Just a minute

I was quite enamored with the first Flood Light Games’ Agatha Christie game, Death on the Nile. To be frank, enamored wouldn’t be quite the word – I loved it. I’ve also played it too many times to be productive in my other endeavors. It was a seriously groundbreaking hidden object game. It had puzzles, it had adventure elements, it was detailed, well-drawn, and it was everything a hidden object game ought to be. I’ll also never forget that it came first.

Peril At End House is a bit of a mixed disappointment, in that regard. It does a lot of things right – 1024 x 768 resolution that runs smooth as silk, lovely classical style music in the background, unobtrusive sound effects, a puzzle in every room. However, it suffers from a lack of innovation. I guess the problem is mostly me (as will be for other gamers who has played the first game) and I’m expecting too much. Instead of getting something new, I’m getting more of the same. While this isn’t necessarily unwelcome, the time between the last game and this one led me to believe that there would be more.

This second Agatha Christie game from Floodlight games is very much like the first one. You start off with Poirot deciding that he will pursue the case, go through the rooms of each of the suspects, look for objects, find clues, and the mystery is linearly solved for you along the way. What differs the Agatha Christie games from the usual run-of-the-mill hidden object games is the attention to detail. Everything is crisp and clear, scenes are very well composed with most of the objects in plausible places.

Death on the Nile was a great game, and Peril at End House is, at the core, the same game. There aren’t any surprises – the quality is there and the puzzles are there. Instead of the old videos in between scenes, we now get a comic telling the story instead. The “saloon” where you can interview the suspects are now replaced by “CLUE” cards. “Interviews” are one-sided and really just a card in the page.

If you’ve played the first one, you will want to play this one. However, the rooms feel a lot less populated and I cannot help but feel that the game was rushed. Peril At End House should’ve been an “improvement” considering how successful the first game was, but instead of the boost in production values, there has been a cut. It’s still worth getting despite of it all; the scenes are still beautifully composed, and the story is still quality Agatha Christie.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m beginning to get hidden-object-burnout-syndrome. Thankfully, there are enough twists and turns along the usual path to keep me entertained. Hidden Relics, albeit short, definitely kept my interest up unti the very last chapter.

Hidden Relics does quite a few things right: high resolution, clean objects, bright environments, extra things to hunt. It also has a great collection of mini-games that almost rival Azada. Added innovations like a handbook of what objects look like as well as bonus hidden objects to hunt for that can only be found using special gadgets add to the fun.

Let’s start with the environments. Hidden Relics feature clean, crisp backgrounds in layers so things are hidden both in, behind, and on top of the backgrounds. Objects are photo based, so it’s pretty clear what everything is. If you’re unsure what you’re looking for, there is always the handbook – an encyclopedia of exactly what you are looking for. Everything trick in the book is utilized: in plain sight, with a corner showing, with a corner of an unrecognizable piece showing, with the alpha channel set to 10% (ultra transparent pair of scissors you’ve got there!) as well as other ways of hiding objects are all here.

I’m pretty darn good at these games. Now, I can generally go through them with plenty of time left the first time around, but this one had me stressed quite a bit over the last few hard-to-find objects. Namely, the ones that I couldn’t even see after I click on the hint button. This game definitely ranks as one of the hardest but still possible ones out there due to the sheer number of hints you can have.

Speaking of hints, the game starts you off with 5, which is quite generous. When you see a little magnifying glass in each scene, you can pick it up and it’ll add another hint to your count. I’ve had up to 10 at one point, finding one in every scene. There’s another bonus to hunt as well that isn’t as necessary: the gas can. Basically, traveling from one location to the next costs 1 unit of gas (that applies if you’re going to the next town or flying the entire way across Europe) and each location hides 1 gas can to find. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the game play, but it does restrict those who likes to leave a couple in each location and “come back later.”

Hidden Relics has 5 mini-games built in that are quite a lot of fun to do – there are the loads of usual image manipulation ones (jigsaws and sliders) as well as memory and Hanoi’s Tower. They’re not particularly hard, and really just there to unlock another mini-game-like part of the core game. Each time you unlock a “gadget” you can use it in the core game to find special hidden antiques.

