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Cradle of Rome

It’s an insanely hard task to think of an idea for a puzzle game. You need a concept that doesn’t wear thin – a central gameplay mechanic that just, works. Tetris is universally known as the perfect puzzle game, and rightly so; its addictive one-more-go nature is unparalleled, and it will never age thanks to its ingenious gameplay. Similar to Tetris’ faultless mechanic is the aptly named ‘match three puzzler’. Established in such roaring success stories as Bejewelled and Zoo Keeper, the ‘match three’ concept is loved by millions of casual puzzler aficionados. Cradle of Rome uses this much loved gameplay as its staple resource, in a game that tries to disguise itself out as an ‘adventure puzzle’ title. As you’d expect, the main puzzling is addictive and fun, but unfortunately it’s what you get outside of this that makes for a merely novel affair.

Cradle of Rome‘s selling point stands in its fusion of a match three puzzle game, and a ‘resource gathering mechanic’. This may sound interesting, but in reality it’s nothing more than a small diversion – something to distract your interest in between the puzzles you’ll be getting stuck into. It’s by no means a bad idea, it’s just a little thin on the ground in terms of content, and feels like a concept that’s been tacked on to the winning formula of match three gameplay.

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The premise is simple – by successfully completing the many puzzles you’ll encounter, you gather resources in the form of money, food and building materials. For every resource in gameplay you match in a line of three or more, your total for that resource will increase. In between each puzzle you’re able to construct buildings and structures provided you have the relevant amount of supplies. It’s essentially an incredibly basic and linear building simulator to add meaning to the puzzles you’ll be completing – even then, calling it a simulator is slightly deceptive.

It does fulfil its purpose as a disposable distraction away from the match three puzzles, and for that it shouldn’t be criticised too heavily. There are five epochs (historical eras), with four different constructs to be made in each, or ‘bought’, as the game puts it. You’ll start puzzling to gain resources for small structures like a mill, or a simple field, and near the end you’ll be making harbours and ships, Coliseums and the like. The buildings get more impressive as the puzzles get more difficult – by the end you’ll have a bustling city to look onto thanks to your efforts. Each construction is accompanied by a handy description that provides an interesting and educational read; it’s a nice touch that adds a little spark to the otherwise simple proceedings.

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There are a hundred puzzles to get through in Cradle of Rome, and thanks to the longevity of the match three gameplay, you likely won’t stop till you beat every last one. It’s almost a shame that high scores aren’t implemented, instead sacrificed for the so called ‘adventure’ part of the game. Each puzzle has a different shape, and the difficulty ranges heavily between them – some have you praying for more time, while others can be finished with consummate ease. The aim of each puzzle is to destroy certain tiles by matching resources over said tiles. Some tiles are placed in tough areas, and will often frustrate you wildly as time saps away. Unfortunately, screen sensitivity is an issue, and it should be noted that on many an occasion the game will think you’ve touched to swap a certain symbol only for it to swap one you never intended in the first place. It can also get a little finicky, as the game sometimes believes you’ve still got your stylus resting on a certain symbol even when you’re not touching the screen, causing you to have to re-select. It’s not game-breaking, but it definitely frustrates.

To liven the puzzles up a little, ‘bonus’ pieces are gradually unlocked to aid your tile smashing ways. A lightning bonus, for instance, will destroy a random selection of tiles from the board. Time bonuses predictably add time to the game, while bombs can erase a few tiles within an area. These add a little strategy to proceedings, and their presence is welcome.

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Visually, Cradle of Rome is hardly going to make history. Nothing proves an eyesore – it’s just all a little tame. There are some quaint images on offer in regards to the buildings and the backgrounds that accompany the puzzles, but apart from that nothing stands out as being anything other than functional. The boards for which you play each puzzle on are unexciting and littered with simple icons that do nothing to inspire any kind of admiration. Music is worse, too, with thematic looping chimes that grate after a minute or so. You mostly likely won’t care too much for the sound, though, in this type of game.

Cradle of Rome is an entirely inoffensive puzzle game that relies heavily on its central mechanic of flawless match three gameplay. The ‘building’ area of the game does an okay job in adding a little importance to the gameplay, but high scores would have done this just as well. When the puzzling is this good, it’s hard not to recommend if you’re a fan of similar affairs. If you’re interested in sampling the delights of match three puzzling, Cradle of Rome certainly isn’t a bad place to start. Who knows, it may even inspire you to build a shed.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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