Review by Ryan Harrison
"Minesweeper: More of a Mine-teaser than a Mine-blower."
Minesweeper is a game, that for many, will need no introduction. Along with other Microsoft Windows PC freebie games like Solitaire, Hearts, FreeCell and Pinball, it's the very original, very unique game in which the player must locate and flag all the hidden mines in a grid completely covered in blank tiles, and the only clues available to aid you in locating each remaining mine are numbers to indicate the exact number of mines within an 8-tile radius, and locations of other mines that you have already determined as you progress in your playthrough. Like most classic puzzle games, Minesweeper follows that same old formula of simple concept, addictive gameplay, with the occasional bit of confusion, infuriation, the agony of loss and the joy of victory. For the seasoned puzzle game player, something I suppose I could consider myself to be, Minesweeper can have a powerful grip that can almost become irresistible once the player is drawn in, and then, once they have a good enough understanding of the way the game works and the methods one can use in order to clear the grid, that grip can have a hold on the player that could go from minutes to hours on end.
The average Windows PC user will in most likeliness, have at some point within the last 30-odd years had some experience or another with Minesweeper. Going back to the origins of Microsoft Windows, this 1981 title has come free with every PC that runs the system - found in the Games tab from the Start button menu. As a simple game that comes free with your system, there's not too much that needs to be explained in order to understand how Minesweeper works or how it is played. It's a game that can be played and enjoyed from the very moment you open the application and have your preferred settings all in place - in my youth I would often find myself enjoying (usually with great confusion due to my unfamiliarity with it at the time) the odd game of Minesweeper in the computer rooms at school as a cover-up when I found myself lacking the inclination to get some much-needed coursework done. Since finishing high school and many years later, well into the prime of young adulthood, it would seem little has changed; when my brainpower has fizzled due to the prospect of having to undertake mundane tasks on the computer in my day-to-day life at home, a quick round of Minesweeper can usually put that to right.
I had previously reviewed this game several years ago and at the time did not see the game in the same light as I do today; I gave it a score on the lower end of the scale and was less favourable towards it, merely because I found it getting the better of me every time I attempted to play the game, and not having complete comprehension of the game's rules, understandably so. After a lengthy amount of time not having played Minesweeper, one day I found myself needing to burn some time and with only a Windows PC and the usual freebie games to keep me occupied, I decided to sit down and give it another go after having beaten all the others available. A thorough read-through of the help manual and a little patience was all it took for me to finally understand the concept, and as time went on, develop my skills and become an expert Minesweeper player.
Controlling the game is as easy as the movement of a mouse and the clicking of its two main buttons, so in that respect you do not have much to worry about there. To play the game, you merely have to move the arrow over any tile in the grid and perform one of three possible actions. By clicking the left mouse button, this 'uncovers' the mine - revealing what is hidden underneath; be it nothing, a number indicating the exact number of mines in all surrounding tiles, or the fatal mine that ends your game. By clicking the right mouse button, the player can 'flag' a tile that they suspect shelters a mine (the objective being to flag all mines on the board), and later on will also let you know which tiles you have examined so that you're not revisiting the same area several times over, and can concentrate on deciphering the unchecked tiles. However, at times it can also be guesswork, so a second right-click on the same tile will instead mark it with a question-mark symbol if one is uncertain about the content of a particular tile, so you can continue looking for more clues elsewhere and come back to it later. While marking tiles with question marks is actually not a necessity in Minesweeper, it does have its use in larger and more complicated grids, and ensures that you do not over-allocate your flags.
The game comes with three distinct difficulty settings. The Beginner setting starts you off with a 9x9 grid (a total of 81 tiles), and 10 mines to flag. It's perfect for the beginning player as most times you'll manage to uncover most of the empty tiles straight away, and common patterns to help you deduce the location of the mines appear all but the entire time. Moving onto the Intermediate setting, you'll get a 16x16 grid (256 tiles total), and 40 mines to flag. By this stage, your basic Minesweeper skills will begin to develop nicely but it still won't get overly challenging; there's still less guesswork and many vast empty spots, although you'll start to see a lot more of those '3', '4' and '5' tiles (i.e. more mines that start to appear in clusters). Then, for that third and final pre-ordained difficulty setting of Expert, prepare for the challenge and the stress to kick in, as you negotiate your way through a 30x16 (480 tiles) grid with a grand total of 99 mines to flag! With a smaller space-to-mine ratio, as well as large groups of mines in small spaces (and that even locating mines can often be pot luck on this setting), it takes the most gifted and skilled player to clear the board in Expert mode. Forgetting games that are lost with only the first few clicks, I myself only find myself winning on Expert mode once in perhaps every 20 attempts.
