boring


The first Escape From Paradise was a great game. It had good puzzles to figure out, generic but addictive mini-games, and it had a lot of charm with the chibi-like characters with their big heads. All in all, it was a good “island survival” game that incorporated other casual game genres. Its sequel, however, was a major disappointment.

Maybe I just had my hopes up a little too high, or maybe it was dumbed down because the challenges were deemed too tough for the casual gamer; either way, the game feels like a series of chores. A series of chores with sub-par minigames to make up for the lack of riddles.

The entire game focuses on collecting jewels and tikis, and in order to do so, you need to:

  1. Lead your monkey all over the place looking for tiny 2×3 pixel jewels hidden in the grass and trees;
  2. Complete quests;
  3. Complete mini-games.
  4. Catch all the fish, dig up all the fossils, and catch all the birds.

There are multiple problems with this way of finishing a game.

  1. Those jewels are tiny. If you realized that you missed any AFTER you’ve done point 2 as well as 3, you’ll end up leading your monkey around the entire map looking for a few colored pixels.
  2. The quests are easy – there is no challenge in them at all. They come with clear directions and end up being just a series of chores.
  3. The mini-games range from match-3, hidden object, click-management…to sudoku. Name any one person who’s good at ALL of those. You’ll have to be, since there are no hints or extra powerups in sudoku or match-3. And they’re long games.
  4. Birds are VERY hard to catch.

On top of that, there’s the control scheme. You can either left click and drag a person to a spot, or you can left-click and right click. Sounds simple right? Now add to it that right click and dragging the map moves it, and once you select someone, you can’t access the map. So in order to move someone across the entire map, you’d end up doing a whole lot of dragging. The map is this tiny box at the bottom of the screen that can’t be enlarged, and has no significant markers. In other words, getting around is very frustrating.

Graphics and sound of this game is just as good as the last one, if not better. The core mechanics – hunger, thirst, sleep and social – stayed the same. Load times are minimal, and you can quit and autosave any time you like.

Escape From Paradise 2 isn’t necessarily a bad game. It’s still a fine casual game, but it seriously pales in comparison to the original. It’s just a bad sequel. It’s a step backwards. For $6.99, it’s a deal if you enjoy any of the mini-games.

If you are getting this game, I highly recommend getting the strategy guide with it. It is superbly written, with clear directions and great screenshots, even a map with all the locations. The only downside to the guide is that you can’t print things out.

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I actually looked forward to this game. I anticipated it. I waited for it. If there was a line, I was waiting in line for it. After having all these high expectations (afterall, it’s the first and only game based on one of my favorite movies) I must say that I’m sorely disappointed. It’s like opening a box of really nice looking chocolates only to find that they’re all cherry creams.

Dirty Dancing is very much like a box of assorted chocolates. Technically. In a box of assorted chocolates, you get the caramel crunch and the mint creams; occasionally you’ll run into an undesirable “nougat” or “orange cream.” This is a game of mini-games – 10, to be exact, with one extra one to spend all your points on to decorate. Unfortunately, these mini-games range from “rather interesting” to “dreadfully boring” as well as “almost unplayable.” I’m going to go through each of these in turn.

Breakfast Buffet
Easily the best of the bunch. It’s a drag-3 in a hexagonal format, not unlike Cindy’s Sundaes. Instead of the usual match-3 in a line, Breakfast Buffet allows you to match anything that touches, which makes the game a bit easier. When a match is made, the progress bar on the left increases. When it fills up, you finish the level.

The introduction of flies, desserts and rotting plates makes it a bit more interesting. When you match desserts, you gain “shuffle plates” and you can hold 3 of these at a time. Clicking on them shuffles the entire board. Flies and rotting plates prevent rows from being dragged and seem to work exactly the same way.

Pinhole Mahjong
A semi-interesting solitaire card game that plays like mahjong. You get more cards as levels go on, but it doesn’t really get more challenging.

Bellboy Bedlam
Well, they’ve got the Bedlam part down. You have 4 bellboys, a bunch of customers, and 4 rooms. The bellboys will stay at their post and perform their individual functions. When you drag them to a different location they will perform a different function: greet, check-in, clean, and check out. The only issue is that rooms take too long to clean, and there are too many customers. This is the one mini-game that I didn’t find very playable at all.

