Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update

Welcome back again.  As you can see, we are starting to populate the site with new content.  There are few new writers and contributors waiting in the wings with new content.  If you are interested

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update, GaMExpo, Nerdvana Con, Life Updates

What to Watch: You Tube

Top 5 YouTube video’s of the past week (with one blast from the past). Each week, on Tuesday, I am going to post 5 videos I think are worth watching on YouTube.  I’d love to hear what you

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What to Watch: You Tube

Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Bac

Welcome back to Killer Betties! It’s been over three years since I’ve made a post, but I am back. Before I get to what I’ve been doing for three years, I want to talk first about The

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Back, TWD, The Bar, and Other Random Thoughts

Football Manager 2017 Review

Football Manager 2017 is a football management simulation video game for the PC developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega. Gameplay: In terms of gameplay, it is really fun. You can create

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Football Manager 2017 Review

Volunteers Wanted

Killer Betties is going through some growing pains and we need more bodies (and pens) to keep up with it. If you have any interest in writing video game reviews, previews, interviews or editorials, p

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Volunteers Wanted

Casual Game of the Week: TriJinx (PC) – Review

by on April 30, 2007 at 2:12 pm

In this hectic world we live in, many times work and appointments must come before the fun and joys in our lives, including that of getting to play videogames whenever we want. Gone are the days when we could fire up a game of our choice and spend hours toiling away – now we seem to game in stolen moments here and there. With that in mind, perhaps it is no wonder that casual games have become such a popular gaming choice (especially with women who make up the vast majority of casual game players), as casual games allow us to either jump in and get those quick fixes of gaming bliss or either play them for as long as we want when we do have the time. In honor of the casual game, we’ll be bringing you a new Casual Game of the Week every Monday to help you find that fix you might be needing in your life. This week’s game: TriJinx.

TrijinxShapes make for a good puzzle game – for whatever reason it is a relatively simple fact of life. Tetris? Shapes. Hexagon? Definitely shapes. TriJinx? Yes, even more shapes though this time it is triangles. However, beyond having shapes in a game, you need substance as well, or else all those shapes are going to be put to waste. Thankfully, TriJinx has the gameplay to back everything up and even throws in a unique twist I haven’t seen in a puzzle game before.

TriJinx is all about taking falling triangles and clicking on them when they form groups of three or more. Simple? Yep, course that’s how all casual games get you. They make you feel superior, the master of the casual game domain, then they ratchet up the difficulty, throw in some new moves, and then BANG you are sucked in and can’t stop. The board is setup like a giant triangle, and instead of pieces falling straight down and settling perfectly straight, instead pieces will tumble down the sides of the boards and the sides of the pieces themselves until they settle into place, smack dab between other pieces; now sometimes that piece will fall next to others of the same color, other times it won’t, meaning you just lost a chance for a good connection. Typically, you’d have to make pieces fall into matches by matching other colors below it, for example, which would hopefully trigger a chain reaction and make some pieces land into a combo possibility. Though falling combos like that are still possible and the norm, TriJinx features something that makes it unique – boards you can rotate.

At the bottom of each board are two arrows, one that will turn the board clockwise and the other that will turn the board counterclockwise. So now if pieces falling from the sky don’t land where you need them, you can hopefully change the game in your favor by turning the board over, hoping that by letting the physics of the once resting triangles fall into new places, they’ll land into positions more favorable to you getting the matches you need. It’s a very interesting gameplay mechanic, that completely spins the matching dynamic of the game into whole new areas.

Stages come in all sizes with various obstacles to get in your way. Sometimes you’ll get a board with large pieces, others you’ll get a board with normal sized pieces, and other times you’ll get a board with smaller pieces. The object of each level is that above the board you’ll see colored urns that match those (or some of those) that are playable on your board. You must then match up the colors (such as red matches for the red urn) and then once it is filled you’ll move to the next urn. Unlike many games where collecting colors is left up to you in whatever order you want to do them, here you must complete the urns in the order they appear, so if you see a blue urn but you’re still on a red, don’t go thinking the blue matches will go to your blue total; instead it will only get pieces out of your way so you can hopefully get around to making the red matches. Levels are lost by either not filling up all the urns before the timer runs out, or by having pieces stack up beyond your level (here you’ll get nice warning beeps to tell you that you need to hurry or flip the board so you don’t end up losing that way).

Read The Rest Of The Review On Page 2

To help you out along the way, you’ll have such powerup helpers as bombs that will explode pieces near it and things like scarabs, which you create in a manner of speaking by matching up color after color. If you’ve created a blue scarab, by activating it all the blue triangles on the board will disappear – the good news is that if you are working on building up your blue urn, each one that scarab eliminates goes into that urn color total.

TriJinx is also stacked with game modes, which is a huge plus, though many times – especially in regards to puzzle games – there will maybe be only one you’ll really like playing. In TriJinx, the first mode up is the Adventure mode, which is the story mode of the game. The story of TriJinx is an installment in the Kristine Kross series, who is a puzzle investigator. Kristine has just got a message from her father, who went to investigate a tomb. By matching up pieces and completing levels, you hope to get to the mystery of the tomb and find your father. The scattering of cartoon cutscenes are rather nice, though far from beautiful works of art like that in a comic. I was very surprised by the voice work, however, which amazed me with how well it was; specifically, the voice of Kristine Kross. There isn’t too much story, but what there is was nice.

The next mode up is the Arcade mode, which plays like the Adventure mode, though with a few added changes. For one thing, the countdown timer moves a lot quicker, and you have to react even quicker. Another change is that unlike the three way triangle pieces of the Adventure mode, which you can attach to any color you want to make a match, instead here you’ve got blinking eyes, which randomly change colors on a whim. The Arcade mode comes in Easy, Medium, and Hard flavors.

ScarabThe final mode is the Puzzle mode, which offers up two different gaming scenarios all by itself. You’ve got the Shape match mode, that has you searching the board, trying to find the one single possible match that they give you at the top of the screen. In order to beat the level and keep moving on, you must match all the required shape matches before time runs out. The second puzzle mode has you analyzing the board, trying to eliminate every single piece on the board. Should you remove every single piece, good for you, but chances are if you didn’t plan ahead, you’ll at least leave one piece behind. If you leave just even one piece, your totem will lose a piece, meaning you are even closer to losing out in the game and having to stop.

I’ve already said I enjoyed the voice work aspect of the game and touched on a little the cartoon cutscenes, but let’s round out the rest of the package. The boards are nothing more than shapes and the pieces are nothing more than colors, but they look solid and nice. The backgrounds are nicer though, typically featuring slowly revealing Egyptian deities as you move through the levels. The music – Egyptian sounding of course – is pleasant and manages to both lull you into a sense of calm while still making you feel antsy and worried that you might find yourself cornered any minute and find your game over. The sound of the falling and tumbling pieces, as well as the powerups being activated, were nice as well.

Overall, TriJinx is a pleasantly well rounded package, featuring simple gameplay mechanics that are made more interesting by twists such as the ability to turn boards over, and plenty of game modes that should have you left mouse clicking the days away (and/or left and right arrow keys to turn boards if you will). Though not the most addicting puzzle game I’ve ever played, I really enjoyed the new mechanics, and would definitely recommend you check it out and have it a go.

