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I've recently bought a word processor for my iPhone, and I thought I would challenge myself to use it to write a review on Bejeweled Blitz to publish on DooYoo.
This is another game that I play on Facebook, and have acquired the iPhone version.
Bejeweled Blitz was developed by PopCap Games, which is from the same stable as Bookworm (which is on my things to review but haven't got round to it list) and Zuma. As I understand it PopCap is now part Electronic Arts. The game is a free download from the App Store although there are in app purchases which I will discuss a bit later.
I'm reviewing the latest version at the time of writing which is Bejeweled Blitz 1.2.1 released 19 June 2012. The app is of course updated periodically, and I have done so since having my iPhone. The game requires iOS 3 or later.
The game is rated 4+ though I recommend children are supervised due to the in app purchases.
ON YOUR MARKS......
I can play offline or online using GameCenter, but I can also tap the play with Facebook friends by tapping the appropriate button.
Before starting the game, I'm invited to play the free daily spin which is like a fruit machine and I win so many coins which I can use to buy power ups (called boosts), and rare gems as they appear. As with many online games, I can buy additional spins and coins if I wish, but I never bother with anything like that the free coins are more than enough. The most I've won on the free daily spin is 100,000 coins, but most of the time is a far smaller amount. All features now apply to both the Facebook and standard game.
If I want to use any boosts, I need to 'purchase' these before I begin playing, and I can choose a maximum of 3 boosts at any one time. As I've said these cost coins, and I can choose from a handful of them. For example I can add a special gem to at the start of the game, have extra time, scramble the gems to name a few examples. In my opinion I find the special gem addition the most useful of all of them, and that is what I choose the most.
GET SET...... GO!!!!!
The game is very easy to learn, and there is of course a tutorial included.
Basically, this is a fast paced version of Bejeweled. I match three or more gems by swapping them and creating cascades from chain reactions to clear them from the board to get the highest possible score in just 1 minute. If I can make my matches fast enough, I can achieve 'blazing speed' don't think I've ever achieved that, but I've seen it on YouTube videos I've watched in the name of research for my review.
When I haven't touched the screen for a few seconds, a hint highlighting a match appears. I find this really useful as I am not the fastest Bejeweled Blitz player in the world and it can take me a while to find a match.
At the end of the game any remaining special gems and multipliers are activated and then my final score is calculated. This is known as the 'last hurrah'. Definitely a good thing, as some of my scores are pitiful and in the infinite wisdom of Tesco, every little helps! The points are added to my total score in the lifetime I've played the game and I'm ranked accordingly. I mostly play on Facebook so my current rank is 9 gem scraper.
I find these games are much easier to play on a touchscreen hence perfectly suited to iOS devices.
Certain matches produce special gems on the board.
Match 4 gems in a row earns a flame gem which when matched in the usual way blasts away several gems. This is the most common of the special gems I've made.
Match 5 gems in a row earns a hypercube this can be matched with an adjacent gem to clear all gems of that colour. I seldom get many of these.
Match 6 gems horizontally and vertically earns a star gem which clears a row and column of gems when matched in the normal way. As with hypercubes, I don't get many of these.
Periodically multipliers, which increase my score, appear on the board. These increase by 1 as they are matched. Think the most I've had is x5.
Some of the yellow gems when matched add coins to my balance. These gems look like a diamond with a coin in the middle.
Occasionally when playing a new game I'm asked if I would like to harvest a rare gem which you buy with coins. Most have quite a high asking price, so I rarely bother with them unless I've been really lucky in my free daily spin. Sometimes there are special gem streaks in which the gems are offered at a discount after using one, and sometimes PopCap have special offers for them.
The ones I've come across most are the cats eye gem which knocks out gems at the end of the game after the 'last hurrah'. I've used this a few times including my best ever score pushing nigh on 400,000 points.
There are also moonstone, blazing steed and a couple of others which I haven't used as yet due to costing a lot of coins.
As I'm on Facebook, I usually enter the weekly tournament to try and beat my friends' high scores and see how I compare. I can also share my high scores and special gem use on my Facebook timeline, I only tend to share exceptional high scores as I don't want to clutter my timeline, or my friends' newsfeed with game achievements. As with many games, high scores are recorded in the Activity section of my timeline.
This game is featured in GameCenter so I can compete on worldwide leader boards and earn achievements.
I can keep track of my statistics my tapping on my name to check my rank, and scoring performance and how many times I've scored so many points.
~Graphics and Sound~
The graphics look pretty good, and the game is optimised for the retina display. The actual gameplay is also very smooth and responsive on my iPhone 4S and gives me a better experience than the desktop version in my opinion.
Soundwise this is about the same as other games I play and I've turned the annoying music off but kept the sound effects on so I can have an audio prompt when time is running out. It's also exciting to hear 'good', 'excellent' 'awesome' on chain reactions.
In the settings menu (accessed from the same button as the Daily Spin) I can adjust the music and sound effects volume, and turn autohints on/off and also renew boots automatically on and off. The tutorial is accessed from the same menu by tapping the 'Help' button.
As a big fan of Bejeweled and match 3 games in general I enjoy playing Bejeweled Blitz and as my aim is a high score, it makes the game exciting in my opinion though I still like the levelled games like the original Bejeweled and Bejeweled Twist. In addition there is the option of competing on GameCenter and Facebook.
I also find Bejeweled Blitz easier to put down when I get too tired (due to illness) and this is where playing on a device like an iPhone comes into it's own as it's easier to put away than my laptop. It's certainly good fun, has a competitive edge and great for filling in a few spare minutes.
Accordingly I award the game a 4 star rating.
I first came across Diamond Dash when some of my friends started playing this on Facebook, so as I enjoy casual and puzzle games I started playing this. I discovered there is an iOS version, so when I had my iPhone I downloaded it from the App Store, so I could play it without having to use my laptop.
AVAILABILITY AND REQUIREMENTS
Developed by Wooga, Diamond Dash needs an iOS device running iOS 4.2 or above. This means an iPhone 3GS or above, iPod Touch 3rd generation or above, or an iPad.
The app is a free download but as with the Facebook version, I can buy silver coins, gold bars and lives as in app purchases. I don't bother buying things like that for games so I earn my coins and so on by playing.
My review covers Diamond Dash version 2.2 released 12th June 2012
GET READY TO DASH FOR THEM DIAMONDS....
The aim of the game is very simple. I'm given a grid of coloured tiles and I have to clear as many as possible by tapping on coloured blocks of 3 or more in one minute as fast as you can, to get the highest score possible. Reminds me a little of Mahki in TouchMaster except I don't empty the grid, and more tiles appear when I tap on them.
At the top of the screen there's a meter which when filled adds a power up diamond on the board which clears a line of gems when tapped and boosts my score.
Speed is important with this game. The faster I go increases my chances of releasing the 'magic fire' which again boosts my score. I find I achieve more of these on the iPhone than I do on the computer which I think is down to a combination of using the touchscreen and the iPhone 4S's hardware. For me though I think it makes a tremendous difference to my scores, though they are nowhere near what I've seen on YouTube, and I don't think I could ever achieve that in a million years!
There are levels in this game but they are in a similar vein to Bookworm, where I advance to the next level when I have reached a certain target, though I don't ever go back to the beginning.
Periodically, I'm awarded a score bonus which is increased every so many levels, and sometimes I am awarded a gold bar.
~Unleash those magic powers~
As I progressed through the game, I've unlocked 3 magic powers which help increase my score, and I admit I had my personal best with all the powers active which I had for free when I updated the iPhone app. I had to fulfil certain tasks to unlock them, and to use them in your game you need silver coins to buy them which I can either buy or earn through playing. As the power ups aren't mentioned by name in the app description apart from the colour splash which appears in the screenshots, I don't want to spoil things to anyone who hasn't played the game before. Wooga has promised in the app description that more features will be added, so I'm guessing that more powers will be added in due course and updates.
New lives are awarded every 7 minutes but I can buy extra ones if I wish, or ask my Facebook friends. I find the free lives are more than enough for me and I can only play games like this in small doses as it so fast paced and repetitive.
~Play against friends~
As it is a social game, it comes as no surprise that there is Facebook integration. I can enter the weekly tournament to try beat my friends' score and win a medal, share my high scores on my timeline and invite friends to play.
In addition to Facebook, GameCenter compatibility has also been added which is Apple's high score and achievements system, and you can play against friends.
~Graphics and sound~
The game is bright and colourful and looks brilliant on the retina display and the graphics are beautifully drawn and the game runs smoothly on my iPhone 4S.
There's not really much to say about the sounds as it is really limited to starting and finishing the game and the sounds when tapping on the groups of diamonds, they do get annoying after a while, but they are useful as they go up like a musical scale to let me know how far from a 'magic fire' I am, and if I am too slow, or click on two tiles then it goes back to the beginning of the scale.
Diamond Dash is a great little game that fills in a few minutes that isn't too taxing on the brain but it is fast paced. It's not the most challenging game I've played, but it is certainly good for using your eyes to find the groups of 3 or more tiles, hand to eye co-ordination and of course reaction times. I am the first to admit that my reflexes are not the best, but I still enjoy playing. I think it's good for letting of steam so to speak.
If you like casual games such as TouchMaster or the 101 Megamix series, this will definitely appeal to you or If you play this on Facebook and own an iOS device I recommend downloading it. Due to the in app purchases I would recommend only allowing children to play the game under adult supervision to ensure you don't end up with a hefty bill. This is true of many games like this which have their own currency.
I'm awarding Diamond Dash a 4 star rating as it is great fun, and you can try to beat your friends' high scores.
TuneIn Pro is one of my favourite apps on the Android platform, so when I treated myself to an iPhone on contract, it was one of the first apps I purchased from the App Store it cost 69p.
You'll need an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 4 or above, though the stream to AirPlay function requires iOS 4.2 or above.
If you plan on listening to the radio using your mobile internet connection, I recommend selecting a 3G provider and a good data plan, but where possible use wi-fi to save your allowance.
My review is for TuneIn Pro version 2.6.1 released 1 May 2012 and it's published by TuneIn
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF RADIO....
~Near or far, there's a whole world to explore....~
TuneIn Pro basically turns your iOS device into an internet radio and recorder (the free version of misses the recording and timeshifting features as I understand it). I can tune in to radio stations from all over the world. It's worth mentioning that some stations are restricted because the broadcaster has limited availability to certain countries for reasons such as copyright and broadcast license terms, it is for the same reasons why certain events may be blocked out such as sporting events.
On loading the app, there are four buttons located at the bottom of the screen. My Presets, Browse, Recordings and Settings which pretty much speak for themselves. If you've enabled the in app web browser, a fifth button called Web will also be available.
Navigating the 70,000+ radio stations, as described in the description in the App Store, is thankfully a straightforward task thanks to the intuitive interface. On tapping the Browse button I'm given a list of different search options including local radio, recents, recommendations, podcasts and the various different programme types, again these are all self explanatory. If I want to search for a station manually, I can start to enter the name in the search box and as with iTunes, suggestions start appearing as soon as I start typing. A step further is being able to change to a random similar station by shaking your device, to do this you'll need to enable this in the settings menu of the application. The only trouble is one false move of the device changes the station, so I turned this feature off again.
In order for the Local Radio option to function I had to give permission for the app to use my location, and this will change to wherever I am. This list includes both local and national radio stations, that not only broadcast on FM/AM in that area, but also online only stations if the location is included in Tune In's database. Mostly the list is correct, but there are a few questionable entries which are at the opposite end of the UK!!
~Let's Tune In....~
Once I've found a radio station or podcast I want to listen to it's as easy as tapping on the station name. I'm greeted with an array of buttons to access different parts of the app such as a menu to set the alarm, sleep timer, view schedule and change the stream to name a few examples. I can share what I'm listening to via email or on Twitter and Facebook which I've used a few times, and view the station's website. Being the Pro version, there's a set of media controls which enable me to pause, rewind and record what I'm listening to.
The Now Playing screen shows the station logo (or other picture) and programme information. I also like the idea that the name of the song being played comes up underneath the station name, and the album artwork appears when I double tap the screen (if this information is available), as there are often times I like a song but don't know what it's called or who it's by. In addition I can add the song to my presets and buy it in iTunes if I so wish.
I can also access a few options by swiping across the screen such as accessing a list of related radio stations, and a list of stations I've recently listened to.
Audio quality is mostly very good, but I think that's down to the station rather than the app, likewise with buffering. As I mentioned earlier, it's easy to change to a higher or lower quality stream if the station has one.
The alarm and sleep timers are also useful. I particularly like the sleep timer as I am someone who can fall asleep listening to music, so I can get the radio to switch off after an hour or so. The alarm is really helpful for turning the radio on to listen to certain programmes.
This option is only available in TuneIn Pro. This is brilliant for listening to a show later on when it's not convenient to listen as it's being broadcast. I can of course mute the iPhone while it's recording so the sound doesn't disturb anyone.
There are basically two ways to record. One is by hitting the record button as I listen, or I can set the time and duration using the alarm function, which isn't offered by the Android version at the time of publishing this review. There is also thankfully an option to set the maximum duration of a recording in the event I forget to press the stop button.
Playing back the recording is pretty much the same as any other app, and as with the live radio, I can preset songs and buy them in iTunes if I wish to do so.
It's a doddle to preset radio stations to access them easily at a later date. That said the preset management system isn't brilliant and it's easy to end up with an enormous list of stations and it's frustrating should that list disappear - it happened to me on the Android version. The best solution is to set up a TuneIn account at www.tunein.com (it's free) and there you can organise your stations in to folders such as by station type or country, you can also add the account to all of your devices with Tune In installed so it saves time adding presets over and over again and to different devices. It's a good idea as I've done, to set up a General Folder, so new presets created on the phone are added to this folder where they can be moved at a later date, but this again needs a computer to organise them. I would like to see this functionality built into the app.
