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December 2008 Archives


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (118 votes)
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andrewthedroid.gifJohnBA brand new puzzle platformer has just been released by ooPixel, creator of Gride, Rapid Wars, and more.

Andrew the Droid is a retro-looking title that utilizes the familiar level rotation concept found in a number of games. Work your way through over two dozen levels, avoiding hazards as you unlock exits, collect chips to grant new abilities, and rotate the stage to let gravity pull you where you need to go.

A tile-based platform adventure at heart, you control Andrew with the [arrow] keys as you wheel left and right across the stage. Each level has a diamond-shaped teleporter exit somewhere in the maze that must be activated by touching the green controller icon found elsewhere. Certain blocks can destroy Andrew (so, you know, avoid them), and you'll eventually come across new types of obstacles such as glass blocks that break after you step on them.

Here's where the game gets really fun: upgrade chips. Six chips found throughout the game grant Andrew new abilities that help him navigate his increasingly treacherous world. The first two allow you to rotate the game world clockwise and counterclockwise respectively, forming the central focus of the puzzle elements in the game. Can't reach the teleporter at the top of the level? Rotate everything a few times and gravity will do the rest. Later you'll earn more powers that add extra layers of strategy and challenge to the game.

Analysis: Andrew the Droid doesn't introduce anything we haven't seen in a game before, but it manages to put everything together in a way that's balanced, fun, and pleasing in every way possible. Why re-invent the wheel when you can just put on some shiny new hubcaps and maybe a unicorn sticker or two?

Using items to upgrade Andrew adds the always-nice sense of accomplishment to the game, especially since many of the abilities are basic moves most platform games grant from the start. Restricting your actions forces you to get creative, and when you solve a puzzle in this "gimped" form, you've earned it. Adding abilities like jumping makes you feel infinitely more powerful in a minimalistic sort of way.

As far as the puzzles are concerned, Andrew the Droid doesn't throw anything too difficult at you. You'll get stuck a few times, but a little experimentation will get you through the day. Don't expect to stretch your brain too much, as most of the puzzles are action-based.

Simple and polished to a bright, reflective shine, Andrew the Droid is a superb example of how to create a puzzle platform game that keeps calling you back level after level.

Play Andrew the Droid


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (91 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JayAs we say goodbye to 2008 and welcome the coming of 2009, everyone here at JIG offers our best wishes for a warm and prosperous new year. Family Room EscapeAlthough we have seen many changes during the last year, one thing you can always count on from us is a little Weekday Escape to brighten your Wednesdays and give you some distraction from the work week grind.

Family Room Escape is a simple and charming room escaper from Japan that is just right for an afternoon tea. Filled with objects to find and puzzles to solve, and just a few smallish pixel areas to give you pause. It's simple, short and sweet, like a new year's baby offering promise of a better life ahead. So Happy Birthday 2008!

Play Family Room Escape


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (53 votes)
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StaceyG"FlippedoutTake the simple kid's game Concentration, disguise it as something even easier and more kid friendly, then make it much more challenging and evil with each passing level.

"This looks too easy, but hey, it's kind of cute. Oh now that's clever… oh wait… what? Damn, I lost." Restart. Get back up to where you were, and then suddenly there's a Three-Card-Monty game thrown in to confuserize you. And just when you think it can't get any more evil, yet another eye-popping complication is added. That is the joy of Flipped Out: discovering that happy little pictures and the voices of cheering children can crush you utterly.

Instead of looking for just any pair, you must match the set provided on the bottom right. Keep a close eye on the layout of cards. On most levels, you will have to remember the placement of all of them. Once you have three correct answers in each five-level section, you will qualify for the next batch. There is also a practice mode that focuses on visual tracking, memory, and image subtlety.

Analysis: Flipped out is a super-polished and all around entertaining twist on an overly familiar game mechanic. It's impressive how such a simple game can be so entertaining, as each new test makes you laugh and curse at the same time. The game's author, Nick Harper, challenges your brain and visual dexterity with thoughtful design. It feels completely fresh.

But oh, what I would give for a level select option! It's pretty frustrating, having to keep starting back at the beginning. Brain fatigue sets in and you start to get diminishing returns on your mental investment. The ability to solve levels must depend on a sleep/caffeine ratio—sometimes your lightning-fast visual skills are working on all cylinders, and then later you just can't match your monkeys.

One more usability suggestion for the developer: include a Back To Menu or a Play Game button when the player is in practice mode (there is a Back button when you enter the practice screen but not while you're playing).

Play Flipped Out


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (204 votes)
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PsychotronicGridGrid is a moody, deliberate puzzle game from two-man development team Atomic Cicada. Don't worry. Their company name may sound ominous, but they can only attack once every 17 years*.

If you've played any other game about rotating tiles and connecting power sources, you already basically know how this works. Each level contains one source of energy and a network of other tiles with anywhere from 1 to 4 outlets apiece. Click on the right side of a tile to rotate it clockwise, and on the left for counter-clockwise. Your job is to arrange the available sections so that every space has power and none of your tiles have any unconnected ends.

The catch is that you can only rotate a tile if it already has power flowing through it, which bumps Grid up a few notches on the thoughtfulness index. The choice between rotating left and right is a necessity rather than a mere convenience, since you can easily cut yourself off permanently from half the grid with one ill-considered click.

That's where the wonderful, precious, life-blood-of-my-ancestors, oasis-in-the-desert, significant-other-surprising-you-with-a-sandwich-and-hot-cocoa, beautiful, sexy, irresistable Undo Button comes in. In what is surely the kindest display of humanity this year, Atomic Cicada lets you back up move by move to the very beginning of the level if you so desire, at the cost of only a couple of points per use. Take advantage of this feature by pressing [space], or by clicking the Undo Button, located like the Star of Bethlehem at the top center of the screen.

Analysis: Grid uses the same gameplay mechanic as Loops of Zen and probably dozens of other similar games, most of which employ randomly generated layouts. There is a fundamental tonal difference in Grid's carefully designed levels, though. Each one has its own shape and flow, which may be enough to keep you interested after you've already mastered all the basic solving techniques.

Later levels often feature at least one maddeningly isolated tile off in some corner, sometimes requiring you to re-route the entire level for its sake. Although 35 levels doesn't sound like much, by the end you are essentially solving each puzzle multiple times, and the cumulative effect of using all your tricks to pull together a giant mesh-work of obstacles is an epic sense of achievement.

That said, Grid feels like it should have more variety. I admire its purity—35 levels of nothing but a single power source and five different tile varieties—but it doesn't consider even obvious permutations on the formula, like multiple power sources and immobile tiles. It will only stay entertaining as long as your Frustration Level is less than or equal to your Goal Completion Satisfaction Quotient plus your Obsessiveness Factor, divided by your New Stimulation Requirement Threshold, or F≤(g+o)/S. Which for me was about midway through level 26. Results may vary.

Play Grid

* Now available on Jay is Games: entomology jokes!


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westward3.jpgJohnBCasual sim/strategy fans (and anyone who enjoyed Virtual Villagers or My Tribe) take note: Westward III: Gold Rush has arrived! Following last spring's release of Westward II: Heroes of the Frontier, the third installment in the series continues the new 3D visual style and basic premise introduced in the second game. Take control of three new heroes as you collect resources, construct farms, saloons, granaries and more to keep your settlers happy and healthy.

Westward III is just as full of personality and every bit as challenging as previous games in the series, and so far we've been having a blast carving our way through mountains with dynamite and hunting for lost supplies in the frontier wilderness. Look for a full review this weekend, and in the meantime, fans of the series shouldn't wait to get their hands on this highly anticipated sequel!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (290 votes)
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JohnBcodexalchemical.gifThe latest brilliant-yet-simple logic puzzle game to hit the Web goes by the intriguing title of The Codex of Alchemical Engineering. Called a "game for engineers" by its creator, your goal is to build machines out of mechanical arms that move and transform basic elements to create compounds required to pass each level. It's a cerebral puzzle game that tasks you with arranging and tweaking objects on both a small and grand scale, the final result of which is a burst of euphoric gaming bliss.

The interface is imposing in a minimalist sort of way, but once you know how to navigate you'll realize just how elegant the setup is. The grid to the right is where the action takes place. Here you can place mechanical arms to pull elements from generators (small circles), combine or change them using glyphs you place, then drop the element into the target zone (large circle at the top). The number in the goal represents how many times you must place the shown combination into the circle.

The left side of the screen is where you select and program mechanical arms and choose from a variety of transformative glyphs to place on the grid. The menu items at the top switch pages and send you to the programming screen where you set up the motions of individual arms. You'll spend most of your time here dragging and dropping commands to form a string of actions that get the job done. Move the icons around and play with the timing of each arm so it works in unison with the rest of your contraption.

The Codex of Alchemical Engineering doesn't give you much information to start with, so here's a basic run-down of how to play. First, take note of the generators and which elements they produce compared to the target compound. Start by placing a mechanical arm near one of the generators. Next, click to highlight the arm and access the "programming" item at the top of the menu. Each arrow and symbol represents a single movement (hold the cursor over any command and help text at the bottom of the screen will tell you its function). Drag and drop these onto the column in the order you need, then click "run" at the bottom of the screen to set things in motion. Watch what happens and stop and tweak things as necessary, fine-tuning your creation until it functions exactly as you want it to. You may need to adjust arm positions or arrange glyphs in more convenient locations, but trial and error is the key to success. It takes practice and lots of problem solving to achieve the desired result.

Analysis: Imposingly sparse, alarmingly scientific, confusingly simple. These were my first impressions of The Codex of Alchemical Engineering. With no explanation as to how things work, my first few minutes with the game were filled with confusion and frustration. But very soon, everything just "clicked", and suddenly The Codex of Alchemical Engineering was one of the most captivating logic puzzle experiences I've had in years. Don't let the "game for engineers" phrase scare you away, as it can be enjoyed by anyone who likes solving puzzles and is surprisingly casual in nature thanks to a handy system that lets you save and share solutions by copy/pasting a short text code.

The true beauty of the game is that not only do you have to figure out how to create and move the elements, but your machine must do it repeatedly and automatically. It's challenging to make things work one time through, but it's an entirely new level of puzzle solving to make it happen three, four, and five times in a row. This requires constant revision of your programming steps, trimming the excess fat to craft a truly efficient machine. When everything fits together, it's pure poetry, and you'll feel deservedly accomplished for composing the beautiful machine.

The game had a few awkward hiccups while I was playing, but it may have been a computer/internet issue not specific to the game itself. Either way, it shifted the timing of the mechanical arms, messing up my entire machine. A quick "stop" then "run" put everything back in working order. Also, some of the symbols can be difficult to read at a glance, as they're quite small and offer poor contrast to some of the elemental background colors. Not much of a drawback considering how thoroughly the game has me hooked.

Brainy, simple, challenging and surprisingly fun. The Codex of Alchemical Engineering may not be for everyone, but if it grabs your interest, it's not letting go for a very long time.

Play The Codex of Alchemical Engineering


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (114 votes)
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Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2zxoIntrigue! World domination! Whale stomach acid! Brought together like never before in the smash hit adventure game
Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2 by Nicholas Walstrom!

After escaping from the mall with the last copy of the Ramon Osborn Show Season 2 DVD, against such daunting challenges as a broken escalator (see Nicholas' Weird Adventure 1 for the full backstory), you emerge victoriously from the menacing double-doors, only to have your DVD stolen by the dark wizard Morth and your body transported to a faraway land of grass and houses that is totally not a ripoff of any number of old-school RPGs, because none of them contained a Sea World, so there!

In case you hadn't guessed, the amount of serious in the game totals slightly less than the number of pairs of shoes recently thrown at world leaders.

Use the [arrow] keys to move around and [space] to interact with your surroundings. Explore the strange Eumoritown and talk to the even stranger Eumoritonians in your quest to regain the DVD and prevent Morth from gaining the Ultimate Walrus Power. As in most adventure games, there's absolutely no chance of getting yourself killed, so feel free to poke around and examine everything.

