January 2008 Archives

greatkitchenescape.jpgJohnBFresh out of the oven from Pastel Games (with coding by Mateusz Skutnik of the Submachine series fame) is a short but zany point-and-click room escape game called The Great Kitchen Escape. You start off staring at an extremely colorful kitchen that looks like it was lifted straight from a cartoon. Click the arrows to move around the room and use the mouse to interact with objects and gather items. It's an easy point-and-click game that scores major points for its artwork and slightly wacky puzzles.

There's no story behind The Great Kitchen Escape, but it doesn't really need one. The goal is to find items in the kitchen and assemble a few of them to make your way out of the room. Your inventory is displayed at the top of the screen and a tiny tool icon in the upper left corner takes you to the assembly menu. Look everywhere and click everything to uncover all the items, as you never know what role an object will play in the grand scheme of things.

The Great Kitchen Escape is a very short game and not very difficult, but the visuals, music and atmosphere are just so fun you won't be able to help yourself. You feel like a kid in a cartoon as you snoop through cabinets and play with the parrot in a cage. No pixel hunting or frustration, just pure and simple room escaping. A perfect diversion guaranteed to induce a smile or two.

Play The Great Kitchen Escape

PsychotronicScuttle Buggery(Warning: This game features adult language, gothic imagery, and bittersweet lyrical content. You may well find something here that will offend you.)

Your role in Scuttle Buggery is that of of a lowly beetle, trudging through a grimy, moth-infested world stitched together from burnt paper and rusty typewriter parts. Your burden is to find drops of oil and liquor near the discarded musty bottles from which they spew, and push them into the appropriate drains. Steer your filth-ridden insect avatar with the arrow keys. Hold [space] for a burst of speed and tap [space] to shove a nearby droplet into the distance. You win when you've deposited enough of the right substances into the right drains. You lose when you run out of time, or when you've accidentally filled a drain with too much of the wrong kind of liquid. And that is when a clockwork skeleton wearing a top hat comes out to mock you.

Scuttle Buggery is a depressing game, not least because of the melancholy and vengeful soundtrack. But also because of the other beetles who, like the callous grinning back-stabbers who make up your real-life social circle, make it their mission to interfere with you at every turn. Too often, once you've finally stuck together a satisfactory bubble of absinthe and lined up a straight shot to the absinthe drain, a dumbly enthusiastic ladybug will mug you and knock your loot into a corner. It's a shame there's no "murder" button.

So in this fashion, you make tidy your own insignificant corner of a forgotten and decrepit place. Like your everlasting tears, you wipe away the poisons, though you can never truly erase the stains they left. Are you making a difference? Does the slow morphine drip of incremental achievement justify the loss of a few precious moments of your time upon this earth? The answer, of course, is "no."

Analysis: Scuttle Buggery is an advergame for the newest album from gothic rock band Johnny Hollow, and most likely another creation from one of its band members, Vincent Marcone (A Murder of Scarecrows). Though he's done such a wonderful job of blending game, music, and visual design, it's hard to tell where the game ends and the promotional website begins. Even the tutorial is baked right into the home page, and beating levels in the game unlocks tracks from the song list for you to sample.

The artwork is sumptuously detailed, perfectly matched to the music, full of decadent textures and decay. The liquid transparency effects are especially noteworthy, but everything, right down to the creepy flutter of a moth's wings, has been rendered with sickly beauty and realism. If your beetle's controls are a little stiff, it can be excused due to the convincing bug-like way in which he moves.

The actual gameplay is pretty decent, with a few caveats. The liquids you must push around can be very close in color, to the point where you can't tell whether you're looking at a tan droplet or a black one, if they're both sitting on a dark surface. Drops get hung up too easily on corners. And some levels are difficult to the point of agony. If you get stuck on a particular challenge, you'll have to hear the same lyrics every time you restart, which can get annoying no matter how darkly poignant the poetry is. I hope you like track 6, "boogeyman", because you'll be hearing it a lot. Finally, the initial load time is excessive, even for this level of audio/visual polish.

But in the end, this is how an advergame should be — uniquely tailored to the mood and intention of its product, and entertaining in its own right. Let it soothe your wretched soul, if only for a moment.

Play Scuttle Buggery

Cheers to Toby for submitting the link to this one! =)

offroadvelociraptor.jpgJohnBSamurai bears. Puzzle-solving robots. Snowmen with bombs. We're used to suspending a little bit of belief when it comes to the games we play. Off-Road Velociraptor Safari, however, really tests the limits. You play a raptor driving a jeep with a spiky ball and chain attached to the rear. Your goal is to chase down other raptors and throw them into a teleporter that sends them to the future. At this point it's a good idea to throw intellectual understanding out the window, because this game is all about hitting dinosaurs with cars for points.

Off-Road Velociraptor Safari is presented in full 3D thanks to the Unity plugin, the same engine under the hood of When Orcs Attack. And, for a browser-based game, it looks great. Drive through the lush jungle using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys and tap the [B] button for a quick turbo boost. The [spacebar] deploys the chain and spiky ball that's used to clothesline raptors or drag their limp bodies to the teleporter. As for the cool jumps, crazy crashes and lavish stunts, that's up to your own driving insanity.

The goal in Off-Road Velociraptor Safari is to get a high score, and there are several things that factor into this. Capturing and teleporting raptors is the most obvious way, but you also net a few points for doing spectacular stunts, damaging your vehicle, and grabbing orbs scattered around the stage. Each time you increase your score there's a small window of opportunity for you to multiply it by doing the same thing again. An online high score table lets you track your numbers and compare with dinosaur safari-ists around the world. There are even a few achievement awards to be uncovered.

But forget all that stuff, this game is really about driving around (as a raptor), knocking over dinosaurs, smashing into stuff, and pulling off cool stunts. Seriously.

offroadvelociraptor2.jpgAnalysis: Yes, Off-Road Velociraptor Safari is a strange game idea. Yes, that's what makes it fun. The raw dose of driving, destruction and dinosaurs is enough to get just about any gamer's blood pumping, while the 3D environment is ripe for exploration. The wild arcade-style action gameplay encourages crazy stunts and stupid tricks, which is always a nice bonus. The controls are a bit clunky and take some getting used to, but they work fine in the end. Smashing into velociraptors and dragging their bodies around does seem a bit disturbing at times, but there's just enough fiction to the setting to keep realism at bay.

The only real drawbacks to this game are technical in nature. For starters, Off-Road Velociraptor Safari requires the Unity plugin, which you must download if it isn't already installed. And even with everything ready to go you can expect a long load time, no matter your connection speed. Some players have also reported numerous slowdown issues with the game. Hopefully the developer will pull out the toolbox and start optimizing the game very soon.

Despite its technical limitations, Off-Road Velociraptor Safari is crazy enough to work. For raw dinosaur-based jeep-driving carnage, look no further.

Play Off-Road Velociraptor Safari

JessSubmachine 5: The RootAll hail, rejoice, Hallelujah! Put on your party hats and shine your shoes, for it is a day of great celebration: the fifth coming of the Submachine. The parade is about to begin, the marching band is just getting warmed up, and...hey, where is everyone? Guys? You're all going to miss the fireworks display, and Cirque du Soleil is performing! Oh, the jugglers look so sad. Where on Earth could everyone be? I just don't....

Oh. Oh, right. You're all glued to your monitors, aren't you? Point-and-clicking away maniacally, like the addicts you are. Fine, I guess I'll just have to throw away all these commemorative Wisdom Gem t-shirts. What? No, I'm not upset. I mean, I did just spend half my savings on this gem-encrusted "portal" float, but that's ok. That second job at McDonald's should help me pay off the loan in, oh, 15 years or so.

.....ok, enough with the sillies. In all seriousness, this is an exciting day. Murtaugh, aka Mateusz Skutnik, has been a Casual Gameplay superstar practically since the debut of his Submachine series, way back in September of '05. The original Submachine was a fairly easy, relatively simple point-and-clicker that nonetheless became quite popular due to its clever puzzles and clean design. As enjoyable as it was, in my mind the real brilliance of the series began with its sequel, Submachine 2: The Lighthouse, which began in earnest to develop the spooky, enigmatic plot that has continued throughout the rest of the games. In Murtaugh's words, "it's all about puzzle-solving and escaping from closed installations of submerged machines (hence the title sub-machines)." It's not nearly that simple, however; you'll need to play the games to discover more.

Submachine 5: The Root brings the player to what was perhaps the beginning of your long, arduous adventure, the first created Submachine structure. It is the "root" of your quest, and for the first time a bit of light is shed on why and how your journey began. Anyone familiar with the point-and-click genre will find the game easily comprehensible and accessible.

Analysis: The Root does not disappoint. Unsurprisingly, Murtaugh has once again created a beautifully atmospheric, immersive, challenging-but-not-confounding game that leaves the player eagerly awaiting the next chapter. I love how the games' stylistic details mirror and complement the environment and content; from the mechanical noises when switching screens to the near-lack of ambient noise, every aspect of the game reflects the feeling of being inside of a machine. The structure and mechanics of the game are the same as previous chapters, though a few interesting elements are added (I especially like the automatic note-taking function).

My one real frustration with the games is how easily it is to become thoroughly lost while playing (though perhaps that's part of the point). A map would be invaluable, and at least in the context of this particular Submachine would make sense. Still, a minor gripe to a fabulous game.

A word to the wise: While each Submachine can be played and enjoyed without context, I highly, highly advise players new to the series to start at the beginning. A significant part of the pleasure of playing the games are the "aha!" moments when a connection is made between one chapter or another, when the dimensions of the story begin to be perceived. While the Submachines are each well-made, fun point-and-click games, the mystery infused into the series is what makes them truly special. Ah, how I envy you, first-time Submachiners! A bounty of gaming goodness awaits you, a veritable cornucopia of superb casual gameplay.

For the rest of us, it's back to the machine:

Play Submachine 5: The Root

We've been here covering the entire Submachine series since the very beginning with reviews and walkthroughs for all of them...

Outside the main storyline, and yet still another great Submachine, is a game created for the band Future Loop Foundation:

Patrickwitchhuntnooboomary.jpgWhether you're going for the gingerbread transmutation or the old fashioned stew, you gotta respect the rights of satanic magick users to extend their lives indefinitely by robbing life from the young. Right? If you're on board with that proposition, you'll like Nooboo Mary: Witch Hunt, a time-based defense game from Nobstudio (remember NOBuzzle Tree?) where you defend a witch's house from an angry mob of villagers.

The game takes place over a long, horizontal field with the witch's house on the far left and the violent commoners marching in from the right. You can pan the camera over this moonlit real estate by dragging the mouse to the left and right extremes of the screen. Your spells are represented by icons on the bottom panel, each one costing a certain number of souls to cast. Try clicking on the frog, you'll see your mouse cursor turn into a targeting reticule. Hover it over an unlucky brownshirt and click to cast the spell. Click repeatedly to blow the frog up like a balloon, a total of six times (but never seven) explodes it into amphibious confetti. Each kill is one more soul in the collection bin, which you can use for casting more powerful spells or save to buy new/upgrade existing ones in-between levels. The first few stages feature only a few slow peasants, but they keep coming faster and in greater numbers. In order to deal with this surge, you need to invest your soul-cash wisely.

Analysis: It's nice to see a game with some attitude and a cohesive aesthetic. The music is moody but not "My Chemical Romance" moody. The writing is coy and sardonic, the graphics are crisp and iconic. The gameplay gets in a sweet zone after level four or so, where simply spamming frog spells won't cut it and you have to start spending those souls more strategically. Unfortunately, the game isn't perfectly balanced, so one particular spell emerges as a dominant strategy. I'd like to see a more even field there, to deepen the strategy, and more levels to that strategy. Untapped potential is always a drag on a reviewer's heart.

This game is a devilish little gem.

Play Nooboo Mary: Witch Hunt

PsychotronicPlanet CruncherPlanet Cruncher, from the fine folks at Rock Solid Arcade who brought us Stunt Pilot, lets you satisfy your appetite for destruction by casting you as an omnipotent exterminator of worlds. It doesn't exactly feel like a game about the deaths of billions, encased as it is in a shell of relaxing arcadey puzzle gameplay. But sometimes you have to play a game in your own way, and I choose to play this one while cackling maniacally and stroking an imaginary long-haired white star-cat named Lord Galaxathon.

Your goal in Planet Cruncher is to collect a certain number of crystals on each level by smashing together planets of the same type. As in Loop or Floats, you must capture groups of identical objects by drawing loops around them with the mouse. The more heavenly bodies you encircle at one time, the more goodies the resulting explosion releases. Collect the spiral of scattering crystals by simply touching them with the mouse.

Encircle at least four planets at once to produce a special bonus planet that will double the crystal output of any matched set you include it in. Accidentally loop mismatched objects together, and you'll create a black hole, which will meander around eating planets until you can circle it again. Twice per level, a comet will shoot by. Touch it to produce a quick additional reward of crystals.

At first, the planets will sit in place, easy prey for your magnetic universe crayon of doom. But before long, you'll be faced with screenfuls of bouncing planets in three different varieties. If a planet comes in contact with an outline as you are drawing it, it will explode, taking your unfinished loop with it. The tragedy of that is now you have one less world to mine for crystals, making it that much harder to reach quota. If you fail to fill the crystal bar at the top of the screen, your game is over, presumably because your cosmic gambling debts have caught up to you.

Although you may initially be tempted to play Planet Cruncher with gusto, making quick circles and taking opportunities where you find them, you'll probably run out of steam once the level quotas get higher. Eventually, you'll need to take advantage of the 2 x bonus planets and avoid needlessly sacrificing individual worlds to your impetuous whims. Rock Solid Arcade has chosen not to include a time limit, so your score will be better served by patience. It works best to sit back and ponder the situation, literally waiting for the planets to align before you strike, serving your justice cold, just like a good vengeful almighty being should.

Analysis: Planet Cruncher's presentation is up to Rock Solid's usual high standards, with clean, professional artwork and sound effects. The static background could use some animation — twinkling stars, slowly rotating nebulas, that sort of thing — but there's plenty of colorful orbs to attract your eye anyway.

The pacing is quite slow for what is ostensibly an arcade game, but there's a pleasant awareness to be found here, once the requirements get more demanding and every move has consequences. In order to do well, you'll need to spend a lot of time just watching and hoping for like planets to group together of their own accord. It's a nice time to pet the cat and do some cackling. Comets sometimes break up the silence, but otherwise this is a calming experience, if you're an untroubled planet-smasher. It's an arcade game for the quiet mind.

Unfortunately, Planet Cruncher peters out after a while. The crystal quotas keep getting higher, but there aren't any new concepts after the first few stages, although there are some fast-paced bonus levels. There isn't ever even a new background. And therefore, there is slim incentive to continue, once you've more or less mastered the technique.

Which brings me back to completing the picture by providing my own megalomaniacal back-story. I'll feast upon your immortal souls, insignificant denizens of Saturn! Bam! Smash! Mwaaahahahahahahaa!

Play Planet Cruncher

JessFactory BallsFactory Balls, from Bart Bonte, was for me the most immediately appealing entry of JIG's Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4. Maybe it was the elegance of the core concept and the out-of-the-box thinking it provokes; maybe it was the simple awesomeness of making ball-people with rabbit ears. Either way, Factory Balls is a great, albeit short, game that displays the clean design and quirky sensibility that I've come to love in Bart's work.

In Factory Balls the goal is to create, using various tools, the "ball physics" required for each level (I take issue with the term "ball physics" for this process, but I'll get into that later). The player begins with a rotating cog full of plain white balls and a palette of gizmos that, when used in the proper order, will cause the plain ball to match the goal design. Through logic and trial-and-error, the usage of each tool is discovered.

This description is a bit abstract, so maybe an example is in order. In the sixth level the player must create an orange ball with black "eyes" and an orange nose (it's easier seen than described). One of the tools paints the ball orange, another paints it black, another creates a nose and a fourth puts "sunglasses" on the ball in order to allow the eyes to remain black while the rest of the ball is painted orange. The order in which you apply the tools is the challenge of each level.

Play all the Factory Balls games:
Factory BallsFactory Balls 2Factory Balls 3Factory Balls Christmas EditionFactory Balls 4

The game spans 14 levels of increasing complexity, and is over if the player messes up too many times and runs out of white balls. Winning or losing, however, hardly seems the point; to me Factory Balls feels more like a neat puzzle-tool than an actual game. Half the fun is enjoying the creativity of the tools: a black stripe is created by a roll of masking tape, the "create a nose" tool is represented by a sideways plunger, and a light bulb is used to illuminate the ball from inside out. It's a bit like a hi-tech, quirky version of Mr. Potato Head.

