Give it a few hours


Having played Plumeboom: The First Chapter from beginning to end (and I rarely do that with match-3s – they just tend to bore me after the first, oh, 50 levels) I have quite high expectations for The Golden Path of Plumeboom. I expect it to be fun, original, full of surprises, features new game mechanics, and keeps me interested ’til the very end. I was not disappointed; The Golden Path is easily more addictive than … than … any match-3 I’ve ever laid my hands on.

To call The Golden Path a Shoot-3 is like saying a game of Polo is like a game of Snooker. Sure, both involves hitting balls with sticks, but that’s where the similarities end. In The Golden Path of Plumeboom, a magnetized treasure key sits in the middle of your screen and rotates freely according to how you shoot the balls into it. The weight of it changes depending on how many balls are still stuck to it, and your job is to shoot balls into it to match-3s. On the scale that it’s presented to you, that’s what it’s supposed to be. It feels more like shooting balls into a really big astral body with gravity.

At first glance the game feels a bit like Puzzle Bobble. When you shoot a ball, it’ll first align itself to the magnetic field and than spirals towards the middle. When it hits a like-colored ball, it’d stick to it, sometimes forcing that ball to leave the magnet depending on how much force it hits it with. If it hits a ball of another color it’d bounce and goes back into the magnetic field. All the while the magnet is spinning freely depending on where the ball hits it, and how much weight is on it. If you can’t find anything to shoot to make a match, you can bounce the ball off the ceiling.

Each level has its own power-ups, and the game presents them one at a time to keep the game fresh. There are rockets, fireballs, even one to demagnetize the key for a short time. The mechanism for activating these are in diamond balls attached to the magnet. Make a direct shot to one and the power-up is activated. Some levels also contain one or more free balls that bounces around like photons, and they knock into anything in their path. You can use these to your advantage by waiting for the it to knock your colored balls into groups so you can get at them, or it could be an obstacle if it keeps getting in your way.

While you’re trying to keep your atom/planet/key in balance, two “guns” in some levels keep shooting balls into the game field whenever you don’t make a match. All the while, more than generous time bar keeps ticking down. It’s all very, very exciting. A game like this doesn’t even need mini-games. Good thing too – it doesn’t have any.

When you have a game that makes you perform the same actions over and over again, there is a need to introduce “minigames” to break up the action, but The Golden Path of Plumeboom introduces new shapes in the middle of your screen every stage, providing a different challenge every time.

All of this is backed up by hardware accelerated particle effects and pretty, shiny graphics and backgrounds. Sure, there aren’t any mini-games. Once you start, however, you won’t be able to stop. Even though I could finish off a level really quickly and turn it off, I couldn’t. It was 3 AM when I finally decided that it’s time to sleep.

The Golden Path of Plumeboom is possibly the best game nobody seems to be playing right now, and I’m urging you to download it, try it, and buy it. Why it’s not a hit is beyond me, but I guess in this industry being innovative doesn’t necessarily bring riches. Instead of making a generic match-3 or cranking out a hidden object game in some basement, Fireglow Games instead brought us something addictive, fun to play, and new. I’ll be looking forward to the next installment.

I’ve always wanted to code games since I was a little girl, and Kudos Rock Legend is an inspiration in simulation games. It is a one man effort; it was designed and coded by Cliff Harris, an indie developer from the UK. The result is a game that is so accessible and addictive I haven’t been able to tear myself away.

Like Kudos, a simulation of life, Rock Legend is a simulation of rockstard0m. It is not a “real time” sim, but rather a “turn based” sim. This might turn some players off since we’ve gotten used to the action that comes with the Sims and and so on, but it that is no reason to turn Rock Legend down. Like Kudos, Rock Legend belong to a genre of games that are casual in name only. Sure, you could play for a few minutes and put it down, but why do that when you can play for hours and play years of your rock life at a stretch?

Things start out pretty slow. You have $33 to your name and nothing but a dream to be famous some day. So first of all, you start auditioning. Musicians have different personalities – a socialite gets more publicity when s/he’s handing out flyers, a businesslike disposition means a discount when buying things, disruptive personalities get a bit rowdy at gigs and break things. Moreover, an amiable personality isn’t necessarily a good thing – talent and overall ability often comes with antisocial behavior. Thankfully, once you’ve hired one player, he will let you know at the audition which wannabe he prefers. Once you have two additional musicians in your band, you can start writing songs.

