July 28, 2010

Staff Writer @ Adventure Gamers®!

This is a BIG day for me, because I got invited by Jack Allin, the Editor-in-Chief of Adventure Gamers®, to join the staff as a writer, reviewing old classic and new casual adventure games. An excerpt from his email:

"It's obvious that you're more than capable (and motivated!), so allow me to officially invite you to join AG's staff. :)"

Adventure Gamers® is the premiere online destination for news, reviews and discussion relating to adventure games. Founded it 1998, it is now one of the foremost and widely respected websites about adventure games and is brought to you by an international team of editors, writers, news updaters and community moderators.

At Adventure Gamers® we aim to:
1. be the most informed and professional source of information for adventure games
2. bring together players of all ages and backgrounds through our community

Adventure Gamers® is a Trusted Reviewer at GameRankings and our reviews are listed on Metacritic.

Needless to say, this is an incredible opportunity for me, and I can't wait to start contributing :) Click here to view my AG bio.

(Adventure Gamers® information from the official website).

July 11, 2010

Tips & Tricks: The Fifth Gate

20 points to simplify The Fifth Gate for you:

1. The Help pages (accessed from the main menu) explain the story and the game. During the game, simple tutorials introduce new concepts.

2. Keep the water jug filled at all times to avoid losing plants. Use the fountain / Dewdrop plant whenever available to save money.

3. Hold off watering plants as long as possible to save water, since once the day is over, plants requiring water are automatically replenished.

4. Upgrade the flower holder capacity first, then the fountain.

5. Though the game doesn't have chaining bonuses, it is quicker to do similar activities together: collect flowers in a continuous bunch and water needy plants sequentially (that way they will also be synchronised in their future water requirement).

6. Each potion requires a combination of flowers in various quantities. Green means fully available counts, orange means partial availability, and red means unavailable.

7. Be careful not to sell off the quest potions.

8. If space permits in the harvest holder, save flowers for potions instead of selling them individually, as potions earn more money.

9. Potions can also be made partially depending on available flowers, which keeps the harvest holder free.

10. A plant produces flower variants at random. In case Morgana wants high numbers of a particular variant, grow enough of that plant to ensure you get the adequate number of blooms in the given time.

11. Newly planted saplings need certain rounds of harvesting before they can produce complex flowers, so plants must be kept from dehydrating or being eaten by critters especially towards the later levels when complex potions require the upgraded variants of blooms.

12. The clock ticks loudly to indicate the last 5 seconds i.e. the 'end of the day' - listen for it and once it starts, collects blooms instead of killing critters or watering plants (unless of course, a plant is on the brink of dehydration).

13. Be extra careful of pests that 'pause' - boring beetles, salamanders, stone golems, spiders, hedgehogs - only to emerge a few moments later and continue chomping!

14. Some critters move quickly or fly, and are difficult to click on. Wait till they attach to a plant (note the green health meter of the plant) and click rapidly to kill them.

15. Some critters are poisonous - stone golems, wasps, toads - and if clicked when they're radiating their green aura will cause the cursor to freeze for 2 seconds, which sounds like very little time but is actually quite disturbing.

16. Given that the total number of plant beds are limited, an ideal mix of 'helper' plants would be:

a) During the starting levels of a garden, when cash is scarce but so are pests: 1 Dewdrop near the water jug and 1 Pest Magnet near the edge.

b) During the later levels of a garden, when cash is plenty and spells are available: 2 Pest Magnets at the garden's edges, 1 Fertiliser plant in the central area (surrounded by at least 3 - 4 plants).

c) Use the Butterfly plant only for quests requiring quick plant upgrades.

d) Avoid the Power plant in case Harvest and Rain spells are available.

17. Of the spells, first purchase Rain, since dehydration kills plants.

18. When cash permits, use Rain + Harvest spells. Put a Fertiliser plant in the middle of the garden, then use Harvest to gather all blooms.

19. The Pest Killing spell isn't required if the garden already has at least one Pest Magnet plant.

20. For the later levels, the garden should have at least 3 of each plant type. Sell off extra plants / change helper plants based on quests.

Good Luck!

This is an original Tips & Tricks written by me. Please do not distribute the text and images without my written consent.

