Pandora's Box is not really evil

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Vancouver Computes, November 1999

Pandora?s Box
For Win9x/NT PC, Pentium 100, 16 meg ram, 100 mb drive space, DirectX
Microsoft Corporation

Maybe you learned the story of Pandora?s Box in school?a classic Greek myth, Pandora gets a locked chest from the Gods, with a warning not to open it. What would you do? Of course! She opens it, releasing all the evils that peril humanity, along with one blessing?Hope.

Microsoft?s Pandora?s Box opens with an opening of a box, releasing seven tricksters, who fly around the world wrecking havoc. Your job is to travel the world, solving puzzles,  to recapture the Tricksters, reassemble Pandora?s Box and save the world.

Pandora?s Box is the latest creation from Alexey Pajitnov. In the 1980s, while still in Russia, Pajitnov created the classic game Tetris. Tetris became such a craze that it was suggested that it was deliberately released to the West by the Soviet KGB, so that computer users would waste enough time playing it to sap business productivity.

Pajitnov followed his game west, but his follow-ups on the Tetris theme, games like WordTris and Faces were nowhere near the mega-hit of the original. Since 1996, Pajitnov has been working to develop a series of puzzle games for Microsoft, starting with 1997?s  Microsoft Entertainment Pack: The Puzzle Collection.

Pandora?s Box includes over 350 puzzles of ten different 2D and 3D types, most of which, like Tetris, involve moving pieces through space?visualizing how they?ll look when twisted or turned in some way. While Tetris was designed with the low power of its era?s PCs, Pandora?s Box uses all the graphics smarts of modern computers?the screens and puzzles are absolutely stunning.

This is not a game that everyone will warm to? there?s no action, no bloodshed. Puzzle fans of all ages, however, will probably find themselves addicted. Puzzles start easy, but get harder?the better to hook the player in. Experienced users can jump right to their preferred puzzle type, while new players will appreciate the chance to work with a practice version before having to do one ?for real?.

The puzzles are grouped by geography?to capture a Trickster, a player has to travel to a location and solve puzzles to locate a clue. When solved, most puzzles turn into a photo-quality image of a landmark or a historical site at that location. (The images, from the Corbis collection, one of Bill Gates? non-Microsoft acquisitions, give this game a rare sense of class).

Some players who otherwise have little patience for solving puzzles will find themselves hooked here, where the puzzles are steps along the way towards winning the game?similarly, they may prefer to play in competitive mode against another player or family member.

Pandora?s Box is a nice, non-violent, family-oriented game. I don?t expect it to turn into a Tetris-sized hit, but Pajitnov and Microsoft have done well with this one.

If you?re not sure whether this one?s for you, check out the 16 meg trial version, with a sampling of the puzzle types or the 3 meg mini-version, free at:

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan