October 2008 Archives


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Rating: 4.2/5 (64 votes)
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PsychotronicGrey MatterYou never quite know what to expect from Edmund McMillen. The neurotic dreamworlds of Aether. The cryptic poetry of Coil. The sheer tingling grossness of Meat Boy. McMillen consistently dances on the outside edge of predictable Flash gaming, with a unique and recognizable art style, and dark themes that bite close to the psychological bone. Here he is collaborating with Tommy Refenes, author of the highly anticipated Goo! (no relation to World of Goo) and a bit of an experimental gameplay maverick in his own right. The result is one of the best action games I've played in Flash, although its appeal may be limited for casual game fans.

Grey Matter is an anti-shooter, which means that you can't actually shoot. You are the bullet, and you attack by directly colliding with the exposed brain-meats of your enemies. Control your movement with the [Arrow Keys]. The [Space Bar] gives you a short burst of speed, and [Shift] slows you down, which is very useful for weaving through tightly-packed enemy fire. Various creepy-crawlies will attack from all sides of the screen, and although their bodies are vulnerable, their bullets, tails, teeth, and lasers are deadly. Basically anything flashing brightly can kill you. (By the way, if you're sensitive to flashing light patterns, skip this one.)

Grey MatterPress [P] or [Esc] to pause the game and enter the power-up screen, where you can spend points on shields, shields, and some other bonuses that are a lot less important than shields. Naturally the higher your score, the faster you can max out your bonuses, so it pays to master the combo system. Ram three sequential enemies of the same species to increase your score multiplier. This also triggers a Trinity Attack, which destroys anything caught inside the triangle formed by the last three baddies you killed. (Tip from the comments: "If you've purchased the "Options" power-up, holding down Shift will not only slow you down, it will extend the options away from you, so you have a larger kill range." Thanks, LSN!)

You'll need nimble fingers to play Grey Matter, because of the small moving targets you have to hit, and the sheer volume of bullets they'll send at you. Apparently, you can play using an XBox controller using a program called FlashJoystick (also by Refenes), but I don't have one, so I don't know if it makes the game any easier. Please let us know if you can get that feature to work.

Analysis: Grey Matter looks great and sounds even better, thanks to the music of Danny Baranowsky, who also composed for Meat Boy and Gravity Hook. The gameplay has all the depth of a modern professional shoot-'em-up, thanks to the combo system. Grey-Matter is perfectly playable without using the Trinity Attacks, but if you do employ them, it becomes almost like a hyperactive, twitchy puzzle game.

There are only a handful of levels, but they get real intense real fast. Beating the game repeatedly unlocks a few extra modes, including direct access to the battle with the incredibly dangerous and aggressive final boss. I can't say there's a lot of replay value beyond that, but like all the best action games, the pleasure here is in mastering the technique, rather than merely surviving.

Most of the neurological nightmares you'll fight can only fire when they are facing you, so try to attack from behind. You can travel on the decorative border on the edges of the screen, while they can not. So one possible strategy is to make calculated blitzing runs and return to relative safety. You'll probably die anyway, but at least you'll have a strategy.

The most interesting thing about Grey Matter for me, though, is the theme of mental illness threaded through it, in the form of ambiguous quotations at the loading screen and between levels. Initially these quotes may seem like window-dressing, but they left a footprint on my mind long after I shut down the game. McMillen has left the connection between the theme and the gameplay deliberately vague, but anyone who has had experience with depression or schizophrenia will find echoes of that darkness in Grey Matter's weird, abstract brain-scape. It's an intimate stamp on a memorable shoot-'em-up. If you can handle the difficulty, this comes highly recommended.

Play Grey Matter

If the game runs slowly, you can also download it here.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (276 votes)
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JayThe Great Basement EscapeThe 4th in a series of Great Escapes by Mateusz Skutnik and the Pastel Games crew, The Great Basement Escape is another short and fun room escape game in the same whimsical style that we have come to love and expect from the series.

Use your point-and-clicking skills to locate items, and use those items to help you make your escape. Simple and fun, just right for everyone.

Play The Great Basement Escape


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBCelebrating 0.25 years of Link Warble Dump Friday, bringing you banana boxes full of games wrapping 6.5 times wah a year. (Note: Due to an unfortunate alignment of Jupiter and Mars, you must multiply every calendar-based figure I speak of by eight and ignore all words that begin with the letter 'W'. Except for "words".) Oh, and happy Halloween!

  • icon_hdos.gifHDOS Databank request 01 - A simple tile-flipping puzzle game clothed in a government computer hacking program. One description says the game is a tribute to Tetris Attack / Planet Puzzle League / Panel De Pon / Puzzle Frenzy / Yoshi's Island / Pokemon Puzzle Challenge / Half-Life / Portal. Play it and you'll see what that means!
  • icon_boombot2.gifBoombot 2 - A follow-up to Ninja Kiwi's original Boombot, the sequel features better level design, new items to play around with, and, well, BOMBS. Simply place bombs and blow the happy little guy to the exit. This time a level editor is built right into the game, so you can destroy and create with minimal amount of effort.
  • icon_airbattle.gifAir Battle - Pilot your steampunk-inspired craft around the stage, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles that can pop the balloons keeping you afloat. Use the mouse to fire your cannon to combat baddies, or just hover over and pop their balloons first!
  • icon_orchestrateddeath.gifOrchestrated Death - A short point-and-click game of sorts where you play the invisible role of Death trying to... well... kill people. Some puzzles require proper timing, others just the right sequence of events to take place. It's morbid and pretty gruesome, but hey, today is Halloween.
  • icon_daruma.gifDaruma Game - Based on a traditional Japanese game, simply pull back the ball and smack the tiles to bring the face block safely down to the floor. Knock the face off the screen and it's game over. Scroll down a bit to find the embedded game.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (527 votes)
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factoryballs2.gifJayA new Bart Bonte game has just been released, this one a sequel to an entry from our "ball physics" competition a year ago.

Factory Balls 2 is a unique and original puzzle game in which you must match a target ball by adding elements from those given, one at a time. Just drag one of the balls from the rotating bin and drop it over top one of the tools shown. Order is important, and so you must plan your moves carefully.

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

If you remember the first Factory Balls, then you will no doubt be pleased to play the sequel. If you never played the first one, then you will be even happier that you now have two great games with which to while away an afternoon.

Play Factory Balls 2


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Rating: 3.5/5 (34 votes)
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nion.gifJohnBNion is a stylish arcade-style game that incorporates a number of gameplay modes, including puzzle, accuracy, speed, survival, and several combinations of the above. It's built around the simple mechanic of shooting shapes that hover around the top of the screen. The order, how they're disposed of, how fast and accurately you must work, and the number of shots you use change depending on the game mode you're in. It's a very well-done game that keeps everything simple while offering up a number of different experiences.

The first game mode, Puzzle, introduces you to the basics and serves up a nice and calm experience. Your goal is to eliminate all of the shapes using as few shots as possible. When a shot strikes a shape a small shockwave emanates from the impact point that will destroy nearby objects. Aim true and time your clicks just right and earn a Gold ranking for each level.

Once you complete the bulk of the Puzzle levels you'll gain access to Arcade mode which, as the name suggests, focuses on action rather than puzzle solving. In the first mode you'll need to eliminate all of the shapes within the specified time period without missing. Later you unlock Color mode that features the same rules, only now you have to change the color of your shots to eliminate like-colored shapes.

There are a few more game modes to play beyond Puzzle and Arcade, but they'll only become available once you complete most of the first two areas. You'll also come across a good variety of shapes, each with its own behavior. Stars fade in and out of existence, triangles and circles like to slide around, and "S" blocks explode when you strike them, sending flak out in a small radius and taking care of any stray shapes in the area. My personal favorite are the purple arrows that, when shot, fire out their own blast in the direction they point. It helps to make pewpewpew noises when that happens, trust me.

Analysis: Nion wins points in my book for its simple audio/visual style and the way it integrates a variety of gameplay styles into one package. The atmosphere set by the sparsely-colored screens is dark and a bit intense, drawing you in even further. The ability to skip and choose levels keeps frustration at bay, though I still found myself stumped a few times.

My only complaint with Nion is that it requires a little too much time and effort to unlock more advanced game modes. I like the concept of having to earn them, but working through two thirds of the first few modes is tougher than it may seem, and while the game is extraordinarily forgiving when it comes to unlocking things, I still wanted to experience the last few modes much earlier in the game.

A simple game with a simple setup that rewards you with varied gameplay. With six modes of play and 144 stages in all, Nion is just what I like to see in a casual game.

Play Nion


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Rating: 4.5/5 (204 votes)
| Comments (56) | Views (506)

Weekday Escape

JessHalloween, in part, has its roots in the ancient celtic festival of Samhain. On October 31st, ancient Gaels believed that the border between the worlds of the living and the dead disappeared, and for that night ghosts were a real, tangible threat. GhostscapeIs it true? Probably not. But we can pretend, and get into a deliciously spooky mood, with Ghostscape.

Ghostscape, a new escape game by Psionic, is just chock full of supernatural goodness. You play a veteran investigator of the occult who, upon hearing rumors of a haunted house, cannot stay away...and what a paranormal gold mine it turns out to be! Chairs and cups move as if grasped by some invisible hand, mysterious diary entries litter the floor, grotesque paintings adorn every room. And then, of course, there are the ghosts. But who would believe you? Luckily, you have your trusty camera to provide proof. You'll spend much of your time photographing phenomena and collecting evidence, but along the way you'll begin to unravel the story of a very disturbing crime... and, as the door has conveniently slammed shut and locked behind you, you'll need to calm the restless spirits before making your escape.

Ghostscape is very good-looking. The environments are heavily atmospheric, draped with shadow and splattered with blood, and evoke a wonderfully creepy aura. The game is not very difficult; there's zero pixel-hunting (which I appreciate), and the solutions to most of the puzzles are basically handed to you. This doesn't make it any less enjoyable, however. It's a ton of fun to play ghost hunter, and your many tasks keep you constantly engaged even as you learn of the house's terrible past. The game's interface is simple and user-friendly; clicking on the inventory button leads to a handy to-do list of things to photograph and provides access to the occult items you've collected, whereas more generally helpful items (such as a crowbar and your camera) are kept on the main screen. Nothing fancy here.

In the end, really, the plot of the game becomes secondary to the overall experience of moving through such a fun and fantastic setting. More than anything else, Ghostscape reminds me of an extremely well-executed haunted house, one you might visit with your friends; the environment is way too over-the-top to be truly terrifying, and the scares are more thrills than chills. Which, in my opinion, is perfect for the Halloween season!

I ain't afraid of no ghosts:

Play Ghostscape


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (56 votes)
| Comments (23) | Views (39)

boohbahzone.jpgJohnBBoohbah Zone is a surreal journey— wait, no, it's not really a journey. It's more of a... thing. A thing with lots of colors. Well, it's kind of like a webtoy, but you actually do stuff in some parts of it. Interactive art? You know what, forget classifying it, Boohbah Zone is an extremely bizarre collection of game-like scenes where you play with color, sound, and flobby-looking hippopotamus-like people things. That sounds about right. Oh, and it's based on the Boohbah television show created by the folks behind Teletubbies, so be sure and bring the kids in on this one.

Boohbah Zone is made up of a few dozen simple mini-game-like scenarios where you can interact with the mouse and watch stuff happen. Similar to Blue Suburbia in some ways (yeah, that's a bit of a stretch there), Boobah Zone drops you in different locales and leaves it up to you to figure out what to do. Maybe you click on the swirly rainbow thing to change its color? Maybe you'll arrange hippopotamus people to face the same direction? Or maybe you'll just watch the strange dance while you turn bits of the music on and off. Who knows. It's Boohbah.

From the opening screen you can either click the bubbles in the sky to visit different mini-games or make the rainbow swirl fill in at the bottom and click the present to select a few more. One consistent element in Boohbah Zone is the "back" icon at the lower left of each screen. Click this and you'll return to the previous screen, just in case what you've stumbled across was too "out there" for your human mind to handle.

So... yeah. Boohbah Zone. Whether the mini-game has a goal or not, you'll have a lot of fun trying to find out.

Play Boohbah Zone


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Rating: 4.4/5 (33 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (15)

10 Gnomes #10

Psychotronic10 Gnomes episode 10: Seashore is the tenth installment of hunt-and-click gnome-finding from the indefatigable Mateusz Skutnik. That means if you've been following the series from the beginning, you've already ferreted out 100 gnomes. A hundred gnomes! If you taped them all together, you'd have one regular adult human being; though he'd look kind of strange, and his handshake would be weak. And he would scream with the fury of a hundred oppressed gnomes. If you enjoy this, be sure to play the other 10 Gnomes games.