July 10, 2010

Review: The Fifth Gate

game format: time management | arcade

puzzles: none

playtime: 6 hours | difficulty: easy | size: 65 MB

developer: Playfirst Games | publisher: Big Fish Games

links: Official site | Buy this game

The Fifth Gate
game brief: Brace yourself for a world of magic and potions in The Fifth Gate, an addicting time management game. Eden is trapped in the gardens and must restore five magical gardens to unlock five magical gates. Plants are growing, pests are coming, and potions need to be made; handle them all before time runs out! Can you bring the gardens back to life and free Eden? (Official website)


The Fifth Gate, a time-management game set in the realm of fairies, illustrates the timeless struggle between good and evil in deceptively ethereal surroundings.

the story:

Eden, the game's young heroine and the realm's most gifted gardener, is abducted by malevolent sorceress Morgana, and forced to work as her assistant tending to her garden and fulfilling her requests for flowers, potions and money. Though Eden soon learns of Morgana's plan to use the potions to capture the throne of fairy queen Titania, she is unable to escape the magically sealed gardens.

Morgana, contrary to expectation, isn't an ungrateful taskmistress. Besides rewarding Eden's gardening achievements with suitable gifts, Morgana also acknowledges her desire to escape, and gives her gems that will open the five magical gates... as soon as the pressing matter of overthrowing Titania is concluded.


The concept is simple - plant saplings, water them, ward off pests, collect blooms, make potions, sell potions, complete Morgana's quests to earn gems, and eventually, open all the gates. But the pace and complexity evolve steadily, and soon the game enthralls, challenging without resorting to unrealistic demands, or even feeling repetitive.

There are five gardens, with five gates, each of which requires five gems to open. Eden starts in the Primrose's Bower, then moves through the Garden of Sighs, the Garden of Fire & Ice and the Dell of Dusk's Dreaming to the Witch's Doorstep, the site of Titania's throne.

Each garden boasts its own native flora and fauna based on its environment. This includes three unique plants, each of which can be upgraded thrice, yielding a whopping forty-five varieties of blooms over five gardens. There are fifteen different critters, three per garden, encompassing both the real and the mythical, from innocuous boring beetles, salamanders and bats, to poisonous stone golems, wasps and toads. Each garden has fourteen levels, adding up to seventy rounds spanning multiple days for the game.

At the start of each level, Morgana specifies a quest for Eden, defining the amount of saplings, flowers, potions, cash, and sometimes even dead critters, that she wants, and the number of days in which to accomplish the quest (the Expert target). She rewards Eden's successes with new types of seeds, upgrades saplings to more exotic variants, and teaches her spells to help her manage the garden more efficiently.

The harvested flowers are used to make potions. Eden can trade excess potions and flowers for money, used to upgrade facilities like the fountain, replenish exhausted spells, dig seedbeds, buy saplings, and fulfill Morgana's cash requests. Eden can also sell saplings and swat critters to boost her kitty.

Introduced at the Garden of Sighs, 'helper plants' immediately move the game-play past mouse-pushing to strategic placement and use of resources. Of particular use are Dewdrop plants, which produce water, Pest Magnet plants, which freeze pests into ice-cubes, and Fertiliser plants, which force neighbouring plants to bloom. The Butterfly plant upgrades saplings, and at later levels, the Power plant enables collection of all flowers on a plant and killing pests with single clicks.

In a moment of uncharacteristic generosity, Morgana shares her secret spells with Eden. The invaluable Rain spell allows all plants to be watered at once, and the Harvest spell instantly gathers all blooms. The third spell, Pest Killing, eliminates all critters with one click. Each spell lasts for six uses and then must be recharged. My only gripe is that there's no indicator of how many uses are left, which results in frequent recharging before actual expiry to avoid 'running out of spell' during the game.

The gamer is also awarded medals for reaching milestones such as numbers of potions made and critters killed, but this is of academic interest only in the absence of visible statistics.

art & graphics:

This is among the most visually attractive games of this genre. The art is intricate, and the delightfully 'mystical' scenes glow with vibrant colours, brilliant blooms, sparkling fountains and glossy potion jars. Some critters are cute, some not; all are menacing enough to cause panic when they appear en masse on screen. In comparison, the cut-scenes playing out the story are stilted and dull, with zooming static images of the three girls in and out as they 'talk' to each other.

