Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Deal - Steve the Sheriff for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for July 26 - August 1 is Steve The Sheriff!

This is a hidden object game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!


Mac users click here!



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Deal - $2.99 for games from Big Fish this weekend! Huge sale!

Okay, friends, I found out about another deal today.

On July 24, 25, and 26 (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), all games from the "Felix's Favorites Collections" are on sale for $2.99.

What are the Felix's Favorites Collections?

Apparently it includes
So, now's your chance (and mine) to grab any of these games we've been eyeing, but not buying.

Use the coupon code ONEBILLION at checkout and you'll get a 57% discount off of any of these games.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Deals - Cate West: The Velvet Keys and Blood Ties for $2.99!

Here's the Catch of the Week for July 19 - July 25!


PC: Cate West: The Velvet Keys is a hidden object game.


Mac: Blood Ties is a hidden object game.


To get these games for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!

PC users
Mac users



Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review - Simplz Zoo!

Early this year, Reflexive Entertainment released a match-3-based zoo-building game called Simplz Zoo.

As you may know, I don't usually enjoy match 3. Intrigued by the glowing feedback others have given for Simplz Zoo, I took a risk and purchased the game, then played it all the way through. It's review time!

What I liked

  • Significant and practical match 3
  • Zoo development
  • Optional time limit for match 3
  • Upgrades and bonuses

What I didn't like

  • Art style
  • Music
  • "Indoor" animal exhibits
  • No ending?



Quick Plot

Develop your zoo and rise up to become the #1 zoo in the world!!!



Mechanics

Match 3: This game uses your generic swap-style match 3. But one really nice feature is that they allow diagonal swaps. (Thank you, Reflexive). Your goal is to swap 2 pieces on the square grid and make straight matched strings of 3 in a row or more. The biggest match you can make is 9 pieces - and you'll actually earn a trophy for accomplishing this in the game.

Each match you make earns you resources. A level ends once you've
  • collected all of the required resources, and
  • directed animals along a path to an exit square, and/or
  • moved some pieces all the way to the bottom of the puzzle border.
Resources include things like materials, food, money, personnel, and research. Each time you make a food match, you earn food, and so on.

As you go on, levels get more difficult by adding locks on some squares, which are broken by including them in matches. Also, certain squares will have pathway pieces behind them (these are used for building paths in your zoo). Clearing these squares is required to finish a level. Early in the game, you just need to make one match on such a square to clear it. Later, you might have to clear
2 or 3 pathway pieces from a square.

Whenever you make a match of 4 squares, a bonus will be added to 1 square on the board. That might be something like extra money or zoo points. When you break that bonus square, you get the bonus. So matches of 4 are good. Matches of 5 don't give bonuses, but I think they get you more resources or something.

The zoo development interface. Clicking the big PLAY arrow starts the next match 3 level.

Zoo-building: After a level, if you have enough resources, you can build or upgrade buildings and exhibits in your zoo. The zoo-building feature serves the following 4 purposes:
  • it can be fun to look at, and it's somewhat educational (learn scientific animal names),
  • it allows you to be creative with your own personal zoo design,
  • buildings give you upgrades and bonuses for the match 3 levels, and
  • adding animals to your zoo is what takes you up the ranks to become the #1 zoo in the world.
To build buildings, bring in new animals, or maintain your zoo, you need resources, which I explained earlier. Each time you upgrade a building, or add something new to your zoo, you'll get some extra feature in your match 3 levels. This includes things like
  • better versions of a resource (Example: Each materials match will bring you 9 materials instead of 3.)
  • tools (Example: If you click the monkey tool, it will randomly rearrange pieces on the board.)
  • 3-in-a-row bonuses (Example: If you get 3 research matches in a row, a number of locks will break.)
  • special effect pieces (Example: If you move the water piece, the bottom two rows of the board are cleared. The water piece appears randomly once you've purchased a hippo.)


