A spot of good news for fans of pattern-matching puzzlers… While casino-themed outing Tropicabana might not be the most innovative match-three outing we’ve seen, it’s definitely one of the more original. Successfully capitalizing on a tried and true formula, while also placing a greater emphasis on music and atmosphere than rivals, a few minor quirks notwithstanding, the game comes highly recommended.
The first thing you’ll inevitably notice about the title is its bizarre presentation, featuring anthropomorphic animals like frogs in cummerbunds, geckos playing piano and crabs that dance and shake maracas. As the storyline goes, a new hotel’s opened, and you’re there to help the venue improve its musical revues, drawing bigger crowds and raking in the dollars. As such, each level – divided into a grid of hexagon-shaped titles containing icons representing guitars, keyboards, saxophones and other instruments – takes place underneath the spotlights up on stage, in front of a cheering crowd of silhouettes.
Per typical genre outings, play’s simple to learn, hard to master. The basic challenge: By clicking on two tiles in succession to make them swap position, create groups of three or more identical, adjacently-positioned symbols, which then disappear from play, causing higher-situated icons to fall and fill in the gaps. Make matches on tiles with colored backgrounds enough times and they’ll crack and shatter, clearing the hex, with victory attained when all colored tiles are removed from the board. Depending on how many combos you land, fast you finish the scenario and much you keep the audience hooting and hollering throughout, the better you’ll be rated on your performance at the end, and more cash you’ll ultimately earn.
A few things to keep in mind, though. For one, it’s imperative to watch out for pesky stage mice, which swing onto the screen, rocket out of cannons, or leap off trampolines and quickly restore color to cleared tiles unless you fry them first by using an aiming cursor and clicking frantically. Likewise, additional obstacles – such as metallic tiles removable only by matching groups of four or more icons atop them – frequently appear, a ticking timer must always be kept abreast of and base level configurations grow increasingly tricky the further you progress.
Mercifully, power-ups like random hex-destroying lightning strikes and tile-shuffling mixers – powered by a combo-fueled applause meter – help even the odds. You can also give yourself a boost by using earnings to buy upgrades between stages like palm trees, singing birds and flamingo dancers, or help human counterpart Manuel advance up the corporate ranks.
These bonuses aid you by increasing financial payouts, making it easier to move the crowd or introducing power-ups faster. Collectible awards (bestowed for reaching certain goals, such as eliminating a specific number of tiles or cherry bombing the snot out of flying rodents in occasional bonus rounds) also amuse. And, in an especially interesting twist, there’s even a casino area where you can gamble winnings by playing the slots, roulette or blackjack.
To be fair, it’s nothing we haven’t encountered before in terms of general setup, or a revolutionary jump beyond what’s offered by most competitors. Nor, in all honesty, do we dig the fact you can’t right-click to deselect accidentally highlighted tiles and periodic glitches sometimes prevent symbols from tumbling down into open holes. Having to repeatedly sit through canned animations following each level’s completion isn’t exactly the bee’s knees either. But the sheer caliber of the game’s soundtrack – a riveting mix of big band, swing and Latin-flavored numbers – and general level of overall polish happily keep such minor niggles from presenting any show-stopping hang-ups.
The end result being as follows: Clever, quirky and more than a little replay friendly, we wouldn’t put Tropicabana up there with the all-time greats. Still, if you’re looking for something cool and slightly off-kilter, it harkens back to the glory days of stand-up microphones, tuxedoed crooners and glittering strips the way few clearly old-school-Vegas-inspired desktop diversions can.