Spb Software House Week: Spb AirIslands

by PocketGoddess on February 18, 2006

Spb AirIslands

Spb AirIslands is a strategy/resource management game that challenges the player to fulfill a worthy quest: rebuild an ancient gravitator to help unify the people and physical landmass of a fragmented world. To do this you have to carefully manage your resources, build wisely, and continually monitor both your economic and goal-oriented progress. When you first start the game, you have a very limited supply of basic resources (water, bricks, and wood) plus gold. You don’t have any people or buildings, just a ruined ancient gravitator that you must repair in order to win the game.

From there you have to build houses, work sheds, and windmills in order to increase the economy of your island and bring in more gold. Be careful though, as the more industrial buildings you build, the higher the pollution will go, necessitating costly repairs. Fortunately you can plant trees and build lakes which will lower the pollution levels and increasing the happiness of your people, which will in turn increase the amount and value of the work they are able to do each day. You won’t be able to build certain buildings at the beginning of the game; you’ll have to progress by rebuilding the gravitator. Things get harder as you go along, because each gravitator repair has certain effects that change the game dynamic, and in later stages certain levels of happiness, economy, and maximum, allowable pollution levels will be required.

Unlike many games of this type, where you mine resources, or just stumble across them while exploring a world map, you must actually earn the necessary building blocks. To that end, there are three arcade-style minigames included with Spb AirIslands. You earn water by playing Bubbles, a Bubble Bobble-style clone that has you matching up groups of three water bubbles by shooting with a crossbow at the bottom of the screen. There are three different difficulty levels and two game modes, regular and classic. Earn bricks by playing Arkaball, a Break-out style game with a ton of enhancements. There are several different power-ups, including some that make your catching bucket at the bottom of the screen bigger, equip it with guns, or make it “sticky” for better control over the ball. Watch out for the red ones though, as those “power downs” will make your bucket smaller, make the bricks descend “Space Invaders style” or even take one of your lives. My personal favorite though is Xonix, which is the game that earns you wood. Each level of this game gets progressively harder, with bent nails, more and more bouncing balls to avoid, and even magnets that chase after your laser beam. All of these arcade games offer smooth gameplay, impressive graphics, entertaining music and sound effects, and both stylus-based or button-based methods of play.

Spb Arkaball II Spb Bubbles Spb Xonix II

The game developers even took into account the fact that you might enjoy one of these games better than the others, or simply be better at it–in the main AirIslands game there is a function that allows you to trade resources. I used this one all the time, since I always had tons of wood from playing game after game after game of Xonix. Don’t get too attached though, as later in the game supplies of resources get pretty scarce, with new shipments coming in only on certain days in the game. That forces you to get better at all of the arcade games, instead of just focusing on one to the exclusion of the other two. It isn’t a matter or just waiting for the next resource delivery either, because if you have a relatively high pollution level, you’ll find that your buildings can deteriorate to the point of collapse, which of course seriously hinders your progress in repairing the gravitator.

All of the controls are easy to use and well laid out; menu bars at the bottom of the screen allow you to build buildings, plant trees, make repairs, set game options ,etc. The top left corner of the screen has the control that allows you to speed up time if you’re an impatient player, and you can also read messages about resource income and get regular progress reports about your island. The graphics are impressive indeed, and the music is nice, if a bit repetitive. Sound effects are appropriate to each situation, from repairing your buildings to the clink of coins when you earn money. About the only real frustration I had with the game was when I tried to build additional buildings and couldn’t find a clear spot in which to place them; often I would get an error message saying that I couldn’t place a particular object in that spot on the screen, even though it was currently unoccupied. Other than that, I would like to have seen a bit more detail in the main quest, and a few more options, including a greater variety of building types, random events like natural disasters, disease, etc. This game gets such a high score because of the innovation/hours of fun with the minigames, rather than having a particularly long quest or high replay value. Once you figure out how to fully repair your gravitator, you may not feel compelled to play th main game again, but if you’re anything like me you’re quite likely to come back to the minigames again and again for a long time to come.

If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you already know one thing–I play a lot of games. Not only do I review Palm OS/Windows Mobile games for my site, I also play a lot of Nintendo and Sony PS2/PSP games as well. That means that I’ve seen just about everything, and I can be hard to impress when it comes to games. Not only do I look for outstanding graphics, but also good sound effects and music, memorable characters, and innovative gameplay techniques.With the possible exception of great characters (which is perfectly understandable considering that this is a strategy title) Spb AirIslands has it all–great graphics and innovation due to the unique minigames you play to earn resources for the main game. It’s hard to believe that it’s only $19.95 and is actually four games in one. I could even make a strong argument here that just one of these arcade minigames alone is worth the price of admission, since Spb AirIslands is so reasonably priced and these games aren’t available for separate purchase. So what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Spb AirIslands web site and get your copy today.

5 out of 5

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