Analysis: It seems a mite ridiculous to even have an analysis section for a game which takes itself about as seriously as Chuck E. Cheese might take quantum physics. (For a good chuckle, check out the Useless Tips beneath the game). You really ought to view Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2 in the same way you might perceive a hiccuping squirrel in a kazoo-eating contest. Nicholas seems to be based directly on the author himself, so one has to wonder what particular prescriptions were mixed prior to making the game. Ramon Osborn (whose name also appears in the storyline) gets the credit for the soundtracks, which are surprisingly varied and lengthy.

As for the gameplay itself, Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2 follows the tried-and-true "find item, use item" formula pretty exclusively. There's a word puzzle later on that adds a bit of variety, though it seems rather out of place considering the context. The tasks might be a bit unorthodox, but the path is spelled out pretty clearly, making this a reasonably brief game. In fact, if it seems like author Nicholas had a fuller story in mind originally, well… he did. It's a shame he didn't complete the full story, because what's there is delightfully wacky, even verging on satirical.

Play Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2

Cheers to Ace1217 for sending this one in!


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (90 votes)
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PsychotronicHardboiledIf you were an egg, what kind would you be? Raw? Rotten? Fertilized? Fried in a butter base with a drizzling of chili sauce? Hardboiled, a collection of mouse-controlled mini-games from Tom Vencel at Ninja Doodle, is here to tell you. You get 5 minutes and 7 lives to complete 45 nail-biting tests of timing, observation, and pure twitching finger speed. When you run out of time or lives, you'll learn not only that you're a bad egg, but exactly what type of bad egg you are.

Unlike many collections of mini-games, such as the Four Second series, you can rest in between games to read the instructions, get an idea of the controls, take a deep breath, and work out the sudden cramping in your index finger. My advice is to use that time. Treasure it like it was bequeathed to you by a flock of angels, because it might keep your heart from exploding. You're not going to beat the game on your first try anyway, so chill out, forget the time limit, read the instructions. Although you will encounter all the tests in the same order each time you play, Hardboiled will mix up the specific goals sometimes, and there's nothing so demoralizing as losing your last life because your stupid, unobservant face clicked the bottles from tallest to shortest, instead of shortest to tallest like it was the last stupid time you played that particular stupid level that I am not bitter about.

Analysis: There's a lot of nice detail in this unassuming mini-game collection. Hardboiled has a simple visual style, but I find the broad, flat pictures appealing and, more importantly, easy to understand at first glance. The reflections that some objects cast against the floor give the frame some nice depth, and the ever-present angular red swirl of the background matches the game's light-hearted but intense mood. Every few levels, you'll encounter a charming puzzle with a basic storyline, and although these will probably trip you up at first, they will only cost you time, not a life.

Curiously for a game that would appeal to children with its cute and red and cheery presentation, there is some content that young'uns might not know about. One recurring challenge requires you to know whether certain drinks contain alcohol, and an early puzzle requires basic knowledge of the birds and the bees. Big birds should screen it before they set little eggs in front of the computer to play.

Play Hardboiled


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (31 votes)
| Comments (109) | Views (423)

Adventure Chronicles: The Search for Lost Treasure

JohnBA follow-up to the 2008 hit Escape the Museum, Gogii Games' Adventure Chronicles: The Search for Lost Treasure continues to bend the hidden object/adventure barrier with a captivating game of inventory puzzles and interactive scenery. You play Dr. Susan Anderson, an archaeologist who receives a treasure hunter's journal and embarks on quests to find new pieces for her museum. The slick visuals paired with an impeccable presentation and strong puzzle design make it a solid entry in the cross-genre adventure wars.

adventurechronicles.jpgAs with most hidden object games, you immediately find yourself facing a crowded room packed full of items from A to Z. A list on the right side of the screen shows you what needs to be found, but Adventure Chronicles: The Search for Lost Treasure doesn't let you off with simple pointing and clicking. A good number of hotspots can be found in each scene, each one requiring a special action to complete the mini-puzzle contained within. These often open new areas to explore or uncover hidden items you've been tearing your hair out to find.

Two sub-menus include Tools and Items screens that hold important objects you find while working your way down the list. Many of these items will be used to find other items, such as using a hammer to smash pots and vases (and randomly hitting objects just for the fun of it) to uncover new clues.

Fortunately, you're never confined to just one scene and can travel to and from a number of areas via mini-map. Items and tools you find often carry over between stages, opening up the world of backtracking to make solving puzzles all the more interesting.

adventurechronicles2.jpgAnalysis: Visually pleasing and with a good soundtrack to match, Adventure Chronicles: The Search for Lost Treasure retains the high production values of its predecessor while treading new ground with its inventory-based puzzle-centric approach to gameplay. It's a good balance of hidden object gameplay and good old fashioned adventuring.

The experience is a bit brief, weighing in at five areas each consisting of a handful of scenes to explore. Shorter than your average hidden object or adventure game, but it doesn't come across as too abrupt. And one thing I just can't get over is the heavy use of choppy artwork in the cutscenes, made worse by the game's tendency to zoom in on these pieces.

Adventure Chronicles: The Search for Lost Treasure sticks to its guns and provides an intriguing adventure without any amount of fluff. No mini-games to contend with, a story that's fun but that doesn't take itself too seriously, and puzzles that are just too interesting not to solve. The little "active" touches like smashing pots with a hammer and dusting off shelves liven up the game considerably, lightening the mood just when you're in too deep. It's an excellent casual adventure/hidden object cross that just about anyone will enjoy.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Heartwild Solitaire

Ms.45I trembled, not from the night air. In the dimly lit stable, I was making my horse nervous, too. But I forced myself to be firm, despite hot blood gushing from my tender, broken lip onto my torn nightgown.

heartwildsolitaire.jpgBlood's bitter taste, but I felt no pain. I couldn't. Not in front of HIM.

"So what now, Anne? You're going to shoot your own husband? Like your insane sister?"

Tell me you don't want to keep playing Heartwild Solitaire after an introduction like that. Heartwild Solitaire is marketed as "made for romance readers", so if your second-favourite thing after casual gaming is sinking into a hot tub with a lychee bath bomb and a copy of Love's Turgid Kransky, you're going to love this game. The nice thing is, if you're the sort of person who prefers to lampoon romance novels with titles like Love's Turgid Kransky, you'll still enjoy the challenging gameplay, soothing music and intense colours.

Gameplay is fairly simple: Clear the play field by selecting matching cards by rank. Selecting the King of Spades and the King of Hearts is a match and will clear the board — King of Spades and 8 of Spades will not. You get bonuses for speed, sequential clearing (i.e. 2, 3, 4), and identical cards (such as two Kings of Spades). Special cards not only give match bonuses, they also give power-ups such as extra deals and shuffles. In addition to the main game, there are challenges where you need to play with no extra deal or where you need to quickly select the suggested cards (i.e. all Hearts, the 2 of Clubs).

Sounds easy, huh? Maybe, if you're a solitaire legend and you carefully hoard your shuffles and retries. I got about halfway through the story and ran out of both cards and power-ups. Fortunately, you don't have to start all over again just to find out what happens, as your score will be recorded (if you've made the high score table) and you can start from where you left off with zero points and a new set of bonuses.

heartwildsolitaire2.jpgAnalysis: What raises Heartwild Solitaire well above a typical solitaire game is the story and ambience. As you play each level, a further chapter of the story is revealed. I won't lie to you — I'm not a romance reader (unless it's something fairly high-falutin' like Wuthering Heights), and the story is somewhat clunkily written. In fact, it gets outright preposterous at times and suffers from a few typical problems of self-published work (oh noes! Typos!). But I really like the idea of a story that unfolds as you play and rewards you for completing levels, and it will be interesting to see what happens if game developers and authors follow up on this idea. If the story doesn't do it for you, you can comfortably spend hours going "ooooh, pretty" at the iridescent backgrounds.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Heartwild Solitaire is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


| Comments (35) | Views (18)

Weekend Download

JohnBThe recent TIGSource Commonplace Book Competition has ended, yielding heaps of creative, unusual, and slightly dark games. Entrants were challenged with using a line from H.P. Lovecraft's "Commonplace Book", a notebook of disjointed, cryptic ideas, and create a game around these snippets of text. Below are a few of the top picks as chosen by the TIGSource community.

verge.gifVerge (Windows, 7MB, free) - A 2D platformer (featured in a previous Weekend Download) created by the developer of Bonesaw that took first place in the TIGSource competition. Take control over the unnamed protagonist who must travel between two worlds in order to solve simple puzzles. Impassable blocks in your way? All you have to do is die — that's right, go step on some spikes, Karoshi style — and you'll be transported to the flipped underworld where you'll likely find a way to get through. But be careful, as enemies in this dark realm will attach to you and steal your energy, so make your trip through the underworld a short one.

primordial.gifFrom Primordial Egg (Windows, 2MB, free) - Nabbing second place in the competition is From Primordial Egg, a unique take on the platforming genre where you play a dinosaur trampling across the landscape kicking and eating archaeologists in order to stay healthy and evolve. The best part of the game is the enemy AI. Watch as the little guys scramble about in search of something (bones, shovels) to hit the stampeding dinosaur with!

eversion.gifEversion (Windows, 8.2MB, free) - Another 2D platformer with a twist, this one casts you in a colorful world with happy graphics, bouncy music, and smiling blocks to brighten your way as you collect gems scattered throughout the land. Oh, and then there are "eversion spots", places you can stand and switch the game from normal to slightly more creepy mode where some of the game's objects change, such as clouds becoming solid. Use both modes to collect all of the gems in each world.

eldritch.gifLost in Eldritch (Windows, 4.8MB, free) - A moody platformer with physics slightly reminiscent of more realistic 2D games such as Out of this World and Flashback (though without the climbing). The story is told with text-only cutscenes that really add to the dark feeling the game evokes so well.

theatreofcruelty.gifTheatre of Cruelty (Mac/Windows/Linux, 3MB, free) - A text-only adventure that doesn't mess around when it comes to a Lovecraftian setting and mood. Two download options are available: one that contains only the .z8 gamefile (good if you already have an interpreter), and another that includes Windows Frotz and Mac Zoom.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (33 votes)
| Comments (8) | Views (131)

Top Chef

DoraThe world of professional cooking is ugly, friends. Forget your Martha Stewarts, your Rachel Rays, your semi-homemade with matching-table-decor. It's hard, it's hot, and it is really, really competitive. Top Chef is based on Bravo Channel's reality program of the same name, which takes a batch of fifteen confident up-and-coming chefs and eliminates them through a series of culinary challenges each week until only one remains. The game puts you in the shoes of one such aspiring chef and, with your help, she's going to chop, saute, and julienne her way to the top through fifteen episodes and a whopping forty-five challenges. Along the way she'll have to deal with sneaky behavior, backstabbing, and some furious competition, but trust me; that's the easy part about being a Top Chef.

topchef.jpgThe controls should be immediately familiar to anyone who's ever tried Jojo's Fashion Show. You work under a time limit to create a set of dishes, usually between two and five, that follow a particular theme. The kitchen is composed of four work stations with a bar at the side of the screen that lets you know what tasks you have coming up next. Clicking this bar assigns a task to each available station. After that, you select an ingredient from the pantry that matches the tasks' description and put it on that station. You also get power-ups throughout the game that will let you do things like shuffle your ingredients or instantly select a matching item. While you can get away without using them for the first few episodes, you'll soon be relieved to have several of each under your belt as dishes start piling up in the queue.