These gadgets range from the common ones like a magnifier and x-ray goggles, and mostly you just try to look for things that aren’t there when you don’t have the gadget over a part of the scene. They each have their own graphical filter effects, but the one that really confused the heck out of me was the Sonic Resonator. I don’t know whose idea it is, but this particular gadget twists the image behind it and animates it so you’d get dizzy just looking at it. Its sole purpose is to find special antiques that makes music, but I’m sure it could’ve been better represented than with wiggly lines.

The antique list also tend to “fall off” the screen. There are only so many slots in the “special objects” list, and whatever cannot fit on there is simply not shown until you find some of them. Once you find a special antique, you will be rewarded with a description. That’s it. I don’t see a book full of these objects to look at, and I don’t see a handbook that you can access via the main menu to scroll through at my leisure either. For a mini-game, that doesn’t seem very rewarding. You could skip it and get a lower letter grade, and even if you grades were low you can still play through hard on the next play mode.

Like in other object hunting games, Hidden Relics suffer from the randomization problem. It doesn’t randomize intelligently. If you were presented with two of the same scenes in sucessive chapters, you could see half the list repeated in the same scenes. Certainly makes the game easier, but that’s not exactly its intention.

While Hidden Relics features a higher resolution than other object hunting games (1024 x 768) it is definitely leaps and bounds ahead in terms of its graphics engine. Ravenhearst at 640 x 480 can run pretty sluggishly sometimes, yet Hidden Relics at this high resolution suffers no slow-downs or lag whatsoever on this mid-range computer. Whatever they did to make it so efficient, they did it right.

While I do love the new resolution, I can never understand why the HUD is huge. I mean, it’s huge. Screen real estate is precious; it should be as much hunting screen as possible! The waste of space in this game rivals that of Mortimer Beckett. If you believe I’m being overly critical here, let’s think about it this way. The game screen in this game is 800×600. The entire screen is 1024×768. (800×600)/(1024×768) x 100% = 61%. Let’s look at Hidden Expedition: Everest. (800×510)/(800×600) x 100% = 85%. That’s a whole 24% of screen real estate not being taken up by unnecessary graphical user interface elements.

And by unnecessary, I really mean it. The hint button is huge, the clock is huge, the buttons along the bottom for gadgets all large. Sure, you might argue that pixel by pixel, there’s more object hunting to be had in Hidden Relics, but it’ll all look the same on a 19″ monitor. Not many people play their hidden object games in window mode; the more of the screen used in hiding objects, the better.

Another minor glitch that might annoy some but not others: no alt-tab support. It’s more of a “weird” alt-tab support, since it’d alt-tab to my windows being the native resolution of the game isntead of my usual resolution. No biggie – I can still take notes, but working at the same time is out of the question. Some older gamers prefer their resolution at 800 x 600 at all times, and the 1024 x 768 might pose problems.

Hidden Relics has no “timeless” mode, which could exclude a huge number of gamers. It does save mid-game, but objects will reappear if you exit an area and come back to it (your list will remain the same, but the area will be cluttered again.) When you finish the game once, you can start a new game on “hard” which really just means a more stringent timer. The game isn’t especially long, at 10 chapters, it could easily be finished in an afternoon. The last chapter, however, require you to visit every location, and it can be a bit of a drawn-out affair. Overall, it’s a great game – the pros out-weigh the cons.

Reality TV shows abound on major television programming nowadays; now, I’m not against that stuff, I just don’t watch it. It’s like gambling. It’s in my nature to be hooked, so, I don’t gamble. Once I found myself sitting glued to Blind Date back to back for something like 6 dates, I decided to make better use of my time and boot up Nancy Drew instead.

PlayDetective: Heartbreakers is almost identical in premise to one of the biggest, longest running reality shows – Cheaters. A couple is having relationship problems, they go to the host, the host hires a private detective, the detective inevitably finds the other partner cheating and finds evidence of such, the host asks the client to confront the partner, and it’s all very melodramatic. Makes for great TV. PlayDetective: Heartbreaks casts you in the role of the private detective, and throws in mini-games to boot.

