April 2008 Archives


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (42 votes)
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AdamBAttack of the MeeplingsIf "retro" to you means huge chunky pixels, bleeping and blerping sounds and gameplay that doesn't lead you by the hand, Joshua Smyth of Tiny Frog Software has just the game for you: Attack of the Meeplings. And if you think this Java-based shooter is going to explain what a Meepling is, you're sadly mistaken.

The game opens with a brief rundown of the controls: [arrow] keys move, [Z] shoots and [space] drops a bomb. The [A] key also acts as autofire, which sounds like a typical shooter to me, and that's exactly what it is.

Comprised of only three levels, the game eternally loops, getting slightly harder and faster with each go round. The pick-ups dropped by each destroyed enemy do nothing to increase your firepower or ability to maneuver brilliant, complex bullet patterns with ease. Each enemy destroyed is worth a mere 1 point. Collect one pick-up and their destruction grants you two points. Collect a hundred and, well, you get the idea. As a result the game rewards you with a higher score the longer you play, and along with that, the ability to gain a higher score with ease.

Analysis: The game is glorious, retro-styled fun from top to bottom, including every pixel and the tough but fair gameplay; however, the real stand out is the music. Usually I find myself playing with the sound muted, but with this game I couldn't play without the music. It is an important part of the experience. Everything meshes well; the bullets' pew, the destructive kssh, the pick-up pwing all go hand-in-hand together to create a nicely layered experience.

The sounds, by the way, were apparently created with this nifty little device called SFXR by DrPetter, (a 50kb download) and is well worth having a play around with especially for the game developers out there.

In short, Attack of the Meeplings is an excellent and enjoyable throwback to the days of old where gaming was a little bit tougher, but was, for some inexplicable reason, a whole heap of enjoyable. Play, and attempt to survive, the attack of the Meeplings.

Play Attack of the Meeplings


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (308 votes)
| Comments (171) | Views (445)

JessRoom FakeRoom Fake, presented by Place of Light, is just one of those games that makes me smile: a good-looking, nicely thought out room escape game with difficult but not confounding puzzles, a save feature(!) and not too much text to exacerbate the language barrier. It is also somewhat reminiscent of Japanese developer Neutral's offerings with its clean, pre-rendered 3D model surroundings.

In Room Fake, shockingly enough, you find yourself trapped in a room with an eclectic collection of objects, both whimsical and useful: among other things, a painting depicting nursery rhymes, a toy dog statue, a number puzzle and the usual collection of screwdrivers and keys all aid you in finding a way out. The puzzles are mainly intuitive and of moderate difficulty, a nice way to spend a lunch break or unwind from work. And, to what I am sure will be the delight of some and the disappointment of others, the [tab] key cheat has not been disabled. You probably won't need to make much use of it, though; except for a few instances, pixel-hunting is no where to be found.

Room Fake is admittedly not quite as ingenious, nor quite as pretty, as the absolute best and most innovative escape games out there. It is still, however, quite good and more than worth a play through.

For those hankering for a nice, tasty escape-the-room steak, Room Fake might be just the perfect burger:

Play Room Fake


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (102 votes)
| Comments (143) | Views (33)

PsychotronicScorching EarthIf you happen to have spent the dry summer of 2003 in north-western Montana, you might know the feeling of watching a roiling forest fire tumble down a hillside at you at 3:00 AM. It's a paralyzing breakfast combo of beauty and horror, like being stung between the eyes by a gold-plated scorpion, and I highly recommend the experience if you are the sort of person who likes having experiences. I never considered the possibility that fire might be a calculating force, driven by evil intelligence to ravage maximum wilderness. But this is what video games are good for—letting you see things from somebody else's perspective. In this case, the perspective of fire.

Scorching Earth is an intriguing turn-based puzzle game in which you control the actions of an inferno as it seeks to devastate 50 levels worth of landscape. The levels are composed of square tiles, filled with various types of terrain—grasslands, water, trees, and so forth. Your goal on each puzzle is to destroy the required number of tiles. Since you are playing the role of "fire", you must obey some unique restrictions. Basically, you gain power (represented here by "Burn Points") by consuming resources, and then spread to other tiles by expending that power.

The "Burn!" button is the end of your turn. Pressing it causes each active flame to consume part of its square, adding to your Burn Points. Some tiles, such as forests, will allow you to burn them for longer, and yield more points over time. In between turns, you may spend those points on your abilities. The one you'll use most often is "Spread", which costs 2 points and simply expands the fire from one tile to an adjacent tile. Click the flaming space, then the Spread command, then the target space. You can also call down rainstorms to put out rival fires (which are, bizarrely, purple), and meteors to strike far-away spaces and start fresh burns.

Scorching Earth is the first release from letsmakeagame.com, another petal in the current blossoming of websites dedicated to community level design. As with BonusLevel, every game that designer Rowland Rose uploads onto Let's Make a Game will feature a level editor, so that users can add to the games' growth and re-playability. If you make a popular level, it might even end up in the Community Edition of the game later on.

Analysis: This is the sort of game that can easily pass you by, because it looks so unassuming, and its mechanics are so unusual. The instruction page is really not very helpful, so expect to mess things up the first couple of times you play. If you persevere, though, you'll find a highly versatile puzzle engine chugging away. There are a couple of awkward design decisions—the flames are so large that it's difficult to tell what terrain they're sitting on, and it takes too many clicks to cancel a half-finished command—but the basic struggle of Fire Vs. Everything is gripping enough to keep you addicted through 50 levels worth of challenge and variety.

Have I mentioned that there's 50 levels enough times yet? I think it's important for these Web 2.0 games to have a well-constructed group of official levels that teach the player all the ins and outs of gameplay, rather than relying solely on the creative efforts of beta-testers. And Scorching Earth's official level set is stellar, both at introducing concepts and at challenging the human bejeebers out of you. If you're a hard-edged puzzle-holic, this is what you live for.

So it's a good, solid, innovative puzzle game. But I'm mostly fascinated by the way it makes you feel like you're actually controlling a fire. Sometimes you'll hold onto a forest for several turns, gathering strength for a last-minute push across the prairies. Sometimes you'll cut a controlled burn across a choke-point to keep the purple flames from advancing. It's fun being in charge of a natural disaster, following natural disaster rules, attending natural disaster after-parties, caring not for the ashen husk of a world you're leaving behind. It's fun, and if you've ever been close to a real forest fire, kind of grisly.

Play Scorching Earth


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (48 votes)
| Comments (7) | Views (59)

PatrickKillawattKillawatt is a game about stacking speakers onto a truck with a wobbly, aerial crane. It's the latest addition to Samsung's arcade of surprisingly solid advergames, featuring Sammy, a conspicuously anglo, canine mascot. This time, however, Sammy has his black snoopy ears in a dreadlock-esque style, and he's gone rasta.

The interface consists solely of clicking and waiting. Sammy is hanging onto a crane toward the top of the screen, the crane moves over time, wobbling all the while, and precisely timed clicks will drop those speaker blocks in a pattern that makes further stacking feasible. Each level of stacking you manage to lay will give you increasing bonuses to your score, the initial level gives 200, the next gives 400, all the way to 1,000. But be careful, the whole thing can come down late in the game, taking your high score all the way down. A three minute time limit is also in effect.

Analysis: Once you play through the game a few times, you realize that the major limit to your potential score isn't the time limit, but rather the structural integrity of the speaker towers you're setting up. Then you shift your strategy toward carefully laying a strong foundation, as opposed to just spamming speakers. I think the developers could have done a better job of implying that, as time limits usually are the primary factor limiting your performance. The other balancing issue is the speed at which the crane moves left and right, it'd be nice if the position of the mouse more clearly altered the movement of the crane, and if the relative distance increased the speed of the movement. As it stands, waiting for the crane to get into the position you want is about as exciting as watching a stock ticker, which since you're not making money, isn't very exciting.

Overall, a charming, solid, and surprisingly deep exploration into catastrophic physics and cool reggae.

Play Killawatt

For a similar game, check out the previously reviewed Tower Bloxx.


  • Currently 3.2/5
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Rating: 3.2/5 (99 votes)
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JoshBrain CellBrain Cell is the brain child (pun definitely intended) of Ryan Gibson for the U.K.-based development team DESQ, an organization devoted to the development of Web-based and digital learning projects. In a recent attempt to contribute to casual gaming, DESQ released Brain Cell in the hopes of enhancing your typical room escape game and taking it to the next level. In many ways, it succeeds; featuring a gorgeous (yet bandwidth-intensive) take on the usual point-and-click, room escape genre.

Like many other games of this kind, you awake in a strange room, clueless of who you are or how you got there. In the case of Brain Cell, you begin in a futuristic cargo hold, (sort of "space marine" setting), surrounded by cryogenic hibernation beds and strange spaceship-like gadgets. Controls are fairly simple; [arrow] keys to move, [N] and [M] to strafe and the spacebar to use/interact. The most prominent aspect of the game that immediately catches the eye is the 3D rendering and modeling. You have a third-person view of your character, with a beautifully textured environment surrounding you, complete with dynamic reflections and lighting effects.

When you approach an object you can interact with, a magnifying glass appears in the upper-right corner, signaling you to push the spacebar. Depending on the object, 3D cut scenes or mini-games appear. Cut scenes give you clues about the object or your surroundings, while the mini-games are the means to help you escape. Similar to other games in the genre, Brain Cell never hints or nudges you in the right direction. Although linear in game play, there are no road signs along the way to make your job any easier. The mini games can be frustrating at times (although they require critical thinking, the underlying logic isn't wrapped up into a pretty box and handed to you).

Analysis: Brain Cell's puzzle-solving elements are nothing new to the genre, although the 3D engine allows much more immersion into the game than older classics like Crimson Room. Unlike its predecessors though, Brain Cell seeks to break the mold somewhat, attracting gamers who might otherwise not give "escape" games a chance. The whole "Starcraft/Warhammer40k/Doom"-style of the character and environment lends itself nicely to the third-person feel of the game, enticing new players of the genre to give the game a shot, which is what the developers were striving for. On the flipside, such a graphically-intensive flash game requires lots of bandwidth. The game can be launched in a 9MB low-bandwidth or 13MB high bandwidth version. Either way, however, expect to wait awhile, even with a broadband connection. Even more annoying is that the cut-scenes and mini-games aren't cached into memory, meaning when you click to interface with one, it takes even more time to load in-game. Waiting for these elements to load gets tiresome, and distracts from the overall experience.

All-in-all, Brain Cell is a commendable effort, hopefully paving the way for more third-person games of this genre. After all, wouldn't a Flash-based, fully-3D, first-person escape game be something to see some day?

Play Brain Cell


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (172 votes)
| Comments (56) | Views (157)

zxoDeep ChalkBestowing a name like Deep Chalk on your game is not a frivolous undertaking. "Deep" suggests layers upon layers of meaning, complex undercurrents carrying bits of knowledge that are almost as satisfying to examine as the currents themselves. Deep Blue. Deep Purple. Deep Dish Pizza.

On the other hand, "chalk" doesn't bring much to the table. Besides teaching tool, sidewalk decorator, and athletic friction reducer, we don't really have that much use for chalk. Rarely is it considered a plus for something to be described as "chalky".

You can begin to see the clash of ideas that are suggested by the juxtaposition of these two words. Likewise, the game itself encompasses a dual nature, though perhaps not by game author Zack Livestone's design. On the deep side of things, we find a charming and interactive point-and-click, in which you clear the way for a powerful crystal to escape its confines, presumably to reach a higher plane of crystallinity. Certain game elements, rather than activating when you click, respond to the very touch of a cursor; others require more of a karate chop. Otherworldly music sampled from Boards of Canada permeates the black-and-white Samorostian landscapes. No guidance is offered; it is up to the player to figure out what can and what must be done.

Ah, but now we come to the chalk. Yes, I suppose you could say that the white line-objects on the black background suggest chalkboard imagery, the mouse-over interactions reflect the transitive nature of chalkboard doodles and so on. Fine. But there's also a certain dryness to the game that seems to stem from a lack of empathy with the crystal. We don't understand why it's so determined to get wherever it is trekking towards. Similarly, the puzzles also feel dis-connective, making Deep Chalk seem at times more like a find-the-hotspot game.

So, while on the surface Deep Chalk may appear to be a worthy contemporary of Samorost, it doesn't quite reach that level in the end. Not that I'm trying to undersell it — the atmosphere is captured fantastically, augmented by the complex and shadowy visuals. To be fair, the three short levels are only the first installment of the game, so Deep Chalk may yet reach its potential. Nonetheless, they are certainly worthy of a play in their current form, and we'll be looking forward to further installments from Zack.

Play Deep Chalk

Play the entire Deep Chalk series...


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (53 votes)
| Comments (25) | Views (105)

PatrickBlockobanBlockoban is the latest from JP (pepere.org), who has just launched a new website that features user-created content, called Bonus Level, along with fellow game designers, Wouter and Tonypa. With names like that attached you can expect high quality, and Blockoban delivers. It's a game where you slide blocks around and try to match their colors to specific spaces. That simple mechanic is fleshed out with challenging level designs and high quality production values, delivering an experience that will keep you hooked.

Simply click on one of the blocks, and then click in the direction you want it to move. A striped rectangle will pulse out of the respective side, like a cardinal gel—a nice touch. When you click, the block slides in that direction until stopped. Located on the board are dots that fit neatly into the donut hole in the center of the movable blocks. Your goal is to move all blocks onto the dots of the same color. Easier said than done—solutions often require tricky uses of a one block as support for another; in a way that allows all of them to settle on their final resting place.

Analysis: Puzzle fans, particularly people who enjoy Sokoban variants, will get a kick out of Blockoban. Those of us less familiar with block-moving mechanics may be put off by the difficulty. A puzzle can persist like a knot, teasing with its apparent lack of an out, and then suddenly something that seems obvious, yet hidden, presents itself and you solve the level. A major strike against it is that levels can only be unlocked serially, so the more casual player cannot sample the content and skip puzzles that seem too difficult. Another strike, and this is a general sin, is the inability to turn off the audio, which while loaded with 70s disco charm, isn't something you'd want forced on you. Fortunately, the level editor is easy to use, allowing you to contribute to the game in the same session length that you'd devote to playing it.

Slide those blocks around like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, when he's wearing socks and there's the music, you know? It's like that.

Play Blockoban


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (351 votes)
| Comments (44) | Views (226)

meetin.gifJohnBWe have another Eyezmaze game! Recovered from an illness that delayed the game's creation (but produced Grow Nano Vol. 3), On has finally released Meet In ver. 0. You control four individual family members, each in his or her own screen, and are trying to guide them through the maze of puzzles to be together once again. Simply click on the square you want to control and use the [arrow] keys to move. It's cute and a simple idea using On's trademark graphics and creative charm.

Play Meet In ver. 0


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Weekend Download

JohnBOur main course this evening is a heaping plate of voxels served on a bed of romaine and topped with bits of rock from an underground jail cell. Following that will be a tiny space ship served in bite-sized pieces that must be consumed within three seconds.To wash that down feel free to eat as many bugs as you see fit.

voxelstein3d.gifVoxelstein 3D (Windows, 30MB, free) - A remake loosely based on the classic first person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, using Ken Silverman's Voxlap engine. For the uninitiated, Voxlap is build around voxels, pixels living in a 3D world that function as building blocks in much the same way as polygons. Voxelstein 3D is just one short level but serves as an excellent showpiece for the engine. Having an almost fully destructible environment makes for a very fun time!

madeinwired.gifMade in Wired (Windows, 1MB, free) - Similar to the Four Second series of games (or Wario Ware, if that's your cup of tea), Made in Wired features a series of lightning-fast minigames centered around a shmup theme. You only have a few seconds to understand and complete each game before you're thrown into the next, so you might want to take a deep breath before firing up this game.

bullfrog.jpgBullfrog (Mac, 8.3MB, free) - Bugs. Never liked 'em. Frogs seem to love them, however, which is a bonus in this game. The six legged critters have invaded your home, and as a mighty bullfrog you must devour as many as you can. It's a cute, simple, relatively easy and kid-safe arcade game.