Lead by the show's original hosts, Chef Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi, here rendered in ultra cheery Gamelab art, the game is divided up into episodes with three challenges each. At the beginning of a challenge, Padma will give you a brief description of what you're trying to make. Sometimes it's as simple as making a series of canapes that embody savory, rich flavors. Sound easy? Good. Then you won't mind when Padma starts demanding you make, say, dark, earthy and aromatic German dishes, right? Of course not. You're a Top Chef! Oh, and I prefer my dressing red and on the side, please.

topchef2.jpgAnalysis: People who haven't had more than a passing acquaintance with the kitchen might find this one a little hard to get into at first. While some of the flavor combinations are obvious, a lot of the ingredients featured here aren't exactly everyday kitchen staples, and being forced to decide in seconds whether a particular ingredient would qualify as, say, savory Mexican when you've never even tasted it is often hit and miss. The game offers up little tips before each challenge on what will best suit what you're looking for, but it can still be a lot to take in. Despite being exceedingly kid friendly, it's not exactly easily accessible to younger players in the same way, say, Diner Dash is, so they might end up frustrated. Suddenly, it wasn't enough that I knew kale was green and bitter, oh no, suddenly I had to know which culinary culture it hailed from to use it properly. Don't be like me, kids. Eat your veggies so you're better at computer games like this.

That being said, when things do go well for you, it can almost be exhilarating. As time passes and you become more familiar with the ingredients, you'll find yourself getting excited whenever you spot something like brie or salmon roe in your list. While the game's attempts to string together a coherent sounding dish from your frenzied attempts at matching can be laughable at times (pasta with oysters, shrimp, orange and cucumber sauce, anyone?), it's extremely satisfying to see your finished product garner the stars it deserves. Flavor combinations will come more intuitively to you, and your food will start looking less like Frankenstein's monster and more haute cuisine.

The bottom line is, while this is a time management game, it is also more of a cooking game than most other similar titles. You've got to really think about your flavours here. It's not going to teach you how to make vichyssoise or how to fold a crepe, but it does demand at least a little familiarity with the ingredients, and a lot of that will rub off on you. It's a fun, fast, unique experience that doesn't demand you watch the show to enjoy it. At it's heart, Top Chef almost seems like a game for chefs themselves. Which is silly, because after playing this, everyone will know they're probably too exhausted to use a computer.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Top Chef is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


| Comments (11) | Views (2)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBDescending from a holiday-induced sugar high can be tough. Especially when fudge, pie, fudge, and fudge have been the staples of your diet for the past 24-48 hours. At least there's Link Dump Friday to encourage you to stop running around flapping your arms pretending you're a really cute bumblebee and sit down for more than five minutes.

  • icon_colossalsquid.gifThe Colossal Squid Exhibition - Create your own squid using sets of eyes, fins, tentacles, etc., then set it loose in the wild, drag it around the water, and see what adventures it gets itself into. Developed by Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
  • icon_feudalism2.gifFeudalism 2 - A cross between an RPG and a side-scrolling beat-em-up, craft your character and take him or her out into the land, conquering cities one at a time. The tiny pixelated heads will roll!
  • icon_orbs.gifOrbs - A tower defense game of a slightly different sort. Your only "tower" is Malak the hero who uses orbs to dispatch the creeps running along the path. Use experience earned to upgrade your abilities in-between levels.
  • icon_kingsisland.gifKing's Island - A mouse-driven hack and slash action RPG! Beat up enemies by clicking them to attack, then equip potions and scrolls to access extra abilities.
  • icon_otto.gifOtto - Yoshio Ishii returns with another non-interactive video that's deliciously retro-abstract. This one stars little dancing people!
  • icon_sx150x001.gifSX150X001 - Another short video from Nekogames guru Yoshio Ishii. Maybe not quite as trippy as SX150X002, but the bobbing geometric shapes are still hypnotic.

Link Dump Holiday

KarmenOn virtual housetops, gamers pause. Out jumps dear old Santa Claus, through the skies on his rocket sleigh, writing yellow messages along the way. Ho, Ho, Ho, throw a ball of snow. Ho, Ho, Ho, it's a link dump, you know? Games for the holidays, Click click click! Look through our list and take your pick.

  • icon_santadontmiss.gifSanta, Don't Miss: or Else! - Santa traded his old fashioned sleigh in for a souped-up rocket sled so that he can deliver his gifts at high speed. Help him chuck the presents down the chimneys in time, but watch out for Rudolph!
  • icon_whereis2009.gifWhere is 2009? - Help a little gnome-like Santa find the new year! More adorable than your average Chritmas card and only slightly longer, this tiny but clever point-and-click adventure was created by Mateusz Skutnik.
  • icon_santavsjack.gifSanta vs. Jack Frost - Santa Claus and Jack Frost have come to battle. Once again, chuck presents through the sky, but this time at a moving target.
  • icon_yellowsnow.gifHo Ho Ho Yellow Snow - Yes, it's just like the Bob Rivers song, you see it everywhere you go: Yellow Snow, yellow snow, yellow snow. Help Santa draw clever holiday pictures in the snow.
  • icon_match8hanukah.gifMatch 8, the Hanukah Game - Hanukah began on Monday, so that means there are only 5 days left... or is that 5 nights? Better to save your adding skills, to keep the candles lit on this puzzling menorah.
  • icon_lightupchrist.gifLight Up Christmas Tree - There is no need to worry about your electric bill to string these lights. Use logic, trial and error to connect all the wires on the tree to light the bulbs and spread Christmas cheer.
  • icon_twilightpixieglide.gifTwilight Pixie Glide - Still want to light up more holiday bulbs? When launched by her pals into the wintry sky, this adorable young lady will float into light sockets and light up the night.
  • warbearsxmas.jpgWarbears Adventures: An A.R. Xmas - If you didn't play the Warbears Christmas Adventure last season, now is the perfect time. Help the cute but surprisingly technologically-savvy bears survive a prank gone awry.
  • snowline2.jpgSnowline 2 - A line rider for the holidays. Help the pig-tailed sledder steer her way to the checkered flag, collecting all of the presents along the way.
  • frostbite2.jpgFrostbite 2 - With new snowy puzzles and characters like running moose, this Nitrome game is sure to please. We reviewed this one last month, but now is an excellent time to try to collect those frosty treats.
  • snowfight.jpgSnow Fight - What could be better on a winter holiday than a good old-fashioned snowball fight? Snowballs are the perfect ammo in this 3rd person 3D shooter.
  • polarjump.jpgPolar Jump - Last but not least comes a relaxing game in which a large polar bear is daintily launched through the winter sky. This game, along with several others in today's Link Dump Holiday, comes from the vast collection of holiday-themed games at Miniclip. In case you didn't get your holiday fix with these games, or just want to find more holiday items that can be launched into the sky, check out their extensive list of Christmas Games.

When you're done with all these, and you still need some cheer, don't fret and don't fuss or don't give into fear, for there's more if you want it, let us show you the way, just click on this link for more Link Dump Holiday!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (298 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessI hate the winter. I know, I know, just last week I was rhapsodizing about white Christmases and hot chocolate and all sorts of cozy cold-weather indulgences... The Cottagebut seriously, there comes a time when it's just too much. For me, that moment occurred last Friday; after spending the morning watching a beautiful snowfall from my apartment, I ventured out into the day to find... gray, grimy slush. Sleet. Slippery sidewalks that threatened my life at least eighteen thousand times. After five miserable minutes of trudging through the streets, my boots soaked by a deceptively deep icy puddle, I decided that I was finished with all this silly winter stuff. I want blue skies! Warm seas! A deck upon which to lounge, preferably while sipping a ridiculously frilly drink (at least two umbrellas, please). I need a Weekday Escape at the Cottage! Good as the real thing? Not quite. It is still, however, an invigorating shot of sunny goodness in the midst of this dreary week.

Cottage is a lovely little game from 58works in Japan. It really does manage to convey the feeling of inhabiting a private island getaway; the graphics are so gorgeous and the colors so rich that I could nearly feel the balmy breeze. Paradoxically, of course, your task is to escape from this little piece of paradise. Luckily, doing so is a lot of fun. Cottage manages to successfully combine cleverness with a relatively low level of difficulty; while the puzzles may seem simple, they are still creative and inspired enough to delight even the veteran escape gamers among us. Due to the fairly straightforward progression through the game, Cottage will not take up all that much of your time. In my opinion, however, a short, beautifully-crafted experience is infinitely superior to a longer, less-polished game, and Cottage is without doubt one of the most refined and professionally created escape games that I've played in the recent past.

Cottage's interface is flawless and intuitive, and pixel-hunting is nowhere to be found (ha ha ha). I do wish that the developers had included some sort of music, as the game's near-silence does somewhat detract from its otherwise-cheerful atmosphere; besides this quibble, however, Cottage is just about perfect. Fabulous graphics, fun puzzles, and an adorably surprising ending... it warms even my cold, grumpy New Yorker's heart.

Make a mojito, shed your sweater and turn up the heat!

Play Cottage


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Rating: 4.6/5 (655 votes)
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monkeygohappy.jpgJohnBMonkey sad. Make monkey happy! That's your simple goal in Monkey GO Happy, a puzzle/arcade-style hybrid from Robin Vencel at Pencil Kids, creator of the Bowja the Ninja series along with Retardo and the Iron Golem. Pick mushrooms, find treasure, shoot toy ducks, set off fireworks, fire cannons and loads more, all in the name of big monkey smiles. It's a bit like the Four Second series of games, only without the intense speed and with more mammals.

With each level you are presented with a sad, sad monkey. Nobody likes to see a simian cry, right?! Using the environment and objects laying around, solve a series of simple (and rather obvious) puzzles to bring a grin to the ape's face. Many of the levels aren't puzzles at all, just simple toys or easy reflex games you can conquer without any effort.

Play all the Monkey GO Happy games:
Monkey GO Happy!Monkey GO Happy 2Monkey GO Happy 3Monkey GO Happy 4Monkey GO Happy 5Monkey GO Happy 6Monkey GO Happy MarathonMonkey GO Happy Marathon 2Monkey GO Happy Marathon 3Monkey GO Happy Marathon 4Monkey GO Happy: Mini MonkeysMonkey GO Happy: Mini Monkeys 2Monkey GO Happy: Mini Monkeys 3Monkey GO Happy: ChristmasMonkey GO Happy: The CastleMonkey GO Happy ElevatorsMonkey GO Happy Elevators 2Monkey GO Happy MayhemMonkey GO Happy AdventureMonkey GO Happy EasterMonkey GO Happy TalesMonkey GO Happy Tales 2

The scenes in Monkey GO Happy are quite basic and present little to no challenge for most players. But the fun isn't in solving puzzles, it's making a monkey smile by pulling off wacky stunts. Mindless fun, pure and simple, but it's a fifteen minute coffee break well spent!

Play Monkey GO Happy


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Rating: 4/5 (89 votes)
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eternalred.gifGrimmrookThere is a door. They come through that door: vile, twisted abominations, their demented forms the stuff that monsters have nightmares about. Hordes of the disfigured beasts pour through in endless waves. And that's all perfectly fine, for as hideous as these things are, they can't hurt me. They are more than welcome to share this cold, desolate place with me, free to roam beneath the ever-present pale moon. That's not the problem.

No, it's the second door, and these nightmares' unceasing attempts to get through it that I have a problem with. That just won't do.

Eternal Red is, by its own admission, a cross between a platform arena style shooter and a real-time strategic defense game. No story, no dialogue, just you and the seemingly non-stop litany of enemies appearing from one door that try to make it to the second.

To prevent this, as the game's cross-genre would imply, you must utilize a combination of personal weapons and floor traps to cut your foes down before too many of them make it to the second door. With each slain creature and each successfully survived wave you earn more money, allowing you to build traps, buy weapons, or upgrade existing equipment. You'll be doing quite a bit of all of it, too, as it doesn't take long for your traps and weapons to grow into obsolescence.

Every ten waves you will come up against a boss. These bosses are larger and slower than the typical enemy, but they come with a ton of hit points and reduce your door's counter by a significant amount if they manage to make it through.