Rating: 4star
Our Scoring System

Play The Online Version, Download The Free Version, Or Buy The Game at PlayFirst

‘Pinball FX’ Review (Xbox 360)

by on April 30, 2007 at 1:40 pm

SpeedBy the time I got into videogames, pinball was slowly starting to be phased out. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some I enjoyed or remember fondly to this day. One traditional pinball game was baseball centered, and by doing well and getting a lot of points, it actually rewarded you with baseball cards. On the videogame front, there was a Sega Genesis game I remember with dragons and ever changing themed miniboards and an actual progression from beginning to end – no longer did you play the same board till all your balls were gone, instead you worked toward an actual ending. So when Pinball FX was announced, I was thrilled to get another pinball game in my hands. Now, the only question is was I left singing The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” or was I ultimately forced to realize just why there are no pinball games much nowadays.

Pinball is pinball and it is an easy gameplay to grasp. You start by putting a shiny metallic ball into play, you watch it as it glides across the level, hitting every little bumper and gizmo in its way, and then when it is ultimately about to go to the very bottom of the screen, you try to use your left and right flippers to hit it back upwards and start the whole process again. The only time that formula changes up a bit is when you unlock multiball play, that can see you trying to juggle two or even three balls on the board at one time (in the case of the game, more than one ball is a chore since the boards are so small). You’ll also unlock special ball saving moves, which should your ball go past your flippers, it will load it up and shoot it back into play right away. See, pinball, easy to play, and Pinball FX doesn’t change that up. However, what Pinball FX does change up, ultimately makes the game less than an ideal nostalgia trip for the pinball fanatics out there, or those who are just too poor to be able to afford an actual pinball machine of their own (don’t worry, right there with you on that).

Pinball FX comes with three boards for your use, and though each have their own strengths, in the land of this game not all are created equal. The first board up is Speed, a street racing car enthusiast machine, that has flashing lights and racing themed challenges. Now, don’t go expecting complicated missions on many different boards, because all the action takes place on this one, single board. However, by hitting balls into specific slots, you’ll have goals such as running from the police, doing stunts, and other car related things that you’ll accomplish by sending up specified ramps and other lighted up slots. At the top of the screen is a LED like animation board, which shows gameplay messages, your score, what missions you can select from, and other goodies.

The next board is the Extreme board, and like most things with the Extreme moniker, of course it sucks. The reason the board sucks so much is because the bottom portion of the board is so small, and it’s hard to ever get it to the top, and, even if you do, it won’t stay up there long anyways as there isn’t really any bumpers much to keep things going. The Extreme board is filled with graffiti scralled flashing messages, basketball, skateboarding, and ghetto ravaged hip-hop influences.

AgentThe third board is the best, but feels like a total ripoff in many ways. Called Agent, it is frankly a James Bond stolen piece, as it has a James Bond looking guy with his Bond girl positioned right in the middle of the board, plus that isn’t even taking into consideration the James Bond like theme song that plays in the background while your ball is flipping around. The Agent board, however, is the most involving and engaging of the three, featuring missions like sniping and messages about planting bugs and meeting informants. Not a bad board, but not amazingly great either.

The biggest problem with the game is the ball physics, which is the ultimate kiss of death since the metal ball is the key to everything. Frankly, the ball doesn’t behave realistically and instead almost seems to have a mind of its own; I’ve literally seen the ball go up in the air on an arc to the right, and then curve backwards to the left – that just isn’t pinball no matter which way you cut it. The sporadicness of how fast balls will move and travel is also annoying, because once again, it just isn’t real and leads to more frustration than fun.

The graphics of the game are pretty good, as they recreate the look of pinball decently, though there are ugly moments, like the general look and feel of the silly Extreme board to the badly drawn James Bond fake and his girlfriend. As for sound, the music is simply okay depending on which board you are playing on. The sound effects range from the good clinks and clanks of slamming against the bumpers, but when it comes to the flippers and such, it sound like nothing more than dull thuds instead of metal on metal pings and pangs I remember of the real machines.

If you want a pinball game, Pinball FX will get you through your nostalgia cravings. If you want a really good pinball game, however, that is a whole other matter and one Pinball FX certainly won’t be able to satifsfy. With a versus multiplayer mode that has you competing against another player to get as many ponits as you can, plus leaderboards so you can compare yourself to other players around the world, it should help add a little replay value to the game. But as a whole, I’ll have to wait to sing “Pinball Wizard” for another day. Perhaps I’ll go rent Tommy .

Rating: 2star
Our Scoring System

‘Spectrobes’ Review (DS)

by on April 26, 2007 at 3:29 pm

If I told you we’ll be talking about a game where a young boy finds creatures, evolves them, and battles with them against other creatures, what game do you think we’re talking about? If you thought Pokemon, good for you, but sadly no. Though inspired a great deal by the Pokemon franchise, this madam and sir, is no Pokemon. With so many interesting ideas, how did the game ultimately go so wrong?

Spectrobes_0018THE STORY SO FAR
You play as Rallen, a young boy, who with his partner and friend Jeena work for the Nanairo Planetary Patrol. One day the young pair are sent to a planet where an unclassified object crashed and you need to go figure out what it was. Upon landing and discovering the planet, you’ll find a sleeping man in suspended animation. He has come to your galaxy on a mission – to warn you of the Krawl.

The Krawl appear in swirling tornadoes and have already started their invasion plans. Can the Krawl be stopped? Luckily, you’ve discovered a bracelet that lets you control Spectrobes, ancient creatures long dead, who only exist now as fossilized forms. However, you’ll need to awaken and utilize their powers if you have any hope of stopping the Krawl.

The problems with Spectrobes begins right here with the story – simply put there isn’t much of one. Generally you are given one thing to do on a planet, you go do it, and that is it. You’ll run across several NPC characters, but you don’t run across many, and when you do they are mostly copycat clones. There are only a few characters you’ll ever really socialize with and see images of in spoken cutscenes. But even if there weren’t many characters to interact with, it wouldn’t be a problem as long as the narrative was at least there, but even that is barely present. Overall, the story of Spectrobes is just a waste of space, filled with partially formed ideas.

From beginning to end Spectrobes follows the same gameplay formula: go to planets, run around (being mindful every few steps to search the ground for fossils, minerals, and cubes), complete the story while doing battle with the Krawl. Tada – that’s it.

Before anything can happen, you’ll first need to find Spectrobes in their fossilized form (to do this you must have a child Spectrobe you can use as a searcher). To search, simply run to a spot, and then hold the R button down or tap on your Spectrobe with your stylus. If nothing appears in your search radius then you can move on and search elsewhere. However, if you find a blue crystal (mineral), yellow (fossil) or glowing (cube) then it’s time to get excavating.

When you first start digging up the object, you’ll have to use your stylus to tap through several layers of dirt till you see a hint of your object. Then you must use your various tools to dig away at the object until it is 95% uncovered, and only then may you remove. One problem you must be aware of is doing damage to the artifact, which happens when you use a tool and do direct damage to the object. Now, there is some skill here, trying to be careful as you uncover it slowly and then work around it – of course, then you learn tricks, and now I can remove every object with my large drill and don’t have to worry about doing enough damage to completely lose the object. So what started out interesting, slowly becomes dull once you learn some easy tweaks (literally, just do quick and breezy stylus brushes across the top of the screen).

