Ten minute break

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the same trend of work-as-fun games spawned by the Diner Dash series, we have what could be the least fun of all – working in a hospital during a weird virus outbreak. Come on! Think about it! Sure, we’ve done our share of hospital work with Carrie the Caregiver, but she only has to deal with little cute babies who aren’t sick! Fever Frenzy throws us into the fray of people inflicted with such diseases as bipolarbear-disorder, shrunken-head, and mothergoose-bumps. Thankfully, the basic formula that makes time management games addictive are all here, plus some extras. Namely, the crazy monkey.

Fever Frenzy starts out as a complete Diner Dash Clone. If you switch out the beds for tables and prescriptions for orders, it’s Diner Dash. Patients will show up and start sitting at the bench, and you have to have to diagnose them by putting them in the blood pressure chair. Once that is done, you have to place the patients in their beds – hopefully, you can match their pajamas to the colors of the beds. Then after a few moments of snoozing, they will start ringing the bell – you have to diagnose and write a prescription, then drop it off at the nurses’ station to have them prep it, then pick it up and drop it off at the numbered patient. When the patient is better, you click on them to “ring them out.” The bed needs to be cleaned before another patient can use it. Diner Dash. See?

What makes it different is the apparent humor in this game. All the diseases have funny names, and every patient says something different that matches their symptoms. Dislocated-pElvis will go “uh huh help me…uh huh help me” when he asks for help, the paranoid patient will say “I’ll trust you…just this once” when you hand her her medicine, and the animalized patients will make an animal sound.

There are also lots of little differences between each of the four hospitals you will work in. For example, the children’s hospital will have visitors, and while most of the hospitals have viruses that float around that you have to spray, the last one (in the Rainforest) features an annoying little crazy monkey who dances on patients’ heads. This ensures that you will be sucked into this game early, then differences introduced slowly so you don’t feel like you’re playing the same game over and over again.

Speaking of differences, Fever Frenzy features a randomized customers system. When you start a level, both the colors of the beds as well as the patients that walk into the door are randomized. So you’re guaranteed to never play the same game twice. This is both a good and a bad thing – sometimes the combination of colors makes it much easier to match colors and get a bonus that way, and sometimes it makes it pretty well impossible to get the expert score. The positions of the beds are also different in every hospital, and the game purposefully place numbered bed in weird places so you have to plan ahead – beds 4 and 5, for example, are at opposite ends of the screens in the Rainforest levels. It also intentionally creates detours for you as the game goes on to make it more difficult for you to get to patients.

There is a skill-buying system in place, so you can use whatever money you saved at the end of each level to buy upgrades for your character. This is both a good and bad thing. Well, it’s mostly a bad thing. Sure, you can buy upgrades for your character, but this doesn’t really affect the difficulty scaling in a good way. If you’re good at the game and you constantly hit expert, you get more money, and can buy more upgrades to make the game easier. If you’re not good at it, and consistently barely make goal, you won’t have enough money to buy upgrades, and the game gets harder. In a game like this, it’s much more efficient to upgrade your character automatically while using all that “extra” money for decorative purposes.

There is also a “perks” system where you are allowed to use your power-ups once during each level. These either stops all the viruses (or monkeys) or lets you heal with your hands, etc, that are really “super” power-ups. Fever Frenzy does get frantic enough that you will find yourself wishing that you could use a perk again in a given level.

There is a mini-game in Fever Frenzy, although you only really get to play it 3 times. It involves picking out DNA strands from a petri dish that matches the DNA strands shown on the left side. It’s a lot of fun, and really should’ve been used more often – I find myself missing the game a bit, since it’s not replayable via the map screen either.

Fever Frenzy does not save mid-level, but demands that you restart a day if you want to continue. Strangely enough, when you click continue, it doesn’t send you back into the map screen. It seems a small thing, but that means that if you went back to an older level to try for expert, but you change your mind, you can’t just quit it and do a later level. You’re stuck there until it’s over I also wish there was more interaction between the patients, but there was already enough “extras” in the game to keep me playing.

The graphics are lively enough, but they are hand-drawn sprites, and the animations doesn’t seem as smooth as other games in this genre. The environments that you’d be working in, however, are quite lovely – they have little details to them that really adds to the frantic quality of the game. The music is pretty good too – each hospital has its own theme, and it was nice to not have to listen to the same tune for 40 levels. Sound effects are stellar; the voice-acting really did a whole lot to enrich this game.

Fever Frenzy is definitely an asset in the time management genre – it has variety, good power-ups, humor, and most of all, it is awfully addictive, and unlike some games of this genre where you wish it was over by level 20, this one keeps you playing to the end, and the randomized levels ensure that no two levels are the same. Even though it’s not a Minute Game, it can be played when you can take a 10 minute break. Recommended for those of us who has good reflexes – it’s hard!

Hints: Fever Frenzy

Take a board game like Tantrix, simplify it a bit so that the shapes are just squares with two different colors, and then add a game board and personalities to the tiles, and you have R.S.V.P. To those who doesn’t know what Tantrix is, you have probably seen it before; parents who stroll the aisles of toy stores know too well the hexagonal shapes with colorful lines printed through them. You can read about Tantrix here. Great game, by the way – really works your brain. Tantrix is a free game to play online.

In R.S.V.P. Each level consist of a board, and a preset number of tiles to put on the board. The game will only show you 3 of these at a time, at the bottom, and your job is to take those tiles and make sure the colors on each matches the edge next to it. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. It makes the game very accessible, and the limited number of colors it presents in Adventure mode ensures that you learn the basics of how all the different “personality” tiles work before you get into the real “meat” of the game: Endless Party.

Sure, 28 levels in Adventure mode don’t seem like much, but that’s not where the game really is. Adventure mode is like a prolonged tutorial in order to prepare you for Endless Party. In Endless Party, you get a clock, randomized tiles, all of the personalities, as well as extra colors. You also get 3 snub bonuses to get rid of lines of tiles that you don’t want in the waiting area. However, there is no power-up to get rid of something once you put it on the board. I wish there was, though. The way it stands now, the difficulty level ramps up really quick.

R.S.V.P. is very elegantly designed in terms of the rules – there are no real “bonuses” aside from the Joker character and the Surfer Girl. The Joker is a wildcard, and will match any tile placed next to it. As for the Surfer Girl, she changes color every time you pick her up, so she can be made to match any two colors surrounding her. I find it to be a flaw in her design that you can’t just click on some arrows on her to change color, but instead have to pick her up and wait for the colors to match.

The presentation in the game can be summed up as one word – gorgeous. Everything is beautifully drawn in a vector illustrated style, all the tiles are animated very well, where the characters on each tile “checks out” the next one to see if they get along. There are six different background styles for the locations, and the boards are unique so that in adventure mode there is always a way (more than one way) to finish off a board. There seems to be only one music track, and it gets annoying pretty quick. I turned it off halfway through adventure mode. Given all the different locations, a new track for each location would’ve been lovely.

R.S.V.P. will not save mid-level, and if you want to play Endless Party, you better have a lot of time on your hands, because you’ll have to play until you, or it, drops. Definitely not a Minute Game, but I did have a lot of fun playing it until Curtis got sick of staring at it. Which, given the amount of bright colors and animations involved, kept him occupied in his high chair for a while watching the entire Adventure Mode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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