Category Archives: Games

Magic Life Game Review

Magic Life

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Magic Life

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 14 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Become a powerful wizard as you begin as a new magic student at the academy.  Work hard, learn new spells, develop new skills, make sure you eat and get plenty of sleep and you can become a magical legend!  Follow the goals to help you on your path to glory. Make sure you leave time to duel other wizards and accomplish the tasks as quickly as possible so that you can keep your top ranking!

Review:

Have you dreamed of becoming a magic student like Harry Potter?  Well, this is the game for you!  I found this game to be a fun, creative and interesting.  Pick your wizard avatar (boy or girl and then hair cut & style) and then select the casual or expert setting.  If you pick the casual setting, which I highly recommend for first-time players, you will be given specific goals to beat levels that will help you develop your skills in the way you need to win the game.  The first couple of goals are fairly easy to achieve as they mainly consist of buying things at a specific place, starting your first job, etc.  These first several goals are there to help you orient yourself to the game layout and what is available in each of the buildings.  They quickly get much more complex and more difficult to achieve, however, so don’t get too complacent!  It took me quite a while to figure out how to look for the information and what icons to look for on the screen that indicated where I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do.  Once you have played your way through the casual level, the expert level is a lot of fun to attack and battle your way through so you can get twice the fun for the price of one!

The goals try and keep you on track, but I always found myself distracted!  There is so much to buy, so many places to visit and all kinds of things to experiment with.  Unfortunately, wandering around and doing goals out of order will put you on the bottom ranking pretty quickly, but go ahead and do this at the beginning of the game to get it out of your system.  You cannot get lower than a 5th place ranking and all you get is a snide comment from your mentor about you not feeling well.  You still win some money and you still pass the level so it is not too bad.  That is what makes this game a fun one for younger children to play, as well as adults.  Older players will want to be on the top of the leader board, but younger players will just have a fun time learning new spells, fighting duels, and more.

The longer you play this game, the more complex your goals become.  They do not introduce you to the game layout or what the different icons mean so please take advantage of the first several levels to hover over any icon that has a circle around it that is on the screen.  There are 5 icons on the lower left-hand corner that are really helpful once you stumble across them.  The bottom menu will show you the first goal to achieve, but there the far-left circle icon (looks like a mini scroll) will show you all of the goals you need to accomplish to progress to the next level.  There is also information about specials if you have subscribed to the newspaper, ranking, etc.  The upper part of the screen will show you your heath (filled with food, sleep/rest and entertainment), stamina (depleted by traveling, working, replenished with rest/sleep and entertainment), and mana (magical power replenishes over time).  The lower right hand corner will show your wizard and an apple that will gradually disappear to a core before an alarm clock rings.  This is your indicator that you haven’t eaten anything that day.  If you do not eat, you do not get all of your energy and stamina bars filled after you rest because you are still hungry!  If you deplete all of your stamina, you will not fully replenish as you are exhausted when you go to bed.  It is really important to keep an eye on both of these things so that you can get the most out of each “day” that you play the game. You can sleep anywhere, but you get the most benefit after sleeping in your own home.

You will want to rush right into playing duels, but you have to learn spells first so that you can fight other wizards and win.  In order to learn spells, you must have training on specific skills including charm, magical ability and others.  In order to gain skills, you need to work out at the gym, purchase upgrades in clothing and furniture, and buy magical artifacts.  In order to buy items and skills, you need money.  This means you need a job.  Different jobs require different levels of skills, pay different amounts of money and will help you grow your skills as you work at them.  All of these tasks require health and stamina so you will need to keep your bars up.  Certain purchases, such as transportation, will help you move faster and require less stamina to travel between places.  Other purchases, such as furniture and house upgrades, will help you get better quality sleep and increase your bar refills.  Pets and familiars will help your mana replenish more quickly.  There are so many shops to choose from and so many locations to accomplish tasks at that you really have to watch yourself or you will end up on the bottom of the podium!  Once you have achieved the rest of the goals on your particular level, then you are ready to play your first duel.  You will need to select a spell, follow the outline with your mouse, and then wait for your character to cast it.  Your opponent’s spell will always be shown next to them on the casual level so you know exactly what they are casting and can select the best spell to negate its impact.  If you play the expert level, you will not know what your opponent is going to cast and will just have to make your best guess.  Whomever runs out of stamina first, wins.  Remember, you need a high mana and stamina levels to win so make sure you rest and recharge before you enter the arena!

This is a fun, fast-paced game that I enjoyed playing.  The graphics are bright and colorful, if a bit rigid and sloppy looking.  The clothes, furniture and other items that you purchase are not really that attractive and rarely match, but you can change the color scheme a little bit to try and make it better.  I gave up after a while though and decided that, if I was powerful, it didn’t matter if I looked atrocious!  My main complaint with this game is that not everything is intuitive and it took me a while to figure out what to do.  For example, if you are purchasing a spell, you must have a certain skill set and other abilities before you can buy it and master it.  These are written in small font underneath the name of the spell after you click on it.  You need a green check mark in each box and enough money to buy it before you can start training.  Younger players will definitely require some assistance getting started, but you will soon get the hang of it.  It is also a bit complicated to try and figure out exactly how the job market works, which I never truly understood, but I can tell you not to jump too far ahead.  What I mean by this is, just because you can afford the most expensive item or a higher-paying job doesn’t mean you should take it right away.  There are prerequisites to the jobs and the skill sets so make sure you accomplish all of the low-paying jobs and the small skills or you cannot get the high-paying jobs and more powerful skills.   My advice for you on this game is to dive in, explore and have fun!  Definitely worth a look if you are in the market for a time-management game that is a bit different from all of the rest.  I found myself playing for much longer than I was planning on, but I got addicted very quickly!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is quite a bit of reading involved in this game.  You need to read the goals, the hints, the story and instructions throughout the game.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Flower Mania Game Review

Flower Mania

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Flower Mania

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 5 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 5 hours
Type of Game: Match 3
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Make beautiful flowers grow in your small patch of green.  Match three of the same flower to make room for more flowers to grow!  Once you fill up your meter, you win the level and are ready to start a new garden!

Review:

This game was a bit of a disappointment for me.  It was a little different and its uniqueness set the game apart from most of the other match-3 games out there, but it was not enough to overcome the cumbersome game interface and constant repetition.  I mean, just about every game like this one has you playing the same type of thing over and over again, but this one felt like I was just playing the same board over and over again.  You play on the same grid the entire game, level after level.  The only thing that changes as you progress is that some flowers will start out on the game board whereas early levels give you a clear playing space.  Additional flowers are added in on the more difficult, advanced levels, but that is about the only change that you see.

You begin the game by playing a tutorial and I cannot stress how important it is to play this tutorial or you will be completely lost.  The game play requires you to use a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard shortcuts.  Each set of flowers comes in blocks of three.  To rotate the flowers in sequence on the block, click your right mouse button.  To rotate the flowers from horizontal to vertical layout, click your left mouse button.  To set a group of flowers on the game grid, place the flowers where you want and then press the space bar.  The tutorial will run you through your paces and make you prove that you know how to play before you can move on.  I had a really difficult time adjusting to the controls of this game and did not like the keyboard/mouse interface.  I would much rather have played it all on my keyboard as there are not enough buttons on the mouse to manipulate the flowers in the way that you need to win the game.  I knew I was in trouble when I had a difficult time just getting through the tutorial!  You have to click the “c” button to continue from screen to screen and I was trying to use mouse clicks.  You really need to read the instructions carefully throughout the game or you are toast!  The instructions are a bit stilted and can be difficult to understand, but you can push through it.  If an adult reads through the information first, a young child could play the easy levels.

