Not all gamers crave violent hack-and-slash adventures or fast-paced sports games.A growing segment of the playing population is turning to casual games, those downloadable try-before-you-buy PC titles that don't require a 200-page manual or 12-button controller.
The global casual games market generated nearly $2.5 billion in revenues last year, says PopCap Games (of Bejeweled and Zuma fame), up from about $1.2 billion dollars in 2004. Women buy more casual games than men, too, while the opposite is true for conventional console, portable and computer games.
And it seems other entertainment industries have taken notice. Recently we've seen the release of two new casual games based on nongaming franchises: author James Patterson's Women's Murder Club novels and Rob Reiner's film The Princess Bride.
Here's a closer look at both Windows-based PC games, which are free to try but about $20 to buy after 60 minutes of play.
'Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet'
The first computer game based on the work of best-selling author James Patterson puts you in the role of three different female characters — a homicide detective, a medical examiner and a newspaper reporter — all devoted to solving nine gruesome crimes through puzzle solving.
While the story is new, many of the characters will be familiar to fans of Patterson's novels.
Created by award-winning designer Jane Jensen ("Gabriel Knight," King's Quest VI ) in conjunction with Patterson, Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet borrows from different game genres such as seek-and-find casual games and point-and-click adventures.
With the former, you are asked to find hidden objects in a busy scene, such as a bottle, sword, apple, twig, balloon, lighter and billboard. Some of the items are related to the crime while others can be placed in your inventory and used to solve minigames later. A third set of challenges includes mixing vials in the lab, using the computer to deduce clues at the police station or piecing together a victim's broken keepsake.
In total, the game features 18 unique locations, attractive graphics and, as refreshing changes from most casual games, an interesting story and good character dialogue.
'The Princess Bride Game'
In celebration of Rob Reiner's beloved 1987 film, The Princess Bride, a new interactive adventure is now downloadable, featuring the voices of original cast members Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright Penn and Wallace Shawn, each reprising their roles, as Inigo, Buttercup and Vizzini, respectively.
Designed primarily for kids and tweens with its basic game play, this casual game is divided into five episodes, each offering a different kind of experience. You'll start off performing odd farm jobs for Buttercup — such as milking cows, pulling carrots, feeding chickens and cutting wood — but will eventually graduate to tougher tasks such as navigating through treacherous lands (such as the Fire Swamp), fighting villains and of course, defeating the evil prince.
While the game play is trite, especially during the early episodes, the production values are excellent, including colorful graphics and smooth animation, professional voice acting, and a theme song, Incredible, performed by up-and-coming artists The Clique Girlz.
Serious fans of the film or young players might get something out of The Princess Bride Game, but there's little meat here for anyone else.
Mac and Linux versions will be available soon.
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