Song writing is a mini-game in itself. The notes available to you depends on your inspiration level, the musicians you’ve hired, as well as anything that you’ve managed to snitch from listening to your rivals and stock music. Each song is comprised of 7 bars or sections, and your job is to drag and drop snippets of music from your pile of inspiration stickies onto the sheet. Color matching nets you a bonus, but some ideas are just worth more than others. Once you have enough music to do a set, you can start booking gigs, rehearsing, and passing out flyers.

The number of venues available to you depends on your fame level, but once you have enough fame, the rest depends on one word: money. Some venues will require transportation, so if you don’t have a band van, you’re out of luck. Other places may require a manager. Bigger venues can hold more people, are more expensive, and with more people you may sell more merchandise.

Each day you’ll get a list of suggestions of things to do, which boils down to these few things: rehearsing, songwriting, gigging, publicizing, and show watching. You can only do one thing a day, and some days you are so tired you just want to sit back and do nothing. Pretty much everything that you do is tiring – rehearsing, publicizing, gigging – and wears down the band. If they’re tired all the time they’ll start to complain, and when their tiredness reach a certain level they will be unable to anything. You can also choose to do things that are not on that list.

At any time, if you have enough money and enough songs, you can record a CD. This is as simple as clicking on songs in the recording screen and choosing a quality level. Once that’s done, CDs will sell over time as well as during gigs. You can also buy merchandise from the store to sell, and just like in real life, buying in bulk nets you a bulk discount. There are other things available from the shop screen as well – new instruments, custom guitar picks, effects for your show like smoke machines, new lighting rigs. You can even book transportation and staff via the shop screen.

How successful a gig is depends on many factors. Your lighting and effects play a part, as well as things like how rehearsed your band is and how well you prepared the gig by publicizing it. When a gig is sold-out and it’s an especially good gig, you sell more stuff, make more money, and get more fame. Fame level is your “overall” score for the game; at the end of five years your success is measured in fame and fortune. The more famous you are, the more likely you are to sell out the next show at a bigger venue.

While you’re trying to get famous, you also have to learn to take care of your musicians. Are they motivated? Are they tired? Are they complaining about the lack of food at gigs? Rehearsing in a nice studio and playing at large venues with bigger crowds motivates while striking chords in a damp basement and playing at the local booze pit do the opposite. Once you’ve reached a certain fame level, your musicians expect more – better rigs, better instruments – and you better it to them. The very ambitious and hard-to-please ones may choose to quit and take their gear and experience with them if you don’t treat them well.

You can develop their musicianship via practicing, which is entirely different from rehearsing. It’s a “Simon” mini-game where you have to play notes in sequence with your number keys, and at the highest level it’s a 10-note sequence. It does get pretty difficult, but remains simplistic. As a musician myself, I would’ve preferred an actual note staff with actual notes and actual rhythm. It wouldn’t be too hard to pick up with a tutorial, and the player may actually learn something.

Graphically speaking, Rock Legend is sleek game, but not a flashy game. You won’t see many cut-scenes and animations, but there are plenty of beautiful character portraits and images. Your character’s portrait is customizable with different hair coloring and sunglasses, and this game has the sleekest GUI I’ve ever seen. Even though there are plenty of information presented in the HUD, it has plenty of room. All the information that you care to see is right there at a glance, including all your songs, your band’s vital stats, the calendar of things coming up, as well as access to all your gear, musicians, and staff. Your main interface is also a drag-and-drop interface, so you can arrange things to your liking. In year five, having a bunch of gear and all staff, I still have half the screen left.

In terms of music, for a game about music, it is sparse in audio. There is one looping track for the interface, but it doesn’t so much loop as fade out and start over. While there isn’t much there, what’s there is good stuff. There is an option to turn it off in the options menu.

Kudos Rock Legend is a great game, and the depth of it all surprised me. While other games focuses on the flash and pretty graphics, Rock Legend spent all its time in gameplay, all through an accessible interface. I would recommend this game to anyone, especially those who’ve spent any time in garage bands. I’ve spent many years amongst musicians, young and old alike, and I see a lot of realism being displayed here, in a convenient turn-based package that saves anytime and loads quickly.

I waited for the release of Plant Tycoon with baited breath. In 2002, when I had a palm pilot (I’ve since migrated to the PPC), I was obsessed with my virtual plants. I would water them on the subway, check them on the bus, cross-pollinate after rehearsal, and sell my plants while working behind the desk at an uptown cybercafe. When I poured coffee on the entire thing I was in shock and didn’t speak for an entire evening – mostly because I lost my Palm Pilot, but I was secretly grieving for my plants. It was a matter of time before the game would move on to a bigger screen with more detailed graphics, and time it did take. It took 5 years.

The core game of Plant Tycoon hasn’t changed much, to tell the truth. You have 3 rows of 5 pots in your little greenhouse. Into these pots go soil, water, and seed, sometimes fertilizer. As time goes by (and slowly, it does, unless you manipulate your PC’s clock – but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?), your plants will shoot, and after some more time, they will bud. Here’s where things get interesting: when your plants are fully mature, you can start pollinating. Plants in Plant Tycoon have set of genetics for each seed. When you cross-pollinate, you create new kinds of plants that are “unknown” species until they are fully mature. The goal is to create 6 special “magic” plants. There are over 500 possible varieties. There are no hints as to what these plant varieties could be. Good luck. 🙂

Once your plants produced seeds (or not – you don’t HAVE to pollinate) you can save them to your seed box to be planted later. You can place tags on your plants to sell them in the nursery or trash them to make room. If you destroy your original plants by accident, you can always buy stock seeds from the Supplies store. It restocks once a day in case of accidents.

What I’m saying is, you better get a screen grabber and a pen and pencil ready, because in order to make this more than just trial and error, you will be taking a LOT of notes. One of the features on my wish list for the PC version of Plant Tycoon was a full family tree, or genealogy chart, as you go on through generations. What LDW gave us, however, is the same info given in the mobile Plant Tycoon – you will find out about each seed’s parents as you click on them, and that’s about all it’s going to give you. The rest? Write it down. You’ll regret it later if you don’t. One really “missing” feature is the names of plants being displayed when you click on a seed, after it has been planted and should be in a family tree. The images don’t really help much, to tell the truth.

A lot of the old features carried over: more expensive soil and water is a necessity for your fragile cross-pollinated plants, decorations brings in more customers, etc. The soil system works quite well, but I always found the nursery decorations to be little more than vanity buys. Your customers will eventually buy all your plants if you leave them there long enough, regardless of whether there are enough of them.

Since Plant Tycoon is so closely modeled after the original, it’s really the little things they added to the game that really makes it shine. In the old game, you used to have to drag the soil from the bag every time you pot, and drag and drop every tool as well. This is greatly improved by the new system where you only have to click on the soil once to pick it up, and use it multiple times before putting it back. I’m not sure if I like the new watering system that simulates the time factor in watering a plant, but some may enjoy the simulation of, uh…watering. (This is coming from someone who enjoys the simulation of plant growing because she has a black thumb, btw.) I love the Latin naming system – it’s a lot easier to keep track of my plants now!

The HUD hasn’t changed much. The old HUD was very well designed for a handheld device, but a straight transfer to PC made it look pretty cumbersome. A better approach would be having all of the specific plant related activities attached to the plant by pop-up menus. It would certainly make pollination easier. There are a lot of quirks from the old menu that was simply there because of space constraints – for example, the handy seed box only holds 8 seeds, which is a very odd number considering that there are 15 pots. Also, now that we’re on the PC, why are we restricted to 15 pots? You can get extra tanks in Fish Tycoon, so why not extra nurseries in Plant Tycoon?

Plant Tycoon adapted the Virtual Villagers collection game, with a bug net that can catch bugs as you see them going by. This works well in theory, but in reality you’d be watching your plants a lot less than your villagers. The chances of you collecting all of those bugs are pretty low, unless you spend a lot of time watching your plants.