Analysis: Factory Balls is an absorbing and inventive game with many of the whimsical details of Bart's hallmark style. In order to succeed the player must step sideways into Bart's peculiar and mischievous world, in which the edicts of logic are twisted ever so slightly; it may not entirely make sense that a sideways plunger would create a nose, but then again it kinda does--and that's the fun of the game.

During the judging of the competition, my one hesitation in awarding highest marks to Bart was that, well, I didn't think Factory Balls really had much to do with ball physics.

phys-ics (fiz'iks)
—noun (used with a singular verb) the science that deals with matter, energy, motion, and force.

This is going to make me sound like a mean old codger, but I didn't see a lot of the above in the core content of Factory Balls. Bart does provide a neat "extra" in the form of a ball tumbler (a larger, player-controlled version of the game's rotating, plain ball-filled cog), but it feels more like an a last-minute attempt to introduce the theme as opposed to an actual integration of "ball physics" into the game. Part of the competition, in my mind, was having to abide by the limitations of the theme, and I don't think that Factory Balls entirely did so.

But, y'know what? In the end, it really doesn't matter (I love you, Bart!). Factory Balls is an engaging, creative and most of all fun addition to Casual Gameplay, and I adore it. I think it has the potential, with added levels and perhaps increased complexity, to become truly outstanding. This is one you don't want to miss.

JayJay - It just goes to show how subjective judging a competition like this is, because I viewed making a puzzle out of changing the actual physical properties of balls to be a clever play on words and a unique and creative implementation of the "ball physics" theme. Still, as others pointed out, I would like to see more puzzles, randomized puzzles to increase replay value, and perhaps even a build-your-own-puzzle with a code to share your puzzle with others as elements that would propel this entry from 'good' into 'great' territory. A very creative entry from one of our favorite developers and an active supporter of our competitions by participating in every one of them so far. Well done, Bart, and thank you kindly!

Play Factory Balls

PsychotronicBasho KiokuBasho Kioku is the latest puzzle game from prolific designer Yoshio Ishii of Nekogames. You are faced with a grid of 36 squares, and your goal is to click on each of them in turn. Each round, a random combination of these squares lights up orange, and you must choose one of them. There is no indication of which squares you've previously selected, but if you pick a square more than once, you lose a life. Losing three lives ends your game. You'll be under a strict time limit, and your score depends on how quickly you make your choices.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But unless your brain is much less packed with cotton than mine, it's impossible to remember more than a few steps back. The real game is in figuring out a system for keeping track of your progress, using the six draggable markers provided in a box on the left side of the screen. You can position these markers freely, even on the borders between squares, and it will pay to invent a foolproof shorthand for yourself.

Ishii coats the simple idea in an understated shimmery gloss, complete with wonderfully quirky and anxious background music. There is an unfortunate Flash-related exploit (find it yourself) that could potentially spoil the game, but there's really no point in cheating at a little puzzle like this. It's an otherwise flawless koan that plays on the tension between the randomness of your choices and the solidity of your strategy. Nicely done, Nekogames.

Play Basho Kioku

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Home Sweet home

KarmenAre you the type of person who walks into a room and immediately thinks about a remodel? "Ew... who put those curtains with that carpet? And that coffee table is way too close to the couch. How do you reach the window?" Perhaps you like to dabble in feng-shui. Or, maybe you're one of those weekend warriors when it comes to home-improvement. In any case, you're ready to try out your hand at design. If so, welcome home. Home Sweet Home, that is.

homesweethome1.jpgHome Sweet Home is a creative new spin off time management and career simulation games. Putting you in the shoes of both an interior decorator and a construction contractor, this game tests both your creative skills as well as your speed and agility. With the expert help of Dee Ziner (whose bright smile could be found in toothpaste ads) you'll begin filling your client's requests and homes. The requests vary, some obvious, some quite cryptic. Some, like the Packrats, may want to display the many things they already have, while others will have you begin with an empty room.

For each house you'll receive a budget which can be spent on anything from paints and floors, couches and cabinets, to plants, paintings, and other accessories. While the clients leave some hints as to what they like, the bulk of the choice is left up to you. "A blue retro lamp with a shabby white country rug? That could work. All it needs is a TV... or maybe a set of funky pagoda-shaped shelves?" A thumbs-up/thumbs-down meter will tell you if your clients are pleased or not.

When your design layout is complete and approved, you're ready to start the building process. Here, you'll become the contractor, as you direct your workers through the remodel process. This gets tricky. You have three workers, each designated by their own color. As you work, various items or furnishings will light up in matching colors. If you match the workers to the right items (for instance, have the green guy work on the vase that is lit up green) they will work harder and faster. If they are working on an item that isn't lit up, they will grow tired, and eventually need a coffee break. (You can bring the coffee pot to them to avoid stopping in the middle of a project.) Be careful! Mismatched colors cause clumsiness: Eventually, if your worker is building an item that is lit up in a different color, they will injure themselves, and you'll need to bring in the first-aid kit... IF you can get them to stand still long enough.

homesweethome2.jpgIn case it isn't enough of a challenge to keep the right workers on the right project and fueled with caffeine, your workers will also request various tools along the way, that must be dragged out of the toolbox. If you don't grab the right tool in time, the work doesn't just stop... it reverses. Walls will un-paint themselves and pictures will blank, so don't let anyone pause for long. Also, after a few levels, you'll need to clean as you go. As each worker finishes their project, they'll appear with a trash icon and wait to be directed to the refuse can. When they've dropped off the trash, they'll be ready to begin the next job. If you can get everything built in time, you'll earn some cash and be able to move on to the next home.

Home Sweet Home even allows you to spend the money you earn by decorating your own house. As the game progresses, new items become available. Your home gives you a chance to try them out without going through the whole building process. If you like to change it frequently, or test client's designs before building, you can take a snapshot, and add it to your growing portfolio. Eventually, you may find yourself becoming the most famous designer in the neighborhood. (Dee might be a little jealous!)

Analysis: Overall, Home Sweet Home is an excellent casual game, offering just enough creative liberty along with puzzles and time challenges. In some ways, however, it is fairly limited. Your house only has one room to decorate, as only living room and dining room furnishings will become available throughout the game.

There are hints at a sequel with kitchens and bathrooms, but hopefully, some aspects of the game will be redesigned first. The toolbox, for instance, has a few glitches. You might click on one tool and find yourself carrying another. This doesn't make gameplay impossible, but often frustrating. Another drawback is the abrupt ending. After designing 50 houses, you're done. There is no warning or fanfare, just a congratulatory message and an invitation to keep decorating your own house. A way to return to previous clients homes for extra remodels would help the replay value enormously. Even still, the creative possibilities found in Home Sweet Home, mingled with the pleasant Sims-like atmosphere, should offer many hours of delight.

Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Home Sweet Home is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

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PatrickYou are in for a treat. King's Quest III is a classic from the early age of graphic adventure games. Originally designed by Roberta Williams and published under Sierra Online, the game has been completely re-made by Infamous Adventures in the Adventure Game Studio engine and released as a free download. They even have a voice-pack! Somebody canonize these people as saints.

thish.pngIn the old days, adventure game interfaces involved typing messages and using keys to move. This remake offers a slick modern update where you can simply click around to move and interact with the environment. The right-mouse-button cycles through the Look, Move, Talk, Use and Item options, while the left button activates them, making interactions pretty simple. This is due to the virtue of the AGS engine's design, and it works nicely, like you'll use an item, click right, and then be able to immediately click left to move to the newly opened area because its right up next in the cycle. You'll also want to make note of the inventory, looks kind of like a suitcase, in the top-right section of the screen. The inventory lets you do useful stuff like grab items to use on the screen, or combine them, which you'll be doing a fair bit of. Infamous offers a privatized Social Security level of options in that they have an FAQ, a walkthrough and a hints section on their site, so you can get whatever degree of assistance you want in making your way.

Analysis: The game itself is one of the best in a series, which is like the Final Fantasy series for adventure games. The premise here is actually pretty clever, the first half of the game involves freeing yourself of the evil wizard that has raised you from infant-hood. He commands you do to chores for him and then goes out of town or takes naps. During these intervals you'll have between ten and thirty minutes to explore the secrets of the wizard's home and the surrounding country-side. Your quest then, is a quest for knowledge: knowledge about the world, knowledge about the nature of power (in this case, magic), and then knowledge about who you are. In other words, it's a somewhat meaningful, human psychological dynamic that we can all relate to, and it is expressed in gameplay. Did I mention this game was originally made in 1986?

Underscoring this journey of exploration and gathering is an underscore of the imminence of death. You may be used to games that don't kill your character or give you plentiful auto-saves. To Heir Is Human, like other games in the series, makes you save manually, and you'll want to do so often. A surly cat on an old stair can trip you to your death, as can a misstep on a mountain path. The greatest spectre of mortality in the early game is your own apathy or lack of care — if you fail to turn the tables on your enslaving oppressor he will kill you, and if you don't cover your tracks before his returns or awakenings, he will... also kill you. Its weird, maybe this is only noticeable because we've become so used to smooth rides and automatic saves, but there is a sense of self-responsibility and standing up against totalitarianism that comes out of this, as well as a sort of appreciation for the life you've got. Wandering the countryside of Llewyn, you put yourself in the character of a young man whose whole life has been cloistered servitude, and you appreciate the eagle, the moss growing on the rocks, the warmth of the barmaid, the friendliness of the shopkeeper. It is a literary experience that is at least on par with Harry Potter - that might not be saying much by Harold Bloom's standards, but it's pretty good considering the relative immaturity of this medium.

The latter half of the game is a journey back to your homeland, and a reconciliation with what has happened. Without spoiling the plot, the feeling you might get when you do return home, and find the place locked out and silent, is stirring. The cleverness you'll feel you when use your self-assembled magics to solve puzzles is, in an opposite way, cathartic.

In short, King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human is a classic because it makes you feel things well beyond the usual dopamine drip. It makes you feel human. And now its been made publicly available with excellent production values and a smoother interface. Please, have yourself a meaningful play of King's Quest III.

Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available.
Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.

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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's time for Mysterious Mysteries of the Unknown! Mysteries! We've uncovered an old, import-only Japanese Game Boy Advance puzzle game from a company that folded shortly after publishing the title, leaving only a ten level PC demo and countless frazzled eBay searchers. Furthering the mysterious mysteriological setting (that's not a word, is it?), in Blood Ties you'll investigate kidnappings with a 450 year-old vampire, and a recent Cactus release drops you in a dream-themed platforming game that makes no sense. What a world we live in.

bloodties.jpgBlood Ties (Windows, 44MB, demo) - Based on the television series that's based on the Blood Books by Tanya Huff, Blood Ties brings the familiar law enforcement/mystery setting to casual gamers as a hidden object game. Vicki Nelson is an ex-cop and private investigator with failing eyesight. Working with a 450 year old vampire who is also the son of King Henry VIII (yes, you read that right), you'll investigate the disappearance of 14 members of a secret society called the Hellfire Club. Each member carries a fragment of a magical tablet that keeps a demon named Astaroth banished, and if the pieces aren't reunited once a year the demon will break free. Which is bad. The plot is a bit convoluted, but makes for interesting scenery, and the game itself is straight-up object finding, no pesky minigames to get in the way.

swarmracer.jpgSwarm Racer (Windows/Mac, 1MB, free) - Why race one vehicle when you can control a whole swarm of them? Why race vehicles when you can control bees?! Zoom around each stage collecting gems while trying your best to keep the group together. Funky backgrounds and a stylish audio package make it an almost psychadelic experience.

psychosmnium.jpgPsychosomnium (Windows, 1.6MB, free) - From Game Maker developer Cactus, Psychosomnium is a short experimental platformer using the dream world as a setting, complete with illogical puzzles and scenarios that make little to no sense. Expect strange things to happen, and don't give up just because an obstacle seem impossible! As Cactus said, the game is not a prank.

boxofblox.jpgBig Box of Blox (Windows/Mac, 11MB, free) - Tetris is so two decades ago. Not only do we want to stack blocks nowdays, we want to smash them as violently as possible. Enter Big Box of Blox and its multiple game modes, tiled themes and satisfying crashing sounds as you make matches. As groups of blocks descend from the sky, switch their position with the [arrow] keys and try your best to line up groups of three. It's sort of a cross between Lumines and Tetris.

gurulogicchamp.jpgGuru Logic Champ (Windows, <1MB, demo) - A sad tale in portable gaming history, Guru Logic Champ was the brainchild of Japanese developer Compile. Released only in Japan for the Game Boy Advance, the company tanked not too long afterwards, leaving a superb puzzle game to wither in obscurity. Fortunately a ten-level PC demo was released, allowing many more gamers to experience the sometimes infuriating logic puzzle bliss. The full game is import only and is a tough one to find, but if you enjoy this kind of puzzle, download PopCap's Pixelus for a similar experience.

millenipede.gifMillenipede (Windows/Mac, 1.1MB, free) - A retro-themed arcade game inspired by Centipede. Shoot mushrooms, dodge spiders, flying saucers, snails and the millenipedes themselves as you climb your way up the high score board. Blocky pixel graphics included, sticky arcade buttons and annoying little kids picking their noses omitted.

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JohnBIf you've seen one match three game, you've seen 'em all, right? Azkend aims to change that, but not in the way you might think. Instead of shaking up the gameplay or introducing awkward new features, developer MythPeople spent time polishing the game to a brilliant shine. The end result is typical puzzle gameplay with a gorgeous visual design and sound package. It goes to prove that a rich presentation with tried-and-true mechanics can turn an otherwise ordinary game into a real gem.

azkend.jpgA team of archaeologists discovered a mysterious relic in Far Asia, but it turned out to be more trouble than good. Azkend begins with the team embarking on a return trip to reach the Temple of Time, restore the artifact to its original location, and lift the evil curse. Each leg of the journey is represented by a black and white photograph that is gradually colored in as you complete levels. You also earn pieces of talismans that introduce new tiles, such as bombs and hammers, for the next group of levels.

The mechanics in Azkend are, as one would expect, wonderfully simple. The goal is to complete a match of three or more tiles using every hexagon on the board. Simply click and drag the mouse over tiles to link them and release to send them spinning. A satisfying clinking sound accompanies each match. Later levels introduce a number of different elements that help/hinder your progress, such as bombs, frozen blocks and steel tiles. Just enough spice to keep your interest alive.

Each time you turn an unused hexagon you're awarded a lightning rune. Fill the Thunder Meter with as many as five runes and helpful bolts of electricity zap down from the sky and clear an equal number of tiles. You can even unleash the furies of nature by snaking long chains of tiles across the board. Part of what makes Azkend so enjoyable is its sense of epic drama. This is how the gods of ancient mythology would play a match three game, with fire raining from the sky and lightning bolts crashing at every turn. It all fits into the tale of ancient Oriental mystery and is executed with rich style.

azkend2.jpgAnalysis: I've played several casual games designed by MythPeople, and while they never charm me with original concepts, they do have an undeniable sparkle that makes them fun to play. Azkend is a prime example of this, as its basic mechanics are as common as casual gaming itself, yet when you package it in such a beautiful audio/visual world, suddenly it grabs your attention and won't let go.

Azkend does feel a bit lacking in the gameplay department, however. Other than the unique power-up system, don't expect it to bend the rules of casual puzzle gaming very much. Each level is more of the same matching with slight variations. Just enough to keep it interesting, but not much more. It doesn't ruin the experience, strangely enough, but match three veterans will likely blaze through the game without looking back.

What would have been an average match three clone for the shovelware pile has been made enjoyable by applying a little elbow grease. While I can't help but think how much greater the game could be with a few drops of gameplay innovation, Azkend is still a package worth unwrapping.

Download the demo
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Azkend is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

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PsychotronicStunt PilotStunt Pilot, from talented developer Rock Solid Arcade, is a challenging, high-quality game of precision acrobatics. It transcends the familiar trope of flying through rings with a sophisticated scoring system and singular control. The result is a simple but engaging test of skill that would fit comfortably in any 80s video arcade, although it would probably be the prettiest game there.

Your goal is to fly a colorful prop plane through a series of rings, which will appear in increasingly more difficult layouts as you advance levels. You can tackle the rings in any order, and take as long as you like about it, but finishing a level quickly will award you a substantial score bonus.

Controlling the plane is deceptively simple — just press [up] or [down] to raise or lower your nose. But two things will keep you from breezing through the rings without care. The first is that your plane has momentum. It feels almost as though you are sliding on ice at first, and you'll have to deal with a lot of over-corrections before you get the hang of it.