You're given objectives before each match 3 level.



Highlights

Meaningful and practical match 3: What bothers me about most match 3 games is that all of that work swapping squares, or dragging the mouse across a chain of hexes
, serves little purpose. It's just a tedious exercise in finding possible matches.

Simplz Zoo gives significance to the match 3 levels. As you make your matches, you have goals in mind. You know that making 3 matches in a row, of the same resource, will offer a beneficial effect on the board. You know that you have powerful board-changing tools charging up to be used at the right time. You have meters at the top of the screen showing you how many more of each resource you need. Sometimes, you need to clear a path for an animal. Sometimes you need to get pieces to the bottom of the match-3 frame.

All of this makes the match-3 experience practical. You are maintaining and expanding your zoo by playing the levels in a particular way.

As the game progresses, more and more features are added to the match-3 levels. This provides variety and makes the levels more interesting.


Zoo development: I liked that this game had something secondary to work at, and not just an unbroken string of match-3 levels. The developers were clever in giving you goals to work for. The ultimate goal is to become the #1 zoo in the world. The problem is, you start off way at the bottom, working to make it into the top 1000. If you want to become the #1 zoo, you've got your work cut out for you. And if you want to develop your zoo, you need exhibits and other important zoo facilities. To build those, you need to gain resources. To gain resources, you need to play match 3.

So that's how they make the game interesting. The zoo development is the driving force that gives significance to everything you do.

Optional time limit: If you prefer the challenge, you can decide before each level if you'd like to have a time limit. If you don't finish the level's objectives before the timer runs out, you lose and have to try again. If you finish the level with time left, you get bonus points of some sort. I kept the time limit on for a few levels, but then it quickly became too difficult to beat the levels. I preferred taking my time and working to gain lots of resources, rather than racing the clock. So I turned off the time limit for most of the game. I'm so glad they made this optional.



Upgrades and bonuses: Bonuses are to games what sauce is to food. The right sauce can bring any meal to life. Similarly, a game may have swell mechanics, but if you can get helpful boosts in the form of upgrades, it enhances the gaming experience to make it all the sweeter. This game is loaded with such add-ons. As I've explained already, these bonuses exist in both the zoo-building and match-3 portions of the game. They serve as both goals and helpers. They make the game dynamic, and that keeps us playing.



Issues

Production values: This is a game that manages to get away with low-detail graphics and merely adequate music because the gameplay is good. I don't mean the graphics are grainy or poorly crafted. I just don't like the art style. It's too "simplz" for me. The cartoony style lacks depth. It gets the job done in a cute sort of way, but doesn't dazzle on any level.

The best graphics in the game are those in the match 3 levels. The pieces look cool, and when you make matches, little purple lights shoot all over the place.

The music is just.........mediocre, like most games on the market. The composer obviously understands some things about music, but like the graphics, the soundtrack is too simple. I think this is the first game where I actually turned the music completely off for most of the game. But, hey, it's a matter of taste. You may like it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

That's a musk ox. And he's chewing bubble gum.

Indoor exhibits: Part of the fun, when buying a new animal for your zoo, is seeing the animal walking around. You want to watch the beast you purchased - it seems a fair reward for the work you did to earn it.

But for some reason, the developers didn't want to go the extra mile and actually animate every animal in the game. So they created a huge list of exhibits that house 4 animals each. These exhibits show up in your zoo, but the animals don't. You can see images of the animals on the screen where you buy them, but you don't get to watch them moving around their environment. This was disappointing for me, but even more so for my kids, who wanted to observe each animal in action. They were asking me to "go in" to the Carnivore Cubbyhole exhibit, and I had to inform them that I couldn't.

Was it really that complicated for the developers to make all animals observable?

No ending?: If you've read my reviews before, you know that I like good endings. I feel like developers owe it to the player - a final payoff for completing the game, a 5- to 20-minute closer for the story.

