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CONSOLE: PC DEVELOPER: Twintale Entertainment PUBLISHER: Oberon Media
RELEASE DATE (NA): January 23, 2008 GENRE: Match-3
// review by SoyBomb

Doubloon down.

We're not all hardcore gamers, shooting up terrorists, slicing the heads off of fiendish zombie apocalypse participants, and wielding our mighty hammers while earning the coveted Deprecating Poison Level 3 spell. But we're not all like that. Some gaming folk would rather sit back with something more relaxing, something more casual. Maybe a game with the feeling of an ocean breeze caressing their faces. Maybe a game with an air of romance. Maybe a game where you plunder loot and pay heed to the ugliest captain this side of the sea.

That's Caribbean Hideaway in a nutshell. Now it's time to admit a somewhat secret shame: I do enjoy the occasional Match-3 game. And when I say "occasional", I mean that once I get my hands on one, I'm probably going to see it to completion unless my hands are removed in a freak accident, my computer catches fire from an overclocked GPU, or my homestead is removed from its foundation by a giant cornfed lizard with an attitude of vengeance.

For those that aren't in the know, Match-3 games (the most popular being Microsoft's Bejeweled series) involve a grid of whatever icons suit the game's theme and moving them around to make matches of 3 or more in a single row or column. That's pretty much it. Usually there are goals around this, and Caribbean Hideaway is no different. You may have to clear tiles by making matches on top of all the coloured ones, you may have to match a large amount of a certain type of icon (in this case, they're all based on pirate lore and deck-swabbing and that ilk), or you may have to unlock a specific tile to reveal the next story point. With 100 levels in all, expect to make PLENTY of matches.

So what separates Caribbean Hideaway from every other Match-3 game in the known universe? For starters, yes, there is indeed a plot involving your standard pirate activity of seeking gold, all the while looking for the kidnapped Ruby Barnacle so that she can be saved AND romanced by a mate in love. It's touching... like at the back of the throat, but it adds motivation. As well, there's more than just matching, although that does make up the vast, vast, VAST majority of your time. ...Vast. (If anyone remembers that particular Simpsons reference, they get a pat on the back.) You're also involved in the management of your very own island!

Plunder or go home.

That's right, folks: these pirates, led by Captain Caninbahl, have real estate! Now hold on to your buccaneer hats because it's not all peaches and cream here. In theory, it sounds like wonderful fun for sim fans on paper, but in reality, it's pretty shallow. Basically, you use the money you earn from playing the puzzles and matching the gold (alongside the relatively inadequate citizen tax collection) to construct new buildings on your island and stop your citizens from remaining unemployed. (Unemployed citizens actually DO steal a bit of your gold, so it's best to put them to work.) These buildings/citizens indeed help you out by providing a service. The Cannon Shop, for example, gives you cannonballs to use during the Match-3 aspects for breaking up some tiles or freeing locked ones if you can't make a good match to unlock them. The Tavern, as another example, will give you extra time if you match enough hourglasses (and believe me, that's useful). The only prerequisites for these buildings are having enough gold and people to work there. That's it. By the end of the game, you should have no trouble at all in obtaining a very complete metropolis of an island.

The game has its own unique art style that, while it may not really sink in much, does deliver a unique seafaring flavour, like an old rum that only gets better with age. If you're looking for the best tunes in the business, however, you... euhhh, may want to look elsewhere. I'm fairly certain these ones were composed with GarageBand. They're suitable shanties, though, and although there are only a few songs in the game at all, they're shuffled around enough that you won't tire of any particular tune. Sound effects are aplenty, reeling in all the great tropes of the trade. Matching pirates in the puzzle parts and hearing "Arrr!" over and over again isn't as grating as you might expect.

Caribbean Hideaway seems like an impressively easy game to start with, but later levels can be quite taxing, so it's indeed worthwhile to consistently improve your island whenver possible. You'll need to whip out some good strategy to finish some of the later puzzles as time gets rather tight during those. While it may appear on the surface to be just your run-of-the-mill Match-3 game by Big Fish Games (the kingpin of all things casual), don't let that deflect you from trying this one out. You'll be hooked... arrr.

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