Talent Show Search
An object hunting game. With drawn objects that are outline and flat color only. There are drawers that can be opened, and things hiding behind others, but the objects are just too crudely drawn for this to be enjoyable. The objects are also not very responsive; even if you find the right object, it might take a few tries for your mouse to pick it up.

Pinball
It’s pinball. Nothing more, nothing less. There are some good song snippets to be had, that’s all.

Dance Contest
This is the supposed highlight of the game. There are 6 songs in all to unlock, and 3 levels of dancing for each. The premise is pretty simple: circles will appear on the ground with a radial green bar that indicates when you should click. Technically, it does it right on the beat, but the best place to click is 1/4 beat before it hits the end. Now, couple that with a sound effect that comes in just a bit late and you’ve got a rhythmic disaster on your hands. If you turn off the sound effects, this game is VERY playable with decent music. With sound effects on, this game is impossible.

Video Jigsaw
A jigsaw puzzle where the image is a looping video from the movie dirty dancing. I wonder why they didn’t loop an extra few frames in each backwards to make the transitions smoother, but it almost looks like it hiccups. This is a very high scoring game, and if you want to unlock all the other games early, this is the one to play. You can rack up enough points in 6-7 rounds to buy up everything else easily. Each finished puzzle also unlocks a movie clip where the audio is too low compared to the rest of the game, and isn’t viewable again unless you do the puzzle again.

Melon Mayhem
Slider Puzzle. Not much special about it at all. Make a path by moving dancer slider blocks to let a melon through. Very, very low scoring.

Log Balance
Move your mouse from left to right to keep yourself balanced on the log. Jump over knots, and slap fishes. (No joke.) It’s a bit of a non-game. You can ignore the fish if you like.

Trivia
A simple trivia game for the movie Dirty Dancing.

Cabin
This is where you can place furniture in your cabin and buy additional things for the pool and patio. There are 2 rooms and two outdoor locations where you can arrange furniture and generally play house. You can use the money you’ve accumulated during your mini-games to buy stuff. There are lots of stuff to buy, but to what end?

Dirty Dancing tries to be many things, but the lackluster presentation as well as the horrid sound effects (low quality), on top of the already generic mini-games made it one of the worst games I’ve played this year. This will only appeal to fans of the movie, and even at that, it didn’t appeal to me and I sat through Havana Nights.

One major complaint about most object hunting games from casual gamers is the lack of replayability. Granted, they have a point. Once you’ve seen a scene 5 or 6 times, you’ve basically memorized where most everything is. Lucky Clover got around this by having a lot of locations for a given object, and then randomizing. Lucky Clover boasts 270 locations and 75 levels – much, much more than your usual object hunting game. Then again, it isn’t your usual object hunting game. It is much, much less.

The core game of Lucky Clover involves finding multiple lucky charms in each location. Each level might be just one location or a few, and you’re looking for charms. These charms are shapes that are hidden in the photographic locations, and depending on your chosen difficulty level, can be either obviously visible or very faint outlined shapes. I played this on medium, and it can sometimes be pretty hard to find the charms. Each time you find a charm, points will be added to your pot of gold. Using hints cost you gold, and gold ticks down (time is money) as you play the level. This is a pretty novel idea and I rather like it. Problem is, that’s all about all there is to this game.

There is a pretense of a mini-game, and it’s rather like finding bunnies in magicians’ hats. You get to pick a prize semi-randomly at the end of each level, and the prizes are collected and displayed on your prize screen. It’s not much of a mini-game; it requires one click. Then you’re off to look for charms again.

Lucky Clover boasts 270 locations. This is technically true. There are 270 locations. However, these locations are photographic, and they consist mostly of ruined castles (stone), a lot of fields (green), and a big patch of sky. Pretty much every one of them looks like that. They’ll also have cartoon mythical characters drawn on top of them, and while they fit the theme of the game, each one of them stands out like a sore thumb compared to the photographic backgrounds. So while there are 270 locations, it feels more like 10. Hey look, here’s another view of a ruined castle!

While some object hunting fans may enjoy the challenge of being able to hunt for semi-transparent shapes amongst yet another green hedge, I found this one addictive for an hour and then got extremely boring. It’s the monotony of it all – look for more shapes in more brown/orange stone and grass. Rinse and repeat. Our Leprechaun relieves the boredom by spouting a joke every time you start a map, and the music is fitting to the whole Irish theme, but it’s not much more than a twitch game of hide and seek.