(19 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Family Feud III: Dream Home

JohnBFamily Feud: Dream Home is another television game show to make the leap to the casual gaming world. The classic "guess the most popular answer" formula is as exciting on your computer as it is on TV, only now it's much more interactive than just yelling at the screen. With over 3,000 questions to ponder and a tacked-on home decorating game, you won't have a hard time finding an excuse to guess what the "survey says".

familyfeuddreamhome.jpgFamily Feud: Dream Home functions just like the television game show, exuberant host included. One hundred people were surveyed for each question, their answers recorded and arranged by popularity. Guess the more popular answer and you'll earn more points, but give three wrong answers and you'll have to move on. It's that simple. Beat your opponent in team play or the average score in single player mode and you'll enter the Fast Money round where you'll fire off responses in an attempt to raise your score above the 200 mark.

The interface in Family Feud: Dream Home is text-driven, so you'll be doing a lot of typing. In order for this to work, the game must be able to interpret your answers in context of the possible responses. For example, entering "siren" is the same as saying "turn on the sirens", so as long as you're in the ballpark of the right answer, you'll hit it big.

As for the "Dream Home" part of the game, winnings you earn from playing Family Feud can be spent on furniture and decorations to spruce up your empty house. The decor isn't as exciting as in Home Sweet Home, but if you enjoy design you'll get a kick out of this mode, even if it has nothing to do with the main game.

familyfeuddreamhome2.jpgAnalysis: Tons of questions, an announcer that always encourages you, and equal parts fast action and serious thinking. Family Feud Dream Home is a great package that's even better with a friend. The interface doesn't bog you down with awkward stalls, keeping the action fairly fast-paced. And some of the animations are strangely riveting, such as when your score is tallied at the end of the game. I could watch those numbers fly around all afternoon.

One slight disappointment is the integration of the "Dream Home" portion of the game. The two function as completely separate entities, the only connection being your earnings from the gameshow allowing you to buy furniture. It leaves you with a big "huh?" feeling, as it doesn't add much to the game and just feels out of place.

And then there's the game's vocabulary database. Sometimes I was amazed at how well my answers were interpreted, while other times I wondered just how smart this program really is. Typing "black" to one of the questions was hailed as a miss, yet when the answers were revealed "wearing black" was a response. Maybe I was too vague, this isn't a word guessing game, after all. But sometimes my half-hearted attempts at guessing yielded spectacular results, so it can be a hit or miss experience. Overall, however, the thesaurus does a good job.

Simple interface and highly addictive gameplay. Family Feud: Dream Home is a great little gaming package on every front.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Family Feud: Dream Home is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (53 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (70)

10 Gnomes #4

JayIt was a foggy day when Mateusz Skutnik took the pictures for 10 Gnomes #4, and the setting is one of the longest buildings in Europe. You can read more about the project at Pastel Games.

Get your hidden object fix with the latest installment of this episodic game in which you must find all 10 gnomes in 10 minutes' time. Ready. Set. Click!

Play 10 Gnomes #4


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThis week on Link Dump Friday: Nitrome likes boogers, your castle is being attacked by evil letters, a centipede is after you, and we trap you in a burning Atari 2600 house. Fortunately you have your glamorous life as a video store clerk to recharge your batteries while you contemplate the origin of life as we know it.

  • icon_snotput.gifSnot Put - The latest diversion from Nitrome is all about flinging the gooey green stuff from a giant nose and seeing how far you can throw it. It's a pretty basic game with some wobbly liquid physics, but it's the only place you can play with snot and not get in trouble.
  • icon_alphaassault.gifAlpha Assault - It's Bookworm meets strategy RPG in this unique blend of word spelling and Risk-like tile domination. Create words to keep the evil red tiles away from your castle. Earn gold to buy letters and power-ups to help you along the way.
  • icon_thelifeark.gifThe Life Ark - For anyone who had any doubts about how life began on this planet, Free World Group has the answer to it all as explained in The Life Ark, an amalgamation of On's Grow graphics and Rob Allen's Hapland gameplay. Apparently the Earth was a dry and barren land before aliens came and populated it using an ark and several ginormous tea pots.
  • icon_survivor.gifSurvivor? - What better way to learn fire safety than with four color visuals (ok, maybe there's a few more than that) and blocky graphics? None, I say! Survivor? is a short but tricky game where you must escape the burning house with your family. Very Atari-age. Warning: this game makes the most annoying sound possible for like 30 seconds straight when it loads.
  • icon_racetothebottom.gifRace to the Bottom - A one button game where you pivot around a constantly shifting point to evade the centipede and reach the bottom. Sounds easy, huh? It's not. The techno soundtrack is a great touch.
  • icon_videostoreclerk.gifVideo Store Clerk - Live the glamorous life of a video store clerk, just like you've always wanted! Try and guess what each customer rated the target movie by looking at past films and their scores.

  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (64 votes)
| Comments (25) | Views (90)

PatrickTainted KingdomTainted Kingdom is a lean, tactical warfare game from Krinlabs, the creator of Sonny. You play a young nobleman assigned to a front-line unit in a lamentable war, only to find that your superiors are not who they seem. The gameplay is taut, playing out as a real-time dance of rock-paper-scissors match-ups. Do you have the skill to lead in battle?

The game alternates between a map of the battlefield and a diorama view of individual skirmishes. At the battlefield map, you can choose to attack an adjacent outpost, fortify one of your own, cultivate the land and get a bigger tax and population yield, or build troops. Building troops involves dropping a small, sunk-cost into a building that houses certain types of units, with accompanying upgrades, and then spending population and gold on those various options. Building a farm allows you to convert population into gold, or vice versa. The game's skirmishes involve spending a unit by dragging its icon onto one of three rows, the unit then walks across the screen, fighting any enemies it encounters. Your goal is to get a certain number of units across the screen safely, doing one point of damage to the enemy base, before you run out of deployment points which limit the number of troops you can enter into battle. All this is slightly more complex than what you're used to, more so than Sonny for example, but once you get your head around it, it's fast and easy.

Analysis: Tainted Kingdom is a solid game with great production values, yet it suffers from a few notable flaws: The game could be better balanced; the down-time buffer that keeps you from deploying soldiers at the same space consecutively could be slightly lower; and the blocking effect could be more lenient. The free hit allowed for by a soldier dying could have been done away with simply by letting troops walk past dying soldiers, as it is it's somewhat cheap. The plot is also left unresolved, like in Sonny, and it uses narrative devices that feel manipulative in the context of a game, where you expect to have some control over the course of events. It would also be nice to have surviving soldiers re-enter your ranks, rather than having to recruit everyone for a single skirmish each, which is kind of silly when you think about it. However, the mathematical poise of what remains under these scars is still striking, and the trade-offs you'll have to make on a moment-by-moment basis will keep you jamming the hot-keys.

Play Tainted Kingdom


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JaySkywire 2 teaserMat from Nitrome sent over a short preview video of Skywire 2, the upcoming sequel to one of their most popular games, Skywire. So far it looks like it will be bigger and even better than the original, and is that 2-player versus split-screen I see?! Take a moment and check out the video while we all anticipate the imminent release of this great looking sequel. Watch Skywire 2 video.


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (183 votes)
| Comments (52) | Views (270)

eartheditor.gifJohnBHa55ii, creator of Powder Game, Liquid Webtoy and Irritation Stickman, has released a new webtoy designed to steal your afternoon and be a playground for your creativity. Earth Editor uses similar particle physics and materials as previous games but adds a unique twist: centralized gravity. Drop some sand on the screen and it's pulled to the middle. Add water and you have yourself a little planet. Then you fling some meteors and watch the fun explode!

With version 1.1 of Earth Editor there are only a few materials to play with, including sand, water, walls, and the destructive meteor. Sand and water mostly just stack on each other and try to form a round ball. Drop meteor into the mix, however, and things get hectic pretty quickly. You're limited to drawing 40,000 "dots" at once and can set materials to both the left and right mouse buttons. You can also erase portions of the screen, change the size of your drawing tool, or just reset the whole thing and start from scratch.

Earth Editor is very similar to Powder Game, but the focus on gravity gives it a great new twist. Hopefully ha55ii plans on adding mini-upgrades in the future as has been the case with previous titles, as more materials to play with are the bread and butter of this webtoy. Even with just a few tools at your disposal, Earth Editor is an alarmingly fun way to spend your time.

Play Earth Editor

Cheers to Motzo for sending this one in! =)


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (48 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (11)

AdamBAdventures of AlexI've said it before and I'll say it again: if there is a law that forbids it, there should be a game that promotes it. Take, for example, using love-heart power to fly into the sky and urinate on goal posts. I love doing that, and thanks to the Adventures of Alex, from the presumably like-minded developers at Hangame, I can now enjoy this activity without all the lawsuits, and so can you! What an age we live in.

No, seriously, that's what this game is about. Actually, Alex has to go to the cheese shop to buy some cheese for his mother. What a nice boy. But the cheese shop is high in the sky and is being defended by flying chickens and people with magnetic headphones. You must navigate past clouds and various enemies, while collecting coins and heart energy, on your way to the holy cheese place ...and back.

Adventures of AlexThe controls are simple enough: [up], [left] and [right] arrows are the only keys you'll need, coupled with a whole heap of stamina. You see, Alex's adventure is not an easy one. If he runs out of heart energy before reaching the top—or on his way back down—he (you) will have to start again. As in, from the very start of the game at the very first level. Did I mention the cheese costs thousands of dollars? So be sure to collect all of the coins that you can on the way up, or you won't be allowed in the shop. There are fifteen levels in all, and each one presents an incredible challenge.

Analysis: Take note, the game is cute as a button, but is severe in difficulty. Your heart reserves enable you to float for about thirty seconds and there are plenty of pick-ups to be had, so that's not the problem; however, the clouds that you must navigate around are nasty. They suck energy fast and if you happen to get stuck inside one, you're pretty much dead, especially on the way down. The enemies are all individually annoying, but can be carefully maneuvered around with practice.

The thing is, as punishingly difficult as it is, there is something oddly compelling about the game that makes you want to keep on playing. It may be the "I'm sure I've heard it before" music or the delightfully fluffy graphics, but there is something—probably the urinating on the goal posts at the end of every level—that keeps the desire to play quite high.

If you're up for a bit of laughably fun, adorable arcade-style cuteness, all with a bunch of peeing on goal posts, urine for a treat. I think you'll be hooked, too.

Play Adventures of Alex


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (390 votes)
| Comments (74) | Views (2,385)

The Fog Fall

Jess

We learned how to hide
We learned how to protect ourselves
But we knew we couldn't survive anyway...

And so eerily begins The Fog Fall, the newly released point-and-click adventure from Pastel Games and Mateusz Skutnik, creator of favorites such as the Submachine series, Covert Front and Daymare Town. You are an unnamed, unknown survivor of a nuclear holocaust, eking out a meager existence with your family in a bomb shelter-like house, struggling against the inevitable knowledge of your own impending mortality. A lonely life, really, sadly mundane. Until, one night, you wake up with a strange feeling in your belly, and look out to see the house surrounded by fog....

This is a fantastically atmospheric game. Mateusz has proven himself to be a master at creating wonderfully creepy, claustrophobic environments that lend themselves perfectly to the deeply enigmatic nature of his stories; with Mateusz, finishing a game is generally less of an "escape" and more of an entry into a new cage. Maybe more than any of his other creations, The Fog Fall, with its references to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1950's gone awry, meshes beautifully with Mateusz's style. It is a vision of an alternate outcome of a frightening, uncertain time; even more than half a century later it, to be frank, gives me the jibblies.

Play the entire Fog Fall series:
The Fog Fall 1The Fog Fall 2The Fog Fall 3The Fog Fall 4

Analysis: The Fog Fall plays much like Mateusz's previous offerings; same graphical style, same spare soundtrack and ambient noise, same largely code- and machine-based puzzles. Basically, it feels almost exactly like playing another Submachine. And hey, who am I to complain about that? I'm a fan of the tried-and-true Murtaugh style, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Also like the Submachine series, however, I did feel at times that The Fog Fall requires unintuitive leaps of logic (though, judging by how quickly some JIG readers have pulled together walkthroughs, that might be a personal failing). I'm all for thinking outside of the box, but a few of the game's puzzles had me using the unfortunate "try everything with everything until something happens" method. Although, now that I think about it, perhaps a certain amount of frustration is integral to the full Murtaugh experience? He wants us to empathize with the games' protagonists!

Despite any minor criticisms, The Fog Fall is another excellent, good-looking, entertaining production. With story by Karol Konwerski, the artwork of Maciej Palka, music by Brian Wohlgemuth, and programming by the game master himself, Mateusz Skutnik, all the pieces are in place for yet another fantastic escape game experience, as well as an entirely new series of games not to be missed.

Escape the, um, apocalypse:

Play The Fog Fall


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (134 votes)
| Comments (21) | Views (416)

JayProximityWith thanks to Owl for reminding me about this classic Flash gem of a turn-based strategy game created by Brian Cable. When I first came across the game in 2004, I held off on posting it to the site and instead contacted Brian asking if I could help him update the graphics since they look a bit rough when compared to its sparkling gameplay. He agreed but I dropped the ball, and the project languished. Fast-forward 4 years and the game is still excellent and worth mentioning, and it even earned Brian 3rd place in a recent Microsoft game design competition.

Proximity is somewhat like a cross between Risk and Go. It is a surprisingly simple game to learn and it takes about 5 minutes to play. You can play against the computer, or against a friend at the same computer. No multiplayer version of the game yet exists, unfortunately.

Two identical sets of tiles (one red, one blue) are made up of random numbers from 1-20. Both sets are equal in size to the number of turns you have for the board. Each turn, a tile from your respective set is chosen at random and removed from those remaining. Your turn ends when you place the tile onto any free space of the game board. If the number on the tile is larger than the enemy tile(s) you place it adjacent to, the color of those tiles are turned into your color, and the total sum of all your tiles is updated accordingly. The (default) objective is to have the largest sum at the end of the game, though this can be changed to the most territories instead in Game Setup.

Quickstart gets you into a game quickly, with the computer set to "beginner". If you want a more significant challenge, enter setup and change the difficulty: beginner, skilled, expert, or human. You can even set both players to computer AI and sit back and watch as they play.

Proximity is a brilliant casual game design by Brian Cable, and if you haven't yet played this excellent game, you're in for a treat.

Play Proximity


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (68 votes)
| Comments (19) | Views (20)

JayKullorsKullors, created by Jon Bartram—a Web design student from Bedford, UK—is a cute new puzzle game in which the objective is to mix and match colors to remove all the cute little kullors from each level. Just click on one to select it, then click on another of a matching color to pop both off the board.

Matching the kullors looks super easy at first (and it is!), but the real challenge comes when you run out of matching colors (and you always do!) and must begin to mix colors to make just the right combination of kullors to clear the board.

KullorsA color wheel is provided to help with the mixing. It is easy to become familiar with if you remember that Red, Green and Blue (RGB) kullors mix to produce a Cyan, Magenta, or Yellow (CMY) one, and vice versa. It's simple to see unless, of course, you have some form of colorblindness.

Analysis: Presentation wise, Kullors does everything right with its appealing saturated colors, eye-popping animations, and lively soundtrack. However, the time-based gameplay is dependent upon color perception and is therefore not a game for colorblind folks, nor for people who enjoy a relaxing, casual puzzle game. The color-dependency, the timer and the limited tries you get before the game ends reduces the accessibility of this game quite a bit. But give it a try. It's cute, easy to learn, and the soundtrack is quite charming (for a bit) and will likely have you dancing in your seat along with all the little kullors.