The hot spots are large and easily clickable even in a rush, thus all but eliminating wasted clicks (and stress).

text, sound & music:

The text, in an elegant cursive, is straightforward and free of typos. Morgana's dialogues are quirky, often funny, and reveal her girlishness beneath her heinous scheming: for example when she asks Eden rhetorically why people don't like her, or requests a potion to help her net true love, and when that fails, yet another to mend her broken heart. The tutorials are easy to follow even for beginners.

The music is extremely limited but adequate in mood and quality. The sound effects, while also limited, are well-suited to the scenarios.


The Fifth Gate is a rare blend of a classic fantasy tale, action-packed game-play, and beautiful art. It's entertaining and challenging in equal measure, and leaves the gamer satisfied, yet craving for more. At the end, Morgana, scolded by Titania for being, of all things, lazy, leaves in a huff, but not before promising to return.

That's a sequel worth waiting for.

g@mrgrl rating: 5/5
Pros interesting game-play, attractive graphics, 70 levels
Cons ordinary music, too easy
Bugsno bugs noted

This is an original review written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.

July 3, 2010

Tips & Tricks: Burger Bustle

15 points to simplify Burger Bustle for you:

1. First of all, it's a demanding game that requires extreme speed (especially in the last 4 locations) AND planning of which counters to unlock / man to beat aggressive gold time targets.

2. Tutorials take you through the production process of new products that are added.

3. Right at the start of a level, keep all dispensers filled with one serving: burgers (each frier can make upto two at a time), sodas, desserts, fries and ice-cream.

4. Refill all dispensers immediately after serving.

5. The burgers do not require the layers of cheese, tomato and lettuce to be added in any particular order. Only correct layers have to be chosen.

6. Essential workers include at least 1 burger frier (can double as cheese / lettuce / tomato loader), 1 waiter, and 1 side dish vendor.

7. Serving customers a part of their order does not improve their moods. Focus on completing entire orders to earn cash and finish 'task' counts.

8. Customers do not have any preference for items on the display shelf. It serves only as an extra holding area.

9. Use the time delays between customers (more frequent than you'd expect) to build complicated burgers beforehand in case they have to be completed as part of 'tasks'.

10. Since there is no overnight wastage i.e. no money is deducted for food / drinks that remain at the end of the day, or monetary penalties for throwing away wasted items, don't be afraid to keep dispensers filled and make complex burgers before actual orders.

11. Getting gold levels require planning which counters to unlock + how many servers to deploy + which tasks to prioritise:

... If there is a cash target, try to use as few workers as possible. Save recruiting the last worker for AFTER achieving the cash target as once reached, falling below the target does not matter. Don't forget to keep a time buffer of 5 - 10 seconds to add a worker.

... For order targets, delay unlocking too many filling counters or side dish counters. Serving large orders with complex burgers and multiple sides takes more time, and do not increase the count of 'orders completed' versus say serving just a soda or a plain burger.

... For non-cash, food type tasks, recruit as quickly as possible for the burger and filling counters. Remember: you don't have to complete all orders to meet time targets, ONLY the listed items. Serve these first, then complete remaining orders once the clock stops.

... Remember that people eating in will be counted as 'completed orders' only once they finish (and they take a while).

12. Add the ketchup and collect the tips. The cash is invaluable.

13. Use the advantage of serving customers by right clicking the mouse button instead of dragging the item to them - it will save you time and make your mouse pad last longer. For non-cash, order count targets, skip the ketchup.

14. It doesn't matter which decor element you choose to upgrade first. All parts must be eventually selected to complete a cafe.

15. Target using the coffee machine at least twice per level. Use it only when there is a rush of orders as it recharges very slowly.

Good Luck!

This is an original Tips & Tricks written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.

Review: Burger Bustle

game format: time management | arcade

puzzles: none

playtime: 8 hours (story mode) | difficulty: medium - difficult

developer: Sulus Games | publisher: Big Fish Games

links: Official site | Buy this game

Burger Bustle
game brief: Dive into some tasty fun in Burger Bustle, a fun and exciting Time Management game! Take over a restaurant and serve up delicious food as quickly as you can to keep your customers coming back for more. Earn awesome awards and unlock helpful upgrades that’ll help you work even more efficiently. Stay one step ahead of your clientele to keep up with the Burger Bustle! (Big Fish website)


Burger Bustle is a time-management game that involves running a chain of cafes that occasionally serve coffee.

the story:

There's none. The memo is short and sweet: do tasks, earn trophies.