That is it – that is all there is to the game!  You have a timer in the lower right hand corner and a bar that you need to fill with matches to beat your current level and move on to the next level.  You can see the current set of flowers and, if you look on the right hand side of the screen, you can see what the next flower tile looks like.  This can help you plan your strategy as your garden grid fills up and it becomes more difficult to make matches.  There are also power ups that will come your way as you progress through the game.  There is a flower bouquet that can be used to complete any match of 3 tiles, pesticide which will kill the flowers next to it, and bombs that will clear areas.  This game was not my particular cup of tea as I found it clunky and cumbersome, but I had to give them points for trying to make something different in a fairly standardized format.  Make sure you pay the free trial before you purchase this game so that you know what you are getting into and you will be fine.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Young children should have no problem playing this game as the rules are not difficult to follow, but they will need someone to help them understand the controls.  The instructions are clearly written in another language and then translated so the word choice is a bit unusual, but you can figure it out if you keep plowing along.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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Glimmer Game Review

Glimmer

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Glimmer

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Match 3
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

A fantasy kingdom has kept the peace between dragons and people for decades.  The people harvest the glimmer stones and give them to the dragons so the dragons do not attack.  However, Melborn the dragon has grown greedy as he grows older.  He wants a larger quantity of glimmer stones every year and the people cannot provide enough to keep Melborn happy.  The dragon takes his revenge by swooping down out of the skies and plucking people out of the fields.  Mryna and Khar are childhood sweethearts.  When one of them is stolen by the dragon, the other is determined to journey across the land to save them and uncover some secrets about the kingdom along the way.

Review:

To begin the game, you will choose Myrna or Khar as your character.  I selected Myrna so I was looking for Khar, who was kidnapped by the dragon.  To travel and rescue Khar, you need to gather resources and fight monsters as you traverse across the kingdom.  You begin by harvesting crops in the fields so you have food to help you on your journey.  You will also harvest glimmer stones to appease the dragon when you encounter him.  Other levels will have you battling monsters, finding your way through dense forests, and more.  After you beat each level, there will be a screen of dialogue that keeps the story continuing.  You will uncover secrets about the kingdom and the true story of the relationship between people and the dragons.

This is a unique match-3 game.  Instead of clicking on tiles to swap individual icons, you will slide entire rows or columns to make chains of 3 or more.  Each level has a different layout of tiles and a different number of slide arrows on the board.  For example, the first level has arrows next to each row and column.  This means that you can move any row or column and easily make matches.  The next level has an arrow on every other column and every row.  This means you have to be a bit more creative to make matches.  The longer you play, the more challenging the matches become.  Some have arrows that swap columns or rows instead of sliding them one spot.  Others have a circular cog in the middle that will rotate the tiles around it into different positions.  The different tile layouts and movement arrows keep each level fresh and interesting.

To beat the level, you will need to achieve a specific goal.  Each goal involves you moving a person along the bottom of your screen.  The first guy is a farmer and you need to match scythes so that you can finish harvesting the wheat.  Glimmer levels require you to match pick axes so that you can dig out the glimmer stones from the cave walls.  Of course, there are many different icons on the game board so you will matching many other items as well.  While you are progressing, you can match hearts, which increase your health levels, wheat or glimmer stones, which increase your inventory or the action tiles that help you beat the level.  Monster levels are a bit different as they are battle rounds.  You will need to match green tiles to help your character slay the monster. Bows and arrows will have you fire on the monster, while the other green tiles will restock your arrow cache.  If you match red tiles, the monster will advance (feet) or fire arrows at you (hands).  You need to kill the monster(s) before they reach you or run you out of health.  These levels can be tricky as it is difficult to match only green tiles without accidentally matching red tiles.  Fortunately, the monsters move pretty slowly and do not take a lot of shots to kill for the beginning rounds, but they do get harder and more frequent as you travel closer to the dragon’s lair.  The monsters include ogres, which only move when you make a foot match and attack singly, and goblins, which move towards you at a steady pace and will attack you in multiple numbers.  There is no timer on any of these levels so you can take as long as you need to pass them.  It is good to keep a steady flow of matches coming through, however, as you can fill a bonus bar on your left-hand side of the screen, which will give you a board blitz when you fill it to help you beat the level faster.

I had a fun time playing this game and found that it kept my attention longer than most match-3 games out there.  The graphics are pretty clunky and the game doesn’t have a fabulous interface, but it is workable and fits the fantasy theme.  I enjoyed the story line and had a fun time uncovering the mysteries of the kingdom as my character read messages off of the temple walls.  The story was a bit cryptic and I am not convinced that it was written in English.  I believe it was translated from another language so it is a bit difficult to understand at times, but it was not too bad.  If you are looking for a match-3 game that is a bit more challenging and unique or you enjoy fantasy-style games, give this one a try as I think you will enjoy it.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is quite a bit of reading involved if you want to try and follow the storyline.  The type font is not very eye-friendly and can take a bit of deciphering.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Ice Cream Craze: Natural Hero Game Review

Ice Cream Craze: Natural Hero

Game Review by Debbie Winkler


Series: Ice Cream Craze #3
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 8 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Dr. Bane is making a fortune selling his ice cream full of artificial flavors and chemicals.  Anna is determined to remind people of how good all-natural ice cream can taste.  She opens up her own set of ice cream stores and uses the freshest ingredients to increase her market share and put Dr. Bane out of business.  Purchase fresh fruit, upgrade your skills, serve as many customers per level as you can and take over the ice cream business in your little town!

Review:

This was a game that I wanted to like, but I really did not enjoy playing it.  There is a great idea for a game here, but poor execution.  You have 6 different locations you can choose from.  Each location has a farm attached to it that will sell fresh fruit to you.  However, the fruit is not available for you to purchase on every level.  Typically, there are only 3 types of fruit for sale at any given time.  The longer you play, the more money the fruit costs.  On each level, there is also a manager who will offer to teach you special skills.  It costs money to learn these skills so you have to try and balance between purchasing fruit and upgrading your skills.  The game will give you some basic goals that they want you to achieve.  For example, they will have you earn 5% market share and upgrade your singing skills to level 1.  You don’t really get a bonus or anything for achieving the goals, but the game will block your progress if you don’t.  The next goal is to upgrade all of your skills to level 1 and you cannot purchase any fresh fruit until you do so.  I wish that these goals were shown on the screen as a regular feature, but they will just pop up randomly throughout the game and you have to drop everything you are working on to switch over to what they want you to work on.

