Reviewed: October 12, 2002
Released: September 20, 2001
Hoyle as been the undisputed authority for parlor type games for over two centuries, and Sierra has been bringing these classic games to your PC for over ten years now. I’ve been an avid fan of all of the Hoyle releases since Sierra started putting them out back in the early 90’s. I was even a beta-tester for their TSN (The Sierra Network) online gaming system that allowed you to play many of these games online. Keep in mind these were pre-Internet times when you actually had to dial another person’s computer or a service such as AOL or CompuServe to do anything online.
Sierra has managed to keep up with the times and subsequently release a new and improved version of their various Hoyle franchises every year which brings us to this year’s release of Hoyle Puzzle Games 2003.
This latest release is packed with all of the best puzzle games including:
Standard for all of the 2003 Hoyle releases, this game comes with the exclusive Facemaker tool that lets you create your own persona from hundreds of various facial features, clothes, and accessories. Much like a police composite system, you can overlay noses, lips, hair, eyes, until you create something that either resembles your own appearance or even some crazy character with a rainbow clown wig. The possibilities are nearly infinite. One nice feature for those of you who own more than one of the Hoyle 2003 games is that you can load your composite image into those other games and not have to create it entirely from scratch.
Navigating the menus is quick and easy. The various games are sorted into four main categories, so you can quickly find the game you want to play and load it up. Once loaded there are handy tutorials and excellent instructions to familiarize you with the gameplay and rules for each game. Unlike other games in the Hoyle series, these puzzles games are single player games, so your only opponent is yourself.
There are various options you can toggle to make these games as friendly as possible. A good example is the Crossword puzzle where you can choose the size and difficulty of each puzzle. There are plenty of “assist” options to help you when you get stuck; things like showing you the next move, or solving a portion of the puzzle to get you going again. Many games even have an “undo” option if you catch an immediate mistake and want to try something else.
While many of these games are fairly common, there is one game called Star Collector that I must comment on simply because it is the best of the entire collection, and in my opinion is worthy of a standalone product. In this game you place colored tiles with various symbols. Much like the classic game Ishido adjoining tiles must match colors and/or symbols. Your ultimate goal is to create paths across the star chart to capture square with stars on them. Collecting these stars completes the pattern to one of many constellations and when you solve one level you move on to a different constellation. You are only given a few tiles to place each round and if you get stuck you can reshuffle the “deck”, but your shuffles are limited. You can earn additional shuffles by completing and clearing entire rows across the map. If this sounds simple you are right. But it is also terribly addictive, and my first game lasted nearly three hours with no sense of passage of time.
One other game worth mentioning is the Incredible Machine, which actually launches a standalone program. Many of you may remember this title as it has had several predecessors that have been released as their own retail product. Even More Contraptions offers a good selection of brainteasers that will challenge your mechanical and puzzle solving abilities.
Each game is totally unique in both visual style and its interface. The Hangman game has multiple themes you can choose from that not only change the backgrounds, but also the game presentation including the animation of the hanging man. The Star Collector game has some of the most colorful and lively animated graphics and backgrounds that rival some of the big-budget standalone releases.
Crossword puzzles are crisp and clear with scrollable clue windows and highlighted letter blocks to indicate if you are going down or across. Mahjong features excellent backgrounds but is rather limited on the tile sets, allowing you to pick either Chinese or Egyptian symbols. The Maze games are challenging but are rather simplistic in their visual design.
Most of the games have nice little animations and special effects like starbursts or glowing tiles when you make a match. Blowing up a tile in Star Collector was my favorite effect, as it results in a colorful explosion worthy of a Star Wars movie. It is easy to see that a lot of care and attention to detail was put into this title.
Hoyle Puzzle Games has some of the best sounds and music in any of the Hoyle 2003 releases. There are great mood and environmental tunes that play in the background while you are solving the puzzles. Given the length of some of these games it was surprising that the music never got repetitive or annoying. Even during my three-hour session of Star Collector the music never intruded.
Just like the visuals, there are a lot of subtle niceties that don’t stand out individually, but totally enhance the overall experience. There is even some excellent voice work in the opening narrations and instructions during the Incredible Machine game.
Of all the Hoyle Games released for 2003, this package offers the most diverse selection of individual games. Almost no two games are alike which means there is something for everyone.
In addition to the 100+ page manual, the game also comes with an abridged version of the Third Revised Edition of Hoyle’s 8 Favorite Games; a substantial and useful guide that you can use in your non-computer gaming, but it has no relevance to the games in this package. This book is non-specific to the software, so regardless of which Hoyle game(s) you buy, the book will be the same.
Hoyle Puzzle Games is portable and can be installed on your laptop and played without the CD; although, certain animations and sounds that stream from the CD will not be available. As an added bonus, there are even some PDA versions of Placer Racer and Mahjong Tiles that you can download to your Palm OS and Windows CE Handhelds. Now you can master these games even when you are away from your computer.
Hoyle Puzzle Games brings together a great mix of visually stunning and challenging puzzle games, including four never-seen-before games that are sure to be a hit. Lively, interactive play and crisp, colorful graphics will make this a favorite for your entire family and a permanent addition to your PC gaming library.