Analysis: Eternal Red sucks you in. To give you an idea on just how engrossing of an experience this game can be, when I first sat down to play it, my intent was to do so only for five minutes to get a feel for what the game was trying to do and how well it did it. An hour later I had to force myself away from the game so I could make it to work on time, wait for my coworker to leave, and start playing all over again.

eternalred2.gifWhile I'm not the world's biggest fan of either strategic defense games or platform shooters, Eternal Red just seems to work so well that it quickly becomes a difficult game to put down. Instantly it grabs you with its simple yet dark and foreboding artistry: everything save the moon in the backdrop is done in black shapes outlined with red, and these wonderfully morose visuals are backed up with a macabre kind of techno soundtrack that manages to combine the oppressive mood of the setting with the intensity of the action.

And that action is quite awesome. The game starts off suitably slow, giving you time to acclimate yourself to the decently ergonomic interface and smooth controls. Soon enough, things can ramp up to a frenzied pace as you dash back and forth to make sure your floor traps are adequate to take out the ground troops while dispatching flying enemies with bullets leaping from the muzzle of your gun.

As with many hybridized games, perhaps the greatest risk Eternal Red runs is falling short in the eyes of fans of the parent genres from which it was inspired. Strategic defense fans will likely be disappointed with the rather poor selection of available traps and upgrades, while fans of platform shooters may think that there aren't enough guns available, or the fact that the main character doesn't take damage may feel a little too much like cheating. The game is also woefully lacking in a reward system, even though the sheer variety of bad guys will keep you interested for some time. And while the lack of story allows you to focus on the gameplay, I don't think a sequel can be made without having at least a cursory explanation as to what's going on.

Eternal Red may lack the depth of either of its parent genres, it manages to find a pretty solid balance between the two, making it a brilliant little diversion to pass the time with.

Play Eternal Red


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Rating: 4.3/5 (62 votes)
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PsychotronicPhantom Mansion II: the North SeaAaaarrrrr you ready to push some crates and unlock millions of doors, matey? Phantom Mansion 2: The North Sea, the next installment in the pirate-themed Phantom Mansion II series, is here to satisfy your need to steal from the dead. This one has lots of ice, because it's about the North Sea. In the North. Where they keep the ice. That means you often get to sit back and watch Hector skate around helplessly, in between avoiding ghosts. I'm looking forward to the South Sea episode, where Hector will sit on the beach sipping Mai Tais, in between avoiding sunburns.

Play Phantom Mansion II: The North Sea

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

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Rating: 4.6/5 (228 votes)
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PsychotronicViking DefenseViking Defense, from IriySoft, is a close cousin to Canyon Defense, their intriguing but flawed re-think of the tower defense genre, published earlier this year. Fans of Canyon Defense will be happy that everything has been improved—the artwork, the map layouts, the weapon variety, the overall game balance. Un-fans of Canyon Defense will be pleased to know that the fastest enemies can no longer outrun your missiles (which, frankly, was pretty ridiculous. Imagine for a moment avoiding a missile by briskly walking in front of it, and then imagine how much respect you'd have for the nitwit who fired it at you).

It still follows the basic tower defense formula: raiding hordes attack in waves, following a winding waterway from the top of the screen to the bottom, where a helpless village of exactly 10 inhabitants resides. Quell the invasion by buying and placing armed towers, which will fire upon your enemies from dry land. Each ship, serpent, or dragon that runs the gauntlet without dying will murder one of your townsfolk, until you either run out of people to protect or you stop the last wave of attackers. Each bad guy you kill adds money to your coffers to spend on more defense towers or support buildings.

Some waves consist of flying enemies, which ignore the usual path and simply glide straight across the screen. Most of your towers can't target the fliers, so you'll have to make sure to budget for your air defense, in terms of both money and positioning.

Viking Defense, like Canyon Defense before it, breaks from the rest of the crowd by introducing game elements incrementally, through a quest system. You start out with only two simple towers, and then unlock others by meeting various criteria—destroy 10 boats, build 5 air defense towers, kill 4 enemies simultaneously with a single strike of the legendary hammer Mjolnir, that sort of thing. And that would be the other major distinction of Viking Defense—once you build certain temples to the Norse gods, you get to use rechargeable powers, like the nuclear super-strike of Mjolnir, or the ability to construct platforms in the water that can restrict enemy movement or support additional towers.

These temples also give you access to magical runes, which take the place of the usual tower defense upgrades. Each tower can only be enchanted with a single rune. You must therefore focus on finding effective combinations, rather than just making everything more and more powerful.

Viking DefenseAnalysis: Tower Defense is one of those genres that gets less accessible with each new layer of sophistication. Most of the new generation of TD titles dunk you in an overwhelming sea of options straight away, and then let you flounder around grasping for a successful strategy to keep you afloat. And that's what the most devoted fans want—to surgically extract the still-beating mathematical heart from a giant's body of weaponry and upgrades.

And that's fine, but catering your games exclusively to the hardcore is like wearing iron pants all the time to protect yourself from dog bites. It works, but every other aspect of your life suffers. So I'm grateful to IriySoft for Viking Defense. It hits my complexity sweet spot, never drowning me in choices nor playing the game for me.

I enjoy the way the game restricts you at first and then branches out along multiple paths. You probably won't see all the available upgrades every game. The most difficult towers to unlock are not so much gameplay staples as they are devastating toys that you earn for playing in a particular style. The quest structure is a clever way to guide you between different activities, although the conditions that unlock specific buildings seem arbitrary. Why do you earn a mystical energy spire by nuking four whales with a hammer? Who knows? Take your present and say thank you!

Although the enemies look lively, with their flags flapping in the wind and their serpent bodies undulating, I wish there were more of them. On the longer stages, they start showing up as Rank 2 or Rank 3 versions of themselves, without any visual difference whatsoever, and I'd appreciate a color change, at least. The downside of the relatively simple gameplay is that it eventually gets repetitive, and if my brain isn't getting enough treats, then my eyes want some.

One of the nicest things about Viking Defense is that, in a notoriously abstract family of games, the basic premise makes sense. Because Vikings, unlike balloons, are known for their invading hordes. They had raiding parties, which were not the sort of parties that you bring balloons to, and they were rarely intimidated by monkeys. I'm not making any judgments here. I'm just saying.

Play Viking Defense


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Rating: 4.8/5 (24 votes)
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Chains

ArtbegottiAn entrant into the 2009 Independent Games Festival, 2DEngine's Chains is a game of color connecting that puts a new spin on the same-game genre. Twenty unique levels challenge the player to clear circles while balancing a coat hanger, cleaning a clogged pipe, painting a pyramid, and dodging giant pinball flippers. But of course, we all do that every weekend, don't we?

chains.gifThe levels of Chains have different tasks, but the basic premise remains the same: make chains of three or more circles of the same color to clear them. To make a chain, click any circle and move your mouse to any nearby circle of the same color. If it's close enough, a line will connect them. You can tell how close a circle has to be to another to connect by clicking on a circle and check the triangles spinning around the circle. Connect three or more circles, and click again to clear them from the board.

In most levels, your goal is to clear a certain number of circles. Other levels require you to maintain a certain state of homeostasis within the playing area, such as clearing circles quickly enough so that they don't pile up and upset a counterweight, spilling the circles out a trap door. The variety of levels bring a good mix to the game, with levels that require speed, strategy, a hint of luck, or a mix of all three.

Analysis: While simultaneously an impairment to how one can clear circles, forcing the connections to be made via a chain rather than a cluster brings a very original twist to the same-game genre. You now have to choose which circles allow you to make the most of a clearing, which might or might not involve clearing as many circles as you can. Being able to clear some of the circles adds some deeper strategy to a usually straight-forward game.

chains2.gifNo two levels in this game are the same. While similar mechanisms might be used (like the trap doors and "clear X in a single chain" challenges), each level is designed so that you have to constantly shift your strategy back and forth. Should you clear lots of small chains quickly or wait to build up a large one? Should I clear part of my large chain to make room for chains of another color to clear out? With 20 unique levels to choose from, and great attention to the detail of physics, it's clear a lot of thought went into each challenge.

In terms of difficulty, there are three difficulty settings to choose from for all 20 levels. Choosing a harder setting may mean you have more colors of circles to contend with, or circles enter the field at a faster pace, or some other maddening twist. While some levels on easy feel almost guilt-inducingly simple, the hard setting more than compensates for it.

Strangely, a complaint I have to file about this game involves a single bit of music. While almost all of the music seems to follow the relaxing graphics and subdued motif of the game, there is one out-of-place piece of music that shows up in a couple of later levels that is extremely suggestive in nature, hence the PG-13 rating on this game.

On the whole, the mellow mood of Chains sets up a challenge that, while occasionally frustrating, is quite a joy to play with. The variety of levels keeps you on your toes while you try to break your own personal records while clearing levels. Chains is a treat for all ages (if you mute the music for a couple of levels) that is sure to please.

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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Rating: 4.8/5 (155 votes)
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Cortex Command

JoshIt's been called brilliant. Simply amazing. A unique and innovative spin on the bunker-warfare genre. Then again, others call it a letdown. A big tease, just vaporware; an over-hyped concept that will never truly come to fruition. cortexcommand.jpgBut it seems like no matter what side of the fence they're on, critics can't deny that Cortex Command is one of the most intriguing independent games to surface this year. Developer Dan Tabar of Data Realms has been working on Cortex Command for over seven years, although most of that work's momentum has accumulated only recently (Tabar quit his job in 2006 to work on the game full-time). The newest release (Build 22, making the game technically still in beta) came out last month and proved to be a milestone for the project, with the inclusion of new content, optimizations and a Mac OSX version.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2008In Cortex Command, you assume the role of a disembodied brain (floating in a jar, actually) that's able to network with — and telepathically control — a variety of machines and soldiers. The basic premise is that you're setting up shop on hostile alien worlds to mine for resources, while your enemy is doing the same. Superficially, it sounds more like a real-time strategy game than a turn-based warfare game, which is one of the main reasons Cortex Command has so much potential; it's both! Actual gameplay is much more of the latter, but the resource-gathering and ability to let the AI control your units are hallmark elements of RTS games. Your "brain" is secured inside a bunker on one side of the map, with your opponent's on the other side. The goal is to use robots and foot soldiers — armed with an almost ridiculously large arsenal of weapons to choose from — to infiltrate the other player's base and destroy their brain.

One of the best features of the game is the many "actors" (units) and weapons that you can buy. There are robot and human actors, as well as aliens, zombies and dummies (that's right, as in crash-test dummies). There are literally dozens of weapons; pistols, machine guns, shotguns, flak cannons, sniper rifles, laser rifles... the list goes on. Additional items (like riot shields or explosives) make for an almost-limitless number of gameplay scenarios. All of these items are bought using the gold gathered from the map, which need to be mined from underground (although you'll start off with more than enough money in most of the demo maps). They appear as tiny yellow dots in the dirt, usually found in clusters. Your units can equip different "digging guns" that basically burrow into the ground, Dig-Dug-style (only in this case, it's detailed down to the pixel, much like the Sand physics webtoys you've probably seen online). Everything is purchased through a slide-out "shopping" menu, where it's all categorized. You can choose units, weapons and items (and even have units equipped with the items if you place them under each unit in the order list), all of which are delivered from orbit.

cortexcommand2.jpgYou can even choose between several ways to deliver your cargo, depending on how much money you want to risk. Cheaper transport like the rockets are harder to control, while the more expensive drop ships are easier to stabilize. Why does it matter in the first place, you might wonder? Well, the answer is just one example that illustrates how detailed the game mechanics of Cortex Command are. Not only can you crash your ship (destroying its cargo, as well as anything it lands on), you can accidentally burn up your allies if the ship's thrusters get too close to them. On the other hand, it's usually in your interest to be able to place units exactly where you want on the map, something that takes high maneuvering skill without a more expensive ship. Once your cargo is offloaded, you can return to orbit by flying off-screen and get your money back for the price of the ship.

