Curtis says: I usually hate these games, but this one has me interested. The colors are bright and vibrant, and instead of just the occasional change in the screen, the entire screen MOVES! Mommy even tries to teach me what some of the shapes are. (But I don’t think she KNOWS the names of half of them.)

The best – and I mean it – match-3 game I’ve ever laid my hands on. 90 Levels, and I finished it. It satisfy every aspect of a match-3, and adds so many new, innovative things that it deserves to be a best seller (that it isn’t.) Everything about it is newsworthy – the scalable graphics, the main power-ups, the “chase” aspect, the path-choosing, the “one-time” power-ups that appear as you play the game – it’s ALL good!

Let’s start with the graphics and sound. The Da Vinci Code runes in both full-screen and windowed mode, and allows you to choose resolutions from 640×480 all the way up to 1280×960. It even has an option to change the refresh rate. The graphics actually scale up, not just stretch. In every part of the game, the map moves smoothly along with no hiccups. The sound is suspenseful and fits perfectly with the gameplay – the orchestral music is taken straight from the movie, it seems – sometimes I find myself glued to the edge of my seat as the icon of Silas chases me while he whispers his dire warnings.

The game has a Story Mode and a Chase Mode. In Story mode, you go through stages collecting the cryptex letters, then at the end of each set of stages, you get to solve the anagram made from these letters, and they all have something to do with the Da Vinci Code. Now, I didn’t read the book (I was busy going through all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld) and I didn’t watch the movie, but I managed to solve all the puzzles without help. Then sometimes the game would give you an irregularly shaped jigsaw to solve. Those aren’t too hard, but they’re more challenging then what other casual games try to throw at you. In chase mode it’s just one big random stage and you have to move real fast to get away from Silas.

Gameplay is where this game really shines. Instead of the traditional match-3 where the biggest stages take up your entire screen, Da Vinci Code takes up several. The stages are HUGE. You start off at one corner of the map, and the objective is to move your icon to some other part of the map. You don’t know where that is when you start. As you match symbols, new pathways are opened up, and you will move along these pathways. Sometimes you will hit a junction where you can choose to take the easier path or the more challenging path. Each stage can take anywhere from 3-15 minutes depending on which path you take.

Now, onto the power-ups. There are only four, and some are the good old match-3 standbys. You have the flashlight, the ultraviolet, the scrambler, and the hammer. We all know what the scrambler and hammer does, so let me explain the flashlight and ultraviolet. A lot of the stages are dimmed so only the squares around you are lit and the rest is kind of hard to see, so the flashlight high lights the area around your mouse so you can look around. The ultraviolet will reveal the hidden path that you have to move along for a little while. These add to the feeling that you’re moving along a dungeon / cave / basement that the storyline sends you off on.

There are also many instantaneous power-ups that you can encounter. Matching over some symbols can reveal them, and among them are tokens that would clear off a horizontal or vertical line depending on when you click on them, tokens that can clear a board of the same symbol it is flashing, or power-ups that could go in your inventory of them at the bottom of the screen. Matching certain symbols also give you power-ups, but only certain stages have some power-ups but not others. One of the biggest draw of a match-3 game is the instant gratification aspect, and these tokens are great for that. Ooo, the token is flashing to a poppy! Click on that and an entire map full of poppies disappear and matches happen everywhere.

Next, the enemies. Yes, enemies, in a match-3 game! There are only really two of them – the policemen and Silas. The policemen are blue icons that move along a path that you have to make sure you do not intersect them while moving your icon along; tt actually feels a whole lot like sneak sequences in some action games. And then there is Silas. Oh Silas, the evil one. The living undead (well, not really), the one who keeps coming back no matter how mnay times we try to get rid of him. The … massively annoying red icon that chases you and make your palms sweat. Silas will chase you, quite quickly if you’re a long way ahead, and fairly slowly if he’s only inches away, staying ever so closely on your heels. He’ll travel on the pathway you created, and once he appears, he will dog you until the end of the level.

Lastly, The Da Vinci Code has a story – a story tied right into the stages that play out and the anagrams solved. It’s well written, and despite being a notorious story skipper in casual games, I read every page. It’s GOOD. It’ll also tip you off as to what kind of stage is ahead of you. If it mentions that you’re running down a flight of stairs, your initial paths are likely to involve zigzags going downwards. If you’re at an airport, the paths would be straight with right angles as policemen icons travel along their paths. Going into a basement, are we? The road ahead is likely to be full of pathways crossing onto itself and lit by only torches.

With all the copycats out there, it’s very refreshing to find a game that stays within the match-3 genre and yet be so utterly different. It’s a wonder that no one’s picked up on the maze and chase format and copied it a dozen times over by now. The Da Vinci Code is a must-have for match-3 fanatics, and even I, a casual match-3 gamer, played it all the way to the end – it’s just THAT good. Only complaint? You can’t save in the middle of the level. When you restart, you restart at the beginning. So what’s a mom to do? Alt-TAB and put the computer on hibernate. The story mode stretches out to around 12 hours – that’s a whole lot of 10 minutes.

The Da Vinci Code Hints