Study: Casual Video Games Helps Reduce Depression and Anxiety

Friday, February 18th, 2011 at 9:46 AM | Category: Casual Games Reviews, News & Talk, Game News, Mac Games, Match 3 Game, PC Games, Puzzle Games No comments

I believe this to be true. At the end of 2009, I played Bejeweled Blitz for hours — something I rarely do. We had a family crisis and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Playing the game gave me purpose (trying to top my friends’ high scores) and helped me relax a little. Games also come to the rescue when my brain won’t focus.

It’s like those times when you don’t feel like going to a party or another social event. Once you get there, smile and chat… you feel better. Casual games (non-violent, family-friendly) do that for me and I can get on with my day. Here are the details of the study:

East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic completed a year-long randomized, controlled clinical study to look at the efficiency of casual video games for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Almost 60 subjects that met the criteria of clinical depression participated in the study. Half of the subjects were part of the control group. The participants played three family-friendly, non-violent puzzle games: Bejeweled 2, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures. (All of the games are made by PopCap Games, underwriter of the study.)

The result was a 57 percent reduction of depression symptoms along with improved moods.

“The results of this study clearly demonstrate the intrinsic value of certain casual games in terms of significant, positive effects on the moods and anxiety levels of people suffering from any level of depression,” stated Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Director of the Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic at ECU and the professor who oversaw the study (as well as previous studies involving the same games’ effects on stress levels). “In my opinion the findings support the possibility of using prescribed casual video games for treating depression and anxiety as an adjunct to, or perhaps even a replacement for, standard therapies including medication.”

Ehh… I’m not sure I’d recommend games as a replacement to standard therapies and medicine. But at least, it’s an option that might work with all the therapies or for those who are just feeling down, but haven’t been diagnosed with depression. Depression is a real problem, a real illness. But some don’t see it as a real illness without physical symptoms. Nonetheless, games do affect the mood and chase the doldrums away.

Russoniello said that the games had both short term (after 30 minutes of game play) and long term (after one month) effects when compared to the control group.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Meryl Evans

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Cradle of Rome 2 PC Game Review

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 at 11:23 AM | Category: Casual Games Reviews, News & Talk, Game Reviews, Mac Games, Match 3 Game, PC Games No comments

Friends, Romans, countryfolk… lend me your eyes. Cradle of Rome swallowed up a lot of my time for weeks as I matched my way to level 100. When I reached the 100th level, I had one citizen that I left to earn and could never get that guy. I let it go and accepted the Roman journey more than satisfied and delighted me.

Last year, I reported Cradle of Rome 2 was on its way. And many others kept asking when it was hitting the streets. As eager as I wanted to go on another journey in Rome, I figured Awem wanted to perfect the game before sharing it with the world. Sometimes deadlines need missing for quality’s sake.

And you might expect, Cradle of Rome 2 was worth the wait. After all, it was enough time to memorize Marc Antony’s speech from Julius Caesar. No excuses for not knowing it by memory. Hey, I memorized it in 10th grade. Funny thing about memorized poems and speeches, I end up like the author, play or whatever they’re from. Anyhoo… the game!

Adventure Mode — my favorite mode by far — of the match three game opens with the miracle story of two brothers and asks you to restore Rome’s glory by buying blueprints and then constructing the building. This makes way for the tie in with the mini-games to give them a little purpose. First, you start playing level 1 and make matches until you break all of the blue tiles. You’ll be done within 30 seconds with just four blue tiles.

Cradle of Rome 2As you make matches, you earn units of food, gold and supplies. Every blueprint costs so much food, gold and supplies. Once you have enough for a blueprint, you can buy it after successfully completing the mini game behind it. Mini games include jigsaw puzzles and finding matching pairs. While these are common mini games, it’s a little break from the matching grind. Completed jigsaw puzzles reveal a building blueprint — so that’s a great tie in with the story.

After completing a building, you can earn a citizen. Every citizen comes with a task you need to complete during the matching to win the citizen. It may be making as simple as matching five tiles to as challenging as making 10 moves in 10 seconds. Adding citizens also gives you an advantage in the game. One citizen gives you 500 extra units of gold in every new level. Another fills up a bonus faster. These bonuses can make or break a level for you depending on your strategy. Bonuses gives you more time, destroy all of the same type of tile, break one tile and so on.