There is a brief tutorial when you begin the game and it will walk you through the basics.  The first thing you do on any level is to buy fruit or choose a skill to upgrade.  Click on one of the six locations to make this happen.  You can hover over the locations and it will tell you how much the fruit costs (if it is available), as well as how much the skill upgrade costs.  Click on a location and your van will warp there.  Then a menu will pop up with 3 options.  The top option is buy fruit, the middle option is to sell ice cream at that location and the bottom option is to upgrade your skill level.  If you choose the middle or bottom option, you will start serving ice cream to customers.  Keep in mind that you do not earn money when you are upgrading a skill so, while the skills can be helpful, they are difficult to get to early on in the game when you desperately need the cash.

Each location has a different mix of customers to serve.  The lime farm is the easy farm where you serve teenagers.  Teenagers are very patient, but they do not give good tips.  Other farms include the circus, where you have customers who do not want toppings so you can serve them more quickly; the police station, where you have cops (very patient, low tippers) and robbers (very impatient, but good tippers); the vanilla farm where none of your magic skills will work, but the magician customers give good tips; the factory has low-tipping robots, but they tip more and more if you keep going back there, etc.  I did not find any of the locations super difficult in terms of customers leaving or running out of patience, but it is easier to begin with some of the mellow levels, which the game will direct you to.  Once you select a location, you will be faced with a four conveyors on your left, three topping machines on the top of the screen, any special magical skills you possess on the right and a counter to serve customers on the bottom.  A customer will come in and request an ice cream treat.  You then need to click on the conveyors and pick up the items to make the treat.  For example, your first treat is a brownie on the bottom, a scoop of green ice cream, a scoop of white ice cream and then a pink topping.  Click on the brownie, then the green scoop, the white scoop and then click on the pink topping machine.  If the item that you need is not on the edge of the conveyor, click on whatever is in the way and then place it on the kitchen island.  You have four holding spaces in the middle of the screen that you can place different ingredients on so that you can get to what you need.  If the holding area is full or you made a treat incorrectly, you can throw the ingredients away, but you lose money and time that way.  Once the treat is complete, pick it up from the machine and then click on the customer.  The customer will leave money on the counter so you will need to also click on the money.  The money will not disappear, but no new customers will come in while the money is holding that spot on the counter.  Keep serving as many customers as you can until your energy bar is depleted.  Then you can use your money to purchase fresh fruit or upgrade your skills.

This is a simple game, but they add a few twists by giving you special challenges when you are upgrading skills.  To upgrade your charm skill, you need to gain a specific number of stars.  The customers will drop their stars (happiness level of 1 – 5 stars per customer depending on how long it takes to serve the customer) directly into your meter while you serve people.  To upgrade your speed skill, you must serve a specific number of customers in the allotted time.  To upgrade your shuffle skill, you need to serve everyone in a specific number of moves.  This keeps some of the levels fresh and interesting.  The other random factor that will pop up in the game is your little arguments with Mr. Bane as you gain market share and start pushing him out of business.  Then you can find special rotten green ice cream scoops that you can throw at him once you pick them up off the conveyor.

There is a bit of strategy involved in the game.  You gain more market share from Mr. Bane as you persuade people that your ice cream tastes better.  This is linked directly to how fresh your fruit is.  Each fruit container has 4 dots at its base.  If all 4 dots are red, your fruit is fresh and you will get a bonus and another percentage of market share when you finish playing that level.  If your fruit is down to 1 red dot, you will stay flat on your market share and do not get a money bonus.  It is difficult to keep all of your fruit fresh, especially when they are not available to purchase on every level.  I found that I never had enough money to keep all of the fruit upgraded so I chose whatever I could afford and just did my best.  I did not find some of the skills to be particularly helpful, but you should try them all out and see which ones you enjoy using the most.  I found the speed upgrades and the equipment upgrades to be the most useful, but other ones also offer some benefits.  The game forces you to upgrade everything so it really doesn’t matter what you choose to upgrade.

My main complaint with this game is that it is very clunky and unresponsive.  You are working with a huge cursor that does not always register a click on the screen.  I kept getting all of these awful beeps for trying to do something I was not allowed to do.  I found that I had the most difficult serving the ice cream to customers as my clicks never seemed to register.  Also, the game does not show you what you have clicked on.  Most time management games will show you which items you have clicked on with a check mark or a number of something, but this game gives you nothing.  You have to hope that you clicked on the correct conveyor or topping machine, but you cannot really tell until after you have picked something up.  I thought this was sheer laziness on the game creator’s part and I don’t believe that the game designers have upgraded anything since the first Ice Cream Craze game.  Well, time management games have come a long way since then and I expect better graphics, a more intuitive game interface and a way to keep my character moving and maximize my money on each level.  I also hate the fact that the game kept trying to force me to play the way that they felt was best instead of letting me decide for myself.  I would not have upgraded all of the skills available as I felt that some of them were not very helpful, but I did not have the option.  The story line was thin, the colors were okay and it was just a sub par game for me.  I think there are many, much better games out there so I wouldn’t waste my time on this one.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is quite a bit of reading required in this game to select the different options, follow the story and to figure out what the next goal you are assigned to do is.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Garden Dash Game Review

Garden Dash

Game Review by Debbie Winkler


Series: a Diner Dash game
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 8 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 10 hours
Type of Game: Time Management
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Barb, one of Flo’s best customers, loves her job at Big Corp.  Unfortunately, her job is not loving her back these days and her boss demands she take a vacation until her stress-o-meter drops down to acceptable levels.  Barb doesn’t have any idea how to relax so Flo suggests that she take up gardening and help fill produce and flower orders in the area.  Barb dives into it and finds that she loves gardening!  Now, she has a busy garden with a steady stream of customers who all want a different combination of items.  Plant the seeds, grow the veggies and flowers, harvest them and sell them to eager customers!

Review:

I am not a huge fan of the original Diner Dash series, but I really had a fun time playing this time management game.  If you play a lot of time management games, you will have no trouble figuring out how to achieve expert level on this game, but, if you don’t play this type of game very often, there is a good tutorial at the beginning of the game.  The tutorial is helpful your first time and I used it to get me started, but, my second time through, I used the skip option, which was real nice.  In between levels, the game will give you helpful hints on new plants, upcoming weather conditions or any problems you might run into that day.  Be sure that you read these, otherwise you might have a difficult time figuring out what to do.  Most of the solutions to problems that arise in your garden are intuitive, but some of them are not explained very well so any hints you can get are helpful!  You can pause the game at any point and a menu will pop up, giving you the option of restarting the level, checking your progress on the map, exiting the game, etc.  There are a total of 50 levels and, once you have played them all on the basic level, you can play them again on the expert level with different goals and time limits.

