Games are easy to use, but not to quit

Test: Berkeley's "After Dark Games" challenge your reflexes and knowledge, not your patience.

April 05, 1999|By Ronnie Gill | Ronnie Gill,Newsday

Looking for a great way to kill time? Try Berkeley Systems' "After Dark Games" (suggested retail $29.95, www.sierra.com). It's fun, challenging, easily accessible and diversified. One drawback: It's addictive. As in "I can't finish writing this review, because I keep going back and playing with this software" addictive.

Suitable for kids and adults, "After Dark Games" uses familiar characters from After Dark's line of screen savers to serve 11 new and classic favorites that test your brain and agility. Its CD-ROM is required only for installation, not play.

We start each day with "Hula Girl," an arcade game in which players try to jump giggly, Hula-Hoop-spinning Balula downward from one randomly arranged ascending step-sized platform to the next. Platforms may bounce, collapse, be icy-slick, contain yummy treats or yucky objects, and as the game progresses their upward motion quickens, forcing you to react faster. You won't need a caffeine boost for breakfast.

Next, we switch gears and get our brain working with "MooShu Tiles." It's a cross between Concentration and mah-jongg, in which players remove matching pairs of "free" tiles from a stack until all tiles have been removed. It sounds easier than it plays.

Traditionalists can find a graphics-enhanced version of tried-and-true Solitaire, as well as "Foggy Boxes," that childhood game of connecting dots on a grid to form more boxes than your opponent does. Your disembodied cyber-hand challenger will write an urgent "Go!!!" when you take too much time to make your move.

Word enthusiasts can try "Fish Sticks," in which you try to rearrange scrambled letters located on the sides of fish into a word before they float out of sight, or "Bad Dog 911," where competitors race to make as many words as possible out of a jumbled group to save a clock cleaner dangling from a tower before time runs out.

The human and animal tenants of "Roof Rats" also need rescuing. To do it you have to eliminate rooms that have matching colors, either horizontally or vertically.

Test your trivia skills with "Zapper," a minute-long quiz in which you earn extra time by answering three consecutive questions correctly, or try "Toaster Chase," where players try to return Baby Guy to his crib without getting toasted themselves.

You'll need speed to succeed in "Rodger Dodger," where you race to capture green spirals before odd-looking pursuers capture you, and in "Mowin' Maniac," in which players take on angry gardeners, dogs and zombies while trimming the grass.

Many of the games have adjustable skill levels, and all have kicky music and sound effects, which can be turned off if they annoy you. You can easily switch from one game to another by clicking on icons at the bottom of every screen. The top of each screen contains buttons that let you quickly change a game's options and players, as well as check your win/loss statistics or the well-illustrated rules.

We also very much like that if you get stuck, there was a one-click way to undo your last move, replay or end the game.

Here's a tip that we'll deny ever telling you: If you install "After Dark Games" at work and see your boss coming, hit the convenient sleep button on the bottom of the screen and . . . instant screen saver! They'll never know why you're working with that smile on your face.

PC users require: 486-66 or faster, Windows 95/98, 16 MB RAM, 35 MB hard disk space, 2X CD-ROM. Mac users require: Power PC, system 7.5.5 or higher, 6 MB available RAM, 35 MB hard disk space, 2X CD ROM, QuickTime 2.1 or better.

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