Unit movement is controlled by the [WASD] keys, or can be configured however you want. The [Q] and [E] keys switch your control to the units left and right of you, respectively. To choose any unit in free look mode, just hold down either button and move the mouse cursor around. For the UI, the developer implemented the click-and-release "menu rings" system that you might have seen in modern games or software. Instead of crowding the screen with buttons and boxes, you simply hold down the right mouse button to make a menu ring appear around your target. While still holding the RMB, you can move your mouse pointer around the ring to highlight various options, depending on the unit you have selected. To choose an option, you just release the RMB while the cursor is still highlighting it. This intuitive system can be used to pick up and switch between weapons, set various AI modes and more.

Analysis: Bunker-warfare games like Worms and Gunbound have consistently proved to be a popular genre. Similar games have been released on multiple platforms over the years, even within the Web-game communities (Mutiny, Artillery Live!). Cortex Command follows in these footsteps, but adds many new dimensions that we've never seen incorporated in these types of games. For example, the physics engine alone feels much more advanced; characters move and react to the environment like rag dolls (which will prove to be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how well the developer can perfect this). Even more impressive is the "vital anatomy" mechanic, a disturbingly realistic combat system in which bullets (among many other projectiles and factors) can injure specific body parts like arms and legs. Consequentially, you can immobilize an enemy, or take away their ability to fire back. On the other hand, robots don't need legs to move around as long as they have their jetpacks, so it's not uncommon to see a torso flying around, raining down bullets from the sky.

cortexcommand3.jpgMany players complain about having a hard time controlling units, presumably because the rag-doll physics can hinder movement in certain scenarios. You might find yourself getting stuck, or having a tough time navigating with enough agility to play effectively. Remember that your direction is influenced by the mouse, as well as the [WASD] keys. You might have better luck if you point the mouse in the direction you're headed.

Even though the game is remarkably playable, it's important to keep in mind that Cortex Command is still in beta. The game is still in development and doesn't include a full campaign (or "story") mode yet. In fact, there are only three campaign levels available to play, including the tutorial. There are just a handful of "skirmish" (mission) levels available, half of which are more aimed at demonstrating the game's physics and engine more than anything else. Multiplayer is available with up to four people, using split-screens. There's a nice level editor included if you're interested in making your own content, and since the game was made compatible with the Lua programming language, some fans already have mods available on the official forums.

There is a lot of potential in Cortex Command. Not only in the possibility of what's to come in the final release (full campaigns, objective-based missions), but everything that the fan community will undoubtedly cook up as well. For now, you can buy a "discounted" license, which is essentially like pre-ordering the game. You'll be eligible to download and unlock all future releases, including the final retail release. But make sure you read all the info; the reason you can buy it at a discount is because there's no guarantee that the game will ever see a "final" release. But if you're one of the fans that's been tracking the progress of Cortex Command over the last year or two, you're probably more than happy to pay a small fee to get lifetime updates, even if that means the game stays in beta for another two years.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.5/5 (26 votes)
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Floating Kingdoms

JohnBCasual games built around sets of mini-games are gaining popularity, as are pared-down strategy titles that keep the spirit of the genre intact while trimming the bloat. Then something like Floating Kingdoms comes along and somehow manages to combine both: a simplified strategy game that's one part resource management, two parts mini-games. And it does it in a light-hearted, fun kind of way that just about any age group can enjoy.

floatingkingdoms.jpgCornelia is an apprentice of the Chief Imperial Architect, Sancho, who is working to help restore the kingdom's floating islands to their former glory. You do this by harvesting resources, building structures, feeding the people, and helping them erect a palace on their small chunk of land. Wood, stone, and gold (and, indirectly, food) are your currency, and you'll need special buildings in order to increase your stockpile of each.

Where Floating Kingdoms differs from other real time strategy games is how you collect resources. Think clicking on a tree is all you need to do to gather some wood? Try playing a round of mahjong instead. Want flour to make pizza to feed your hungry villagers? Head to the mill and play an arcade-style shape matching game. Floating Kingdoms employs simple mini-games to make earning resources surprisingly fun. A handy orb system allows you to set a building on auto-pilot, preventing that icky feeling of "Oh, can't I just have some water without playing a marble popper?!".

A number of other events add a little spice to the mix, such as pirates demanding a tribute, but on the whole the game is centered around earning resources by playing mini-games and spending them on building new structures. Simple, and just different enough to work!

floatingkingdoms2.jpgAnalysis: Less strategy and more mini-games, Floating Kingdoms uses elements of the RTS genre to tie the puzzle/arcade games together and give you a good reason for completing them. It's similar to the way Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords makes gem swapping fun by assigning more meaning to the simple task.

The chief drawback in Floating Kingdoms is the lack of difficulty and the game's habit of holding your hand through every little event. It's obviously an attempt at making the strategy/sim experience more digestible, but with dialogue boxes and tutorial help screens popping up all over the place, you never even get a chance to chew. Only when you're well into the game does the hand holding stop, and by then you've already mastered the nuances of the game.

Floating Kingdoms had the chance to sprout a new genre-straddling trend, but it just slightly misses the mark in a few areas. The visuals pack a lot of imagination into their limited animations, but the mini-games could be a little more creative. Despite the minor bumbles, the game is still a fresh experience that's both fun and interesting to play. And because of the simple premise, it's the perfect title to bring your kids in for a helping hand.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.2/5 (130 votes)
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JayRedesigning BreakoutIf someone were to say to you, "Hey, I'm going to redesign the game of Breakout," you might envision one of virtually thousands of clones that have been created of the classic game from the very early years of video games. But that would likely be a "recreation" not a "redesign" per se. It would take a very clever game designer to actually reinvent the game, or to make something wholly different using the same basic form of classic Breakout gameplay.

Yoshio Ishii, of Nekogames, succeeds in this ambitious endeavor with his latest game, Redesigning Breakout. And while the game is still about destroying bricks to clear the board, what's gone is the boredom the game usually suffers from when trying to get that last brick or two. Instead, what we have is more of a twitch game where reflexes rule the landscape of a simulated (and antiquated) vector graphics display.

Each hit of the ball with the paddle sends the ball careening back upward at a much higher velocity than it started with, though subsequent hits don't increase it again. There are just two speeds: super slow and wicked fast. The ball will return to its slower velocity if you let it hit the bottom, which would be considered a "miss" in more classic versions of the game.

The challenge is against the clock. The faster you can eliminate the blocks and move on to the next level, the more points you will score before your time is up. You have just 200 seconds in which to play.

Analysis: While many of you may not get too excited about "yet another Breakout", Ishii's Breakout is like normal Breakout the way a thrashing water moccasin is like a puppy. The gameplay is there, but it's been transformed into an entirely different experience. And from a game design perspective, this is an intriguing example of injecting creativity into an all but worn-out concept.

Downsides to this excursion include the choice of an old-school display. While it may be a nod to the early years of video games, it won't likely make you want to play this one again and again. Sure the levels change shape in the form of the number of level you are on, but that novelty quickly wears thin. Also, there is an inherent quirk to the Flash Player that causes it to pause every now and then, most likely due to what the CPU is doing. During a twitch game such as this is, that pause can break the zen-like feeling of being "in the zone", and the game loses some luster because of it.

Still, it's a remarkable game, and worth a play through even if only for the game design perspective.

Play Redesigning Breakout


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Weekend Download

JohnBHis consequent newspaper exceeds orange juice after a patronized disclaimer. The vehicle concatenates soil. When can soil compose above an individual? A deserted outline ministers to soil past a rotten attribute. WEEKEND DOWNLOAD WOOOO!

ataleoftwokingdoms.gifA Tale of Two Kingdoms (Linux/Windows, 90-96MB, free) - Old school adventure games will never die, as evidenced by superb this Sierra-style point-and-click game. Five different endings, multiple sidequests with several solutions each, an intricate story, and classic gameplay everyone can know and love. Danger approaches the kingdom of Theylinn in the form of an invading army, a hostile giant, and a troop of mercenaries with their sights set on the king. Discontent from within also threatens the ancient kingdom, and mysterious tales of the faerie realm of Theirna na Oge haunt the minds of the villagers. (Note: Downloads on the website are handled by Megaupload, but the files have been scanned and are perfectly safe.)

desertbridge.gifThe Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge (Windows, 39MB, free) - This unpolished gem is a point-and-click room escape adventure just like the web-based fare we've grown to love and adore. It has humor! It has serious bits! It has graphics! It has a really long name! The inventory has a "gerbelize" option!

assaultcube.jpgAssaultCube (Mac/Windows/Linux, 40-45MB, free) - A surprisingly good team-based first person shooter built around the original Cube game. The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward: pick up gun/grenade, shoot opponent, repeat. But with online multiplayer that supports 56k connections and single player computer-controlled bot deathmatches, the fun far outweighs the predictable simplicity of the game itself.

hideoussounds.gifHideous Sounds in the Dark (Windows, 8.4MB, free) - An entry into the TIGsource Commonplace Book Compo. Using your mouse and your ears, you have to find the church in the dark. Click the button to turn on your lantern, but doing so allows monsters to find you, and if they see you they'll give chase. A very unusual game that's surprisingly haunting for something so simple.


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (23 votes)
| Comments (0) | Views (20)

Secret Missions: Mata Hari and the Kaiser's Submarines

Ms.45It's 1915. In the wake of the destruction of the Lusitania, France is trying to convince the US that the German Kaiser is hiding weapons of mass destruction in the form of submarines hidden around the seas of Europe. The US will give France every support, but proof should be provided before they make a move. (I'm gonna let you guys thrash this out in comments... or do we all just want to move on?) Fortunately, France has a secret weapon that makes men in uniform spill secrets like red wine on a cream carpet — Mata Hari!

secretmissionsmatahari.jpgHidden object adventure games are a well established genre now, meaning that the way games distinguish themselves is through presentation — beautiful artwork or a well-developed story. Secret Missions: Mata Hari and the Kaiser's Submarines has chosen to go with a fictionalised version of the life of Mata Hari, born Marguerite Zelle. The names of real people are used, but the story itself is pure speculation. Mata Hari was executed in 1917 for spying for Germany, but prior to this, she was recruited by Georges Ladoux, the love interest in this story, to work for the French.

The initial task is to dress correctly for the person you're going to meet. Have a look at your contacts book — you'll gain some useful hints on what kind of clothes will impress your target. Once you're suited and booted (literally, in a couple of sections of the game), you're ready to do a bit of hidden object finding. Objects are described by their outline, rather than a name, and some objects can't be found until you've performed certain actions. Mercifully, these actions mostly make sense.

When an important action point comes up, you'll need to solve a puzzle. There are several types of puzzle — some card games, some strategy, a bit of general knowledge. One important puzzle (receiving encoded messages from Ladoux) may shut out color-blind players, but no biggie — you can play it as a Mastermind-style puzzle, using feedback from your errors to get it right. If you strike a kind of puzzle that you really, really hate, you can skip it, but it will reduce your end score if you do so.

secretmissionsmatahari2.jpgAnalysis: This game is gorgeously illustrated, with hyper-real backgrounds and little flourishes like the war posters on the wall in Ladoux's offices. Transitions between levels are in the form of pre-talkies movie transitions. The story is fairly intriguing, even though you kind of know how it's going to end (she doesn't get lined up in front of a firing squad in this game), and the puzzles and tasks in Secret Missions are very well-integrated with the story.

The downside is that the game is over very quickly — I couldn't make out much difference between Easy Mode and Hard Mode — and the puzzles and hidden objects remain the same, reducing the replay value somewhat. You can play again to get a higher score (Mata Hari is judged to be anything from a courier to a super-spy depending on the time taken, hints used and puzzles skipped), but... is that really why you play a hidden object game?

