Around The World
"Around The World" brings to mind images of travel, of visiting farflung destinations and facing challenges related to those destinations. I'd rather like a game featuring being chased by miniature Eiffel Towers with sharp teeth or Statues of Liberty with chainsaws, but I've not seen one yet.
To return to the game in question, rather than fictional flights of fancy, Around The World is a puzzle game and travel is minimal (carnivorous landmarks are non-existent, perhaps to our collective relief). Instead we have a series of levels set in different locations, and completing levels will, piece by piece, reveal an image on the world map - for instance, conquer New York to see the Statue of Liberty. Levels themselves consist of grids of diamond shaped tiles, which you can slide down and left/right to match three or more of the same symbol.
Around The World bears more than a passing resemblance to a number of other puzzle games, among which I would count Magic Match and Bejewelled. Like the former, you complete a level by matching a specified number of each symbol within the time limit, and the matches do not need to be a straight line as long as they form a contiguous block.
Match four or five tiles to introduce special tiles such as bombs, tiles that clear the board of that particular tile, immovable tiles (match them to clear them), wildcards and so on. Cascades (where cleared matches form other matches) score masses of bonus points.
At first I found Around The World difficult to fault graphically. Animations are smooth and colours are bright, tiles are a sensible size and you can play in windowed or full screen mode. Then it occurred to me that the same set of tiles are used throughout - compare that to the variety of shapes used throughout Magic Match. Different themes to match the locations would have added variety to a game that doesn't vary much throughout. Pictures are also fairly indistinct, especially when obscured by bonus symbols, so one normally matches by colour rather than design.
Sound is also curious. A riot of appropriate sound effects are in all the right spots but the music, just like in previous Frozax offering Shapy, is a single and endlessly repeating track. I like it, but not over and over again. Even Pink Floyd would drive me mad if played over and over again. It also sounded familiar - it is the SAME music as in Shapy! That's even less variety!!
I'm not entirely sure what to make of the playability. The time limit is generous, and I've only once been told there are no matches left in a game, so you can keep playing for a long time. It all seems rather easy. This may be deliberate - certainly I found it hard to stop playing, but I did question whether anything new was going to happen. A definite winner for gamers who play to relax and don't want to think too much.
On the downside there are a number of minor, niggling things that annoyed me. Entering the registration code does not support Windows' copy/paste function - I had to type everything in. The controls are a little sticky at times, meaning that rather than moving a tile I sometimes ended up selecting another. Cascades of matches seem to happen a LOT, often leaving me wondering if it's playing itself. Some early puzzles were solved in just a half dozen mouse clicks. When cascades do occur, the trails of sparks that flit across the screen get rather dense and I had no choice but to wait for everything to settle down and then see what was going on! I found the hints annoying, but they can be turned off.
Around The World is a pretty decent puzzle game which will appeal greatly to the casual market. It lacks some variety in content, gameplay and music, and there are a few areas that could be tweaked, but otherwise this is a fairly professional output that deserves a look.
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