The app is very easy to use and has an intuitive user interface, and I have thousands of radio stations to listen to from local radio, to anywhere in the world. I really like listening to online networks offering stations of different genres such as Sky FM, 181.fm for example. I would definitely like to see the preset management improved so I can manage my TuneIn account from the app rather than using the computer.
I like the idea of being able to use the app to listen to Podcasts, but certainly for iOS I feel there are better options available such as the new Podcasts app recently released by Apple which enables me to subscribe and download content to listen to offline to preserve the battery.
Overall I think that Tune In Pro is excellent value for money but it isn't without it's flaws, but it is updated regularly so I'm hoping the niggles will be ironed out in due course. That said, I still highly recommend it. I'm awarding Tune In Pro 4 and a half stars (showing as 4 DooYoo stars)
When it comes to the budget ranges available in the major supermarkets, I've always been sceptical that these products would be cheap and nasty, especially as far as food and drink are concerned. However over the past six months or, I've tried a fair few products in this type of range and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of some of them. So with my new found confidence, I decided to give the Sainsbury's Basics tea bags a go.
AVAILABILITY AND PRICE
Obviously being a Sainsbury's own brand product, you will find the Sainsbury's Basics 80 Fair Trade Tea Bags exclusively on sale in Sainsbury's. I paid the princely sum of 27p which is very cheap considering the standard own brand equivalents are around the £1.30 mark for 80 tea bags.
As I would expect from a budget range, the packaging is very simplistic looking, mostly in orange and white, which helps keep the price down. The box is wrapped in cellophane, which is obviously designed to keep the contents fresh until the box is opened. The box looks different to the one shown in DooYoo's product picture, as the tea is now Fair Trade.
I must admit that Sainsbury's made me laugh by stating on the box the tea was made of 'mixed leaves' which promises to give me 'bags of flavour', as I thought most tea blends are from mixed leaves from different sources unless I'm buying Ceylon, Darjeeling and so on.
On the back I'm given advice on how to make a nice cup of tea, along with the ingredients list and contact details, and on the side there's some blurb about the Fair Trade initiative, which aims to give producers a fairer deal for their goods.
~Opening the box~
On opening the box, I'm presented with an array of square tea bags in twos which need separating at the perforation line. The tea bags themselves seem to be of good quality if a little thinner. They separate fairly easily and I haven't had any holes or breakages as yet. The main differences I've noticed is the bags seem to contain less tea than standard tea bags, and it's a lot finer in texture. As the tea bags aren't in foil pouches, I'll need to keep the tea bags in an air tight container to keep them fresh - not really a problem since Twinings fruit and herbal infusions are packed in the same way.
~Brewing my tea~
I brew my tea in the usual way by putting my tea bag into the cup and pouring over freshly boiled water until it reaches my desired strength before removing the tea bag and adding milk to taste. For my tastes I swish my tea bag around for about a minute or less. I'm not one for squeezing my tea bags when removing them from the cup, but as they seem a little bit thinner, I'd be careful in doing this so they don't break.
Once I've added my milk, I have a normal looking tea coloured drink which doesn't look like I've made it with cheap tea bags.
The end result is a nice moderately flavoured cup of tea perfect for my palette that is neither too strong or too weak, and doesn't go too bitter as the drink goes cools. It's nice and refreshing and doesn't dry my mouth out as some of the stronger brands do which is a big advantage for me, and doesn't taste any different in my view to other more expensive teas brewed to the strength I like. I will say though, if you like strong and robust teas then I'd give this a miss as you will be disappointed.
Overall, I can't fault this tea and it's a bargain at just 27p a box and perfect if like me you don't like strong tea, and I would certainly buy this product again to save some cash. A four star rating from me.
I needed to buy a new kettle just over a year ago after suffering a minor electric shock from our old one. After looking at the range of kettles in my local Asda, I went for the supermarket giant's own brand stainless steel jug kettle as was on special offer at a price not much higher than the plastic ones.
I prefer stainless steel kettles because in my experience they generally last a lot longer than the all plastic counterparts, but they are more expensive, so this seemed like a good price. In my experience I find that after owning a plastic kettle for a while that my drinks start to take on a funny plastic like taste which ruins them, and this doesn't happen with stainless steel ones.
The kettle had been on my 'things to review list when I'm up to it' list for a while now, so I thought I would take the opportunity to review the kettle as I have been using exactly the same one while I was staying in one of the flats at the place I'm staying. The smoke alarm in my room at my temporary accomodation had sprung a leak and I had to go somewhere else while it was being fixed. Luckily nobody was hurt, and nothing was damaged.
I paid £9.97 for my kettle in late 2010 when it was on 'rollback' reduced from £12.97 if my memory serves me correctly. Currently the kettle is now on sale for £8.97 on Asda's website.
LET'S MAKE A CUPPA.... AT A SNAIL'S PACE!
1.7 Litre capacity (minimum capacity 1 litre)
Boil dry safety cut out
360 degree swivel base
2200 watt power
6 month guarantee
Upon opening the box I'm presented with the kettle (well, it would look a bit silly without it wouldn't it?!!) the base unit, the instruction booklet and blurb about the manufacturer's guarantee.
The main body of the kettle is in a brushed stainless steel, while the lid, the piece which connects the kettle to the base unit (and houses the power indicator which lights up as the kettle boils), and the handle are in black plastic. The water gauge is situated under the handle. Finally the on/off switch sticks out under the handle, which makes turning the kettle on and off easy. The kettle looks modern and stylish on the worktop, but it does look like something out of Dr Who in my opinion.
There's not much to report about inside the kettle other than it's stainless steel, and it has an element (or rather the housing of it as it's a concealed element) which sticks up with, sorry I'm not being very technical with my description here, a black thingie on the end of it. Finally there is a filter fitted into the spout which is removable.
The base unit is black and has a chord that pulls out which I'd say is a decent length. It's neither so short that it's difficult to place the kettle on the work surface, or too long that it poses a safety risk. The base is nice and sturdy, and lies flat as Asda have thoughtfully incorporated what I would describe as a mouse-hole doorway type notch to ensure the cable lies flat on the work surface even when the kettle isn't on it. That's a good thing as some kettle bases we've had ended up being on a jaunty angle as the chord doesn't stay where it should do whenever the kettle isn't on the base.
~The instruction book~
The instruction book may be thin, but it contains all the vital information I need to be able to use the kettle safely and look after it, and it is very well written.
~Initial set up~
Setting up this kettle is pretty much the same a other kettles on the market. Give the kettle a wipe with a damp cloth or sponge, taking care to avoid the electrical contact. Filling it with water to the full capacity and boiling it to get rid of any dust and residue from the manufacturing process. Then the kettle is ready to use.
The kettle feels like it is well made, and that the lid and on/off switch is made out of high quality plastic and isn't going to break off easily, or that the lid is going to warp or buckle, as was the case on my previous kettle. I think it was the issue with the lid caused my mild electric shock as it didn't fit properly in the end and it would sometimes pop open while boiling, so I am pleased that on this kettle, that the lid is secure at all times.
There are two choices when it comes to filling the kettle, I can either flip up the lid by pressing the 2 buttons on the top and lifting it up, or I can just use the spout. I usually opt for the latter where that option is available, then it's a matter of placing the kettle on the base unit, flipping up the switch and letting the kettle boil. It's also worth mentioning the kettle features boil dry protection.
It seems inevitable, that whatever kettle that my family had, that we've somehow managed to lose the spout filter, this one is no exception. Usually, though, this normally happens after a few months of ownership, this one however lasted a year before it fell out never to be seen again so that is a record. The filter is user replaceable, though this is something I've never done. I imagine I would need to contact Asda to buy a new one.
There are some shortcomings though.
The kettle does get very heavy when there is water in it, even when it's at the bare minimum capacity. I don't boil large amounts of water except where I need to, such as boiling water for cooking pasta, or making up stock cubes. My arm can ache afterwards, I think it's more noticeable for me, as I have lost some physical strength as a result of my health problems, so it is something to take into consideration you have similar health issues.
I'm not keen on the positioning of the water gauge under the handle as it's not easy to see it when filling the kettle with water. It would have been better to have located this where it was more prominent. My guess is that Asda wanted to keep the stainless steel element of the design plain, but I think being able to see the water gauge clearly is more important from a safety point of view so I don't underfill or overfill the kettle.
Finally, there's the issue of how long it takes for this kettle to boil. It takes what feels like forever! It takes a few minutes to boil just a litre of water from a cold kettle, and several minutes to boil a full 1.7 litres! As I'd been staying in one of the flats, I put the kettle on to boil (to give it a clean as it hadn't been used for a few weeks) while I walked down to the kitchen in the main building to get some of my fruit and herbal tea bags, which takes me a few minutes to reach, and the kettle had only just boiled the minute I walked into the kitchen in the flat! It's at a snail's pace!! For me though, what is really puzzling is that Asda didn't make this kettle a fast boil model, but the cheaper plastic ones are.
As I live in soft water area, that doesn't have major problems with limescale, I find I don't need to clean my kettle as often as people in hard water areas. When I do, I boil the kettle at full capacity with some water and a little bit of white malt vinegar to clean the inside. Just to ensure that I don't end up with vinegar flavoured hot drinks (which I would imagine would be worse than plastic), I boil the kettle again to be on the safe side. To clean the outside of the kettle is a matter of wiping it every so often with a damp cloth or sponge just as I did when I set up the kettle in the first place.
Well, what can I say? It's a kettle and it's more than capable of performing the task of boiling water whether it's for hot drinks, culinary use or anything else that requires boiled water. It's reasonably priced and boasts an excellent built quality. The weight of the kettle is an issue for me, especially when I am not feeling too good due to my health issues, but I put up with it at home because of the secure fitting lid and sturdiness, as I don't fancy another electric shock.
When I'm in a position to move into my own flat or bungalow, I won't be purchasing another kettle like this. I'll go for something else that isn't as heavy but economical to run. With this in mind, along with the water gauge issue and the fact it isn't a fast boil model, and Asda's cheaper kettles are, that I award this kettle a 3 star rating.
As a huge fan of Solitaire card games, I was really excited to find that there was going to be a sequel to Solitaire DS (sold as Solitaire: The Ultimate Collection on some websites, and Solitaire Overload in the US). This time the card games would be joined with Mahjong and Tangrams to create this 3 in 1 collection of solitaire and puzzle games, so I added it to last year's Christmas wish list, and I was pleased to find this game in my stocking on Christmas Day, which was sadly to turn out to be one of the last Christmas presents my Mum would give to me. This game is also known as Solitaire Overload Plus in the US.
3 in 1: Solitaire, Mahjong and Tangram was released in late 2010, it is still widely available between £12-£15 in most places, but it will be more expensive from home shopping catalogues if they sell them. Second hand will generally be cheaper.
The game is rated 3 under the PEGI games certification system.
The UK version of the game was developed by GameOn and published by Deep Silver.
707 WAYS TO TEST YOUR PATIENCE
When I first load the game there aren't any user profiles to set up as such, the main menu just consists of the four game options (Solitaire, Mahjong, Tangram and the Picture Puzzles) which can all be accessed with the tap of the stylus. You can also access a general game tutorial, change a few settings and view a list of credits of those involved who produced the game.
~Solitaire:~ Have a little patience~
This is a collection of 202 different solitaire card games, which also includes most of the games from the original. To be honest, that isn't a bad thing, in my opinion, as it saves me having changing game cards just to play Klondike, Twin Queens, Fortunes Favour or Sea Towers to name a few examples. It's good to see this offering has a wider selection of solitaire families including the Sir Tommy (such as Auld Lang Syne and Acquaintance) and pairing games which I think should have been included in the first collection. There are games to suit all moods whether I want a challenging game or something easy, a quick game or something to take my time over. I can also save my progress (as with all of the games in this collection) to continue later if I want to.
There are, though, some games I love such as Tri Peaks, Gaps (Montana) and Clock Patience which aren't in this collection, maybe they will be if the developers release another sequel, and believe me there are still enough solitaire card games out there that would be suited to the DS (or 3DS for that matter) to warrant the release of another collection.
The user interface is a bit of a mixed bag. I'm pleased the main essence of gameplay from Solitaire DS is the same, I just choose the game I want to play from the menu and start playing. The game menu offers a wide variety of ways to find my favourite games, such as alphabetical order, popular games, family and a few other options, but there are 202 solitaire card games to sift through. It would have been nice though to see have seen an option to set a game as a favourite, and added a button to choose a random game. Sadly there are no statistics recorded in this game (other than the current session) so, there isn't an option to chose by times played or won.
Now on to the actual games, once again I'm given information about the game I'm playing, including expected time, skill/luck and my chances of winning though it seems to be different in practice. I'm pleased to see the simplistic card design has been retained, depicting the card value and the suit which is nice and easy to read. The cards are easily moved around on the touchscreen with the stylus or I can use the console buttons which is useful when the stylus goes walkies. I can still customise the rules to make the games easier or harder, for example changing the number of deals, or whether to allow me to put certain cards on an empty tableaux, it is good to have the option, but it isn't something I really use. I can also customise the card deck, background and what I want to appear on the top screen though I'm not very impressed with the camera idea and reflection of the card table on the top screen, just seems a bit pointless to me.
The instructions on how to play the games now has a dedicated button on the top right hand side of the touchscreen instead of being buried in a menu which was the case in Solitaire DS, and having to jump back and forth between the tutorial and the game as the tutorial was displayed on the touchscreen. As the rules are displayed on the top screen, this means I can have the tutorial on hand throughout the game which is great if I'm learning to play a new game, or just want to refresh my memory. However, the developers saw fit to include a rather pointless scroll bar which covers up the card values on the foundations and/or tableaux in some games, the forward and back buttons are more than sufficient in my opinion.
Also new to this game is that there are now 5 hints available if I get stuck, though this only applies to some games, this is really helpful especially towards the end of a game or that I'm stuck in a rut where I'm just moving cards around getting nowhere. I'm also pleased to report that Flower Garden from the first game has been correctly re-labeled Super Flower Garden which is the fan variant, and that the correct version of Flower Garden has also been included. I only discovered this when I went to play Flower Garden on the computer and was greeted with a completely different game!
The hideous magnifying glass also puts in an appearance when there are a lot of cards in a given tableau, the idea of this being something to tap on to show the obscured cards. I hoped an improvement would be found for this version especially for some of the fan and beleaguered castle type games where the tableaux are built across the screen in piles. The final gripe is that when I have won a game there is no quit button as there was on the predecessor, so instead I have to start a new game and then quit through the menu, which is an annoying extra step.
Gripes aside, there is no denying that this is still an excellent collection of Solitaire card games I have to take into consideration this is a sequel, and I expect the developers to take steps forward to make improvements rather than go backwards which is the case here in a few places.
~Mahjong: - A night on the tiles~
There are 101 Mahjong layouts included in this collection. The games are organised according to the size of the layouts, although there is an all layout option. The idea of Mahjong solitaire is to clear the layout by matching pairs of tiles according to suit. There are 3 hints if I get stuck along the way, which is a little stingy given the Solitaire gives me 5 hints and the Tangrams give me 4. I can only select pairs of tiles which are not otherwise blocked, and I can see which tiles I can use by touching the eye button on the bottom of the touchscreen.
The tiles are a bit on the small side, but they are nice and clear. As with the Solitaire there are options to customise the tiles to give them a different look. The use of the top screen is certainly better than solitaire as tiles cleared away are shown on the top screen according to the layout which is certainly a novel idea and makes the game more graphically pleasing. The camera option is still there, but again I feel that this is a bit pointless, if only to give a bit of pseudo 3D graphics.
As with many Mahjong games for the DS, when I run out of moves, I'm then given the option of shuffling the tiles, which I am in agreement with other reviewers, takes away the challenge from the game, but at least I'm given the choice here. If I really want to I can also select 'reshuffle' from the game menu within the layout.
~Tangram - Putting the shapes together~
I first became familiar with Tangrams when I bought Master All Classics, this is the 'shapes' game. This collection of games contains 303 tangram puzzles. I'm given a shape and it's my task to complete the puzzle using 7 different pieces known as tans. They consist of
5 triangles (2 large, 1 small and 2 very small ones)
The main game is played on the touchscreen, and an overview of how I'm doing is located on the top screen. It's a matter of dragging the pieces into what I think is the correct place, I can rotate the tans easily by dragging the corners, and I can flip the shape by double tapping it, alternatively I can perform the same operations with the console's buttons. I prefer to use the stylus but it does take a little practice to get the hang of maneuvering the shapes and manipulating them so they fit into the puzzle.
As far as solving them goes, don't be fooled, they are not as easy as they look! There is only one solution, but it can take a while to get there. I've found the places where I think a certain piece should go is completely wrong, so do watch out for red herrings! There are 4 hints to help me out if I'm stuck.
~Picture puzzles:- Pretty as a picture~
While this isn't advertised as one of the main features of the game, there are 100 bonus picture puzzles included. They are basically jigsaw puzzles made out of little squares, they are organised into easy, medium and hard. This is based on the actual image, rather than featuring the same set of images in different piece sizes. Personally I'm not a huge fan of these puzzles as I found even the easy ones too difficult, I would have preferred actual jigsaw type pieces, rather than squares which makes it hard to see what I'm doing. While I certainly like something to be challenging, I don't want it to be impossible.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
I've covered the main graphics issues within the body of the review, but on the whole the graphics are excellent with clear playing pieces. The only criticism from a general prospective is the top screen graphics on camera view is rather pixelated, and looks like how I would imagine a teletext graphic (remember them?) would look with more colours.
While Solitaire DS offered what was practically an entire album as the soundtrack, the sequel only offers 3 pieces of music. They are the themes to each of the given games, Solitaire, Mahjong and Tangrams. I can change the audio within the game using the main menu, and choosing audio and the playlist option to select the music I want to listen to. The music is as I would expect with solitaire, a kind of chill out soundtrack, but most of the time I either play with just the sound effects or the volume off.
This is still one of my favourite Nintendo DS games, I find the games (except the picture puzzles) very relaxing and absorbing to play. I mostly play the solitaire card games and mahjong as I feel they have the greater replay value than the tangrams or picture puzzles. In all honesty I would have preferred the picture puzzles to have been omitted, and had fewer tangrams in exchange for more mahjong layouts and solitaire card games, but the game is excellent value for money none the less. Accordingly I award the game a 4 star rating, though it would have been 5 if it hadn't been for the gripes with the solitaire section.
Having really enjoyed playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village, it was an obvious choice to get the sequel Professor Layton and Pandora's Box, which is the second game in the popular puzzle and mystery solving series. In the US, the game is known as Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.
(I am planning to review Professor Layton and the Curious Village, but I need to play it again first!)
I bought the game from an Amazon Marketplace seller for £17.99 in the Summer of 2010, but it is still available from all good video game stockists. At the time of writing the review, most places are selling the game for around £24, the home shopping catalogues seem to charge far more with Littlewoods selling it for £37, so it is worth shopping around to get the best deal.
The game is rated 7 and like the first game, it carries the fear warning.
It's published by Nintendo, developed by Level 5, and was released in 2009.
COME ABOARD THE MOLENTARY EXPRESS......
As with the first game in the series, I take on the roles of Professor Hershel Layton and his young apprentice Luke, this time they're investigating the mystery of the Elysian Box, also known as Pandora's Box, which was claimed to kill anyone who opened it. The story begins with the Professor receiving a letter from Dr Andrew Schrader stating that he was in possession of the box, and to continue his investigation if the box lived up to it's dark reputation. Unable to shrug off the feelings that something terrible has happened, Professor Layton and Luke head to Dr Schrader's house to find him murdered, and all that remained was a ticket for the Molentary Express, said to be the most luxurious train in the world.
As the story unfolds there are several mysteries to solve, and along the way, I'll meet loads of different characters and also some familiar faces I met in the first game. I won't say any more about those to avoid spoiling it if you haven't played Professor Layton and the Curious Village.
~Another puzzling time...~
As with Professor Layton and the Curious Village, the game involves solving some perplexing puzzles to earn those all important Picarats. The box states that there are over 150 of them to solve this time around.
The navigation system is pretty much the same as the first game, the overview is located on the top screen and I move my characters around the touchscreen by tapping on the shoe and arrow icons. When I want to save the game, I just tap on the trunk icon and save the game to one of three save files, I can then either go back to the main game, the solved puzzle index, play one of the mini games once unlocked, or turn the console off. The game is saved automatically at the end of each chapter, but at all other times, it's manual save time. It's best to save often otherwise I have to start again from the point I last saved (with the exception of completing a chapter) if the battery goes which gets very annoying. If I want to resume the game after restarting my console, I just tap on 'continue' when the game loads up and then select my save file.
Once again, I carry out my investigation by asking various characters by tapping on them and on my surroundings to find out information, earn hint coins (which can be just about anywhere on the touchscreen), or have to solve a puzzle. There are a couple of differences this time, firstly there are more locations in this game, and secondly some of the puzzles are more tightly integrated with the storyline and characters which I thought was a nice addition.
As with the first game, there's a host of logical and lateral thinking puzzles, which once again got me thinking. The puzzle task or question is located on the top screen, and I enter my answer via the touchscreen, then have to wait to see if the answer is correct. When I'm wrong sometimes I'm given a comment that makes me feel like a naughty schoolchild! The puzzles are challenging, sometimes annoying, to downright frustrating where I spent days or evenings trying to fathom out the answer, and putting the game away for a few weeks and going back to it with a fresh mind. The Patterned Box, the flag one, and Shoe Maze spring to mind as a few examples of puzzles that gave me the most grief, as with the first game I couldn't progress on to the next stage unless I solved certain puzzles. I felt on the whole the puzzles are tougher than the predecessor, even taking in to consideration the number of Picarats they're worth. Getting the right answer is still very satisfying. I still think 12 is a better rating than 7 for these games, I just cannot imagine many 7 year olds being able to solve these puzzles - I'm in my mid 30s and I got stuck several times!
The vast majority of the puzzles are new, but there are some from the first game but put in a way that's fresh and new and blends in with the game, so it doesn't feel like lazy programming. The best example is the Get the Ball Out puzzles, which became putting rubbish into a bin and a few other things on Pandora's Box, they still had the annoyance of moving blocks around in circles getting nowhere! There are also a few puzzle series which get harder each time such as Piles of Pancakes, and Disappearing Act.
~At first if you don't succeed, try, try, try again.....~
The number of Picarats gauges the difficulty of the puzzle, say for example puzzles worth 50 Picarats are harder than 20. Once again if I get an answer wrong, the number of Picarats depletes, but don't go down to zero, which is just as well really, so I kept trying to get the answer.
Each puzzle has three hints available which costs one hint coin per hint. Sometimes they can be a useful means to solve the puzzle such as a starting point or part of the answer, and sometimes they are as much use as an umbrella with holes in on a rainy day or give a bit of trivia about the puzzle. I found the puzzles were a lot tougher than the first time round, so I found myself using more hint coins.
~Where do unsolved puzzles go?~
Granny Riddleton puts in an appearance from the first game. As the story progresses, it's easy to miss puzzles and at the end of each chapter, many puzzles end up in Granny Riddleton's puzzle shack which you can visit at any time to solve them, which is somewhere with in each location I visited. Not all puzzles end up in there, and I had to revisit some of the sites again to solve them.
As with the first game, there's a range of mini games available which I unlocked as I played the game. I felt this time, some of them played a much greater part in the game than the ones in the predecessor. These are all located by tapping on the trunk icon.
~Exercise that hamster!~
Early on in the game, I'm given the task of looking after an overweight hamster and helping him to get fit. As I solve the puzzles, sometimes as a reward I'm given a toy to help set up a playground to help him get the exercise he needs. There are five stages, and each requires the hamster to walk so many steps to achieve his goals, when I finally did I was given a reward. I found this really addictive, and I spent ages setting out different courses to achieve his goals, and latterly break my record, so there is great longevity there afterwards.
~Cup of tea anyone?~
Here I'm given a tea set, and I have to collect different ingredients to make the different herbal blends, again as with the hamster game they are awarded after solving certain puzzles. I had to work out all the 12 different recipes which suit different moods, tastes and situations on the basis a good cup of tea can help solve different problems, and periodically a character in the game wants a cup of tea to help them out. This is not as easy as it looks, as it took me forever to find the correct combinations, and I spent a lot of time creating as the game described as 'poison' and I lost count of the times I didn't serve up the correct blend to certain characters, though I put that down to not having all the correct ingredients due to the order I solved the puzzles in.
~Smile for the camera~
The final mini game is the camera, again I'm given pieces of a broken camera after solving certain puzzles which are then fitted together like a jigsaw. Once completed the camera is used to take photographs where the camera icon appears, which is used to play a spot the difference game.
~Piecing together an old diary~
I wouldn't classify this as a mini game, but I also collected keys to unlock parts of a diary which helps with the mystery.
There are opportunities to unlock various bonuses as I complete certain tasks such as Layton's challenges, and there is also the opportunity to download a weekly puzzle via wi-fi for a limited period. By the time I had the game, they had stopped the new puzzles. The weekly puzzles do not form part of the main game. They don't earn any Picarats. There is only one hint available for these puzzles, and I can't use any hint coins.
There is also a password to unlock content in Professor Layton and The Curious Village, and also an area to unlock after playing the sequel Professor Layton and the Lost Future, which at the time of writing I haven't got. As with the first game, I can't access the bonus content through the trunk icon, and that means restarting the console to access the Bonuses section. I had hoped this would be improved in the sequel.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
I really like the graphics used in this game, the elements of this game are all beautifully drawn and animated, and brought the characters to life. The game controls and input were excellent, and made good use of both DS screens.
The soundtrack, as with most games got annoying after a while especially the tinkling music when solving the puzzles, but that's what the DS volume control is for. I liked the fact that music score changed in the different locations and situations which really set the ambiance of the game.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing this game. Once again there was an engaging storyline which I think is rare for a game, and I could not predict the outcome of the story with plenty of twists and additional mysteries along the way. A gripe for me, is that I felt some of the dialogue was a bit longwinded in places which resulted in what felt like endless tapping to get on with the game.
I think it does have some replay value as it isn't possible to remember all the answers, and I can play again to increase my Picarats score, but maybe not as much as other games in my collection such as Bookworm which is played at a much faster pace.
I've awarded a 4 star rating, as I think autosave after each puzzle and easier access to the bonus content could have been implemented given this is a sequel. Other than that, the game is excellent and offers a very solid sequel that's worth buying.
There's nothing like a nice cup of tea. Twinings recently caused controversy when it changed the recipe of it's Earl Grey tea, which sparked anger among fans of the bergamot flavoured tea. I like to ring the changes when it comes to tea, and have bought Earl Grey periodically as a change to my regular tea and fruit infusions, so I bought a box of the new blend to find out what the fuss is about.
PACKAGING, PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Twinings Earl Grey is sold in boxes of 50 and 100 tea bags, as well as a loose tea. My box of 50 teabags came from Waitrose and it cost £2.37. I took advantage of a special offer which had two boxes of tea for £3.75 (I chose Assam as my other choice, as Mum doesn't like Earl Grey). Pricing seems to be similar across other major supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco. There is also a decaffeinated version available too, which I sometimes have in the evenings and bedtime.
As with Twinings' other specialist black teas, the Earl Grey comes packaged in a black box, which I think is synonymous with sophistication and premium brands. The blurb on the box provides some information about Twinings' company history, and it's tea blending for the Earl Grey and his family, and the new blend has the Earl's stamp of approval. On the front of the box it also proudly states it's a new and improved blend.
Elsewhere on the box, I'm given all the other information I'd expect including the ingredients, brewing instructions and Twinings' contact details.
