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Publisher: GameHouse    Genre: Puzzle & Trivia
Min OS X: 10.2    Hard Disk: 12 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 32-bit

April 26, 2006 | Richard Hallas

Click to enlarge
Acropolis is a one of those relatively rare beasts: a computer word game, of the sort that educates you while entertaining you at the same time.

Predictably enough, there's a silly story to go with it. Or at least, the game appears to have been written with one in mind, though the accompanying Read Me doesn't actually tell you what it is. I played through the game before even reading its advertising page on the GameHouse site and wondered what on earth all the cracks of thunder and lightning were about between the stages, and why ghostly pictures appeared along with the flashes. Apparently, according to the very brief advertising blurb, you're traveling across mythical lands and unearthing stunning relics.

Ho hum. Let's forget the story, shall we? It really doesn't play any part in the game itself, beyond providing a vaguely atmospheric setting. This is a word game, pure and simple.

Gameplay: Timely words
Each stage in the game presents you with a fairly large array of letters arranged in a hexagonal pattern: aside from the edge pieces, every letter will have six other letters surrounding it. Each tile in the grid starts off as a pale cream color, and the aim is to turn all the tiles gold by using each one in a word of three or more letters.

What's the catch? Well, there isn't one really. The only obstacle you have to work against is a "life timer" which counts down with each word you play. I found, though, that it was relatively rare for this timer to get anywhere near running out, and if it did enter the danger zone, the game would offer me bonus tiles that, if used in a word, would extend it again.

As you turn tiles gold, the letters they contained are used up, and letters sitting above will fall down into the vacated tiles. The contents of the board therefore change constantly as you play, but you can predict which letters will appear in which tiles as you make up words, which is strategically helpful.

As the game progresses, special tiles start to appear. Frozen tiles must be unlocked by using adjacent tiles; Double and Triple tiles must be used twice or three times before they turn gold. Cage tiles must be played to open a blockage; when you use them, and the cage disappears, letters cascade through them from above, filling up tiles that previously lacked letters. Finally, Tar tiles change back from gold into tar if you play a further four words, so you'll generally need to use them near the end of a level.

Power-up tiles also appear as you progress. Shuffle and Hint tiles add to your count of shuffle and hint actions. You can call on these at any time to exchange all the letters in the board, or ask the computer for a suggested answer. They can be useful, but I found that I usually forgot about them, and I ended up with a vast number of shuffles and hints left at the completion of the game. Fire tiles blast a handful of tiles to gold at random, Extra Turn tiles extend the life meter, and Wild Letters can be used to represent any consonant or vowel in a word.

Use the power-ups as the opportunity arises and you should never find yourself too stuck. Some tiles contain multiple letters, to make it easier to find long words: the multi-letters will be common letter pairs, like "qu" and "oo", or word endings such as "ed" and "ing." The longer the words you make, the more points you score and the faster you progress, because bolts of lightning will reward you for longer words and take out a few extra bonus letters. There are various trophies to win in the game, such as for finding long words or palindromes, scoring a certain number of points, using five 5-letter words in succession, and so on. They're a nice idea, and give you something extra to work towards.

And that's really all there is to it. Every board layout is different, and there's a gradual increase in the complexity of the designs as you progress through the game. However, there's a limit to the amount of challenge that the game can present, because the only hindrance to your progress is the decreasing life meter, and it's not difficult to top that up quite regularly. You can use letter tiles as many times as you like, even after they've been turned gold, and there's no countdown timer to force you into thinking quickly. Hence the impression is of a series of quite similar levels, one after another, rather than of an increasing challenge.

This would, I think, be my main criticism of the game. It's just a bit lacking in terms of player motivation. Sure, you can challenge yourself to find as many very long words as possible, and try to win all the trophies, and it's a mentally stimulating game to play. But it's not exciting; you play until you've had enough (you can come back and continue later), or until you've finished the game. Each new level is different from the last in terms of layout, but they all play in the same way and don't increase appreciably in difficulty.


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