There are 15 cases in the entire game, and each one plays about the same way with different story lines. You are presented with the facts of the case, then you follow your suspect around with a video camera from a perspective that’s only really possible if you were in a helicopter (or a very high building), and you are given a certain number of days to collect a specific number of evidence. Each scene comes in twos: a scripted “cut-scene” and a screen where you can act by either finding and playing the mini-games or collect evidence.

To collect the evidence you rely on three things: a phone call from the partner, a eavesdropping device, and a camera. Using them is simple enough. All you have to do is buy it in the store and click on them in the main interface during a game screen. Each one of these cost $100, and sometimes using them might not collect any evidence (a photograph could end up being completely innocent.) In order to make money we run into the absurd but fun part: mini-games.

The mini-games are mostly conventional: match-3, swap tiles, multiple choice quiz, the Cryptogram, and lastly, the Polygraph. Match-3 is self-explanatory, as it is the usual match-3 to break tiles. Swap tiles is a jigsaw puzzle where you swap the pieces, with a little bit of help. Each edge of the pieces are color-coded to aid you visually, since the images in them are two/three toned. The multiple-choice quiz asks you questions based on the client/suspect profiles as well as the time/date/place of your investigation. The cryptogram lets you decipher a text-message. As for the Polygraph, it works like a normal Polygraph. You get to guess whether your suspect is lying by the wavy lines. I still have no idea how it works. (Just like a real Polygraph, it seems.)

One of the special features in PlayDetective that it doesn’t tell you about is the variable difficulty level. If you fail a question in a quiz, your timer slows down to give you more time for the next question. If you keep letting the timer run out in the P0lygraph it does the same. It’s a smart timer that ensure the game doesn’t get hard enough to be impossible on medium. In the Match-3 or swap tiles games you can also restart the mini-game at any time.

Now, on the surface, this all works together very well. Once you start getting into the game, Heartbreakers is a bit of a non-game. It’s more of a TV show. You follow the characters around (you can fast forward or skip this part) and when the opportunity presents itself (in the form of your buttons lighting up) you can buy and use the tools. Once you do you either find out that the situation was completely innocent or the suspect is guilty of something. If you make a mistake by not collecting an evidence, the game will boot you out of the mission and make you start it over.

In other words, it’s really a very linear adventure game in the guise of a casual game. If you replace the text in cutscenes with real actors, this could be an old FMV game. Unfortunately, the graphics are dated with “pixel” styling and isn’t likely to draw the average casual gamer in. The music, however, is typical of an old black and white private eye movie.

PlayDetective: Heartbreakers is not a bad game, by any means. It takes a complex subject and simplified it enough for anyone to get in there and play, adding enough casual elements to draw in a casual audience. If you enjoyed Cheaters, the show, you might just get drawn into Heartbreakers’ stories of infidelity. It’s a pretty long game, and it saves in the middle of missions. At the time of this review, it’s slightly buggy, but there are no show stoppers.

You can download PlayDetective:Heartbreakers on the Kayogames web site, as well as try an online version that plays right in your browser.

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.

Hidden object games are hot commodity these days. You don’t have to do anything new, you don’t have to do everything right. You just have to make something to sell. So when a game comes along and spends a lot of time adding something new to the genre, you can’t help but be impressed. Forgotten Riddles – The Mayan Princess (FR-TMP) dares to be different with a riddles for hints system and a well-written story that carry echoes of the legends of Pocahontas and a Hollywood blockbuster.

FR-TMP features 26 scenes with 7-9 riddles each time you go through it. Some scenes may also be locked by a riddle that’s solved by putting a puzzle tile (that contains a riddle) to its proper spot. The riddles aren’t going to stump you – they’re easy two line rhymes, and you’re likely to quickly spot the items afterward as they’re generally not that well-hidden. Some riddles are pretty clever, and the great part about this is that each object in different scenes have different riddles attached to them. A bullhorn in one scene would have a different riddle than that found in another – so the tag line “thousands of riddles” is definitely true.