~Opening the box~
Opening the box is as easy as pulling the cardboard strip off, and opening the treasure chest lid. There's a perforated tab which provides some information about the The Earl Grey range of teas which also includes Lady Grey and the newer Sunshine Grey. This pulls away to reveal the square tea bags in sets of two, I pull them along the perforated edge to separate them.
On smelling the tea bags, I can tell instantly tell that there is something different to what I know as Earl Grey. Yes I can smell the bergamot, but there's also a definite hint of lemon. The new blend apparently contains more bergamot, and a squeeze of lemon, which Twinings' claims adds 'more oomph and refreshment' compared to the old recipe.
~ Brewing the tea~
I brew the tea in the normal way, as there are only two of us, I don't use a tea pot so I make mine in the cup. After boiling the kettle and pouring water over my tea bag, I brew my tea for around 30 seconds to a minute to stop it going bitter and stewed, which I really don't like!
The decision to add milk and sugar is up to the drinker, and some people like to add a slice of lemon. Personally I like my Earl Grey with small splash of milk (far less than normal black tea blends) as it isn't a strongly flavoured tea and too much milk ruins it, and I also add half a teaspoon of sugar to take the bitter edge off the bergamot, the new blend is no exception.
So, what does this new blend taste like? I can still taste the bergamot, but the addition of the lemon, while in my view is not too strong, but it does take the softness away from the bergamot which I think does give it 'more oomph' as Twinings describes, but it's not what I expect from Earl Grey. In my view it should be a tea with a soft orangey flavour, almost like toast and marmalade. It's that delicate blend of flavours which I like about Earl Grey, and gives the tea it's unique character and charm, I like to drink it in the afternoons into the evening, as I find it a comforting, uplifting and satisfying drink. That said, I do like the new blend though as I think it has a lovely flavour that isn't too lemony but enough to change the character of the flavour, and it's refreshing. I actually prefer the taste to Lady Grey which is a bit too sharp for my tastes, but I can see why fans of Earl Grey are upset by the recipe change.
In my opinion I don't think Twinings needed to change the recipe, but it has produced a nicely flavoured tea in my view. I think though the new blend would be good as a new tea for anyone who likes lemon in tea, but not too strong. I do think Twinings should bring back the old blend as the Earl Grey that we're used to, but sell the new one alongside it.
In terms of a rating, it's difficult to decide as I really like the flavour, but it's just not Earl Grey if you know what I mean, so I'm giving it three stars. If, Twinings brought back the old blend as Earl Grey and re-marketed the new one as say Afternoon Grey (really suited for afternoon tea, but not evenings in my opinion) then I'd award a higher rating.
Also on Ciao under the same user name
It's hard to believe that Countdown has been on our TV screens for almost 30 years, and must be one of the longest running game shows on British television. While many aspects of the show have changed over the years, the words and numbers game has stood the test of time, and I think it will grace the Channel 4 weekday afternoon schedule for years to come.
The show, currently presented by Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley, has also moved on with the times with various incarnations of the game being released on various formats and have now reached the modern age with versions of the game released on the Nintendo Wii and DS consoles. I bought the Nintendo DS version of the game as part of my Mum's birthday present, and I paid £9.99 from Amazon. Zavvi.com has the game for £12.99, while Game sells it for £14.99.
The game is published by Mindscape and is rated 3 under the PEGI game ratings system. Surprisingly, there is no language warning given because of the letters game as there is on Scrabble Interactive Edition 2009.
When the game is first loaded, I'm greeted with the Countdown theme tune and title sequence, I can bypass this by tapping the touchscreen if I don't want to see it. I can set two player profiles, and there is also a 'Guest' mode to allow friends to play the game without upsetting my statistics.
The game menus are nicely laid out and in fitting with Countdown's blue colour scheme used on the TV show at the time of writing this review (November 2010). After selecting my profile, I can choose to start a single or multiplayer game, continue a saved game, play the training mode and check my statistics.
In addition, I can view the tutorial to learn how to play the game, or set my options such as turning the sound effects off and changing to a different profile.
~A game of letters and numbers~
The game offers 5 difficulty levels ranging from 'beginner' up to 'champion' this sets the ability of my opponent. When I first bought the game, only the 'beginner' level is available. The other difficulty levels are unlocked once I have won a game on each level, for example I unlocked 'amateur' after I won a game at 'beginner'; and 'expert' when I won my first game on the 'amateur' level, and so on.
Once I've chosen my level, I'm greeted with the game screen. As I would expect the screens resemble the current 'Countdown' set. The top screen shows the contestant area albeit empty, but the names of the contestants are there. I like the idea that the name of my opponent changes with each game, giving the impression I am playing against several people, rather than a few opponents as in Scrabble Interactive 2009. The famous clock is situated above the contestants' desks which times the 30 seconds allowed to provide the contestant's answers . The main game play takes place on the touch screen. If the battery goes, or I turn the console off during the game, then my current game is saved automatically and I can continue it later which I think is excellent, as it is much better than the manual save offered in most games I've played.
A full game of Countdown contains 15 rounds, they consist of 11 letters games, 3 numbers games and the conundrum in the following format:-
* 4 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* 4 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* 3 letters rounds
* 1 numbers round
* The Countdown Conundrum
Players select their letters or numbers on alternate turns (with the exception of the conundrum which is set by the game) , but it means that I always select my letters first, and the CPU player gets to choose the numbers twice, which I felt was a little unfair.
I select the letters I want by tapping 'vowel' or 'consonant'. In the spirit of the TV show the words 'consonant' or 'vowel' appears in a speech bubble as if it's being said by the contestant on the top screen. When the 30 second clock starts I aim to make the longest word I can by tapping on the letters which appears in what I call the 'answer area' from left to right. I can move the letters around easily to rearrange them or inserting a letter to create a longer word, for example turning 'mediate' into 'meditate'. The letters adjust automatically so I am not left with any gaps, which is fine for the letters rounds which often uses shorter words, but I found it problematic for the conundrum round which I will look at in more detail later on. As with the TV show, certain words are not allowed such as abbreviations (unless it's a word in its own right such as 'admin') along with foreign words, hyphenated words and proper nouns. Words must be at least 2 letters long.
At the end of the round both the answers are displayed (accepted words are indicated in green and disallowed words are in red), and this is followed by the best answer. I can also view other answers by tapping on 'see all solutions' which organises all possible answers by the number of letters, which is certainly useful. This brings me to an area of the game I find disappointing. One of the main parts of the TV show is 'dictionary corner', so I was surprised that I couldn't access word definitions especially given the number of obscure words that pop up. I have noticed that word definitions are given for obscure words on the TV show during the letters game. In comparison, Scrabble Interactive Edition 2009 provides word definitions.
The game is scored using the same rules as the TV show, so the player with the longest word, providing it's accepted by the dictionary, gets points according to the length of the word, for example a 7 letter word gets me 7 points. If I'm lucky to get a 9 letter word (which seems elusive to me) I will get a whopping 18 points. If both players get words of the same length then points are awarded to both players.
The numbers game involves getting as close to a 3 digit number as possible using a selection of 6 numbers, and the results of sums created from those numbers. I can choose between large (eg 100, 75 and 25) and small (eg 9, 3 and 1) numbers by tapping on the relevant buttons. Once the numbers are in place the computer (or CECIL as it's known on the TV show) generates a random 3 digit number.
I felt the input method was cumbersome, and frustratingly slow, as I can only work on one sum at a time, which is easier said than done when I have a 30 second time limit. For instance if I wanted to make up 175 by adding together 100, 25 and 50, I need to create two separate sums (eg 100+ 50 = 150 and then place 150 + 25 =175 in the row underneath) likewise I can't use brackets as per the TV show, for example 2 x (3 + 3) = 12 requires me to enter two sums in this case 3 + 3 = 6 and 6 x 2 = 12. The game also calculates the answer as I go, which is just as well as I'm not very good at mental arithmetic, but I think it does go against the TV show as calculators aren't allowed. I have found the 'one sum at a time' mode annoying as the answer to my most recent calculation is declared as my final answer if I am unlucky to run out of time, even if I was really close to the target.
As with the letters game, scoring follows TV show rules. The player who is closest to the target figure is awarded points providing they are at least 10 away either side from the target number. If I'm between 10 and 6 away I will get 5 points, if I'm between 5 and 1 away I'm given 7 points and if I get the exact target I get the full 10 points which for me is a rarity. Points are awarded to both players if they are the same distance either side from the target.
In the conundrum round, I have to create a 9 letter word out of an anagram and the first contestant to get the correct answer (they buzz in on the TV show) wins the round. I am pleased to say the developers have kept in the tradition of the TV show in having the anagram in the format of two words for example, 'avertcoax' and the answer is 'excavator' . Also as per the TV show, if the winner of the game is decided on this round, it uses the term 'crucial Countdown Conundrum'.
The conundrum uses the same input system as the letters game, meaning I can only enter letters from left to right and the letters adjust automatically when I add or remove letters. This system is fine for the letters round which often uses shorter words, but I find this system too restricting for the conundrum. I tend to work out the answer by looking for obvious word endings such as 'ing' or 'ier' and I find it frustrating that I can't enter those letters at the end.
The winner of the conundrum round is awarded 10 points. If the result is a tie break, then further conundrums are played until a clear winner is decided.
~Oh, I've won a trophy~
Trophies are awarded for each difficulty level. I like the fact that elements from the TV show are included including the coveted Countdown teapot which was awarded when I won my first game, if I win eight games in a row, I'm awarded 'octochamp' status just like the TV show. There are also trophies awarded within the game such as finding the longest word in 15 seconds, and getting an exact calculation.
A more unusual trophy on offer is the 'wooden spoon' which is awarded for losing 8 games in a row, and that can't happen on the TV show. I have been awarded this 'accolade' on Champion mode, and I still haven't won a game on this mode.
The 'statistics' section keeps a record of my achievements organised by difficulty level, such as how many games I've won or lost, and how many times I've got the longest word or achieved the exact calculation. I'm also given the list of trophies I've won. I think it's a shame that high scores aren't listed as this is something that I think most gamers want to keep track of.
~Improving my game~
To hone my skills in each round, there is a 'training mode'. In this I can focus on rounds I want to improve on, which is is my case the conundrum and numbers games. I don't see the point in having options for having a one minute time limit or unlimited time as I'm given 30 seconds to provide my answers in the real game. This mode can also fill in a few spare minutes if I don't have time for a full game.
There is also an excellent game tutorial which clearly explains how to play, although this can only be accessed from the game's main menu. I'd have liked a help button within the game.
A game like this can come alive when playing against a real person. Sadly, for me, the multiplayer mode really lets the game down as I can't play a full 15 round game with a friend. I feel that many fans of the TV show will be disappointed. Instead I can play any of the three round types to meet a certain target, even worse it's not even scored like the TV show. While the options would make good extra mini games, in my opinion, it doesn't make sense to have a multiplayer mode which bares little resemblance to the main game. Thankfully the game only supports download play (single card wireless) so your friends don't need a separate game card. An internet play mode would have been an excellent addition to challenge friends and family around the world to a game of Countdown.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics are clear and easy on the eye, and it's obvious that the developers have paid close attention to the Countdown set right down to the clock lighting up as it counts down. I would have liked to have seen the animation on the conundrum look more like the TV show rather than having letters moving around the screen, but that's a minor detail.
I like the way the sound has been kept to the bare minimum. There aren't any voiceovers by the presenters or dictionary corner, which some fans of the TV show might find disappointing, but I feel it keeps the attention on the actual game. I also feel it would have been a bit monotonous to keep hearing 'vowel', 'consonant' and 'choose your letters/numbers please' to name a few examples. There is the famous Countdown clock music as I would expect even though it does sound like a polyphonic ringtone. It contains most of the characteristics of the music including the 'boing' at the end, although I think the pitch change occurs far later on the DS game than it does on the TV show.
I think the developers have made a reasonable job of bringing Countdown to the Nintendo DS, but I think it could have been much better. The input system is awful in places and I feel that the numbers mode and conundrum rounds fared the worst. The multiplayer mode is definitely crying out to be able to play a full 15 round game with a friend. I would also have liked to have seen word definitions displayed in the letters game, given the 'dictionary corner' element of the TV show.
The actual game is very good and it does give the brain a good workout, though I found the first three difficulty levels easy and I felt I didn't get a real game opponent until the Pro and Champion modes. I have had a few surprises including winning some of the numbers game trophies, though I admit that I won my master calculation trophies because the sum was ridiculously easy.
That said the game is addictive and one game is never enough - and I've lost entire afternoons (and sometimes evenings) playing it. My Mum enjoys it too, though she also gets annoyed with the input system. It also has great longevity, and stands up as a good words and numbers game even if you don't watch the TV show.
As the game is a mixed bag, I award a 3 star rating, but it would have been more if it wasn't for the poor multiplayer mode and input system. That said, I do recommend the game, but I suggest shopping around to get the lowest price.
Review © Munchkin2009 November 2010
Also posted on Ciao (with photo) under the same username
TouchMaster is one of my favourites in my collection of games for my Nintendo DS Lite, so I treated myself to the second game in this series which is More TouchMaster.
I paid £12.99 including delivery from a seller on Amazon Marketplace, but Game is currently offering it for £9.99 when it is in stock.
More TouchMaster was released in 2008 and published by Midway Games. It is rated as suitable for anyone aged 7 or over according to PEGI's game suitability scheme. There is a warning that it contains violent games, which I think applies to Beaned and Catwalk Caper.
The most noticeable difference from the first TouchMaster, is there are spaces for three player profiles. Setting up my profile was as straight forward as entering my name and choosing an avatar which the game refers to as a mascot. There's a good selection of mascots to choose from and I selected the cat.
The game's menus are clear and easy to navigate. After selecting my player profile I can choose whether to play the games, look at my trophies and achievements in the Trophy Room, start a multiplayer game, or change various options such as my name, mascot and the sound/music effects all in easy to follow menus. There is a back button to go back a menu. A nice touch is the mascot interacts with you if you don't tap anything in the menus, the cat miaows for example.
