After Bejewelled became a tremendous hit (or, perhaps, before - but I sure haven't heard about Astraware before Bejewelled), Astraware decided to diversify on past and present hits and sell them as a bundle. The pack includes more known games like Bejewelled and Atomica, and lesser ones like Mummy Maze and Seven Seas. We have already reviewed Bejewelled on Game Over Online, according it one of our first Gamers' Choice awards of the PDA games section, but the other games have not, as yet, been mentioned. So here, I will concentrate on them.
First up is Atomica. In this turn-based game, your goal is to arrange atoms into square or rectangular groups of 4 more while facing new atoms appearing on the table every turn. The atoms can be grouped by color, and you tap on an atom and its destination, and it will relocate there, provided its path is clear and nothing is blocking it. As you go up to higher levels, more colors start appearing, making it more difficult to group atoms into sets of 4 without letting the whole board fill up. Every time you get rid of a group of atoms, you get a bonus move, which does not generate any new atoms on the board; this lets you combine several groups of atoms and then take them out in one wave. What that creates is an "atomic bomb" - an icon in the top left of the screen that reflects the maximum combo you achieved in this game and the strength of the bomb based on that. If you tap it, it will destroy an amount of randomly placed atoms that is dependent on the strength of the bomb (i.e. the max. combo you were able to achieve thus far). The game ends when the board is full of atoms and you are unable to get it of any anymore.
The next game in the pack is Alchemy. In essence, it resembles Atomica, but has a bit of a different take on the whole thing. You have an altar or something, into which runes appear. Runes have different shapes (the number of which depends on the level you are at) and different colors (same dependency). You place the runes onto an 8x9 board, and as you place them, they must be adjacent to runes of same color, shape, or both. It's pretty similar to sandbagging in Command & Conquer - just more exquisite; fans of sandbagging should be able to greatly enjoy this game too. As you place runes on the ground, they turn concrete floor into pure gold (oh yeah, baby) - and your goal is to turn the entire 8x9 board into solid gold. If you fill up a row, the runes on it disappear, freeing up space for new ones to be put in place. Should you have nowhere to put it, you can feed it to the Forge - a mysterious area of the screen that eats up excess waste for up to three turns in a row (following which you lose the game).
The next game of the pack is called Seven Seas, and is a fairly basic game where you have a bunch of pirates chasing you, and your sole, lonely ship, that is supposed to avoid them by leading them into traps (which they do all too easily, as all dumb pirates should), and killing the disobedient ones with onboard guns. You can use whirlpools (that sometimes disappear) to escape them - they essentially function like Star Trek wormholes and bring you out at random spots on the map. You have a certain number of lives, and occasionally, you get rammed by pirates and lose one of them (and honestly, on some levels, I found no move that could prevent you from losing a life - though it might be my limited boxed thinking), but you regain them with time. As you go further in levels, various "less stupid" opponents appear, like pirate bosses that tend not to ram ashore at their earliest convenience, and sea snakes, which cannot be killed. And so it goes.
Last comes Mummy Maze, a game sort of apart from the others, perhaps simply because of the countless more hours I spent on it than on the other games of the pack (other than Bejewelled, that is), stubbornly banging on levels until I passed it. The game is about a dude who looks like the 160x160 version of Indy that has to escape from an Egyptian maze and who is chased by a number of mummies varying anywhere from one to two (depending on the level) and the degree of intelligence ranging from a fish (move right, then up) to a fichus (move up, then right), and they move two squares of the map for each square you move. There are obstacles on the map, such as walls and bunkers, which you can use to trap mummies while you head for the nearest emergency exit. There are also traps that lead to your untimely demise when you step on them. That's about all there is to the game, but it kept me hooked for a REALLY long time, simply because that inferiority/megalomaniac complex I have simply won't let me lose to a braindead fish or fichus that moves on a preset pattern. So I persisted.
To be honest, though, the Popcap games pack is not really five games in one. In reality, some of the games are somewhat worthless, a few are okay, and one is truly worthy: Bejeweled. The rest is, the way I see it, just an added bonus for additional entertainment. If I had to place the games by relative importance, I would make a pyramid as follows: top, Bejeweled; second row, Mummy Maze and Atomica; third row. Seven Seas and Alchemy (and yes, that does not make a real pyramid; also, yes, I did spell Bejeweled half of the time with one L and half with two; I also had to resist the temptation of calling the runes in Alchemy and the atoms in Atomica "jewels" for their obvious resemblance to Bejewelled). But overall, the pack is a good value, since you are getting five games for the price of two, which is good. But I expect you will play Bejewelled and Atomica the most, seeing as they have no ending per se, letting you play to your abilities, rather than a preset level determined by crazed coders doped on pizza and caffeine. Good work Astraware, and thanks for wasting the screen of my Palm V—my friend always wondered why it had a checkerboard scratch pattern...