When in Rome, do as Romans do - which apparently is to match-three. Cradle of Rome, the latest slice from the match-three puzzle pie, melds the world of ancient Rome with touch-enabled puzzle play. Instead of concentrating on wild new puzzle elements, it features basic match-three gameplay tied to an intriguing city-building mechanic.
A cross between Civilization and Bejeweled, Cradle of Rome has you raising the nexus of Roman culture by collecting resources. Completing puzzles provides you with the resources necessary to build key structures and advance your civilization. Food, timber, and gold are needed to construct buildings ranging from simple quarries and sawmills to grander icons like the Colosseum and Parthenon. You can't immediately plunk down those wonders, though, as you must first progress through a series of epochs that organise the rise of Roman civilization.
Before you can even begin to think about commissioning any construction, you have to first tackle a few puzzles. Everything takes place on the touchscreen, where you can move tiles with the stylus. The object, naturally, is to create matches of three identical tiles. Aligning three coins, for instance, adds a bit of cash to your coffer. Finishing a level requires clearing specially marked blue tiles. By creating a match with an icon located on a blue title you clear that space. Once all the blue tiles have been cleared, the level is done.
Easy levels take place on square grids that make completion a simple task. Running up the ranks, however, you contend with more complex layouts. At level 57, we dealt with a grid filled with cross-shaped holes. This obviously creates issues with those tiles in corner spaces. Fortunately, you have access to eight special items through the course of the game including a hammer that knocks out a tile of your choice and a bomb capable of eliminating several adjoining tiles. These items don't come with unlimited uses, mind you. Only by matching three icons of the desired item can you reinstate an item for a second use.
Items aren't the only aid. Building structures often provides help in completing levels too. Each structure offers a specific bonus, such as the sawmill boosting the amount of wood gained by matching three timber tiles. The prizes are usually small, but any help is welcome when you consider the massive amount of resources required to build huge temples and wonders.
Cradle of Rome does enough to set itself beyond the average match-three clone, yet it is lacking a number of vital features. There's no multiplayer of any kind and alternative modes of play are glaringly absent. A Relax mode allows you to replay levels, but that's hardly an extension of value. The depth here is questionable, even if it's promising dozens of hours of play. When it really comes down to it, Cradle of Rome is a shaping up to be a decent experience yet its faced with some stiff competition.