Before you think, "Oh no, not another salon game," Spa Mania distinguishes itself from other spa and time management games – at least when it comes to the mini-games on offer. Despite getting off to a slow start, the game eventually does make the grade.

Main character Jade is protesting the use of animals in product testing outside Dubois Cosmetic Labs. After having a run-in with Madame DuBois, she meets Jake, the owner of a five star spa, and asks for a job. Thus begins Jade’s long journey to discover top therapy secrets so she can open her own Earth-friendly spa. After she learns all she can at a spa, the owner sends her off to the next locale to find more secrets. Thanks to owners who appreciate her hard work, she finds herself in Australia, Africa, Mexico, Switzerland, and other faraway places.

As she travels to new places, the spa design reflects the locale. In Australia, boomerangs adorn the walls while Asia’s spa looks like something out of a zen magazine. The spa managers also wear traditional garb representing their country’s culture. As she advances, Jade unlocks new clothing items including dress colors, shapes, shoes, and pantyhose. Players can skip the dressing up part as it doesn’t affect the game play except that you’ll see Jade wearing your creation in the next level.

Experienced time management fans can expect the usual from Spa Mania’s time management portion. Keep the customers happy and moving from station to station while treating them and collecting the cash. In the midst of the frenzy, you need to move the customers around, tell the Jeeves-like valet to refill the hot tub or dressing room, and make tea to boost customer happiness (until you can afford to hire someone). Occasionally, a nemesis peeps in to see what you’re doing. You begin with the valet and have the opportunity to hire two additional helpers.

At the end of her trip in a country, Jade plays a mini-game that teaches her how to make spa treatments and incense or reach nirvana so she can be a better masseuse. The results of the mini-games have a direct affect on the game. In the spa treatments mini-game, you have to mix two colors and then dip the resulting color on one of the color wheels with a matching wheel. For example, you receive red and you need purple, so drag the red to the blue to create purple and then drag the purple onto a purple spot. When you match three colors on a wheel, you earn treatment to use on customers.

The mini-game changes as you advance. The next time you play the spa treatment game again, for example, you’ll get a different color and it’ll result in a new kind of treatment. You can play the mini-games any time between levels when you need refills. This one wins the most creative award of the mini-games as you need to recall your color mixing knowledge and it ties beautifully with the game’s theme.

The dream mini-game requires zapping the nightmares (red circles) and leaving the good dreams (sunny yellow faces) alone. Your score depends on how many nightmares you bop. The game tells you how fast you took out the nightmare, but don’t take its word for it. It reports "slow" or "average," when you’re fast. Anyway, Jade floats higher as you remove nightmares and let the dreams flow. You feel like that, too, when staring at the screen watching for red spots. Your score adds a dollar value to your massages.

The third game produces incense. Jade scrambles left and right holding a bowl to catch falling ingredients of leaves, flowers, and fruit to make incense. The first time she does it, she needs three ingredients. The third time she does it, she needs five ingredients. So the mini-games change slightly as you advance, a welcome feature. What’s impressive about Spa Mania’s mini-games is they’re not common of mini-games unlike the infamous Memory (find a pair). It shows that it’s possible to come up with something different.

In between levels, Jade can change her outfit as well as go shopping to expand the spa. Even when changing spa locations, Jade retains all the things she has bought. Some players prefer to start over while others don’t. Since the game difficulty increases, keeping the upgrades works fine. Prior to moving to another location, players receive a story update through comic-style conversations between Jade and the owner with someone else sneaking in to rile things.

Although the game is prone to running slowly on certain computers, the free trial is more than enough time to determine whether the game plays nice with your machine. The game’s action also starts slow and becomes more gripping as you advance to later levels, so give it time.

Jade travels through 10 locations for 50 levels of gameplay. Expect to replay levels frequently due to high difficulty that kicks in around the third locale.

Customers also vary like the locales, but they don’t act differently. The main difference between customers is the level of happiness they start with when they enter the spa. Hippies, emos, pregnant women, working people, seniors, and others keep you hopping to please them.

The music provides a nice background setting along with the radio Jade can buy when she shops. Play the radio to cheer up customers and it blends right in with the music.

Although, it doesn’t quite earn the ratings expected of a five star spa, Spa Mania will draw in plenty of time management fans old and new with its original mini-games, upgrades galore, varied locales, and well-integrated storyline. Of course, players won’t feel too relaxed after a day at the spa because it’s hard work to run one! But they’ll feel great when they conquer the more difficult levels.