Microsoft Entertainment Pack (2000, Classified Games)

Before someone hassles me: yes, the screenshot is from an emulator, but yes, there was a Microsoft game on a Nintendo platform. Three, actually. From Conspiracy Entertainment and publisher Classified Games, there were three Game Boy Color titles bearing Microsoft’s name front-and-center. Microsoft Entertainment Pack: Puzzle Collection, Microsoft Pinball Arcade, and this one, Microsoft Best of Entertainment Pack (or just Microsoft Entertainment Pack, going by the title screen). The games are all remakes from the ground up of equivalent titles for Microsoft Windows, with significant content cuts for cartridge space.

Why does this exist, though? Early 2000 was when Personal Digital Assistants were all the rage with office workers, executives, and people who just wanted to look busy. Palm Pilots, Windows CE devices, and those little Casio “data banks” were everywhere, and honestly, who the hell knows who actually bought them and used them regularly. Of course, with a fledgling market for “palmtop” computers, also came a new audience to which publishers could market games. Stores like Office Depot tended to have a little rack full of games served on SD or CF memory cards, typically containing games like Bejeweled or Tetris. But what about the guy who couldn’t afford the latest Palm device and just wanted to carry his favorite office distraction with him on the Blue Line to the office? Why not turn one of the best-selling handheld game systems in the world into a PDA? …Actually, all this does is raise more questions. Like, why not buy a game actually suited to the Game Boy controls?

The top menu of Entertainment Pack resembles an out-of-box Windows desktop, but I don’t know anybody that’d stamp the MS logo on their wallpaper.

Microsoft Entertainment Pack contains 7 games from the MS Windows releases of the Entertainment Pack series (and two that were just bundled with the OS): FreeCell, Tut’s Tomb (better known as Pyramid), TriPeaks, MineSweeper, SkiFree, LifeGenesis, and TicTactics. To be honest, almost none of these games are especially well suited to the Game Boy’s directional pad and two buttons, let alone its minuscule screen resolution. The only one that really feels as if it works is SkiFree, and that one’s got problems of its own. Since this is a site about card games, I’m mainly going to be interested in those three at the top row.

FreeCell running at what I suspect might be the smallest resolution at which the numbers can be made legible.

FreeCell is the only card game on this cartridge that requires you to be able to read the suits on the cards. Most cards have large suits in the middle, but in stacks, you get a tiny 3×3 pixel icon that is practically unreadable. Good luck figuring out where that pesky 2 of Spades is among the other cards. There’s just not enough room on the GBC’s 160×144 screen to display the cards in any real detail. It doesn’t help that the real GBC’s screen has no backlight, so unless you’re playing on the increasingly-hard-to-find Game Boy Advance SP, you’ll have to be playing in direct sunlight to be able to discern colors. The interface is a similar stumbling block; the D-pad is used to jump between piles, and is just about the chunkiest way to get through the tableau, especially when it’s somewhat inconsistent how moving between the cells and the cards is handled. (Though not the worst it gets, to be fair.)

Tut’s Tomb is a variant of Pyramid. As such, the only thing the player must focus on is pairing cards whose sum is 13. This is the only time I’ve ever seen Pyramid played with a three-card deal, which makes the game somewhat harder, but also demonstrated to me a grave flaw in Entertainment Pack’s unusual take on Vegas scoring. Most games handle Vegas scoring by charging the player $52 per deal, then awarding them $2 or more for each card that gets to the foundation, and typically a further bonus for winning. In Tut’s Tomb, every deal from the stock pile costs money. It is possible to win the game with a final score of zero dollars. It’s even possible to go into debt, though this ultimately doesn’t affect anything (the game doesn’t tell you that you’ve been booted out of the casino; it just lets you keep playing).

TriPeaks, a Golf variant pioneered by Microsoft, feels a bit more normal on the GBC controls.

TriPeaks is a bit more natural to play, being a Golf variant (and a remarkably forgiving one, at that, as it grants the ability to “wrap around” from King to Ace and back again). It has a much faster pace than the other two card games and actually uses the D-pad in a somewhat more intelligent way, with the cursor automatically moving up and down between rows as needed (since only the front card of the pile is playable). TriPeaks, however, again demonstrates the flaw in the Vegas scoring option. Since there is no redeal, it makes zero sense to charge the player a dollar for every time a card must be dealt. I could understand rewarding long combos without a deal (like the Microsoft Solitaire Collection does), but I find it demoralizing to “win” a game with a total score of -$30. The Vegas scoring can be disabled (as it can with Tut’s Tomb – FreeCell simply doesn’t keep score), but since the game doesn’t even save your scores, why bother?

No, if you actually decide to own this cartridge, with its almost-unreadable cards and its insistence on playing the same boring music track for every game, it’s either as a way to start conversations, or to play SkiFree. And at that rate, why not buy an actual skiing game? (Do those kinds of things exist?)

Headcanon: SkiFree takes place on one of the three TriPeaks. The yeti at the bottom represents the Vegas Scoring option.

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