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.

To say that we have high expectations for Cake Mania 2 is an understatement. Cake Mania was the first of its genre – a shape matching, customer serving, color matching game with tycoon elements, it was an instant classic. It was my first casual game after having been a serious RPG / adventure player for years.

The premise of Cake Mania was a mad dash to make enough money to save Jill’s grandparents’ bakery. Cake Mania 2’s story is less serious, but takes Jill around the world; Jill is bored with running a bakery at home day in and day out, and she’s going to spend her time in Cake Mania 2 travelling from one location to another, helping her friends, baking at a TV station, serving secret agents, men penguin suits, and space aliens.

Your job is pretty simple: hand a customer the menu, bake the cake he orders according to shape, icing color, and topper, hand the cake back, and ring him in. Each level is a month long, and you spend one year in each bakery. There are Baker’s Goals and Superstar Goals, and you only need the Baker’s goal to finish the level. Unlike the first Cake Mania, Cake Mania 2 comes with a difficulty level – you’re given two choices at the end of the first bakery, and one of them are harder than the other. Only thing is, the game doesn’t tell you which one is more difficult – it just is.

To make the stages more manageable, each level is accompanied by a buying screen, where you can use the money you earned to buy upgrades for your bakery. If you have read my reviews for games that uses this system, you’d know that I don’t agree with it. In a serious computer game, this is a feature. In a casual game, it could very much cripple the game. The problem with a buying system is that it makes the games easier for better players and harder for novice players. It is a fun system to use to “upgrade” your bakery to suit your playing style, but as a feature to adjust difficulty, it isn’t.

Some changes, good and bad, have came to grace the new Cake Mania. First of all, customers no longer interact with one another. That’s a bad. Despite the fact that your “all new” customers have likes and dislikes of cakes as well as different patience levels, they all feel like the same customer. The penguin is really no different than the astronaut, and the granny is just the delivery man who wants a cake topped.

An “improvement” is the new double orders. Customers can now comes in twos, so instead of the old 4 orders at a time, you could now get 8 orders at a time. You can also get an upgrade for the topping machine to frost as well, but that’s a bit of a waste of time – you have to memorize what color frosting each one holds because it’s not visible until you plunk a cake on top of it. With a lot of other things to memorize, this isn’t a priority.

Cake Mania 2 switches the board around by putting the frosting tables, ovens, and the customers in different places in different bakeries, and this works. Sort of. There’s that adjustment period of one or two months in each bakery where you’re trying to get back into the groove of things, and then once you get used to the placement of things, it’s business as usual. Thankfully, the cake displays are back, and you can display up to 3 “wrong” cakes, and there’s a 20% chance of a customer coming in to ask for one.

Like the first Cake Mania, this one is not without its quirks: the topping & frost tables don’t show the colors of the frosting until you plunk a cake down, and the top customer’s thought bubble often obscure some of your topping buttons. This proves frustrating, as you click on a string of actions only to find out that you missed a button because some guy’s cake bubble is on top of it.

One of the “biggest” improvements over Cake Mania is the multiple story lines. You can choose to help a friend out in the big city bakery or an underwater bakery, or go to Alaska to help the penguins. You can choose the moon or the future. It’s your choice. When you finish the game with these choices, you’ll be rewarded with a trophy that is shown in the start screen. There are six trophies to collect.

Jill, as well as the bakeries, looks amazing in Cake Mania 2. The edges are smooth, the colors are vibrant, and Jill has BIG hair. I mean, really big hair. Our career girl hasgrown up in Cake Mania 2, from her overworked yawning self in Cake Mania 1 to the Jill who checks herself in the mirror every chance she gets. The guest didn’t get the same treatment – compared to Jill they are barely improved over the original characters, and I really miss some of them. The music is upbeat and varied, changing with each location, and the sound, ambient and effects, are well suited to each bakery.

Cake Mania 2 is a bit of a disappointment. Mostly, it’s just more of the same. Bake cake, frost cake, stack cake, top cake. How you go about doing these things is up to you. Cake Mania will not save in the middle of a month, but each month shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. If you enjoyed the first, you will enjoy this one, but don’t expect any wild innovations.

