Casual Mania

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Casual
Publisher: Destineer
Developer: Foreign Media Games
Release Date: April 28, 2010

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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NDS Review - 'Casual Mania'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 10, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Casual Mania crams four of the most successful web-based game designs into one DS cartridge, allowing casual fans to play their favorite games anywhere.

The emerging genre of casual games has been quite successful and, as with anything successful, the titles have moved beyond the PC and into other gaming markets. The Nintendo DS can claim that part of its success has come from casual gamers since the touch interface is a well-understood mechanic for non-gamers and is a good replacement for the mouse. With a bunch of original hits already on the DS, if you're a game publisher or developer who wants to get in on some of that revenue, you have two choices to make. The first choice is to clone a well-established formula and hope that the public, hungry for more of the same experience, will pick up your title and be satisfied. The other choice is to create something new that would hopefully entice people who are looking for the next big casual gaming fix. Destineer and Foreign Media chose the former route by compiling four clones of some of the most popular casual games into one low-priced package. Casual Mania sounds like a bargain at first, but once you delve deeper into the package, you'll realize that you got what you paid for.

There are four minigames to choose from, each one a clone of a wildly popular casual title. Marble Popper is a clone of the hit game, Zuma. A row of marbles slowly moves toward a hole at the end of a designated path. You take control of a shooter that shoots a given marble color toward the marble row. Creating a group of three or more marbles of the same color causes those marbles to disappear, creating gaps in the row or, if the colors match, causing the leading pack to join up with the previous pack. The game ends once the marble row reaches the hole at the end of the path or you eliminate all of the marbles on the board. The normal game mode gives you level after level of different paths and set numbers of marbles that must be cleared. Challenge mode gives you an endless row of marbles, and your goal is to score as many points as possible before the row reaches the end.

The minigame 3 in a Row apes Bejeweled, which should be instantly familiar to all gamers by now. You're presented with a field of tiles with different colors and insignias. You have one move to swap the places of adjacent tiles, and that move must make a horizontal or vertical match of three or more like-colored tiles. Matched tiles disappear, causing the ones above to fall down and new ones to take their place. The game ends when no more matching moves can be made. There are three different gameplay modes. Free Game has you making matches to fill up a meter at the bottom before you progress to the next level. Timed Play has you trying to score as many points as possible within a given time limit. Finally, Clean Up has you making matches to change every piece of the background from one color to another.

Beauty Salon can be best described as a simpler version of Sally's Salon or Diner Dash with a different aesthetic. In this time management game, your job is to ensure that incoming customers get what they need in a timely manner. Attending to each of their needs quickly gets you paid with some bonus tips, if the job is done quickly enough. Getting the tasks done slowly will either result in no tip or lost earnings if the customer leaves. The goal is to get the tasks done and reach the level quota for earnings before time expires. Unlike the other minigames on this cartridge, this only has one game mode.

The final minigame is Hidden Object, which is similar to Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos or Mystery Case Files. You play a detective who's trying to solve an art theft case in a museum. Like other games of this type, you're given a random list of objects to find in each level, and your job is to find all of the listed objects within the time limit. There are over 10 levels, and while most of them involve you trying to find objects hidden in the environment, there are a few tile-sliding puzzles in between levels.

There is a bonus fifth game in the compilation, but you don't play it directly. With the exception of Hidden Object, every minigame contains a picture displayed on the top screen. As you complete more levels in the various games, you unlock puzzle pieces to form the picture. Completing a set number of levels unlocks a picture for viewing in the picture viewer, which is located on the main menu.

What will strike you about the entire compilation is how generic everything feels, and that's because there don't seem to be any frills. For example, you aren't awarded bonus points in Marble Popper for the spaces that the marble row doesn't occupy. Beauty Salon doesn't let you earn bonus points for treating the rest of the customers if you reach your quota on time. The lack of these bonuses doesn't give any real incentive for a player to improve his performance since the score will be the same. What is more pressing is the lack of indicators that have become essential to some of the games. Hidden Object doesn't give you any warning that making too many mistakes will give you a time penalty. Unless you inherently know this rule, you could tap away furiously at the screen and suddenly see time expire more quickly than you had anticipated. Similarly, in 3 in a Row, any tile you tap on doesn't have an indicator to inform the player that the tile has been selected for movement. So many other games of this type have an indicator, so it's perplexing to see it missing here.

The controls, as expected, are fairly simple. You tap on the touch-screen to perform desired actions in 3 in a Row. Marble Popper has the player making quick flicks on the screen to send the ball to the line, and Beauty Salon uses dragging to place customers in the desired spots and screen taps for everything else. Hidden Object is the only game that tries to use more than just the touch-screen for its controls. Even then, the use of the d-pad for camera movement is easily replicated with drags on the touch-screen. For the most part, the controls are responsive enough despite the lack of visual or audible feedback when mistakes are made. The only game that seems to exhibit any issues with the controls is Marble Popper; the marble is often launched at the wrong time and in the wrong direction due to the increased screen sensitivity.

Graphically, Casual Mania tries to be functional and nothing more. Just about every element of 3 in a Row and Marble Popper feels like it belongs in a Flash game, though the constant shine line that persists every few seconds in 3 in a Row is interesting to see, if not useless to have. The game's best graphical efforts appear in Hidden Objects. The environments look crisp, and the while the art style for the characters seems simplistic, it works out well in this minigame. They even seem to have solved the problem of screen real estate by presenting everything in a close-up view on the bottom screen and using the top screen to indicate the area of focus in relation to the overall image.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Beauty Salon feels like only a basic amount of work was done on the graphics and no budget was provided for animations. The customers never have any poses other than the sitting one, and they simply disappear from the screen when they finish paying. In an odd design choice, those same customers, who come in fully clothed, start wearing shorts and bikinis once they're being worked on. It makes sense when they need to go to the hot tubs, but seeing them in those clothes while getting a haircut is more than a bit odd, especially when there appears to be smoke on their bodies during these haircuts.

Like everything else, the sound is very pedestrian. The sound effects are done nicely, though there's nothing special about them. The music has a light feeling throughout all of the included games. It isn't calm enough that you'd want to fall asleep, but it doesn't force you to hurry through each game, either. If there's an issue to be had with the music, it's that there is no distinction between any of the musical pieces. Even though each piece of the score is different, you'd think that the music being played in 3 in a Row is the same as the score played in Beauty Salon. Having the music be completely different between each game goes a long way in feeling like every game is a different experience. As it stands, the music makes you wonder if you intended to play one game but chose a different one by mistake.

Casual Mania is as generic as it sounds. With the exception of Hidden Object, every game does just enough to be functional and nothing more. The games control well, but there's nothing really exciting when it comes to the look and sound departments. If you somehow missed out on any of the big casual games on the DS, then this compilation could be enticing as long as you don't mind getting a bare-bones experience for each game. Otherwise, it would be wiser to opt for the original games instead of the clones in this title, since the originals do a much better job of providing more quality for the money.

Score: 5.0/10

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