Play Kullors


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (60 votes)
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dRive

FunnyManFor most games, the term "derivative gameplay" is a criticism at best. Not so for dRive by Alex Snyder of Twig Games, the only calculus-themed entry into our 5th game design competition (CGDC5) and quite possibly the first calculus-themed game to get a review on this site.

dRiveHang on, though, don't go fleeing for the high country quite yet. Yes, dRive is based in calculus, but that doesn't mean it's going to make your brain hurt. You don't need to understand the math to play the game, and if you've been having trouble with the math, playing dRive might even help.

At its core, dRive is a simple "catch the falling objects" game. Use the [left] and [right] arrows to move side-to-side, and catch the falling squares. Catch several in a row to start a combo, which increases the value of each square you catch. The larger squares are worth even more points, but don't touch the big dark ones, or you'll lose a life.

When you first start dRive, you're playing on the left-hand third of the window. After you rack up enough points, the board will upgrade, giving you a second screen, and this is where the math enters in. Use up and down to switch screens, but you can only control one screen at a time. The other screen is still active, and its movements are based on the screen you're on. If you're on the left screen, your movement changes where your ship on the right screen is. If you're on the right screen, it's your position that affects how the ship on the left moves. If you do know the math, you'll understand when I say that the left screen is position, and the right screen is its first derivative, velocity. If that went over your head, just play with it a bit and you'll get the basic rules of movement before long.

Once you've done well enough with two screens, dRive adds a third, acceleration, on the right. The same rules apply as before, but if you're on one of the end screens, you have no direct control over the far screen at all: everything gets filtered through the center screen. As such you may be tempted to control only the center screen, but if you try it, you may find that the right hand screen offers you more control. And there's an extra bonus to controlling that one directly: it's worth 4x as many points as the left screen, and twice the center.

As you play dRive, you'll also run into three more types of falling blocks. The (+) increases your speed, but only when you take control of the screen you caught it on. The (-) decreases your speed in the same way. And the smaller pink squares are extra lives, catch them to keep the dark squares from knocking off your screens.

Analysis: In some ways, dRive is hard to classify. Although it certainly acts like a game in many ways, the simple graphics, slow pace early on, and the fact that there are only 6 types of falling objects all combine to give the impression that it's more a learning tool or toy than a full game. This does not, however, mean that it's boring, especially if you expand your attention to all three screens instead of focusing on one and letting the others fend for themselves.

If there were a category for greatest innovation within the competition, dRive would have won it hands-down. It takes a lot of chutzpah to turn what many people consider a difficult subject into a game, and a lot of talent to pull it off. And the math geek in me rejoices at the thought that some time spent playing dRive might help struggling students get a visceral feel for the basic concepts of calculus.

It may not have won any prizes, but dRive is still innovative and fascinating, and we hope to see more from Twig Games in the future. Go ahead, give it a try. Despite its shortcomings, it's fun, and who knows? You might actually learn something.

Play dRive

Update: Well, maybe it won a prize after all! Lars A. Doucet has donated $250 of his 2nd place prize to dRive. Way to go, Lars, and congratulations to Alex!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (107 votes)
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JayCowabangaThe Hapland-meister strikes again with a wacky new puzzle game, Cowabanga, this one commissioned by E4.

Use your pointing and clicking skills to figure out what needs to be done (and when!) to reach a solution to this odd and very ...purple puzzle. Rob says "Collect all the trinkets and fight alien bears." I'm particularly loving the equally wacky soundtrack, well done Rob!

Play Cowabanga

Rob Allen is the mastermind behind some of the most popular (and bizarre!) puzzle games featured here, including the amazing Hapland series, as well as our very own banner game that we asked him to create for us. So, if you enjoyed this puzzle, there's plenty more to enjoy from the man of foon.co.uk.

Cheers to Asher for the alert about the new game! =)


(15 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Egyptian Ball

JohnBEgyptian Ball from EleFun Games is a brick-busting Breakout title centered around one gameplay element: destruction. It doesn't try to woo you with a fancy story or strategic power-ups, instead opting for ancient Egyptian temples and spears, hammers and ballistas to speed up the destruction. Throw all that carnage into a pleasingly crisp presentation and, well, you'll have a lot more fun than you thought you'd have with a simple Breakout game.

egyptianball.jpgThe idea behind Egyptian Ball is that you are taking part in a brutal war of the ancient gods. Using the Egyptian Ball (which, you know, is the ball) and what I can only assume is called the Egyptian Paddle, unleash the destruction and keep bouncing the ball back into play to watch the ancient temples crumble into dust, all in the name of a new Pharaoh. Power-ups are dropped from time to time, and you must grab them before they disappear off the bottom of the screen. Just don't let the ball drift beyond the paddle!

The usual battery of Breakout-style weapons are at your disposal, including a curved paddle for controlling which direction the ball bounces, ropes that prevent you from losing the ball, and power-ups that change the number and speed of the balls or size of the paddle. You'll also come across the really fun items that give you arrows or spears to blast at the ancient monuments. The hammer is especially entertaining, as it allows you to point and click at any tile on the screen to smash bricks with your mouse. Take that, twirling block of sandstone!

Part of the excitement in any Breakout game is getting the ball stuck in one of those sealed-off areas, causing it to bounce madly back and forth, clearing dozens of blocks while you sit on your laurels. Egyptian Ball is no different, and many times you'll grab a ball-multiplying power-up and watch half the scene fall to your brick-busting skills (read: blind luck).

egyptianball2.jpgAnalysis: I wasn't expecting much out of Egyptian Ball, and it certainly doesn't expand the genre or claim to be the end-all of brick busting games (Fizzball says hi). But what it does manage to do is create a strangely fun game of destruction. The ball is released, you watch it break seemingly solid pieces of stone, then you bounce it back to watch it happen again. Chain reaction events are a fairly common occurrence, giving you plenty of opportunity to kick back and enjoy the razing scenery. Egyptian Ball won't tax your brain and is a great way to unwind at the end of a long day.

The physics are well-implemented in Egyptian Ball, though most of the "bricks" you break feel as if they were made of saltine crackers. There's no visceral quality to anything you smash, and even though sending tall sarcophagi crumbling to the ground is fun, adding a little oomph would have heightened the experience even more. The visuals are crisp, clear and detailed, and despite their rather small appearance still manage to create lively scenery.

Not a brain-teaser by far, Egyptian ball is simple brick busting implemented extremely well. Ditch the bells and whistles, the half-hearted attempts at innovation, and just smash some stuff!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (33) | Views (22)

Weekend Download

JohnBHey look! A sentence composed using only words from this week's featured games! Ok, so I added one, but you didn't notice, right? Here goes: Noitu loooove Miss Teri Tale! Danger Mouse? In the black forest, ad nauseam, with Albero and the great blue emblem.

missteritale3.jpgMiss Teri Tale (Windows/Mac, 77MB, demo) - The light-hearted crime adventure/hidden object game now has a Mac version! In a delicate departure from the established formula, Miss Teri Tale takes on more of an adventure guise similar to the recently-released Cate West - The Vanishing Files. The subtle shift from object finding to crime solving lends a lighter focus to the experience, and the game's hip soundtrack, gorgeous scenery and slightly satiric tone complete a surprisingly polished and entertaining package.

dangermouse.gifDanger Mouse in the Black Forest Chateau (Windows/Mac/Linux, ~6MB, free) - A remake of the classic ZX Spectrum game based on the even classic-er Danger Mouse cartoon! The game is essentially a choose your own adventure title where you read the text and click the action you would like to take. Updated! New version now available for Mac OS X.

albero.gifAlbero and the Great Blue Emblem (Windows, 1.6MB, free) - A tiny Metroidvania-style platform/ RPG-adventure starring Albero, the little white critter who walks around gathering power-ups to help him traverse the landscape. There are a few glitches that can cause serious problems, so back up your save game once in a while. Despite the bugs, it's still a charming game.

noitulove2.jpgNoitu Love 2 (Windows, 10MB, demo) - The sequel to Konjak's intense action platformer has finally been released! Using an easy (and gratifying) mouse-keyboard hybrid control system, unleash tons of cool attacks while dispatching hundreds of foes and darting around the air as if you had wings. Noitu Love 2 features tons of "mindless action" and gorgeously detailed scenery, it's highly recommended you consume this game with calming substances such as chamomile tea.

adnauseam2.gifAd Nauseam 2 (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - A crazy shooter from GameMaker whiz Cactus, this game gives you no room to dodge projectiles, so all you can do is blast everything and hope you carve a space for your ship. Different faces pop out of the top of the screen, grow arms and/or throw things at you, and you must survive! Caution: Contains some content not intended for children.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (67 votes)
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Airport Mania: First Flight

JohnBAirport Mania from South Winds Games is a time management sim that drops all the trite settings and food-related themes we've grown tired of in the genre. Instead of serving cake or pizza or sandwiches, your job is to direct airplanes, load passengers, and make sure everything runs smoothly. All of this is accomplished with a simple interface and airplanes that are too cute for their own good. And unlike real airports, you can actually have flights arrive on time or even early!

airportmania.gifPlanes appear at the top of the screen, flying back and forth until you tell them which runway to land on. After touching down, direct planes to an empty gate where passengers are unloaded and new passengers boarded. Then it's back to the runway to take off once again. Sometimes a plane will need to re-fuel between groups of passengers, in which case you simply direct it to the repair station.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008The basic structure of the game is simple and only a few events come along to change things around. Sometimes a plane will be carrying urgent cargo and must take priority over other flights, while other times weather conditions will alter your plans. Between each of the game's 84 levels you'll visit the store where you can buy new structures for your airport or upgrade existing ones to be faster/better.

Once you gain the ability to paint planes, a new level of complexity opens up. Each gate has a color, each plane has a color. Match like-colored crafts to gates and you'll earn a bonus. Painting allows you to change the color, forcing you to decide if a pit-stop is worth the matching bonus or if being on time is a better reward.

airportmania2.gifAnalysis: The most immediate draw to Airport Mania is its visual style. Is "cute" a strong enough word? Not sugary sweet cute, but airplanes with big eyes and goofy smiles certainly qualifies as adorable. They even hum while waiting for passengers. AWWW!!!

Fuzzy wuzzy planes aside, Airport Mania is built around a very simple time management construct and rarely strays from that premise. The shop introduces a few upgrades, but these don't change the experience very dramatically. It's almost as if the game was afraid to veer too far from its established (but highly entertaining) core idea. With a solid interface, excellent visual style, and unique setting, I think the game could have afforded to take a few chances here and there. There's also a low and slow progression of difficulty, allowing you to master the game quickly but offering less challenge until later.

Airport Mania is a breath of fresh air in many ways. The only drawbacks to the experience are minor, and it's an excellent resource management sim that'll capture your afternoon with ease.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal MazeFor those of you who have been waiting for Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze to be released at Big Fish, the wait is finally over! The second chapter of this gorgeous series of games is here and offers a unique mix of point-and-click puzzles and hidden objects that are all woven together into a compelling narrative adventure.

Read our Dream Chronicles 2 review and download the game. If you get stuck along the way, be sure to check out our Dream Chronicles 2 Walkthrough so you don't get lost in The Eternal Maze.

Mac users can also download the game from Big Fish.

If you're new to the series, be sure to read our review of the original Dream Chronicles.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (164 votes)
| Comments (106) | Views (437)

Pieces

zxoOkay, let's get this out of the way right now: yes, this game was clearly influenced strongly by Nifflas. But if you're going to let that fact dominate your opinion of the game, then you, my friend, are missing out on a grand gaming experience!

PiecesPieces represents the first entry from Guntur "Soybean" Sarwohadi into one of our competitions, and within the first five minutes of playing it, you can already sense its depth and its enormous potential, which it fulfills in ways most unexpected.

You play the part of Proo, a mischievous but good-hearted little girl who accidentally crash-lands her father's spaceship on a bizarre planet, where all who enter seem to forget any motor skills they might have had. Proo must relearn basic skills like walking and jumping, and in order to reach the remoter parts of the planet she'll need skills she probably never had, like triple-jumping, digging, and gliding. Competition best use of theme award winnerShe learns through the same process as all of us: observation. Once she sees a skill in action – for example a jumping rabbit – her memory is jogged and that skill is now available to her. However, Proo needs to first realize her inadequacy before she can upgrade her skills (don't we all!). This is sometimes unfortunate, as the screen where you obtain the need for a certain skill is often distant from the place you obtain the skill itself.

Scattered around this strange but beautiful world are all of the pieces of her ship, which she must collect and reassemble in order to fly home. In addition, there are a number of other collectible items: three varieties of herb may be collected for access to new skills, and there are hundreds of gold coins which act as your score. Best of Casual Gameplay 2008If you're the kind who isn't satisfied until you've explored every single inch of gamespace, you'll delight at this masterPiece of a platformer.

Analysis: Pieces had sort of a rough start during the first couple of days of the competition, due to a few flaws in the level design which could leave a player stuck, lacking the skill required to escape their location. As a result, its overall competition score was not as high as it might otherwise have been. However, I don't think any other game has seen more improvement, or upgrade, over the course of the past few weeks, thanks to the many updates Soybean has made, so be sure to give Pieces another go if perhaps you gave up on it too soon.

With the main problems taken care of, Pieces' inner beauty really begins to shine through. The expansive world dares you to explore its boundaries, and you'll be surprised at just how far you can go. Rising plumes of energy can lift you to new heights; streams of red-hot lava cascade into underground pools; hidden passageways lie in unexpected places. Every coin becomes its own challenge, every herb a mini-quest. Every new skill opens dozens of new doorways, and even as you criss-cross the world for the hundredth time, it never quite gets boring.

Congratulations to Soybean for earning the prize for Best Use of Theme, and for creating such an engaging and complex platformer.

Note: When Proo has learned to jump, the key that controls jumping is the [Z] key, not "2" as it may appear. This has caused confusion for some players, so beware.

Play Pieces


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWelcome, ladies and gents! This week we have a special edition of Link Dump Friday, a collection of games that were not selected as finalists into our recent Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5. Even though these games didn't reach the last round, there is no doubt that considerable time and effort were put into each one. So enjoy the games, and leave your kind, constructive criticism in the comments for the respective game designer(s). Also, please indicate which game it is you're commenting on to help sort out the feedback.

  • icon_gradysadventure.gifGrady's Adventure (Matt Slaybaugh) - The space station had a mishap and Grady the robot has crashed on Earth along with nearly all of his upgrades. Help Grady retrieve the upgrades and get him back to the space station!
  • icon_supermegarobo.gifSuper-Mega Robo (CreativeCogs) - Control Mega-Robo and defend your factory from the attack by the evil clone-robos. Upgrade your weapon for faster, invincible, and elemental attacks. Be a hero!
  • icon_monstercruncy.gifMonster Crunch (Ja.Games) - An arcade shoot 'em up with monsters! Help the pink monster burst the balloons that carry the black monsters on top of the cliff. If you fail, you get a boulder dropped on your head. So.. don't fail!
  • icon_codered.gifCode Red (Frozen Module) - Strategy game where a player controls a team of four sodiers deployed with orders to investigate what happend in a laboratory. The aim of the game to proceed through all levels without losing a single soldier. Each completed level opens up new weapon options.
  • icon_greatbeerescue.gifThe Great Bee Rescue (KingMoo) - Oh No! Due to some insane structural defect, the hive has collapsed! Go hunt down some honey and rescue your fellow Bees. Oh, and don't forget the Queen.
  • icon_metamorfs.gifMetamorfs (Jonathan Marquez) - Create hybrids!!! Feed them... nurture them... and keep them away from enemies. Simply drag and move them with the mouse.
  • icon_userpatch.gifUser Patch (h_h_h) - Don't change your hardware or your software. Improve your Bioware with User Patch. User Patch is a simulator that will train you in order to increase your performance with your computer.
  • icon_gorobot.gifGo Robot (Goodexperience.com) - Help the robot achieve his upgrade... and his destiny. Similar to the Grow series of games.
  • icon_upgradebymodulo.gifUpgrade By Modulo (Zsolt Velykovits) - Challenge your logical skills with this simple entertaining game in a real 3D environment.
  • icon_mrcookins.gifMr. Cookins Steak and Curly Fries (Ian Stokes) - Cook up to four steaks at one time in cast iron pans, use condiments to upgrade the steaks and gain more points and time. Don't get distracted from the stovetop and burn the steaks! Create curly fries by holding down the machine button as long as possible.
  • icon_poinkt.gifPOINKT!! (Tornado Team) - A game that follows pinball, with different twists and turns. A game of skills and reflexes. A game of never ending challenges. A game like no other. A game where you point, it poinks... YOU'RE POINKT!!
  • icon_daionmyouji.gifDai Onmyouji (Ildun) - A turn-based RPG card game that incorporates the five elements in its upgrade system. Based on the traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology derived from the Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing and Yin and yang.

| Comments (17) | Views (1)

The Last Canopy Team

Hi Jay and team,

I have a confession to make: before August 2007, I knew nothing of Jayisgames. Back then, I was this little guy who keeps coming up with game ideas, but had no drive to execute them. It wasn't because I was lazy or anything; I just kept questioning the games' purpose.

I kept asking myself:

"Will it make money for me?"
"Will it make money for the publisher?"
"Is it worth the effort?"
"What if I don't get a grant at the end of the day?"

I was drowning in a culture where people keep questioning the financial feasibility of a creative piece. Of course, this was the after-effect of being in the advertising industry for some time. In the end, no effort was taken to realize those ideas.

Then, I stumbled upon your site. I thought I'd give the competition a shot, you know, for fun. And that was when I made Ballistic Wars. I really expected a lukewarm response, but to my surprise, the community shouted back. And not only to my game, but to all the game entries! Feedback, criticisms, requests for walkthroughs. I was totally amazed.

This is the very same community that you guys started. The effort that you all took to flourish the casual game community is astounding. Holding competitions, writing awesome reviews regularly, responding actively to the community and even giving out plushies!

And I was even more convinced when the fifth competition started. Just look at how the team managed the competition! It was clear that the Jayis team put a whole lot of effort into making the competition smooth-sailing for everyone. You were all very helpful, and even helped to defend us developers against nasty naysayers.

As I ponder more and more about your efforts and the audience responses in your site, I realized that I have changed since I arrived in Jayisgames eight months ago.

I have finally realized that games are meant to entertain, not just to make money. Yes, it is you guys who woke me up!

As a game developer and a member of the casual game community, I sincerely thank Jay and the team for everything that you all have done.

On behalf of The Last Canopy team, I would like to thank you all for awarding our game first place. Even now, I'm in a state of disbelief! This is really a big break for me, and I will do whatever it takes to leverage this opportunity! I shall continue to make better games, and for every game I make, I will always remember that I have the Jayis team to thank for!

Hope that didn't sound too mushy and long-winded, but I meant every word of it :)

Oh yes, attached is our thanks, in JPG format! That's me in the center, the illustrator and background artist Dzaid on the left and the enemy ship designer Aidi on the right. I thank God for having these two talented cousins by my side!

I'd be more than happy to lend a hand for the next competition, be it logo design, HTML coding, anything at all. Just let me know!

Thanks so much. Jayis team rules!

regards

Wan Hazmer
Easy Only! Games


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Rating: 4/5 (80 votes)
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Gride

FunnyManAll the entrants into our 5th game design competition (CGDC5) had to incorporate the theme, "upgrade", but none of them used the theme in quite the same way as ooPixel did with its entry, Gride. The objective of this arcade-style action game is to apply and remove abilities to an always-moving little pink sedan at just the right moments to make it as far as you can along the never-ending terrain.

GrideThe three abilities that you use to climb ever-higher could certainly be called upgrades, and yet we also see a much more clever interpretation taken from the literal meaning of the words "up" and "grade". If you ask Google about upgrades, you have to go way down to the bottom to find it: "ascent: an upward slope or grade (as in a road)."

As their punny interpretation implies, you spend your entire time in Gride trying to get a car to go "up" a "grade". It wasn't quite enough to net Gride the best use of theme prize, but Jussi Kari and Marko Taali of ooPixel certainly did something right. Competition third place award winnerNot only did they receive the 3rd place prize for Gride, they also took home the Viral award with over one million more views than the next most played game!

The controls to Gride are simple, but using them well is not. Rest your hand on any of the three keyboard layouts, or get ready to click the four icons at lower right with the mouse, then learn your upgrades: Anti-Gravity makes the car leap into the air. Feather speeds the car up. SuperDrag gives you a smaller speed boost than Feather, but works on steeper (and slipperier) slopes. And DeGride turns Feather and SuperDrag off.

Competition viral award winnerThe basic strategy in Gride is to use Feather and SuperDrag to gain speed, then Anti-Gravity to jump over the steepest parts of the hill. But be careful! If you land upside-down or start sliding backwards, it's Game Over. You have to finish on your wheels to get a high score, and high scores are the whole point: Gride has only two levels, but they both go on forever! How far can you get?

At first you may find Gride to be a little too difficult to make it very far at all. Remember, though, you're not expected to beat the game, just get as far as you can! Use your attempts to learn what terrain is coming and how best to handle it. It may take a while to get the hang of things, but with practice you will get better at it. Stare in awe at the all-time leaders, then try to reach the little flags that mark the resting places of the daily, weekly, or even monthly top ten.

Once you get past the initial learning phase, exploring Gride becomes outrageous fun. Time after time, you'll find yourself thinking, "Okay, let me try that one more time. I'll get it this time, I'm sure." That, my friends, is the hallmark of a game with great replay value. Gride was my personal favorite of CGDC5 for just that reason: it keeps pulling me back, again and again. I still have to be careful on the competition page, lest I suddenly lose a few more hours to it. Here are a few pointers to help you get as much from the game as I have:

Advanced help:

So you need a little help playing Gride? Never fear, FunnyMan is here, and I've got some advanced tips that should give you a leg up.

  • I can't get anywhere!

    • For level 1, you can get pretty far without doing anything. Just let it run, and you'll get a better feel for what the car can handle on its own.

    • For level 2, you're going to have to work harder. Hit Feather as soon as you start, then jump when the ground hits 45 degrees, about where there's a sign buried in the ground. It doesn't work 100% of the time, and you may need to jump a second time in mid-air (Yes, you can do that!), but it's the method I always use to get to 100m.

  • The car keeps flipping!

    • There are two common reasons for the car to flip. One is that you were going too fast on an easy section and your front rose or you bounced off the terrain. Slow down! Don't use Feather or SuperDrag unless you need to, and remember to use DeGride when you've gained enough speed.

    • The other common reason for a flip is that you were in the air too long, or not long enough. As with Feather or SuperDrag, remember to only use AntiGravity when you need to. If it looks like you're going to land badly, try using AntiGravity a few more times to stay up longer, you may be able to compete a flip. There's one more technique, but you'll have to look harder to get it from me.

  • The car doesn't jump high enough or go fast enough!

    • Remember that you only have a limited amount of each upgrade, but that it replenishes over time. Try switching things up, using SuperDrag instead of Feather, or using DeGride to stop wasting power.

    • If you've got plenty of AntiGravity, but the car still isn't jumping high, your problem is speed. The faster you're going when you jump, the better the jump. Try using AntiGravity earlier next time, it may make the difference.

For all its good traits, Gride does have a few small flaws. It's hard to get the hang of things, the instructions don't make it clear what SuperDrag does, the game sometimes gives up on you before you think you're dead, and if you drop from orbit, you may get a wheel to go through the mountain.

That said, Gride is a joy to play once you get the hang of things, so persevere and you will be rewarded. Just make sure you have plenty of time, and set an alarm if you need to be somewhere.

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PsychotronicQinkQink, an innovative puzzle game from South African software developer Collective Mass, is the unholy union of a Rubik's Cube and a Tangram. Okay, you might not think there's anything wrong with mixing those two ingredients. They are both puzzles, after all. But consider that one is a three-dimensional puzzle and one is a two-dimensional puzzle. Now, I may be old-fashioned, but I believe that mating two entities that follow entirely different physical laws is wrong. I'm not saying that this game is necessarily a crime against morals and decency. I'm just saying that this is how portals to the underworld are accidentally summoned. Just be careful, all right, Collective Mass? Just watch it.

There are two modes of play in Qink. One will drive you slowly insane, and the other will do it quickly. I recommend you start with Patience Mode, which gives you a limited number of pieces and all the time in the world, but perhaps the time limits and creativity of Fury Mode will suit your temperament better. In both modes, your goal is to completely fill the sides of your onscreen cube with a selection of shapes at the bottom of the screen. Rotate your cube with the [arrow keys] or [WASD]. Select an area of the cube by clicking and dragging over it, then click on the appropriate shape from the menu below to snap it into place.

The catch is that you can't rotate the shapes themselves, only the cube. So if you want to fill a triangular area, and the only triangle at your disposal is facing the wrong way, you must first rotate the cube around until the empty space is orientated correctly. The size of the space doesn't matter. You can fill a large diamond-shaped area and a small diamond-shaped area with the same little diamond. The only requirement is that the piece and the space have the same shape and orientation.

Simple enough, but the real catch is that you can rotate the cube part-way, so that you're looking at two, or even three, sides simultaneously. And while you are viewing this hybrid flattened perspective, you can still plaster shapes onto the cube as though you were working with a flat surface. It's a very strange mechanic, and it takes some practice before the old jaded brain can wrap itself around the problem.

In Patience Mode, you must use a fixed selection of shapes to fill up the cube exactly. Each side must be a single color, and every puzzle piece must be used. It's relatively easy when you're dealing with mere rectangles, but when Qink hands you a palette of hexagons and chevrons, be prepared for the little silent screams inside your head. After each level, the game rewards you with a hearty thumbs-up from your little Qigong Master and a level password. If you do manage to collect a few of these passwords, I recommend you hold onto them. You can probably trade them for some pretty good favors.

QinkFury Mode plays more like an arcade game. Shapes will continually appear on your menu, and you have to place them quickly to keep from running out of time. You can get rid of inconvenient pieces by filling a square with any combination of junk, but you only get closer to completing a level when you fill a side with a single color. There's even a sort of Boss Mode at the end of each level, where you must score a certain number of points within a strict time limit or lose the game.

Analysis: There's no way around it. The learning curve in Qink is like a brick wall. But the smooth presentation and considerate menu of options go a long way toward easing the transition. The music and the artwork, which echo traditional Chinese craft, do their best to fool you into thinking that you are doing something calming. And you've always got the approval of your Qink Sensei to shoot for.

If you can get through the uncomfortable learning period, the twisted logic of this forced-perspective world makes sense, and even begins to feel natural. The jerky, not-quite-3D rotation of the cube remains awkward no matter what—you can only view the cube from certain angles if you approach it in just the right way—but that was probably necessary in order to keep the controls manageable. Many 3D puzzle games, such as Tetrical, require at least six buttons to manipulate objects along three different axes, and it's really too much to ask of a human being.

I'm always going to give major points to a well-designed concept that offers something genuinely different, even if it has some quirks here and there. Part of gaming—and life—is to rack up unique experiences, and your only opportunity to paint three sides of a cube with a hexagon while a balding monk shrieks at you may be to

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greatlivingroomescape.gifJohnBWhat do a hamster, an umbrella, and half a pair of glasses have in common? I'm not telling, but The Great Living Room Escape just might. The just-released follow up to The Great Kitchen Escape from Pastel Games (yes, the site Submachine creator Mateusz Skutnik calls home) is filled with brightly-colored art, zany items, and excellent point-and-click room escape gameplay.

Wielding the mouse as your do-all, find-all, examine-all tool, simply slide the cursor around and look for hotspots where you can zoom in or items you can pick up. The arrows at the bottom of the screen let you navigate the livingroom. Objects you grab are stored in your inventory as bubbles at the top of the screen. To use them together, just click one, move it to the other object, and click again.

A great visual style is the perfect hook for The Great Living Room Escape, and the animations are fluid and packed with charm. The only real drawback is its length: five to ten minutes, tops. There are only a few screens to explore and half a dozen items to collect. Escaping the room is a simple matter of gathering everything and using it in the right combination (accomplished by a quick bout with Mr. Trial-and-Error).

It may be fleeting, but The Great Living Room Escape is a great casual gaming diversion.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (101 votes)
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Super Energy Apocalypse

zxo Imagine if you will, a parched territory, a desolate scrub of land, the kind of place where animals stay hidden during the day for fear that they might pop like a kernel of corn. It takes a certain breed of human to choose to live in a place like this: proud, self-sufficient, primal, rugged. Or perhaps just plain crazy.

Super Energy ApocalypseSuper Energy Apocalypse, a real-time strategy game with an environmental conscience from Lars A. Doucet, captures the grittiness of the Texas wilderness and adds a new challenge rarely encountered by the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston: a zombie invasion! Luckily, the setting is not the Texas of the frontier era but a hypothetical New Texas republic formed in the near future. For modern technology is your only hope of survival—and yet it is also your greatest limitation. The zombies thrive on pollution, whether it be trash, smog, or nuclear waste. Competition second place award winnerYou might get along fine for a few rounds with just your dirty, polluting fossil fuels, but pretty soon you'll want to upgrade to something a little more friendly to the environment, and a little less tasty to the zombies.

First-time players should start their campaign on Level 1. The in-game guide, Dr. Ananastasia Wurstwagen, does an excellent job of stepping you through the game mechanics without making it feel too much like a tutorial. You travel with her across the apocalyptic New Texas countryside, building up defenses against the zombie onslaught in a race to save the last remaining human strongholds, all the while making sure to clean up after yourself. Each new location adds another level of complexity to your arsenal of available buildings. New locations also bring new energy sources, which let you produce cleaner power and fuel, although it may not always be as efficient as good ol' petrol.

Super Energy ApocalypseAnalysis: Super Energy Apocalypse plays a bit like a tower defense game, in that most of the time is spent getting ready for the next wave, and the player is offered no control over the targeting of the enemies. Planning for the battle is the critical strategic element, rather than the battle itself. The zombies come out only at night, so use the daylight wisely!

The real twist that sets Super Energy Apocalypse apart is the balance that originates from having to clean up after yourself. Leaving waste lying around not only causes pollution, but can set in motion a nasty feedback loop: when zombies eat the waste they become stronger, which lets them trash more of your buildings, which turn into more waste, which allows more zombies to get stronger, and so on. Additionally, overbuilding your encampment without upgrading your fuels will lead to too much smog, which also strengthens the zombies.

Lars has also hidden a clever little resource management game within the bounds of Super Energy Apocalypse. Energy can come from many sources, and its relative abundance changes with each new level. Your trucks can be set to run on any one of four fuels, which each have different efficiencies, cleanlinesses, and each depletes a different resource (fossil fuel, natural gas, energy, or food). Defense buildings each require different resources too. All of these systems must learn to play nicely together, as you will need each one functioning if you are to pass the hardest levels.

Although it played just fine, the submitted version of Super Energy Apocalypse (upon which the judging was based) suffered from a number of somewhat minor deficiencies which prevented it from claiming first place: a bit of unbalance with some resources, a bug here and there, lack of a save feature, and some performance issues for some machines during the heat of battle. All of these problems and more have been fixed in the subsequent updates and the game is currently, at the time of this review, up to version 1.2. The only further change I can suggest is to get rid of the infinite time limit for completing certain goals; it's too easy for players to build up their resources, in particular the research points, since the upgrades they are spent on remain through all future levels. Start the countdown as soon as the player receives their first objective, and if they cannot complete all objectives (including survival) by the level's end, then they must replay it.

