August 2008 Archives


Rating: 4.7/5 (48 votes)
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MatthewZombie in My Pocket screenZombie in My Pocket is the quintessential casual game: quick to play, easy to learn, solitaire and free. But it differs from the usual Jay is Games fare in one crucial respect: the platform on which it plays is not Windows or Mac or even Linux, but rather your kitchen table.

ZiMP is one of a growing number of "print and play" board games available on the Web. It costs nothing, but after printing out the four-page ZimP PDF you'll need to spend two minutes of quality time with a pair of scissors before you are ready to play. Though printing the game onto cardstock is preferable, regular-weight paper works fine too. (My copy is on some flimsy all-purpose printer paper, and although shuffling the cards and titles is a chore, the game has held up for 20 plays at least.)

Play begins with single title, depicting the Foyer of a creepy old mansion. On each turn you first move a pawn through one of your current room's available exits, then draw a new tile (such as "Dining Room" or "Kitchen") and place it such that the doorways line up. In this way you slowly reveal the layout of the manor as you search for a profane Totem hidden somewhere within. Later you can head out the back door of the house, wander the yard in search of the secret Graveyard, bury the Totem and win.

All this would be a cakewalk were it not for the Zombies. Upon entering a room you must draw a card, which may grant you an item (a machete, say, or a board with nails), increase or decrease your health (which begins at 6), or surprise you with a horde of zombies. If zombies reduce your health to 0, or if you don't reach the Graveyard by midnight, you have failed in your quest (assuming your quest isn't to personally alleviate undead hunger).

Zombie in My Pocket is short—a full game only takes 5 minutes—but surprisingly addictive; the urge to play again (and again, and again) is almost insurmountable. It's also rather easy, and you're likely to win three times out of every four. To address this, the game's designer, Jeramiah Lee, suggests two house rules: capping your health at 6 (i.e., nothing can give you a health of 7 or higher), and only gaining two health when cowering. Played this way, the game provides a considerable challenge.

ZimP has received great buzz in the board game community, and a game company intends to release a multiplayer version early next year. Until then, the free version is a fun way to hack and slash your way through a coffee break.

Download and Play Zombie in My Pocket.

Azada 2 Ancient Magic Walkthrough

We have just finished a massive walkthrough guide for
Azada 2: Ancient Magic. This guide will help you through any of the books should you get stuck while playing. Be warned: This guide does contain spoilers, so proceed with caution and use only as a last resort!



Azada 2: Ancient Magic Walkthrough Guide


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Weekend Download

AdamBThere you are, standing on the precipice. Your pixelated toes hang over the edge. Taking a deep breath you move forward — and fall, cursing the heavens and hoping that the louder you say "But I pressed jump!" will make a difference. Such is the fate of all characters at some point — they fall. Some games take the idea of making that perfect jump and dare you to try hard at every turn in order to make every single jump count, and every miss hurt.

karoshifactory.gifKaroshi Factory (Windows, 8MB, free) - The Karoshi series has captured the minds of sadistic-minded frustrated gamers everywhere, with the objective being not to finish the game in good health, but to kill the protagonist in every single level. Karoshi Factory continues in this vein. For a different experience, check out the much shorter and more artsy Pazzon.

jumper3.gifJumper 3 (Windows, 8.5MB, free) - Another installment in a classic game series has also been recently released, with a new Jumper game making its debut not long ago. In this game, you are given five different characters with which to traverse the dangerous terrain. Switch between the variations based on their individual skills. While the levels are easier than the previous games, hats are included along with time trials and coin collecting to beef up replay time.

happyrunner.gifHappy Runner (Windows, 2MB, free) - It seems the effect of I Wanna Be The Guy's incredible difficulty is still being felt with games appearing every so often to challenge and frustrate with willing glee. This also incorporates a genre I love - the One Switch Game. In this painfully difficult platformer, one single button controls not only running and jumping, but also running while jumping.

syobonaction.gifSyobon Action (Windows, 3MB, free) - In this jolly Mario-styled game, you play the role of a delightfully happy cat in a delightfully happy land. Unfortunately, it is the "I Wanna Be..." in difficulty and absurdity. More linear in story, the humour comes not from dying often, but in various ways, such as huge chunks of the ground disappearing below you. "Learning by making mistakes" now has a poster child. Note: Page is in Japanese. Click the second link from the top to download.


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Rating: 4.6/5 (56 votes)
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Azada: Ancient Magic

JohnBWith just over a year in the making, Azada: Ancient Magic, the sequel to the enormously successful adventure/hidden object hybrid Azada, has finally arrived! Fusing a large variety of unique puzzles with an undeniably intriguing atmosphere, Azada: Ancient Magic puts you in the shoes of a puzzle solver helping the young Titus disarm a magical menace. As you sift through the library of classic literature you'll help legendary characters such as Rapunzel, King Arthur, Dracula and more escape from stories gone awry. Expect some great puzzles and a lot of interesting minigames to come your way in this spectacular sequel.

azadaancientmagic.jpgAzada: Ancient Magic is structured around solving self-contained puzzles within a series of almost two dozen storybooks. Crack open the book and the main character introduces his or her problem. Flip through the pages using the arrows at the bottom or by moving the cursor to the extreme edges of the screen. Each page contains a scene that could have items, clues, puzzles, and more, all of which fit together to solve the main riddle of the book. Gather what you can, use objects where appropriate, and flip back and forth as you try and free the trapped character. It plays a bit like a multi-level room escape game, actually.

After you solve a set of books and collect the corresponding character cards, you'll need to take them to the upper level of the library to the strange-looking machine. This contraption helps you sniff out the source of wickedness in the library by identifying possible suspects in the cards. You'll have to complete a few short mini-games to get things done, then it's back to the shelves to solve more puzzles!

Analysis: Azada: Ancient Magic is nothing but a big "wow" at every turn. Fresh, fun, just the right amount of challenge, and superbly crafted puzzles that require you to both think and experiment, as soon as you dive in you won't want to come out until you've reached the end. It's that good. It's worth noting that the same production team behind the original Azada returned for Ancient Magic (along with a few additional members). The soundtrack was recorded by Deutsche Film Orchestra who composed nearly 30 minutes of original music for the game.

azadaancientmagic2.jpgAzada: Ancient Magic is more focused on using items to solve puzzles rather than locating said objects. To that end, you'll often find yourself experimenting with your inventory's contents on various places throughout the game. Will that crowbar pry open that box? Does the trowel let you dig in that dirt? Your attempts don't always follow through, and unfortunately Azada does the unthinkable in these circumstances: it shaves off some of your time. Yes, you're punished for trying to explore. The penalty is minimal, however, and I never found myself wanting for more time at the end of each round, so it's no real setback. It does, however, feel wrong to be punished for simply playing the game.

Try the rest of the Azada series:

Another slight drawback is the game's length. Azada: Ancient Magic is rather short, and this is exacerbated by the fact that you'll be so engrossed in playing you probably won't stop until you've beaten the game.

Azada: Ancient Magic packs a huge (if a little brief) punch, just like the original game. It's a genre-bending title that soothes both the adventurer's and the puzzle-solver's soul and delivers an amazing experience from start to finish.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBTa da! Back with another Link Dump Friday! Showing you our collection of fabulous games this week will be me, the guy whose face is trapped in a square to the left. Playing the part of the contestant will be you, people reading this text! We still don't have any volunteers to play the excited armadillo sitting in the corner eating cereal, though...

  • icon_shadez.gifShadez: The Black Operations - A new game from Boxhead creator Sean Cooper, in Shadez you control an army and must defend your side of the field from enemy infiltration. Purchase units and let them march into battle, and add more weaponry by spending some of your funds.
  • icon_omniludicon.gifOmniLudiCon - A collaborative game editor of sorts, this unique development tool lets you make and share one-screen games of many types, including Zelda-like overhead titles and traditional platformers. Level packs from other users are available to play from the menu, and you can always dig your nails in and craft a world of your own.
  • icon_snowflakes.gifSnowflakes - Like watching the gently falling flakes of snow drift to and fro in the wind? This game will make you loathe it. Using the cursor, "blow" the falling snowflakes into the circle target on the screen.
  • icon_hexiomconnect.gifHexiom Connect - A hexagonal grid sits before you filled with a number of tiles, each with colored bars sitting on their face. Rearrange the tiles to light up color-coded connectors.
  • icon_birdfrenzy.gifBird Frenzy - Feed the nesting chicks by tapping the correct key when the bugs are above their head. There's a little rhythm-like action tied into the gameplay, and it works almost like Guitar Hero... with birds... but without, you know, rock and roll.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (136 votes)
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PsychotronicOnekeyIsn't it a tragedy when real life intrudes on your casual gaming time? I mean, here you are, trying to figure out how you can use a hair-clip and a bag full of birdseed to escape from a very important locked room; and meanwhile your phone is ringing, your significant other is pestering you to snuggle, and your unfed cat has resorted to eating mattress stuffing to stay alive. It's annoying, right? Don't you wish you could play casual games with one hand, and deal with all those bothersome responsibilities with the other?

Well, Nitrome is here for you.

Onekey is a character-based platform game played with only "one key", and thus the mystery of the title is solved. The [Space Bar] is your one and only method of control, and if your space bar is anything like mine, it's quite a bit larger than the other keys, and you can probably find it by feel if your attention happens to be on something else, like cookies. Or fireworks. Convenient!

The game, set in a colorful Mayan fantasy land, concerns a rite of passage. Your hero is a little Domo-Kun-shaped fellow with a warpaint mask and a tribal bone decoration in his face. Where he got the bone is a mystery, because on his own, he has all the survival skills of a roll of tape. He probably ambushed a bucket of fried chicken and kept the bones as battle trophies, and now all his friends are snickering at him behind his back and calling him "Hunts-With-Spork". Your job is to shepherd him through 20 levels worth of pitfalls, traps, and stonework guardians, using only the power of your Mighty Space Bar.

OnekeyThe catch is that you can't affect the main character directly. Instead, you control various objects in the environment while he blunders around falling off of things. If you want him to jump, for example, you have to wait for him to cross over a launching device and then hit space to catapult him into the air. Hammering on the space bar repeatedly raises gates, and keeping it pressed down moves certain platforms. You're like the spirit of the ancient ruins who, despite the fact that you're bristling with death-traps, would like to avoid maiming the local tribesmen. The tricky part is that you can't pick and choose what you manipulate. The Mighty Space Bar operates everything at once, including all the enemies, and stuff like arrow traps and crushing ceilings. You have to constantly judge the threats against each other, and think quickly, because your helpless charge—as though driven by pure stupidity—will be on a relentless quest to impale himself on sharp wooden stakes.

Analysis: This is a good one. The streamlined interface seems to have inspired the Nitrome team to create a wide variety of obstacles that interact in engaging ways. This is what you might call "fully exploring the concept." You'll encounter just about every possible combination of bad guy, trap, and moving platform during your 20-level adventure, without a lot of wasted design space. Since you only have to worry about one control option, the emphasis is always on timing and forethought. New objects requiring new strategies appear at a constant rate, and overall, I think Onekey is a little less punishingly difficult than the average Nitrome offering.

If you're hungry for a greater challenge, however, you can try to collect all 5 gems in each area, so little Hunts-With-Spork can afford to buy another bucket of KFC. No, seriously, the collectibles are pretty useless as usual, but they somehow feel more significant here than in other Nitrome games, because you have to take very specific actions to reach them. They aren't just sitting around in every spare corner. In fact, this seems like a step forward for Nitrome's level design. It's relatively easy to make it through the levels intact, but taking the best path just about triples the difficulty. To my way of thinking, that's more or less how it should be.

OnekeyOh, and Onekey is very, very pretty, if maybe a little desaturated. The Mayan theme suits Nitrome's tendency toward squarish, bulky visuals, right down to the angular background vegetation. The main character feels solid and three-dimensional, and the adorable bouncing feather on his head gives you something hypnotic to focus on while you poise yourself for the next bout of precision space bar mashing. The music doesn't exactly fit the theme, but it does match the bouncing of the feather pretty well, and I personally never felt like turning it off.

The one real argument I have is with the pacing. When you're in the midst of the fray, trying to manage spinning fans, rotating blocks, and leaping fish sculptures all at the same time, you'll be grateful that your hero walks like he's taking a leisurely stroll through the local vegetable mart. But when he wanders off to the edge of a long, uneventful platform and back, you might wish he had a "run" or even a "jog" setting. He's stuck on "mosey", and the downtime this causes can bring you perilously close to remembering that you have bills to pay and a cat to feed.

But I have to hand it to Nitrome for their likable character design. When a game's protagonist is this dumb, there's a very real danger that you'll lose sympathy for him. As in, "Please don't walk off that cliff again, you fat-headed plank, or I'll burn your family." But I don't feel like Hunts-With-Spork really deserves my ire. He's too oblong to hate. His resume lists his special skills as "making an oo-face" and "tottering". He's like a jaunty, devil-may-care, feather-sportin' sofa cushion. All he wants out of life is to roast a pig with his mates and perhaps not be squashed by a giant stone block. And you can make his dreams come true, all for the price of a broken space bar. You lucky benevolent deity, you.

Play Onekey

Thanks to the millions of you, too many to name, that sent this one in. =)


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (45 votes)
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FunnyManmySQLgameINSERT INTO jayisgames (reviewer, game, description, analysis) VALUES ("FunnyMan", "mySQLgame",

"You may find it hard to believe, but mySQLgame is not an oxymoron, nor is it a specter for frightening small children. In fact, it doesn't even run on mySQL. So what is it? Fun.

