Developer: Beanbag Studios
Release Date: October 28, 2008
It's safe to say that nearly all of us have, at some point in our lives, been stuck with an insufferable wait and beset by sheer, unadulterated boredom. Whether it be sitting in a terminal waiting for a repeatedly delayed flight, chilling in the lobby of the DMV while the 300 people ahead of you present massively complicated problems with no hope of a speedy resolution or simply trying to kill time during a power outage, we all need something to break the boredom. Thankfully, Travel Games for Dummies offers a great way to help the hours fly by, but the "For Dummies" moniker should have been dropped since the title doesn't really teach you anything.
Travel Games for Dummies offers Sudoku, Solitaire and Crosswords, all for your boredom-busting pleasure. At first glance, that might not seem like a lot, but the SD card is packed full of simple gaming goodness, and it will be a long, long time before you run out of puzzles to tackle and challenges to surmount. Solitaire is especially enjoyable, with 10 different variations, each of which is different enough from the others to offer gamers something new every time. For those who prefer their puzzles to contain numbers or letters and be in grid form, there are over 600 Sudoku games spread over six difficulty levels and 100 crosswords divided among 10 different topics. Truly, the game is a godsend for anyone with a lengthy daily commute and who would rather bury his nose in a DS than engage in conversation with the stranger sitting next to him who smells vaguely like cabbage.
Since the game carries the "For Dummies" banner, one would expect there to be a fairly lengthy and entertaining section about the history and rules of each game. This is somewhat true, but only in the game's manual. Unfortunately, once you pop the title into the DS and get rolling, all the charm and whimsy is thrown out the window in favor of a bland and dry straightforward approach to teaching the rules. The "How To" sections are nothing more than page after page of text with static images used to illustrate the point. While newcomers will likely learn how to play each game with little difficulty and vets may pick up a few tricks along the way (I assumed that "naked single" was a porn term, not a Sudoku one), there's absolutely no interactivity to be found.
What makes things even worse is that the game has the perfect avenue to encourage learning but squanders it for no apparent reason. Each game has an entire practice section devoted to helping you learn, but absolutely no assistance is offered. If you forgot how to play a game or need pointers on a specific trick, then you have to quit, back out to the instructions again, find the lesson you're struggling over and simply read it again. There is no assistance beyond that, so if you find yourself truly stuck, things are likely to remain that way forevermore.
The worst part is this could have been fixed so easily by allowing gamers to play along with the instructions in the practice mode. For example, in the Sudoku puzzles when teaching me about hidden doubles, why not walk me through a grid featuring a few and help me learn, step-by-step, how to tease them out? Instead, the learning opportunity goes to waste as I randomly fill in numbers until I stumble upon the right combination, only to move on to the next lesson without picking up a thing.
Another significant flaw is the fact that the game forces you to learn patience for all the wrong reasons. Both Crosswords and Sudoku allow you to fill in your answers via either keypad or scratchpad, but the latter option isn't all that refined. The writing area for each letter and number is somewhat tiny, and if you drift outside the box even a little, your entry won't register. Also, like any other game that requires precision touch-screen technology, there are a whole lot of confused letters and numbers. Maybe it's just my handwriting, but the game seemed to have a lot of problems differentiating Os and Gs, as well as mistaking fours and fives for nines and eights, respectively. Still, I can't knock the game too much, given the fact that a keypad is available for those who just can't make it work. I still want the game to be able to accurately recognize my scribbling, but at least there's another option when it doesn't.
The one game that might cause players slightly more hand-wringing is Solitaire, which just doesn't seem to fit the DS' bottom screen at all. The cards are tiny enough, but when you get into games that require the entire deck and then some to show up on the screen at once, things get downright indecipherable. Grabbing the card you want with the stylus is hit-and-miss, and trying to make out the value and suit of each card is an exercise in futility. Couple this with the fact that Travel Games for Dummies is meant to be played in locales like on a train or bus where hand steadiness might not be all that great, and you have a recipe for trouble.
There are basically two ways to view Travel Games for Dummies, and depending on your position, you are likely to end up either loving or loathing the title. If you're the type who simply wants something to do to kill time when you're bored and have some free time on your hands, then this game is perfect; the abundance of puzzles and variety of modes should provide hours and hours of entertainment. However, if you pick up the game expecting to use it as a tool to become a crossword, Solitaire or Sudoku master, then you will inevitably leave disappointed. While it may come from the "For Dummies" crowd, it doesn't seem too interested in teaching you anything.
Travel Games for Dummies is perfect for travel, though, and comes easily recommended to businesspeople or those who find themselves on a lengthy commute with little to do. It's a great game for the subway, bus or airline terminal, and it could just as easily provide some entertainment in the evenings when you need to unwind from a long day. If you're looking for a puzzle collection, then this one comes highly recommended for dummies and geniuses alike.