Category Archives: Games

Build-a-Lot Fairy Tales Game Review

Build-a-lot Fairy Tales

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Build-a-Lot Game
Creator: Hipsoft
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 3 – 12 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Help the Nutcracker Prince, the Big Bad Wolf, the Wicked Witch, the Frog Prince and other mayors beautify and build towns in this fun-filled time-management game.  Work your way through swamps, forests and mountains to perfect the land of fairy tales!  Build factories, a variety of houses and special buildings in each different landscape.  You will need to work quickly and strategically to achieve the goals on each level and earn the blue ribbon on each level.  Build-a-lot Fairy Tales will appeal to the whole family and provide hours of fun for everyone!

Review:

Build-a-lot Fairy Tales is the same as all of the other Build-a-Lot games, but the setting was really different.  I haven’t played one of these games in a long time, Build a Lot Fairy Tales Levelsbut everything came back to me quickly when I started playing so I skipped the tutorial and dove right in.  The creators of this game assume that you have played one of the other Build-a-Lot games before this so be prepared to pick things up as you go, regardless of whether you play the tutorial or not.  The rules are not that complicated.  Simply look at the list of achievements on each level and figure out the quickest and cheapest way to execute them and you will be an expert in no time!  One of the tips that I have for those who have not played Build-a-Lot games previously is to click on your magic toadstool (your work center for all of your fairy workers) and spend $7,500 to speed up your fairies.  This doubles their speed and helps you achieve your goals much more rapidly.

Goals on each level differ, but they usually include goals regarding houses, money and/or reputation.  On the beginning levels, what you see is what you get.  They will tell you all of the goals for the level and you just have to finish them.  After you have played through the first several levels, they will start surprising you with an additional goal or two after you complete the initial list.  It can be challenging to achieve the blue ribbon until you know what all of the goals are so don’t be afraid to restart a level after you get the complete list so you can plan ahead!  There are several different types of houses including dens, cottages, manors, gingerbread houses, tree houses and towers.  Each house requires a different combination of fairies or workers and materials to build.  Dens are quick and easy to build, but they are also cheap housing and will not bring in a lot of rent.  Towers require a lot of materials and workers, but they are worth a lot more money when you are renting them and/or selling them.  Structures include a magic toadstool, a witch cauldron and a dwarf foundry.  The magic toadstool houses your workers.  After you build it, additional workers can be purchased at half price, are trained more rapidly so they enter your workforce Build a Lot Fairy Tales Purplemore quickly and you can speed up your workers for a fee.  You can also protect your houses from dragons so you don’t have to repair them and decorate them so you can earn additional rent.  The witch cauldron allows you to enchant buildings, which raises their reputation +5, and gild buildings, which means that their value is fixed.  Whenever you sell a gilded building, it will sell for full value regardless of how many other homes are currently for sale.  If three different cottages are on sale when you put your cottage up for sale, you will have to sell your cottage for quite a bit less as there are more homes available for sale.  If you gild your cottage, you will get full value all the time every time.  Both gilding and enchanting buildings will raise your rent, as well. The dwarf foundry will allow you to purchase materials at half price and speed up material deliveries.  All three structures are useful, but they cost materials and workers so use them wisely.  Also, remember that all three structures will lower your reputation levels so houses built near them will be worth less and the city as a whole will have a lower reputation.  You may need to destroy your structures to achieve the reputation level that you need to achieve your goals.  In addition to structures, there are some special buildings that will be available to you in certain settings.  You will build a special airship for the Nutcracker Prince and a pink castle for the Wicked Witch, as well as restaurants for the Frog Prince.  You can also boost your reputation by building special buildings that do not provide rent, but do boost the reputation of the buildings on either side of them by as much as +20.  These buildings are fixed based on the setting and you will not have the option to build more than one type per level.

For those of you who have not played a Build-a-Lot game before, this is a great one to play.  It is fun and I love the fantasy setting!  Dragons light your buildings on fire and you have to extinguish them before you can collect more rent.  Magic mirrors, pipe organs and other fun items are included in building upgrades. Goals for different settings are story appropriate and fun to work through.  For example, the Frog Prince is trying to find a fair maiden to kiss him so he wants to build gazebos and restaurants so he has somewhere romantic to take his dates.  The troll wants to gather a lot of gold together so people will like him better.  The creators really had a lot of fun with this game and I loved the fresh new settings and little tweaks they made to this game to make it unique and different, yet familiar!

Some of the levels were really challenging, while others were pretty easy. There are 30 regular levels, 9 expert levels and free play available to you on this game. The expert levels will really push your knowledge of the game so play them after you have played the other 30 levels and achieve a blue ribbon on each level.  I have played quite a few of the Build-a-Lot games so I can share some general tips and tricks with you if you are new.  Don’t be afraid to demolish low-cost buildings to make something bigger and better.  Dens do not bring in a lot of money so I almost always demolish them so I can build a more expensive house and get more rent money.  Demolish any building that is not helping you achieve Build a Lot Fairy Tales Mayor Letteryour goals and you will find that you progress much more rapidly.  Sell your houses strategically.  When you begin a level, evaluate how much money and how many workers you have.  Do you have enough to achieve your goals?  If you need to build tree houses, you will need 7 workers and 1,200 materials.  If you are starting the level out with only 3 workers and 500 materials, you need a way to generate some money quickly so you can get going on building and finishing your goals.  One of the best ways to do this is to sell a home that you already own.  Sell the house first thing when you start the level as no other homes will be for sale and you can get full list price.  Use the cash to hire more workers and/or to purchase materials and get going on your goals.  You can always buy the building back later!  Build-a-lot Fairy Tales also includes a forest option.  Each setting offers a different reward for the forested lots, but they offer free money or material when you clear them.  You can reforest and harvest the forests multiple times so take advantage of this.  You can get double the money back from a forest lot or quite a bit of materials for a little effort.  Remember, it is critical to upgrade your homes.  A basic tower only provides $2,500 in rent, but, if fully upgraded, it can provide over 3x that!  It costs you money and materials, but then you can just sit on that tower and let it generate cash for you.  Just remember to be fearless – you don’t have to keep anything and you don’t have to wait to collect rent to achieve your goals.  Try different methods and you will be sure to find one that works best for you.

I found that Build-a-lot Fairy Tales was my favorite in the Build-a-Lot series.  I was so happy to not have to worry about being green!  This version of the game took me back to the first couple of incarnations and I found myself having fun again.  Yes, you do need to strategize to achieve your goals, but you can make a few mistakes and still beat the deadline if you can think quick on your feet.  I also loved the fairy tale themes and found myself much more willing to achieve silly goals, like tearing down homes and reforesting all of the lots so that the pigs had a place to hide from the Big Bad Wolf’s tower.  The goals usually make sense if you think about it from a fairy tale perspective and I really appreciated that extra touch.  If you enjoy time-management games with building themes, the Build-a-Lot franchise is the biggest and the best!  You will definitely want to play Build-a-lot Fairy Tales and you just might get your kids addicted to them, too!

Content:

You will need to read the storyline, hints and goals in English.  You do not need to read the storyline to play the game, but it does enhance your enjoyment.  Hints are provided on each level that can be critical to your success so be sure that you read through those and don’t just click through them unless you are replaying the level.  The goals you need to achieve are written on the top and bottom of your screen for easy reference.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey Game Review

Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Age of Oracles #1
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Average Game Play: 3 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Hidden Object
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Play your way through 22 levels of hidden object adventures in a mystical, magical land.  With only a talking peacock to guide you, find the special objects on each level that will help you develop your magical powers and bring you closer to your destiny.  Packed with fun-filled mini-games and a variety of hidden object scenes to search through, beginner and intermediate gamers will be sure to enjoy this game.