While most games try to use all sorts of fancy concepts to make you forget that everything you see is just numbers in a computer, mySQLgame takes exactly the opposite approach. You play as a row in a database, and your objective is to fight the other rows to decrease their numbers and increase your own. If you've played any other browser-based MMO, you've already got the basic idea, the only difference is that in mySQLgame, what you see is more or less the same as what actually exists.

mySQLgame

The basic gameplay goes something like this: Use scanning to see the surrounding area, then buy some attackers and send them off to attack a juicy nearby row, one with lots of money and fuel, but few attackers and defenders. If most of your attackers survive and bring back loot, great! If not, pick an easier target and try again. Keep going until you've got a decent pile of money, then buy some factories, defenders, and multipliers, in roughly that order. Don't let your attack multiplier get to 5 before you're ready to search farther afield for prey, because you'll lose the ability to attack targets with both multipliers still at 1.

mySQLgameWith one exception, all the commands you have are SQL statements and, along with their cost, tell you exactly what will happen when you run them. If, like most people, you don't actually know SQL, don't worry. There's a help button by each command, and while a few of them don't actually have any help, you won't need those for a while anyway. You may, however, need a little help with vocabulary: \"decrement\" is programmer-speak for decrease, and similarly, \"increment\" means increase.",

"Analysis: If you've ever played a game with a boss key, your first impression might be that this game doesn't need one: It already looks like a spreadsheet. While for most games, this would be a bad thing, it fits perfectly with the atmosphere (so to speak) of mySQLgame. It's a numbers game, pure and simple, and by not pretending to be anything else, mySQLgame has managed to take the ubiquitous browser-based MMO and distill it down to the very essence of the genre.

That said, the interface isn't perfect. Even with the help, the learning curve is steep for anyone who doesn't know SQL, The current color choices for the log are also troublesome, making attack results difficult to read, especially when highlighted as new. On the other hand, the game is about a week old, so there's plenty of time for improvement.

The gameplay is simplistic, but definitely not simple. All those other rows out there belong to someone, and they probably won't take kindly to being attacked. On the other hand, even if you do get pounded down to 0, your most expensive assets (factories and multipliers) are invulnerable, so you'll be able to pick yourself right back up and seek revenge when they go offline. This also means that there's no need to feel bad about attacking your undefended neighbors; you're just harvesting their current crop of resources, and they'll probably do the same thing to you later on.

Even if you're not usually into browser-based MMOs, you might want to give mySQLgame a try. Most of them can't hold my interest for long, but mySQLgame is fast-paced, forgiving, and you'll feel like a pro in no time. By stripping out all the fluff, the fun was concentrated into a sleek and powerful package. Even if you only play for a few hours, you'll still enjoy every minute.

Play mySQLgame because the rest of us need more targets!");

# Update: We've disabled the normal popup so you can see the address bar. All logins go through Google, as you can see from the login URL, "https://www.google.com/accounts/ServiceLogin?...". Sorry for the confusion.


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Rating: 4.7/5 (24 votes)
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10 Gnomes #8

SonicLoverMiniature white gnomes have been spotted all over the city for half a year now, and their number only appears to grow. Their presence seems permanent, and there is no apparent end to them.

It all started on February 5th, when well-known artist Mile Godnia was heading for the grocery store to buy some milk and dog biscuits for her pets, and spotted a small white gnome sitting on a rooftop. She thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but she saw it again on the way back.

"It was the strangest thing you'd ever seen," Godnia told the press. "It didn't do anything, and it just turned its head when it noticed me. Then it was there again several minutes later, in exactly the same place."

Discussion with her neighbors revealed that other people had seen the gnome as well. It had turned up all over the rooftops, in ten different places. In fact, there appeared to be ten different gnomes.

10 Gnomes #8ABOVE: When a young woman spotted this gnome in her garden, she panicked, fetched her camera, and took a picture of it. This sighting occurred approximately seven weeks after Godnia's.
Weeks later, gnomes began turning up in other locations, from the city park to the the local shipyard to a large warehouse. Sightings grew as rapidly as their numbers did. Reports showed interesting phenomena: they always turned up in groups of ten spread out around an area, and they always behaved the same, never moving from their locations. Attempts to shoo them away were always in vain, as they remained obediently in their spots.

"It's the darndest thing," businessman Matthew Mothball commented. "They don't do anything but loaf there, but they're driving me nuts! It's ruining my concentration just thinking about them!"

"We'd like to classify them as pests," city official Myrtle Auggh explained, "but they don't do anything. All they do is sit around. They don't spread disease, they don't steal anything, they don't even make noise. They don't fit the definition of a pest, end of story."

Whether or not the gnomes will ever go away, or whether their behavior will become any peskier, both remain to be seen.

In the meantime,

Play 10 Gnomes #8

BEST-SELLER LIST:
The Helium Atom: An Autobiography by Kara Knott
How to Teach Your Pet Hamster to Scuba-Dive by Stu Roids
Infinite Rooms by Dee Lupe

I did it again! This time, in order to break the monotony of doing Nitrome over and over (yes, I only did two, but that's more than enough for at least one person), I pursued a different game author and themed the article appropriately. After the scientific debate that accompanied my last article, I'm not sure what to expect for this one. -SonicLover

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Rating: 4.7/5 (367 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessThis week, we present the exclusive debut of a super-duper, extra-special room escape game, one we can guarantee that absolutely no other website has yet featured. Don't you feel special? To all the JIG faithful, we present to you the world premiere of.... Casual Gameplay Escape!

Casual Gameplay Escape screenshotCasual Gameplay Escape is the result of a collaboration between Jay is Games and Sean Hawkes, whom, as you may remember, took first prize in our very first Casual Gameplay Design Competition (CGDC1) with his wonderful puzzle game Clack. Now, granted, Clack's chain reaction-y goodness is far removed from the escape game genre; in fact, this is Sean's first room escape game. In my mind, however, this is a plus; the fact that Sean is approaching the genre from a different direction encourages innovation and novelty. And indeed, Casual Gameplay Escape is not at all typical and it delivers a truly remarkable experience!

There is no inventory; in fact, there are no objects to collect whatsoever. There are no codes to crack, no hotspots to click around madly for. Instead, what is presented is a series of puzzles—some straightforward, others not so much—that you must solve in order to unlock the door. I won't give any hints regarding these puzzles, but I will say this: look at everything, pay attention to detail, and think outside the box.

In truth, while this game is indeed situated within a room from which you must escape, the setting is mainly a neat structure within which to present a wide variety of interesting, intelligent and unique puzzles. This is not a criticism, however. Casual Gameplay Escape is a new and intriguing twist on the genre, one that I believe will engage room escape and puzzle fans alike.

I would have liked a bit more backstory to balance out the lack of other classic room escape game features. Still, despite these minor quibbles, I greatly enjoyed Casual Gameplay Escape. I found it to be creative, well-made, and challenging without crossing the line into migraine-inducing. Enjoy!

Solve the puzzles, escape the room:

Play Casual Gameplay Escape


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Rating: 4.4/5 (102 votes)
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PsychotronicNever EndIs anyone tired of Portal-inspired games about some faceless dude stuck in a sterile laboratory environment full of death traps yet? I know I'm not! Here's another one, comin' atcha! Never End is the ungainly title of this new platform/puzzler from Chinese developer Zlong Games. It may remind you of the Shift series in some not-so-subtle ways, but this game earns its keep with some great atmospheric touches and clever level design.

You control a smoothly animated silhouette of a man who is trapped in the middle of a giant maze full of spikes and shifting blocks. Move left and right with the [arrow keys], and jump with [up]. Now, you wouldn't be a very good lab rat if you didn't have some kind of experimental physics-warping super-power, would you? In this case, it's the ability to alter gravity by rotating the entire room 90 degrees at a time. Do this with the [Z] and [X] keys (sorry QWERTZ users, Asia is unsympathetic to your plight). Your penultimate goal is to find a way to one of the four exits on the outskirts of the overhead map. Your ultimate goal, if you want to wring maximum value from the game, is to escape through all four of those exits in turn, locate all the hidden clues, and uncover the greater secret behind the mysterious structure that confines you.

Most of the puzzles revolve (ha!) around the rotation technique. You'll nearly always be sharing a room with at least one heavy, oddly-shaped block, which must be manipulated using your gravity-altering powers to clear a path for you. Thus, Never End plays much like one of those abstract block-shifting puzzles, except here the blocks can smoosh you flat if you're not paying attention. It's like a big, complicated, deadly game of Tetris.

In a welcome twist (ha ha!) for an online puzzle game (although Shift 3 dabbled with this idea as well), all the rooms are physically connected. A map in the upper right side of your screen keeps track of which areas you've visited, and whenever you exit a room, you'll get a glimpse of the over-arching blueprint of the maze. Many puzzles have multiple exits, some of which can be impossible to reach unless you enter the room from the correct direction. This kind of multi-layered puzzle design makes Never End feel like a complete, intentional experience, rather than a mere list of puzzles that just stops when the designers run out of ideas.

Analysis: First, let's talk about the controls. They're not great. The jumping scheme follows in the footsteps of classic puzzle-heavy platform games like Prince of Persia and Flashback, where every jump had to be tackled in a specific way; but the main character's movement here is too fiddly to be comfortable. In the beginning I spent a lot of time conking my head on the bottom of blocks, when I meant to be pulling myself up onto them. The key is to start a few steps away and run into every jump, even when common sense would tell you to simply stand under the ledge and jump straight up. The standing jump is almost useless in this game. You generally need some momentum.

Never EndOnce you learn how to physically get around, though, this game really becomes rewarding. The puzzles require a lot of careful thought and creativity to solve, even though there is usually just one solution. You don't really have a lot of room to experiment, since rotating the room all willy-nilly will usually get you squashed or dump you onto a bed of spikes, so you have to consider each move before you make it.

The flip (oh ho ho!) side of the deliberate puzzle design is the slow pacing. It would be nice just to rip through a room like Usain Bolt* once in a while, but unless you've basically memorized all the necessary moves, you just can't. That, plus the occasional backtracking, plus the gawky controls, means your gratification may be somewhat delayed. It's like when your blind date shows up wearing braces, but then turns out to be a trained masseuse. Which totally happened to me the other day. Back in 'Nam, don'cha know.

Anyhoooooo, what really sold me on Never End, and transitioned me through that awkward phase of the relationship, was the sound design. Half the time, it's nothing but windy groaning noises and mechanical creaks, as though you're stuck inside a vast metal structure of some kind. Which, in case you haven't been paying attention, you are. The sounds do more to describe your environment than the spartan, monochromatic graphics do. When the music finally cuts in, it plays more to your total isolation than to any sort of comfort, and it doesn't stay long before the mournful howling floods back in. There does seem to be a little hiccup where the sound clip repeats, but it doesn't hurt the overall effect too much. I also want to acknowledge the nice, solid whump the giant blocks make when they fall, accompanied by plumes of rising dust. Those suckers look heavy.

It's probably best to ignore the zany cartoons that open and close the adventure. They seem to have been crafted by a different, more light-hearted creative team. They looked at this lonely, nihilistic game and said "This is too much of a downer. We're hitting the main guy with a truck, and then he falls down a manhole. We're basing the sound effects on Looney Tunes. Deal with it."

Before we wrap this up, indulge me a moment. I suppose it's inevitable, when a game is as widely played and loved as Portal, that nothing bearing the slightest resemblance to it can exist without conjuring up references to Valve's little meisterwerk. Nowadays, it seems like you can't make a game featuring talking computers, laboratories, death traps, anonymous protagonists, physics, or humor without some totally cutting-edge wag letting us know that "the cake is a lie" as fast as his pudgy fingers can type it. That's fine, but let's just briefly remember that Valve didn't actually invent any of that stuff. Homicidal computers go back at least to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey; death traps to James Bond movies and countless comic book super-villains; anonymous heroes to the beginning of time; physics to Sir Isaac Newton; and humor to the day I finally worked up the courage to ask my best friend to the junior prom and she said "No." Oh how we laughed. Moreover, I think it's safe to say that Portal would not exist if not for the gloriously geeky 1997 math/horror film Cube, which really set the standard for this sort of thing. In fact, Never End bears more than a passing resemblance to Cube, what with the giant shifting geometric underground building and all, so from now on, let's keep the Portal comparisons to a minimum.

Oh wait. Turns out there's a big fat obvious Portal reference in it after all. Sigh, never mind.

Play Never End

* Now available on Jay is Games: up-to-date topical references.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (43 votes)
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JessVaricellsIn Varicella, an ingenious piece of alternative history interactive fiction created by Adam Cadre, you have the pleasure of abandoning your usual scruples to play one of the most delightfully nasty antiheroes that I've come across: the eponymous Primo Varicella, Palace Minister at the Palazzo del Piemonte. Oh, from the outside you might not look like much: a moustached, balding, unimposing little man decked out like a dandy in the latest fashion. On the inside, however, you are pure will and ambition, Machiavelli incarnate. Because, you see, you have just been presented with the most tremendous opportunity: King Charles has just suffered an untimely death, leaving the principality in the hands of his 5-year-old son. Obviously, a regent to reign in his stead will be needed for the foreseeable future... and who, the game asks, would be a better candidate than yourself?

You will have to work very quickly, however. At the moment, thanks to a letter from the Queen, you are the sole person to know of the King's death; however, in a matter of hours your more powerful rivals shall be arriving at the Palace and, knowing your ambitions, will surely have you, er, sent on a long and restful "vacation." Luckily, you've gathered extensive information regarding each of your enemies, and using just the right blend of bribery, treachery and force may manage to eliminate them and win the throne.

With Varicella, Cadre has created something really special. It functions very nicely as a puzzle/intellectual challenge; in order to succeed, Varicella must use his resources (bribes, wits, ever-dwindling time) to orchestrate the downfall of his rivals. Time—two hours in game time, to be exact—is the silent but potentially fatal force that lends urgency to the situation, forcing every movement to be carefully considered. The true brilliance, however, of the game lies in its snarky humor (beginning even with the title character's name—"Varicella" is one of the eight herpes viruses and commonly causes chicken pox), fantastic writing and character development. Primo Varicella's particular temperament, his vanity and scheming nature, infuses the game's every word; examining his appearance in the mirror, for example, leads to:

You are the very model of a modern Palace Minister. Moustaches: flawless. Hairline: receding more slowly than last month. You're certain of it.