Every day in your garden is fairly routine.  You have a certain number of pots to plant items in.  Click on the bag of soil and then the pots that you want to fill.  Each pot will then have a status bar above it that will show you how long you need to wait for the soil to aerate before you can plant seeds in it.  When the bar disappears, click on a bag of seeds and click on the pot you want to plan them in.  Then you simply wait for the plant to ask for what it needs to grow.  All plants need water and pruning.  Some plants, such as lemons, need to be watered twice.  Other plants require a special touch: roses need to listen to music, cucumbers need a bit of one-on-one time with Barb, pear trees need ice, etc.  All of the plants will request what they need to continue growing in a bubble above the pot so all you need to do is click on the item requested and then click on the pot.  You can carry two items at a time, but you cannot carry two bags of seeds at a time.  As always with the Diner Dash games, the chaining bonuses are a huge part of you success.  Make sure that you click on all of the pots to water them before you move on to special needs or pruning.  The longer the chain, the more time you get.  The timer is running when you begin your day and you want to serve all of your customers before the star on the timer to get expert level or before the time runs out if you want to move on to the next level.  A chaining bonus gives you a bit of extra time and helps you get a higher score.  You can also match colors of plants and pots to get you more bonuses.  For example, the tomatoes and the roses are red, the pears are yellow and the blueberries are blue.  Keep planting the same color in the same pot and you will get a huge boost to your score the longer you can keep that chain going.  At the end of the level, your score is converted into money that you can use to purchase upgrades to make your garden easier to tend and more pleasing to the eye.  After your plant is fully grown, you will click on the pots to harvest them.  When you harvest a plant, a special relaxation icon will drop from the plant.  You have to click on these icons quickly or they will disappear.  If you click on them, they go to form a special power up that you can use to give you extra time to beat the level.  The boost also relaxes Barb and gives all of the plants a heart boost.  Each plant starts off with five hearts, but, the longer you take to fulfill their requests, the more hearts they lose.  If the plant gets down to zero hearts, it will die and you need to replant.  I never had a difficult time with my plants dying so this shouldn’t be an issue, but you cannot ignore a plant and hope that nothing happens.  You can, however, leave a fully grown bushel sitting on top of the pot for as long as you want.  Once Barb harvests the plants, the veggies or flowers will be put into little bushels for you to carry.  Click on the bushels (maximum of two), then click on the big basket by your work table.  The items in the basket will automatically be used to fill orders from your customers, which are shown on the top of the screen. When your last customer is served, the level is over and you move on to the next one.

The first couple of levels are fairly routine and they make it easy for you to learn about chaining bonuses and how to work the game.  After that, they start throwing you some curve balls to make the game a bit more challenging.  Bugs will try to eat your plants and you need to click on the pesticide and then the pot to get them taken care of.  Some plants will get distressed and need some extra time from Barb, which causes you to slow down.  Certain areas get nice rain storms, which means you don’t need to water the plants if they are potted, other areas get high winds, which means you need to build wind breaks around your pots.  Some gardens are inside and you need to worry about protecting your plants from dogs.  Fortunately, all of these tasks are easily accomplished by simply clicking on the pots when prompted on the bottom of the game screen.  If you do not follow the prompt, your plants could become damaged or die.  Over time, some of your pots wear out and you will need to repair them before you can plant new items in them.  None of these tasks are difficult or complicated, but they do throw off your chaining bonuses and can cause you to loose track of what you are doing for a few moments.  The other distraction you need to work with is the relaxation bonus meter.  Your meter is located on the lower left hand corner of the screen and it will tell you how many more relaxation icons you need to click on before it is full and you can use the time saver bonus.  Keep in mind that the more you use the bonus feature, the more icons you need to click on before you can use it.  I found it really difficult to time the meter to get the maximum use out of it.  The meter flashes and sparkles as you add icons to it, even though it is not full.  You have to click on the last icon, wait for it to fly to the meter and then click on the meter to activate the bonus.  I found that the meter rarely reacted to my first click and that I was adding icons to a full meter.  If you continue to click on relaxation icons when the meter is full, they are not rolled over, they just disappear.  This motivates you to use the meter as soon as possible so you can start filling it again.  Again, the meter takes the clock backwards and so can really help you achieve your goals before you run out of time.

So, how do you make sure you beat every level and don’t have to replay it?  Focus on your bonus chaining.  It is really important to match colors and actions to chain them as much as possible. This not only boosts your score, but it gives you more time to beat the level. Remember that you don’t have to fill customer orders in the order they come in.  The customers have an indefinite level of patience so you can fill whatever order you want and ignore whichever orders you want.  For the first half of the game, you can fill orders that haven’t popped up yet (the top bar will only show you the four most recent orders and then there are a bunch of pending orders that you cannot see).  What I did is I used the colored pots I was given to plant and harvest all of the pear trees (yellow), then all of the tomatoes (red) and then all of the blueberries (blue).  This kept my chaining bonuses at the maximum.  However, to make the game harder the longer you play, this feature is turned off at some point in the game and then you can only fill the orders you can see.  Make sure you pay attention to whether your orders are filling or not and then use this feature as long as you can.  Although you can only see the first four orders, you can see the color of the pending orders.  Take a moment at the beginning of the level to identify how many yellow orders, red orders, blue orders and green orders you have and then use your pots accordingly.  Try to keep a pot for each color if possible and then replant in it during the whole level.  If this isn’t possible, try and fulfill all of the yellow orders in the pot before you start planting green orders in it.  Again, it is critical to keep your chaining bonuses coming to give you the time to beat the level and to achieve those expert levels.

For the store upgrades, pick a strategy and stick with it.  You can only have one “helper” on each pot.  You can select equipment that will automatically prune the plant, harvest the plant, water the plant or fulfill the special needs of the plant.  I found the water equipment the most helpful as every plant needs water and some of them need to be watered more than once.  You can also buy upgrades to make your garden look nicer and to move faster, which are always helpful.  Your money does not go with you when you start a new garden (decided arbitrarily after playing a certain number of levels per garden) so go ahead and spend everything you earn or you will lose it.  Unfortunately, you cannot buy new pots so you have to wait for the game to give them to you at certain points.  You can choose if you want single pots, double pots or triple pots.  The double and triple pots are nice because you get twice or triple the number of plants for the same click, but they take longer to grow.  Get a good combination and figure out which pot works best for you and you will be fine.  I preferred the bigger pots, but it restricts the variety of plants you can plant and serve at a time so only go for this option if you feel confident and comfortable with the game.  Remember: the only time you can move your pots around on the screen are when you get new pots so take advantage of moving your pots into the spaces most convenient for you or you will be stuck with a crappy layout for the next couple of levels. My last advice is to know your plants.  If you can remember what each type of plant needs to grow, you can anticipate their needs and have the item ready before the plant asks for it.  This cuts down on wait time and keeps the plants happier.

In the end, this game is what it is: a repetitive time management game.  Still, there was something about it that I really enjoyed.  There was just enough challenge to keep me on my toes, but not so much that I felt that I could never achieve the expert level.  Just when I started to get a bit complacent, I found myself struggling to beat a level in time and had to rethink my strategy.  My recommendation is to just go for it!  Go with your gut as far as what you want to buy and how you want to handle your garden.  Try different strategies and you will find different results every time. The graphics are quite nice, the interface is smooth and there is a little story line to enjoy if you are into that type of thing.  My only complaint is that I wanted a wider variety of plants faster and that my clicks did not always register on the game.  Once I was aware that my clicks were not always working, I made sure that I checked Barb’s hands and adjusted my clicks accordingly.  If you enjoy time management games and want to play something a bit different (no food service!), give this one a try and have fun!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Customers order by color and icon and plants will “ask” for what they need by icon.  You do need to be able to read to take advantage of the advice the game gives you, to follow the tutorials and to follow the storyline.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Busy Bea’s Halftime Hustle Game Review

Busy Bea’s Halftime Hustle

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:3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Beatrice has moved to Blunderton to help them get their sports franchises playing better.  Voted “worst sports franchise of the year,” Blunderton can use all of the help they can get!  Help the teams get more fans by providing the best concessions service ever!  Keep fans happy by serving ice cream, popcorn, hot dogs, soda pop, balloons, and more.  Fans will also need to be rotated through bathrooms, stadium seats and exit turnstiles.  The more you play, the more concessions stands are unlocked.  Can you keep up with the demand and improve Blunderton’s teams?

