April 7, 2008
Few tales are as legendary as those surrounding the fabled sunken city of Atlantis and very real seven wonders of the ancient world. Interestingly, in addictive tile-swapping puzzler The Rise of Atlantis, you'll get to explore all, as you attempt to raise the undersea metropolis from its watery tomb.
Featuring one of the most polished and attractive presentations we've seen in some time, the title impresses from the second its shimmering, animated backgrounds and catchy menus appear on your screen. Fish swim past as you click on the Start button, which - although revealing the title's lone play mode - soon gives way to a brilliant series of moving storybook panels. As is revealed during these interstitial movie sequences (encountered after finishing each of seven stages), it's off to multiple historical Mediterranean destinations you'll go in search of the magical powers needed to accomplish your goal.
Traveling along a campaign map divided into individual stop-offs at exotic lands like Phoenicia, Babylon, Rome, Egypt, Troy, Carthage and Greece, you'll attempt to assemble magical artifacts. The secret to doing so: Collecting jigsaw-style puzzle pieces by causing them to fall to the bottom of each playfield, which consists of a series of tiles stacked in varyingly-shaped grids.
To play, just click on two adjacent tiles to instantly swap them, with the objective being to create horizontal or vertical matches of three or more similarly-adorned squares. (Each of which bears symbols ranging from shields to gems, coins, discs and helmets...) If you create a match by doing so, tiles involved immediately disappear from play, causing those stacked above to tumble downward, potentially causing gigantic chain reactions. If not, titles immediately shift back into their original positions. Naturally, a ticking timer limits the amount of breathing room you have while going through the process.
While pleasingly straightforward, the action's unfortunately quite formulaic, with countless competitors offering similar thrills, right down to additional challenges like locked tiles or extras such as a colorful screensaver awarded when you finish the adventure. Even featured power-ups such as bombs (which destroy multiple tiles), lightning bolts (capable of annihilating all tiles of a certain type), extra lives and additional time are genre cliches. But the difficulty ramp-up is much more comfortable than in rival outings, audiovisuals of superior quality and you'll never tire of unleashing the smart-bomb style sun power-up, charged by continuously making matches of four or more tiles.
True, it's odd that the emphasis here is on making bigger matches vs. whopping combinations (combos look glittery and eye-catching, but don't do as much towards furthering your end goal as the sun bonus). Still, a great deal of effort has obviously been placed into game balancing, as evidenced in the way your inventory of power-ups carries over between levels, requiring greater strategizing on the player's part. We further adore the little details which really make this puppy shine, ranging from backgrounds decorated with billowing sails and flaming torches to fun historical facts that appear between scenarios. Rather than be content to merely ape the best the category has to offer, the game's designers have done their best to refine and polish where appropriate.
This being the case, it's hard to truly rake The Rise of Atlantis over the coals - what you have here is simply an extremely well-crafted brainteaser that delivers the goods without attempting to push any boundaries. For those who can't get enough of the popular "match three" approach to electronic amusements, it's guaranteed to satisfy. For those tiring of the textbook setup though, don't expect to stave off burnout with Terminal Studio's latest - a nice piece of eye candy, it's nonetheless a strictly by-the-numbers digital diversion.
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