Eric Pankoke's blog

They've Got Your Back


It appears that Astraware read my mind! After their first two specialized solitaire releases (Halloween and winter), I was beginning to wonder why they didn't just make them add-on packs to the original Astraware Solitaire. Well, it seems that now they have! See the full details below. You can read my opinion of the game here: Astraware Solitaire Review.

Lots Of Trophies


Whose Ore You Exploring? (review 10)

While I’m more into the traditional Jazz Jackrabbit / Super Mario Bros style platform games, I don’t mind the occasional “puzzle in a platform guise†type adventures. This is just the type of game Ur Mobile Game has brought us in its first portable outing, Ore Explorer. You play the part of Jack, an explorer who is trying to gather up a very rare kind of ore for his country. Unfortunately, this ore only appears in certain places around the world (and out of this world), and those places have been overrun by monsters. With a sharp mind and keen reflexes, however, you will be able to overcome the obstacles and recover all of the ore for your country. To ultimately triumph you must overcome 60 levels of box pushing and demolishing, monster stomping or avoiding, and some often tricky platform jumping.

Your arsenal consists of jumping, kicking, pushing and bombs. The game is completely stylus driven, which is nice in theory but in practice causes its share of problems. To move left and right, simply press the stylus to somewhere in front of Jack either on his left or right side. To jump you do the same, though you must also have the stylus over Jack’s head. If you want him to jump straight up you simply hold the stylus right above his head. For the most part moving isn’t a problem, though there have been a couple of times where I had the stylus too far north and ended up jumping instead of moving. Usually such a mistake was recoverable. However, there have been far more times where I’ve actually just moved when I thought I had the stylus high enough for Jack to jump. This type of error is not always easy to recover from.

In The Forest

Dropping a bomb is much like digging a hole in Lode Runner, where you must stand on the space next to the one you wish to blow up and then face your target. When you press the button for bombs Jack will kneel down and place a bomb on the appropriate square. If there is a block right next to the bomb, the block will be sent flying in the direction opposite where the bomb sits. This little extra will come in hand on occasion. The biggest problem here is that if you happen to place the bomb right on the line between two blocks, it could possibly blow up the wrong block. If you can get the bomb in the middle of the block you want to remove you’ll be in the optimal situation. To kick you must click by Jack’s feet. When you’re on the ground this isn’t such a problem, but when you’re trying to execute a jump kick, which is possible and necessary at times, it can become cumbersome. For me it has caused more than my fair share of do-overs on certain levels.

Finally you have the viewer tool, which allows you move around and view the level without actually moving Jack. You will find this tool invaluable on larger levels, as Ore Explorer is one of those games where you often have to plan the entire thing in advance to avoid unattainable areas in a later part of the level. It would have been nice to be able to control this tool with the D-Pad, because if you don’t click on it quite right or accidentally slide the stylus of the viewer while using it you could accidentally trigger a jump from Jack, which could provide disastrous depending on where you left him. While I like the fact that they tried to do something different by making a platform completely stylus driven, I think they could have left some options for those like myself who aren’t very skilled with controlling a game like this via a stylus.


At least I passed...


Well, for many of you Christmas is long gone, and for some - like me - it's almost gone. For those keeping tally, I only posted 9 reviews for the Christmas run. But, at least that's a 75% (or in reviewers' terms, 7 out of 10), which isn't all bad, right? At any rate, we'll now lovingly call this segment "The 12 Reviews Of December", and if I get the time maybe I'll throw in an extra one just for kicks. Hope you've enjoyed reading them so far, and to all a happy transition to that thing we call a "new year".


Jammin' It eSoft Style (Christmas review 9)


eSoft Interactive is the “home of the think and tap gamesâ€. The nice thing about such a mantra is a game doesn’t have to be overly complex to force you to think. Such is the case with Traffic Jam 2, eSoft Interactive’s latest offering. I never had the opportunity to play the first one, but I’m beginning to see why it’s maintained its place as one of their most popular games.

Your poor Beetle is trapped amongst a myriad of cars during rush hour, and it’s up to you to free it from each of the 250 precarious situations it’s gotten into. The task is simple enough: some cars move left and right, and others move forward and backward. You must slide the cars around until you’ve cleared a path between the beetle and the exit circle. To move a car, you simply click on it and then click on the square you want to move the car to. If a car takes up more than one square, the front of the car will occupy the destination square you’ve selected. There are two viewing modes for the game, 2D and 3D. In 3D (actually isometric) mode there is a 2D view of the playing field in the upper left corner of the screen. At times this will be quite useful, both to give you a different perspective on the layout of the cars, and to help you in selecting a car, as sometimes the isometric mode can be a bit finicky.