I don't think this game has an ending, but I'm not certain.

I achieved the #1 zoo rank after 85 levels of match 3, and then played a few more for no particular reason. That completed my bulletin board (which serves as a sort of trophy room). I had nothing else to work for, but I could continue playing levels and decorating my zoo with flowers and benches and such, should I care to. So, if I played 100 levels, would I get an ending then? I may never know. If you discover an ending, please comment on this post and let me know.


You get to see your zoo ranking after each level, as your resources are tallied.



Suitable for the family?

If you're looking for a game that kids will like, this game fits the bill.
  • Animals galore - check!
  • Cute - check!
  • Educational - check!
There is really no story here, but plenty of light-hearted, zoo-themed, family-friendly gameplay.



The family man's final ruling

I'm not a fan of match 3. And yet I liked this game. I had fun each time I sat down to play, and the kids gladly stood by. They were pleased with each new animal I freed on the match 3 board, and each new animal I added to my zoo.

The audio and visuals were nothing special, but the gameplay was clean, and professionally delivered. Multiple goals kept the game interesting. This is probably the most fun I've had with swap-style match 3.

You'll like the game if...

  • You like cute games
  • You love animals and zoos
  • You like swap-style match 3

You won't like the game if...

  • You're opposed to all match-3 games
  • You avoid cute, happy games


My rating:

If you want to play Simplz Zoo, click below:

PCMac


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Deal - Autumn's Treasures: The Jade Coin for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for July 12 - July 18 is Autumn's Treasures: The Jade Coin!

This is a hidden object game, and it's actually a fun one!

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!


Mac users click here!



Saturday, July 10, 2010

Deal - Drawn: The Painted Tower for $2.99 today only!

It's Saturday, and it's a good day. Why? Because one of my favorite casual games is on sale!

You can get Drawn: The Painted Tower for $2.99 by using the coupon code DAILYDEAL at checkout.

If you haven't played this game yet, this is your chance to get it at a great price. You'll rarely find a game this good. Read my review to find out why I like this game so much.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

6 new games I tried . . . but didn't buy

One of my goals is to find the best games on the casual market, and then to share them with you in reviews. To find games worth playing and reviewing, I have to try a lot of games. Much of the time, you don't hear from me about the games I don't like, or the games that were only kind of fun. So, occasionally, I like to catch you up on some games that weren't worth buying for one reason or another.

In order of release date, here are 6 recent releases that I tried but didn't buy.


Ranch Rush 2: When I saw how much love this game was receiving from the casual game community, I decided I had better try it.

You play a farmer girl who has to run around planting seeds, and loading up boxes with harvested plants. You will also need to deliver your harvested goods to the barn and water your plants.

There are a few other time management games that have very similar mechanics.

I'm glad that I tried this game because it reminded me that there is great variety within the time management genre, and not all types are equally fun for each person. Many of my favorite games are time management games. But this game confirmed that I don't enjoy this particular brand of time management. I'm not sure why. Thinking about it, I realize that my pattern is to avoid time management games in which you send some character dashing about. I almost always prefer a 1st person perspective (I did enjoy Mystic Inn, for example).

Ranch Rush 2 didn't offer the type of challenge that I like. The planting, harvesting, and delivering, as presented here, felt boring. You might love the game, but I bailed after a short time.




World Mosaics 3 - Fairy Tales: This is a puzzle game. And I wish I could own it . . . without paying for it.

The "mosaics" you build are "paint by numbers" (or nonogram) puzzles. You have to use your logic skills to figure out which squares in the grid are filled, and which ones are empty. When I first played this sort of puzzle years ago, a completed puzzle ended up with a random array of filled squares at the end. But this game manages to make a picture out of each puzzle by adding a bit of color to the completed image.

This plays just like the previous World Mosaics games, but this time, the theme is fairy tales.