Objects in FT-TMP seems to be custom hand-drawn. Now, this is a good and a bad thing. Good: nothing ever look “out of place” like other games where objects seems to be slapped on without even a hint of drop shadow. Bad: sometimes objects can be slightly grainy or “painterly,” and in the case of “painterly,” a cat in the background could be a small dog, and a flash light could be a silver worm. Most objects are also very, very small, and more scattered than hidden. If you want a direct comparison, it looks a bit better than The Magician’s Handbook, but quite similar. The backgrounds are very well composed, however; it’s the smattering of objects that made the game just a bit too easy.

There’s a rotate puzzle between each chapter that tells the story, not unlike that found in MCF: Ravenhearst. They seem to be drawn without models as well as a knowledge of foreshortening. The story is very well-written and enjoyable and puzzles do get harder as the game wears on to avoid getting stale. My only complaint is that at the large size, everything goes dark as you solve each column or row, which makes solving the last couple of rows extremely difficult. I’m sure that isn’t their intention though, since the whole idea is to eliminate finished rows.

One of the biggest drawbacks in any hidden objects game is lack of replayability. FR-TMP suffers from a badly designed randomization system that doesn’t really do the job well. Since you’ll be visiting each scene more than once in the entire game, the player should be presented with different objects each time. The game should remember what objects were shown before, and take those out of the bag to randomize. This isn’t the case, however; in two missions, back to back, I counted 8 out of 9 objects in common in the same scene. On restarting the game, I only found 5 riddles I haven’t read before over 3 scenes. So replayability is suspect, since it’s not testing your improved ability to guess at the riddles, but rather your memorization of them.

Graphically, this isn’t the most impressive object hunting game. As far as hand painted graphics go, this doesn’t hold a candle to Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile – but that one’s best on my list. I keep getting the feeling that the artist is very good at still life but didn’t ace life drawing class. Or foreshortening. Or perspective. The music is haunting and pretty but repetitive. Ambient did a nice job of making each scene come to life, and the only thing the “sound” slider responsible seem to be the clicking sound.

You can finish this game in about 4 hours or so, but that’s really an average of how long an object hunting game lasts. I know you’d be buying it anyway – those of us who buys these games are addicted to the genre, we just have to admit it. FR:TMR tried to do something new, and that should always be applauded. There are already too many copycats in this genre, and this definitely counts as one of the originals.

  • Don’t even think of cross pollinating until you’ve bought the first soil upgrade.
  • Keep a copy of all the original seeds.
  • Keep an extensive log of all cross pollinations. Make a family tree.
  • The first part of a plant’s name is the fruit/flower, and the second part is the stalk/body.
  • You can run the nursery while the game is paused.
  • Shopping: soil before water. Everything else is negligible.
  • Your rarest seeds will survive in the cheapest water and most expensive soil if you check on it often enough to check for infestations.
  • Water your plants up to the “A” and no more.
  • Go ahead and fiddle with your windows clock. Just keep all your times within 12 hours and in the PM/AM, and don’t crossover. If you’re not careful you could end up with a lot of dead plants.
  • Clicking on the tap in the main screen gives you in-game hints.

General walkthrough:

Plant all the first seeds, pollinate each to get a “pure” copy of each seed. Figure out which one will sell for the most money, and start mass producing. Once you have $850, buy the new soil. Cross pollinate and find the next most expensive breed. Save enough for the next soil upgrade. Continue until you have third generation “rare” seeds and the third soil and water upgrades, as well as the extra seed boxes. After that, cross-pollinate like crazy – just keep notes, k? You’ll regret it later if you don’t.

Plant Tycoon Review
Plant Tycoon Helper 1.0

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

Evil geniuses and their henchmen are typical video game fare – not so in the casual games department. In casual games, the characters are not so much “evil” as “weird,” “wacky,” or simply “insane.” Interpol – The Trail of Dr. Chaos (I-TTDC) is unique in this way; instead of endearing us into playing the game, it tries to present a story that actually makes sense. As this “story” (the quotes indicate a level of sarcasm) progresses, we are led through a series of very well deigned levels with well placed objects, and treated to truly lovely music.

