Games: Picking up the pieces

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Addiction is a terrible thing. So why do the most lauded and successful games claim this attribute as a positive? Value for money, perhaps. Why, though, with the massive technical leaps forward in video games in the past few years - smooth, detailed three-dimensional environments, sophisticated soundtracks and complicated storylines - is Tetris (pounds 19.99) still the most compelling, unputdownable game in town?

The new Game Boy Color portable console, with its high-resolution bright colours, has given a new lease of life to lots of early titles, and Tetris itself has now been reissued in a deluxe colour version, but it is the simplicity of puzzle games that makes them so irresistible. Take Hexcite (pounds 24.99), for instance, just released for the colour portable, and which hopes to claim the Tetris crown. It takes a few minutes to learn the rules and the concept, but by that time it's got you.

Imagine a board game made up of seven hexagons. You have 18 differently shaped pieces, randomly assigned by the computer, which you must place neatly on the board to collect points. Take it in turns with the computer - or another player - to get rid of your pieces first. And that's it. No, really, that's all there is to it. Bonus points for completing each hexagon on the board and time penalties in the advanced levels figure in the rules, but they're not the reason that rotating triangles and parallelograms will be invading your dreams.

The curious thing about puzzle games is that the most ardent anti-gamer, who sneers at platform, strategy and shoot-'em-up games, finds it exceedingly difficult to ignore the siren call of pastel-coloured polygons. Perhaps it's the challenge of beating a machine into submission. Or the conviction that you've learned from earlier rounds, and have got the principle sussed. Certainly, it's nothing to do with the graphics, which are uncompromisingly basic, despite the choice of colour schemes at your disposal, especially on the small Game Boy Color screen.

It's a mystery, then, but it works. Finally, it's nothing to do with the game maker's assertion that "the outcome of every game is unpredictable to the last minute". I have so far lost every game I've played. So you could probably make an informed guess as to what will happen next time. Maybe that's it - the need to beat the odds. After all, it works for the Lottery. David Phelan

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