Nonetheless, a well-deserved congratulations to Lars for taking Second Place in our 5th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, crafting a quirky, fun, and well-balanced game. His creativity exhibits itself throughout all aspects of the game, from the random bits of humorous dialog to the intricate resource system and the solid inclusion of the Upgrade theme.

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PsychotronicPlanet of the Forklift KidPlanet of the Forklift Kid started life as a random mish-mash of unconnected words spat out by the stupefyingly entertaining Video Game Name Generator (warning: adult language). But it took artist/programmer John Nesky to make something coherent out of it. The resulting game is faithful to its title. If ever there lived a Forklift Kid, this would be his planet. It's a lonely place, populated mainly by crates, but our hero seems content with the life he's been given; a lot like The Little Prince, but with forklifts.

Planet of the Forklift Kid is a whimsical physics-based platform puzzle game, controlled with the keyboard. Press [left] and [right] to walk, [up] to press switches, and [space] to jump. Press [R] to restart a level if you get stuck. Each level features at least one forklift, of course, and you can operating these simply by stepping into the cab from the rear. Press the arrow keys to drive left and right, or to move the forklift's tines up and down. Press [space] to exit the cab.

At the menu screen, you can select one of 8 different levels, all of which are available from the start. Your goal in each level is to reach the exit, usually by operating switches to open the doors blocking your path. Switches on the wall may be turned on and off freely, but the big red buttons must be weighted down by crates or even the forklifts themselves. Sometimes the red buttons are affixed to the ceiling, and you must activate them by holding something against them from below. Lucky you've got a forklift!

Analysis: When I say this is a physics-based game, I mean it is physics-based. The Box2D physics engine is the star of the show here, making each puzzle as much fun to play around with as it is to solve. But Nesky has made some smart decisions to fit the gameplay to the concept. Crates react to most other objects according to their visible outline; but the forklift tines actually interact with a smaller box inside the crate's frame, so that you can stack crates on top of each other and then withdraw the forklift without disturbing them. Try making a tower of crates on level 3. It feels remarkably natural.

Unfortunately, the current incarnation of Planet of the Forklift Kid seems more like a proof of concept than a complete game. The eight levels on offer barely scratch the surface of the possibilities, and I was left wanting much more when I had solved them all. In order to be really compelling, the game would probably need some sort of story structure, and a sense of progression. At the very least, there should be a lot more levels.

But the skeleton of a game that Nesky has created is so charming and odd that it's worth playing anyway. The nub-limbed, doe-eyed Forklift Kid couldn't be more adorable. The forklifts are designed to be compact and versatile, so even though they can't turn around, you can accomplish quite a lot by just manipulating them cleverly. They are unusually nimble, for forklifts, and cute. They would make good action figures.

The sound effects are unassuming, but appropriate. The music—well, I love the music, but it may not be to everyone's taste. You may recognize the composer, Kevin MacLeod, from some of Tonypa's recent games, and he is nothing if not versatile. Planet of the Forklift Kid is an all-around well-crafted game that is simply light on content. Here's looking forward to a sequel or an expansion for this brilliant beginning.

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ArtbegottiDoeoOne sign that someone has done something right in the world is when someone creates a tribute to them. There are lots of bands out there that pay homage to legends like The Beatles, The Stones, and Chicago, for example. Tributes even happen in the gaming world, such as the tribute to On's Grow series, and Raitendo's Doeo is no different.

A tribute to SKT's Moai series, Doeo takes the same basic principle of frantically mousing over moving targets while racking up enough points to move to the next level. Instead of the statuesque Moai that inhabit previous games, here you try to collect as many pink and blue Doeo as quickly as possible.

DoeoThis take on the game has two levels of difficulty to choose from, easy and hard. While the easy level challenges you to grab 100 pink Doeo in 40 seconds (remember, no clicking required, just mouse over them to nab them), the hard level ups the ante by throwing in strings of blue Doeo that appear for less time, but are worth more points. These blue Doeo are important because in the hard mode, you have to find 200 Doeo in the same amount of time... good luck!

Analysis: While most tribute games are carbon copies of their predecessors, Doeo seems to add a few new elements to the Moai standard. Having two levels of difficulty creates for some variation in the challenge, because your mind has to work faster to grab the extra Doeos as they fly on and off the screen in a split second. While similar to the "zoom" function in New Nest of Moai, adding a second color of Doeo to the mix works better because you don't have to remember to click to find more targets. (Or was I the only one who forgot to zoom in for more Moai?)

The original Moai was quirky, random, and humorous. Doeo seems to have all those same features plus a bag of chips. While Moai levels focused mostly on one scene of gameplay, the Doeo environments are constantly changing and you'll find yourself moving rapidly from a conference room table to an airborne adventure, all within the same level. And while I do miss the a cappella music of the original Moai series, the Doeo instrumental soundtrack has enough pizzazz and variety to keep me bouncing in my seat. As a devout fan of the original Moai games, Doeo does an excellent job of maintaining the same jubilant mood in such a hilarious game as its inspiration.

That much said, get ready and Go Doeo!

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Rating: 4.8/5 (49 votes)
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Harvest: Massive Encounter

JohnBHarvest: Massive Encounter, by Oxeye Game Studio, is a survival-based real-time strategy game with several modes of play that lend a free-form tower defense feel to the experience. You play the humans defending an expanding plot of land against swarms (and I do mean swarms) of alien UFOs, mechanized bots and other baddies. It's an extremely frantic game that's usually more nerve-wrecking than brain-stretching.

harvestmassiveencounter.jpgWhen compared to most real time strategy games, Harvest is light on the strategy and depth of unit abilities but heavy on arcade-style action and swarms of enemies. Set in the distant future, you play the role of a new worker on the planet Hephaestus who must build a defense network against invading aliens. You won't fight just one or two at a time, however. Expect each wave to number in the hundreds, all of which must be dispatched before you can take a breather. Saying this game is intense doesn't do it justice.

To build units in Harvest you must first mine the hills for minerals. With enough cash in hand, place buildings with a simple click of the mouse. Then, supply units with energy by distributing tiny waypoint nodes throughout the battlefield. The massive network of energy being exchanged will form a glowing web that's quite impressive to look at, especially when you get an idea what a strong feed is compared to a weak one. The more energy a building gets, the faster it's erected, the faster it reloads, and the faster it repairs itself when damaged.

In general, your first task should be to establish several harvesters to bring in minerals, then place a few energy waypoints before plopping laser towers or missile bases on the ground. There are only six building types, each with a few upgrade or optional modes of operation, but it's quantity that counts in this game, so build lots of them. Many times I found myself just scrolling and clicking the landscape at random to place towers.

There are five main modes to play in Harvest: Massive Encounter, each with a slightly different shade of strategy/tower defense/arcade action. All modes are available on three unique planets: Hephaestus, Aries, and Poseidon.

  • Normal: Establish a stable base to defend against an ever-growing army of aliens. Earn as many credits as possible and try to top your best threat level with each try.
  • Wave: The most tower defense-like mode, prepare your defenses for as long as you like, then unleash the waves of aliens. Defeat all ten increasingly massive waves as quickly as possible.
  • Insane: True to its name, Insane forces you to build a base deep in enemy territory. You start with extra resources, but the aliens aren't too pleased with you...
  • Rush: Resources are plentiful, but the enemy is fierce. The goal is to deal 50,000 points of damage as quickly as possible while defending your base from the aliens.
  • Creative: A sandbox-style mode where you build a settlement and have full control over attacking swarms of aliens.

harvestmassiveencounter2.jpgAnalysis: While it does favor swarms instead of strategy, once you dig your nails deep into the game you'll learn subtle strategies necessary to polish off the toughest challenges Harvest throws your way. It's about long-term survival, not packing a powerful one-two punch and calling it a day, placing the game in a slightly different category than most in the genre.

The variety of modes in Harvest do wonders for replayability, but after spending a lot of time with the game you'll suddenly realize it's a one-trick pony. Sure, that one trick is amazing and will keep you busy for weeks, but the variety of units and enemies just doesn't support a long, progressive experience. Think of Harvest as a series of very polished casual Flash games packaged together and you'll have an idea of what to expect.

The free time-unlimited demo contains the first two modes of play on the planet Hephaestus. Download, run through the excellent tutorial, then start your career as alien swarm obliterator.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo (53MB)
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo (55MB)
Get the full version


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Rating: 4.8/5 (59 votes)
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Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year

JohnBLate last year HipSoft released Build-a-lot, a casual real estate tycoon sim where you buy and construct houses, raise their value, and stack piles of cash behind your desk. The successful paring down of a complex subject matter was a huge hit, and we learned just how fun it can be to have the power of bulldozers and million dollar incomes at our disposal. The sequel, Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year, has just been released, and a critical question immediately came to mind: why not call it Build-a-lot-more? Ok ok, so I'm no marketing genius, but according to this game, I might be a real estate whiz.

buildalot2b.jpgThe over-arching theme of Build-a-lot 2 is to improve each town's value by meeting goals set by each area's mayor. Tasks range from building a number of houses/buildings to earning a set amount of cash or increasing rent income to a certain level. All the while you must manage three things: cash, workers, and materials. Money rules them all and is used for every action you take. With money you must ensure you have enough materials to build new houses or upgrade and repair existing ones. Workers are necessary to carry out your plans, and the more you have the more jobs you can undertake at once.

Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year doesn't deviate much from the formula established by its predecessor, which is a very good thing. With a few simple mouse clicks you travel from town to town buying up empty lots and building houses in their stead. After drafting the right blueprints you can build several types of houses, each requiring more upkeep, materials and resources to construct. Bigger houses bring in more rent, and in order to meet each level's goal, you'll have to rake in as much cash as you can.

The game gradually unveils new buildings as you play, creating a wonderful sense of progression. Each new item gives you a nice bonus as well. Parks, for example, help raise the appeal of nearby properties, whereas buildings such as coffee shops share their earnings, and workshops offer discounts on your materials and labor. It all comes together into a satisfying experience that gets even better as the game goes on.

buildalot2a.jpgAnalysis: Build-a-lot 2: Town of the Year is one of those rare cases when a sequel does nothing but improve upon the original. Everything is bigger and better than the first, from an increase in building types to more levels and much better replay value. The new set of buildings is a great addition and adds loads of depth without complicating gameplay. Painting houses, while a seemingly trivial inclusion, is strangely satisfying (try painting a $300,000 house pink and tell me you didn't enjoy it) and integrates right into gameplay. And at long last, players don't have to worry about property taxes!

Build-a-lot 2 is better than the original in every way, which is a major feat in and of itself. It sounds complicated and perhaps a bit too number-heavy for casual players (we aren't all financial masterminds), but in practice it's as simple and straightforward as can be. This game is set to be one of the best casual games of the year.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Build-a-lot 2 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

AdamBDriving, driving everywhere, but not a brake to squeek. Er... never mind about that lousy rhyme, its driving time! So hop in, close the door, and press that pedal to the floor. And you can also play the other non-driving games. You know, if you want to.

pactheman.jpgPac the Man (Mac, 3.4MB free) - About as high a quality re-make as you could hope for of a classic arcade title, Pac The Man is a stylish, download-able smorgasborg of non-descript, yellow dots. Crisp graphics couple with on-beat sound effects and so much polish you can literally see the shine. Best of all, it's Mac-only, at last our revenge is at hand!

napkinrace.jpgNapkin Race (Windows, 10MB, free) - On a tiny, scrunched up surface, tiny bug-wheeled vechicles bounce around with abundant glee. Featuring various modes, such as tag, capture the flag and a track race, this physics-liberal game will have you bouncing around with a gigantic grin as the tiny racers crash, bounce and some how stay upright throughout it all.

downhillpakoon2.jpgDownhill PAKOON! 2.Many Unlimited 2009 (Windows, 26MB, free) - Racing is always fun, but more so when speed is involved. Even more so when jumps are involved. So coming up with an entirely downhill racing game seems like a great idea - and it is! With maps from arond the world and cars of various qualities, race, slalom or "air time" your way down these slippery slopes as fast as possible.

orbitracers.gifOrbit Racers (developer's page) (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - Racing around a track which is entirely circular may sound repetitive, but Orbit Racers pulls it off magnificently. With each track containing a center of gravity, the goal is to use only one button - the space bar - to steer the ship around the track. During the various courses, pickups, bonuses and ways to destroy your enemies are abundant and will become increasingly useful.

icon_dreamchronicles2.gificon_mac.gificon_spandexforce.gifStill hungry for Mac titles? Three previously mentioned casual games have all spawned Mac versions in the last few weeks. Spandex Force, the superohero parody with puzzle/RPG gameplay similar to Puzzle Quest, is now available on both PC and Mac operating systems, while the unique match-3 game Rainbow Web 2 has also made the cross-platform leap. Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze is available for Mac as well, and its Azada-meets-Myst-meets-casual adventure gameplay is not to be missed.


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Rating: 4.7/5 (86 votes)
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Westward II: Heroes of the Frontier

Ms.45The sequel to Sandlot's Virtual Villagers-esque hit sim Westward has finally arrived! Westward II: Heroes of the Frontier continues the old west drama with a whole new batch of improvements, including 3D visuals, new buildings to construct, more scenarios to complete, and a brand new sandbox mode. Keep your townspeople happy, fed, and busy gathering resources as you expand across the uncharted territory in search of the elusive Copperhead Gang.

westward2b.jpgFor those of you unfamiliar with Westward (hi, both of you), it's a casual strategy game in a similar vein to Starcraft or Age of Empires. Unlock buildings and skills, recruit workers and fighters, and battle natural disasters and bad guys in the wild west. You elect to play as one of three heroes who have the same abilities but different bonuses. For instance, if you play as Marion Morrison you get free farm upgrades, as Maureen Fitzsimmons you get access to a bank you can use to raise taxes, and as Terence Stevens you can build a trading post to trade gold, food and wood.

Once you've set up a profile, selected a hero and completed the tutorial, the main adventure begins. You only have access to a few buildings at this stage — as you gain experience, you unlock new buildings, such as a windmill to make your farm more efficient. To complete the adventures you need to complete the quests you are given, simply talk to the characters with a big exclamation mark over their head. You don't have to accept the quest until you have enough gold, wood, experience or whatever is needed to complete it successfully.

If taking on the challenge of quest after quest isn't your cup of tea, you can exit the main game and play in Sandbox Open Range mode to get a feel for how the citizens behave, what makes them happy, and what the buildings do. Open Range starts with all buildings unlocked, so you only need pay to build them, not to unlock them. If you've already beaten the game and want a greater challenge, or you want the challenge without specific quests, try Sandbox Natural Disasters. Buildings are locked as normal, plus as you gain experience, the likelihood of an earthquake, fire, typhoon or bandit attack is steadily increased.

westward2a.jpgAnalysis: As we would expect, the artwork in this game is gorgeous. You can now zoom in to walk amongst the townspeople, the happiness-boosting fountains and the flowers. Characters change clothes to fit their jobs, so you can sack a gold miner, make them mayor, and they'll dress up and walk around in a top hat collecting taxes. Interactively speaking, the designers have heard our complaints about the click and drag method of moving characters. The method still exists, but you can now right click to get the character to go where you want them to. There's also trophies — some are clearly labeled, like the ability to ranch three different kinds of animals at once, but there's also several hidden trophies. Personally, I've been enjoying spotting the pop culture references contained in the dialogue and building names — that's another game in itself.

On the down side, Westward II can be mighty slow going, especially if you're new to the series. You may like to intersperse gameplay with real-life housework or tinkering, although this could expose you to unexpected catastrophes. The right-click method of movement generally works extremely well, but I managed to get Marion Morrison stuck outside a mine. He isn't even surrounded by anything — characters can walk around him, but he won't move! And if the soundtrack gets stuck, you can end up having to listen to a character saying "That's a blue-chip idea!" over and over and over. These technical quibbles are pretty minor, though — Westward II is challenging, gorgeous, funny, and a bargain.