The other is that your plane never turns around. When you're flying to the left, the plane is upside down, and the up key will actually drop your vehicle towards the ground. You have to correct for this by performing a little mental stunt yourself and remembering that your controls are always relative to your current trajectory. The real challenge is learning to handle the plane properly, not the rings, and your transition from awkward tree-bait to elegant master of the skies will be your greatest reward.

If that's not enough for you and you'd prefer to rack up some points, then you'll need to use the boost, which is controlled by the [space] bar. Pressing boost will make your plane faster and even harder to wrangle, but the score for the next ring you conquer will double. If you hold down boost through multiple rings, your score multiplier will increase for each one, and you'll get a bonus at the end of the level, based on your longest combo. Even if you don't use the boost, your points for clearing rings will gradually increase so long as you don't crash, but the only way to reach a high score is to get a little bit reckless.

Analysis: Stunt Pilot is a class act through and through, with gorgeous, nearly photo-realistic rendered graphics and enthusiastic background music. Rock Solid Arcade earns their name by providing rock solid controls and collision detection, although both have the potential to make you pull your hair out at first. You see, the edges of the rings, which are apparently made out of anti-gravity titanium, crash your plane on contact. If you can't pull off a clean run through a chain of rings, you're probably toast, and that means your basic score multiplier goes back down to zero.

But as with any difficult but reliable game, the emotional reward is greater when you succeed. You'll feel like an ace whenever you speed through a level with a perfect combo, purple smoke trailing proudly behind you. Even the prop plane seems be having a good time, what with its endearing spontaneous barrel rolls, and if you ever start getting frustrated, it's fun to just do a few figure-eights in an unoccupied part of the open sky.

The incentive program is a little lacking, with naked points and personal satisfaction your only rewards. It would be nice to get a shiny medal after a perfect level. And there doesn't seem to be a high score table at all, so if you thrive on competition, you'll have to compare scores manually. I also would have liked a little more interactivity when the plane crashes into things — rings falling to the ground, punctured hot air balloons, that sort of thing.

But Rock Solid Arcade has already addressed most of my criticisms with their next two releases. The rings can't kill you in the toned-down Stunt Pilot Trainer, and Dogfight: the Great War applies the same control scheme to a series of WWI combat missions, complete with a giant zeppelin boss. Both are worth your time, if you dig this style of gameplay.

Play Stunt Pilot

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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBNote: the following games have nothing to do with this paragraph about plywood. It's just fun to know that a vast number of varieties of plywood exist, tailored for all manner of conditions and uses. Softwood plywood is usually made either of Douglas fir or spruce, pine, and fir. Decorative plywood is usually faced with hardwood, including red oak, birch, maple, lauan (Philippine mahogany) and a large number of other hardwoods.

  • icon_irondukes.gifIron Dukes - A gorgeous RPG/action hybrid where you play a scientist/greedy treasure hunter in a fictional version of the late 19th century. Pilot your ship through storms, dive for gold and defeat crazy steam-powered foes all in the name of getting rich and buying more cool stuff to equip. Iron Dukes is up for Best Web Browser Game in the 10th annual Independent Games Festival, so if you like the game, head over to the audience awards page and cast your vote! (One level demo, contains strong language.)
  • icon_tailtag.gifTailtag - Like ladybugs? Who doesn't! This rather cute arcade game has a simple goal: form a chain by brushing the last in line against a free-roaming bug. Different bugs are worth different points, and the faster you work the higher your score.
  • icon_dupligon.gifDupligon - Think you're the best polygon drawer this side of the internet? Time to put your skills to the test with this short brain teaser-type game. A polygon appears for a few moments, then vanishes and the screen shifts to a drawing board. You must place points and try to mimic the polygon's angles.
  • icon_fwgpinball.gifFWG Pinball - A great-looking pinball game with simple controls and a nice arcade-style feel. The camera is a bit shaky, especially at higher speeds, but otherwise it's a smooth experience. You know, if luck-driven pinball doesn't frustrate you.
  • JayJIG Poker Night - gets bigger each week (oh yes, it does!) every Saturday. Check this page each week for time of day (usually 4PM Eastern), then make sure you're there in the JIG lounge because the tournament starts promptly. In other words, you can't join the tournament after it has started, so get there early. The winner each week qualifies for a championship tournament in the spring where we'll give away an iPod Nano and a Nintendo DS!! What are you waiting for? Come join in on the fun!


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GriffTBATo be announced? Text-based adventure? Television Bureau of Advertisement?

TBA, from game developer John Cooney (jmtb02.com), is none of these things. But what it is... is a whole lot of fun.

At first glance, TBA appears to be of a game of extreme simplicity. As you blast through the first level of this arcade action game, doing nothing but striking the space bar until the ball flies into the goal, you may wonder "What's the point?" But don't let any first impression fool you. Once you get going, the game really shows it's true colors.

The goal of TBA is simple. Get the ball from the start of the level to the goal by blasting it from launcher to launcher with a simple tap of the [space bar]. Simple, right? Just keep tapping until the ball hits the goal, right? The trick comes when these launchers start moving, spinning, and flipping. When you discover the precise timing required to actually get the ball from launcher to launcher, you will begin to see the true depth of the gameplay.

From the first launch to the last, you'll have a blast. The game sets an additional layer of depth with the inclusion of "par" times. These times serve as passive goals — if you want to go for par, go for it, but if you don't, you don't have to. For those of you who like having good scores, this will add a good amount of replay. The graphics in-game are both pleasant and informative — every type of launcher having a different color. For example, the goal is red, blue launchers don't move, the ones that do move side-to-side are turquoise, etc.

The visual effect that strikes me most is the natural progression of time. A sky background is visible throughout each level, and, as the level goes on, the color of the sky rapidly changes from pleasant blue to red to purple, simulating the passing of the day. This effect is far from subtle — the entire spectrum of colors can be seen in only a few seconds.

The sound and music, while not outstanding, are on par with what you would expect from a jmtb02 game. An upbeat techno loop populates the levels while the level select has a much calmer, quieter loop. The sound effects, however, are virtually nonexistent. The only one I heard during gameplay was the sound of the ball re-spawning back at the start.

One nice design feature is the fact that you can play any of the game's 25 levels in any order you wish. If you get stuck in this game, it's okay, because you can just move onto the next level and worry about the one you were stuck on later.

Analysis: TBA is pure, simple fun. While it's not going to last you more than a few hours, those few hours will be well-spent. The game itself is easy to pick-up and is well-designed, starting with a basic mechanic and sprinkling in variety every few levels. And it is built on a solid "beat your score" replay base. Thanks to its short levels and auto-saves, this game is great for a lunch break, between classes, or any time you can spend a few minutes on the computer.

And, on top of all this praise, what may be most impressive is the fact the entire game was written in just four days.

Play TBA

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irritationstickman.gifJohnBAccurately described as a "drag action game", Irritation Stickman is the latest effort from dan-ball.jp, home of the Powder Game and Liquid Webtoy. The goal is to pick up and drag stickmen through each stage, avoiding spikes and other traps along the way. You can only keep your grip for a few seconds and must drop stickmen to recharge, forcing you to think before flailing the cursor around the screen. It's a simple but fun action game that produces some hilarious moments of stickman insanity.

You have 99 seconds to drag at least one stickman safely to the goal. The faster you work and the more stickmen you save, the higher your score. You can also grab coins and time-bonus orbs for extra points, but they're often stashed in out of the way areas and are hard to reach. There are six stages composed of three sub-levels each, playable in any order you like.

Each stage is packed with dangerous objects that will cause your stickmen to go splat in one way or another. Strangely enough, no amount of slinging or dropping will injure these guys unless they collide with something hazardous. While sometimes you can simply grab and sling them through corridors, often you'll have to carry each stickman one by one through dangerous territory.

Once you get the hang of the squidgy mechanics you can practice some more advanced techniques you'll need to gather all the coins and complete some of the more difficult stages. Juggling several stickmen in the air across a pit of spikes is extraordinarily satisfying.

Analysis: For a simple, silent game with tiny visuals, Irritation Stickman is still a lot of fun. It almost has a webtoy feel to it, as you can just as easily spend your afternoon slinging stickmen around and watching them splat against the wall as you can completing stages and competing for a high score. The cursor is a bit touchy at times and tends to draw stickmen together when you click, almost as if they were magnetic. This can be frustrating when you're trying to move one character at a time, as the more you pick up at once the less time you can hold on.

Another great time-waster from a talented developer!

Play Irritation Stickman

Cheers to Sam for sending this one in!

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Game Design Competition #5Gimme5gamesMochi MediaJust a quick reminder that we are just a few weeks into the design and development period for Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5, and there is still plenty of time to come up with an idea and to get your game design underway that incorporates the theme: UPGRADE. Up for grabs are prizes worth over $10,000, and the deadline is March 16th.

Highlights of questions that have come up during the past couple of weeks include:

  • What are the size restrictions, if any? - For your game to work with MochiAds, your game must be a minimum of 300x300 (about the same size as the competition logo image above). We are limiting maximum width to 800 pixels.
  • I am having difficulty getting MochiAds to work, can you offer some help with that? - There is excellent documentation available for getting MochiAds up and running in your game. Also, Emanuele Feronato has just published an excellent article about the MochiAds new leader boards(!) If you're having specific problems and can post your questions here in the competition thread, we'll try to address them so that everyone may benefit from the questions and answers.
  • How much blood and gore will be acceptable in this competition? - This is a very good question since we have never made a formal announcement regarding our policy towards violent and mature content. With respect to the competitions, we would like to encourage all developers to steer clear of unnecessary or intense violence, blood and gore in their games, and to keep mature themes to a minimum. If violence or mature themes are necessary for your game, please use the ESRB Teen rating definition as a guideline to the limit of what is acceptable.
  • Can a game entry load external data or other SWFs? - Yes, your game may load external data or SWFs. Please use a subdirectory named the same as your game to store the external data files and SWFs in. However, doing so could reduce the ease with which other sites can host your game, thereby reducing your chances at the Viral award.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the main competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!

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PsychotronicZunderFuryZunderFury! The very name sends a shiver down your spine. The adrenaline runs spicy through your veins as you crack your knuckles and chug down a quadruple latte, preparing for blood. ZunderFury! With a name like that, you know it's not gonna be about Mahjong. No! It's going to be a blast-a-thon. A bullet-fest. A slaughter of thousands. A 90-mile per hour trip through the Carpal Tunnel. ZunderFury! Lock and load, ladies and gents, we're going to Painville. Population: everybody that's not you. (Cue "Eye of the Tiger".)

Following in the well-trod footsteps of games like Geometry Wars and Robotron 2084, developer Doogog's ZunderFury is a hardcore arena shooter that is happiest when it's overwhelming you with throngs of spiky blob-things. Control your tank's movement with the arrow keys or WASD, and aim with the mouse. Auto-fire is included — just click once to turn your gun on full blast, and once more to turn it off if you're in the mood to get summarily blown up. Use one of your stock of bombs by pressing [space] or [ctrl], while [Esc] or [P] get you the pause menu, where you can take a break or turn off the incongruous but harmless trance music.

Choose between two fighters — Zunder, who is equipped with your standard machine gun, and Fury, who packs a short-range flame-thrower. It's generally easier to play with Zunder, but when there's a mob of 50 death orbs outracing you, it's sometimes nice to have twin streams of fire at your disposal.

Leader boards for both fighters are, of course, included. The key to high scores is to keep your score multiplier up, and the only way to do that is to not die. Good luck with that. The odds are against you.

Analysis: ZunderFury took some time to grow on me. The pure thrill of facing dozens and dozens of enemies simultaneously is undeniable (though it takes about 12 levels before the game really starts to throw down), but in order to maximize the number of active threats, the game cuts way back on the special effects. The background is a single-color wash, and the bad guys explode in unconvincing yellow poofs. In fact, the whole audio/visual package comes off as artless and forgettable. This is a tale told by a programmer, full of ZunderFury, signifying nothing.

An undocumented contract has evolved in modern arena shooters: in exchange for what is essentially brainless gameplay, the screen will blow your mind with pretty colors. Most games in this genre are either abstract neon trance sessions or semi-realistic, blood-spattering gut-wrenchers. It's kind of strange to play a shooter content simply to generate hundreds of generic enemies and kill you honestly.

But that's what Zunderfury is, and for a game with so little personality, it's surprisingly compelling. You can spend money in between rounds to upgrade your ship, and the game comes with a full set of Xbox Live-style achievements, called "Feats", which is a smart way to personalize and flesh out the experience.

Due to the creeping speed of your main ship, ZunderFury plays as more grueling than manic, but it really keeps the pressure on, with relentless waves of cannon fodder and a decent level of tactical variety. Some of the enemies have shields, which force you to sidestep and attack from behind, and others sit heavily armored and motionless, pumping out homing missiles. Some ships can leave the screen and return in unpredictable places, so if your usual strategy in this type of game is to cower in the corner and lay down suppressing fire, you're out of luck this time. Although it is pretty annoying to get blind-sided by an enemy coming in from off-screen, and I'm not sure why some ships can pass through the boundaries of the play field while others bounce off them.

Short on pizzazz but long on intensity, ZunderFury is overall a pretty satisfying way to scratch your trigger finger itch, especially for a Flash creation. It's unpretentious, unapologetic, and extremely challenging. The best thing about it might be its title, but you must admit, that's one fantastic title.

Play ZunderFury

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Scramble125Paint WarsHearken back to the days of yore when rainy days meant arts and crafts. Are you hearkening? Good. You may need to call on some of those childhood artistic skills.

Paint Wars, by Coolio-Niato, challenges you to fill in the outlines of different shapes using as little paint as possible, while an army of vehicles tries to destroy your masterpiece. Just click and drag around the board to draw and fill in over the white shapes. You don't have to cover the entire area within the shape — just the outline. When you've successfully filled in a shape, the white template will disappear and you will feel a little sense of accomplishment. Do this enough and you'll beat the game!

But it won't be as easy as it sounds. When the tanks drive erratically across the board, they leave a trail of paint that covers your hard work. Planes drop paint bombs to hinder you in a similar fashion. If a shape isn't completely covered by your purple paint, the template will reappear. Don't worry, you can fight back. Your weapon of choice? Your pointer — just click them to blow them up. Doing so will also splatter evil-paint, so be careful!

Analysis: There's no escaping it: Paint Wars is difficult. When I first found it floating around the net, it had only one difficulty: Basically Impossible. The author has since adjusted accordingly, first decreasing the overall difficulty of the game and later creating an Easy ("Let's Get Painting!") and Hard ("Let's Paint A Masterpiece") difficulty. Jump into the Masterpiece difficulty and you're likely to pull your hair out by level three. Still, it's an engaging game that uses a familiar draw mechanic in an innovative way. Having to decide quickly where to destroy enemies so as to minimize splatter-damage gives the game a frantic feel, while completing a board is a gratifying experience. Furthermore, as you add more paint to the board, the bonus — which starts at 5,000 on Easy and 10,000 on Hard — quickly drains, and your high score is cumulative across all the levels. So if you aim to be the best, you'd better be conservative.

Paint Wars would be great to play on a tablet, but for those of us that aren't technologically up to speed, the game is mouse compatible. With varying degrees of difficulty and a high score function, Paint Wars is worth a try.

Play Paint Wars

Thanks to dotcomlarry for the screenshot!

PatrickBug Bug in Sky TowerBug Bug in Sky Tower is the latest game to be released from Aqui Griffin's studio and entered into our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition in October. And since the competition, Aqui received a sponsorship from Arcade Town and today re-released the game with crucial improvements. Imagine the wandering ball of Within A Deep Forest encased in metal and set loose in your browser, and tell me you don't want to get into that Sky Tower.

You play a rolling ball-like spaceship that has crash-landed on a floating tower, a vertical Laputa. In Metroidvania-style, you find things that empower your ability to explore, all the while searching for key collectibles, in this case the parts of a broken robot. You get to fix the robot! Its pretty cool, you see its body highlighting together on the map screen as you progress. [M] will bring up that map screen, by the way. Use the [arrow] keys to move around and jump. [A], [S], and [D] cause you to switch between different modes that you obtain, and the [spacebar] lets you charge up a ground pound.

Analysis: Nice touches here: the tree (and art work in general) is one, and the fact that you can't die is definitely another. As a game it's decent, the same game you've played before probably — since the ball physics don't involve any momentum rolls or bounces, you might as well be a humanoid with a smooth running animation. The level design on the other hand is quite sweet, definitely B+ flow control and a rare A- in creating a sense of exploration.