I love it!

The game does have its flaws. Considering the necessity of conserving time, a built-in map of the castle would have been invaluable; otherwise, it becomes dangerously easy to wander around aimlessly, watching invaluable minutes slip away. Also, at times what needs to be done to successfully complete the game seems frustratingly arbitrary. How would the player know, for example, exactly when to go check Varicella's surveillance equipment in order to gain incriminating information? Unless I'm missing something (which is certainly possible), I don't see any way to figure out this or several other necessary plot points without the help of a walkthrough.

Another important note: Varicella is not for children. While there is no explicit sex and actual violence is not excessive, Varicella has some distinctly adult themes and more than a few disturbing moments. For all its humor, this is a dark, dark game. It is, however, also brilliant and inventive, one of the best pieces of interactive fiction I've had the pleasure of playing.

Seize the day (and the throne):

Play Varicella


The links above point to JIG's internally developed Flash-based Z-Machine interpreter (thanks asterick!), with the story files hosted here with permission from the game's author. 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 Adam Cadre'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 or Splatterlight for Macintosh and Unix.

If you enjoyed "Varicella," take a look at other Interactive Fiction we have reviewed here at JIG.


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (63 votes)
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PsychotronicSurvivor 115Survivor 115 is a challenging mouse avoider with a handsome, spare presentation from German developer Felix Reidl. You may remember him as the author of the mysterious and controversial Absolute Awesome Ball Game, winner of 2nd place in Casual Game Design Competition #4 (CGDC4). The attraction in AABG's case was the seemingly limitless layers of complexity hidden behind the simple guise of a pinball-oriented board game; and true to form, that is what makes Survivor 115 more than a mere Plain Jane game about collecting treasure and dodging bullets. It is, rather, a relatively deep and textured game about collecting treasure and getting constantly blown up.

Let's start from the beginning. There is a whisper of a plot line—some Shadowrun-esque malarkey about "dives" and "wetware"—but all you need to know is that you are controlling a little triangle with your mouse. You have two minutes to collect as many yellow squares ("data") as possible, while various gun turrets ("proactive intruder detection") try to mow you down. Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, you should hit [Space], which instantly ends your game and adds up your score. If you don't hit the space bar in time—and this is important—you don't get any points. You have only one life, and if you die, your score is zero.

The interesting part is the way you can adjust the game's intensity on the fly. On top of the regular data squares, you can collect large circles marked with exclamation points. These will net you a significant score bonus, but they also act as booby traps, upgrading the firepower of the turret underneath for a while. A shotgun might fire a spray of four bullets rather than three, for example, or a missile launcher might switch from single missiles to clusters. If you really want to make your life difficult, try grabbing the prize that appears on the main central turret some time.

The other interesting part is that this 2-minute challenge is entirely scripted. The data squares always appear in the same patterns and sequence, and the gun turrets always turn on and off at the same time. So theoretically, you could memorize every twist and turn on the ride and come out okay in the end. If you want to compete for a higher score, however, you'll have to hit some trip-wires, which can totally scramble your game plan.

Survivor 115Analysis: If you're planning on playing this with a laptop touch-pad, don't. It's a bad plan. As plans go, it's up there with putting a toddler on a treadmill so it can work off some of that baby fat. You see that screenshot of your ship exploding? If you insist on playing with a touch-pad, that's your whole game right there. No, you're going to need a mouse, preferably one made of titanium, so it can survive when you chuck it through a wall. Because if you're the kind of score-hound who is willing to put serious effort into this game, you're going to spend half your time in a white hot rage.

The reasons for this are threefold. First of all: GAME REAL HARD. I am not kidding. This sonovagun is hard like the hammer of Thor. It is hard like a frozen rhinoceros wearing a vest made of bricks. Playing Survivor 115 right after any normal, reasonably pitched action game is the equivalent of having a house dropped on you in the midst of a hailstorm. You go from gritting your teeth to missing them.

Second of all, every death comes with the knowledge that you could have saved yourself, if you weren't such a greedy, grasping magpie. The space bar is an instant escape hatch, but if you're anything like me, you won't use it. Ever. You'll continue to believe you can dodge three giant lasers, a shotgun blast, and five guided missiles right up to the point when your ship scatters into a million pieces. Only then, as the remnants of your fragile, beautiful triangle avatar fade away, will you jam on the space bar like some cross-eyed, arthritic panther. Regret will fill your soul, joined shortly afterward by the irrational conviction that you can Do Better Next Time; that you can predict your own death; that your space bar hand will be quicker, smarter, stronger, prettier! Well, good luck, delusional human. This game was made for some artificial brand of future people, with photon matrix brains and cybernetic reflexes.

Third of all is a problem, one that creeps like a plague rat into too many mouse-controlled flash games. When you move the pointer outside the frame, your ship freezes in place until you restore focus. In a game like this, where a momentary lapse of control comes with an instant side order of death, that's a serious flaw. I don't know how to solve this problem exactly, but something must be done, because I nearly headbutted my monitor the 9th time it happened. If you don't see any more reviews from me, it's because I finally surrendered my impulse control and stuffed my logic board down the garbage disposal.

In most other respects, Survivor 115 is nothing but quality, an excellent example of how to tattoo fine details onto a simple play structure. It's worth playing at least once just to hear the cool soundtrack and see how everything fits together. But I write this review knowing that some most all many of you will quit after the third time you die within 20 seconds of clicking "Start". C'est la vie. This is a unique, skillfully-mixed shot of adrenaline cocktail that just so happens to require superhuman hand-eye co-ordination. There are worse things in life.

Play Survivor 115


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (164 votes)
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MDenBoombot screenshot

Anyone who follows Jay is Games knows our penchant for high explosives. Well, actually, it's mostly just me. I mean, look at the games I've reviewed so far. Cannons, tanks, demolition, and more cannons. Maybe I should be concerned about this? I mean, John does all the peaceful games: Music Catch, Floating Islands, Now Boarding... Ah well. Old habits die hard. Let's blow stuff up with NinjaKiwi!

Boombot is a actiony-puzzly-physicy-bomby game from the makers of Bloons, More Bloons, Even More Bloons, and much more. Your job, as some sort of evil omniscient explosives technician, is to maneuver an itty-bitty robot called Boombot to the exit of each level. Aside from the black bombs under your control, you'll have to manipulate TNT, oil drums, and nitroglycerin Senso-Gel to clear all fifty levels.

You'll find yourself launching your robot buddy around the stage, crashing him into solid walls and bouncy mats in your quest to guide him away from your self-imposed artillery range. (Although wouldn't it be much simpler to just teach the robot how to walk to the exit? Gunpowder doesn't come cheap, you know.)

Analysis: The concept is beautifully simple and well-executed. The game's difficulty ramps up nicely, so that by your first real challenges you've got aiming down pat. For those who prefer a bit more ease, an Unlimited Bombs option is available.

The graphics aren't overly cartoony, but feel distinctly pulled from a kid's cartoon. From the big black globes with lit fuses to the conveniently labeled red boxes alongside the sparkly jars of highly explosive liquids, the simple and distinct visuals contribute to the light-hearted, somewhat silly atmosphere.

You'll find yourself wanting to blast your way through all fifty levels in one sitting. And there's nothing wrong with that. (Although if you work for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots, I might recommend keeping the volume down.)

Play Boombot

Join the Boombot community to create and share your own stages with the Boombot level editor!

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (29 votes)
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Depths of Peril

Josh"Ugh, another isometric RPG," I thought as I set up my character and game options. But after just 20 minutes in, I could tell that my assumption was wrong, and that I'd stumbled onto something special. Developed by Soldak Entertainment, Depths of Peril is an action-RPG with a huge emphasis on political/diplomatic strategy. As you've probably already noticed from the first screenshot; yes, it is another Diablo-inspired RPG. But instead of being one of the dozens of bland, derivative clones we've seen over the years, Depths of Peril kept the best elements of these games and combined it with strategy mechanics similar to Civilization. The end result is something new and fresh; an independent, isometric action-RPG unlike anything I've played before, which also won the "RPG Game of the Year" award from GameTunnel.

depthsofperil_screen1Although the strategy aspects make this game extraordinary, the old-school, tried-and-true RPG elements are just as noteworthy. There are four classes to choose from: your faithful warrior, rogue, mage and priest. The mechanics of each class are just the first of many indications that the developers heavily drew from Diablo and World of Warcraft for influence. Warriors use "rage" as a resource pool just as a Mage uses mana. Rogues use "momentum" and Priests use "faith," which is basically the same as mana. Fans of the aforementioned Blizzard games will find this strikingly familiar, as well as the color-coded item rarity system, weapon and armor attributes, skill trees and more. The entire action-RPG system in Depths of Peril screams of Diablo influence, which isn't really a bad thing considering the trend-setting success it had in gaming culture.

Also familiar are the layout and controls, all of which follow the modern-day standard of mouse-click movement and interaction. You can access various menus by clicking their respective interface buttons, or by using the keyboard shortcuts. Left clicks control common actions like movement and interaction, while the right mouse button is used to attack enemies and execute less-common interactions. If you're a seasoned RPG player, you'll find the learning curve to be pretty smooth, with a look and feel similar to most other isometric RPGs.

Where that similarity ends is in the strategy aspect of the game, which I'd describe as a "single player, smaller MMORPG." Yeah, I realize that phrase contradicts itself in more than one way, but let me explain: Depths of Peril is a single player game, although you'll be playing with up to six other "players" just like yourself, controlled by the game's AI. These players (including yourself) are "faction" leaders, which you could think of as guild leaders. All the faction leaders have houses in the main town of Jorvik, a settlement surrounded by the hostile forces that make up the story and questlines of the game. The game world isn't as big and sprawling as some other RPGs, but there are a nice variety of zones in which you'll follow the central storyline and be able to take on side-quests.

depthsofperil_screen2The kicker is that Jorvik is a "living town," which means that your fellow faction leaders will be running around completing quests, trading goods and vying for power at the same time you are. Random world events will pop up from time to time, ultimately having positive or negative effects on you and the other faction leaders. The balance of power is the core mechanic of the game, which eventually dictates whether you win or lose the game. Your goal (and the goal of the other leaders) is to become the most powerful faction in the game, whether by influence or by force. It's an ongoing battle for supremacy by gathering recruits, money and power, while at the same time playing a quest-driven, loot-gathering, action-RPG.

The strategy aspect of the game is surprisingly detailed, but not so complex as to require a distracting amount of micro-managing. You can recruit NPCs into your faction to bolster your ranks and even take one of them along with you to complete quests. Opening lines of communication and trade with other factions can be paramount to your survival. Without allies — or at least non-aggression pacts — you'll be leaving yourself weak and vulnerable to attack from another faction, which is something that can happen at any time. These attacks are called "raids," and are ultimately how you take out opposing factions and can win the game. Buying guards and enchanted monsters to protect your lifestone (a stone in each faction house that represents its overall health) is important to prevent over-zealous leaders from destroying your faction.

Analysis: Even a write-up that's double the size of our average game review would only just scratch the surface of all the game details in Depths of Peril. To that end, you're better off checking out the official Depths of Peril game manual (notice more helpful links on the left button column).

depthsofperil_screen3More importantly, right now you might still be debating whether it's worth downloading the demo, and to that end, I'd urge you to try it out. Thankfully the developers offer a two-hour demo, which really gives players the time they need to decide if it's worth buying. If you're an RPG fan, you really owe it to yourself to check this game out. Sure, the graphics and sound aren't mind-blowing, but they're pretty good from an indie developer. Total play time isn't on par with the majors either; it's not a game that's going to take weeks to finish. At an aggressive pace you're probably looking at around three hours of playtime, or up to eight hours at a normal pace.

But as a casual RPG, Depths of Peril has a lot of replay value because every game is different. Your fellow faction leaders will never behave exactly the same way twice, and there are different quests, adventures and monsters to fight in each new game. There's also the infamous "addictive loot factor," as you find rare and legendary gear, and even collect unique armor sets. Loot can even be shared between multiple characters in the same game via a "shared stash" mechanic.

Depths of Peril takes the best features of the classic genre and adds an innovative, strategic twist that many gamers won't be able to resist. It's also a great offline alternative for RPG fans who are intrigued by the strategy of MMORPG's, but have never played one.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBToday I would like to use this space to address a horrible error made just one week ago: I neglected to mention the previous Weekend Download was number 50! That means we've placed over 250 downloadable games before your eyes, which is... well, plenty of excuses not to do your homework or fill out your TPS reports.

alienabduction.jpgAlien Abduction (Mac/Windows, 4MB, free) - A tribute to the classic arcade shooter Defender, featuring just about everything that made the original such a hit. Alien Abduction is more of a mission-based shmup where you clear enemies in each level in order to progress. There's a surprising amount of tactical depth to the game, as well. Three game modes, two player action, and some neat power-ups make it worth the download.

hammerfall.jpgHammerfall v.0.21 (Windows, 10MB, free) - In this very early demo of the as-yet unfinished game, you control a rather strange aircraft that has a heavy rock chained to it. By swinging the mouse, build up circular momentum and whack the ever-loving steel out of your opponent. The physics take some time to get used to, but this game shows an enormous amount of promise.

edgedataspelet.jpgDet Officiella EDGE Dataspelet (Windows, 16.6 MB, free) - Another minigame released by Knytt creator Nifflas, this one crafted for the EDGE festivalen. Armed with a laptop, printer, and digital camera, this game was created in a single day using art drawn by festival visitors. It's a simple arcade-style game of physics where you blast the "ball" around each stage collecting gems. You have multiple paths to tread, though, so there's actually a bit of exploration to it.

visit2.jpgVisit 2: Dark Tower (Windows, 10MB, free) - A puzzle platformer that utilizes multi-character block/button puzzles. The description may sound bland and generic, but Visit 2 pulls together some surprisingly interesting stages that keep you clamoring for more. It's a surprisingly difficult game once you get a few levels under your belt.