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.

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.

When Tradewinds came out for the PocketPC, I spent weeks playing it on the train going to and from work. It was a very simple game: you travel from port to port buying and selling, fighting pirates along the way. You can acquire more ships for more cargo, building a fleet of merchant ships. Along the way, you unlock the storyline for each character you choose to play. Simple, addictive. Very addictive.

Chocolatier is very much like Tradewinds. Not Legends or anything that came after the first, but it is very much like the original Tradewinds. You travel from port to port buying ingredients, making chocolates, and selling chocolates. Along the way you will meet characters in the storyline (a very typical one with minimal plot twists) who will give you more recipes or put in a request for boxes of chocolates. Fulfilling these requests might send you farther along in the storyline or reward you with either money or a new recipe.

The core of the game you’ll be going to port to port, buying ingredients and selling chocolates you’ve made. If you let an ingredient sit for too long in your inventory without using them up, they will start to deteriorate. One really good feature that should be there is the buying and selling of ingredients so you can off-load ingredients that you’re not using at a lower price instead of letting them rot. Although the game never gets too difficult even if you lose a lot of ingredients since the markup for chocolates is ridiculously high compared to the cost of the ingredients.

Once you’ve acquired enough ingredients, you can start cranking out chocolate bars. In order to do this, there is a chocolate making mini-game where you have to shoot ingredients into molds that are mounted on a Ferris wheel-like device. As you successfully make ingredient combinations, the wheel will spin faster. If you make mistakes and lose ingredients, the wheel will slow down. The amount of molds you are able to fill within a minute is your weekly output for that factory and that particular type of chocolate. There are 4 different kinds of chocolates: bar, squares, infusions, and truffles. Of those kinds, there are 16 of each. So there are a lot of recipes to acquire and make. But when it comes down to it it’s just the same mini-game with more ingredients.

There is also a certain amount of “banter” where random NPCs will interject with a hint, some facts about chocolate, and news of rising and falling prices for ingredients or chocolate. These are useful to a point; being interrupted in the middle of traveling from one port to another on a regular basis because an old man wanted to say “nobody knows the truffles I’ve seen” is pure annoyance. To see the same old man saying the same thing in every port regularly as well, is another one. The game doesn’t remember if you’ve already heard something before, and this feature would’ve been very useful to make traveling less mundane.

If you keep track of where everyone is, the game will only take you a few hours to complete. I almost always had a surplus of money to buy whatever needed to be bought, be it factories, machinery for the factories, ingredients, or recipes. If you don’t keep track, you could end up running around the map with your Airship (which you will acquire soon enough) searching for that name that they didn’t come with a location.

The graphics for the game is adequate, but nothing special. Character portraits are well-drawn enough, and buildings and backgrounds fit the locations that they’re supposed to be in. Sounds are appropriate and you don’t really notice it, which is the sign of well-done sound effects. My game ran at a steady clip for maybe an hour or so, then starts to slow down – restarting the game fixes the problem. I suspect a memory leak.

There is also a free-play mode where you can make ANY chocolate you want provided you have the machinery, without the storyline and recipe exchanges (you’d start with all of them at the beginning of the game) and it quickly gets dull. Replay value is minimal, since locations for all the characters as well as their likes and dislikes, the orders etc stays exactly the same through the second gameplay.

All in all, Chocolatier makes a good simulation game with very little replay value. It did the simulation part well, but a bit more randomization would’ve made this game even better. Worth the play through, but only if you’re buying it through the game club for $6.99. It’s hardly worth $20 since you’re likely to finish it in an afternoon.

I try not to link to certain games, since most “free” flash games site contain some very inappropriate content. Whenever possible, I get the swf and host it myself so you guys can avoid the banner swampage.

P.I.C.O. is a game from Newgrounds, and it’s targeted for “17+” but it’s one of the milder pico games that are actually quite a lot of fun. It’s basically WORMS, or if you’ve played it on PPC, Snails. It’s turn-based strategy with fully destructive backgrounds.

Play the game here.