JayJay - Another diamond in the rough, Aqui demonstrates again with Bug Bug that he not only knows how to make games beautiful, he is also quite cognisant of the elements of gameplay that make a game great and enjoyable to play. The little bit of roughness in the first incarnation that we experienced with the ball physics, particularly when bouncing against a wall, is gone and left in its wake is the game we wish we had played the first time through. Nice puzzles, great level design, and appealing graphics. Well done, Aqui!

Play Bug Bug in Sky Tower

ArtbegottiNanw's Great AdventureTo celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Library of Wales, Pokedstudio was commissioned to create Nanw's Great Adventure, an adorably cute adventure that has the player rounding up some of the actual historical artifacts from the library and returning them to the librarian like a good little bunny.

The objective for each level is to find the one specific artifact that the librarian asks you to find, and bring it back to the front desk of the library. Simple, right? A couple of happy caveats aim to block your way: The first is a time limit to complete the challenge, which varies from round to round. The second is the fact that the library and the areas outside the library are quite a confusing maze for your bunny-like character to navigate. Each level requires one or more triggers to be activated to be able to progress through the game. And while there are many passcards and artifacts scattered throughout the world, you're only able to carry one at a time. (I guess that's three happy caveats, isn't it?)

The only keys you need to play this game are the cursor keys. However, the game is isometrically designed, so the up key actually corresponds to moving up-left. (Take note: This is actually rotated a quarter-turn from many other isometric games you might be used to. Darn you, Q-bert!) While discussing this game with Jay, he recommended rotating the keyboard counterclockwise a bit to help you line up the movement a little more easily.

Nanw's Great Adventure is seven levels long (hence, seven artifacts to find). Since time is somewhat limited in the game, it's recommended that you work ahead and try to unlock some doors for the next level before turning in the artifact. Any opened doors and items whose locations have changed are remembered, so if you run out of time, you'll restart only at the beginning of the level, having only lost a small amount of progress. This comes in handy when you have to loop around several different worlds of mazes, including forests, caves, and fields with sheep. Yes, this game has sheep.

Analysis: Who would have thought that such a simple-looking child's game could hold such a devious challenge? The further you progress into this game, the more detours you have to hit in order to open up the next gate, to open up the next gate, to open up the next gate, and so forth. I never knew visiting a library could be so complex! But perhaps that's not the message they are trying to convey. Maybe it's that visiting a library can be so much fun! Yes, that must be it. Read more books! Oh, and play Nanw's Great Adventure.

Play Nanw's Great Adventure

Hidden Secrets: The Nightmare banner

KarmenFlora Dale has been having one of those days. First there was the excitement of the birthday party and the lottery ticket, and then later, the horrible fall down the stairs. Now she finds herself in a hospital bed, trapped inside her own subconscious. If she hopes to survive, she must discover what has happened. Faced with obscure puzzles and hidden clues, Flora must pull off the most challenging of escapes: from her own mind. She can't do it alone... she'll need your help. If you think you can handle the disturbing landscape of the victim's mind, then you must play Hidden Secrets: The Nightmare.

hiddensecrets.jpgDon't let the title fool you. Hidden Secrets: The Nightmare is not your average hidden object game. While searching for certain items in a scene is an essential aspect, the game resembles more of a point-and-click adventure. Items often need to be combined once they are found, or used within the scene to reveal hidden clues or codes. Each scene offers clues which will eventually need to be put together in order to solve the mystery: Who threw Flora down the staircase?

A small bit of narrative follows the completion of each scene, leading Flora closer to understanding the cause of her demise. Once this plays out, you will be presented with one or two mini-games. These challenges vary throughout the game, from puzzles of sliding blocks, rolling balls, and jumping pegs to tests of memory and observation. One simple, yet elegant mini game even requires you to sort out Flora's tangled neurons. If a particular mini-game gets to be too frustrating, you are allowed to skip a few. Use your skips wisely, otherwise you may later find yourself stuck in a gridlock of memories with no time to waste.

hiddensecrets2.jpgYou are only given a certain amount of time for each set, scene and mini-game(s). While the game will automatically pause if you leave the window, time will pass quickly as you search each scene for clues. Be careful! Random or erroneous clicks will take away small chunks of time, while asking for a hint will take an entire five minutes away. If enough of your time is used, you may not be able to complete the required puzzles. In this case, you will have to repeat the scene from the beginning.

With a blend of puzzles, adventure, and mystery, Hidden Secrets: The Nightmare is sure to please. While most of the challenges are variations on the same old puzzles (some as ancient as the Towers of Hanoi), they are combined with beautifully detailed scenes, haunting music, and an intriguing plot. Overall, this adds up to a delightful casual gaming experience.

Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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Weekend Download

JohnBEnjoy a feisty romp through a flat, 2D dungeon now and again? That's good, because this weekend we've got two games that drop you in the middle of a maze of corridors and monsters with only a pixelated sword to save your hide. And then there's a fish that eats other fish and faeries that collect shiny pollen. Go figure.

thegreattree.jpgThe Great Tree (Windows, 39MB, demo) - A simple, relaxing arcade game with some of the most beautifully enchanting artwork I've ever seen. The Pollen Collectors have been bewitched, forcing their young faerie children to save their race. Venture into the dangerous forest to collect pollen as you avoid creatures both large and small. A somber game with engaging storytelling and an upgrade system lets you tweak your character as you progress.

griffonlegend.gifThe Griffon Legend (Windows, 19MB, free) - An action-RPG with an odd claim to fame: it's the first completed role playing game made with FreeBasic. Use the [spacebar] to attack enemies and the [ctrl] key to bring up a rudimentary menu screen. Great music, catchy gameplay, and surprisingly detailed environments that feel just like a slice of retro gaming heaven.

fishiefishie1.jpgFishie Fishie (Windows, 3.7MB, free) - Are you tired of games that use all those wacky, complex button set-ups? Fishie Fishie feels your pain. Pick a key, any key, and use it to guide a fish around the pond to devour other fish. It's that simple, and it's surprisingly fun! And while you're on Farbs.org, try Polychromatic Funk Monkey for a unique platforming experience.

tilecrawl.gifTile Crawl (Windows/Mac/Linux, ~2MB, free) - A graphical version of the original Linley's Dungeon Crawl, role playing doesn't get any more basic than this. The non-ASCII visuals are much easier on the eyes and make the game far more inviting to new players, but at its core Tile Crawl is still a bare-bones RPG with tons of character races, items, spells and more.

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Garden Defense

JohnBAs evidenced by a flood of Flash-based titles in the last year or so, tower defense games are all the rage. Now, iWin is throwing its hat in the ring with Garden Defense, a full-blown downloadable tower defense game where you save your garden using gnomes, flamingos, cupid statues and a host of plants to fight off waves of attacking bugs. It's eat or be eaten in this easy to learn but surprisingly challenging strategy game.

gardendefense.jpgThe basic set-up of Garden Defense is similar to most tower defense games. Each stage has a winding path where off-screen enemies will eventually walk. Using a limited budget you must purchase, place and upgrade a variety of "towers" (plants and garden gadgets, in this case) to attack enemies as they pass by. As soon as you have the stage set, click "ready" at the bottom of the screen to unleash the bugs. As they march through the garden your faithful soldiers will attack. The more bugs you destroy the more cash you earn to upgrade and buy more defenses.

Enemies come in all manner of entomological sizes and shapes, including butterflies, beetles, flies, even snails and centipedes. Each tower has a specific purpose and can deal with bugs in a different manner. For example, gadget-type towers such as gnomes and flamingos have the advantage of being mobile. After they attack the enemy out of the gates, simply pick them up and move them down the path for another round of combat. Other units such as the nightbell flower attack groups of enemies, while the cactus is specially adapted to take out airborne enemies.

In addition to purchasing more units, cash you earn from defeating bugs can also be used to upgrade existing towers. Higher-level units deal more damage, fire faster, and often have a greater range of attack. Sometimes an upgraded tower is a smarter purchase than a second, low-level one, but balancing between the two is part of each player's strategy.

fairwaysolitaire1.jpgAfter a few levels of bug smashing you'll gain access to the lab, a place to spend skill points (automatically awarded after each stage based on your performance) to boost groups of statistics. Here, you can buy upgrades that power-up all plant units to deal 25% more damage, decrease the time it takes for gadgets to reload after you move them, and much, much more. The lab is what makes Garden Defense really interesting and allows for a deep level of customization. And you'll need it, too, as the game gets much harder as the stages go by.

In addition to the main game, Garden Defense comes with a number of just-for-fun extras, and as you play you'll also unlock a number of challenge levels. This, along with over 100 waves of enemies to dispatch, will give you several hours of garden-related carnage to enjoy.

Analysis: I enjoy tower defense games now and then, mostly just to dive in, destroy some dirty creeps, then feel all superior because I can upgrade my weapons and cause even more destruction. Garden Defense didn't immediately strike me as a serious contender for the tower defense crown, but as soon as I started placing gnomes and spitting sunflowers, I was throughly hooked. Even though it doesn't put on the same dour facade as most TD games, Garden Defense manages to pack a lot of customization and strategy into a pleasing (and easy-to-learn) package. iWin didn't skimp in the sound and visuals department, either. Music throughout the game is light-hearted and catchy, while the graphics are crisp, colorful and easy on the eyes. The game's story is told through a series of animated cut scenes complete with voice narration.

The most dangerous thing about Garden Defense is its playability. It's good in short spurts, it's great for marathon sit-downs. It's more robust than many Flash tower defense games, but it's also more accessible and doesn't take itself so seriously. With that slight edge of humor and brilliant production values, Garden Defense can woo just about any gamer.

Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available.
Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.

Garden Defense is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

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skyrates2.jpgPatrickAs odd as it may sound, Skyrates is a game about human-like animals flying biplanes between floating continents. Think Star Fox meets The Kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. You're a young pilot out to make an impact — or at least get rich — by trading, performing missions, and fighting pirates. Here's the catch: flying between islands takes at least an hour of real-world time. The game was designed by a group of then-CMU grad-students to explore sporadic play, something you check like e-mail a few times a day. The result is not only interesting, its good enough to thread its way into your life.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008The game's interface is a wee-bit more complicated than we usually review here, but once you get your head around the concepts, you'll have no problem. There is an over-world map with several floating lands marked on it. You can see the one you're currently docked at as well as a fuel radius highlighting areas you can fly to. While docked you can trade goods, equip your plane with upgrades and utilities like fuel and ammo, and receive missions at the tavern. Trading is an easy and safe way to move up in the world, just buy whatever is most plentiful (marked with a large, blueish bar) and fly it to a place where it is scarce (marked by a short, reddish bar).

skyrates.gifAlong the way you can choose to engage pirates. Fighting them is a fun dogfight mini-game where you control the tilt and velocity of the plane with [WASD] keys and fire with the [spacebar]. Slowing down allows you to turn faster, so you end up trying to pull some slick maneuvers and get on top of your enemy. Just remember, if you intend on playing this game like you do most games, you're going to spend a lot of time looking at a screen not unlike the one at the top of this page.

skyrates3.jpgAnalysis: The production values are strong, the polish is on, and the game is a clever twist on real-time deferred dynamics. What I mean by that is, for example, the way tech points in Virtual Villagers accumulate over time based on your computer's clock, even when the game or the computer itself is off. You can design a whole game around things that takes a lot of real-time to change, and I think its a great approach. Quintessentially casual.

With this game, I can think of a Travian-esque business model the fine folks behind it should consider: you can subscribe to get a "sky map" of jet streams that accelerate travel, or you can buy with real money some quantities of special jet fuel that makes travel almost instantaneous. In other words, monetizing impatience. There's also a lot of potential with player-created groups such as trade guilds, protectorate factions, religions — lots of interesting macro-dynamics that would make this worth coming back to, beyond the accumulation of wealth and upgrading your ship. Little things like e-mail alerts when you come into port, these could make a big difference in how this game can be integrated into someone's life. It's basically a dressed-down, casual, time-based version of Elite, and that's excellent.

It's a lot more fun than flying in the real world, and you'll probably get there sooner.

Play Skyrates

Cheers to Sean and Johnicholas for suggesting this one! =)

spacekitteh.jpgzxoMe, I don't know of any problem that can't be solved through the liberal application of kitties. That must also have been the mindset of Zach Archer and Miles Johnson when they came up with Space Kitteh for our recent CGDC #4. I mean, here you have this breathtaking array of worlds which orbit each other in mesmerizing patterns, the beauty of the galaxy all around, cosmic audio pervading your ears. What could possibly make it better? That's right: kitties!

The game starts you on a familiar-looking blue and green planet in an alternate and terra-centric universe. Use the [arrow] keys to walk around the surface of the planet and talk to Mr. Shoehornhair (no, not his real name) who hired you to save the kitties in nearby planetary systems. Press the [spacebar] to jump off the planet and use the [arrow] keys to control your flight using the jetpack (of course you have a jetpack!). However, the gravitational field from nearby planets is strong and constantly in flux, so it may take a while to get used to the controls. Surrounding this blue and green planet are three portals to other planetary systems, manned by Rock, Paper and Scissors (yes, the real names). Each has a different challenge for you to complete. Finish them all and return to Mr. Shoehornhair to complete the game!

The biggest challenge in Space Kitteh is mastering the controls and timing your jumps. Rescuing the kitties is pretty easy. It does help to read the directions carefully so you know how to zoom in and out — it's a lot easier to navigate the swirling systems when you can see all of the gravitational sources surrounding you. However, zooming out too far diminishes the excellent visual effects — spiraling animations on the portals, for example. I found myself zooming in a few levels, trading broader vision for fuller enjoyment without rendering the game difficult in any way. Trust me, getting the full effect of the sun in the Gamma system is worth it.

Perhaps the most charming element of all is one that has absolutely no effect on the gameplay whatsoever — booting the rescued kitties off of a planet. That sad meow they emit when bumped is both extremely satisfying and slightly guilt-inducing at the same time. Between these little touches, and the solid all-around execution of the core game mechanics (physics, art, soundtrack, controls, etc.), Space Kitteh provides an immersive, top-quality, casual gaming, excess-adjective-inducing experience.

Zach and Miles have been working on an improved version with improved grammar: Space Kitty! In it you'll find new and (yes) improved features such as a welcome screen, an inset map, a laser-arrow to help you out when you are lost in space, and a guided help system to get you going. The dialogue has been changed to lend some coherence to the game, though it comes at the price of some of the whimsicalness.

dancemonkeydancemonkey - I wasn't too sure about this game at first, mainly I guess because of its name (I am vehemently and irrationally opposed to using "-eh" in place of "-y" at the end of a word). It ended up being one of my favorites. The competition theme is realized in a brilliant and unique way, and the designers (Zach and Miles) have created a fun and challenging platformer. I was also surprised at the differentiation between each of the levels: they were all challenging in entirely different ways, which I was impressed by considering how similar each level seems at first glance. One major wish I had was for some sort of guide or indicator that would lead me towards either the next cat or at least towards the exit portal, since I was getting frustrated eventually at constantly winding up at exactly the same spot after a several tries at finding the last cat. Otherwise, I found saving space cats realleh fun.

Play Space Kitteh

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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBAccompanying this Link Dump Friday is a highly unusual paragraph. How quickly can you find out what is wrong? It looks so ordinary that you would think nothing was wrong with it at all. In fact, nothing is. But it is unusual. Why? If you study it and think about it you may find out, but I am not going to assist you. You must do it without coaching. No doubt, if you work at it, it will dawn on you.

  • icon_lightpeopleonfire.gifLight People on Fire - No, it's not a suggestion, it's the name of the game, and it probably isn't as bad as you think. Cheery stick figures run back and forth across the screen. It's your job to burst into flames and set them on fire. And when a rain cloud comes along, simply transform into a tree to turn its dousing water into a growth tonic!
  • icon_metrosiberia.gifMetro Siberia Underground - A vector-based flying game where the only key used is the [spacebar] that increases your upwards thrust. Avoid smashing into the landscape as you zoom by the stark environments. Comes complete with falling spikes, quasi-futuristic buildings, and passageways that transform before your eyes.
  • icon_grenadespin.gifGrenade Spin - Physics + grenades = game! A mini-game of sorts from Flash developer Komix, you control a grenade launcher/wheel by spinning the mouse to move through the terrain. Launch and detonate grenades to destroy enemies or push yourself through difficult areas.
  • icon_random3d.gifRandom 3D episode 1 - Another short one from Komix, Random 3D puts you in control of a crab-like creature in a 3D world. The simple goal is to push balls into the hole as quickly as you can.
  • icon_planetprotector.gifPlanet Protector - Obviously inspired by the highly stylistic games Red and Orange, Planet Protector is a simple shooter that puts you in charge of protecting an entire planet. Rotate around the orb using the [A] and [D] keys and aim/fire using the mouse. Push rocks and other planet away with your gun and grab power-ups whenever you can!
  • icon_bombsquad.gifBombsquad - An interesting little twist on a dropping-tiles puzzle game, Bombsquad gives you a cannon and a supply of timed explosives to launch in the air. Take aim and fire with just enough power for the bomb to detonate and destroy the on-screen diamonds.
  • JayJIG Poker Night - JIG Poker Night is back (oh yes, it is!) every Saturday. So grab your chips and a chair and join us every weekend for some classic Texas Hold'em poker fun in our own private Triplejack lounge. The winner each week qualifies for a championship tournament in the spring where we'll give away an iPod Nano and a Nintendo DS!!