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBJust like the previous two Link Dump Friday features, this week we have a boatload of games to keep your fingers twitching. Unlike the previous articles, however, this one has a tasty breakfast treat I have long been calling for: WAFFLES!!! *confetti*

  • icon_switch2.gifSwitch - Not to be confused with that other game we reviewed called Switch, this Switch is a simple mouse collect/avoid game where you toggle cursor colors to nab all the floating orbs on the screen.
  • icon_treasureinthedark.gifTreasure in the Dark - A captivating game based on a simple but unique concept. Your goal is to move to the treasure in each stage, avoiding the walls as you travel. The catch is you only get a few seconds of light to see where the walls are, forcing you to use the grid as a guide.
  • icon_orbitrunner.gifOrbit Runner - Instead of blasting a rocket into space and picking your way through gravitational fields to a goal, your job is to position the sun so the planets maintain a steady orbit for a set amount of time. The interesting twist is that the game is less about moving around a lot and more about finding a cozy spot and staying put. At least, in the beginning it is...
  • icon_crickler.gifCrickler - It's like a crossword, but not! The clues consist of sentences with words missing, grabbed from various news stories, and your job is to fill in the blanks. As you solve the easy clues, letters pop up in the harder ones, making them solvable. There's several new puzzles each day, and the difficulty adjusts to your solving skill.
  • icon_idontevenknow.gifI Don't Even Know - Ok, so it's not a real game, but it does a sufficient job making fun of TEH INTERNETS and minigame-type Flash titles in one swoop, so it's worth a few minutes and a couple of laughs. All you have to do is follow the instructions on each screen!
  • icon_waffles.gifWaffles - I asked, and so I received! Waffles have been delivered to me! I can also eat toast that has been made in a toaster. Note the waffle guy to the right. Waffles.

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (66 votes)
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GrimmrookPutt-Base screenshot"You should really get into golf," all my friends told me. "Golf's great! No, seriously, come out and hit the links with us, you'll have a blast." Being the highly impressionable and socially needy person that I am, I relented.

Eleven years later, all I have to show for my hundred and twenty dollars is a dusty set of golf clubs and traumatically bad memories of mud traps (yes, mud traps, not sand traps), and the things that lived in them.

What I needed was something that could tilt things in my favor. What I needed, besides a few thousand hours of golf lessons, was the ability to manipulate each hole such that it catered to my personal playing style. What I needed was Putt Base.

A sort of physics-based puzzler in the same vein as PuzzPinball, Putt Base tasks you with holes that would make a mini-putt master balk, and then asks that you complete each with a hole-in-one.

Sound impossible? Don't worry, to your credit you get to edit the course to your liking with a limited number of several different blocks that can change the direction your ball travels, give it a little boost, or nullify the bounce while increasing momentum.

Further, while there is a reward and demerit system at work in Putt Base, you effectively have all the time in the world to map things out just right. No need to throw your clubs, though I can't promise you won't eventually end up splayed out on the course screaming, "Why don't you just go home?!"

Analysis: When I first picked up Putt Base, two things jumped right out at me that allowed this game to stand apart from an already pretty well stocked field. The first was the fact that it wasn't gravity based, and the second was the fact that you received full control of the ball's direction when you first set things in motion.

In all of the variants of this style of game I've played before, there's always gravity, and the opening direction of ball travel is almost always straight down. That Putt Base alters these two seemingly minor factors in gameplay really opens up the field of possibilities for anyone willing to explore them.

Because you are no longer constrained by gravity, and forced to deal with the opening direction as it is given to you, each level has a plethora of solutions just waiting to be discovered. It's all about you, what you see, and how you plot out a path to the hole. The one downside to this is that occasionally the game will devolve into pixel hunting, but this shouldn't be too common of an occurrence.

Beyond this, Putt Base remains pretty straight forward. The types of blocks available is a little bit meager but gets the job done, and the fact that you can't rotate them can be either a blessing or a curse depending on if you see this as an added challenge, or an annoying oversight.

I would have also liked to have seen a little more variety in the aesthetics; the visuals are nice, but a lack of variation can get a little on the repetitive side after a while. But beyond some cosmetic shortcomings, and a general desire for a little bit more of everything, there's not a whole lot to complain about with Putt Base.

The point and advancement system takes a little getting used to but is ultimately fair, and gives you just enough incentive to go back to try completed levels again while at the same time forcing you to put a little effort into reaching the next level.

All in all, if you're a fan of this style of game, Putt Base will definitely be a welcome addition to the growing library already out there. If you aren't, there just might be enough new offered here to change your mind.

Play Putt Base


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (107 votes)
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ArtbegottiWiclimoFresh from the Tonypa laboratories, we find ourselves with Wiclimo, a puzzle game of experimentation and discovery.

Scattered across each level is an array of shapes in varying colors. As you move your mouse across the shapes, you'll eventually find one that will give you a "ping." This will be your starting point. From there, keep moving from shape to shape, finding the pattern of shapes that will give you more "pings." If you get a "whoops," you've made an error and need to start back at your first "ping" shape. As you find the "pings", a bar at the top will shrink, and eliminating it means you've cleared the level.

But this game isn't entirely trial and error, and Tonypa makes sure you're well aware of it. Every time you get a "whoop," you lose a life, and once you get 50 "whoops," it's game over ("wah-wah-wah-wah"). So how do you know where to go next? Well, just about every level has some sort of logical pattern that when followed correctly results in the correct path of "pings." I don't want to spoil the nature of some of the puzzles, since the fun of this game is in the discovery of the solution.

Play Wiclimo

Cheers to Casey for suggesting this one! =)


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (122 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessThis week's feature is a game dating allll the way back to 2006, the intriguing and extremely entertaining Diversity, created by a group of students from Sweden.

Diversity screenshotDiversity is more of an escape-the-house game, rather than escape-the-room; in order to finally achieve freedom, the player must exit first a bedroom, then an office, then a nursery and finally a bathroom. This aside, Diversity is a well-executed, if fairly standard, point-and-click game, no doubt inspired by the classic Crimson Room. The player must find and combine objects, solve puzzles, etc, in order to continue. As the game progresses, however, you might notice something strange: upon exiting each room, you will most likely have unused items in your inventory. How strange, especially considering that you begin each new room with the inventory wiped clean! Something else must be going on...

Here begins the real fun of the game. As its name might suggest, Diversity contains a multitude of slightly different endings, all dependent upon the choices of the player; in each room, many of the necessary objectives can be achieved by one "good" and one "bad" path. A bar at the bottom of the screen tracks the relative goodness or evilness of your choices, so you can gleefully watch yourself achieving angelic status or, if you're like me, descend into moral decrepitude. What I like most, however, about this particular feature is that it directly affects the game's environment; the darker your choices, the dirtier, more dismal and run-down the rooms become. This is especially profound in the bathroom, where—if you've been very bad indeed—you might have a few gruesome surprises in store.

With five separate endings, Diversity has significant replay value and will no doubt keep you entertained for a good while. If you've played it before, surely you'll enjoy revisiting the game; if this is your first encounter, you're in for a real treat.

Find your path:

Play Diversity


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StaceyG"Treehouse Defense screen 1In the simple and kid friendly Tree House Defense, created by Robert Zubek and Bill Robinson for Three Rings' Whirled, protect your tree house from bullies, skateboarders, skunks, and other assorted neighborhood menaces.

Place various objects like trash cans, sandboxes, and trees on the board to protect your flag. Each defense station comes with a kid, armed with weapons like paper airplanes, water balloons, and boomerangs. Each station has a point system for range, damage and delay, with different costs.

We're sorry, but this game is no longer available on the Whirled site.

Arrange these items in maze like patterns to get enough hits on your opponents before they reach your side. Each time you defeat enemies you get money to buy more objects. You continue placing objects on the board as the bullies get tougher. Your goal is to last as long as possible, and keep everyone away from your flag. You have four environments to pick from: forest, beach, winter, and Halloween, and each environment has a couple of unique assets to play with besides the standard ones on every board.

Analysis: If you find that some of the elaborate tower defense games are bit too eye glazing and forbidding to get into, then this cute and simple game is a great place to start. So, it's probably not for the seasoned tower defense veteran.

I liked the simple relatable idea of keeping the bullies at bay. The animations were cute, very Saturday morning cartoon-style. I especially liked the extras in each environment, like the Yeti and the huffing Jack-o-lantern. The gameplay feels a little slow at times, although I like that you can speed things up a bit by forcing out the next enemy on the board. I would have liked a fast forward feature. The other thing that bothered me a bit was that they used a flag as the home base instead of the tree house itself. On the plus side, there is a two player mode, and also some mention about making custom levels yourself in the future. Fight off the bullies in Tree House Defense!


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (103 votes)
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MDenmden_ragdollcannon2_screen1.jpgRagdoll Cannon 2 is, rather logically, the sequel to Ragdoll Cannon (as teased by the release of Ragdoll Cannon 1.5). That's some no-nonsense naming, there. What designer Johnny_K might lack in titling, however, he more than compensates for in gameplay.

The core concept is familiar to fans of the prior offerings: using high-powered artillery, fire a hapless stickman across an obstacle-ridden course and strike a small target. It's like a three-ring circus combined with an archery range.

This time around, the "HERE!" block has been replaced by a much clearer bullseye target, and the cannon has been given a visual upgrade; in fact, everything's a bit more shiny. Johnny_K has abandoned his prior blueprint style in favor of three different themes: matchsticks, pastels, and skeletons. Each theme takes hold for twenty levels before yielding to the next, and converging together for the final ten.

For those of you who could never work out that it's pi r squared, not pie are delicious, that's seventy levels available to you in this go-around. You'll start off with simple shots, but things'll quickly ramp up, and you'll find yourself trying to work out complicated trajectories in your head.

Adding to the complications are specialized blocks. Now, there's no term given in-game for these blocks, so I shall coin one: "burn bricks." Ooh, or "murder mortars." OH! No, wait, "stick snapping stones!" I like that; very descriptive.

mden_ragdollcannon2_screen2.jpgThese stick snapping stones are marked with an X (crossed matchsticks, a skull and bones, or crossed bones). If your stickman touches one of these, the part that connected with the brick gets "burned" and falls off the main stickman. Only live stickman parts can touch the target to advance, so these blocks will be your enemy at times (although, interestingly, a puzzle will occasionally rely upon using these blocks effectively).

"That's all well and good," I hear you saying, "but all this is going over my head! All I know about physics is that Coldplay invented the speed of sound!" Well, you strugglers of the sciences, take heart: the game is somewhat forgiving. The golf-style scoring encourages conservation, but allows as many shots as you need to succeed. A reset button allows you to start each level over without penalty to your score. By the tenth level, you'll have snagged the general idea (or gone crazy trying).

Analysis: If you liked the first game, you'll love this. Well, love's a strong word. Let's not charge into this. How about we go on a few more dates with Ragdoll Cannon 2 and see how it goes, yeah?

Look, the extra levels are more than welcome, but some of them are excruciatingly difficult. A small yet non-zero handful of levels tend to devolve into pixel hunting. If you like pixel hunting, you're set (and also a little strange), but for the rest of us, it's a bit frustrating. These levels are few and far between, thankfully.

And if you loved the original blueprint style like I did... well, the new graphics are disappointing. The graph paper of the original reminded me of my AP Calculus days, doodling in the margins while waiting for the next differential. The new style makes it more in line with your standard casual game's scheme: colorful, but not very distinctive. The new themes aren't bad, but they're just not as good. (Although the mish-mash of visual styles in the last ten levels? Bleh.)

If you can get past the occasional level and the disappointing graphics, you've got a lot of good stuff here. This game will test your mind and your skill. With cannons. And let's face it, that's awesome.

Play Ragdoll Cannon 2


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (59 votes)
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PixelField Perfect PiIt doesn't take long to get addicted to PixelField Perfect Pi Pack, Tonypa's perilous pixel pointing action strategy game. If you remember playing the original, you'll be even more excited about this latest evolution to hit your browser, as the game has been totally revamped with a new soundtrack and 30 all-new levels added.

The object of the game is simple: maneuver your red triangle base throughout a dangerous mine field to collect blue energy pixels in as few moves as you can. To direct your base, just click wherever you'd like it to go and it follows. What's the catch? You can't hit the sides or obstacles of the playfield or you lose a life.

The three pixels that orbit the base expand and contract in relationship to how far you make the base move. Click too far ahead and the orbiting pixels will stretch well beyond your original trajectory.

There are two versions of the game to choose from—The 'Original Pack' and the 'Perfect PI Pack.' Each has six initial levels and as you progress through consecutive levels without losing a life, you unlock additional levels. The Perfect PI pack seems a bit more challenging but both versions offer the same great gameplay satisfaction.

And the gameplay is addictive. Once you come to realize that you have more control over the base than you initially realize, the depth of strategy deepens and exploring the possibilities of how distance and timing impact your moves is what makes this game so much fun to play.

The look and feel is still simple, clean and easy on the eyes. The pixels that orbit the base have an eerie magnetism that is perfectly accompanied by the soothing soundtrack by Kevin Macleod.

Tonypa has many other games on his site that are just as interesting and simple to play as Pixel Field. They're all free and just waiting for you to discover them. Keep clicking!

