Simulation


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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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.

Another one of those non-casual games on the Big Fish. I can’t exactly take the time to review these ones – they take too long, and with a baby in tow, it’s hard to go through these big long games. I can, however, offer a link to a demo. On the BFG site they do not offer a demo to Hotel Giant, but here’s a link to one on FilePlanet.

Hotel Giant Demo on FilePlanet
Hotel Giant Demo on Gamershell

Remember that this is not exactly the one from BFG – theirs is most likely pre-patched.

A few reviews from across the web:

Hotel Giant is all about building hotels. You get to design hotel attractions (bars, restaurants, health spas, and so forth) as well as guest accommodations, and you have to balance quality with profitability when you do so. …
each scenario goes something like this: spend a couple hours designing the hotel, and then spend about five minutes zipping through time until you win (or not). The only things you have to deal with once the game starts are guest complaints and staff hirings and firings, but the complaints are pretty predictable once you’ve played a little, and the hirings and firings usually aren’t necessary.

…The problem is that room design isn’t really fun even when it’s done well, and the more you have to do it the more boring it gets. Since in Hotel Giant you have to design rooms a lot — even despite a friendly copy and paste feature — and since there isn’t anything else to do in the game, obviously Hotel Giant isn’t very much fun to play.

…Overall, Hotel Giant is a nicely made but very boring game.
56%, Game Over Online Magazine

The first is the incredibly thorough but entirely boring tutorial that seems to last forever. It took me longer to get into HG than any other game I’ve played – including Morrowind….HG is one complex game, at least in its execution.

You can’t have exercise equipment in the lobby or a swimming pool in a boardroom – each object has a specific room they’re restricted to (though there are some common object). … (And it doesn’t help that there’s about three clicks for every action and host of drop-down menus to move through.) To help out you don’t have to design every single room. Each layout can be saved as a template then stamped out all over the floor – much like modern hotels. Then every time you change something in one room, it’s changed in all the rooms that use that template.

…Fulfilling the menial requests of characterless guests didn’t do anything to keep me playing. And the inability to take out some of this frustration on your hapless employees just isn’t possible. Beating up on Manuel-type waiters would have been a welcome addition. I guess what I’m trying to say, HG bored me after about 5 hours.

5.0/10, The Armchair Empire

Sounds pretty bleak, but Gamespy says:

Not a bad game by any means. JoWood has produced a quality title that seems to truly simulate the challenge of hotel management. Unfortunately, a cumbersome interface, and overly complex management scheme detract from an otherwise excellent game. Nevertheless, it’s worth a look.

It’s up to you. Links to the Demo is above.

Zoo Empire is basically a copy of Microsoft’s Zoo Tycoon. Now, Zoo Tycoon wasn’t a casual game, and neither is Zoo Empire. The reasons are very, very simple: there’s way too much to keep track of, too high of a learning curve, and there is no way you can play this for a few minutes and come back later.

For me, Zoo Empire feels like a trip to memory lane. It’s so much like Zoo Tycoon it’s eerie. The only thing that seems to be different is that my polar bears don’t seem to want to have the penguins for lunch when I leave them in the same pen. I don’t think that’s an improvement. Seeing my visitors running away in terror because I delete a part of the fence containing my lions were all part of the fun in Zoo Tycoon.

Zoo Empire is not a new game – it has actually been out since 2004. There has been a number of reviews written about it. So instead of my ranting about how it is not a casual game, I’d like to list a couple of quotations here.

Zoo Empire allowing you to choose from over 40 species and subspecies of animals including both rare and endangered species, over 150 types of visitors and animals objects, over 200 buildings, items and facilities. There are a dozen different terrain types, each with unique dynamic grass effects allows you to experience the subtle landscape changes as you progress in the game. There are also food booths, gift shops, toilets, bins, signs, first aid stations, security and vending machines, etc. As owner of your zoo, you can adopt animals, landscape and build exhibits, hire and manage employees. – GameGuru

The early stages of the game are blessed with a tutorial system to get you acquainted with the interface and controls. This is, of course, frustrating and relatively slow, but is genuinely useful and the game is all the better for it. – BoomTown

The question is, are you willing to play through 2 hours of tutorials? You have to learn how to fence animals in, edit the terrain, hire a myriad of staff, conduct research, build small and large buildings, keep animals in their desired habitats, etc, etc. Despite it being a kids’ game, Zoo Empire has a pretty steep learning curve.

If you’re willing to put in the time, Zoo Empire does turn out to be an addictive Zoo simulation. It is a completely children friendly, non-violent simulation game that contains fun facts on all of the animals that you can have in your zoo. I do recommend picking this one up from the store though – you will want a printed manual on-hand, since the tutorial doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. You can get this off BFG for $6.99, but getting the boxed version shouldn’t cost you anymore – it’s a 3 year old game, and a budget title to begin with.

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.

I could do something that adds money, but that would make it too easy. So instead, here’s a trainer that will freeze the amount of money you have. One button freezes, the other defrosts. 15 bottles of Instagrow, here I come!

Plant Tycoon Money Freezer (Rapidshare – always up)

Plant Tycoon Money Freezer (Bestsharing – sometimes down)
It only really has two lines in it and it effects ONLY the Plant Tycoon process. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m really not advanced enough in memory hacking to do too much with DMA, but this works on my computer, with the version of Plant Tycoon from Big Fish Games.

It will also ONLY work when the game is running in a window. Alt-tabbing to it will not work.

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