The 20 games in this collection are organised into the appropriate genres, which I access by tapping the one that I want. There are five sections to choose from which are Card Games, Action Games, Strategy Games, Picture Games and finally Puzzle Games. I consider the last three genres to be puzzle games anyway. I select the game I want by double tapping the one I wish to play. I'm then given a visual record of my achievements such as my trophies and highest score. I felt it would have been better to have gone straight into the game, as I can view my achievements in the Trophy Room.
~Round and round I go~
As with the first TouchMaster game, each of the 20 games on the cartridge is played in 'rounds' which is really another term for 'level' in my opinion. I earn new rounds by meeting certain targets, such as high scores or clearing the screen depending on the game. I really like the idea of the game rounds being generated at random so each new game is different.
~Did these Card Games try my patience?~
One of my favourite sections on the first TouchMaster game is the cards section, so I had high expectations from the Card Games section on More TouchMaster. I really liked the arcade gaming machine feel which I thought added something different to traditional solitaire, but I felt that element was missing from the sequel. That said, I think most of the games are excellent and I enjoyed playing them. I found Carpet very relaxing, and became more challenging as the rounds progressed, and I also liked Triples and Combo 11 once I discovered how to play them. I found the instruction book marginally more helpful than the online help built into the game.
Now, on to the downsides. I didn't see any point in Speed Solitaire, it's described as 'solitaire I will always win unless I make a mistake'. I prefer to play games that are more challenging and don't guarantee winning every time, and in my opinion goes on too long. I think Poker Slide is a good game, but I wouldn't describe it as a card game - in my opinion it is more like a slider puzzle involving playing cards as I have to get as many good poker hands as I can by sliding the card rows and columns around.
~Was there much Action here?~
I felt the Action Games category was the weakest genre in this collection and I was disappointed. I had been looking forward to playing Bowling as I enjoy playing that in 42 All Time Classics, but the More TouchMaster offering has what is in my opinion the worst implementation of Bowling I have ever seen on a Nintendo DS game. Firstly it is fiddly to set the direction the bowling ball is meant to go, as the direction guage which appears on the screen seems to have a mind of its own in my opinion. It took me several goes before I managed to hit any skittles let alone getting 'strikes' and 'spares'. Secondly, I felt the game was too slow, the ball seemed to take forever to hit the skittles, and in my view makes the Bowling in Master All Classics look good, which I also thought was on the slow side.
Billiards isn't too bad, in my view, but it uses different rules to the version in 42 All Time Classics, as the balls aren't potted in numerical order, and the 8 ball must be potted last, although it says 9 in the instruction book. I did find it a bit fiddly to set the cue and aim the balls where I wanted to. The best game in this section is Speed Demon which is a car racing game where I have to collect fuel and avoid obstacles such as other cars by moving the stylus left and right. It can be a bit mesmerising after a while, so I avoid playing this when tired.
~Did I work out the Strategy needed here?~
Overall I thought the Strategy games were excellent, but I think they would have been better placed in the Puzzle section, as most puzzle games require a degree of strategic thinking in order to solve them. The games in this section are among my favourites on this TouchMaster sequel.
Dice King is what I can only describe as 5 Star Generals from the first TouchMaster game (it's something like Yahtzee) meets Bejeweled. I have to make certain combinations of dice using match three game play, I found it very challenging and as enjoyable as other similar games. Likewise I really enjoy playing Prismatix which requires me to clear the board of gems by matching two or more gems in a given colour sequence. If I can match all four gems then I earn a 'spin' which enables me to get a new combination if I run out of moves. I found this as equally challenging as it is difficult not to have single gem stones left on the board.
Mahki has been given a makeover from the first game to what the developer describes as taking the game to 'the next level' to create Super Mahki. I still need to clear the board by selecting two or more of the same coloured tiles as in the first game, but there are a couple of differences. Tiles now drop in from the top screen as the board is cleared, and there's the addition of multipliers to increase my score. At first I wasn't impressed with the new enhanced Mahki, but it's grown on me as I've played it, as there is more incentive to try and get bigger clusters of coloured tiles thanks to bigger multipliers. I would have liked to have seen more different coloured tiles throughout the rounds which I think would have added some more challenge, perhaps this will happen in another TouchMaster game in the future.
~Were these puzzles Picture perfect?~
I thought that the picture puzzle section was good, and I would imagine this section would appeal to anyone who enjoys this type of puzzle, It's not a genre I particularly enjoy playing. What Is It? was a bit of a let down for me as it could have been a good game. I felt the use of black and white images made the objects difficult to see as the picture tiles appeared on the screen.
In my opinion, Scavenger was the only picture game that really stood out. I'm given a picture with various different objects scattered around in it. On the top screen I'm given a random object to find and when I think I've found it I tap the appropriate object on the screen. It is a simple concept, but it is challenging as it isn't always easy to see the objects and it makes me use my eyes more.
~Could I solve the Puzzles in this section?~
I really enjoy puzzle games, and this section did not disappoint me, though I felt that Catacombs would have been better placed in the Action section. My character has to walk around a maze which is generated randomly, avoiding scary monsters to collect gold coins and power ups. It's as good as other 'maze' based games I've played, but it took me a while to get the hang of navigating my character around the mazes using the stylus.
There are two word games in this collection. Rampage Empire is as good as anagram games go though I didn't think it was necessary to have a monster punching out the completed words. Finally there's Spellwinder which is described as a 'word search with a twist' as only adjacent letters can be used to form the list of words. It is an enjoyable game, but I didn't think it was as good as the wordsearch game on the first TouchMaster which was played against the clock and themed to specific topics.
~Oh, I've won a trophy~
Obviously the aim with all the games is to get the highest score I can, but it seems to have taken a back seat when compared with the first TouchMaster game, where the 10 highest scores were recorded. Instead I can earn trophies for certain achievements starting off with bronze and platinum is the highest accolade. Wizard points are awarded depending on the trophies earned, but they don't seem to do anything. High scores is one of the achievements awarded trophies, but the rest vary from game to game. While I think the trophies are a good idea, I miss the top 10 high scores from the first game.
~Graphics and Sound~
The graphics are of a reasonable quality, and much better than the first game. The font used to represent the card value on the cards could have been clearer, but at least all the values are visible in Speed Solitaire. The game makes good use of both screens where needed, for example Billiards has an overview of the table on the top screen showing me where the different balls are, and their values, helping me reduce the risk of potting the 8 ball before I should. Jaggies do put in the odd appearance but it's nothing too serious.
The music and the sound effects can get irritating after a while, especially the 'ding ding' at the start of each round, and the 'Britain's Got Talent' style buzzers when I tap on the wrong object in Scavenger. I have turned the background music off and left the sound effects on like I do in most games. I just turn the volume off on my DS Lite if I don't want the sound on.
There is a multiplayer mode, but it is essentially two people playing a game, at exactly the same time to get the highest score. In my opinion, this defeats the purpose of a multiplayer facility. I think it would have been better for the developers to have allowed players to send games to another DS as a gift like Solitaire DS does, as the vast majority of games in this collection are in my view designed for one player.
Overall, I really like More TouchMaster, and most of the games are very good, and some are excellent. I didn't think it was as good as the first game in this series, but I think it's because the fast and furious arcade game feel wasn't as prominent in my opinion. That said I think there are some better quality and more challenging games than the first card such as Prismatix, Scavenger and Dice King to name a few examples. I think the random nature of the games increases its replay value as it's a different game everytime. As with any games collection there were some games that I didn't like, but that's to be expected as the developers have to cater for as many tastes as possible.
I think the online help could have been a lot better, as it didn't really explain how to play the games. The instruction book is marginally better, but it can take several playing attempts to understand how to play them.
I like the addition of the trophies, but as I said earlier, I miss the top 10 high scores format from the first game which I thought gave TouchMaster it's character, and embraced its arcade gaming machine heritage. I think some fans of the first game might be disappointed with the lack of wireless internet mode which means they can't post their high scores on the TouchMaster server like they did on the first game when the game server was running.
I recommend this game to anyone who likes puzzle games and card games as they are the strongest categories in my opinion. I also recommend shopping around to get the best price, obviously observing good buying practices to avoid getting a pirated copy.
Accordingly I award the game a four star rating as the games I enjoy playing are mostly excellent, but some of them could be improved. I've deducted a star as I felt it lacked the charm and arcade feel of the first game, I thought the online help was useless, and there's the issue of the pointless multiplayer mode. That said it does live up to the claims on the box, stopping is impossible!
Also on Ciao under the same user name. Review © Munchkin2009 September 2010
My Mum wanted some body cream, and while browsing in the toiletries aisle in ASDA, I came across the N-Spa bodycare range. I liked the sound of the Raspberry Milkshake range of products which also includes a body scrub and bath/shower gel, so on that basis I selected the body cream. My 250 ml container set me back £2.98 which is about average for a product of it's type.
A LITTLE ABOUT N-SPA
N-Spa is a range of bodycare products developed by the Nirvana Spa. According to the website the Fruit range, which features the Raspberry Milkshake line, promises to tantilise my senses and provide my body and mind with a reviving experience. Other fragrances in the range include Coconut Ice Cream and Blueberry Cream Pie.
This body cream comes presented in a plastic tub with a black screw top lid. The jar is not completely transparent, but I can see the body cream inside which I think is good because I can see how much cream is left at a glance. The jar is a nice touch as it is less wasteful than a bottle or tube, providing the product inside is any good of course.
There is a dark pink sticker adorning the lid which informs me that this is Raspberry Milkshake body cream. There is a verse printed underneath telling me what the world would be like if moon was made of raspberry, including flowers made of meringue and pink socks! In my opinion, as a consumer, I would rather know what this cream is supposed to do for my skin.
The bottom of the jar still doesn't tell me what I can expect from this body cream. It merely invites me to make time in my day to turn my bathroom into a blissful spa. I'm then given the all important usage directions to apply a generous amount of the cream after my bath or shower. There is a warning that this isn't a food product and should not be eaten. Apart from that, there's the ingredients list and contact details for the Nirvana Spa.
Once opened this body cream should be used within 12 months of opening.
On opening the jar, which is really easy to open, I am greeted with a pale pink cream which resembles and smells like raspberry yoghurt. Thankfully N-Spa has put a warning on the container that this is not a food product, and based on appearance and the smell, I would definitely store this product away from young children who could think this is really raspberry yoghurt and try eating it.
I apply this body cream after my shower or bath. This product has a nice creamy consistency which I felt was just right, again I am thinking about thick raspberry yoghurt. It is neither too thin that it drips all over the bathroom floor, and not so thick that it's difficult to apply which I have found with some body butters I've tried. My skin isn't overly dry, but I like to use a body moisturiser sometimes for a pampering treat.
The cream was easy to apply, and I found that a small amount of this product went a long way, so I disagree with N-Spa's suggestion that this cream should be applied generously. This I felt was just as well, as my skin felt sticky for a while afterwards, which I didn't like.
Once the stickiness subsided I ended up with nice soft and smooth skin. Normally, I would be impressed with a body cream if a nice fragrance lingered on my skin the day after my bath or shower, but this product left me smelling like, you guessed it, raspberry yoghurt which didn't exactly tantalise my senses. The smell was nice initially but the novelty soon wore off and then it got on my nerves.
Other than the stickiness and the fragrance issues, I didn't experience any other negative effects using this cream such as a skin irritation.
I think it goes without saying that I can't recommend this cream. While it left me with soft skin in the end, I felt that it didn't perform any better than other products on the market. In addition I've used other products which have not left me feeling sticky while it absorbed into my skin.
Then there's the issue of the fragrance, some fruity fragrances do work, for example I adore Lush Snow Fairy shower gel, which I think smells divine. I do however draw the line at smelling like I'm wearing the contents of the yoghurt aisle of the local supermarket.
I'm just glad I didn't buy the shower/bath gel as well as I imagine the raspberry yoghurt effect have been amplified all the more if I'd used them together. So it's not exactly my idea of a blissful spa experience, and I reserve this cream for those times I run out of moisturiser and I am not going out the next day. Needless to say, I won't be buying this body cream again. Accordingly, I award the N-Spa Raspberry Milkshake body cream a 2 star rating.
Aqua (Water) , Paraffinum Liquidum , Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate , Cetearyl Alcohol , Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride , Glyceryl Stearate SE , Butyrospermum Parkii , Fruit Butter , Glycerin , Parfum (Fragrance) , Phenoxyethanol , Carbomer , Panthenol , Sodium Hydroxide , Citric Acid , Linalool , CI 17200 , CI 16035 , CI 42090 , CI 19140 .
Also on Ciao under the same user name Review © Munchkin2009 August 2010
I really enjoy playing solitaire card games on the computer and on my Nintendo DS. I first started playing Jewel Quest Solitaire on a free online gaming site, and on the strength of that I purchased the game for my Nintendo DS.
I paid £12.99 for the game from Amazon's preferred merchant including free delivery. Game and HMV are both offering similar deals online. A few places such as Play.com are charging £14.99, and if you're buying from a catalogue such as Littlewoods or Grattan, you can expect to pay closer to the £20 mark.
Jewel Quest Solitaire was developed by iWin, and published by Avanquest. The game is suitable for anyone over the age of 3 according to the PEGI game rating system.
The game features in the ever popular Quest series of games which includes Jewel Quest Expeditions, and most recently Jewel Quest Mysteries: Curse of the Emerald Tear. As well as on the Nintendo DS, there are games available for Windows based computers including three solitaire titles.
The game menu is straightforward. The main menu shows the options I would expect including access to the main game modes, player profiles and options to change various settings in the game such as sound effects/music and hints.
The levels are organised in two books. The first level has 4 card layouts, the second has 6 card layouts, and from the third level onwards you get 8 card layouts. Each player profile file holds one Full Quest and one Just Cards game, and the game is automatically saved on the layout I am currently solving which is handy if the battery goes on my console.
