Cradle of Rome Review for Nintendo DS

Cradle of Rome Review for Nintendo DS

Imperium Romanum

At last count, there were well over 50 different puzzle games available on DS. With such a great variety, game makers now struggle to come up with new and unique takes on the genre. D3 Publisher (of Puzzle Quest renown) now brings us yet another twist on the gem-matching formula with Cradle of Rome.

Cradle of Rome screenshot

The game is one-part city-builder, another part history lesson, and a whole lot of tile matching. Cradle of Rome is likely best compared to Jewel Quest. You’re tasked with building Rome into a great world power. However, there’s no real story here, and the only strategy that exists lies within the actual puzzles, rather than the city-building elements. The game does offer some interesting tidbits of historical trivia, but Cradle of Rome, ultimately, is a simple, pick-up-and-play experience.

The game’s broken up into five epochs, and in each era, you will accrue resources in order to construct your empire. The first epoch allows you to purchase a saw mill, which increases the amount of building materials you gain during puzzles. You can also build a quarry and mill, as well as a smithy that gives you the ability to use a hammer power-up during the building process.

The building process is simply the act of playing through the game’s 100 puzzle levels. The idea for each puzzle is fairly basic. Match three or more of the same gem type to remove them from the board and add them to your wealth of resources. The resource gems range from flour and lumber, to stone and gold. Gems are laid atop tiles, and in order to end each puzzle challenge, you must turn all the blue-colored tiles to light brown. As you play through each puzzle, an urn of water slowly runs dry. When the urn is empty, time’s up. So, you’ll have to work the strategy of both collecting resources that will allow you to purchase the buildings in each epoch, as well as clear the blue tiles before the work day ends.

Cradle of Rome screenshot

It’s a fairly simple premise, but the puzzles are fun and offer an increasing challenge. There’s really no strategy, though, in regards to purchasing buildings. You merely buy the first one you can afford, then the next, and so on and so forth. Each building, however, gives you another leg up in terms of navigating puzzles, so they are essential to the gameplay.

As you progress in the game, your empire will grow to include many different types of structures. The Fountain, for instance, affords you the ability to cast lightning down onto the play field and eliminate 20 random tiles. Another building grants you the power to halt time temporarily, and you’ll be able to use these power-ups by matching their respective gems and building up their meter. There are a handful of other power-ups that will prove invaluable later on, and the whole process of working to accumulate resources in order to build up the power of Rome is a pretty cool formula. Puzzles do ramp up steadily in difficulty, but they’re balanced well by the pace in which you’re able to erect new structures.

Cradle of Rome screenshot

Though your empire will become more powerful and efficient in collecting resources, the puzzles will continue to challenge your ability to succeed. Later on, some gems will be chained, and only by matching corresponding gems can you release the bonded resources. Additionally, the shapes of puzzles become increasingly more difficult to navigate, and you’ll need all the power of the gods to complete your work before time runs out.

In the end, though, you’ll be doing pretty much the same thing throughout. The puzzles are different enough to make Cradle of Rome a fun, pick-up-and-play diversion, but it in no way offers even close to the same depth of something like Puzzle Quest.

However, our main issue with this game is its screen sensitivity. Throughout the entire experience, we had to deal with the frustration of watching our gems move in unintended directions. More often than not, pressing on one tile caused a different tile to highlight, and sometimes gems would switch instantly upon contact with the touch screen.

Cradle of Rome screenshot

The only way around this was to tap once on the screen and then tap again lightly on the same tile, and usually this would cause the intended tile to finally highlight. But when time is of the essence, this type of issue becomes a make-it or break-it proposition. Ultimately, Cradle of Rome still remains quite playable, but the poor screen sensitivity (and we tested the game on two different DS systems with the same results) is, without a doubt, a source of contention throughout the entire process of building up your empire.

It also doesn’t help that Cradle of Rome is so utterly plain in its presentation. Nothing looks ugly per se, but there just isn’t much to look at here. There are no cutscenes, no story elements, and there are only a small handful of still images that sit behind puzzles. The building screens are ho-hum, and overall the game feels very low-budget.

The music fares a bit better, though it too lacks variety. Themes are somewhat soothing and seem to fit the game’s motif of antiquity. Sound effects are sparse, but the game does a fine job of alerting you when power-ups become available.

In spite of its shortcomings, however, Cradle of Rome is still an oddly addictive puzzler. There’s no real city planning, the screen sensitivity wreaks all sorts of havoc during puzzles, and the presentation in strictly bare-bones. Yet, we still had fun with the game. Worth $20? Probably not. Even at a discount, it’s hard to forgive its problems. However, those folks who love their gem-matching pleasantries probably can’t go wrong checking this one out as a weekend rental.

The game doesn’t look terrible, but there is an apparent lack of effort in all its visual elements. 2.4 Control
The gist of the game is solid; the execution, not so much. The screen sensitivity is a constant source of frustration. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The themes are relaxing, even if there isn’t a great variety. Sound effects are sparse, but do a fine job of making you aware of when power-ups become ready for use. 3.4

Play Value
The game is extremely bare-bones, and yet, it’s undeniably addictive in spite of its utterly frustrating controls.

3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • 100 fantastic levels.
  • 20 historical sites from five eras to build.
  • Combine secret bonus tools to achieve your goals faster.

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