Zoned in

June 29, 2007

The New Face of Casual Games
By Anise Hollingshead

The sheer amount of games to choose from is staggering!

It used to be that casual games were considered a lower life form of the gaming community.  Everyone played them from time to time, but no one would admit this. “Real Gamers don’t play solitaire” was the prevailing attitude amongst so-called serious gamers.

It is true that at first there wasn’t a large variety offered by this type of either free or very cheap casual games. Basically, there were variations of solitaire and maybe a few simple arcade games, courtesy of Microsoft for Windows users. Soon, though, with the explosion of the Internet, online games became the new source of casual games. Now, traditional board and card games joined solitaire and arcade games.  Word games chimed in.  Casual gaming hit its stride when wildly popular logical puzzles like Bejeweled were added. Many of the casual online gaming sites began running competitive ladders that ranked players. However, the gaming community still held its official attitude that casual gaming was somehow beneath them.

Bejeweled 2 Screenshot

I have played online casual games from time to time, but never for very long or seriously. I have limited time and seem to only play games to review them and not just for fun. When I do play an online game, I usually play word games. I began hearing about a game called Diner Dash, but didn’t think much about it. Then, I reviewed a game called Cake Mania on the NDS and was immediately hooked by this seemingly innocuous arcade game. The premise was extremely simple: Take the customers’ orders and dish up cakes accordingly in the time allowed. I couldn’t stop playing! I finally got the game out of my system, but not before I had also began playing the original version online, which was very fun.

I started looking around the online gaming sites and was surprised to see all sorts of similar games like Cooking Mama, Stand O’Food, Belle’s Beauty Boutique, and Burger Stand. It seemed there was a plethora of fast-paced, take-the-customers’-order arcade games all of a sudden in the casual game community. Then, I read a review of Virtual Villagers, which received a high rating for a casual, downloadable game and was especially recommended for kids. Virtual Villagers is a simulation game similar to the “Petz” or “Sims” style games, where players raise the game characters in a simulated version of real life.

Finally, about a couple of weeks ago, I read a review of Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile and was surprised to see that it wasn’t a traditional adventure game such as previous titles released by The Adventure Company, but was instead a combination Search and Find game with an adventure game theme twist. Imagine my surprise when I read that Jane Jenson was the designer! I really admired the Gabriel Knight games which she had designed, and didn’t know that she had recently co-founded Oberon Games, a company that produces casual games. Apparently she was a fan of these type games and had always enjoyed playing them.

Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile Screenshot
Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile

I really began looking around the online gaming sites to see what else was new and soon discovered that it sure wasn’t just the old Solitaire, Scrabble, and Bejeweled landscape as before. Nope, we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

Mystery games like Ravenhearst, Tycoon games like Fairy Godmother Tycoon, simulations like Virtual Villagers, arcade games like Diner Dash, are all on the menu now, with of course the wildly popular Sudoku number puzzles. And with games like Cooking Mama showing up on console systems like the Wii, Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile garnering reviews and praise on traditional gaming sites like GamingPolo and Gamespot, and downloadable episodic chapter games like Bone and Sam and Max joining the adventure game world, well, it seems that they have finally garnered some respect.

These games are particularly appealing because they can be played instantly and without having to purchase the game first. Players can try them out and if they really like them, they can then purchase them for usually around $20, which is cheaper than most retail software and definitely cheaper than console games.  And, the sheer amount of games to choose from is staggering! Over the last several years, I have been saddened by the slow death of educational children’s software games, and have wondered if they would resurge like the adventure games have, or would be buried by the competition served by console systems and the new Leapster educational games which are presented on a console-like system for young children.

However, many of these newer online games are actually very good games for children that utilize higher thinking skills of strategy and planning. One of my oldest daughter’s favorite computer games as a child was Dinosaur Tycoon, and many of the new casual games like Fairy Godmother Tycoon are very similar.

And, of course, there are tons of games for us adults, as well!

So, it’s now time to stand up proudly and proclaim “Yes, I DO play online casual games, and I DO enjoy them, just as much as I enjoy offing tons of enemies in Call of Duty or swinging around the city in Spider Man!” Game On!