Cradle of Rome came out last year on the PC, and it's no surprise that this addictive match-three game has made its way to the Nintendo DS so that it can reach an even larger casual audience. Using a formula that many of you are familiar with by now, Cradle of Rome puts you in charge of collecting resources to build up your Roman Empire. At D3's press event in San Francisco, we played through a few levels of this pick-up-and-play game and found it incredibly fun and certainly a perfect companion for long lines and arduous train rides to work.
Like in Bejeweled, you're swapping icons horizontally or vertically so that you have at least three of a kind. Once you match them up, they'll disappear, and more items will fall to take their place. You're trying to collect gold or other resources to rebuild the ancient city of Rome, but you're on a timer as well, so you'll have to decide whether you want to beat the level or cut it close by hoarding resources. Each level in Cradle of Rome is played out on a distinct map where the goal is to complete the level by getting rid of the layers while collecting as many resources as you can. What we mean by layers is that each level has an area that is marked by either a blue square or a chained item. You'll need to clear these areas by matching the icons that sit on those spots. Chained items are a hindrance because you can't swap them out with anything else, so you'll have to somehow manipulate the surrounding icons to get everything to line up correctly.
There are useful tools that will help you as the levels get progressively harder. The hammer will let you knock away one square, but you'll have to rebuild your hammer meter to use it again. Each level gives you one weapon to use, but if you have a hammer available for use and decide to save it, it will carry over to the next level. Other helpful items include an hourglass that will give you more time and a bomb that will clear a three-by-three grid. The shield will clear out an entire row, the star will clear out an entire resource onscreen, and the cross will give you a bonus for that particular resource. For example, if you want to build up your shield meter, you can use the cross on the shield and it will replenish more quickly.
There are five epochs throughout the game and four structures per epoch. You start off small by building a sawmill and a quarry, but by the end, you'll have a coliseum, the Parthenon, and the Temple of Venus. These structures will appear once you build them in the top screen so that eventually you'll have your own bustling Roman Empire. There are more than 100 puzzle levels to complete, and you don't need to complete them all to build all the structures. We were told by the producer that a good player could probably get everything built in about 30 levels, but the average is 50 to 60. If you continue, you'll unlock more levels, which can then be replayed in Relax mode. We played one of the later levels, and it gets quite tricky, especially if you aren't using weapons. The timer ticks down faster than you would like, and there are a lot of bottleneck choke points on the map that make it difficult to clear resources. What is good about Cradle of Rome is that you should never be stuck and out of moves. If you wait awhile, an arrow will appear to let you know what move you can make next.
Cradle of Rome is a game that is difficult to put down once you get started. Being able to build your own ancient city helps motivate you to continue, but each level comes with its own challenges, so fans of the match-three style of gameplay should definitely keep an eye on this one. Cradle of Rome is set to be released on November 18 on the Nintendo DS.