I've got the Fringer if you've got the Finty.
Is your gray matter feeling a little pudgy and out of shape? Are your neurons firing at alarmingly low rates? Looking for the latest and greatest advancement in the wonderful world of post-Tetris puzzlers? Then for the Love of God, why are you reading THIS!!??
Microsoft Entertainment Pack: The Puzzle Collection is reminiscent of those not-so-classic games that come with your new computer. While Mine Sweeper, Chip's Challenge, and Taipei seem like staples on any computer, they're not really deep enough to be considered full fledged games. They're more of a diversion than anything else, a way to kill a quick 10 minutes while pondering life's greatest questions (such as, "Why can't I Super Size my cheeseburger, too?"). Unfortunately, when a company gets the notion to package up 10 of these mindless little doohickies and sell them retail, we consumer reporter types have to take notice.
Particularly when the designer of these brainteasers is the Czar of shuffling shapes himself, Alexey Pajitnov. Yep, the man behind Tetris is at it again, only this time under the ever watchful eye of Microsoft (they're watching me right now. I can feel their eyes...). But this time around, poor Alexey can't recreate the magic that sparked one of the greatest games of all time, and in fact can barely pull a rabbit out of his hat.
There are 10 separate games in the pack. Of these, 1 is okay, 5 are not, 3 have weird names, and 1 isn't a puzzle game at all.
Like the age old credo "Gimme the good news first," allow me to start with the bright spots. Mixed Genetics offers an interesting premise - combine three mixed breeds of beasty to form one full breed. With cutesy animations and a simple interface, this actually ends up producing a good challenge. Not something I would spend more than 10 minutes on, but worth a smoke break nonetheless.
Most of the pack, however, consists of strange little brainteasers that only end up brimming with mediocrity. Charmer, where you have to drop lids on pots before snakes curve their way up to a 'line', is entirely too reminiscent of any subpar Atari 2600 game. The same can be said for boring mindbenders like Jewel Chase (Chip's Challenge without the challenge), Spring Weekend (flower rotation - whoo.) and Muddled Casino, whose rules and goal was muddled indeed.
So now you're screaming, WHAT ABOUT THE 3 WITH WEIRD NAMES!?!? To this I have one response...Fringer. Yep, Fringer is the name of a game in this pack (not the half-finger, half-ring mutant appendage goblin we were expecting). In Fringer, you untie knots in twisted pixel-ropes. You know, like a Fringer-man does. Then there's the aptly named Rat Poker. You catch rats and combine them into winning poker hands, except you don't actually play poker at all and it has nothing to do with any card game I've ever played. And let's not forgot the well-titled Finty Flush, where you take your finty and flush it.
The final game I'll mention is called Color Collision. The object is to ram your little swirly line into colored stars. You have to make sure and keep the colors matched up. While this may pose a huge challenge to those unfortunate souls born without cones (or is it rods?) and only have black and white vision, those of us with color vision can see through the ruse. This isn't even a puzzle game - it's a cheap arcade game ala 1980.
To their credit, Microsoft provides a very simple and user-friendly interface. The graphics are crisp if a bit hokey, and the sound is fine. I do have a minor gripe about the lack of any printed instruction booklet - it's all on the CD. But these games are simple enough not to require complex instructions...
The thing that really gets me here is that you can download games equally good (if not better) off the Internet for FREE. The fact that Microsoft is trying to turn a quick buck is hardly surprising; it's just kind of sad. While priced down a little ($35), this collection should be bundled up as shareware, not sold retail. Besides, they don't even include oil for my Fringer (you gotta keep it looking good, y'know).