Review:

In Age of Oracles: Tara’s Adventure, you play the part of Tara, a newcomer to a magical world that she is unfamiliar with.  The world is based on the tarot and different cards and characters represent each of the 22 levels in the game.  The scenes with the hidden objects are not particularly mystical, however, but much more practical like apothecary shops, stable yards, exotic zoos, etc.  There is quite a bit of New Age advice that is also included in the game, most of which is very good and quite inspiring.  The graphics are bit old-fashioned, but they work just fine and get the job done.

Each level begins and ends with a mini-game.  The mini-games include jigsaw puzzles, matching, and mahjongg.  All of the mini-games feature the tarot deck.  After you successfully complete the mini-game, you will move to a tarot card scene.  You will interact and “talk” to the person on the card and they will give Age of Oracles Tara's Journeyyou a challenge.  Then a group of objects will appear on the bottom of the screen.  You need to pick up the object and place it directly on top of the identical object on the screen.  The screen will be in gray-scale and the objects you are placing will be in color so it is pretty easy to keep them straight.  After you place all of the objects, you will be moved to a wall of doors.  One – three doors will open up per level.  Click on a glowing door and you will be taken to the hidden object scene.  Each scene has you searching for fifteen objects.  There is a wide variety of scenes, but you will repeat several of the scenes multiple times, though you look for a different object list each time. Some of the objects you find will be placed in your inventory.  After you complete all of the glowing doors, you will be taken to a scene that is related to the tarot card you are working on.  Then you will need to use the objects to solve a puzzle.  Items you can interact with will glow and, if you click on them, they will give you a hint so that you know which object to use.  Helpful tip: sometimes you need to pick up additional objects on the final scene to complete the puzzle.  You don’t always get everything you need from the hidden object scenes.

Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey is a great hidden object game for beginner or intermediate hidden object gamers.  Most of the item lists you will be searching for are recognizable, unlike other games I have played.  Sometimes there is a bit Age of Oracles Tara's Journey Hidden Object Sceneof confusion when you are looking for a bat (the animal or the baseball?), a bow (archery, bowtie or one you put on a gift?), but these are pretty straightforward.  You have an unlimited number of hints to help you through the levels.  Simply click on the peacock on the left-hand corner and an item on your list will glow.  You cannot select which item on the list you need help with, however, so the hints are most helpful when you have a few difficult-to-find objects left.  The hint recharges relatively quickly so don’t be afraid to use it to help you out on the more challenging/cluttered scenes.  There are no penalties for clicking on the wrong object in the hidden-object scenes so, for you lazy gamers out there, feel free to click away at anything and everything.  Sometimes you can stumble across every item on your list without even reading the list, but that kind of defeats the whole point of playing a hidden-object game, doesn’t it?

I consider myself an advanced hidden-object game player, but I did enjoy this one.  I needed a break and was looking for something fun and lightweight and Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey definitely fit the bill!  I enjoyed the mini-games and found a few of the hidden-object scenes were more challenging than I Age of Oracles Tara's Journey Select a Doorexpected.  The game begins with fairly easy scenes and progresses to more difficult ones as you continue playing.  The storyline is fairly brief and to the point, which was a bit unfortunate.  I prefer games with a more robust storyline, but if you are looking for some straightforward game play where you don’t have to talk to people or follow a story, this one is for you.  Every time you progress to a new level there is a brief introduction or talking scene.  There is always a “skip intro” button on the bottom right hand side of your screen if you do not want to listen to the talking, which is nice as you can replay the game without listening to the information.  You do not need to listen to any of the story to figure out what you need to do.  If you are looking for a fun, fast hidden-object game that is full of bright, airy rooms to search and nothing scary, Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey is a good one for you!

Content:

This game contains occult themes and graphics.  Magic, spellcasting, talking animals and other mythical elements are included.  All of the story is communicated through audio so you do not have to read the story.  However, you will need to read the list of objects that you need to find on the hidden-object scenes.  These are written and it is not an option to have them read aloud to you.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Stone Age Café Game Review

Stone Age Café

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Chuchili is nervous when she goes to visit the tribe’s shaman and learn her fate: to become the tribe’s new cook!  Save the tribe from hunger and save them from fighting with each other by serving up great food, breaking up fights, and pairing up couples on dates.  Serve crisp salads, fresh chicken eggs, delicious grilled meats, savory soups and more as everyone in the tribe shows up at Chuchili’s new restaurant!

Review:

You play the part of Chuchili as she hustles as fast as she can to serve her fellow tribesmen.  The game operates on a simple point-and-click interface like most time-management games.  Grab a person when they walk in the gate and drag them to a stool.  Wait while they decide what to order.  Once they have decided, Stone Age Cafe 2their selection will pop up in a bubble above their head.  You begin the game with one soup pot, one salad plate and one grill.  As you progress through the game, you can upgrade the quantity and the speed on your equipment.  Later levels will offer you the opportunity to use new equipment like a meat grinder, a honey pot, a blender and more.  You will need to boil the soup, grill the meat, prepare the salad, etc.  If you are cooking something, a little bar will pop up next to your pot or grill that will show you when the food is cooked and ready to serve.  Click on the completed dish and click on the customer to serve it.  Wait for them to eat the dish and then grab the money so they will leave.  Then you pick up the dirty dishes and take them to Fred, the all-you-can-eat houseplant who operates as your trash can.  Grab the next customer and keep on cooking!

The theming of the game was the best part for me.  You have an iguana who makes your salads for you by whipping lettuce and other ingredients with his tail.  A hamster operates a grindstone that turns your steak into a pile of ground beef.  A monkey shakes up bananas to make milkshakes.  Tribal warriors will pull out their clubs and fight if they are placed on stools next to each other and have to wait too long for food to be served.  Other than that, this game is just like all time-management food games.  You want to try to match the color on the stools that the customers sit on to the color of their shirts so you can get bonus points and boost the customer’s happiness.  Customers lose hearts as they wait for a stool and/or wait for food to be served. Couples and groups that enter your restaurant all have to be seated at the same time and have to sit next to each other for you to seat them.  Each level contains a passing goal and an expert goal.  Any money that you earn can be spent on upgrades.  Upgrades will allow you to cook faster, keep your customer more patient and help you serve more rapidly.

There are a few tips and tricks that will help you attain the expert goal from the first level.  You must match customers to the colors on the stools to get the expert goal.  Not only will your customers get a boost in hearts (maximum of five per customer), but you will get a money bonus for each customer that you Stone Age Cafeseat on a stool that has a set color.  This usually means that you have to seat people in a different order than they arrive in and there are times that your customers will be down to their last heart by the time you seat them, but the color boosts are well worth it!  If a customer orders two items, you must serve them together.  The customer will not accept one plate and then the next afterwards.  If you pick up two items that one customer has ordered, they will automatically morph into one platter so that you know they are intended for that customer.  If you have several customers who ordered the same thing, be careful what you pick up and when so that you can serve customers in the order that you want.  You can prep salads, eggs, banana shakes, ground meat and a few other things ahead of time so they are ready when your customer orders them.  If you grill meat or heat up soup, the item will keep cooking and will eventually burn so that you cannot serve it so these items have to be made fresh to order.  After several game levels, you can purchase a stove upgrade that will keep this food warm for you – but you must remember to take it off the grill/out of the pot and place it on the stove for this to work!  If you have food prepped to serve immediately as the customers sit down, you will definitely make more money and will be able to crank through more customers in the set amount of time that you have.  There is no penalty for throwing food away if you make it by mistake so don’t worry about cooking ahead if you need to.

