September 2008 Archives


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (190 votes)
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PsychotronicDogfight 2Dogfight 2 is the newest entry into Rock Solid Arcade's quality series of arcade-style airplane fliers, which includes the first Dogfight and the previously-reviewed Stunt Pilot. Once again, they have based some nail-bitingly tough levels around the tricky but satisfying flight controls from classic DOS game Sopwith. The [right] arrow key always rotates you clockwise, and the [left] arrow key always counter-clockwise, no matter which direction your little biplane is facing. That—plus your plane's momentum—will keep you busy just trying to avoid the cold hard embrace of the ground, never mind that you're being shot at by giant dirigibles. Fire back with your machine gun by holding the [space] bar, and drop bombs with [ctrl]. Amusingly, you can bomb the other planes (and in fact must do so on a couple of levels), but your bombs are limited, depending on the specific mission. Don't waste them on planes if you still need to take out a hangar or two.

Rock Solid Arcade still has some of the highest production values of anyone working in Flash. I feel like Dogfight 2 could use a dramatic story line to accompany its gorgeous settings, but there's already plenty of drama in the details. Bullet holes appear in blimps as you pepper them, smoke trails follow wounded planes, enemy Ace Pilots tilt their wings believably as they kill you over and over and over again.

Oh by the way, this is a difficult game; partly because it will take a while to really get the controls into your fingers (unless you were some kind of Sopwith Ninja), partly because the opposing firepower is usually overwhelming, and partly because the only advantage you get is so odd. On every level, you get to use four Ace Tactics, which are like game show Lifelines for fighter pilots. Do an uninterrupted loop, for example, and you activate the Evasive Loop Tactic; little question marks appear over the enemy planes as they stumble around randomly, cowed into confusion by your sheer daredevilry. The respite won't last long, however, so you'll have to pull off some other maneuver, such as flying behind a cloud, if you want to prolong the chaos.

Dogfight 2Rock Solid Arcade can't seem to quite hit the difficulty sweet spot. Their otherwise amazing Robokill had almost no penalty for dying, but here we're well into frustrating territory. You have a limited number of lives, and continue points are set every five levels. Since some missions require near-perfection, and you may have no idea what strategy you'll need until you're already hip-deep in enemy bombers, you'll almost certainly get bumped back a few times. I managed to persevere, on the strength of the solid controls and a nice variety of missions, but I can't blame you if you give up after the first couple of set-backs. It's straight arcade-style gaming in a venue with no quarters—it doesn't make a lot of sense, really, but it does give you a meaty challenge, if meat is your cup of tea.

The way Dogfight 2 is balanced, you can't really force your way through, no matter your skill. You have to employ the Ace Tactics. Your success will often hinge on your ability to chain your Tactics together without wasting them or inadvertently misjudging them and smacking into the dirt. Most of my deaths, in fact, resulted from an ill-timed Ground Dive, which may mean that the game isn't so hard after all, and I just shouldn't pursue a career as an aviator.

If you do have the piloting chops, there's a broad selection of high-scoring possibilities. The most important strategy is simply not dying, but everything from bombing optional targets to shooting down enemy pilots as they parachute to safety (which seems incredibly unsportsmanlike) has a score attached. You can even maximize your points for individual kills by machine-gunning the dickens out of a plane as it goes down. While screaming "Take that, Red Baron!" of course.

Play Dogfight 2: The Great War


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (256 votes)
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Ms.45Matt Sandorf: Journey to Endless EntertainmentMatt Sandorf: Journey to Endless Entertainment is not just an artistic point-and-click game. It is a *sniff* advergame — a promotion for the Sony empire from music to gadgets to games. It was created by Rabbit Tell (Rodrigo Roesler and Bruno Maestrini), creators of the very popular Trapped series of games, and this one follows similar construction.

Now, advergames aren't automatically evil — remember Honda's gorgeous little Grrr game a few years back? — and Journey to Endless Entertainment is particularly well-executed, with surprising breaks through the fourth wall that I've never seen in a game before. The artwork varies between cute Lego scenery for the gameplay and charcoal drawings for the cutscenes.

I have to confess, though — it's difficult. I wasn't able to get through it without some help. Thankfully, you can save your game and reload if things just aren't making sense. It is definitely possible for you to paint yourself into a corner, so do save your game often!

What compelled me to keep playing was the jokes — if you liked Ben There, Dan That! but thought that some of the humor was just unnecessary, MS: JTEE offers a more G-rated experience but with somewhat less logical puzzles. You'll keep playing just to work out what you're supposed to do with a naked hamster.

In the meantime, I've given the genius everything except the immortal frog. Won't you help a poor JIG reviewer out?

Play Matt Sandorf: Journey to Endless Entertainment


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (61 votes)
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japanesemapgame.gifArtbegottiYou can't see it, but I'm holding a jar of jelly beans. When someone is sitting next to a jar of jelly beans with some slips of paper, you know what your task is... You want to get a running start and swipe the jar of jelly beans as fast as you can and hope you can get away with it. Because let's face it, actually guessing the number of jelly beans is pretty much impossible, unless you have the ability to freeze time and count the jelly beans one by one and then get them back in the jar before everything returns to normal speed.

For some, estimation of obscure objects is a pain. Nekogames, on the other hand, has come up with a little estimation game that brims with excitement. Due to my lack of ability to read Japanese, we'll call it the Japanese Map Game. (If anyone can offer a translation of the title, we'd be glad to hear it.)

You are presented with a pixel-art map of Japan on the left. Mousing over the map highlights the regions of Japan (with a cheery pronounciation of each). On the right is a grid of boxes, with some highlighted in blue. The object of each round is to pick a region on the map (or combination of regions) and try to fill in the blue boxes so that you land within the rainbow-bordered boxes. The size of the region that you select will determine how many boxes get filled. If your total lands in the green boxes, you move on to the next level, but landing in the yellow, orange, and red boxes also gets you some bonus points.

My strongest word of caution for this game: It is highly unlikely that you will win a round on your first attempt. Part of this game is experimenting with the sizes of the regions and how many boxes they fill in. Within your first few tries, you'll have a good idea what regions to pick to fill in the grid. Just remember, the regions you use become unavailable for the rest of the game.

Analysis: For such a simple concept, you'd be surprised how quickly you may be drawn into the game's happy and exciting atmosphere. As you mouse over the territories, you have all the time in the world to make your selection, but you still get a rush of nervous excitement when the blue blocks are filling up, not looking like they'll ever stop. Nekogames has taken such a simple concept as "come as close as you can without going over" and made a quirky little game out of it, and you might even learn something about Japan's geography from it too!

So if you're ready for a bit of jelly bean culture shock, hajime!

Play Japanese Map Game


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Weekend Download

JohnBMore games to make you scratch your head, this bonus edition of Weekend Download features a few titles that caught my eye in one way or another. I especially enjoyed G2: Geeks Unleashed, not only for its corny references (every one of which I understood!), but for its unique strategy/puzzle gameplay.

g2geeksunleashed.jpgG2: Geeks Unleashed (Windows, 15MB, demo) - Ready for a cheesy puzzle game laden with sci-fi and geek pop culture references? Sure you are! Battle geeky opponents in a puzzle-based collection game where you try and grab item tiles to complete sets and win the match. The catch is that each player takes turns picking items, so depending on where you took your last tile, your opponent may get a better or worse hand. Do you play for your own inventory or set out to deny your opponent his loot? Sometimes the dialogue is a bit over the top and stereotypical, but the gameplay is unique and filled with subtle strategy you learn as you progress. Several gameplay modes add plenty of variety.

scrapbookpaige.jpgScrapbook Paige (Windows, 105MB, demo) - A hidden object game that doesn't try to justify the fact that it's a hidden object game! Paige runs a scrapbook store and needs your help finding lists of items amongst the shelves and drawers. Grab a magnifying glass and take a look at countless sets of stickers, buttons, and more craft objects than you thought could be packed into a single screen. It's something a little different for hidden object fans, and scrapbook enthusiasts will appreciate the chance to do their craft even while on the computer.

hiddenobjectshowseason2.jpgThe Hidden Object Show: Season 2 (Mac/Windows, 93MB, demo) - Set in a carnival, this game doesn't try and mask its genre and drops you in the contestant's chair where you compete in various hidden object challenges. Set in a carnival, finding items earns you tickets that can be redeemed for prizes (gigantic stuffed animal, anyone?). The dozen or so minigames are unique and terribly fun, worth the price of admission alone. The biggest draw to this game is its massive length, over 300 rounds in all, three times as many as the original game. That's a lot of pixel scrutinizing.


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Weekend Download

JohnBTwo really fascinating blasts from (or to) the past this week: The Lost Snowmen, which spiritually resurrects one of my favorite games from the 90s, The Lost Vikings (link leads to a severely downscaled online demo), and Cavern of Doom, which takes pixelated graphics to an almost painful extreme.

mysterychronicles.jpgMystery Chronicles - Murder Among Friends (Mac/Windows, 50MB, demo) - Hidden object games are everywhere these days, and it seems like every developer is trying to out do the next by spicing up its item finding with one strange gimmick or another. Mystery Chronicles sticks to its guns and goes the old-fashioned route with a remarkably rich atmosphere and classic murder mystery storyline. Item hunting is fairly straightforward, the minigames aren't overdone, and the developer spent a lot of time making sure everything made sense in context of the whole experience. What it lacks in originality and gameplay variety it makes up in setting and story.

lostsnowmen.jpgThe Lost Snowmen (Windows, 25MB, free) - Remember The Lost Vikings? If not, you missed out on one of the best 2D puzzle platform games of the last 3,000 years. Seriously! The Lost Snowmen looks to continue the genre and puts you in control of three snowmen, each with unique abilities. Work together to solve puzzles and traverse the snowy landscape.

cavernofdoom.gifCavern of Doom (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - Thou art Mo the Great! Hero of many a heroic deed, slayer of many a not so heroic thing! Cavern of Doom drops you in the most retro of retro settings and sets you to the task of delving deep below the dungeons of thy town in search of loot. And if you sit really far away from your computer, the images almost look good!

goban.jpgGoban (Mac, 10MB, free) - An elegant and simple implementation of Go for Mac users. Play against the computer for a single player challenge, or hop on the internet to challenge people from around the world. You can even observe pro (and amateur) games on the Internet Go Server.


(18 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Jump Jump Jelly Reactor

JohnBJump Jump Jelly Reactor is a matching puzzle game that isn't afraid to try out new ideas. Instead of flat and boring blocks, tiles or even gems, this game fills your screen with lively jellies that can be combined to form larger characters with brand new properties. Gameplay is a unique combination of strategy and puzzle matching that extends a good variety of tasks your way. It's rare that a matching game really catches my eye, but Jump Jump Jelly Reactor provides such a full experience, it's hard to pass up.

jumpjumpjellyreactor.jpgThe same basic mechanics prevail in Jump Jump Jelly Reactor's multiple gameplay modes. The screen is filled with jellies of many colors, all sitting peacefully above tubes that lead to the reactor on either side of the grid. Using the mouse, drag like-colored jellies to combine them and form bigger jellies. Get more than three together and the jelly drops, splattering every blob beneath it and netting you a handful of points. You can strategically place larger jellies beneath falling jellies to create splash damage that will splatter and pop jellies in neighboring columns. That simple mechanic creates a whole world of gameplay strategy you'll quickly learn to master.

Jump Jump Jelly Reactor takes this fun base mechanic and goes crazy with it. Four modes of play are available, all unlockable using coins you win by completing levels from the Jellytown map screen. You start off with Arcade mode, your basic game type where you'll probably spend most of your time. Here you must protect the jelly reactor from the grumpy Rockons, sturdy little characters who, upon reaching the tubes at the bottom of the screen, will stack up and eventually end your game by breaking the reactor. Dealing with these guys (who change in later levels and force you to deal with them in different ways) becomes a game of strategy, as you must try and keep them away from the bottom of the screen while making matches elsewhere to form a big jelly above them and smash them into pieces. You really have to use your head sometimes.

The other three modes, Karma, Factory, and Puzzle, offer interesting challenges when dealing with pesky Rockons becomes to much of a hassle. In Factory mode you must first restore power to the building by completing half a dozen tasks. These range from building giant jellies to dropping jellies down specific columns at the right time. After the factory is operational you repeat the process for each of the jelly colors. Karma mode goes on forever and saves your progress as you advance in levels, while Puzzle mode sends a number of jelly-based riddles to your screen.

jumpjumpjellyreactor2.jpgAnalysis: Jump Jump Jelly Reactor isn't your standard casual gaming experience, as it tries a lot of new things and gets them right every time. The game has an arcade feel to it (you know, the big machines that used to live in buildings called Arcades) with bouncey visuals and a soundtrack to match. Every ounce of its presentation is enjoyable, and I love the "filling" sound effect when you drop jellies down the tubes!

In Arcade mode the action gets a little tense in later levels when you're dealing with a handful of Rockons, some of which actually devour jellies beneath them, forcing you to act very quickly to send them packing. That was a little much for me and felt out of place in the game's otherwise smooth and relaxed page. Fortunately there's plenty of options in terms of gameplay modes to balance that out.

There really is a lot to Jump Jump Jelly Reactor, but its cute exterior combined with boxing it into the matching puzzle genre prevents most people from finding that out. Give it a play, however, and you'll discover loads of unlockables, simple but fun gameplay, and a surprisingly deep strategy that unfolds as you gain mastery over the jellies. I spent two hours playing the game the first time I got my hands on it, which is a rare thing indeed!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (44 votes)
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10 Gnomes #9

JayThere is something oddly compelling about gnomes. They are cute, mythical creatures that spark the chemistry in our brains that control imagination and curiosity. Perhaps that's why when someone hides a bunch of them within a series of interactive images we jump to task of finding every one of them. So, here we are with another installment of Mateusz Skutnik's original series of hidden object games and this time titled, 10 Gnomes: Chemistry, and you know what to do. Let the chemical reactions begin...

Play 10 Gnomes #9

If you enjoyed this, be sure to play all the 10 Gnomes games.


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBAs promised last week, I now present to you Link Dump Friday: IDUNNOWHATEVERLOL Edition! I apologize if a very light arcade/mouseplay feeling comes across when you play these games. Rest assured, however, that it's not a theme. Just a... flavor.

  • icon_ninjaglove.gifNinja Glove - I know you like the Four Second series of lightning-fast mini-games. Throw in a rock soundtrack and add some ninjas and you have Ninja Glove. And Ninja Glove = win.
  • icon_mk5.gifMk5 - Fun little arcade game where you pilot a flying robot around to collect energy pods and other bonus power-ups. Of course lasers just happen to appear to make your life more challenging.
  • icon_pixelshocktd2.gifPixelshocks' Tower Defense II - An isometric tower defense game that doesn't stray too far from the genre's established principals. The interface is a bit cluttered and complex, but the core TD gameplay is alive and well. Hopefully the music won't drive you too insane...
  • icon_clickfest3.gifClick Fest 3 - An actual click fest, as advertised! Choose the length of game you want to play, then click all the targets as quickly as you can. That's it! Enjoy! Have fun! Click lots!
  • icon_octapodi.gifOktapodi - A short, French-made animation that claimed "Best of Show Winner" at SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques). A comical tale about two little octopus friends and their escape from the grasps of a stubborn and determined restaurant cook.