Not only do you win trophies for every citizen, but also for special events such as completing five levels without a time warning and playing the whole game without losing a life.

New in Cradle of Rome 2 are the nasty skulls. When you match three skulls, it puts three blue tiles back on the board. Yeah, like I said, nasty things. As annoying as they are, they increased the game’s challenge. At least, they don’t show up in back to back levels. So you do get a break. Sort of. When not facing skulls, you may face narrow rows or columns that make it hard to break the tiles in them.

Two other modes include Tourney and Blitz. You unlock Tourney after scoring 500,000 points. Blitz stays locked until you’ve finished all 100 levels. These modes rely heavily on the clock, which turns me into a panicky gal. I prefer the clock in Adventure Mode. In Tourney, you have to break all the tiles in the level as fast as you can. The faster you finish the level, the higher your award.

Cradle of Rome 2Let’s say on Level 1, you need to complete the level within 10 seconds to get the gold medal, 15 seconds to get silver, 20 seconds to get bronze or end up with nothing. Seeing the little medal flash from gold to silver to bronze to zilch drove me batty. Even putting my hand over that area of the screen — it was HARD to even get a bronze medal in spite of all the tips and tricks I deployed.

I can tolerate Blitz more than Tourney. This one resembles what you may know as Endless Mode in other games. As long as you keep making matches, the clock slows down. Keep playing levels until the clock runs out. Like I said, I’m jumpy when it comes to heavier timed games, but those who love it will enjoy getting more out of the game.

Cradle of Rome 2. Worth. It.

Download and try Cradle of Rome 2. (Here’s the Mac version.)

FCC warning: The reviewer had a small role in the development of the game and received a copy of the game from the company, which in now way influences whether the game review is good, bad, reviewed or mentioned.

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PC Game Review: Bejeweled 3

Friday, December 17th, 2010 at 3:20 PM | Category: Arcade Games, Casual Games Reviews, News & Talk, Mac Games, Match 3 Game, PC Games No comments

Addicting games on handheld devices first showed up on the Palm Pilot, not the iPhone or iPod Touch. Bejeweled 3I went to Astraware for Palm games because the company developed bright, sharp colored games that played well on the small touchscreen. (It still does.)

Would you believe that the games on my younger BlackBerry never captivated me like the older Palm device did? Not even close. Playing games on the BlackBerry felt clumsy with ho hum graphics.

Ah, I’m getting off track. Back to the point of the Palm story. One of the earlier games I played on the Palm was Diamond Mine, the game now known as Bejeweled. Popcap Games captured a new audience on Facebook with Bejeweled Blitz (BB). (And now with Zuma Blitz. Grr… I don’t have time for these addictions!) You had one minute to make as many matches as you could.

Bejeweled 3 Quest ModePopcap not only had my friends smack talking me in the game, but also it reeled in my entire family including Mom, sis and bro. Mom played some computer games, but BB had her checking in Facebook daily. Sis and bro didn’t play many games until BB. Family gatherings turned into smack talk fests and “How did you get ##### score??”

The company wouldn’t stop there in fear it can’t repeat the success it had with BB. Never. This company is responsible for hypnotizing gamers with its incredible, clever and creative Plants vs. Zombies. Popcap is also responsible for other game addictions including Chuzzle and Zuma.

Bejeweled 3 comes with more matching magnetism, smashing sound effects, mesmerizing graphics and spellbinding games. Sequels don’t always do much more than give you more of the same with a different design. Not Bejeweled 3. The game takes a quantum leap compared to most — if not all — sequels. This comes with more game modes, eight mini-games, supercharged sound (even *I* can tell) and high-definition graphics (1920 x 1200 in ultra mode).

Classic and Zen mode are the same. In Classic, you keep making moves until you run out. However, you get a new gem known as the Star gem and when you finish the level, the jewels travel through an breathtaking tunnel. Even my youngest exclaimed, “Coooool!” Zen always has a match waiting for you as the point is to enjoy, be in the moment and take a break from the mean ol’ competitive world. Zen mode also soothes you with its sounds and gives you lots of options so you won’t need Calgon to take you away.