I liked the pacing of the game and felt that the new items and upgrades rolled out at a nice, even pace so that I did not get bored.  The game creators mix things up by having stools disappear and limiting the number of seats you have while increasing the numbers of customer colors to make it more challenging to get the color boosts and bonuses.  I recommend buying the musician, who will give everyone in the restaurant a boost (those waiting and those eating), so you can pull customers in the order that you want them.  The upgrades were very helpful in this game, but it takes a while to earn the money that you need to purchase the really good upgrades.  You will begin with decorations, which offer a little bit of help, but you have to wait a while to buy a second pot and grill or to buy the move faster upgrade for your character.  The wait is worth it, though, as the upgrades were really helpful!  I found that it was easy to purchase all of the upgrades if I played for the expert level each time.  The tutorials and hints were pretty helpful and they will give you most of the information that you need to make everything.  A simple thing that the designers included that I appreciated was a “try again” button on the menu.  If you blow a level or just want to start over so you can get the expert level without finishing the first go round, just click on this button and you get to begin again.  It erases your upgrade purchases so you can change your mind on that, too!  This is a small thing, but, for those of us who play a lot of time-management games, this is critical to happiness!

I had a few complaints about the game that interrupted my enjoyment of the game and that you need to be careful of.  One of them is that the game is pretty sensitive in where you click.  You have to be right on what you want to get it and it is easy to click slightly above or below the item, leaving you empty-handed.  This can be especially frustrating while you are trying to clear dirty plates.  You have to pick up the money with one click and then pick up the dirty plates with Stone Age Cafe Storylineanother click. I always chain actions like these however, so I would pick up the money and then go back to pick up the plates.  The tricky part is that you need to click on the leaf place mat to pick up the dirty plate – not the dirty plate itself, which is slightly above the place mat.  I also had a difficult time grabbing customers in line that were not first.  Keep fighting your way through and take those extra seconds to get it right, just be aware that you could be missing out on a click by mistake and have to go back and correct yourself.  Sometimes there were a lot of instructions and information all in a row so pay careful attention as to what is being relayed to you as not all of the instructions are intuitive.  For example, to make ground beef, you have to grab a steak, click on the hamster-driven grind wheel, wait for him to run and then the patties will spit out at the end.  They never tell you this, but each steak will split into two different beef patties.  Grab one and click on the grill then wait for it to cook like normal.  If I did not take the time to carefully read the directions before this item was placed on the menu, you would really have a difficult time figuring it out for yourself so be careful and read everything!

Ultimately, this game is a fun one and I enjoyed myself quite a bit while playing it.  The theming and relative ease of game play make this is a slightly different, yet familiar time-management game that I feel I could turn to for a few hours of enjoyment.  I played this game through on the normal level, but they also offer an easy mode and an expert mode so the game could be fun for a wide range of players with different ages and gaming skills.  If you do not play a lot of time-management games, take the time to play the slow mode first and see how you do.  You can change the mode at any time and do not have to start the game over so you have nothing to lose!  If you enjoy time-management games, check this one out – it is definitely something that you will lose a lot of time to!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  The characters are covered pretty well, but the female characters wear a two-piece outfit with a crop-top tank top or bandeau top and a short skirt.  The warriors of the tribe break into fights every once in a while, but it is just a big blob of dust where they are fighting – click on it and they stop fighting so there is never any blood or actual fighting shown.  There is a lot of reading to follow the instructions for the game so younger players will need someone to help them or be able to read well enough to understand.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Sale Frenzy Game Review

Sale Frenzy

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 12 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 1 – 5 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: image_thumb32_thumb4_thumb

Synopsis:

A cute, but money-challenged girl spots a hot guy going into a club and falls in love at first sight.  Frustrated at her inability to follow, she spots a flyer offering a 75% off sale at a local boutique and decides that she can stretch a little bit to get a stylish new outfit that will get her noticed!  Stay ahead of your friends as you shop your way through the city and try to catch your true love’s eye at local hotspots.

Review:

You play the part of an unnamed girl who is shopping her way through the city.  Click on a boutique (shoe icon) in the district you are in and fulfill all of the wish list orders that show up on the top of your screen.  To fulfill the orders, you will need to find the item in the store and click on it.  Your icon will rush over to the rack or shelf and grab the item.  Once you have picked up all of the items on that order, click on the order to earn style points.  Earn more style points than your friends to stay on top of the heap!  Unlock opportunities to meet your dream guy at district clubs (martini glass icon) and watch the love story unfold!

I did not like this game.  I did not feel that the instructions were thorough enough and found myself frustrated with my inability to play.  They give you a brief intro to the story and then dump you into the first level of game play. Sale Frenzy Game Play There will be four boxes on the top of your screen.  Each box is an order or a wish for clothes that you have (it isn’t clear).  There are one or more items in each box.  For example, box #1 has 1 shirt, box #2 has 1 pair of shoes and 1 scarf, box #3 has 1 purse and one pair of pants and box #4 has 2 pairs of pants.  You can select a box by clicking on it and then you have to fill that box first.  If you do not select a box, the game will default to the box on the left and then work its way to the right.  You must pick up all of the items in the store in each box before you move to the next box or it will give you a “incorrect item” prompt and it will erase all of your actions on the screen.  In the early levels, there are no specific colors requested, just the style of clothing.  On later levels, you will need to find a specific item in a specific color, which makes it a bit more challenging.  The difficulty lies in identifying if the item is any color that is close to you or a specific color.  The items are shown more by outline with light shading than as an opaque piece that you can really see what you need to get.  This was incredibly frustrating as I could not figure out why I was getting error messages sometimes and other times it was working fine.  Other times, I found myself waiting for a specific item to pop up in a color that I thought I needed, only to find out that I could have selected any color and was just wasting time.

There are two other shoppers in the boutique with you and they are picking up items at the same time.  If you click on an item, your number will pop up on the item so you know you are going to get it.  If they click on something, a number in their color will pop up so you know that you cannot select that item as it is already taken.  There is a clock on each location that you play and you just complete as many boxes as you can to get as many style points as possible.  You can then use your style points to purchase special upgrades that you can use in future levels.  These upgrades are icons that will flash on the middle of the screen when you have enough money to purchase the upgrade to use for the level for a short period of time.  I found them to be more of an annoying distraction than a helpful bonus so I did not use them very often.  Instead, I just focused on clicking on as many items as I could and completing as many boxes as possible.

The game play was not that great in this game, but what really bothered me was the theming and the story.  A cute girl with modest clothing is shown at the beginning.  She sees a hot guy go into a club with a bunch of other girls and decides that she has to have him.  Rather than trying to catch his eye with her Sale Frenzypersonality or intelligence, she goes for slutty clothes and acts like every other girl out to get him.  After shopping she is shown in low-cut tops, a bare midriff and skin-tight jeans.  I was unimpressed with the story line and did not like the way that the women were dressed in the game.  They used a bit of an anime styling so it was not extremely realistic, but I still was unimpressed.  The storyline was also uninspiring.  It was very slow to activate and a bit frustrating to go through. If you try to wait to read the story, you have to wait a long time.  A comic-book style picture will pop up on a section of your screen, wait for 10 – 15 seconds for words to pop up on top of your screen.  There will be one sentence.  Click your mouse, another picture pops up, wait another 10 – 15 seconds for writing.  You will probably end up just clicking through the story as it takes way too long to read through and is really uninteresting.

