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Review: California Gold Rush is a pot of gold for puzzlers

06-12-2009, 11:54 AM
Joined: Feb 2009
Location: San Francisco, California
Posts: 5,305
Review: California Gold Rush is a pot of gold for puzzlers

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

That saying pretty much sums up the premise behind Digital Chocolate’s California Gold Rush which is a terrific adventure puzzler that offers a simple-to-use interface, a variety of tools, and enough engaging content to satisfy the casual gamer in all of us.

As the protagonist Mandy, you play a rookie miner who has just enough mining knowledge to be dangerous, but whether she’s cunning and lucky enough to find the hidden treasures without getting buried alive is up to you. The game has a decent storyline which is presented in cut scenes and text bubbles. The graphics and animation are on the fun side with an appropriate soundtrack reminiscent of something you would hear in a Clint Eastwood western. The objective of the game is to dig and find as much gold as possible. Of course, there are numerous forces working against Mandy including stamina, a limited-sized backpack, and dangerous environmental conditions.

An instructions section is included but the way it's set up can be a somewhat off putting. It's literally a long thread of text, and the game would have been better served with the instructions broken up into individual scroll pages.

The game has two game modes: Story and Gold Rush. Gold Rush is a timed mode where you dig against the clock to find as much gold as possible before time runs out. Every 10 rows, a checkpoint appears providing more time and adds a score multiplier. As more gold is mined to score points, it is then multiplied by the checkpoint multiplier.

Story mode is where the bulk of the content is and consists of 30 mines. The objective is to mine as much gold as possible before running out of stamina. Depending on how much gold is mined, up to 3 stars can be earned, and you’ll need to earn at least 1 star to unlock additional mines. Money earned unlocks 22 Trivia Milestones, and while not important to the gameplay itself, provide interesting trivia to the real California Gold Rush of the 1800s. Also, locate the 6 artifacts throughout the levels, and the Legendary Mine is unlocked which contains the mother lode.

To move Mandy, tap the location, and she will automatically walk there if there is a clear path. Tap again to stop her. While some may prefer a d-pad, the tap-to-move control scheme is more than appropriate for this game. In terms of mining, as long as there is an open path, tap on diamonds and gold to mine, and as far as tunneling, tap on adjacent squares of dirt or rubble (not stone) to dig. You can also pan the screen by dragging with two fingers, which honestly doesn't work that well. It seems a bit laggish to me, but at least it doesn't impact gameplay.

Mandy needs to worry about a few things as she’s digging around for bling.

Collapses—costs money to dig Mandy out
Lava—fills in tunnels and turns into rock, can take away gold from Mandy or worse, encase her.
Ice—leads Mandy down an unknown path until the end of the ice path; immediately turns lava into rock
Gas—drains stamina and floats downward
Bedrock—impenetrable even with explosives
Bats—takes a chunk of Mandy’s gold

There are a number of tools to help Mandy in her mining objectives which are available for purchase with your gold at the shop.

Tunnel Blast—for horizontal explosions
Mole Blast—for larger horizontal explosions
Tower Charge—for vertical explosions upwards
Burrow Charge—for larger vertical explosions downwards
Supports—support tunnel walls
Prospector Map—reveals random squares from the fog
Depth Map—reveals a targeted area from the fog
Chat & Rest—regain stamina, chat with locals, and find hidden bonus mines
Underground Shop—acts just like the surface shop but located below surface
Backpack upgrade—increases capacity of backpack

Supports are a key tool, and I suggest you load up on those because as soon as dust appears, a collapse is imminent unless supports are in place. Each time you are dug out of a collapse, a chunk of gold is lost as payment for the rescue.

The game interface is set up nicely and really doesn’t clutter the screen. An overall map tracks progress through the levels including the number of stars earned. At the start of each level, scoring requirements are listed to show what is necessary to earn 1, 2, and 3 stars. A convenient scale is located in the upper left corner and monitors progress for each of the stars. Stamina is essential for Mandy and that is a green box in the upper right corner. The more digging and walking Mandy does, the more her stamina drains so you’ll need to very strategic and adjust your level of greed. Of course, she can simply rest or go to the surface and chat with other to raise her stamina.

In the bottom left is the backpack, which gradually fills up with each gold vein found. Depending on upgraded the bag is, Mandy will need to make trips up the surface. The Inventory Tab located in the bottom right corner opens up a menu along the right side of available mining tools I mentioned above. In addition to tools, there is also and Finish Mine button. For example, you may not want all to earn all 3 stars, and you can end the game with a tap of this button.

To buy items, a trip to the shop on the surface is necessary. The shop has limited supplies, and of course, you want to be careful how you spend that newly mined gold. One of the neat things is the ability to chat with others which reveals clues and tips for unlocking additional bonus mines. A series of cut scenes are used here as well.

The game is all about greed, and the amount of risk that you’re willing to put Mandy through. As Mandy digs, exclamation marks appear marking spots with gold, and the more exclamation marks, the more gold is located there. Often times, you will dig paths towards glittery areas only to find bedrock or some other obstacle preventing passage and wasting stamina. One note on gold veins and explosives…know what you’re doing because if you blow up gold veins, they diminish in value. The game offers many interesting challenges, some based on luck since you won’t know what’s there until you start digging.

If you’re into puzzlers, I highly recommend California Gold Rush. The level of depth, gameplay, overall polish, and intuitiveness, which should not be overlooked, should make this an ideal game for casual gamers.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for puzzlers, those with an interest in platformers, and especially those who want to play with a central character named Mandy)

Last edited by Big Albie; 06-12-2009 at 05:38 PM.