The new modes:

  • Butterflies: Butterflies appear on the board and you need to match them with the same colored gems to prevent them from falling into spider’s hands … legs. Now, my family will tell you I hate spiders including fake ones, even as stuffed animals or jewelry. Yet, I found myself entranced by the game trying to free the butterflies to avoid the ugly, scary, mean spider.
  • Poker: Instead of matching anything and everything you can, you need to plan and strategize to make the most of your five moves. The better your hand, the more points you score. As you progress in the game, a skull appears on the worst hand — a pair. So if all you do is score a pair, then it could be game over — it all depends on the flip of the coin. Land the four-leaf clover, you can keep playing. Get the skull, you’re done. More skulls will appear forcing you to make the best hands possible.
  • Ice storm: This one makes me panic as I have to move fast to prevent the ice filling up the column. I don’t do speed games well, but it’s a chiller and thriller that will please fast-paced game fans.
  • Diamond mine: Use your matches to dig in the dirt to release gold and artifacts.

Bejeweled 3 PokerOne more special mode is Quest mode. Like Adventure modes you see in most casual games, it’s more of play it one time and then you probably won’t want to replay it. I loved this mode and it helped me get to know some of the new modes while playing a couple of new mini-games like alchemy where you need to make matches until the board fills with gold.

The game has 65 achievement badges that will encourage you to keep going so you can win every badge. Furthermore, the end of every game displays statistics. Oh, and Bejeweled 3 steals a page from Peggle with replays. It doesn’t have the same charm as Peggle‘s, but it’s there for you to enjoy when you do amazing plays.

What’s most impressive about number three is that several modes grip me. Most games just have one mode that I play again and again. In Bejeweled 3, I’ll be doing Butterfly one day and the next I’m drawn to Poker.

Bejeweled 3 is worth it. If you like any of the others, you’ll be thrilled with this one — it’ll make you forget the others as well as whatever games you’re playing. The game sounds like an exaggeration, but Popcap went all in with this one.

Download and try Bejeweled 3.

FCC alert: Reviewer received a review copy from the publisher. It had no bearing on the review.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Meryl Evans

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PC Game Review: Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 9:16 AM | Category: Adventure Games, Casual Games Reviews, News & Talk, Game Reviews, Mac Games, PC Games 2 comments

The Dream Chronicles series comes close to poetry in motion a la video game style with its picturesque design, lyrical story and piquant game play. While the series keeps the rhythm going, it loses a little luster with Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air, the fourth game in the adventure game series. Faye’s daughter, Lyra takes the lead in this one where she finds herself alone with the only communication coming from her grandfather in the form of notes.

Tangle, Lyra’s grandfather, tells her to find the Clockmaster to get herself out of her tangled situation of being in another dimension. She travels in an air ship to complete her tasks based on her grandfather’s notes to bring her a step closer to finding the Clockmaster and getting him to help her.

As usual, you collect dream jewels with one new twist (about time). When you collect enough dream jewels, you earn a spell that will help you in your journey. The game contains five spells. Don’t fret if you miss a dream jewel like I did (I played a puzzle before picking up the jewels and couldn’t return to the scene of the puzzle after finishing it) because it won’t affect your earning the spells. There are plenty of dream jewels leftover. Once you obtain all the spells, finding dream jewels turns into a small side challenge with no bearing on the game play.

One puzzle befuddled me — the one near the end that involves a scale. I calibrated all of them and still nothing happened. I searched for solutions, but all said I did it right. Hmm… I had to skip it to move on. The improved hint system couldn’t save me. Now the game’s hint system points to dream jewels, so you can make sure you’ve picked up every nook and cranny. But you don’t get to choose the hint it gives you.

Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air has two game modes: Casual and Challenge. Casual lets you skip games after so much time has passed while Challenge won’t. The puzzles, of course, are a little harder in Challenge mode.

The story had little going on beyond find Clockmaster and find the keys. I almost didn’t mind that I didn’t catch some of the cut scenes because there was little mystery to reel you in. The puzzles and interactive parts of the game didn’t bring in anything new like the previous Dream Chronicles games had. I understand adventure games like this one with rich details and interactive puzzles take more time to develop, but this one was notably shorter than the others. Despite the disappointment, I still enjoyed some of the point-and-click puzzles and will check out the next one when it comes — this is the first of a new trilogy — I just hope we see a step forward and not a step back.

