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// review by SoyBomb

The Simple Life with an extremely strict budget.

In Japan, Culture Publishers (and later D3 Publisher) released a series of budget titles for the PlayStation (and a variety of consoles, including the PlayStation 2, PSP, Dreamcast, Nintendo DS, and the Wii), all under the "Simple" moniker. The PlayStation series was called "Simple 1500", the 1500 representing the cost of each game (1500 yen, which was indeed relatively cheap compared to full-priced retail games at the time). The games were developed by a variety of smaller companies, and the Simple series was a great way to give the little guys a voice, a method similar to the modern Steam/PSN/XBLA/eShop. Some of these games made it overseas thanks to a few gung-ho American and European publishers who saw promise in this little titles, the most prolific at the time being Agetec.

We already looked at the first five games in the series, so now let's closely examine Volumes 6 through 10, one of which actually was released Stateside.

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 6: The Hanafuda

Let's start things off right with a good old-fashioned game of cards. Everybody loves a card game, from the pre-natal expanding spunky fetus to the most decrepit shut-in who only leaves for half-priced tuna. They may very well all find enjoyment in a game of hanafuda. Wait... they're still doing it. It's "The Hanafuda". The. THE!! Why do they keep calling each game "The" something? There are assuredly plenty more hanafuda video games in the world. What makes this one special? The price?

Hanafuda can refer to both the playing cards themselves, as well as the games played with the... hanafuda cards. I'm sure that conversation could be confusing. "Hey, Larry! Wanna play hanafuda?" "Sure! Got the hanafuda?" "Yeah, I got the hanafuda." "Then let's play hanafuda! Go get the hanafuda!" I swear, Abbott & Costello could've had a field day. There are 48 cards in a hanafuda deck with twelve suits, each representing a month of the year. The suits are typically illustrated with a flower. January is matsu (pine), February is ume (plum blossom), etc. Cards are dealt, with a certain number of extras in the middle. It becomes a game of Go Fish, where you're trying to slap down a matching card so you can take them both. You go until either all the cards are gone, or you empty out your hand. Oh, and if you're dealt a hand with four pairs or two complete suits, you automatically win. That sure didn't happen to me.

If you didn't like my description, let's see what GameFAQs has to say:

Truly the Rudyard Kipling of video game descriptions. Maybe it was his brother Boarford.

If you read my review of the first five Simple 1500 games, you'll know I am about a good at those as I am at professional arc welding. And I don't know how to arc weld. I definitely lost this game, but I at least scored some points! And if I'm ever challenged on the street in a game of hanafuda, I'll be ready to rumble! Like so many other Simple games, this one lacks in lovely presentation, although the graphics on the cards are accurate to their real-life counterparts. As for music, an aspect where these games tend to go cheap, some of the same music is used from previous volumes, but there are also a couple of new traditional Japanese tunes. Nothing mindblowing, but it's something to listen to. If you dig hanafuda, this is the hanafuda for youda.

This is one crazy game of scrapbooking.

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 7: The Card

How many cards does it take to create a video game? Just one.

This is the seventh volume, entitled "The Card". But luck be a lady tonight because that lady brought us not one, but THREE card games! That's right: by spending that nutritious 1500 yen, you're actually getting three games for the price of one! What a bargain! This is not just The Card, but Many Cards!

As I literally just said a moment ago, there are three games available. The first is Blackjack, one of the more popular casino games of our time. It plays exactly as it should, where both the dealer and the player are dealt two cards. The player has the option of either staying (keeping his two cards and doing nothing) or taking a "hit" and earning another card. The goal is to get a total of close to 21 without going over, and having a closer total than the dealer. (You already know this. Why am I telling you the rules of blackjack? You could be out spraypainting sassy text on a brick wall right now instead of listening to my meandering prattle.) I love when the dealer automatically gets a blackjack with the first two cards. He says, "Blackjack." Without enthusiasm. It's not needed, my digital dealer. We know you're happy on the inside.

The second game is poker, even though the digitized voice sounds like it's saying "panky." I don't want to play any panky. No panky or variation thereof, including the hanky variety! I know a little bit about poker based on what I've gleaned from televised poker tournaments and those poker games in sitcoms where the guys smoke cigars and drink beers until the wife returns home and gives his husband a mouthful about stinking up the house. I'm not entirely sure how to play, but I DO know how to lose. And I do it as well as any real man.

I can't read Japanese, but I've determined that the last game is known as "Daifugō" or "Millionaire". I'd never heard of it, and I sure didn't know how to play. Being the punctilious researcher that I am, I can tell you that you're basically trying to get rid of your cards as quickly as possible by laying down your best card and hoping that no one can drop a better one. The twist is that you can lay down more than one card at a time, such as a pair or a straight. The winner becomes the "millionaire", and the rest are ranked by place in that round, down to the "hinmin", the equivalent of dirt. Classist games have no place in our society! Be gone.

The graphics are average; all three games use a cheesy checkerboard background with awful pinks and purples. On the plus side, there's all-new swanky casino music to cheer you on! Sadly, it doesn't loop: it simply fades out then comes back. Nonetheless, if you're a card-playing fanatic but only have 1500 yen to spare, then take a gamble on The Card.

Money, money, money, monnnnney... fake money!