Title Screen

The game is comprised of 250 levels, and for each level you receive a time mark as well as a mark for the number of moves taken to complete the level. This doesn’t really translate to anything like a score, but you can always go back and play again to see if you can beat your time and / or number of moves on certain puzzles. You can, of course, also use this benchmark to compare against your friends. When the game starts out the puzzles are pretty straightforward, but as you climb up in levels they start throwing all kinds of snags in your thought process, like cars that take up more than 2 squares and squares that can’t even be used at all. You’ll eventually find yourself even moving cars in one direction just to move them back the other way later on in the level. After a while there’s definitely some thought involved in completing these puzzles. And, if you really get stuck, you will earn a token every ten levels that you can use to automatically complete a level.


No Guns For You (Christmas review 8)


In my opinion, platform games were the staple of the video game industry in the 80s, and there’s still very much a place for them today on devices that don’t quite have the capabilities of modern 3D graphics systems. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of creativity these days when it comes to actually implementing this treasured genre of game. Fun And Mobile decided to take a stab at it with their first game offering, I Hate Guns, and what could have been a good platforming romp ultimately left me feeling a bit unfulfilled.

The basic story is that you play McGrady, a 50 year old ex-cop whose daughter has been kidnapped by an evil tyrant in the Near East. It’s up to you to save your daughter and figure out why she was kidnapped in the first place. The story is told through letters left by the mysterious HQ and phone calls between you and the man who tipped you off to your daughter’s whereabouts in the first place. It is somewhat of an interesting story, but through six short levels you don’t get enough build up, and by the time it’s through you’re left with more questions than answers. I’ve seen no indication of a sequel, either, so this may be one of those “never-ending storiesâ€.

The game plays out in standard platform fare. You run and jump to get through each level, often employing the aid of trampolines to reach higher places that you normally couldn’t get to. To pick up items such as health and treasures you simply run into them, and to open chests that contain such goodies you push down when standing in front of the chest. There are six basic combat moves – 3 kicks and 3 punches. They are certainly enough to get you through the game, but don’t make for a very diverse combat environment. The lack of use of weapons on your part really limits what you can do in the game.

In Game Cut Scene

On the other hand, there is a nice variety of opposition. Amazingly enough, most of it comes from things besides the enemy soldiers. The soldiers range from sword wielders to staff fighters to camel riders. In addition to the soldiers, however, you have to watch out for things like falling coconuts, mechanical animal traps, poisonous snakes, and spitting camels. Yes, the camels that some of the soldiers ride actually spit at you for an additional attack! And the best part is that everything is integrated into the environment. Coconuts fall from trees as you pass under them. The snakes slither around on the ground and actually rise up to strike you. Your surroundings are very alive as far as the enemies are concerned.


Rebel With A Clue (Christmas review 7)


I really enjoy vertical / horizontal scrolling shooter style games. Throw in some missions and you’ve got me hooked. Alpha Rebellion from Sword And Spirit Software promises to be such a game, and I’m just the guy to tell you if it lives up to that promise or not.

The basic story behind Alpha Rebellion is pretty standard science fiction fare. Your people have discovered a new substance that can be used as a powerful energy source. Naturally, your people are planning on using it for good. Unfortunately, a dying race with a nasty attitude has discovered your discovery and taken it for themselves. Now it’s up to you to single handedly stop this race from doing bad things with this energy source. Funny how it always boils down to one guy, isn’t it? You must take control of the FH-107 Haymaker and work your way through 10 challenging missions to free your fellow colonists and ensure that the energy source gets used to serve all races.

Lots Of Buildings

You take control using either the D-Pad or the stylus to rotate the ship 360 degrees through a borderless environment. That’s not to say that the maps are infinite in size, but when you hit the edge of the map you just appear on the other side. This transition is seamless to the player unless you’re actually watching the map, and will prove vital in accomplishing at least one mission. To adjust your speed you either press up and down on the D-Pad or use your stylus to adjust the on screen display of your current speed. To fire and scroll through your weapons you use the hardware keys, which you can arrange how you like through the options menu. You can also hide and display the mini-map by clicking in the left corner of the screen. While the map is sometimes hard to decipher, for the most part I like to keep it open so I know what I’m looking for. Your player is in blue, the enemy is in red, and important targets appear in green or yellow, depending on what they are.


