There can’t be many people who’ve never heard of Minesweeper, given it’s installed with the Windows OS and many a Linux variant. So why would anyone pay for this XBLA game when it’s playable for free elsewhere?

Minesweeper Flags packs a little bit more punch than the Windows freebie, providing a number of different game modes, the ability to play against other players via Xbox LIVE, and of course a glut of achievements to crack.

From the title of the game, Flags is a new variation on the Minesweeper theme – here the player isn’t just detecting the below surface bombs, but collecting them. Up to four players, both on and offline, can take turns finding the explosives, and depending on the rules set up, can continue identifying them until they miss, or the turn time has run out (which by default is ten seconds). The person with the most mines detected wins the game. There are a fair number of options here to twiddle with, from changing the AI skill, the turn time, map size and whether the player is allowed to continue if a mine is discovered; this gives some scope to extend playtime. Flags also supports the LIVE Cam, similarly to Uno, allowing the player to see as well as hear their opponent’s taunts.

The campaign mode is a journey across the world, through America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica and Europe with the playing field shown in 3D isometric with mini animations going on in the background. As the player travels further, the environments change as do the maps and more bombs are added to the proceedings, though here the grids are not the typical square affair. Instead the levels have odd asymmetrical outlines, which mixes things up a little bit; ultimately it’s still mine-sweeper and the same rules apply. The idea with the campaign is to clear the maps as quickly as possible – the time taken across the different levels is totalled up, and the best get to the top of the world leaderboard.

Annoyingly there doesn’t appear to be an option to display the grid in the more familiar 2D format – surprising given it’s possible in the other game modes – and although there’s no real requirement to see the whole map at once, it would have been nice to have the choice. Overall, the presentation is slick and functional and works just fine, even if it will never set the world alight for graphical flair.

There is a definite degree of logic required when working out where the mines in a field are, but there’s also a bit of luck on the first few clicks. Fortunately a solitary extra life is given on the campaign mode; should the player hit a mine, it’s marked on the map and the player can carry on, limbs intact. A second mistake however means certain death and the only thing to do is to give it another go.

Finally completing the roll-call is the classic no-frills Minesweeper – no explanation is needed here; it’s the same game employees with access to a computer at work skive with when they get bored with Solitaire.

Given there’s an achievement for clearing a basic map in fifteen seconds, it seems a little odd that the cursor moves around the grid pretty slowly. It’s not really a problem given accuracy is probably more important than speed, however, clearing such a map within the fifteen seconds could prove tricky to do.

For four hundred points, Minesweeper is a nice little and fun to play diversion that will take a while to get through as will earning all the relatively tricky achievements. At this price it is difficult to go wrong, even if it does come free with Windows.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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