Play Pixel Field Perfect Pi Pack


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Weekend Download

JohnBEach week we churn through dozens of downloadable casual games searching for just the right ones to feature. Is it interesting and fun, or is it just another clone? Does it have pretty pictures? Much like our weekly Link Dump Friday feature, this edition of Weekend Download highlights some of the games that, for one reason or another, didn't quite make it to a full review, but are still unique enough to be worth playing.

worldmosaics.jpgWorld Mosaics (Windows, 37MB, demo) - If you're a picross nut like me, seizing this game is a no-brainer. If you're new to these puzzles, here's the scoop. Much like sudoku, picross (picture crossword) utilizes a grid, but here the numbers outside are your clues to which tiles should be filled in and which should be blank. The challenge is to find out which tiles are filled and how many spaces are between the groups, and the result is a picture! World Mosaics has an extensive tutorial (almost too extensive) to get you into the picross groove. And once you get in, you won't want to get out.

Most of what World Mosaics delivers is standard fare in the picross world, though the archaeological premise does add a little extra flair. The mouse controls are simple to use and the puzzles get progressively harder as you play. There's enough content to keep you busy for quite a while. I grew tired of the cutesy presentation after some time, and the facts presented after each puzzle quickly became a pointless diversion between my intense picrossing rounds. Even though World Mosaics doesn't pack a big oomph, it's simple and enjoyable, plus it gave my picross addiction some much-needed attention.

cy-clone.jpgCy-Clone (Windows, 150MB, demo) - Shooters tend to stay in the obscure realms of independent gaming, but once in a while a title comes along that's both accessible and fun for casual gamers and shmup fans alike. Cy-Clone is similar to the winner of our 5th Casual Gameplay Design Competition The Last Canopy in that your ship absorbs the powers of enemy ships and uses them as weapons. With each foe you clone you get an unlimited normal attack as well as a power attack that's unique to that enemy, each one more interesting than the last. On top of that, the stage artwork is imaginative and varied, creating a surprising amount of depth for your eyes to behold. Sometimes the effects look ten years old, and the variety of ships you can absorb leaves a little to be desired, but it's still a rockin' shmup experience with an excellent twist.

yardsalejunkie.jpgYard Sale Junkie (Mac/Windows, 61MB, demo) - If a time management game and a hidden object game got married and had kids, Yard Sale Junkie would be the result. Mixing item hunting with serving customers, you travel from house to house sifting through yard sale junk (ahem, "treasures") and matching them to thrifty customers that stop by. Because it straddles two popular genres, Yard Sale Junkie is worth a try, but the presentation leaves something to be desired. The photo backgrounds do not mix well with the items, and some of the font/color choices make this effort look a bit amateurish.


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Weekend Download

JohnBEels, phonic substitutions, time-traveling groundhogs, and a game that lets you beat up Kirby-like avatars that represent people from around the world. Let's all join hands and sing a song of — OH MY OMELETS THE EEL IS EATING ME!!!

phun.gifPhun - (Mac/Windows/Linux, 2-7MB, free) - You've seen this physics-based playground before, but now it's available for MacOS X! Create scenes using a simple set of tools (you can even add water!), then unleash your creation and see what chaos ensues. It's a cross between a World of Sand-style toy and Armadillo Run, and it really is as entertaining as the name implies.

teeworlds.jpgTeeworlds (Mac/Linux/Windows, ~4MB, free) - An online multiplayer game of Worms-style fighting! Hoorah! Using simple FPS controls, this colorful 2D brawler puts you in control of customizable characters who pick up weapons and beat the squeals out of players from around the world. Because this game is open source, the level of customization is high, and the matches are quick, often frantic, and loads of fun.

chokeonmygroundhog.jpgChoke on my Groundhog, YOU !@#$% ROBOTS - From Kloonigames comes another experimental work, this one focusing on groundhogs, robots, and a replay feature similar to the theme from our 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition. You and your time-traveling groundhog sidekick (you read that right!) must eliminate every robot you can. Get hit, tap the [spacebar], and you begin again, the ghost of your pal returning to blast foes while you do the same.

avoidevilspaceeel.gifAvoid the Evil Space Eel (Windows, 7MB, free) - A short game made by Nifflas, the inimitable author of all things Knytt, entered into the No More Sweden friendly competition. Fly your ship with the mouse and avoid the oncoming blocks as well as the ever-chomping eel. Use the [A] and [S] keys to play the drums along with the background beat for an extra bonus.

strongbad.jpgStrong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (Windows, 69MB, demo) - From the same studio that brought us the superb Sam & Max adventures comes another episodic adventure series starring the e-mail answering, Trogdor inventing Strong Bad, "hero" from the animated internet cartoon Homestar Runner. The game captures the signature humor remarkably well, and it's strangely fun to be able to play the boxing-glove-clad character after all these years. The game is also available for WiiWare.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (83 votes)
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Floating Islands Game

JohnBFloating Islands Game (Windows, 36MB, free) is a downloadable puzzle title created by Hempuli, author of Once in Space. FIG plays a lot like Rob Allen's Hapland series with more action and a distinct Lemmings slant to it. In each level you must guide the main character through the stage, collecting all of the gold stars before reaching the flag at the end. You can only affect his movements indirectly, however, by clicking and changing different parts of the environment at just the right time. It combines quick reflex gameplay with just enough puzzle elements to make it captivating, and the artwork creates a beautiful setting you just can't resist.

floatingislandsgame.gifWe first mentioned Floating Islands Game back when the community convinced the creator to release a short demo. FIG has since been incubating to emerge with almost three dozen levels! From the start there are two worlds, each divided into themed planets that hold a handful of levels. Each one is named and shows how tough it is according to the number of stars. The difficulty level spikes up and down and can switch between timed puzzles and pure brain teasers without warning, but you don't have to complete stages in order, which is quite helpful.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008When a level first opens you have several seconds to click the environment to see what can be done. Move the mouse everywhere, click on anything suspicious, and watch the landscape for clues. After the main character falls to the ground and the traffic light turns green, he starts walking. From that point on you have to act fast, as this guy can get himself into trouble within seconds. Tapping [enter] or clicking the circle icon at the bottom of the screen restarts the stage, so be prepared to use them very, very often.

In addition to the gold stars you're required to collect to pass each stage, there are also blue stars you can grab. These are often hidden in very clever ways that require you to have an inquisitive cursor and be fast with your mouse. They're not mandatory, but completists will want to seek out every one.

floatingislandsgame2.gifAnalysis: Floating Islands Game is one of those titles that comes along once a year or so that's so creative and so entertaining you'll sit and play through it without leaving your computer. The artwork is definitely one of the game's strong points, as the sense of fun is evident in every pixel. I love the little monsters, faces, and pieces of scenery that exist for no purpose other than to look cool.

My only qualm about Floating Islands Game is the required wait before beginning each stage. Most of the time it's useful, but when you play the same stage ten, fifteen times in a row trying to get the timing right, the wait becomes a nuisance. There really doesn't seem to be a good way around the pause, however, as on many levels you need those few seconds to get things set up before the guy in green starts his brainless march.

With beautiful, fun artwork, a great soundtrack, and plenty of puzzle/arcade challenge, Floating Islands Game is a must-play.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version (36MB)

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


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIn last week's Link Dump Friday, I thought it was a phenomenal feat to feature six games in one article. Well, looks like we've done it again, and this time there are pirates and aliens, too! Still no waffles...

  • icon_pel.gifPel - A fun little reflex-based arcade game. Use the [arrow] keys to move the paddle and try to bounce all of the squares before they hit the bottom of the screen. Can also be described using single words instead of whole sentences: bouncey, musical-ey, Atari.
  • icon_shoreseige.gifShore Siege - Your pirate ship has crashed on the shore, leaving you stranded and defenseless! Use anything you can find (or anything your "pirate scientists" create) to keep the baddies at bay, upgrading between rounds as you see fit. Simple but fun arcade gameplay works like a cross between a tower defense game and Defend Your Castle.
  • icon_spacestationjason.gifSpace Station Jason - A fairly standard platforming game with a nice twist: it utilizes 3D (cue cheesy swirly-eyed guy from the 30s) to create some interesting perspective puzzles. You can only move horizontally, so changing your view is the key to finding secrets and completing each stage.
  • icon_polinko.gifPolinko - A simple pachinko game where you aim and fire balls to clear red pegs from the screen. It may not be as unbelievably awesome as Peggle, but it's quick and free, so we can't complain.
  • icon_typeracer.gifTyperacer - Put your typing skills to a fun use by hammering out paragraphs to push your car along the track. The fastest, most accurate typist wins!
  • icon_multiplayerspaceinvaders.gifMultiplayer Space Invaders - You know Space Invaders, right? Shooting aliens, avoiding their fire, ducking behind shields? Add online multiplayer with competitive scoring and you have a slightly new experience.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (74 votes)
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JessPon Pon House 2Upon first beginning PonPon House 2, you may find yourself with a strange sense of déjà vu—those rounded, almost huggable graphics, those cutely surreal furnishings, they just seem so familiar. As well they might; the initial environment is nearly identical to the original PonPon House. Fear not, however; not only are the initial puzzles different (and a bit more original, in my opinion), the new PonPon House greatly expands upon the first game by adding several different locations to explore and puzzles to solve.

This game is a pure pleasure to play. The whole experience is gentle and dreamy, without any sense of urgency or danger. There is some Japanese text, but none of it is essential to comprehending or solving the puzzles. I also quite liked the continuity between the first and second games; it was neat going back to the first PonPon House and seeing many of the new game's items represented in the original. All in all, a lovely, not-too-tough respite from an increasingly hectic world.

Play PonPon House 2


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Rating: 4.2/5 (118 votes)
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PsychotronicCoign of VantageSimplify, simplify. Coign of Vantage is the latest in Bobblebrook's collection of worldly, sensitive casual games, and the gameplay mechanic couldn't be more basic. An icon appears on your screen, shattered into a cloud of its component pixels, and your job is to reassemble them into the original picture. To do this, just point at the correct location on the screen. Once you find the magical hot-spot (no clicking required), the icon will snap into focus and another one will immediately appear, waiting to be re-congregated.

By itself, this is nothing new. I've focused a picture this way in Wario Ware before, and I expect the idea goes back much further. But Bobblebrook casts an audio-visual spell over the whole business that makes a mundane concept feel almost mystical. Your 2-D mouse gestures move the pixels in 3-D space, you see. They wheel around a mysterious point of reference like obedient electrons. You'll start the game clumsy, trying to guess at the right co-ordinates; but soon you'll forget that the mouse cursor exists at all, and just instinctively shuffle the storm en masse like the hand of Genesis shaping life out of molecules. Except that you're just making a cute picture of a butterfly. Or an elephant. Or a sliced lemon.

Coign of Vantage, like Reflexive's Music Catch, gives compelling testimony that video games and classical music make great snuggle-buddies. The theme here is from Bach, who was famous for evoking the divine spirit with his harmonies. It seems an appropriate choice for a game about wringing order from chaos and finding form in a soup of dust.

The challenge—for this is still a game we're talking about—comes from the ubiquitous timer, which starts at 30 seconds and gains a few whenever you complete a puzzle. The chunk of time gained per level gets smaller as you play, so eventually the forces of entropy will get you. The final few levels, when the bonus and your average solving time converge, are just as tense as can be—partly because your high score attempt is about to be strangled, and partly because you'll want to see more of artist Armin Prucha-Stocker's little icons. They really are quite adorable.

I don't know how much longevity the game has. It never did grip me with the slimy hand of addiction, but then, that's also kind of a relief. Again like Music Catch, or Bobblebrook's own Twizzle, the experience sparks with brief wonder and then fades to a satisfied peace. That's fine by me. In the end, Coign of Vantage is just a game where you point at a specific spot on your computer screen, based on subtle visual cues. But somewhere between seeing and pointing, your mind uncurls its new-grown wings and takes to the air.

Play Coign of Vantage

Bonus essay question! The phrase "coign of vantage" means "an advantageous position", and is probably most famous as the title of this 19th-century painting, by Dutch classical painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Why did Bobblebrook give the game this title?


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Weekday Escape

JessSurprise! Suspense! A scintillatingly superb set of sequels, specifically suggested by your escape specialists for another Weekday Escape. Sequester yourself away, take a sabbatical from the scathing stupor of your work week. Salud!

  • icon_ponponhouse2.gifPonPon House 2 - This game is a pure pleasure to play, a gentle and dreamy experience without any sense of urgency or danger. All in all, a lovely, not-too-tough respite from an increasingly hectic world.
  • icon_t2bescape2.gifT2B Escape 2 - I love this game! All the classic elements of a really excellent room escape are present: well-designed graphics, intriguing and gratifying logical puzzles, and a distinct lack of pixel-hunting (hooray!). You're in for a treat.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry, but you will find a place for comments on each game's review page.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (25 votes)
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JessT2B Escape 2Ooh, I love T2B Escape 2! I very much enjoyed the first T2B Escape, and the sequel is just as well-crafted and charming as the original. All the room's elements (including a toy train, several mysterious cabinets and a bevy of cute animals) seamlessly synthesize into a series of intriguing but gratifyingly logical puzzles; to top it off, the graphics are nicely designed and pixel hunting is conspicuously absent. Perfect!

T2B does not have any sort of background story beyond the usual "trapped in a strange room for no apparent reason," but that doesn't really matter; the game is a satisfying exercise in quality room escape goodness and easily stands on its own merits. You're in for a treat:

Play T2B Escape 2


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (118 votes)
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Arijigora

JayArijigora is a point-and-click puzzle game from Japan starring stick figures against a diabolical biological creature. Click on the right items, and with the right timing, to save the stickman race from the threat to its existence.

If you're familiar with the Hapland series, then you'll feel right at home with this new game from author Hozo, who even gives a nod to Rob Allen's original as the inspiration behind this one.