Spectrobes_0059Once your fossil is unearthed, it’s off to your ship to awaken it. To awaken the Spectrobe, you must first flick it down a ramp (why you have to actually do this, who knows) and then you must use your voice at certain decibel levels to awake it (or blow in it will work too – just change how far away and strong your blow is). Yet again, another idea interesting in theory, but a failure in execution.

You then must take your Spectrobe to the incubators or else it will only ever be a child. In order for Spectrobes to become adults, they must be in the incubator for specific amounts of time, and meet requirements like being level 10 or having a specific number in regards to health, attack, or defense. These adult Spectrobes can then be leveled up to even more powerful evolved forms by meeting requirements in much the same way, such as getting a certain level requirement. You can also attach custom parts to the Spectrobes that aren’t children.

Continue Review On Page 2

Beyond finding Spectrobes, you can also trade them with other players (more on that in multiplayer section) or you can use special trading cards to input for them (as well as special cubes, minerals, and custom parts). The trading cards is one of the most unique features of the game, as they are clear trading cards with pictures of what you’ll be unlocking on the front (each game comes with four). To unlock the things on the cards, you place the card on your DS screen, lining them up and then putting your stylus through the numbered holes on the card in that order to unlock whatever is there. The problem is that you don’t even need the cards, because a quick FAQ find is all you need to find the codes, as players have shared the codes of their cards, and smart players have made a system out of the touchscreen. I tried to use these grid based FAQs to see if I could unlock items without needing the cards, and though sometimes I got denied cause I was slightly off, I managed more often than not to nail it the first or second time around. Smart idea, but highly flawed.

Once you have your Spectrobes it’s off to the field to fight and level them up, and you get to fight the most boring, unfair fights you’ve probably ever experienced. Controls are really hard to nail here, as characters float across the ground like they are on ice, making it extremely hard to line the moves of your Spectrobes up with that of the enemies. You can control two Spectrobes at a time – one attached to L-button and the other to the R-button. Since it is more action oriented and quicker than the turn based battles of Pokemon, a quick button press (or two) is all it takes for your Spectrobes to attack; however, their lock-on sucks and it is often luck if you hit anything. And don’t even think about doing any damage yourself, because even with upgraded items you don’t accomplish much more than a scrape. The battles are also amazingly difficult for a more kiddie based game, as some of the Krawl can take you or your Spectrobes down with one or two hits; it sucks beyond words to get suckered punch and go out with one hit. Once again – flawed.

With the inclusion of Wi-Fi capabilities, you can get online to play against other Spectrobe players to see who is the best, and you can even trade with other players Spectrobes, fossils, minerals, etc. During fights, you can choose how many victories are needed to win, what the total time of the battle will be, ultimate form usage, and if you can use items or not. Beyond one-on-one battles you can do Matchmake Battle where 3-16 participants compete in a round robin type championship rankings.

The other purpose of the Wi-Fi is you can use it to upload your scores to the Internet website to rank yourself against other players, and you can acquire download points you can use to download various objects from online.

Though the single player sucks, at least the multiplayer is pretty robust and nice, of course, you probably need to be a really big Spectrobes fan or be able to work through the numerous faults to find any fun to be had.

Wide-open spaces with barely any signs of creativity make up the vast amount of environments in the game. A blocky Rallen and Spectrobes in battle are equally painful to look at (which is made even more worse by the open and barren battlegrounds that happen in the black tornadoes). Actually, everything is really blocky and poorly rendered, plus there are way too many confusing menus to have to navigate through.

And I’m not joking when I say this, but the only good graphics are in the manual and on the cards – at least there the Spectrobes look great.

The techno-esque background music repeats way too often and will get on your nerves. The Spectrobes make the same noises no matter which of the creatures you are using in combat. The sound of turning the DS off is the best noise of the whole game, and even that doesn’t count, cause that is attached more to the DS than the game.

I’ve spent over six hours already with Spectrobes for review purposes, and there hasn’t been much joy to be had. Oh sure, the game starts off well enough, but quickly, very quickly, delves into tedium and leaves players disappointed that they wasted their money on this. And it’s sad too, because there was a lot of potential and interesting ideas developed for Spectrobes, it’s just that the game so poorly pulled them off.

Rating: 2star
Our Scoring System

Casual Game of the Week: Chocolatier (PC) – Review

by on April 23, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Make ChocolateIn this hectic world we live in, many times work and appointments must come before the fun and joys in our lives, including that of getting to play videogames whenever we want. Gone are the days when we could fire up a game of our choice and spend hours toiling away – now we seem to game in stolen moments here and there. With that in mind, perhaps it is no wonder that casual games have become such a popular gaming choice (especially with women who make up the vast majority of casual game players), as casual games allow us to either jump in and get those quick fixes of gaming bliss or either play them for as long as we want when we do have the time. In honor of the casual game, we’ll be bringing you a new Casual Game of the Week every Monday to help you find that fix you might be needing in your life. This week’s game: Chocolatier.

When it comes to chocolate only one thing comes to mind – eating it. I’ve never really thought over the health benefits of eating it. I’ve never wondered over what must go into making fine, sweet chocolates. And I’ve never wondered if I could make millions in the chocolate industry. For that matter, I didn’t even know chocolatier was even a word. So imagine my surprise when Chocolatier crossed my path, a chocolatier sim that has you jet setting around the world, trying to find the best ingredients, and selling off your product to make the highest profit you can.

The story of Chocolatier is that two sisters have been fighting over their family’s chocolate business, but neither could decide on what the other wanted to do. So, the two sisters splintered off, becoming business rivals, though one wants to restore the honor to her family. To restore said honor, she is passing along what she knows to you, so that you may make the family business grow and prosper once more.

In the beginning you’ll be given a factory and a recipe for simple, chocolate bars. With recipe in hand, the first things you’ll need are ingredients. Ingredients can be found at every port city in the game that you can land at, though they won’t all offer the same goods. Though sugar is constantly prevalent and can be sought everywhere, other ingredients like cocoa beans, coffee beans, cashews, almonds, mints, and others can only be found at certain specific spots. When at the markets, you can choose to pay the full price for what they are asking, or you can attempt to haggle with them; haggle too hard and they won’t like doing business with you. Prices at the various markets are also determined by things such as shortages or too much supply; if a place is suffering from a shortage, expect to pay higher than usual prices. Some ports even have their own special cocoa beans, which you can use to make their special candy, which early on is some of the most precious and valuable candy bars you can make.

Once you’ve purchased enough ingredients, it’s off to the factory, where you must practice to see how many chocolates of that type that factory will make each week. In order to do so, you’ll have various revolving circles on a machine moving around, and you must fire the required ingredients into each circle to make one box of chocolate. Once your time limit is up, however many complete matches you make will be how many boxes of chocolate that factory will automatically make as long as you have all the required ingredients.

SellOnce you’ve got your first factory producing chocolates, you need to head to the chocolate boutiques to sell them your supply. Now, there are several factors at play when selling your goods. For starters, sometimes people just get tired of eating your same chocolates over and over, so the longer you have one single chocolate bar going over and over, the lower and lower the cost you’ll be able to sell them at. Also, though one port might still love a specific brand of your chocolate, another port like London might be tiring of them. If you’re going for the maximum bang for your buck, you’ll sell individual chocolate boxes at the ports they sell best at. However, if you want you can easily take whatever you can get and sell them wherever. Another factor is that throughout the game you’ll be able to purchase the shops as your own, and there you’ll always get better than usual prices.

Along the way as you go looking for ingredients and selling candy, you’ll run across other factories, which if you have enough money you can buy and have them go into business for you. Beyond buying up factories and boutique shops, you’ll also be taking on odd quests that you stumble upon, such as delivering a letter to someone or making X-amount of chocolate boxes for a person and delivering them to them. Completing quests will net you more money or things like newer and potentially more valuable recipes. Recipes come in four different flavors, such as bars, squares, etc., and though squares are generally more valuable than bars, you’ve got to spend $25,000 at each factory to upgrade it to allow the making of those specific candies.

Read The Rest Of The Review On Page 2

And that’s the general gist of the game – you make candy, make sure you have enough ingredients, sell your goods, and continue to find new recipes, explore new ports, and buy new ingredients. And you know what, it’s almost addicting as the chocolate it is centered around. Chocolatier has the one single thing that defines the good casual games from the bad, and that is “one more time” syndrome. You probably have all experienced “one more time” syndrome before, which is that moment when you say, “Okay, I’ll just do this one more thing and I’ll stop,” but then suddenly you’ve been saying that ten times in a row, and the next thing you know an hour has gone bye, and you’ve got to really make yourself stop playing or else you could be sitting there forever.

Controls are amazingly simple, with the mouse and left mouse button controlling every action. Need to switch ports (which, by the way, cost you trip money and costs you weeks where you could run out of inventory if you aren’t careful) – click the left mouse button. Buy goods – click the left mouse button. Sell goods – click the left mouse button. The only very minor control difficulties I ran into is that occasionally when I clicked on one of the named buildings (markets, landmarks, boutique stores) it wouldn’t read it right away and take me there.

Graphically and visually the game is alright, simply doing what it needs to do to get its gameplay across. The style of the world ports and characters is strictly animated, with some looking graphically better while others don’t (most evident in the drawings of the characters). Music comes in several forms, such as the tense (uh oh, factory out of cocoa beans) quickened paces to the more leisurely explore as long as you want background sounds. The sounds are pretty good though, featuring things like trains and ships going on voyages, the sound of a ringing cash register, and others.

TrinidadI’m generally not a huge tycoon/sim game fan, as often more than not they are needlessly complicated featuring ludicrous amounts of facts and stats you need to consider or else all your planning (or non-planning as was most often my case) was all for naught. With Chocolatier, however, it balances nicely between complicated and way too easy. For instance, I haven’t had any difficulty making money in the game, and I really don’t need to worry about the costs of items and where I sell them, but if I wanted to go for a high score and maximize potential, I’d certainly be looking and analyzing all the facts at each port. Of course, I’m not wasting my money taking incredibly insane bets on who can roll the highest dice number (an actual money making or losing game in Chocolatier) so perhaps that is why I haven’t had to worry much.

Though there ends up being a bit of sameness in the end once you start analyzing everything, the game is still really fun and I’ve found myself throwing away hours to this game, hours when I really should’ve been doing some work. If you’ve had your fill of casual puzzle games, perhaps it’s time to try a casual tycoon/sim game. Not only will you have fun, but you just might learn something too (the game does a good job at incorporating chocolate history and facts into the game world). Either way, you should definitely try the game out, because you just might soon find yourself getting addicted to the game just like you’ve already done so with the candy it is named after.

Rating: 4star
Our Scoring System

Chocolatier Will Premiere May 1st On PlayFirst

‘Democracy’ Review (PC)

by on April 19, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Budget ReportHave you ever seen some story on the news or read something about the President and thought to yourself, “Hey, I could do a better job than he is doing”? Yeah, I’ve been there too, but the truth is when push comes to shove, we both suck at running the country. It turns out that when nobody in your country can agree on anything 100%, you’re never going to be perfect at your job – only doable.

Democracy at its core is perhaps more a learning tool and political statement than an actual game. In it, you’ll pick one of several different democratic countries (I picked America for natural reasons my first time through) and suddenly you are thrust into the role of leader as you have just been elected to presidency. Once you have been established as the leader, you now must work to improve things and to make enough people happy so that when election time comes around again, you’ll get another term and not fall to the wayside to go down as one of the worst leaders of all time.

Without anything tweaked, you get maybe two, three moves per turn. The core of the game is a lot of graphs, numbers, figures, and political and legal mumbo jumbo you might not be familiar with if you don’t read the local paper or watch CNN every other day. The main page of Democracy contains almost all the information you’d need. At the top you’ve got various colored sliders that show current going-ons that affect everyone in your country, including topics like Lifespan, Literacy, Air Pollution, etc. In the middle of the screen you have similar colored sliders, which apply to individual groups of people, such as the Religious, Self Employed, Capitalists, Smokers, Farmers, Parents, and other such special interest groups. Positioned around the middle graph are various policies you can tweak in hopes of either improving your standing among a group or by increasing something like the state’s gross product.

Of course, in a perfect world, you’d want all of these sliders in the green, basically meaning you are the best leader of all time, and if there would ever be a chance of world peace, you’d probably have the goods to be the one who makes it happen. Of course, if you know anything about politics or human beings in general, you’ll know that not everyone likes everything, and so even though a group might like the change you are implementing, another two might hate you for it.

It’s easy to make changes in the game, because all you need to do is click on one of the bubble icons that appear on the page, and then once inside slide your slider to the desired position, being mindful of the negatives, positives, and cost of the procedure change you want to make. Finding which bubble policy will help what or finding what policy goes to what statistics is easily found by either placing your mouse over one of the special interest groups in the middle (arrows will go running out to the things they are interested in) or by putting your arrow on the policy itself (arrows run to what that policy could change). The sliders inside take a little getting used to figure out what they do, but most of the time green means good and red means bad, left increase bad and right increase good.

You’ll also get information bubbles that pop up on your screen, which show problems with your country you should make plans to address. By clicking on where the information bubble appears, it will tell you new policies you might want to introduce or point to current ones you have, so you can make the necessary changes there to hopefully get rid of this current problem.

As you play the game, you’ll also have totally random moments pop up, which will require your consideration, though not all are necessarily bad. For example, while playing your term, you could have a trade scandal or have a spy of yours get caught, and this will immediately put a negative factor on several of your groups, perhaps the Liberals more than anyone else. However, good things also happen, such as a celebrity giving you their endorsement or a miracle hand being attached, which will be attributed to you and your health conscious government. You’ll also have things that require a direct decision on your part, such as choosing a representative to lead your country at the UN, allowing subliminal advertising or not, and other such plans; these plans and your decision, of course, will ultimately lead to people either being against you or supporting you.

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I’ll admit I hated this game at first – so many sliders were unreadable to me because they spoke a strange political jargon I’d never concerned myself with, and I couldn’t do anything that seemed to make people happy. I mean, you’d think legalized prostitution would make someone happy. Ultimately I ended up quitting each game on the American side out of frustration, except for one I went run to term, and then I promptly got my butt handed to me in the race, where maybe something like only 50,000 people voted for me. So with that in mind I decided to try the British to see if I’d have an easier time there.

Once I became the Prime Minister of Britain, I suddenly found things making more sense initially than they had with the Americans. I started to carefully look at the problems my country were having and genuinely helping them out. And then I started focusing on certain special groups at a time, working to make them as happy as possible, thinking that if I improved most and shooed away the ones I didn’t care about, perhaps I’d have enough votes to get another election the next time around. And guess what – it worked! Sure, the government was bleeding money left and right, because money is required to make these people happy in many cases, but I was pretty popular and was going to have enough votes to win out next time around.

