I maintain that Zoo Keeper is the best Nintendo DS game. I know that, by any objective measure, it isn’t. But I don’t care.
So I approached Cradle of Rome with little short of hostility – I thought it was a stupid title for a stupid game. Hostility because it is, essentially, the same game: swap pairs of tiles to make three or more in a row. Zoo Keeper did it simply and brilliantly. Cradle of Rome does it more interestingly, but less elegantly.
The game’s ‘thing’ is resource management – sort of. Tiles represent either food, money, building materials, or something special. The basic three are required to build up your civilisation in a very linear way. It works fine to drive the game forward, but is far short of sophisticated. To be fair, it doesn’t need to be; the puzzle element is more than sufficient.
At the start of each level, certain tiles have blue backgrounds; the level is completed you’ve matched a line through each of those squares. Complexity is added by squares that require two matches, tiles which are fixed in place until they’ve been part of a matched line, and varied board shapes.
It’s the shape of the board which generally determines whether a level is a pain in the arse or not – long thin sections of board being particularly troublesome. Some of the frustration is absorbed by the aforementioned special tiles, which build up various bonuses – items which destroy a number of tiles for you, extra time or resources, that sort of thing.
All this makes it a more varied game than Zoo Keeper. The execution is sloppier though: some of the tiles look annoyingly similar, and the accuracy of the touchscreen isn’t what it should be.
I’ve been playing the game in my mind’s eye as I go to sleep though, so it’s doing something right.