Eleven cell phone games on a single DS Card? No thanks.
From the moment you turn on Tropix, you get the feeling that this shouldn’t be a DS game. The character sprites are small, pixelated, and poorly animated; the game selection is uninspired; and the music and sound effects are horrendous. No, I didn’t pick up my cell phone by accident; Real Networks is really trying to sell you free browser games for a lot more than nothing.
The eleven mini-games (listed below) are tied together with a tropical island getaway theme. Sudoku, Solitaire, word puzzles...all the games have been seen elsewhere before. Just replace the blocks with fruit, add a deserted island backdrop, and put some faint steel drums playing in the background, and you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of what this title is about.
Not all the games are available at the start. To unlock the rest (including the most fun ones), you must earn sand dollars and purchase items with which you decorate the island. The items available are broken into fun, food, and comfort categories, and are used to fill up three bars of the same name. Once you place enough items on the island to fill up the meters you unlock a new mini-game.
Earn even more sand dollars and you can purchase a new island, starting the process all over again.
It sounds like a neat idea, but there are only three objects in each category, with one item usually being worth much more than the other two, so your island ends up being littered with 25 tiki torches or star fruit trees and nothing else.
Is this a tropical island or a dumping ground for unwanted garden accessories?
Sand dollars are earned by playing the mini games themselves. Completing a level in a game earns you cash, but if you need to quit early, you get a little bit just for trying. This is actually one of the few redeeming features of the title: it encourages you to play each game towards the one main goal of getting more money.
However, each new island I bought was simply a change of background graphics that opened up more levels of the same games I had already unlocked. This basically means slightly more difficult or incrementally sped up versions of games you’ve just spent hours playing. Not the biggest of motivations to earn those sand bucks. Even so, this feature gives the title way more longevity than if it were just a simple select-play-and-quit kind of affair, and that should be commended, at least.
However, the games themselves should not. Allow me to run down the games on offer:
Solitaire – it’s Solitaire, but this time the cards are tropical!
Jungle Jump – It’s kind of like climbing and swinging on the vines from Donkey Kong Country, if it were controlled with a stylus and played horribly. Put simply, the swing mechanics don't work, and you end up dying a lot because of it.
Cocobowl – This bowling game's stylus controls are twitchy and unforgiving, which makes playing a frustrating experience. The variety of bowling lanes, each visually more painful than the one before it, have pin sprites of NES quality. The developers owe me an optician’s appointment for this. Not fun.
Cascade – This is a tile matching game. Match three fruits together by swapping two tiles at a time. As the difficulty increases, parts of the grid freeze up, making some tiles impossible to move. Stylus control works well, and the graphics are inoffensive. I had the most fun with this one.
Water Words - A simple word search game where you have to link letters together in a grid to form words. This is probably one of the stronger games, as it rewards you for finding longer words and gives crossword-style hints to bonus words found in the puzzle. The dictionary of accepted words is a bit suspect, however.
Puffer Popper – The player fires coloured balls at an oncoming procession of bubbles. This is another of the stronger games, as it feels more like a video game than the others. Despite that, though, it’s a Luxor clone with cell phone graphics.
Sandoku (unlockable) – It’s Sudoku, cleverly re-titled! It's complete crap, with no handwriting input and horrible text that hurts your eyes and soul. Next!
Parasail (unlockable)– Use the stylus to move a paragliding monkey up and down to collect bananas. You can also pick up coconuts and drop them on things for bonuses, which is quite fun. This one can provide a short, fun diversion.
Shell Game (unlockable) – Find the pearl under a shell. (Yes, that's all!)
The other games available that I didn’t unlock were Beach Bash and Trijong.
Most of these uninspired games are broken into a traditional level format (1-1, 1-2, etc.), and some of them have boss battles at the end of each section. For example in parasailing you have to beat the boss by picking up and throwing rocks at him. This is a nice idea, but it’s a shame that it appears to be the same puffer fish boss character for every single mini game. This level structure, in which you play the same mini-game again and again until you quit, quickly gets boring. Nintendo had the better idea with Clubhouse Games, in which a different mini-game was played one after the other, forcing the player to experience all the game had to offer. And while switching between games manually in Tropix might seem like a good idea, its menu system is slow and badly organised, with confusing icons only making things worse.
So it all boils down to this: are any of these games fun enough to warrant a purchase? The short answer is no, not really. Only two, possibly three, of these games are fun, and even then only for very short bursts. While the money system is a good idea, its implementation is poor, requiring far too much repetitive play to unlock every game. With Clubhouse Games already covering more of the mini-games in Tropix, and cheaper (if not free) versions available for your computer or cell phone via a web search, there's no reason to play Tropix on your DS.