Any hidden objects game lives and dies by its scenes. Dr. Chaos does not disappoint. Every scene is very well designed – all the objects in Tokyo look like they belong there, and a “candle” in Tokyo does not look like the one in Rome, and I don’t believe I’ve see the same pair of sunglasses appear in more than one scene. That, in itself, is an accomplishment – too many hidden object games “borrow” objects from one scene to another noticeably. The level of detail and thought that went into the design is astonishing; there is a distinct feel to each scene that makes each one unique, and yet share a style that makes it belong with the rest of the game.

Usually, each scene in a hidden objects game is only 4/5th populated, and the rest taken up by the hud. Dr. Chaos is no different, but plays on this fact by populating the entire screen, then moving the hud from one side to another to expose a different part of the scene depending on the mission. So even though there are only 20 scenes to hunt through, it feels as though you’re getting quite a bit more.

I-TTDC shares some of the common problems inherent with games of this genre. Objects are always in the same places, so with repeated visits, it’s pretty easy to find everything within the first minute or less. Moreoever, the game doesn’t seem to remember what list of objects you were given in the last mission. You could be presented with mostly the same list, back to back, from one mission to the next.

One little pet peeve of mine: I can’t stand the fact that I have to wait until something is crossed off my list before I can click on something else. You may say that MCF games do the same, but I don’t see why I can’t just click on an object when I see it, and if I see three of them at once, click on them in succession. After having seen most of these scenes 4 or 5 times each, I could pick out anything within seconds.

I clocked my game in at 5 hours and 25 seconds. Considering that there are 20 missions (I lost count – I believe it was 20) ranging from 30 minutes to 63 minutes each, it should take me a whole longer than that. I finished off each mission with a lot of the clock left to spare. So it’s not an esspecially difficult game, particularly if you are adept at the genre. Most of the difficulty in this game is in the sheer SIZE of the missions. The last mission asks for over 100 items in an hour. I found them all in about 10 minutes.

I-TTDC have some interesting mini-games. The usual “spot the difference” game is there, as is the “spot multiples of this object” game. A new addiction, “spot weird stuff happening” sparked my interest. It’s a new idea, and it has some funny moments. There are 10 things to look for in each scene, and the text caption for what you clicked on comes up on the right.

If you’re looking for the next well-made object hunting game, look no further. From the gorgeous visuals to the beautiful music (each area has its own theme and believeable – not cheesy – ambient effects), Dr. Chaos is a well rounded, beautifully made game that’s definitely worthy of a chunk of your gaming budget. It loads quickly, switches to other programs on a dime, and has a forgiving clock.

Take a match 3 that involves symbols growing out of the ground and matching them by moving one symbol at a time from one spot of the map to another (Harvest Mania), add a dash of Wonderland Adventures’ cute characters and the idea of “exploring” a map for keys to open doors as well as finding bonus coins and power-ups, confine it to a screen-sided map with no scrolling, wrap it all up in gorgeous, sparkling graphics, and you have Emerald Tale. By no means original, but it’s definitely a whole lot of addictive fun.

The storyline in Emerald Tale is a very Zelda-like one, where a princess has been kidnapped and you (a simple peasant) must save her. So you travel the lands trying to get to her, with a number of levels in the way between you and the final puzzle. It seems to be written entirely in Engrish. The grammatical mistakes made me cringe enough to not ever show it to a child developing his vocabulary, otherwise the game contains no references to violence whatsoever.

The goal of each level is to get your fussy headed character to the exit. Sometimes there might be entire mountains in the way, others just a door where you have to blow up a mountain to get to the key. Other times you’ll face iron blocks that can only be destroyed by fire, and some levels all that’s between you and the exit are a few blocks. Each level contains a gem that you can collect to complete “tablets” as well as sometimes containing a treasure that you can equip later for increasing the number and power of your power-ups. Sometimes there are more than one exit, and you have to choose which one you want to go through. Thankfully, you can easily replay a level in the world map to choose another exit as soon as you’re done.

