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7 Wonders of the Ancient World (PSP) artwork

7 Wonders of the Ancient World (PSP) review

"After all, the 8 levels you get here will probably last you around that many hours before you complete them, and you can then go back and play them for better scores. Really, it all comes down to how the game plays. Thanks to power-ups and cornerstones, it plays pretty well."

The ancient world was a pretty interesting place, full of temples and gardens, towers and gargantuan statues. Mankind is marked by its desire to create, to leave something behind that can be remembered hundreds of years after artists and architects have turned to dust. From the pyramids built to guide Egypt’s lost rulers to the afterlife to the lighthouse at Alexandria with its famous beacon meant to guide ships safely into Egypt’s rocky shores, the world contained numerous structures that are remembered hundreds of years after earthquakes and war got the better of them. 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, a PSP puzzle game from MumboJumbo, celebrates those impressive monuments to man’s ingenuity and aesthetic sensibilities. It’s a neat theme for a puzzle game, but odds are pretty good you’ll be thinking about pyramids and lost cities long after you’ve forgotten about UMDs and handheld gaming systems.

The basic idea in 7 Wonders of the Ancient World is that you need to arrange blocks so that three of a kind run together in a horizontal or vertical row. When you accomplish that feat, they’ll flash and disappear. More blocks will then fall into your area of operation, so that it constantly remains full. As a timer ticks down--represented by a meter to the right side of the screen--you must look for and find enough matches to satisfy the requirements of whatever mode you happen to be playing.

As the game’s packaging mentions, there are precisely three modes: Story, Free Play and Rune Quest. That sounds good on paper, and it sounds even better when you notice another impressive statistic: the game includes 192 levels of exhilarating gameplay! It’s enough to take a person’s breath away, but don’t reach for that oxygen tank just yet. While those statistics are technically correct, what you really get feels a lot more like 8 levels than 192. Not only that, but the three modes don’t really affect how you play the game. They merely tweak your objectives.

Story Mode is the main attraction. You play it to unlock later levels. A level--which is decorated by little sprites that slowly build one of the world’s wonders as you progress--consists of eight stages. Once you complete all eight of them, you’ve conquered that level and you can move onto the next fabulous monument. There are eight levels in all, since the developers apparently wanted a nice round number and included the fictional city of Atlantis. Once unlocked, any level can then be played through in Free Play mode (which is absolutely nothing more than a level select that lets you play your favorite segment of the story mode). Rune Quest, the third mode, also counts on you to have played through Story Mode. You’ll revisit the familiar levels, only now you must conquer them by causing specific blocks to vanish. That’s where that ‘192’ number comes into play. If you play through the same 64 stages that make up the included set of levels in each of the three modes, well… do the math.

Right now, the game may sound pretty poor, but it really isn’t. Despite the mathematical wizardry in play on its packaging, 7 Wonders of the Ancient World is actually a pretty decent value. After all, the 8 levels you get here will probably last you around that many hours before you complete them, and you can then go back and play them for better scores. Really, it all comes down to how the game plays. Thanks to power-ups and cornerstones, it plays pretty well.

Power-ups appear when you manage to eradicate more than three blocks at a time. This actually doesn’t happen particularly often, but when it does you get a delightful special block. If you’ve removed four identical blocks at once, the piece that appears will eliminate a horizontal row once you move it. That can definitely come in handy. If you manage to remove five blocks at once, you’ll receive a special piece that clears rows in a cross pattern. It’s twice as useful, but more difficult to obtain. Once you’ve caused four of these special pieces to appear in a round, you’ll also receive a bonus piece that will randomly remove a large number of blocks from the screen when activated.

The power-up blocks force more strategy than might otherwise have been required. When you cause one to appear, the temptation might be to immediately put it to use. However, it might not materialize where you need it most. Thus, you’re frequently faced with a quandary: do you activate it now for moderate effectiveness and hope that a nice combo results, or do you move some blocks out of the way so that it falls into a more useful location? Also, the last thing you want to do is put it to use before you’ve removed any obvious block chunks from the screen.

The cornerstones I mentioned are the other reason strategy is so crucial, and they’re the reason you’ll spend much of later levels maneuvering your power-up blocks. The way the game works is that each section within a level contains one or two cornerstone and capstone pieces. These aren’t visible when you first start clearing debris, but they slowly will drop into sight as a stage progresses. You can’t move them at all. Instead, you have to clear a path for them to drop straight toward the bottom of the screen. Before you can complete a stage, these special blocks need to have dropped off the bottom of the puzzle area. You might see a great combo you can put into play, but until you’ve rid yourself of the capstones and cornerstones, you can’t really do so. Instead, you have to plan ahead.

Suddenly, a typical stage is much more than just a lazy effort to line up three blocks. Early areas are quite simple, but the later ones will find you sliding pieces all over the place, crossing your fingers for a power-up piece that will help you to escape the current stage unscathed. After all, you only have a few ‘lives.’ If you mess up too many times within a level, the game ends and you have to start from the beginning of the current set of eight stages. Somehow, that simple dynamic is enough to keep a person playing long after his eyes begin to tire and he thinks about heading to bed. 7 Wonders of the Ancient World may not be as impressive and deep as its packaging implies, but it’s still pretty dang cool. Give it a shot.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 17, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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