I love this sort of logic puzzle, and I had a great time playing through the first chunk of this game. But I just can't bring myself to pay for it. The presentation is attractive, and the soundtrack was surprisingly good this time around (if short in length). But at the end of the day, it's just a collection of paint-by-numbers puzzles, and the miser in me doesn't want to throw cash at a puzzle collection. But if it was free, I'd grab it right up!




Midnight Mysteries 2 - The Salem Witch Trials: Here was me playing this game:

"Hmm. This looks interesting enough to try."

[downloads game and begins playing]

"Okay, let's see. I need to find all of these items..." *yawn*

[plays through the first scene]

"Hey, a ghost showed up to talk to me." *yawn*

[bails and uninstalls game]

My opinion is that if you're going to design a HOG these days, it had better be pretty special. This new entry in the Midnight Mysteries series offered nothing to keep me interested. If you want more of the same mundane gameplay found in almost every other recent HOG, then you should try this game. The graphics are nice, and the interface is pretty good, but zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....




Little Space Duo: We get very few space-themed games in the casual world, so I pay attention when such a game is released. When I saw the intriguing screenshots for this one, I downloaded it right away and dove in.

Not only were the controls and interface a bit tricky to get used to, but I couldn't even figure out how to pass the first level. I know I'm not a genius, but assuming the game gets even more complicated in later levels, one would hope that the first level would be relatively easy.

The story was fair, as were the graphics. So I'll just keep looking forward to the day when some clever developer releases that superb space-themed game I'm waiting for.




Be a King 2: Now this is a game that I would gladly nab, if the price was right. This is a building/strategy game. I typically really enjoy this sort of game (my favorite being Coconut Queen). It has a little bit of that Warcraft III flavor (with shooting towers and invading hordes). The graphics are very nice, the music is fair, and the production is nice overall.

So why didn't I buy it? It doesn't seem to offer anything.....special. It was released on the heels of Royal Envoy, which is similar, but has something special to offer. The game is good, but not necessarily worth buying, until you've finished the other games you're more interested in. Still, this is an incredibly good production, considering the tiny development team. Would I buy it as a daily deal for $2.99? Maybe. Probably.




Flux Family Secrets - The Rabbit Hole: This is a weird one for me. On one hand, the interface, graphics, and gameplay are all very nice. On the other hand, it violates one of my personal values, namely, the objectifying of women. This issue is rampant in the world. Everywhere, the image of the female form is used as a tool and a marketing gimmick. Within the first several minutes of this game, the female form was used twice - once in the form of a character drawing, and once in the form of a statue.

Otherwise, the production is very good, and would like to see more games in this style. From what I saw, it included hidden objects and puzzles. I didn't see anything particularly innovative, but the presentation was on the high end of the quality scale.



So there you have it - 6 new games I tried but didn't buy. You may wonder if I've liked any new games. Yes, I have, and you'll be hearing about them before too long.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Deal - Flux Family Secrets: The Ripple Effect for $2.99 this week!

The Catch of the Week for July 5 - July 11 is Flux Family Secrets: The Ripple Effect!

This is a hidden object game.

To get it for $2.99, click the image below, and use the coupon code CATCH299 at checkout!


Mac users click here!



Friday, July 2, 2010

Deal - 4th of July sale at Big Fish Games!

Does anyone out there like deals? I know you do. I know you like them as much as I like them.

Sure, $6.99 is a good everyday price for a casual game. But $4.89 is even better!

And that's exactly what you'll pay if you buy any game this weekend at Big Fish Games.

All $6.99 games are 30% off from July 2 - July 5 (Friday through Monday).

Use coupon code JULY4THSALE at checkout.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review - Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife!

A while back, I reviewed the Egyptian-themed marble popper game, Luxor 3. The game had many outstanding features, and it remains one of my favorite games to this day.

When approaching the next game in the series, I wasn't sure what to expect. It could be better, the same, or worse. But which?

That's what I'll tell you today in my review of Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife!