I would give this game a pass if you haven’t already played it.  I think that it was geared towards women, but not very many women will appreciate the styling of Sale Frenzy Citythe game.  The instructions were non-existent, the game play did not really make sense and I couldn’t really enjoy myself.  It would have made a lot more sense if the girl, since she was so poor, was working as a private shopper or something picking up clothing for other women in the store.  Then she could use the money she earned to buy clothes.  If the game players allowed this, the game player could pick the clothes that she liked best to go to the club or another event and that would have added more fun and made a lot more sense.  The styling is not great, it is difficult to identify the objects you are supposed to find and the story was uninspiring.  Look elsewhere for a fun time-management game to play.

Content:

The girls are shown in really skimpy clothing with everything hanging out.  The tops are low-cut, stomach is showing and every curve is shown in the jeans.  Girls are going after guys in clubs so they are only worried about what they are wearing and how to get noticed.  Cheap and shallow.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Juliette’s Fashion Empire Game Review

Juliette’s Fashion Empire

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 12 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 1 – 6 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Make your rivals turn green with envy as you style and design your own clothes, cosmetics and accessories.  Grab the most stunning models, give them a head-to-toe look and send them out on the runway!  You will travel the world and showcase your fashions in stunning locations like New York City, Milan and Tokyo as you fight your way to the top in the cutthroat fashion business!  Use your earnings to upgrade your equipment, hire help and turn your little shops into a fashion empire!

Review:

This is a solid, if slightly unimaginative time management game.  It has a very simple, basic point-and-click interface with the “mini-games” so easy that they Juliette's Fashion Empire [FINAL]are almost laughable.  You play the part of Juliette, a recent graduate of a fashion institute, who opens her own boutique.  Unfortunately, Juliette’s clothes are not selling and she is almost ready to close her doors when an egotist classmate offers her a tip to success: run fashion shows to get her name out there and to get her clothes recognized.  You will take models into your store, feed them, apply their makeup, select a style for them to wear, accessorize them and send them out onto the runway to find buyers.  Work your way through three locations and launch your fashion empire!

There are very few stations to worry about in this game and it is pretty easy to keep them all under control.  Upgrades are available for all stations that increase juliettesfashionempire_lrg3speed, patience and supplies hearts (each model has 1 – 5 hearts and you earn more money based on more hearts).  You can also hire assistants to help you run the salon more quickly, patience boosts, money boosts, food upgrades, and speed upgrades for yourself.  I found that the token earning was pretty slow, which limited my upgrade purchasing power, but I loved that my upgrades stayed with me through the whole game!  This means, once you save up for an awesome upgrade, it is yours throughout the duration of your game play. juliettes-fashion-empire-screenshot6Purchase additional stations/chairs as quickly as possible so that you can move the models through more rapidly and you will find yourself beating the competition in no time at all!  Also, don’t forget to target chains to get the maximum bonuses available with your models.  The game doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about the chaining so you may think that it doesn’t matter, but it really does.  Money can pile up quickly if you can get three or four models in a row doing the same thing.

I found this game too easy for me as I play quite a few time management games, but it is a great game for beginners to test the waters of this game genre.  You drag the models from station to station and then you just click on them.  If there is a mini game associated with that station, it will pop up automatically.  For the juliettes-fashion-empire_3_bigmakeup styling stations, an area on their face will highlight and you need to select the correct makeup to apply (lipstick for lips, mascara for eyes, scissors for hair, etc.).  For the clothing selection, you just click on the right or left arrows until you find an outfit where the model is smiling.  For the accessory station, you simply click on the accessories that the model is thinking about in a bubble above her head.  Simple juliettes-fashion-empire-screenshot4and easy to navigate.  This can get a bit monotonous and it is easy to click on the wrong thing if you have a tendency to chain things and get ahead of yourself like I do.  There is no undo button and no way to unselect something so it is easy to lose hearts this way if you are not careful.

My main complaint with this game was the styling itself.  I know that it is a fashion game, but I found a lot of the selections to be tasteless and overly sexual.  Juliette is dressed in a bare midriff top that is skintight and leaves nothing to the imagination.  When she turns around to work on a model or walk juliettes-fashion-empire-logoto the back of the room, you can see the top of her butt crack as her pants are really low.  She has exceptionally large breasts for a woman her size and they bounce when she jumps up and down in excitement when she wins.  The models themselves are rail thin except for their breasts, which are also far too large for their thinness.  When you are selecting clothing for the models, it shows them all dressed in juliettes-fashion-empire-screen2their underwear (bras and panties) so they show quite a bit of skin, as well as fairly deep cleavage.  I want to recommend this game to young time management players as it is so easy to play, but I really would not feel comfortable having my niece play this game until she is a teenager and understand a bit more about the way the fashion industry is portrayed.  This game is easy enough for an 8-year-old to play, but I would really prefer a 12-year-old or up to play based on the overly sexual styling.

Content:

This game’s directions are all written in English, as well as the tips and tutorial instructions.  You must be able to read well enough to follow the directions (though all of the models request items with icons above their heads so you could probably figure it out if you can’t read the directions).  I found the styling of the game to be too sexual for younger players.  Even though the characters in the game are just avatars, they have very unrealistic and exaggerated bodies.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Awakening: Moonfell Wood (Awakening #2) Game Review

Awakening: Moonfell Wood

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Awakening #2
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 8 hours
Type of Game: Adventure, Hidden Object
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Princess Sophia has escaped the castle where she lay slumbering for 100 years, but she still cannot find any other humans!  Sophia ventures into the magical Moonfell Woods to continue her search for her family and encounters the Guardians, who have been waiting for Sophia’s awakening and return.  Solve puzzles, search the scenes and follow the clues to the Witch of the Woods, who holds the key to the location of Sophia’s family.

Review:

This is the second game in the Awakening series  and I enjoyed it just as much as the first one(Awakening: The Dreamless Castle), if not a little bit more.  These games belong more in the adventure genre than in the hidden object genre, in my opinion, but that is definitely a good thing as I am always on the lookout for another great adventure game!  This game picks up where the first one left off, awakening-moonfell-wood-introbut there is a little recap at the beginning for those who did not play the first game.  The story line is simple and is fantasy-based.  Princess Sophia was cursed by a dark figure to sleep for 100 years.  Now Princess Sophia has finally awoken and is looking for her family.  As she travels through the Moonfell Wood, she will uncover clues as to where her family has gone and the true story as to what happened to cause her to sleep for so long.  The story keeps me coming back for more in this game franchise and the graphics make me want to keep playing.  The graphics are beautifully done and seem almost like a fairy tale storybook.