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 8: The Solitaire

I have to admit, I was rather excited about starting this one up. After all, I've become a bit of a solitaire fanatic, as have everyone who ever had a job involving a computer since Windows 3.1 came out. See if you can accurately calculate how many hours of your life have drifted away due to excessive solitaire play when your boss is looking the other way or scratching something in his office. It's a high number, isn't it? Finally, I am able to start playing one of these Simple Series games where I know how to play right from the get-go.

Or not.

This isn't the solitaire I was expecting. Nope, this is what is known as "Peg Solitaire". You are given a board covered in holes. All but the central hole has a peg in it (or, in this case, a stone). The object of the game is to remove all of the stones, but you can only do so by hopping over it with another stone. There are definitely solutions, but you'd have to be quite the mathematician to figure it out early on. Much experimentation is necessary. Well, that's a kick in the pantaloons, isn't it? Now where am I going to put this King of Diamonds I had stashed in my pocket? At least I managed to earn a high score each time I played.

You can select between six different countries, each with their own unique playing board. The graphics are actually well-rendered, and they differ between countries. I did not expect this, but somebody put in some actual... dare I say... effort into the crafting of the visuals. Of course, it doesn't help that the music is so brooding. They make it sound as though if I don't succeed, I shall be put to death. That's a little extreme for a PlayStation game. But it's still the most excitement you'll get out of this board game nugget.

Well, I'm peeved. But, as it turns out, North America is the only place where the term "solitaire" is used to describe the card game. For the rest of the world, this peg-hopping murk is the real solitaire. I need to stop setting my expectations so high for the Simple Series. Otherwise, I just end up getting burned like any time I make garlic toast. Special thanks to the local fire department.

He who plays The Solitaire ends up alone.

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 9: The Chess

Okay, okay. When a game has "chess" in the title, THAT had better be the real chess I know and don't-really-love-but-will-try-for-the-sake-of-this-review. Don't pull that "The Solitaire" malarky on me. I'm not falling for that guff. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and I get out my trusty hatchet.

Well, this is chess. Not just any chess, though. It's The Chess. Every chess game you've played in your life has been fraudulent. Unless it was this game, in which case, you're safe from the Chess-BI. And you can thank someone named "F.Schneider" for this. He's credited on the title screen. Maybe he invented chess back in the late 1990s. It's possible. I don't remember anything earlier than that, so chess could have been created around that time. Hmmm... I think I would play The Chess for the options screen alone. It has some jazz music that makes me want to put down the controller and do the Running Man for hours. Running from what? We're not sure. Probably the 80s.

This game is chess. If it had a daughter, she'd be named Chessica. It's exactly what you would expect from a chess game. You have all your pieces on the 8x8 chessboard, and your goal is to destroy the opposing army and capture their king. I like the effect when you select a piece and it grows larger. Not sure why I like that. It's just a scaling effect. Otherwise, the game is bare bones chess. No frills, no gimmicks, nothing that would make someone say, "Oh yeahhh, now THIS is next-gen chess." Mostly because, who talks like that?

I'm just glad they've shied away from that music they copied for several games at the start of the series. The music here reminds me of those demos on actual songs that could be played on Casio electronic keyboards. It's no low-quality MIDI imitation of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", but it'll do in a pinch.

So... do you like chess? Do you want to play chess but can't be bothered to have any human interaction whatsoever? Then "The Chess" is for you. Actually, there is a two-player mode where you can grab your fellow Kasparov and smash rooks together, so you do have the option to be social as well.

That ended as well as could be expected.

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 10: The Billiard

"The Billiard". Things are starting to get heavy. What does that even mean? I guess we'll find out. I've seen pool tables laying around in pizza parlours, old man basements, and dingy bars with terrible lighting strategies, but I've never considered myself an expert. It could have something to do with my overall level of precision, comparable to a three-hooved cow on an ice rink. But enough about my childhood: let's talk about The (that's right, The) Billiard!

Ooh, that title screen with its slick backalley music. I can sense a West Side Story dance number just ready to burst from the disc. But as for the game itself, I was definitely surprised, and in a positive way. This game was developed by a company called "argent". That's French for "silver", and they must have had plenty of silver in the bank because there's been some actual development time planted into this one. How do I know? The game is in 3D, a first for the Simple Series thus far. They could've just made a cheesy overhead view and left it at that, but no, they grabbed that pinnie and ran the extra mile. You can also see the table from various angles and actually rotate the camera behind the cue ball so you can see what's around you! I would never have expected this!

It plays well enough. When it's your turn, you'll get to control the angle of your stick and the strength of your cue. I'm pretending I speak billiard lingo here. But even with a minimal knowledge of how billiards actually are played, there's still much enjoyment to be had. It can get old quickly, but on the first few plays, you may just find yourself wanting to win at a game of pool. Never thought I'd ever want that.

Plus, I actually won on the first try. When I saw the words "YOU WIN" on the screen, my heart skipped a beat. Then... a few more, and I started to worry. But all was well, except for the realization that this is likely the best accolade I'll receive all year.

The Billiard is a nifty little game at only 1500 yen. It's too bad non-enthusiasts will likely push it aside for something better fairly quickly, although the graphics are the best I've seen from a Simple Series game so far, for which I must give it credit. This one actually saw a release in North America, simply titled "Billiards", and released by Agetec.

Light me up another cigar, Johnny! I'm goin' fer that 8-ball!

Well, that's that. Five more Simple 1500 games out of the way. I can finally rest peacefully... until more of them come my way...

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