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Eric Heimburg
He just doesn't get it, does he?

Galapago

A match-3 game set on a tropical island, with living creatures for game pieces.


Overview

This is a direct descendent of Jewel Quest. You swap adjacent pieces in order to match a line of three or more pieces, which then disappear. New pieces fall in from the top to take their place. To beat a level, you must complete various objectives, which are initially just like the objectives of Jewel Quest: make matches on certain tiles. Later, a few more objectives are added, making it technically a bit deeper than Jewel Quest, but that isn't the point of this game.

This game is all about charm, and it has a decent amount of it. The intro screen's music is just right (though not memorable). The game pieces are alive, and they crawl around when you move them. But by far the most charming part of the game is technically an easter egg. There are two shrunken heads on the top left of the game screen, and if you click on them, they talk. The left head has dozens of funny sayings, and when you discover this, you'll be entertained. It immediately raised my opinion of the game! It wasn't a conscious thing, it just entertained me, which automatically made me think better of the game.

The heads are an easter egg because you're never directed to click on the heads, nor are you given a special cursor when the mouse is over them. So it really does give you a sense of discovery when you click them. There's a check-box in the Options panel which should give people a hint -- it lets you turn off the talking heads. I can't figure out why you'd want to do that, though; the option seems to exist just to give you a hint that the heads can talk.

Ultimately, this is a pretty match-3 game. The collection mechanic should give it some replay depth, but I found it to be a bit confusing, and not really exciting. If I was a huge match-3 addict, I'd probably want to buy this, but in the end, I didn't buy it... it felt too much like more of the same old thing.

Fun Factor: Reasonable. It's very easy to "zone out" while playing the game; that is, you just start matching 3 all over the place without paying attention to the goals you're supposed to be completing. It's fun to match pieces, and less fun to match them in just the right way to satisfy the goals, so perhaps that's telling.
Pacing: Intentionally pretty slow. I had a case where a level that was supposed to be easy was very hard, due to its random layout. The first time I played level #3, I couldn't get a certain critical piece to clear... the other pieces around it were just so bad that it was near impossible. Even with the "Piece Swap" power-up, I wasn't able to clear it in time and I lost. It was frustrating, since the game said this level was less than 1-star in difficulty. Later I retried the level and it was effortless. Perhaps the game needs to reign in the randomness around the tricky areas of the boards.
Story: None

User Interface

Simple, clean, nothing too amazing. The loading screen is a dud, but at least it's short. The main menu is good -- the erupting volcano in the background gives it a lot of character, and the music and sound effects set the tone well.

Menus: No complaints. The lively main menu is organized in such a way that you pick any unlocked gameboard right from the main screen. It feels clean and uncluttered. Interestingly, though, it makes the game feel "smaller" because there's not a lot of changing GUI screens. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Pre-Game Instructions: When you start the game you are shown a bunch of help pages, which have way more information than you want or need. After reading the first two or three pages, you'll run into stuff that doesn't even apply in the first few rounds, so it can be confusing. I think the designers are relying on people getting bored and closing the help screen pretty quickly.
In-Game Tutorial: Yes. The game helps you make your first match on each board. The talking heads have text balloons with information about power-ups and so on.
Other Instructions: You can access the help pages from the main menu.
Save Game: Yes, but saves level progress only (not game progress)
Player Profiles: Typical. Amusingly, you can leave the name box blank, and then your name is blank.
Alt+Tab Works: Yes
Alt+Enter Works: Yes
Lefty Swapped Mouse: Yes

Art

Simple and clean seem to be the buzzwords of this game. Nothing stands out, either good or bad.

Backgrounds: The in-game backgrounds are pretty enough, though static.
Game Pieces: The game pieces are fairly small 2D art, and it can be really hard to tell them apart -- frozen crabs versus crabs in gems versus normal living crabs. The living pieces animate when moving -- they each have cute little run animations -- but because of their small size, this isn't as impressive as it could be. For the most part, you don't notice that the pieces are alive, except at the very beginning and end of a level. This could have been emphasized more.
Fonts: Most text is in a stock sans-serif font with absolutely no frills

Sound

The music is good. The sound effects are okay. The voice recording for the easter egg is very high quality.