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Rating: 2.9/5 (24 votes)
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JessLab EscapeLab Escape is definitely not suitable for your third grader's safety education class—unless, of course, he or she is destined for the mighty and terrible role of Escape Game Protagonist. In that case, the cavalier handling of sensitive, questionable chemicals is just fine! After all, we've used some pretty odd methods to get out of rooms in the past... why not take the more direct (and toxic) route?

This is certainly one of the more straightforward room escapes I've come across. Worry not about secret codes or enigmatic messages; Lab Escape just requires you to take stock of your surroundings and act accordingly. Sure, objects are stashed in strange places; besides that, however, the scenario is fairly realistic, if perhaps one not likely to be encountered in day to day life. This isn't a bad thing, however; it's kinda nice to take a break from more fantastical situations.

Lab Escape is truly bite-sized, and you'll probably find yourself finished with it in under 10 minutes (assuming some little detail doesn't trip you up). Aside from one somewhat unintuitive action, progress through the game is logical and straightforward. The graphics are nice enough, though I do wish that there was some sort of a soundtrack or music; it would have added a good deal to the ambiance, and in a game this simple and short "setting the mood" is quite important. Still, Lab Escape is certainly enjoyable...and anyways, who doesn't love messing around with dangerous chemicals?

Play Lab Escape


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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JessRetro RoomMaybe it's that I was born in the mid-80's, but I don't find Retro Room to be all that, well, retro. Bright colors? Check. Funky decorations? Yep. But where are the lava lamps? The posters of Che Guevara and Jimi Hendrix? Honestly, the developers didn't do their research at all. Or, maybe, I've seen Austin Powers one too many times. Either way.

I really liked this game. In contrast to Lab Escape (which concentrates on a more realistic scenario), the situation in Retro Room is purely contrived; for some reason you can't remember how to leave your own office, and so must figure out codes, collect items, etc in order to open the ubiquitous locked door. The puzzles themselves are nicely modulated to be thought-provoking but not headache-inducing, occasionally challenging but not maddening (I particularly enjoyed one rather creative puzzle involving tetris-like blocks). Pixel-hunting, also, is blessedly absent. A quick note: in order to put objects away after clicking on them, press the space bar.

I do wish that the game had included some sort of music or soundtrack, but the graphics are well-designed and the overall package good enough to overlook such a minor flaw. Indeed, Retro Room is a near-ideal escape for a coffee break: easy enough to be finished quickly, interesting enough to engage (and perhaps revive?) the mind. Enjoy!

Play Retro Room


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Weekday Escape

JessIt's funny, the human palate. Some days you might wish to be presented with the most exquisite dishes imaginable, medleys of tastes and textures refined and elevated into works of art. After a while, however, it just becomes too much, and it's more appealing to just flop down in front of the television with a bag of potato chips, maybe an extra-cheesy pizza for good measure (mmm).

And really, that's what this delectable duo is: delicious, unpretentious, snack-sized games just bursting with escapey goodness. Are they remarkable? Not really. Satisfying? Absolutely. And as a plus, they won't leave grease stains on your couch.

  • icon_retroroom.gifRetro Room - I really liked this game. The puzzles are nicely modulated to be thought-provoking but not headache-inducing, challenging but not maddening. The perfect escape for a coffee break: easy enough to be finished quickly, interesting enough to engage (and perhaps revive?) the mind.
  • icon_labescape.gifLab Escape - Worry not about secret codes or enigmatic messages; Lab Escape simply requires you to take stock of your surroundings and act accordingly. This isn't a bad thing, however; it's kinda nice to take a break from more fantastical situations.

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


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (95 votes)
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JayT2B Escape 3Room escape fans will be pleased to learn of a brand new installment available to play in the T2B Escape series. The new game, T2B Escape 3, features similar artwork, some pixel hunting and the lack of any backstory as in previous games, but that shouldn't stop all the room escape fanatics from enjoying another T2B Escape experience. Go forth, point-and-click your mouse, and escape!

Play T2B Escape 3

Cheers to Eric for the link. =)


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (222 votes)
| Comments (41) | Views (1,306)

PsychotronicLoops of ZenWelcome to Loops of Zen. Here at Loops of Zen, your worries shall be forgotten. Nothing will threaten you at Loops of Zen. This is Loops of Zen. You don't need to win at Loops of Zen, but if you wish, you can ascend to higher and higher levels of complexity. This is Loops of Zen. Rotate pieces by clicking on them. When no more loose ends remain, you will enter a new realm of consciousness. That realm is a new level of Loops of Zen. There are 50 levels in Loops of Zen, but is it necessary to experience them all? That depends on you. This is Loops of Zen. Did you know that Loops of Zen is different every time you play? That may be the best thing about Loops of Zen. The best thing about Loops of Zen may also be the loops. Or the zen. Or the loops of zen. Welcome to Loops of Zen. This is Loops of Zen.

Play Loops of Zen


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (222 votes)
| Comments (102) | Views (951)

PsychotronicZ-RoxToday we have an extraordinary new puzzle game from Marco Arsenault, who is probably best known in the Flash world for the popular music sequencing toy Punk-o-Matic (language warning on that link). Z-Rox won't throw you into a mosh pit, but it will test your visualization skills over the course of 100 devilishly simple levels. Each one will show you something 2-dimensional—a letter, a number, a shape, a symbol—and your job is simply to name it. But you only get to see a 1-dimensional slice of the picture at a time, as though it were being scanned from top to bottom by a horizontal laser. You must form a complete mental image, based on your view through that 2-pixel-tall moving window. Some answers are a single keyboard character, while others require you to type out a full word.

The first 50 levels basically keep the training wheels on. You might hit a few bumps, but you can probably get past them using the time honored techniques of Walking Away From the Game for a While, and/or Shaking Your Hands Like There's Bugs On Them. It's the second 50 levels (the "extreme" levels, sigh) that will really test your sanity. You may need a pencil and paper, and possibly some Excedrin (or X-Hedr-N, as they say on the extreme streets of Extreme Town). Nevertheless, I encourage you to clear as many levels as you can before asking for help, because the sense of accomplishment for solving this one on your own is tremendous.

Analysis: Yes, yes, the title is silly. "Z-Rox" is what happens when a punk music fanatic invents a startlingly pure and original puzzle game concept, but just can't help topping it off with a creamy dollop of vanilla Xtreme-ness. But as the ducks say when they're feeling indifferent: "Queh." Very little could diminish the greatness of this game. Z-Rox grabs hold of the forgotten corners of your temporal cortex and wrings them out like used nappies. It's about as punk as a frontal lobotomy, but to be fair, frontal lobotomies are not entirely un-punk.

Z-Rox gives you good value, with several unlockable modes of play and an impeccable user interface. The unskippable and lengthy tutorial at the beginning is a little annoying, but you only have to watch it once in your life. Although it's a relatively short loop, the music by Josh Hunsaker does a good job assisting both your focus and your calm.

The big discovery for me is how beautiful letters can be when described in motion this way. Their slopes, their curves—it's like watching a kind of digital calligraphy. You can almost feel the letters being physically sculpted in your mind. It's an unusual sensation. Like I always say, really unique and well-executed games can give you something no other medium can.

Okay, okay, maybe Z-Rox is kind of extreme after all. If you need me, I'll be on my deck. And by "deck", I mean "skateboard". And by "skateboard", I mean "couch".

Play Z-Rox

Cheers to Cheryl, Michelle, and Vito for sending this one in! =)


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (95 votes)
| Comments (63) | Views (1,072)

Crazy Machines

JoshReleased in 2005 by German game developers FAKT Software, Crazy Machines was a cult classic that just recently began to breach the barrier to "fan-favorite" status among casual gamers. Publicized mainly by word of mouth, this unique puzzle game staked its claim as the next-generation leap from The Incredible Machine, which reached its height of popularity almost a decade earlier. The common theme in both games is the use of Rube Goldberg-inspired machines and contraptions to solve a puzzle or obstacle in each level. What's that? Rube who, you ask? If your early childhood includes memories of playing the classic board game Mouse Trap, you're already familiar with the concept that bears his namesake: accomplishing the simplest of tasks (like dropping a cage on the floor) by using complex, over-elaborate contraptions and mechanisms in a obscenely indirect, unintuitive way.

crazymachinesCrazy Machines embraces the concept in a way it can be applied to a video game, just like the classic The Incredible Machine showcased a decade earlier. Although popular among puzzle-loving gamers, The Incredible Machine series was beginning to feel somewhat dated. Crazy Machines hoped to fill that void with better graphics, emulated 3D levels and a prettier UI. Today, Crazy Machines is finally starting to get the recognition that a lot of fans feel it deserves.

Gameplay mechanics are fairly simple once you get used to them, although you might not anticipate that from glancing at the screenshots. But you'll get plenty of help from the game's Einstein-looking mascot as he guides you through the tutorial and level progression. You primarily use the mouse to interact with the puzzle area and interface, taking objects from your workspace and manipulating them in various ways to find solutions to each level's "experiment." (Armadillo Run is an excellent recent example, if you remember that gem.) With over 200 levels of experiments in all, there are lots of different toys and gadgets to play with, some of which you'll need to use in multiple ways. You've got your average variety of simple items like boxes, pipes and balls; and more advanced tools like conveyor belts, electrical sources, pulleys and wires. You'll even be offered exotic gadgets like zeppelins and robots in later levels, with many other surprises. And those surprises are part of the game's strategy; being able to use critical thinking to deduce the fastest solution in each experiment.

crazymachines_screen2In each level, you're presented with a task or goal to complete, and you're given all the necessary tools and items to work with. Time and space are frozen until you push the "Ready" button, giving you time to examine each experiment and put all your objects in place. Sometimes you'll need all of them, sometimes you'll only need a few. It's how you work with them that determines if you'll succeed or not, and the quicker you your experiment completed its task, the better you did. Many of the items you'll use and the steps you can take are open-ended, meaning there are different ways to use gadgets to accomplish your goal, and some are more efficient than others. In the quirky spirit of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, you'll have to think ahead and predict how each step will influence the next... "Will a lighter ball have more rebound on impact, allowing it to bounce far enough to trigger the next action? If I place a magnet right here, will that make a difference in an object's trajectory?" These are the kinds of questions you'll be asking yourself as you fine-tune your experiment to accomplish each goal.

If you're a quick study, or you happen to be pretty sharp when it comes to spatial thinking and logical reasoning, you might find yourself successfully rushing though some of the levels quicker than intended. With a partially open-ended game mechanic comes the possibility beating levels with less-than-fulfilling techniques, like using only a small number of available items, or making only the smallest choices in placement. But no matter how smart you are (maybe with the exception of your occasional certified genius), there are plenty of brain-teasing levels to figure out before you reach the end. And when you do, there's a "create-your-own-experiment" mode so you can build your own levels, or download user-created experiments and load them into your game.

Crazy Machines probably won't heat up your graphics card, but the level design and animation is pretty adequate for an almost four-year-old puzzle game. Music and sound rates about the same; nothing extraordinary, but lively and fitting. If you're an old-school Incredible Machine fan or you just enjoy puzzle games in general, give the Crazy Machines demo a spin. It might just be the most fun you've had with ridiculous contraptions since Mouse Trap.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (500 votes)
| Comments (167) | Views (1,192)

JayHoshi Saga 3Hoshi Saga 3 has just launched over at Yoshio Ishii's site, Nekogames. If you're unfamiliar with the Hoshi Saga series, then you're in for a treat as there are now several full games for you to experience. For the uninitiated, Hoshi Saga is a simple game of discovery. One part point-and-click and one part puzzle game, the objective in each stage is to find the star. How you go about doing that is different for every level. The task is up to you to figure out how.

Play the entire Hoshi Saga Series:

Hoshi SagaHoshi Saga 2Hoshi Saga 3Hoshi Saga RingoHoshi Saga RingoameHoshi Saga RingoenHoshi Saga RingohimeHoshi Saga Dokuringo

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008In this edition, there are 20 stages to explore freely as you wish, with another 16 stages that must be unlocked by completing rows and columns of stages that appear on the stage select menu. The menu also shows a stage's relative difficulty represented by a number of highlighted stars (out of 5).

Games of discovery have the potential to spark the imagination and exercise parts of the brain that are seldom touched. These are the most refreshing of experiences, and the Hoshi Saga series succeeds in taking you places you've never been before.

Play Hoshi Saga 3

Walkthroughs for the Hoshi Saga series...

Similar games:


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Rating: 4.6/5 (64 votes)
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Cake Mania 3

JohnBThe Cake Mania series is back with its third installment, Cake Mania 3! Not content to confine the game to slinging cakes in fancy modern-day locales, Sandlot installed an interesting storyline that splits the game into five unique areas, each in a different time period and different place. While the core mechanics remain unchanged, Cake Mania 3 serves up something unique in the resource management series to create a wholly enjoyable game.

cakemania3.jpgJill, the star of every Cake Mania game, is fretting over the details of her upcoming marriage. Just when she thinks everything will work out, the Time Bender artifact she received at the end of Cake Mania 2 is shattered into half a dozen pieces! Each of her friends picks up a shard and is transported to a different period in history, from the prehistoric era to ancient China, Egypt, and more. In order to bring them back, Jill must visit each location and — you guessed it — bake cakes!

The overall objective of Cake Mania 3 is to serve customers the cake they ordered as fast as possible to earn more cash. Bake the right cake, put the correct icing on top, add any extras and take it to the customer right away. Between levels, use the money to upgrade to faster, more efficient machines, buy Jill better shoes so she can walk faster, or to purchase additional items that help you squeeze a little extra money out of each patron.

Customer types in Cake Mania 3 have a more direct affect on gameplay than before. For example, if a leader walks in to your store, he must be served before any other customer. Robin Hood also makes an appearance and will steal money off of the counter, encouraging you make cash-gathering trips a top priority. These little touches add just the slightest twist to the gameplay and get you to change your playing strategy.

cakemania32.jpgAnalysis: It's great to see such an established franchise branch out and embrace new ideas. Cake Mania 3 goes a long way to removing the same old atmosphere present in previous games (and in most resource management titles). Part of this is due to the extraordinary variety in artwork and styles, all of which are bright, colorful, creative and fun. Jill's outfit changes depending on what time period she's in, which is a subtle but effective way to brighten up the look of the game.

