Tonight, the natives are restless. In fact, they’re more than restless. They’re downright anxious. Who wouldn’t be when the ground begins shaking, the animals run for cover and the volcano on your happy little island starts spewing fire and smoke. It’s enough to spoil your usually tranquil lifestyle big time. And, that’s exactly what’s happened in the Land of Runes.
So, what’s a concerned native to do? You could snatch the nearest dugout and paddle like crazy. Or, you might take the more responsible route and save your butt, and everyone else’s, from being burned … literally.
The challenge in Land of Runes is to save your people by removing stacks of colored runes from ancient memorials on your way to the volcano’s peak. How? By matching colored chunks of stone, rotating altar bases to find the best match and tossing your blocks into the multicolored stacks. Sound simple? Well, for the most part it is.
In essence, Land of Runes is a combination block-sliding and match-three puzzler. Gameplay spans 80 levels with 19 tile-matching bonus levels sandwiched between. Standard levels, presented in an isometric 3D perspective (bonus levels appear in a top-down, 2D viewpoint), require you to slide runes inward from the lower left and lower right sides of the platform to create three-block and larger color-coordinated combos, which then disappear. But, it’s not quite that effortless. You need to rotate the board to access its other two sides, continually spinning it as you look for the best combinations. And, you’re doing so against the clock (levels are timed, though you can switch to a timer-free mode if you wish).
Levels are comprised of various runes, including ordinary and unique. Destroying all unique runes completes a level. That means you don’t have to remove every stone to advance, just those with special markings. However, removing all the runes will increase your score, as will collecting any treasures placed adjacent to the game board (some may be partially hidden from view). If you plan wisely, your point total will benefit. But, should you not be happy with your score or if you missed a treasure, you can replay any level by selecting it from the game map screen.
Besides ordinary and unique runes, other special-purpose stones exist. For example, Triangle runes slide underneath other blocks, elevating them and turning into ordinary runes in the process. Two-Colored runes can be matched by blocks of either color and are changed into single-color runes on contact. Rocks are indestructible, Black runes assume the color of any stones that collides with them and Multi-Runes can be combined with a rune of any color. Damaged runes and Dummies, meanwhile, are chaff removed with any stone.
Bonuses, collected by sliding runes into them, also play a part in the game. Golden Coins award extra points, Sundials add time to the clock, Bombs destroy nearby objects, Crushers eliminate all objects in a straight path, Earthquakes destroy all Damaged runes and Dummies, and Lightning destroys the tallest column on the board.
You earn trophies during play, as well. Pull off ten bonus chains in a row and receive the Golden Chain while the Amulet is awarded for destroying 1,000 runes and the Sundial for completing a level quickly. Score 1,000,000 points and you receive the Volcanic Crystal. A total of fifteen awards are possible.
In all, Land of Runes is a highly addictive game. It’s very hard to quit once started. Graphics and music are capably handled, a decent selection of rune types, bonuses and awards are incorporated in the package, and the game offers solid replay value.
But, it’s not tremor free. While Land of Runes installed fine, it wouldn’t run under Windows Vista without tweaking compatibility settings (choosing Windows 98/Windows Me allowed the game to run, but only with low-resolution graphics). Plus, when trying to adjust game settings (music, sound, graphics and screen resolution), the game continually locked and crashed, spitting out a “Critical Error” message in broken English.
There’s also an issue of questionable content during the game’s introduction, though it’s only viewed when a new game is begun. Not to be prudish, but the inclusion of hand-drawn, National Geographic-style artwork depicting bare butts and breasts seems out of place in a casual game intended for the whole family (as a cartoon, it would receive an “R” rating).
Still, Land of Runes offers a compelling and enjoyable game experience, though one marred by Vista compatibility issues and some racy imagery. It’s your choice whether that’s acceptable or not.