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avoidthegame.gifPatrickIt looks simple, like what computers experience when they practice zazen. And it is, my brothers and sisters, it is very simple. Therein lies the beauty of Avoid! (The Game) (I bet that exclamation point was jarring), a compilation of short vignettes by Alex Miller that plays off the theme of avoidance.

You control a dot with the mouse or keyboard, depending on the particular exercise, and try to avoid the solid objects. A blue bar in the lower left corner of the screen represents your progress. When it fills up, you can proceed to the next exercise. Along the rest of bottom of the screen is a red bar that fills when you are intersecting with solid objects. You want to keep the red bar from filling while the blue bar fills, and thats the whole show.

Analysis: As the game states in its early text, avoidance is a basic, almost primal motif for gameplay. It relates to ancient wiring in our reptilian brain stems, fight or flight, escape and survive. Sure, our ancestors weren't running from grey squares and circles moving in a variety of patterns, but the cognitive principle is the same. What results is a game that is as pared-down as a game can be that still holds our attention. As Avoid! accelerates into later levels it starts to grip your attention and you get sucked into the trance of keeping your dot alive. There's also a game design lesson in this: avoidance is a dynamic goal that shows up all over the history of games, though it usually isn't the only mechanic. I suspect Avoid! could serve some illustrative purpose in a game design curriculum, as well as being a relaxing way to pass the time.

Are you motivated by gratuitous exclamations! If so, this is a game you shouldn't avoid!

JayJay - Although Alex's game doesn't offer much in the way of innovations to avoidance games in general, what I was most impressed with was his presentation. From the initial creative approach to a loading screen and the minimalist style of graphics, to the nicely designed practice system and help screens, this game offers a solid production experience even if it offers gameplay that we may have experienced before. Too often we see Flash game developers create a compelling concept that doesn't quite meet its potential due to haste in what I like to call 'packaging'. It's these finer details of a release that can improve the overall impression and perception of quality in a game, and can even make the overall game play experience more enjoyable. When it comes to creating excellence in games, the importance of presentation should not be underestimated. Aspiring Flash game developers could do well by taking a cue or two from Alex Miller.

Play Avoid!

LineGolfer.pngPatrickRemember Line Rider? That was a pretty sweet webtoy made by a guy from Slovenia. But did you ever get the feeling that Line Rider could have been so much more amazing if there was more of a game to it?

Fresh off the CandyStand, and developed by WDDG, we have Line Golfer. It's like Line Rider, and yet you golf your way through the mouse-drawn levels instead of watching a character sled through them. Frankly, it's money.

First of all, the game lets you jump right in and play, no confusion or immediate expectations about drawing. Adjust the angle of your swing with the mouse, click once to ready and click again to lock-in your desired power-level. The ball then bounces through a usually ridiculous obstacle course of ramps, platforms, pits, splotches of sand and rough. The goal is to get the ball to roll under the pin at a slow speed, sinking it, and in only so many strokes.

Analysis: If you're like me, you love Curb Your Enthusiasm and you hate golf, so a game that is golf-like but abstracts the sport to 2D zaniness is right up on its own. Then add a smooth Web-platform for building, publishing, rating and sorting levels, and you must concede defeat. The drawing tools in Line Golfer are easy to use and the time required to build a level is much more palatable than Line Rider because the physics of the object in question (your golf ball) are so much more dynamic (and forgiving). This is interesting to me, because I've suspected for a while now that open-ended toys, social networks and ARGs benefit from game mechanics nested within them. In this case, the benefit isn't just in stickiness, the process of creation is actually deepened by the variation that a game allows. That's a lesson you can take to the bank.

Unleash the wild, crayon-equipped toddler within your heart and the balding, aged golfer within your head, and play Line Golfer.

Play Line Golfer

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zxoPlantageThere's something alluring about the world of Samorost. It is at once both verdant and barren, creepy yet inviting, whimsical yet stately, and behind every gnarled old twig await untold enchanting surprises.

Plantage brings us another glimpse of this fantastic world in this short animation by Jakub Dvorský of Amanita Design. Set to music by Under Byen, Plantage is not so much a story as it is a solemn celebration of life and rebirth. View Plantage.

If you can't get enough of the Amanita Design team's work, there are a couple of screenshot teasers from their upcoming downloadable game Machinarium, available later this year. Fantastic!

goliaththesoothsayer.jpgPatrick Do you agree with any of the following: A) The Mars Volta is tight, B) Room Escape games are tight, or C) Ouija boards are gateways for demonic forces? If so, you're in for a treat. A treat that will attempt to eat your soul.

Goliath the Soothsayer is an adventure game designed by Ben Leffler (of Exmortis series fame) to promote the upcoming Mars Volta release, The Bedlam In Goliath. The story is based on the experience of the band's sick guitarist, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. The guy goes to Jerusalem for vacation and walks into a curiosity shop. Of course, when you walk into a curio shop in Jerusalem you're bound to leave with a demonically enchanted artifact, right?

In the fiction of the game an insurance salesman buys the same Ouija board that Omar did. You play the poor guy's brother, the game starts with you waking up in an attic. Salt barricades the locked door, and your first task is to make an escape. After you do the game opens up a little bit and the mystery of Goliath the Soothsayer starts to unravel. Gameplay involves the usual clicking around for items and figuring out logic puzzles. Occasionally, a scary thing will happen, and it is possible to lose your soul to demonic entities while playing.

goliaththesoothsayer.jpgAnalysis: The game is very good but it suffers from a lack of feedback in several respects. The exploratory process of clicking around for clues often isn't conclusive enough. Good adventure games don't hold your hand, but this one doesn't even nudge, and odds are you'll find yourself resorting to FAQs or spoiler tabs in the comments section in order to complete it. The writing that accompanies the object mouse-overs is also a bit overwrought, though not to the extent where it uses words like "overwrought".

With all that said, the puzzles hang together with a nice metaphysical logic, so if you start thinking like a paranormal investigator, it might come around smoothly for you. The graphics and audio are well done, making it enticing to continue despite the rough edges. No matter what you think of the genre or Mars Volta's music, you gotta admit, Ouija boards just don't get enough love in the media these days. Lets give all those repressed demon spirits a holiday.

Play Goliath the Soothsayer

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PsychotronicHydroHydro, from Canadian design student Yohei Shimomae, is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a methodical pace and an odd premise. Armed with a water gun, a jet-pack, and a snazzy shorts 'n t-shirt combo, you must battle a horde of flying robots that are all shaped like sea-life and have names like "Roboctopus". Somebody must have forgotten to inform your unseen robot-making nemesis that sea creatures aren't known for their ability to maneuver in the air. That is why there are so few birds shaped like tuna. And if you absolutely must build an army of airborne fish robots, don't make them vulnerable to jets of water.

But you can't tell mad scientists anything these days. This one is probably just a big fan of Darius.

HydroControl your on-screen alter-ego with the arrow keys, and charge your water cannon by holding [space]. The longer you hold down the space bar, the better the range and duration of the blast when you release. All of your vital statistics — life bar, fuel, and weapon ammunition — have been condensed into a single tank of water. Your water supply depletes when you move, when you charge your weapon, and when you take a hit. You have but one life, but you only die when you fall off the bottom of the screen, either from running out of water completely or from an ill-timed pummeling.

Refill your water pack by picking up floating blue orbs. Destroy enough mechanical seafood, and a random bonus letter will appear. Grab it to power up your range, damage, charge time, or flight speed. And avoid getting hit, because you'll lose one of your bonuses if you do.

Analysis: Hydro has an unusual feel for a shooter. Because of your weapon's extremely short range and the enemy's almost total lack of projectiles, you have to confront your targets face to face. So you are always charging headlong into danger with limited resources. Although the water refills are spaced out regularly over the long run, their frequency has peaks and valleys. You can't afford to waste water moving around unnecessarily.

This makes Hydro into something of a thinking shooter, in which you must plan your moves and manage your resources. Well, your single resource. Don't get me wrong. This game won't put undue pressure on either your brain or your reflexes. It's just a simple, well-told story of a flying man and his deadly water pistol.

The presentation is appealing, with slick cartoony artwork, smooth animation, and a hypnotic throb of a soundtrack (which, again, sounds a lot like something from Darius). The end-level bosses are menacingly lovely, composed of rotating limbs and armor that often can be knocked off in pieces. The collision detection gets a little weird around some of the rotating creatures, but that's one of the few criticisms I have about the gameplay.

It's too bad that there's only three levels, but when you win, the game cycles you back through them with tougher enemies, so you can try for a high score and keep racking up bonuses. The random power-ups have a subtle effect on your strategy, enough to give the game a little replay value.

And like most side-scrolling action games, that's where it all falls down, of course. Once you beat the game, you'll be pretty much done with it. But it's a tasty bowl of bouillabaisse while it lasts.

Play Hydro

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filler.gifzxoAchtung! This review is strictly Filler material. It is filled with Filler words that make Filler sentences about a Filler game. If you are looking to read a review about a game with some real meat, please click here. Thank you. Now bring on the Filler!

As is easy to guess, the object of Filler is to fill the playing field with large white circles. Just click and hold the mouse to start a circle growing. It will stop growing either when you let go or when it collides with a circle already in play. If it collides with one of the small "atoms" bouncing around, not only will it stop growing, it will disappear completely and you'll lose a life! Once you manage to fill up 2/3 of the playing area the level is passed. With each successive level, another atom is added, but you are allowed more circles and more lives to help deal with the increased difficulty.

Analysis: Filler follows in the same vein as the Windows classic JezzBall, but manages to set itself apart by implementing gravity and making already-played circles mobile. This enables the player to build moving shields which can herd the atoms into a smaller confining area. Ultimately, though, the game is too generous with balls and lives, and players with the right strategy can get above level 20 without much difficulty, at which point the game becomes less fun and more tedious. As a general rule, requiring hours of play to log high scores tends to greatly reduce the replay value of a game. Still, that the time Filler can keep you entertained is even measurable in hours is a testament to its solid and enjoyable core design. Created by Will Hankinson.

Play Filler

Update: Now with JIG high score table! (Cheers, Will!)

zxoBalancing ActEschewing the ball collision physics typical of the majority of CGDC4 entries, Carl Foust chose instead to focus on rotational inertia, friction, and center of gravity for his entry, Balancing Act, garnering high scores for its use of the Ball Physics theme. However, the real magic of the game lies in the intangible charm percolating throughout all its aspects, such as the lively pictograms, as well as the vibrant colors and clever variations on the balancing balls.

Here's another example. Are there any Monty Python's Flying Circus fans in the house? I know there's got to be a few of you. One of the recurring gags on the show was for one of the bunch to screw up the sketch — saying the wrong line, making a crude joke out of place, or some other such nonsense — and then an annoyed-sounding voiceover would cut in, saying "Start again."

What does this have to do with Balancing Act? Well, that's exactly how I felt when I failed a level. It was as if the frowny face was getting annoyed with me, and then using the pointing hand to say "Start again." Like the game was getting annoyed so I didn't have to! That bit of charm and others like it are what transform what should be a mind-numbing game of frustration into something — dare I say? — pleasant.

As the name suggests, Balancing Act requires you to keep a number of balls (and other ball-ish things) balanced on top of each other. Click on a ball and drag your mouse to rotate it, but remember that each action has an equal and opposite reaction! You can adjust the magnitude of your nudges by clicking closer to or farther from the center; like a lever arm, you'll apply different amounts of torque. If you're thinking all of this sounds like an exercise in aggravation, you would be correct, except for the quite improbable fact that it's simply not -- thanks in large part to the effort put into the visual and audio themes.

However, it still does take a bit of practice to get used to the dynamics of rotating the balls. You'll find yourself both over- and under-compensating until you get your balancing skills tuned j-u-u-u-ust right. It may take a while to pass the first level, but once you do, you'll be well-prepared to tackle the rest of the challenges.

Cheers to Carl for submitting another excellent game!

Play Balancing Act

dancemonkeydancemonkey - Balancing Act is a well-produced game that truly takes the "ball physics" concept in a unique direction. The control scheme is natural and intuitive, though I think the game could have used a little more feedback to indicate what effect your movements were having on the... plates? In any case, I did enjoy the game to begin with but ultimately found it a bit repetitive. The challenge was heightened just by adding more and taller stacks to keep balanced, and it ultimately got more stressful than fun. A nicely done game that just doesn't stand up to repeated play.

John BeaverJohn Beaver - With its highly original take on the theme, Balancing Act makes ball physics integral to both playing and beating the game. Whilst some may find the concept ultimately frustrating, others will feel compelled to keep trying until a level is beaten. The stylish and humorous presentation and simple control system are to be particularly commended in this worthy competition finalist.

Robot and the Cities that Built Him

JohnBNew from Kyle Gabler of 2D Boy comes an experimental game created in seven days titled Robot and the Cities that Built Him. This arcade/pseudo-strategy game puts you in control of robots marching through a dark city destroying everything with lasers. As you melt helicopters from the sky and burn buildings to the ground, hearts fly on the screen that allow you to heal your 'bots and upgrade their stats. Pump-up your machines to gigantic city-destroying monsters and crunch buildings and pitiful humans to your heart's content!

robotandcities.gifControls are mouse-driven and put you in the god-like role of managing robot upgrades and repairing their damage. Drop robots into the playing field by selecting them from the grid at the bottom left. There are only two robots at the moment (the game isn't complete): one to take care of the ground-based humans and one to destroy buildings and helicopters. You can place as many on the screen as you have hearts to spend, but it's easier to hold off and use the hearts to upgrade existing robots instead.

As humans run on the screen robots fire lasers automatically. Your job is to monitor their health and gather hearts that pop out of defeated enemies. When people and helicopters start to fight back, simply click and hold the robot for a few seconds to recharge its energy meter. Filling energy costs hearts, though, so don't let those precious gems escape your cursor.

The upgrade system in Robot and the Cities that Built Him lets you power-up both your laser and health recharge rate of all the bots on screen as well as level-up individual robots to bigger, more powerful machines. Later on, when your characters are able to take care of most of the enemies without your intervention, you can drop more robots into the game and start their upgrading process. There's a limit to all of this upgrading, of course, but the game's levels seem to never end, although once you have several powered-up 'bots it kind of loses its purpose.

robotandcities2.gifAnalysis: It's tough to critique an experiment. Who knows what direction the game will take when/if the designer continues work? Robot and the Cities that Built Him leaves a few obvious holes that beg to be filled, most notably the four empty robot spaces and the lack of any sort of stage variety or ending. New robots with varying abilities and strengths/weaknesses would add a lot of depth to the gameplay and up the strategy element considerably. Imagine an armored crabbot with loads of health that's incredibly strong against ground attacks but vulnerable to air enemies.

With a seemingly endless supply of cities to destroy, Robot and the Cities that Built Him sort of peters out after ten or fifteen minutes of play. Once you get at least two fully upgraded robots there's very little to do but sit back and watch the carnage. You can always add more robots, but even with their starting weaknesses you won't have a hard time keeping everyone alive and healthy. Even when all the robots are defeated the game just sits there. Thanks to the clever disclaimer before you begin the game, all is forgiven!

As it stands, Robot and the Cities that Built Him offers some good arcade action with a little mix of strategy. You must balance spending hearts on new robots, upgrades and repairs while feverishly keeping track of the characters' health and floating hearts. Plus, the imaginative characters and art direction make it a treat to look at. With just a little more variety and some polishing tweaks here and there, Robot and the Cities that Built Him would be a giant in the online gaming world.

Play Robot and the Cities that Built Him

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JayThanks to the thousands who voted (we received close to 25,000 votes) the results for the Best of 2007 are now up. You can see all the winners and view how most of the games performed in their relative categories (if a category had more than 10 nominations we list just the top 10) by visiting the Best of 2007 feature page.