~Let's do the twist~
As the name suggests, Jewel Quest Solitaire includes the added challenge of a solitaire card game. There are two modes of play in order to solve 114 different card layouts. In typical Jewel Quest fashion, this is an adventure game which attempts to blend jewel swapping with an intriguing storyline, this one is set in the South American jungle. I didn't find the storyline very interesting, so I mainly concentrated on the actual game play.
The Full Quest mode combines the solitaire with the jewel boards and storyline, while Just Cards mode enables me to play solitaire only. In Full Quest the jewel board is displayed on the top DS screen and fills up with jewels and other artifacts as cards are tapped, when the layout has been solved, you progress onto the jewel board mini game.
The basis of the game is Tri-Peaks Solitaire, but if you're expecting an experience like Three Peak Deluxe in TouchMaster think again! The box promises me 'solitaire with a twist' but that is an understatement in my opinion. There are several twists, as this is not the traditional game of solitaire, and it all starts with the cards. There are several suits, they consist of jewels (for example sapphires and rubies), coins, and head carvings, so it's a world away from the traditional four suit card deck that I am accustomed to.
Tri-Peaks Solitaire uses a very simple concept, and it is played on the DS's touch screen. The aim of the game is to clear the cards from the layout by matching cards one rank above or below the active card on the waste pile for example if the active card is a King then you can either play a Queen or an Ace. When I can't play any more cards I just tap the stock to deal a new active card. For each card I tap on, I earn a jewel on the board (as shown on the DS top screen), but in order to turn the squares into gold then I must earn 'swaps' by matching card suits during the layout, and playing the game with as few cards from the stock pile as possible. If I match three or more cards of the same suit, then the squares turn into gold, providing they are on the same row or column. When the jewel board is full I earn gold spaces instead. The jewel board still features in Just Cards mode as you still need to turn the squares into gold by matching three cards or more of the same suit, but the mini game isn't played.
As with the Three Peaks game in TouchMaster, there are wild cards which any card can be played on. The difference is some of them carry special moves, which offers another challenging aspect of the game in my opinion as some of them do throw a spanner in the works.
The layouts are all different, and that adds a further challenging twist to the game, the design of the layouts reminds me very loosely of Mahjongg in the way the cards are arranged on the table. As the game progresses more cards are used in the layouts. I like the way that the developers have varied the cards on the virtual table and stock pile, which I think adds variety to the gameplay as well as increasing difficulty, having more than four suits in some of the layouts also adds a further challenge. I soon realised that this game is very easy to learn but difficult to master as one wrong move can make a difference to the outcome of the game, and it made me think more strategically about which cards to play. If I make a mistake I can undo up to 10 moves per layout attempt, so they are best used wisely.
It took me several attempts to solve some of the layouts especially those that have a large number of cards on the table, and few cards on the stock pile. If after a certain number of consecutive tries that I couldn't solve the layout I was prompted that I could move on to the next level if I wanted to.
~Treading the jewel boards~
This only applies when playing Full Quest mode. At the end of each round of solitaire, I'm taken to the jewel board mini game where I have to turn all the squares into gold using the aforementioned 'swaps' to create chains of three or more jewels (or other artifacts).
The jewel boards are slightly different to the boards found in other Jewel Quest games I've played, as they are not played against the clock. Another difference is that jewels can be swapped even if this doesn't result in a match three, but can be used as a way of getting the jewel board pieces to where I want them. This needs to be done carefully to ensure I don't use up too many swaps. As with the solitaire round, there are challenges along the way, and the boards get harder as the game progresses, through the different shapes. There is the potential to earn a huge bonus depending on how many squares have turned gold, and if I have any swaps remaining. The amount of work I need to do on the jewel board depends on how well I did at solitaire. The jewel board round ends when all the squares have turned gold, or I've been unlucky enough to run out of swaps.
~What's the score?~
My score for the current card layout is shown on the top screen, along with the bonus multiplier bar. This fills up during the game such as matching card suits, or playing long runs of cards without turning over a new one from the stock pile. The multiplier also increases if there are any cards remaining on the stock pile left after the layout has been solved.
I also earn bonuses by playing the jewel board in Full Quest mode. Points are earned for each square turned to gold, and further bonuses are awarded if there are any unused swaps after all the squares are turned into gold. If I've had a good round at solitaire, I haven't needed to make many moves to complete the board. Sometimes I've had a perfect board without making any swaps at all, which results in a huge bonus.
In Just Cards mode I receive a score depending on how many gold spaces are earned on the board. I found that it is much harder to get a high score in this mode as it relies solely on the cards.
~Graphics and sound~
I thought the music soundtrack was very good and suited the game. It changes with each level (or chapter) and it adds an intriguing and mysterious atmosphere. Unusually, for a game, I found some of the pieces of music soothing, and added to the relaxing aspect of playing solitaire.
The graphics on the whole are very good. The cards use a simplistic design like the ones found in Solitaire DS and TouchMaster, where you get the value of the card and a picture representing the suit which makes the cards easier to see on the DS. Jaggies rear their ugly heads when cards are placed on an angle other than a right angle, this makes the value of the cards difficult to read sometimes, for example 6, 5 and 8. However, the cards turn upright when I put the stylus on them.
I really enjoy playing Jewel Quest Solitaire. It is both challenging and addictive, and sometimes a few hours have passed after saying 'just one more go' too many times. The most annoying aspect is when I get one card remaining on the layout and it doesn't match with the last card in the stock pile. The game is especially suited to the Nintendo DS, thanks to the touch screen, and I hope the other two Jewel Quest Solitaire games will be released on this platform at some point.
I think it has great replay value as with any solitaire card game, the cards won't be dealt in the same way twice. The box states there are 684 possible card scenarios, I think it would take a long time to find them all to be honest.
In terms of recommendation, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves solitaire or casual and puzzle games in general. The story may not be exciting for an adult player, but the stars of the show for me are the solitaire and jewel boards. I award the game 4 stars.
Also on Ciao under the same user name
My Mum had recently got into playing Mahjongg on 42 All Time Classics, and wanted a dedicated game for her DS. I've got Mahjong Quest Expeditions (spelt with one 'g' on the box), and as that has three player profiles, and no multiplayer facilities, it didn't make sense to buy another copy. So Mum decided to get a different game, and having been impressed with Solitaire DS, I thought Mahjongg DS would be as good and most of the reviews for the game on Amazon were positive, so it seemed an obvious choice. Mum paid £13.00 for the game from a seller on Amazon's market place.
The game is published by Deep Silver and developed by Braingame. The game is rated 3+ according to the PEGI suitability scheme.
After selecting the language, I can set up to four user profiles. Each player chooses the appropriate profile when they want to play the game. I like the idea of having multiple profiles as it means that other players can use the same cartridge.
The menus have been well designed with good clear buttons, and everything is easy to find. The main menu offers four options, to play the games, to add/edit and change the player profile, set various options for the game such as turning the music and sound effects off, and also the high scores section.
As with other Mahjongg type video games on the market, Mahjongg DS uses the solitaire variant, which is based on an ancient Chinese game that is normally played with 4 players. I won't go into details about the history and origins of the game, but I will briefly explain the basic rules of the solitaire version which are relevant to the game I'm reviewing.
Tiles are arranged on the board (or screen in this case) in various layouts, and you need to clear them by matching pairs of identical tiles. There are a couple of exceptions such as the four seasons - for example autumn can be matched with winter, spring or summer to form a pair. You can only select tiles which are not obscured by other tiles, or have any others to the right or left side of them within the same level. As the Nintendo DS has a touchscreen, it is a game that normally works very well on this platform.
If you're stuck you get three hints, so best used wisely; and if you run out of moves you can shuffle the tiles a limited number of times in order to complete the layout.
~The game variants~
Mahjongg DS offers five game variants including a campaign mode.
'Constructor' (which is named 'Builder' in the instruction book for some reason) uses the cleared tiles to build a palace which is completed at the end of each level. There are 40 levels to complete and these are unlocked as you progress through the game. Locked layouts show a chain and padlock, but you can play any layout you've unlocked by scrolling through the list they all have names such as 'The Five Elements', 'The Orchid' to name a couple of examples. There is no time limit on this. I felt this wasn't very challenging due to the game using very few tiles, but it is the closest to what I call Classic Mahjongg Solitaire.
'Dragon Wall' offers the same levels as 'Constructor' but these are played against the clock. You do need to be quick as you're not given much time to complete each of the layouts. I'm just not fast enough, and I didn't make much progress with this variant, and I gave up on it.
'Tsung Tsu' offers the exact same layouts as the two previous variants except you have the added challenge of ensuring that the warrior reaches the palace before the dragon does, otherwise you won't progress to the next level. The top screen shows the walls blocking the routes of the warrior and dragon, and you should aim to clear the warrior's tiles to progress through the game. I felt that this was the most challenging variant this game had to offer, as I had to think about which tiles to clear to move the warrior towards the target and stop the dragon in its tracks.
'Conquerer' is a match three game, and is played in a similar way to Bejeweled by swapping tiles with the stylus. This doesn't use the Mahjongg layouts as in the other three games as it uses boards more like other games in the match three genre. There are just over 20 layouts included and these are also named such as 'Anhai' and 'Anyang' to name a couple of examples. The aim of the game is reminiscent of Jewel Quest Expeditions where you have to change colour of the tiles, but you have to do it before the dragon is coloured in. I felt that as with 'Dragon Wall' that not enough time was given to complete the layout, and that chain reactions annoyingly slowed things down, and for me it took the enjoyment out of playing.
The campaign mode blends the above game modes into a story mode which is about dragons and warriors, which is the main theme of the game. Your task is to help Tsung Tsu recover five tiles by completing the various layouts as described above in order to fend off dragons along the way. I wasn't impressed with the storyline, but I think this is more likely to appeal to someone who likes warrior and dragon stories.
You're given four lives at the start of the quest, and if you have to shuffle the tiles, run out of time on the timed layouts, or fail to complete one of the layouts then you lose a life. If you're unfortunate to use up all four of them then it's game over and you have to start from the beginning. I couldn't complete the campaign mode as I kept running out of time on the levels that were against the clock.
I felt that the campaign mode was on the whole disappointing, and nowhere near as good as other Mahjongg based games on this platform. In comparison some of the other games offer tiles which enable special moves and/or increase the difficulty of the layout which adds interest to the game.
I was impressed with the high score tables in this game as it kept a record of the highest scores regardless of the player profile used along each of the levels as well as the campaign mode. I can imagine some people might not like this idea when sharing the game cartridge, if they'd rather not have someone else beat their high scores.
~Graphics and Sound~
The tiles on the whole are larger than other games in the Mahjongg genre; the imaging on the tiles were nice and clear. A minor criticism is that some of the layouts used a brownish grey tile which I found strained my eyes a bit especially when I'm tired.
I thought the oriental style soundtrack suited the game, but it did get repetitive as with most games, so I tend to turn the volume off.
As I thought Solitaire DS was excellent, I had high hopes for Mahjongg DS, but it turned out to be a total disappointment in my opinion. The layouts did get harder as the game progressed, but I felt that even the hardest levels weren't that challenging as not even they contained many tiles, changing the difficulty level to the hardest didn't have much effect either in my opinion. My other gripe is that I thought that not enough time was given for the two games played against the clock, which I think spoilt it all the more. I admit that my reaction times are not the best, but I have managed to play other games against the clock where the timings are more generous.
I normally love playing Mahjongg as I find it very relaxing, but I really can't recommend this version. I feel there are much better Mahjongg based games available on the market for the DS that offers a better gaming experience and more long term playability than this, so I think Mahjongg DS wasn't worth the money Mum paid. I felt that the game overall just wasn't challenging enough, and perhaps best suited to filling in a few spare minutes when you don't want a highly engaging game that's difficult to put down. I thought that the Mahjongg offering in 42 All Time Classics was much stronger than this, I expected better from a stand alone game. My Mum wasn't impressed with this either, so much that she traded it in to purchase Mahjongg Ancient Mayas. I award the game two stars.
Also on Ciao under the same membername.
My Mum's trusty Nokia 6230i was close to packing up when I had bought her a new phone which was supposed to be her Christmas present. The keypad on her phone had been going for a while, and it looked like it was going to go completely, so I gave the phone to her a month early (November 2009). I'd seen a few touchscreen phones advertised on Ideal World, and realised they had a number of advantages especially as many of them seem to have decent sized keys and a good sized screen.
After having a look at the vast array of touchscreen phones on the Carphone Warehouse website I was drawn to the Nokia 5530 XpressMusic (which I will refer to as the Nokia 5530 from now on) because it was on offer at £99.99 plus a £10 top up, and it had wi-fi on it which meant Mum could surf the internet on her phone using our wireless broadband connection. Mum wanted a pink phone, and this handset happened to feature in the Illuvial Pink Collection, so that is what I bought. This handset retails from £129.99 on pay as you go depending on the network, so I got a bargain. This phone is often free on pay monthly deals depending on the length of the contract. You can also buy a 'comes with music' version from the Nokia website which enables you to download as much music as you want for a year, and keep the downloaded files forever.
SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE MOBILE?
The Nokia 5530 falls into the smartphone category as it runs using the Symbian S60 operating system. I'm not sure that the term 'smartphone' is relevant now as mobile phones seem to be able to do everything these days except making the proverbial cup of tea. I also think that the iPhone has raised the bar which has lead to the consumer demanding even more from their phones. Over the past couple of years the marketplace become saturated with what I can only describe as iPhone wannabes, and within an affordable price range. This is exactly what the Nokia 5530 aims to do.
