in the place of a smaller one. The other option is to buy an empty lot. Empty lots and existing houses that you don't own become available for you to buy when a "For Sale" sign appears on it. Clicking on the property gives you an option to buy and displays the asking price. You can offer less money but it is usually refused unless several of the same type of property is being offered at the same time. Once you own the property, you can improve it as you like. One way to make money is to buy a house, demolish it, build a larger house, improve it, and sell it for a nice profit.

Mayor Hudson
Mayor Hudson
Selling property is done by selecting the property and clicking on the for sale option. After awhile, a cell phone icon will appear over the house that you click on to display what the offer for the property is. The offer may not be as much as the asking price and you can accept or decline it. After you sell a house, you no longer can collect rent from it.

Once you complete your tasks, a civic leader will appear to congratulate you, diplay the stats for the level, and drop confetti on the screen.


This is how I rate Build-A-Lot:


Cost - Cheap - less than $10

Available Platforms - PC and Mac

Gameplay - The key to playing any sim is to balance the game variables so that everything runs well. In the case of Build-A-Lot, you have to balance your money, materials and property so your workers are kept busy and your profits are maximized. If you mess up, you'll be unable to do anything but stare at greyed out menu options until more rent money comes in. As with all sims, there's quite a bit of mouse clicking involved with this game. The bottom menu on Build-A-Lot is very intuitive and makes finding the proper controls easy.

Graphics - Nothing outstanding but adequate.

Originality - Nothing really new to this sim game.

Strong points - Indicators show what items are missing when you can't build so you don't have to hunt through five menus to find out. Controls are easy to use.

Weak Points - Some of the lower levels are a bit too easy.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 2/1 - Some levels give you too much time to get things done which makes them really easy. The challenge is not always in completing your goals but in trying to maximize your profits or to complete the level in less time. Extra points are awarded on each level if you can complete them in half of the alotted time. The excellent menu design keeps the frustration level down to a minimum.

Overall rating: 7

Conclusion: If you like sim games, you'll like Build-A-Lot. It isn't the toughest sim game that you'll ever see but it is engaging and enjoyable. Until you get to the higher levels, you shouldn't have any problem completing the tasks but you can make the game more interesting by completing the levels faster or trying to pile up millions of dollars in profit.

Download Build-A-Lot for PC
or
Download Build-A-Lot for Mac
from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Armada Tanks Review



If tanks were never developed for warfare, they certainly would have been developed for video games. What's better than an armored moving platform with a huge gun when you have lots of enemies to blow away? If you like digital tank warfare, you'll like Armada Tanks.

Armada Tanks main page

The idea behind Armada Tanks is that you have one tank to defend your base camp while a minor horde of less than intelligent enemy vehicles try to destroy you. As with most casual games, it takes about two seconds to learn the major controls; left click shoot, right click move. The main gamescreen is a maze with cartoon like vehicles roaming around wreaking havoc.

Camp Attack
Camp wall breached
by enemy tanks
The game presents an overhead view of a maze that contains your tank, your base, entry points for the enemy and, of course, lots of enemy vehicles. You can shoot the maze walls to destroy them and create a shortcut for your tank. Enemy units usually don't do this. The base is surrounded by walls but, as with the other walls, can be destroyed by shooting them repeatedly. The walls give the base enough protection so you can move away from it to destroy enemies; just don't stay away too long. Enemy fire can reduce the walls and destroy the base fairly quickly. Remember that your shots will also destroy the base walls, so watch your aim when protecting it.

Power Ups
Officer tells you what power ups are for
As you're driving around blowing enemies up, powerups will randomly appear. One of your officers appears at the top to the screen and describes what the new powerup will do. The powerups only appear for a limited time and do a variety of things such as add to your health, allow you to destroy all vehicles on the screen or stun enemy tanks. They add interest to the game by giving you more options and by forcing you away from your base to retrieve them.

At the end of each level, a victory screen will appear and tell you how well you've done. Your points are based on the number of enemies you kill and you get extra points for picking up powerups even if you don't use them.

Victory screen

You also collect money for each round depending on your level of success. The money allows you to upgrade your tank with features such as new weapons, better armor, faster fire rate, or faster movement. The weapon choice adds another interesting aspect of the game since upgraded weapons are not always the best choice in certain situations.

Tank upgrade screen

Bunker and Tank
Bunkers shoot at you.
Just when you think you've build the best badass tank around, some new enemy units appear that just don't seem that impressed with your armor or weapons. These new, tougher units will match your upgrades and keep the game interesting. New buildings such as bunkers and towers also add to the challenge.