Prima facie, Burger Bustle appears to tread little new ground from the tried-and-tested time management format. Customers come into the cafe, browse the menu, place their orders. Servers scurry to fry up burgers, stuff them with cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, and a hint of ketchup for extra cash. Side dishes include three varieties each of ice-cream, sodas, coffees, desserts and fries. Customers may choose take-away or eat in the cafe; those who eat in sometimes leave tips.

And then comes the twist - the 'strategy' part. This isn't a game that can be beaten by just skidding across the mousepad. Planning which counters to unlock, how to distribute available workers, and which tasks to priortise plays a huge part in winning gold. Multiple targets per level add to the challenge.

There are eight 'locations' of the cafe - Beach, Wild West, Winter (surely this was lost in translation), City (screenshot), Shopping Center, Aqua Park, Hollywood and Space Station (screenshot), each with 8 levels, adding up to 64 for the game. At the start of each level, targets are defined for 'gold' and 'silver' trophies. The time target requires task targets to be completed - minimum orders to be served and/or cash to be earned and/or particular burgers types or sides to be sold and/or staff to be recruited.

Customer types are few (but range from blue collar workers to Japanese tourists) and remain constant irrespective of the cafes' locations. There's no significant difference in patience levels either; most are reasonable even with inordinate delays. Which is a saving grace, because the workers are woefully sluggish, and the sole in-game speed up is a coffee machine which takes over a minute (with levels averaging 2 - 3 minutes) to recharge after a 10-odd second use. After a few levels the cafe gets a gramophone (in a burger shop?) and candy that can be used to soothe irate customers.

Other positive elements include the facility to serve customers by clicking the right mouse button on the item rather than have to drag it to them; there is also no 'overnight wastage' - money deducted on leftover items when the shop closes, nor any penalties for discarding useless items except the time lost in handling them.

Each level has three decor upgrades - flooring, walls and tables, which improve tipping. There is no cash implication to purchasing them, so the feature appears cursory.

Great? Not quite. Burger Bustle suffers from a near-crippling glitch - customers often do NOT order the items required to complete tasks for many, many rounds. This wastes precious time, and renders the player helpless and frustrated. The worst afflicted levels are 14 (Wild West), 53 (Hollywood) and 64 (Space Station), for which gold targets appear improbable thanks to lack of ordering of critical items.

Another problem is that bonuses (upgrades) are 'awarded' on the player moving up a pre-set leaderboard. Even after completing all eight locations with 60 (of 64) gold trophies, I managed to make it to only number 2, short by over 4000 points, though the scores for each level are 'fixed' in terms of targets - achieving targets faster does not earn additional points. Not being able to choose an upgrade also hampers gamers from maximising their individual game-play strengths.

The game has two additional modes which extend playtime by several hours - "Survival", unlocked when the player ranks 8th on the leaderboard, and "Relaxed", unlocked at rank 2. Survival mode has the player racing against the clock to meet orders as customers increase and patience levels decrease, till 20 customers are lost. Relaxed mode is untimed, pressure mounting as customers increase along with order complexity.

art & graphics:

The art is vibrant and attractive, with smooth, clear graphics. Overall the game is a visual pleasure with above average production quality.

text, sound & music:

The game has very little text, keeping it crisp and free of typos. The voice-acting is good, but the limited sound-bites get repetitive after a few levels. The music is functional and remains in the background.


The biggest strengths of Burger Bustle are its perfect length and challenging game-play. The speed + strategy approach keeps the gamer engaged its entire duration. There's no getting bored with this game, and the only regret is the glitch of ordering task items that reduces its overall satisfaction score.

g@mrgrl rating: 4/5
Pros challenging speed + strategy concept, graphics, 64 levels
Cons design glitch - customers often don't order task items
Bugsno bugs noted

This is an original review written by me. Please do not distribute / adapt the text and images in any way without my written consent.