The rest of the main specifications are as follows:
* 3.15 megapixel camera with auto focus and LED flash, video mode recording upto 640x480 30 frames per second
* 2.9 inch widescreen touch screen with 16.7 million colours
* 70 MB internal memory, but has a memory card slot supporting MicroSD HC cards upto 16GB
* Wi-fi (b and g standards) and GPRS/EDGE connectivity
* Music player supporting a range of formats including AAC, AAC+, eAAC, M4A, MP3 and WMA
* Battery life (talk time 4 hours 54 minutes, 27 hours music playback, standby time 351 hours)
* 3.5mm headphone/headset port
* Download third party applications that support Symbian S60 fifth edition including Nokia's Ovi Store
* FM Radio with RDS
The full specification is available on Nokia's website if you want to know more.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX?
Along with the phone, charger and the battery the box contained:-
* Instruction manual
* 4GB microSDHC card (Mum's was already inside the phone)
* USB cable
* Mini CD with handset management software (although you can download the latest version from the Nokia website)
* Wrist strap
The phone looks modern and stylish, my Mum's phone as I said is the Illuvial Pink version and the front of the phone is silver. The back is what I can only describe as pearlised white with pink dots forming a swirly but pretty pattern. The phone is joined together with a hot pink metallic accent. It feels sturdy and well made, and my Mum has dropped it several times and the phone still works no problem. I will say that it feels slimmer in the hand than other touchscreen phones on the market, and I believe that is down to it's widescreen display and even with my small hands it is comfortable to hold. The phone weighs 107 grammes, and I felt it was lightweight, but not so light that it is going to blow away in the slightest gust of wind. My Mum and I have never felt the need to use the wrist strap except when out for security/safety reasons and when using the camera.
The front of the phone features the all important touch screen, and it also includes three touch sensitive buttons for answering and ending phone calls and accessing the menu. The camera and LED flash and video light are located on the back, but it doesn't have a mirror for taking self portraits. The back of the phone pulls off, and I found it took a bit of practice before I got the hang of it, but I am still wary of breaking it.
On the left hand side of the phone you'll find the memory card and SIM card slot and also the stylus. I like the idea that the memory card slot is on the side of the phone which makes it easy to change it for a bigger one if I want to. I admit I've never come across a slide type SIM card holder before, and simplifies the process of inserting the SIM. If I need to remove it (say if Mum changed networks) then I simply remove the back cover, pop out the battery and slide out the SIM with a pen (opening the slot cover of course!). The stylus looks to me like the a thinner version of the ones you get with the Nintendo DS family of consoles. It pulls out easily, but you do need to have fingernails to get hold of it and when you've finished with it it's just a matter of sliding it back in and once it's in place there's a reassuring click so it's not going to fall out of the phone.
On the right hand side there's the volume control buttons, the phone lock slider and the camera key. I really like the design of the phone lock slider as it really reduces the chance of the phone unlocking in your bag or pocket and accidently phoning someone or connecting to the internet. Mum hasn't experienced any problems with it, and neither have I when I've borrowed her phone while mine is on charge. The camera key enables quick and easy access to the camera and a more natural way of taking photos (or video if using that mode). Just underneath is the slot to put a wrist strap and or a charm, but the phone back has to be removed to insert it.
As with most Nokia phones, and certainly those I've had in the past the power button is located on the top. I felt that the pressing power was just right, a good firm press switches the phone on or off, and if the the phone is on, a gentler press brings up a menu enabling you to change profile, lock the screen, or turn the phone off. This also means that the phone won't turn itself on or off while in a bag and so on, which in my opinion is good as there are many places which require a mobile phone to be switched off. I really like this as it makes it a doddle to change the phone to the offline mode if you want to listen to music in a place where you can't use mobile phones such as on a plane, or you don't want to be disturbed by phonecalls or message alerts.
The bottom on the phone features the USB connection, charger port and the headset port and everything is easy to connect. I really like the way that Nokia has used a 3.5 mm port for the headset as it also means you can use standard earphones rather than a dedicated headphones/headset which is specific to the phone which is just as well as I don't like the earphones/headset which comes with the phone as it's those that go right inside the ears. As I am someone who can fall asleep listening to soothing music, I would be wary of using these incase the earpieces broke off.
The screen is bright and clear, and displays photos and videos beautifully thanks to the 16.7 million colour display. I would say that it seems smaller when compared to its rivals although it is 2.9 inches, but I think it's because it's widescreen and I thought the same when I bought my first widescreen laptop.
I think Nokia have made excellent use of the accelerometer technology in being able to read messages and navigate the main menu in landscape mode by turning the handset.
On the whole the screen is very responsive when using the keypad and accessing menu options and the vast majority of using and navigating the phone can be done using my fingers. I find that I need to use the stylus when browsing the internet in order to tap on links successfully or if I want to use handwriting recognition.
The one thing I would say is the screen is difficult to see in bright sunlight, but that seems to be the case for a lot of touchscreen phones.
As with most Nokia phones my Mum and I have owned, the Nokia 5530 is on the whole easy to navigate. The menus are well laid out and clearly labeled, and I soon found my way around the phone. My Mum doesn't like complicated technology, and she finds the phone easy to use. If she was writing this review, she'd say that if she can use it then anyone can.
One of the things I love about this phone is how customisable it is. Along with the usual settings such as wallpaper ringtones and message alerts, I can also set up the home screen to give me quick and easy access to the functions and applications that I use the most. Options include a scrollable contacts bar, email indicator and search function. The only disadvantage is that the phone's wallpaper is obscured, and Mum prefers her screen to be uncluttered so she can see her wallpaper. I think the best feature is the shortcuts bar which can be set up to use the four favourite items. What I love about this is that you can create a shortcut button for most things including 3rd party applications and bookmarks.
In addition to the home screen, you can customise your phone's wallpaper, ringtone and message alerts. The selection of built in ringtones isn't very exciting in my opinion, but you can download your own sounds and music using the USB cable or by Bluetooth, or get them from various websites which sell ringtones and alert sounds.
It should also come as no surprise that ringer alerts are loud and clear even if the phone is buried in the deep dark depths of my handbag (or Mum's for that matter) so I don't end up with hundreds of missed calls or messages, again usually from Mum asking where I am and to please call her if I didn't hear my phone ring.
There is little point in having a phone that can't make phone calls. I access the dialer screen by tapping on the telephone button (this will be a button with the word 'telephone' on it or an icon depending on how the phone is set up). The buttons are big and the numbers are easy to read. You can of course click on the contacts button to use a number from there then I press (or rather tap) on the green accept button to dial up the number and the red reject button to end the call. If I want to answer the phone I just press the green accept button, if the screen lock has kicked in then I just unlock the keypad using the switch on the right hand side of the phone to unlock it. If I can't talk on the phone, I can choose to reject the call by sending a text message, either with a preset message or a custom one. The sound quality is as good as I would expect from Nokia, I can hear who is calling clearly, and the person on the other end can hear me. I haven't experienced any problems with dropped calls or the signal strength except during network outages which happens occasionally.
I also found it easy to navigate those dreaded automated telephone menus, for example when topping up my phone with a voucher. I just press the dialer button so I can tap on whatever keys I need to do what I want. Likewise if I want to access some of the other in call functions such as speaker phone, they are easy to access during the call, this will vary depending on the in call features supported by the network. O2 on Pay and Go doesn't support call hold or being able to answer a second call for example.
The Messaging menu is nicely organised with multimedia and text message stored in the Inbox, and with separate Inboxes for email accounts as and when they are set up. I downloaded the Windows Live application for my Mum, so her Hotmail account has been added to her phone, but you can use any POP3 or IMAP based account.
The rest of the Messaging menu consists of folders for sent messages, an outbox, drafts and delivery reports and a My Folders section giving me a place to store those messages I want to keep. Mum uses this to store any funny messages I have sent where my predictive text has gone awry. It's also easy to save media content like mini movies and photos on to the handset memory or the memory card, but this has to be done within the message.
Text, multimedia messages and emails are straightforward with all the features that I would expect. I have a choice of three ways of entering text either by the phones keypad, or using the phone's QWERTY keypad which is activated by turning the phone into the landscape position. Mum and I don't have the largest hands in the world and we can use this without resorting to the stylus but someone with bigger hands might have to. There is a handwriting recognition mode but Mum doesn't use it, and I think it is more of a gimmick than a serious text input mode as it is far quicker to type a message using either of the keypads.
Text can be entered using T9 predictive text, and as with all Nokia phones (certainly those that I've used) I select the word that I want by pressing the star key, and as it is a touch screen I can also tap on the word I am entering to select the one I want. It is also straightforward to add words to the dictionary again by tapping on the word I'm entering to bring up the menu and selecting the 'spell' option, this is much better than say on the LG Cookie I used to have where 'Add to Dictionary' is buried in a menu. I think it's a shame that the predictive text option isn't available on the QWERTY keypad as it can make entering text faster. As well as adding multimedia content I can also create templates so I can save time typing the same message out repeatedly.
My only complaint is that deleting multiple messages is fiddly, as Nokia hasn't used a checkbox style system enabling easy selection/de-selection of messages to delete or keep depending which way I do this. I can select all the messages using the menu, and then use the same menu to deselect those I want to to keep.
BROWSING THE WEB
As I mentioned earlier in this review, this phone has wi-fi support, which was one of the main reasons I bought it for my Mum. It was a breeze to connect the phone to our wireless router, it was a matter of allowing the phone to detect the network and then entering the password or key depending which security system is used by the network.
The web browser is as good as others I've used on other phones, but I needed to tweak the settings to enable Mum to choose the connection she wants to use when surfing the web so she can use our wi-fi connection at home or the mobile network when out and about. The wi-fi connection itself is reliable and haven't had any problems with the signal.
As with most phones, the browser is slow to load pages over a GPRS connection, so I downloaded the Opera Mini browser (which I am working on a review of) which loads pages a lot faster in my opinion and also offers tabbed browsing. It does take a little while to get used to browsing the web with a touch screen, and I found that regardless of browser used that I needed to use the stylus to tap on web links.
Obviously with a name like XpressMusic, I can expect this phone to have a good music player and I'm not disappointed. There is a 4GB microSDHC card included as standard which is certainly useful as the built in 70MB would not hold very much music, but I guess that it kept the price of the handset down. 4GB is a good starting point, but if you've got a large music collection then I'd recommend investing in a larger memory card, the biggest card this phone will accept is 16GB. There are various ways of getting music (and other files) on to the phone including Bluetooth and Nokia Music Store using the wi-fi connection. I use the USB connection as it is the quickest, though I laughed at the size of the USB cable supplied as it is a few centimetres long! I recommend using a laptop or a USB hub to stop the phone dangling in a precarious position. It has to be seen to be believed, and it's times like this I wish Dooyoo had a photo upload feature!
The actual music player is very good, and does everything I would expect from a dedicated device such as an iPod. I can view my music in numerous views including by Artist, Album and so on. I think the interface is a bit cumbersome in places, mainly when setting up and organising playlists on the phone and having to refresh the music library every time I add new music. Playing albums is straightforward, and is a matter of scrolling through the artist list or in album view to find what you want then double tapping on the track you want to listen to. If I feel like it I can also use shuffle to play my music in a random order.
The sound quality from the speaker is excellent and it's capable of filling an average sized room with sound. Mum and I have used the phone as a music player in our bedrooms (I've borrowed it when my iPod's run out of battery and needed some music to help me rest when I have been ill or can't sleep) and in the lounge and I'd say it's comparable to a portable CD/Radio/Cassette player. Mum and I like a wide variety of music ranging from pop/rock to classical music and we have no complaints with the overall sound quality regardless of the genre, so I am of the opinion the phone deserves its XpressMusic name.
Having been impressed with the radio on the Nokia N70 I had a few years ago, I had high expectations for the radio on the Nokia 5530. I was a bit disappointed to be honest as the antenna (which is the headset/headphone cable) didn't seem as sensitive and can't pick up as many radio stations with a good signal as I could on the N70 or my Samsung Tocco Lite. The Nokia 5530 features RDS which helps you identify the station you're listening to, and I found that I couldn't get the station ID to display even with stations with a strong signal such as the BBC Nationals, Classic FM or local stations.
This phone has one of the best mobile phone cameras that I've used so far. The camera is easily accessed by pressing the hot key on the bottom right hand side of the phone this also doubles as the shutter/capture button, and I can zoom in or out using the touch screen (which is fiddly) or the volume controls located on the top right hand side of the phone. As with any mobile phone camera I've used it's a digital zoom. The phone has an auto focus feature and this works in pretty much the same way as a regular digital camera - by pressing the shutter button half way down, and then pressing all the way down to take a photo.
I can access various settings using the touch screen which takes a little while to get used to. I simply touch the screen and a menu comes up enabling me to turn the flash/light on and off or use red eye reduction, and access a menu to switch to video mode as well as a host of settings such as scene mode and white balance and so on. I am very impressed by the range of settings as it isn't far off a conventional digital camera.
As with most mobile phone cameras, I find that I get the best quality photos on a sunny day, but I still get a good result in overcast conditions, though the colours, especially green, can appear a bit oversaturated. I have found the automatic setting does a good job most of the time, and I also like the way the camera appears to 'know' when I'm trying to take a close up image even if I haven't set the camera to macro mode which is a good timesaver. I have taken many photos which have been good enough to print. I have printed a beautiful 6X8 inch photo of my cat which is framed and on the top of our sideboard unit and you wouldn't believe it was taken on a mobile phone. Personally I feel that 6X8 inches is the biggest I would print, and it depends on the overall photo. Taking photos indoors using the flash is a bit hit and miss as I have found some of my pictures turn out grainy as it seems to bump up the ISO (light sensitivity) rating too high in my opinion.
The video mode enables me to record footage which Nokia describes as TV quality, and most of the time it produces good results with smooth playback and excellent sound quality. It's not up to the standard of a traditional camcorder, but it is fine for capturing short movies if I haven't got my camcorder to hand for example when I've found my cat curled up in bizarre places which he calls his new bed. I can also set the video camera mode to record at a lower resolution to send videos in multimedia messages or emails.
