Reviewed: December 19, 2008
Released: November 18, 2008
I hate Cradle of Rome. I mean, I really despise this game. A blatant rip-off of Puzzle Quest – which itself was a blatant rip-off of Bejeweled but with a storyline pigeonholed between the puzzles – Cradle of Rome is about as cheap a shot as it gets in gaming, and is an obvious ploy by publishers to ride the Bejeweled bandwagon all the way to the bank.
But that’s not why I hate Cradle of Rome – no, I hate Cradle of Rome because it is so damn addicting that I simply cannot put the DS down long enough to actually do anything productive – like say, oh, write reviews, sleep, eat.
Well, maybe it’s not THAT bad, but it definitely has kept me up extra hours on more than a few nights, and has definitely put a dent in my reviewing as my “writing warm-up” sessions (where I pop a game in for one last look before writing the review) have stretched from the standard 15-20 minutes to and hour or two. In fact, I had to re-prioritize my gaming list just so I would finally address my growing list of outstanding reviews.
Cradle of Rome is a rip-off, period. It’s basically a skinned-over Bejeweled, or Puzzle Quest, or Jewel Quest – take your pick. But then again, some of the best puzzle games have been rip-offs – Zuma, Magnetica, and Boom Blox all have borrowed their gameplay from somewhere else. But if these games offer something new within the framework in which they imitate, then they may be redeemed of any originality issues.
Cradle of Rome’s hook is an RPG like back-story, which links onscreen puzzle tiles to a medieval-style fortress-building game. These tiles range from simple resource management items like gold, food, and building materials, to more useful items like tools and special powers.
So what are you building? Rome, of course! Okay, so maybe Ancient Rome’s is technically pre-medieval, but it still has that general feel. And while the resource management items are fairly straightforward – it’s the management of the special powers like fire, lightning, and bombs that really makes the game as addictive as it is.
This is because each of these powers only becomes available once their meter has been filled by matching chains of the corresponding puzzle tiles. This forces gamers to frantically decide between racing the clock to chug through a level, or focus on maxing out power meters and hope for the biggest chain.
Why special powers, you ask? Because the game features a number of onscreen obstacles (chains, rocks, etc.) that can be destroyed either by matching the right combination of tiles, or by slamming them with a special power. Either choice takes a certain degree of skill and luck, and the rapid timer (a water clock, fitting!) certainly makes the decision more significant.
With respect to the technical aspects; Cradle of Rome looks and sounds like pretty much every other puzzle game – basically nothing to write home about. I will say that the game really benefits from the audio effects that correspond to stringing chains together, so it was nice to find that the developers thought enough to let gamers control the repetitive soundtrack and effects levels separately – which is something many puzzle games miss.
Other than that – it’s Bejeweled – and it’s on the DS. And it’s not a big hit to the pocketbook with an MSRP of $20 – which is good since the game can be played online for free. So while I hate Cradle of Rome for being a blatant rip-off with little or no originality – I cannot stop playing, so it can’t be all that bad.