Lucky Clover saves mid-level, and is technically a Minute Game. It loads and closes on a dime, and is also alt-tab friendly. It takes 3 clicks to exit the game – 2 more than necessary. Once you start, you can’t stop … but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the impending monotony.

Paradise Pet Salon is a very pretty game with pre-rendered 3D sprites, really cute puppies and kittens, lots of backgrounds to choose from, tons of room for creative decorating … and that’s about it. After trying to play it for hours, I realized that it’s a sort of non-game. It’s endless clicking from one thing to another with very little reward, a lot of monotony, and an upgrade system that only sort of works.

The tutorial starts with your character working for a big corporation to “learn the ropes.” After the first mission, you’re on your own with your little pet shop, very little money, two work stations, and a slew of unappreciative customers. They will walk in with their pets, and each one will come with any one to four color coded tags. Your job is to lead each pet to the work stations where they are lathered, rinsed, brushed, vaccinated and so on.

In between missions, you can visit the shop screen, where you can purchase more work stations, redecorate the place, upgrade the current equipment to make it more efficient. You can even hire an assistant to take the pets that are ready back to their owners. It’s a very simple tycoon type system, and it would’ve worked were there more variety to the items and customers. Sadly, this isn’t the case.

This is my first disappointment in time management games lately, and it hits hard. It’s like opening up a box of very beautifully wrapped chocolates only to find that they’re all chalky cherry creams. It’s time for the list-form review.

  • You are allowed 9 work stations for each shop, chairs along the sides, and 3 upgrades each. They look and act the same for each location you choose to work at. You need to raise $12,000 to get the next pet store, and the average customer brings in about $40. Add in the fact that you need to also upgrade your equipment, buy new equipment and so on, you can see that you’re in for a lot of days.
  • You can upgrade the machines to work faster, but that doesn’t stop the fact that your player character is painfully slow. Your assistant is faster, actually.
  • There are no mission objectives; sometimes you get a hint of what to expect (everyone will want their pet vaccinated today) but you’re pretty much on your own with no goals to meet with a deadline.
  • There are no “fail” conditions for each day either – all your customer could stomp out for all you care.
  • Customers do not interact with one another. At all.
  • The music is the same for each location. As are the sound effects.
  • The only difference between each location is that you’ll make more money in a new location. Other than that, customes expect the same things, you use the same equipment, and basically play the same scenario over and over again.
  • Sounds boring? That’s because it is!
  • Paradise Pet Salon doesn’t save mid-day, so you’ll have to finish each day before you turn it off. The ESC key is also a little touchy – I’m used to it going to the game menu, but this one bounces you right off to the main menu and you’ll lose your progress.

If there’s ever a game that feels like all the budget went to the same place – graphics – then this is it. If you enjoy the “endless shift” modes in time management games, and could never get tired of them, you might enjoy this one. There is a survival mode, and it does get very hectic. If you’re looking for a time management game, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for some open-ended non-game, this could be the game for you.

Venice Mystery can be best described with these three words: Mahjong on speed. That’s pretty much it. You have your typical Mahjong solitaire game field, with tiles piled on top of one another, and a little bit of something new: a “your tiles” area where you get to activate a tile to match with what’s in the game field. Along with 6 power-ups, key stones that locks up parts of the board, and a really cool painting tile matching mini-game, plus a very unforgiving clock (especially in later levels), Venice Mystery can be a very addictive, fast and furious Mahjong game.

Venice is going to sink, and you’re the one who has to save it. In order to save it, you have to both do some tile matching, as well as decipher some scrolls. As usual, we find ourselves at a loss as to what the gameplay has to do with the story. No matter, as the gameplay is addictive enough that we ignore the story anyhow.

What makes this Mahjong game different? The combo system. You can click on one tile in your row, then match it to as many tiles as you can find that isn’t under other tiles (yes, even if it’s boxed in on all sides, you can still get at it.) You have to do it fast enough that the game doesn’t consider your combo over. It’s almost like target practice – scan the board, scan the row, pick up a tile, and bam! bam! bam! bam bam bam! Next! Venice Mystery have more in common with whack-a-mole than your normal Mahjong Solitaire.

