Windows has always come with a modest selection of builtin games, but these are often overlooked — mainly because, they’ve all been a bit basic. But if you haven’t investigated Vista’s complimentary collection of games yet, then youmight be in for a pleasant surprise. Classics such as Solitaire and Minesweeper are still present, but they have been treated to 3D makeovers and are joined by some equally addictive additional titles, including Purble Place and Inkball. Vista Home Premium and Ultimate Editions boast nine games in total, including two premiumgames; Chess and Mahjong Titans. There’s even the option to go online and download further puzzles and games — some for free. Here’s our introduction to the frequently ignored fun side of Vista.
Before you begin playing, you may want to customise your games folder using the Vista’s new Games Explorer window. Click the Start button, then in the right-hand Start Menu pane, click Games. Fromhere, you can organise your settings and games and get useful information. Click on a game, and the Community and Support menu includes access to a player community where you can get advice. There is also a link to the game’s website which can be useful for retrieving any updates issued by the publisher. The Parental Controls let users set up individual accounts to control access, set time limits and block or allow games based on content, title or ratings system. If you want to customise one of Vista’s built-in games, double-click on the icon in the Games Explorer, go to Game menu and select the Option tab. All the games come with handy hints that you can set to display during a game, but you can also download information via the Options tab.
You can play Chess Titans against the computer or another person, and customise the look of your board and pieces. Double-click on the icon, and using the Options tab, choose the level of expertise (1-10), with one being a complete beginner and 10 being the equivalent of a Russian chess master. If your chess is a little rusty, use the Helpmenu for a refresher course on the rules. The Optionsmenu also offers some useful aid for anyone who’s out of practice. You can choose to receive warnings of invalid moves, for example, or show your last move. Tick the Tips option to get hints and advice during a game. If you put yourself into a dangerous situation, the board will highlight the piece in peril and a sound effect warns you. Experts may not like this but you can also undo your last move if you make an error.
Mahjong Titans is a solitaire style game played with tiles rather than cards. The idea is to remove tiles by matching them, which is easier said than done. While you can match any flower or season tile, all othersmust be an exactmatch. You also can’t remove matched tiles blocked by other tiles. There are six layouts to choose from and don’t despair if you get stuck. In the lower right-hand corner of the screen you will be shown the number of possible matches you can make during a move. The Hint tab in the Games menu will also highlight a match.
Microsoft hasn’t forgotten younger players. Purble Place is three games in one; Comfy Cakes, Purble Shop and Purble Pairs. The games are designed to hone skills in memory, pattern recognition and reasoning. Timers can also be set, so players can work to beat the clock. But the varying degrees of difficulty within the same game mean children can advance at their own pace. Useful hints are given throughout; for example, your goal in Purble Shop is to match your character to the mystery Purble behind the curtain. Choose features from the shelves. You are then told how many, but not which feature you have right. Click on the big tick to get clues.
More suitable for older children, the idea with Inkball is to use the mouse to draw ink strokes or dots to guide balls into the right holes. Once a ball hits a line this disappears so players need to redraw lines continually. The difficulty level can be set in the menu bar at the top of the game screen. A good tip is to draw a number of lines at various angles. Since the balls bounce back at the angle they hit a wall, it can also be useful to pause the game to attempt a calculation of a ball’s trajectory. Click outside the Inkball window to pause. Click inside the window to resume.
Should Vista’s new amusements reignite a passion for play, you could consider downloading some new games. A link provided in the Games Explorer bar to Microsoft’s games website allows the user to play or buy more games (http://zone.msn.com/en/root/default.htm). You’ll find something here for just about every taste — puzzles, word games, trivia, card games, board games, arcade games and much more. You can play some online free of charge. Others are free to download but not all levels can be played or they are timelimited. There are also subscription models but this can be expensive. For example, MSN’s Gamespring will cost from around $10 per month, although it does give access to all full versions of the games hosted.