A New Way to Play
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.
Minesweeper is designed to be played with a PC mouse, and the Xbox 360 controller is a poor substitute. Using the thumb stick or D-Pad to move the cursor around the board is functional, but it feels sluggish in comparison to the lightning quick decision making possible with a mouse. However, being able to zoom in and out of the board and scroll the camera angle around slightly is helpful.
A multiplayer Minesweeper Flag mode offers a new way to play the game. Up to four players can compete on a single square-shaped, top-down board using slightly reversed rules. Instead of trying to work your way around each of the mines, you’re goal is to score a direct hit on the mines itself. During a player’s turn, they have 10 seconds to select squares on the board. You’ll get a point for each mine you hit and a chance to pick another. Missing a mine or running out of time triggers the next player’s turn. While it’s nice to have the option to play against the computer or pals both locally and on Xbox Live, it can be a drag waiting for your turn. The multiplayer aspect isn’t quite as satisfying as the main campaign.
Spending your hard-earned cash on a game that’s readily available for free in its most basic form isn’t going to be the first choice for a lot of gamers. But the improvements to the classic design are substantial, and they really make the gameplay more accessible. Minesweeper fans and serious puzzle game enthusiasts will get a ton of mileage out of this upgrade; others might want to take a pass, bank the five bucks, and boot up the PC version.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
The new look is quite crisp and stylish. Excellent backgrounds. 3.2 Control
The game was designed for a mouse; the controller works but is no substitute. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Thematic background music is unobtrusive yet unmemorable. 4.0 Play Value
Campaign mode alone is worth the investment. The multiplayer extras and unlockable achievements further extend the value. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.