This is how I rate Armada Tanks:

Cost - Very affordable at less than $10

Available Platforms - PC Only

Gameplay - Easy and quick to use with no places where tanks can get stuck.

Graphics - No 3D graphics here but they're more than adequate for the game.

Originality - Nothing much new here - shoot and destroy. I think the second game made after "Pong" was a tank game.

Strong points - Lots of fun, easy to use, and the right level of difficulty keeps you interested.

Weak Points - for this type of game, none.

Boredom/Frustration Ratio: 2/1 - Not engaging enough to keep you up until 5 AM but engaging enough for an extended mental break from spreadsheets or coding.

Overall rating - 7

Conclusion: Armada Tanks is a great game if your looking for some mindless fun blowing moving targets away.


Download Armada Tanks from The Shareware Genie and try it for one hour free. The price has been reduced to $9.99.



Review Guidelines



How many times have you seen movie reviewers trash a slasher movie because it wasn't Shakespeare? I think the audience that goes to slasher movies aren't really looking for deep meanings, symbolism or fancy prose; probably just gore and screaming.

You can say the same for game reviews.

I've seen some games trashed because they weren't enough like other games that the reviewer liked better. They seem to miss the point that you don't buy Civilization if you're looking for a first person shooter.

The goal here is to review a game for what it is and not what it isn't.

If I don't like a certain style of game, I'm not going to trash it based on my personal feelings but will try to rate how it compares to other games of the same type. How I determine the final 1 to 10 rating will be based on the following:

1) Cost - I don't expect as much from a $10 game as I do from a $60 game but I'll never give a game a good rating based only on price. I've seen some games that were so bad that I wouldn't take them for free. Any amount I state as a game price should be viewed as an estimate, since the prices change so often.
2) Gameplay - How a game plays is the most important factor.
3) Graphics - Great graphics can really enhance a good game but can never save a lousy one. The graphics, however, would have to be REALLY bad before I'd give a game a bad rating based only on this category.
4) Originality - I've seen many very good copies of popular games so this isn't NEEDED for a game to be good. A new idea DOES make a game more fun.
5) Boredom/Frustration ratio - Many games are too easy and become boring. Other games are impossible to win so you delete them out of frustration. I created this ratio as a way to measure the balance between the two. A 1/1 is perfectly balanced and will provide hours of challenging gameplay, a 5/1 is so easy and dull you'll stop playing after 15 minutes and a 1/5 is too difficult to imagine.

I'll then give my conclusions on these items:

1) Strong Points - What makes the game good.

2) Weak Points - What makes the game awful.
3) Overall Rating - This is a 1 to 10 rating. Anything rated 6 and up means you'll probably get your money's worth. A 5 or below means there are better games available.
4) Conclusion - closing remarks.



PC Games Are Not Dead



Even though a high end PC with a decent graphics card will still outperform ANY game console by a wide margin, the PC is no longer the platform of choice for game developers. Who can blame them? You can't really say you have a stable platform when you think of the variety of video cards, operating systems, drivers, and other hardware variables that are present on any group of PCs. The game consoles must have come as a real blessing! If you need further proof, watch the order that game companies use in releasing new games; the one for the PC platform is always last.

That doesn't mean that PC games are dead.

An often overlooked source of innovative ideas in games can be found in smaller, direct downloaded games, often referred to as "casual games". At one time, these games were considered the substandard result of a programmer with too much extra time and no interest in finding software errors. Buggy behavior, dull gameplay, and poor graphics used to be the hallmarks of these games.

Those times are gone.

If you haven't looked at casual games in awhile, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Good gameplay and graphics joined with innovative ideas and low prices make them some of the best game values available.

The complexity has also increased.

The simple games that once defined casual games have been enhanced to offer a greater challenge and provide users with more gameplay. Game controls are still very intuitive to the point that they can be picked up in a few minutes. Tutorial levels are included in more complex games to help you get started.

You can even try the game before you buy it!

Most direct download games offer users 30 minutes to an hour of free use so you can see for yourself if it's a game you'd like to buy. The registration price for these games is usually under $10.

There are literally hundreds of these games to choose from.

The overwhelming number of choices is nice to have but sometimes a bit confusing. I've tried quite a few of these games and will be posting a series of reviews that others may find useful. If you have any comments, send me an email to dave at this URL.