Thanks again! And bring on the 2008 games! =)

In case anyone is having trouble understanding the format with which the results are published, here are the winners from each category in a simple list for easy reference:

Dolphin Olympics 2
Dolphin Olympics 2 is a sequel with some great new features. Firstly, other sea creatures will now interact with you. In fact, you can earn more points by getting other fish to follow your lead and jump out of the water. There are some new tricks and secrets to discover as you try to swim, leap and tail-slide yourself onto the high score board. [Results for category: Action or Arcade]
Dwarf Complete
On of Eyezmaze continues to impress and amaze us with his game development skills, and Dwarf Complete is no exception. Perhaps his most ambitious project to date, the game was commissioned for the online RPG, Lineage II, and it even features dwarves from that game. Dwarf Complete is an amazingly good adventure puzzle game with quality, presentation and gameplay that all helped push this title to the top of the Best of 2007. [Results for category: Adventure]
Menulis and Miestas
The hand drawn animations and old-school Jazz music soundtrack of Miestas and Menulis set the tone for an experience that is just this side of cool. The simplicity in controls leaves you wishing for something more polished until you realize the environments more than make up for it. Both games create a surreal world interactive art adventure to point-and-click through. [Results for category: Interactive Art or Fiction]
Quadradius is an online, multiplayer, turn-based Flash game that takes the skeleton of the board game checkers, and pumps it up with a massive list of power-ups and new strategies that turns the game into an addictive and very compelling new concept. In fact, calling it checkers is an oversimplification that does not do it any justice. [Results for category: Multiplayer]
The Tall Stump
It's got action. It's got puzzles. It's got zany... everything. The Tall Stump is an action platformer that feels like an adventure game laced with short puzzles. As you travel through the game you find strange items and learn to use them in even stranger circumstances, all in the name of working your way deeper into the stump. An exceptional game that won best of show in our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, and now follows-up that achievement with being the top platform game in the Best of 2007. [Results for category: Platform]
Submachine 4
The wait is over. The next installment in the Submachine series is finally here. Submachine 4: The Lab again submerges you inside a vessel that you must escape from. The author promises that this fourth chapter takes us to the heart of the submachine, the place where all the questions will finally be answered. So grab your mouse and your favorite comfy chair, and prepare to embark on a journey you won't soon forget. [Results for category: Point-and-Click]
Grow Island
The latest Grow game from On of Eyezmaze! Need we say more? This is without a doubt On's greatest work-to-date, and in it he embodies an optimistic philosophy. Following the correct order of things will lead to a society where men and women get along happily, the environment is protected and technology is harnessed to discover the secrets of the universe. [Results for category: Puzzle]
Gimme Friction Baby
It should come as no surprise to hear that great things often spring from the simplest of ideas. Gimme Friction Baby is one such simple idea turned into an award-winning arcade game of strategy and skill that will keep you coming back for more long after your first play. First place and audience prize winner from our 3rd game design competition, and now part of the elite selection of games to be called Best of 2007. Another exceptional game design by Wouter Visser. [Results for category: Simple Idea]
Papa's Pizzeria
Papa's Pizzeria is more than your average resource-management game. While a typical entry would require little more than clicking on various hot spots to make and deliver the food to customers, Papa's Pizzeria gives it a more personal touch. Rather than clicking on an order and then on a station for topping the pizza, only to watch the pizza top itself, you must actually top the pizza yourself. [Results for category: Simulation]
Desktop Tower Defense
Protect your precious desktop from the invading enemies by placing towers throughout the screen. Choose fast-firing but weak turrets or slow-but-powerful ones to ensure no creeps cross your borders. Desktop TD features charming hand-drawn graphics and freeform gameplay that make it a winner in the tower defense genre. [Results for category: Tactical or Strategy]
Feed the Head
If you haven't played Feed the Head lately, there are new features to explore! It represents a piece of interactive entertainment of a type we don't often see anymore. There is perhaps no goal, no win condition. It's just plain fun to play. An enjoyable little webtoy for you to discover on your own terms. Spend a couple minutes or an hour. Lose yourself. Feed your head. Escape. [Results for category: Webtoy]
Get the Glass
Get the Glass is a 3D board game produced as a part of a new Got Milk advertising campaign in the US. The object of the game is to get the Adachi family around the board and into Fort Fridge so that they can...erm...Get the Glass. It's an absolutely beautiful game with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly smooth animation. [Results for category: Word, Card, or Board game]
Knytt Stories
The main focus of Knytt Stories is atmosphere, environment and exploration, not complex gameplay and a barrage of media. With Knytt Stories you'll spend most of your time wandering around sparsely populated worlds looking for a few rare items, enjoying the beautiful visuals and ambient music the whole time. It's a unique experience in gaming and will pull you in from the moment you start playing. [Results for category: Download (free)]
Peggle is the latest arcade action game from PopCap, and currently available as a download for Windows or Mac. Think of a pachinko machine and an upside-down breakout game and you will be close to the unique and simple gameplay found in Peggle. It is a classic casual game: simple to understand, easy to pick-up and play, and difficult to master. Find yourself the nearest PC and download it now. [Results for category: Download (other)]

PsychotronicFlash Element TD 2The first Flash Element Tower Defense was a kind of revolution. It single- handedly brought tower defense games out of the realm of Warcraft mods and into the world of free online gaming, kick-starting a new genre practically overnight. If you're interested, Dave Scott has published a blog entry about the technical issues and history of his seminal creation.

But Flash Element TD1 wore its influence on its sleeve, with sights and sounds ripped directly from Warcraft III. Now that Dave has teamed with Paul Preece to create Novel Concepts, he has built Flash Element Tower Defense 2 according to the Casual Collective aesthetic — the audio/visual style pioneered by Desktop Tower Defense and perpetuated by Buggle.

In other words, it's totally cute.

In case you've never played a tower defense game before, your job is to stop waves of creatures, or "creeps", from reaching the end of a twisty path by buying and constructing defensive towers. The towers fire upon the creeps as they pass by, each kill earning you money to buy additional towers and upgrade the ones you already have. The creeps get tougher each wave, forcing you to continually strengthen and re-evaluate your defenses.

In FETD2, the enemy is after your "elements", a group of colored orbs that permit you to build towers of specific types. If a creep gets past your defenses, it will grab an element and take it back along the path, giving you a second chance to destroy it. If you manage to kill the thief, it will drop the element right where it died, and future creeps won't have to transport it as far. If you lose all your elements, the game is over.

Several different species of creep will assault you, each requiring a different strategy. You will be forced early on to use cannons that can damage whole groups at once, and if you don't spread out your towers, the Shifters — who can disappear intermittently — will devastate you.

Flash Element TD 2You only start out with two elements, and thus can only build two basic types of towers, but you can purchase more from the store once you earn some tokens. Every seven levels, the game grants you ten tokens, and besides the new tower types, you can use them to reset the positions of your elements, or to buy bonuses that will increase your score.

Analysis: Flash Element TD 2 isn't a show-off. It doesn't add many gameplay mechanics to the tower defense repertoire, but what it lacks in innovation and flashiness, it makes up for in sophistication and personality. The ultra-clean interface gives you all the information you need about your options and upgrades, and the game graphics have a crisp efficiency that is easy on the eyes. An adorable little "creep cam" lets you select a creep or a tower and get detailed stats on it. Keyboard shortcuts make switching between different tower types a breeze, and for the first time, you can select multiple towers to sell or upgrade by dragging a box around them.

Flash Element TD 2The creeps have tons of character, way more than I've seen in any other tower defense game. Their little legs wiggle as they weave back and forth across the highway, yelping with dismay as they perish. The best part is possibly the voices. Each species has a different library of quips that they shout out at the beginning and end of each round, and some of these are pretty amusing. My favorites are the gloomy gray ones.

(Alert: One of the voice clips involves some light cursing, so preview the game before letting young 'uns play it.)

The game itself is rich in strategy. You can always build, upgrade, and sell towers (for 80% of their cost) on the fly. But in-between rounds, you can sell your towers for 100% of their total cost, which makes each wave sort of like a puzzle, if you want to completely re-position everything. The more money you have left over at the end of a round, the more money you gain in interest, so you will be rewarded for matching your firepower precisely to the resilience of the incoming creeps. But when you leave a tower in place, it gradually becomes stronger, gaining experience by making kills. So there is a constant tension between maximizing your efficiency and your overall power.

Though casual gamers will enjoy FETD2's lighthearted style and quick play time (there are only 50 levels, and you can press the Fast Forward key whenever you want to speed through a round), there is plenty here for the hardcore tower defense strategist. There are many effective tower combinations, and the shop is mostly devoted to different types of score bonuses, so if you're into the math, there are near-limitless options to max out your points. It's not hard to beat the game, but the competition for a high score will be fierce.

This is a worthy successor to the game that launched a thousand imitators.

Play Flash Element Tower Defense 2

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Weekend Download

JohnBWhen a problem good game comes along.
You must whip download it.
Before the cream keyboard sits out too long.
You must whip use it.
When something's going wrong.
You must whip download every game and play it.
Whip Play it good.

mysteryinlondon.jpgMystery in London (Windows/Mac, 95MB, demo)- Similar to the Travelogue series of games, Mystery in London is a hidden object game that feeds you gorgeously detailed scenes of old London with a side of mystery and a scoop of factoids for dessert. The idea is similar to most item hunting games and has you searching for a list of objects in a series of crowded scenes. A 360-degree panoramic interface can be switched to a still-screen grid for easy navigation, but you'll still have a tough time with the game's rather obscure clues. Fortunately the story is intriguing and has you following the legend of Jack the Ripper in a quest to uncover the true identity behind the killer.

sammaxmoai.jpgSam & Max 202: Moai Better Blues (Windows, 95MB, demo) - The Sam & Max adventure saga continues with more unbelievably entertaining episodic installments. While romping through the tropics our hat-wearing pal and his little furry companion sign up to stop an erupting volcano. Did we mention Jimmy Hoffa is here? As a diaper-wearing baby? This new season shows no signs of losing any of the humor and magic that made the first season such a success.

pingus.jpgPingus (Windows/Linux, ~12MB, free) - An open source clone of Lemmings, Pingus replaces the green-haired purple guys with equally cute penguins and a host of coypcat abilities. Teach the little dudes to dig, float, build and tunnel their way to the exit safely, and use the included editor to make your own puzzles. Lemmings clones have been done again and again, but this one preserves the nostalgia extraordinarily well while freshening things up a bit.

Midnight MansionMidnight Mansion (Mac, ~22MB, demo) - Mac users rejoice and relive the classic platforming days of Dark Castle with Midnight Mansion from ActionSoft. Explore eight huge mansions spanning 750 rooms, each filled with traps, puzzles, and secrets, as you search for legendary treasure. Ride on conveyor belts, avoid zapper beams, and dodge monsters as you collect keys that give you access to new areas. Three difficulty settings and a level editor extend the replay value of this little gem from here to Translyvania. And back. Twice.

battleshipsforever.jpgBattleships Forever (Windows, 12MB, free)- A slick space-themed tactical strategy/action game inspired by the shooter Warning Forever. Move ships, defend space stations and attack enemies with a simple mouse-driven interface. The game is still in beta but is very playable and includes a single player campaign with a number of scenarios as well as a sandbox mode where you can import and design custom ships. The visual style is just stunning and each mission carries an air of authentic sci-fi drama. The game is also a finalist in this year's IGF for the Design Innovation Award.

passage.gifPassage (Windows/Mac/Linux, <1MB, free)- Artistic expression is becoming more common in video games, and the Passage is a fine example of using the medium to explore greater issues. The heavily pixelated, 100x16 game takes just five minutes to play and puts you in control of a character that ages as the journey goes by. Every element is packed with possible meaning, and as you move through the screens you explore what may be interpreted as the passage of life. It simply must be experienced to be understood, and even then the discussions (listed at the bottom of the game's homepage) are remarkably insightful and varied.

Large Animal Discount SurveyLarge Animal 50% Discount Survey - Large Animal would like to offer you a 50% discount on any one of their games for simply filling out a short online survey about your use of, and preferences for, casual and online games. The survey only takes a few minutes, and your honest answers can help them focus on building the types of games and experiences you prefer. So take the survey and get a game for half price. Snapshot Adventures is an excellent recommendation for a game to choose, and it's even a finalist in this year's IGF for the Design Innovation Award.

PsychotronicFancy Pants World 2The second chapter in Brad Borne's epic tale of a man with righteous pants is here, and it is spectacular. The Fancy Pants Adventure: World Two is a Flash platform game focused on high-speed acrobatics, like a hand-drawn Sonic the Hedgehog. Twice the size of the original Fancy Pants Adventure, World 2 is one of the most ambitious, audacious Flash games out there, bursting with thrills, imagination, and whimsy. It even comes with its own motto — "Be fancy" — and that is probably the best advice you'll get from a video game this year.

Move left and right with the arrow keys and press [S] to jump. Press [down] to slide mid-run or roll down hills. You will encounter big black spiders and snails, and these can be dispatched by bouncing on their heads or sliding into them. But enemies are rare. Most of your time will be spent charging around in a gleeful trance, exploring the exaggerated physics of the Fancy Pants universe.

Fancy Pants World 2The game is best played supersonically. "Be fancy," the game tells you, and you obey, pirouetting off the heads of spiders, performing superfluous backflips over mountain peaks, wall-kicking up the sides of buildings. Even standing still, Fancy Pants Man is loose and restless, his arms slack, his magnificent hair bobbing with internal rhythm. He yearns to be fancy, to hurtle recklessly through the air, to play golf with a snail shell, to trip through the treetops like an extravagant ninja. He's the Zaphod Beeblebrox of stick figures, always halfway through his leap before he thinks to look, so cool you could store a side of meat in him for a month.

And the level design accommodates his whims, presenting you with grand curling cliffsides to sprint up, and platforms at just the right height to keep you running after a solid wall-jump. You can always slow down to hunt for secrets or murder a few spiders, but the lovely part of this game is that you can play as smoothly or as choppily as you like. You will be rewarded for searching thoroughly, but there is always an impressive line through each level, a speed-run that rewards you in pure blink-less satisfaction. That's the kind of thing that makes gamers into super-fans, recording their best times and posting them on Youtube.

Analysis: In some ways, World 2 shows the strain of its ambition. The graphics are much more detailed in some areas than others, and at the time of this writing, the music and secret trophies are still not included. Hours after its first release, the gaming public found dozens of bugs (most of which have been fixed). The lack of new enemies, the inconsistency of the art style, and the overall brief playing time suggests that the Fancy Pants Adventures are not yet all that they could be.

Play all the Fancy Pants Adventures:
The Fancy Pants AdventureThe Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2The Fancy Pants Adventure: World 3

But what's here is fantastic. The background artwork bristles with humorous doodles. The bonus levels are fully-realized worlds unto themselves. Running upside down and shooting yourself out of cannons is exactly as great as it sounds, and the main character has the charisma and responsiveness to make it all seem easy. If the game is short, it is because there is no waste. As soon as a level runs out of ideas, it ends. And with cheerful disregard for narrative transitions, the door you open in, say, a desert, leads directly to, say, a futuristic cityscape.

It is a work of passion and escape, the game equivalent of a beach holiday in Mexico. Treasure it while it lasts. Be fancy.

Play The Fancy Pants Adventure: World Two

(Update: Music and bonuses have been added!)

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JIG Poker Night returns click for info

JIG Poker Night prizesIn case you haven't been playing with us, your last chance to qualify for our championship tournament has passed. The following qualifiers will play a championship tournament next weekend for a chance to win an iPod Nano or a Nintendo DS!


  1. Triplebigmac
  2. JIG_Valarauka
  3. 2LittleCards
  5. Nineiron
  6. Secret_Player
  7. JIG_deanmc
  8. Amiron
  9. Khoostar
  10. supersasha
  11. Frenchie
  12. Melman2002
  13. Khayxuan
  14. Pfire
  15. Jake_is_Games
  16. commonplaceMusic
  17. Monkey33
  18. Soccerspider
  19. slatous
  20. Simonious
  21. slgalt
  22. JIG_FunnyMan
  23. Bjoernski
  24. Froggie
  25. bfkrams
  26. zeephro

If your name is on this list, mark your calendar for the championship tournament to be held on May 17, 2008 at 4:00PM Eastern (GMT-5:00) (click for international time converter).

See you there! =)

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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWhat an odd combination of games this week. Both Bloons and StormWinds get a little tune-up with more levels and refined game mechanics respectively, while everyone else gets to enjoy some RPG-style carnage in Paladin, exploration in Key to Adventure, or some artistic splendor in ritMika. Make Bouncy Bouncy has an odd title, but the gameplay is strangely satisfying, and it's a great-looking game to boot.