This game is not what I consider challenging (though I did get stuck a few times!), but it is still interesting and engrossing.  Most websites refer to this game as a hidden object game, but there are only a few scenes that are traditional hidden object games.  Throughout the game, you will stumble across a location Awakening-Moonfell-Wood-EN2-awakening-moonfell-wood-2that will give you a list of 12 items that you need to locate within the scene and then you will keep one of the items as a tool to use in your inventory.  Later on in the game, they will show you the shape of the item you need to find (sets of four, another one will appear when you find one) instead of giving you a list.  There are seven magical tarot-like cards that you will need to find 12 awakening-moonfell-wood_screen2hidden objects on each, but you are finding 1 object 12 times (12 jewels, 12 moons, etc.).  I feel that most of the game is spent solving puzzles – and not logic puzzles, though there are some of those – but solving actual puzzle puzzles.  They are not traditional jigsaw puzzles, but there are a lot of items to reassemble and different types of puzzle pieces to put together.  Half of the puzzles have you swapping tiles and rotating pieces to create the picture.  These can be a bit frustrating as you use the same mouse button to rotate the pieces as you do to swap the pieces.  I would be rotating a piece and then accidentally click on a piece near it and it would swap the pieces.  Once you get Awakening Moonfell Wood Square Puzzleused to this, it is not so bad, but it was a minor frustration for me.  The puzzles are mainly squares with square tiles, but there are also some hexagons and triangles.  The other puzzles come in the form of assembling objects with the broken pieces.  A teapot, statues, flowers and other items will need to be put together before you can use them.  The outline of the item is clearly shown and you simply rotate and place the pieces where they belong within the outline.  The best part about the puzzles is that the pieces lock into place when they are placed correctly.  This is true of almost all of the mini games in Awakening: Moonfell Wood.

If you do not like putting puzzles together, than this is not the right game for you.  Almost all of the locations have some sort of puzzle attached to continue to progress.  There are some unique puzzle/logic games that require referring to different charts and maps to assemble and win.  Most of the puzzles are solvable Awakening Moonfell Wood Puzzlewith a bit of time and a willingness to click around until you hit upon the correct sequence.  The key is finding the hint contained in the game to enable you to solve the puzzle you are working on.  If you do not look at a specific item or get a piece of paper with a solution on it, you will not be able to solve the puzzle.  If you have the instructions to beat the puzzle and still are not able to solve it, there is a skip button at the bottom of each puzzle that you can click on after you try to solve the puzzle for a while.  There is no penalty for skipping the puzzles so you can simply play and enjoy the game if you don’t want to deal with these mini games.

To help you play your way through the game, you have a little fairy friend and a journal.  The fairy can give you hints as to where hidden objects are found within the mini games and general directions as to what you need to do to proceed in the game and meet your objectives.  Some of these directions are helpful, others are not.  Keep in mind that the fairy’s advice will vary depending awakening-moonfell-wood-hd-full--screenshot-1on which scene you are standing in.  You may not be able to perform the task that the fairy is giving you hints because you are missing an object or don’t understand the hint.  Try to follow the hint she gives you and, if that doesn’t work, wait for her to recharge and then ask for a hint on another scene to see if it changes.  I found the journal more helpful than the fairy.  The journal has two sections.  One section gives you a list of objectives that you need to perform to beat the game.  These are sometimes really specific (get firewood, feed the bird, etc.) and others are more vague (find the witch, free the guardian, etc.), but they can help give you direction as you progress through the game. awakening-moonfell-wood-3The other portion of the journal will take personal notes as Sophia explores. She will create copies of maps, pictures, and portions of conversations that are helpful.  This was a huge help as the first game made you write down all of the clues you found and now the game keeps track of everything you need for you.  I found myself referring to the journal time and time again, particularly when I was playing mini games and trying to place objects in the correct order or to find the correct glyphs to unlock an item.  Your journal will open up and sparkle when there is new information to be found inside so you can refer to it as often or as infrequently as you wish.

The game is beautifully designed and it was a delight to explore each new location.  There are not very many scenes that you will play through in this game as the designers were quite clever in reusing locations.  Within Moonfell Woods, there are two different sections with a limited number of scenes within Awakening Moonfell Wood Moonlighteach section.  You spend the bulk of your time in the first section of the wood as you figure out what you are doing and try to gather the equipment you need by playing mini games or stumbling across it in your exploring.  Certain tasks can only be performed in the daylight or the moonlight so you will travel through a portal that will take you through day and night.  You interact differently with the scene depending on the sun and the moon.  For example, you can only fish during the day and you can only grow certain flowers in the moonlight.  By having fewer scenes, I felt like the game designers were able to focus on making beautiful details instead of pushing for huge quantities of scenes.  The other nice feature was that the fairy kept you from wasting your time in inactive sections. Once you finish a section, she will pop up and tell you that you don’t need to return and to focus on moving forward.  This was really helpful as I usually spend most of my time wandering aimlessly when I am Awakening Moonfell Woods Sunriseplaying adventure games when I am not sure what to do or where to go.  My only complaint with the game design was the super-picky clicking required. It took me a while to figure out that I was doing the correct thing, but I was clicking just a little too far to the side or below the interactive object.  Basically keep trying if you are sure you are doing the correct thing as you probably are.  There is no penalty for random clicking so you can keep trying all of your inventory items until you hit upon what you need to do.  Also, do not be afraid to click around on the scenes as there are lots of items that you need to pick up that do Awakening Moonfell Wood Waterfallnot seem interactive.  These include pine cones, mushrooms, and more.  Once you pick up one, your inventory will show you how many more you need to find (1 of 8, 1 of 12, etc.) and then you will be on the lookout for them, but it is difficult to find that first item you need.  If you notice that there is more than one of anything on the screen, try clicking on it to see if you can pick it up as you probably can.

If you are looking for a fun adventure-style hidden object game, this is a great series to check out.  It is friendly and relatively forgiving to beginners, but is a fun, laid-back game to play for more experienced gamers.  I love the theme of the game and that the screen is not dark and scary like a lot of the hidden object games out there.  I also loved my little dragon friend!  It was so wonderful to have a reliable heat and light source that I did not need to look for each time – thank you for giving us some permanently helpful items!  I think the quality and the creativity is there in these games and look forward to playing more of them!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There are a few scenes that are a bit gloomy or portraying pictures of  the dark fighting the light, but I do not think that anyone would consider them scary.  This game requires quite a bit of reading to find things, read the objectives and to follow the storyline.  There is no talking during the game so you have to be able to read the conversations to know what is going on and to figure out what you need to do.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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The Joy of Farming Game Review

The Joy of Farming

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 12 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Joy is thrilled to finally be living her dream!  She just purchased a run down farm and is ready to turn it into a prosperous business.  Till soil, hire farm workers, plant crops, water your plants, then harvest them to sell in your farm store.  Continue to upgrade your farm, meet your goals and fulfill your dreams!

Review:

This game is the farming equivalent of the Farm Frenzy games.  In Farm Frenzy, you are working with animals and animal products.  In The Joy of Farming, you are working with plants The Joy of Farming Logoand the products that can be made from them.  Joy is the shopkeeper and sells the harvest directly to customers.  You must hire farm workers to till the soil, plant crops, water crops and harvest crops.  You must hire specialized workers to staff your factories and make items like carrot juice and ketchup.  To further complicate matters, the game is spread out over multiple levels.  Each level has a different layout, but the shop, factories and farms will usually be on different tiers.  Purchase ropes and ladders so that your workers can travel in between the tiers and help your farm be successful.  Some levels will start you out with farms and water, others will start you out with ropes or employees.  It is up to you to identify what you need to accomplish your goals at the beginning of the level.  You begin each level with a specific amount of money and there is usually not enough money to buy everything you want, just barely enough to get you going.

