"Daddy, can we play Chocolate Castle?"
That's Simona. She just turned 4. Vicky, her teenage sister, won't play Okami or Guitar Hero for her right now, and Mommy's too busy to go to Nick JR or Hasbro.com or the Sesame Street site, and she's bored with the videos, media-saturated child that she is. So she's down to Daddy's geeky games, and I can't get away with playing World War II games any more ("Look, It's Meekun!", Mao Chan's tank friend. No, doll, it's a Panzer V.)
She likes Eets, too, but today it's time for Chocolate Castle. She likes it for very different reasons from me, of course; the characters are little bunnies, and they get to eat chocolate. Yum. Of four different types: dark, milk, white, and rose. (Rose? Only place I've seen it is at a very gay chocolate store in the Haight, and the developer is in New Zealand, so where did they encounter it? but never mind.)
Each level, there's some arrangement of chocolate bits, and some number of little bunny characters. Each bunny character can eat one type of chocolate, but only once, so you have to move blocks of chocolate next to others of the same type, so they can all be eaten at one go. Often, bunnies are blocked off by types of chocolate they can't eat, so you have to free them by eating the blocking chocolate with another character first. If two blocks of the same color end a move next to each other, they merge and can't be separated.
In other words, it's a puzzle game of spatial reasoning quite unlike any other game I've seen. I talk Simona through what I'm doing, and she seems to appreciate that, but the high point for her is when a level is finished and balloons go up and confetti come down. Never mind that Daddy spent the previous fifteen minutes moving things around, restarting, and cursing a blue streak that will undoubtedly get her in trouble at preschool if she exercises her newfound vocabulary.
As is typical in puzzle games, there are additional features that show up on higher levels (like blocking Snakes you can drag, but only by the head, and exploding Turkish Taffy). 120 something levels in all, and I doubt I'll get through them all, since I mostly play with Simona. Though original puzzle games are a weakness of mine, and Chocolate Castle has held my interest much longer than most.
It's an odd game; intellectually more challenging than you'd expect of a "casual" game, yet with a frame unlikely to appeal to core gamers. And yet what of it? Evidentally, it can appeal to all ages, from four to forty. N'est-ce pas?