Corporation TaxThen a spy was found and to show my loyalty to the people, I got rid of all my country’s spies, and set in motion a change that would ultimately lead to tragedy. You see, I decided not to focus any intention on the Patriots, because imports and such were doing good for our country – I didn’t care what these radicals thought. And then I pissed off the Religious by allowing gambling to help improve GP and I’m sure some other policy changes too, because soon, much like the Patriots, the Religious were reading as nothing on my scale. But hey, I was popular, and most of the government liked me. But then reports came in that both Patriot and Religious extremists (aka nut jobs, insane-os, and crazies) weren’t happy with me, and were threatening assassinations. Great, so not only am I trying to run a country, but now I’ve got to watch my side. And then it happened – gunshots echo through my speakers as a giant skull appears on the screen. I can’t remember who it was – the Patriots or Religious – but one of them followed through with their threats and shot me. I didn’t die, thankfully, but I was so injured I wouldn’t be able to lead the country anymore. And to think, maybe those spies would’ve helped find the threat and protect me better.

It was here, after my assassination attempt, that I found myself really pissed off…and yet oddly determined to start a new game and try again, in hopes that they wouldn’t shoot me this time around. And then I started to appreciate the game just a bit more and realized I was having some fun with Democracy.

Graphically, the game isn’t anything much at all. You’ve got basically nothing but static screens with writing on them and small, black and white detailed policy bubble images. If you are looking for graphical superiority, Democracy is not your game. The sound work is almost as forgettable, cause there isn’t really anything but one too rambunctious song playing over and over in a loop, plus the occasional groan, cheer, or sound like a gunshot going off, but mostly it is that music which wears out its welcome a little too soon.

In the end, I have a hard time calling Democracy a straight up game, as it feels more to me like an education tool or political statement (not in favor of anyone really, just that we should be more involved and aware with our country). In that regard, the game does exceptionally well. As a game, however, I can’t rate it all too high. Democracy is very much a niche market, as you really have to be into low frill thrills associated with political/sim games to truly get something from it in regards to fun. With that said though, I did have fun with trying to run my British government, so it is very much a coin toss in regards to what you’ll think. But any way it goes, give it a try, and perhaps you’ll soon find yourself with thoughts of leading a country…or you’ll get shot. Stupid extremists!

Rating: 3star
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‘Runes of Avalon’ Review (PC/Mac)

by on April 18, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Holy CrossOne of the first books I really recall reading and enjoying when I was a child was a book wrote for children, which told in more simple (though not too simple) terms the story of King Arthur and all his adventures. There was just something about those adventures that just called to my childhood heart back then. So imagine my surprise when a new casual puzzle game came my way, which just so happened to incorporate an actual story that tied into this King Arthur lore I hold so dearly.

In casual games, perhaps there is no mechanic more used than the “match three” mentality that prevails over many casual games. Many times the “match three” component comes by either sliding tiles along a specified path or by trading it out with a nearby piece it is touching on one of its four sides. In Runes of Avalon, however, they’ve taken the “match three” concept and spun it in a way that makes it seem both unique and fresh.

In Runes of Avalon, you’ll be given a board (on most stages – more on that later) cut into various shapes; you’ll have some perfect squares, stair steps, split boards, etc. Typically on these boards you’ll find colored runes already in place, and it is your job to take pieces and attach them to these pre-existing runes to make enough colored rune matches to fill up that color’s magic meter, allowing you to move to the next level once all the required runes are powered. The thing that actually makes Runes of Avalon hard is that pieces come in several shapes and sizes, such as single colored blocks; blocks of two in a line; blocks of three in a line; L-shaped pieces; and others. When you have a wide, open board to place any piece you want wherever, of course things won’t be too challenging. But sooner rather than later you’ll find yourself with a board already practically a portion of the way filled with pre-existing runes, and you’ll have to analyze your pieces, position them in proper places, and actually plan ahead to the future to bank on the hope that the exact piece comes along or you are done for good. During the Quest mode of the game, you’ll lose the level should you find yourself with a full board and the inability to place any more pieces, or else either the timer will have run down to zero.

However, there are also more gameplay levels than just that one scenario, as you’ll have other bonus levels and other goal oriented levels thrown into the mix as well. In some levels you might have to remove all the colored runes on the board. On another level you might have to remove the giant colored rune at the center, which is accomplished by putting two-by-two grids of four on each side. Another level will have you quickly finding rune letters to build a new spell to go in your arsenal. And you’ve also got puzzle matching levels, where you’ll be given a picture and you must place the proper picture square in each place so in the end you see the full picture as it was intended.

Along the way you’ll also get spells, which act as powerups in the game. The spells will be attached to different colored pieces, and if you make a match of three or more stones with that color (for example, a red bomb piece with two other reds) then you’ll explode that spell and takeout and gain the magic from those runes in that small grid area. Another such spell that works in the same way is a transport spell, that randomly grabs different pieces and transports them from play. More often than not, you’ll have to work to reach these spells, because rarely are they in the open for easy use.

The controls are really easy to use, as every casual game/puzzle game should have. In Runes of Avalon, you’ll use your mouse to move the pieces around the board, the right mouse button rotates the pieces with each click, and the left click places the piece on the board where you have it positioned.

MatchThe Quest mode is the bulk of the game, as it includes an actual story, which was fairly entertaining as you advance through the 105 levels. In it, you find yourself playing a young woman who is the apprentice of the legendary wizard Merlin. After the return of the evil Morgan Le Fay and the disappearance of Merlin, you setoff to gain the magical knowledge and power of the runes to find Merlin and do away with this evil. Though you don’t get story constantly throughout the game, every so many levels or so you’ll get some computer rendered static cutscene images that uncoil the narrative in spoken word dialogue (or you can read along with the words).

Beyond the Quest mode, you’ve got the Quick Play option, which gives you Time Attack mode (go for the highest score within a predetermined amount of time) and the Endless Mode (which has you matching blocks over and over for however long you want to go on). If anything this mode proves a bit too lackluster. The Time Attack mode is okay, but I’ve never been a puzzle fan who likes going against the clock or time like this. Instead, I tend to like going against obstacles, like playing till no more matches are available as the difficulty continually increases and newer challenges arrive. It is perhaps the only shortcoming of the game, but it is a big one nonetheless.

As for the graphics, the runes and boards are nice looking, with special note going to the effect of the bombs going off, holy fire lighting up rows, to the act of them simply being swept away, a fuzzy sparkle of their color trailing behind them like the tail of a comet. The CG rendered backgrounds, cutscenes, and character renders are also nice looking, though not up to snuff with the more powerhouse graphic games out there. Instead, the graphics are quaint, especially given the independent nature of the game. The sound and music also comes off particularly well-done, as the fluttering of flute-esque sounding noises as the runes are swept away, and the Arthurian based Renaissance Far background music gets you in the mood, and leaves you pleased and calmed as you go about your rune matching duties.

Runes of Avalon turned out to be quite the surprise, because only recently have we seen stories being incorporated into puzzle games, and here it is done marginally well (you should be inclined to finish off the levels to see how things go). The multiple board clears of the Quest mode means tedium should be rather limited, as you’ll often find yourself having to change up tactics to deal with the new scenarios. Though missing in one key scenario, the rest of Runes of Avalon is good, and certainly one you should give a play for yourself.

Rating: 4star
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‘Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords’ – Review (DS)

by on April 17, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Another puzzle game on the DS? Another puzzle game that uses the match three of one type game mechanic in its puzzling? Yeah, Puzzle Quest sure sucks…oh, and when I say suck, I really mean it only sucks because I find myself wanting to play it more than I want to work, which isn’t a good thing. Who would’ve thought combining a puzzle game with a story and RPG elements would produce such an amazing game. You’ll have to manually come and pry this game from me, because I don’t think it is leaving my system anytime soon.

Though some puzzle games have attempted to introduce stories, many of them aren’t much (or at least too involving) and are simply there as a way to try and tie the gameplay puzzling into something else. With Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (Puzzle Quest from here on), however, the story is really engaging and interesting, making it stand on the same level as most RPGs.

In the land of Etheria, you find yourself as a member of the Bartonia royal guard. A once peaceful and calm world is dissolving into evil as undead creatures are invading, and there seems to be no stopping them. But where are they coming from? You’ll trek out across the globe on errands from your queen, searching for aide to help stop the onslaught, and to ultimately solve the riddle of why these undead are attacking and who is behind it all.

Along the way you’ll encounter sidequests, such as escorting a princess to be married off to her awaiting husband, helping protect a caravan from roving monsters, and other such matters of heroic deed. Though many of these sidequests are used only to get you more experience, gold, and the occasional special item, you’ll also amass an army of compadres to join you on your journey; only you’ll battle any given enemy at a time, but the companions you gather will help in various situations, such as putting the hurting on undead enemies before the match even starts, letting you get the drop on good enemies (like knights training you), or doing damage to a city you are trying to siege.

You wouldn’t think it coming from a puzzle game, but the story is really well done, as it constantly compelled me to the finish, and it even did a great job of giving a voice to the characters during their dialogue moments. There have been better RPG stories throughout history, but this is the best a puzzle game has ever done, and as a Tolkien lite adventure, you couldn’t ask for much more.

Before you get started with things, you’ll first have to choose your hero and which character class they will be a part of. You can create a druid, knight, warrior, or mage (and you can rename any character picture to fit your choosing – there are two anime designed characters for both the male and female avatars). The druids use many spells based on yellow and green mana, typically succeeding in battle by healing yourself and temporarily stopping your enemy in their tracks. The knights use the experience orbs to gain extra experience and heal themselves, plus they have a stock of damage spells based in red and green mana. Warriors have a lot of red mana spells they use to damage their enemies. And wizards use a variety of different spells to ultimately defeat their foes.

As mentioned, the game is a puzzler at the core, and it involves around matching three or more of any color or item. What you might not know is that within your puzzle piece laden grid, you won’t be the only one trying to match pieces up, as the enemy you are fighting will also be making matches at the same time. Of course, you aren’t randomly grasping at matches, but rather you and your enemy take turns matching up.

You want to at least make matches of three or more straight-line connections, either going horizontally or vertically. On your board just waiting for your matching abilities, you’ve got red pieces, yellow pieces, green pieces, blue pieces, experience orbs, gold piles, and skulls. If you chain experience orbs together, you takeaway from the battle some experience which you can use to level up your character (more on that in a bit). By matching gold, you’ll earn money for after the fight to take to the local store to buy you some much needed equipment to help your offensive or defensive chances in a fight. As for the colored pieces, these will go into your mana pile, which you’ll use to cast both healing, defensive, and offensive spells. The other main item you need to match are the skulls, which when you connect you’ll perform attack damage to your enemy. By using your spells and skull matching skills, you’ll attempt to reduce your enemy’s health to zero points, and if you do so you’ll win the battle.

Read The Rest Of The Review On Page 2

Matches must come in groups of three at least, but you do have the chance to match four to five (never accomplished anything beyond five). Beyond straight up matches, you can also get chain matches by having falling pieces match up and either do damage or add themselves to your mana pile. However, though you get more for four or more matches, they also serve the added importance of giving you an extra turn, and as long as you keep matching four or more in each consecutive turn, you could theoretically beat an enemy with them never getting a move off (though highly unlikely). You’ll always know you can make a match, because should you find yourself unable to make one, the board will reset, taking all your mana pool with it (though damage dealt stays the same). And if you can’t see a possible match, the game will highlight a piece you can use to make one.

As you fight you’ll gain both gold and experience. Gold you’ll use to buy defensive and offensive items, but you’ll also use it to upgrade your citadel, which factors into several different gameplay scenarios. You can add a dungeon (lets you capture enemies – must have battled them three times), mage tower (learn spells from captured enemies), stable (lets you train mounts – must have battled them three times), forge (use collected runes to make magical items), siege workshop (lets you siege other cities), temple (donate money to level up abilities), and towers (decrease chance of your sieged city revolting). When it comes to things like capturing enemies and mounts or learning spells, you’ll once again be doing matching tasks. For capturing creatures, it plays out more like a strategy puzzle, where you must remove every single piece from the board (you’ll have to really analyze the situation to see where you must move what piece so you aren’t leaving any one piece hanging). When you are trying to learn spells, you’ll have to match up pieces to reach the required amount of each desired item, like 60 points of red mana, 50 green, and you’ll even need to match up four or more a couple times to produce scrolls, and then match those up enough to complete their requirements too.

Four of a KindAs mentioned, you’ll get experience from matching up pieces in the game, but also by beating enemies. After a certain amount of experience is gained, you’ll be able to improve your stats in red, green, blue and yellow mana, as well as improve your ability to deal more damage, give you more life points, and increase your cunning so you can start the battle off first and get more gold and experience. The importance of improving your mana abilities is you’ll be able to hold more of that color and improve the chances of getting an extra turn by matching only three of that color.

I know that sounds like a lot, and trust me when I say it is. However, by simply doing and seeing how things work, it will all become customary and you’ll be mastering through the game in no time…or perhaps you would if it wasn’t for the cheap enemy AI. Now, I’m all for challenge, but only when a game does so on fair grounds. I have no issue with enemies having some high HP or killer spells. I have issue with the AI’s seemingly magical ability to have the right pieces always fall right where they need them and when they need them. A good tip is that you shouldn’t try to make connections near skulls that are already lined up by two, because chances are extremely high that your matching will drop from the invisible void above the puzzle grid the last skull they’ll need right where they can move it into play to do damage to you.

The multiplayer portion of the game plays exactly the same as the single player, and you’ll even be using your custom created character you’ve been leveling up and advancing through the single player to battle the characters other players have been leveling up. The only downside of the multiplayer is that it is only local play and it doesn’t use Nintendo’s Wi-Fi system.

The graphics of the board aren’t amazing or anything, but they get the job done (of course with a puzzle game, graphics aren’t terribly important when it comes to the pieces themselves). As an anime and manga fan, however, I enjoyed the Japanese styled characters which you’ll see portraits of constantly throughout the game in both battles and dialogue cutscenes.

Much like the graphics, the sound work is passable and does a good job of what it needs to do. Though the sound work is just average, the background music is actually really nice, as it sounds like a piece of the score ripped from one of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.