Here we come to the core problem of Plant Tycoon. Plant Tycoon is a real time game, like the much-lauded and popular Virtual Villagers series, as well as Fish Tycoon (which all came out technically AFTER Plant Tycoon, since Plant Tycoon is more of a re-make for PC than it is a sequel of any sort). The only issue with that is, of course, that plants are very much unlike people and fish. Watching fish swim is mildly amusing. Watching people can be very entertaining. Watching plants grow is like, well, how should we put it – as much fun as watching grass grow? It was perfectly acceptable in a mobile game since it was mobile – it was a matter of whipping out the Palm to check on my plants to see if they budded yet and nurse them like my pets, but quite another to load up a program on the computer to do the same.

The only way this could’ve worked is if it was an interactive screensaver. Which it isn’t. Another way would be an active desktop extension; which isn’t there either.

Aside from a major graphical update – my, the plants are absolutely gorgeous! – and the ability to prune your plants of dead leaves, Plant Tycoon doesn’t stray far from the original. In my opinion, that may be just as well – the original was such a great addicting game, so why change near-perfection? It is definitely still one of my favorite games, and one to keep on my computer for posterity. It doesn’t exactly promote organic plant growing aside from one mention of “Bio-organic Plant Food” in the supplies, but it’s a great learning tool for patience. It only takes a few minutes to play at a time, and the problem is that a few minutes is all you’re going to get before you have to wait a few hours again.

So I do recommend Plant Tycoon, but with a warning: If you didn’t like Fish Tycoon, you’re not going to like this either.

Plant Tycoon Hints
Plant Tycoon Helper 1.0

This will be the first of a new segment on MinuteGamer – Visit the Classics. To those who only recently started playing casual games, it might help to know what games can be considered original, and others simply really good derivatives of originals. These articles will also involve some of the best and addictive casual games ever made.

I can’t think of a better game to start with than Tradewinds Legends. It sets the stage for one of the most popular titles to hit the market lately, Chocolatier. My first experience with it was with my trusty little Palm T200 (The T’s were quite popular back in 2001 or so, and I was the very lucky owner of one) and playing the game endlessly on the subway to and from rehearsal. There were only something like 4 ports, 4 characters, and no quests – only trading. Still, it was a most additive game – sea battles, trading, travelling – all in a little package I could take on the go!

Tradewinds Legends is the culmination of what worked and what didn’t in the old Tradewinds games: buy low, sell high, get more ships, do over 100 quests. It was addictive. It was hilarious. It didn’t take itself seriously. It was easy enough that the battles didn’t stop the casual gamers from advancing, yet hard enough to keep you buying ships, upgrading the cannons, and trade in contraband. It also has a story – for each character – that rivaled any big name commercial simulation game.

So, where did it all come from? Trading at sea is hardly an original concept. Sid Meier’s Pirates! was published in 1987, which I believe to be the spiritual predecessor of all sea-going simulation games. It had trading, diplomatic relations, fencing, sea battles, siege scenes – all that. But Tradewinds took the concept and made it something that you can play for 10-15 minutes or for hours at a time, without having to track where you’ve been and what tasks you have at hand because it’s all in an in-game log. Tradewinds made a genre that was previously restricted to a testosterone filled genre (cannons, battles, saving maidens) all accessible to the causal female player.

Here’s to an original that is still addictive and very much playable – the Tradewinds series!

For a game that involves more trading, some arcade elements, and no battles, try Chocolatier.

You can find all of these games free (not a trial) and ad-supported on MostFun. Since these are a little older, ads are only at the startup and shutdown, and not during the game.

Trevor Chan’s Capitalism 2 is hands-down the best simulation game I have ever played. Please notice that there were no categories mentioned in that last sentence: it is the best simulation game I have ever played, out of any category you can think of. It is an accurate free-market economy simulation that allows you to control a company from the agricultural, mining, manufacturing, real estate, trading, wholesale, retail, as well as the stock market sector. It is a complete overview of how capitalism works.

