Overall Score 88%
There aren't many games you can play with just one button. Even Space Invaders needs three buttons; Pong, two. Step up, Mystic Mine - a frantic little game of fun and frolics with just one key per player. Guide your mine cart around the mine and pick up coins, gems and more. Play alone against the clock, or battle against other players in your quest to become rich.
So how does it work? You operate a mine cart, going around a series of loopy mine tracks and collecting any coins you roll over. You can pick up gems, dynamite and more in the same way but can only carry one such item at a time. Your cart never stops moving - you control the direction it takes by switching the upcoming junctions in the tracks. Carts can go downhill but not uphill - fortunately, these mines have been dug by MC Escher, and up/down have only local meaning! It is always possible to get to any piece of track from anywhere in the mine, though often not directly. Enter one of the tunnels in the mine and you will come out of another at random.
There are several game modes. Your aim on the standard Adventure mode varies from one mine to another - you may need to collect X coins, for instance, or X diamonds, or a combination of both to score sufficient points. One level had me avoid being blown up by dynamite! Other mine carts can hinder your efforts, but you can move items across to other carts by bumping into them (ideal for stealing gems or passing on dynamite). If you just want a quick blast of insanity, Quick Play throws you into a series of mines against a number of computer opponents to score as many points as you can, and there's also a Multiplayer mode.
Graphics are vaguely cartoon and clearly laid out. The track is easy to follow and the various carts are all in different styles, making them easy to tell apart. The upcoming junction that will be switched is highlighted and automatically moves onto the next when your cart crosses it. All items in the mine animate - coins and gems spin, dynamite fizzes, etc - adding visual energy to an already fast paced game. Your mine cart fills with gold as your score increases!
A trio of up-tempo backing tracks come with Mystic Mine, all in a cheerful "hillbilly" style and fitting right in with the pace and the setting. I may well be hearing these in my sleep tonight. Sound effects are varied and excellent, from the clinking of coin collection to the explosion of dynamite.
One of the unusual aspects of Mystic Mine is the difficulty level. Rather than selecting an easy/hard game, you play at one of around nine difficulty levels and adjust as you play. If you do well on a mine, scoring bonus points for instance, your skill level increases - fail, or play poorly, and the skill level drops. There's an incentive to do well in order to keep your skill level high but this also means that, should you find a level difficult, you'll be able to replay it at a lower difficulty setting (granting you more time or a smaller target). This is a virtually unique system and I offer my commendations to Koonsolo for coming up with it!
It is difficult to fault such a simple and well produced concept, which has clearly been playtested a great deal to get the balance right. The random nature of object placement in mines means that one may prove impossible on the first occasion and too easy on the second, but I can't really blame the game itself for this. Since you can replay a mine (including ones you've already beaten) as often as you like, you can always endeavour to improve upon your performance. One oddity I noticed was the way Windows had my review copy named as "Monorail" (a working title?) but I suspect this can be easily fixed for the commercial version.
As a quick bit of fun in your spare moments, Mystic Mine serves very well. While it won't necessarily provide hours of entertainment in a single sitting, it will happily fill the odd spare moment for weeks on end.
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