Casual gamers and the entire female gaming population are woefully underrepresented in the video game industry. More often than not, the only recourse these groups have for playing video games on their PCs is FreeCell and whatever other games come with their operating systems. I-play has been capitalizing on this niche since 2007 with its popular Dream Day Wedding series of image exploration games. Bella Italia is the latest in the series and will definitely please fans and attract newcomers looking for simple, wholesome fun.
In Bella Italia the player is cast in the role of a wedding planner who is one of the most disorganized and messy people around. The player’s home is in disarray and whenever the player stays in a hotel or someone else’s home, the sleeping quarters are sure to become littered with the player’s accoutrements. This aspect isn’t necessarily a drawback, however, since all of the clutter adds to the challenge of the game. After the first level, which orients the player with the game mechanics, a call comes in from a prospective client who wants to propose to his girlfriend while in Italy. He books the player a ticket and they’re off to Florence where the player must handle every aspect of the wedding, including picking out a ring, designing bouquets and sundry other little details.
The core gameplay for Dream Day Wedding: Bella Italia is simple, but never seems to get old. In each level the player is presented with a locale and a list of items to find within each setting. Simply clicking the correct item will cross it off the list. So in the first level, the player’s home, he or she must prepare for the next gig by collecting wedding planning items from a list that is randomly generated. For the most part, there’s some basis in reality in regards to where the items can be found. In later levels all bets are off and players can expect to hunt for rakes, books, fruit and various shapes in unnatural areas, like the sky or in trees or any other place that offers good camouflage. Once all of the items have been discovered the level is complete. There’s also a timer that slowly counts down to add a little pressure. Also, players can’t cheat by simply clicking randomly on the screen. If the game recognizes too many incorrect clicks in a short amount of time, it will warn the player that random clicking will result in a 30-second time deduction. Thankfully, Bella Italia offers a hint feature that will point directly to where an item on the list can be found. More hints can be earned by finding Bluebirds of Happiness hidden in the levels. Also, if the player is fast enough to click on multiple items in a short period, he or she is rewarded with a time extension.
Each level only lasts a few minutes, depending on how sharp the player’s eyes are, making Bella Italia perfect for those times when only a quick distraction is necessary. Casual gamers looking for an extended session won’t be disappointed either. There are 50 levels including various mini-games and action sequences. In short, the game rarely gets stale, because there’s always something new to experience. In one level, clicking on a particular item causes the player to fall down a deep hole in the cellar. The player must use the items at the bottom of the pit to create a makeshift rope to escape. So even though the screens only offer the bare minimum of movement, the player never feels static.
The occasional mini-game also helps to keep the experience fresh. Players will have to reconstruct torn photographs, negotiate a path through mazes, spot the differences between two images and more. These mini-games are only modestly challenging, but surprisingly fun for as long as they last. Finally, there are also a few random encounters with characters in the game that open up a simple dialog tree. Managing interactions correctly can result in help with the current level, with either time extensions or in item discoveries.
There’s very little to dislike about Dream Day Wedding: Bella Italia. It’s beautiful to look at and the familiar Italian music is soothing to the senses. There is an occasional typo and some of the voice acting is a little unpleasant, but these criticisms are nitpicky at best. The only real concerns are that some of the items are a little esoteric. Some players may not know what a Satsuma is and therefore have no idea how to find it on the screen. Moreover, the game is unfortunately geared solely to women, which is a shame because as a guy I had a great time playing. Nevertheless, the game will refer to the player as a woman and entreat her to search for different kinds of shoes, flowers and other stereotypical items of the female realm that men will have a hard time identifying.
Dream Day Wedding: Bella Italia is a thoughtful, creative and all-around fun game. I-play definitely did right by their target audience. It’s always refreshing when a game developer satisfies a need rather than takes advantage of it.