Somehow, through it all, Capitalism 2 makes it easy to pick up, simple to learn, and really, really hard to drop. It manages to have no pretenses about the products that you can choose to sell (by making it funny like some tycoon games try to do) or throw in extra animations and story elements to make it interesting, but comes through as an addictive game by the strength of the gameplay alone. Now, let’s tackle the details: there are many.

The most successful enterprises (President’s Choice comes to mind) tackles the entire chain of production to eliminate competition and lower the prices of the raw products. So, let’s say you want to sell cans of soda pop. You can choose to buy soda pop from 1) your competition in town who manufactures it 2) your competition overseas who are shipping it to your local seaport, or 3) buy sugar and aluminum and manufacture it yourself and the cheapest of all 5) farm your own sugar, mine your own aluminum, sell it to your own factories at cost, then manufacture it to sell exclusively to your own stores. Once you have it in store, you can either choose to market it by branding, market it by using the traditional media, or even better, acquire the local traditional media and the money all goes in your pocket.

Oh, the possibilities! That’s what makes capitalism special. You can buy a piece of land in the boonies for the cheap. You can choose to buy land that are closer to the urban center, acquire the houses already on it, and pay more. You can buy your competition out in the stock market. You can dominate real estate and expand the city by creating new residential areas. You can corner the price of gold by acquiring all the gold mines. You can build department stores and discount stores or a whole range specialty stores. You can buy condos, TV stations, Radio stations. You can manufacture and sell everything you have in the manufacturing library, and believe me – it’s huge. You can build farms and produce eggs, meat, leather, and a range of agricultural goods. You can even build a headquarters building, hire a CEO to take care of the centralized details of marketing, branding, R&D, etc etc, while you come up with more ideas on what to acquire.

What makes Capitalism 2 so easy to pick up is the 3 x 3 grid building system. Each building, be it retail, manufacturing, has 9 boxes for you to work with, and each product requires at least 1 purchasing box and 1 sales box in retail, an extra manufacturing step in factories, processing in farming and raw materials and so on. You can layout your stores however you like as long as the links between the boxes “work” so that materials travel smoothly from one point to another. If you’re stuck, there’s even an entire layout library that ranges from typical retail layouts (4 products with advertising in the middle) to complex factory layouts that produces palmtop computers.

There are many, many layers to capitalism 2. Of course, that comes with a price: a somewhat overwhelming interface full of information and a steep learning curve, both of which flat out declared it not a part of the casual games category. It does, however, comes with full built-in documentation as well as a “start up” campaign that details every aspect of the game. If you’re willing to slog through the start-up campaigns, you can easily play this game for hours a day, weeks on end, and it won’t get boring

Another setback is the graphics. Capitalism 2 is around 5 years old, and even then, the graphics can be at best described as “retro.” Some character portraits are downright ugly, the maps are sprite based, SimCity 2000 style, and the music – there’s music? But the sounds of the city, including the sounds of things being manufactured and sold as well as the humming background noise of supermarkets, are right on the money.

Capitalism 2 is well worth $20, it has built in on-line play so you can play against other players, a custom campaign so you can determine all of the win conditions as well as start-up conditions, and a full challenging campaign. This is one game I’ve played on and off over the years and always find myself looking up after an hour or four wondering where the time has gone. Easily the best simulation game I’ve ever played – highly recommended. Don’t let the bars and line graphs scare you – Capitalism 2 is the most accessible yet realistic business simulation you can find.

All the adventure games I’ve seen on BFG before were older ones or simpler ones like the Nancy Drew series; so when I logged on this morning and saw Return to Mysterious Island, I was quite pleasantly surprised.

I picked this one off the shelf when it was new, and it was definitely a pretty good adventure game. It had great puzzles, a unique inventory system (which is used in all the newer games by the same developer), a survival meter which isn’t often seen in adventure games, and a lot of great puzzles. There are multiple ways to solve puzzles, which is definitely a plus.

It’s a bit short, and the story a bit sparse, but definitely a lot here to keep an adventure gamer occupied. If you’re a Gameclub member, this game’s a must buy!

Playing Lifetime R.S.V.P. reminded me of this very interesting and very original game called Tantrix. If you haven’t about it before, it’s time to try it. Tantrix online is completely FREE and there’s an entire multiplayer community based upon it.

Play Tantrix online.

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