If that's not enough for some of the blast-happy Minesweeper players out there, there is also a means of customising your own grid, both in height and width of grid size, and quantity of mines. Therefore one could perhaps conjure up a grid that is so easy that it's beatable in one click; or if you're that content on losing for fun, one with mines absolutely everywhere that two clicks results in all but guaranteed loss. The real beauty of it, though, is that like the old saying goes - "Minesweeper games are like snowflakes - no two are the same." Mine locations are completely random in each and every new game, so millions of setups are possible, no matter the size of the grid. The first tile you click on will either be empty or have a number in it, and from there on afterwards, you're on your own. This gives it a huge replay value for the gamer who wants to test their mental skills and burn a few minutes away. It's challenging, but just enough so that you keep wanting to play and try again - the thrill of clearing that board one tile at a time, all while knowing that all it takes is one incorrect click, and it's back to square one...
Now, let's move onto the looks and sounds of the game. Minesweeper is simple in its visuals and the most basic Windows PC can display it clearly without any problems. Colour isn't a necessity (it can be toggled on or off via the main menu), but the game looks very nice and smooth when it is enabled. You have your basic, grey grid, black-and-red-themed counters, and the Pac-Man-like avatar who oversees the action in the top-centre of the window, who changes basic expressions as you click, win or lose. The numbers that appear in the grid to indicate the amount of mines in the eight surrounding tiles are all colour-coordinated, and vary in tint and shade of colour, like blue for 1, green for 2, red for 3 and so on, all the way up to light-grey 8. I don't find it completely necessary, but it's a nice touch and gives Minesweeper that unique look to it, and it's certainly much more pleasant to view than the lifeless black-and-cream colour scheme when colour is disabled.
As for sound, should your PC have any means of sound output, you can also enable sound effects should you like to add a little more atmosphere to your game; however there are only three rather bland sound effects used - the 'ticking' sound of the clock once you've clicked your first tile and set the timer going; the 'tinkerbell' victory sound upon your successful sweep of all mines on the board; and a generic 'boom' sound when you uncover a mine. Granted, there's not really much window or reason for other sound effects to be used here, but there could have been a little more; perhaps for flagging/marking tiles, or different sound effects depending on what you find underneath a tile. I always thought it would be cool if you had radar-like sound effects to denote the danger in proximity - like a little 'bip' sound to indicate minimal danger if you uncover a '1', to the full-fledged shrill alarm should you stumble across an '8'. Alas, it just isn't so. I do also personally find the 'ticking' sound of the timer to be both distracting and repetitive, so I personally prefer playing without sound on anyway. There's also no background music, which again I don't find a problem, but for those that do like music while they play, your only option would be to stick something from your iPod on to the side. Perhaps something low and tense to suit the mood, hehe.
So in conclusion, all I have to say about Minesweeper is that it's both challenging, fun (to those that can grasp its concept and enjoy games of its type), and very, very addictive. However, like most things in life, it isn't perfect. For all I love Minesweeper it does have its shortcomings, perhaps the main one in question being that it's a game that's not for everyone. It's just one that is there to take some time off your hands or keep you mildly entertained while using your PC. It doesn't have a plot, theme or point to it - it's just a straightforward pick-up-and-play game. It does the job but doesn't go above and beyond for most aspects, and if you're the type of gamer that enjoys more quality and seeks to get as much as possible from a video game experience, you won't find it here. Then again, what would you expect from a free pack-in Windows game? Otherwise, if you get into the game and do find it a joy to play, it has the replay and addiction factor like a sweet drug. Overall, a great game in my opinion, all I have to say for this review, but your own opinion may differ; nothing beats a definitive experience from a game than playing it first-hand, so try it for yourself and see.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/12, Updated 04/10/13
Game Release: Minesweeper (US, 04/06/92)
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