Once you're over the initial visual upgrade and have digested the somewhat odd storyline, Cake Mania 3 settles into familiar territory. Maybe too familiar for some, as the mechanics have barely been tweaked since the last release. Building and serving cakes is the same no matter what time period you're in, and I would have loved to see the process shifted a bit to compensate for each era's technological leanings.

Cake Mania 3 starts off very slowly, so you'll have to spend a little time digging into the game before you get to the really good stuff. And this game has more hidden gameplay gems than the previous titles, such as unlockable mini-games. Cake Mania 3 is different from its predecessors in many ways, but the changes are all for the better and make it a fun, interesting, and often zany experience.

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

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download highlights some of my favorite entries in the recently-ended (and completely awesome) TIGSource Bootleg Demakes competition. Designers were challenged to remake a game for a system released before its time. So, for example, creating a Super Smash Bros. knockoff for the NES. Nearly 70 games were entered in the competition, so be sure to check out the competition page and try some more on for size.

fableofgriselda.gifFable of Griselda (Windows, <1MB, free) - An extraordinarily accurate demake of the original Legend of Zelda game... using ASCII characters! There are rocks! There are *-shaped enemies! There's a sword to hit stuff with! What more can I say other than "dangerous take this"?

holdmecloser.gifHold Me Closer, Giant Dancer (Windows, <1MB, free) - A seriously demade demake of Shadow of the Colossus, the epic giant-climbing game for PlayStation 2. Scale gargantuan 2D pixel monsters one foothold at a time, using the [x] key to grab and hold onto the green tufts of moss on the giant's body. The controls are a bit complex, but once you get them down, you're in for a great game.

thieving.gifThieving Raccoon (Mac/Windows, free, browser-based) - Remember the old Nintendo Game & Watch systems? Of course you do! These and other simple LCD games of yore are what inspired this Sly Cooper demake, cutting out everything except the most basic reflexive button pressing.

squish.jpgSquish (Windows, 3MB, free) - A demake of the PSP puzzle-platformer Crush. Collect all of the coins to open the door at the end of each level. The catch? You must switch between 2D and 3D perspectives in order to traverse the landscape! Similar to Super Paper Mario in style, though much simpler.

ganggarrison2.gifGang Garrison 2 (Windows, 3.3MB, free) - A surprisingly faithful demake of Team Fortress 2, pared down to blocky sprites, a few colors, and a 2D world. All of the classes are present, from the ever-burning Fireman (Pyro) to the explosive-loving Detonator (Demo). And of course online multiplayer is part of the experience!

littlegirlinunderland.jpgLittle Girl in Underland (Windows, 7.3MB, free) - One of the most impressive bootleg demakes of the bunch, Little Girl in Underland both mocks and pays homage to American McGee's Alice. It's similar to the old adventure games, only this one's built around hilariousness, not puzzles.


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Rating: 4.8/5 (48 votes)
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Peggle Nights

JohnBFor many casual gamers, the word Peggle has become almost magical in nature. Last year's pachinko-style title from PopCap caught us by complete surprise with its blend of deliciously simple gameplay and subtle strategy coated in the glossy paint of a stellar presentation. Now, Peggle Nights has arrived with all-new levels, a new setting, and a handful of other extras, all ready to steal your time like few other games can.

pegglenights2.jpgIf you're one of the few who missed out on the original Peggle, here's how things work. Each level is filled with an arrangement of colored pegs with a ball cannon situated top center. The objective is to clear the orange pegs from the board by hitting them with one of the ten balls you start with. Aim with the mouse (fine-tune your shots with the scroll wheel), fire, then kick back and watch the bounciness ensue. Clear out blue pegs to reach the orange ones, and keep an eye out for special purple and green pegs that grant extra points and special stage-specific abilities respectively.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008The ball follows logical physics and bounces around the screen just like you'd expect it to, making strategy a subtle but gradually more integral part of the game. You can score free balls by racking up enough points during a single turn, or by getting the ball into the chute sliding on the bottom of the screen.

And now for the best part of the game: eliminating that last peg. The very first thing that captivated me about the Peggle series was the dramatic slow motion camera zoom that pulls in to watch the ball hit the final peg. A drum roll ensues, and Beethoven's Ode to Joy howls in the background. It's epic. Afterwards, the ball finishes its bouncing and settles in one of the point buckets that appear at the bottom of the screen.

pegglenights.jpgAnalysis: GAAAH, make me stop playing! Whatever casual magic PopCap infused in the original Peggle, Peggle Nights has it in droves. It's just as fun as the original, now with new levels, new Peggle Masters, a trophy room, and several challenge levels waiting to be beaten. The change of scenery is also nice, and the backgrounds in this game are nothing short of breathtaking.

The only real "disappointment" with Peggle Nights is that it's not a full-blown sequel. Peggle may have reinvented the hyper-addictive casual game, but Peggle Nights only walks down the same path. Don't expect anything different this time around, but the last time I checked, more Peggle was never a bad thing.

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

JohnBThe plan for this week's Link Dump Friday was to have a ball/bouncey theme. Then all these non-bouncing games came along, I got carried away, and suddenly we're left with a set of games that are great fun but, sadly, do not adhere to my original plan. Next time I'm shooting for a theme along the lines of "idunnowhateverlol"!

  • icon_ball.gifBall - Nice, simple name for a game, eh? In Ball, you have a ball. On a string. And you whip it around and around. The goal is stated in plain letters at the bottom of the screen: click the ball. When you do, it changes color. So... why aren't you doing that? And no fair using [tab] or right clicks to cheat!
  • icon_bounceshot.gifBounce Shot - New from Nigoro (yes, the Rose & Camellia team) comes a Space Invaders clone with a little extra... bounce. The aliens have constructed a bouncey wall and surrounded Earth. Fortunately you can use this wall to bounce shots and hit the aliens from behind, taking out special foes for special bonuses.
  • icon_secretfiles.gifSecret Files - A great brain workout, this game drops words on files from the top of the screen and asks you to put them in the correct filing cabinet. The only problem is the cabinets aren't labelled, so you have to determine which drawer holds which category of words and click accordingly. Adjustable difficulty and settings make this one a big winner, and comparing your scores to other players makes you feel all smart and stuff.
  • icon_splitwords.gifSplit Words - Another one to get your neurons going, you are given a category along with a series of words split into segments. Simply click sets of letters and combine them to form words.
  • icon_hitthejackpot.gifHit the Jackpot 2 - A detailed archery game with incredibly smooth gameplay, a leaderboard that pits countries against each other, and a simple experience system that makes the game easier as you play.
  • icon_playwithspider.gif

    Play with Spider - Not a game, but an adorable web toy where you control a cute little spider that the equally cute doggy thing is curious about. Your reaction: AWW CUTEST THING EVAR!!! But if you want the creepiest thing evar, try playing with a realistic spider, see how things go then!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (97 votes)
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safekaleidoscopereef.jpgJohnBSave Kaleidoscope Reef, from the team that brought us Anika's Odyssey, is a new arcade game with an environmentally friendly message embedded beneath its gorgeous exterior. A tropical reef thriving with aquatic life is in danger of being destroyed by pollution. Rebuild the underwater sanctuary one screen at a time by grabbing floating polyps, placing them on rocks, and feeding them until they bloom into lush coral.

After a ship destroys a section of reef, a group of friendly fish decide to help it recover. The narrative in Save Kaleidoscope Reef is simple but charming and is told via wordless cutscenes between each stage. As the coral begins to fill the stones, fish will start swimming by, later joined by other grinning creatures of the sea. Once you've grown enough coral to fill the meter to the left, our fish friends return and set up the next scene.

But all life is not friendly under the sea. The plankton you grab and feed to the polyps is food for other critters too, and some want to take more than their fair share. Grumpy fish will appear from time to time, ready to chow down. A simple click sends them away. Later levels present you with bubbling toxic waste and other baddies that must similarly be disposed of.

It's a simple game idea, and Save Kaleidoscope Reef doesn't stray too far from the formula outlined above. Because of this, however, the game dips into the realm of tedium in later levels, and despite the amazing artwork and charming message, you won't be as motivated to play as you were when you first started. Regardless, it's an experience well worth, ahem, diving into.

Play Save Kaleidoscope Reef


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Rating: 4.7/5 (254 votes)
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In the Dog HouseJohnBAnother new release from Nitrome has just arrived, and this one takes a page from the Rooms book of design to create a cute sliding puzzle game. In the Dog House tasks you with sliding rooms around a grid to create a path from the dog to the dogfood in the kitchen. To encourage the pup to move, simply grab the bone and drop it somewhere in the house. You'll also have to contend with mechanical contraptions such as elevators and security gates, not to mention the tempting distractions of a cat!

Rather than giving you free control over moving every piece on the board, In the Dog House restricts which tiles can be moved and often in which direction they can slide. The wallpaper markings serve as clues to let you know how each piece will move, whether it's fixed, or even if it only rotates in place. Once you know what you can work with, its time to clear a path for the dog.

Just like in Rooms: The Main Building, your character can move through any space that's logical, i.e. up stairs, across halls, etc. This puppy can't pass through walls or jump through ceilings, unfortunately. The challenge is usually classic sliding puzzle fare where you must create a picture (pathway) and must move blocks in every direction to get them where they need to be. Other times you need to solve special puzzles or stop the dog in the middle of a hallway so you can rearrange tiles for the last leg of his journey.

Analysis: More than a simple sliding tile game, In the Dog House is very similar to Rooms in design, which is definitely a good thing. It does carve its own path, however, with fun environmental puzzles and the added challenge of immovable tiles. Also, any space with a creature running around, whether it's that darn cat or your very own puppy, becomes temporarily fixed in place, and sometimes you'll have to get the pets to scuttle along before you can finish the puzzle.

As the game's 40 levels go by, you'll encounter increasingly complex puzzles and mechanisms to deal with. More difficult rooms tend to focus on immovable pieces and increased trial-and-error sliding, something I never really liked in sliding puzzle games. But the premise is there, it's engaging, and the game has Nitrome's usual artistic flair that sets it one shelf higher than most Flash game releases. In the Dog House is good solid fun.

Play In the Dog House


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Rating: 3.7/5 (76 votes)
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JoshMicrobe KombatI'll admit it; I chuckled a bit when I saw the name of Hero Interactive's newest title over at Armor Games. In today's world of beefed-up fighting games with extravagant characters and ridiculously-complex moves, it's nice to see an homage to the simplest, most primitive form of combat there is... Microbe Kombat! You're a weakly little microorganism in a big world (a Petri dish?) filled with other microbes and bacteria, and it's survival of the fittest in there. Forget about chucking "Hadoken!" fireballs at your opponents or giving them the old "Roundhouse-to-Dragon Uppercut" routine. No, grasshopper—this is Darwinian fighting style at its most primeval. Binding to proteins, self-replication through division and eating other microbes... these are your signature moves.

Obviously, your goal as a microbe is to grow and survive. But don't let that premise fool you into thinking this is a slow-paced simulation. It's an action game at its core, with a little bit of puzzle/strategy thrown in to make things a bit more interesting. A variation of the classic "big fish eats smaller fish" game mechanic, you begin your microbe life small as can be, "eating" protein (and other microbes) to get larger. Control your microbe with the mouse; it will simply follow your cursor around the screen, consuming protein and microbes it comes in contact with.

You win when you've eaten all enemy microbes in each level. But there's a catch: your rival microbes can eat you if they get big enough, which they'll try to do by gobbling up proteins before you can reach them first. Things get even more competitive when your rival microbes begin dividing; they're small at first, but all it takes is a little time before they get big enough to divide again, exponentially ganging up on you.

Microbe KombatFear not, because you have this ability as well, so you can divide and try to match the enemy's muscle. Your ally microbes will seek out protein on their own while avoiding bigger enemies at the same time. You're not without a few other abilities as well, like temporary boosts of speed, size or dynamically switching control to any of your allies. You even have some neat tricks like sacrificing one of your allies to explode and destroy nearby enemies. All these abilities and power-ups are gained by eating proteins. Up to six of them will stack as icons on the right side of the screen. You can use them by clicking the icons with your mouse, or pushing the corresponding [1] through [6] as hotkeys. I recommend the latter, since your mouse cursor is used to guide your microbe. You can pause the game by pushing [P], and configure the hotkeys in the settings menu.

Analysis: My biggest issue with this game is the sheer difficulty in eating other microbes, from a control mechanic standpoint. You can't just pass over smaller microbes to eat them like you can with proteins. To consume an enemy microbe, you need to be following it from behind, get close enough until your microbe opens its mouth, and hope the enemy didn't move away too quickly before you chomp down. I realize the game probably would have been too easy if you just had to touch a smaller microbe to eat it, but the mechanic as-is needs improvement. Unless the developers fix this, the best technique I can recommend is to give enemy microbes a bit of "lead" when pursuing them. For example, position your cursor ahead of them a bit, trying to mimic their path as your microbe comes up from behind.

Other than this annoying control issue, Microbe Kombat is a nice little top-down game reminiscent of flOw, but only in the aesthetic and conceptual sense. This game has a strategy that's unique and engaging, allowing you to choose between an aggressive "hit-and-run" approach and the more defensive "strength in numbers" tactic. The various abilities at your disposal add even more depth to the game's strategy, as do the infectious (and immune) organisms in later levels. Coupled with the ambient music soundtrack and elegant, minimalistic graphics, it's a fun and stylish little game that almost anyone can enjoy.

Play Microbe Kombat

Note: If you're having trouble figuring out how to start the game from the title menu, just look for the triangle-shaped microbe. ;)


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Rating: 4/5 (91 votes)
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ImokGravity HookSimplicity reminiscent of an Orisinal game but with visuals and sound you might expect to find in something more old-school. Backed by an enjoyable physics engine and a simple but well-executed concept and virtually no down-time, Gravity Hook by Adam Saltsman and Danny Baranowsky is a simple, grappling hook arcade game that borders on clinically addictive.

The game's premise is simple yet compelling... Let us analyze its deeper meaning and both its psychological and physiological implications. It begins "In a secret base below the surface" — this is key, as both 'secret' and 'underground base' are concepts scientifically known to cause the release of a bodily hormone capable of inducing childish glee. It continues, as things are apt to do, "a civilian wonders how deep they are..." a statement which captures with an artistic simplicity the ever-present question of our existence.

The gameplay, like the premise is both simple and deep.

You start at the bottom of this secret base, both feet firmly planted on the cold concrete of our existential abyss, looking up. Your goal? To make your way up.

Timing is crucial in this game; to move your way up you must click the mouse button nearby a floating orb, firing your grappling hook, and hold until the time is right. The time is right shortly before (or at the time) a large warning sign appears. Once you let go you will follow an upwards trajectory until gravity exerts its inexorable force and your must again fire your grappling hook at another floating orb.

