Bonnie's Bookstore

Joey Alarilla

Gaming is more than just the games. It's a part of the digital lifestyle that more and more of us are embracing each day.

Publisher: PopCap Games
Genres: Puzzle
Price: free (web) / $19.99 (download)
Multimedia: Bonnie's Bookstore
Platforms: Mac and PC
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Not Rated
Developer: New Crayon Games
US release date: 2005-12
Amazon affiliate

Sure, we've played different word search games in the past, but Bonnie's Bookstore is a charming casual game that manages to put a fresh coat of paint on this old reliable genre. While developer Phil Steinmeyer (best known for PC games such as Railroad Tycoon 3 and Tropico) said he was inspired by his love for word games such as Scrabble and Bookworm, Bonnie's Bookstore adds a new spin by featuring a plot which ties into the stages you'll be clearing.

You're cast in the role of Bonnie, who inherits a bookstore from her late grandfather. While she loves her grandfather and wants to keep the bookstore open, Bonnie also dreams of doing something more creative and fulfilling. Good thing she stumbles upon her grandfather's old paintings in the attic, which give her an inspired idea: she'll write stories and use the paintings for artwork.

The stories, of course, are actually old staples such as "The Frog Prince" and other fairy tales, which is great particularly for young gamers whose curiosity might be sufficiently piqued to get them interested in reading the actual classics. Adding a nice touch is the beautiful artwork from Filipino artist Von Caberte.

The tale behind Steinmeyer and Caberte's collaboration is almost as magical as the imaginary stories on which this game is based. In their case, however, the magic springs from the wonders of technology. The American developer (who is based in St. Louis, Missouri) and the Filipino artist (who resides in Bacolod City, one of the provinces in the Philippines) collaborated entirely online via e-mail. In fact, they have yet to meet face to face.

Bonnie's Bookstore is Steinmeyer's first casual game, and the first offering from New Crayon, his one-man studio. Which, subsequently, was nominated by the Game Developers Conference as the best new studio of 2005.

As part of the plot, you have to clear each stage in order to write a new chapter of the book. Just as in other word search games, the more letters you use to form a word, the higher your score. Click on letters to string them together and form words. Once all tiles turn green, you've cleared the stage and written a new chapter.

You can choose to play the game at your own pace in Classic mode, or, if you don't find that challenging enough, pick the Action mode for timed challenges. Don't think this game will let you form your words in peace, however. As you might expect, the game throws curve balls in the form of clever obstacles that make life harder for the would-be wordsmith.

One of the most interesting obstacles is the appropriately named Writer's Block -- a square that doesn't contain any letter but instead has the word "block". Just like real-life writer's block, this obstacle can make it tricky to form words. Just keep forming words under the Writer's Block in order to have it slowly fall to the bottom, where it will disappear. See, there's even a moral here for writers: just keep on writing in order to break free from the plague that strikes us all.

If you find yourself stumped, you can click on Scramble to rearrange the letters, just as in other word games such as Bookworm or puzzle games like Chuzzle. The trade-off, however, is that you get a Writer's Block after you use Scramble.

As I mentioned, Bonnie's Bookstore is Steinmeyer's first casual game, and in an e-mail interview, he said that it was a refreshing change from big-budget games, where a team of people works in a very stressful environment. He sees casual games as the future of gaming, because they appeal to more people -- even those who consider themselves non-gamers -- and do not require budgets that rival those of Hollywood movies.

I also believe that casual games will be the ones to finally make gaming more mainstream. I find it gratifying that the industry is now paying more and more attention to this market segment, since it should be clear by now that they have to cater to different tastes and stop taking non-gamers for granted. Instead of keeping gaming insular and alienating the general public, we should embrace casual titles that celebrate fun for the whole family.

I'm honestly convinced that, at the end of the day, everyone is a gamer. They just don't know it yet. It's just that some people have stereotypes of what gamers and games are supposed to be like. Yet a person who might be bored to tears with fighting games might find a word game like Bonnie's Bookstore more intellectually stimulating, while those sick of gory first-person shooters might enjoy raising virtual puppies in Nintendogs.

In fact, the new gaming revolution might just well be emphasizing the "home" in home console. We're seeing this in the next-generation Wii console from Nintendo, which aims to encourage families to play together using the unconventional controller that looks like a TV remote. We can see this in the growing popularity of casual games, particularly ones you can download from the Web and play for a few minutes each day. Not only that, but even the more hardcore Xbox 360 platform is emphasizing the growth of online communities, and the use of the console not just for gaming but as an appliance for the digital home -- allowing you to watch movies, enjoy music, and interact online with family and friends.

In the end, gaming is more than just the games. It's a part of the digital lifestyle that more and more of us are embracing each day.

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