If you’re only going to get one game, you should get Escape From Paradise. I’m not kidding about this; there are so many mini-games (that are actually derivatives of full games) that you’re actually getting 17 games for the price of one. If you’re part of the game club (really, if you’re going to buy it off the fish, you might as well take advantage of the $6.99 pricetag), $6.99 for 17 games is a tremendous deal.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. I thought the graphics look quite dated and the sound effects a little over-compressed and fuzzy. Compared to the cell-shaded graphics of other casual games, and the other Toy Box Games offering, Nanny Mania, this looks downright homely.  The mini-games are very playable, but there’s nothing original about them – it’s just your varied offering of the most typical casual games. From a Diner Dash clone to Chinese Checkers or even a game of marbles, it’s all here. There’s even a game of bridge-war, and I’m not sure if there are casual game equivalents. The last time I played that game was in Romance of the Three Kingdoms X.

The core game is simular to Virtual Villagers, but with much more going on most of the time. X’s will appear all over the sand for you to dig up; new objectives come up on the map as soon as you’re finished with the last one, so you’re never stuck wondering what you should do next. When you’re desperately low on food, you can always play a mini-game and stock up – unlike in VV where if you’re low on food you could be seeing some hard times and some very dead villagers.

Also, instead of the aquarium nature of VV, you have an active colony that you must take part of. There is a choice of buildings to erect as you progress in the game, and as you get closer to the ending, you also get more levels for each of your mini-games to play with.  Even when you’re done with the core game, you can access any of the mini-games via the main menu screen. The animations are varied and well-done – your lumberjacks will chop faster as they progress in skill level, and your providers can whip out a fishing rod when they want to fish.

My only real complaint is that there is no pause button during the mini-games. I LIVE by the pause button – if the baby’s fussing, the kettle’s screaming, I just click pause and get to it and come back later. Without the pause button, I can hardly pass any of the diner levels. Thankfully, time is not that much of an issue in the other mini-games. All in all, a great game to have in your collection, and you get great bang for the buck too.

Ciao Bella is best described as a 13-part turn-based dating sim. Take a Japanese date sim, take out the “graphic” elements, swap out the Japanese family for a n Italian one, then add some mini-games and make the main character female, and you have Ciao Bella.

Gameplay is a mix of strategy, simulation, time management, object hunting, memory games, and uh, a racing game. Your character lives like a Sim if you have ever played the Sims before: she will get hungry, get tired, and need family interaction. She will alway need “harmony” in her life. There are a set number of game locations she can visit in Little Italy such as the mall, the boutique, her family’s restaurant, etc, where she can work and fill up these meters.

At the end of each week, our Elena will have a date with Elio. If you are prepared for this date – say, bought a dress for the social night out or bought a pair of in-line skates when he invited you to the skatepark – and your meters are well-balanced, you will have a good date, and the game rolls onto the next mission. Money that you make during one mission can be used in the next, and I suggest you save up whenever you can. Especially for the costly second mission!

Missions are also never set in stone; even though your goal is to have a date with Elio by the end of the week, events often happen that you need to take care of first in order to keep your meters high. These are optional, but they make the game much more challenging.

Ciao Bella also has many mini-games. Sometimes you will need to hunt down flyers posted around each of the town locations, or you’ll need to race to the airport. There is also a memory game and an optional tennis game. They never get too difficult – but the tennis game I find to be nigh impossible. The mini-games aren’t overly involved, but they do add to the overall feel of the game.

Unlike other casual games, Ciao Bella relies on a well-crafted, scandal-ridden story that pulls the whole thing together and actually read very well. However, the game relies on the story so much that after you’ve played it once, there really isn’t much replay value left. Graphics and sound are appropriate, and different locations have different music, which makes for a nice change from the slew of casual games I’ve played lately that has the same music throughout the game. The graphics are very stylistic and well-done, but for a flash game it feels a little pixelated although I’ve set it on the highest quality setting. Some of the animations seems overly simple, but Elena’s expressions (especially when she’s angry) is perfect. Definitely worth a download and trial, and I really enjoyed playing it. Zero educational value, but that’s what word games are for, right?

Ciao Bella hints and walkthrough

A free, extensive (HUGE!) business simulator brought to you by Disney. It’s quite good, and teaches the basics of how to start a business for the young ones.

Have fun!

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