Mars Needs Cows for Palm OS & Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, August 2005
Developed by: Astraware and PopCap Games
Available at : Astraware
Requires: Palm OS 4.0 or later; game music requires Palm Zire 71 or Tungsten T, T1, T2, T3, C, E, Treo 600 or Sony UX series; versions available for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile and Smartphones
MSRP: US$14.95

Whether or not the planet Mars is really in need of cows, of course, is not the point of this game. And how can anyone pursue a serious game goal when each of the game characters (a pig, a cow and a sheep) periodically emit word bubbles such as "moo" "cluk" and "oink"? Furthermore, how the heck are you supposed to figure out some of the puzzles when the game board itself becomes dangerous place to play (characters being eaten by wolves and shot by irate farmers when you move a character close by). Well a game is a game most of the time and this one manages to be challenging and goofy/funny at the same time. Astraware develops, co-develops, markets and promotes an enormous wealth of software for Palm OS, Pocket PC, Blackberry and Smartphone. The company has a stable of retail products online which should be the envy of the online retail business.

Mars Needs Cows was actually developed by PopCap games, yet another brilliant and prolific software house. The game features decent sprites, full color and an easy to understand game concept. Basically, it's a puzzle-type brain teaser, played on a grid game board. You have to move different characters, as instructed for each level, onto a teleporter which then beams them up to a waiting spacecraft (bound, according to the backstory, for Mars). That's the thing then—apparently, Mars needs cows. Okay. It's silly.

Silly. The thing is, this sucker is challenging. It starts off easy enough. The blocker characters remain peacefully non-aggressive and utterly harmless for the first range of levels (you have to continually beat point plateaus). Then things begin to get progressively more difficult. Aggressive blockers appear including farmers with shotguns and wolves that eat the chicken characters, the game perimeter occasionally turns into an electric fence which fries anything that touches it, and the opening character positions get more and more difficult to resolve into successful beam ups.

I was sitting in a waiting room, having arrived early for a business meeting. I was killing some time, playing Mars Needs Cows. A receptionist called my name three times before I tore myself away from the game. It's absorbing, easy to play and completely carefree. You can leave a game session at any time without penalty and resume exactly where you left off. Getting to the home screen lets you select easy, medium of hard play levels. Game settings are configurable, making it easy to customize gameplay to best suit your PDA.

Cons: PopCap has created better looking graphics for other games. The graphics in Mars Needs Cows are passable and recognizable and all that, but on a high resolution screen it's obvious that a little more work can be done in this area. I accidentally tapped past one of the periodic statistic screens and missed the opportunity to enter my name alongside my high score, then discovered you can't get into the stat database to edit or re-enter a name. Bummer. Game music and sound effects do not work on most Sony Clie PDAs and most pre-Zire color Palms.

Pros: Absorbing, lightweight game play which makes for an excellent time waster. Challenging enough to force you to think a number of moves ahead. Almost good enough to be a basic chess preparation exercise (without diagonal Bishops and Queens that is). Game code makes use of all the different 4 & 5 way joypads on PDAs and Smartphones. Goofy backstory will make you laugh periodically. Three difficulty levels, and I recommend you do Easy and Medium before you tackle Hard. Lots of fun. Recommended.

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