Venice Mystery also does not have the usual we’re-stuck puzzle element of Mahjong play. Typical Mahjong games may only have a fixed number of solutions, and once you mess up at a certain point you’re doomed. Venice Mystery will randomize a tile back into your row every time you make a move, and you will be able to make a match with at least one of them. You cannot get a “no more moves” lost condition; instead, it’s replaced with the “time up” lost condition.

There is a mini-game that pops up at the end of every chapter, and it’s actually quite interesting. Circles will be copied out from a painting, and they will be rotated. It’s your job to find out what part of the painting the circle came from. It’s a nice little object hunt for those of us who enjoy these things. The other mini-game, where you enter roman numerals into the clock tower, feels more like a make-work project than a game.

The 6 power-ups are very typical of this genre –  swap, shuffle, destroy. There’s nothing really new here to talk about. What really irks me is the presentation of them though. In order to introduce a power-up properly, there should be a series of levels geared towards needing that power-up. Venice Mystery seem to just throw them your way and expect you to use them, even though there is no need to use most of them until much later in the game.

With that previous sentence, I’ve described the entire game. Venice Mystery is like that. Within the first hour, you’re introduced to every key aspect of the game. After that, there isn’t anything new to discover aside from different paintings, more colors, and more patterns. So once you’re hooked and buys the game, you’ll be playing the same thing for the next 5 hours.

Herein lies the problems of this beautiful game – it dazzles. It dazzles also because it is so fast. Unlike other Mahjong game that introduces a new power-up every chapter, this one gives it to you all at once. So at first, everyone is confused by the proliferation of rules, then once you get used to them, there’s not much else that is new to discover.

Venice Mystery features beautifully pre-rendered sprites and a well-drawn interface, along with a pretty soothing background track and appropriately clicky sound effects. On the outset there is a whole lot of playability and razzle dazzle, but beneath that veneer of glitter, there isn’t much else to keep you interested – after a while it just feels as if there is no need to keep playing because the game does not seem to reward you for any of it. It’s still a lot of fun for an hour or two, but it may feel pretty boring even for those of us who actually like Mahjong.

I never could understand arcade games that are based upon gambling games. Games that are skill based like video poker and so on works well as video games, but even game shows, where most of the thrill involve winning a load of money and prizes, comes off as pointless when made into a video game. Lottso! Deluxe is a gambling game that plays like a game show with Bingo and scratch cards; unfortunately, it falls into the pointless category no matter how many power-ups and pretty cards it tries to throw my way.

Each game consists of 10 rounds. At the beginning of each round, the 6 holes in the middle of your board will fill up with 6 different numbered balls. You have to take these balls and match the numbers you have in the 6 cards you would have. These are all drawn at random. Imagine playing Bingo, where you get 6 numbers called instead of 1, where you can only use each number once instead of multiple times, and where the cards are scratch cards with numbers on them instead of Bingo cards. At the same time, you “compete” with 4 other players who are doing the same thing to their cards. I use the word “compete” loosely, as I will show you here, it is not a fair competition.

Every time you fill up a card with numbers completely, you can play the game on the card. There are four types of cards: Match, Scratch, Trade-in, and High Bar. Respectively, that would be; scratch until you match; scratch until you uncover the spoiler; scratch, and if you’re not happy with the number, trade it in by scratching again; lastly, scratch 1 icons out of three and see how far your bar goes. On top of those four, there are the Lottso cards. These are basically progressive Jackpot cards. If you empty 3 cards on one side at the same time, you activate a Super Lottso card that gives you tons of points when you fill it all in.

Once in a while, you can get “power-up” balls that you can use to confuse, swap cards, hit all the numbers off your opponent’s cards, and so on. Here’s the unfair part – while you can use a power-up against an opponent in this competition mode, they never use anything against you. In other words, it’s not really much of a competition. You can also get a “charm” bonus where, if your chosen “charm” displayed at the bottom of the screen matches any of the balls, you get a bonus. Your opponents don’t seem to get this, at least not as far as I can see.

There are a set of goals that you can achieve in Lottso! Deluxe in each level. They are superfluous though, since you really only need to accumulate enough points to get to the next section of the map. The rest are just there for your own bragging rights. Since there doesn’t seem to be an online leader board, there isn’t much point in having bragging rights either. Speaking of going to another point on the map, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between one location and another except for new cards. The background for each location is green. That’s it. Green.

Graphics in Lottso! Deluxe can be described as retro and colorful, and it does the job for this game. The cards are all very well designed and it does lend a casino feel to the game. Music is the same for every level, and honestly after a very short while you’ll find yourself turning it off. The sound effects are appropriate and the character interactions are a lot of fun to watch, but predictable and repetitive as well.

Like traditional gambling, Lottso! Deluxe can be extremely addictive. However, in a game of mostly chance and very little skill, it could get boring really quick. By the time I got to the third casino I wished the game was over. It’s still a lot of fun for an hour though, mainly because the rules are so well laid out. The only problem is that you HAVE To finish off 10 rounds or you lose your progress, and that definitely takes more than a few minutes, given that you can’t skip to the end of the rounds when you’re done, and the score screens in between rounds. Try it – maybe I’m just not the gambling type.

I’m not sure if anyone who casual games is familiar with the Harvest Moon series. Originally a Super Nintendo game, it was the first farming sim. It was about a boy living on a farm for two years, having inherited it from his grandfather. Along with this farm, he also has to get used to the rural life; be friends with everyone in town, learn to forage in the forest, meet a nice girl, expand the house, get married and have babies. There were many sequels, each of them on a new Nintendo platform (aside from an original for the PS2 and a port of a Gamecube game for the PS2) ranging from the handhelds to the consoles. It was a cult hit.

Alice Greenfingers has been compared to Harvest Moon by many fans. Alice Greenfingers is NOT Harvest Moon. Not by a long shot. It has zero depth, zero goals, and really not much going for it aside from accessibility and cutey graphics. Sure, the farming aspect is there, and selling of produce – but there is not much else in the mix.

There are 4 activities, technically, in Alice Greenfingers. You can farm for produce and flowers, which involves dig, sow, water, and harvest. Once you get a sprinkler for each 5×5 plot, there is no need to water. Also, every plant regrow after harvesting, so after a while you’ll just be harvesting.  The second activity would be to have chickens, and the chickens will lay eggs. If you collect the eggs, once in a while somebody will call and buy them. If you leave them lying around, the eggs will hatch and make more chickens. So having chickens is limited to just collecting eggs. As for the remaining activities, you can have cows and sheep. Cows and sheep are no more than pictures of cows and sheep sitting on your map, since you don’t have to do anything with them. Just leave them standing around and the farm automatically collects the milk and wool. Once you collect something, you can sell them, which is no more than opening up the shop page and sitting around while things sell. During this time, the farm time is paused.

So, after about a few “months” of being on the farm, you’ll be actively doing one thing: harvesting. Be it produce or eggs, that’s all you’ll be doing. You’ll be running around from flower to blueberry to strawberry with a basket, collecting anything that’s ripe, and hauling the lot to a warehouse, then clicking on the sell button, then sit there while your stuff sell. Not really that exciting, is it?

While we’re at it, let’s think about this for a minute: there isn’t much point to doing that, either. You’re not obligated to harvest. You’re not obligated to sell a certain amount each day. There are no goals to be met. Sure, Harvest Moon was “open ended” but there is a certain requirement to be successful after two years. What made that certain farming Sim so interesting is that when you meet certain requirements, other opportunities open up that made the game more interesting. Alice Greenfingers get duller by the hour, and makes you regret having played it when you realized that all that’s left to the game is harvesting.

The graphics in Alice Greenfingers is retro at best; slightly blurry around the edges, running at a measly 640 by 480, and very much substandard in the world of cell shaded 3D. Produce have a few stages of “animation,” chickens tend to do very little, cows and sheep do even less. The only really animated character is Alice, and she moves like lightning across your field. As for the music, it’s soothing elevator style – it’s not something you’d notice very much. Sound effects range from the grinding (the sound of something talking to you on the telephone) to charming (the sing song sound of something growing) so it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Alice Greenfingers has a lot of the addictiveness of a farming sim in it, but doesn’t have enough depth to keep you interested past a few hours. Try to avoid this one and save your money for better things – like a copy of Harvest Moon for your Nintendo DS.

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