Every once in a while - er, a long while -- a new game debuts that has it all: a fresh concept, accessible and addictive game-play, and great graphics and sound. You know, one of those games you simply must tell your friends about?
Well, Gamezebo was granted a preview of such a game, a rare gem that may very well take the gaming world by storm. Or at least it damn well should.
This carefully conceived and proficiently executed casual game serves as a parody to our spend-happy culture. Gamers play as the hapless Lewis, who takes on a job as a clerk for a mega-superstore, "$pendmoore," and must fill customers shopping carts with all kinds of products - and deal with a berating boss who barks instructions (and insults), as well.
In the main story mode, Lewis must start on the first floor of the superstore, which sells fashion products, and work his way up the career ladder by advancing through each floor, be it toys (second floor), housewares (third floor), garden supplies (fourth floor) or luxury items (fifth floor).
The game-play works as follows: products scroll across the bottom of the screen on a conveyor belt. Lewis must click on them to pick them up (before they reach the end of the line) and place them in a customer's shopping cart. Each cart starts with a small grid (such as 2x2 for the first few levels), but can be upgraded to a 3x3 grid, 4x4 grid, and so on. In order to fit the products - such as blocks, a xylophone, teddy bear, crayons or dominoes (all found on the toy level, of course), and each one with its own unique shape - Lewis must click the right-mouse button to rotate to the piece so it fits snug in the consumers cart. Think of it as a kind of Tetris-like exercise. The bigger the cart, the more products can be shoved in it, which is, after all, the goal of the game.
When most of the squares within each customer's cart are filled up, you can click a green dollar sign to send him or her on their merry way, which makes room for new customers. If the customer's cart isn't filled to near-capacity within a predetermined time limit, the customers leave unhappily and Lewis' boss comes out and screams at you. If you get three such strikes during one of the 10 levels per floor, you must repeat the level. Other ways to lose a level include letting products fall off the end of the conveyor belt or if the player doesn't earn enough cash to advance to the next level.
Another challenging component to the game-play is that you get bonus points for loading up a cart with products of the same color (but all squares must be filled); sometimes customers will tell you what color product they want (e.g. a red blob will float over their head) so you also get bonus points for fulfilling their request. Lewis can also take advantage of his sick pet hamster, Gerry, who can help fill up extra spaces on the cart, give customers a lollypop to buy more time before they leave the store, or use any of the other many power-ups that become available throughout the course of the game. Lewis can also halt the conveyor belt for a limited time.
It' gets a bit overwhelming at times, but it won't take long for players to get into the groove of clicking on products as they appear on the conveyor belt, rotating them and dropping them into customer's cart while under the strict time restraints.
Complimenting this highly addictive game is retro-style graphics, humorous animated sequences to help push the story along and fantastic music and sound effects. With the latter, fulfilling a customers request by matching their preferred color will spawn a silly store slogan that's sung by the customers, and rises to a climatic note: "Spennnddddd More!." (think "Aaahhhhhhh...freakout!").
Shopmania also offers a clever Endless Shift mode that challenges Lewis to make quota before the clock runs out; the goal is to see how many consecutive levels Lewis can complete before messing up. Any cash earned over and above the level quota is can be used to upgrade the player's department floor in various ways, which helps add some replayability to this mode. Doing well in the story mode (called Lewis' Story) unlocks "overtime" departments (bonus levels) in this Endless Shift mode.
While this game's commercial success is to be determined, without a doubt Shopmania is one of the most unique, fun and ridiculously addictive games to reside on the Gamezebo computers. Let's hope the game reaps the attention it derives when the doors open to $pendmoore next month!