Play 10 Gnomes episode 10: Seashore


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Rating: 4.4/5 (165 votes)
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numbskull.gifThank you for your interest in the the Numbskull puzzle playset from Nitrome toys, the makers of the Twang construction set, Final Ninja combat gear, and In the Dog House sliding puzzle game. This manual will teach you how to use this playset, unleashed just in time for the Halloween season. Included in this release are the following:

  • 1 toy skeleton with detached head
  • 1 block grid with "spooky stormy graveyard" backdrop
  • 1 grid stand
  • 500 assorted blocks of various shapes and sizes
  • 1 expandable square grid-rotation clamp (integrated into the mouse)

To play, use the cursor to draw boxes around chunks of the grid. When you release the button the selected squares rotate one quarter turn clockwise. The goal is to deposit the skull on the skeleton's body without any hazards (electricity, pumpkins) getting in the way. Pipe blocks will instantly suck the skull from one end to the other if the path is clear, and the conveyor blocks will carry it from one location to another. Certain other blocks, like chained blocks and large blocks, will inhibit your ability to rotate parts of the grid, and some blocks will require you to rotate the entire thing or make different rotations. If you get stuck, dump out the grid and start over (you know, by clicking the swirly arrow "reset" icon).

Analysis: Is it possible to be entertained and frustrated by the same thing at the same time? It must be, because that's exactly how I feel with Numbskull. It always drives me nuts trying to figure out how to rotate this to get that from here to there. But I love it. And I'm one of those freaks who actually likes slide puzzles.

This is a 100% puzzle game, no fast-paced action involved. There's not even a timer; all the game keeps track of is how many rotations you make. The fact that you can only make clockwise quarter-turns (unless you include a special block in your box) can be frustrating at times, however, and sometimes it can screw up your plans (Aaack! I didn't mean for the skull to go THERE!). As usual, Nitrome delivers in the visual department with great-looking pixel art, so no quibbles there. All in all, it's an enjoyable and challenging game!

Play Numbskull


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Rating: 4/5 (87 votes)
| Comments (26) | Views (11)

drawplay3.jpgJohnBA follow-up to the original Draw-Play, Draw-Play 3 retains most of what made the original so interesting and introduces a more action-oriented approach. Like any platformer around, you control a little character who must jump and run to the flag at the end of each stage. The catch is that in Draw-Play you create the platforms. Make stairs, hop from ledge to ledge, or use the pen and push yourself up as you move. The world is your functional canvas!

Draw-Play 3 introduces a number of small improvements over the previous releases, the most friendly of which is the included option of using [WASD] to move your character instead of the slightly awkward [arrow] keys. The mouse controls the brush, simply click and move to draw a platform. The erase tool can be used to delete any drawing on the stage, whether you put it there or not.

Analysis: The biggest change in Draw-Play 3 is the heavy emphasis on action rather than puzzle solving. Instead of seeing the flag and wondering how to reach it, now you see it, know how to reach it, but must act quickly in order to make it in one piece. Spikes are still a stable obstacle in this game, but now moving baddies are here to ruin your day, blazing a trail through drawn platforms with ease. Pro tip: stay away from them.

Several of the complaints about the original game seem to have been addressed, as the poor music and sound effects have been eliminated or upgraded to be far less annoying. Hit detection still feels a bit off, however, and because the game is action-oriented, this becomes a much larger concern. In other words, don't count on a few pixels distance to save your life.

Still as fun as the others in the series, the subtle improvements and gameplay shift in Draw-Play 3 make it a great way to wind down the weekend.

Play Draw-Play 3


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Rating: 4.5/5 (26 votes)
| Comments (72) | Views (488)

Dr. Lynch: Grave Secrets

JohnBFrom the same group that brought us Agatha Christie: Peril at End House and Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet comes an equally alluring hidden object game, Dr. Lynch: Grave Secrets. This entry veers away from the more adventure-oriented direction and hugs the item finding wall fairly close, but the same high production values and great storyline remain intact.

drlynch.jpgEngland's leading skeptic, Dr. Ignatius Lynch, is looking to challenge his mind with a new story to pick apart. He finds a newspaper article telling the tale of a haunted archaeological site where a mysterious ghostly woman appears. Lynch immediately sets out, ready to turn his skeptical eye on the situation.

The game is divided into a series of investigations where you'll search the scene for items and a few key clues. Afterwards a witness will hand you a Clue Card which will be used in conjunction with the items you found to uncover new facts about the case. After a short mini-game you'll jump right in to the next investigation.

Analysis: When evaluating hidden object games one question always floats to the top of my mind: are the items hidden intelligently or did the developers go out of their way to give me a hard time? Dr. Lynch strikes a fair balance between logical item locations and camouflaged objects, so I didn't have a very tough time finding what I needed. A few of the descriptions were a bit too obtuse for my taste, however.

Dr. Lynch: Grave Secrets is a gorgeous game that shows polish in every area of presentation. Despite the good looks, however, the underlying structure is a bit formulaic, almost as if it were afraid to step out of the set path hidden object games before it have carved out. If it followed the design of, say, Azada, Dr. Lynch would be an unstoppable juggernaut of a game.

Great set-up, nice storyline, Dr. Lynch: Grave Secrets only falters a bit in the gameplay department where it loses the crucial ability to bring in cross-genre fans. Still, hidden object buffs will find plenty to love in this release, and the game has enough dark mystery for everyone to enjoy.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (15) | Views (4)

Weekend Download

JohnBNow it's time to break the rules. A little. This edition of Weekend Download highlights winners of the 2008 Unity Awards, games created using the Unity plug-in that are playable right in your browser window. Technically they're browser games, but since you have to download and install something, they're downloads, too.

tumbledrop.jpgTumbledrop (Mac/Windows, free) - Walking away with the Best Gameplay award, Tumbledrop is a physics-based puzzle game where you hover the cursor over blocks and, when the timer empties, that piece will disappear. Keep the star from tipping into the water and move it to the ground below to win. And come on, don't you just love the little faces those guys make? Especially the star when it starts falling into the water...

offroadvelociraptor.jpgOff-Road Velociraptor Safari (Mac/Windows, free) - An arcade-style game where you play a raptor driving a jeep with a spiky ball and chain attached to the rear. Your goal is to chase down other raptors and throw them into a teleporter that sends them to the future. Seriously! We gave this game a full review when it was officially released back in January.

rastamonkey.jpgRasta Monkey (Mac/Windows, free) - Although it didn't win any official prizes, Rasta Monkey was voted one of the favorites on the Unity Forums poll. You play an extraordinarily happy monkey who tumbles from branch to brand collecting bananas. Hold the [spacebar] to gather up momentum and send yourself flying through the air.

marsexplorer.jpgMars Explorer (Mac/Windows, free) - Another game that didn't score an official prize, but I loved it all the same! Mars Explorer is a 3D planetery exploration game that delivers exactly what the name promises. You spawn as a rover on the red planet whose only goal is to ride around looking at the scenery. Play a basic game of laser tag with online opponents, or just sprout wings and fly around taking in the view.

Iji


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Rating: 4.8/5 (260 votes)
| Comments (99) | Views (148)

FunnyManiji.gifThe year was 1994, and the game was Super Metroid. Arguably the best of the 2D Metroid games, and one of my first video games. Oh, we had an NES, but that was my older brother's machine, and he guarded his Final Fantasy and Zelda saves jealously. But the Super Nintendo, that was mine, and it saw frequent use for years. The Metroid series along with games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night helped spawn the 'Metroidvania' genre of platform-adventure games of which Daniel Remar's Iji is a proud member.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008In Iji you play as, well, Iji. Iji is a human who has been enhanced with nanotechnology after Earth is abruptly invaded by aliens. Her new nanotech field provides her with a kind of shield and also gives her the incredible weaponry that every action-platformer hero needs to survive. You start with a humble shotgun but as you progress you can collect seven more weapons, from the familiar machine gun and rocket launcher all the way up to odd weapons like the alien Shocksplinter. If that's not enough for you, there are eight more weapons that you can unlock by combining the original weapons. There's even a hint that there might be one more hidden weapon, if you can find it.

This impressive arsenal isn't just handed to you right away, of course, you have to earn it. As you progress through the game, you'll pick up blue nanofields that act as experience. Gain enough of them, and you'll go up a level. Stop by an upgrade station, and you can use the level to improve one of your seven abilities: Strength, Health, Attack, Assimilate, Crack, Tasen, and Komoto. There are also two upgrades each for jumping and armor that you collect during play.

With all of this going for her, you would expect Iji to be some military, tough-as-nails soldier type, right? Wrong. Iji is just an ordinary girl who happened to be in the right place at the right time... or is that the wrong place at the wrong time? In any case, she's not adjusted to killing aliens, which is something you'll have to cure her of.

Or not. One of the game's strengths is its story, told via dialogue with important enemies and through terminals scattered around the levels. And this is one of those games where how you play affects what happens in the story. If, like me, you go through the game guns-a-blazing, you can expect to find yourself regarded as a callous, cold-blooded killer. So maybe you'd prefer to let Iji remain a pacifist and fight only the bosses. It's up to you.

iji2.gifAnalysis: Wow. This game is made of pure awesome. It spent four years in development, and every minute shows. The combat is a blast, in more ways than one, and it's surprisingly fun to just sit back at times and watch the two types of enemies exterminate each other. The story is amazingly deep and will easily suck you in if you give it a chance. Towards the end, I actually felt bad for having killed as many enemies as I did!

At times, the art and music may seem simplistic, but you will quickly realize that this is an intentional style. Iji knows that it owes a lot to the games that came before, and this surface look and feel is a clear homage to them, with any suspicions of inadequacy thoroughly crushed by the sheer amount of detail that went into the game. Light fixtures will break when you jump into them, for crying out loud!

Length is often a sticking point with games, but Iji's four difficulty levels, variable story, and hidden extras are plenty to keep you playing for a while, even after you beat it the first time. And that first play-through will be tense. The game tells me it only took 3.5 hours, but I had to spread it out over three days, and it felt a whole lot longer than that. I'm dumbfounded as to how you could finish it in just half an hour, but the records page says that's the developer's best time is 29 minutes, 33 seconds.

In fact, I only have a couple minor problems with this game. One is that when you stop to read a logbook, nothing else stops, but you can't move. This can make it annoying to try and follow the story while skimming through text hoping that nobody attacks you. The other was a bonus minigame that I could only get out of by randomly hitting keys until something got me out.

Do either of those seriously impact my opinion of the game? Not in the slightest. Iji is fantastic. I mentioned Super Metroid for a reason: for my money, Iji is even better. You may or may not agree, but Iji doesn't cost a cent, so what are you waiting for?

(Note: Linux users, be advised that while you can play Iji under Wine, if you've got Windows sitting around, use it! Wine handles the sound effects just fine, but you lose the music, and it is worth a little extra effort.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the full, free game.

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

Thanks to PureQuestion for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (259 votes)
| Comments (67) | Views (41)

PsychotronicTasha's GameI'm not going to write anything funny about Tasha's Game, because it's already a game about a woman rescuing her friends and co-workers from evil black tentacles with the help of her magical flying cat Snoopy. It hardly needs embellishment. I will tell you that Double Fine Games—who are responsible for crazy 3D platform adventure and cult hit Psychonauts—are somehow involved, so expect oddness.

Control Tasha with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and move Snoopy with the mouse. Collect floating icons with your cat cursor, and you can use them to create platforms out of thin air. If you make a mistake, you can use the [-] key (minus) to zap back in time to just before you placed the last platform—a very nice feature, if not entirely ergonomic.

True, Tasha's Game is relatively short, but I pretty much decided it deserved to be featured after a rosy-cheeked tree in the game complained that I was standing on its head. The platforming controls are simple but smooth, there's a full bevy of hats to collect (they're actually called "Pointless Unlockables", in case you're still wondering how seriously the game takes itself), and the shocking final boss encounter is, frankly, amazing.

Also, the title is randomly generated every time you play, so reload the page a couple of times for extra value. I played it while it was called "tasha's final karate zero", which, logically speaking, makes me the coolest person alive.

Play Tasha's Game


| Comments (17) | Views (6)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBFour very different games in this edition of Link Dump Friday, enough to appease the hungry appetites of RPG fans, tower defense masters, action gamers and anyone looking to give their reflexes a little test or two.

  • icon_lookoutmrjohnson.gifLook Out, Mr. Johnson! - A game of ghosts, zombies, and hapless mustachioed citizens! Use your cursor (pink scary ghoul with sharp teeth) to scare Mr. Johnson in the right direction to avoid obstacles. Chomp barriers and enemies by tapping the [a] key.
  • icon_toweringforever.gifTowering Forever - A side-scrolling tower defense-type game that blends some nice fighting moves into the mix. Run across the landscape and place one of several types of towers, then attack baddies with your avatar as they spawn. Upgrade your fighting combos, tower capabilities, and the damage of both using points in-between waves.
  • icon_adventureho.gifAdventure Ho! - Take your typical RPG, strip out all the walking, questing and dialogue, and you have an idea what Adventure Ho! is all about. Choose a character, buy items and equipment, then head out and face foe after foe. Defeat each group, earn experience, get stronger. Simple, but engaging.
  • icon_crowinhell.gifCrow in Hell - An arcade-style avoider game played with the [arrow] keys and infused with a whole lot of artistic style. You play a crow whose unfortunate fate was to be shot and tumble straight down to hell. Avoid obstacles as you wind your way through twisty passages, collecting keys to unlock special challenges.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (78 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (0)

PsychotronicOff BalanceAt first glance, Off Balance, from Fernando Holguin of Insane Angel Studio, looks just like all those other maze games where you move your mouse from Point A to Point B without hitting any walls. And indeed, that's the general idea. You control a preternaturally cheerful ball of cotton on a mildly psychedelic quest through 25 stages full of obstacles. On each level, you must touch all of the red dots, turning them blue, without bursting your little friend on the walls or getting zapped by the bad guys. You have infinite lives, but your game will end when you run out of time. Simple enough.

The trick is in the steering.

You see, Mister Cotton doesn't follow your pointer at all. Instead, his acceleration is affected by the cursor's position in relation to the center of the screen. If you point at the top of the screen, he'll go up, and so forth. It feels more like you're tilting the whole playfield, rather than controlling Monsieur Coton directly. Which makes this a game less about navigating obstacles, and more about drunkenly teetering into things.

To even the odds, Signore Cotone earns Cotton Points, which he can spend to use special powers. You can apply the brakes (the game says "breaks," but it means "brakes") with the [Shift] key, and use your Hyper-Rainbow-Acceleration! ability with [ctrl]. You only get one additional Cotton Point per level, though, so don't waste 'em.

Off Balance is relatively short, but the level layouts get pretty clever by the end. Eventually you'll encounter cannons, evil "infected" cotton balls (which are quite terrifying if you have an actual phobia of infected cotton balls), and even a couple of bosses. The bosses are way harder than they should be, due to some terrible collision detection on their projectiles, but it's neat to see them in a game like this anyway. And all the while, the clouds in the background pulse like they're having a puffy, vaporous seizure. It's all quite charming.

In other news, the developer of Off Balance is called Insane Angel Studio, and now I have a mental image of the Archangel Gabriel lining his Soho loft with tinfoil while gibbering about chemtrails.

Play Off Balance


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (173 votes)
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PsychotronicWooden PathAnyone who has ever tried to ford a stream by heaving huge rocks into it will surely appreciate a drier and less strenuous alternative. Enter: Wooden Path, an attractive, isometric block-shifting puzzle game about patience, spacial skills, and not getting your feet wet. All you have to do is position the wooden blocks so that they form an unbroken path from one bank to the other.

Other types of blocks will mostly get in your way, but sometimes you'll need to use them for special purposes. Colored gates must be connected by pieces of the corresponding color in order to make blockades disappear. Golden star blocks will vanish when you bring all of them in contact with each other. Some levels feature independent regions linked by teleportation, and I don't know why, but it gives me a kick to see a long chunk of bridge slide into one portal and come out the other portal rotated 90 degrees. That's just neat.

Wooden PathSome levels can look overwhelming at first, crammed with dozens of blocks of different types and sizes. The key is to solve individual sections of the puzzle one at a time, and tackle problems in sequence. There aren't a lot of tricks after you learn the basics—just pure, solid puzzle-solving, with the incessant twitter of birds in the background... which I'm sure is meant to be relaxing, but after about five puzzles, I was grateful for the option to silence the little darlings.

Wooden Path includes more than 50 levels, divided into two difficulty maps and a score of individual regions. Whenever you reach a new island, you get access to all the bridges connected to it, which strikes me as a really clever and gratifying method of unlocking new levels. In the end, this is just a bunch of block puzzles, but the serene setting and the long, rectangular shape of the puzzles give the game its own character. A lovely way to while away some time indoors, and this way, you don't run the risk of slipping on some wet moss and ruining your "waterproof" cell phone. Waterproof, my Aunt Bethany's kiester.

Play Wooden Path


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (97 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessHow I want to spend my mornings: Eating brioche at a cafe in Paris. Sunning myself on a sugar-white sand beach in Hawaii. How I don't want to spend my mornings: Waking up, confused and alone, in a bare, The Cellfilthy cell, pandering to the whims of a madman in a desperate bid to regain my freedom. Happily for me, I am not the unfortunate protagonist/victim of an escape game. However! Spence, an American who finds himself embroiled in intrigue in Budapest after answering the call of a distant friend, is. For reasons beyond his comprehension, he has been confined and made to fight for his life. And now, he needs your help to escape The Cell.

Created by the Fox Network as a companion game to the Web series of the same name, The Cell is a lengthy, highly entertaining adventure through an elaborate dungeon complex. Our hero, Spence, must complete a series of increasingly bizarre and dangerous challenges as he ascends to the surface; your unknown captor has provided all that you need, but you'll need to use your wits and risk your hide to overcome his tests. In theme and atmosphere the game reminds me quite a bit of the Saw series of movies; even the sinister voice of Spence's malevolent kidnapper (on the cell phone from which he gives you his orders) is the same. Nothing wrong with that, though. The same thing that makes the movies fun—the complex, potentially fatal game-playing—is also the reason that The Cell is so enjoyable.

As befits a game commissioned by a major television network, The Cell is quite good-looking and professionally rendered. The third-person visuals suggest the view from a security camera; perhaps, even while playing the hero, you are assuming the perspective of the villain? The interface is clean, simple and intuitive, and a save feature is thoughtfully provided. Admittedly, the game is somewhat easy. The puzzles are mainly logical and not terribly complex, and if you get stuck all you have to do is access the comprehensive hint system by pressing the "help" button. Of course, you choose how much assistance to be provided with. There is quite a bit of backtracking necessary to completing the game (the facility is comprised of three levels connected by elevators, and you'll often find yourself running back and forth between them), but that's not such a hassle. On the whole, the game scores pretty low on the frustration scale.

The game does require registration, but receiving emails from the website is optional. So go ahead and enjoy!

Spence needs you:

Play The Cell


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (102 votes)
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JessSomething Amiss Chapter 3At long last, after a year and a half of waiting, Tucker Bowen has released Something Amiss Chapter 3, the final installment of his truly excellent point-and-click adventure saga. This chapter finds the intrepid escaped test subject Alice back in custody, awaiting her fate at the hands of persons unknown. But you're not going to stand for that, are you? No, Alice has been through enough, and she's ready to take control of her own destiny. It's finally time to get some answers!

The JIG community really loved the first two chapters of Something Amiss, and in light of this I am especially tickled to report that the third (and, sadly, final) episode is by far the best. It's clear why Tucker took over a year to complete this chapter; the game is a truly well-developed adventure, one that will take Alice through a dizzying array of different environments, enmesh her in intrigue and finally reveal the true nature of the mysterious experiment that so irrevocably changed her life. While happily quite long, the game never drags; the puzzles tread a fine line between creativity and logic, resulting in a satisfying experience that will challenge, but not confound, the player.

As in the first two installments, the interface is controlled by the cursor. To interact with a person or item, simply click and hold in the appropriate spot; a small menu will appear with options to talk to, examine or take him/her/it. You'll collect a large and diverse inventory of items while playing, a number of which will be used in several different ways during the course of the game. While the ways in which items are utilized might be questionable in the real world, they are never so outlandish as to necessitate a seemingly random "leap of logic"; I deeply appreciate this. Also like the previous chapters, Tucker has created some wonderful animation to bookend the game. This lends a unique style to the production, further enhancing the experience provided by an already very well-made game.

The game is not perfect, though. The plot does become a bit convoluted; so much is introduced and so many twists thrown in that at times it seems overworked. I didn't entirely understand how Alice's new abilities (which I will refrain from explicitly mentioning so as to not spoil the surprise) meshed with the events of the story. To be frank, however, I'm having a tough time coming up with much to complain about. Tucker took his time creating a polished game, and was clearly thoughtful in the choices he made.

While I'm truly sad that Something Amiss has come to an end, I am seriously excited to see what Tucker comes up with next. Over the weekend I replayed chapters 1 & 2 before tackling number 3, and doing so gave me a deep appreciation of Tucker's evolution as a designer; the dramatic growth and improvement over the three episodes is really pretty remarkable. If this is any indicator of his talent and potential, we have some fantastic games to look forward to in the future.

The hour has come to learn the truth:

Play Something Amiss Chapter 3


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (81 votes)
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graveshift.gifJohnBReady for some "up arrow means up-right" isometric adventuring? Grave Shift from Tangerine Pop Games provides all that plus a little puzzle solving, item collecting, door unlocking, and a dose of Halloween-esque spook for good measure. On the trail of the White Warlock who has covered the land in darkness and stolen the king's crown (it hides his bald spot, you see), you must trek through graveyard and tomb, keeping your health and courage up while avoiding snakes, zombies, spiders and plenty of other baddies.

Controls for isometric games are always a point of concern for some gamers, as everything is tilted at a slight angle. The [up] arrow moves you up and to the right, [right] moves you down-right, and so on, all of which translate to straight directions in the game's world. It's a bit mind-warping at first, but you'll quickly adjust. A help bar at the bottom of the screen shows you a few additional commands, such as tapping [spacebar] to dig with the shovel. Pretty standard stuff for an adventure game.

Monster generators, shown as colored "targets" on each screen, can be shut down by sliding a block on top of it, ridding the immediate zone of foes. Recovering stolen relics will net you extra gold, and King Krump would just love it if you brought some extra loot back from your journey. Food items such as root beer, turkey legs and potions replenish health/courage, both of which must be kept high to stay alive.

Puzzles are of the sliding block variety, so expect to do a lot of pushing things on top of other things. Often you'll have to skirt around enemies while maneuvering, which can be quite tricky. Defeating all of the on-screen foes often causes special events to happen, so if you're stuck, try focusing on the enemy generators and see if you can't make something good happen.

Analysis: Although the game takes place on an angled grid, you'll find Grave Shift is a bit forgiving about putting your character on the straight and narrow. In other words, if you're trying to edge by the corner of a fence and you're partially obscured by the obstacle, you'll automatically slide to the side. This is also true for block pushing, opening up quite a few possibilities to "bend" the game's rules and find alternate solutions to tough puzzles.

One departure from the adventure realm is the addition of enemies and health. Not only will you be pushing blocks and tripping switches, you'll have to do so while keeping killer trees as bay. Purists will long for a simpler adventure experience where you can stand and scratch your head all day long, while action gamers will feel greatly underchallenged. Straddling two opposing genres like this is risky and neither camp will be wholly satisfied, but the end result is far from disappointing.

Grave Shift is a well-illustrated and fun adventure game with a good sense of humor. Its four levels offer just the right amount of challenge and the length is spot-on for casual gamers.

Play Grave Shift


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (110 votes)
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PsychotronicHunted ForeverHunted Forever is a cool new action platforming game from Pixelante Game Studios. The plot is sort of like The Most Dangerous Game with the addition of a huge flying death machine armed with lasers, bombs, and swarming buzz-saw droids. Your job, as the silhouette of a man having an extremely bad day, is to escape from said death machine through forests, caves, and underground laboratories without getting turned into Fried Crispy Human Flakes. To put it mildly, the odds are against you.

Control the poor guy with your [arrow] keys or [WASD], jump with [up], [W], or [Space]. Pause with [ESC]. Pick up all the machine parts you can find; when you reach a safe zone, you can spend them on power-ups, like better speed or jumping height. No, you can't ever buy a bazooka. You are quite definitely the prey here, as the game will be happy to remind you with a sarcastic running commentary at the bottom of the screen.

The game is fairly short, rendering the "Forever" in the title somewhat nonsensical, but there are four difficulty levels — including Hardcore, where you have to finish without getting obliterated even once. Collect-o-philes can run through it as many times as they like, saving up more and more machine parts. Eventually, you may even stockpile enough to buy the "BBQ", which apparently grants you the power of Deliciousness.

I always hoped I would find a game that could increase my deliciousness. Mmm, delicious.

Analysis: This is the second game in Pixelante's Forever series, which began with Falling Forever. Though I still stand by the first game as a unique and stylish piece of work, Hunted Forever is a step forward in every way. The issues many folks had with Falling Forever — namely, confusing controls and performance issues—have largely been dealt with here, although older computers or last-generation Macs will most likely still have problems. Try turning off some of the visual effects in the options menu.

Hunted ForeverThe controls are smooth and intuitive this time around, and the main character animates really well. He hugs the slopes convincingly and generally moves like an athletic test subject should. Just check out the awesome flying side roll he does to pull himself up onto ledges. That's a man who knows he's being tailgated by a death machine. If some of the moves remind you of Fancy Pants Adventure, well, take a close look at the shop menu. Pixelante is candid about his influences.

The level design can be a bit weak — if you miss a jump, you may have to repeat a large area, dodging bombs the whole time. And the replay value is low, since the layout is the same every time, and choosing different power-ups doesn't have much of an effect on how you play. So the only incentive is to achieve as fast and smooth a run as possible.

On the other hand, the 2D cut-out visual style looks great, the bass riff in the music gives it a nice jazzy quality, and the humor is pretty sharp, although the "meat bag" thing is probably overdone. A hyper-intelligent computer should be able to invent a larger variety of insulting names for us humans. Like "skin tree". Or "flesh farm." Or "smelly face." Now start running, smelly face.

Play Hunted Forever

P.S. Hunted Forever is #8 on TIME Magazine's Best Games of 2008. Congratulations, Pixelante Game Studios!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (48 votes)
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tagatune.jpgArtbegottiA bit of sad news to announce: the previously-reviewed Peekaboom has been removed from the web (although The ESP Game, by the same folks, is a great alternative). The game, created as part of a study by Carnegie Mellon University, was created with the intention of teaching computers how to "see" images based on the input that human players gave. However, CMU has designed a new website with more games for teaching computers to think called GWAP (Games With A Purpose), including the new game Tag a Tune.

Instead of teaching computers to "see" you're teaching computers to "hear". You are partnered up with another random player with whom you cannot comminucate with (until the end of the game). As a sample of a random piece of music is played for you, type in the words or phrases that describe what you're hearing. Does the music fit into a certain genre? Can you name any of the instruments playing? Is it fast or slow? Happy or sad?

Meanwhile, your partner does the same, although (twist ahoy), you might not be listening to the same bit of music as your partner. Based on the descriptions given by yourself and your partner, you need to answer one simple question to earn points: Are we listening to the same thing?

You and your partner only have three minutes to match as many pairs as you can, so type fast and make your selections quickly. You get points for correctly guessing Same/Different, and streaks earn you bigger bonuses.

If you score 1000 points in the main game, you and your partner are taken to the bonus round, where more points are waiting to be won. You're now given three shorter sound clips, and are asked to choose the one that is "most unique." Sometimes, this is easy (classical, classical, techno), while other times might have you scratching your head a bit (techno, jazz, opera). You have one minute in this stage to try to match your partner's response as many times as you can before the game ends.

Analysis: A simple interface and a fun concept, Tag a Tune has the added bonus of being a game with, well, a purpose! In other words, you get to play, but work is accomplished and computers get smarter, freeing up more time for us to play games, so everybody wins! An unfortunate drawback to the system is that it requires free registration, but it only takes a few seconds and requires nothing more than an e-mail and password. A worthy price of admission for a little cooperative tune guessing.

Play Tag a Tune


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Rating: 4.8/5 (348 votes)
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World of Goo

ArtbegottiAfter months of anticipation, 2D Boy proudly presents World of Goo, a whimsical game of building, demolition, and gelatinous creatures. To say the least, this might be the most beautiful mess you'll ever play with in your life.

worldofgoo.jpgThe objective of (most) levels in this game is to collect a certain number of gooballs in the suction pipe at the end of the level. To do this you build a slimy structure by grabbing one of the goo guys and dragging it to the others and forming a connection. The resulting structure is affected by surprisingly realistic physics, so things like gravity and friction come into play quite often. Once your structure is close enough to the pipe the suction will turn on and any of the gooballs creeping around on the frame of your building will be sucked through the pipe.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008There are several types of gooballs to be played with, each with its own unique characteristics. Some can cling to more than two other points at one time, some catch on fire if they get too close to flames, and some dangle from the structure like water drops. It is possible to get the requisite number of gooballs to the pipe, but not before encountering some nasty obstacles first. The most frequent of these is spikes, which can instantly pop your gooballs and destroy your perfectly good triangles.

If you happen to get more than the minimum number of gooballs extracted from a level, those extra gooballs get taken to the World of Goo Corporation. Here you are allowed to freely build with the gooballs, trying to make as tall of a tower as you can. You can even compare the height of your tower with other players around the world. But is there another purpose behind the building of this tower?

worldofgoo2.jpgAnalysis: Honestly, there aren't many bad things to say about this game at all. 2D Boy has pulled out all the stops to create a game that's not only fun and innovative, but also humorous, addicting, and fun for the whole family. (That's right, it's even officially rated "E for Everyone" by the ESRB!)

The game is stylistically gorgeous, with Hollywood-quality animations and graphics that are reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss book mixed with a few gallons of jam pectin. Once you step into the World of Goo, you're immersed in the personality of the world. An anonymous "sign-painter" leaves you hints and suggestions throughout the game, but does it with a light sense of humor that seems as though it's straight from a sitcom (a funny one, mind you), all while magically communicating to you through a sign that, no matter how many times you flip it over, always has something different written on the other side. (We figure it's best not to question these things.)

The level of difficulty in this game seems to be just about right; no stage is too difficult to be solved, but no level is too easy that it gets boring. Yes, you might need to use trial and error to figure out solutions, and you might need to keep hitting that "retry" button a few times before you finally figure out the solution, but in the end, even your failed attempts feel like they were fruitful and encouraging attempts to get it right. And even if you do pass the levels with excessive ease, there's always the task of matching the OCD (Obsessive Completion Distinction) requirements for that extra challenge.

World of Goo is definitely something you shouldn't miss, if not for the stunning design, the fascinating gameplay, the delightful humor, and the all-around amazing game that it is, then for the rush of excitement when you finish the installation process, and see this window. When a game introduces itself to you like this, you know you're in for a good time.

AdamBOnce upon a time, a small game was released with little fanfare onto an unsuspecting world. The idea behind it was to connect chatty little goo balls and construct a tower with them. The game was called Tower of Goo and it was, and still is, free.

worldofgoo3.jpgFlash forward a few years and 2D Boy has released full-fledged version of the game now known as World of Goo. The basic premise of the game has remained the same, but the framework around that premise is a whole heck of a lot different. One level features another type of goo — a reusable green variety — and a pipe too far away. When it clicks that you can shimmy up the walls by rebuilding your structure as you go, the games depth and inventiveness begins to show. Later levels introduce floating goo, dead goo, and goo you can't pick up. Not content with simply making each level harder, "Go this far with this many goo balls", the game constantly re-invents itself: "Travel sideways using balloons".

Mac version of World of Goo now available!

What separates this from other puzzle games is that it never, ever claims to be a puzzle game. Sure there are goals to achieve through use of a given amount of strict parameters, but the game holds a big curtain of fun in front of everything that you are presented with and allows you only to see that you are enjoying yourself. World of Goo transcends any confines of traditional gameplay by hiding what makes the game work behind a sheen of brilliant enjoyment.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version

World of Goo is also available for WiiWare download (North America, 1,500 points). A Linux version is in the works.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (43 votes)
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Musaic Box

JohnBMusiac Box is a unique combination of a puzzle game and a musical toy that will challenge your brain and delight your ears all at the same time. Using tiles that represent individual musician's portions of a song, arrange the Tetris-like pieces on the grid and listen to the results. It's an extraordinarily simple premise for a game and the "match the tiles to the melody" puzzle solving is surprisingly enjoyable, even for non-music lovers.

musaicbox.jpgThe story, though light and hardly necessary, begins with your grandfather calling you to his place promising a spectacular birthday gift. When you arrive you find his "musaic box" along with note telling you to seek outlines for compositions that can be reconstructed with the box. You'll scour the rooms of this dusty old house searching for pieces of outlines hidden all over the place, turning over items and assembling a few simple machines along the way. You'll also be treated to tons of music-related facts as your cursor slides over the scenery before you. The variety of songs you'll assemble is great, featuring classical music from the likes of Mozart and Strauss to well-known folk songs and much more.

Once you find pieces and assemble a composition, head over to the musaic puzzle screen to start the show. At the bottom of the screen is a player that will sound the basic tune of the song you're attempting to compose. There are four musicians, each with his or her window at a corner of the screen and each corresponding to a block color. The columns of the grid can contain only one of each color, which makes sense, as a musican can only play one thing at a time. Listen to the sample, click on a few block pieces to hear their sounds, then start arranging. You'll listen to small snippets of songs over and over again as you try and piece together the whole tune, and the single-click system for listening to sounds works wonders.

You'll have to use a mix of spatial logic and your musical ear to solve puzzles in this game, sometimes more of the former than the latter. The unlimited-use hint button will highlight pieces that are placed in the wrong column, but its up to you to find where to orient them on the Y-axis. A little trial and error goes a long way.

musaicbox2.jpgAnalysis: Music games always strike a chord with me (yeah, sorry for the pun), as the simple reward of a perfectly arranged song is pleasing on many different levels. Musaic Box taps into this by breaking pieces of music into four parts (instruments), distributing them across a grid, arranging them in block patterns, and tasking you with re-assembling the whole mess. It's great to sit and fiddle with tiles (yes, another pun, but I'm not sorry for that one) and work out both visually and aurally what needs to be changed, tweaking as you go along. When you finish a puzzle a grand sense of accomplishment settles over you.

On the not-so-bright side, Musaic Box offers little replay value (although the "create a tune" unlockable is interesting) and practically no incentive to keep playing other than seeing what kind of music you'll be creating next. The game's adventure/hidden object elements are poorly developed but they do serve as a nice break between puzzle levels.

Despite falling short of bending game genres. Musaic Box is riveting for the several hours you'll spend playing through it. Creating famous songs by arranging blocks is surprisingly fun and offers just the right amount of challenge.

Play Musaic Box (Flash version)

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

JohnBSome odd news to go along with your games: Recently the American Heart Association announced that the Bee Gees song "Stayin' Alive" provides the perfect beat to follow while performing chest compressions as part of CPR on a heart attack victim. While this will certainly help save a number of lives, I really don't want to see disco (or qiana shirts) make a comeback.

Garden of Coloured LightsGarden of Coloured Lights (Mac/Windows/Linux, ~3MB, free) - A vertical shooter with some music game elements (similar to Rez, but 2D). Choose your three weapons from a grid at the beginning of the game, then head out into the field and upgrade them as you go along. Four stages, a sharply increasing difficulty level, and plenty of replay value thanks to the tri-weapon setup.

Treasure Hunter ManTreasure Hunter Man (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - Your typical platformer game from the creator of A Game with a Kitty. Explore the island, gather tons of treasure, and learn new abilities along the way. The game is technically unfinished, though it's perfectly playable and coherent from beginning to end and there shouldn't be any game-crashing bugs.

TimerocketxbyTimerocketxby (Windows, 1.3MB, free) - Another superb (but short) release from Hempuli, creator of Once in Space and Floating Islands Game. Pausing and rewinding time is all the rage in games nowadays, but Tomerocketxby takes that to a new level by freezing the game and turning almost every object into a platform. Stand on spikes, bits of enemy floating around, even raindrops to find your way through the stage. The download link is at the bottom of the linked page.

SkullpogoSkullpogo (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - An arcade game focused around one simple gameplay element: building combos by jumping on pigs and bats with a pogo stick. Yep, it's true. Power-ups appear from time to time to make things a little crazier, but otherwise it's straight-up hopping.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (21 votes)
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Miriel the Magical Merchant

JohnBMiriel the Magical Merchant is a medieval-themed time management game from Myth People, the same folks that brought us the well-polished puzzle game Azkend. As per the developer's reputation, Miriel the Magical Merchant takes a familiar formula, pulls out some of the set conventions, replaces them with something much more interesting, and slaps a shiny coat of paint on the top. The final product is something familiar but remarkably fresh that looks almost as good as it plays.

mirielthemagicalmerchant.jpgSince her father disappeared, Miriel has struggled to maintain the family's shop. But one day she gets a messasge from someone who's willing to assist her. Your job is to help her pay off her debt by selling food to customers as quickly and efficiently as possible. The interesting twist is that the storyline is interactive with an outcome based on which choices you made during each cut scene.

Using her magical skills Miriel can serve and create a number of food items from scratch. When a customer comes in and orders, queue up what he or she has chosen at the bottom of the screen. When the food appears on the table, simply click it and take it to the patron and receive your payment. Serve a customer before the golden wing disappears and you'll charge the haste pot. After four charges you'll get a temporary speed boost that increases Miriel's speed and makes food creation happen almost instantly.

The fun twist in Miriel the Magical Merchant is that in addition to serving buckets of water and delicious green apples you'll also do quite a bit of baking. Your first recipe is bread, easily created by summoning a bag of flour, a bucket of water, and carrying both items over to the oven. Put them in, wait a few moments, and out comes bread. As you progress through the game you get more and more recipes to cook up, increasing your profits and providing a more involved gaming experience. The nice bonus is that you get gradually unlock a catalogue of Miriel's recipes — real recipes you can bake up in your kitchen without the use of maigic!

Upgrading your equipment is also handled in a different way than most resource management sims. Instead of spending money and choosing what to buy, every few levels you'll be able to choose a single item to upgrade. A quick game of SameGame follows, simply keep the tiles from reaching the top of the screen and you get your reward.

mirielthemagicalmerchant2.jpgAnalysis: Miriel the Magical Merchant is easily categorized as a resource management game, but instead of droning through the levels just to upgrade my equipment, I genuinely enjoyed every minute of gameplay. The first two thirds of the game are just the right amount of challenge, and afterwards the speed really ramps up and keeps your mouse hand working overtime.

The recipe system is simultaneously one of the game's biggest strengths and its chief weakness. It's fun to create dishes on-the-fly and it really changes the overall feel of an otherwise standard resource management game. But because there are so many recipes, a little memorization is in order. Most of the combinations are simple, but from time to time you'll get some of them swapped around in your head. Fortunately the recipes are introduced at a gradual pace, giving you plenty of time to commit them to memory. And if you're stuck, you can always hover the cursor over the customer requesting the baked item to see the recipe in question.

Familiar enough to pull you right in, but with plenty of originality to warrant some attention. Miriel the Magical Merchant is a surprisingly interesting title that's infused with a little magic of its own.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (64 votes)
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PsychotronicdimensionPodAction game time! In colourPod 2: dimensionPod, you are a plucky gun turret in the center of the screen that has to survive while bad guys attack you from all sides. Rotate the turret with your mouse and shoot the black-and-white enemies by clicking. If you see a coloured orb, do not shoot it. It's a power-up. Instead, point the opposite direction and absorb it with the shield on your back. Suck up enough orbs of one colour, and you'll boost one of your special abilities, which are controlled with the keyboard. You'll get instructions as you acquire them, but they're all in the WASD region. Tip: Get lots of orange orbs. They make you shoot faster.

The twist here is the dimension-shifting mechanic. Some enemies appear hollow, which means they exist in the opposite dimensional reality, and you'll have to press [space] to switch planes, and then blast 'em. The gameplay is sort of a rapid-fire test of precision Pavlovian responses. Incoming triangle! Switch point click! Incoming purple thing! Point away don't click! If you had trouble learning the Macarena, don't play this game, or you may fall over and hurt yourself.

Analysis/Long Rant: This game is a little old now, but we haven't done a straight action game all week, so I figured it was time to mindlessly shoot stuff. To be fair, dimensionPod does require a little brainpower, but we're not talking rocket science. Of course, to be absolutely fair, the game is set in space, so there may actually be rockets involved, but don't worry, you won't have to deal with any science.

...except for the part about shifting dimensions. That's kind of science-y. And the lasers.

Also, you're mostly fighting various geometric shapes, and that may remind you of math, which, in turn, could evoke unpleasant memories of thinking. So if you're truly looking to shut your brain off and watch pretty explosions, you may want to CENSORED ENDORSEMENT OF ILLICIT SUBSTANCES and just have dimensionPod running nearby, because the background music is pretty kickin'.

dimensionPodAnd it better be good, because there are no sound effects in this game at all. You have to keep track of everything with your poor overworked eyeballs, which makes it very difficult to multi-task, and dimensionPod is practically a game about multi-tasking.

A Message to all Game-Designers, Especially Those Who Are Making Action Games: No matter how awesome your music is (in this case: Headlock by Imogen Heap, remixed by High Contrast), please put sound effects in your game, because I do not have two brains to process all that visual information. I need to be able to shoot at one enemy, instantly direct my attention to the next one, and then hear the explosion of the first one in the background, so I know I don't have to deal with it again. I need to hear a sound when I get hit, so I don't have to check my health bar while I'm being attacked by two dozen rabid octagons. This is not optional. Even if you have to steal the sound effects from Mega Man, put 'em in there.

Okay, I'm done.

Wait, I'm not done. I really like dimensionPod. The enemies get to be pretty inventive (though there's only so much personality you can pack into a trapezoid) and the way you get to choose your power-ups is nicely integrated with the game's central concept. There's one special power later on that requires me to have three hands to go with my two brains, but whatever, I can always charge up my nuke instead. Oh, and if you get to the end, there's a shocking plot twist. Seriously!

But the lack of sound effects quite simply drives me crazy, because without them, the game is SO. MUCH. HARDER. than it has to be. Yes, I know we're all used to playing games without sound at work or school, or if we do play them with sound, we like to be blasting our iTunes Party-Hearty mix or whatever, so it seems like I'm making a big stink about nothing; (inhale) but I swear sound design makes the difference between a good game, like colourPod 2: dimensionPod, and a great game, like Geometry Wars. This is not the only game around without sound effects, but it set off my Incredible Hulk trigger because it's so good in every other aspect of design, but so totally blind in this one.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go punch the dickens out of my body pillow, which has done nothing to deserve my wrath, but will nonetheless suffer.

Play colourPod 2: dimensionPod


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBI'm going to preface this Link Dump Friday with a stern warning: there's a pun at the end of the article. I know I know, puns are like kryptonite for some people, but I just couldn't resist. You know those moments when you're writing, a sentence pops into your head and immediately afterwards you realize you were being "clever" without even realizing it? Yeah, it was one of those. So read on, play some games, and when you reach the end, don't say I didn't warn you.

  • icon_deathdice.gifDeath Dice - Run! The gods are playing dice! Flee in terror to avoid dice that fall from the sky, collecting pills to keep your shock meter at bay. When the Death Dice lands it produces one of six events, so stay on your toes and watch for trippy happenings.
  • icon_merge.gifMerge - A brain-bending puzzle game where you try and match the symbol to the left by clicking a single triangle in the pyramid. If you wanted to make a square face with rectangular eyebrows and buck teeth, for example, just look for the triangle that intersects all three at once. But be fast, the game won't wait around for you!
  • icon_ballreflexion.gifBall Reflexion - To make sure you feel like a slothful pile of sludge, give this little reflex-based game a try. All you have to do is click the mouse when the ball nears a target. You can do that, can't you?
  • icon_momentummissilemayhem3.gifMomentum Missile Mayhem 3 - A grand follow-up to the first Momentum Missile Mayhem games, the third installment is bigger and badder than its predecessors. Combining tower defense-like gameplay with arcade-style shooting, blast foes using four different main weapons and upgrade your machine between levels.
  • icon_boombot.gifBoombot level editor - If you've been enjoying Ninja Kiwi's releases as much as I have, you'll be excited to see that Boombot now comes with its own community and level editor! Head over to the site, make some stages, play some user-created levels, and (here comes the pun), have a blast.

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (114 votes)
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PsychotronicTalesworth Arena: Death WatchTalesworth Arena: Death Watch, by Sean Gailey (Mr. Jinx), is an RPG with a strong focus on one-on-one combat and a cool industrial fantasy setting. Choose one of three characters — Engineer, Psionic, or Juggernaut — and battle your way through 10 levels of deadly gladiators. The combat system will be familiar to anyone who has played World of Warcraft or similar MMORPGS. Your weapons and techniques each take the form of a clickable button, with its own casting delay and recharge period. Just click on the buttons with appropriate timing to defeat your opponent. The cash you win can be traded at the Training Center for new combat moves, or at the Bazaar for magical stat-enhancing artifacts.

What makes Talesworth noteworthy is the finely-balanced puzzle aspect to the gameplay. After the first level, which acts as a training period, you'll face opponents with deadly techniques that will wreck you if you let them resolve. You'll have to arm yourself with moves that can interrupt and cancel the incoming pummeling. Of course, your foes will start showing up with interrupts to cancel out your own killer moves. Each battle becomes an intriguing web of tempo, reflexes, and strategy. And right when you think you've got the game figured out, watch what the 2nd boss does to your battle grid.

Analysis: Talesworth Arena has top-quality production, with gorgeous character portraits and music that sets the mood perfectly. I would have liked a wider selection of sound effects in battle, though, and I hope that the sequel includes some animation. A simple but well-written plotline and a handful of side quests round out the package.

The engineer is probably the easiest character to start with, since he gets a hair-trigger interrupt move right away, and the first version of Talesworth was balanced around him. You think you can make it to the end and defeat Klax, the Arena Master? Better polish up that flame-thrower! And remember: don't blow your money at the Bazaar until you're sure you've got all the training you need.

Play Talesworth Arena: Death Watch


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (118 votes)
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Neutral Halloween

JayMya of Neutral has just released a new mini-game, and this one appears (at random) in the banner at the top of the Neutral site. Neutral Halloween mini-game is what I'm calling this cute and easy escape game with a Halloween theme (well, it used to have a Halloween theme. The pumpkin has been replaced with a piggy bank now.) It features the same excellent implementation features of all the other Neutral games, along with simple yet appealing and effective graphics. Like many escape games, there is only one exit, and yet there are two different possible endings: 'normal' clear and 'perfect'. I'm sure you will find this one worthwhile of your time!

Play Neutral Mini Escape Game

Cheers to Martha for sending this one in! =)

Since the game appears at random on the site you may have to reload the page a couple of times until you see the mini escape game.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (150 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessIt is a classic horror scenario: the car broken down in the middle of the road, the swirling snow and biting cold, the beckoning light visible just over the hill. A house! Oh, thank goodness. HouseYou can warm up, maybe get a nice cup of tea, call a mechanic. You hustle quickly through the frost and step inside the oddly quiet home...but what's this? The lights are on, cheery fireplaces crackle in every room, yet no one is there. You call out a hello, but your voice echoes unanswered through the hall. How strange. Surely the family has just stepped out for a moment....into the blizzard?

House, a sprawling escape-the-room (mansion, actually) quest from Pixelatrix Games, places you squarely into such a spooky situation. While not literally trapped inside the house, you surely cannot survive outdoors on such a bitterly freezing night; nothing to do, really, but make yourself at home. As you wander around the mansion (enormous, with more than a dozen rooms), however, you'll begin to find mysterious scraps of paper, references to codes, increasingly frantic journal entries. It soon becomes apparent that something wicked has invaded the home; if you are to survive, you must banish the evil force and bring peace back to this troubled place.

I've always loved sinking into a nice, long novel, so the length and scope of House really appealed to me. At times, however, the sheer size of the game can become daunting. This is not a game to be finished on your lunch break; depending upon how quickly you piece the puzzles together, you may expect to spend 1-3 hours playing. Unlike some escape-the-rooms, in which you may spend 10 minutes clicking vainly in an attempt to find a single hotspot, within the first few minutes of playing House you will most likely collect a number of clues and items; at least for me, however, after a while the various bits of information became a jumble, and I found myself ultimately needing to take copious notes. Still, I'd always prefer having a bit too much to deal with rather than too little.

Pixelatrix has created a truly excellent-looking game. Impressively, despite the sheer size of the game, each location is furnished beautifully; the rich environments draw the player in and create a more immersive experience. The game has relatively few "boo!" moments, which of course means that those few occurrences are all the spookier for their rarity. I wasn't, however, a fan of the bits of humor that the designers sprinkled throughout the game; to me, the random goofy references (dancing haggis?) disrupt the otherwise eerie atmosphere and undermine the suspension of disbelief.

Still, that is a minor criticism of a very enjoyable game. House has a compelling story, plenty of varied-yet-mainly-logical puzzles, and is gorgeous to boot; what more can one ask for, really?

It's time to face your demons:

Play House


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (175 votes)
| Comments (40) | Views (326)

PsychotronicMastermind: World ConquerorIf you're like me, you hate to see your minions fail you. "If only I had trained him better," you think, as you winch your Vice-Lieutenant head-first into a seething tank of barracudas, "If only I had whipped him harder, or implanted a transformer in his brain with a higher maximum voltage. Maybe he wouldn't have led an elite cadre of Brazilian super-spies to my drawbridge, just as I was putting the finishing touches on my Global Tectonic Reconstruction Laser. There must be a better way."

Well now, thanks to a puny civilian known as The Swain and his clever world domination simulator, you can test your schemes and stratagems without the nagging twinge of guilt that comes with executing legions of your idiot henchmen. It's called Mastermind: World Conqueror, and it takes the form of a humble real-time strategy game.

Mastermind: World ConquerorYou play Mastermind using only the mouse. Your goal is to destroy the world: a worthy exploit, if a bit short-sighted. Your time will be divided between planning and defense. The behind-the-scenes work is driven by a swarm of icons and menus. You can plan and execute missions, hire new vassals from an broad and colorful rogue's gallery (although that color is mostly red), bolster the defenses for your base, and even purchase legitimate businesses to help fund your fledgling empire. Just like in real life.

Periodically, groups of misguided do-gooders will attack your base, and you'll have to attend to self-preservation. This part of the game is slightly more action-packed, but your options are basically limited to "Return to base," "Attack that guy," and "Everyone switch to flame-throwers." As your notoriety grows, the Forces of Good will send larger squadrons with more sophisticated weapons, so you'll have keep pace with your own technology.

Analysis: Mastermind: World Conqueror has some of the highest production values you're likely to find in a Flash game, with some decent animation, a healthy dose of humor (some of which firmly puts this in the PG-13 category) and a startling amount of high-quality voice acting. The overhead battle graphics aren't as appealing as the menu icons or the cut-scenes, but they do their job.

Mastermind: World ConquerorThe level of depth is fantastic; although you always have to devote a certain amount of energy to cash, combat, and science, there are multiple paths to every goal. While you must play a megalomaniac, your choices will define what kind of megalomaniac you are, be it a big-city financier with ties to the mob or a moon-dwelling pariah with an arsenal of lasers and a robot as your second-in-command.

Keep in mind that the game doesn't stop while you are entangled in the menu screens. The next attack creeps closer all the time, and there is no Sit Back And Contemplate The Inevitable Defeat Of Your Enemies button, unless you count "Pause". That means you need to be actively engaged at all times, which somewhat undermines the feeling of being the mysterious puppet-master behind the curtain, but does keep the pacing tight.

That being said, the difficulty is probably set too low, and a handful of unbalanced exploitable strategies make it even easier. Without a significant threat to your well-being, the stakes seem inconsequential, even with the fate of the entire world on the line. This is a fairly long game, and the lack of challenge can make it feel repetitive. One thing that would help is keyboard shortcuts. The entirely mouse-driven menu system can get to be a drag.

Summary: Despite a few flaws, Mastermind: World Conqueror is an impressive and ambitious game. Whether you're a morally ambiguous genius with a penchant for destructive technology, or a simple peon looking to dig into a polished real-time strategy game, you've got one serious distraction in front of you.

Play Mastermind: World Conqueror


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (135 votes)
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breakingthetower.gifJohnBBreaking the Tower is a slow-paced strategy game where you build a village, raise an army, and eventually topple a tower on the other side of the island. Think Settlers or the original Warcraft, but simpler and with more automation. All you have to do is decide what to build, plunk down a building and your pixelated little peons take care of the rest.

Breaking the Tower uses a simple rock-paper-scissors-type approach to gameplay that's entirely mouse-driven. You have three basic resources that are used for everything in the game: wood, food, and stone. Each of your eight structures costs a different amount of one or more of these to build, but they all generate something, whether that's more resources or units. Balancing the number and type of buildings to manage their relationships is the key to forming a stable village. And stable villages are great for breaking towers.

At the onset of the game you'll have 100 of each resource to build anything you see fit. Start with the basics, which at the very least will include a farm to grow food, a mill to gather crops, a masonry to gather stone, and a woodcutter's shack to harvest wood. Once enough resources have been collected you can worry about expanding.

Tip for taking down the tower:

When you've cleared a path to the tower, place mason shops at its base to take it down one level at a time.


Analysis: Breaking the Tower is simple, not too challenging, but somehow extraordinarily engrossing. Your first game will likely last half an hour or more, with a good bit of that time spent waiting for resources to be gathered so you can spend them. Pro tip: multitask! I've been playing another round while writing this review! Really it's not a question of if you'll break the tower, just when. The agaonizingly slow pace of the game will probably turn away some gamers, but it's the perfect diversion when you can't put all of your attention on a game and just want to flip back and forth. It requires patience more than skill, but it's just as rewarding all the same.

Play Breaking the Tower


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (313 votes)
| Comments (224) | Views (713)

PsychotronicKaroshi: Suicide SalarymanKaroshi has finally made its way into your internet browser! Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman is the first official Flash installment in this popular series by Jesse Venbrux, existential Game Maker auteur extraordinaire. In case you skipped the first three installments, Karoshi is a platform/puzzle game where your goal is the exact opposite of most such entertainments: you have to die.

Throw yourself onto spikes, zap yourself with electricity, smash yourself with a falling safe. It's like an extended version of the cathartic moment when you get finally get sick of Mario's empty-headed cheerleading and just hurl him off a cliff.

Control your blocky businessman with the [arrow] keys. If you find a gun, fire it with the [spacebar]. I know, it sounds like finding a gun should make a game about suicide reeeeally simple; but due to a lack of courage and elbows, your man can only shoot away from himself. You have to find other uses for the gun, if you want to work it into your demise.

Analysis: Karoshi could have been a pretty grim experience, but Venbrux has tackled the topic of self-destruction with humor. The main character's design is simple but perfect. He is a square in every sense of the word, born and bred to inhabit a cubicle. His fixed, wide-set gaze suggests that hope and ambition are distant memories, and his only remaining emotion is brittle determination. You'd want to give him a hug, if he weren't all sharp edges.

Suicide Salaryman is much less ostentatiously goofy than Karoshi 1 or 2, but the puzzles are a little more intricate, with a greater emphasis on exploding blocks and chain reactions.

The mind games are lighter for the Flash crowd, with strange, out-of-place emoticons offering hints, and way fewer levels that require you to think outside of the box. On the other hand, more solutions require split-second timing, and everything seems to be faster anyway. It feels like the twitchiest Karoshi.

I don't think I like the new blood effects. Just because Flash makes it easy to work with vectors, everything doesn't have to look like an exploding ball of crimson yarn. But the classic blocky Karoshi graphics are as charming as ever, and the background music is still the perfect combination of up-beat and off-beat.

This game is mostly about inverting expectations about video games, but it also touches on real-world issues. "Karoshi" is the word for a Japanese phenomenon where businesspeople suddenly drop dead from stress-related illness, due to overwork. It doesn't have anything to do with intentional suicide. Venbrux has twisted the meaning of the word, crafting an indictment of oppressive corporate environments, rather than the social pressures that would drive people to literally work themselves to death. I think it's a less interesting topic, but then, I have the luxury of working in a non-rectangular office. Maybe the point about cubicles killing you just can't be made often enough.

Play Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (37 votes)
| Comments (31) | Views (464)

Kudos 2

Ms.45Cliffski is back with a sleek, sexy update to Positech's life sim game Kudos. For those of you who don't already own Kudos, it is a turn-based sim which, although beautifully illustrated, is basically text, unlike The Sims where your avatar moves around and interacts with objects and other players.

kudos2a.jpgThe basic premise is still the same — you start as a bouncy, enthusiastic 20 year old waiting tables in a cruddy restaurant for minimum wage and tips. You have four friends with varying characteristics, and the choice of one activity a day (two at weekends). You can try to get a promotion at the restaurant, study medicine, law, performing arts, or just beef up your meditation chops. You also need to maintain yourself — keep fit, bathe, go to the dentist and so on, all whilst maintaining your social life... which can get expensive.

The play screen allows you to select the way you get to work, and one activity to do in the evening. The activity buttons allow you to pick something to do — sign up for classes, look for work, socialise with friends or chill out on your own. You can shop for things that will 'enhance' your personality and skills — for instance, books on confidence boosting or a set of barbells for good health. You need to keep a close eye on how your activities are affecting your characteristics — for instance, if you apply for a job with low confidence, the employers will think you're not really up to it and reject the application.

This is quite a challenging game, and I'm not entirely sure if it's strictly "casual" given how long you'd have to play to get through the ten years of the character's life. Its replay value is immense — OK, you've "won" the game as a TV chef, now give it a go as a computer programmer with an interest in ballet. Although it is tempting to play the game as a clickfest, you will be rewarded for paying attention to the text. Firstly, keeping a close watch on friend's personalities and who they get along with will help you create successful events, which will increase your positive characteristics and make your character more popular. Secondly, it's funny — although Cliffski has mentioned that he's deliberately made the game more upbeat, the acerbic sense of humour still shines through.

kudos2b.jpgAnalysis: So... what's so special about Kudos 2 if you do already own Kudos? The most noticeable thing is the artwork, a clean, sharp comic style very different from the 3D style of Kudos and Kudos: Rock Legend. If you like it as much as I do, it's by a couple of artists named Chris Hildenbrand and Jamie McKelvie, whose work can be viewed on his blog. Mostly, Kudos 2 is — as Cliffski freely admits — an enhanced and more sophisticated version of Kudos, rather than a completely new game. The character AI is more sophisticated, and characters will drop hints about activities that should be taken in or avoided. There are also new mini-games and more depth to previous activities.

I have a few quibbles about the activities. I know the prices of things can't be realistic in an independent game like this, but, for instance, why does it cost $2 to take a bath? Even allowing for utility bills, it doesn't cost that much to sit in a tub of hot water! It also makes me somewhat upset that there are so few cheap or free activities — one is soccer in the park, another is to go jogging alone — even though in the real world people do low-cost stuff together all the time (let's hang out in the park and drink goon!). Then your friends get snarky and leave you because you can't spend all your time socialising! Similarly, "Go to church" to increase your honesty and relaxation levels didn't impress me much, being a godless heathen. However, the beauty of the Kudos series is how easy it is to mod, so if I want to switch church with a vigorous session of ashtanga yoga, I can just change a line of code.

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 (5)

Weekend Download

JohnBLook! Over there! It's a giant robot alligator with a bunch of little drills going out to get some sushi! Before he sees us, reload your grenade gun with cherries and tap the appropriate key when his sushi order floats over the red zone!

avertfate.jpgAvert Fate (Mac/Windows, 90MB, free) - Gritty first person shooter designed to show off the capabilities of the Unity engine. For the most part the gameplay is standard FPS fare, but there are some interesting weapons to mess with, and fighting alien ships in the sky is always a plus. Hit detection feels a bit rough around the edges, but you'll forgive any sort of awkwardness when that huge robot steps into your view.

alextheallegator.gifAlex the Allegator 4 (Mac/Windows, 1MB, free) - Platforming pulled back to its basics, even the color palette emulates the green hues of the original Game Boy! This installment is part of a series of wildly different games that includes a puzzle title, racing game, and multiplayer platformer, although I enjoyed Alex's run and jump antics a bit more than the other games.

littlemachines.jpgLittle Machines Still Goes Deeper (Windows, 7MB, free) - A cute, colorful arcade-style "digging" game where you must control drills burrowing under the soil to collect gems. Click and drag the mouse over a drill to select a direction, but avoid rocks of any kind, as they'll destroy your little machines. Fun time waster, especially when things get more hectic and you have to choose between collecting gems and keeping your drills safe.

waxyssushiparty.jpgWaxy's Sushi Party (Windows, 12MB, free) - An intense Game Maker-created game of reflexes that marries Dance Dance Revolution-style button tapping to a resource management sim. Sushi orders, represented by colored dots, pass by the red and green areas at the bottom of the screen. Use the keyboard to "activate" the areas while an order is on top to fill it. Keep an eye on the bills section to the right and use the numpad to add up completed orders and charge customers what they owe. Things get frantic pretty fast, but when you get into the swing of things, there's an almost Zen-like beauty to playing. (Note: Game is "Play Now" only, meaning you must install an Internet Explorer or Firefox plugin to play.)


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (59 votes)
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Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena

JohnBStanding toe to toe with games like Azada: Ancient Magic, Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze, and even the Mystery Case Files series isn't an easy job, but Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena matches (and, in many areas, surpasses) its contemporaries with a fun blend of adventure and hidden object gaming. Each scene is vivid and unique, packed with hand-drawn artwork, simple item finding (read: no gigantic items confusingly camouflaged in the foreground), and a strong emphasis on using objects you find to interact with the scenery to solve puzzles. It's a balanced and enjoyable game you won't want to turn away from once you've started playing.

samanthaswift.jpgSamantha Swift is an archaeologist on the lookout for new and exciting artifacts to bring back to her museum. A nefarious competitor swoops in at the last moment and steals her prize find, but Samantha learns of an even bigger fish to fry. Piecing together the Shield of Athena, we learn of six roses that are missing from its face. Samantha immediately sets out to find them, but her rivals are hot on her heels!

Each scene in Samantha Swift is packed with items, just like every other hidden object game on the market. A scanner helps you out by showing a silhouette of any list item you click, and you have a handful of hints to use at any moment. Items are usually pretty easy to find, and in many cases you can pick up most of the list before you even read what's on it! If you're looking for a hidden object experience, however, you're missing two thirds of this extraordinary game.

After you track down a handful of things on the screen, you can begin to uncover little secrets using your inventory. Finding a shovel, for example, sends it to your Tools bar, and if the cursor turns blue over the soil, you can bet some digging will be in order. A few mini-game-style puzzles can also be found, and each fits perfectly in the story and setting.

You travel the world with Ms. Swift, visiting Italy, Guatemala, France, and more. The locations are unique and illustrated with a superb art style that's bright, lively and interesting. Many areas offer several scenes you'll need to travel back and forth between in order to find all of the items and solve every puzzle. Not much backtracking, but enough to make you feel like you have a large area to explore.

samanthaswift2.jpgAnalysis: It's a bold thing to say, but Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena is a game that gets just about everything right. From the overall design angle to the little gameplay details, everything fits together in perfect harmony. Common annoyances I've had with hidden object games are absent in this game. In fact, Samantha Swift made me realize a few things about other games in the genre that bug me, like a hint system that randomly shows you where an item is. Here, using a hint lets you choose which item you'd like to find, a subtle improvement that really brightened my gaming experience!

The only possible detractors to this game are its relatively short length and low level of difficulty. Puzzles, however creative and interesting, don't pose too much of a challenge, though they're always fun to complete. And even though you can charge through the game in one or two sittings, you can replay the game afterwards with different lists of items to find.

Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena is easily one of the best adventure/hidden object hybrids I've played. It's not perfect, but it's a fresh and fun experience that trumps most other games out there.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Samantha Swift is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish GamesArcade Town


| Comments (30) | Views (0)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIn this blue-colored world (you know, 'cause of oceans and stuff), we have people that bake bread, people who build buildings, people who stack things on top of other things. We also have people who make games. Everyone fills their little niche in the grand scheme of things, but only one of the above listed folk have a Link Dump Friday. Can you guess which one?

  • icon_picrossquest.gifPicross Quest - Picross = win. The picture-making logic puzzles are best handled with pencil and paper, but when a browser version comes along, I can't help but indulge myself. Use the numbers around the grid to determine which blocks should be filled in. A tutorial helps ease you into the game if you've never played before, and picross fans will find enough puzzles to stay busy for a while.
  • icon_bootyjuggler.gifBooty Juggler - A gorgeously illustrated game where you must help the octopus juggle items with his six tentacles and avoid getting blasted by the bombs. I love looking at this game, but I'm afraid I don't have the requisite six arms required to play...
  • icon_theeyeballinggame.gifThe Eyeballing Game - The Eyeballing Game is exactly what it claims to be: a game where you eyeball stuff. Follow the instructions and move the target/lines to find the center of circles, bisect angles, create parallelograms, and so forth. Score as low as you can to show how high your eyeballing skills are.
  • icon_gravitygrid.gifGravity Grid - A matching game where you must rotate and flip the playing field to slide pieces into place. You have a limited number of moves, and planning your strategy is an exercise in 2D spatial orientation.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (46 votes)
| Comments (15) | Views (1)

41streality.gifJohnBNew from Ali Maunder, creator of Kaichou and the Neon games, comes an arena shooter even casual gamers can enjoy.

41st Reality is a sort of mash-up between Asteroids and Space Invaders where you pilot a tiny craft against waves of incoming enemies (which happen to be aliens and geometric shapes). Power-ups appear from time to time to give you a hand, but otherwise its just you and your reflexes keeping you alive.

Controls are handled with a mouse/keyboard hybrid setup where the [arrow] or [WASD] keys move your ship and the mouse aims. Firing is done automatically, so all you have to do is direct the constant stream of bullets towards the enemy and avoid getting hit.

Enemies drop items that either immediately give you a new weapon (spread shot, double shot, or homing missiles) or send a power-up to your one-slot inventory. Click the left mouse button to use this stored item, with effects ranging from a localized "destroy everything around you" explosion to a turret that stays on screen and helps you out with some friendly fire.

Just like in the classic Asteroids, huge chunks of stuff comes flying at you from all directions of the screen. Blast them to break them down into smaller pieces, then take out the debris shards one by one. The Space Invaders slant sends rows of aliens marching in from the top of the screen. Put the two together and, well, good luck with that.

Analysis: The most surprising thing about 41st Reality is that it's inviting to a wide audience, not just twitch-happy arcade gamers. The low difficulty curve lets everyone have fun, but you really have to muster some sort of skill to survive in later levels. For this reason the game will come off as slow-paced, but give it a few minutes and things will pick up considerably.

I also really appreciate the retro feel the vector-based visuals convey. See the emulated CRT lines? Oh yeah, brings back fond memories of standing in front of an arcade machine with quarters lined up beneath the monitor. Good times!

A shmup for more casual gamers, 41st Reality keeps things on the simple side without foregoing too much challenge.

Play 41st Reality


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Rating: 3.6/5 (103 votes)
| Comments (46) | Views (26)

Weekday Escape

JayOne of the more disappointing aspects of escape the room games is that there are so many that appear but relatively few of them are worthy of your time. We try to highlight only the best of the best, which still results in a less than 'exceptional' experience from time to time, but Weekday Escape is here to save the day!

Dr. Ichie's Room screenshotThis week's feature is Dr. Ichie's Room, an exceptional and straightforward game from Japan that fortunately includes a (rough) English translation for most of the descriptions and explanations it contains. From Bianco Bianco, the same team that created Mystery House: Escape from Beginning Room, the graphics it contains are polished and appealing, and there are no pixel hunts necessary. Only once is there a leap from logic—something appears only after you complete a puzzle. Other than that one minor issue, the game is a solid escape game experience and is highly recommended for fans of the genre. If you don't usually care for this type of game, you're not likely to change your mind as this offers a fairly standard, even though exceptional, game play experience.

Play Dr. Ichie's Room


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Rating: 4.1/5 (102 votes)
| Comments (31) | Views (9)

These Balls are Made for HidingArtbegottiAh yes, hunting season fast approaches, and there's one thing on everyone's mind... camouflage. Hunters have it, as well as the deer and the turkeys. And so do invading balls of doom.

Tonypa once again brings us another challenge, known as These Balls are Made for Hiding. As the title implies the field before you is not empty, but hides balls. Your colored box along the edge of the playing field can fire a beam in the direction of your mouse, ricocheting off of any Best of Casual Gameplay 2008hidden balls and exposing them. Clicking the mouse will clear these balls from the screen, and the onslaught of balls will inch its way down the field. If you think you can adjust your shot and take out more balls at once though, simply move your mouse until you find a path for your beam that suits your interests. Doing this, however, rehides the balls you've just uncovered back in the field, but this time as black circles against the dark gray field.

As you progress through the levels the locations from which your beams can fire and land as well as the sizes of the balls to hit will change. Always be sure to keep an eye on the descending gray field, which shows the center point of the lowest ball on the field (although not how many actually sit on the line or where they're at). If a ball reaches the bottom of the screen, it's game over, and the deer frolic away. Goodbye, venison stew.

Analysis: Giving the enemy the advantage of stealth makes for some interesting gameplay. You realize the excitement this game can generate when the gray field has almost reached the bottom and you've cleared a couple of balls sitting on the bottom line... but are there more hiding there that you haven't exposed? One fate-sealing click will reveal all, but will it be too late? Tonypa once again turns a simple idea into a fun game of strategy and chance, with a hint of skill thrown in on the side.

Play These Balls are Made for Hiding

Cheers to Mot for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.7/5 (189 votes)
| Comments (221) | Views (372)

PsychotronicBlocks With Letters OnBlocks With Letters On is an anagram puzzle game from Martin Sears, presented with the distinct flavor of British educational programming. Don't be fooled by the charming hand-drawn appearance and the curiously twisted vignettes between levels; don't worry if the first few levels seem too basic. This turns into a serious brain-twister. The title screen promises "64 levels of mind-numbing word action," and while I might quibble with the definitions of "mind-numbing" and "action", the game is pretty much as advertised. I advise turning your speakers down to 50%, so when the game shouts the solutions at you, you don't jump in surprise and spill Tang down your shirt. Though maybe that's supposed to be the "action" part.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Each level presents you with a jumbled collection of movable blocks (with letters on) and a string of yellow squares. Position the blocks in the yellow squares so that they spell a word. Select a block with either the mouse or the space bar, then move it with the arrow keys. On some of the larger levels, the blocks' movement can be aggravatingly slow, but most of the time there isn't much wasted space. As you progress, you'll encounter rotating blocks, sticky walls, floor switches and more.

You get 20 hints to last you for 64 levels. The "Clue Flap" tells you the first letter in the target word, and the "Hint Button" helps you with overall strategy for the level. Now obviously, you can just restart from the beginning after you use up a clue, but what fun is that? See if you can make it through on the first try. Bonus Hint: The solution to level 4 is not "LUBE."

Play Blocks With Letters On

Still want more Blocks With Letters On?
Play the entire BWLO series...


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Rating: 4.7/5 (23 votes)
| Comments (28) | Views (11)

JessTraces of HopeGames are usually thought of as diversions, entertainment, distractions to get through times of boredom or simply to experience pure enjoyment. They can also, however, be a persuasive medium through which to convey important ideas; more and more, various organizations and other entities are recognizing the power inherent in games and utilizing them to spread their messages to a larger population.

Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, are an especially effective genre to this end. By creating an interactive narrative rife with puzzles, intriguing characters and dramatic storylines, ARGs draw players in to an extent not possible for most other types of games. Microsoft, Steven Spielberg and countless video games and movies have all produced alternate reality games; now, from the British Red Cross, comes Traces of Hope, one of the first-ever charity ARGs!*

Traces of Hope centers around 16-year-old Joseph; survivor of a vicious civil war in Uganda, he was wrenched from his family and forced to flee his home. Now, five years later, Joseph is on a dangerous quest to locate his mother. With the help of a British journalist, the young refugee has access to a satellite phone with which he can contact players; this is where you come in. Can you guide Joseph through the perils of a war-torn civilization to maybe, just maybe, locate the Red Cross messenger who can provide the information he so desperately desires?

Created by Enable Interactive, the game promises to combine "storytelling, detective work, technology and treasure-hunt style gameplay in a compelling 21st century narrative, as players seek to reunite Joseph with his mother." I can't provide many details, as the nature of an ARG is to be constantly unfolding; however, I think that Traces of Hope has the potential to be both fun and profoundly moving, an unusual combination indeed. Compelling story + entertaining gameplay + important real-world info = one heckuva good thing.

Registration opened about a week ago, so jump in now to avoid missing the boat! You can also see a teaser video for the campaign, and, if you like, post your thoughts and findings here in the comments for others in the JIG community.

Also, if you enjoy games with a cause, make sure to check out the new and improved Free Rice! A year after its debut, the United Nations World Food Program-developed vocabulary game has expanded to include subjects such as geography, art, grammar and chemistry; as before, every correct answer for any subject donates 20 grains of rice to the UN (the rice is paid for by the game's sponsors). Over 45 billion grains have been donated so far; let's add to that number. :)

Joseph needs your help:

Play Traces of Hope

*Note: We had originally written that Traces of Hope was the "first-ever" charity ARG, but we want to set the record straight: Operation: Sleeper Cell (in aid of Cancer Research UK) launched slightly earlier than this one did.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (153 votes)
| Comments (42) | Views (118)

Meat BoyJohnBMeat Boy is a platform game that dares to ask the question "What if the main character from Knytt or N was made of bits of sticky, gooey raw meat?" And even though you never wanted to listen to the sound of meat slapping against solid blocks over and over again, when you're playing Meat Boy, you probably won't mind. As an added incentive (you know, in addition to ambulatory chunks of raw flesh), one of the game's creators, Edmund McMillen, is co-author of Aether, Gish, Triachnid and Coil.

Meat Boy is made out of meat. Meat Boy's love interest is made out of band-aids. One day a fetus in a jar wearing a suit and monocle kidnaps her and runs away. Thus the game begins. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [space] to jump, and press against walls and leap to perform a wall jump. You'll become quite familiar with how fast and far Meat Boy jumps, as the entire game is based around hairpin maneuvers and squeezing your tiny self between saw blades and other dangers.

The goal of each level is to make it to the Bandaid Girl in one piece. The game provides cheerful advice after each stage, such as "Don't die. Dying is bad." Levels are accessed from a simple menu screen, allowing you to skip rough spots and come back to them later when you're ready for more punishment. You only have to complete three out of five stages to unlock the next series of levels, so there's plenty of wiggle room when you're ready to pull out your hair. Also, try and grab floating band-aids you'll see from time to time, as they're the key to unlocking a few fun extras later in the game.

Analysis: Meat Boy is a tough game. Tough as in old-school tough, forcing you to play and re-play areas until you get things just right. Fortunately it's not entirely unforgiving, as the level select menu allows you to move to a different stage when the going gets too tough, which is a good compromise between raw difficulty and accessibility.

A great feature in Meat Boy is the easy-to-use custom level creator. Accessible from the main menu, simply click and craft your stage to be as devious as you please. You're given a custom level text code that you can copy and paste into e-mails (or comment forms here at JIG!) so friends can import the stages you create. The Meat Boy team will assemble a map pack next month containing around 50 user-created stages, so if you think your level is tops, send the code to souldescen{at}aol.com and hope for the best!

If you can stand staring at the juicy goo left by a ball of meat squishing across each level, Meat Boy serves as a nice diversion. It's a smart-looking game with loads of personality and just enough challenge to make you want more.

Play Meat Boy


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Rating: 4.2/5 (154 votes)
| Comments (107) | Views (218)

JaySoul CoreThe fourth in the "Core" series of point-and-click adventure games created by John Feltham has just been released. Soul Core is similar to other games like this, and yet introduces a unique concept as well. Use your mouse to point and click on items to add them to your inventory; click on inventory items and drag them to the game view to use them. Use these items in the correct places to solve puzzles and complete the game. In addition, you will want to look for ways to increase your "soul" rating while playing. Try to complete the game with 100%.

Play all the Core Series games:
Sphere CoreCube CorePrism CoreSoul CoreTower Core

Play Soul Core

Cheers to Michelle for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.1/5 (20 votes)
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Swarm Gold

JoshSwarm Gold is an update to, and replacement for, the original Swarm created by Reflexive Entertainment back in 1998.

swarmgoldThe new Swarm Gold features an impressive emulated 3D graphics system and realistic sound. You have free range to fly around the entire map just as we've seen in many modern top-down shooters. The subtle storyline is that you're a convict in the distant future, offered a pardon if you can successfully pilot your T77 Assault Craft through the galaxy and collect your quota of EZT, a precious energy resource. A hostile, insectoid-like alien presence was discovered to be working toward the same goal, which is why the government is recruiting felons to fly these suicide runs. The role of the pilot reminds me a lot of Duke Nukem, because of the scruffy, tough-guy voice acting heard in-game.

The most notable aspect of Swarm Gold that's evident right out of the starting gate is the smooth control system, something that's rare even among modern top-down space shooters. Trying to control a ship's boosters, direction, guns and more always proved to be a chore on a PC keyboard. Many games have tried many different approaches, but I can't remember playing one more intuitive than Swarm Gold. You control the ship's direction by using the mouse, which rotates a directional reticule in front of your ship. Thrusters are controlled with [space], and you simply fire guns with the first and second mouse buttons.

Each level you zone in via a "jump gate," a wormhole-like mechanic that drops you off in each sector of the galaxy. Each level presents you with a quota of EZT to collect, which you can find either by looking at the minimap radar, or by following a pretty cool HUD-system that surrounds your ship, pointing you to both resources and bad guys. There's a special blue icon that shows you the direction of the nearest EZT, and a red one to warn you about the nearest enemy. Both are easily integrated into the mouse-reticule system in a way that makes navigating your ship a breeze. The space bar activates your thrusters just as you're probably used to seeing in many other top-down space shooters; the best method controlled by moderate-to-short taps, using momentum to fly around moreso than the actual thrusters themselves. The weapons are equally as simple to control; a left mouse click fires your blasters and the right mouse button ejects a mine.

swarmgoldThe variety of weapons isn't huge, but it's pretty adequate for a game this size. You start out with gold blasters, which get the job done in early levels, but are weak compared to the red blasters you'll gain access to in the first few levels, and the cool spread lasers and quad-lasers you'll get later. These are all picked up floating around in space, either on their own or available after blowing up enemies or asteroids/space junk. The mines are a particularly cool weapon, because they can be used both defensively and offensively. If a group of enemy ships is chasing you from behind, you can slow down a bit, drop one, and watch as everything within it's blast radius is destroyed. You can also drop one just as you're approaching a group of enemies or asteroids, flip around the other direction and let inertia carry the mine straight into the enemies. All your weapons and mines can be tracked in your inventory in the lower-right corner of the screen. All but your starter gold blasters are finite, so you'll constantly need to be picking up weapons, mines and shields as you're flying around. Your shields are obviously finite as well, and once you've run out, your ship is destroyed (unless you're playing on the easiest difficulty setting). Although you're presented with lots of extra ships (lives) to pick up, there's a pretty big death penalty; you lose all of your blasters and most of your mines if you die.

Analysis: Both stylistically and in gameplay, Swarm Gold succeeds as a strong winner. Its intuitive control system lets you focus more on playing the game than controlling your ship, which isn't the case with many top-down space shooters I've played over the years. Between sets of levels, you'll be given "bonus" levels to pick up as many power-ups as you can within a minute or so, and there's also the occasional "death" levels where you're goal isn't to collect EZT, but to destroy a certain number of enemy ships. These are both visually indicated by purple and red backgrounds, respectively. There's also a few more weapons to be found, including the uber-powerful "Star Clubber" with can be found once per level in later stages. For more info, you can check out the tips page here.

Unfortunately the replay factor isn't as prominent as some fans might hope, but there is a nice collection of increasingly more powerful enemies and weapons as levels progress. Over 100 levels in all, your initial run will keep you busy for a few hours at least. The graphics and sound are very well-designed for a download game produced by a distribution company, although you might catch a block-like distortion every once in awhile in particles, such as when a ship is destroyed. Space shooter fans will definitely want to check the demo out, but I think any action/arcade fan in general would like this game. It has a certain uniqueness about it, even though it's a played-out genre.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (42) | Views (8)

Weekend Download

JohnBSometimes indie game developers really impress me with their rampant creativity. This week, for example, we have a surprisingly deep strategy game from Chronic Logic that looks like it was stolen from 1992 (which is good!), a fighting game starring rabbits, an unfairly tough platformer called Love, and a physics-based racing motocross racing game. When "Hey, I have a neat idea!" is the driving force behind a game, you know you're in for a good time.

xmoto.jpgX-Moto (Mac/Windows/Linux, 24MB, free) - Perhaps a distant cousin to Line Rider, X-Moto is an open source 2D motocross platform racing game with a heavy emphasis on physics. Use the [left] and [right] arrow keys to lean and the [up] key to move forward, then try and make it through the countless user-generated tracks available online. Keep your head from crashing into the ground and you should do all right!

zatikon.gifZatikon (Mac/Windows/Linux, 27MB, demo) - A superb turn-based strategy title from Chronic Logic, Zatikon takes place on a 2D grid where units move, attack and defend much like a complex game of chess. Build your army before diving in, choosing from around 50 units (not all of which are available from the get-go) that range from long-firing archers, close-combat warriors, and tons of extremely creative characters with interesting special abilities. Then, head out onto the battlefield and lay siege to your opponent's castle. Single player versus the computer is available, along with player versus player and co-op play. I'm not afraid to admit I a lot of fun playing this game. It's easy to pick up and very addictive, especially when you start earning gold and get to unlock new army units (shapeshifters for the win!).

love.gifLove (Windows, 30MB, free) - Do you like tough-as-nails platform games that punish you at every turn? The not-so-aptly-named Love is just that. You have 99 lives to run through 20 levels of spikes, pixel-accurate jumps, and dastardly traps springing out of nowhere. Memorization and trial-and-error are your only friends.

lugaru.jpgLugaru (Mac/Windows/Linux, 25MB, demo) - A third-person action game centered around one thing: awesome-looking combat. The main character, Turner, is on a quest to find those responsible for killing people in his village. He quickly uncovers a far-reaching conspiracy, however, and takes it upon himself to fight against evil to save his fellow rabbits from slavery. Instead of forcing tons of battle commands onto the player, Lugaru uses a smart context-sensitive mechanic that allows you to pull off some spectacular moves. Even if combat isn't your thing, you can be all stealthy, too. Just be smart about it.


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (86 votes)
| Comments (66) | Views (50)

JayTicketTicket is a brand new game from the talented room escape designers at Gotmail. Like so many of their games to come before, this one features the same highly detailed, gorgeous pre-rendered scenes and the same point-and-clickery puzzles one would expect to find in a game of this nature. The only downside? There is no English version, so that will surely turn off a few. We can only hope an English translation will appear for it someday soon. If you're a room escape fantatic, though, you won't want to wait to dig your nails into this new Gotmail release.

Grab your mouse, it's time to

Play Ticket


| Comments (45) | Views (146)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIf you ever sat outside on a warm summer's night (or a cool winter's eve, I suppose), stared up at the sky and thought "Boy do I wish I was that big ball of rock in the sky!", this edition of Link Dump Friday helps fulfill that wish!

  • icon_wishmoon.gifI Wish I Were the Moon - A fun little experimental game where your only goal is to uncover the five hidden endings. Using the mouse, take pictures of the scene and "move" objects around to discover things. Depending on what you put where, you get one of the endings.
  • icon_highd.gifHigh-D - Ok, there's really only one reason this game is here: it has yodeling. Well, and you collect cows. And there are random facts about cheese. Sure, the game itself is rather thin, hit detection is a bit off, and it's possible to ruin your entire game if you're not paying attention at all times, but go back and read the first sentence. Yodeling!
  • icon_commando2.gifCommando 2 - Inspired by the likes of Contra and Metal Slug, Commando 2 is a side-scrolling platform shooter with incredibly gorgeous pixel art and a surprisingly fluid control scheme. Choose an inventory of weapons randing from a sword to guns and explosives, then head out into the jungle and tackle enemies. The action is a bit slow and simple at the start, so veterans may need a comfy pillow in order to survive the lull stage.
  • icon_ringsofcolor.gifRings of Color - A simple rotation-based puzzle game where you must maneuver the red rings to surround the red dots. Tougher than it sounds, and rather Rubik's Cube-like.
  • icon_funkyball.gifFunkyball - In Funkyball, your goal is to roll the ball to the goal as fast as you can. Of course physics stand in your way, as the ball bounces on some platforms, sticks to others, and really seems to want to keep its momentum.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (114 votes)
| Comments (119) | Views (874)

Weekday Escape

JessIt was with much excitement, anticipation and just a wee bit of trepidation that I sat down today with Monster Basement 2, my immense love of escape games warring with my natural fear of the heebie-jeebies. Monster Basement 2It's true, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to these sorts of things; one surprise 'monster jumping out-of-closet' moment and I'm shrieking like a (heh) little girl. But oh, the original Monster Basement was so fun, and clever, and unique... I just had to play through the sequel, even if it meant cringing each time I opened a door.

I'm very glad I did. Monster Basement 2 is every bit as entertaining and well-made as the original; like the first game, it is extraordinary for its thought-provoking plot and tense, eerie ambiance. Patrick Majewski, from Godlimations, has spared nothing in bringing his tale of monster-against-man-against-monster to life; major elements such as music and graphics are impeccably and creatively designed, and little macabre details (such as paintings that change when the lights are flipped off, yikes) bring this already strong framework to another level.

I don't want to ruin even a bit of the story's ingenuity, so I'm going to speak in somewhat general terms. At the beginning of Monster Basement 2, you have escaped from the basement itself and ascended into the house proper. To truly, finally exit this horrible place you need to find a wrench and a key; these will open the otherwise-impenetrable portal in the basement that leads to your freedom. But where are these things? And how, in a house full of hostile creatures, will you live to find them? You'll have to trust your wits, stay on your toes and trust an unlikely friend; in doing so, you'll further unravel the story of the house's frightening, tragic occupants and—if you're lucky—make it out in one piece.

The game is not perfect. The puzzles are, on the whole, great; a few times, however, the creators' inventiveness passes into the realm of confusion. The story, similarly, can occasionally become disjointed, with plot elements that ultimately are not explained. Another minor but annoying quibble is that, although the soundtrack itself is fabulous, every time you find something to collect the game seems to feel the need to scare the poop out of you. It's like, "Hm, I wonder what's between the wall and that desk. Let me just cli—OH GOD! SCARY MUSIC! What is it?! What—oh, it's just a box of matches. A box of matches?" Needless to say, for an already-jumpy person like myself it was not an ideal situation.

These criticisms pale, however, in the face of what an exceptional game Monster Basement 2 really is. Yes, it's very good looking and smoothly designed, yes, there are clever puzzles and chilling scares, but those things are not what make the game truly special; to me, what's most extraordinary about the game is the emotion at its core. There's real sadness and poignancy in the story, and that's something to be treasured.

Oh, and I really, strongly encourage you to play the original Monster Basement first if you have not yet done so. It is an excellent and highly enjoyable game in its own right, and will set the stage for the second game so that you can enjoy it to its maximum potential.

This time, it truly is escape:

Play Monster Basement 2

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