However, these floating orbs are neither stationary nor safe. They are mines which slowly move towards you as you move towards them, your elastic grapple's lines at once drawing you towards your salvation and doom. However, if you do not have enough forward momentum when attaching yourself to a mine, you may find yourself quickly falling to the very hard concrete floor. These two scenarios end in a game over, and they are inevitable. But you'll enjoy every minute of it.

Play Gravity Hook


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Rating: 3.8/5 (85 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessIt's a beautiful spring day (or so I imagine). You're walking along, a spring in your step, so carefree that you can't help but whistle a happy tune... but what's that? A pay phone is ringing. You look left, look right—no, there's no one else around. Is this a joke? You hesitate, then meander slowly over to the still-ringing telephone. You sense that perhaps you ought to keep on moving, that something is not quite right with this scenario, and for a moment your hand trembles above the receiver. But no, you're being silly. Maybe someone's dialed the wrong number? If so, you really ought to let them know. You pick it up....

Evito BallA flash, a sense of falling. The world spins and your stomach wrenches. You stand there, stunned, eyes blinded by the brightness. And then, somehow, you understand... you're in the White Zone.

White Zone is an intriguingly different sort of room escape game; as you might have gathered, it does not take place in any sort of concrete space. There are no walls, no ceiling, no door; instead, the player is faced with a few pieces of furniture—two chairs, a television, and a dresser, to be exact—arranged in a circle, seemingly suspended within a white void. Some forgotten corner of the Matrix? Perhaps. The setting is ethereal, spare, almost dreamlike—do not, however, mistake its seeming simplicity for a lack of substance.

Indeed, it's amazing how much puzzle-y goodness is fit into such a sparsely-furnished environment. You can examine each piece of furniture from all sides, and you'll need to do so; as the game progresses you'll find yourself flitting back and forth between chair and dresser and television, each time uncovering a different clue or necessary item. Happily, the puzzles (with one very significant exception) are largely logical, dependent mainly upon observation of patterns and keen attention to detail, and should pose a healthy but not excessive challenge to most escapers.

I say "with one very significant exception" because, at least to me, the game's final puzzle was baffling. Not in the good way, either; even after I had lucked into the answer, I didn't really understand how one was supposed to arrive at that particular conclusion. I'm pretty sure I found all the relevant clues, too... still, there's certainly a good possibility that I'm just being dense, and that the answer is dancing a merry jig in front of my nose. In any event, I look forward to seeing what y'all come up with. ;)

Potential flaws aside, I greatly enjoyed White Zone for its solid puzzling and surreal aesthetic. It's refreshing to see such a unique interpretation of the term "room escape"!

Pick up the phone, it's for you:

Play White Zone


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Rating: 4.3/5 (36 votes)
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StaceyG"DutchdollhouseThe National Gallery of Art has an extensive online interactive art exhibit which is geared towards kids, but is fun for all ages. A few of the applications available stand out and include themes such as Jungle, Still Life, and especially the great interactive Dutch Dollhouse.

Mashing up the art of several Dutch painters, they have created a fantastic art webtoy that is entertaining and really holds your interest. Even going back to it several times you can always find some charming new detail. They go for the play factor here, rather than using it as an art lesson, which is a great way to lead someone to learn more on their own. It has a wonderful whimsical quality that puts just a smidge of Monty Python silliness into this artistic setting.

DutchdollhouseTo start, click on the brick front of the house and explore the three levels inside. There's also a courtyard which you shouldn't miss (it's a bit tricky to get to, click just left of the house on the ground level). The menu button on the lower left gives you access to the elements you can add or change, anything with a pencil icon is customizable. Either play for a few minutes, or delve into the intricacies of designing your own patterns in the floor, tile, rug, even the lace one woman is sewing. You can design your own dinner plates, or just try smashing the plates on the floor. Feed a pig, set a bird flying, make a baby laugh, or have a guy blow bubbles. You can even mimic the lighting that the old Dutch Masters used in their paintings by adjusting the slide bars on the side (or click the sky in the courtyard).

On the art studio level you can click the canvas on the easel and use the painter's palette to create your own art work. Then click on the framed canvas on the wall so you can toggle the art to the three different locations in the room.

There's a snapshot feature which is endlessly fun (access through the menu, or the canvas in the art studio). On the lower floors, you can take a picture of the room, and it will be displayed on the wall in one of the frames. In the studio you can expand the use of this tool, as you have several canvases and control over where you take the snapshot. Those familiar with the "Droste Effect" will have fun with this one.

There are some funny sounds, surprises and lots of hidden facets to explore. Make sure to move any doors in the background to see into the rooms behind them.

As in the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, this webtoy captures the affection for detail in everyday objects, and captures the imagination. We highly recommend spending some time in the Dutch Dollhouse.

Play in the Dutch Dollhouse


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Rating: 4.6/5 (66 votes)
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FunnyManJapanese MahjongFans of Robert Asprin's writing may recall a game called Dragon Poker, an insanely complicated game where the rules change depending on the day of the week, number of people playing, and which direction you happen to be facing. After learning to play Japanese Mahjong, I think I may finally know where Asprin got the idea.

Odds are good that at some point you've played a game of Mahjong Solitaire, the game where you remove accessible pairs of matching tiles until (hopefully) none are left. It's played with a standard set of Mahjong tiles, but beyond that, has absolutely nothing to do with Mahjong.

As far as gameplay is concerned, this game is far more similar to Gin Rummy. Your objective is to build melds out of your 13-tile hand—either runs of adjacent ranks in one suit or multiples of a single card. Unlike Gin, if you win the hand, your final hand includes the card you drew, so it contains 14 tiles. Runs, called "chii", must be 3 tiles long, but sets can have 2, 3, or 4 tiles. A 2-tile set is a special non-meld called the "toitsu" or "eyes", and you need exactly one to win the hand. A 3-tile set is called a "pon". A 4-tile selt is called a "kan", and you draw an extra tile as soon as you form one. This means that the four melds you make could potentially contain 16 tiles, for a final hand size of 18.

Japanese MahjongMahjong has three suits: dots ("dot"), bamboos ("bam"), and characters ("crack"). In dots and bamboo, the rank is simply the number of objects of that type on the tile. Characters are harder to recognize, but thankfully, Taro Ito has been kind enough to put the rank on their tiles for us. In addition to the three suits, there are four Wind directions (again kindly marked N, E, S, W), and three types of Dragon (red, green, and white). Each tile has four copies, allowing for one kan each. In addition, there exist 8 optional tiles: four Flowers (bamboo, orchid, plum, and chrysanthemum), and four Seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter), each with only a single tile. These optional tiles are not included in Taro Ito's version of the game, however.

Each turn, you draw one tile and discard one tile. Winning on your turn is called "ron", and has its own button. When someone else's turn ends, if their discard would complete a meld, you may claim it by pressing "chii", "pon", or "kan", depending on which type of meld you want. If the discard would let you win, the button is instead labeled "tsumo".

Winning, however, is not as easy as four melds and the eyes. If you just go by the rules above, you will often be told that you have no multiplier when you try to win. Japanese Mahjong uses "yaku", or winning conditions, and there are a lot of them. You need at least one to win, but the more you get, the higher your score. A full list with examples is given on the game's page or Wikipedia, but I've had success with these:

  • Don't claim any discards until your last tile (called a closed hand), and have two of the same run.
  • Have a closed hand and declare "richi" (ready) when you only need one more tile.
  • Have no 1's, 9's, or special cards.
  • Have the three straights (1,2,3), (4,5,6), (7,8,9) in one suit.

If that's not confusing enough, you can always try to puzzle out the scoring system. Getting multiple yaku increases your han (score multiplier), but fu (the base score) is a completely different set of conditions, including whether you have wind tiles that match your wind (which changes whenever the dealer loses a hand) or the prevailing wind (which changes whenever your wind has cycled through all four possibilities). It also depends on whether you were waiting for a single type of tile or multiple ones.

Fortunately, this is a computer version of the game, so if you can't quite wrap your mind around the scoring system, it's not a big deal. Just try to get as many yaku as possible and let the computer score for you.

Analysis: With a classic like this one, there's not a lot to be said about the game itself that hasn't been said repeatedly and in several languages. If you already know the game or are in the mood to stretch your mind, Japanese Mahjong should keep you busy for a few hours. As far as this newbie can tell, Taro Ito has done a fine job of recreating the game in flash and providing challenging opponents.

I'm especially grateful that this version has been translated into English, because the game is more than hard enough to learn when you understand what you're reading. It would have been easier to learn if the Mahjong terms themselves had been translated, but it would also detract from the atmosphere of the game.

Play Japanese Mahjong


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Rating: 4.5/5 (66 votes)
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zxoCampaign GameHere in the US, the quadrennial slugfest commonly known as the presidential election drives a sharp wedge through the population, splitting it into two rival factions, each one stubborn, angry, and completely unwilling to listen to what the other has to say.

No, I'm not talking about Republicrats and Democans. I refer, of course, to the PPPs and the EEEs: the Purveyors of Political Punditry and the Election Ennui Endurers. You know who I'm talking about. PPPs thrive on the election process, blanketing their fender with bumper stickers, spouting the marvels of their preferred candidate and the evils of the other guy, and constantly checking their favorite websites for the latest election buzz. EEEs on the other hand have only one concern about the election: how long until it all goes away?

Campaign GameWith two factions so completely polarized (and trust me, there is no chance of even imagining the concept of the idea of the thought of the possibility of there being anyone who falls somewhere in between the EEEs and the PPPs. Any rumors you might have heard of the Intermediately Interested Independents are completely untrue.), there's no way an election-themed game could appeal to both camps, right?

Wrong! Yeaaagh! Say hello to Campaign, a mud-slinging, fact-spinning, smashmouth brawl of a turn-based strategy game where victory is achieved only through beating your opponent into submission. Diplomatically, of course.

Campaign can be played either against the computer (single player) or against a live foe (multiplayer). To begin, simply choose either the red guy or the blue guy – it doesn't really matter who, as the differences are minimal. You'll then be asked to choose 3 staff members. Choose from among Spinmeisters, Hatchet Men, Fundraisers, and Operatives, each of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses. Once you've gotten the staff you want, the game begins! Your team is plunked down on a tiled version of the US that's been split up into seven regions. There are a number of starting configurations possible, but the game randomly chooses one for you (they're all pretty even), and you'll just have to deal with it.

Each character has two possible actions: move and attack. When you move somewhere within disputed territory, your character will claim some surrounding squares for your party. Claiming all squares in a region captures that region for your party, enabling it to earn money for your campaign and preventing your opponent from even setting foot inside its border. However, your hold on the region is not invincible – your ruthless opponent may attack the region itself, weakening its strength until it becomes disputed territory once again.

Each unit has a free basic attack and an advanced move which costs money. The candidates themselves have several advanced moves, including one that is unique to that particular candidate (the only actual difference between blue and red). These special moves help to strike a nice balance of options available to the player, including both ranged and melee attacks, healing powers, stealth, bonus damage and defense, and the ability to spread out attacks or concentrate them on one unit or region. The game ends when one candidate's health reaches zero, which means that it is possible to win without necessarily having an advantage in captured regions or healthy staff members.

Analysis: Like I mentioned before, the beauty of Campaign is wrapped up in its ability to appeal both to PPPs and EEEs. Election junkies will get a kick out of plotting the ascent of their favorite candidate (and the demise of that no-good other guy). At the same time, people who are sick and tired of seeing slanted news reports, dirty smear tactics, and meaningless patriotic posing can appreciate the satirical manner in which these campaign tactics are presented, from the quite literal mud-slinging attack to the healing cash infusions and the ridiculously propagandist attack ads. Campaign distorts these distortions to present them for what they truly are: empty ploys to sway voter opinion. In the process, it lifts itself above politics like few politically-themed games ever have, allowing the player to appreciate the underlying game mechanics.

Of course, it helps that the mechanics are actually very good in and of themselves. "Well-balanced" sums Campaign up pretty well. Despite not being perfectly symmetric, the gameplay is so fluid that smart maneuvering will quickly wipe out any slight advantage one side may have. Allowing the player to customize their staff adds another layer of complexity, but it's hard to argue than any one staff type is stronger or weaker than the others. They're just... different. There's also great balance in choosing whether to attack units or regions – each strategy can at some point be the superior choice. Finally, like chess, winning the small battles is important, but inconsequential if you can't protect your head honcho. Even someone at a territorial or numerical disadvantage can still pull out victory by exploiting their opponent's carelessness – I was able to eke out victory once by trapping the opposing candidate with my units and a captured territory of mine.

So, whether you're the type who celebrates election day, or the type who celebrates the day after, be sure to check out Campaign.

Play Campaign

Cheers to P.Lord for sending this one in! =)


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (111 votes)
| Comments (28) | Views (154)

Ms.45bentheredanthat.jpgBen There, Dan That! is another of those old-school adventure games that explodes the "fourth wall", like the recently-reviewed Inquisitive Dave. Also like Dave, Ben There, Dan That! features adorably naive retro artwork (Ben & Dan lean more to the tiki cocktail end of the retro spectrum, which I am sure you will enjoy despite the fact that they are clearly Real Ale drinkers). Unlike Dave, Ben & Dan features some fairly witty writing with that rather unique British self-deprecating sense of humour.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Having reanimated Dan after an unfortunate spell of zombification, you boys will no doubt want to kick back with a relaxing spot of quality television. Unfortunately, your TV has no aerial and you're about to miss Magnum, P.I. Being the innovative sort that you are, you quickly whip up a makeshift aerial and pop it out of your apartment window, thus enabling aliens to kidnap you and whisk you away to an alternate dimension.

Ah... oops?

Ben There, Dan That! is an adventure game. You know how this works. Right click to access the interactive menu. Interact with objects. Pick them up. Use them with other objects. In this game, you default to playing as Ben, but you can switch to being Dan when the occasion calls for it. Which isn't very often.

Analysis It's rare for me to giggle all the way through a game, but BTDT whacked my funnybone hard. Make sure you interact with everything — using the eyeball and the speech bubble on improbable objects reveals hidden genius. It does help if you are a bit juvenile — this game is not labeled kidsafe for a very good reason, as you'll see when you try using Dan on himself.

The puzzles are pretty good — even though they're a bit MacGyver, they make a bizarre kind of sense in the game context. For relatively inexperienced (or in my case, incompetent) adventure gamers, the puzzles should be satisfying without being too frustrating, whereas experienced adventure gamers would get more out of the gaming culture references and the premise of the game (I don't want to give too much away here). There is a complete walkthrough on the web, but if you don't want to ruin it, Ben and Dan helpfully provide a hint-through which is almost as entertaining as the game itself.

Note: This game contains both language and situations that aren't appropriate for kids. And if an extraordinarily crude sense of humor isn't your thing, you might want to pass on this game.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available. Use Boot Camp or Parallels.


