Yo ho, yo ho – it’s a pirate’s life for you in Caribbean Hideaway, an inspired cross between the match-three puzzle and life simulation genres. Allowing players to not only create their own hidden retreat, but also set sail for high seas adventure, the title’s bound to capture your imagination, although it’s hardly what we’d call a bar-raising classic.
Starting out, you’ll pick a name for your island then watch as it slowly populates with handkerchief- and eye-patch-sporting citizens, each a salty corsair. At first sparsely populated, the settlement soon expands as you grow in reputation by completing scenarios and spending gold earned during mindbender-filled missions to construct new buildings such as smiths, gardens and taverns. These structures don’t just provide added color in the form of on-screen decoration, but also handy bonuses as well, such as faster financial gain, access to new power-ups and renown-boosting rewards. And, of course, provide a place for you to station spare citizens, since unemployed buccaneers steal from the taxes you’ll earn with each passing turn unless a jail has been constructed first.
As for the meat of play itself – a thrilling tale starring squawking parrots, salty swashbucklers and a hunt for a missing lass, as revealed through periodic stage introductions – the action couldn’t be simpler. Each level essentially consists of a varyingly-shaped grid of tiles, all of which are stamped with different icons, e.g. gold coins, shimmering lockets, anvils, sailors and more. Using your mouse, you merely attempt to make horizontal or vertical matches of three or more similar objects by swapping tiles.
Only unlike in similar games, selected tokens needn’t be adjacent, and the icon of whichever tile you’ve last selected becomes the next you’ll have to work with in-hand. Furthermore, every stage sports one or more intriguing goals, whether it’s clearing all colored tiles from the screen, matching sharks’ heads to avoid the toothy beasts, grouping tiles bearing rival crews’ likenesses to engage in combat or pairing glistening treasure chests to recover long-lost booty. The catch: All must be accomplished before time runs out.
Of course, if you’ve built the buildings which afford access to certain power-ups, such as single-tile smashing hammers and clock-replenishing hourglasses, you’ll also find appropriate squares on the board. Match enough to fill the appropriate meter, and you can access these bonuses, which let you send armies of friendly seamen to destroy random tiles or demolish targets en masse with sizzling lightning bolts. But beware: The further you progress, the more challenges that also present themselves. Obstacles include locked pieces, oddly-shaped boards filled with choke points, squares that require multiple matches be made atop them before they’ll lose their coloring and story event-invoking tiles that can only be removed manually, not by using power-ups.
Would we describe this Jolly Roger-raising saga as a highly innovative take on an otherwise oft-used formula? In truth, no… however, the quality of sound effects, animation and dazzling musical score (think ribald tunes, exotic calypso beats and jaunty sea shanties) does deserve special mention. What’s more, the title’s flair for storytelling and constant drive to introduce new twists on each level, be they prisoners to collect, soldiers to fight or decks to swab, also proves a welcome addition.
So while it’s inevitable that the excitement associated with actual hands-on scenarios loses steam over the long haul, and interaction with your island’s inhabitants is limited, play in short spurts can prove highly rewarding. As a result, a huge variety of simple twists like ships (which you can use to smash entire rows, but must be repaired between levels) or buyable cannonballs that blow sections of the display to smithereens help endear the outing somewhat more than the average, far less-polished contender.
Never mind minor flaws like flashing clues pointing to available moves that are hard to see since so much else also twinkles and the title’s heavy reliance on basic game design conventions. Kudos to developer Twintale Entertainment for trying something slightly different, and devoting such high production values to the undertaking. Next time though? It’d be nice to see fuller expansions on both core play elements – i.e. town-building and puzzle-solving – that further elevate potential sequels apart from current category leaders, not just the run-of-the-mill desktop diversion.