  • icon_keytoadventure.gifKey to Adventure - With a main character and setting hinting at Cave Story inspiration, Key to Adventure drops you in a dark cavern and tasks you with finding a key to exit each level. The fun part is you must use the mouse to guide your electric friend through narrow passageways to hit switches so you can move through the stage.
  • icon_paladin.gifPaladin - A hack-n-slash sidescrolling action game built around a fantasy RPG core, Paladin puts you in control of a knight who makes short work of every foe in his path. The gameplay isn't exactly balanced, nor is the leveling system, but the music and visuals are just dramatic enough to hold your attention for a while.
  • icon_ritmika.gifritMika - From the makers of Menulis and Miestas, ritMika is an interactive music video/game that utilizes rotoscopic animation and light click-based gameplay.
  • icon_makebouncybouncy.gifMake Bouncy Bouncy - A free online demo for a more robust downloadable game, Make Bouncy Bouncy utilizes the same Unity plugin that drives When Orcs Attack to create a gorgeously colorful 3D world. The simple goal of the game is to bounce a cube across the stage without touching the ground and without bouncing on one platform twice. The comicbook-style sound effect words are a nice touch.
  • icon_stormwinds.gifStormWinds 1.5 - The latest update of the action/RPG/tower defense game StormWinds adds a ton of improvements, all spurred by player feedback. Previous version previously reviewed here.
  • icon_bloons.gifBloons Player Pack 3 - For those of us who can't get enough Bloons, Ninjakiwi has just released the third compilation pack of player-created levels for all to enjoy. With fifty new stages to enjoy, it seems the balloon popping will never end.

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Tarnation banner

PatrickWhat in tarnation is this thing?! Some sort of copper-headed rattle-water moccasin? Actually, Tarnation is a clever real-time strategy game by Brad Merritt that bears some resemblance to a tower defense title. You control a garden with rows of seeds ready to sprout into flowers that will dash off and dispatch incoming bugs. TarnationThe bugs are made of Tar, you see, and if they reach the stream in front of your flower bed, they start to gunk up the water. Merely defeating all the bugs is enough to pass, but real excellence comes by releasing only as many flowers as you need. Its like a primer on sustainable gardening meets tower defense, with graphics reminiscent of Yoshi's Island.

There are three colors of bugs that can only be defeated by like-colored flower missiles. To turn seedlings into flowers, drag boxes across your garden. Depending on which corner you start and which direction you drag, a different color flower is made. For example, dragging from the top left to the bottom right unleashes red flowers, while top right to bottom left makes blue. Sprouts continually grow from left to right, so make sure you use seeds closest to the stream before they're pushed over the edge.

TarnationAfter the flowers are turned loose they attack like-colored bugs with a series of quick fly-bys. As long as there are bugs on the screen, the flowers keep attacking (though they eventually vanish), but when the bugs are gone the flowers disappear, too. The real strategy of this game comes from conserving your seeds as best you can while still preventing bugs from reaching the water. After all, there's not much of a garden to save if you don't have any seedlings!

Analysis: The angle of the flowers you create in relation to the bugs they attack determines how quickly the enemy is dispatched, which adds a nice element of spatial strategy to the mix. Also, "Close Call" kills made near the stream net big bonus points, though it's usually best not to plan for the last-ditch effort. Then there's the art of timing your releases so they finish the Tars just before another same-colored Tar enters the screen. Very rarely does a game achieve this level of depth and flexibility with a one button interface.

The only flaw in Tarnation that I could see is that your Skill Rating isn't immediately presented when you complete the level. When you try to click through the secondary statistics to see that prime value, it skips right to the next level. Other than that, this game is perfect, both in doing what it sets out to do with the poise of an Olympic gymnast, and for setting out to do something innovative.

We don't do ratings here, but if we did I'd give Tarnation five stars.

Play Tarnation

PsychotronicBisection DominionFor our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, Brazilian game author Guilherme Töws tapped the philosophy of yin and yang to bring us Bisection Dominion.

Your charge is to defend a pristine river against a falling tide of poisonous bubbles, using a sword controlled by your gestural input. Move the mouse quickly, and the sword point will slice across the screen, dividing unfortunate bubbles in two. Move it slowly, and you can nudge a bubble in whichever direction you please, though this is a much more difficult maneuver. Once you have charged your power strike, execute it by holding the mouse button and slashing.

Each level presents you with a single giant bubble, but your attacks will subdivide it like a wobbly translucent asteroid until you are faced with a screen-full of little bubble fragments. Once they are small enough, a final strike will shatter them into harmless snowflakes. Clear the screen to advance.

After a few levels, you gain access to a new weapon, a sort of heavy yo-yo on an elastic band that will leap about the bottom of the screen like a deadly puppy. To use it, catch its ring-shaped handle with the mouse button and heave it towards the encroaching bubbles. On release, spinning blades will sprout from the yo-yo's core and massacre any bubble under a certain size that dares to stand in its way.

Analysis: Bisection Dominion is a quietly beautiful game, with artwork inspired by old Chinese lithographs and a peaceful score by Matthew Steele. As you advance levels, the barren landscape gradually populates with details, which is a nice incentive to play well. The closer you are to losing the game, the darker and redder the river becomes, which is a nice incentive to tense up and make mistakes.

Your first couple of Bisection Dominion games may end more swiftly than you expected. The bubbles react to your jabs and prods like whimsical puffs of nothing, continuing to divide after you think you've sliced them into individual molecules, and diving terrifyingly downwards when you pierce them from the wrong direction.

It turns out that you are massively overpowered, with your awesome sword and your ultra-cool spinning bladed hammer bolo of doom. Out-of-control hacking will only create a huge bubble army, and a misjudged toss of the hammer can bump a bubble into the river from above after its blades retract. You must learn to be precise, to gently lift some bubbles out of danger while you attack smaller ones, to clean shop with the hammer when you have the watery fiends lined up properly. You must balance the soft touch with the quick strike with the flamboyant coup de grâce. You must be mindful.

The connection between player and cursor feels solid and tactile. Successfully nudging a bubble without cutting it is a joyful experience, like keeping a balloon in the air with your fingertips, worth repeating even if it weren't necessary to stay alive. There may be a handful of technical issues with Bisection Dominion (moving the cursor outside of the play screen breaks your control, and the music cuts out after a single cycle), but the center of the game is nearly perfect.

We often talk about the zen of gaming, but rarely does a game embrace the idea so whole-heartedly.

Play Bisection Dominion

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JayJob PicoThe Gotmail team of Japan has just released another point-and-click game, and once again an English version is available.

Job Pico is the name of their latest effort, and this game puts you to the task of escaping from a room as a sort of "recruitment task" as you look for something new—presumably disillusioned with your previous line of work.

Your new job? Making room escape games, of course!

The servers are pretty busy, as usual when Gotmail releases a new game, so patience is needed while loading the game.

Play Job Pico

Cheers to Shawn for the alert! =)

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JaySuperelectronicSuperelectronic is an interactive art piece by Aoineko, a group of award-winning Web artists specializing in audiovisual aesthetics. It was completed over the course of about five months in 2002, and it received worldwide recognition during Canon's Digital Creator's Contest as well as Rockstar Games' Upload competition.

The piece blends various styles together to achieve something unique, an amalgamation of interactive multimedia. The result is a stunning work of art that is wonderful and inspirational. A creative cornucopia of sensory delights.

The title, Superelectronic, is a reference to electricity being the nature of life, as well as man's attempt to recreate himself through electrical devices. A representation of the cyclical nature of life, emotions and the universe itself.

Experience Superelectronic

Cheers to Mike for suggesting this one! =)

PatrickDark CutDark Cut and Dark Cut 2 are surgery games where you use the mouse to make incisions, stitch, scrub, saw, whatever is required to save the patient in each case scenario. These are not games for the faint of heart, both in terms of graphics and gameplay; therefore, they are recommended for mature audiences only.

The Dark Cut series is a gory, more intense Web alternative to Trauma Center for the DS and Wii, with a historical premise. The first Dark Cut takes place in medieval times, while the second takes place in the Civil War. The medical tools you use fit the respective period in sickly humorous ways: whiskey for the 19th century, rose water for the middle ages (and you thought your HMO was bad).

Gameplay consists of clicking the mouse over stars that mark key points on the patient, and sometimes tapping the arrow keys to saw (Dark Cut 1). Instructions are given for each case, but the stress of a patient whose vitals are constantly dropping, coupled with abrasive sound effects in the background, makes for a difficult experience. For example, bandaging (Dark Cut 2) involves taking the mouse cursor to the eyeball in the upper right corner and circling around it. Go through all the steps of the procedure without killing the patient and you pass.

Analysis: The two games are interesting to compare, such that the first one gets some things right that the second one breaks, and vice versa. For example, having to select tools from a tray in Dark Cut 2 is cumbersome, both from the click detection and by having to visually identify the particular tool. Since there's no health boosting item as in Trauma Center, this selection handicap seems unnecessary. Conversely, the first Dark Cut simply hands you the item you need and is therefore a much more playable experience. Dark Cut 2, on the other hand, is a massive improvement in terms of production values and overall aesthetics: you really feel like you're a civil war surgeon trying to focus on saving a man's life with bourbon anesthetic, some gauze and a scalpel. You feel the dirt, sweat and blood and it succeeds as a phantasmic experience, beyond being merely fun; but, unfortunately, the interface gets in the way of the latter.

If you can handle the mire of pre-Modern health care, and the mire of taxing difficulty, the Dark Cut games will deliver a rare experience.

Play Dark Cut

Play Dark Cut 2

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JohnBSynapsisSynapsis is a new and exquisitely detailed, 3D modeled and animated, point-and-click adventure game that was just dropped into our suggestion box by one of its authors, Rob James. Explore the mind of David Carter who is "possibly dead, possibly mad, or maybe just in an alternate reality" by visiting a series of rooms and solving puzzles within each. Synapsis manages to fold a good dose of abstract dementia into a great-looking game without pulling the experience apart at the seams.

You begin staring at a desk littered with items, including a mysterious (and rather out of place) box. In just a few clicks you find yourself in a dark corridor symbolizing your subconscious mind. Five doors surround you, each leading to a different room packed with puzzles. As you piece together clues from these rooms you open new areas to explore and gather even more items to use. For the most part, items you find will be used in the same room to solve multi-stage puzzles. This isn't always the case, of course, so don't be afraid to carry things back and forth and try out new ideas.

Analysis: Picking apart Synapsis' mechanics reveals a fairly standard point-and-click room escape-type game. The puzzles are simple and, for the most part, make logical sense, which is a strange companion to the abstract storyline and setting. Items you'll need and hotspots to click are often quite small, however, which forces pixel hunting from time to time.

By far the most powerful part of the Synapsis experience is the setting. Fans of the sci-fi series The Prisoner will appreciate more than a few subtle nods to the classic show. The ambience, music and visuals come together to tell an intriguing mystery in this game, one that isn't likely to get solved no matter how much you point and click. A compelling experience from beginning to end!

Play Synapsis

osmosis.gifJohnBSheeeeeep!!! Hyper cute (and fuzzy) critters star in Thief creator Phillip Reagan's Osmosis, an entry to our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. It seems you've fallen asleep while taking a test (again), so the sheep of slumberland decide to lend you a hand. Each maze-like stage has one or more sheep which must make it to the goal. Being a dream and all, you have control over some forces you normally don't have power over, such as gravity and friction. By changing the direction and power of these forces you can move the sheep around, careful to avoid the orange areas that put them to sleep. It's equal parts action and puzzle woven into a webtoy-like atmosphere that's as creative as it is fun.

The most inviting aspect of Osmosis is the mouse drawing gesture interface. Instead of clicking a button or hitting a keyboard key, Osmosis gives you a big pencil and a short list of shapes to draw. The easiest is a straight horizontal line that sends your sheep spinning in the direction you draw. To reverse or increase gravity, simply scribble a vertical line. Increasing and decreasing friction is as easy as drawing part of a triangle. The chief barrier to most gesture systems is having to memorize a large set of commands. In the case of Osmosis, however, you only have a few things to remember, and they're all so simple it takes no effort at all.

Analysis: One thing I would really like to compliment Phillip on is the high level of polish he's given Osmosis. Everything in this game shines, from the underpinning game mechanics to the gorgeous presentation and relaxing music. The big, brightly colored and slightly shadowed elements in the game pop off the screen and beg you to play. I encountered a few minor hiccups in the gesture recognition system, but nothing smarter penmanship didn't correct.

A very slight obstacle in Osmosis is the level of difficulty. The game fools you into a relaxed mode with its polished presentation and soothing music then jolts you awake and forces you to both think and act quickly to move sheep through the stages. Some levels are downright tough, but the challenge is usually a welcome one.

Cheers to Phillip for an excellent game! (And one that very nearly placed within the prize winners.)

Play Osmosis

JayJay - I love to see games entered into our competitions that show creativity and style. Phillip demonstrates both along with his ability to take a concept such as "ball physics" and create something wholly unique from that; something completely unexpected. Games based on a gestural mechanic are not necessarily unique, but Osmosis is playful, creative and fun, and a fantastic competition entry. My only criticism would be that the gestural input, although a creative application for a platformer and well executed here, does not seem necessary for the design of this game. A very minor complaint, however, to a very polished entry. Well done, Phillip!


KarmenNow that the holidays have come and gone, you're probably feeling tired of that same old chocolate bar, and now you're craving something new. A pumpkin macadamia cluster, perhaps? Or how about some candied orange peels? Perhaps the treat you are seeking is so exotic that your only hope is to invent it yourself. Well, if so, then it's time to return to the life of a Chocolatier.

chocolatier2a.jpgA generation has passed since you last helped the Baumeister reach sweet fame in Chocolatier. Since then, the company has fallen into the wrong hands. Evangaline Baumeister's granddaughter, Alexandra Tangye, needs your help to save their chocolate empire by stirring up a little competition!

Enter Chocolatier 2: Secret Ingredients. You'll begin in the roaring 20s, with fresh ports to explore and new characters to meet. As soon as you begin to establish yourself in the chocolate business, you may start to run across secrets, both dark and sweet. As the title of the sequel promises, you'll need to uncover a variety of secret ingredients to ensure your success. Not only will you need to discover hidden, remote locations, where specialties such as saffron and spices can be found, but you'll need to figure out what to do with them.

As in the previous game, it is up to you to purchase factories and set the production levels by shooting ingredients into a conveyor. This time around, in order to create special treats with your exotic ingredients, you'll also have to purchase a tasting laboratory. (Has experimentation ever been sweeter?)

chocolatier2b.jpgIn the lab, you'll get the chance to try different combinations. Guided by the discriminating tastes of chocolate expert, Teddy Baumeister, you can decide which ones will sell the best. When your concoctions are just right, you can bring the recipes to your factory for mass production. Choose the right combinations, and you might just make your chocolate corporation world-famous.

Beware.... Not every part of the chocolate business is so sweet. You might run into some shady characters or find yourself broke and lost in the Amazon. This reveals one of the game's few drawbacks: without an undo function, one misclick during a dry spell can mean the end of your game.

Overall, a batch of experimentation, exotic travel, and casual shooting gallery-style puzzles, stirred into a mysterious plot makes for a delightful treat. Like its predecessor, Chocolatier 2: Secret Ingredients is as
addictive as, well, chocolate!

Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version

| Comments (58) | Views (66)


JohnBReal estate sounds about as exciting as tax accounting when it comes to casual games, but in HipSoft's latest tycoon-style title, Build-a-lot, managing your empire turns out to be quite entertaining. You assume the role of a contractor working for towns to improve property value. In each round you're given a set of goals by the mayor that must be completed within the time limit. Tasks include building houses on vacant lots, upgrading homes to higher-rent properties, researching new structure blueprints, and managing cashflow to feed all your ventures. The description sounds rather dry, but once you dive into the game, you'll have a surprising amount of fun.

buildalot2.jpgThe goal of Build-a-lot is quite simple: build a lot! The interface turns almost every chore into a one-click action, allowing you to focus on managing money, materials, workers, repairs and blueprints without distraction. To build a house all you have to do is click on an empty lot. If you have the resources the workers will hop to it. If you don't, simply float the cursor down to the menu and buy more. Income is based on the value of each lot you own, so upgrading houses to a more lavish setting will increase the rent and raise your cashflow. You can also flip houses for quick cash, but in the long run your bank account will suffer.

Your success as a real estate mogul depends on the choices you make, and Build-a-lot throws some tough ones at you each level. Empty lots and complete houses pop on the market at seemingly random times and must be purchased quickly before they fade. But what if you don't have the cash? Even if you did, should you expand or focus on improving your current properties? Micro decisions such as this spill into managing your workforce and materials and add up to a game with a surprising amount of strategy.