The other thing that struck me is the character art. Without spoiling too much, there are a couple of occasions in the game where an appropriate facial expression would add to the drama. Instead, Mata Hari stares out at you with an unchanging, blank stare. It just struck me as odd — I know she's supposed to be this super-spy, but even James Bond in the original Fleming novels had the occasional moment of emotion.

Despite a few minor artistic omissions, a couple of typos and an interface you'll have to learn to use, Secret Missions: Mata Hari and the Kaiser's Submarines drops a nice (and unusual) adventure right in your lap.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.6/5 (248 votes)
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PsychotronicFishing GirlSo, let's say you're relaxing on the beach with your little sister, and a mysterious bottle floats to shore. Inside is an SOS message from some strange boy stranded on an island! If you squint, you think you can just spot him, way across the shark-infested waters, hopeless and moping. Whatever shall you do? Well, if you're Rocket Girl, you fly your butt right over there and save him. If you're Contraption Girl, you build a raft out of seashells, twigs, and your protesting sister's hair. If you're Crazy Girl, you do a back somersault and proclaim yourself the arch-duchess of Luxembourg. But if you're Fishing Girl, well, you've got to fish your way to a solution.

Fishing Girl, the first game from developer Luna Drift, is the most tranquil, unhurried game about a life-or-death rescue operation you're ever likely to play. Your mouse controls the angling action. Just hold the mouse button to start your back swing, then release it to cast. Once your lure is in the water, hold the mouse button to reel it in. Between casts, you may change lures, once you've collected more than one type, in order to catch different sizes of fish. The floating buoys between you and the lost boy's island act as shops for incremental power-ups. Strike one with your lure for a chance to buy larger bait or a fishing pole with longer range.

The beginner's level is perfect for a casual fifteen minutes of laid back fun, while the expert level feels more arcade-y, bombarding you with hungry ocean dwellers hoping to snatch away your precious lures. There are two possible endings, each one with a creative surprise in store. Suffice to say, you can't rescue a stranded individual with mere fishing skills alone. You'll have to get either clever or violent.

Analysis: What a neat little game. Because it plays entirely by its own rules, every new detail feels like a discovery, with greater treasures always lurking a little deeper, or a little further out to sea. It manages to capture the peacefulness and melancholy of fishing without bending to realism, and the whole thing is built on an emotional foundation of devotion and perseverance. If you ever lose motivation, your little blobby friend/sister/thing-um-a-whoozit is right there offering love and encouragement.

Fishing Girl's visual prentation is lovely, composed of subtle color choices and flat character designs with strong silhouettes. As much as I love the nostalgic use of chunky pixels, as in The Majesty of Colors, to me Fishing Girl's art style is a more natural evolution of the simple artwork from the 8-bit Nintendo days. It preserves that level of abstraction you need to form a quick emotional bond with the characters, without imposing any artificial technical restrictions.

Certainly nothing has been sacrificed in outlining the main characters; look at how detailed their living situation is. They've built themselves an elaborate three-story home, and planted a vibrant-looking garden. It looks like there's a cozy beach house too, decorated with sprigs of some cattail-like plant with heart-shaped bulbs. I'll bet that would make a good guest house, once the stranded boy is saved. You get the sense that these passionate, humble pillow-people will make a nice life for themselves once you've relinquished control and closed down the browser window; that after all this effort, they'll really be okay. What a great feeling to take with you into the rest of your day.

Play Fishing Girl

Note: If you'd like to learn about the origins of this game, and see a dissection of its gameplay, look at this: Dan Cook's Lost Garden Blog. Thanks, Derek!


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Rating: 4.8/5 (482 votes)
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Sonny 2Reader reviewThe following is a reader-submitted review by Terry:

Suddenly, you're awake. Memories from the past flood your mind. It's still dark outside and there are so many questions that need to be answered. But the most pressing matter is the tape you clutch in your hand. What secrets does it hold? How can you unlock its mysteries? Before you or your friend can say another word, a motorcycle leaps into the scene, its rider attacking both of you and making off with the tape. With nothing more than a metal pipe in your hand, you follow the bike towards a secure complex in the distance, hoping to get the answers you've long been looking for.

This is how Sonny 2, a sequel to one of the best tactical battle games on the Web, Sonny, begins. Sonny 2 is a turn-based action RPG where you buy equipment, level up, and train after each fight, all in preparation for the next round of combat. It's extraordinarily detailed without being too overwhelming and boasts a high level of polish.

The sequel packs a ton of features not available in the original Sonny. Dozens of voiced lines, five new chapters, all new enemies, skills and weapons, plus a brand new game engine and a great new soundtrack. It's remarkably faithful to the original, and everything that made Sonny so great is abundantly present in Sonny 2.

When you begin the game you have the option to customize the difficulty, which mainstream build you want to go for (thus affecting your skill tree and which abilities you can use in combat), and whether you want to play the tutorial. Soon you'll enter battle and will level up, giving you a chance to spend attribute points on your character's vitality, strength, instinct, speed, and a host of skills. This is the meat of the game: customizing your character to get stronger and eliminate the enemy. And it's all handled with a smooth grace both casual and more dedicated gamers can appreciate.

Analysis: Krin Juangbhanich worked on Sonny 2 for almost a year, creating a polished (and lengthy) final product that boasts three separate character classes, hundreds of new items, and a Player vs. Player arena mode. The low-profile launch acts as an open beta of sorts to help wipe out glitches and polish the game before it makes its rounds across the Web.

Voice acting is top notch, just like in the first Sonny, though this tends to create a long loading time. The music is also superbly composed, as it really creates an atmosphere of tense action in each fight scene. The story composition is packed with both serious and sarcastic moments, sprinkled with references to the real world. For example, later in the game you may get a "Bugo Hoss" armor piece, switching the first letters of a popular clothing brand.

Next to a bug or two which will be hammered out in later updates, there are no real flaws in this game, only nitpicks. For example, zone three was a bit of a filler level, with only 2-3 scenes with actual voice acting, and no groundbreaking plot advancements. Also, the game has a tendency to let fights go on forever, though this has been reduced quite a bit from the original Sonny.

One new feature we found especially intriguing are AI stances, allowing you to steer your fellow combatants tactics from full defensive to a relentless offense. The visuals have also received an upgrade, and the local PVP arena is great if you want to test your fighting skills to the extreme.

Sonny 2 fulfilled the promises made by the first Sonny, and Krin has really listened to the audience and adjusted the game accordingly. With upcoming tweaks and improvements, this may be one of the best strategy/RPG Flash games you've ever played. Until Sonny 3 comes out, of course!

Play Sonny 2


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBHere is the story. Of a Link Dump on Friday. Who was showing off some very lovely toys. All of them had fun things to show, like the others. The final one in— baaaah. I never liked the Brady Bunch theme song anyway!

  • icon_gatunoinchristmas.gifGatuno in Christmas - A short point-and-click adventure from the creator of the Esklavos series. A little holiday charm to start your weekend.
  • icon_wallacegromittopbun.gifWallace & Gromit: Top Bun - Baker Bob has been murdered (eek!), so Wallace and Gromit have to feed the hungry people. Bake pies and shove them in the van in this simple but personality-filled time management game.
  • icon_energuy.gifEnerguy - Drag Energuy around by the hand and click on things that will help him save electricity. And remember: doing a victory dance after turning off appliances is super effective!
  • icon_theresheis5.gifThere She Is!! Final Step: Imagine - The last episode in the charming series of animations that manage to be both emotionally poignant and cute at the same time. Be sure to catch up on previous episodes for the full experience!
  • icon_maroonedmrchip.gifMarooned Mr. Chip - A short point-and-click adventure that rains on a beautiful audio/visual atmosphere like... well, like rain!


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JayGuardian names JIG one of 100 best sites for the coming yearThe Guardian (UK) has just published a list of the "100 top sites for the year ahead" and we're proud to report that JIG is included in that list, and we are one of just 5 gaming sites mentioned(!)

Say the Guardian folks, JIG is "passionate, well-designed and knowledgeable." Everyone here at JIG wishes to thank everyone at the Guardian for the kind words and kudos, and we'll do everything we can to make sure 2009 meets or exceeds expectations!

Also, a big shout-out and "Thank you!" to Jeff Tunnell — one of the co-founders of Garage Games and now working on new projects at Push-Button Labs — for naming JIG "favorite review site" in his 2008 Biggie Awards!

Thanks also to our ever-supportive and active JIG community that fuels the passion in us to keep doing what we do. :)


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Rating: 4.1/5 (279 votes)
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JayThe Great Bedroom EscapeYou might think that after escaping the kitchen only to find yourself locked in a living room, and then a bathroom, and then a basement, that we would learn not to get into tight situations such as these again. But then Mateusz Skutnik sends word of yet another installment in the Great Escape series and we're all lush with excitement. Somehow it just doesn't stand to reason. Or does it?

It could be that The Great Bedroom Escape is already a cozy place to be, or that the bedroom is relatively easy to escape, as most of these great escapes are. Therefore, the reward of solving the game is yours for the taking, or not. It's totally up to you. For me, the immediate gratification of solving puzzles and finding my escape is such a sweet diversion when I know success is close at hand.

Whatever the reason, we're sure you'll enjoy this next installment.

Play The Great Bedroom Escape


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Rating: 4.8/5 (699 votes)
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PsychotronicAchievement UnlockedJohn Cooney, author of TBA, TBA2, Grid16, and the Ball Revamped series, has unveiled his latest epic adventure. Along with timeless, classic platforming gameplay, Achievement Unlocked offers you the opportunity to earn no less than One. Hundred. Achievements. Holy bat farts on a bus.

"100 achievements!?!?" I hear you splutter, spraying muffin crumbs all over your keyboard, "That is so many achievements, it puts me in personal danger! The dopamine-eating dwarf who lives in my brain will grow fat and heavy, and then my head will loll to one side and I'll have to walk all funny! My important work as a photograph-straightener will suffer! Please don't make me click on the game, Mr. Man With the Words."

But it's not me who requests your clickage. It's the elephant. He throws marvelous rave parties, his skin is a fetching shade of blue, he appreciates polka and ragtime music, and he thinks that you should play his game. It will hurt his feelings if you don't. Why do you want to hurt the elephant? Can't you understand the depth of his elephant emotions? He only wants to help you get achievements. Pretty, shiiiiiny achievements. Achievements are very useful. Maybe you can share them with your friends, or make a little house out of them. And then you and your friends can all live in the house with your new elephant buddy and you will be happy together and you can eat achievements for all your meals until there's no more house left.

And then you will be free.

Play Achievement Unlocked

Thanks to Repairmanman and Loki for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.1/5 (71 votes)
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ArtbegottiPushoriFor those who don't have the time to devote to those addicting match-3 games, Tonypa may have found the perfect alternative. At 66% size of most match-3 games, Pushori pares things down to a much more simplified match-2 concept.

The objective of each level is to clear pairs from each of the squares making up the 3x3 grid, at least once. To do this, slide the tiles onto the grid from either the left or right side of the board. The tiles will move as far as they can along the row. If there's an open space on the opposite side of a tile in a row, the newly placed tile will push the entire row to the edge. If (at least) two matching tiles end up vertically adjacent to each other (horizontally doesn't count), they'll be cleared from the board, and the background in those squares will turn gray. When all nine squares are turned gray, you advance to the next level where another new tile is added to the mix.

Analysis: Pushori is a refreshing and simple new puzzle game from a game designer who has a knack for creating simply refreshing new ideas. However, notable flaws in this one include: 1) when a tile occupies a square, you can't tell whether it has been cleared, but then again, there are only nine squares, so it shouldn't be too hard to remember; and 2) it is possible, by the nature of the random tile selector, to have absolutely no possible pairs, by putting nine different tiles on the board. Thus, shooting for a high score does rely slightly on luck, as your game could end abruptly, even with perfect strategy.