If you haven’t played the others, check them first: Dream Chronicles, Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze and Dream Chronicles: The Chosen Child.

Free DownloadDownload and try Dream Chronicles: The Book of Air.

FTC disclosure: Reviewer received copy from affiliate, which had no influence on the review.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Meryl Evans

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Wedding Dash 4-Ever PC Game Review

Monday, October 18th, 2010 at 11:49 AM | Category: Casual Games Reviews, News & Talk, Diner Games, Game Reviews, Mac Games, PC Games, Time Management No comments

The fourth Wedding Dash game opens with Quinn’s Mom coming home to help her wedding business and preparing for Quinn’s wedding to Joe. Uh oh. Mom doesn’t know that Quinn and Joe called off the wedding. Talk about a twist as most people probably expected this one to cover their wedding. Aside from a couple of tweaks — one of which affects strategy — the fun series remains entertaining albeit a couple of disappointments.

The premise remains the same. As Quinn and Flo, you seat the guests, serve them and prevent disasters earning enough points to beat the goal score to go on to the next level. For those who like the extra challenge, they can aim to beat the expert goal score. It doesn’t lead to bonuses or anything. Just motivates those who want to go the distance.

Another way to further challenge yourself is to change the game setting from Normal to Firecracker. You may play through the entire game in Normal and then switch to Firecracker. This ups the game’s replayability, but there’s no second game mode to be had. That’s neither a good nor bad thing. Other game modes don’t always attract players.

Wedding Dash 4-EverYou replay a level when you miss the goal score or you don’t find all of the hidden items. If you don’t get all the hidden items, you don’t get a gift to play Quinn’s Big Day. You must collect all 50 gifts from 50 levels to play the Big Day, which turns out to be a disappointment.

On one hand, it’s a good thing it’s just one game as some people may struggle to find all the hidden items or prefer not to play that part of the game. On the other, when the game is called Level 6-1, you’re thinking you have 10 levels of game play left. You don’t. It just ends. I’m not the only one thinking this because I searched the Internet thinking something broke in my game. It didn’t.

Wedding Dash 4-EverOne improvement is that you no longer have to read about the couple and their preferences, and then answer questions to get points. Instead, you look for items on the scene such as silverware, rings, tickets. When you find all the items, the newlyweds thank you with a gift of something to use in Quinn’s called-off wedding. It could be flowers, seating, decorations.

Another cool twist — and the one that changes strategy — is the bride and groom will ask to sit at a certain table or next to a guest. Once you seat them and feed them, you can send them back to the altar and ta-da! Room again for guests. It doesn’t sound like much, but it affects how you handle the game play.

Plus, when they ask to be seated again a second and third time, you’ll need to feed them the entree and cake. So it could mess with your chaining bonus. (A chaining bonus comes in when you do the same thing in a row and points increase. For example, feeding guests appetizers.)

Wedding Dash 4-EverNew in Wedding Dash 4-Ever is guest requests for photos with the wedding couple. The request comes after the guest finishes eating cake and prior to going out on the dance floor.

Also new are two mini-games. (See both in last two screen shots.) One mini-game involves seating guests at the wedding ceremony based on their preferences. The other is trying to get all the guests to join in the conga line. In leading the conga line, the next guest must be in a straight line from the current one and you must figure out the direction to go that gets you through all the guests to the newlyweds.

Upgrades to speed Flo and Quinn, have more servings of food available and more are also present. You earn the money in playing previous levels and mini-games. Quinn also has to deal with disasters such as the aunt who cries when she loses her dog, giving the microphone to a guest who wants to make a speech and so on. They keep you hopping.

Much of the game play remains the same save for a couple of twists. You also may not feel the need to read much about the couple since there’s no questions being asked. The story was average, but an unexpected one. Wedding Dash 4-Ever reeled me in like the previous ones, but did become tedious at times especially in the later levels when my hand was cramping from doing so much at once.

FTC disclosure  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Meryl Evanssecured by Digiprove © 2010 Meryl Evans

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