If you enjoyed this game, be sure to check out our review of Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year.

buildalot3.jpgBut don't think you can just build a ton of houses and breeze through the game. The more you upgrade a building, the more upkeep and taxes it will require, sapping a little more cash than a basic home. The income is greater, but so is the risk, and if you can't keep everything in check, you'll topple at a blinding speed. In addition to the standard Career mode, Build-a-lot offers a Casual mode that allows you to compete with other players via an online scoreboard. Start in your chosen town and raise money as quickly as you can, posting stats such as amount of materials used and money earned.

Analysis: Perhaps the scariest thing about Build-a-lot is the foreboding (and dry) real estate theme. It sounds like such a headache, and the tiny, stark visuals do very little to make the game more inviting. But Build-a-lot is far from bland and offers a great tutorial system that walks you through the relatively simple process of managing your real estate empire step-by-step. Once you get started, everything runs smoothly and the real fun begins. You definitely feel a sense of accomplishment (and perhaps even power?) when you hit the big bucks and the mayor showers you with praise!

Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Build-a-lot is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games

| Comments (92) | Views (63)

Emily ShortSuveh nux"Suveh Nux" is a short, puzzle-oriented piece of interactive fiction by David Fisher, with a neat premise: the player is trapped in a vault (that's not the neat part) and can escape only if he learns the magical language that controls his environment.

Plenty of interactive fiction games involve puzzles about magic words. "Suveh Nux" takes this a step further: there's a whole magical grammar to learn, including verbs, nouns, and modifying phrases. The challenge isn't just to learn new magic words, but to learn to string the words together into short spells. The result is a set of well-integrated challenges that encourage lateral thinking. And the game rewards experimentation: even spells that serve no practical purpose produce often amusing results.

The puzzles in "Suveh Nux" aren't too hard, but in case you get stuck, there is also a built-in hint system and instructions for play.

Play Suveh Nux

The links above point to JIG's internally developed Flash-based Z-Machine interpreter (thanks asterick!), with the story files hosted here by kind permission of the game's author, David Fisher. That means you can now play these games in your browser rather than having to download and run the game in a standalone interpreter.

If you would rather download the game, you can get the game file from ibiblio.org. If you do choose to download the game, you will need an IF player to play the game file. If you don't have one installed, try Gargoyle (Windows) (mirror) or Zoom (Unix or Macintosh). (Zoom for Macintosh also allows you to browse and download additional IF games right from within the player, a neat feature for future use.) Another option is Splatterlight available for Macintosh and Unix.

If you enjoy "Suveh Nux", I also recommend "Words of Power", by Stark Springs: it too uses an additive magic-word grammar, though the puzzles are less tightly integrated and the game as a whole is more sprawling.

| Comments (83) | Views (5)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIt's the first Link Dump Friday of 2008! *confetti emoticon*!!! To celebrate we're dancing to random pop music and knocking each other off a perilous cliff with a baseball, all while journeying through an abstract world of random objects throwing pies.

  • icon_limitlesspossibilities.gifLimitless Possibilities - Created to promote the University of Salford, Limitless Possibilities is an adorably abstract point-and-click game in the vein of Samorost. Move the character (named Curious) through each stage by clicking objects on the screen. Not every action/outcome will make sense (did that coin just fall out of the polar bear's nose?), but with a little experimenting you'll easily push through the handful of levels.
  • icon_beatdat.gifBeat Dat - Similar to the Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (Elite Beat Agents) game for the Nintendo DS, Beat Dat is a rhythm-based action game where you must click orbs in time with the music. As the circles fly by, click them just when the outer color meets the inner border. The closer your click, the better your score.
  • icon_gantan.gifGan-Tan - Every culture has its own traditions to ring in the new year. Japan is no different. Gan Tan is a point-and-click room escape game incorporating many Japanese new years items and customs in the game. If you're not careful, you might learn something. You have been warned.
  • icon_bombchain.gifBomb Chain - A puzzle game of things going boom and chain reactions makes for a happy gamer. Bombs explode to adjacent or diagonal squares (indicated by the icon on their face). The goal is to arrange everything so one explosion triggers the destruction of everything on the screen. You can even stack bombs on top of each other for a wider blast radius.
  • icon_zwingo.gifZwingo - A physics-based game where you use the mouse to swing a ball to protect the center orb from evil black balls. If the big orb slides out of bounds, you lose, which is quite the opposite of what you want to do. Upgrade your stats between levels and work your way through a fistful of stages and boss battles.
  • icon_powerswing.gifPower Swing - Is it one-dimensional Pong, or a one-button fighting game? Either way, Power Swing is an odd concept where the goal is to knock the other player off the screen by batting a baseball back and forth. Hold the button to do a power swing, and time your moves for unique pitches. Best of all, it's two players, so bring your little brother to the keyboard for some fun.
  • JayJIG Poker Night - In case you haven't heard, JIG Poker Night is back(!) every Saturday. So grab your chips and a chair and join us every weekend for some classic Texas Hold'em poker fun in our own private Triplejack lounge. The winner each week qualifies for a championship tournament in the spring where we'll give away an iPod Nano and a Nintendo DS!!

| Comments (49) | Views (169)

cursor*10JohnBCursor*10 (cursor times ten) is a simple-looking puzzle game just released by Yoshio Ishii of Nekogames. You are a cursor in a tower trying to reach the top. Clicking objects will give you points or uncover items, while clicking on stairs allows you to move between floors. Each of your ten lives is time-limited, and when one ends the next begins on the bottom floor. But you're not alone. As you start the next life your previous actions are replayed in real-time, creating a fun "cooperate with yourself" atmosphere. Sound familiar? It should, as "replay" was the theme of our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition, in which a few similar games were entered!

Solving puzzles is the focal point of Cursor*10, but learning how to do that often requires trial and error. For example, some buttons make stairs appear only while they're held down, forcing you to use up part of a cursor's lifespan to allow the next cursor access to a higher floor. This encourages economy of cursor time but also frees you to click on triangles and boxes in the room for extra points. It walks a fine line between a puzzle game and an arcade game, as you'll have to plan ahead as well as act quickly in order to keep moving up the tower.

Want more? Try Cursor*10 2nd Session!

A simple design (two colors, just object outlines), nothing but mouse clicking, but so much fun you won't stop until you reach the top.

Play Cursor*10

Cheers to Juv3nal, Kiyobi and Wouter for sending this one in!

PsychotronicBuggleBuggle? What the heck is a buggle? Let's consult Psychotronic's Imaginary Dictionary:

Buggle [buhg-uhl]
  1. Informal. a hybrid dog resulting from the union of a Boston terrier and a pug.
  2. an exceptionally simple multiplayer game of territory acquisition playable at The Casual Collective, an online community based around the games of two-man design team Novel Concepts.
  3. a bouncy, lovable puffball of fun that squeaks when you touch it and wants to be fwends wiv yoooooo!

Okay. Why don't we dispense with the dog thing for now and just concentrate on the last two definitions? You can discuss dog breeds in the comments if you want to.

The game of Buggle pits 2 to 4 players against one another to see who can befriend the most buggles (which are sort of like ambulatory cloudberries with faces) over the course of 10 rounds. Each round begins with 60 of the little nippers bouncing around in a rectangular play field. Eventually, they will pause and wait for you to pick a location for your control point, which is your primary means of buggle recruitment.

Once each player has decided on a location (or 30 seconds go by), the buggles pick sides. Any buggle within range of your control point converts to your color. Then buggles close to the converted buggle change colors themselves, and so on. Like rapidly growing trees, your lines of influence spread throughout buggle-kind, while your opponents' lines do the same. This all happens in a heartbeat, except for the occasional stragglers who have to bounce around a bit more before coming into range.

BuggleThen everybody gets to add a second control point to the field, and all the buggles choose sides again. The number of buggles you have managed to convert to your own color is added to your score, and whoever has the highest total after 10 rounds, wins.

Analysis: Buggle is a triumph of succinct design. What at first appears to be a luck-based exercise in random clicking gradually reveals itself as a game of intuition and strategy. Like in poker or fencing, you can dominate a game of Buggle by learning your opponent's play style and staying one step ahead. If he goes for the center of the largest cluster of buggles every time, you can reliably cut him off from the rest of the swarm.

Playing against multiple opponents raises the luck factor, but even then you will have a noticeable advantage if you can predict your opponents' moves. If you want a game with more focus, create a game of Super Buggles, in which a Light Buggle and a Dark Buggle will reward you with bonus points or negative points respectively.

But whether you interpret Buggle as a grueling test of will or as a lightweight crap-shoot, it is a whole lot of fun watching a single mouse click spread joy along chains of buggles. It feels organic and direct, like a refined gameplay mechanic should.

There's not a lot of window dressing in Buggle, but the simple brilliance of the concept doesn't need much adornment. There's a rewarding upbeat vibe to the whole thing. The buggles squeak like irresistible chew-toys when you pass your mouse over them, so it's sometimes tempting just to wave your pointer randomly around and pretend you have yourself a little dust bunny choir. If Buggle 2 has them squeaking different notes, it will be almost too cute to stand.

Play Buggle

PsychotronicTrapped Part 2:The DarkRodrigo Roesler of Rabbit Tell has released Trapped Part 2: The Dark, the middle installment in a trilogy of puzzle adventure games distinguished by a literary flavor and an unusual perspective. The Dark, like The White Rabbit before it, gives you a third-person isometric view of the story. You move your well-dressed, blank-faced character by clicking on the floor where you want him to stand, or on the object you'd like him to investigate. Helpfully, your pointer will turn red when it rolls over things in the environment you can affect directly.

Use objects you've found by clicking on your "items" tab to bring up your inventory, then on the item you need, and finally on whatever you'd like to use it on. You can't combine items directly, so often you'll need to utilize several objects in turn to solve complex problems. Using the [i] key to raise the inventory menu and [T] to put away items in hand will make your life easier.

I also recommend selecting "zoom" on the "options" tab as soon as humanly possible, in order to save yourself some unhealthy squinting. Those of you who had your eyeglass prescription permanently altered by the last game may now breathe a sigh of relief.

Play all the games in the Trapped series:
Trapped: The White RabbitTrapped: The DarkTrapped: The Labyrinth

Analysis: This series has a lot more in common with the old Infocom text adventures than it does with modern point-and-click games. Rather than relying on abstract puzzles and thorough visual investigation, the Trapped games plop you in a mundane environment, lavish you with a huge inventory, and then ask you to be extremely clever.

You'll have to become the MacGyver of amnesiac adventure game heroes, usually making the best out of what you have, since few of the items you'll find look like keys that fit specific locks. Of course, everything in The Dark does have a purpose, but sometimes you'll feel like you're just picking up random bric-a-brac and contraptioning your way through the game. It's refreshing.

The downside is that the logic of the game world isn't entirely consistent. Some of the puzzles require knowledge of the real world, while others require a kind of dream logic, and it's difficult to know what type of problem-solving you need to apply when. Sometimes you won't even know what obstacle you're supposed to be tackling. If you enjoy having your brain stretched in surprising directions, you might love it. But it also might prove very frustrating.

Just remember that nearly everything you see or read is an important clue, even if it just looks like a touch of atmosphere.

Of course, text adventures had one giant advantage: the length of time it took to do anything was exactly equal to the time it took to type it. Here, you have to watch your hero amble slowly from place to place, often without knowing if you're making progress. Thankfully, Roesler confines the opening puzzles to a limited area, but by the end of The Dark, you'll once again be wandering around a giant maze of rooms any time you want to try a new tactic. It must be possible to fix this without sacrificing the series' distinctive style.

Play Trapped Part 2: The Dark

Cheers to Mariolinamay, Max, Softer, Stephen, Mauvejet, and Kari for suggesting this one. =)

Game Design Competition #5Gimme5gamesMochi Media

Announcing Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5, sponsored by Gimme5games and Mochi Media!!

Update: the competition is over. Thanks to all who entered!!

Following is a list of finalists into our 5th Flash Game Design Competition (in order of submission).

Competition Finalists:

The Desert Obelisk The Desert Obelisk
...by Cirr
Doggnation Doggnation
...by Bart Bonte
Gride Gride
...by ooPixel
Third Place &
Viral Award
Unit 149 Unit 149
...by Hurgle Studios
The Last Canopy The Last Canopy
...by Easy Only! Games
First Place &
Audience Award
Tricked Out Trailer Tricked Out Trailer
...by Jorge Goyco
Up Bug Up Bug
...by Jorge Goyco
Terra Defense Terra Defense
...by Justin Poel
...by drMikey
Pieces Pieces
...by SoybeanSoft
Best Use of Theme
Numbers Reaction 2 Numbers Reaction 2
...by Freebreakgames.com
(Bovine Flatulent Defense) BFD (Bovine Flatulent Defense)
...by Dan Black
Pen Fight Pen Fight
...by Kunal
Neo Tower Defense Neo Tower Defense
...by Justin Nelson
Super Energy Apocalypse Super Energy Apocalypse
...by Lars A. Doucet
Second Place
Orbash Orbash
...by Wylie Conlon
dRive dRive
...by Twig Games
M.I.L.O. M.I.L.O.
...by Studio Cypher
GearUP! GearUP!
...by Zack Hicks
Relatively Obedient Being Of Thought R.O.B.O.T. Relatively Obedient Being Of Thought
...by Marauder Interactive
Robert Plank Robert Plank
...by Team Doli

Here we go again: you, casual gamer / game designer / Flash whiz, design a game in Flash (any version) that incorporates our theme (see below). It doesn't have to be complex nor large in scope, in fact since you will have only 8 weeks to complete your design, simple ideas are probably the way to go.

CGDC5 Theme: UpgradeFor the 5th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, we are asking for entries that incorporate this theme: UPGRADE. You are free to interpret that any way you choose; however, the extent to which your game addresses the theme is left up to the competition judges to decide. Use your imagination and be creative. We will select the best entries submitted to represent the competition just like we have done before. Impress us with your game design and production skills and you will score fame, recognition, prizes, as well as a proper review of your work by the JIG Casual Gameplay review team.

The Prizes

  • 1st place:
    • $3,500
    • (1) Adobe Flash CS3 Professional license
  • 2nd place:
    • $1,750
    • (1) Adobe Flash CS3 Professional license
  • 3rd place:
    • $1,000
    • (1) Adobe Flash CS3 Professional license
  • Best use of competition theme:
    • $1,000
  • Viral award:
    • $1,000 - most game views as determined by Mochi Media's MochiBot statistics for the 3-week competition judging period.
  • Audience award:
    • $500 - determined by JIG community popular vote.

We are very excited to be partnering with Gimme5games and with Mochi Media this time around, as both companies bring something new and unique to the competitions:

In addition to the above prizes, your entry could be selected for a development opportunity to appear on other platforms: Gimme5games.com is proud to be part of the Eidos Interactive group of companies, the people that bought you the Tomb Raider and Hitman series of games. Eidos is constantly on the lookout for original and great game ideas not only for Flash deployment, but also for conversion and release on a host of other computer and console formats — because of this, all the entries to the competition will be given a once over for potential conversion to other formats with the top three placed games automatically entered into the evaluation process for potential release on other formats. There will be no commitment of either side to actually proceed to another format but it's nice to have the option! :)

Facilitated by Mochi Media technology with its MochiBot product, we are excited to announce a new and special prize, the Viral Award, that will go to the competition entry that receives the most views during the 3-week judging period (see Specifications for details).

AdobeOur warmest appreciation and kind thanks to our sponsors — Gimme5games, Mochi Media, and Adobe — all of them generously supporting the indie Flash game development community and helping to make this competition our biggest one yet. And a very special thanks goes out to the kind folks at Adobe for supporting every one of our competitions so far!

See below for a list of judging criteria and additional specifications and requirements for entry.

To Enter
By submitting an entry to the competition, you grant Jayisgames.com and CasualGameplay a permanent, non-exclusive license to host the game, either individually or as part of a larger collection. We will always include credit to the original author and display a link to you or your sponsor's site, if desired.

Please use the CGDC5 Entry Form for requesting your MochiBot buttons as well as for providing us with your name, shipping address, preferred link (optional), and PayPal account name (for Audience prize voting), as well as a few other details.

Once you have your game polished and ready to go, send it to: competition5@jayisgames.com

The deadline for entries is
Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00).

So, start the brainstorming and get ready to wow us!

Flash Game Design CompetitionFriends of Jayisgames: Please help spread word of this competition by posting a note along with a link to this entry on your blog or website. Feel free to use this banner to link back to us. Thank you kindly!

Judging criteria, specifications and the finer details of submitting an entry follow...

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