Music: Not a lot of music here, and it's subdued, but it feels right.
Sound Effects: Very Spartan. Sometimes the choices seem a little weird, but only a little. When pieces fall in from the top, they make clattering sounds like beads rubbing together. It doesn't seem appropriate for living creatures. But it's pretty soft anyway.

Technical

Pretty straightforward; bug-free.

Resolution (Windowed): 800x600
Resolution (Full Screen): 800x600
Quality Settings: Can turn off 3D hardware support
Cursors: Cursor is always a pointer, but the game replaces the standard pointer with a pretty blue one.
Engine: Home grown. Uses Swiftshader for software 3D rendering. Uses FMOD for sound.
Size Downloaded: 13.9 MB
Size Installed: 41.1 MB
System Requirements: Windows: 2000/XP
1000 MHz (1.0 GHz) or better processor
128MB RAM

Miscellaneous

Developer: Oberon Games (apparently in-house)
Publisher: Oberon Games
Distributer: Oberon
Year Published: 2006
Credits In Game: Yes

Links and Reviews

Credits

Design and Development
Cara Ely
Heather Ivy
Joel Pryde
Kasey Quanrud
Rob Rix
Dan Thompson
Jeremiah Whitaker

Additional Development
Chris Hargrove

Voice Talent
John Armstrong - the voice of Cervantes and Bob

Additional Art and Sound
Matt Vanni
John Winston

Quality Assurance
Chris Casey
Rosemary Denbeste
John Curst McAuley
Elizabeth Skoczen

Special Thanks
Jane Jensen
Doug Picanzi

Screen Shots


Loading screen. It fades in, then it fades out. That's all there is to loading. Seems somehow... really frickin' dull.


Enter your name box. You can press OK without entering a name, and then your name is the empty string!


Main menu. The mouse is over the first level on the left corner of the beach, and you can see the difficulty information in the box on the top right. As you beat levels, more little boxes light up on this screen, revealing more levels you can play. After a level ends, you return to this screen, which makes the game feel nicely self-contained. You click on a level, you play it, bam, you're done. You can play another, or you can stop playing without feeling like you're giving up in the middle of a game.


Options Dialog


Account Management Screen. The first box is blank because my first account is named "".


The first board. The creatures are hopping into place.


Help screen. You see this when you play the first level, right after the creatures have all hopped into place. These help screens each animate nicely, although they all look very similar to each other, so you have to read the text to see what's going on in the picture. This screenshot shows the third or fourth page of help, and we're already into stuff that I don't care about.


Once you close the help screen, you are given advice on where to click your first move.


When you complete your first move (the one recommended by the game), the screen suddenly changes to this one, showing you that you've unlocked a crab in your collection. You'll go on to unlock more things as you play more levels, but strangely, it doesn't bring up this screen again (unless you access it from the main menu). Not sure why not.


The first board, part-way through. The little boxes at the very bottom of the screen show what my goals are for this level: I have to clear one ice-encased crab, and 13 golden tiles. Also, the talking head has informed me that one of my power-ups has come online.


The end of a level. The creatures scurry away, and you can get extra points by clicking on them as they flee in mortal terror.


Once all the critters are gone, you get this screen. Pressing OK returns you to the main menu.


A screen from a bit later in the game. We are moving away from the beach, as can be seen by the background scene. (All background screens are static.) Note also the expanded list of requirements on this level.


Here's the collection screen again, this time with a few more things in it. The cursor is overtop the starfish, so I get a tooltip about it. Note that the various creature icons are slowly turning gold. I don't know what that's about. I guess if you collect enough of them something happens. The game never said anything about it though...


This is what the game looks like when it doesn't have focus. It instantly resumes play when it gets focus back.


High Score screen. Entry #2 is blank because my character is named ""


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