If you're unfamiliar with this type of puzzle, then you should know that it is possible to reach a dead end, a condition where it is impossible to win. A reset button is usually provided to reset the puzzle back to the beginning. But Hozo has taken that concept to the next level by providing additional reset buttons at certain checkpoints, thereby eliminating the hassle of having to start again all the way from the beginning as you progress through the game. A welcome addition to a highly enjoyable puzzle game concept.

Play Arijigora


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Rating: 4.4/5 (138 votes)
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GrimmrookMonster BasementUgh. The pain is killing me. But... But where am I? I don't recognize this place; why's it so dark? What's that smell? And why are these flies... OUCH! Hey! Those aren't normal flies, that thing bit and it hurt.

I... I gotta get out of here, this place is giving me some seriously bad vibes and did that thing in the cage just move?

Welcome to Monster Basement, a chilling room escape game from Patrick Majewski of Godlimations notoriety.

Unlike most room escape games that focus almost strictly on puzzle solving, Monster Basement seeks to inject mood and atmosphere into what is often an almost apathetic genre. Usually (some choice selections exempted of course), you're simply thrust in a room with no motive to get out other than the player's desire to complete the game.

Monster BasementIn Monster Basement, the motivation to leave is made all too clear; this room with its vampire flies, blood stained meat hooks, and grotesque abominations sitting in fluid filled beakers, scares the jebus out of you, and as you slowly work through a way to leave this terrible place, things aren't likely to get better either.

With an almost old-school horror movie sensibility, your courage is sure to be tested at every turn with flickering lights, pictures that appear to change out of the corner of your eye, and music and sound effects that make you feel like something is lurking just beyond that rotted old door.

Or is there actually something lurking there?

A room escape game with bite, Monster Basement is definitely the game to play after the kids have gone to bed. Turn off the lights, crank up the sound, and if you're easily scared, just keep telling yourself, "It's only a game. It's only a game."

Analysis: Full disclosure: I love horror games. Anything that gets my blood pumping from high end console productions like the Fatal Frame series to well done indie offerings to be found on the net such as Sinthai Boonmaitree's The House are simply heaven for me. As a result, I might just be a little bit biased towards Monster Basement.

But this would only be because Majewski does a surprisingly awesome job of selling the horror side of the game. Violin stings hit when you look at the right thing to crank up the tension, and what little voice acting there is in the game is for all intents and purposes perfect.

Add to this some truly jump worthy moments and a twist ending that will catch you off guard, this game definitely finds itself very much on my good side.

As for its merits as a room escape game it does a decent job on that front as well. While there may not be a trashcan to look under, many of the other staples are there; pixel hunting, a handful of keys, and puzzles that won't make sense until after you've completed them.

The fact that you can die in this game (though the game is mercifully forgiving when you do die) does actually make it easier because this gives you the opportunity to figure out what you got wrong and try again.

Not the hardest of room escapes, Monster Basement should be just easy enough for the escaping challenged such as myself to eventually work their way through, but challenging enough to prove suitable for the more hardcore of room escape enthusiasts.

All in all a well put together game on all fronts and one that should not be missed unless you've a heart condition or avoid movies because they give you nightmares.

Play Monster Basement


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (53 votes)
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Rooms: The Main Building

JohnBRooms: The Main Building is an upgraded full version of the Flash game Rooms released early last year. Created by HandMade Game, Rooms: The Main Building is a clever combination of puzzle and adventure elements. Bored with simple sliding puzzles, the main character receives a strange gift that transports him to another world. Here, rooms are broken into a series of spaces that can be moved around a grid like a sliding puzzle. Gather items to unlock more rooms as you search for puzzle pieces that lead the way out of this bizarre realm.

roomsmainbuilding.jpgEverything in Rooms: The Main Building is mouse-driven, a somewhat welcome change from the Flash version's keyboard/mouse hybrid controls. Your goal is to move the character to the exit in each room by sliding squares to create a path. To slide a piece of a room, make sure your character is standing in it and move the mouse to an empty space. Arrows appear on the side where that piece can be moved; simply click one and off you go. Your character can walk from room to room provided there's a path that isn't blocked by a wall or other obstacle. You'll even encounter teleporters, wardrobes, hydrants and other elements that — well, I'll let you discover their uses on your own. Suffice it to say, Rooms only gets better and more interesting as you play!

Mac OS X version now available!

The sliding room puzzles take place on the Room Board, a central map that connects much of the game. From here you'll take key items you find in treasure chests back to Rooms Street where more riddles wait to be solved. Here, side-view scenes function much like a classic adventure game where you click and navigate your way around rooms to gather clues to solve a specific puzzle. Items you find from the Rooms Board will be necessary to solve these puzzles, so they rarely pose much of a brain teaser.

A great bonus feature in Rooms: The Main Building is the ability to create and share custom, user-created levels. As you play through the game new elements are unlocked in the editor. Play with the building blocks to your heart's content, utilizing everything you've seen in the game however you see fit.

roomsmainbuilding2.jpgAnalysis: When the Flash iteration of Rooms hit in early 2007, we were impressed with its intelligent design and fresh ideas. Rooms: The Main Building doesn't deviate from that great genre-crossing formula and improves on every aspect of the original, adding loads of extra rooms to solve, additional content, and smoothing over the rough edges at every corner. The visuals are much cleaner, the music and sound effects richer, and tons of small graphical effects (such as the screen shaking when you slide a room) make the entire experience smooth and enjoyable.

With a better presentation, more coherent gameplay, 80 new levels, and the ability to create and share puzzles, Rooms: The Main Building is everything you want it to be and much, much more.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (56 votes)
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Dirty Split

GrimmrookIt was an easier time, a simpler time. The concept of the nuclear family had yet to become an ancient relic and kids still went to the malt shop after school to share a soda. Gas station attendants didn't just pump your gas but wiped your windshield and checked your oil, and milkmen still dropped off glass jugs of milk on your front doorstep. For some it was as close to utopia as we ever got. And yet, in this postcard perfect picture of America, just along the fingernail thin white borders, there's plenty enough room for murder to creep in.

dirtysplit.gifA high end plastic surgeon and an upper crust debutante are engaged, or at least they were until the good doctor mysteriously broke it off for hardly any reason at all. When he is found dead shortly thereafter, the girl's brother, famed socialite Walter Vanderbilt, becomes the prime suspect.

That's where you come in. Baxter, Al Baxter, retired police detective turned private eye. Under the employ of an indignant mother and a distraught sister, you must break through the stonewalls of the police department, and navigate the labyrinthine narratives of evidence to clear Walter's name. Or condemn him...

Your quest for the truth will take you across the country from star-studded sunny Southern California to the seedy underbelly of New York. Plot twists and turns await, and maybe just a little danger too in this, Uwe Sittig's freshman production of Dirty Split, a point-and-click adventure game with intrigue and style.

Analysis: Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Dirty Split is that this is the author's first venture in game design; a fact that I still find hard to believe. That's because once you get over the initial flaws, the entirety of the game exudes the kind of craftsmanship and polish found in far more experienced professional designers.

The artistry, an homage to the work of Josh Agle and the visual stylings of the late fifties and early sixties, is simply a treat, and mingles beautifully with the smooth jazz soundtrack. This combined with the top notch voice acting helps create a rather uncommon mood for a murder mystery; one that is surprisingly relaxed and subdued.

dirtysplit2.gifIndeed, when I think murder mystery, I typically revert to either the hardboiled gumshoes of prohibition era America, or the refined European gentleman detectives such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Sittig dodges both sleuthing epochs as well as the high tech gadget riddled whodunits of the present to provide what is a truly unique experience in the genre. The fact that there's nary a bug to be found, and that the game is FREE, is all just icing on the cake.

Perhaps one of the saddest things about Dirty Split is that its more glaring faults are front-loaded in the game. Chief among these would be an exhaustive and repetitive dialogue script and poor puzzle choreography. For the dialogue, I understand where the game is going, you have to have some opening exposition to get a full grasp of what you're supposed to do. There's just too much of it and sticking with the game through the opening dialogue interactions can prove to be a test of one's patience.

As for puzzle choreography, I mean to say that Dirty Split seems off balance when it comes to finding that sweet spot where the tasks before your are relevant to the plotline, well timed, and suitably challenging. Unfortunately, just as you're dealing with all this dialogue, you find yourself also having to contend with tasks and pseudo puzzles which seem gratuitous and menial. This is too bad because after you get over this initial hurdle, Dirty Split really finds its rhythm.

Finally, I truly think that Uwe has found something of a star in his lead character Al Baxter. When I say this, I don't mean the kind of video game star that is juiced full of attitude a la Sam and Max or Sonic, but a more mellow kind of star that will appeal to a more reserved audience. More Mario than Sonic, more Trilby than Larry Laffer, Baxter eases his way through Dirty Split with a dry wit and a "Father Knows Best" kind of charm.

To sum up, if you're looking for a two-fisted, edge of your seat thriller, look elsewhere (though, as Uwe wrote to me, you may want to keep an eye out for his next release if that is what you are looking for). If, on the other hand, a calm afternoon spent solving a murder mystery with all the urgency of an afternoon tea sounds like a good idea, this is your game. A flawed jewel in its own right, I think this first (and hopefully not last) adventure of Al Baxter proves that Uwe Sittig will be a developer to keep an eye on.

(Note: Dirty Split is a rather tame game, but there are certain adult themes that may not be appropriate for younger children.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBYou like it old-school? That's good, because on this edition of Weekend Download, we've got a healthy dose of retro-style gaming ready to throw you back a decade or two!

pittoch.gifPittoch (Windows, 1.2MB, free) - A superb little puzzle game where you must gather keys to unlock the exit on each stage. Each blobby critter can hold one key, and in order to control extra ones you must link them together. Linked blobs move as a unit, so if you have two holding hands you can't fit through a single-spaced gap between blocks. Simple but highly entertaining and just the right amount of challenge.

cryptrover.gifCryptRover (Windows/Mac/Linux, 3MB, free) - A roguelike that puts you in the role of archaeologist trapped in an underground crypt. You have a limited air supply, which can be replenished by picking up canisters laying around the levels, and spiders are waiting to attack you at every turn. It plays less like a roguelike and more like an action game, but the concept combined with the ASCII graphics are great.

bigbuildingboomblues.gifBig Building Boom Blues (Windows, 1.9MB, free) - After wiring a bomb at the top of a skyscraper, you must rappel down the side of what is probably the most strangely contoured building ever made. Can you reach the bottom before the explosion catches up with you? If you don't, the game calls you dumb...

armandfoppishhat.gifArmand and the Foppish Hat (Mac, Windows, 20MB, free) - A short Zelda-like adventure where you help Armand on a quest to... save the world? No, not quite. Save a princess? Nah. Restore peace, honor and justice to the land? Nope. How about recovering his spiffy hat? Even better! Simple visuals but a nice sense of humor make this one a good afternoon diversion.


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (428 votes)
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Now Boarding

JohnBNow Boarding is a tycoon-style resource management game by Gabob where your job is to run an airport, overseeing everything from flight routes, which passengers go on which plane, and even where to put the soda machines! The daunting task of shuttling people across North America has been pared-down to a simple interface that's as easy as matching letters and clicking cities on a map. Now Boarding is remarkably scalable, meaning you can create as complex or simple of an experience as you desire, giving a world of options to those who wish it and nothing more than a simple time management game to those who don't.

nowboarding.gifBasic gameplay elements in Now Boarding include runways, boarding gates, a waiting area, and a map. Planes arrive on the runway and must be moved to an open gate in order to load it with passengers. Each person in the terminal has a letter that signifies his or her destination city. At first you'll only have a few airports to worry about, but as the game progresses that changes in a very big way. Drag and drop passengers onto planes, then send the craft back to the runway for liftoff.

Before a plane takes to the air, you must set its flight path. Your starting base is Chicago and passengers will have one of several destinations. Depending on who you put on the plane, simply click the city followed by the check mark to confirm the path. Sometimes you'll need to make multiple stops to drop passengers off at the correct airport, so plan your route carefully, as this becomes very important later in the game.

Between rounds you have the option of upgrading many elements of your airport, including the size of your planes and a handful of amenities that makes passengers more content to wait while you sort out their trips. This can be just as important as the main part of the game, as adding new destinations is key to increasing revenue, but it also makes the game much more frantic.

nowboarding2.gifAnalysis: Although it caters to the casual gamer in all of us, Now Boarding isn't afraid to push itself into complexity from time to time. The brilliant part is no matter how muddled things seem, you always have a straightforward goal to focus on: getting passengers to their destination. You don't have to buy fancy plants or hot dog stands, you don't have to have big jets, you don't even have to worry about criss-crossing flight paths all over the map. Just put people in seats and get on the runway, it's that simple. That is, unless you want it to be a bit more...

Perhaps one of Now Boarding's most appealing features it that it doesn't feel like your typical resource management game. From early on you have an enormous amount of freedom as to what you can do, what items you can buy/upgrade, and how you play the game. Sure, you can win the early levels without really trying very hard, but once you get into the swing of things, Now Boarding serves up a tremendous amount of challenge. And it's not just the fast-clicking kind of challenge, either, as you have to constantly plan and re-plan which passengers you load onto which planes, which cities each plane will visit and in what order, and deal with the occasional random passenger in a far away city needing to be transported across the country. In short, it's an exhilarating experience, and one that I find is new every time I pick up the game.

Play Now Boarding


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBLink Dump Friday? More like Link Deluge, AMIRITE?! Six really great games, a few of which are heavy-hitters and will take away your afternoon without apology, and a fun Flash animation. Could Friday get any better? Well, maybe if we had some waffles...

  • icon_rainwords.gifRain Words - A great twist on the crossword puzzle, Rain Words features a grid on the right and gently falling images to the left. Grab an icon and slots on the grid light up where that picture's name would fit. Experiment with the placement of shorter words so you can complete larger ones. Much more tactile/visual (and less brainy) than most word games!
  • icon_sixty.gifSixty - An arena shooter created by jmtb02, author of the Four Second series of games, that's played in exactly sixty seconds. Dash around shooting as many squares as you can, and after a minute has passed your score is tallied and you see just how much better you could have done. A great concept for a truly casual game.
  • icon_missiontoneptune.gifMission to Neptune - A follow-up to Mission to Mars, a nice-looking platformer from Pastel Games. Mission to Neptune is an arcade game that borrows a bit from Breakout and tasks you with bouncing your character to collect symbols that unlock a cage.
  • icon_kinetikz2.gifKinetikz 2 - A simple physics-based puzzle game that pulls elements of curling and even pachinko. Fire balls to push the disk into the target area. Avoid blue lines, shove enemies out of the way, and rotate the board to give yourself a better angle.
  • icon_classroompilot.gifClassroom Pilot - A build-a-paper-airplane game set in grade school. You have four categories of variables to choose from when making your paper airplane. Once made, launch it as far as you can, sometimes at a target. The launching mechanic is just the familiar "pull back on the mouse and release" slingshot deal. A surprisingly deep level of customization is at your disposal, and the production values are extraordinary.
  • icon_feelthebeat.gifFeel the Beat - Rhythm games don't get much attention in the browser-based world, so Feel the Beat steps in to try and fill the void. Similar to Guitar Hero in setup, use the keyboard and time your presses to coincide with falling notes on the screen. There are some balance issues in the difficulty level, but otherwise it's an enjoyable musical experience.
  • icon_theresheis.gifThere She Is!! Part 3: Doki & Nabi - Featured in previous Link Dump Fridays, the third installment in the Flash animation series has arrived. A charming, funny, and really rather cute animation.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (114 votes)
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Joshprotector2_screen1Being the tower defense fanatic that I am, I was elated to stumble upon Protector: Reclaiming the Throne while checking to see what this week's Kongai's card challenge was. Developed by indie development team Undefined, Protector: Reclaiming the Throne is sort of a sequel/upgrade to the original Protector, a tile-based tower defense strategy game with a focus on unit upgrades. In fact, Protector 2 has only two basic units; a mage and a warrior (although both can be heavily modified, even into different classes like archers and rogues). The mage and warrior both have strengths and weaknesses, the most prominent being the low damage but high range of the mage (and vice-versa for the warrior). But through an amazingly deep system of experience levels, class choices and skills, these two units can be configured into many different sub-types.

As mentioned, Protector 2 is more of an upgrade to the original Protector than a full-fledged sequel. Released only a few months after the original, Protector 2 doesn't offer a new graphics scheme or gameplay engine. It's basically just a bigger, better version; probably the game that the developers imagined from the start, but finally had the chance to complete after the original's release and player feedback. Unfortunately the interface is still a bit clunky and the graphics are sub-par, especially when you compare the complexity and gameplay of Protector 2 alongside modern tower defense games. Some gamers might be turned off before they've finished the first level, never discovering the great underlying gameplay that fans of the genre can sink their teeth into.

At face value, Protector 2 follows the footsteps of most tower defense games, featuring a map with a pre-defined path for "creeps" to traverse. Your defense units can be placed on any "paved" tile along the road, with a visual radius marker representing the unit's attack range. Creeps are sent in waves, and you control the start of each wave by clicking "Initiate Wave" in the lower-right corner. Mouse-clicks handle everything you control, with the exception of a couple hotkeys mentioned in-game. Before each wave starts, a window pops up that displays information about the coming wave, such as element strengths and weaknesses, speed, hit points and more. These "elements" play a big role in Protector 2 (physical, fire, frost, poison and energy).

protector2_screen2Before I go any further, I should mention that you'll really want to check out the "Protectopedia" in the main menu. It's an easy-to-understand help guide that explains all aspects of the gameplay mechanics. It's especially useful after you've first played the tutorial stage, so you can find answers to the questions that no doubt arose from your first foray into this complex upgrading system. But to try and sum it up, most creeps have a resistance to one element and a weakness to another. When one of your units first levels up, you can choose its own elemental path to follow. Every time the unit levels up after that, there will be even more dynamic abilities to choose from.

Analysis: To entirely explain Protector 2's gameplay would take double the word space of our usual reviews. I find that a positive thing; a tower defense browser game with above-average complexity. For example, depending on your play style, you can even choose to follow one of three schools of gameplay, called skills (accessible only between levels). The skill menu features three different skill trees in which you can spend attribute points to gain new abilities or inherent effects. Each time you beat a level, you get one point to spend. If you're going for the long haul and planning on playing many levels, these skill trees can pay off in the long run because they will enhance your effectiveness in whatever strategy you decide to follow. It's basically like an RPG character's "spec," as in Diablo or WoW.

If you're a fan of strategy games (tower defense in particular), you'll probably find Protector 2 one of the better titles released since Gemcraft. Just make sure you give it a fair chance and play the tutorial, or at least check out the help guide.

Play Protector: Reclaiming the Throne


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JayEscape from Beginning RoomCreated by Bianco Bianco, Mystery House: Escape from Beginning Room is an unusual room escape game, but not a long one. Introduced in this game is the concept of "inspirations", which are actually little ghosts in the room you must collect to reveal clues that help you escape.

All the puzzles in this game are logical and there's no small pixel hunting. The game is relatively easy and all the descriptive text is also translated into Engrish, which provides clues to help with some of the puzzles. All things considered, it's odd, but enjoyable.

Play Mystery House: Escape from Beginning Room


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JayCow Room EscapeCow Room Escape is a significantly more difficult room escape game than its hard-shelled brother. For this game's ultimate combo-lock puzzle, you're looking for several different colored coins and you will really have to use your wits if you are to find them all.

There are a couple more difficult pixel hunts that are present in this one, so if you're one that is easily turned off by this, then you might want to try a different one. In particular, there is a spot on part of the tall cabinet where you will need to get one item from. Knowing that should hopefully get you by. Again, the descriptions are entirely in Japanese, and this may tend to make the game a bit more difficult than necessary.

Remember to use all the resources available to you, and that some things may be dirty and require a good cleaning.

Play Cow Room Escape


(3 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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JayBeetle Room EscapeBeetle Room Escape is yet another in a long series of escape games from Japanese developer(s), Escape School Games. These folks release a new escape game virtually every week. This week we feature two of them.

Although it's a rather drab looking room, the puzzle contained within it is pretty sweet and it shouldn't take you more than 10 or 15 minutes. The room descriptions are all in Japanese, but thankfully you won't need them. Keep your eyes open for clues of any kind that will lead you to the solution of the ultimate combination lock. With some pixel hunting expected in the genre, this game surely doesn't disappoint in that regard, though it won't frustrate you with impossible to find locations either. Just be sure to click all sides of every object and you'll be out in no time.

Play Beetle Room Escape


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Weekday Escape

JayIt's Wednesday, and you know what that means. Yes! It means we're half-way to another Weekend Download, two days shy of a Link Dump Friday, and smack-dab in the middle of a Weekday Escape! So grab your mouse, your point-and-clicky finger and let's escape some rooms!

  • icon_beetleroomescape.gifBeetle Room Escape - yet another in a long series of escape games from Japanese developer(s), Escape School Games. These folks release a new escape game virtually every week. This week we feature two of them.
  • icon_cowroomescape.gifCow Room Escape - a significantly more difficult room escape game than its hard-shelled brother. For this game's ultimate combo-lock puzzle, you're looking for several different colored coins and you will really have to use your wits if you are to find them all.
  • icon_beginningroom.gifMystery House: Escape from Beginning Room - an unusual room escape game, but not a long one. Introduced in this game is the concept of "inspirations", which are actually little ghosts in the room you must collect to reveal clues that help you escape.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry, but you will find a place for comments on each game's review page.


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Rating: 4.4/5 (81 votes)
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StaceyG"Chop Raider screen 1When a rogue Crimson marker sets out to destroy the peace of Whiteboards everywhere, Blue markers must stand and fight!

In Chop Raider, a strategy shooter created by Virgil Wall, pilot a helicopter to defend against the red army's tanks, planes and other heavy artillery that shoot the crap out of you. Bomb the war factories for the sake of all markers of every color!

Select your mission and then lift off from the Carrier home base. You have two weapons at your disposal, guns you shoot with your mouse and bombs you drop with your spacebar. The guns have unlimited ammo, but watch out that they don't get too hot by keeping an eye on the gun heat meter. If the "heat" gets too high on the guns you suddenly have a lot less fire power. Your supply of bombs on each run is limited, if you run out you must return to the Carrier and reload.

Evade attacks from tanks, turrets, boats, planes, missiles, and rack up points by shooting everything that's red. Destroy all the power plants and then war factories on each level to save all of markerkind.

Analysis: Variety of options and simplicity of design make this a fun little shooter game. There are brief training sessions, an arena section where you can select a simple objective for each arena, and there is the Campaign, the eight-level main mission where you can choose three degrees of skill difficulty.

The controls for the helicopter were a bit odd to get used to at first—the up arrow is to move forward in whatever direction you are headed, and it took a little practice to take off smoothly. But I liked the helicopter movement design of hover and drift—it feels quite robust for a stick figure.

There's something that takes off in the imagination when playing games like this that look like pen and paper—something has come to life that you're used to seeing static. So even though the graphics aren't fancy, the action is still satisfying.

Play ChopRaider


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Rating: 4.5/5 (260 votes)
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JayThe Great Bathroom EscapeThe 3rd in a series of Great Escapes by Mateusz Skutnik and the Pastel Games crew, The Great Bathroom Escape is another short and fun room escape game that will surely entertain like the others to come before it, but don't expect a lengthy challenge.

Use your point-and-clicking skills to locate items, and use those items to help you make your escape. (I wonder if there's any way to use the toilet paper from On's Tontoko Family game in this one?)

Play The Great Bathroom Escape


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Rating: 4.2/5 (106 votes)
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JayTontoko FamilyOn of Eyezmaze has just released this simple game of coordination and timing, all built in just 5 days (though he suggests he should have been able to do it in 2). Tonoko Family uses the same charming cartoon people we are familiar with seeing in his games.

Using the keyboard for control, press the [Z], [X], [C], and [V] keys (alternately, [A], [S], [D] and [F] may be used instead) at the appropriate time to get all family members to safety. Adding to the difficulty of this not-so-simple game is the fact that the keys control different functions, such as jumping, swatting, and starting and stopping. It's enough to thoroughly wrap your brain into knots.

Not a long game, nor a complicated one to understand, and yet oh-so-hard to do correctly. Give it a try and see if you can manage a reward greater than toilet paper.

Play Tontoko Family


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Rating: 4.6/5 (507 votes)
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PsychotronicAmorphous+Your adversaries are cunning and relentless. They surround you, acting with the coordination of a directive hive-mind. They will shred you with teeth, dissolve you with acid, impale you with spikes, freeze you, burn you, crush you, devour you. They evolve and grow, mutating into terrible aberrations with overwhelming powers. They are filled with goo. They enjoy jazz. If you fail to annihilate them, surely they will multiply and smother the Earth. They are... AMORPHOUS.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Amorphous+, by first-time Flash developer Caleb Rhodes, is an overhead arena combat game that casts you in the role of a little bald human character with a ridiculously over-sized sword: the Splat-Master 9000. This weapon is tailor-made for fighting Glooples, which are basically man-sized soft-skinned green blobs of goop. Control your character with the mouse, and swing your sword by clicking. You can defeat most Glooples by cleaving them in twain with a single swipe, but things get much more difficult later on.

There are two main play modes. In "Single Nest", you must destroy a certain quota of Glooples. The smallest nest is composed of 200 enemies, which is already a pretty significant challenge, while the huge 500-Gloople nest will surely make even the hardest blade-master weep. Although the smallish green blobs at the start of a game are harmless by themselves, you will attract nastier, deadlier enemies the longer you stay alive. The second mode is "Bounty Run", where you simply try to rack up as high a score as possible with no ending in sight. You can adjust the difficulty ramp in Bounty Run, which is a nice feature if you want to skip quickly past the harmless greenies to the rare and scary monsters.

AmorphousYour incentive plan covers more than the mere promise of mass blob murder. You can also earn a boat-load of achievement medals, which are awarded for performing almost every possible action in the game. You get one for making your first kill, for making your 1000th kill, for whacking three Glooples with a single strike, for staying alive for one minute, for staying alive for five minutes, it goes on and on. Nearly every time you play, you'll earn at least one medal, and they all come with a snarky and apt description that usually belittles your accomplishment.

Amassing 10 medals rewards you with a golden key that can unlock a bonus on the Rewards page. These are a collection of weapons, armor, and gadgets that you can take into battle with you. Most of them have a short but powerful effect that takes a long time to recharge but can really save your bacon when you get surrounded.

Analysis: Amorphous+ doesn't look like much at first gander, but there is an impressive amount of thought and detail driving this little action excursion. It begins, as it always does, with interactivity. The Glooples do not merely move through each other like the classic Asteroids, but rather bounce, burst, ricochet, or meld together with each collision. Tough-skinned giant Glooples will squash smaller ones in their path. The orange Melties are filled with acid, which of course has the potential to kill you; but if you splatter them across the play field, you can use their acid blood as a protective moat against other enemies. When some Glooples start showing up filled with oil and others come enveloped in flames, things can get extraordinarily hectic.

