|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: TikGames||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 11, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
If you've purchased a PC anytime during the past three decades, there's absolutely no excuse for not having played Minesweeper in some way, shape, or form. The omnipresent grid-based puzzle game concocted with gray tiles, flags, and colored numbers is ranked right up there with computer Solitaire - the other game traditionally bundled with Windows since its early days - as one of the oldest and most potent casual gaming timewasters available. The cumulative number of hours it's eaten out of work days across the globe must be astounding.
Considering the game has been available for free to anyone who's owned a computer bundled with Windows, it initially seems rather ludicrous to throw away 400 MS points for a fancy version of the game on Xbox Live Arcade. Indeed, most people reading this can poke their mouse at the Start menu button, scroll up to the games section, and fire up a diminutive round of Minesweeper this very second at no cost. There are certainly tons of more elaborate, better quality games out there to enjoy during brief moments of boredom, but this latest update on the classic is pretty sharp. As silly as it sounds, shelling out some green to play Minesweeper Flags on the XBLA might be one of the better five dollar investments you'll make this month.
I'll admit; the original Minesweeper never really held my interest for longer than a minute or two in all of my years of gaming. Like some players, I just couldn't get into it, and my interaction with the game quickly devolved into frantic random clicking until I inevitably blew myself up. As such, I was fully prepared to be bowled over by the sheer mediocrity of an upscale version made for the Xbox 360. It turns out a major visual makeover and a few other additions were enough to make me a believer. If Minesweeper Flags could carve this much time out my day, one can only imagine the devastating effect it would have on a player who actually enjoyed the original game to begin with. You've been warned.
In a traditional game of Minesweeper, players start with a square grid composed of unmarked tiles. A set number of mines have been placed at random around the board, and your goal is to figure out which squares contain mines without actually setting them off. This is done through process of elimination using a clever numbering system that (thankfully) requires no math skills. Selecting a tile reveals what's beneath it. While uncovering a mine ends the game instantly, revealing a number provides important clues on where the mines are located. The number uncovered in a particular square indicates the number of mines located in the eight squares immediately surrounding it. By carefully examining the numbers (and with the help of a few early educated guesses), you can figure out where the dangerous mines are hidden and safely mark them with a flag. Correctly flagging all the mines wins the game. The gameplay is pretty straightforward, yet it's far more challenging than it sounds.
Minesweeper Flags modernizes the classic title and adds a number of flourishes to make the experience far more stimulating than the dull colors and boring grids of the original. For the most part, the meat of the gameplay is largely untouched. An option to play the classic version is available, but there's little reason to spend much time with it. Campaign mode, the best addition by far, has you playing dozens of levels in a winding path leading across the many countries and continents in the world. The boards are beautifully designed, unconventionally shaped, and increase in size as you progress. The numbers of mines grow steadily as well. Unlike the original game, you're also given an appropriate number of extra lives to match the difficulty of a particular board. Playing through the campaign lets you unlock fun environments. Seeing your visual progression across the world as you beat subsequent levels also adds a sense of accomplishment that's missing in the original game.
One of the most noticeable changes to the formula is the visual presentation. The developers gave the game a complete graphical overhaul, while still making it recognizable to old-school players. The new isometric view is a nice change of pace from the top-down grid, and the game plays out across a wide range of highly detailed natural environments. You'll hunt for mines in beautiful mountains and plains, lush forests, arid deserts, and icy tundra, among other locales. Each setting is also populated with roaming animals, statues, waterfalls, riverbeds, huts, structures, and other pleasant little touches. Additionally, the menus and frontend are crisp and well-designed.