It's Fun... In The Factory... (Christmas review 6)


Not only is PDAMill good about diversifying the genres of games they create, but they also have a knack for developing some pretty decent products within those genres. Fun Factory is no exception to the rule. Despite the fact that most of these games aren’t all that exciting on their own, the overall context that they are thrust into along with the colorful way they are presented actually turn them into quite an amusing package as a whole.

There really isn’t a plot to Fun Factory, per se. You are a factory worker, and each day you have a different task to do. You will be graded on that task based on a scale on the right side of the screen which is broken down into four levels. You start at the lowest level, and as you complete a certain amount of your task you’ll move up through the levels. If the task is timed, you must complete the task before time runs out to get the highest level on the scale. For tasks that aren’t timed, you must perform a certain percentage of the task right in order to reach the highest rank on the scale. I haven’t been able to determine yet if that target percentage is 100 or not, but it’s something close to that. If you spend too much time at the lowest level of the scale you will get warnings and ultimately get fired. I’m not really sure what that does either, because even when I get fired I can still start the next week and my score starts where it left off from the week before.

Title Screen

As one would expect from a PDAMill game, the overall look is consistent and of a high quality. The graphics are cartoony, which fits the mood of the game quite well. The level of detail on the components of individual tasks varies by necessity (you don’t need too much detail on a level full of balloons), but once again the overall quality is very nice. The animation is smooth and fluid. The common interface elements, such as the balloon that acts as a timer on the left side of the screen and the performance scale on the right, all fit in appropriately with the feel of the game as well. There’s not really anything to improve on the visuals.

The sound in Fun Factory is also a treat. The effects fit perfectly with the actions they represent, and little additions like the burst of a flame that pops up every once in a while on certain tasks just add to the atmosphere. More importantly, however, is that each task has its own track, and the track matches quite well with the task. It’s nice to see a developer take the time not only to write decent music for a puzzle game, but to vary it based on the puzzle being played.

As for the gameplay, I’ve decided that since there are only five tasks to cover, I will discuss each one individually. So, here’s your week in review:


The Good Old Days... (Christmas review 5)

I remember when I bought my first Sega Genesis, and the first game I owned along with it was Golden Axe. By today’s standards the mechanics of the game would almost be considered a joke, but back then it was cool just being able to play something that resembled an arcade game. I know that there are still many fans of Golden Axe out there today – myself included – and apparently Huike is as well. Updated aesthetics and portable form factor aside, I feel like I’m reliving my Genesis days all over again with Demon Hunter.

The plot couldn’t be any simpler. Demons tried to take over the human world and were defeated by a legendary sword. Both were forgotten, until one day a boy happened upon the sword and the demons decided it was time to try and rule the world again. You know where the story goes from here. Welcome to the plot, boy! It’s your job to rid the world of the demons once again. The story is told in the beginning, though the English is a bit broken in spots, but sadly there is no continuation of the story between levels. I guess that’s fine, since it doesn’t really affect the action any, but it still would have been a nice bonus.

The movement in Demon Hunter is about as old school as you can get. You can move up, down, left or right along a fixed path on a single plane. There are no platforms or stairs or much of anything giving you a feeling of depth. Even when you are as far back on the screen as you can go, everything is the same size as if you were up close. Is the nostalgia starting to kick in yet?

Well shake it off, because unlike the movement, combat is unique, simple and frustrating all at the same time. The game auto-targets opponents for you. I’m not sure what the criteria for this is, because I can be standing next to an enemy and it won’t be the target of my attack. In fact, at times I can’t even see the creature I’m targeting. That doesn’t mean you can’t fight the monster next to you, but to launch an attack on a targeted enemy you simply click the screen, so if you happen to not click right on the enemy next to you (or even sometimes if you do), your hero will still sprint towards the targeted monster instead. If you click the screen again while your character is sprinting he will slam his sword down on the ground, assuming you aren’t too close to the targeted creature. If you are able to perform this "slam cut" and you hit an opponent, they will recoil backwards and suffer some damage.