I can view my photos and video footage in the Gallery which offers the usual set of features I would expect. It takes advantage of the phone's accelerometer technology to get the best viewing experience. I found the phone is sparse on photo and video editing functions. There are a few basic tools such as being able to crop or rotate an image for wallpaper to name a couple of examples.While I can probably download software from Nokia's Ovi Store, I prefer to download my photos and video on to a computer as I think that a video/photo editing program is in my opinion going to be more versatile than anything a mobile phone can offer.
THIRD PARTY APPLICATIONS
Being a smartphone, there is a huge range of third party applications to choose from including free and paid for software. I can download software from many different sources, but I recommend using the Ovi Store, which is Nokia's answer to the Apps store on iTunes, or another reputable source to avoid viruses and other nasties. So far I've downloaded GMail, Opera Mini, Opera Mobile and Google Maps to name a few examples, and Mum has bought Scrabble via O2's gaming pages.
OTHER BITS AND PIECES
Modern mobile phones seem to be able to do most things these days, and the Nokia 5530 is no exception and it offers the usual selection of personal organiser tools such as alarms, calendar and the obligatory calculator. All of these work as well as on other phones I've had in the past, and they certainly do the job as well as I could reasonably expect.
Overall I believe I made the right purchasing decision for my Mum's Christmas present, and I am as impressed with the Nokia 5530 as she is. The phone offers a good range of features including the music player and the camera. I know that a mobile phone isn't going to replace a conventional digital camera or camcorder but for taking quick snaps and mini movies it is certainly capable of doing this.
The music player is excellent and the phone has the best sound quality I have come across so far on a mobile phone, and I think Nokia have done an excellent job in producing this music phone.
On the whole battery life has been excellent, and Mum charges her phone approximately every two to three days depending on her phone usage. It's obviously going to be more often if either of us have used the phone to browse the web and using the wi-fi connection. It takes approximately 2 hours to charge, which is good.
The Nokia 5530 is also reliable most of the time. It does crash occasionally which results in me in having to take the battery out of the phone to restart it. I know it's not really advisable but it is sometimes necessary.
I mentioned earlier that Mum has dropped the phone a few times and it's still working, so it is definitely sturdy in my opinion.
In terms of connectivity, I really think Nokia missed the boat in not including 3G especially now since the Samsung Monte came onto the market earlier this year. That particular phone offers 3G along with wi-fi and seems to be better suited to social networking fans than the Nokia 5530. That said I still recommend the Nokia 5530 as a serious contender if you're looking for a smartphone at a price that won't break the bank that offers wi-fi, so I award a 4 star rating accordingly.
Also published on Ciao (with photos) under the same user name
Like many households buying computer games are a considered purchase, so I tend to go for collections of games or those which offer long term playability and/or good multiplayer facilities. The main reason my mum and I had our games consoles in the first place was that we could play electronic versions of our favourite board games meaning no boards to lay out, minimal clearing up and no pieces going walkabouts. One of the games on my mum's wish list was Scrabble, and I was originally going to get the 2007 version for my mum's Christmas present on the year of release but nobody had it in stock at the time. Once I had acquired some Amazon vouchers, I looked at getting the game again but I noticed that there was a newer version which was a few quid cheaper, so I bought my mum a copy of Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition and one for myself.
AVAILABILITY AND SUITABILITY
You'll find Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition (which I will refer to as 'Scrabble' from now on) from all good computer/video game stockists and online retailers. As I said, I bought mine from Amazon and it cost £9.99 including postage.
The game is published by Ubisoft, and is rated 12 under the PEGI game certification system and there is a bad language warning which is hardly surprising for a word game.
When you start the game for the first time, you can set up your player profile, player image and so on. While Scrabble has a 12 rating, you can set up a 'junior' profile which prevents offensive words from being played, so I can't see any reason why a younger child couldn't enjoy the game under adult supervision. I was taught to play Scrabble at a young age, and I don't think there was the Junior version when I was growing up (I'm 35).
This game enables you to set up two player profiles, so when you start the game you tap on the name of which one you want. You can also edit and delete the profiles from this screen if you like.
The menu system is best described as a scroll wheel, you slide through the various options to bring up the option you want. While I'm not a fan of this type of system as it makes finding everything a bit cumbersome, I did find the menu was intuitively laid out and well organised.
~Graphics and Sound~
I felt the game translated across to the DS platform brilliantly, and both the screens have been used as well as can be expected. In the standard view, you get the board on the touch screen along with your letter rack, and the top screen features your player icon, score, and Letter Mind is on hand to give hints and tips as you play. I like the idea of facial expression on the player icons changing when you're winning (or losing) though the smile on the winner's faces reminds me of the sinister grin The Joker has in the 'Batman' movies of the 1980/90's.
I was worried that the board might be too small which might have made it difficult to see the pieces and move them around, but I didn't experience any problems. The letters are clear and I had no difficulties in putting them on the board. I can zoom in on the board at any time by double tapping a blank space on the touch screen, which gives you a more realistic impression of the Scrabble board including the labeled bonus squares. The overview of the complete board is displayed in the top screen and I can move around the board by touching the screen and dragging the stylus. If I want to return to the normal view, I just double tap the touch screen again. The dictionary used in this game is the updated Collins official Scrabble dictionary according to the box.
The game controls are clearly laid out and responsive most of the time, sometimes selecting a tile for exchange or moving multiple tiles at once, can take a few attempts but it doesn't happen very much. I also like the idea that I can rearrange my tiles manually and/or using a button to sort or jumble up the letters, I have found better words by doing that even it they don't jump out at me automatically. The definition of each word is displayed in what I can only describe as BBC News type ticker tape that runs at the bottom of the DS system's upper screen. If I have missed something I can tap on the word and the definition is displayed.
I'm not very impressed with the background music and sound effects, but in my opinion that seems to be the norm as far as computer games are concerned. I have turned them off in the Options section of the main menu, but I can also turn the DS volume control down.
The campaign mode is described as a way of discovering 'the mysteries of Scrabble in a grand round-the-world adventure'. During this mode you travel around the world meeting the different opponents with 'Letter Mind' on hand offering advice on gameplay strategy and how to make the most of the tiles and the bonus squares which is something I hadn't really paid attention to, so I felt like I learned something to boost my scores when playing for real. Examples include extending words already on the board, and placing words against each other creating two or more words at the same time.
On the downside, I found the campaign mode tedious at times, as it felt like I was tapping on numerous screens which seemed like forever, to get to the gameplay sections. If I didn't achieve the tasks the first time I had the opportunity to try again, but if I turned the console off or the battery went it went to the beginning of the section I was playing meaning going through the story which was in my opinion naff, but each to their own. I think a tutorial section would have been better, but I can see that the developers perhaps wanted to try something different.
You get three variations of Scrabble in this section. The 'Classic' game which is the traditional game of Scrabble that I know and love, and this is the game that I play the most whether it's against the computer or in multiplayer mode. I can imagine that most people buy this game to play this version, myself included.
Tempest aims to add a twist to the classic game by adding cards which state different things such as adding new bonus squares or putting targets on your opponent such as restricting the number of letters or making a word achieve a certain score. It does add an exciting element to the game as I don't know what is going to happen next. I think this version would appeal to children who might think Scrabble is boring.
Duplicate, as I understand from the instruction booklet, is the version played at tournaments. I admit I hadn't heard of it, and I didn't know there was such thing as a Scrabble tournament either. In this version each player (plus an additional CPU) receives identical letters and the highest scoring word is added to the board, but you still receive a score for the words you make. I must admit that I've yet to come up with a word with a high enough score to be added to the board.
By default, Classic and Duplicate Scrabble are set up to play against three opponents which I think is too many when playing against a computer. Tempest which is played against one CPU. I can choose my opponents by tapping on the arrows above and below his or her avatar, if I want to reduce the number of opponents I change them to display the question mark icon. The only problem here is there is no way of setting the number of players you want by default so I have have to do this manually each time I have loaded the game cartridge or changed game mode. The computer opponents have all different abilities and from my experience 'Clovis' is the easiest and 'Esmé' is the most difficult to beat, it does mean that you can choose other players based on your mood. I'd say they are not impossible as I successfully beat all of them in the Campaign Mode. One tip I would give is to try and get as higher scoring word you can early in the game, to try and get an advantage over your opponent. Ideally you need to have the high scoring letters (eg JZKQX) and using the bonus squares to get this to work, but that is the luck of the draw. You can exchange your letters if you can't make any words.
The quick games are pretty much what you would expect from Scrabble in terms of playing and scoring and unlike the traditional board game the maths part is done for you. I admit I've been taken by surprise that some of the words I've put on the board are real, one of my 'discoveries' was 'QI' which landed me 33 points as I had it on a triple word score, I thought that was impressive for a two letter word, so it tells me that the length of the word doesn't matter but how well you place your words. I have also learned some words from the CPUs which I have carried across to playing my mother in multiplayer mode.
You can also add extra challenges such as a penalty if you enter a word that isn't in the dictionary - that results in a missed turn. If you haven't got much time you can also set a time limit each player has in the game eg 15 minutes, or if you want to think on your feet you can set a time limit per round but since the CPUs think and make their move quickly this only really works in multiplayer mode.
I think with most games of this kind, Scrabble really comes alive in multiplayer mode and as with the traditional board game you can play with up to three other opponents. I like the fact it comes with the single card game play mode which means you can play using the DS system's download play facility if your friends and family haven't got the game. As my mum and I have got a card each we mostly use multi card play, but the download play is useful if either of us have left our game card upstairs and we want a quick game of Scrabble. If you are playing using the single card game connection then you can only play the classic or duplicate versions of Scrabble. You will need the multi-card option to play Tempest.
Setting up and joining multiplayer game is straightforward by using the 'Multiplayer' option from the main menu. I also like the fact that you can choose the Scrabble variation after the players have joined as you don't have to keep creating a new room each time you want to play a different variation of the game. This means if you're using the single card game play option, that those that are using download play don't have to keep shutting down the console to play a different variation which is the case in a couple of the games in my DS collection.
You can also set options such as timed games or rounds, and also challenges as you can on the Quick Games. You can, though add some extra challenges for playing invalid words on the board, but I think this spoils the game as I feel it encourages cheating.
On the whole the wireless connection is stable, and I haven't had any problems with the signal dropping and we have managed to play with me upstairs and my mum in the lounge without any problems. Mum's bedroom is located directly above the lounge so the distance between the consoles isn't that great.
I think with a game which has the popularity of Scrabble, that it is a shame that the developers didn't include an internet mode using the DS system's wifi facility which would have opened the game up to playing with friends and family (or anyone in the world) with a Nintendo DS system and a wireless internet connection. I think this is something that the developers should consider if there is a new version of this game along with the chat feature, for me it would make a new version (2011 perhaps) worth buying.
BONUSES, EXTRAS AND RECORDS
In this section you get a few mini word games which are all designed to help you make better words and increase your scores, but I think they are a love or hate affair.
Scrabble Hold 'Em is described by the developer as being a 'thrilling mix' of Scrabble and Poker. I've played this a few times and I don't really understand it, but then again I'm not a Poker player. I think this game will only appeal to those who understand and like Poker. I had high hopes for Escaletters and Anagrams as they sounded exciting in the instruction book, but they turned out to be disappointing, and I soon became bored with them. I know the aim of these games are designed to help you boost your vocabulary, but I felt that too many of them were obscure, and having to tap the respective pass/help button too many times.
Puzzletters is in my opinion the best of the mini games, and it is the one that I play the most. It is a wordsearch type game which reminds me, in a way, of the online game Bookworm, but without the burning and bonus letters. You are given a grid of Scrabble tiles and you are given tasks such as finding two words within 100 seconds, and completion earns you more grids. As the levels progress you have to find more words which like Bookworm uses letters up, down left and right to form words. There is a twist though, you can only use each letter once on each grid, so words cannot overlap which certainly adds to the challenge, at the end of each round the letters used disappear and are replaced with new ones. The word score is based on the tiles. If you like Bookworm or Boggle then this game will probably appeal to you.
This is designed to help you with playing the real life board game of Scrabble, though I think its too limited to be of any real use. You can use it to look up words in the dictionary and to check anagrams, and thats about it. You can use it to record the game scores, but you have to do the maths yourself though the game helper keeps a running total after each round. I'm useless at maths, so I would have found it helpful to have included a score calculator including buttons for the bonus squares and for the blank tiles which don't score any points. I think this is something the developers could consider if there is a new version of this game.
The High Scores section documents your best achievements for each of the varieties of Scrabble and the mini games. Your top three highest scores are recorded using the obligatory gold, silver and bronze trophies. Other recorded achievements depend on the game, for instance in the classic game you can find out what your highest scoring words are, and the biggest gap (how many points ahead you are).
There is also a section called achievements which you can unlock as you play the game an example is breakaway, so far I have managed to unlock only one of these.
This is where I feel the game is disappointing, there isn't much opportunity to unlock new items. You can unlock wallpapers and a new opponent by playing the campaign mode, but I would have liked to have seen a bonus points system to 'buy' more in the way of opponents and board designs.
In my opinion, this game is the one of the best implementations of Scrabble I have seen on a handheld device, and I think that is largely down to the Nintendo DS system having dual screens and being able to zoom in on the board to see what I'm doing. I think it's one of those games that offers long term playability and can also help improve your game and strategy, and I think I have become a better player as a result of having this, and this has carried over into multiplayer mode. I am thinking more about higher scoring words by making more use of the higher valued tiles and bonus squares rather than playing the longest word which might not be the best scorewise. I've also extended my vocabulary and now use some of the words from the CPU opponents in games against my Mum. I think with any game like this it is much better to play against a real person than a computer.
If you enjoy playing Scrabble or word games then I don't think you can go wrong with buying this, and at £10 it represents good value for money, so I recommend shopping around to find the best deal. I think it would make an excellent game to take on the move as there are no pieces to go missing on route. Accordingly I award the game a four star rating as I cannot fault the classic game of Scrabble, which I think is the main reason why I think someone would buy this, but I think it sorely misses an internet multiplayer mode which is why it's lost a star.
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