When you consider the amount of artistry, humor and depth of gameplay that has gone into the Westward games, I'm amazed that they're so cheap. Westward II: Heroes of the Frontier offers gameplay rich as blockbuster titles costing four times as much.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Westward II is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (67 votes)
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PatrickNetshiftNetshift is the Web-based successor to Blackshift, an action puzzle game download from Rob Allen (foon.co.uk) the man who brought us the Hapland series and many other excellent titles from the Farcade. Netshift, currently in beta, makes the original game much more accessible, and even includes a level editor with which to create and share levels with the Netshift community.

Control is with the keyboard, use the [arrow] keys to move your little Klingon destroyer around. You will need to push blocks, pick-up keys and items, and find the checker board exit to each level. Press [enter] to pick-up items, and press [space] to fire when in possession of a missile. The game includes a variety of objects that you can interact with: locked doors, guns that fire when stepped over, moving enemies, conveyor belts, and a host of other traps and contraptions that are all left up to your discovery. Figuring out what does what is part of the fun. If you need to restart a level, press [R].

To rate your success at the end of a level, your total time to completion is recorded. You can even watch a replay of your run-through, which makes for another interesting feature: you can watch run-throughs of the best players for each level.

On the front-page level selection screen, you can choose one from the most popular levels, the most recent or try a random level. Some are poorly designed and very challenging, others are smoothly paced and intriguing. This diversity is due to the level editor, which makes it fun and easy to build levels in mere minutes.

Analysis: As a game, Netshift is pretty good but it does suffer from a couple of flaws, such as the ease of death, and the lack of an audio-off button. As a service, however, Netshift is very promising and offers a lot of potential. The level editor is a very good tool, and it's fun to use. The population of content that results will grow and yield some amazing specimens as the game's popularity increases. Also, you can expect the niggling flaws and occasional bug to be worked out when the game sees a final release. There are many games-as-game-creation-services appearing across the Web, some of which we'll be covering in the near future, and Netshift serves as a promising example of this coming new wave.

When you shift your mental image of what Web-games can be, please remember to hold the clutch.

Play Netshift

Cheers to Yuval and Tomhd for sending this one in! =)


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBFifty to sixty years ago, people were introduced to peanut butter Link Dump Friday for the first time. They looked it over carefully. The daring and courageous bought it. Children loved it, but ma and pa were more critical. They discovered it had several drawbacks, as it was rather hard to digest, and it didn't taste like peanuts any other link dumps. Grownups never became peanut butter Link Dump Friday fans until today when a new kind of peanut butter Link Dump Friday appeared in stores. It looked different, it smelled different, it tasted different. It had practically nothing in common with the old style product. And so LDF became a staple in everyone's diet around the world.

  • icon_fracture2.gifFracture 2: Infection - A fast-paced arena shooter where enemies turn into splatters of colored paint when defeated. It's kind of like squashing bugs that ate crayons, only without all the mess. Interesting power-ups, too.
  • icon_trickhoops.gifTrick Hoops Challenge - Once a multiplayer game, the Trick Hoops arcade basketball shooting competition is back, complete with AI to allow for solo play. Click the ball and drag the mouse to set the direction and force of your shot. Whoever makes the basket gets to choose the next shot.
  • icon_getlost.gifGet Lost - An adventure game parody that's all about doing adventurey-type stuff. And biting the bullet in strange/unexpected ways. Explore the fantabulous sewer maze! See the disembowling dragon in the parking lot! Play as a human or embark on a bunny adventure!
  • icon_fourcolorrings.gifFour Color Rings - Some puzzle games challenge you with arranging tiles to complete a picture. Some are sliding block puzzles that force you to think three moves ahead. Four Color Rings is both of the above, as you must slide the squares to complete not one but three different colored rings pictured on the tiles. And did I mention the rings are moving?
  • icon_colorfill.gifColorfill - A simple arcade/puzzle-style "divide the playing field" game, but with several colors and bouncing arrows/sawblades you must mind.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (185 votes)
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cheesedreams.gifJohnBIt seems just like two days ago Nitrome released a free Flash game. Oh wait, it was two days ago! With Magneboy still attracting our attention, Nitrome today unveiled Cheese Dreams, a cute little platformer starring a bouncy bit of cheese (which just so happens to be the moon), mice in spacesuits, and Mario-esque pipes that send you soaring. As our orange protagonist snoozes one night, a massive mouse spaceship comes along and scoops it right up. Is it all just a bad dream, or are these mice really that obsessed with cheese?

The sleepy ball of cheese bounces on its own, you can only control direction using the [arrow] keys. Slopes make it difficult to progress, as one would expect, and must be tackled with carefully timed bounces to get the most forward progression out of your air time. Stars are scattered throughout the purple-laden spaceship (interior design by Prince, methinks?) and are tallied into your score at the end of the level.

Enemies can only be avoided, so... avoid them! Pipes throughout the levels transport you across the stage and blast you upwards for some extra hang time. Use them to traverse dangerous territory or to climb onto platforms otherwise inaccessible. You'll spend most of your time dealing with mice in balls and mice in wheels, however. Rolling balls and turning wheels is accomplished by bouncing on one of the edges over and over again, slowly tilting the orb to one side. Nitrome makes clever use of these familiar puzzles in a few places, and when combined with other environmental objects (reverse gravity buttons, anyone?), make for a very interesting time.

Analysis: As per Nitrome's norm, Cheese Dreams is a colorfully animated bouncy world of really cute sprites dancing across your screen. The game itself, while not breaking any mold in particular, manages to come across as exciting and fresh. The physics are well-tuned, if a bit heavy, but natural enough to keep the learning curve to a minimum and the path to mastery an enjoyable one.

Some of the levels feature a few points of excessive frustration by requiring precise timing or landing with the ball of cheese. Seeing as how this is an arcade platformer, your first instinct will be to Sonic-dash through every obstacle in your way. These rough spots force you to calm down and think things through before flailing on the keyboard. The gameplay is very reminiscent of Nifflas' Within a Deep Forest, though without the power-ups and a stronger focus on ball physics.

Great looking, great sounding, and a fairly well-balanced game that's perfect for casual gamers.

Play Cheese Dreams


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Rating: 4.8/5 (282 votes)
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bowstreetrunner.jpgJohnBBow Street Runner is a mystery adventure series created by LittleLoud and commissioned by Channel 4 (UK) to promote the five-part City of Vice programs. Set in London's Covent Garden in the 1750s, crime in the city has risen to such a level that local magistrates were forced to take action. The Bow Street Runners were born, created to instill order in the increasingly crime-ridden city. It's a dark and historically accurate journey through old London, presented with live actors, voice narration and full motion video for an impressive cinematic experience.

You play the role of a Runner investigating crime in a series of scenes throughout the town. Using the mouse, examine each area for clues and evidence, some of which is stored in your casebook. You'll also interview witnesses and other townsfolk for information, introducing you to the colorful inhabitants of 18th century London. When you've gathered enough information the game allows you to move on to the next scene, creating a nice (if linear) sense of progression.

In addition to cerebral clue gathering you'll also have to get your hands dirty from time to time. A clever diversion called Slide Thrift is, according to the tavern poster, "a most wondrous test of skill and mettle", and you'll also have the pleasure of digging through wet, rotten meat and vegetables in search of clues.

Analysis: An excellent experience from beginning to end, the only down side of Bow Street Runner is the long load times users with slow internet connections will endure. It's the price we pay for full motion video and voice narration, and it's worth the wait. Bow Street Runner is a visually impressive game, not only for its use of live actors but for a convincingly dark setting that's smoothly integrated with the live action video.

A brilliantly executed game that impresses on all levels.

Play Bow Street Runner

Update: All 5 episodes are now available to play!

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Rating: 4.8/5 (184 votes)
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The Last Canopy

PsychotronicWan Hazmer and his talented team at Easy Only! Games showed a lot of promise in our 4th Casual Gameplay Design Competition with their game Ballistic Wars, an original take on strategic combat that took home 3rd place and won enthusiastic audience approval. But entertaining as it was, time constraints had obviously kept Ballistic Wars from reaching its full potential. The Last CanopySo it was very gratifying to play The Last Canopy, Hazmer's entry into Casual Gameplay Design Competition #5, because this time he simply knocked it out of the park.

The setting is a ruined world where a single tree—the last canopy—still stands, protected by a race of butterfly-winged fairies with the power to absorb energy from their foes. You control one of these fairies on his heroic quest to return a fallen bird to its nest. This mostly nonsensical story serves as an excuse for you to battle an army of hostile vehicles through four bullet-drenched levels, each capped off by an intense boss encounter. Move the fairy around with the mouse or the arrow keys, fire with [Z], and absorb firepower from your enemies with [X].

Competition first place award winnerA brief history lesson: The Last Canopy is a specific variety of shoot'em-up called a Manic Shooter (or a Bullet-Heck Shooter, with respect to our all-ages audience), which has a lot of modern conventions, but basically means that a whole lot of firepower is being exchanged. Wan Hazmer was partially inspired by the Touhou series, which pretty much defines the PC manic shooter niche market with its gorgeously complicated bullet patterns and uncompromising difficulty. Touhou draws inspiration from the Shikigami No Shiro arcade games, among many others; which in turn follow in the footsteps of Competition audience award winnerE.S.P.Ra.De. and DoDonPachi—arguably the greatest arcade-style shooters ever made—by Japanese developer Cave, who is virtually unknown except by shooter devotees.

Cave deserves credit for establishing the guidelines for this sub-genre. Those include a tiny collision box for the main character, so you can weave in between tightly-spaced bullets; a complicated point system, so those who have mastered the game have reason to go back and maximize their scores; titanic bosses who change their attack pattern multiple times; an unbelievable number of on-screen bullets; and unrelenting, breathless difficulty.

This is not to say that Wan Hazmer's effort is unoriginal. To my knowledge, a satisfying manic shooter has never before been made in Flash, so The Last Canopy is a landmark game nonetheless (Since writing this sentence, Kei Mesuda's impressive Arcanacra has been brought to my attention. Thanks, Dragoran! Arcanacra is indeed a satisfying manic shooter programmed in Flash, but it is also a serious step up in terms of speed and difficulty, so casual gamers beware.) What makes The Last Canopy special is the incorporation of the "upgrade" theme for the competition. Your fairy's main gun is pathetic by itself. Fighting one of the game's bosses with it is like trying to stab a great white shark to death with a carrot. But you also have an eager group of 5 Gradius-ish orbs following you, waiting to be upgraded.

When you hold down the "absorb" button, a pink laser fires, locking-on to any enemy it hits, stealing its power and granting it temporarily to one of your orbs. Every enemy in the game can be plundered this way, and each one, remarkably, grants you a different type of firepower. The littlest ships might allow you to fire a single extra bullet, but if you take the time to absorb the energy from a boss, you can really start to fling some fireworks. The orbs gradually lose their strength, fading from green to yellow to red to empty, so you have to constantly refresh them by stealing new powers.

Analysis: A good shoot'em-up is like a symphony. The enemies are the musicians, the bullets the notes. And the player is the soloist at center stage, riffing a melody over the chaos, flirting with death, performing miracles. Wan Hazmer is the conductor, who must have a deep understanding of the rhythms that bind everything together.

The Last CanopyAnd The Last Canopy is just awesome. The natural ebb and flow of the gameplay keeps it from ever getting boring. You must stop shooting in order to absorb powers, but that pause allows more enemies to fill the screen with bullets. The better powers take longer to absorb and thus make you more vulnerable, but you must take that risk in order to have a chance against the bosses.

One might say that the Last Canopy is not really a casual game, but I feel that a casual game is anything that casual gamers can enjoy, and this game walked away with the audience prize as well as the judges' 1st-Place Award. Anybody can play at the easiest difficulty setting, but the hardest level is a decent challenge for even the most twitchy caffeine-blooded bullet rider.

The team at Easy Only! has done its very best to make The Last Canopy look and sound impressive. The graphics are a bit subdued and blocky, but they do the job more than adequately, and many of the enemy designs are interesting. Most of the ships on the first level, for example, are based on construction equipment; if you're not yet convinced that the game is cool, you're sure to come around when the first boss shows up with a giant wrecking ball. The scrolling background manages to suggest a whole world of cities and wastelands with just a few simple shapes, and the way it circles around like a crazy '78 when you're about to kill a boss is amazing. The excellent techno music establishes a distinct mood for each level and pumps up the intensity for the boss battles.

My only significant criticism is that dying takes too much power away from the player, especially during boss encounters. It takes a long time to absorb energy from a boss, and it's a pain having to start from scratch each time an errant bullet strikes you. I would have liked to see some smaller enemies fly by during the boss fights, so you can grab a quick power-up. That, and the controls should be configurable. It's weird not being able to fire with the mouse button.

But it is hard to find fault anywhere else. Hazmer and crew made a spectacular effort during the competition to keep their fans happy with updates and difficulty tweaks, and the result is an essentially hardcore game that a wide audience can nevertheless enjoy. The Last Canopy feels dramatic and entertaining from beginning to end, which is a testament to the level of detail and professionalism that Easy Only! Games is capable of. I anticipate great things from them.

Play The Last Canopy


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (118 votes)
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PsychotronicMagneboyIn the latest puzzle romp from Nitrome, you play the part of Magneboy, an orange robot powered by clockwork, with a dial in his chest set permanently to Neutral. He exists in a strange technological void, with pillars jutting out of the infinite blackness beneath. On each level, you must guide him to a checkerboard-patterned platform (robots are naturally attracted to early 60s diners). Then a vacuum tube will descend from the sky, suck him up, and deposit him in Robo-Valhalla, where he will spend the rest of his days surrounded by beautiful Magne-women and cybernetic roast pigs.

Nah, I'm kidding. He just gets to do another puzzle. Magneboy never escapes. He is doomed to eternal Sisyphean torment. Don't feel bad. He exists to entertain you.

Control Magneboy with the [arrow keys] or [WASD] and activate his Amazing Magnetic Powers with [space]. Magnetism works on the first thing in your robot's line of sight, and it has several uses. If you're looking at a blue platform across a chasm, Magneboy will be drawn forward to it. If you're looking at a gray suspended platform, it will come to Magneboy. Your powers don't work through obstacles, such as pretty flowers, which are of course the arch-nemesis of magnet people.

Analysis: Nitrome likes to make a pretty game. Although Magneboy's world doesn't require spectacular visuals, the Lego-inspired main character is nicely animated, and having the platforms peeking out of a techno void is a clever way to put the illusion of 3 dimensions onto a block-pushing (or pulling, rather) puzzle game. Add a downbeat, appropriately synthetic soundtrack, and you've got a typically high-quality Nitrome presentation.

It may be annoying at first to find how slowly Magneboy moves, but the quirky control is necessary to support the main scoring system. You get more points if you complete a level in fewer moves; but you can rotate to face different directions without it counting against you. So rather than constantly racking up useless steps, you need to hold down the arrow key for a moment after the robot turns before he starts walking. You get used to it. Most of the time, there's not a lot of area to cover.

Some of the puzzles feel a little sloppy, but most of them are nicely challenging without causing too much of a brain-ache. 50 levels await you in total, about 10 of which are well-spaced tutorials for various new elements in the game.

I would say that there are probably a few too many elements in Magneboy, in fact. Movable bridges and key platforms are fine, but the levels that feature moving attack robots were definitely my least favorite. The phlegmatic Magneboy is just not a robot made for tactical maneuvers. Realizing this, Nitrome has given you three lives per level, so the enemy robots are unlikely to even kill you, and they just seem pointless. I'd rather the whole action idea had been axed in favor of pure puzzling, but there aren't even that many action levels, so it's nearly a moot point.

Regardless, Nitrome is on a winning streak lately. This title provides a solid batch of block puzzles with an appealingly melancholy protagonist. Won't you take pity on poor Magneboy, and rescue him from the endless void?

Play Magneboy

The game is also available to Play at the MTV Arcade.