In all honesty, perhaps I should give the game a four star rating, because the cheapness of that enemy AI infuriates me so. But you know what, after a while and you realize that and accept it for what it is, you learn to work around it when it comes to your battling strategy. With that said, I am absolutely in love with Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Easy to use touch style control for switching pieces; puzzle matching goodness; and a surprisingly deep RPG system that goes with it all rolled into one equals a game that I just can’t get enough of.

RATING: 5star
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Casual Game of the Week: Rocket Mania Deluxe (PC) – Review

by on April 16, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Rocket ManiaIn this hectic world we live in, many times work and appointments must come before the fun and joys in our lives, including that of getting to play videogames whenever we want. Gone are the days when we could fire up a game of our choice and spend hours toiling away – now we seem to game in stolen moments here and there. With that in mind, perhaps it is no wonder that casual games have become such a popular gaming choice (especially with women who make up the vast majority of casual game players), as casual games allow us to either jump in and get those quick fixes of gaming bliss or either play them for as long as we want when we do have the time. In honor of the casual game, we’ll be bringing you a new Casual Game of the Week every Monday to help you find that fix you might be needing in your life, and we start it all off with this inaugural edition: Rocket Mania Deluxe.

Rocket Mania Deluxe falls in the puzzle game genre of the casual game spectrum, but it involves a mechanic unlike I’ve experienced before in a game, and perhaps that is why I find it so enthralling and engaging. Unlike the popular Bejeweled gameplay mechanic of matching up like minded colors to either erase puzzle pieces or gain points, Rocket Mania Deluxe is a whole other beast onto itself.

In Rocket Mania Deluxe, the idea is to shoot the required amount of firework rockets off before the morning sun arises and you’ll no longer be able to see your brilliant light spectacle. So how do you shoot these rockets off? Ah, now that is where the uniqueness and challenge lies. In the game you are presented with a six wide by nine deep square grid system, where on the right side are the rockets you need to send off. Of course, rockets need an ignition system to send them flying, and what better source than the fire from a freshly lit match. However, while the rockets rest on the right side of the screen, your strand of lit matches is all the way on the left. In order to get the flame from the head of the match to the fuse of the rocket, you must spin tiles on the rest of the grid system to connect a solid branching rope path from one side to the next, connecting the two.

As for the tiles, you’ve got several different kind, and you’ll have to get accustomed to these looks so you can make either quick connections when you need to hurry off a single rocket, or learn to chain ropes to multiple rockets so you can save time by shooting more than one off at a time. The rope pieces come in the form of straight lines, crosses, T-shaped crosses, curved bends, and pieces that are dead ends. It’s extremely easy to control the tile pieces, because all you have to do is put your mouse over the piece, and either left click it to rotate one way or right click to rotate it the other. You’ll also know if your pieces are matched up right, because when you have rope connected to a match, you’ll get a line of yellow rope. If you have rope leading to a rocket, you’ll see the rope a red color. Once you get either section started, simply figure out a way to complete the rope chain to either side and you just scored.

Along the way you’ll find different powerups drop on your grid, and if you make your fuse go across that powerup, you gain its power. For instance, you’ve got bombs that will clear out all the tiles around that section, which is good for if you find yourself with a lot of pieces you can’t use. You’ve also got a stopwatch that allows you to stop the counter for a little bit while you continue to make matches. You’ll also have points drop to apply to your high score, as well as coins – if you get enough coins, they’ll automatically upgrade your rocket to get you even more points.

RocketsThere are three modes to Rocket Mania Deluxe, including a Classic mode, Arcade mode, and Strategy mode. In the Classic mode, you’ll be given a set number of rockets you must setoff before daylight comes and your timer runs out – get enough rockets off and move to the next level, which gets harder and harder as you go. The Arcade mode starts you off with a level and a set number of pieces at the bottom, and as you play more pieces fall from the sky. Like Classic mode, you must setoff a certain number of rockets, but here you don’t lose if you run out of time, but instead lose if pieces go above the top of the grid. In Strategy mode, you only have a certain amount of rocket matches that you can do, and once all those matches are used your game is done; however, you can get more matches to keep going if you shoot two or more rockets off at once – it is the only game mode where time is not of the essence.

And though – like most casual games – we aren’t looking at next-gen defining graphics or anything, the production values of Rocket Mania Deluxe are still pretty high. On the graphical side of things, the board pieces themselves are simple enough, but the spark going through the rope and the ignition of the rocket looks nice; also nice are the minor firework explosions happening in the background as well. The real jewel of the game though is the sound work, especially in regards to the music. The music is an amazing piece of work in this game, sounding like it was ripped straight from the soundtrack of a movie like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or House of the Flying Daggers. The background music is pure Asian influenced at its finest, with sweeping traditional Asian instruments that lull you into a state of serenity and calm while the action on the screen wants your heart to be racing as you struggle against the timer. The only minor downfall to the game is the dragon, which has a bit too much of the stereotypical broken English Asian man, but even it has a strange quirk that works for the game.

After all is said and done, Rocket Mania Deluxe is a solid and fun game, and one I’ve certainly found myself being drawn to even though I know I should be focusing my attention on work. If you need a casual game to fill your gaming needs, and you’re looking for something different outside the “match three” game mechanic, then give this game a play and you just might find yourself hooked as well.

RATING: 5star
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‘Kudos’ Review (PC)

by on April 16, 2007 at 12:54 pm

TransportationGreat, as if I wasn’t already sitting here at home, sitting in front of a computer, already feeling enough like a social pariah, now I can play a game in which I fail miserably and end up being alone and a miserable cashier. Woohoo! In all seriousness though…okay, perhaps that was all seriousness. Anyways, now you can try your hand at living life again, while you let your real life pass you by.

Kudos plays like a mixture of The Sims mixed with that of the Tamagotchi games, only you don’t have to monitor such miniscule and ultimately needless roles, like going to the bathroom. Instead, the game is setup so that everyday you naturally go to work, get some money, and then come home. If it is during the weekday, you get to choose one extra task to perform, and these all have various negatives and positives to the overall health of your character. You can choose to go out and do something by yourself, like jog, take a bath, watch TV, clean your house, or literally stare at the walls. Jogging is of course good for you, but will make you extremely tired. Taking a bath will get you clean so you don’t get sick and rest you from your stress, but it will make you feel really lonely. Watching television can improve certain aspects, but you’ll get fat from sitting around the house.

When you get some money saved up, you can go shopping, to buy you things like books to read, instruments to play, and many other different items that lead to paths later on. You can also buy pets who will help keep your loneliness at bay, though they dirty up your house quicker, and you must have the money to buy their food or else their skinny as a rail fur covered butts will leave you and head off to find another home.

To dull that feeling of isolation and feeling like a little fish in a big pond, you can also go out with one of your friends. Based on your monetary funds, you can go to some place like the theater, go golfing, bowling, beer drinking, and several other different scenarios. If your friend had a good time, your relationship and bond will make you two closer. However, should you choose an entertainment option they don’t like, you’ll find themselves growing bored of you and not wanting to be your friends (I took one girl to a gore movie one time and she no longer wanted to be my friend). You’ll also get the occasional call from one of your friends, who might want you to hang with just them, or either some of your friends. If you choose to reject their offer (either because you don’t have the money or you have other plans) your relationship will become strained too and they won’t like you as much. When you go out with a friend who asked you out, if others are along for the ride, you can even find yourself making new friends and contacts to hangout with. You’ll also run into new contacts through things like going to work.

