Review / Cradle of Rome (DS)

When I was tasked with reviewing the Nintendo DS port of Cerasus Media’s Cradle of Rome, I had no idea how I was going to go about it. The game is a match-three puzzler, which normally isn’t the type to grab hold of my little gamer, unless it’s Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords — both published by D3 Publisher. I panicked a little bit, knowing the end product would be a miserable failure of words (the jury is still out) until I realized the solution to my problem was on its way for the holidays: My mom.

My mom is an old school gamer who beat The Legend of Zelda on NES before me and has a couple run throughs of Chrono Trigger under her belt (a book could be written about her), but has moved more towards the casual end of gaming in recent years, complete with a subscription to EA’s Pogo service. Having her around would be like a focus group in my living room, just with more questions like why is my couch orange and how come my dinner table isn’t fancy. But you didn’t come hear to read about how awesome my mom is, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

As I said, Cradle of Rome is a match-three puzzler, meaning you have to match icons in groups of three (four or five for bigger bonuses) to clear spaces on the board. The twist is the icons you’re matching correspond to resources needed to erect buildings, which give you special abilities and allow passage through the stages (epochs). Your ultimate goal is to pass through all the Epochs, build Rome and gain entrance to Mount Olympus to dance the night away at one of its luxurious neon discos. I lied about that last part, but you were totally going to buy it. So, how did Mom and I fare on our journey to Olympus? Better than I had originally thought.

My mom was especially fond of the game having a purpose; something to keep her playing. The ability to build structures and unlock new power-ups kept things rolling, looking forward to what was next; where a game such as Bejeweled would’ve made her stop playing pretty quickly. The changing board layouts with abstract designs and differing resource icons was another welcome feature for the moms, as they broke up the earlier, squared-off levels and offered a comfortable, rising difficulty. They also created a nice challenge for her that, even if a level was failed, would light a fire to keep her going.

It wasn’t all gumdrops and butterfly kisses for the woman that gave birth to me, however. The music was irritating to the point of it needing to be muted. With only 2 tracks that loop ad infinitum and sounding like they don’t belong in the game, it wasn’t long before this happened. Mom also encountered some problems with stylus control when a tile was selected by mistake and when she tried to select a different tile nowhere near it, instead of the selection changing, a move would be initiated and throw off the planning. This happened quite frequently and wasn’t user error.

In the end, despite the music and stylus hiccups, Mom gave the game thumbs up and deemed it worth the $20 price tag. She felt the content and target goals offered a fun experience that held her interest where other similarly-styled games couldn’t.

Mostly, I agree with her as I had more fun than I had planned during my playthrough of it. The drive to unlock new power-ups by erecting structures is actually a lot of fun and the oddly-shaped boards offer some nice challenge. However, certain levels feature chained tiles that need to be matched on one or two times to unlock to allow access to the rest of the board that needs to be cleared. Some of these became really frustrating as I failed them multiple times, not because I was making bad decisions, but because my space to work in was so small and I simply was not getting the proper pieces with which to soldier on. Also, powering through levels trying to acquire enough resources to keep buying structures to ultimately rebuild Rome got to be a little boring and repetitive, which is a sign that I was playing too long.

While the game won’t be given any awards for originality, it’s a nice entry in the match-three puzzler genre that tries to mix things up a bit and delivers a flawed but fun experience. For someone like me that is more comfortable with violence and swearing, I still found it to be fun and slightly addicting in short bursts. My mom, who has kind of moved on from the grand adventuring of yore, couldn’t get enough of it and gave me a big kiss for introducing it to her. To me, that made it worth checking out.

+ Erecting structures to advance and gain power-ups
+ $20 price tag
+ Makes moms happy

– Terrible music
– Feels like the game hates you in certain layouts
– Can be quite repetitious
– Random wonky stylus control