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ATPM 6.10
October 2000


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Review: Burning Monkey Puzzle Lab 1.0

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,


Developer: Freeverse Software


Price: $19.95 (download); $29.95 (CD with extra characters and demos).

Requirements: Mac OS 8.1, QuickTime 4, 30 MB of available RAM.

Recommended: G3-based Mac or faster.

Trial: Fully-featured (20 days).

Yes, it’s the old game of Tetris—but isn’t everything, really? Colored objects drop from way up high, and you rotate and shift them around so they’ll unite in groups and go away. This particular treatment of the game is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The colors, the music, the graphics—it all absolutely rocks.


The secret to this game’s success is simple: variation. Burning Monkey Puzzle Lab includes two basic versions of play, Color Reaction and Hex Bonding. In Color Reaction, the individual units drop around each other in a forgiving sort of way; Hex Bonding gives you invincible pieces. You can lose a game of Hex Bonding pretty quickly at first. Both games allow for solo, versus, or Zen play (more on this variation later). There’s also a Mission mode, in which you switch back and forth between the two main games and try to complete specific assigned tasks.


Even with all of these options available, I find myself playing solo Color Reaction over and over again. It’s hypnotic. It’s even worth losing on purpose, just to watch the game board catch fire and melt down—you did wonder why they called it Burning Monkey, didn’t you? Well, see, there’s this monkey in a control room, and you’re helping him manipulate the joystick which drops the colored balls and things. And when you lose, he burns up along with the game board.

I haven’t yet attempted the versus mode or online play, although I did visit HMS Freeverse a few times when I bought their Spades game. Even at 4 AM Eastern time there were half a dozen souls around, so I’d imagine it’s a pretty jumpin’ joint during prime time hours.

For those occasions when you want to challenge your brain but don’t want your blood pressure to rise, the Zen playing option is a nice touch, in which the frantic sights and sounds of the normal game are replaced by soothing stringed instruments and ghostly suggestions about where to drop your next piece. Even when you finally manage to lose the game, you’re rewarded with a haiku instead of things burnings up and smashing.

A caveat: the default controls are pre-set to feel good for lefty-dominant players. I was frustrated until I figured this out—all you have to do is choose More on the main menu, then Controls, then create a control set and save it. I went with the trusty 2-4-6-8 number keys for rotation and movement, and the space bar for the quick drop. The default set is F-G-H-T, which is okay if your fingers are very small and if you’re left-handed or don’t mind some contortion. Of course, if I’d bothered to actually read the Read Me I might have been better prepared for this problem, and fixed it before my hand cramped up. Hardly Freeverse’s fault.

Oh, yeah—remember the special objects that would drop now and then in Tetris? BMPL has gobs of them, too. We’re fortunate that several of the Lab’s helpful staff members are around to warn us about them as they appear. There are also menus that explain them, if you want to remove all the mystery from life.

The Lab characters are half the fun—in the Color Reaction game, they tend to say encouraging things to keep you inspired, but watch out in Hex Bonding—they’re all over you for the smallest mistakes.


Registering the game gets you access to additional characters from Freeverse. The game has a 20-day trial period with a 10-second reminder. All game features are available during the trial period, including Internet play. When you register you get to play ranked games on the HMS Freeverse games server. Well worth the price, even if all you do is play solo games and never venture online. Who knew laboratory work could be so much fun?

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