This means that the gameplay is nowhere near as simple as it first appears. Although you can easily dispatch the early waves of Glooples with single slashes of the Splatmaster 9000, the be-toothed, be-spined masses will eventually force you to start using your enemies against each other and executing complicated, split-second maneuvers. There is a delay built into the swing of your sword (the Splatmaster series is notoriously heavy), so you can't just mindlessly hack your way through the mob. It's really a game of positioning and crowd control, which makes it much more compelling than similar arena combat games. Unfortunately, the collision detection between sword and Gloople can be unreliable, especially when there are many enemies within reach. It's a very rare problem, but it can be enough to kill you unfairly.

Amorphous+ is an update to Caleb Rhodes' first Flash game, Amorphous (no plus sign), which was already a good little action game, but lacked a compelling hook to make it addictive. Rhodes has now remedied that in the extensive Award/Reward system. Truly, 110 medals can keep you blob hunting for hours. And the reward gadgets are totally worth the effort, animated with so much care and detail they might very well distract you long enough for a Biter to sneak up and gnaw your chest off. Witness how the Saw Drone unfolds its blades and takes to the air, how the Box Gun unfolds its legs and drives plumes of dust from the ground with a heavy thud.

But what really hooked me in the beginning was the Bestiary: a compendium of over-the-top verbose scientific descriptions of each species of Gloople. These vignettes are so intelligent and thorough, it becomes easy to imagine that these homicidal little blobs really exist somewhere, threatening a large-scale oozy apocalypse if their numbers aren't kept in check by the occasional brave swordsperson.

Amorphous+ still has some room to grow in some areas. The background artwork looks cheap, and in general the presentation is fairly basic. The enemies don't look like much (they are mostly just blobs, after all), but like the Rewards, they are animated lovingly, and they convey a surprising amount of individual personality. I enjoy how a Biter's rotating batch of random spikes coalesce into a shrieking mouth as it lunges at you, for instance. The graphics aren't so much impressive as they are entertaining. And the music doesn't have much to do with the action, either in pacing or style. The tunes are a sort of ambient jazz/hip-hop fusion by a band called Void Revolution, and they serve as the game's soundtrack simply because Rhodes likes Void Revolution. One of the Glooples is even named after them.

So let's do a summary: Amorphous+ is an unassuming but solid maiden effort from a talented game designer. It's not for everyone, but action game aficionados will appreciate the depth of the combat, completionists will respond to the ample reward system, and casual gamers will like the simplicity of the controls. If you are all three, then this game will own your soul. I think there's even an achievement medal that says that.

Play Amorphous+


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Rating: 3.3/5 (81 votes)
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JayAmaaxla's Gravity 2I'm going to break from the consenus of our reviewer team and go out on a limb to feature this one for you for a few reasons: the game ran perfectly fine on my Mac without any lag issues; I really enjoy the art style of this game; and it appears that we're in another slow period for compelling new Flash games. So, please don't hate at me if you don't enjoy this one.

Amaaxla's Gravity 2 is an exclusive offering from the folks at Albino Blacksheep. It's a physics-based platform game of momentum and gravity, somewhat reminscent of an entry into one of our previous game design competitions (Angular Momentum). The objective is to collect crystals and reach the exit of each level. Collecting crystals is very important in that they allow you to purchase things in the shop and unlock other levels. Be sure to run the 'Graphics Configuration Level' in the options if your computer isn't the fastest thing around.

Photosensitive Seizure Warning: The loading screen for this game flashes and could potentially induce a seizure in those susceptible to them.

Analysis: The silhouette art style is wonderful and evokes memories of (Mani)Fold, GunRun, Zumbakamera's Bendito Machine, and perhaps even a little Loco Roco. All this beauty comes at a price, unfortunately: this is a very unforgiving game. While the game encourages you to explore its secrets, impossible-to-see bottomless pits seem to imply just the opposite. The author says "take time to look around" but then when you do and venture into an area that you were not supposed to enter, your 'reward' is to start again from the start of the level, which will turn off many casual players.

It would have been an infinitely better design choice to allow the player to continue from just before the point at which they died, such as with a system of checkpoints, and without penalty.

Still, it's the most compelling Flash game I've seen recently, and so here it is, for what it's worth (it's free):

Play Amaaxla's Gravity 2

Cheers to Kirkpad for suggesting this one! =)


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Rating: 4.5/5 (20 votes)
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Starscape

JoshDeveloped back in 2003 by Moonpod Games, Starscape may be considered an "oldie" by the gamer crowd, but it's a goodie. Launched as a shareware game without the distribution support that it has today, Starscape flew under the radar, slowly but surely gathering a respectable following. Today it's finally starting to hit the major distro sites and people are either discovering or taking a second glance at this little space shooter/strategy game created half a decade ago.

starscape_screen1In Starscape, you play the captain of a fighter ship onboard a space station called The Aegis. After being sucked through an alien-made wormhole during a scientific mission, most of your fleet is gone except for a few key personnel. It's up to you and your crew to find out where you are, salvage raw materials and equipment and fight off hostile alien forces, all in the hope of returning home. The game is approximately 70 percent a top-down space shooter and 30 percent a strategy/simulation game. Most of your time will be spent controlling one of four potential spaceships, mining asteroids for raw materials and fighting alien forces. The rest of your time is spent onboard the Aegis station, managing your crew and systems.

After a nice animated introduction, you'll begin a tutorial that will teach you everything you need to know about both aspects of the game. You'll start by controlling your first spaceship, the Runabout. It doesn't feature the most battle-ready equipment available, although it can defend itself in a pinch. More importantly, it's equipped with a gravity beam that can tow resources in after you've blasted them apart from inside asteroids.

Default controls are a little counter-intuitive, but they can be changed in the menu options. Ship thrusters are controlled by the [arrow] keys to move you in the respective directions. The [Q] button fires your blasters and [E] deploys the gravity beam to reel in the resources. After a short time you'll be upgraded with missiles, launched with the [W] key. Since your space station is always in the same playing field you're in, you can use [R] to either call the station to your current location, or to instruct it to open its hangar doors so that you can dock with it.

starscape_screen2Your first few missions will be fairly easy and are explained by the tutorial. You'll be cracking open asteroids to gather resources and blasting a few stray alien ships apart. Aside from the resource collection, the element that sets this game apart from an Asteroids clone is the strategy aspect onboard the Aegis. Unless in combat, you're able to interface with the space station menus at any time, where a variety of functions are available. You can work with your chief engineer to build new ships and modify existing ones, outfitting them for specific purposes or designed to perform all-around. The security chief will help you build up the station's defenses, adding automated turrets or additional gravity beams to scoop up resources that fly by. The station's scientist can be used to build new items or upgrade existing ones, like the blasters on your ship, or the strength of its hull. All of these things—whether it's researching an upgraded missile system or building a fighter ship—require resources found in the asteroids and salvaged parts from certain alien ships you destroy.

Analysis: Fun. Old...but fun. Sure, it might not hold a candle to some of the epic space shooters and sims that we've seen like the classic Freespace 2, or newer titles like DarkStar One. But it's not meant to. Starscape is a casual space shooter/strategy game, and in that regard it succeeds. Although not without its flaws (mainly in the controls, which can be changed), this game finds a happy median between action and strategy that give you a breather from both just in time, before you get tired of one or the other. Just when you've had enough action and need a break, you can dock with your station, jump into warpdrive and work on upgrading your ships or researching new abilities. Unfortunately since it was designed five years ago, the largest resolution available is 800x600. Thankfully the art and graphics aren't ugly to begin with, offering a 2D, cartoonish on-station experience with emulated 3D space combat. For many people with older machines, this game will be a nice change of pace because it'll most likely run smooth as silk, even on 256MB of RAM. Check out the demo and give this overlooked game a try.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBIf I were made of LEGO-style bricks, I would have an extra arm at the center of my back. Sure, it would make sitting down awkward, my shirts would never quite fit, and buying gloves would be kinda pointless, but... Please? Can I have it anyway?

bombermaaan.gifBombermaaan (Windows, 2.2MB, free) - A free, open source, in-progress clone of the 16-bit Bomberman game. The same brick bombing power-up collecting enemy 'sploding action you know and love, now in PC flavor! Creating new levels is as simple as typing in a text file, and the game supports up to five players on a single computer.

scrollbit.gifScrollbit (Mac/Windows, 1-4MB, free) - A minimalist racing game that is so outlandishly entertaining, you'll catch yourself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. You must have a mouse with a scrollwheel to play (sorry, laptop users), using it to change direction up and down. Hold the [spacebar] to accelerate. The faster you go, the more scrollwheel scrolling you'll be doing, and the results are often fantastically amusing.

bricksmith.jpgBricksmith (Mac, 7.2MB, free) - For curious to serious Lego model builders who want to create new designs and even share those designs with others, Bricksmith provides the tools to do so. Complete with every Lego part imaginable, the Bricksmith toolset is a model builder's dream. Zoom in or rotate the 3D display, even create your models using "steps" to allow someone to see your model being built one brick at a time.

calamityjane.gifCalamity Annie (Windows, 5.3MB, free) - A quick-draw arcade game of reflexes created by auntie pixelantie, Calamity Annie is as old-school as it gets. Face off against two dozen foes in one-on-one duel-style battles. Keep your weapon (in this case the mouse cursor) in the holster area while the screen is black, and as soon as the lights turn on, move and shoot your enemy as fast as you can. You only have three lives to dispatch all of your opponents, so there's no room for error.


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (41 votes)
| Comments (71) | Views (256)

The Mystery of the Crystal Portal

JohnBThe Mystery of the Crystal Portal from Artogon Games is the latest casual title to bend the genre mold and create a hidden object/adventure hybrid. This one succeeds where many other efforts fail, however, by ramping up the level of intrigue and by building relationships between items you find and objects on the screen. The result is less of a hidden object game and more of a still-screen adventure title... with a few missing items.

mysterycrystalportal.jpgJournalist Nicole Rankwist receives a strange note from her father who has discovered an artifact with the power to change humanity. When he goes missing, however, Nicole must find pieces of the Crystal Portal key and retrace his steps by visiting exotic locations and searching for clues by sifting through mountains of items and solving puzzles.

At the bottom of each screen are a number of slots initially occupied by question marks. Each of these represents a "container item", an object somewhere on the screen that needs to be activated. Clicking on these container items brings up a menu similar to the action menus in old-school adventure games. By finding items shown on these menus and dropping them onto the container you open new spaces on the screen, activate parts of the scenery, or cause some other minor change. To complete each scene, simply find all of the container items and their associated "minor" items.

Sometimes you will have to fill a certain container item to reveal an item needed for another container, so solving puzzles is rarely straightforward. Most objects are fairly easy to find and aren't hidden in strange areas or color-masked to blend in with the background. This creates a much more intuitive experience and makes the game feel more like an adventure than a seek and find title.

Analysis: Hidden object games have become the new match-3 of the casual realm, but thanks to titles such as Azada, Cate West - The Vanishing Files, and The Mystery of the Crystal Portal, old-school adventure philosophy is creeping its way in, and those classic games have survived decades of gaming for a very good reason.

mysterycrystalportal2.jpgVisually, The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is quite impressive, featuring seven unique locations (each with several scenes) rendered in gorgeous detail, complete with animated areas, moving pieces of scenery, and crisp sound effects to boot.

One drawback to The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is the simple ability to, well, cheat. Most hidden object games penalize you for clicking where there are no items to find. The Mystery of the Crystal Portal does not, opening up the path of randomly clicking all across the screen in order to find items. The use of container objects cuts down on the usefulness of this "cheating", and you have unlimited use of the hint feature if you're willing to wait for it to refill, so it's not as big of a temptation (or spoiler) as you might think.

The rules are somewhat laid back, with no penalties for random clicks and no time limit to put you in a frenzy, and the care put into the visual layout of every scene is evident. With the variety of puzzles, interesting minigames, and strangely compelling container item system, The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is a surprisingly robust hidden object/adventure experience that should not be missed.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (263 votes)
| Comments (88) | Views (257)

JayDuckFollowing the lead of his previous puzzle games, Seen on Screen and Fields of Logic, Bart Bonte has just released a new game into the wild, this one called Duck: Think Outside the Flock.

The objective of Duck is to figure out what to do for each of the 25 levels of the game. Just right for most casual gamers, though some of the more hardcore out there will be able to breeze through most of the levels easily. As is usual for this type of game, its appeal lies within the thrill of discovery, though you will also need just a dash of luck and skill. And those ducks are so darn cute.

Always a happy day whenever Bart releases a new game, try for yourself and see why.

Play Duck: Think Outside the Flock


| Comments (36) | Views (4)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWe have a very special Link Dump Friday this week! Why? Because... I said so? Or is it because it's the first day of August? Or is it because we have games about math, ninjas, circus performers and cannons all in one article?!

  • icon_loneninja.gifThe Lone Ninja - A simple but enjoyable platformer with plenty of ninja activities to go around, including wall jumping and throwing various ninja-type weapons.
  • icon_dralion.gifDralion - Created to promote the latest Cirque du Soleil production, Dralion is a nice-looking platforming game with fairly standard gameplay. But the visuals are so nice and the concept so... odd... you just have to give it a try.
  • icon_prismlighttheway.gifPrism: Light the Way - A light reflecting puzzle game where you must move mirrors, prisms and more to shine the right color of light on every GLOWBOS on the screen. The only down side is you must play timed mode before puzzle mode, which is a might bit frustrating if you ask me. A longer, more full-featured downloadable version of Prism: Light the Way is also available.
  • icon_addiction.gifADDiction - It's a matching-type puzzle game with numbers and maths! AAAHHH! Click on a string of numbers to create a problem that solves itself. For example, click on 2, then the plus sign, then 3, then double click the number 5 and all the tiles disappear. This one really bends your brain in a loop.
  • icon_ragdollcannon.gifRagDoll Cannon 1.5 - An update to the original Ragdoll Cannon game, featuring more levels and the same physics-based gameplay. Simply fire ragdolls from the cannon and try to get one to the button on the screen. Not as easy as it sounds!

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