Level 1

On the other hand, if you are close enough to the monster you’ll just start attacking it, at which point you’ll want to continually click on it to impart some serious damage. Early on you can defeat most monsters with one such round of pummeling, but later on enemies won’t give up so easily. By the way, when I said combat was simple, I meant in the fact that all you had to do was click on the screen to initiate combat. I wasn’t referring to the timing it takes to execute everything correctly. Now in addition to simply bashing the demons into oblivion with your sword, you get three special attacks you can use throughout the game. A power meter fills up as you defeat creatures, and as it reaches various percentages you get a new attack. Using these attacks also drains power accordingly, so the simple attack can be used 3 times on a full meter, the middle attack twice and the ultimate attack once. The more powerful the attack, the more enemies are affected by it. Since it takes victorious fights to refill the meter, I wouldn’t suggest using the ultimate power any more than you have to.


You Snow What I Mean? (Christmas review 4)


It’s that time of year again. Red and white peddlers are standing in front of high traffic areas asking for donations to various charities. People are partying with folks that they can’t stand to spend the rest of the year with. Fruit cakes are making their annual rounds to become the door stop at someone else’s house. And for the sixth year in a row, Clickgamer presents the next iteration of the now classic Snowed In series of object swapping games. But is this really good will towards men or simply a crafty and slightly amusing marketing ploy? Guess it’s time to find out…

If you’ve managed to own a PDA for any length of time and haven’t yet played an object swapping game, here’s the basic rundown. The playing field is divided into a grid which is filled with different types of objects. Your goal is to get a least three objects of the same type in a row to clear them from the board. To do this you swap two objects that are next to each other. The objects can be directly next to or diagonally touching each other. Simply select the first object with your stylus and then select the second object. If at least one of them completes a sequence of three similar objects, all the appropriate objects will fall in around the now vacant grid squares, and new objects will descend from above to complete the grid. If objects form lines of 3 or more once they’ve finished falling, these objects will be cleared as well and the process starts over, forming a chain reaction.

The main detriment to progress in this game is the obvious one of no more moves. In addition there are grouches which will take over the spot of another object for a couple of seconds. During that time, the space occupied by the grouch is unusable. Also, there is the possibility that a square will be filled by a mechanical penguin. This object cannot be removed from the board or swapped with another object at any time. The newest obstacle in this series, and my personal favorite, is that when you complete a level, the snow bank rises to cover about ¾ of the screen, during which time the game is still in play. While objects under the snow bank can still help complete sequences of objects, you can’t select them until the snow bank has receded. In easy mode this isn’t such a big deal, but in timed mode the timer is still going, which makes it all the more interesting.

Title Screen


Feeling Adventurous? (Christmas review 3)


Some argue that most mobile games lack any amount of depth, and that developers aren’t being fair to the needs of gamers on the go by focusing mostly on casual games. For me, there are rare occasions where I do want to sit with my mobile device and engage in something substantive. That’s what I have a PC for, however. Other than when I’m sitting at my desk writing reviews, I spend most of my PDA time in between things – whether it’s in the car traveling or a quick skirmish waiting to pick up carry out at the local restaurant. Fortunately, Adventurer: The Island Chronicles takes one of my favorite genres, the RPG, and packages it in a play as you go format that suits my simplest needs.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare. Evil dragons have conquered 10 islands in an archipelago, and it’s up to you to free them from the beasts’ nefarious reign. Your adventures will span the 10 islands, culminating in a boss fight with a dragon at the completion of each island. To get through each island you will face a series of random events that will help shape your character and prepare you for defeating the dragons.

The most prevalent random encounter is combat, naturally. Combat is played out one on one in real time. Those of you who remember Archon or Mail Order Monsters from the heyday of Commodore 64 gaming will be right at home with the gameplay style here. You use the D-Pad to run around the screen, dodging your enemy’s fire at all costs. If the enemy is using a non-firing weapon, indicated by a red circle around them, you just need to stay out of the red circle. If you are using a weapon that fires, you simply click with the stylus where you want to fire. Keep in mind that your target will constantly be moving, so clicking right on them will almost never guarantee a hit. If you are using a sword yourself, then you need to get your opponent within your red circle to hit them. Your opponent’s health meter is shown at the top of the screen, both graphically and through a fraction containing current amount of health and total health.