(10 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
| Comments (3) | Views (6)

System Mania

JohnBSystem Mania is an arcade game that borrows liberally from the ever-popular resource management genre. Instead of serving food to customers, however, you spend your time fixing their strange contraptions by turning off warning lights as they appear. The fate of Fiona's growing fix-it shop is in your fast-clicking fingertips, so pull levers, spin wheels, and flip switches as quickly as possible.

systemmania.jpgAt the outset, Fiona is fortunate enough to get fired from a job she hates. She decides to follow her dream and open up a tech support shop, receiving calls from local businesses to fix their strange machines. Each contraption is a completely different setup than the last. Your simple goal is to attend to the lights as they appear. Sometimes a simple button press is all you'll need to do, while other times you'll have to spin a wheel, pull a lever, yank a cord, and more. The variety of things you'll do across the game's 90 levels goes a long way to making System Mania fun.

Clicking buttons and switches in a sequence or getting to them ASAP often earns you bonus points and cash. Between some levels you can use your money to buy upgrades. Apart from the main story mode, System Mania also offers an arcade mode to let you deal with machines one at a time. And your trophy room begs to be filled by completing challenge levels.

systemmania2.jpgAnalysis: My knee-jerk reaction when I saw this game's title was to dismiss it as yet another time management clone. But System Mania is different, it doesn't fall in the same traps every other "mania" title succumbs to, and instead I found a pleasantly unique arcade game with playful visuals and creativity spilling out of every seam. The machines themselves are always inventive, and I love scratching my head and trying to figure out how this collection of levers and switches can be a Dough Twister. The assemblies often feel like a Rube Goldberg.

System Mania is a great reflex-based arcade game with just a few resource management ideas sewn in on the side. There's a lot of twitch-type clicking involved, not as much strategy or planning, but the creative direction and light-hearted gameplay make it a blast to play.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (14) | Views (11)

Weekend Download

JohnBThis week we have what is perhaps the strangest Weekend Download offering of all time: a sequel to a ten year old game originally packaged with Chex cereal. Yes, it's as odd as it sounds and yes, you have to have some pretty serious nostalgic yearnings to really get into the game. But hey, Chex cereal looks like miniature waffles, so how can that be a bad thing?

kumoon.jpgKumoon (Mac/Windows, 6-9MB, free) - A hybrid third-person shooter and physics-based puzzle game, Kumoon puts you in control of a fuzzy chick with an arsenal of weapons at its disposal and one goal in mind: knock down all of the blocks in the room. Bumping a brick will turn it from red to gray, and you must send them all toppling using as few shots as you can. The game is tightly scored and leaves very little room for luck. Much more challenging than it may seem, you'll spend quite a lot of time fine-tuning your shots on some of these stages.

archibaldsadventures.gifArchibald's Adventures (Mac/Windows, 8MB, demo) - From Rake in the Grass, the studio behind Larva Mortus, comes a title created in the style of Lost Vikings, though with less of a puzzle slant and a greater emphasis on action. You play the young boy Archie who finds himself trapped in a mad scientist's mansion. Skate your way through over two dozen levels in the demo, and the full version scores you well over 100 stages to complete. There's a great variety of puzzles in the game, both easy and tough, and I found the experience remarkably gratifying from beginning to end.

missionextreme.gifMission Extreme (Windows, 2MB, free) - A chunky-pixeled run and gun shooter in the vein of the classic Contra series. A terrorist organization has kidnapped 20 hostages, and as a guy with a gun, its your job to rescue them.Use the [x] key to jump and [z] to shoot, the rest is up to your own mad platforming skills.

chexquest3.gifChex Quest 3 (Windows, 7.5MB, free) - Yes, you read that right. Chex, as in the cereal, and Quest, as in... well, as in a first person shooter total conversion of Doom. Oh, and "3" as in the third in a series. The original Chex Quest game came packaged with the cereal back in 1997, and a sequel was eventually released. Now, ten years after the first two games had their epic run, the artist of the original game has polished up another installment in the breakfasty saga. Play it for the nostalgia. You know you want to.


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Outpost Kaloki

FunnyManAmid the one-upmanship of the mainstream game industry, it can be easy to forget that "old" is not a synonym for "outdated". Case in point: NinjaBee's Outpost Kaloki, released way back in the dark ages of 2004. Outpost Kaloki is a city-building game in space. In each level, you are given the hub of a space station, some cash, and perhaps a module or two, and it's your job to build more and better modules to improve your station and reach your goal before time runs out.

Outpost Kaloki gameplayThere are five basic kinds of modules that you can provide to attract visitors, keep them happy, and earn you money. You'll also need to build power modules to keep your station running and a repair station to keep everything from emitting smoke and eventually blowing up.

Naturally, all of this costs money, and each module you build also has a maintenance cost. You can adjust the cost up or down, but it also changes how well that module works. Supercharging is particularly useful with power modules, for when you need just a few more units of power to build your next project.

Even more important than power and money is the third "resource": time. As you progress through the game, the amount of time given to you for a mission gets shorter and shorter relative to the amount of work you have to do.

Analysis: As I said earlier, Outpost Kaloki may be four years old, but it is by no means ready to be put out to pasture yet. The gameplay is solid, and the difficulty curve feels about right. The game never really seems to change much from one level to the next, but the setup, graphics, and goals are different enough to make each level as enjoyable as the previous one.

Outpost Kaloki mission briefingThe writing in Outpost Kaloki is silly, perhaps even campy, but it works. Each module has its own little description (The spy training facility's is "They know kung fu."), and NinjaBee has put in just enough interruptions from characters to amuse you without making you feel hassled. The overall plot is no less strange, and one of the later twists had me laughing at its sheer absurdity.

Outpost Kaloki is everything a casual game should be: Colorful, fun, and with bite-size missions and a difficulty curve that will slowly break in a newbie but provide even an expert with a challenge.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (106 votes)
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JoshMallet ManiaIt's beginning to seem like Nitrome's increased involvement with Miniclip is a really great thing. New game content is being released at break-neck speed compared to other developers, with a new title launched every couple weeks or so. Unveiled yesterday, Mallet Mania is Nitrome's newest production, a Marble Madness-type puzzle game. By using what appears to be a wireframe croquet mallet, you whack your ball with varying direction and power to guide it through maze-like levels to the goal. Stating the obvious but still worth noting, Nitrome once again stays with its tried-and-true pixel graphics and vibrant color scheme.

The first thing you'll notice about Mallet Mania is that it's tough. In part, it's because of the gameplay rules (explained later), but more than anything it takes time getting used to the control mechanic. Theoretically, it couldn't be simpler; you just use the mouse to aim the mallet 360 degrees around the ball. Once you've lined up your shot, press and hold the mouse button and you'll be able to move the mallet up and down, from zero to 100 percent power. Just release the mouse button and the mallet will hit the ball, sending it rolling in the direction you chose. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds. The small, standardized screen dimensions that Nitrome uses in this game (and all others) doesn't lend itself to easy, accurate mouse-aiming. You might find it frustrating trying to fine-tune the direction and power in such a limited controllable area.

Mallet ManiaOther than the touchy controls, it's a pretty nifty little game seemingly derived from modern "marble" genre games like Contour, Super Monkey Ball and even the popular 3D hit, Switchball. But Mallet Mania doesn't just offer a slew of sloping levels to guide your ball from generic points "A" to "B". There are plenty of unique obstacles and traps to avoid, many of which you'll have to interact with. Lots of different "tiles" you'll encounter have effects like sticky glue, magnets that repel your ball, spinner tiles that rotate and many more. The traps and objects also add a fun element to the game; anvils trying to squish you, conveyor belts carrying you away, teleportation tiles...there are even tiles that you can't cross, or ones that require special abilities to traverse. These elements greatly support the puzzle aspect of the game, adding an increased incentive to replay.

Analysis: Mallet Mania features 18 single-player levels, all of which can also be played in multiplayer mode with up to four people (offline, on the same computer). Three bonus "arena" levels let you square off against your friends (or yourself, if you don't have any) in player vs. player "combat." That's right, you can knock another player's ball off the level's edge, or into a trap!

As if the touchy mouse control doesn't make this game tricky enough, each level has a par, or "shots left." You only have a certain number of shots to use before you fail the level and restart. Unless Nitrome can make the control system a little more user-friendly, the par of each level should be increased to compensate. But if you've got a knack for these types of games (and a lot of patience), you might enjoy the challenge. Either way, it's another solid effort from Nitrome, renewing faith that the company will continue to release unique, fun games with broad appeal.

Play Mallet Mania

Cheers to Alex, Rosie, and Paulina for sending this one in! =)


| Comments (54) | Views (17)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBLook into my eyes. THESE eyes: O_O You are getting sleepy. Very sleepy. Soon, you will be under my complete control. Ok, you are under my complete control. Now I will snap my fingers and you will continue reading this screen. Then you will click and play every game below. And you will enjoy each one. Snapping my fingers........ NOW!

  • icon_lightbot.gifLight-Bot - Isometric games for the win! Light-Bot is a simple logic-based puzzle game where you "program" the robot to do tasks, one move at a time. Line up tiles on the grid at the right, then click "go" to set them in motion. Your goal is to light up all the blue squares. Highly addictive, though a bit repetitive later on in the game.
  • icon_maverick.gifMaverick - Who needs to move their legs and burn all those calories when you can unload your six shooter to jump around? That's the idea behind Maverick, a short but entertaining arcade-style game from jmtb02. Use the mouse to aim and fire, utilizing momentum to push yourself around the levels.
  • icon_castlerun.gifCastle Run - A fun little exploration-based platformer by Mateusz Skutnik. Run around each screen collecting coins (which double as health), avoiding hazards, flipping switches and collecting keys to alter the scenery.
  • icon_detonate2.gifDetonate 2 - Bombs! Use the cursor to grab bombs the guy at the top of the screen tosses out and smack them together to cause them to explode. Neat power-ups like the flame add to the fun-type carnage.
  • icon_gardenmaster.gifGardenmaster - Like Tetris, only you can complete lines horizontally or vertically, and instead of boring blocks you get flowers! The goal is to work the blue flowers to where they touch. Click to drop shapes and use the [spacebar] to rotate them. GARDENMASTER!, indeed.
  • icon_extremetrucks.gifExtreme Trucks - A physics-based "racer" where you pilot a monster truck through rough terrain. Loads of fun barreling through ramps and bumps in the road hoping you'll come out in one piece. My only issue (other than having to take my hands off the keyboard to click "continue") is that it seems a bit too easy to crash. Or maybe I'm just really bad at the game?

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (53 votes)
| Comments (15) | Views (8)

PatrickTwibikTwibik is the latest abstract puzzler from the man with the plan, Tonypa. The game takes the tried and true matching mechanic we've all grown to love/be-addicted-to and gives it a fresh spin. You must get rid of tiles by matching similar ones sharing a row or column, causing them to vanish. Your options tend to vanish as well; like all Tony Pa games there is a trove of challenge lying underneath the simple exterior.

You're greeted with a grid filled with tiles, five across and eight tall. There are many shapes on the tiles, color coded across six hues for your convenience. You simply click on one, then click on a matching tile in the same row or column, causing them and every tile in between to disappear. Your goal is to vanish a certain number of combos in every level, but as the levels go on the number of tiles and the number of combos required increases, making it more likely that you'll run out of moves. When you do, you can use three lifelines, like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but geometric. Like the lifelines in that game show, they're generally not very helpful, so success comes with managing the possible matches and trying to harvest as many as possible, while clearing the room for more tiles to fall.

Analysis: Twibik has something going on, the right balance of cognitive complexity and self-paced trance that makes a puzzle game great and distinct. However, it suffers from a difficulty curve that resembles a half-finished half-pipe. Things start off great, mechanics are implied, helped along by just a bit of text, and the first five or six levels scale in complexity quite nicely. However, each new piece adds an exponential amount of complexity to the management, multiplying the odds that you'll get a stack that is untreatable, trapping you in inevitable doom. Chain Factor had a similar problem with its randomly generated and indestructible 1's — anytime you have a negative feedback loop on options in a puzzle game, the flow turns to suffocating cement. This game feels like it's one mechanic away from beautiful balance, and there are lots of options. Limited use of diagonal matching, limited use of similar color or similar shape matching, bombs, row clearing, tile-avalanche summoning. You could even have these options as replacements for the relatively flaccid lifelines currently available, which tend to give you a weak chance of redemption, and sometimes leave you with no additional options.

Tonypa is surely a ludonomic genius, and Twibik is a pearl of his continuing evolution.

Play Twibik


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (296 votes)
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PsychotronicKagi Nochi Togira




Find key, then find door—
Kagi Nochi Tobira—
How hard could it be?



Play Kagi Nochi Tobira

For other similar games, try the whole Kagi Nochi Tobira series and the Hoshi Saga series.


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (44 votes)
| Comments (8) | Views (145)

PatrickGlobal Player ReloadedGlobal Player Reloaded is the sequel to Global Player, a sorting advergame we reviewed back in 2004 and sponsored by the global logistics wizards at Dachser. The game involves directing colored crates to their correct destinations by clicking on arrows and other gizmos. Reloaded comes back at you with new content and gameplay that'll keep your eyes darting and your brain sizzling. Because logistics makes brains sizzle.

Reloaded's first level reintroduces you to the basic mechanics. You have a few destinations: an airplane, a ship, a truck, and a few arrows that can be rotated by clicking. Without delay, the first boxes roll out onto the conveyor. You must make sure the color of the box matches the color of the cube next to each destination. As you eliminate the boxes, the colors of the destinations change, until eventually the respective vehicles are full up and take off for Shanghai or New York. The difference this time is they'll lay some spray paint gates on you, where you have to click to change what color the paint sprays, or you'll deal with moving platforms that delay your boxes. You must get all the crates to their proper destination before the time runs out.

Analysis: Global Player Reloaded is quite polished and delivers logistical management gameplay that is literal, minimal and taut. Forget the candied smiles of happy restaurant goers or the furling life of a garden, this is management gameplay in sharp, efficient form. This sequel tries to take the original to further depths with the addition of new elements to click on, however these efforts do not produce significant depth and if you're not expecting them, can throw you off significantly. For example, I tried to puzzle my way around the spray gate several times, losing repeatedly, until I tried clicking on it and realized it's interactive. The lack of any level check-points, where failure means completely restarting, creates an unnecessarily high difficulty curve — imagine if Sisyphus got into the exporting business.

The cheapest way to travel is to get some duct tape and cardboard and mail yourself, and this is a free way to mail yourself to Funistan. Caution: Fragile. Handle With Care.

Play Global Player Reloaded


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (230 votes)
| Comments (45) | Views (1,414)

PsychotronicReemus Journeys Chptr OneThe inimitable Zeebarf returns, armed with The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter One, and you'll be pleased to know that his work just keeps getting better. The plan is to release a new episode each month, so devotees of pointing, clicking, and walrus mustaches rejoice!

Your job is to guide opportunistic exterminator Reemus and his ursine companion Liam through a series of eight oddball misadventures on a quest to... well... do something or other. Go to a castle and save the world, I guess. They get sidetracked a lot. There's an epic threat to life as feudal society knows it and all that, but Reemus doesn't really care. He's too busy looking for his next meal ticket and representing that amazing mustache. What's that? You say I already mentioned the facial hair? Oh, I don't think so. You mustache been mistaken! I'm bear-y disappointed in you! Hahahahahahahahaha *snork*

Analysis: Slick animation: check. Colorful fantasy world full of imaginative flora and fauna: check. Weird, sometimes illogical puzzles: unfortunately, also check. This adventure follows in the footsteps of The Visitor (who gets a cool cameo appearance) and Reemus Zero by giving you two or three showstoppers, and filling the rest of the scenes with random sprite-hunting. But the showstoppers are really clever, and even the most brainless puzzles are at least entertaining to watch unfold. One major improvement is that you can't ever completely cut yourself off from a solution; there's no need for restarts (well, unless you run into some random bug, which I did a couple of times).

The problem right now is this: I'm not sure who the player is supposed to be. Clicking on objects causes them to do all kinds of complicated things. Ropes tie themselves into loops and hurl themselves over parapets, swords fly into the air and sharpen themselves. Most of the time, it's clear that either Reemus or Liam is supposed to be performing these actions, and the only reason you don't see it happen is the sheer time and resources it would take to animate them doing everything—which is fine. But occasionally you'll be asked to manipulate objects that neither one of them could possibly reach, and you suddenly feel like a helpful passing poltergeist. The logical derailment is jarring.

However, this is still Zeebarf's best game to date, although if you were into the violence, he's definitely lightening up on that. The story blends seamlessly into the gameplay, the cut-scenes are crisp, and none of the puzzles feel outright unfair. If the author can live up to his episode-per-month promise, we can look forward to swimming in mustaches for some time. I don't know what that means.

Play The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter One


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Rating: 4.3/5 (91 votes)
| Comments (113) | Views (85)

Weekday Escape

JessIt's no secret that I derive profound enjoyment from room escape games. Plop me down in a locked chamber, toss in a generous handful of puzzles, perhaps a dash of intrigue or humor—mmm, I'm already getting the warm fuzzies. I have great love for the genre, even when it is stripped down to those most basic elements. Another SideA handful of designers, however, have reached beyond and above this set formula; in addition to displaying proficiency with the genre's core mechanics, they in some way imbue their creations with originality and ingenuity. Another Side, a wonderful new escape game from Aqua Flash, is one such example of inventiveness.

In Another Side, you inexplicably find yourself confined within a dollhouse-like room, a pretty little place marred by the giant wall of rock that exists in place of a door. That's right, there's not even a door to unlock! There's plenty to explore and examine, however: the bookshelves covered in strange symbols, the many cabinets and drawers, the odd picture of flowers and butterflies. And, interestingly, there's that mirror. It doesn't seem to do anything special, though. Guess you'll just need to keep an eye on it...

Another Side has a dreamlike, slightly unsettling feel to it that I really liked; I was very much reminded of Alice in Wonderland (though that might have something to do with the little blue dress worn by the protagonist). Although there was nothing to suggest it was "that kind of game," I kept expecting something to jump out at me—it was just a little too quiet and still, y'know? Slightly ominous, almost. And indeed it is possible to come to an untimely end, though if so it will be from your own careless actions, not as a result of foul play.

As interesting as a game's ambience might be, however, mood is nothing without a solid base of quality puzzling to sustain it. Happily, Another Side provides a number of interesting, creative challenges; most seem straightforward at first glance, but then there's a little hitch or quirk that may leave you, well, puzzled (ha! ha!). I like this aspect of the game; nothing is so obscure or confusing that the player will be completely at a loss, yet solutions tend to be multi-layered, created with a thoughtfulness that may not be apparent at first glance. A piece of advice: if something seems a bit too simple, it probably is. Pay strict attention to detail.

I could go on, but a lot of the fun with this game is discovering the designers' aforementioned creativity. In summation, Another Side is a well-executed, good-looking escape game with a very fun "plot device," so to speak; I think you'll have a good time with this one.

Step through—er, into—the room:

Play Another Side


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (62 votes)
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StaceyG"OrphanA hilariously macabre action platformer with great design and story, Orphan Feast was created by Robox Studios for Adult Swim.

You are the gruesome Creaky Tom who has been given the odious task by Oliver Twisted to snatch up children so they can be ground up into pies for greed and "culinary perversion." You must clobber or jump onto the orphans to stun them and shove them into your bag. Once the bag gets full, grab an umbrella to shoot up into the air and deposit your prey into a holding cell. Throw objects or use your cane to fight off cops, waiters, factory thugs, and watch out for the love crazed portly lady.

OrphanOnce you start capturing orphans, the heavier bag can be used as a more hefty weapon. You will also run into your competition the Artful Dodger. Prepare for a tough fight when you reach his lair. Here the story takes a surprising turn and you head off through the factory and work your way up the gear works. In the last chapter you must battle your way through the swanky restaurant and kitchen, then figure out how to reach the private bakery for the big boss fight with Oliver Twisted.

Analysis: What sets this game apart from most browser platform games is the really fantastic character design and the economical yet strong story elements. The fighting keeps the action moving, and having to struggle to get the kids is a funny challenge, certainly more intriguing than coin collecting in average platformers.

Storytelling in games seems to always be in a state of growing pains, and often misses the mark. Many games rely on elaborate backstory that you have to stop and read, or long boring cut scenes to convey story. This game borrowed some storytelling techniques from animated shorts. It utilized character, set pieces, action and level design to tell the story. There was sparse exposition and the one short cut scene used mainly character expression to punctuate emotion and convey story.

Another reviewer here at JIG felt that for a platform game it was somewhat clumsy, the fighting chaotic, and the screen was too small for the size of the characters. Well, since I pretty much suck at platform games, take his word on that. But being closer to the action did achieved two things: It brought you closer in to the point of view of the character so you're more part of the action and story, and it provided an additional puzzle challenge of trying to figure out which path to take. This in effect was like being in an unrevealed maze and was especially tricky during the factory sequence.

Robox has managed to maintain the tone and design down to the last detail. The health indicator is a beating anatomical heart that shrivels, the instruction page uses teeth and bones to represent the keys you press. The character design is fantastic. If you just let the main character rest onscreen he will laugh menacingly or might grab a kid out of the bag and take a bite. He even dies funny. An excellent score also fit the period and added perfectly to the tone.

Although the theme is dark, it is handled with humor and the game never gets gory, but some background images are disturbing and are not appropriate for younger kids.

Perhaps it's just me, since I like the "grim" in Grimms' Fairy tales, but who wouldn't want to be a ghoulish Victorian pie-throwing cannibal!?? Eat em' up and

Play Orphan Feast


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (124 votes)
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Battalion: Nemesis

PsychotronicIt's been nearly 7 years to the day since Nintendo revolutionized the world of turn-based strategy games with Advance Wars, a candy-colored celebration of military tactics that dared to make war-games fun. Not that games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Civilization weren't fun themselves, mind you, but they were a grueling sort of fun, the kind that involves micro-managing every aspect of your subjects' lives like an obsessive puppet master. The ratio of preparation to actual combat was very low. Advance Wars shook everything up by handing out dozens of disposable soldiers and tanks, making them blow up real good, simplifying the interface to the absolute essentials, and then making everything look ridiculously bright and happy. The result was almost criminally likable, the kind of game that you only put down at 5:00 AM when your Gameboy's batteries finally gave out.

Battalion: NemesisBattalion: Nemesis, from UrbanSquall, is a respectable attempt to translate the fast, accessible brain-play of Advance Wars to the realm of free online games, without directly treading on Nintendo's intellectual property. If you're already familiar with AW, then this will feel like an interesting remix of its concepts. But if this is all totally new to you, then Battalion: Nemesis may very well be the coolest thing you've ever seen.

It's tempting to do a blow-by-blow comparison between Battalion and Advance Wars, but I think that would be unfair to UrbanSquall, who have poured two years of development into this project and made every effort to re-balance it so that it feels like its own game. This is a simplified structure built on Nintendo's groundwork, with a pared-down roster of units, and an emphasis on aggressive tactics and shorter battles. In other words, this is a casual take on Advance Wars. It belongs to the world of free online Flash games, rather than the world of portable consoles.

The gameplay is like a complex version of Rock-Paper-Scissors played out on a chess board, with major emphasis on positioning and choosing the right unit to do the right job. Your Scorpion Tanks, for example, are powerful against a range of enemies and highly mobile, but they are helpless against air attacks. Flak Tanks can easily take down airplanes, but those same Scorpion Tanks will rip them to shreds. In most pairings, one unit will have a definite advantage over the other, but when they are evenly matched, it's important to attack first. Most units will automatically counter-attack, but if you've already half-blown them to bits, they won't have the strength to do much damage.

Combat takes place on a grid. To move or attack, just click once on one of your units to select it, then on the space you'd like to occupy, or the guy you'd like to blow up. Unlike some strategy games, like Advance Wars itself, you don't move and attack with separate commands. All you ever need is two mouse clicks. When you select a unit, the spaces within movement range will be highlighted in green, and the ones in firing range will show up red. An icon will appear over enemies that you can currently attack, indicating how much damage you're likely to do. If you don't want to think too hard, just look for the green "plus" signs.

To scroll the map, either position the cursor near the edge of the screen, or use the [arrow keys]. [Control] selects your next available unit. If you want to know more about any particular unit, select it and then mouse over the icons in the box at the lower right side of the screen. Many units have special characteristics that may not be obvious, like a bonus when the unit is on offense, or the ability to attack submarines.

Those are the basics, but you'll definitely want to play through the 6-level Boot Camp to get a handle on everything. It's important to understand the difference between direct attacks and indirect attacks, and how to use your foot soldiers to capture territory. Even if you're an old Advance Wars veteran, it's worth taking the tour, since there are fundamental differences in the way Battalion approaches some aspects of the game. There are no longer any dedicated transport units, for instance, and captured territories don't automatically heal your army. Instead, every unit can take a turn to heal itself, and ground units can spend cash in order to instantly summon a personal transport vehicle.

Battalion: NemesisA 10-stage original campaign will lead you through battles across land, sea and air. Included are three difficulty levels and a suitably melodramatic storyline involving a rogue commander and experimental technology. The writing is quite good, if a little dry. I wish there had been a stronger central character, and a more defined villain, but really I'm just grateful to have a purpose going into each mission. When I'm facing down a vast network of turrets and rocket trucks, it helps my motivation to know that the fate of millions is at stake.

The difference between difficulty levels is mostly in the intelligence of your computer opponent, although the hardest level also cheats a bit by granting the computer more resources and slightly stronger units. The enemy AI is questionable in some ways (though it's been improved even since the game's original release), but what the computer lacks in brains, it makes up for with sheer numbers. The real problem is the time it takes for the computer to complete its turn on the larger maps. In a game so focused on speed, it's strange to have to wait half a minute for the enemy AI to figure out what units to make at its factories.

The presentation is generally fantastic. The music is an appropriately bombastic affair of drums and horns, and the graphics—by Heli Attack veteran Chris Hildenbrand—are gorgeous, although I actually feel they went overboard in one respect. Each lovingly detailed vehicle has four different facings, and it's hard to tell the difference between the rear view of some units at a glance. It might have been better to return all the units to a side view after they were done moving, since directional facing has no effect on the gameplay.

Hopefully, Battalion: Nemesis will be the first entry in a series. Several aspects of the game are under-utilized at this point, and it would be nice to see a new campaign flesh them out. Most obviously, there are only two air units at this point, and not very many missions take advantage of them. And 10 missions don't really give you enough meat to chew on, or for that matter give the story much time to develop. Of course, wanting the game to go on longer isn't much of a complaint. I'd love to see what UrbanSquall can do now that the game engine is in place and all their time could go towards designing new levels.

The most glaring omission at this point is simply that there's no multiplayer. Give the denizens of the Internet a way to wage cartoonish war upon each other, and UrbanSquall will have a genuine hit on their hands. Throw in a level editor, and it will be out of control.

Play Battalion: Nemesis


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Rating: 4.8/5 (25 votes)
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Home Sweet Home 2: Kitchens and Baths

KarmenFrom the city lofts and apartments comes the sound of home improvement: hammers pounding, saws buzzing, and paint rollers slopping. Is it a new season for Do-Up-My-Home-TV? No, even better. The crack design team of the now-classic game, Home Sweet Home, has returned. But these designers aren't content with country living rooms any more. Home Sweet Home 2: Kitchens and Baths takes style to new heights by tackling big city high rise apartments, along with some sleek improvements and additional rooms.

homesweethome2a.jpgFollowing the same basic principle as the original Home Sweet Home, this game allows you to decorate the kitchens and bathrooms of your dreams-or at least the dreams of your clients, at least. Choose the right items to please the customers, using their poetic hints as a guide. Once your design has been approved, direct the workers to build each item.

As before, the building phase is under a strict time limit. However, some improvements make the process go a little more smoothly. Some effects, like picking up the garbage, are simply more streamlined, while other improvements are a pleasant surprise. For instance, if you choose extra items to go into the design (just so it will look right), an equal amount of extra items will arrive pre-assembled. In other words, you don't necessarily have to spend your precious few days painting that essential picture over the sink.

homesweethome2b.jpgOnce you have a few designer apartments in your portfolio, you can return to your own house, where you can get your fill of faucets and fixtures. Here, you can choose from different rooms to design, including the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room from Home Sweet Home 2. Different floorplans are available at the click of button. If you manage to unlock enough items, you may be able to design your (nearly) complete dream home.

Home Sweet Home 2 is a delightful expansion for an already entertaining game. Being able to expand into new rooms, in addition to the new puzzles presented by a city full of new clients, is more than the home design gaming fanatic could hope for. Well, I suppose we're still waiting to design the master bedroom... and the closets, the garden, the garage, the attic and... well, there is still room for the series to grow. In the meantime, enjoy putting the polishing touch on that designer kitchen that you've always dreamed about, in Home Sweet Home 2.

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

JohnBThe intro paragraph to this edition of Weekend Download was delayed in an unfortunate airport scheduling conflict. Lacking the teams of writers normally required to complete this task, we have instead substituted the introduction with a single character, printed here: @. We hope you enjoy it.

questforglory2.gifQuest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (Windows, 85MB, free) - Old school adventuring at its old-schooliest! A remake of the classic game with updated visuals that go well beyond the original EGA fare. Point and click your way through the fictional land of Shapeir as you help fight magical elementals attacking the city. The gameplay takes an unusual twist with a restricted time frame of 30 (in-game) days. The entire narrative takes place during this time, and many puzzles and quests cannot be solved until a certain day arrives.

archaist.gifArchaist (Mac/Windows, 9.26MB, free) - A remake of David Lubar's 1984 game Pastfinder, Archaist is a vertically scrolling shoot'em up with strategy elements mixed in liberally. Use the [AD] keys to move left and right, the [W] key to jump/speed up, and [space] to fire. As with any old-school game, you'll need to put in a little practice before you can get much done.

solarwolf.gifSolar Wolf (Mac/Win/Linux, ~4MB, free) - An action/arcade game created with the Pygame game development library and based on the game Solar Fox. Fly your ship around the center of the screen collecting cubes and power-ups and avoiding asteroids and enemy fire. Think re-tooled Pac-Man in space and you have a vague idea of what to expect.

gurulogicchampremake.gifGuru Logic Champ remake (Windows, >1MB, free) - A PC remake by Ian Price of one of my favorite puzzle games of all time, Guru Logic Champ. This work-in-progress demo features 80 levels, no music or sound effects, but is still fully playable and fully engrossing. Rotate the grid and fire blocks from the cannon to fill spaces on the screen.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (50 votes)
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Farm Frenzy 2

JohnBFarm Frenzy 2, the follow-up to last year's Farm Frenzy, takes the smell out of farming with a challenging and addictive resource management/arcade title. Keep your animals fed so they produce basic goods you can refine into more complex (and profitable) products. Then, load everything on a truck and send it to town, using the resulting cash to upgrade your buildings to be faster and more efficient. But uh, watch out for panda bears that drop from the sky. They don't play very nicely with your livestock.

farmfrenzy2b.jpgFarm Frenzy 2 sticks to the well-established formula the first title introduced, focusing on both resource management and quick-clicking skills. You begin with a small patch of land and a few chickens. Click the dirt to make grass grow, allowing the chickens to eat and produce eggs. At first you'll do little more than keep them fed and harvest eggs as they appear, but soon you'll be able to convert those eggs into more products, dropping a large variety of gameplay choices in your lap within just a few minutes of play.

The expandable nature of Farm Frenzy 2 brings more products into the mix at a fairly rapid pace. You quickly gain the ability to turn eggs into egg powder (which sell for four times as much), but then the bakery appears and you can turn egg powder into baked goods. Each level has a quota of products or cash you must meet, so the experience is very streamlined and leaves little room for ambiguity. Just keep your animals fed and the bears at bay, focusing on increasing your cash as quickly as possible.

The gameplay mechanic in Farm Frenzy 2 that really grips you is dealing with your products. Just about everything your animals produce can be turned into something else or sold directly, forcing you to decide if you should throw everything on the truck for fast cash or start refining for more money down the road. The quota system does a good job of guiding you without forcing your hand. Buying the right upgrades between levels is part of the strategy, but the rest is simple forethought and a little bit of planning. The best part is that it never gets so complicated (or cerebral) that you feel overwhelmed. Farm Frenzy 2 hits that sweet spot of gaming dead-on.

farmfrenzy2a.jpgAnalysis: Many sequels in the casual realm don't venture much farther than the original title, often creating a strange situation when veteran players return to the series. While 90% of the content and structure may be the same, the remaining 10% is wholly different, creating just enough incentive to re-visit the old favorite. Farm Frenzy 2 pulls this trick off nicely with new items, buildings and upgrades that make the game feel like it takes a step beyond the first Farm Frenzy. It doesn't re-invent itself, but to be honest, it wasn't necessary.

Visually, Farm Frenzy 2 is cute and maybe even a bit whimsical. The "dancing" buildings that move and shake while they're working remind me of old Looney Tunes cartoons. The difficulty level takes a sharp curve upward after only a few levels of play, forcing you to collect eggs, trap bears, and manage your farm with frantic clicks all around the screen. Provided you spend your upgrade money wisely, this can be significantly alleviated, but first-time players may run into a bit of a wall when things start to get hectic. Investing in a faster bear cage can mean the difference between frustration and gaming bliss.

All in all, Farm Frenzy 2 delivers just enough new content to warrant the "2" in its title. Fans of the original as well as newbies to the series will enjoy its fun presentation, simple play mechanics, and wholly enjoyable premise. This one you won't want to put down until you make it through just ooooone more level.

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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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThis week on the official LDF Paragraph of Miscellany, I would like to discuss an advertisement poster I saw in a mall over the weekend. Pictured was a fancy hotel room with every amenity you could want, and just below, this simple phrase was printed: You see a room. I tried typing "enter room" (you know, in my mind), but apparently the door was shut, locked, and the key hidden so well no amount of drawer opening could uncover it. Darn.

  • icon_onlinephysicsphrenzy.gifOnline Physics Phrenzy - In what is perhaps the most unfortunate use of the "ph" phoneme, Online Physics Phrenzy challenges you to guide the ball-like monkey to the bananas in each stage. Move the bouncey orbs around and click the "play" button to see what happens.
  • icon_adventuresoftinger.gifThe Adventures of Tinger - A Bavarian run and jump game. Really, do you want me to say any more than that? Do I need to?!!
  • icon_larsadventure.gifLars' Adventure - While it may not look like anything special on the surface, Lars' Adventure is a surprisingly fun platformer with a catchy soundtrack. Remember: atomic bombs can burn whole buildings if someone is careless.
  • icon_twist2.gifTwist 2 - In an effort to break your brain we now present Twist 2, a high-octane arcade game where your own head is your enemy. Control two dots simultaneously, one with each hand, and try to keep them in their respective zones as the swirl rotates. As if that weren't hard enough, the game periodically changes the rules, swapping control schemes, changing the speed and so on. It's... just... GAAAAHHH!!!!
  • icon_theresheis4.gifThere She Is!! Part 4: Paradise - The fourth installment in the continuing story, and this one's just as moving as the rest! If you haven't been following this series of excellent animations, you really, really should catch up. They're some of the cutest and most emotionally poignant animations you'll ever see.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (1168 votes)
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PsychotronicBucketballBucketball is a brand-new physics-based game from Arseniy Desrosiers (Gamebalance) and Florian Himsl (Komix). If you've already guessed that the general thrust of the gameplay has something to do with "buckets" and "balls," then congratulations, your amazing brain is way ahead of the curve and you win your very own Shetland pony.

No, seriously, simplicity is the name of the game here (well, actually, it's "Bucketball"), and indeed, the interaction of balls and buckets is the theme. You get 20 levels to test your skills of aim and timing. Each level presents you with a certain number of differently-colored buckets, and the same number of differently-colored balls. Your job is to get the right balls into the right buckets by striking them with invisible vectors of force. The fewer strokes it takes to complete a level, the higher your score. Easy, casual, no fuss, no muss.

The mouse controls everything. When you bring the pointer near a ball, a little arrow appears. Hold the mouse button to build up power, and release to fire the ball in the direction of the arrow. This control method feels comfortable and undemanding, which matches the general vibe of the game. There's no timer or official target score for any of the levels, so you're free to play with the physics and take as many shots as you want. You can even strike another ball while the previous one is still in motion. If you'd rather go for the minimum number of shots and max out your score, you can restart a level at any time with no penalty.

Analysis: Bucketball drew me in right away. Desrosiers' lively musical score has a threatening undertone to it that belies the bright, clean graphics. That tension makes more and more sense as the level design gets meaner and meaner, but the lack of forced goals keeps the edge off for a while. It takes quite a bit of precision to succeed after the first few levels, but it feels great whenever you make a shot. The balls have a solid sense of weight but almost no elasticity (I'm guessing they're supposed to be wooden croquet balls or bocce balls), so you can't really rebound them off anything. You just have to hit them at the perfect angle with the perfect strength, and that means every shot is an honest test of skill.

BucketballNevertheless, the level design eventually gets quite tricky. A ball flung straight up at maximum charge will reach about halfway up the screen before falling back to earth; but if you need to hit a target higher than that, you'll have to be clever. A bucket will spit a ball out at high speed if it happens to be the wrong color, and although that feature first appears to be a punishment, it eventually may prove useful. Not that I'm giving you a hint or anything. Try not to allow the wrong ball to fall into a bucket pointed directly skyward, because that means the ball gets rejected straight up, and it usually falls right back into the same bucket, only to be spat out again. This cycle usually only repeats itself two or three times before the ball lands to one side, but it's still annoying.

Another problem becomes apparent when you have several balls lying close to each other. Because you can't select a specific ball directly, it can be hard to get the little arrow connected to the right ball and pointing in the right direction all at the same time. It sometimes comes down to a difference of mere pixels, which is a little too much precision for my taste.

Finally, I have to offer a warning. 20 levels doesn't sound like a lot of work, but when the difficulty curve is shaped like an open field with a giant skyscraper at one end, you may experience some frustration. Allow me to illustrate:

BucketballYou know how you felt when you were a little kid, and you went miniature golfing for the first time, and you didn't care about boring grown-up things like "keeping score" and "staying out of the decorative waterfall"? Miniature golf was fun, right? The whole place was packed full of cool moving machine parts, you got to whack one hard object with another hard object, and every time you randomly managed to get the ball in the hole after about 8 wild swings, everybody clapped and made cute little patronizing "Yay" sounds. Except you were a kid, so you didn't realize that the indiscriminate emotional rewards were damaging your internal motivation, and you just lapped up the praise like a hog with a face full of buttermilk. Life was good. Golf was your new best friend.

And then came The Hill.

There was always a hole featuring a pyramid—or sometimes a cone—with the goal set at the very pinnacle. If you didn't hit the ball absolutely straight, it would curve pathetically off to the side; if you hit it straight but not hard enough, it would only reach halfway up the hill, and then come rolling pathetically all the way back to your pathetic feet while your sister laughed at you. If you hit it too hard, you would skip right over the hole at light speed and bonk your sister in the elbow, which she totally deserved. But no matter what you did, no matter how many strokes you took, you would never be able to actually get the ball in the hole, and all of a sudden you did care about your score, and this stupid hole was ruining it, and your sister was still laughing, and you were going to spend the rest of your life here, with a million strangers staring at you, thinking "Gosh, what a stupid kid. He plays golf so stupid and he has stupid braces. I'm sure glad my kid was born with ten thousand perfect teeth and he gets a hole-in-one every time, especially on The Hill, which is the easiest hole on the whole course, unless you just happen to be the THE STUPIDEST, UGLIEST CHILD IN THE ENTIRE WORLD." And then you stopped trying to get the ball in the hole and instead just flailed blindly at it with your club until it flew into the next-door merry-go-round and knocked the head off a plastic flamingo.

Remember that feeling? That's what Bucketball is like. Haaaaarrd. It might be the very last level that breaks you, or the pain might come as early as level 7, which resembles The Hill a little too closely for comfort. But I'm not really complaining. Any game that can dredge up childlike emotions so deftly is doing something right, even if it's playing a little bit dirty.

Play Bucketball


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Rating: 4.7/5 (294 votes)
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StaceyG"AetherAether, a collaboration between Edmund McMillen (Gish, Triachnid, Coil) and Tyler Glaiel (Magnetism, Paths), is a gloriously imaginative puzzle adventure game where you swing through the stars to reach the planets.

You start on Earth, with the visit of a creature that takes you on a strange odyssey. Using the [ASWD] keys for direction, you click on the left mouse button to launch the Best of Casual Gameplay 2008tongue of the creature up into the clouds. Swing from cloud to cloud to go higher up until you reach space, then swing from star to star to launch yourself toward one of four other planets and solve a puzzle for each one. Once you're above the clouds and you have enough speed, you can also just hurtle through space without being attached to any stars. There are different colored navigation indicators pointing you towards each planet that look like butterflies.

Two-key combinations can also help you gain momentum, for instance pressing up and left at the same time can help you can gain enough swing to go completely around in a circle.

Each planet's puzzle has a different type of solution. When you successfully solve each one you see a flash of light. After you complete all four puzzles, head back to blue earth to complete the game.

Analysis: Surely influenced by The Little Prince, the game seems to take place within the imagination of a child. On each planet you encounter creatures with some kind of complaint or anxiety, each trouble is symbolically released through creative puzzles.

AetherA few things about the game were a bit wonky. On some of the planets, solving the puzzle didn't solve the creatures' problems, which was confusing. The somewhat clumsy physics of the tongue while swinging makes it difficult at times to build momentum. Combined with the gravity of a planet or moon, this makes it awkward to leave a planet, so starting off is the hardest part to get used to. It was also difficult to tell where the planets were as you were approaching because the navigation indicator would disappear.

But those are small quibbles in an otherwise amazing game. The designers have made a truly compelling experience with excellent atmosphere. It's a fantastic artistic endeavor with delightful physics-based game play and creative puzzles. You can also just spend some time flying through space or the clouds, the music and movement are so relaxing.

Play Aether


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (126 votes)
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ArtbegottiConceptis PuzzlesYou know those movies where the guy goes to Europe, meets the girl, and they fall in love? I had a similar experience this summer, except replace the girl with a magazine.

In an airport in Venice, I happened to stumble across a magazine loaded with picross puzzles and other sorts of logic puzzles. I had never seen some of the puzzles before, and quickly fell in love with these new variants on one of my favorite pastimes. Upon arriving back at home, I searched the Web and found all these logical delights and more can be found at Conceptis Puzzles.

Previously featured in a Link Dump Friday, Conceptis offers a variety of logical challenges to all who come. Just click on the My Conceptis link at the top of any page to get started. Eleven different puzzles await the intrepid solver, including familiar puzzles like Sudoku, Picross (here called "Pic-a-Pix"), Kakuro, Slitherlink, and even dot-to-dot puzzles. Some puzzles that might be new to solvers include:

  • Link-a-Pix: My favorite variant (pictured above), pictures are solved by drawing lines to connect matching numbers. The numbers you join represent the number of spaces in the connecting line.
  • Fill-a-Pix: Another picture puzzle, in which you black out squares like you would if you were playing Minesweeper.
  • Hitori: Black out the numbers so that no number appears more than once in a row or column. Also, darkened squares can't touch each other, and the undarkened squares must form one undivided shape.
  • Battleships: A puzzle similar to Picross, where you must determine the location of the fleet using the digits along the borders.
  • Hashi: Connect the numbered islands so that each island has the corresponding number of bridges on it. You can place up to two bridges on each island, and all of the islands will be connected in one network.
  • Maze-a-Pix: Find your way through the maze, then fill in your path to reveal a picture.

All of the puzzles come with difficulty ratings, ranging from very easy to very hard. Some puzzles also throw in a splash of color for variety and a change of difficulty.

There are just a few snags to this system. First, registration is required with the website to view new puzzles. Luckily, the registration is painless, and you'll be puzzling away after a few quick fields. All puzzles are printable, however, not all are playable online. For those that are playable online, you can save your completed and started puzzles to resume later.