Review:

This is a time-management game created by the same team who brought us the Megaplex Madness games (Megaplex Madness: Now Playing & Megaplex Madness: Summer Blockbuster).  Fans will come in on the left and wait in line until you drag them to a circle where they can be served.  Every fan will be requesting something specific, which will be shown in a bubble above their head.  You need to click on the fan and, while holding the mouse button down, drag them to the station that they have requested.  Each station will take a bit of time to serve the customer and so you will need to wait after you place them.  Different types of fans have different patience levels and demands.  The most impatient fans offer the best tips and request the most services, but they also have to be served more quickly or they will get upset and leave.  Fans can have a maximum of 5 stars and they gradually lose stars as they wait for services.  When they drop all the way down to 0 stars, they will start leaving.  You can still grab them and drag them to a circle if you catch them in time so don’t give up on them, even if they are starting to leave.

There is a basic goal and an expert goal on each level.  You earn money based on how many stars customers have when they go through the exit turnstile after getting all of their services.  You can also earn money by creating chaining bonuses.  You begin the game with 2 different colors of customers and slowly progress to 3, then 4, etc.  The more colors of customers you have, the more difficult it will be to create color chaining bonuses.  These bonuses are worth quite a bit of money so you will want to try and get them wherever possible.  You begin with 2 different stations of each type of service to get you started off so you can begin making chain bonuses right away.  Try and come up with a pattern for yourself, such as blue on the left and red on the right, and stay consistent so that you can get the maximum bonus possible.  You can get a good bonus with an additional heart added on for both fans when you swap 2 fans between spaces.  This only works when it is a straight across swap, not when you move people around like usual.  For example, say a blue fan is waiting for soda at the ice cream station and another blue fan is waiting for ice cream at the soda station.  Pick one of the fans up and drop them in the appropriate spot and both of them will immediately switch places.  This does not happen very often, but it is great to take advantage of it when you can!  If you create a long enough chain (serving customers that are the same color on the circle for 5+ customers in a row), there will be a gold coin that is dropped on that circle.  Beatrice can go and pick it up or, when you place another fan on that circle, the fan will automatically pick up the coin.  Coins and money can be used to purchase upgrades to your concessions stands and make it easier to run your business so try and earn as much as you can.  Beatrice can also catch foul balls by watching for the football shadow on the ground.  If she catches one, she gets a free coin.

They added in a few additional layers of complexity in this game that I do not remember from the Megaplex Madness game.  One of them is that concessions stands can break down.  They will have springs sticking out of them and are not useable until Beatrice goes over and fixes them.  Beatrice can also be used to entertain fans while they are waiting.  The biggest problem with Beatrice is that she is slow.  You can upgrade her speed, but it takes a while and you really need to use your money to purchase new concession stands, hire additional employees and upgrade the stations you already have so that they work more rapidly.  If possible, you will want to purchase as many stations as you have colors of fans so that you can get your chaining bonuses.  Any time you place a different color on a circle, the chain is broken and you have to start over.  Still, it might be worth your while to upgrade Beatrice’s speeds as there are some levels where stuff is breaking constantly.  The other problem with Beatrice is she can only be in once place at a time.  There is an option in the game menu that will enable you to select a chaining option for Beatrice and I recommend that you set it up right away.  If you do not select this option (you must exit out to the main menu to select it), Beatrice can only take one command at a time.  If you click on a chair to be repaired and then a bathroom before Beatrice is done, she will leave the chair and go to the bathroom.  This is very frustrating and a huge waste of time.  I do not know why they do not have it defaulted to chain Beatrice’s actions in the game settings, but there you go.  The other difference with this game, and this is a nice one, is that the fans will want to sit in seats and watch the game.  You can also use these seats to move people out of the way.  Grandmas and grandpas take a while to make up their mind as to what they want order (they have a lag time between bubbles that pop up above their heads and will be blank for a while).  They are taking up a valuable spot while they think and other fans know what they want and are not very patient.  Simply grab these elderly people and stick them in a chair of the appropriate color and you are all set.  When they have decided, you can move them back into the rotation.  The chairs are also really helpful when all of your stations are full and no one is asking for a straightforward swap.  Sometimes you have to move someone out of the way to clear room for everyone and these chairs are tremendously helpful.

This is a fun game, but pretty repetitive and not all that different from the Megaplex Madness series.  If you enjoyed those move-themed games, you will enjoy this sports-themed game.  I had a fun time playing, but found myself frustrated with the same issues that I had with the Megaplex games.  I never felt like I had enough spots to get my chaining bonuses and had a difficult time with the visuals on the screen.  The area gets quite cluttered and it is easy to forget people, especially when they are off in the corners of the screen.  Still, that is my problem and not the game designers’ problem.  There is a little story that goes along with the game, which was nice, as it is always fun to have an extra touch to keep the player interested.  The graphics were bright and cheerful, though a tad clunky.  In the end, I had fun with this game, but I was good after an hour of gameplay.  Take the time to check it out and see if it is your style before you buy.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading involved to follow the storyline, play through the tutorial and pick up on useful tip information.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Charm Tale 2: Mermaid Lagoon Game Review

Charm Tale 2: Mermaid Lagoon

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Charm Tale #2
# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 5 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 2 – 12 hours
Type of Game: Match 3
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Dorothy is still trying to discover her heritage.  She finished investigating the plane wreck and now she is headed underwater to learn more about how her parents met and fell in love.  Dorothy, with your help, soon discovers that her mother was one of the merpeople, but her father could not live comfortably underwater so they left together.  Determined to uncover all of the details, Dorothy must play games with each of the merpeople she meets to continue to learn her parents’ story.  Journey with Dorothy as she begins under the sea and slowly progresses back onto the land in search for her parents.  Perhaps you will uncover the clues that will lead you to save them – and yourself!

Review:

I confess that I was disappointed with this game.  It was barely average, which surprised me as it is a sequel.   I always assume that a game must be pretty good to be part of a series.  I figure that, if the game is poor, only one will be made because they did not sell enough copies.  Obviously, I was wrong.  This game could have been cute and fun, but the story was so poorly translated that it really brought the game quality down for me.  Most of the story is incomprehensible and you have to focus on keywords to try and figure out what they are talking about.  It is true that you can completely ignore the story, but the game developers clearly spent a great deal of time coming up with this story and the prophecy so I felt like it was integral to the game itself.  What a disappointment in that respect!