Overhead View

You can switch attack methods at any time throughout a fight. Your three options are Bow, Sword and Staff, and much like Dungeon Siege, while you may call yourself a fighter, wizard or archer, you can use any of these methods. You might not be as strong at one as another, however. But also like Dungeon Siege, any of these skills will grow as you use them. You also have health, stamina and mana potions that you can use during combat. Remember that any time you use a weapon or potion, all of your options will be unavailable for a short time. It seems that this time frame is longer after using a potion than using a weapon. Ultimately you will either win the battle or be defeated. If you win you will be granted some experience and gold, and possibly even an item or potion. If you lose, you can either abandon or continue your quest. If you abandon your quest you will start over from the beginning of the story, but have all of your gold and experience you’ve earned. If you continue your quest you will lose gold and experience, but you will start the game right from where you died.


On The Second Review Of Christmas...

My experience with Herocraft started out a bit rocky with the less than stellar Arcade Park. After releases such as Ball Rush Aqua, Happy Lines and Robo, however, I actually look forward to seeing what Herocraft will have to offer next. That’s why I was just a bit disappointed when I caught wind of their latest offering, Snow Lines. Judging by the name and screen shots, it was basically a rehash of Happy Lines with a Christmas theme. As it turns out, that’s basically true. However, it’s no less fun than the original, which still makes it a pretty good game.

For those of you who haven’t experienced Happy Lines, the concept is pretty straight forward. Each level is comprised of a grid which is initially randomly populated with a few smiley faces. Every turn you move one smiley to a different position on the board by clicking on it and then clicking its destination square on the grid. A smiley can only move if its path is clear. Once you’ve made a move, a few more smiley faces will be added to the grid in random positions. Fortunately the game shows you where the smiley faces will be placed and what color they’ll be, so use that to your advantage when planning a move.

A Full Grid

There are two ways to clear smiley faces from the board. On some levels you need to create horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines of smiley faces, each with at least 5 or more smiley faces in a line. On other boards you have to create a square of 4 smiley faces or a rectangle of six smiley faces to make them go away. Of course, they do their best to make sure you can’t get the board cleared. The longer you play on a given board, the more smiley faces appear after each turn. Also, later levels give you less available squares to work with on the grid.


The 12 Reviews Of Christmas


Okay, so I'll admit that my track record lately for getting reviews written hasn't been so great. However, my goal is to have 12 brand spankin' new reviews for you, my faithful readers, by the time December 25th rolls around. Of course, I would pick the busiest time of the year for me to do this sort of thing!

Anyway, to start things off I bring you the tale of 4 fuzzies, with a cute puzzler from Elements Interactive called Flurkies. You can read my thoughts on this brain buster right here.


Minimal certainly doesn't describe the challenge...

Unfortunately, it is often true that a good portion of a product’s success is due solely to marketing. I have seen some pretty bad games over time that have done well simply because they were hyped up so much that people bought them before really knowing anything about them. On the other hand, there are other games that fell flat because while they were clearly better than the average game, either no one knew about them or they just weren’t marketed correctly. Sadly, I could see that happening to Minimal, the first offering from Gammosaur, if for no other reason due to a poor name that doesn’t really represent the gameplay at all.

The premise behind Minimal is quite simple. The playing board is a rectangle comprised of a certain number of squares. At the beginning of each level all of the squares are the same color, and you are presented with a pattern that you must match in order to complete the level. The change colors, simply click on a square and all the squares touching it will change to another color. The levels start out simple enough, but soon it takes some ingenuity and planning to match the patterns. Eventually additional colors will be thrown into the mix, making pattern matching even more complex. Unfortunately, I’m not quite smart enough to get past level 12, so I don’t really have any first hand experience with patterns containing more than two colors.

Flippin\' Fun!


I Told You So...

2007 Award Winners

Okay, I'll admit that I didn't actually participate in the awards this year. However, as I scanned the winners in the gaming categories, there were several that I've written rather positive reviews for over the years.


More games from Moregames

One thing I love about independent developers is that they actually care about what their customers want. MoreGames has gone out of their way to prove that by providing a poll asking you, the consumer, what you'd like to see them do next. Now normally I'm all about the reviews and don't do much promoting, but I'm bringing this to your attention in hopes of skewing the votes a little :) In all seriousness, take a trip over there and let them know what you'd like to see them do.

In good conscience I probably shouldn't tell you, but I voted for the new turn based strategy option.