You will have a specific goal on each level that you much achieve.  For example, you will need to sell 10 carrots, 3 carrot juice boxes, 2 tomatoes and 1 bottle of ketchup.  Carrots can be grown on any farm and they are considered your basic, cheapest crop.  They grow quickly and do not require any upgrades to plant or harvest.  Tomatoes can only be grown on an upgraded farm. You need to click on the farm and spend coins to upgrade your farm to a level 2 farm to grow tomatoes.  Tomatoes take longer to grow and are more expensive to plant, but they are worth more money when you sell them.  The same thing goes for the production plants.  Carrot juice is made the fastest and, while it is worth more than selling carrots singly, The Joy of Farming Screenshotit takes a while to make it.  Ketchup takes longer to make, but is worth quite a bit of money.  It is important to try and make the produced goods as early as possible on the level so that you can get a good score.  You can grow the plants or make your veggie goods any time throughout the level, but everything costs money to do so evaluate how much money you have and plan accordingly.  Seeds cost money, water costs money and your factory workers charge you to make your products so be careful with how you spend your money early on in any level.  If you run out of water, your workers will not grow additional crops and will just stand around waiting.  If there are no vegetables for the factories to use to produce goods, the workers will stand around.  This wastes time and drives down your score so try and keep a constant flow going through if possible.

To grow crops, click on a farm and then click on the plant that you want to plant there.  If you have a level 1 farm, you will see one blank box underneath the farm that you can use to plant seeds in.  If you select carrot seeds, the carrot icon will pop up in the box underneath the farm.  You will need to wait for your farm worker to plant the carrots before you can select another crop to plant.  Level 2 farms have two slots, and level 3 farms have three slots, etc.  Your wells will hold three buckets of water and then you will need to purchase more to continue watering plants.  After a crop is harvested, the worker will carry the crop to the storehouse.  From there, you click on the sale button on the storehouse and can select which goods you want to stock in the farm store.  Customers will automatically pop up to buy the The Joy of Farming Screenshot 2goods that you have stocked, regardless of what you send to the store, so don’t worry about what you transfer first.  I usually try and send down the goods that will bring in the most money so that I can keep a steady cash flow, but you have to balance what you have against your goals so that you can pass and move on to the next level.  The most difficult part of the early levels is trying to balance everything.  You must continue to click on the farm plots to keep planting carrots as it doesn’t take your worker very long to plant a carrot and water it.  You must constantly click on your well and purchase water to make sure your plants will grow.  The storehouse will fill really quickly if you have 2 or 3 farms harvesting at the same time as you only have 3 storage slots to begin with.  Once these slots are full, workers will wander around with their hands full of veggies until one of the slots is cleared.  The only way to clear a slot is to have the veggies produced in a factory or to send it to the store.  The base-level factory only produces one veggie at a time and they take quite some time to push out products so keep them full if at all possible to achieve your goal.  The basic-level store only allows you to stock 2 items at a time and Joy moves slower than molasses!  The customer must come in to the level, find your store and request an item.  Then the shopkeeper slowly moves to get it and hands it to the customer.  Bottom line – you are really crunched for space on early levels.  Later levels let you purchase upgrades to store more products inside and to have your workers move more quickly.  These are wonderful, but, again, you need to be really careful with your money as you usually cannot afford to buy these.  The upgrades must be purchased on each level you want to use them on so balance out speed and convenience and only purchase what you must have to achieve your goals in the time allotted.

Like the Farm Frenzy games, there are three goals you can achieve on each level.  There is a gold level, a silver level and a passing level.  A passing level will let you move on to the next level, but you usually cannot afford to move on without achieve a silver or gold level as you cannot purchase the upgrades you need to continue playing.  A red “x” will be on top of the The Joy of Farming Shop Upgradeslevel so you know that you cannot progress to the next level unless you purchase something in the store.  Click on the store button in the lower left hand corner and the upgrade you need to purchase will be highlighted so you know what you need.  You can also purchase upgrades for your storehouse, shop shelves, faster traps, and more in the store.  If you do not have enough money to buy what you need, go back and replay a previous level.  If you beat a level 3 times on a passing level (shown with a checkmark), you earn almost as much money as the silver level.  Then you can purchase the upgrade you need to keep playing.  Replaying levels can also assist you in coming up with better strategies and staying on top of your goals so that you can get a better level the next time.

Instead of bears (like in Farm Frenzy), you have thieves that you must catch.  The game has a The Joy of Farming Characterswarning sound that will pop up when a thief arrives on the scene.  They are usually hiding behind a tomato bush.  Then you have a few seconds before the thief shows himself.  After a thief shows himself, you must click on the thief multiple times to build a cage around them.  The cage prevents them from stealing your veggies, your water buckets or your finished products.  They also drop fat bags of money, which really help you out when times are lean.

This is a fun, fast-paced time management game that will keep you on your toes.  It is really easy to get distracted from the goals and to plant too many of one crop, too little of another or to purchase the wrong kind of upgrades.  Fortunately, you can click on the menu button on the upper right hand corner and click on retry if you discover that you have made the wrong decision.  The timer is right next to the menu button and will show you how much time you have to complete the level and earn a gold star.  After that time passes, it will show you how much time you have to complete the level to earn a silver star.  Once the silver threshold The Joy of Farming Mappasses, it doesn’t matter how much time elapses to earn the passing check-mark score.  If you just want to play and do things your own way, shoot for the passing marks and have fun with it.  Your goals are shown on the upper left hand corner.  The basic, easy-to-grow crops will be shown on the far left and then the progressively more difficult crops will be shown on the left of the bar.  This is both helpful and hurtful as the easy crops grow the fastest and you could burn through all of your time on these cheap crops when you should be focusing on the higher-dollar-value, longer-growing crops.  I tried several different strategies to play this game, some worked, some didn’t, but I had fun playing each and every level – no matter what trophy I earned!  If you enjoy a challenging time management game, give this one a try. My main complaint with the game is that they do not do very much to get you going at the beginning.  I felt the tutorial was a bit lackluster and did not give me important information, such as only being able to plant one crop at a time on a level 1 farm.  The other is the most common complaint with time management games and that is that it can get pretty repetitive so you have to pace yourself while you play.  Still, the graphics are well drawn and vibrant, there is a cute little storyline, several different types of customers to serve (some with special needs) and a lot of different crops to grow, sell and turn into veggie products!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading involved to follow the story line and to keep up on the hints and tips that the game will give you to help you win.  All of your goals and purchases are shown with icons.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Fruits Inc. Game Review

Fruits Inc.

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 8 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Synopsis:

Brooke’s grandmother has finally decided to retire and wants Brooke to take over the day-to-day operations on their small, family-owned farm.  Brooke is determined to apply her college knowledge to turn the farm into a huge success!  Plant trees, harvest fruit, sell the fruit at the market or build factories and turn the fruit into more valuable juice!  Roll up your sleeves, dig in and get ready to build a fruit-based empire!

Review:

This is a rather traditional time-management game in that it is food-based and gives you Fruits Inc Game Logospecific goals that you need to reach to pass each level.  Each game level will have a specific number of empty plots on the game board.  Click on a plot and then decide what you are going to build there.  You can build an orchard, a factory or a water reservoir.  The first several levels will have you dealing with orchards and then they introduce factories, with reservoirs coming up last.  There are multiple types of fruit and so multiple types of juices.  Your goals will be a combination of fruit orchards planted, fruit harvested, fruit in storage, juice made, juice made in specific factories and water goals.  The tricky part is that fruit will automatically be sold after the clock winds down, which makes it difficult to have all of the fruit on hand that you need to make the juice and/or to have all of the fruit on hand when you need a specific amount in storage (fruit harvested, but not sold).  You are also limited by how many workers you have, technicians you have and materials you have available to continue building.  Fortunately, you can purchase more materials and hire additional employees if you can come up with the cash.  Carefully evaluate your goals at the beginning of the level and then set up a plan to execute it.  You have a limited number of plots available and a small amount of cash at the beginning of each level so you will have to make your choices carefully or you will have to restart it.

