Taking a cruise on Ocean Express requires the requisite packing — but not for dancing on the luxury line. Rather, barges are readied for a possible grand tour of ten port cities.
This is where you come in, sailor.
Consider these ocean liner docks a kind of giant crossword grid and it’s your job to properly pack the cargo before you ship off. To pack efficiently, the player must fill the available space on the grid with differently shaped packages from a conveyor belt. Luckily, the player has the ability to rotate shapes, as in Tetris, for the best possible fit. You don’t need to fill up every space but missing one or two will eat away at your profit potential.
For example, you may see a spot for an “L” shaped piece on the deck, so you’ll look for the corresponding shape at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the right-mouse button with puzzle piece in hand rotates the cargo so that it fits snugly into this space. The more skilled you get at packing, the more likely you’ll travel to more ports and upgrade your fleet.
All ports require a shipping goal that must be met. In addition, barges must depart on time, so you must keep an eye on the clock near the bottom of the screen. The big-ticket specialty items, like King Crab from Anchorage and Chocolates from San Francisco, are oddball shapes that increase profits but fit awkwardly into barges. Every success leads to more tokens, which allows the player to purchase more barges or access more ports. Each port has these specialty items – others include Hawaiian pineapples, Tokyo sushi and boomerangs — and once accessed, it’s available at every port. Opportunities exist to either add minutes to the departure time or to gain bonus tokens or cash.
With infinite levels, hours can slip by in one sitting, especially since the basic concept behind Ocean Express is not hard to master. As an experience, it’s quite pleasant with soothing melodies and good animation. For variety’s sake, new puzzle barges can be downloaded or created with an easy-to-use editor. Casual mode and expert mode are not that different, except that experts face shorter departure times, higher shipping goals and higher penalties. The high scores for casual and expert mode are viewable after every game.
Higher levels bring a more frenzied pace, so the player may have to dump a lot of extraneous packages in the ocean before getting the accommodating shape. The game begins to feel like the Boston Tea Party. As a side activity, throwing cargo overboard is particularly enjoyable, but horrible for the bottom line since every package lost to the ocean is discounted from overall profits.
While shipping for the short haul is pleasing, after some repeated runs, the game feels lacking in gameplay features. Sometimes, reaching the shipping goal seems less about skill and more a matter of luck since what’s available on the conveyor belt is purely random. Perhaps the challenges such as bonus tokens could be introduced more gradually. At the beginning, it can be quite bewildering to deal with all the variables. As the game progresses beyond the thrill of accessing new ports, however, the challenges become lackluster. It was especially disappointing to discover that expert mode was merely a fiercer version of casual mode. It would have been more interesting if experts were offered a different mode of play or special skills. Ultimately, some may find the chore of packing becoming rather monotonous.
For the packing perfectionists, Ocean Express could be their newest addiction. The different shapes and different puzzle barges definitely encourage replayability. Overall, it’s a worthwhile venture for people who enjoy Tetris or Inlay-style puzzles. But for others who crave adventure tours rather than relaxing holidays, Ocean Express may not be the ideal vacation.