Boardgames... or Boredgames?

It’s not very often that I don’t get into an Astraware game. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised with Astraware Solitaire, which I enjoyed despite the fact that I’m not much of a computer solitaire player. Even with their track record, however, I wasn’t quite sure about this latest offering of theirs, Astraware Boardgames. The content is certainly first rate: chess, checkers, backgammon, and more compliment this classic collection. In the end, however, it just didn’t thrill me like so many of their other games have.

All told, there are 8 games included in this collection. The diversions include Checkers, Chess, Backgammon, Tic-Tac-Toe, Ludo, Reversi, Snakes & Ladders and Nine Men’s Morris. Most of these games are based off of originals. Ludo and Nine Men’s Morris I’m not familiar with, so I don’t know if they are ancient cultural past times or simply remakes of some older game. Snakes & Ladders is a variation of the Hasbro game Chutes and Ladders. For the most part the games are played with standard rules, though in a few cases, such as Backgammon and Ludo, there are settings that you can change to affect the game play.

Select A Game

The first concern I had about this collection is that I can find at least 5 of these games for free on the internet. And I’m not talking about PC games or flash based versions, I mean actual PDA versions of these games. It’s a bit hard to justify spending $20 for “nothing new†as it were. The second problem I have is that most of these games really aren’t a whole lot of fun on a small screen playing them all by myself. As a general rule I’m a loner when it comes to gaming, and even if I weren’t, I don’t really know anyone else locally that’s into PDA gaming. That pretty much rules out my desire to play several of the selections here, as they take too long to not have the human element to exchange taunts and quips with while playing. Now there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. I actually enjoyed checkers (this falls under the free list, however), and Nine Men’s Morris was actually pretty engaging. Games like Ludo and Snakes & Ladders, on the other hand, I couldn’t see myself playing again beyond my initial attempt at trying them for the sake of the review.


A Crazy Final Battle

I’m still on a quest to find the next great original PocketPC adventure game. Unfortunately, my last experience with CrazySoft proved to be a step backwards in that search. As a result, I was a bit hesitant to try their latest offering, The Final Battle. While my quest is still on, I’m happy to report that this outing is a 100% improvement over their last effort. The Final Battle is turning out to be a story worth uncovering.

The game starts out with you waking up in a prison cell, not knowing who you are or why you’re there. Obviously I can’t tell you any more than that, because then the game would be ruined! I will say that they did a very good job of revealing your background in parts throughout the game. In fact, I was quite delighted in the end when I thought “hey, I’ve seen this story before†and then they ended up throwing me a curve ball. Kudos to you for your sneakiness, CrazySoft. The other thing I appreciated about the storytelling was that unlike the last game, I found much of the humor to actually be humorous. I could have done without some of the “stupid, idiotic, pointless†comments when trying something I was not able to do, but that’s just a minor quibble.

I also felt the interface had been substantially improved. Gone were the simple yes / no decisions. Instead, unless it was something as simple as picking up an item, most activities had two or more options to choose from. To initiate an action, you click on an item and select the hand icon. You are then presented with a list of things you can do with that item, and you select an option by double clicking on the box next to the item you want. The double clicking was slightly overkill, but you get used to it after a while. To use an item, you click on the item and then either click on something in the room (including yourself) to use the object, or you click on another item in your inventory to try and combine objects. You never have to worry about misusing items, because the game will just tell you that you’re trying to do something stupid (see my comments in the last paragraph).

There\'s Plenty To Do

Passages between rooms are marked with an icon of a little man walking. To move between rooms, you click the icon and select the hand action. Again, requiring only one click to move between rooms would have been more user friendly. Rooms are grouped areas, which are accessible via an overhead map once you’ve escaped the initial area. However, certain areas only become available once you have beaten certain parts of the game. A visual indicator of areas that were inaccessible would have been nice, but at least when you clicked on them a message popped up with some silly reason for not being able to go there. The one line dialog bar at the top of the screen was replaced by displaying dialogs in the lower half of the screen. For the most part this worked, though there were a couple of times where some of the words were hard to read above the background. Maybe a nice opaque dialog window would have been better.


I'm So Happy!

Puzzle games come in many shapes and sizes, so I always applaud a developer for trying something a little bit different. When I first played Happy Lines I tried one level in Progress Mode and then shifted over to Arcade Mode. After playing arcade mode for a while I was afraid that Happy Lines was going to fall into the category of "Thanks but no thanks". Fortunately, after spending a lot more time in Progress Mode, I’m happy to say that there are certainly enough redeeming qualities to this game to warrant giving it a try.