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Teen Dating Violence Game Design ChallengeOn the topic of game design competitions, Brian Crecente over at Kotaku sends word that he's currently running a game design challenge to create a game about teen dating violence without using any violence. There is a $1,000 first prize up for grabs and the deadline is May 15th. For a complete list of the official rules, visit the JenniferAnn.org website.


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (136 votes)
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Scramble125Lost PigIt's late, you've been watching the drove all day, and you just want to get back to the comfort of your cave. You count up the pigs and realize, to your dismay, that one has gone missing. Your boss, upon hearing about your shortcomings, sends you on your way, declaring that you ought to return with the pig or not at all. With bitter resignation, you wander into a dense forest. You're not really sure in which direction the pig headed; you only know that those rustling bushes may hold a clue...

This is where Lost Pig begins, a text adventure of interactive fiction that earned its author, Admiral Jota, first place in the IF Comp last November (2007), and Best Game in the Xyzzy Awards in March (2008).

You play as Grunk, a rather dim creature who works on a farm and who, evidently, loses a pig. Using your best typing skills, you must find your way through the forest and beyond to retrieve that darn swine. It won't be easy, since pigs in Grunk's world are not cooperative. Utilize your intuition (and maybe a little luck) and you'll find your way out of Grunk's mess in this hilarious and enjoyable game.

If you're not familiar with Interactive Fiction, it's a genre of games with roots back to the 1970's (thanks Wikipedia!). There are no graphics, just a description of your surroundings and available exits accompanied by a text prompt. Type commands into the prompt to navigate through the world—Lost Pig, like many other games in the IF community, provides you with a list of very basic commands to get you started, just type "Help."

You can't die in Lost Pig, but your adventure won't be an easy one. Since the pig is reluctant to join you back on the farm—and who can blame him—you'll have to work out how to catch him. You can gather clues from your environment, but Grunk's thoughts won't always give you as much help as you might think; his lack of intelligence manifests itself in some pretty hilarious ways. There is also a scoring system, with points given for doing certain things within the game. Some of these points come from doing very basic actions to get you through the game, while others are more obscure and may not be necessary to complete the game. The best thing you can do is be inquisitive and try everything!

Analysis: I love Interactive Fiction, a genre I was introduced to when Floatpoint was reviewed here about a year ago. What's great is that Lost Pig is on the lighter side. I found myself laughing most of the time while I gleefully wandered around. Grunk narrates the game in caveman-like diction, but this element never became annoying to me. It really serves to absorb you into the amiable character. The game isn't very long but offers up a relatively good challenge, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the genre.

Thankfully, there is a hint system to help you along. Unfortunately, I had to use it a few more times than I would have liked, because there are one or two points in the game that aren't very intuitive. The game world is also fairly small, and I tend to like IF games that span at least a few areas. This doesn't hurt the game, though, since there's quite a bit you have to do. There are even a few actions you can do with easter-egg-like results—and they really are terrific.

Lost Pig is unique and hilarious, stuffed to the rafters with personality. Don't be deterred by the lack of a graphic interface, just give it a try.

Play Lost Pig


The links above point to JIG's internally developed Flash-based Z-Machine interpreter (thanks asterick!), with the story files hosted here by permission of the game's author, Admiral Jota. Basically 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 may do so at Admiral Jota's website. If you choose to download the game, you will need an interpreter to read the z-file, just like most IF games: try Gargoyle for Windows, or Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.

If you like "Lost Pig," take a look at other Interactive Fiction we've reviewed.


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Game Design Competition #5Gimme5gamesMochi Media

JayI think we can all agree that the Casual Gameplay Design Competitions have produced many uniquely creative, highly enjoyable and fascinating Flash games the world has ever seen. Each time we have sent out a call for entries we have been rewarded, humbled even, by the creative brilliance and selfless generosity of so many talented indie Flash game designers from around the world, eager to participate and share their creations with you. This time was no different.

The Last CanopyOur 5th competition today comes to a close and we are here to honor all of the games that were entered, as well as award a few prizes, too. The "upgrade" theme was not an easy challenge, and several game designers rose to the occasion and delivered some of the most compelling and promising games we've seen in a CGDC yet.

As before, though, choosing a small group of entries to represent the best of those submitted is not an easy task. We wish we could reward everyone who submits an entry, but for every competition there must be a winner.

Fortunately we have even more prizes(!) this time than ever before, and we have our kind and generous sponsors to thank for giving us this opportunity: Gimme5games for taking the helm as lead sponsor (Thanks Matt!); Mochi Media (Thanks Jameson, Ada, and Bob!); and Adobe (Thanks Simon, Jennifer, Kristan, and Michelle!); and to Sean Hawkes for designing the CGDC5 graphics. It is due to the efforts of all these people that we have the following prizes to award, so please show them all your kind support as well.

We would also like to thank everyone who voted by contributing to the Audience Award. The success of these competitions hinges on your continued participation, not only in the comments with your feedback and constructive criticisms, but also with your kind donations to the designers and developers for the fantastic experiences they provide us with each time. Thank you kindly for your unwavering support!

And now, to the people who have made this competition very special: the designers, developers, magicians and architects of the prize winning entries. The panel of 7 reviewer-judges—zxo, JohnB, Psychotronic, FunnyMan, Scramble125, Kero, and myself—scored the top three games higher by a healthy margin. The rest of the field was very close:

  • First Place
    ($3,500 + Adobe Flash CS3):
  • Second Place
    ($1,750 + Adobe Flash CS3):
  • Third Place
    ($1,000 + Adobe Flash CS3):
    • Gride by ooPixel (Jussi Kari, Marko Taali)
  • Best Use of Theme
    ($1,000):
  • Viral Award (most game views)
    ($1,000):
  • Audience Prize
    ($500):

With 23.44% of the popular vote, The Last Canopy proved to be the favorite among the JIG community as well. Easy Only! Games will be awarded the Audience prize of $500 to go with the donations the game received, for a total of $580.88!!

For full disclosure, I have made available a spreadsheet listing all proceeds received and how they were distributed based on the voting. Note: Since voting was a bit lighter this time, we are making sure everyone receives at least $25.00 for their entry. We will be in touch with each game designer to arrange for the transfer of all respective voting donations. Our sincere thanks and appreciation go out to everyone who voted.

Most of all, congratulations to everyone who submitted an entry! Just being able to complete a game within a short development period is quite an achievement, in and of itself. Moreover, your continued participation in these competitions makes future competitions like this possible, and we can't thank you enough. We consider ourselves very fortunate, again, to have received such an excellent response to our call for entries, as the entire collection of entries are all quite deserving of our praise. To show our appreciation, we will be featuring a review for each of the competition finalists, complete with our own feedback and constructive criticisms, in the days and weeks ahead.

Following is a list of the top 10 games by score:

  1. The Last Canopy
  2. Super Energy Apocalypse
  3. Gride
  4. dRive
  5. M.I.L.O.
  6. Pieces
  7. BFD (Bovine Flatulent Defense)
  8. Neo Tower Defense
  9. gearUP!
  10. doggnation


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Rating: 4.8/5 (190 votes)
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PsychotronicAn Untitled StoryYes, I know. We already included An Untitled Story in a Weekend Download last year. But there are three good reasons to take another look at developer Matt Thorson's (a.k.a. YMM) magnum opus. First, popular demand. Second, it has been re-released as Freeware, which means it's a whole one dollar cheaper. Those of you who paid for the full game after playing the demo the first time around can still sleep well, knowing that you supplied a hard-working game maker with four packets of Ramen. Third, it is the best freeware platform game I have ever played (If you just had the urge to babble furiously about bunny-people and amnesiac androids, you can relax. I like Cave Story, too.)

Now, Best Freeware Platformer is quite a lofty title for a game that looks like a drawing your five-year-old cousin stuck up on the fridge, but I'm just being honest about my feelings, here. An Untitled Story is a perfect blend of tough platforming challenges, intimidating boss fights, and cunning secrets, all wrapped up in a layer of childlike mysticism and rough-shorn beauty.

But An Untitled Story requires a certain mindset to appreciate, because it is very different in tone from YMM's other work (he is the author of the ridiculously hardcore Jumper series and recently, the even more ridiculous FLail), and indeed from other explorational platformers. "If this is a chilled-out wonderland of discovery like Seiklus," the peanut gallery cries, "then why is it killing me with spikes? If this is a hardcore action game like Jumper, then why won't it tell me where the next boss is, already?"

And the answer is simple: this isn't any of those other games. An Untitled Story is a chilled-out hardcore wonderland of action discovery, plus an unidentifiable je ne sais quoi that just makes you want to drink it down in one gulp and then spit out a rainbow.

An Untitled StoryYou start out as a lonely egg in a nest. You can jump right away, but all of your other abilities must be discovered and earned. But there is no clear path to your goals, and indeed no clear goals. You will spend your time upgrading your abilities by locating blue orbs, upgrading your health meter by finding hearts, and defeating bosses by jumping on their heads when they are vulnerable. Over time, you will uncover the shattered fragments of a plot-line, find avian love, and even reveal the dark secrets of your world.

Analysis: It's hard to describe just what makes An Untitled Story work so well, and I suspect that it won't hit everyone the same way. It can be a very difficult and frustrating experience for some. Time after time, you will encounter obstacles that are impassable, either because you haven't found the appropriate ability, or because you don't yet have enough skill. But for a certain type of gamer, who is perfectly happy to turn around and work on some other area of the game, rather than butt heads with a challenge beyond his abilities, this is Nirvana.

YMM has structured An Untitled Story so that there are always three or four different regions to explore at any given time. All paths lead to a reward of some kind, and your practice in beating one area will help you with the other one, the one that initially seemed impossible. This is a game that teaches you how to play—not by forcing tutorials on you or by dumbing down the gameplay until you can cope, but by evolving organically and inviting you to grow along with it.

But what really brings it all together is the layer of mystery and purity over everything. Other than the initial keyboard instructions, you have to discover how everything works yourself. The thick outlines and sketchy style of the artwork (inspired by Matt's friend Tom Sennett at coolmoose.net) give the game an ancient, epic feeling; like it has been etched into stone rather than programmed on a computer. The guitar-driven soundtrack is amateurish, by YMM's own admission, yet it succeeds at setting an appropriate mood for a wide variety of different locations. It's a sublime thing, this game, an excellent example of how clarity of purpose can unify a game and make it memorable, more than any of its individual parts could do.

Despite the essential goodness of An Untitled Story's design, there are a few things that trip up newcomers all the time, so I'm including a few hints here to keep you from getting frustrated. Don't read these if you'd rather take the journey unaided.

Hatching:

  • You can't talk as an egg. You will reach a point where you must be able to communicate in order to pass certain gates. Here are three hints for discovering how to hatch.

    • You need to obtain an ability that, at first, seems useless.

    • You need to use that ability in a place that looks like it should be important.

    • There is a cave drawing somewhere that tells you what to do.

Heart Doors:

  • You can only pass through these when you are at full health. Usually that means you have to traverse some particularly tricky obstacle course without taking damage in order to get the prize behind the Heart Door. Keep in mind that all such prizes are optional. You can beat the game without passing a single Heart Door.

Shop:

  • None of the orbs in the shop are necessary to beat the game except the very cheapest one. Feel free to spend money on things when you have it, but if you are stuck, you never need to go around destroying pots and killing things to advance. You will naturally collect all the money you need during the course of your travels.

Finally, if you have a gamepad for your computer, use it. The game is perfectly playable with keyboard controls, but it definitely feels better with a directional thumb-pad.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (36 votes)
| Comments (27) | Views (255)

Youda Camper

JohnBAah, camping. The great woodland pastime where people tear themselves from the busy city life to retreat back into nature. Instead of throwing up a tarp in the woods, however, we have campsites that provide a safe spot to pitch a tent as well as many of the comforts from home. It may not be as rustic as it used to be, but hey, the air's fresh, right?

youdacamper.jpgYouda Camper is a slow-paced simulation game along the lines of Sim City or Build-a-lot. You're put in charge of creating and running a camp site, from where to put the toilets to how many spaces for tents to allocate. Keep campers happy by building amenities and learn from their complaints to construct a campsite that rakes in the cash day after day.

You begin with nothing more than a small patch of land, a blank canvas for your soon-to-be empire. A full-featured menu at the bottom of the screen gives you access to dozens of things to build, ranging from several sizes of tents to hedges, park land, fireplaces and parking lots. Each has a specific role to play in keeping customers satisfied with their experience. The game walks you through the first few steps of building sites, assigning campers, and constructing the extras that keep campers happy.

When campers check in, they announce how long their stay will be. New buildings and additional land to construct on is unlocked when you serve a certain number of people. Time progresses quietly, but the screen darkens when its night, so you know when half a day has passed. Don't expect to see the "campers served" number jump very often, as Youda Camper is a very slow-paced and relaxed game. Your persistent managing skills is what will keep everyone happy and the cash rolling is.

youdacamper2.jpgAs you continue expanding and hosting more campers you'll unlock a ton of extra buildings that can help increase your revenue. In fact, your campsite could look more like a small city than a place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Bingo parlor, anyone? Advertising also plays a role in bringing in business. Once you serve 75 campers you can choose what to advertise and which media outlets to broadcast your message. Then just kick back and watch the cars roll in.

Analysis: Simple, slow, but nicely paced, Youda Camper isn't your normal sim game experience. In fact, the difficulty level is quite low, as rarely will you be challenged by customer complains or money restrictions. Or maybe I'm just really, really good at managing a campsite? There is something extraordinarily satisfying about the streamlined simplicity of this game, however.

One interesting thing to note is the lack of music in Youda Camper. No soundtrack, only the occasional bird chirping and the hum of machinery when you build something new. This really pushes the relaxed atmosphere of the game, which is one of the niceties that separates it from the simulation game crowd and makes it worth playing.

A sim game of a different kind, Youda Camper is the camping vacation from hectic simulations. Kick back, build a few tent sites, and breathe in the fresh air.

Play the free Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (35) | Views (22)

Weekend Download

JohnBIn addition to an utterly superb isometric adventure game, on this edition of Weekend Download we'll be teasing you just a bit. Teasing how, you say? Teasing with a Mac-only demo and a preview build of a game that isn't complete! Yes, we're cruel. But you'll love every minute of it.

returntodarkcastle.jpgReturn to Dark Castle (Mac, 70-84MB, demo) - Return to Dark Castle is a reverential sequel to Dark Castle, the classic and much beloved platforming adventure released for the Macintosh in 1986. The new levels are huge and beautifully illustrated, but you also get all the original levels from Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle, plus four difficulty settings and a veritable cornucopia of secrets. Hurling rocks at bats is just as great as it always was. (Thanks, Psychotronic)

fig.jpgFloating Islands Game (Windows, 2MB, preview) - By popular demand, Hempuli has released the first five levels of this action-based puzzle game as an early teaser. FIG plays just like Rob Allen's Hapland games, but with a distinct Lemmings slant to it. Guide the rather dense main character around by switching signs and such on the landscape. Solve puzzles by having quick reflexes and an uncanny ability to peer three moves into the future.

theyore.jpgThe Yore (Windows, 16.6MB, free) - A strikingly haunting and beautiful isometric horror adventure game by Crobasoft. You play as Colin or Amy trapped in a strange house with creepy things crawling out of every ethereal corner. Use the [arrow] keys to move ([left] is NW, [up] is NE, etc.) and [enter] to check or use items. This game has such a great atmosphere and is one of those little nuggets that compels you to play to the end.

frozzd.jpgFrozzd (Windows, 16.6MB, free) - A game made for YoYoGames' first competition in which the theme was "winter" and it took 1st place. Jump from planet to planet as you guide the Mubbly creatures, and use them as an army to defeat the Frozzd. 12 levels, a boss, many different enemies, and great music. Simple fluid gameplay with Super Mario Galaxy style gravity.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (20 votes)
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Hoyle Enchanted Puzzles

JohnBHoyle Enchanted Puzzles is a mixed take on a number of common casual gaming puzzle types such as the marble popper, match-3, mahjong, and samegame. Strung together by a wizard-filled fantasy plot, you travel throughout the Valley of Skye completing puzzles to earn Craft, Nature, and Mind experience points that open new types of challenges. It's an enticing blend of puzzle and RPG elements with more than enough variety to go around.

hoyleenchantedpuzzles.jpgYou play a young wizard determined to find the legendary Mistress of Skye, a long-forgotten master of magic. One evening you discover a map tucked in your spell book, almost as if your curiosity alone caused it to appear. After months of travel you finally arrive in the Valley of Skye, a lush area filled with small villages, lakes and trees. Within the valley are a number of visitable zones that contain sets of puzzles. All you have to do is click and start playing.

