Stylus-based puzzle games on Nintendo DS range from awesome to atrocious, so it’s refreshing to play one that nails the gameplay and makes the DS feel like the perfect puzzle playing machine. And while Cradle of Rome isn’t a perfect game, it is easily one of the better puzzle games on Nintendo DS and a testament that the best experiences on Nintendo’s handhelds are often the simplest ones. Cradle of Rome takes a familiar concept (clear the board by lining up puzzle pieces) and adds just enough to keep the formula addictive
The gameplay in Cradle of Rome is simple, yet addictive, which is the perfect combination for a puzzle game. You use your stylus to line up puzzle pieces in rows of three or more to clear them from the screen. Specifically, you’re trying to create these combinations over blue blocks to eliminate the blue blocks. So, while you can create combinations anywhere on the screen to earn points and supplies, only combinations created over blue blocks will allow you to clear the blocks and complete the level. You can only drag pieces over if doing so creates a valid combination, so it’s a bit difficult (and random) to create large combinations, but the thrill of seeing the board empty up after a big combination (then fill up again with new pieces) is quite satisfying. Each level is timed, so while you can generally goof off and earn points and supplies, you’ll want to clear the blue blocks as quickly as possible before the timer ends. As you create combinations and clear puzzle pieces, more puzzle pieces fall from above, so that the game board is always filled with puzzle pieces. As you progress, there will be obstacles such as chains that prevent you from clearing blue blocks or accessing the bottom part of a board until you create two combinations over the same area.
In an added bit of strategy, creating combinations of certain items, such as meat or wood, allows you to build structures in the short segments between boards. These structures eventually provide you with powerups such as a hammer, which allows you to clear chained blocks quicker. These powerups can make an already relatively easy puzzle game even easier, but since I’m not a hardcore puzzle game player, I certainly don’t mind the assist.
The graphics in Cradle of Rome are typical puzzle game fare. The boards are animated adequately and loaded with the game pieces, which range from gold and silver pieces, to wood and meat. The things that are critical for a puzzle game, like the ability to see the entire board and be able to easily and quickly make out all the pieces, are executed well here. Even when you have a board full of brightly colored puzzle pieces, it’s still extremely easy to navigate your way visually and identify the combinations that are available to you. The top screen has basic points information, as well as the timer. In between games, the visuals with the buildings you construct are also very nicely animated. Following the medieval theme, the music in Cradle of Rome is folksy, yet catchy and upbeat.
Cradle of Rome is a fantastic puzzle game. It can be both relaxing and hectic because of its laid back gameplay and the inclusion of a sometimes fast moving timer. Cradle of Rome is easy to pick up and play, but like any good puzzle game, it can be difficult to put down. Time just seems to fly while you work your way through the board creating bigger and bigger combinations. The Nintendo DS already has a wide array of great puzzle games available, and Cradle of Rome adds its own fresh take to this lineup.