Review by Snow Dragon

"Save-the-world-by-number"

When I get out of the shower, the first place I head for is my chest of drawers for a crisp, clean pair of underwear. Initially, it's disturbing when I find none there, but the panic doesn't set in just yet. With the towel barely circumnavigating the entirety of my girth, I drip a trail of water to the garage, wherein I check the dryer for what I hope are some clean pairs. There are none.

Now I can panic.

Laundry lapses are perfectly understandable as long as they occur only in single-day spurts and are peppered lightly across the calendar. This most recent one, however, has dragged itself out into four consecutive days. I could probably recycle the same pair for one day, but if I wore the same one that long, I can only imagine the funk that would begin to radiate from it. Seeking a solution to this dilemma that does not involve actually cleaning my own undergarments myself, I peek my head into the master bedroom and notice the cause of the problem.

Mom is addicted to Minesweeper again.

Minesweeper, packed in free with every Windows OS since the Beginning of Microsoft History™, is less a game and more a dangerous addiction tantamount to nicotine and betting on horses and dogs down at the race track. With two mouse buttons controlling the action, there's not much to get used to. When you click on any of the myriad gray squares littering the most rudimentary minefield in the universe, the timer starts ticking. After that first safe square, any of the remaining ones spell out potential for explosion. Numbers play an integral part in the Minesweeper experience. When you reveal a number, it is an indicator of how many mines are located around it. When you've selected the square you think holds a mine through intuitive reasoning and context clues (I know that's a reading term, but it works here), right-click it to flag it, and again to put a question mark over it if its identity just dogs you to no end. Gameplay continues until you successfully root out all the trouble spots or blow one of them up. You click on the yellow face above, who presides indifferently over the proceedings, to start over again. I have just explained the game to you in as full detail as you or anyone would ever need. For the sake of completeness, however, I shall analyze further.

Minesweeper comes with three pre-ordained settings: Beginner (10 mines to locate), Intermediate (40) and Expert (99), although you can customize the amount to suit your faux-pyrotechnic tastes (667 max - try saving the world from that threat, friends and neighbors!). Aside from vying to peak your own best times, I don't see what there is to make this game as cool as people make it out to be. Could it be because I am no good at this game? Maybe. But really, all you are doing is right-clicking a series of tiles in a manner that craftily treads the line between ''That was an obvious one'' and ''It's this one because I say it is''. To aid the difficulty, some squares reveal multiple numbers when clicked, making it easier to find what's planted where. It takes a special breed of gamer to intuit exactly everything that is going on. There is also some distressing irony in the fact that this breed of gamer is my mother and not me.

The game benefits from the simplicity of Microsoft's 16-color palette. In a way, the soft tones massage your eyes. The line is clearly drawn between what is safe and proper ground and what is not. Numbers are for the most part written in bright colors (4 and 7 are exceptions I can think of immediately), while the mines are solid black in a way that is eerily imposing. There should never be a mistake made because you read the wrong number - they are all identified clearly by their own distinct colors. The gray play field leaves a little bit to be desired. With the advent of Windows XP, couldn't something have been improved by now? Different colors, like green for grass, could have made it look at least like you're eliminating explosive devices on some kind of terrain instead of some type of game board. I have a lot of revamped ideas for Minesweeper that Microsoft should heed. Maybe I'll mention them later.

Sound is non-existent unless you happen to own a copy of a little novelty called Talking Minesweeper released nearly a decade ago. It was a nice cheat tool - clicking a certain button let out a scream to indicate whether a tile housed a mine underneath. It added a pseudo-dimension to the game and made it possible to conquer fields containing in excess of 500 mines. What you have before you, however, is most likely the silent version, and no song goes better with it than ''One'' by Metallica. If your ears crave music, plug this one in or download it. All others who wish to clear the field in blissful solitude will be fine without so much as even monaural output. This whole game (wait, no, addiction, my bad) is one big matter of where your tastes lie.

As with most of Microsoft's freebies, the mouse is the one and only weapon available in your minesweeping crusade. Two regular buttons and a clean movement ball (or heck, a laser mouse) are the way to go to make sure you can move fluidly among tiles. Still, a hint to potential sweepers of mines: my mom was able to beat Expert in 140 seconds back when we had a pen-mouse. I tried it too back when I had an inkling of interest in the game, and suffice it to say that that is THE best medium for controlling what happens to the field of play.

For all the simplicity jammed into this piece of work, that is its primary fault - the lack of a point. Whether you win or lose, it's back to square one every time. This is where my extremely cool idea comes into play. Make Minesweeper into a fully integrated RTS with specific missions. I don't know what to make of that sentence - it was delivered to me by angelic beings on a beam of light. But there is nothing redeeming about Minesweeper - it's dumb! It's pointless! And worst of all, you're either good at it or you're not. People who get into this game will seriously need The Patch™ or to delete the game to get off the habit. It will leave those who are dumbfounded by it (me, probably a few others who overcomplicate everything) in the dust. I realize I haven't said much about this game, but the less intricate something is, the less lip service it needs. There, I'm done.

Swept Me Off My Feet
-- Accessible to most everybody
-- Colors are perfect and serve their purpose

This One's a Dud
-- Same old thing every time through
-- By now, in the eons it's been around, don't you think they could have tweaked it at least once?
-- They haven't made a Minesweeper RTS yet. Why?
-- All my gripes are personal beefs. I hate when that happens.

Score: 5


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 10/21/02, Updated 10/21/02


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