Regardless, Pushori brings another (compact) twist to a well-populated genre, in a relaxing and colorful game. The latin music seems to compliment Pushori's laid-back style well, as you have all the time in the world to plan out your next move. Please enjoy this game with a mug of hot chocolate or other heated flavored beverage of your choosing.

Play Pushori


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Rating: 4.7/5 (210 votes)
| Comments (96) | Views (432)

Weekday Escape

JessIt's that most special time of year again. Time to get on your softest, most comfortable pajamas, and make a mug of peppermint hot chocolate. A plate of little snowman-shaped cookies, perhaps? Christmas Escape 2A crackling fire would be nice, accompanied by Bing Crosby crooning about white Christmases and silver bells...as you sit down, with a sigh of contentment, to play Neutral's newest holiday game, Christmas Escape 2. Ah, that most special time of year, indeed.

Christmas Escape 2 finds you contained in a strange room, some sort of combination office/laboratory/bedroom with a light sprinkling of Christmas decor. Per usual, there's no real explanation as to how you became trapped, though there are plenty of clues scattered about to help you escape; a little exploring will quickly reveal an abundance of seemingly unrelated information and items to aid (or stump) you. While the puzzles were mainly logical, I was occasionally baffled. While this was partially due to my own thick-headedness, it's also worth noting that some items are only usable after certain actions have been performed. I also at one point spent 5 minutes angrily clicking around the room before realizing that one area that I had visited a dozen times had an additional interactive component; don't be like me, kids. Click on everything.

Gameplay is classic, clean point-and-click, with a blessed lack of pixel hunting. As an extra, adorable bonus, CE2 also contains a game-within-a-game; 6 Christmas ornaments are hidden around the room, and while they will not help you escape, they will provide some additional cuteness when you finish the game.

Neutral's website technically classifies Christmas Escape 2 as a "mini room escape game." One must remember, however, that this is Neutral we're talking about, creator of some of the most outstanding room escape games to ever grace the internet; what they call "mini" might be another developer's magnum opus. And indeed, CE2 is wonderful. Though shorter and little less complex than Neutral's other games (and a bit less pretty), the game nonetheless displays the same creativity and polish. And more than the developer's other releases, CE2 displays a quirky sense of humor and sweet cheeriness that completely befits the holiday season.

Don't wait long to play Christmas Escape 2; like the snow outside, this game is seasonal and will disappear soon after St. Nick makes his rounds. Neutral's 2007 Christmas Escape game is back on their website, so I assume that next December this one will be available again as well; still, who wants to wait a year for such fun?

Cuddle up with your laptop, grab some eggnog and get ready for some gaming cheer:

Play Christmas Escape 2


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Rating: 4.6/5 (147 votes)
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frostbite2.gifJohnBNew from the snowy peaks of Mt. Nitrome (the same team that crafted In the Dog House, Toxic II, Mutiny, and others) comes Frost Bite 2, a direct follow-up to last year's Frost Bite platforming game. Work your way up the snowy mountain peaks using a grappling hook that can latch onto almost anything. Stomp or harpoon enemies to clear them out of your way and move boxes to reach high spots. A few new tricks can be found up Frost Bite 2's fuzzy parka sleeve, just enough to make it feel like a brand new adventure.

Frost Bite 2 keeps to the frozen path carved by the original game, so most of the visuals and gameplay elements will remain the same. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move around the screen and the mouse to aim and fire the grappling hook. You can use the hook to grab and swing from most ledges, platforms, and a handful of other objects. It also doubles as a harpoon for spearing dangerous foes and can be used to tug certain items around the stage. I hear it even shines shoes and makes a mean fruit smoothie, but Frost Bite 2 doesn't explore that part of the hook's resume...

Before each level begins a wonderfully succinct goal flashes before your eyes: CLIMB! You wouldn't want to disobey a single word imperative, would you? So, start going up, grappling and swinging from platforms, hopping across small gaps, and avoiding or dispatching enemies that get in your way. Frozen power-ups in the form of ice cream can be collected for bonus points, health and extra lives, and you can grab them either by touching them or sending the hook in their direction. Keep an eye out for letters hovering around, too, as collecting and spelling B-O-N-U-S in each level will earn you a... well... a bonus!

Analysis: It's hard to argue with a game like Frost Bite 2, especially when it follows the already successful Frost Bite. As usual, Nitrome has managed to keep a sequel on the tracks of the original without producing something stale and lifeless. Instead, Frost Bite 2 is just as fun and unique as a sequel should be, with enough extras to re-invent the frost-bitten wheel.

The gameplay limitations of Frost Bite 2, while necessary to make the game challenging (and rewarding), sometimes made me want a power-up that let me go crazy. For example, you can't fire the grappling hook downwards, which makes a lot of sense in terms of design, but I really, really wanted to do it! Plus, the rope's length feels very short, which, again, is required so you can have obstacles to overcome. But every once in a while I wanted to grab a power-up that let me go postal, firing the grappling hook in all directions and stabbing every platform within view. Just sayin'.

But really, Frost Bite 2 is just plain fun, and it certainly accomplishes its goal of being an amusing (and cute) diversion. If Super Mario Bros. met Bionic Commando atop a snowy mountain, this would be the result.

Play Frost Bite 2


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Rating: 3.9/5 (77 votes)
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DoraHiddenHow close are you with your family? What if you received a letter from an uncle one night, asking for your help in investigating rumours of an ancient culture deep in the wilderness? Would you pack your bags and head out to help? You might. But the blood on the ground when you arrived might give you serious pause. But how bad could things be, right?

Hidden Chapter 1: Primitive Essence puts you in the position of Santiago Achotegui, a far more dedicated nephew than I would be. He's an intelligent fellow, well-read, as the books you'll see stacked in his room should tell you. His uncle has always had a fascination with old legends, and his letter suggests that, with the assistance of an old family friend, he's on the verge of a very big discovery indeed.

Hidden screen 2As horror games go these days, Hidden is unusual because it plays its fright so close to its chest for most of the game. So much effort is spent on building atmosphere, creating tension and a sense of wrongness, that when something does suddenly happen to frighten you, your reaction is probably going to be over the top. Thematically, it borrows heavily from not only Lovecraft's idea of ancient, fathomless evils, but primarily Native American lore, despite the setting. This first chapter focuses heavily on setting the stage for things to come, and there are tons of items to click on to learn more about the setting, from news clippings tacked to walls, to Santiago's own copious collection of books.

The point-and-click gameplay is about as simple as it gets. You play the game entirely with your mouse; the icon, usually a golden arrow, will change to point directions if you move your mouse to the edge of the screen, and clicking it will make you move in that direction. When the icon turns into a hand or eye, it means that you can either manipulate the object or move in for a closer look. You're given an inventory you can scroll through by tapping the arrows on either side of it, a magnifying glass that you can use to examine various things to pick up, and, maybe most importantly, your journal. Not only does your journal keep track of your objectives — written with decidedly old world flair — but it also enables you to save or load your game.

You'll progress through the game much quicker if you give into your inquisitive nature and click on everything. And I mean everything.

Analysis: One of the problems with Hidden is that hand-holding is virtually nonexistent, but some direction would have been nice. Some items won't activate for interaction unless you've looked at something else in the room and much of the puzzle work is done through trial and error. I spent a lot of time backtracking and rubbing each of the myriad of items you'll pick up against everything I could think of because I refused to look at a walkthrough. It's not that it's brain-bustingly difficult, but unless you got your doctorate in Ancient Rituals and Portents, you probably won't immediately know what to do once your arms are full of decidedly shady looking ingredients. The books you'll find do help a little, but they're maddeningly vague. Then again, they are ancient texts, after all, and they so rarely do "Reader's Digest" editions.

Unfortunately, some things in the game will be Hidden unintentionally because the game is so dark. Even with my monitor settings amped up to Staring-Into-The-Sun bright, a lot of sections of gameplay featured a palette of colours so dark I had to crawl my cursor slowly across the screen, watching to see if it would change to indicate a hotspot I couldn't see. Some of these "hot spots" are also frustratingly tiny or at odd areas of the item you want to interact with, so it can be easy to miss them. Navigation could have been handled better as well. There are multiple instances where you should just be able to turn in a complete circle to view the contents of a room, and are forced instead to click back through every screen to return to your original orientation. At one point, after I had clicked on a door to zoom in, I found I couldn't just click back out; I had to turn to the left, then again, which took me back to the entry point of the area, and then reorient myself on the door again. Not game breaking, no, but certainly annoying.

As befits the first chapter in a series of adventures, you're going to end this one with more questions than before, and maybe, just maybe, a prickling feeling of unease at the back of your neck. Go ahead. Give it a try. 'Tis the season, after all. Just don't forget to lock the door behind you.

Play Hidden Chapter 1: Primitive Essence


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Rating: 4.6/5 (117 votes)
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PsychotronicWarfare 1917Warfare 1917 is a rather excellent World War I strategy title from Con Artist at Armor Games that we overlooked a couple of months ago. Although I suspect that this game's popularity is mostly due to the thrill of watching little army men get tossed around by mortar shells, the author is respectful of his source material, providing a well-balanced and historically rooted collection of ground units and fire support options. The gung-ho cries of your troops make it hard to watch them fall in battle, and if you waste too many lives, you run the risk of losing the battle to low morale.

You can choose to play a full campaign as either the British or the Germans. Win each skirmish by reaching the opposite side of the battlefield with your troops, or alternately by reducing the enemy morale to the point of surrender. What makes Warfare 1917 interesting is the use of trenches as strategic choke points. Since your operating space is essentially a one-dimensional horizontal line, you must be conscious of each of your units' strength and firing range, both in and out of the dirt.

A system of experience points and a wide range of upgrades make the campaign worth replaying, and if you ever just want a quick battle, there is a customizable one-shot skirmish mode. Early versions of Warfare 1917 had some balance issues, especially once the virtually invincible tanks entered the fray, but version 1.2 has things hammered out pretty well. It's a real gem of a wargame that works on more levels than just pew pew pew KABOOM. Though certainly it provides that as well.

Play Warfare 1917


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (92 votes)
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DoraArmed with Wings 2Man. You know how, when you're a cloud of non-corporeal black mist given life and kingdom, someone always comes along to challenge your supremacy and then you need to steal the four magic swords to make him disperse back into the darkness from whence he came? Don't you hate when that happens? No? Just me, then?

Okay, maybe this isn't exactly an everyday occurrence for most of us. Or even any of us. But you've got to think that Vandheer Lorde, the protagonist of Sun Studio's Armed with Wings 2 whose shadowy shoes you borrow for this stylish adventure, isn't exactly having his best day ever. As the game begins, you've been ousted from your throne by the original game's hero, and you're forced to flee your own palace to seek a way to reclaim your seat of power.

Unfortunately, you don't get your own bird in this one, so you can leave the crackers and falconry gloves at home.

During Story Mode, you can select from Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulties, which not only affects how much damage you deal or take, but also the layout of the levels—a nice change, since difficulty in most fighting games typically boils down to sheer, keyboard crunching frustration. There's also the Survival Mode, which drops you into a room with ever-increasing numbers of baddies and lets you see how long you last. This is actually a really good way to polish your skills if you find yourself having trouble with the battles on higher difficulties, but you can expect to get swarmed pretty quickly.

Gameplay is very straightforward. Between missions, you have the opportunity to save and change your meager inventory about. Each mission consists of a few short stages, featuring several enemy encounters and some jumping puzzles, and then a boss fight. There isn't a heck of a lot of strategy to combat, since you're limited to a few select keys for different attacks, and you'll probably get the hang of it in the first skirmish. Death is, at most, a minor inconvenience, since you can restart the stage of the game you died on with no penalties—which, of course, doesn't take the sting out of those instant-kill spike pits that litter the landscape like Starbucks coffee shops.