The basic idea behind Happy Lines is that you have a playing board populated with some charming smiley faces. Each turn one or more smiley faces are added to the board in random locations. When the board is full, the game is over. It would be best not to let that happen. At the beginning of the level you are instructed on what you need to do in order to clear away smiley faces. On some levels you will need to line smiley faces up in horizontal, vertical or diagonal rows of X or more faces to make them go away. In other levels you will need to construct either squares (2 rows of two blocks) or rectangles (2 rows of 3 blocks). In order to move a smiley face you simply click on it and then click on the location you want it to move to. The space must be open, and the smiley must have a clear path in order to be able to move to that space.

Smiles, I Say

There are two game modes to Happy Lines: Arcade and Progress. Unfortunately, you can’t play a level in Arcade mode until you’ve unlocked it in Progress mode. For me this is okay, because I don’t care for Arcade mode anyway, but I don’t like this increasing trend of “unlocking†levels for normal gameplay. Secret levels make sense, but not the normal play levels. In arcade mode, you simply pick a level and play that level as long as you can, earning points along the way. This was fine for a little bit, but ultimately was not that much fun. A goal such as "racking up the most points" is not really finite and not of interest to me.


Trick or... treat?


There’s a good chance you’ve played this game before, whether it was under the name Nebulus, or Castelian, or possibly even Tower Toppler. This doesn’t even account for all of the shareware or freeware clones. Towers Tricks is a nice update to the genre, with 40 challenging levels that will keep you busy for some time.

So what’s the game all about? Basically, you’re hunting for treasure. Your goal is to get to the top of each tower and collect the goodies within before the time runs out and the tower explodes. Along the way you’ll have things like staircases, lifts and doors to help you advance to the top of the tower. You also have your trusty hat, which you can throw at certain obstacles and monsters to dispose of them. You can even jump to get over and around things, but keep in mind that once you jump there’s no turning back or controlling the jump, which is a bit of a departure from most modern platform style games.

Balloon Man Cometh

Don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park, however. Most of the monsters are impervious to your hat, and there are plenty of them on each level. This means you’re going to have to work your way above, below and around them. In addition, a man in a hot air balloon appears from time to time and throws a boomerang at you, which can knock you off your feet and back down towards the bottom of the tower. Finally, each level is timed, so while you need to watch your step you certainly don’t want to waste precious moments on your trek to the top of the tower.


It's Mine, All Mine


They always say that the third time’s a charm, but I wasn’t quite feeling that way with Arvale: Short Tales, which I could never really sink my teeth into. When PDAMill announced a new game in the Arvale universe that wasn’t actually RPG based, I suddenly became excited about visiting the ancient land of Arvale again. For the closet puzzle gamer in all you fans of the Arvale series, you won’t be disappointed in Melonchi Minecarts. If you don’t believe me, you at least need to give the demo a try.

Melonchi Minecarts actually has a story mode, and like Short Tales, each "playable" character has his own tale to tell. I’ll let you check that out on your own, however. Regardless of which character you pick or if you choose to play arcade mode, the premise behind the game is the same. You take the helm of your mine cart and traverse a series of increasingly complex track layouts, trying to gather up all of the gems lying about. The trick to this is that in most cases, the track explodes as you cross it! Basically, you must collect all the gems without retracing your steps – or re-crossing your tracks, as it were. Sound a little more challenging now?

Snow Way Out

In story mode you can choose to play as Duncan, Grwyth or Demenchev. Arvale fans will recognize all of these characters from their appearances in the various RPG sagas. Each character’s story is broken up into 3 segments consisting of 15 levels. There is a set of stills overlaid with text between each set of levels telling you what’s going on as your character progresses through the mines. I enjoyed story mode, but in the first two tales (Duncan and Grwyth) there were just a few puzzles that gave me pause, and only one or two that I had to attempt more than once. In fact, once you figured out a few common patterns most of the puzzles were pretty easy to solve. The main problem, however, was that it felt like the puzzles were out of order from a difficulty standpoint. The last couple of levels on each stage were pretty easy, but some of the ones that came before those were head scratchers. I would have preferred that the toughest puzzles were at the end.


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