This game sounded like much more fun than it actually was.  I was expecting a fast-paced, fun-filled time management game, but this one was a bit more ho-hum.  Fruit takes time to grow and harvest so you will find yourself constantly watching the clock on the upper middle section of the screen to see when more fruit is coming in.  The factories produce juice extremely slowly so you will also be waiting for that bar to fill.  Some of the beginning levels have a gold-level time of 7 minutes so that should give you an idea of how much time you Fruits Inc Game Screenshotneed to fulfill all of the goals.  There is also very little to click on the game board so you just kind of keep watching for the timers to fill and then you do a simple, single click and done, back to waiting.  You will click on the plots to set up your initial game layout and then you will just maintain them.  If bugs infest your orchard, you will need to click on the plot and send a technician out to take care of it.  If a factory is out of fruit, you will need to drag fruit from your storage on the lower right hand corner of the screen to the factory for it to start up again.  If you want to sell your fruit immediately without waiting for the timer to run down, you can click on the $ sign above the fruit.  The only other clicks you make are on the lower left hand corner, which is where you can hire additional workers or buy more materials.

The graphics are a bit clunky and the storyline is tepid at best.  I also had a difficult time with the tutorials, or, should I say, the lack thereof.  I am not sure if they tested this game on anyone who did not actually design and develop the game, but there are a lot of instructions that are flat-out missing.  One of the most important ones is that you can bulldoze any of your sites to build something else.  This is very important on some levels as you never have enough plots to plant and build everything you need.  For example, one level has you making 100 bottles of juice under three different juice brands (you customize your fruit juice in each factory including name, color of container, type of container, and logo – there is only one brand allowed per building so you have to tear down a factory to build a different brand), have 30 baskets of grapes in inventory and have one plot contain an apricot orchard.  With only 7 plots on the screen, you cannot deal with all of these goals at the same time.  If you build 3 factories, you have 4 plots left.  If you hit the timing just right, you can harvest 2 plots of grapes twice before the timer runs out and your bushels are sold, leaving you with barely enough in storage before the bushels are taken to market.  Use one of your last 2 plots to plant apricots and that leaves you with 1 plot to plant apples.  You only harvest 10 bushels of apples per harvest time and it is going to take you forever to make 300 bottles of juice Fruits Inc Game Trophyharvesting 10 apples at a time.  What you need to do is build 1 factory and plant 4 apple orchards.  Save up your money to hire new employees (you need 5 to build a factory, 4 to run a factory and make juice, 2 to build a new orchard, etc.) and buy more materials (you need 3,000 to build a factory, 500 to build an orchard, 25 to get rid of pests, etc.).  When you have finished making 100 bottles in your first factory, you have enough money to purchase enough goods and hire workers to tear down your first factory and build two more.  Supply as many apples as you can as quickly as you can and bust through your last 200 bottles of juice.  Then you can tear down the factories or the apple orchards, plant the grapes and the apricots and voila, you are done.  The way you tear something down is simply click on the plot, click on the miniscule bulldozer icon and then click on okay to send two workers to raze it to the ground.  Bottom line is, the game is not as intuitive as the game builders think and you have to spend some time on your own figuring out how everything works and what you need to do.

This may be a good time-management game for beginners in that it is slow-paced, but I am not certain that it is so great for them in terms of the lack of training.  I say that it is always better to have a thorough, over-the-top tutorial going into a game than something short and sketchy.  The other frustration with the tutorial is that granny stays up the screen for a long time – way longer than most people will need to read the sentence!  If you are looking for a game that is slow-paced and lets you kind of move along without rushing, maybe this is a good game for you to look into.  I found it very easy to earn the gold level on the portion of the game that I played, I got silver on some levels, but then the passing level is really, really long on the timing.  I don’t think anyone would have a difficult time playing this game, but I play a lot of time-management games so perhaps I am biased.  Definitely play the free trial before you purchase this game based on the fun-sounding description.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is quite a bit of reading to following the instructions on the tutorial, read hints from workers and to read the goals themselves to pass one level and move on to the next.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Gourmania Game Review

Gourmania

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Gourmania #1
Creator: Butterfly iSoft
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Hidden Object
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Do you have what it takes to become a top chef in the culinary world?  Work your way through seven restaurants to earn your place in the cooking showdown.  Serve everything from sandwiches to sushi, ice cream to cocktails and more!  Find the ingredients to fulfill the orders, drag them to the appropriate cooking appliance and earn the money you need to expand.  The faster you serve your customers, the more money you can earn so get moving!

Review:

This is a fun little hidden object game that I recently stumbled across.  Many people will tell you that it is a time management game, but it is all about finding ingredients.  There are seven different restaurants that you will work in with a wide variety of ingredients and recipes.  You Gourmania Map of Restaurantsbegin in a sandwich restaurant, where it is pretty easy to identify and locate the items that you need.  The pizza restaurant was also pretty easy, but the sushi restaurant and some of the cocktail bars have some specialized ingredients that you will have to become familiar with to win.  You have a set amount of time to earn the money you need to pass the goal level or to push yourself and win the expert level.  Wait for customers to come in and place an order.  Instead of requesting a “ham and cheese sandwich” they will ask for “ham, cheese and bread.”  You need to find Gourmania Appliance Shopthese three items to fulfill their order.  The icon of a cutting board and knife will then pop up on that customer’s order.  Drag the ingredient icon to the cutting board at the top of the screen and the game will automatically cut up the ingredients for you.  As you progress to more complex recipes, you will need to find more ingredients and use more of the kitchen appliances at the top of the screen.  When you are finished making the food, the customer will drop money on the counter and all you need to do is click on it to pick it up.  Use the money that you earn to purchase kitchen upgrades in the shop and to purchase more restaurants to build your culinary empire!

Each restaurant will have you play three levels, a bonus level, three more levels and a final bonus level.  The first couple of restaurants will keep the same layout inside.  Ingredients will consistently appear in the same place for all levels.  Later restaurants will change the Gourmania Pizza Restaurantperspective and location of ingredients after you play the first bonus level.  This means that you will need to find all of the ingredients again.  There are multiple icons for all ingredients, but no more than five or so per item.  Fortunately, the ingredients will recharge and pop back up over time if you wait for it.  This happens pretty quickly on the easy levels, but takes quite some time on the later levels.  This makes the later levels more challenging, but not impossible as the ingredients typically only have 2 looks (whole piece of fruit versus cut piece of fruit) or will have been rotated (bottle lying on its side versus standing up).  The bonus levels are a fun Gourmania Bonus Levelsitem matching mini-game that help you unlock new recipes and earn some bonus money.  You will have a row of ingredients on the bottom of the screen that you need to match to their outline on the conveyors at the top of the screen.  There are five conveyors moving in opposite directions (1, 3 and 5 going to the left and 2, 4 going to the right) that will show the blank outline of the ingredient that you need to match to it.  Click on the ingredient on the bottom and drag it to the appropriate outline.  Once all of the items on the conveyor are matched, the row will disappear and a new recipe will be unlocked.  The bonus levels are not timed, but the faster you make matches, the more bonus money you can earn.