Within each area you'll find puzzle challenges based on nine familiar casual gaming themes. You'll toss marbles like in Zuma, go fishing like in Gold Miner, create matching sets of tiles in Samegame, and more. Games are mouse-based and broadly-themed, so some will be reflex-oriented, while others more challenge and skill focused. After completing a set of puzzles in a stage you'll earn experience points return to the main menu where you can unlock new levels or more puzzles within areas you've already visited. How you spend your points is up to you!

hoyleenchantedpuzzles3.jpgAnalysis: Puzzle game collections can be hit or miss, but Hoyle Enchanted Puzzles scores a good hit. The nine types of games represented are familiar (and simple) enough for anyone to dive right in, and ramping up the challenge within each mini-game helps keep you motivated. The presentation wrapped around the simple game is superb, even if it's little more than typical Harry Potter-esque fantasy garb.

One downside of including a variety of puzzles is that not all gamers will enjoy each mini-game as much as the last. Some, like the fishing game, seem to drag on much longer than they should, yet you still want to finish just for the experience points. Obligation shouldn't be a part of a casual game, and Hoyle Enchanted Puzzles can unintentionally insert it at inopportune times.

A solid collection of puzzles built into a lasting and interesting new whole. What it lacks in innovation, it more than makes up for with diversity!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (106) | Views (15)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWacky. That one word describes half of this week's collection of Link Dump Friday games. Well, maybe wacky and challenging, but challenging in a wacky sorta way. And the other half? Room escapey. Room escapey in a multi-lingual kinda way. And the other other half? Accurate mathematics.

  • icon_lightcut.gifLight Cut - A follow-up to the rather gruesome Dark Cut surgery games. You play a World War II medic who comes back from battle and faces the hurt and scars left by the experience. Or did I just make all of that up?
  • icon_youhavetoburntherope.gifYou Have to Burn the Rope - Remember the epic adventure that was Quest for the Crown? YHTBTR is a platformer in a similar vein in which you must— oh, but I won't ruin the game for you! Play it, beat it, and enjoy the ending!
  • icon_ambientparade.gifAmbient Parade - A nice retro-looking dodging/shooting-type arcade game where you switch between columns to avoid obstacles and destroy targets in your way.
  • icon_worldshardestgame.gifThe World's Hardest Game - It hurts us! You are the red square. Avoid the blue circles, collect the yellow ones, then high-tail it back to the green safe zone. Thirty levels of pain-inducing hardness. Seriously, it's tough.
  • icon_spacestationtokio.gifSpace Station Tokio - A Japanese room escape game with English translation built right in. You play a restaurant cook who fell asleep and woke up to discover he's trapped! In a space station! Bummer!
  • icon_bighouse.gifThe Big House - Kudos for an accurate game title! The Big House is a point-and-click room escape game that, naturally, takes place is a big, old mansion. Doors are everywhere, each one leading to rooms that may or may not have something to do with the game's puzzles. Game features both English and French language options.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (133 votes)
| Comments (54) | Views (115)

PatrickAttakAttak is the game I've wanted to play since I was fourteen years old. If you ever tried to raise your power level while on the bus, and had an invisible energy duel with your buddy during class, you know what I'm talking about. Every single game ever made about Dragon Ball Z has been a lame cash-in, a modification of fighting mechanics or RPG mechanics, hobbled Frankensteins that never really grasped the dynamic of Power Level 1,000,000. Today, the brothers at JohnnyTwoShoes have delivered with sonic, accessible Flash.

Use the [arrow] keys to move around, [up] to jump, [down] to charge, and any three keys of your choosing to punch, kick, and fire an energy blast. Pressing [escape] brings up a menu that allows you to configure the controls as you like. The world is utterly destructible, so you can kick your opponent through buildings or jump up through the ground. It's possible to double jump, and to charge your jumps so you soar through the air like a glider/rocker hybrid. Charging fills up the lower bar, underneath your health, which is depleted when you perform energy attacks. Bring your opponent's health bar down to zero to win the match.

Analysis: It's hard to knock this game, either you like what it's doing or you'll pass. Its failing comes not in its flaws so much as what it could be, but isn't. An adjustable power-level mechanic tied to progression could be interesting, if associated with energy costs in maintenance. Most notably the tuning of the moves and their downtimes could be adjusted so that the fighting is really about pace and rhythm—currently it stands as a button-mashing contest settling on the occasional duel. Then there's the two-player versus mode, which requires players to share a keyboard; if this game supported online match-making its true depth could be explored. The AI powered enemies don't offer enough challenge to drive a player towards true mastery.

Don't let this be the one that slipped away.

Play Attak

Cheers to Sarah, Maxwell, Ryan, and Toby for sending this one in. =)


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Rating: 4.5/5 (59 votes)
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PsychotronicUchuforce 2Uchuforce 2 is a thoroughly old-fashioned and huggable shoot-em-up by Babarageo, a Flash game developer with a deep and abiding love for gigantic pixels. Babarageo's very first game was a simple shooter called Uchu Force, and that one had really big pixels, plus humongorous bosses that looked like they were made out of red and yellow Legos. Then there was the previously reviewed Uchu Wars, which was less a sequel and more a tangent into Manic Shooter Territory, i.e. vertical playing field, lots of enemy bullets, and bombs that are designed to save your life in a split-second rather than actually cause damage.

Uchuforce 2, in contrast, is designed for shooter neophytes. You control your ship with the mouse, you're firing a ridiculous swath of bullets all the time, and there's only one button to worry about. Click the mouse to change your weapon to a powerful laser, and click again to switch back to the endless waves of bullets. A meter in the lower-right shows you how close your laser is to over-heating, so if you want to avoid an extra-long cool-down delay, turn the laser off before that meter fills.

In order to power up your weapon, you must collect letters that spell out "UCHUFORCE". The letters appear when you destroy gray pyramid targets, and they cycle through the whole word over time, if you don't pick them up right away. An exposed letter will always turn into the one you need eventually, but enemy ships won't always make it convenient for you to grab it at the right time. Your Weapon Level goes up to 3, and then after that, each UCHUFORCE just gives you an extra life.

Your goal is simply to fight your way to the end of the game, destroying ground targets and formations of flying enemies as they show up to challenge you. A scary Xevious-style boss will appear at the end of each level, usually more heavily armed than all the rest of the enemies combined. Helpful tip: boss encounters are an excellent time to deploy the laser.

Analysis: One serious criticism is that Uchuforce 2 sets you back too far when you lose a life. When you die on a boss, you'll have to fight your way through half the preceding level again. And although there are keyboard controls included, they don't work very well. If you're moving left, for example, and you press [right] before releasing the [left] key, your ship will stop dead, rather than going right. That alone made the keyboard controls useless for me, and I'm fairly surprised Babarageo left it that way. I figure the game was just intended for the mouse.

Uchuforce 2 takes a while to get challenging, due to the main ship's massive firepower, the relatively passive enemies on the first couple of levels, and the unrestricted mouse control. You don't have to dodge any bullets if you can just instantly go where there aren't any bullets, any time you please. But none of that is necessarily bad, if your shmup skills are under-developed or rusty. And even if you're an old pro at this sort of game, it's pleasant to just deal out death for a few levels and watch the pretty scenery scroll by.

And it is very pretty scenery, if the thick pixels and mono-colored sprites of the NES age still appeal to you. The bleep-blooping sound effects, the gray metal bosses shaded with ostentatious dithering, the purposefully limited color palette—it all makes Uchuforce2 feel like a lost masterpiece of MSX software. But it's not running on pure liquid nostalgia. There's a carefully paced game here, with a large variety of enemies and, dare I say it, a good helping of soul. As friendly and playable a shoot-em-up as you're likely to find.

Play Uchuforce 2

Cheers to Wouter and Andy for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (52 votes)
| Comments (41) | Views (73)

ArtbegottixsketchFrom Ryan Dewsbury, creator of GPokr and KDice comes a new drawing game that will have you scratching your... Egg? Circle? Melon? Frying pan? Face? Head? That's it, scratching your head!

XSketch is a multiplayer Pictionary-style game with an interesting twist on gameplay and scoring. Players can jump right into any game already in progress and begin to have fun immediately. Points are earned by drawing and guessing successfully, and monthly competition leader boards give the game a real competitive feel.

People who have played GPokr or KDice can use their existing account in XSketch. (In fact, this game was made with the same Google Web Toolkit as the other games.) Otherwise, registration to begin playing is simple and painless.

To begin, simply sit down at a table to play. With each word that you play as a guesser, you ante up four points for the pot. The drawer (which cycles around the room in clockwise motion) antes up the total amount of all other players, and works to earn back his ante. The rest is chaotic fun... The drawer sketches out a picture with the mouse, and the guessers frantically shoot out their guesses in the dialogue box immediately below the picture. The successful guesser and the drawer split the pot evenly. (So in effect, the drawer wins back his ante, while the guesser wins everyone else's ante.)

What can really add to the excitement of the game is when the pot begins to build. If a word is not guessed in time, or if the drawer decides to pass (each with an extra penalty attached), the pot carries over into the next round of play. When there are so many points at stake to boost your rank (which is constantly being updated, no pressure!), the guessing becomes even more frantic in an effort to win it all.

Analysis: Draw-and-guess games are by no means new to the JIG community or to casual gamers in general, but Dewsbury's fresh take on the genre brings a whole new challenge to the easel. All of the words in the database are either written by him or submitted by players and approved by him. And the words aren't just simple words like "cat," "tree," or "cloud," but you've also got to be able to draw tricker phrases like "cousin," "attention," "vessel," and "boarding pass." The more difficult words can be fun to draw and guess, but sometimes terms might get a bit too obscure to be understood. (If anyone can tell me what "syrup pizza" is, I'd love to hear it.)

So without a doubt, some words will be hard to guess or draw. However, the scoring system prevents players from simply passing every word until they find an easy one. The penalty for passing is enough to encourage most drawers to try any word, no matter how ridiculous. And who knows, maybe someone will get it right off the bat.

One thing that sets this game apart from most others I've seen is the fact that you only have one color, black, with which to draw everything. While people who insist grass must always be green may have trouble adjusting to this, the monochromatic gameplay adds to the fun of the challenge (especially when trying to draw the word "color." Ironic, no?).

Sadly, by now it goes without saying that there is a definite PG-13 risk that comes with any multiplayer game anymore. As of yet, there are no censors or filters in place for guesses, chats, or pictures, although a "Warn" button is in place to stifle improper drawings.

So, grab your pen and paper, and

Play XSketch


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (3454 votes)
| Comments (217) | Views (158)

magicpen.jpgJohnBMagic Pen is a physics-based puzzle playground created by Alejandro Guillen (Spin the Black Circle). It's easy to see the design, from visual style to overall concept, was taken from Crayon Physics, but because Magic Pen is a Flash game, it's much more accessible. Using the mouse, simply draw shapes to create bridges and guide the red ball to the flag. Making shapes and dropping them from the sky will set the ball in motion, and you can also craft structures with hinges (both fixed and movable) for more complex maneuvers.

The shapes you draw are affected by three basic principles: gravity, friction, and inertia. In other words, common sense physics. Drawn shapes will fall to the ground, bump against each other, and sit still unless acted upon by another moving shape. You can draw just about any object you please, but Magic Pen automatically smooths out jagged edges into a more block-like shape. The entire game is mouse-driven, all you have to do is click and start drawing.

Pins and hinges link objects together and allow you to craft more complex machinery to get the ball to the goal. Hold the [S] key and click inside an object to draw a pin, then draw a second object that overlaps the "X" and it will be held in place. For a movable hinge, press and hold the [D] key and start drawing. The shape you create will be affected by gravity and slowly swing around the pivot point towards the bottom of the screen.

There are over two dozen levels in Magic Pen, each one more wickedly devious than the last. There's even a sandbox mode accessible from the in-game menu (press [Q]). The number of shapes you used to complete each puzzle is recorded, and once you beat the game you can submit your scores to see how well you did compared to other Magic Penners.

Analysis: Good-looking, simple, engaging and fun, Magic Pen is exactly what I like to see in a casual online title. The game doesn't try to hide the fact that it's a near-direct clone of Crayon Physics; Alejandro even thanks Petri Purho in the credits. One key difference is you can't do "shape bumping", or drawing overlapping objects so they pop on top of each other. And when Crayon Physics Deluxe is finally released, it will no doubt contain much more content than Magic Pen.

Magic Pen takes place in real-time, meaning once you draw a shape it's immediately set into motion. This really keeps you on your toes, but it can also be frustrating when trying to draw delicate platforms in a pinch. A start/stop mechanism would make it much more of a cerebral puzzle game, whereas the current setup feels like an arcade experience.

A great Flash experience that's fun as a webtoy and challenging as a puzzle game.

Play Magic Pen


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (92 votes)
| Comments (42) | Views (32)

PsychotronicCompulseIt's just not a proper week without a new jmtb02 game. But if you're expecting the usual jolt of hyperactive skull-smashery from John Cooney—like TBA or Grid16—you'd better slow down, Miss Sally Brown. Compulse is John's attempt at a tightly packed zen experience, and it's 98% adrenaline-free, with extra soothing strategy flavor.

Compulse is basically just an indirect game of golf. Your object on each of 25 levels is to get the ball in the goal, by dragging and dropping squares of force that push the ball up, down, left, or right. You'll have to work with and against the constant pull of gravity, and new obstacles will come along regularly to make life interesting. The goal is a mysterious vortex of spinning rings, and on most levels, you'll have to collect some missing rings to complete the vortex before you can exit.

That's simple enough, but where Compulse departs from most games of its ilk is in its open-ended gameplay. You can place as many squares on the screen as you like, forcing the ball through extensive convulsions on its way to freedom. Either that, or you can shoot for efficiency, and try to complete the level with as few squares as possible. Each level has two different benchmarks, and you'll get a little gold star on the menu screen each time you make a Pro Score.

Analysis: I appreciate the change of pace, but Compulse is perhaps a little too lenient in some ways. Many of the Pro Scores are too high (Note: John has updated these scores since this review was published.), and there are usually many different solutions to a given level. You have so much freedom to experiment, it sometimes feels like more of a toy than a game. There's even an insanely complete replay function, so you can relive your clever solutions backwards and forwards.

But that's cool. It is what it is. There are clouds in the background. The music (by "MaestroRage", paradoxically) is a breezy mixture of strings, chimes, and rain. The presentation could hardly be better. If you're not in any hurry, this is a lovely way to spend 20 minutes or so.

But jmtb02—perhaps sensing that some players might need a dangling carrot above and beyond the pure love of watching gravity work—has typed out a short, witty narrative for each level. These are so entertaining that I eventually found myself playing just to see what John had to say next; they are so revealing about his thought process that, in the end, I felt slightly closer to him as a human being. As odd as that may sound.

I don't know if a game has to include a director's commentary in order to make that kind of contact, and I'd rather it not become a trend, but in this case the personal touch works. This is a tasteful and intelligent diversion from one of the most prolific Flash designers on the scene.

Play Compulse

You can also play this game at John's jmtb02 Studios site.

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