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Berkeley Systems After Dark Games
Small, simple, and productivity-killing
After Dark Games
Berkeley Systems
Windows, Power Macintosh
Is it me, or has everyone forgotten the whole purpose of a screen saver? I've never understood why anyone would have, say, a stock ticker in an application which is only supposed to appear when you've left your computer.

Berkeley Systems' new game package, After Dark Games, is the latest culprit. You might say that they, of all companies, are allowed to do such a thing, since their wildly popular After Dark screen savers helped turn screen savers from boring necessities to marketable and entertaining eye candy. Still, so far as I was concerned, the name After Dark Games was a bit of a contradiction. I stopped caring after the first few minutes of playtime, however; After Dark Games had sucked me in completely in no time at all.

You see, I'm an old-school gamer. While I love space combat simulators, I'm not much for the twitch games which seem so popular these days, nor do I have the time for overwrought strategy and adventure games. I want to get in, blow something up or solve a puzzle, and get out.

There aren't many explosions in After Dark Games, but for the most part the 11 games contained on the CD keep the mental gears turning. Four of the games (Hula Girl, Mowin' Maniac, Rodger Dodger, and Toaster Run) owe a considerable debt to the early days of computer and arcade games. You spend more time avoiding obstacles and picking up prizes than anything else, and there's little to worry about except for immediate threats. It wears thin if, like me, you spent much of your adolescence with those kinds of games.

Three of the games (Foggy Boxes, After Dark Solitaire, and MooShu Tiles) are repackaged oldies, though that's not a bad thing. Foggy Boxes is a digital version of an old pencil-and-paper standard: you and your opponent (the computer, playing the enigmatic "foggy hand") play on an 8x10 grid of dots, alternately drawing vertices to make as many squares as possible. It's a simply elegant territorial game, but it gets tiring after a while because there's only one type of grid available. After Dark Solitaire is a more aesthetically pleasing version of the Windows standby, and MooShu Tiles, a Mahjongg-tile removal game, is no less entertaining than all the other Mahjongg-tile removal games.

Three games (Fish Shtick, Bad Dog 911, and Zapper) are pretty straightforward: the first two are word-unscrambling puzzles, the latter a trivia game. All have some kind of time limit to keep things exciting, and your neurons hopping. Zapper has another wrinkle: you get bonus points (and extra time) for getting several right answers in a row.

Without a doubt, the star attraction of After Dark Games is Roof Rats. Roof Rats is the latest in the long line of Tetris-like games that can easily cut your productivity down to nothing. Generating more plaintive promises of "just one more game" than the other ten games put together, Roof Rats has the same addictive arrange-the-blocks theme as Tetris, but in reverse: here you remove similarly-colored rooms from a building, in order to get the people and animals stranded on the roof (including the titular rodents) safely to the ground. Some characters don't have to make it all the way to the ground; the buff Marines, for instance, can rappel down from five stories up. At the other extreme, the old ladies have to be lowered all the way down.

Roof Rats' appeal is that the premise is so simple that you unconsciously think it should be simple. In reality, Roof Rats requires that you mentally map out cause and effect, taking in the big picture with every mouse click. The game is easily worth the cost of the whole package.

All the games in the package have attractive graphics, cute animation, and a certain level of customizability--at the very least, you're given the option of Easy, Medium, or Hard for most games--and After Dark Games can store players' names and remember their high scores and settings for each game. Coupled with the lax minimum requirements (35 MB free hard disk space, any old CD-ROM, and a 486SX or PowerMac? No problem!) and the low cost, I'd say Berkeley has another winner on their hands.

Originally printed in The Computer Paper (May 1999)
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