In the game you start off as a lowly nothing, working some menial job that any kid in high school could get. Now, if you wanted to, you could probably live your whole life in the game as that; chances are though you’ll want to improve yourself and make you a somebody, which means you’ll have to go to school. School has several different professions you can practice and learn at, such as legal careers, medical careers, journalism, acting, and so on. To improve these studies though, you have to go to school on certain nights, and wouldn’t you know it but someone usually wants to hang with you that night – oh, decision decisions. You can look for a new job whenever you want, though you must meet certain requirements to even be able to apply for that position. For example, there is a nursing job you can have with 80% Basic Medicine or you can get a better job with 100% medicine. I wanted to be a doctor, so I improved my education while I ignored my friends (losing some in the process) and then though I applied, they rejected me because they frankly told me I was a loser. I mean, I thought doctors didn’t have social lives because of their job, and now they don’t want to hire me cause I already got rid of those distractions?

So the game of Kudos is balancing all of those different social goals, while also maintaining your personal goals. You have to manage several of your different personal goals, like making sure your character never gets too lonely, is healthy, clean, and other various goals that in the end equals a better, healthier you on both the physical and emotional state, because what good is going out to jog every day when inside you are wanting to cry and you are taking such so little care of yourself that you always feel miserable, have become a recluse, and ran all your friends away?

Social InviteBoth graphically and in regards to audio, Kudos isn’t really much. The graphics usually consist of you looking at the same screen over and over again, which has your poorly rendered upi standing on a screen, looking different in regards to how they are holding themselves to reflect the mental state and what they are feeling. Outside of this main info page, there isn’t really anything else but a few faces to represent your friends and a few images to represent things you can buy at the store. One sort of nice graphical touch is that this main screen will get smudged over and have virtual flies buzzing around and crawling on your monitor to reflect the cleanliness of your living arrangement so that you know when you really need to cleanup. On the audio side of things, you’ve got some easy going techno music, the occasional rumble of thunder or rain to show you weather during the workday progression, but that is all.

Kudos might appeal to some people, but it seems that market would be very small. There just isn’t enough content (or interesting content in other words) to make it very fun or engaging for very long. The real die-hard and sim completists might enjoy picking it up, but then again their time might be better served by focusing on a more competent and fun life sim game like The Sims.

Rating: 2star
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‘Shady O’Grady’s Rising Star’ Review (PC)

by on March 29, 2007 at 2:23 pm

ShoppingI think everyone wants to be a rock and roll star at one point in our lives. There is something about the glitz, the glamour, and the pools of money that just screams out, “Yes, I must have that lifestyle!” However, dreams are quickly shattered when we learn we are tone deaf and can’t sing a lick, or either we purchase our first guitar, and then find we don’t know the first thing about playing guitar. For those wannabe rockers who will never be, we present to you Shady O’Grady’s Rising Star. You can’t make it as a rock star in real life, but can you at least do so in a game?

Gameplay of Shady O’Grady’s Rising Star (simply Rising Star from here on out) plays out like a partial RPG/partial strategy and a partial sim/tycoon game. Of course, you won’t be amassing an army of trolls to do battle, but there are some strategy-esque elements in some ways.

For starters, you’ll start by creating your character, determining where in the United States you want to start out rocking, determining how you want them to look, what type of music you want to play, naming the band, what position in the band they would be (things like lead singer, guitarist, drummer, bass, etc.) and then handing out statistics; but unlike your traditional RPG where you assign points to things like health or magic, in Rising Star you’ve got Playing, Songwriting, Stage Presence, Production, Repair, and Business.

TheaterThe next thing you’ll want to do is head to the local music store, get you some equipment, and find some bandmates to join you on your rocking journey. Now, not everyone you see will want to be in your band, so you might have to take what you can at the time and work around it. For example, I couldn’t get a bassist, so I had a lead vocalist, a guitarist, a drummer, and like a sax player and that was what I decided to work with. However, you will want to look at the possible band members and see how they react with yourself and the rest of the band you already got, as team chemistry is an import thing to any band.

After you get your band together, you’ll want to get writing songs, or else what will you have to play. To write a song, you’ll name it, give the intensity you’d perform it live, and then pick what members of the band write the song; band members with green lines between them work well together, yellow is okay, and red is bad. By picking members who work well together to write the song (and have a strong Songwriting skill) you’ll partake in a minigame where you must match instruments by flipping over cards; a better team will have less cards to have to flip over. Depending on your skill at the game, you’ll get a number assigned to the song. You’ll then want to set time aside to practice the songs, but of course practicing wears down your instruments, so you’ll have to repair them or buy new ones.

InventoryMoney you can get by performing odd jobs, such as running around in your van to deliver magazines to dropping off something that was delivered at the wrong place. You won’t get much, but it will help. You’ll then use that money to do things like buy shirts to promote yourself, go to specific venues to form relationships with the place and the bands playing there, and you’ll use the money to record your songs onto a disc and actually sell it or hand it out as promotional material. Sadly, money will also have to be used for the unforeseen stuff, like a drunk band member getting arrested and having to bail them out; or, you know, teach them a lesson and leave their butt in there and kick them out of the band.

You’ll then take all your practiced songs and popularity in the city to start doing battle of the band competitions for more money and fame. You’ll also start performing at clubs for money. However, to get the big bucks, you need to hire an agent, have them get you a record deal, start touring, and finally hit it big.

The game is amazingly complex, seemingly nailing all that I associate with a struggling band trying to make it big by starting out as nothing. The problem comes in that sometimes there is so much to do, and money is very hard to come by; your game is basically finished when you are broke. For instance, I lost all my money on paying for one of my band member’s hospital bill, and would’ve been done and finished had another one not got a bit of loving (ie money) from his parents who at least supported him in his endeavor. The game also has some drawbacks in that there are sometimes too many menus or things aren’t placed in front of you perfectly so you can click exactly what you need without having to fiddle with other icons and buttons to see what you are looking for. Plus, you have to manually drive around the cities and game world to find what you are looking for, which is sometimes easier said than done, because the band van controls horribly and the act of having to find places and drive there is time consuming and plain boring.

You ever hear the phrase about how someone or something got beat with an ugly stick? Well, Rising Star didn’t get beat with a stick, someone picked up the whole dang tree and swung it at this game. Really, there isn’t a single positive I can say about the graphical style of the game. Your avatars are way too cylinder and blocky, featuring something that doesn’t even really classify as a face. The static menus are drab and boring. The game world is too square and vacant, with you being the only van in the whole game driving around. Destroying hotel rooms isn’t terribly interactive or fun or anything at all.

A game about music should at least contain some good sound work and great music…right? Well, think again. There isn’t really any sound work beyond a guitar wa-wa noise when you level up your character, because most of the time is spent filling the game with one un-licensed music track by nobody after nobody. Given, all the bands and singers are real, unsigned bands, but in a lot of the cases I can see why that is. They make Sanjaya on American Idol sound good.

Is there a market for this game? Sure, there is a market probably for any game out there. However, the game just isn’t that fun, and what is there is bogged down by terrible graphics, terrible sound, and an overall terrible presentation. If you like the more mainstream and popular sim games like a Sim City or Zoo Tycoon, then stay away from this game. Now, if you like the lesser known games or smaller tycoons like a Lemonade Stand Tycoon, then maybe, just maybe Shady O’Grady’s Rising Star will be for you. Maybe.

Rating: 2star
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