Finally, the last snag is the kicker: Despite having eleven types of puzzles to tackle, only 4-8 of each are online at any given time. These puzzles are then swapped out for new ones weekly. Some die-hard picross fans are probably screaming at me right now, but I assure you it's not as bad as it sounds. Particularly if you're the sort of person who's on a busy schedule and can't afford to lose hours a day to relentlessly solving puzzles, the limitations on this website are actually a plus. You can still get your fill of logic puzzles for the week, and get out for a walk in the park. This "logic diet" gives you enough to satisfy your needs with a friendly website designed with the casual puzzler in mind.

So grab your pencil, and get ready...

Explore the world of Conceptis Puzzles


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Rating: 4.5/5 (84 votes)
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JessRoom BathIn Room Bath, a deeply satisfying escape game presented by Place of Light, you must find your way out of what is undoubtedly the oddest bathroom you've ever come across; codes and secret panels grace the toilet, gems are scattered across the floor and weird golden masks watch over the sink and bathtub. Perhaps it's the work of some eccentric, puzzle-obsessed billionaire....who has, um, slipped, hit his or her head and forgotten how to escape? Yep, that must be it.

Luckily, Mr. or Ms. Billionaire, you have been wise enough to fill your room with intriguing, moderately difficult but inherently logical puzzles that will lead you slowly but surely to your escape. Although Room Bath is in Japanese, an understanding of the language is in no way necessary to solving the game (which I love; in my opinion, the very best games are those that are solvable by anyone, anywhere). Room Bath is also quite good-looking, with cleanly rendered graphics that lend color and depth to your puzzling quest.

For me, one of the core attractions of room escape games is that wonderful, gratifying rush that comes from a puzzle clicking into place, the feeling that accompanies a sudden flash of insight into the workings of a code or device. Room Bath, with its refreshingly rational challenges, is a veritable font of such enjoyment.

Play Room Bath


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Weekday Escape

JessAh, the shifting of the seasons. The barest hint of flaming color edging the leaves, the occasional breath of cool air... Autumn has almost arrived. How the months fly by! In the blink of an eye we'll be drinking apple cider and carving pumpkins, another moment and the world will be covered in ice and snow. A bit unsettling, isn't it?

In this world of change, however, there is one constant. Come rain, come sun, come snow, there will be rooms to escape from. When the glaciers melt and California falls into the sea, there will still be screwdrivers and scraps of paper to collect. And in billions of years, when the sun finally blooms into a red giant and consumes the Earth, we will be here, faithfully, delivering Weekday Escape to you every Wednesday.

....Well, ok, maybe not then. Definitely up until the week before, though. After that we'll be updating from Mars.

  • icon_roombath.gifRoom Bath - You must find your way out of what is undoubtedly the oddest bathroom I've ever come across; codes and secret panels grace the toilet, gems are scattered across the floor and weird golden masks watch over the sink and bathtub. The puzzles are intriguing, moderately difficult and inherently logical; with its refreshingly rational challenges, Room Bath is a wonderful source of escape game fun.
  • The other game we featured this week has been removed due to quality concerns.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry, but you will find a place for comments on each game's review page. You may use the rating widget below to rate this week's selection of Weekday Escapes.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (641 votes)
| Comments (148) | Views (1,015)

JoshBloons Tower Defense 3Continuing the legacy of the popular Bloons series, Bloons Tower Defense 3 has finally been released after months of anticipation from all the hardcore Bloons fans out there. Picking up where Bloons TD 2 left off, the new game features even more tracks (eight in all!), new monkeys (towers) and upgraded gameplay mechanics. It's basically the sequel that fans wanted back when they got Bloons TD 2 instead (which was more of a "patch" to the original that a full-fledged sequel). This time around, NinjaKiwi really answered the call and developed a strong and distinct successor to the Bloons Tower Defense series.

In Bloons TD 3, the monkeys are back to defend an onslaught of multi-colored balloons careening down the track, with a few new b'loons added to the arsenal. Bloons Tower Defense 3Fans of the former will remember that in the Bloons TD series, it only takes one hit to pop a bloon, but as levels progress you'll be met with bloons inside bloons. In Bloons TD 3, things only get worse, with some bloons containing nearly a dozen inside of each other. The new "porcelain bloons" need to be cracked open with repeated hits, and the uber MOAB (tongue-in-cheek for the US military's "Mother of All Bombs") takes the form of a zeppelin that must be pounded with everything you've got just to reveal even more bloons inside.

But not to worry, because you've got plenty of new tricks up your sleeve this time around. Your first new monkey tower is the Spike-o-pult, which throws a large spiked ball onto the track, popping any bloon it touches. It can be upgraded in a few different ways, the most impressive of which allows it to launch three balls at once. The new Monkey Beacon is a support tower that "buffs" nearby towers with increased range and speed, and also unlocks a "top secret" weapon that essentially nukes every bloon on the track (MOAB's exluded). You've also got a new one-time placement weapon, similar to the spikes that pop up to 10 bloons and the glue that slows down up to 20; a Pineapple! It's a timed bomb that can be placed anywhere on the field (even off-track) and explodes after three seconds, encompassing a respectable radius.

Also in Bloons TD 3 are a slew of new tower upgrades. Basic Dart Monkeys can now be upgraded with razor darts, which pop three bloons instead of two. The kooky Boomerang monkey can be transformed into a glaive thrower, able to pop eight bloons per arc! Ice Balls can pop a few bloons on freeze at their highest level and Cannons can be upgraded to launch missiles that frag apart on impact. Even the previously-weak Tack Shooter can be upgraded to an effective blade thrower. All in all, lots of new upgrades across the board, even with the old towers from the original. (The Super Monkey's new "plasma vision" mows down bloons like you wouldn't believe.) Lastly, you now have the ability to change the targeting mode on each individual tower to "first" or "last." It's a really useful mechanic to further the depth of your strategy, allowing you to maximize damage with piercing towers that can pop a line of bloons in a row.

Play all the Bloons games:
BloonsMore BloonsEven More BloonsBloons 2Bloons 2 Xmas ExpansionBloons 2: Spring Fling
Bloons Tower DefenseBloons Tower Defense 2Bloons Tower Defense 3Bloons Tower Defense 4Bloons Tower Defense 4 ExpansionBloons Tower Defense 5

Analysis: Aside from the new units, Bloons TD 3 features eight new tracks, the second half of which are available by earning at least a bronze medal (easy mode) in tracks one through four. They're designed with a lot more diversity than the previous game. Some tracks even feature bloons coming in from multiple paths at once, requiring more strategy. There's also a "free play" mode available after you complete each level, so you can continue playing indefinitely. This allows you to earn more cash and unlock more towers than you might be able to in a normal game, although eventually, you'll either be overwhelmed by bloons or have so much money that you can just nuke the whole path each wave (depending on how well you began the level). A downside to the game is that the graphics haven't improved much; they're still cartoony as ever and the lackluster animation doesn't lend itself well to a TD game. Unit placement is annoying at times as well; there's no "snap-to" grid system used, so sometimes you'll have to find just a few available pixels to place towers on in tight groups. Regardless, the third installment of this trilogy succeeds in improving on its predecessors, culminating in a unique tower defense game that fans of the genre should really enjoy.

Play Bloons Tower Defense 3


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (53 votes)
| Comments (63) | Views (40)

GrimmrookGlobuleBeing a robot is supposed to be cool. You're supposed to get lasers and x-ray vision and rocket boosters in your feet and mega-strength that lets you crush tanks with your pinky finger which isn't a pinky finger at all but is instead a gargantuan column of shining steel—no, something cooler—awesomenium that only looks like a pinky because the rest of you is so unspeakably massive that you generate your own gravitational pull.

But no, not you. You had to wind up as a janitor ...in a slime factory no less.

In Globule, yet another unique puzzle game courtesy Rowland Rose, maker of Scorching Earth and Music Bounce, you are that robot, and though you have no lasers, you do have the ability to collect slime and have it trail behind you like one giant, sticky, tail. It won't make Johnny Bolts from high school jealous at your ten year reunion, but it is a pretty useful ice-breaker at parties.

GlobuleUnfortunately there's been an accident in the slime factory and now it's up to you to clean up the mess. In each level you must collect all of the puddles of goo and direct them down one of the available suction vents to make it all go away. To do so, you'll have to push boxes out of the way and mind the arrows which allow you to travel in one direction only. Most importantly, you have to remember that you can travel along the slime trail as much as you want, but you can only move the whole thing by either end; not through the middle.

Analysis: Plainly put, Globule is fun. This should come as no surprise considering Rowland's out-of-the-box puzzlers mentioned a little earlier.

In this case, Globule may initially feel very familiar given its more than obvious roots in Sokoban-esque box pushing gameplay. The genius twist here is mashing that time-tested formula with that of the classic snake game where you run around the board gobbling up little dots, each one increasing the length of your snake.

Running into your tail will not kill you in Globule, but it can stop you dead in your tracks. Thus, while the first handful of levels will lull you into a false sense of security, you quickly come to understand the challenge of the game is not just pushing blocks around in the right order, but also managing your ever growing slime trail in such a way that you don't cut yourself off from necessary paths.

To this extent, one of the things that impressed me the most is how Globule pits you against yourself. You can trick yourself into thinking you're stuck when you really aren't, just as you can convince yourself that you can proceed ahead only to find later on that you were blocked off a long time ago. The end result is that you'll wind up laughing at yourself more often than not as you restart the level because you should have known better.

On the upside, when you do finally make it through a particularly nasty level, watching your slime trail that takes up three quarters of the screen get sucked down the drain can be very satisfying.

The visuals aren't much to write home about, and I'm sure there are going to be some of you who will be grateful that you can turn the music off. But neither the sights nor the sounds are the focal point; that would be the fifty levels of slime collecting goodness, as well as the level editor just in case fifty levels isn't enough.

So if you get excited when you see an oddly shaped room filled with crates; if you, like me, still occasionally dust off your old Adventures of Lolo cartridge; or you just like a nice mental workout from time to time, Globule shouldn't disappoint.

Play Globule


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (60 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (8)

StaceyG"BounceroidThere is something about Sid Woo's Bounceroid 2000 that makes it so completely JIG-like. Elegantly simple in design, modern, stylish and enjoyable.

The goal is easy to understand. Use the semi circle paddle on the bottom to bounce the balls into the side walls. Try to score as many points as you can by getting the balls to hit the middle of the wall. You must get the green balls on the green side and the blue ones on the blue side. Gray balls can go towards either wall. If any of these balls miss the paddle, or you don't match the color of the ball with the wall, you lose a life.

There are two modes of play. Beginner mode is a 25 level challenge that slowly introduces you to the mechanics and bonus features. Advanced mode is free play in which all features are unlocked at the start, and you can just go for a high score.

BounceroidThe beginner level introduces each new feature one at a time. Early on you can left-click the mouse to add power to the paddle, helping to bounce balls higher. If you bounce a ball multiple times on the paddle before hitting the wall, it multiplies your score up to 5x, and you can use the spacebar to slow the balls down. On later levels you gain access to the Beam by pressing [X], which pushes the ball up, and the Magnet by pressing [C]. These power-ups can only be used for a short time, and can be recharged if you catch a corresponding bonus ball. There's also a heart bonus ball to gain a new life, and a polka-dotted ball which releases a batch of red balls like confetti. Hit as many of these as you can for extra points, they don't count against you if they fall. A helpful counter on the top shows how many balls are left to fall on each level.

Analysis: At first glance this game might seem a bit too simple. Your first task is to merely hit a ball into one of the side walls—what's so interesting about that? But once you get further on in the levels and you begin to utilize more features, or begin doing multiple bounces, the subtle complexities will hook you. The game is very clever and the ball physics are very nicely implemented. Although the paddle only moves left right along the bottom, it has a nice feel when you are trying to put some curve on the ball. I liked that there was an option to turn off the sounds, although I liked both the music and the sound effects. The minimalist sounds worked really well with the graphic design elements.

Bouncing balls against paddles have come a long way, and gone through all sorts of fancy incarnations. This game is back to the basics and has an original take that makes it unique.

Play Bounceroid 2000

Cheers to Tonypa and Andreas for suggesting this one! =)


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (44 votes)
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StaceyG"Rapid WarsSurvive as long as you can in Rapid Wars, the new addictive arcade shooter by Jussi Kari of ooPixel. Several of their games have been featured here in the past including Gride, which received 3rd place and the Viral Award in our 5th Casual Gameplay Design Competition (CGDC5).

Movement is key in this shooter game, both from your colorful enemies and your ship. Move the ship with either the [arrow] keys or [AWSD]. The shooting is automatic and constant. All you do is aim with the mouse, so you are free to focus on position rather than pounding away to shoot.

Borrowing the two-fisted Robotron mechanic, and with a nod to Geometry Wars, Jussi creates engaging dynamics in the enemies (which I will forever just refer to as the "lucky charms rainbow of pain" - LCROP). Rapid WarsEach colorful bad guy has its own unique personality. One drifts aimlessly, one hones in on you and hunts you down, one seems ambivalent towards you and then suddenly pounces! On occasion, the destruction of brightly colored evil produces much needed amoeba-looking power ups. Try to chase down each precious egg before it fades away. They're cumulative so you can utilize several types at once, increasing bullet frequency, power, flow, or if you're lucky get a small reprieve with a bubble of health. When things get really frantic, you will really need the health power up. I'd say keep an eye on your health indicator, but you won't have time to look at it.

Besides survival and racking up the highest score possible, there are a series of hidden achievements you can see if you mouse over the row of stars on the bottom of the screen. These include 10x combos, reaching 50,000 points, beat the boss, and one that could be called the "the bull ride": last 10 seconds with 50 enemies. But if those are too hard to achieve, you could certainly just enjoy the more casual version, trying to survive as long as possible.

Analysis: Gameplay is frenetic, addictive and fun. The performance was really smooth. Even when the screen was filled with enemies I didn't experience any lag (except in my reaction times). When an enemy destructs, the board warps like a rippling pond, which is a nice effect. The constant explosions of pixels flying everywhere is a sight to behold; tiny details like the bullets bouncing off the walls didn't go unnoticed. You can see each new LCROP pixilating itself into existence, watching for this really comes in handy so that you aren't sitting on top of a spawning spot.

It does get hard to see what's going on when the arena is full. Your small, pale white ship and mouse target can get lost visually in all the action, especially in the lower corners where display info was. Sometimes I couldn't figure out where I was on the screen. Another complaint has more to do with me — frantic clicking leads to accidentally hitting the [Q] key which just ended the game abruptly without any prompt to save or restart — arghh. So I would like them to give you the option not to quit, or better, just don't use the Q.

It's nice to see the work of the game makers grow over time here on JIG. I think this is ooPixel's best game to date, and look forward to see what they do next.

Play Rapid Wars

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