29 May, 2011

Keepalive: GameTap Casual

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 29 May, 2011

Not a lot's been going on lately. A lot of people jumped to Brink, which I wasn't getting much out of. And we're in the news lull just before E3, which starts June 7th. In the meantime, I've been scouring GameTap to see if my subscription fee is still justified. They have a lot of casual games there now, stuff I wouldn't try if I had to buy it piecemeal.

Time Management Games

Take orders. Prepare them in several stages. Deliver them to customers. When it's done decently, it's lively and challenging. I enjoyed Potion Bar, Terrafarmers, and Mystic Emporium. They weren't perfect, but they were enjoyable. Surprisingly some of the long running series, CakeMania and Farm Frenzy, weren't nearly as fun.

In the case of CakeMania: Main Street, there are four separate games, but flower arranging plays almost identically to cake making. And making sushi is almost identical to making fast food. It got old. And Farm Frenzy was way too much waiting around to live up to its name.

Royal Envoy

Royal Envoy is still a time management game, but there's a bit more math to it. Should you build more housing, or a market to sell that lumber instead? Would you make more with another house for raw income, or a bank which adds 50% to the income from your existing houses? Late in the game the developer became overly fond of obscuring the map, forcing the player to restart to have any chance at a good finishing time, but overall the game worked.

Tradewinds Legends

This game is a puzzle. I mean, the game itself is fairly straightforward. Run errands, buy low; sell high; fight pirates. The puzzle is that it's appearance and interface are right out of the early 90s. It makes some pop culture references from the late 90s or early 2000s. And it's set in mythic Arabia which, outside of Prince of Persia, doesn't come up much, especially in post Gulf War games. The credits feature Lakshya Digital, a small Indian developer judging by the names, and a lot of work by Sandlot Games. There's definitely a story or two buried in there somewhere, but since I'm not getting paid to write, I should probably leave it alone.

What I will say is that Melissa Cuthill and Dana Hanna did a great job with the localization of the game. The mechanics would never have held my interest. But the text describing the events and supporting characters was so silly that I had to see what came next. It's amazing how much humor and personality can be put into fetch quests, trading, and super simple combat.


Most of the games I played came from three publishers. Playrix has high production values and some good games, but they're pricy. Sandlot publishes some good games and some not so good ones and is a lot cheaper. And finding a game I liked published by Alawar meant sifting a lot of garbage.

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