Umpteen years ago, some wacky guys over at Berkeley Systems created a series of screen savers that subsequently appeared on just about every single office computer in existence. Nowadays, monitors are advanced enough that burn-in is a thing of the past. But, thanks to those kooky flying toasters, screen savers became firmly rooted in computer culture.
After Dark Games is a collection of eleven desktop distractions. Included in the eleven are versions of solitaire and shanghai. The puzzles range from word games (Fish Shtick and Bad Dog 911) to arcade games (Hula Girl, Roger Dodger, and Mowin' Maniac) to a Tetris-type game (Roof Rats) to a trivia game (Zapper). It's obvious that the developers took time to produce sharp, clear graphics, and each game has original music (the fact that the short music bites loop endlessly until you're in a homicidal rage is beside the point).
But under the veneer of sharp, colorful graphics and engaging music and sound are games that just don't bring any life to the desktop puzzle genre. Each game is either a blatant rip-off of better-known games or is just so close, the only puzzle to solve will be trying to figure out what game it reminds you of. The only difference is that After Dark Games incorporates the objects and characters from the screen savers.
In Hula Girl (one of the most fun games), you assume the role of a hula hoop-spinning chica who jumps from platform to platform. You try to avoid landing on platforms that have nasties (bugs, frogs, and spiders) that drain your Yuck-o-Meter. If you are unlucky, you can land on a platform containing a treat (candy, ice cream, or sodas) to fill it back up. This game resembles just about every single Game Boy, console, or PC platform game I've every seen. Its gameplay is just pared down to the point that the only challenge becomes keeping your Hula Girl on the screen as the platforms speed by faster and faster. As I find myself returning to this never-changing, always bland game, I wonder if the real reason I keep playing it is because I'm bored and want a quick ten-minute diversion, or I can't be bothered to fire up the PlayStation and attack the wonder that is Crash Bandicoot 3.
Mowin' Maniac is Pac-Man, pure and simple. You drive the lawnmower man, collect objects, and try to avoid baddies, such as mean dogs, gardeners, and ghosts. To advance to the next level, you must mow the entire lawn. Roger Dodger is similar; you control a little gem and race around collecting little green blobs and swirls. If you can avoid the red blobs and swirls, you can head for the level exit and go on to the next. The problem with these arcade-type games is that the gameplay isn't compelling enough to master them. I'd much rather play Lode Runner 2, with its tricky puzzles, mad monks, and crazy power-ups.
The two word games are equally familiar. In Fish Shtick, you unscramble letters to form words. In Bad Dog 911, you form as many words as possible from a group of letters. Again, groovy music and pretty graphics aside, I just couldn't get hooked. The Word Jumble in the newspaper is much more fun because you get the reward of solving the silly pun when you're done. Plus, I have a dictionary, and I know how to use it. Lots of the words in Bad Dog 911 weren't in it.
This game package is aimed at casual gamers. I'm imagining that people who don't work in a game-oriented job (there are people out there who don't, right?) would be glad to have a puzzle package of this simplicity and quality on their PCs to turn to when Minesweeper and Microsoft's solitaire lost their luster. However, serious gamers - even serious puzzle gamers - will definitely be disappointed and look for games with a little more depth.
Certainly, if you aren't in the mood for bending your brain around some of the more challenging puzzle packages on the market, check out After Dark Games. But, really, unless you have an enormous crush on Hula Girl, you can do better elsewhere.