The graphics are bright, colorful and fantastical.  They did a wonderful job creating fantasy creatures under the sea and I really enjoyed the look of the game.  That is probably the only thing that I will tell you that I liked about the game.  The game interface itself was okay.  It was not great, but I was able to get the cursor to work with minimal problems and did not have any difficulty making matches.  This is a chain match game, which means you click on one gem and then drag your mouse cursor over other gems of the same color.  The longer the chain, the more money your match is worth.  You can get money bonuses, as well as help icons on the game board if you make matches of 5 or more.  Some of the help icons include wild card gems, which can be used to make chains of any color, link gems, which can link together two gems of different colors to make a really long chain, giant gems, which take up a lot of space on the game board, but give you BIG bonus points, etc.  These are pretty easy to get as there are large chunks of the game board that are the same color and you can create chains going up, down, side to side or diagonally.  Make sure that you do not release your mouse button before you are ready, however, as it makes your chain much shorter!   Each game board is different and most of them are roughly the shape and size of the creature you are talking to (octopus, mermaid, crab, etc.).  I appreciated the variety in look, but they all quickly felt the same to me.

There are a lot of power ups you can purchase to help you even further.  There is a shop where you can use the shells you have earned to purchase bombs, color changers, etc.  I purchased the upgrades, but found that I did not need to use them as there were plenty of power ups available on the game board itself.  Still, I guess they could be helpful if you were in a tight spot.  You are timed so you need to make matches relatively quickly, but I felt like you had ample time to complete the game boards.  I did find that I ran out of time to get the treasure chests, however, which was a bit frustrating.  When you make a really good move, you will earn a treasure chest on the board.  You only get the bonus inside when the treasure chest makes it to the bottom of the screen so I missed a lot of these.  I was never quite sure when a game board was over as you need to link a certain number of gems in a chain in sum total to pass the board and go to the next one.  I would be in the middle of playing and I was suddenly done.  I guess I should have paid more attention to what was happening around the game board, but you are just kind of thrown in and start making matches as quickly as possible so I never really noticed what was going on.  It would have been nice if they introduced the game features, but they did not give you any introduction at all.  I did not play the first Charm Tale game so I really did not know what I was getting myself in for.  I did not even know that this was a chain match-3 game and not a traditional one so I wasted some time on the first game board trying to figure out what to do.  Still, it is not like it is that difficult to figure out so I am not really complaining, I am just letting you know that instructions are not included.

This game was just barely average for me.  There are so many match-3 games out there that I feel you can completely skip over this one and not even know that you missed anything.  The graphics were the best part, but the story and actual game play were a bit blah.  There are some mini-games in between the match-3 where they have you searching for hidden objects, but I felt like they were more of an insult than an asset.  First of all, just to make me really mad, the music always played during the mini games – even though I had the music turned off!  Secondly, they have you placing objects to light things underwater, but it was very difficult to see what you were doing.  Thirdly, most of them were so easy that it felt like there was really no point.  Even if you did get stuck, there is a rechargeable hint that makes it very easy to get the aid you need to pass it.  This is not a good beginner match-3 game as there are no instructions and this is not a good advanced match-3 game as it is way too easy.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading to figure out what the power ups do and if you want to try and follow the story line.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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Behind the Reflection Game Review

Behind the Reflection

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: Hidden Object
My Rating:4/5 stars

Synopsis:

You play the part of a mother who is desperately looking for her son.  You were both on the way home from shopping when you stopped to rest and your son disappeared.  The old woman inside the house nearby believes that your son was on a moving truck that just left.  You track the truck down to a mysterious mansion where a witch claims that your son is trapped on the other side of the mirror.  Now you are desperately trying to open a portal into the mirrorworld so that you can find your son and bring him back home safely!  To open the portal, you will need to find a variety of objects and play mini-games.  Each master object you unlock will help draw you closer to your ultimate goal, but your life will never be the same again!

Review:

This was a fun hidden-object game with a touch of adventure thrown in.  The storyline was much better than most of those found in hidden-object games and I enjoyed following the adventures while looking for items.  I was not particularly crazy about the graphics.  They are very advanced and so your people move, walk and talk with other characters in the game. It is almost like a low-budget CGI animated feature.  Some of the proportions were off, but the settings were very nicely done and intriguing.  There is a lot of variety as you travel around to the different locations and they were quite imaginative so I did enjoy that part of it.  Also, the music and sound effects were actually quite nice in this game. For once, I was able to leave the music on and not be super annoyed and irritated by its sound while I was playing!  The default settings are quite low and added a nice, mellow touch to the game so that was a plus for me.  The game interface is pretty easy to use and everything loaded smoothly and worked well.  The game cursor is pretty forgiving and the only penalty you get is a temporarily cracked screen if you click around too often without landing on something you are looking for.  There is no time limit and the hint button is rechargeable so don’t worry about rushing through the game.

This hidden-object game differs from the traditional type in that you will need to find a master object to interact with.  When you click on a master object, 3 – 6 bubbles will appear around it that show you objects that you need to find to unlock the master.  For example, you click on the bird and need to find a birdcage, bread crumbs, a hammer and a screwdriver.  The items will all be shown in picture format, which can make finding the items a bit challenging as the objects are rarely in the same position on the screen.  Once you find an item, you will need to take that item and place it in the appropriate bubble.  If you cannot find all of the objects on the screen you are on, move to the next screen and see if you can find objects there.  The key to finding objects in this game is to find all of the master objects first.  If you click on an item that belongs to a master object that you have not yet clicked on, you will not pick it up and have to look for it again later.  If you click on all the master objects on the different locations, you can pick up any and all objects regardless of which master object they belong to.  If you pick up an item that belongs to a master object on the screen you are currently working on, it will remain on your cursor so you know you can place it immediately.  If the item belongs to a different master object on another screen, it will go into your inventory at the bottom of the screen for you to place later.  The items you need to pick up do not always stand out so it can be a bit challenging to remember everything you are looking for while you are wandering around.

There are typically 2 – 3 master objects per screen so it is not too overwhelming.  The master objects are quite easy to find, fortunately, as you will have a grasping hand show up over the correct location.  Just take your cursor and slowly cruise around the screen until you find the items you can interact with.  There are a few traditional hidden-object scenes in this game, however, and they are shown by sparkling stars.  Click on the stars and you will get a list of about 12 items you need to find.  One of the items will be an object you are looking for to complete a master object.  You can also find objects by playing mini games.  These mini games will pop up over items on the screen you are working on.  These locations on the screen will sparkle or show other indications that you can interact with them so it is not difficult to figure out that you need to click on them.  Keep in mind that you do need to have the master object open to play the mini game or you cannot click on the item and play it.  The mini games are a lot of fun in this game and I enjoyed them much more than I usually do.  There is a lot of variety and most of them are not difficult, but they were very creative and it was nice to play something different than usual.  Also, the game will automatically pop up with a “skip” bar that is slowly filling at the bottom of your mini-game screen.  I found that the skip button almost always filled up before I finished playing the mini-game.  I don’t know if I was really slow at finishing these games or if they just didn’t want people to have to wait forever (like some other hidden object games out there that really punish you for not playing mini games!), but it was really nice.  You play games where you move tiles around to get electricity or liquid to move through the pipes, put together puzzles, play matching games, solve mind-benders, play memory games and more.  These mini-games were fresh, unique and really added to my enjoyment of the game.