What I liked

  • Amazingly polished production
  • Soundtrack
  • Graphics/Scenery
  • Upgrades
  • Theme/Setting
  • Good momentum

What I didn't like

  • No clues for obtaining treasures
  • Uninteresting story
  • Different balls are only for looks



Quick Plot

An Egyptian lady is worried about something having to do with canopic jars and she's trying to figure out who is behind her troubles. She's worried about the afterlife, I think. (I skipped the story segments after the first couple because they just didn't interest me.)




Mechanics

Marble popping: As with all other Luxor games, this 5th entry is a sphere-shooting game. Your shooter slides back and forth across the bottom of the screen. It always has marbles of two colors to choose from. You right-click to switch between these two marbles.

A chain of marbles comes rolling onto the screen. Your job is to launch marbles into these chains to create groups of 3 or more of the same color. When you fire, say, a green marble into a group of 2 or more green marbles, that whole group breaks and the chain automatically fills in the gap. If a chain enters the temple (exit) at the end of the marble path, you lose the level. So you need to destroy each chain completely before it enters the exit.

When you make 3 breaks in succession, "drops" fall down. These are power-ups and treasures. The power-ups and treasures in this game are exactly the same as those in Luxor 3. (I wrote about them in detail in my Luxor 3 review, so look there if you would like to know more.)

Power-ups give you a special one-time ability like a fireball that destroys all marbles in one area, or a color sorter that puts all marbles of the same color together.

Treasures give you points. A certain number of points are required to unlock several items in the store. One type of treasure - ankh coins - are what you use to pay for items in the store.


Bridges level. The marbles look smaller as they get deeper into the chasm. Awesome!

Really, this game does almost everything exactly as it was done in Luxor 3. The only slight differences I noticed were:
  • New levels
  • New map travel feature
  • New music
  • Slightly different ball physics
  • Different ball sounds
There are two ways to look at the similarities to Luxor 3. You can either gripe that there is nothing new or innovative in this game, or you can rejoice that there is more of the same goodness.

Personally, I sit solidly in the second camp. I think that Luxor 3 nailed marble popping to something like perfection. And so, I can think of very few areas that could be improved. Let me list the few areas that I think could use improvement. These are very minor and nitpicky, but I think they could be beneficial.
  • Marble types: You can unlock and purchase 3 additional styles of marbles in the store. But these offer a different look and nothing more, and I don't think any of them look as cool as the standard set. I wonder if the developers could think of a way to make these alternate balls somehow more powerful? Maybe when they hit, they shoot lightning out and destroy other balls? I don't know. But unlocking a new "look" doesn't do much for me.
  • Shooter types: The same thing applies here. The unlockable shooters offer nothing but a look. Although the sci-fi shooter is so sweet-looking that it is a satisfying purchase.
  • Treasure room: The treasure room is the same thing as a trophy room in any other casual game. In Luxor 3, you could mouse over the empty treasure slots in the treasure room and at least see the name of the treasure. This gave some clue as to how to earn them. For some reason, in Quest for the Afterlife, they give you no hints at all. So your only option is to play more, I suppose, and hope that your skills earn you those elusive treasures.
  • Puzzle mode: Luxor 3 had a longer puzzle mode, as I remember it. For this newer game, they seem to have cut down the number of puzzles, and they are easier to figure out this time around. I would have liked more puzzles. Puzzle mode is a great feature where they set up a few stationary chains of marbles and you have to figure out how to destroy all of the chains with a limited, pre-ordered set of marbles. Some of them require you to actually time your shots just right, which is fun and challenging.

The treasure (trophy) room.



Highlights

Production quality: Expect the best here, folks. Games are rarely this fine in quality. While most recent casual games are like McDonald's or Jack in the Box in quality, Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife is
like fine dining.

The graphics are all very shiny and professional. The soundtrack, by Somatone, is very nice, as usual. The controls are easy, the physics are slick, and every element of the game is delivered with care. This is the sort of game I look for, and enjoy sharing with you.