I found the first several restaurants to be easy to play and doubled or tripled the amount of money I need to earn to achieve expert level without trying to hard.  This all changed when I hit the sushi restaurant, where I really struggled.  I barely hit the basic goal, let alone the expert goal!  However, after playing them several times each, I was able to achieve the expert level.  The key to winning on the more challenging levels is to take advantage of the bonuses you can get for chaining tasks.  Each bonus is only worth $5 – $20, which may not seem like a lot, but they can really add up!  If you find all of the items on one person’s order in a row, you Gourmania Sandwich Shopwill get a $10 bonus.  You can earn this bonus each time a customer has multiple items on their order.  For example, find the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber for customer #1 and you earn $10.  Find the shrimp, green onions and red caviar for customer #2 and you earn $10.  Then go back and find the white asparagus, onions and mushrooms for customer #1 and you earn another $10.  You can earn more chaining bonuses by running multiple kitchen appliances at the same time.  Find the first wave of ingredients for all three or four customers and then pull the ingredients up to the kitchen appliances at the same time.  You can earn an additional $10 for running three appliances or $20 for running four appliances.  The downside of earning these bonuses is that it takes some time for the appliances to do their work.  There is a status bar that runs around the outside of all of the appliances that will slowly or quickly fill with red as the task is completed.  Purchase upgrades in the store to increase speed or to purchase additional machines.  You will need all of the speed and machines you can get to achieve the expert goal.  The only other chaining bonuses you can get are for picking up money after you have completed an order.  Click on the first customer’s money and you get $0 in bonuses, click on customer #2’s money right afterwards and you get $5 in bonuses, $10 for customer #3, and $15 for customer #4.  This is the most difficult bonus to get as you have to balance a really delicate need between getting the chaining bonuses and clicking on the money right away to clear space for a new customer to come in.  There is a lag time of several seconds between completing a recipe by clicking on a customer’s money and a new customer arriving so you really have to hustle if you want a second or third wave of customers to come in your store before time runs out.

The main challenge of this game lies in identifying the ingredients you need to find.  Some of the food items I was not very familiar with so I had to use a hint button or search around the screen with my mouse (if you hover over an ingredient for a few seconds, the name will pop up) to find them.  It can be really frustrating as some ingredients have very little visual differentiation.  For example, in the ice cream restaurant, you have to know the difference between vanilla ice cream and sweet cream ice cream.  The vanilla ice cream is a creamy ivory color and the sweet cream ice cream is an icy white color.  If you struggle to see the difference between slight gradations of color, then do not play this game as you will get frustrated veryGourmania Bar quickly.  Another fun one was a pickle and a cucumber.  Other items are shown cut open or whole, which can also be a bit confusing.  All of the fruit items you need to find including papaya, starfruit, lemons, limes, guava, melons, etc. will have a whole version and a cut open version.  You will have to experiment with which fruit items are what to find all of them.  Fortunately, there is no penalty for clicking on incorrect items or I never ran into one.  I am not saying that you should click around randomly on the screen, but it is worth your while to try clicking on objects you are not sure of to see if they are some of your more exotic ingredients.

The graphics are not spectacular in this game and the storyline is practically nonexistent, but the game is still fun nonetheless.  I liked that the game was a bit different than most hidden object games out there and appreciated the extra touches the creators put in there to challenge my skills.  Some of the ingredients are hidden pretty well, but most of them are right in front of your face once you find them.  There is a hint button that recharges quickly that you can use to find that last missing ingredient.  Click on the hint button, then click on the ingredient you want to find and it will show you where the nearest ingredient is.  You can use the menu button to restart a level any time during play, change the music/sound settings, or exit out.  So the game itself is pretty simple and can get repetitive (I had to take a break after a while as all of the ingredients started blurring together), but it is fun to play a few levels or a couple of restaurants at a time.  If you are looking for a light-hearted, slightly different hidden object game, give this one a test run.  There are hints of time management game qualities in here and so you will find that it challenges your finding skills in a new and unusual way.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  All of the ingredients you need to find are written down in English at the top of the screen.  The tutorial and brief story line are also written in English.  Two of the restaurants are bars so you will be serving a lot of alcoholic drinks.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Filed under Hidden Object, Time Management

Pixie Pond Game Review

Pixie Pond

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Pixie Pond Game Shot

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 5 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 8 hours
Type of Game: Match 3
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Enter the magical realm of the Pixies!  Race against time to make as many matches as you can before the timer comes out.  The more tiles you match, the more water you earn to help you refill the pond.

Review:

This is a match-3 game with a fun twist, but a little lacking in execution.  The game itself is very basic and clean cut.  The main menu contains 3 options: play game, how to play, and exit.  There are no options as there are no sound effects and no music.  If you click on the “how to play” button, it will take you through two screens that show you the basics and then one more screen that shows what your power ups are and how to earn them.  You do not need to click on the “how to play” button if it is your first time, however, as there is a brief tutorial.

You have a very short timer (1 – 9 seconds) on the left hand side of your screen that will show you how much time you have to make matches.  The more matches you make, the more time gets added to the timer.  Simply click on two adjacent tiles (horizontal or vertical) and make matches of 3 tiles or more.  Once you make a match, those tiles will be covered with vines and will be untouchable until the timer runs out.  You can add a single tile to a row or a column of matches, which is a nice touch and adds a bit of extra dimension to this match-3 game.  The goal is to match the whole board and have it all covered with vines, but I was never able to achieve this.  Once you cannot make any more matches, wait for the timer to run out.  After all the time is gone, your bonuses will accrue to fill the water meter on the left hand side of the screen.  Once you fill the meter all the way to the top, you pass the level and can start the next level.

There are 2 different power ups that you can earn as you play.  One of them is a mushroom, which is earned by making matches that form a square, and will cover a row or column with vines if you activate it on the board.  The other is a lightning cloud, which is earned by making matches that cover an entire row or column, and it will throw lighting out in a radial position covering all affected tiles with vines.  These power ups are critical to your success on later levels, where there will be stones on your game grid.  The stones cannot be matched or moved so the only way to get rid of them is to use one of your power ups and wait for the timer to run out.

That is it.  That is what the whole game is.  The game grid will expand or contract as you play, depending on the level, and the stones will come and go.  There are several different icons you will be matching, all of them fantasy-themed (fairies, gnomes, unicorns, etc.).  The larger the game grid, the more icons will be in play.  This is both easier and harder to make matches as the easy levels start you out with 3 different types of icons and you work up to many more than that.  The key to success with this game is to make the biggest chain of vine-covered tiles that you can.  Try to focus on matching all of one type of tile and leave the rest of the tiles unmatched.  Traditional match-3 strategies do not really work in this game as, the more matches you make, the fewer options you have.  Remember that, once you make a match, the tile is covered with vines and is no longer in play until the board refreshes.  The more tiles you match, the more will clear when the timer runs out.  The game will then make automatic matches as tiles drop down until there are no locations on the board with 3 tiles matched together.  Then the timer starts again and you keep playing.

If you are willing to give a match-3 game a try that is a bit different, but also pretty clunky, give this one a try.  There is no way to pause the game so play until you are done and then you will have to exit out.  Again, there are no bells and whistles in this game.  There is no storyline here, no cute little characters to follow along with, noting like that.  The interface is basic and no-frills, but it gets the job done.  The tiles are pretty big on most of the game grids, but they do get smaller as the game board expands to more difficult levels.  Fortunately, the tile icons are unique, have different colors and shapes, and are easy to keep separate and make matches with.  Definitely play the free trial to see if this game is suitable for your tastes before you buy.

Content:

This game is appropriate for all viewers.  There is a little reading involved at the beginning of the game to run through the tutorial and to introduce you to the power ups, but that is it.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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Filed under Match 3