I think I haven’t played a game from Astraware that I didn’t like yet. I’m sure it’s not the best way to start a review, since essentially it gives out the impression I got from the game from the first line, but I am just simply impressed that Astraware hasn’t been able to make a game that, well, sucks to my knowledge, anyway. I haven’t played every single game they have made, but of the ones I had, I enjoyed them immensely.
Which isn’t to say that Astraware makes these earth-shattering, mind-boggling games that take it upon themselves to change the face of the universe. They realize that the average running time of their game is probably about an hour or so per day (any more than that and batteries of today’s devices simply give out), and they market them accordingly. And it works superbly, at that.
The game in question today is called Tradewinds. It is basically a remake of the original Tai Pan for Apple II, and a remake of Taipan v1.0.1 for Palm, originally written by Matt Bowen in 1999. While no direct link is implied (except the possibility of getting the title of “Tai Pan”), probably for copyright reasons, it is essentially what the game is, and if you played either of the two, you will feel immediately familiar with it, to the point of the goods that you can trade between ports being the same (General, Arms, Silk and drugs called Opium before, and now called Dream Dust).
The premise of the game is simple. You start off with a single ship armed with a few cannons, and you have to ferry goods around and make money off it, buying low/selling high. If you drop by some bars, you can pick up some mercenaries that will work with you for a nominal fee and for a nominal, non-renewable, period of time (which can be helpful if you need some cannon fodder to sacrifice in a battle), and you can get tips on good ports to visit in certain times of year. For instance, you might find out that a certain port suffers from drought in a certain month, which makes General goods be worth about 10 times more. Or, alternatively, you might find out which port has a month-long festival that devalues weapons to virtually nothing. Or even better, you might find out where the Dream Dust harvest is good, so you can drop by and stock up on drugs (but be careful of the authorities they’ll confiscate the Dream Dust and all your money if they find you on a random inspection). You will also encounter lots (lots) (LOTS) of pirates (I would have actually liked it if there was a slight chance of not meeting a pirate on a journey it seems that I only skipped a battle two or three times in total over the whole span of the game), and you can even claim bounties on the famous ones if you find them and sink them.
There are several other interesting facilities in the game. You have a bank, which pays you 3% per month (geez, I wish my own bank paid me half that), a Moneylender who charges you 10% per month to lend you double the current cash you have on hand (that certainly beats my credit cards), and a Warehouse, which you first have to purchase and then can use to store cheap goods (best use: if you suddenly find Dream Dust to be cheap, you withdraw all money from the bank, fill your warehouse (make sure you hire guards!), and then go swim around for a few months. Come back, find higher price, empty warehouse, bingo, easy money back to earning 3% at the bank).
Gone are the days of mute gaming, as well. Tradewinds has a nice soundtrack and good sound effects, that you probably want to hear through your headphones, though: I somewhat doubt that people attending a meeting would particularly appreciate someone playing a game (but as long as you mute it, nothing’s stopping you, that’s for sure certainly hasn’t stopped me).
The graphics of the game are very pretty, too. Animations, while few, are pretty, and the world map is quite nice. The ship battles are well-done, as well, and overall, the game has a very polished feel on all levels. Certainly a great achievement.
Tradewinds is a really enjoyable game that I highly recommend. It makes things even easier that it’s available for Palm and PocketPC covering everybody with a handheld device. I just wish batteries lasted longer