Demian Katz @demiankatz
Dark Designs I: Grelminar's Staff (Apple II)
A basic but satisfying fantasy role-playing game.
This game is a dungeon hack of the most basic variety. The player gets to move through a variety of twisting passages, fighting endless hordes of monsters and collecting magic items and gold while growing in experience and learning new spells. While no new ground is broken here, the familiar formula is implemented very successfully. The inclusion of an automap to show where the adventurers have already gone is extremely helpful, serving as a useful and satisfying measure of progress. The pacing is also just about right -- the game is never difficult enough to become frustrating, but there is enough challenge to make the adventure last. It's necessary to return to town and regroup frequently, and there is always a sense of danger and excitement to the exploration of new territory.
Players looking for more than mindless but satisfying hacking and slashing should look elsewhere. If the basic core gameplay doesn't sound satisfying, there is little reason to waste time on this -- the story is irrelevant to gameplay, the graphics are dismal (though functional) and the sounds are irritating. The lack of real challenge may also lead to boredom -- apart from finding some key secret doors and figuring out how to defeat an opponent that can only be killed in a particular way, the path to victory is straightforward. Finally, there is relatively little diversity of character classes, spells and equipment; the options are rather limited compared to those found in larger games.
The Bottom Line
If you view this game for what it is, a quickie adventure distributed on a disk magazine, it's a nice piece of work. It has obvious limitations, but it's solidly-designed, mindless fun.
By Demian Katz on June 25, 2004
Change Maker (DOS)
A disappointingly simplistic educational game.
I suppose the graphics are kind of cute, but there's not much to like here.
There simply isn't enough to this game. It consists entirely of adding up coins to the requested totals. There is no need for dexterity, so there isn't an addictive arcade element to encourage kids to keep playing, and there are no restrictions on how many of each coin can be selected, so there is no puzzle element beyond the totally obvious. The difficulty level remains consistently easy, and it all becomes boring very fast, no matter what your age or experience with making change.
The Bottom Line
The flaws of this game would be much easier to forgive if not for the fact that Flippy's Circus Coins, a much more interesting game with exactly the same theme, was published years earlier on a prior issue of the same disk-magazine. This game is a step in the wrong direction and not worth spending much time on.
By Demian Katz on May 19, 2004
International Tennis (Commodore 64)
By Demian Katz on May 3, 2004
Adventures of Lolo (NES)
A cute and classic action/puzzle game
This is the first game I ever played featuring the successful formula of box-moving puzzles combined with monster-dodging action, and it remains a favorite. As the game's levels unfold, new challenges, items and strategies are gradually revealed and built upon, allowing the player's puzzle-solving ability to grow as the difficulty level increases. This feeling of steady progression, combined with appealingly cute graphics, makes for an entertaining and satisfying puzzle game.
The problem with a game that consists of a linear progression of puzzles is that it can grow frustrating if the player gets stumped by a single puzzle. It's too bad that there is no way to skip a tricky puzzle and come back to it later, as this would help keep the player engaged and prevent the game from being abandoned. Another inherent flaw with this type of game is that agility-based puzzles can become irritating when the player knows how to solve a level but doesn't have the manual dexterity to actually do it. A lesser flaw is the fact that the game's soundtrack is the same song looped endlessly; more variety would have been nice, though the signature tune is certainly catchy enough to get stuck in one's head.
The Bottom Line
This is a cute, well-designed action puzzler that, in spite of some potential frustrations, remains as engaging as it was when it was first released.
By Demian Katz on April 27, 2004