What would a match-3 be without power-ups? Emerald Tale has plenty of these and the results are quite impressive. There are the standard bombs that destroys foundations, rain of fire that destroys from the top down, rockets that selectively targets obstacles and not blocks, fire crackers that targets a “+” sign area.  These randomly grows from the ground just like runes, and how often they appear and how strong they are depends on the three treasures you can equip before starting each level. Matching these power-ups to two same-colored runes activates them.

As you progress in the game, you will meet many other cute fussy headed characters that looks suspiciously like those from Wonderland Adventures. They will give you hints about the level you’re in, and sometimes hint at other levels that you can get to. They really don’t add too much to the game aside from cuteness – signs could’ve done the same job, since these characters are stationary.

There are 4 tablets that you can complete, with gems you can find in the levels. They don’t seem to add too much to the game aside from giving you another motivation to blow up everything in each level to get to them. If you miss one though, it’s hard to find it on your way back – there’s no way to find out what’s left in a level to get once you’re outside of it. It would be very, very nice to get a tooltip on what’s left in a level.

Emerald Tale is a beautiful game. All the objects in each level are perfectly rendered, the world map is beautifully drawn. The level of detail everywhere you look is simply stunning. To top that off, the background music and the sound effects are wonderful as well. I can’t get over how good this puzzle game looks!

There are a lot of levels. 110 of them. Each of time will take anywhere from a minute to 20 minutes to finish, depending on your level of completeness – find the exit or find everything? Should you find the secret exit or just go with the normal levels? Talk to all the characters or plow right through? Each level is automatically saved so you can continue whenever you like – it’s the perfect minute game. I had a lot of fun playing this – definitely worth the buy.

The tags for this game reads “original” and “match-3.” No, I’m not on anything, this really is an original match-3. After having played this, I realized that the two are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to make a match-3 (or more) game that doesn’t involve ever changing containers for the shapes, and gimmicky ideas like having different symbols for every level. You can make a match-3 with new ideas that makes it worth playing from the beginning to the end.

Plumeboom involves a little bird who destroys colored potions that turns innocent birds into evil bird soldiers. Potions arrive by conveyors, and your job is to shoot potions to swap with the ones in the conveyors. When you match 3 or more same-colored potions, they are destroyed. As you play, conveyors will keep moving forward, bringing more potions into play. Once a color has been eliminated, it stays out of the game. It’s very simple to learn, but can be very strategic as you “swap” potions instead of getting random ones all the time.

Complicating this system is an elaborate list of power-ups and obstacles. After each mission, you can buy power-ups with “coins” you gained during the mission. These are represented by potions, and once they are available you can spend as much coin on it as you like, bringing them up in levels. These appear randomly in play; when you match potions with these “powered-up” potions, they destroy lines/X’s/cause random detonations, etc – and they are very satisflying.

There are three different kinds of obstacles. The Black Jug will not disappear and cannot be matched, and must be eliminated by destroying all the jugs in front of it. The spider on occasion spins a web that you cannot shoot jugs into, and they’re vertical lines right through your game field. Containers of three sometimes appear and you must match the three potions inside of it to destroy it since it cannot match the outside potions. As all this happens, the conveyors move ever so closely forward, and when it hits the right side of the screen, you lose a life.

A very cute invention is the “dress match bonus” system. Your little bird character can wear clothes to suit the climate of the map, and you decide this in the bonus lab. For example, for a fiery hot climate you’d wear nothing but a fireman’s hat, and for a snow storm you’d have a scarf, winter boots, and a warm hat. The only problem with this that is that you’re never shown what’s the coming weather is like, and you either have to go by what you remember of the world map or wait until you’ve finished the first mission of the region. It’s a cute way to add an extra layer of gameplay, regardless.

Plumeboom: The First Chapter utilizes hardware particle effects, and they’re quite impressive. The characters seem to be pre-rendered 3D, and they are exceedingly cute – even the enemies. Music is catchy and the sound effects, especially the explosions, adds much to the gameplay.

For originality in a stale genre, Plumeboom is definitely a series I’ll keep my eye on. Worth the buy!

Next Page »