Unlimited lives: One of the things I don't like about the Luxor games prior to Luxor 3 is that you have a limited number of lives, and you lose one each time you fail a level. To my delight, they removed this unnecessarily stressful feature for Luxor 3 and Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife.

Features: There is lot to this game. You travel to many cities, with the difficulty always growing. But even on Hard difficulty, the game isn't too challenging for practiced marble shooters. As you travel around, you find pieces of artifacts. These artifacts, once completed, offer you some in-game benefit.

The game also has, as I mentioned before, a puzzle mode that you can unlock, as well as an Insane difficulty. There is a treasure room, where you earn rewards for feats of marble-popping skill. There are many power-up upgrades to purchase in the store, as in Luxor 3.

There are some great levels in this game, and as you progress, more new scenes show up. Some levels are more challenging than others, while other are more beautiful, or have interesting marble paths.


There are a few level modes as well, including:
  • Classic: Standard level where you have to completely destroy a set number of marble chains.
  • Statues: Marble chains go back and forth, slowly heading for the exit at the bottom of the screen. Statues pop up to impede the marble chains, shortening their path. You can destroy the statues.
  • Swarm: A whole bunch of short chains race in and try to overwhelm you. You have to be quick.
  • Crossing the Nile: The one chain you need to destroy travels around in a circle on the other side of a river. But there are several long chains of marbles floating back and forth on the river, blocking your line of sight to the other side. You have to break gaps in the river chains to reach your target on the other side.
  • Battle: This is a new mode. When you track down a thief in the story, you have to fight him. Another marble shooter shows up on the top of the screen and you both try to quickly complete as many breaks as you can. Whoever is most successful, wins.

The map. Each blue dot is a level. Completed artifacts appear at the bottom.

Momentum: The game keeps you playing. I found it really hard to get up from the computer. The game beckons me to play "just one more" - you know the feeling. There is something so inherently fun about the mechanics of this game. And the more fun, the better the game.



Suitable for the family?

My kids watched me play some of the time. My son especially liked when I made a big deal out of catching good power-up drops. I can't think of anything that would frighten or disturb children. I didn't watch all of the story scenes, admittedly, so I can't comment thoroughly on the content. But I do know that the story involves Egyptian deities and theories of the afterlife, if that bothers you.



Luxor history

Here is the entire list of Luxor marble games, just so you can see the history leading up to Quest for the Afterlife.
  1. Luxor
  2. Luxor Amun Rising
  3. Luxor 2
  4. Luxor 3 (This is where the series turned awesome.)
  5. Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife
And now they have a Bundle Pack, which includes both Luxor and Luxor Amun Rising. If you want to play these early games, save money by buying the package.

If you like HOGs (difficult ones!), you might like to try Luxor Adventures, and if you're a mahjong fan, why not check out Luxor Mahjong?




The family man's final ruling

I'm amazed with this game, as I was with Luxor 3. It makes shooting marbles feel like something significant and important, as if you're part of something big. I don't know how those geniuses at Mumbo Jumbo do it. It's like magic.

The game is dripping with ancient Egyptian theme (romanticized as it may be). The music is as good as it gets, and very fitting. The sounds and sights are excellent. Everything is polished and shiny to a high degree.

Let me also mention that you'll get plenty of game hours out of this. I think the game clock was at something like 8 hours when I finished playing through story and puzzle modes. Most newer casual games can't boast that kind of play time. And each hour was fun.

If you like marble popping at all, you won't find a better product, friends.



You'll like the game if...

  • You like a fantastical Ancient Egypt theme
  • You like quick action-packed gameplay
  • You like bashing marbles and catching drops
  • You are hungry for a high quality production

You won't like the game if...

  • You don't like shooting marbles


My rating:

If you want to play Luxor: Quest for the Afterlife, click below: