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November 2008 Archives


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Rating: 4.7/5 (102 votes)
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PsychotronicMinionsBack at the beginning of 2007, David Scott made history by taking a handful of Warcraft III custom maps, and adapting their gameplay into Flash. The result was Flash Element TD, and along with Paul Preece's Desktop Tower Defense, it pretty much altered the course of free online strategy games. Fast forward nearly two years, and Scott and Preece are once again tapping into the rich vein of Warcraft III maps for inspiration. Specifically, Minions is a Flash version of the ridiculously popular Defense of the Ancients mod, but instead of medieval fantasy warriors, you control little tank-bots with powerful weaponry and big muppet-like googly eyes.

Minions is a strictly multi-player team-based real-time strategy game. You control a single member of a squadron of robots, your mission to destroy a gun turret at the heart of the opposing team's base. Control your 'bot by clicking on a patch of ground you'd like to travel toward, or on an enemy you'd like to engage. You accumulate experience as the match wears on. Each time you gain a level, you can upgrade one of three special abilities, which can be activated by clicking on them, or with hotkeys [1], [2], and [3].

Emphasis is on teamwork — at the beginning of a match, you choose your robot's class from a list of eight charming weaponeers, each with its own advantages and weaknesses. Few of these can sustain a battle on their own. A strong team requires a smart mix of character classes, although for your first few games, it might be hard to understand how you fit into a winning strategy.

For instance, the dual-cannon wielding Basher can quickly dish out frightening amounts of damage, but has no defensive abilities whatsoever. If you have a Doc on your team, however, he can heal you while you pummel, multiplying your effectiveness. Alternatively, you could team up with a Stinger, who can stun your enemies long enough for you to unleash capital levels of fury upon them. Meanwhile, the Stinger and the Doc need heavy-hitters like the Basher, since they are unlikely to win many firefights on their own.

MinionsAnalysis: So will Minions follow in Flash Element TD's footsteps, spawning dozens upon dozens of imitators? I doubt it somehow, because for one, Minions is only available to play at the Casual Collective (the dedicated but relatively obscure home of Buggle Stars and Flash Element TD 2), and for two, it feels a little clunky. Some of the robots are speedier than others, but all of them take their sweet time while rotating. It's too easy for your squat cube of a battle-bot to get hung up on a team-mate who ventured a pixel too close, and then you have to wait while both robots slowly turn and disengage.

My other complaints concern the inherent problems that come with anonymous multi-player gaming: quitters, griefers, rudeness, incompetence, and lack of compassion for my own incompetence. The worst of these is the quitters: the balance of power goes way out of whack with one team a minion down. It would be nice if the game could take over the abandoned chassis and have it fight in some rudimentary way.

Regardless, I found myself sucked into game after game, because despite the creeping play speed, Minions works extremely well as a strategy game. You won't be dazzling anyone with your tricky tactical maneuvers, but all of your choices have a profound long-term effect on the battle. It's exhilarating to coordinate an attack on an enemy turret with your team-mates, everyone pitching in with the correct abilities at the perfect time. A typical game of Minions is a slow motion avalanche of heroic moments and gut-wrenching errors. Even when one side seems to have crushing inevitability in its favor, it's often possible to pull the match out with a last-minute raid.

A brief note on the pricing. You don't have to register to play Minions, but by paying the Casual Collective a monthly fee, you gain access to a couple of extra character classes and the ability to host games with improved connection speed. In my experience, the game runs reasonably well at either connection speed. And those two bonus characters are the hardest to play of the bunch, so you'll likely be a Minions expert before you need to consider paying for them. On the other hand, Scott and Preece are trying to support themselves with this site, and the longer they continue to receive donations, the more cool games they'll be able to churn out before they finally have to get real jobs. I figure that's worth a couple of bucks.

Play Minions


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Weekend Download

JohnBWhile playing all the games that I do to find something worthy of a Weekend Download, I get to see a huge variety of wacky, creative, strange, bland, and forgettable game titles. Not featured in this edition of Weekend Download (nor in this plane of existence): The Dentist is Fun, Party Games for You and Your Ex, Three Reasons Tofu is Evil, Help! I've Swallowed an Ant!, Give Me Some Cake, and Super Reptile Diploma.

akrasia.jpgAkrasia (Windows, 36MB, free) - An experimental art-style game based on the abstract concept of addiction, Akrasia was created to make the player think. Set in a maze that represents the mind, you will experience two different states, one normal and one not-so-normal. Collecting pills pushes your life meter to the left, while running into the ghost will trigger the maze's exit. Depending on your behavior the game will have a number of different outcomes, and the meaning of each is entirely up to you. Play through it several times, experimenting with different strategies each time you do, and see just how much the game can make you think.

portile.gifPortile (Mac/Windows, <1MB, free) - A minimalistic, 2D take on the portal-creating game Narbacular Drop. Use the [arrow] keys to move, and [WASD] to shoot a portal block in that direction. To create an exit portal, hold [shift] and hit [WASD]. The perspective shift can be a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to it, the game provides some decent puzzles to keep you busy.

thelake.gifThe Lake (Windows, 3.7MB, free) - A creepy, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired game (and entered into the TIGSource Commonplace Book Competition) that's more like a brief story told using interactive media. Use the [left] and [right] arrow keys to control the left and right paddles respectively, alternating both to tread forwards in the water. Explore the lake, take in the sights, enjoy the creepy atmosphere, and see how things turn out in the end...

glider.gifGlider (Mac/Windows, 3MB, free) - Pilot a paper airplane through the house in this simple but surprisingly enjoyable arcade game. Set up your control scheme and float gently around, being careful to avoid the many obstacles in your way. Air vents give you a boost, but running into anything other than the ceiling will end your game. Note: The Windows version of Glider is much older than the Mac OS X version, but the basic mechanics are about the same. Get the serial number to unlock the game from the main Glider page.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (569 votes)
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My Tribe

FunnyManIf you were going to be stranded on a desert island, and you had to pick one computer game to take with you, what would it be? I can't speak for you, but I'd take a game where the characters are stranded on a deserted island with one computer game. That game, naturally, would feature characters stranded on a desert island with one computer game, centered on a deserted island with...

mytribe.jpgOw. Okay, maybe that isn't such a good idea. If the recursion makes your mind hurt too, you could get a copy of Grubby Games' (the creator of Professor Fizzwizzle and IncrediBots) latest release instead. In My Tribe, you play as sort of a guardian angel for a tribe of island-dwellers, telling them what to do, dragging them from place to place, and occasionally sprinkling them with a (hopefully) beneficial potion.

As the game starts, you're given a chance to pick an island. For a starting player, it doesn't really matter which you pick; they all have plenty of trees and rocks for you to harvest, and the oceans will provide more than enough fish for your small starting tribe. From there, it's pretty much your standard resource management game. You need to harvest food (in the form of fish and later crops) and wood (for the fire) to feed your tribe, wood and stone to build with. You'll also need to build huts for your tribe to live in, and other buildings when you have enough resources to spare.

The tribe of My Tribe continues to work even when your computer is off. If you've played the Virtual Villagers series before, this mechanic will seem very familiar. In fact, the games are similar enough that you may be tempted to skip the tutorial, but there are enough small differences that it might be worth your while to play through it.

One novel mechanic of My Tribe is that it rewards you for being around. Every so often a crate or barrel will appear in the ocean, or Stardust or Moondust will land on the island. Drop an islander onto these gifts to collect them. Crates and barrels contain recipes, items, or even dangerous insects while Stardust and Moondust can be used in various places to provide all sorts of useful effects, from stocking your stockpiles to building your buildings and researching your research.

Each island also comes with three of the game's eight mysterious objects for you to solve. Once you've figured them out, each one gives a powerful benefit to your tribe, and one of the game's 25 trophies. Trophies can also be gathered by other tasks, ranging from the simple (build a building) to the complex (keep an islander alive for 969 years).

Analysis: When a game as successful as Virtual Villagers comes along, there will naturally be a host of similar titles following in its wake. My Tribe rides the wave of the village sim but is careful to tread its own innovative path while keeping the core concept in familiar territory. The number of islands you can inhabit is staggering (numbering in the billions), and the potions system really sets the game apart from Virtual Villager knockoffs. Grubby Games is an experienced studio and covered all the main bases a casual game should touch upon, making the game easy to get into, easy to come back to, and rewarding no matter how long or short you play.

mytribe2.jpgThe biggest strength and weakness of this kind of game is its persistent nature. Part of the reward in playing My Tribe is coming back every so often and seeing how your tribe has progressed while you were away. This also brings two big problems: not being able to play continuously and coming back to find your entire tribe dead. My Tribe has done an admirable job with the first part, though time doesn't seem to work quite the same when the game is open. Unfortunately, the tribe is still prone to sudden die-offs when your back is turned.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the reasons your tribe dies off. It only takes a few islanders to provide the food and wood needed by the entire tribe, so there are basically three things that can go wrong. If you don't stop in and call the stork regularly, your entire tribe may grow too old to have children. If your food gatherers die from old age, the rest of your tribe will lounge around until they starve. And if you forget to mark trees for harvesting (they all start marked "don't harvest me!"), your builders may use up all your firewood, again making everyone starve.

As much fun as it is to look after a tribe of island-dwellers, it hardly seems believable that fifty people would starve themselves because the voice in the sky forgot to tell them which trees were OK for firewood. Even though he didn't forbid them from harvesting trees to start with.

I also find myself underwhelmed by the amount of content in this game. It boasts "billions of islands", but the only important feature is which three of the eight mysteries you get (only 56 possibilities, with repetitions). It also advertises "over 40 powerful potions", yet many of the ones given are purely cosmetic.

Despite its downsides, however, My Tribe is very compelling. I have spent many hours in-game, and in the end, it was well worth the price of admission. If you start playing you will find yourself coming back to it again and again, even if you don't need to yet. You'll set it on Fast overnight and check it nervously in the morning to see if your Lunar Tower has finished. In the end, I had to stop playing not because I'd run out of things to do, but because I had too many other things to do... and had been neglecting them while I played.

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

My Tribe is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBLife is better with corny jokes. Especially when they're about produce. What I mint to say is it's good to laugh. Even if you're laughing for no raisin. Give a good chortle as often as you can and you'll live a happy, healthy life. Do we have a dill?

  • icon_mazeman2.gifMaze Man 2 - Hey, it's more Maze Man! Cool! Guide the chunky-pixeled guy around each level, avoiding traps, navigating puzzles and collecting dots to finish the stage. Same great retro flavor, but new levels and obstacles to overcome.
  • icon_starbaron.gifStarBaron - One part puzzle, two parts strategy, and maybe even a hint of tower defense, this unique space game puts you in control of a blooming star empire with aspirations of galactic conquest. Conquer stars and set their production to specialize in economy, mines, building naval units or defense, depending on their location. Attack opposing empires and defend your territory to emerge victorious.
  • icon_captionx.gifCaptionX - A multiplayer game where you caption images with anything that pops in your head. At the end of the round, players vote on the best caption. Random votes are applied for anyone who doesn't vote, so the process isn't exactly fair, but it's great for a laugh.
  • icon_enigmablocks.gifEnigma Blocks - A sliding block puzzle game where you use the shapes to complete a picture below. The catch is that the shapes push each other, forcing you to move them around to create space to fit them in place.
  • icon_contrastcannon.gifContrast Cannon - From the maker of Ragdoll Cannon and bearing a resemblance to Shift, this fun arcade-style puzzler splits the screen into black and white zones on top and bottom of the screen. The black cannon the bottom must fire numbered cannonballs into the right goal, while the white one must do the same — with reverse gravity. A slightly brain-bending take on a familiar concept.
  • icon_wishmoon.gifI Wish I Were the Moon (updated!) - First featured last month, this great little experimental game has been updated with two more endings as well as a secret ending! 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_hema.gifHEMA thing - Ok, it's not a game. But it's fun to watch. Just click it, ok? Seriously. Oh, and de producten van HEMA vind je nu ook op!

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Rating: 4.6/5 (307 votes)
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Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst title screen image

JohnBMystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst has arrived! The latest installment in the enormously Mystery Case Files series treads new ground by crafting a hidden object game around an adventure-style core. You plod around the dark and mysterious Ravenhearst Manor searching for secrets and solving puzzles using inventory items you earn from hidden object sequences. It's a massive game with stunning art design and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack that delivers an experience you won't be able to put down until you've seen all it has to offer.

returntoravenhearst3.jpgThe Return to Ravenhearst storyline continues where Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst and then Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate leave off, though you don't need to be familiar with either of those games to know what's going on. Emma Ravenhearst's soul has been freed, but her ghost delivers a haunting message to you as the game begins. Evil still lurks in Ravenhearst Manor, hidden deep within undiscovered passageways. Dig deep beneath the mansion's foundation to discover places (and things!) you never would have imagined.

returntoravenhearst.jpgMystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst is built around exploration and puzzle solving. The spine of the game is a point-and-click style adventure mode similar to the classic Myst set-up where you navigate the landscape by clicking the sides of the screen. Certain points of interest will change the cursor to a magnifying glass, while others will shine with a single white sparkle. Click everything, read the clues you find, and try using your inventory items everywhere it makes sense. The worst that can happen is the game will call you a "clicky-pants".

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Hidden object scenes can be found around every turn and are shown as great masses of white sparkling stars. Clicking these takes you back to familiar MCF territory with a crowded room and a list of items to find. Once the list is complete you'll unlock a new inventory item that can be used in the adventure portion of the game. There's no timer, so you can kick back and scrutinize at your leisure, and the only punishment for frequent mis-clicks is the cursor spins out of control for a brief second.

A casebook keeps track of major points of your journey and automatically jots down bits of important information you receive. It also clues you in to things you may not have noticed on your own, so whenever the icon changes to an open book, be sure to crack it open and give it a read.

returntoravenhearst2.jpgAnalysis: A new Mystery Case Files game always stirs up some excitement, but Return to Ravenhearst really deserves the hype. First of all, the game is beautiful. The setting is rich with atmosphere and every scene is painted with dark and spooky undertones. Small animations add to the liveliness of it all, such as bugs crawling on the walls or leaves fluttering to the ground, and there are even bits of scenery in adventure mode you can interact with just for fun. And the orchestral soundtrack is a masterpiece unto itself!

The hidden-object-adventure game mechanic does wonders for the series and strikes a compelling balance between the genres with style. You won't feel overwhelmed with item hunting, and inventory puzzles are rather straightforward. The game tends to hold your hand quite a bit and serves you clues on a silver platter, but I found there was enough challenge to keep me interested.

I did find one small gameplay decision that kept bothering me: backtracking. I don't mind revisiting old scenes to find new items, but the game throws them at you with very little time in-between. Spacing out the backtracking would make a lot more sense and eliminate the "Didn't I just stare at this room?" feeling.

This is a no-brainer: Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst is a fantastic game from top to bottom. You would be hard-pressed to find a title so well-polished and enjoyable on so many different levels.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (41 votes)
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Weekday Escape

KarmenOnamis seems to be a portmanteau of the French words for "friendly" and "one". As soon as you are trapped inside, you might start to wonder just how friendly people really are. There you are, with no map, no guide, and no inventory. Onamis4.jpgYou don't have the ability to turn around or look back. There's not even a clue. Well, except that scrap of paper on the floor. Maybe someone was being friendly, after all.

After the first Onamis escape game left us wanting more, the second Onamis game had the distinction of being in the first-ever link dump. Unfortunately, while the second installment was well-received in the comments, Onamis 3 slipped underneath our radar screens. Now, as a fourth game joins the series, the mystery of Onamis seems to be getting deeper.

Onamis 4 invites you back into the shafts of an abandoned power plant. Your only chance of escape comes in the form of scarce clues and codes. If pieced together correctly, and entered in the right place, you'll find yourself closer to escape—or closer to the core of this mystery. As gasses hiss from every vent, you'll need to solve puzzles that will seem quite elementary, at least after the third or fourth try.

Each of these games is deceptively simple. With clean, white walls and lack of inventory, it is easy to be fooled into thinking the solutions will be neat and easy. However, without paying close attention to detail (read as: blatant pixel hunting) and careful written notes, it is easier to get stuck than to move ahead. As you ascend each level of chapter 4, there is no obvious way to return to previous levels, outside of restarting. Even the most careful escape artist may need to try more than once. Alone, Onamis 4 is perfect for a coffee break. Together, the chapters are a challenge. So, if you happen to have a weekday free this week, fill your holiday with the entire series.

Jeu! That is,

Play Onamis 4

Or, if you prefer, start at the beginning.

Cheers to Laynix for suggesting this one! =)


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (196 votes)
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PsychotronicToxic 2Toxic II, baby. It's here. In a world where machines rule over humanity with a literally iron fist, a lone, slightly overweight, Hazmat-suited warrior must discover and destroy the robot overmind. That's right, it's Man Versus Mechanaloid: Rumble in the Nuclear Waste Processing Plant, brought to you by the tireless pixel pushers at Nitrome, and sponsored by MTV Arcade.

In case you never played the first Toxic, the hook here is the deformable terrain. The explosions from your arsenal can carve holes and tunnels in certain walls, as well as blow up bad guys, of course. The controls are pretty standard: [WASD] or [arrow] keys for movement, [space] to set bombs. You start off with a simple throwable grenade on a timer, but later in the game, you'll get to use a diverse selection of weapons, including a remote-controlled exploding spider-bot and a bomb that doubles as a floating platform.

There are 20 levels full of killer robots and pitfalls between you and the mysterious Mother, but there are also 10 hidden levels, located in various out-of-the-way places. If you think the normal levels are hard (and you will), then wait till you experience the crazy beatings the optional levels dish out. It's worth finding them all though, because they are home to some of the coolest monsters in the game.

Analysis: The biggest difference between Toxic II and its predecessor is definitely the speed. The frame rate is now fast enough to make the action feel smooth and responsive, which means that Toxic II, more than any other Nitrome work to date, feels like a classic run 'n jump platform game. On the other hand, your weapons always take a few seconds to detonate, meaning you'll often need to pause between stretches of activity. Levels therefore take a fairly long time to complete, which makes it all the more tragic when you dive, yet again, into acidic sludge right before you reach the exit.

Toxic 2I took some time to adjust to the difficulty, so I want to give you fair warning. Though you have a reasonably generous life bar for surviving robot attacks and explosions, you only need dip one toe into the nuclear waste to trigger your flesh-dissolving death animation. The new frame rate feels great, but it also demands hair-trigger reflexes, especially during wall-jumping.

The environmental interaction is much more consistent this time around; if you can see a piece of wall or flooring, it's probably solid. But some unforgiving hit detection takes its toll — some of the larger enemies can damage you without physically touching you. Your own weapons are some of the gravest threats to your survival. Their explosions linger just a little bit longer than you might expect, and they damage you from slightly further away. If you find yourself trapped on a small island with a misplaced bomb, you can't jump and stay in the air long enough to avoid the blast. You just have to grit your teeth and take it.

A worse problem is the slightly unreliable physics. It's no good, when you're plunging towards a sea of toxic green ooze, knowing that your deployable platforms will appear under your feet only 95% of the time.

So you may get frustrated with Toxic II, but I urge you to stick with it, because it has a ton of good ideas. Your platform bombs can break your fall, but they can also be used to block lasers firing at you from overhead. You can employ conveyor belts to carry weapons to specific targets. The way you constantly have to solve puzzles with explosives gives the game a strong sense of identity. And the bosses, although there aren't very many of them, take terrific advantage of your character's strengths and weaknesses.

So I'm happy to report that, despite some lingering roughness around the edges, Toxic II is a winner. If you liked the first game, you'll love this one; and if you had criticisms, they've mostly been addressed. Just brace yourself to take many an acid bath.

Play Toxic II

The game can also be played at the MTV Arcade.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (75 votes)
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JayenDiceenDice is a simple, no-frills puzzle game created by Ozzie Mercado for Armor Games.

It is based on a very simple objective: move all blocks the number shown on each one to bring them all to rest on the dotted spaces. Just click and drag in the direction you wish to slide the block, one space at a time. As each block slides, its number will count down by one.

The first few levels are very easy, then the difficulty ramps up quickly. You will have to use your logic and reasoning skills to get through all 35 levels in this engaging and thought provoking new puzzle game.

Play enDice


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (67 votes)
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author_tucker.gifturningburning.gifFor those of you who haven't been keeping up with my adventures, my name is Tom "Tucker" Crubucker, recent graduate of Zibward Wizard School and flagship character for a company by the name of Zibumi. Man, I hate public speaking... SonicLover asked me to tell everyone about my latest adventure, Turning Burning, in his place.

Anyways, Turning Burning is the third in Zibumi's Tom "Tucker" Crubucker series of games, so named because it's about a clumsy nerd by the name of Tom "Tucker" Crubucker. I've been told that the first two games, The Final Spell and Little Hostage, have already been reviewed here on JIG, so it's only fitting that my third should follow suit.

After a brief intro scene, Turning Burning picks up where Little Hostage left off. I've just escaped the room I was trapped in, and confront the mastermind behind it, a bizarre prince who asks me to rescue his rose, which has been stolen by a sheep. Of course it's not as easy as taking it from the sheep and putting it back in the pot; I have to make sure the sheep doesn't get it back.

Don't worry if that doesn't seem like enough. After I manage to escape, I end up in yet another puzzle-filled room. You know the type: you have to pick up items and solve all sorts of puzzles in a room nobody would design in real life, with the ultimate goal of escaping from it. As with my last two games, you use items by clicking first on them and then the environment, and you learn a bit about them by turning on the magnifying glass and clicking them.

Alright, now SonicLover gave me this to read... ahem...

"Analysis: Turning Burning (why the heck did they name it that?) feels like a step forwards AND a step back. It seems that Zibumi hasn't quite gotten that perfect balance yet. The difficulty of the game has been reduced a bit too much; it's definitely not as hard or deep as Little Hostage was. That makes it a bit boring. On the other hand, it has a bit of replay value thanks to a few things. The ending changes depending on... well, I don't know what it depends on, but I've seen a few different endings, and it seems to change every day. I've also noticed some variations in the clues for one or two puzzles.

All the same, Turning Burning is worth playing, even if it's a bit disappointing when compared to Little Hostage."

Play Turning Burning

And don't forget to play the previous games in the TTC series as well.

...Okay, that's all, I guess. Can I go to the bathroom now?


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (126 votes)
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PatrickDark Cut 3Dark Cut 3 is the latest visceral surgery title from Armor Games, with programming by John Cooney (jmtb02). The sequel to Dark Cut 1 & 2, this time taking a sci-fi, time-traveling angle with the usual historical setting. The game brings you the same intense operations you've come to either love or cringe at. The production values and story are the best so far for the series and give context to gameplay that's been toned down to be less punishing. As a result, this is definitely the best game in the Dark Cut series yet. Due to graphic depictions of mutilated human anatomy, including dismembered limbs and bloody gore, this game is recommended for Mature Audiences only.

Gameplay is simple: hold down the mouse button and sweep it over flashing squares or dotted-line areas to perform different parts of an operation, from cleaning a wound, to placing a cast, to weaving stitches. Your patient has only a certain amount of health, so you have to act fast and be careful not to cut or stitch any part of them other than the designated zones or you'll hasten their demise instead of preventing it. Most of the scenes take place during a war, so audio and visual distractions will throw you off and potentially stress you out. Instead of forcing you through a linear series of scenes like the last two games, this one has a branching structure modeled after a genetic tree. Complete all the missions to win, but be aware there are bonus missions unlocked by solving certain operations with speed and skill.

Analysis: Dark Cut 3 is a good example of how Web game production is approaching AAA quality. The budgets and dev cycles are still an order of magnitude smaller, but the persistence, refinement of gameplay and appeal to quality is similar. This game takes a good idea, a mature surgery game set in a historical context, and smoothes the gameplay's edge enough to let you appreciate the full experience, and it is much a more playable experience than its predecessors. The story line is kind of like Assasin's Creed, with similar melodrama and suspension of disbelief issues, but instead of traveling through time killing people, you do just the opposite. This may result in a meditation on causality and the value of human life, but one has to think there was some untapped potential in exploring time-travel in a manner similar to how Chrono Trigger did it, much less something as cohesive as Braid. Treat yourself to some bloody empathy.

Play Dark Cut 3


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Rating: 4.6/5 (20 votes)
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Grimmrookkyle-huntsville-title.jpgIf you are anything like me, you are positively salivating with anticipation for the upcoming release of Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, leading to all sorts of embarrassing situations wherein you are forced to apologize to perfect strangers for drooling all over them absent-mindedly. It's okay, not everyone shares our enthusiasm. We just need to find a more sanitary way to pass the time until the new release is announced, and what better way than to go all the way back to the beginning?

Back before you were referred to as "Master Detective," before your journey to a haunted English manor, before your exploits in a rundown carnival, you were nothing more than a lowly intern. When an epidemic of crime breaks out in the once quiet town of Huntsville, though, your chance to rise to detective greatness finally arrives. Now you must work against the clock to catch the wrong doers in the act by using your keen eye to pick up on the clues that no one else seems able to find.

kyle-huntsville-museum.jpgThough lacking in the kinds of mini-games that inhabit the later titles in the series, Mystery Case Files: Huntsville still has many of the qualities that put the series at the head of the pack in the Hidden Object genre. The settings are beautiful, the music is almost pitch perfect, and there is that tongue in cheek sense of humor that keeps a smile on your face.

But most importantly, I think, Mystery Case Files gets the hidden object aspect right where so many other clones seem to fail; instead of hiding the objects by shrinking them down, putting them far away in the scenery, and in general making them almost indiscernible from any other four random pixels, Huntsville relies on cleverness, using color, patterns, and shapes, to hide objects in plain view. It is this subtle difference that I believe puts Huntsville and its sequels head and shoulders above so many other hidden object titles.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (24 votes)
| Comments (11) | Views (11)

Mark & Mandi's Love Story

JohnBWant something charming that you'll play with a wry grin on your face? Mark & Mandi's Love Story is exactly that, packaging spot the difference puzzles, memory matching, jigsaw-style challenges and more with a great hand drawn art style that reminds me of Ice Cream Dee Lites. You play the role of Cupid's helper who is on a quest to sculpt Mark and Mandi's relationship to perfection. The story follows the young couple from the awkward dating stage to marriage and beyond, keeping a great sense of humor and light-hearted fun the whole way.

Mark & Mandi's Love StoryThe game is divided into stages that chronicle major periods of Mark and Mandi's relationship. You begin with "Getting to Know You" where the young couple go on walks in the park, have picnics together, and learn the basics of each other's personality. You get to know them as well, and both are slightly... quirky. In a funny way, of course.

Spin the wheel to launch a random scene and the game begins. Each scene unfolds with a brief conversation between Mark and Mandi, then you'll start the spot the difference round. The faster and more accurate you find the differences, the more wish points you'll be rewarded. Wish points can be used to purchase additional items that will be hidden in each stage (such as a bird or a butterfly) for bonus points, or you can save up and unlock milestones that will eventually complete the stage.

After spot the difference ends you'll play another mini-game that could be matching pairs of cards or placing pieces of an image where it needs to go. Also, if the wheel lands on a red title you'll get double the wish points and can play my favorite mini-game where you find what's the same between two different pictures. That a way to shake things up a bit!

Mark & Mandi's Love StoryAnalysis: Mark & Mandi's Love Story isn't one of those games that floors you from the get-go. Instead, and quite appropriately, you have to fall in love with it, spending well over an hour spotting differences and matching pieces of scenery before you're overtaken by its charm. The progression is slow, and new challenges as well as tougher stages aren't unlocked until you've worked your way through a good chunk of the game.

The difficulty of this casual game has been toned down considerably — it's aimed squarely at entertaining, not perplexing. The spot the difference puzzles are pretty straightforward, and you won't have to count tree limbs or measure the curve of a bush to complete puzzles. A special "hard" mode is available for some extra challenge, but even then you don't need to be an expert to make it through the game. It gets tougher after an hour or two of play, which, unfortunately, you won't experience during the demo.

The simplicity of Mark & Mandi's Love Story is charming, but a slight increase in the type of games would be of great benefit. Even just one addition would work wonders. The goal isn't to be a mini-game collection, of course, just kill any monotony before it rears its ugly head.

Built for charm and fun rather than challenge, Mark & Mandi's Love Story is a quirky puzzle game that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do!

Play the Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (48) | Views (13)

Weekend Download

JohnBLast week, on Weekend Download, I had the tiny problem of listening to the constant droning of a leaf blower somewhere in my neighborhood. This week it was back, with a vengeance, and it directly affected my downloadable game playing experiences. When I was playing Oxyd, all I could do was smash into walls. When I played IVAN, I couldn't kill a bat. I couldn't explore all of Elona because focusing was out of the question. And zombies in Rock Boshers took me out a few times too many because my mind was elsewhere. Maybe I should take a hint from the protagonist in Violet and start eliminating the distractions by any zany means available?

enigma.gifEnigma (Mac/Windows/Linux, 10-15MB, free) - A puzzle game inspired by Oxyd for the Atari ST, the object is to uncover pairs of identically colored stones by bumping into them with your cursor (a ball). Traps, mazes, laser beams, and a fistful of dangerous puzzles stand in your way, so it's never a straightforward tap-and-win affair. The physics are great, the visuals crisp, and there are over 1,000 levels to play, so you won't get bored any time soon.

ivan.gifIter Vehemens ad Necem (IVAN) (Mac/Windows/Linux, 1.5MB, free) - Translated as "Violent Road to Death", IVAN is a graphical roguelike RPG that includes a slightly off-kilter plot and a high level of difficulty. Your day starts out like any other with a little tree climbing, banana gathering, and a dip in the crocodile pool. The colony's viceroy soon contacts you with a quest to a neighboring island whose inhabitants he suspects are plotting against him. To travel there, you must trek through a monster-infested underground tunnel. The game plays like most roguelikes/RPGs, but there are a number of ways to die in IVAN, and if you do, you have to start over from the beginning.

elona.gifElona (download mirror) (Windows, 24MB, free) - Call it a rogue-like, an old-school RPG, or, if you're feeling gutsy, a Dwarf Fortress-like simulation game, Elona doesn't fit squarely in any genre, per se. The Japanese-made game features a detailed character creation system that lets you customize almost every aspect of your avatar, then drops you in a world where quests, dungeons, and items are randomly generated. You can do things like fish, mine, negotiate, buy and sell furniture, own a house, run a shop or museum, have a pet, even poison a town well, splice genes, and nuke a city. The game has an enormous array of bells and whistles to explore, with the only price of admission being a rough-around-the-edges translation and presentation. Work through the game's tutorial before you dive in, it does a great job introducing the open-ended world.

rockboshers.gifRock Boshers (Windows, 4MB, free) - A ZX Spectrum-style demake of Red Faction, Rock Boshers tells the story of a man lured to work on a distant planet with the promise of riches only to be enslaved by an evil empire. With the help other miners caught in the same trap, he sets out to free everyone and overthrow the empire. There are a few flaws in this game that keep it from being truly stellar, such as a faulty full screen mode and the fact that hitting ESC immediately kills the game, but the writing is light-hearted and the puzzles enjoyable, so you'll have a good time nonetheless.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (79 votes)
| Comments (84) | Views (971)

Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe

JohnBNormally, mixing real estate with casual gaming wouldn't seem like a smart move, but HipSoft's latest release proves you can take a complex subject matter and make it fun. Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe continues the highly successful Build-a-lot series with just the right balance between familiarity and innovation to lure new and veteran players alike. Hone your real estate skills as you buy, upgrade and sell houses, collect rent, and attract new residents to neighborhoods that need your expert eye.

buildalot3a.jpgThe third Build-a-lot game sends you across the seas to Europe where you'll help locals fix up their towns by building new properties, repairing old ones, and making the area attractive for new buyers. You'll hop across the continent and visit a handful of countries from Spain to England to Italy, encountering new people with new problems to solve at every turn.

Each level in Build-a-lot 3 features a set of goals you must meet in order to proceed. These range from meeting a certain level of rental income to fixing a number of properties, building a certain number of houses, and so on. The interface is uncluttered and feeds you only the information you need to know, allowing you to focus on your goals as well as a few basic resources (workers, materials, and blueprints). The more workers you have the more tasks you can complete at once, while materials and blueprints are necessary to do any kind of building.

The spine of Build-a-lot 3 is essentially the same as in previous installments, and HipSoft was wise to keep such a finely-tuned mechanic unchanged. As with Build-a-lot 2, though, new features have been introduced that make changes to the game that are subtle enough to keep things simple but still manage to alter your overall strategy.

The most interesting new feature are crises, random events such as fires, domestic disturbances, etc. that must be dealt with immediately so your income doesn't suffer. If an icon flashes over a house, click on it and send out the appropriate service as soon as you can, as properties under a crisis won't pay rent. This adds a slight time management feel to the otherwise calm atmosphere, but don't worry, the events aren't so frequent that your mouse hand will get tired.

buildalot3b.jpgTwo other new features worth mentioning are weather conditions and run-down properties. Changes in the weather will alter how quickly some jobs are completed (snow makes everyone move a little slower, doesn't it?). You'll also see a number of grayed-out lots that will lower the curb appeal of your neighborhood. Buy them on the cheap, do some repairs, then upgrade and beautify at your leisure to turn a handsome profit.

Analysis: HipSoft really has done it again with a sequel that not only manages to preserve the success of previous titles but improve upon them as well. Build-a-lot 3 has more content than Build-a-lot 2 and the difficulty level seems tweaked up just a notch or two. The pacing is still brilliantly spot-on, so you'll always have something to do and will rarely feel overwhelmed by anything. If a resource management game could be calm and calculating, Build-a-lot would be that game.

The locations are more varied, the gameplay mechanics familiar yet refreshed, and the challenges are even better than before. I'm continually amazed at how the Build-a-lot series manages to improve itself with each iteration without destroying the core elements that make them such satisfying games to play.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Build-a-lot 3 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


| Comments (20) | Views (7)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBSo what if I told you I know a secret that you don't know? And what if I told you there was no way you could ever find out? Not even if you played every game below to completion, found some sort of hidden message at the end, compiled them into a single word and wrote that word on a piece of paper and put it in a bottle and tossed it out to sea. Nope, that would never work. The secret is mine!

  • icon_roboevolution.gifRobo-Evolution - From the creator of the Moai games comes another simple (but less wacky) arcade-style time waster. Roll over items to add them to your queue, eventually building new parts for your body. Once you grab a few legs items (combs, RAM chips, etc.), for example, you get a nice set of workable legs! Very Katamari-esque.
  • icon_superstacker.gifSuper Stacker - A fun little physics puzzle game where your only goal is to stack shapes and keep them stable for a set amount of time. Pieces appear at your cursor in the order shown at the top of the screen. Gently place them and, when the last block is set, the clock starts ticking. Cross your fingers and hope gravity is on your side.
  • icon_shorttermmemory.gifThe Short Term Memory Checker - From the creator of the room escape game Vision comes a simple, no-frills brain teaser. You are shown a handful of items. When you've memorized them, click "OK" to fill the screen with tons of other objects. Now pick out the ones you memorized. As you progress, more and more items appear for you to commit to memory. You'll come up with some great mnemonic stories for this one!
  • icon_stackem.gifStack'Em - A Javascript remake of the classic Columns puzzle game based on code created for the Intellivision version. It's tiny, the blocks are so small and cute, and, well, that's about it. Nothing new to show off gameplay wise, but for nostalgia's sake, it's pretty neat.
  • icon_patchworkz.gifPatchworkz! new levels - Originally reviewed back in March, the jigsaw-esque game of pattern completion is back with brand new levels to complete. Compete against other players trying to fill in their own "quilts" at the same time to see who is the fastest.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (556 votes)
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StaceyG"AuditoriumAuditorium is a fantastic new puzzle game of music and light, by Dain Saint and William Stallwood of Cipher Prime. Currently it's a comprehensive demo of a work in progress. There are about 15 levels in the demo, so it already makes for a great game.

Solve each level by manipulating the flow of light to create the perfect balance of music. The streams of light represent sound particles that you bend toward boxes until the audio levels are full. When the flow is correct, the audio levels fill up with the proper color and all the parts of the music will play.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008The controls are very intuitive, but the main thing you need to know is you can expand and contract each direction button by clicking and dragging the edges. You start off with a directional arrow or two to guide the streams of light toward the audio level boxes. The navigation buttons become more tricky on later levels with the addition of the attractor control (the other controls mentioned in the instructions aren't available yet). You'll also have multiple colors to contend with, where you must guide the streams of light through rings of color to match the correct audio boxes.

If your computer is older you might want to take the game out of full screen mode—just press [ESC]. You can also right-click to change the graphics setting lower.

AuditoriumAnalysis: Often puzzles that involve directing a beam of light to an object are very rigid and there's only one answer. One of the best things about this game is there are many ways to solve each puzzle, which makes taking your time to experiment and have fun with the flow just as satisfying as finding the solutions. The last couple of levels, however, test the free form philosophy of the game makers, as they seem so complicated and so placement-specific that it's hard to imagine that there truly are multiple solutions. The last level especially requires you to place things just right, which can be a little frustrating. But for the most part, the game certainly delivers on the idea. Hopefully they will continue to develop with some higher tolerances built in.

The demo is presented in three "Acts," with a short teaser ending showing some of the controls and obstacles that will be added in the final game. The teaser is a bit of a let down, as you barely get time to look at it before it ends. It would have been better to end with the triumphant completion of the final puzzle. The game could also use a better title, nit-picky but true.

Linux users: If you experienced trouble playing the game before, please try again. The game authors have made a small change to the embedding code on the game page that may help with playing the game on Linux.

The music, digitally composed by Dain, is integral to the design of the game. It has enough variety from one level to the next that it doesn't get too repetitive (unless you get really stuck on a puzzle). It is fairly soothing for the most part.

Auditorium is very impressive in that each section you start to fill complements the musical piece until you hear the entire orchestration, and each part separately sounds just as good. Even more impressive, the visuals are dynamic and work on their own, even without sound.

Creative and challenging, this game has truly exceptional design and is a lot of fun to play.

Play Auditorium


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Rating: 4.5/5 (295 votes)
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JayBuggle StarsBuggle Stars is the latest game to come from the "Collective", a collaboration site between Paul Preece and David Scott. The platform game features the same, adorably cute, "buggle" creatures as a pair of previous games from the same authors.

Buggle Stars is a well-executed platformer with tight controls and over 15 interesting levels and 4 mini-games to unlock. Each level presents a sequence of stars that you must collect, in order, to advance. A variety of goals change up the gameplay just enough to keep each level interesting and addictive, and even a bit intense at times.

Once past the first several 'tutorial' levels, an integrated and automatic "save" feature will save your progress, so you can come back and continue where you left off anytime. Such a great little platformer!

Play Buggle Stars

Cheers to Mervin for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 3.5/5 (101 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (6)

KarmenScenicNASCAR fans and origami collectors unite! Grab your paper cranes and giant foam fingers, and prepare for one of the most beautiful races you've ever seen. Scenic is a new game from Bobblebrook (creators of Twizzle, Coign of Vantage, and A Good Hunch) combining elegant digitally-rendered landscapes with F-Zero-style racing.

Rather than resembling fighter jets and bombers, the gliders in Scenic are origami birds, Swallows for beginners, Floaters for intermediate fliers, and Steamrunners for those talented enough to complete the advanced tour. ScenicThese delicate figures seem right at home as they soar across colorful scenes. The crystal blue track, for instance, seems to take place inside a multi-faceted sapphire gem. The backgrounds of other tracks vary from futuristic to fantastically surreal.

Don't be fooled into gawking at the landscape, however tempting it may seem. Scenic is an intense, fast-paced racing game. Three other gliders are vying for first place. To unlock new tracks, you must outmaneuver the others, and cross the finish line. Once you've completed the beginning tour, you can move on to more advanced races, or return to your favorite scenes for time trials.

Scenic offers two different ways to control your glider, either with the mouse or the arrow keys. A bar across the bottom of the screen shows how far your glider is turning. If using the mouse, you can steer by holding the cursor over this bar. Holding either the spacebar or the mouse button down causes the glider to accelerate. The glider will brake immediately when the key or button is released. These controls are sensitive, yet smooth. So, once you get the hang of it, flying through these mystical landscapes feels almost natural.

According to Phillip, this game was built using their own 3D engine, which they plan to build future games with until the native 3D features in Flash 10 become more accessible. The beautiful environments in Scenic combined with the smooth navigation of the gliders are a promising start for this homegrown technology. The only real fault in the game might be its intensity. The game takes a while to load, even on fast computers. There is an option for lower quality graphics, which promise to speed things up, but this isn't available until the game is already loaded. The slow loading time is well worth the wait, for even at high speeds, Scenic is a wonderfully relaxing experience.

Play Scenic


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (91 votes)
| Comments (76) | Views (106)

Weekday Escape

JayEscape from Test Kitchen 2 is a standard escape-the-room game from 58works of Japan, somewhat reminiscent of a game from the gotMail folks. Players must collect bottles and mixers, Test Kitchen 2pieces of a map, safe combinations, and the like to find a solution and escape from what appears to be a small cozy restaurant. You will have to be creative in your problem solving, and be willing to explore without aid of help text, as this one is entirely in Japanese. That shouldn't be much of a problem, though, especially if you're an experienced Weekday Escaper. Please make use of the comments to help those of us who need a walkthrough to nudge us when we're stuck.

Pixel hunting is present, but bearable. Alcohol abounds, so let's keep the kids away from this one.

Play Escape from Test Kitchen 2


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Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe

JohnBPardon me for breaking the Weekend Download schedule (you know, since it's not the weekend and all), but some things can't wait the better part of a week to announce. HipSoft has just released Build-a-lot 3: Passport to Europe, the latest installment in the excellent Build-a-lot series of tycoon-style real estate sims. The series has found the sweet spot between keeping a successful formula the same and adding new elements to bring players back for more. I've already spent some time with this game and it's just as addictive as the previous titles. Look for a full review this weekend. In the meantime, start playing!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (233 votes)
| Comments (98) | Views (736)

Emily ShortVioletViolet is a richly engaging one-room puzzle game from this year's annual Interactive Fiction competition.

The problem? You're a graduate student working on your dissertation, but you haven't gotten any writing done in months. Your girlfriend Violet has put her life on hold, waiting for you to finish, and she's getting fed up. If you don't get a thousand words written today, your relationship is over and she flies home to Australia. Unfortunately, your office is full of every kind of distraction, from the window overlooking campus hijinx to the computer on your desk, always ready to show you the latest blogs and web comics instead of your chapter-in-progress. So you have no choice but to shut out everything that's causing you distraction so that you can turn in a few hours of solid work for once.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Having been through graduate school myself, I found this cut close to home. The way the protagonist keeps half-intentionally sliding into other tasks... or getting distracted by totally irrelevant noises... or remembering books that s/he really ought to read before writing anything... it's all too familiar. The main difference between me and the protagonist of Violet is that I didn't have such a nice office. (I wrote the lion's share of my dissertation in a university district cafe, accompanied by copious amounts of bubble tea. Possibly due to the sudden loss of revenue, the cafe shut down about a month after I finished.) No surprise at all that Violet's author Jeremy Freese is an academic by profession.

The implementation is strong. Like last year's competition winner Lost Pig, Violet abounds with interesting responses even to silly or unexpected actions. There are built-in hints, too, which is helpful, since a few of the puzzles are a bit on the tricky side. To keep you focused, the status line reminds you what's currently standing between you and writing progress.

There's also some flexibility in the game, which makes it fun to tinker with even after you've finished the first time. While Violet is too strongly herself to be mutated, the player character's gender is up to you — you can play as a male in a straight relationship or as a gay female. That choice is not purely cosmetic, either: some of the backstory and at least one of the puzzles is altered depending on your choice.

Analysis: On puzzles and implementation alone, Violet would be a solid, entertaining piece of work. What makes this game a stand-out is the way it uses the parser as the voice of a whole other person.

Critics of interactive fiction sometimes complain about how cold and empty IF can be — interactive characters are hard to write convincingly, objects are easy, and there has historically been a tendency to write large abandoned landscapes in which only journal entries and photographs bear witness to the people who once lived there.

That generalization is less true now than it used to be — there are numerous works of interactive fiction that are primarily about people rather than things (including another one of my favorites from this competition, Everybody Dies). Some of them involve fairly sophisticated opportunities for conversation and other kinds of interaction. Violet, on the other hand, never presents you with your girlfriend in the flesh. Instead, everything you do or think of doing is narrated in Violet's voice: not because she's actually present, but because the player character can't help imagining what she would say at every moment. The entire game thus becomes a conversation with imaginary-Violet.

A few people may find the voice of the artistic, perky Violet a little too precious: she has hundreds of pet-names for the player character, some of which are deeply absurd. Personally, I found that she was wry enough that I didn't mind the terms of endearment and the cuteness of her self-presentation. While I might not date someone like this myself, I found her persuasive as a person, and I enjoyed her company for the duration of the game.

Ultimately, though, the formal invention of having the game speak in Violet's voice would not be worth much if the story weren't so well-observed. Violet presents you with a player character whose problems are entirely grounded in the real world, and a girlfriend who is quirky but believable. Both of them come out as seemingly-real folks. I'm tempted to compare Violet to a romantic comedy, but that doesn't do it justice: your average romantic comedy is about cooked-up misunderstandings between people too dumb to notice that they are cosmically destined to be together. The main characters of Violet have real feelings for one another, and a real investment in their relationship — and underneath the goofiness and the cute pet-names, their problem is plausible and serious.

Play Violet


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

If you would rather download the game, you may do so at the Interactive Fiction database. If you choose to download the game, you will need an interpreter to read the z-file, just like most IF games: try Gargoyle for Windows, or Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (69 votes)
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KarmenPMIIBlackSea.jpgSpiky-haired Hector, hero of the previously reviewed Phantom Mansion: Spectrum of Souls, has returned in a new Phantom Mansion series beginning with Phantom Mansion 2: The Black Sea. Having found a map, complete with a glowing red X, Hector is sailing the first sea, the Black Sea, in search of treasure. Before he can get to the treasure, he must first find his way through a maze of locked doors, moats, and puzzles. The Black Sea offers 20 new and challenging levels and fun for all ages.

As before, control Hector using the [arrow] keys. The goal of each level is to collect all of the glowing skulls and find the exit. This isn't as easy as it sounds, though. Many skulls are hidden behind secret passages or in the middle of dangerous waters. By pushing boxes around, Hector can create bridges or trigger switches. Be careful! There are many ways to push a box in the wrong spot or to open doors in the wrong order. If you get stuck, you can restart the level or return to the main menu by hitting the [space] bar.

Play all the Phantom Mansion series games:
Phantom Mansion: Red ChamberPhantom Mansion: Orange LibraryPhantom Mansion: Yellow TowerPhantom Mansion: Green GalleryPhantom Mansion: Blue BallroomPhantom Mansion: Indigo DungeonPhantom Mansion: Violet VaultPhantom Mansion: Black Sanctum Phantom Mansion: The Black SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The North SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea

On some of the more difficult levels, Hector is presented with a new way to navigate: a raft. This handy device allows him to push boxes across water and access otherwise unreachable places. Combining several rafts even allows him to carry boxes across large bodies of water.

Since the Black Sea is only the first installment in a series, it does not yet present the same spectrum of variety as its predecessor. Still, it offers some replay value on its own, allowing you to repeat levels to beat your best time. Thankfully, most puzzles do not depend on speed or timing, but rather planning and logic. Also, the tutorials are unobtrusive, with tips and suggestions posted on scrolls, hung on the walls in each level. The brave can easily skip these and move on with the puzzles. By the time the puzzles become exceptionally difficult, there won't be any friendly advice-giving scrolls around.

Stretch out the Halloween season a little, and play the first installment!

Play Phantom Mansion 2: The Black Sea

Cheers to Oliver, Hollyrr33 and Aurorab for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.6/5 (44 votes)
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Out of Orderoutoforder.gifMy name is Hurford Schlitzting. I have reason to believe that my parents were drunk when they named me that. I am the main character of a game called Out of Order (Windows, 9MB, free).

Some teenage nobody by the name of SonicLover was trying out his new copy of CrossOver Games (which allows Mac and Linux users to run Windows programs) when he found my game featured in a Weekend Download way back in March. He must have liked it, because he decided to write a full review for it.

Out of Order is a humor-oriented, mouse-driven adventure game in the style of the old Lucas Arts and Sierra titles. You play as me, Hurford Schlitzting, an ordinary human being in a green bathrobe and bunny slippers (c'mon, everyone owns one or both of those... bust 'em out!) Late one night, I'm awakened by a storm and go to get a midnight snack. And then the game ends... Wait! No, it doesn't, or we wouldn't have much of a game.

Afterwards, everything starts up again exactly like before, only this time things go a little differently. Before I can get my snack, my bedroom and I are teleported into a bizarre alien neighborhood known only as "The Town", run by a shadow government known only as "The Panel". I'm not on Earth any more, that's for sure. Your task now is to guide me through the town, solving puzzles in an attempt to find a way home. And don't assume anything. Do we even know for sure that I'm a human being?

But enough plot malarkey. Control is mostly done with the mouse. Move the cursor and left click on things. Right click to cycle through your options (walk to, look at, use, talk to, the usual). Press [space] to access your inventory and use whatever items I might have picked up. It's a bit retro, but that's what some people like.

Analysis (by SonicLover): Out of Order is truly a diamond in the rough. After I finished playing it (with a little help from a walkthrough), I decided right away that it deserved a full review. It's one of those games that weaves its sense of humor into every situation, every object, and every interaction.

The puzzles can be vexing at times, but maybe it's just me. It's only natural that some of us have more trouble with certain puzzles than others. For example, did it never occur to anyone to pick up the doorknob? The humor's sweet, too. There's a dash of fourth wall-breaking at times ("Well, that should be easy." "You fool! Don't ever say that in an adventure game!"), a dash of "realism humor" ("I hope I never see you again." "I bet you say that to all your doctors." "Actually, I do."), some "slap-in-the-face" humor ("This looks like an infrared sensor. I'm glad my masterful perception skills are still intact... that and my ability to read stickers."), and even a few of my favorite flavor of humor: bad puns ("The elevator was jamming? What does it play?").

My only complaint was the control scheme. Sure it's a Windows game, but I still think switching options by right-clicking is a bit unusual, even after I figured out how to do it. (I've configured my laptop so that when I touch the trackpad with two fingers simultaneously, it recognizes it as a right-click. I had it that way long before I downloaded this game.) Perhaps having an alternate manner of switching, like pressing certain keys on the keyboard to switch directly to specific options, would have been a little easier.

But all the same, Out of Order is a masterpiece that no point-and-click adventure gamer should ignore.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free, full version

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (34 votes)
| Comments (25) | Views (168)

Alice Greenfingers 2

KarmenThere is nothing quite like a day on the farm: the smell of freshly tilled soil, tender plants sprouting, and honeybees buzzing about in search of nectar. Some call it work, but if you've ever met Alice Greenfingers, you know it's more like play. The lovable pig-tailed farm girl is back, tending to her Uncle Berry's farm, with Alice Greenfingers 2.

alicegreenfingers2a.jpgUncle Berry is a little eccentric and rather lazy, and over the years, his small farm has grown into a tangle of dandelions and forgotten apples. When Alice arrives, he's eager to put her right to work. Since Berry refuses to leave his chair on the porch, she's going to need your help. Using the mouse, you'll direct Alice to pick weeds and apples, dig garden beds, plant seeds, walk the dog, or take produce to the market — whatever Berry has in mind. Don't worry. Berry is so lazy that he'll never leave the porch to check on you, so once you've learned the basics, you dig, grow, and sell any way you like.

Like it's predecessor, Alice Greenfingers 2 is a pleasant, self-paced farming simulation game. While you are free to dig your garden any way you like, the game begins with a limited variety of options. Like before, new items become available as you progress through the game, and trophies are rewarded for certain milestones along the way. The similarities end there. The rewards in this sequel are greatly improved, with a new feature that allows you to unlock a new reward at the end of each day. These include adding new items to the general store, increasing popularity at the market, and extending the size of the farm. So, as time progresses, your garden will easily grow from simple to spectacular.

alicegreenfingers2b.jpgThe selling functions in this version are greatly improved as well. You'll no longer have to wait for the phone to ring to sell your eggs, milk or wool. Instead, you can keep an eye on the market price (which varies day-to-day) and choose to sell your products at any time, just by clicking on the appropriate animal enclosure. With new features, like beehives, goat pastures, and a henhouse, you can eventually run the farm on livestock, if you choose. If you'd rather just stick with dogs and cats for animals around the farm, that works too. You could plant an orchard instead. Money can always be earned by picking apples or plums from the ground beneath the fruit trees.

Analysis: With new plants and new rewards adding variety to an already wonderful farming experience, Alice Greenfingers 2 is a delight. Uncle Berry may seem a little obnoxious, but he'll head out to vacation as soon as business begins to take off. At that point, the farm is all yours. While in the first Alice Greenfingers rewards ended after 30 days, this version keeps going, allowing you to extend the season as long as you like. Loyal fans of Alice Greenfingers and new gardeners alike will adore this sequel. So, go! Grow! Enjoy Alice Greenfingers 2.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Alice Greenfingers 2 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBI compose this edition of Weekend Download with the sound of leaf blowers screeching through my windows. Not only does half my neighborhood believe leaves in their yard are evil, but apparently creating hours of noise pollution for everyone in the area is an acceptable price to pay to shove them in the street. I miss the good old fashioned, non-air-and-noise-polluting leaf rake...

xoldiers.gifXoldiers (Windows, 1.7MB, free) - A hyper-stylish arcade game of combat, capture and general sieging of castles! Control a group of soldiers and maneuver your way into the enemy's fort, ducking to avoid attacks and firing grenades and good old-fashioned weapons power to elmiinate the bad guy. Raze the purple buildings to win each mission.

mageguild.gifMageGuild (Mac/Windows, free) - Take on the role of a skilled apprentice of the Nahelan Mage Guild in this roguelike adventure, carving your way through countless dark caves and gathering hidden knowledge and treasures along the way. Unlike most games in the genre, learning and casting spells is fairly straightforward, and a great tutorial session introduces you to the game's basic concepts. Plus, if ASCII visuals aren't your thing, a graphical tileset is available under the options menu along with customizable controls! (Note: Mac users can play this game by downloading the free open source program Mono.)

argonaut.jpgArgonaut (Mac, 9.2MB, free) - A fantastic space shooter that takes the classic gameplay of Asteroids and hurls it well into the next century. Pilot your Argo spaceship deep into the recesses of space where a new asteroid field has been found to contain priceless crystals. Destroy all asteroids and collect the crystals some leave behind, then trade them in for upgrades at end-of-level space stations. You'll have to be quick, though, and watch out for pirates in this high-intensity, Mac-only space game!

lightmare.gifLightmare (Windows, 3MB, free) - An old fashioned Game Boy-style platformer where you play a vampire trying to work his way through the city to collect vials of blood. Avoid cars and similar obstacles while keeping away from lights that flicker on and off. Hit detection seems a bit wide, as I noticed cars will kill you before the sprites actually touch. Very simple platforming elegance makes this one a charming time-waster. And any game that can make a vampire cute deserves a second look.

aquaria3.jpgAquaria (Mac/Windows, demo) - Bit-Blot's gorgeous breakout title is now available for Mac! You control the restless young Naija, a curious underwater dweller who sets out to discover her world. The ocean is teeming with mysterious caverns to explore, strange sea creatures (some friendly, some otherwise), and troves of ancient secrets buried by time.

crayonphysics.jpgCrayon Physics Deluxe pre-order (Windows) - First released as a prototype in 2007, the physics-based puzzle game is nearing completion. Creator Petri Purho recently announced that pre-orders are available, offering a $5 discount to early buyers. You'll definitely want to pick this one up, and in the meantime, be sure and check out the Crayon Physics prototype demo.


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (24 votes)
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Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold

JohnBTreasure Seekers: Visions of Gold is another superb hidden object adventure game from Artogon Games, creator of The Mystery of the Crystal Portal. Both titles share a unique design among hidden object games where you are presented with contextual search clues instead of broad lists of objects. In essence, your goal is to explore the physical objects in each scene and collect items to solve individual puzzles. Combined with a charming story and great visuals, Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold hits between two genres for a welcome hybrid gaming experience.

treasureseekers.jpgThe story begins with a young girl telling of her dreams about life on a pirate ship. After a few short tutorial-style scenes she is joined by her brother, Tommy. Together they travel to uncover the family's secrets and discover hidden treasure. Not the most original of tales, but because the story is told from Emily's point of view, the sense of wonder and amazement is pushed to the charming position of center stage.

The game's unique interface utilizes clickable hotspots that reveal sets of objects that need to be found in order to solve a puzzle. For example, Emily wants to leave her room, but the door handle seems to be missing. Click where the handle would be and a set of round icons appear. With that menu open you can search the room to find the requested items, all of which make logical sense to solving the task at hand. Well, mostly logical. When you locate an item, simply select it and click on the menu to place it where it needs to go.

At any given time you may have several hotspots that you can work on completing, each with its own items to find. Sometimes you'll have to solve one of these puzzles in order to find an item for another. Check the row of icons at the bottom of the screen to see what's available and how many more puzzles you'll need to find/solve before completing the current scene.

treasureseekers2.jpgAnalysis: Before I made the connection that both Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold and The Mystery of the Crystal Portal were created by the same development team, I had already begun to notice similarities between the two titles. Both use the same basic hidden object/adventure structure that relies on container objects and localized puzzles. Both sprinkle minigames into the mix every so often, though the ones in this game are far superior to Crystal Portal's roster. Both games also have a great visual design that features a wide range of environments.

Most hidden object games penalize you for mis-clicks, but here you can tap the mouse button all you want without fear of reprimand. Sometimes this will help you out of a tight spot, other times it will merely fill the screen with little red X marks. The hint system is unlimited and regenerates every minute or so, giving you ample opportunity to play the game "right" and still have an enjoyable experience.

Good visuals, a charming story, and an interesting mechanic that takes some of the dry feeling out of the hidden object/adventure genre. Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold is another high quality game that should not be missed.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWith such an amazing week of free browser game releases, it's a wonder anything is left over for Link Dump Friday! Thanks to my armies of trolls, hermits, little bits of aluminum foil and people I've set on fire (you know who you are), we've come up with a nice list of games to keep your Friday from getting boring.

  • icon_qwop.gifQWOP - You are an Olympic runner. Using the [QWOP] keys, control your left and right calves/thight and dash your way to success. Only... I can't guarantee you'll do very much running in this game. You will, however, fall on your head a dozen different ways. With practice you can manage a decent trot, but the end result of playing QWOP is always the same: rampant hilarity.
  • icon_mazeofmadness.gifThe Maze of Madness - A point-and-click text adventure game of sorts, Maze of Madness lets you explore and interact with a world via choice links, flavor text, and small images. All you have to do is decide what to do and then click. Surprisingly fun for such a simple idea!
  • icon_flipside.gifFlipside - Just released by Nitrome, Flipside is a 2D futuristic racing game with a touch of physics thrown in for flavor. Use the [arrow] keys to steer, jump, and keep your two-wheeled racer on the level, minding your momentum and avoiding obstacles (and reckless racers) in the meantime.
  • icon_powerpool.gifPowerpool - It's like pool. On steroids. With power-ups. And stuff. It's the latest from the talented and crazy NinjaKiwi guys from Down Under. Sink all the balls without sinking the cue ball. Things get interesting with a variety of unusual balls, the likes of which you've never seen before.
  • icon_ely.gifEly - A short room escape game that's dark both thematically and in terms of a lack of lighting. Finding the light switch is a good place to start, then you're on your own in this creepy title. Probably best to keep the kids away for some parts of this game.
  • icon_samegamecharged.gifSamegame Charged - From ooPixel, creators of the award-winning Gride and of Samegame Hexagonized comes another iteration of the timeless puzzle game. Click on groups of three tiles to eliminate them from the screen. When a lightning bolt piece appears, click it to destroy a whole group of circles, regardless of their color.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (292 votes)
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PatrickOiligarchyOiligarchy is the latest satirical management game from Paolo Pedercini and la Molleindustria, a true spiritual successor to the smash hit and design benchmark, The McDonald's Game. You are the CEO of a major international oil company, your job is to make money: Democracy, environment, and global economic health are irrelevant. Explore, drill, corrupt governments, hire mercenaries, engage in covert operations, fix elections (which are clearly broken without you) and most of all: have fun.

The gameplay at first may seem a bit complex, but it actually does a great job of taking a broad topic and simplifying it. You click on different spots around the world map (lower left) to move between Texas, Alaska, Washington DC and Iraq, and then you click on the actions tab on the top of the screen to select the things you want to buy.

You can choose to explore land and sea to find new oil, buy different levels of drilling equipment to get that oil, and you can also assign mercenaries to guard your wells. When elections roll around, make sure you bet a bit on both horses by moving your mouse over each and throwing some money their way, but of course give more to the more popular party to make sure pro-oil laws get passed. Pro-oil laws let you get more money by raising the oil addiction, cutting your taxes and leaving you with more royalties. Also, getting the president all oiled up lets you order covert operations, such as a coup in Venezuela or a disruption of Iraq's economy. All you have to do is get your flow in, keep the governments of the world either bought or subdued, and roll in the money as you click through each year. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Analysis: Oiligarchy is one of the most important games released this year, and certainly the most important Web game. The ability to take complex, inter-connected events and put them together into a model where your decisions reflect decisions made by real-world, powerful people is a testament to the power of this medium. For instance, right now oil companies are scaling back investment because short-term oil prices have been cut almost by 2/3rds; in the game I found myself passing over small undersea wells because I didn't think the upfront investment justified the return. For those of us who want cheaper gas, that decision can be hard to understand, but the math and poetry of it weave together: selfish short-term greed runs this game. While conservatives may roll their eyes at this, and Paolo certainly lays on editorial in the bits of text that lace the gameplay, the underlying model that our collective wealth is tied to oil supply matches the hard reality of it.

In addition to showing that games can render complex subjects accessible, Oiligarchy shows that there's no inherent gap between fun and education. Most importantly, this game is likely to be a massive hit, played by tens of millions, like its anti-Fast Food predecessor, and that means the simple yet persuasive argument that we need to get off our oil addiction sooner rather than later is going to ripple. I wouldn't be surprised to see Paolo get on the Colbert Report. The execution is polished over the top, the clanking drum circle of the oil derricks moving in rhythm is the icing on the Devil's Food Cake.

Are you ready to play one of the best Flash games ever?

Play Oiligarchy


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (112 votes)
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JayRetardo and the Iron GolemAnd the deluge of fresh new game releases continues. Now, Robin Vencel introduces Retardo, the main character in a brand new point-and-click game series that follows the lead of Bowja the Ninja.

In Retardo and the Iron Golem, the King of Moronia has sent Retardo on a mission to defeat the Iron Golem and restore peace to the kingdom. In return he is promised the hand of the Princess of Moronia. It's up to you to ensure that he accomplishes his mission safely.

Using the mouse, click on items at the appropriate times and in sequence to get Retardo through each scene. Some scenes will require you to find a few objects and place them where they need to be before progress can be made. Some scenes will require you to be quick in your pointing and your clicking. Collect hidden mushrooms for bonus timer score at the end of the game.

Analysis: Although I can do without the blood and the gore, I really like these little point-and-clicks that Robin is making. They are gorgeously detailed, charmingly animated, and brought to life with lush sound effects. The puzzles are not altogether difficult, but it will take you a few times to work out each scene. Thankfully, you're never set back very far each time you fail. Bite sized and filling.

Note: We at JIG do not approve of the use of the word "retard" in this game. Indeed, we feel it was an unfortunate choice. That along with the cartoon violence, blood and gore that is present indicates that this is one game to keep away from the little, more impressionable, ones.

Play Retardo and the Iron Golem


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (247 votes)
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mirrorsedge2d.gifJohnBFrom The Fancy Pants Adventure creator Brad Borne comes another fast-paced acrobatic platformer that has just entered beta! Mirror's Edge 2D is a re-imagining of the recently-released Xbox 360/PS3 first person action-adventure game Mirror's Edge. Using a modified version of the Fancy Pants Adventure World 2 engine, Mirror's Edge 2D adds a ton of new climbing/leaping moves that mimic the abilities of the main character in the original title. With the help of a few talented artists, Brad is transforming the game into a fluid climbing adventure that translates the look and feel of its 3D brother surprisingly well.

Mirror's Edge 2D is still in beta, so the team is looking for feedback to help polish up the final version. This release only has one short demo level, but you'll have a lot of fun running, climbing, leaping and scrambling over ledges. Also, check out the Mirror's Edge 2D forum thread for more details.

Play Mirror's Edge 2D beta

Note: The full version of Mirror's Edge 2D is out! Read our thoughts on it here, and

Play Mirror's Edge 2D


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Rating: 3.3/5 (82 votes)
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JayEscape from the StarshipTaro Ito-san of GameDesign just released a new game, though it is a bit less accessible than his previous efforts. Escape from the Starship is an escape game that uses sound to convey the relative proximity of monsters that you must avoid.

The starship is composed of a maze of rooms, each of which is composed of homogeneous grey dots. Each dot represents a floor tile on which you may land. The sound you hear, however, ultimately determines whether that tile is safe. As you approach a monster, the consistent "beep—beep—beep" will increase in frequency. Your job is to find safe passage through the spaceship without landing on a tile with a monster. Find batteries to replenish some energy for your beeper, and find a map to help you discern the twisty passages of the starship.

As usual, Ito-san creates an engaging puzzle game from a simple concept, and it's enjoyable to play. Since it requires sound, however, this game is best played by hearing folks only—an accessibility "don't" that may have been averted by including an option to display a similarly pulsing object or symbol synchronized to the sound—and those in an environment where the beeping won't be disturbing to others.

Play Escape from the Starship


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Rating: 3.5/5 (126 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessIt might be a few weeks past, but, at least in Escapegameopolis, Halloween is still in full swing. How else to explain the recent rash of delightfully creepy, CryptKeeperawesomely eerie games created for our pointing and clicking pleasure? Latest up in this pernicious pantheon is Crypt Keeper, a gorgeous new offering by the good folks over at Armor Games.

In Crypt Keeper, without a single word of explanation you find yourself plunked down in the middle of a truly spooktastic graveyard. How and why did you get there? Not important. It's the middle of the night, and there are creepy noises and big ominous tombstones and omigosh you need to get out right now! The only option, then, is to move forward and explore. The office and tool shed that border the graveyard both hold secrets and clues to aid you in your quest, but to really get to the heart of the matter you'll have to—gulp!—venture into the crypt itself.

Crypt Keeper is an extremely nice-looking (and sounding) game. The nearly-photorealistic graphics, deeply shadowed and finely textured, really bring the scene to life; the ambient sound effects also lend an air of realism to the environment. Most of the game's puzzles are fairly straightforward, "pick up key A to open door B" sorts of things, though there are a generous handful of more creative obstacles thrown in. My only real problem with Crypt Keeper is that, despite the fact that it displays all the trappings of a great game, it somehow seems to lack soul. (Mu-hahaha!)

I think that this is mostly due to the complete lack of any sort of set-up or background scenario. Also, unlike many other creepy point-and-clicks, no tragic family history or other spooky story is revealed while playing through the game; there is no "plot" other than to escape. And hey, that's fine... but when seemingly so much time and effort is spent in making a game look and sound great, a corresponding lack of substance can feel a bit disappointing.

That being said, Crypt Keeper is still a fine piece of work that definitely deserves your attention. Even without a developed story line, playing such a polished, atmospheric game is a real pleasure. Enjoy!

Play Crypt Keeper


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (236 votes)
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IncrediBots screenJohnBIncrediBots is a brand new physics-based webtoy from Grubby Games, creator of the Professor Fizzwizzle series. Much like Fantastic Contraption, the downloadable sandbox builder Phun, and Line Rider before it, IncrediBots gives you a handful of simple tools and sets you free to explore your creative impulses. Draw shapes, connect them with joints, and tweak their basic properties to create living, moving, and functioning 'bots that can perform any task (catapult, anyone?). You can even make movies, complete with text, than can be shared with the IncrediBots community!

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Because of the enormous flexibility of the IncrediBots engine, you'll need a couple of minutes to familiarize yourself with the options at your disposal. A set of tutorial levels introduces the basics and will only take you a few moments to complete. The game also features a set of challenge levels with a few dozen (optional) tasks to work through, including moving objects around, climbing obstacle courses, and building catapults to hurtle shapes through the air. The real power (and fun), though, is in the sandbox mode, where you begin with a blank template and let your imagination run wild.

IncrediBots breaks down 'bot building into two basic components: shapes and joints. Using the menu at the top of the screen, draw rectangles, circles and triangles with the mouse, and connect them using rotating, fixed and sliding joints. Clicking on shapes allows you to change attributes such as density, which has precisely the affect you would expect when the contraption comes alive.

A robot isn't very interesting when it just sits there, of course. Joints give you the power to get some serious (or seriously fun) work done. Click on any existing joint to bring up an options menu on the left side of the screen. Here you can enable the motor, powering the joint to move on its own or via keyboard input. You can also adjust the speed and power in which the joint operates, useful for crafting all sorts of moving parts that can lift large loads. When everything is ready to roll, click the "play" button to see your creation come to life!

IncrediBots screenIncrediBots also features a set of more movie-centric tools that allow you to set camera focus and change the cosmetic appearance of things by removing the outline, sliding objects forward and backward, and changing colors. Everything you create can be saved as a robot or a replay movie, and you can choose to share your work with the world and even allow public edits!

Analysis: Although still technically in beta at the time of this review, IncrediBots is already an amazing piece of work. The level of control you have over your contraptions is surprisingly deep, yet everything is handled with a streamlined interface that is very simple to use. No fiddling with equations, just point and click adjustments here and there that make immediate logical sense.

The game's set-up lends itself well to building, testing, and tweaking with minimal fuss. After placing a shape the cursor automatically goes back to "select" mode, which I found quite intuitive. You can select multiple shapes by using the [shift] key, and the copy/paste and rotation tools come in handy. Just about every action is also tied to a keyboard shortcut, so after you become familiar with how things work, it's even easier to build more intricate machines.

If all of this sounds complex, don't worry, it isn't. Complete the tutorial levels, which will take all of ten minutes, and you'll be fully versed in IncrediBots creation. Be sure to check out some of the robots and replays already saved by the community, such as The Adventures of Mr. Monocle. You'll get just a small taste of the amazing flexibility this game offers. Now get out there and build some cool stuff!

Play IncrediBots


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Rating: 3.8/5 (42 votes)
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TotomiStaceyG"Lions and Hippos and Bears, oh my! In Rovio Mobile's Totomi, build stacks of animals into totems as high as you can. Combine identical animals along with their favorite food and they begin to breed, multiplying their number and pushing your totem even higher. Each animal interacts differently with others, so learning their relationships is key to creating massive stacks of animals.

The game starts out extremely simple: stack some zebras and feed them some leaves. Before long the list of animals grows and their interactions become more complicated. What happens when a lion meets a beaver? Will an elephant eat fish? What's the relationship between wood and a zebra? You'll eventually have to track these relationships on a massive scale!

Detailed instructions are provided before the game begins, telling you about each combination or interaction, which animals breed, which are friends, and a corresponding visual symbol for each to help you organize your totems. Signs like hearts stand for friends, baby bottles for breeding, knife and fork for food, and a plus sign for a non-matching animal that can capture your stack for points. Simply drag and hold animals over a column to see how they'll interact with what's already there. The totems will start to shake when your time for the level is running out, so capture a stack to keep going!

Analysis: This game has an odd combination of being very simple and complicated at the same time. But this might be the key to its playability. It takes a while to pick up what all the different symbols mean, but once you get that down and have up to 12 animals to manage it gets more challenging and fun. Totomi has a snazzy soundtrack, smooth and polished gameplay and cute visuals. When you capture a really big stack there is a visual circus on the screen. Make sure to give it a chance past the first couple of levels, as once you get into the swing of things the fun really kicks in.

Play Totomi

Thanks to Irina for suggesting it! :)


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (111 votes)
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seppukuties.jpgzxoAttention all you hippy, vegan, hemp-wearing, spruce-hugging Gaia-worshipers: this game encourages the mindless slaughter of cute animals. Tony (of Shift fame) apparently isn't trying to tap the PETA crowd with his latest puzzle/platformer release, SeppuKuties.

The story begins with a pack of cuddly woodland creatures suddenly finding themselves homeless at the hands of big brother and his menacing chainsaw. So, the lot of them decide they need to get to Paradise Meadows, where frolicking and rainbows surely await. The path is long and tortuous, meandering through grasslands, tundra, mountains, forest and swamp. To advance along the path they need to collect a golden acorn from each level (obviously).

Help them get to the golden acorn by using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys for movement. Out of the cuddlement of doe-eyed creatures will emerge an individual, randomly selected. It might be a fluffy bunny, a ridiculous raccoon, a bouncing bear, a fuzzy fox, a melodious monkey, a lovable lion or an endearing elephant. Let's suppose it's a bunny. Hippity-hoppity across the land, collecting acorns you go. Hey, what's that? Spikes! They look sharp! Watch out bunny! WATCH OU…

Hmmm. That was unpleasant. No matter! Another ball of cuteness will take her place. It's the elephant! Maybe Mr. Elephant can trample the spikes!

Or not. Poor guy.

Turns out all the animals behave (and die) identically. Fear not, though, for their deaths may not have been in vain! Since another animal immediately takes over upon death, you can sacrifice some creatures to get to places you don't expect to come back from. Also, the cute carcasses remain in play, and can be used as a stepping stone across the spikes. You start with 30 animals to last you 21 levels, so there is some wiggle room, but be conservative nonetheless.

The levels are are fairly typical platform constructions, except some make use of the Box2d physics engine to introduce tipping, tilting, swinging, and rolling not normally found in puzzle platformers. Still, the difficulty level is pretty low, and those looking for a challenge should attempt to spend the fewest lives possible in passing them all (Tony claims 5 is the theoretical lowest). Also, each level earns a grade based on the number of deaths and the regular acorns collected. Earn A's on each level in a stage to earn a paw-print reward. They don't really do anything, but you can say you've earned them!

The greatest thing about SeppuKuties is that it almost makes you not want to complete the levels, on account of some adorable animal is going to meet a nasty death. I mean, who can resist those huuuuuge eyes, or the cluster of cuteness all bobbing their heads in time and swiveling around to watch the current Kutie in action? I certainly can't.

Can you?

Play SeppuKuties

Cheers to Mags and Sphax for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (128 votes)
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PatrickTortuga Vol. 1Tortuga Episode 1 is an escape-the-room game set on a pirate ship; the first installment of a series, from Mateusz Skutnik and Marek Frankowski, that promises to be adventuresome, if not epic. Parrots, treasure, peril and puzzle awaits those intrepid enough to brave the pirate ship.

You navigate the screen by parsing your mouse cursor over things and then clicking with the left mouse button—when the cursor turns into a hand, go ahead and click. The words "go back" will appear below the screen when clicking will take you back to a wider view. Otherwise, you're free to explore, poking around for clues and items that can aid your escape. Unlock the door and get past that bloody pirate and you win. Simple, short and sweet.

Analysis: Tortuga is a solid room escape game with iconic graphics dancing on the boundary between cartoon and painting, and fairly clever puzzle design. The clues can be a bit obscure at times, but the pirate motif keeps things coherent. The tension of why you're trapped in this room is added to by the apparent richness of the setting and the promise of further narrative in subsequent chapters. The potential for later versions of the series, as the creators get better at puzzle design, writing, and staging tension, could make this a gem in the genre.

Avast at last,

Play Tortuga Episode 1

Cheers to Clandestino and Marly for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.4/5 (196 votes)
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zilch.jpgArtbegottiAh, summer camp. What happened to the good old days of spending a week in the woods, singing songs, swimming in the lake, telling ghost stories, and learning new dice games from the girl with red hair? Oh yeah, summer jobs. Luckily, at least one of those memories can be relived when you play Zilch, a dice game of luck and strategy. Race against the computer (or another friend) to 10,000 points, and rightfully claim the last marshmallow for another s'more.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008Each turn starts by rolling all six dice. You can earn points by rolling 1's and 5's (worth 100 and 50, respectively), or by rolling 3 or more of a kind, or several other special configurations worth big points. After each roll, you have the option to bank the points you've currently earned (with a minimum of 300 points) and ending your turn, or re-roll all of the dice you're not using for your points total with the hopes of getting even more points. If you can successfully score with all six dice on one or more rolls, you can pick up all six dice and start racking up more points, but any throw in which you do not roll any points counts as a Zilch: You lose all your points earned so far in the round, and your turn ends. To add to the risk, getting three Zilches in a row costs you 500 points.

This is where luck turns into strategy. How many points are you willing to risk by rolling that last remaining die in order to roll all six dice again? Is it better to re-roll some of your dice worth points, in order to try to get a three-of-a-kind? Should you bank now in order to avoid getting that third Zilch?

Analysis: Zilch is definitely one of those games that's "easy to learn, hard to master." Games usually run about 5-10 minutes long, which make it an excellent lunch break diversion. The interface is very nicely set up with a nice wooden tabletop theme, subtle sound effects, and one hundred twenty achievements to unlock (so you'll be playing for a while, to say the least). There are three levels of computer difficulty to choose from, a two-player mode, and the promise of online play to be coming soon.

Are you ready to let it roll?

Play Zilch

Cheers to Chris, Tonypa, Katie, Klaser and Treniac for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.6/5 (93 votes)
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KarmenTipping Point 4When we last left the Tipping Point series, it wasn't clear if we were wandering through a surreal dream or being teleported around by satellites and villains with 1980's technology and bad intentions. A young sore-ridden man, Tommy, had just sent us on a mission to stop his evil father from—that's right—taking over the world. Tipping Point: Chapter 4 takes over just where we left off, entering another unknown tropical destination with our strange, homemade device in hand.

Just as before, you'll have very few clues to help you navigate this lush and surreal landscape. As you explore each scene, the cursor highlights over various hotspots, revealing objects that need to be collected and combined. Various areas of the chapter are unlocked as you proceed, so don't be discouraged if the area seems small and sparse at the beginning.

This latest chapter of Tipping Point has all of the same appeal as previous chapters, combining photorealistic 3-D graphics with various point-and-click puzzles. Some minor pixel-hunting is required, but most puzzles simply require a bit of common sense and patience. In this chapter, designer Dan Russel-Pinson's talents really begin to shine. Whether fishing in a slow brook, or exploring a game-within-a-game, the attention to detail in each scene is fantastic.

Analysis: It's tough to find fault in these gorgeous chapters. Sure, the plot is a little dry, and the dialogue seems a little forced, but the detailed scenery and gentle ambiance more than make up for this. In some ways, the Tipping Point series seems more like a strange vacation, rather than an adventure. This chapter gave no hint as to when the series will end; let's hope it is after many more delightful chapters.

Check out the entire Tipping Point series, including Chapter 5 on iOS!

While no changes were actually made to previous chapters, the author has made them more accessible. Unlike before, pass codes are no longer required to skip chapters. So, it is a simple click away if you want to play from the beginning, to refresh your memory or just want to watch channel 6 on the television in the first level. (Dance, monkeys, dance!)

It may not make much more sense than before, but it is certainly as wonderful as ever.

Play Tipping Point 4

Cheers to Clandestino, Kuzichan, Marly, Adam, and Timothy for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 3.8/5 (132 votes)
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KarmenEstamos PensandoA piece was submitted this year to the 2008 SBGames Independent Gaming Festival in Brazil that pushed the envelope of gaming and received high initial reviews. Yet, on the surface, the game seemed like nothing more than an awkward, weakly executed platform game. So what has everyone thinking about Estamos Pensando? Play the game, then read our review and find out.

Perhaps it is the interesting paradox that the game explores. "Estamos Pensando is a game about the experience of having someone you love demanding from you things you can't actually do," as its author describes. This unusual little game begins with you being dumped. "Let's end this," she says, and she means it, because no matter how you high you try to jump for her, she won't budge. She wants a man who will go to space to bring her the stars. After that harsh speech, all you can do is grab your dignity and the arrow keys and go.

The controls are rather simple: [up] to jump, [left] and [right] to run, but the controls can be rather frustrating if you ignore the advice in the beginning explaining the wall jump. To use this fancy maneuver, jump on a wall and wait until you start to slide down, with one arm still reaching for the stars. While sliding, jump again and you'll be propelled in the opposite direction. It won't take long to get the hang of it, but as soon as you do, you won't need it any more.

Who says a game must have a happy ending? The designer of this game, Daniel Novais, believes games are diversions, used not necessarily for amusement, but to explore impossible situations. Estamos Pensando, with its depressing story line and meager game mechanics, is not really a fun game. But at the same time, it is fascinating, because it allows us to explore a paradox familiar to anyone who has ever fallen in love. It gently reminds us that we cannot fulfill someone else's desires without sacrificing something of ourselves.

"Estamos Pensando" is a Portuguese phrase meaning "we are thinking." Indeed, this game has some of us thinking. Is there a place in the casual gaming sphere for games that are weakly amusing, but strongly aesthetic? We've seen brilliant works, some artistic, some philosophical, and some downright weird, that couldn't rightly be called games, but still made interesting diversions. Novais' work is a great example of this. It combines simple art, soothing music, and a troubling paradox into a curious piece that demands to be played several times. So, reach for the stars, and experience.

Play Estamos Pensando


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Weekend Download

JohnBAlong with three slightly crazy games, in this edition of Weekend Download we have a few games that have gone through a metamorphosis of sorts. World of Goo is now available for Mac (!), and one of my favorite resource management games, Now Boarding, has had a significant upgrade.

lynchmobhd.gifLynchmob HD (Windows, 1MB, free) - Created in just three hours, Lynchmob HD is a simplistic arena shooter where you move the yellow target (controlled via mouse) over the swarming dots to eliminate them. Use [WASD] to slide your character around the screen and avoid the enemies. You won't stay alive long, but if you're good you can earn a spot on the online high score board.

karatekamania.gifKarateka Mania (Windows, 14MB, free) - A Japanese fan-made rhythm game. Various songs play while a series of icons float by at the bottom of the screen. When one reaches the ring it's thrown into the background where your character stands. Press the [enter] key to punch, timing it just right so you hit the object for a maximum score. Keep your combo going as long as you can by sliding into the song's rhythm. The game and website are both in Japanese, so if you don't read the language, you'll have to do a little hunting to find what you need. Click on the left link in the fourth rectangle from the top of the screen to download. Additional songs can be found on the game's message board, simply download the zip file and unpack everything into the game's Music directory.

10800zombies.gif10800 Zombies (WIndows, 1.8MB, free) - An action-packed platform shooter where you hop around, pick up guns, and blow up zombies. Chunky pixel graphics give it a great look, and even though it limits your field of vision, the circular shading creates an interesting atmosphere. The background blood splatter is also a nice effect!

Now BoardingNow Boarding v1.1 (Mac/Win, demo) - The time management game Now Boarding has been upgraded to version 1.1, adding a host of features and addressing a few glitches. At the top of the list is a new game mode, Challenge, along with four new planes and a much more intelligent route finder that helps you plan and execute flight paths with ease. A fun bonus is that now you can fire employees, but don't let the ultimate power go to your head.

World of GooWorld of Goo for Mac (Mac/Win, demo) - You like World of Goo? Of course you do, that's a silly question. Now Mac users can get their goo on without additional software thanks to 2D Boy's release of World of Goo for Macs! Yes yes, I know. 2D Boy is great.


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Rating: 4.8/5 (31 votes)
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Forgotten Lands: First Colony

JohnBA blend of Virtual Villagers, Westward, and strategy games such as Warcraft and Tribal Trouble, Forgotten Lands: First Colony is a casual RTS game that hits the sweet spot between challenge, complexity, and captivating casual gameplay. The title puts you at the helm of a young civilization looking to strike out and settle new lands. Everything about Forgotten Lands: First Colony is geared towards easing you into the experience, yet there's no shortage of depth or intrigue.

forgottenlands.jpgForgotten Lands: First Colony gives you the power to build structures, create units, and harvest materials you'll need to do both. To recruit workers, simply click on the town hall and choose which citizen you'll need. Some of the starting units available include general laborers, merchants, scholars and scouts, each with his or her own unique abilities. Drag and drop your units onto buildings to set them to work. Scholars, for example, love to research and when they're placed around a building it will quickly earn points that will allow an upgrade. Learning how to use the units effectively is one of the key factors in mastering Forgotten Lands: First Colony.

Food, gold and wood are the only resources you need concern yourself with in the game. Build farms and place workers there to make sure your population is fed. Create a lumber mill to harvest timber, and try distributing merchants across your buildings to increase gold production. In order to create new buildings and upgrade them, you'll need plenty of gold and wood.

Divided into a series of scenarios, Forgotten Lands gradually develops the story as you complete increasingly open-ended missions. You start with simple tasks such as building a farm, recruiting a number of units, or upgrading a building. Later you get to do much more interesting things such as trade gems for new property and repair an ancient seafaring vessel that's crashed on the shore. Bonus stages are unlocked at certain points, providing you with a little break from the main game.

forgottenlands2.jpgAnalysis: I've never been a big fan of real-time strategy games. The complexity and steep learning curve usually turns me away before I get to the meat of the game. Forgotten Lands: First Colony drops all of the confusing menus and needlessly long list of units in favor of a straightforward design. New workers are introduced at a slow pace and, at least in earlier levels, it's fairly obvious which you should be stockpiling. Managing resources is simple, there's enough variety in the scenarios to keep monotany at bay, and everything is knitted together without limiting your options, keeping the "S" in RTS vibrantly alive.

The visuals, while perfectly suited to the game's atmosphere, sometimes come across as a bit grainy with slightly stiff animation. It's nothing that detracts from the game, however, and I love the overall look and feel.

It's rare to see real time strategy make its way to the casual scene in such a perfect way. Forgotten Lands: First Colony delivers everything that's great about the genre without sacrificing very much at all. And you won't have to sacrifice hours of your life just learning how to play.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThis week's Link Dump Friday reminds me of baking soda, white vinegar, and a dab of dish soap. Well, not so much the concoction itself, but its many varied cleaning uses. Well, not really the cleaning part, more of the — you know, I just saw the word "bubble" and thought about the mixture. There, I said it. I feel better now.

  • icon_assembler.gifAssembler - A fun little physics toy/puzzle game where you move boxes to hold the green box in the outlined goal. Where you grab shapes determines how they move, adding a nice realistic feel to the whole thing. And I love slinging things around and listening to the satisfying sound effects!
  • icon_bubblespinner.gifBubble Spinner - Clear all the bubbles from the board and score as many points as possible. All you have to do is fire and create groups of three. The mass of bubbles is affected by your shots and spins, so move it wisely and prevent it from growing to the edge of the screen.
  • icon_expeditionweek.gifExpedition Week - Created to promote National Geographic's Expedition Week, the online game tie-in sends you on a series of hidden object quests to earn stamps and cash that allows you to customize your avatar. $200 white t-shirt, anyone?
  • icon_pitchblack.gifPitch Black - Billed as an online cartoon puzzle game, Pitch Black features a series of comic-style panels you must drag and arrange in the correct order. There's no speech to fuss with, so use clues in the illustrations to guide you.
  • icon_sugarcubes.gifSugar Cubes - A short movie by Nekogames guru Yoshio Ishii, author of Cursor*10, Hoshi Saga, and more. Stylish and abstractly interesting, it features a series of vignettes showing sugarcubes going about their not-so-daily lives. Is it wrong for me to be emotionally moved by sliding cubes?

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Rating: 4.2/5 (84 votes)
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Artbegotti99 BricksRight then, Tetris. You stack the bricks, the lines disappear, and the troika drones on in the background. 99 Bricks is a bit different, in that as the tetrominoes fall and stack, they don't disappear when lines form. This time, your goal is to make the tallest tower that you can. A higher tower means a higher spot on the leader board.

Just be warned though, your tower is not steady.

In a twist on the classic block stacking game, 99 Bricks challenges you to make a brick tower using standard Tetris play mechanics. [Left] and [right] arrows move the falling brick back and forth, [up] rotates the block, and [down] drops it. You're also given [Z] to zoom out and see the whole tower, and [C], which can throw out the current brick if you don't want to use it. What makes this game unique is that the playing field is not based on a rigid grid, like what you're probably used to. Improperly placed blocks can tip and tilt, just like a real (two-dimensional) block tower. You've got to plan ahead and make sure your bricks are structurally sound, more than just fitting into holes.

As soon as a falling brick touches your tower (regardless of which side), it's out of your control, even if it means your brick falls past another ten bricks straight down. It's possible to "nudge" a set of bricks with proper placement and timing from your current brick, but whether or not this is a good strategy is up to you.

Analysis: One thing that WeirdBeard has done with 99 Bricks is to bring to Tetris a very stark sense of realism. You no longer get that mysterious "floating brick" that most older versions of Tetris used to have, you now have a potential tower buster. Setting a limit of exactly 99 bricks gives a strangely comforting sense of closure to the game, because it's set in stone (pun unintended) when the tower-building will end, instead of blindly playing on for an eternity. And while the physics of this game aren't exactly perfect, let's face it, when was Tetris's physics ever perfect?

Your tower is complete... bask in its glory.

Play 99 Bricks

Cheers to Martijn and Lar for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 3.9/5 (76 votes)
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MDenBall Drop OneBall Drop One, produced by Finnish developer Ville Helin, is an interesting blend of pachinko and pinball. Drop your ball into the playing field, trying to rack up as many points as possible. If your ball hits a skull ball or stops moving, it explodes and the round ends. Simple enough, right?

Well, no, not really, because this game has a lot going on. The objective is to score points, and scoring points unlocks additional levels for you to play. Also, your high score for each level is saved for you.

You can score points off of a multitude of different balls, ranging from exploding blues to shrinking yellows, give your ball an extra kick by correctly predicting which ball it will hit next, slow the game down temporarily, and give all balls a boost towards your mouse (at a cost, of course). Meanwhile, collect the "S" balls for a temporary slowdown, hit frozen black balls for extra balls, and collect multipliers to double or triple your score!

If this sounds like a lot, it's because it is. Ball Drop One, while fun, cannot find a place to settle down. The core concept is more than adequate for a good time, but the game feels a bit insecure, and tries to compensate by adding bells and whistles. The wide variety of gameplay aspects seem unnecessary; while you might find occasion to spend the 25 points on slow motion, you probably won't find cause to burn 100 on the thrusters. The only bit of gameplay you'll use with any frequency beyond dropping the ball in the first place is clicking other balls in hopes that your ball will strike them next, but the imprecise and luck-based nature of this task will discourage you quickly.

But the game is still a good diversion for a lunch break (and a level editor provides for something to do after lunch, if you are so inclined). Its set-and-go nature lends itself to a pick-up-and-play style, and it doesn't hurt that human nature lends itself to watching things bounce around a lot and going "ooh, did it make it—oh, it almost—OH, it made it, YEAH!"

That may or may not be a direct quote from my play through. Find out for yourself.

Play Ball Drop One


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Rating: 4.4/5 (111 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessSometimes, to amuse myself, I make up little stories as to why an escape game protagonist might have ended up in his or her current situation, or flesh out in my mind the scenario that is already given. I've come up with pretty fun and random stuff... Charismanever, however, have I concocted anything as sublimely bizarre, as cheerfully surreal, as what Gump has created with Charisma.

In Charisma, you play an orange-jumpsuited, blue-afroed dude who is trapped within what appears to be a combination living room/recording studio. There is a second gentleman inscrutably watching you from behind a glass partition, his hand poised above two buttons. He, for whatever reason, is not going to be of any help (and, in another departure from reality, smashing the glass and demanding he release you is not an option). So, it's up to you to explore the room, figure out what he wants and, eventually, set yourself free.

You probably won't find this last task too tough. While Charisma's puzzles are nicely concocted and enjoyably creative, they are also fairly simple "connect item A to object B to solve C"-type problems. The game is also quite short, and (assuming you don't run into undue difficulties) will probably take you about 20 minutes to solve. Despite these things, however, Charisma is probably my favorite GUMP production; this is mainly due to its joyful, strange, utterly out-of-nowhere ending. I won't go into detail, but I will say this: it might take you a few times to get right, but it's worth it.

Like all of Gump's other games, Charisma is quite polished and professional-looking, with cleanly stylized graphics and a flawless interface. The quirky soundtrack nicely fits the game's overall theme, and there's a helpfully-provided save feature. All in all, everything just works really nicely together, creating a seamless whole. Enjoy!

Time to make some beautiful music:

Play Charisma

Cheers to Diandra and Martha for sending this one in! =)
Bejeweled 3 laptop giveaway


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Rating: 4.7/5 (223 votes)
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hannainachoppa.gifJohnBHanna in a Choppa is a physics-based puzzle/action game where you fly around and do stuff in a helicopter. It's true! Across 21 levels you'll perform a handful of ordinary, challenging, and downright funny tasks such as bake a cake (even though it's a lie), pull down a tower of goo, herd sheep, and give a giant a haircut, all with the aid of your trusty winch. The game creates a fun sandbox-type atmosphere and encourages you to play with the environment as much as possible. And play you shall!

There are two control schemes for Hanna in a Choppa, one that utilizes the [arrow] keys for movement and one that's mouse-driven. The latter is much more sensitive than the former, so stick with the original when you first start playing. Deploy the winch, which allows you to grab onto objects and tow them, with the [spacebar]. Useful for herding sheep and saving drowning sailors, too.

Play all the Hanna in a Choppa games:
Hanna in a ChoppaHanna in a Choppa 2

Although the game is relatively short, replay value is strong thanks to a handful of achievements that encourage you to retry levels with different goals in mind. How fast can you zoom through the tunnels? Can you make it without touching the walls? Can you squeeze through the gap without knocking the tower down? Try it, and if you succeed, you'll get that little checkmark of accomplishment.

Analysis: The levels in Hanna in a Choppa are extraordinarily creative and make the game worth its weight in orange-colored gold. Expect parodies at every turn, including a World of Goo riff along with the Portal-themed level pictured above. Half the fun is seeing what's around the next turn on the overworld map. The music, flavor texts strewn throughout the levels, and overall atmosphere are out to make you grin.

Hanna in a Choppa is one of those rare games that's well-built, challenging, and hilarious. It's got style. It's got attitude. It's got a helicopter throwing around one ton weights with a winch. And it's got win.

Play Hanna in a Choppa

Cheers to Peter for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (87 votes)
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PsychotronicThe irRegular Game of LifeThe barren intellectual soil of a small town can be a tough place for a growing nerd. His roots dig in fierce and stubby. His under-developed leaves flitter in the wind, searching vainly for light in a landscape dominated by hulking trees who play a lot of football and communicate through headbutts. Before the nurturing biosphere called The Internet hlorched into being, a rural nerd had to find nutrition where he could get it, like a desert rat sucking water out of a cactus.

One of these valuable sources of life was, fittingly, Conway's Game of Life—a system of four simple rules that govern the behavior of squares on a grid. When applied in multiple iterations, these rules produce images that resemble living cellular creatures in some alternate reality where everything is made of math. A simulation of life? That isn't gooey? And doesn't expect you to talk to it? And doesn't make fun of your chin acne? Ideal!

Oh right, the game. So, what irRegular Games has done is to take Conway's Life and apply goals to it, and then name it The irRegular Game of Life. So on one level, you might have to maintain a constant number of living cells. On another, you might need to exterminate them all within a certain limit of turns. At the beginning, the game does a great job of introducing the essential concepts one by one, with a hint for each level and a very limited number of cells to play with. Later, of course, your options bloom outward and the levels get seriously challenging, especially if you're a total Life neophyte. However, if you've secretly spent half your life mastering the ins and outs of Conway's brilliant distraction, now is your time to shine, you crazy nerdy diamond.

Analysis: The reason this works as a game is that Conway's Life is an efficient factory for stories and characters. The winking Traffic Lights. The steadfast Boat. The expanding Bee Hive. And everyone's favorite, the sidewinding Glider... and his nemesis, the Block. These characters, who are merely configurations of cells that exhibit predictable behavior, seem so significant in their briefness and reliability that it's impossible not to root for them.

IrRegular Games can't take credit for inventing these icons—Conway's Life has a long history of dedicated followers, who have plumbed its depths for every recognizable pattern and then, like Adam in a graph paper Garden of Eden, named them all—but they have done a smart job of designing levels around them. If the intrinsic visual pleasure of Life doesn't draw you through the game, the humor might. I found several laugh-out-loud moments myself, and if you enjoy the fruits of internet meme culture, there's some juicy ones in here.

If you find a particularly clever or dramatic solution to a problem, you can save it to your clipboard and paste it here in the comments section. Plus, there's a sandbox mode where you can discover your own stories, and those can be shared as well. Your canvas in this mode is no larger than the one for the tightly-designed levels, which is a little disappointing, but only a little.

It's a nice, complete package, not as intensive as some implementations of Life, but perfect for a casual audience. And whoever decided that Conway's Life should be accompanied by bouncy honky tonk music is either a certifiable genius, or just certifiable.

Play The irRegular Game of Life


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Rating: 4.6/5 (133 votes)
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PsychotronicSplitterSplitter, from Eugene Karataev, is an intriguing puzzle game that puts the popular Box2d Physics Engine to good use. Get the yellow smiley face to the exit by strategically slicing through blocks and cords. Some of the puzzles involve a lot of trial and error, and the graphics are, to put it kindly, basic. However, shearing precise chunks off of a wooden block and watching gravity slide them away is a captivating process. If I didn't have a limited number of knife strokes each level, and if metal and stone weren't impervious to my blade, I'd feel like a god. As it is, I feel more like a guy with the world's quietest chainsaw, which is still pretty darn good.

Regarding the title screen: Isn't it creepy when game characters follow your cursor with their eyes? Especially while they're, um, holding a knife and grinning?

Play Splitter

Cheers to Markus, Alexander and Ned for sending this one in! =)

Looking for more Splitter fun? Check out our Splitter 2 Review and Walkthrough.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (63 votes)
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PatrickStarshineStarShine 2 is the sequel to last year's celestial puzzler, and is the latest in a line of jewel-like games from Hero Interactive. The game reminds me of Kerouac when he professed his love for "the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes 'Awww'". It has that kind of effect.

You control a shooting star, positioning it somewhere on the circumference of a circle surrounding the play field with the mouse, and firing with the left mouse button. Aiming is easy, your star slides around the circular track, as it does you'll see arrows appear around whatever star you have lined up with. When you hit a star other stars can fire off, the adjacent arrows show where the subsequent star splatter will go. Your goal is to set-up a chain reaction that hits and lights up every star. Easier said than done, because this sequel unleashes a greater variety of stars than ever before. All kinds of ricochets, splits, refractions and orders come to greet you as you successfully put on fireworks displays. If you get stuck, don't be afraid to click the "Hint" button.

Analysis: StarShine 2 provides some solid refinements and content expansions from the original. I believe the Hero Interactive folks are very talented and would like to see more diversity in designs from them, but the first one was pretty popular and this title is a testament to devotion in craft. The hint system walks you through all the way down to the precise position you need to fire on the first star. The system is willing to hold your hand more than a public school, but in this case I think that's alright. The game respects your time enough to let you skip any pernicious challenges. Finding the right combination yourself gives a powerfully cathartic pay-off as you witness the resulting cascade; perhaps it deserves even larger adjectives to impart the scope of awe involved.

Like Otto in the Simpsons, in the episode with the meteor shower, you don't need good gaming skills to appreciate this experience, only to enhance it!

Play StarShine 2


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Rating: 4.2/5 (100 votes)
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bomba.gifJohnBBomba is a brand new arcade avoidance game from the folks at Nitrome. Look just beyond the surface and Bomba reveals itself to be much more than a simple "don't touch the walls" game. There's strategy, there's speed, there's planning, there's even backtracking and careful timing involved. Think of it as an adventure/avoider and you'll get an idea of what to expect.

Controls are almost entirely mouse-driven save one important feature: pausing with the [spacebar]. Each level begins with the action frozen, and after you click on the critter to begin, the character becomes your cursor. Collect bomb power-ups and use the left mouse button to drop them. At any time you can use [space] to freeze the game, relinquishing the cursor to your control so you can take a breather.

The first couple of levels in Bomba are fairly straightforward. Dodge moving gears, skirt around narrow corners, and avoid moving enemies. The fun begins when bomb power-ups appear along with the fuzzy green moss. Since you can't touch anything solid, grab a bomb, drop it above the moss, and let gravity do the rest. Be sure to duck behind a corner so debris doesn't fly back and crush you. Sometimes you'll need to bomb the moss a few times in order to clear a safe path. The wider, the better!

In later levels new obstacles are introduced, such as laser barriers that allow bombs through but not you, and water that will pull bombs upwards. New power-ups also make an appearance, such as bombs that can fly! Nitrome puts everything to good use to keep the game feeling fresh even after a dozen or so levels.

Analysis: Another good looking game from Nitrome, with its signature art style and game design qualities fully intact. Bomba does a nice job blending arcade action with a more laid-back atmosphere, giving you the freedom to explore but never letting you rest on your laurels. One key factor to keep in mind is that Bomba doesn't time you, so you're free to sit back and strategize. Only when you're carrying a time-limited bomb or using a timed power-up do you have to hurry.

It's a subtle but enjoyable mix of genres, but if you're using a touch pad it won't be a walk in the park.

Play Bomba

Cheers to Marta for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.4/5 (27 votes)
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Farm Mania

JohnBFarming used to seem like a chore, then the casual game market took hold and turned caring for crops into a resource management experience. Farm Mania is the latest of those games, following a similar path as Farm Frenzy 2 but keeping things fresh and interesting. Yes, it's yet another game with "mania" in the title, but the experience underneath is subtly different and twice as rewarding. And much cuter, I have to admit.

farmmania.jpgYoung Anna is on a quest to save her grandfather's farm. She starts with little more than a small vegetable patch and some pumpkin seeds but quickly expands to different crops, livestock and more. Each of the game's dozens of stages is arranged in the same circular fashion with a well and feed crops at the top along with sheep and other livestock/crops at the bottom. Your grandfather handles bringing up well water and harvesting feed, but its Anna's job to distribute everything, gather the goods, and send it to town to rake in the dough.

As in most time management games, Farm Mania is about structuring your tasks in the most efficient manner. Seeds need to be sown, watered, hoed for weeds and eventually harvested. Animals need food and water and will give up more expensive goods to sell (eggs, wool, etc.). A smart queueing system lets you string together countless jobs in a row, and when an animal needs food or a plant needs watering, clear icons appear over the target, making quick visual confirmation an easy task.

Each level is built around fulfilling a number of tasks such as selling four watermelons or raising three ducks to adulthood. Between levels you'll have the opportunity to buy new crops/livestock or upgrade your tools. If working against the clock isn't your thing, Farm Mania features a Casual Mode where the timer is removed, letting you focus on quality instead of quick clicking.

farmmania2.jpgAnalysis: Plenty of gameplay variations and a surprisingly long experience, Farm Mania delivers where a lot of resource management games fall short. Don't let the derivative name turn you away, this title's got plenty to offer under its catchy music and cute visuals.

The action gets fairly frantic a handful of levels in, and depending on how many crops you plant you'll be hard-pressed to keep everything content and productive. Pacing yourself is key, and once you unlock more items in the store, you can grab a few items that will help your job in a big way. The mini-games every half a dozen levels or so will also serve up a nice breather.

Even though Farm Mania doesn't stretch the mold in any direction, it's still one of the most entertaining resource management games around. The tag-team approach to farming where Anna and her grandfather split tasks between them opens a surprising number of options and forces you to juggle not one but two characters at once. It's challenging, but very rewarding, and of course, bucketloads of fun.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Farm Mania is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish Games


| Comments (18) | Views (15)

Weekend Download

JohnBThe following message was stolen from artbegotti: This episode of Weekend Download has been brought to you by Triangles. Triangles are three-sided shapes that have three corners with internal angles that add up to 180 degrees. Triangles come in several varieties, including right triangles, equilateral triangles, isosceles triangles, obtuse triangles, and more! Triangles are also well known for their structural stability in architectural design. So go out and try some triangles today! "Triangles... We're Not Square!"

tileworld.gifTile World (Mac/Windows/Linux, ~1MB, free) - Created to emulate the gameplay of the classic Chip's Challenge, Tile World is a simple top-down puzzle game where you collect keys to open doors and gather computer chips to unlock the exit portal. Special boots allow you to walk across water, fire, ice and moving platforms unaffected. Surpisingly deep gameplay and plenty of levels to challenge you make this one a winner.

redspheres.gifRed Spheres (Windows, 1.7MB, free) - A simple puzzle game where the goal is to turn all of the black spheres red. Clicking on an orb will toggle itself and adjacent spheres, so work yourself out of the corners and plan your moves carefully. A very elegant and stylish game.

piratefishing.jpgPirate Fishing (Windows, 4.8MB, free) - An experimental game by Petri Purho (Kloonigames) made in five days. Pirate Fishing is a simple arcade game where you play a pirate trying to catch fish for profit. But why use a pole and hook when you can just dump oil in the water? It's sad, but effective, and the more fish you poison the more cash you rake in. Love the Star Trek background music!

runforit2.gifRun for It 2 (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - A vector-based racing game where you control a runner in the foreground who must collect gems while dodging spikes and flying baddies as he traverses the twisty passageways. The quasi-3D style is great, reminds me of arcade games in the days of old. Simple gameplay and a catchy musical score will keep you hooked.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (56 votes)
| Comments (93) | Views (245)

Bejeweled Twist

JohnBFirst released in 2001, the now-classic match-3 puzzle game Bejeweled has sold more than 25 million copies in its lifetime. And that's not counting the hundreds of millions of times its been downloaded. Four years in the making, Bejeweled Twist is PopCap's latest installment in the well-recognized series that brings some much-needed freshness to a relatively stale genre. And its incredibly addictive.

bejeweledtwist.jpgSo what's the big change? Twisting is in, swapping is out. Instead of clicking a single tile and then choosing an adjacent space to move it to, Bejeweled Twist turns your cursor into a 2x2 circle that spins its contents one quarter turn clockwise. The core matching mechanics are untouched, so gamers will immediately find familiar territory. But the twist changes things just enough so you have to teach yourself to play a match-3 all over again. After years of shameless clones, that's a very, very good thing.

Four gameplay modes allow Bejeweled Twist to satisfy a wide range of puzzle gaming tastes: Classic, Blitz, Challenge, and Zen. Classic will eat up the bulk of your time and features a loose space theme where you fill a ship's power tube by matching gems. When its full, you blast off to the next world (puzzle grid) for more twisting. Bomb gems appear from time to time, ticking down to a game-ending explosion with each move you make. Match the bombs to make them disappear, otherwise you'll have to spin a roulette wheel and hope you survive.

Blitz mode features a similar setup but tasks you with scoring as many points as you can within five minutes. Zen mode is like Classic only without those stressful bombs getting in the way. Challenge is the most unique mode and sets you to a number of tasks (such as "match eight gems with one move") to see how skilled you are at twisting.

The overreaching goal in Bejeweled Twist is the same as most matching games: get a high score. In addition to points, Classic mode features stars you collect to earn a named rank. Getting to the top is a simple matter of learning the most effective way to play the game, then diving right in. Practice makes perfect, and a little luck never hurts either.

bejeweledtwist2.jpgAnalysis: I walked into Bejeweled Twist with high expectations. I was initially let down when I saw the brave new gameplay mechanic was nothing more than a little twist. After I played it for a few minutes, however, the magic became strikingly clear. Bejeweled Twist doesn't reinvent the match-3, it shuffles the base mechanics. Same matching flavor, brand new method of play. No need to learn a completely different genre of gameplay when you can make a familiar one new again.

Here's where Bejeweled Twist earns its hyper addictive nature. Most matching games pit you against the clock or otherwise rush you to do your job. Here, however, you adopt a chess-like stance of careful observation. Each time you make successive matches a points multiplier increases on the left side of the screen. Keep making matches without needlessly twisting gems and you'll earn ten times as many points for each row you obliterate. Make more matches, however, and you'll begin to earn colored fruits which, in addition to getting rid of ticking bombs, offer a whole host of points as well as initiating grid-changing events that are a sight to see.

Is this twisting mechanic new? No. In fact, an old Game Boy game called Brain Drain did something similar back in 1998. Is Bejeweled Twist a revolution to the puzzle genre? Not really. Bookworm Adventures, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, and even Peggle have done more for advancing originality in casual games. Is it fun, interesting, and addictive? You bet. I've had a blast with Bejeweled Twist, moreso than most puzzle games I come across. Some of that fun comes from training myself to use the new matching mechanic, the rest from PopCap's high level of polish. The game is gorgeous, every nook and cranny is painted with tasty colors and fun animations. I love watching the space ship fly away towing fruit and gems behind it!

Bejeweled Twist may not be as different as it was hyped up to be, but it delivers exactly what PopCap promised: a breath of fresh air to a stale genre. I've grown jaded with matching games over the last few years, but Bejeweled Twist renewed my interest almost immediately. It's a beautiful game with just the right balance of simplicity and bells and whistles. And it's terribly addictive.

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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