This game was a lot of fun to play and I really enjoyed myself while I was immersed in this world.  I was totally into the storyline and couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen!  Once I became adjusted to the graphics, I really had nothing to complain about.  They do a very nice job of tutoring you on the game basics in little drips and drabs, but that is only in regards to the main game play.  They do not provide very much, or any, instruction on how to play the mini games so be prepared to click around and figure out what you should do.  If something doesn’t work, try a different tactic.  Remember, you really are not penalized at all in this game so put yourself out there and click around until you find what you are looking for.  If you enjoy hidden-object games and are looking for something a little bit different with some nice fantastical touches, this is a great one to check out!

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading involved to follow the story, get instructions and to find objects on lists.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Fairy Maids Game Review

Fairy Maids

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:

It is only 30 days until the big wedding between Prince Charming and the cleanest of princesses, Snow White.  Prince Charming is horrified at the status of the Fairy Tale Glade and quickly hires the most experienced fairy maid and her new assistant, you, to clean everything up before the big day.  Look through the classified ads in the newspaper and accept jobs from the most famous creatures in fairy tale land, including Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs, the Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, the Troll, Prince Charming, Hansel and Gretel and more!  You will need to use all of your cleaning tools to fight boggarts, clean up messy rooms and earn the gold after making your customers happy.  Can you clean up the Glade before the biggest wedding of them all and help everyone live happily-ever-after?

Review:

This game was quite clever and really complicated in design and execution.  I can tell that there was a lot of time and effort spent on this game, down to the finest of details, but sometimes that worked against them a bit.  I loved the beautiful graphics of the game and the clever stories.  If you read the ads of the fairy tale creatures before you clean their house, you can read some great little puns, play on words and clever references to classic fairy tales.  The tongue-in-cheek humor was great and I really appreciated it.  Unfortunately, some of the cleverness and variety actually worked against the game designers as they introduced so many peripherals that you lost the main thread of the game itself.

The main point of the game is to clean the room(s) of your customers before the time runs out.  You have a whole row of cleaning tools to use so the first thing you must do is identify which item you need.  There is: a duster – cleans cobwebs and piles of dust; a spray bottle – cleans drawings and grey, slimy patches; a sponge – cleans up after the spray bottle and aerosol cans; an aerosol spray can – cleans thick, difficult patches; a fairy wand – straightens furniture and cleans up messes in the room; a broom – cleans up crumbs on hardwood floors; a mop – cleans up liquid messes on hardwood floors; a vacuum cleaner – cleans up crumbs off of carpets and rugs.  Most of these tools work by clicking on the appropriate area and then clicking continually until the stain/mark is gone.  The aerosol can, however, works by holding down your mouse button until the whole area is sprayed.  Each of these tools only works on specific messes so you have to select the appropriate tool and then the appropriate area.  You get bonus chains by cleaning using the same tool multiple times.  For example, if you clean three cobwebs in a row with the duster, there is a bonus for that.  If you mop then vacuum then dust then mop, you do not get a chaining bonus.  This is harder than it sounds as you have this big room to tackle and you are not sure what you are cleaning yet.  It gets even more difficult when you get multiple rooms to clean for each client.  You can get the most bang for your buck by cleaning all of the rooms (2 – 4) with the same tool and then the second tool, etc., but I just found I did not have enough time to do that!  You can select an untimed option and this might be good for your first run through as it is a big overwhelming when you begin playing.

As you progress through levels, you will be presented with new challenges.  Some clients need help finding lost items (bones, shoes, blackbirds, etc.).  You only get the gold coin bonus if you find all of the items that are lost so you either have to go for it or ignore it.  There is no penalty for ignoring the hidden-object bonus challenge so, if you feel overwhelmed, just overlook it and do the cleaning.  After the first couple of levels, you have to battle a boggart.  This little guy will go behind you and mess up everything that you have just cleaned.  You can get rid of him by clicking on him with your magic wand multiple times, but you can only click on him a maximum of two times before he disappears and pops up in a new location.  It takes quite a bit of time to get rid of the boggart, but you have to or you cannot get the room clean.  My strategy was to start off with the magic wand tool and straighten up the room, if it stayed put together and I did not hear the sound effects or the green glow that means a boggart is in the room, I knew that I was okay and could move on to the next room safely.  If books fell out of the bookcase or I saw the slimy green sparks, I knew the boggart was there and I kept using the magic wand and trying to find him until I got rid of him.  This takes a lot of time and so you have to really hustle through the other tasks or you will not finish in time!  If you do not completely clean rooms before the time is up, you get paid nothing and have to start over. Fortunately, there is an icon that will show you that you have completely cleaned a room and a hint button to help you find the areas you missed.  When a flower grows on the circle beneath a room icon, you are completely done with that room.  If the blossom hasn’t grown yet, simply click on the hint button and the sparkles will show you which area you missed.  Not sure which tool to use on an area?, simply hover over it with your mouse and the appropriate tool will start shaking on your tool bar.  If you try to use the incorrect tool, a bright white circle with sparkles will show up around the tool you should be using.

The main point of the game is to clean rooms, but there are lots of little bonus games you can play and other things you can do.  Two of the first things that are introduced are the store and flower garden.  Inside the store, you can choose to pay full price for items or you can haggle, which means you play a hidden-object mini game to find all of the gold you can to drive the price down.  It is extremely helpful to power-up your tools as it takes a lot fewer clicks to clear a mess than it usually does.  There is a huge difference between 2 – 5 clicks and 8 – 12 clicks!  Purchase the upgrades as quickly as you can and keep upgrading until you have purchased them all as you have to clean more rooms and more messes faster than ever before when you get to the end!  Also, play the haggle mini-game as you can save 1,000s in gold coins if you find all the bags.  You do not earn very much gold from your customers so it is a real challenge to buy the upgrades you need.  You can also help create fragrances in the flower garden.  A row of 5 flower blossoms will be shown on the bottom of the screen.  All you need to do to earn some extra gold is click on the same blossoms in the garden.  You can click on them in any order and there is no penalty for clicking on the wrong flower.  This can be helpful if you need a few 100 extra gold pieces to purchase an upgrade and does not take very long to play.

You can earn 1 – 3 stars for each cleaning job you do and, of course, the more stars you earn, the more money you make.  You can only make 3 stars by hitting as many of your chaining bonuses as possible and finishing with some time left on the clock so you really have to push yourself to get these.  I usually am a stickler about getting perfect scores on time management games, but I let this one ride as it was really challenging my first time through.  They do a fairly decent job at introducing you to all of the aspects of the game, but it is still overwhelming.  There are a lot of tools and a lot going on so I only got 3 stars on a handful of levels.  I was okay with this as this game is unique and different from any other time-management game I have played in the past couple of months.  I am sure that I will insist on perfect scores when I play this game again, but don’t expect to do great your first time through.

If you are looking for something a little different, but still with the feel of the time-management games, this is a good one to explore.  I confess that I did get a bit frustrated trying to switch between tools, but there is a sweet spot that you can find that will help you click on the circles at the top of the screen more successfully.  Also, once you get a method down, you will do much better.  I liked to start with the tools on the left and work my way over to the right after I killed the boggart.  This worked for me and helped me identify which messes I was looking for.  I may not have hit all of the chaining bonuses, but I got a lot more of them by working this way than looking at the room and then grabbing a tool.  If you like time management games, you will want to play the free hour on this one and see if it is something you would enjoy playing.  If you haven’t played a lot of time-management games or struggle with other games in this genre, this is probably not one that you will enjoy as I found myself really working at this game and still having to replay some levels.  Still, the graphics are really cute and there is an untimed option if you want to give it a try or have younger players who want to play what their parents are playing.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading required to follow instructions and to read the story, but there is not that much if you don’t care about the extra, clever details the game creators included.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Jewel Keepers: Easter Island Game Review

Jewel Keepers: Easter Island

Game Review by Debbie Winkler

# of Players: 1
Target Age Group: 5 and up
Language: English
Average Game Play: 1 – 6 hours
Type of Game: Match 3
My Rating:2/5 stars

Synopsis:

Something sinister is happening on Easter Island!  Professor H, his assistant, Joel, and his granddaughter, Ivie, rush to the island to see what is happening.  When they arrive, they will have to use all of their skills to play games and puzzles to put together the ancient artifacts that will keep the Island safe.  Each level that you pass will give you another, small piece of the artifact.  Simply move icons on the game board so that they form a row or a column of 3 or more to change the color of the square underneath the icon to gold.  Once all of the squares are gold, you pass the level and gain another piece!  When you have collected all of the pieces of the artifact, you win!

Review:

I liked the idea of this game a lot more than the execution of the game.  Let me start with the positive.  The creators of the game had a good idea to spice up the game board.  The board remains the same for every level that you play, but there are a series of wooden blocks that show up on different areas of the board.  These blocks will keep tiles from dropping underneath them and you cannot move tiles over them.  You need to make matches with all of the useable tiles until you turn all of the available tiles to gold.  When you have completed this, the wooden blocks will fall away and then you need to make matches over those squares until the tiles turn to gold.  This is not as difficult as it sounds because you can move tiles into the empty spaces.  Simply drag a tile next to an empty space and it will drop to the bottom of that column.  You also can move tiles up into an empty space to make a match of 3.  As you progress through the levels, you will encounter blocks of different colors and they each interact with the game board differently.  The next block you encounter is a flat, black block.  This block does not ever go away and is just a blank void the entire level.

There are a lot of power ups available on this game to help the play speed along.  If you make matches of 5 or more, you can earn bombs, arrows, and special wild-card tiles.  The bombs have a timer on them so they go off when the timer runs out.  The only way you can move the bomb around the board is by making matches around them to cause it to drop to where you want it to go.  I did not find the bombs to be particularly useful as they only made very small explosions, but they popped up very frequently so I guess they were kind of useful.  The arrows can come up in a horizontal or vertical format.  Simply click on the arrow and it will turn the whole row or column to gold so that you don’t have to make matches on it.  The exception to this is tiles that lay underneath wooden blocks.  These will not change to gold and you will still need to make a match over them.  The wild-card tiles flash through every different color/symbol of tile very rapidly.  You cannot really see what tile you are selecting, but you click on the tile at any time and it will remove every tile of that particular type from the game board.  I found this power up to be very handy, but you have no control over which tiles are removed so it is truly a wild card.

They had a nice layout to the board with bright, cheerful colors.  Each of the tiles has a very clear, easily identifiable format.  They all have a different shape and a different color and they are not at all similar.  This was a nice change as it seems like there are usually two tiles that are similar that cause confusions in match-3 games, but not in this one!  There is a brief little story line that accompanies the game play, but I did not find it to be anything particularly interesting or intriguing.  You can click through it rapidly and get the gist if you like.  Also, this game is not what you would call timed, but you do have to play in a timely fashion.  There is a bar at the bottom of the game board that starts out full and then slowly empties as you play.  You can keep it full by continuing to make matches on the board.  Any time you make a match, the timer bar will get a boost and will fill back up a bit.  This makes it pretty easy to have all the time in the world to finish a game board.  All you have to do is continue to make matches the entire time and you will never have to worry about losing a level.  The only way that I lost a level and had to restart it in this game is when I ran out of matches.  If you run out of matches on the game board, a narrator will come up and tell you that and automatically start your game over.  This is frustrating, but not a deal breaker.  Anyway, keep making matches no matter if they are turning tiles to gold or not and you will be fine.

Despite all of the good qualities this game had, I simply could not give it more than an below average score due to the difficulty in game play.  I found the cursor to be less than responsive and I did not like the way it worked.  The cursor is very large.  It is almost the size of one of the tiles you are clicking on so it can be difficult to click on the tile you want to select.  Once you click on the tile, a gold cross will pop up that will highlight the tiles you can move the tile with.  Why on earth they felt the need to show the player that the tile can be swapped up, down, right or left is beyond me.  It is not like there is a special diagonal feature to the game or anything.  Anyway, this gold pop up would have been fine if it did not slow down the game play for me.  Unfortunately, it did.  I like to click on a tile and then slide it into place, but I could not do that in this game.  You must click a tile and then click on the tile you want to swap it with.  I found that I struggled to get the game to do this on a constant basis.  I would click on the tile that I wanted to swap and then click on adjacent tile, only to find that the cursor had selected the second tile as the active tile and that I had to click back and then click again.  This got old really fast.  There are a lot of match-3 games out there and this one did not compare favorably with the easy of game play in other games.

My main complaint was the game play, but there were some other irksome details that detracted from my enjoyment of the game.  One of the first things that I recommend that you do when you begin is to change the options to no sound and no music.  I usually leave the sound on, but this game just drove me crazy!  Every time you move your cursor over a tile – not click on a tile, just move the cursor over a tile – the game makes a little chiming noise.  There are also bubble noises and other weird sounds that come up while you are playing.  I did not think that the sound effects suited the game at all and had to go and turn it off.  This presented a challenge in and of itself because the menu options are difficult to find!  On the very first screen of the game, there are a series of 5 boxes to the left of the screen.  Only the top box is highlighted and the rest are muted and look like they cannot be clicked on, but each box allows you a different option.  The one at the top starts the game.  The one at the bottom ends the game.  The one that is second from the bottom is the options menu and you can turn off the sound and music there.  The other boxes can be used to set up new games, save them, etc.

If this game had a smoother interface that enabled a quicker, more accurate gaming experience, I would have given it a higher rating.  I liked the layout, the colors and the quick start to the game, but I could not enjoy playing it for very long.  The weird thing is that they designed it in a way that made it difficult to stop playing.  When you finish a level, the next level automatically begins.  There is no break between the game play.  When you finish level 1, a person comes out to congratulate you, the piece you won fills in the medallion and then next level begins.  I would have liked a start button or something like that do that I could control when the next level began, but there is nothing like that here.  When you are done playing, you need to click on the main menu button and leave the game that way.  This game might be a good game for young children to play as there is little direction and the game does show you which way you can move tiles.  I don’t think that anyone would find the gold cross helpful, but little kids or older, less-computer savvy players might.  I had high hopes for this game, but I was disappointed.  Make sure that you play the free hour so that you know for sure if this game is the one for you.  There are a lot of match-3 games out there and I feel like there are many better ones so, if you are only going to buy one, I recommend purchasing a different one.  If you buy a lot of these, perhaps there is something in this one for you.

Content:

This game is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  There is some reading involved if you want to follow the storyline and the basic tutorials, but it is not really necessary.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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