Armed with Wings 2Analysis: The obvious question is how well it holds up to—or improves upon—the first Armed with Wings. Combat in this one feels much more smooth and natural, enabling you to wade into enemies without breaking stride. It's also a lot more cinematic, with more focus on story and character than its predecessor. What the two games do share is a striking visual aesthetic. Aided by some very fluid animation, Sun Studios coaxes a lot of emotion and variety out of mostly featureless inkblots.

That being said, Armed with Wings 2 isn't without its flaws—flaws that can basically be boiled down to one word: platforming. Truth be told, much of the platforming seems like busywork intended to lengthen the game, and the transition between slice'n'dicing your enemies into little puffs of smoke and then leaping about on nondescript ledges occurs with an audible clunk. There's some attempt to implement "puzzles" in some places, but they mostly boil down to "Get from A to B without dying". Which is a pretty good goal, I guess.

As a departure from mainstream game design, Armed with Wings 2 is worth a look, even if fighting games aren't necessarily your thing. Give it a try, so you can at least say you tried something different today, and don't be surprised if it sucks you in.

Play Armed With Wings 2


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Rating: 4.4/5 (112 votes)
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PsychotronicLamb Rover 4x4Shaun the Sheep: Lamb Rover 4x4 is a 3D driving game from Aardman Animations, the British company behind a vast library of wonderful stop-motion movies and TV shows, including Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts. Shaun the Sheep, a character from one of the Wallace and Gromit short films, now stars in his own series of 7-minute television spots about the wacky adventures of clay animals living on a farm.

Lamb Rover 4x4 puts you, as Shaun, in the driver's seat of a creaking rustbucket of a pick-up truck, as you complete tasks here and there on the farm, under the supervision of the long-suffering sheep dog Bitzer. Control your vehicle with the [arrow keys] and trigger a burst of speed by holding down [space]. There are only ten missions, but they cover a nice variety of tasks. Be sure to watch the pre-mission screen for a few seconds, as there will sometimes be important additional instructions.

Occasionally upon completing a mission, you will be rewarded with an upgrade for your truck, which you can then outfit by driving into the centrally-located barn during any mission. Complete all ten missions to unlock a fully-outfitted vehicle that you can use in any level to achieve higher scores.

Analysis: Honestly, this isn't the most refined mission-based driving game I've ever seen, but the clunkiness is arguably part of the charm. Your vehicle is comically ill-equipped for its environment—its engine gets flooded in medium-sized puddles, and if it weren't for the nitro, it would have trouble mounting the humblest of hillsides.

But Lamb Rover 4x4 is all about off-kilter pluckiness, from the double-pun-dipped title to the roundabout approach to missions. What's the best way to pick up trash? By rolling a fat sheep around on it, Katamari-style! How do you squeeze a batch of oranges? Have that same sheep hold onto a rotating handle, give it a magnet, and then drive the truck around in a circle! It's classic Aardman contraption-ism.

The thing I miss most (besides the Restart Mission and Back to Menu buttons) is a radar screen displaying mission objectives, or at least an accessible map of the farm. You do have a weather vane pointing you to your next objective most of the time, but on the missions where you need to search blindly for targets or lost sheep, a map would at least show you where all the walls, rivers, and fences were. Seriously, the walls will drive you crazy. They're everywhere.

If you're in the mood for a tuned, hard-core racing experience, then Lamb Racer 4x4 won't scratch that itch. But if you'd prefer a more low-key, meandering adventure, then it might be just the thing. This is also your only chance this week to stack six sheep in the back of a truck and bounce them around like a bleating slinky.

Play Shaun the Sheep: Lamb Rover 4x4

Thanks to Caya for the suggestion!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (47 votes)
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Lyle in Cube Sector

SonicLoverMy name is Lyle. Unfortunately I can't tell you my last name; video game heroes usually have one-word names, and I'm no exception. Also like most video game heroes I can jump several times my height, my head is larger than my torso (heck, my eyes are larger than my torso), and my health is determined not by X-rays or by blood pressure, but by a simple display at the edge of the screen

lyleincubesector2.gifI live in a small shack in the middle of Cube Sector, a realm populated by all sorts of nasty monsters. And yes, there are lots and lots of cubes around: durable green cubes, explosive red cubes, double-size orange cubes, and so on. In fact, I've got a green cube right in my front yard. My only living companion is a kitten by the name of Keddums. Seriously! Just look in the readme file if you don't believe it.

Last night when I was asleep a hooded figure sneaked in and made off with Keddums. Needless to say I'm not going to stand for that; the fewer friends you have, the more attached you grow to them, and Keddums is my only friend. So I set off on an adventure to claim back my cat.

It's not easy, of course. When I first leave my house I'm completely defenseless; I can't even jump on enemies like that plumber can. I have to find upgrades that improve my abilities, and they're all cube-centric. Throughout the game I'll learn to pick up and throw cubes, kick them around, double-jump with them, and even create my own out of thin air. I'll use cubes for everything from attacking enemies to playing basketball to feeding a dog. I can also find blue HP Orbs that improve my maximum stamina, as well as red CP Orbs... rumor has it that you can trade those in somewhere for new upgrades...

Analysis: Lyle in Cube Sector is a relatively old game, and it turned up in an old Weekend Download; the second one ever, to be more precise. Someone commented on it saying that it deserved a full review, and after playing it I have no choice but to agree. Normally it's only downloadable for Windows, but with CrossOver Games that's not an issue, it ran perfectly fine on my Mac.

lyleincubesector3.gifMetroid-esque. I don't know if anyone's ever used that word before, but it's the perfect word to describe this game. And I'm not just talking about the gameplay. The graphics and audio both seem to have come straight from the NES with their simplistic pixelly goodness, and the tall climbable shafts and long runnable pathways bring back Metroid memories as well. The whole thing is so Metroidesque I kept expecting to find a Morph Ball (Morph Cube, perhaps?) power-up somewhere.

I played the original Metroid once. It quickly repulsed me because its environment was too large to be explored with any efficiency, especially without guidance, and I kept feeling lost. Lyle in Cube Sector doesn't have that flaw; its map feels much more easily explored, and I never felt lost. I think it helped that this game had a "warp room" that allowed speedy transportation to handy locations. The lighthearted sense of humor LiCS bore, especially near the end, might have helped as well. So perhaps this game is better than that one.

It's not perfect, of course. One inherent flaw with Metroid-esque games is that with no indication of what to do next, you can run around aimlessly without a clue and be unable to find your next step. I did run into a moment like that near the end. Also, the "game over" sequence in this game is a bit too long and non-skippable, especially considering how many times I saw it. To boot, there's nothing more frustrating than accidentally hurting yourself with your own cube, which feels all too easy. I know Samus never accidentally shot herself with a Missile.

But overall, this game is worth a download. It has plenty to find (I'm still missing one CP orb, and I've heard of a secret room somewhere...), and it should keep you occupied for a while. The likelihood of a sequel is slim, but we can hope...

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a cat-napper to cube.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (49 votes)
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Archibald's Adventures

JohnBArchibald's Adventures is a puzzle platform game from Rake in Grass, creator of Larva Mortus, KingMania, and others. You play the skateboard-riding Archibald who accidentally becomes trapped in Professor Klumpfus' twisted underground lair. Roll your way through 100+ stages, moving boxes with bubblegum, leaping gaps with a running start, and hitting switches beneath pools of acid to work your way out of the mutant-infested passageways.It's one of those rare games that keeps begging you to come back for more.

archibaldsadventures3.gifYoung Archibald starts the game riding a skateboard, thus granting him a certain set of abilities. You can roll left or right, build up speed to jump across large gaps, and leap heights exactly one block tall. Soon you'll get some gum that allows you to control a sticky bubble that can attach to wooden crates and move them around. These simple mechanics form the groundwork for the entire game, but learning to bend the rigid physics to your advantage is the key to mastering Archibald's Adventures.

Each stage is divided into a number of levels that culminates in a story-progressing final chapter. You can complete levels in any order you like, which works well when you get stuck on a nigh-impossible puzzle or jump that's too tough for you to handle. To move on to the next stage you must complete at least eight of the levels, but completists will have a blast finishing each and every level in the game.

Fortunately, Archibald's Adventures isn't content with keeping the basic mechanics unchanging throughout the game. Later you'll trade in your skateboard for a rolling pod that can stick to metallic surfaces (complete with a magnetic arm that can latch onto ceilings), and for a few levels you'll pilot a flying vehicle. The basic mechanics usually stay the same, though, so no matter what you're controlling, you're still in familiar territory.

archibaldsadventures2.gifAnalysis: Delightfully old-school, both in terms of visuals and gameplay, Archibald's Adventures hooked me from the first level and wouldn't let go until I completed the game. The physics have a slight "on rails" feel to them and aren't completely natural, but its that artificial movement that builds the essence of the game that makes it such a joy to master. Learning how to bounce off walls to land where you need to, discovering ways to give yourself enough ground to make a long leap, and maneuvering bubble-box combos through tight situations is both immediately gratifying and satisfying in the long run. Archibald's Adventures is about learning what makes the game tick and bending those rules to your advantage. And that is infinitely more powerful than any list of features on a press release.

One minor complaint I have about Archibald's Adventures is its increasing reliance upon reflex-based platforming mechanics rather than cerebral puzzles. For the first third of the game you spend your time trying to figure out how to progress, but later it's more about hairpin jumps and trial-and-error timing puzzles. It's still challenging and it doesn't "break" the game, but it felt a little out of place to me.

Archibald's Adventures is a stellar game no matter how you look at it. If you're a fan of The Lost Vikings and similar side-scrolling action/puzzle games, Archibald's Adventures will tickle a similar corner of your nostalgic heart. The art direction is great, the gameplay is solid, and there's enough content and challenge to keep you rolling back for more day after day.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (50 votes)
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Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses!

GrimmrookWith the increase of popularity of hidden object games, it seems there has been an almost equal rise in hybridization of the genre in an attempt to keep things nice and fresh, and Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses! is no exception. True, much of the gameplay involves hunting around different settings for specific objects, but from the very beginning you'll realize that this isn't your run-of-the-mill object finder.

Tinsel Town, home of the stars, birthplace of movie magic. Starry-eyed yokels make pilgrimages there in the hopes of becoming the next big thing, while the paparazzi lurks around every corner with the hopes of turning the current big things into washed up has-beens. Glamour, glitz, and gold reign supreme in the world of ditzy divas and domineering directors and who on earth would turn down an invitation to be a part of that? Especially if that invitation were a personal invitation to the sound stage of the much talked about upcoming blockbuster, "Pharaoh."

nancydrewlights.jpgOkay, so maybe your invitation comes as the result of a series of mysterious accidents. Maybe those accidents are thought to be caused by the same curse that led to the death of the leading actress in the original 1930's production. Maybe we would rather just stay home. Luckily for us casual gaming enthusiasts, the young amateur sleuth, Nancy Drew, is not one to be daunted by such perils.

As the ingénue teen detective, you are called up by a frantic producer eager to have your help in getting to the bottom of a string of unexplainable accidents that threaten not only the future of the film, but also the health and well-being of the crew. As your investigation proceeds, you'll come to look upon everyone as a suspect in a twisting plot involving a priceless reel of film, and an even more priceless gem.

Instead of a daunting list of items to find, in Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses! you will be presented with a single challenge for every scene, and it's up to you to find the items you'll need to meet that challenge, and what you have to do once you have found them. Mix that with some rather clever mini games such as mixing smoothies, picking locks, and blowing up rocks, and what you have is a game that feels less like a hidden object game, and more like a true to form adventure game that has been streamlined for the casual gaming set.

Analysis: While I was intrigued by the title of this game from the beginning, I also was a little apprehensive. For starters, I tend to be about two decades and a gender away from the Nancy Drew target audience, and I was really skeptical of the hidden object mechanics that deviate so far from the norm.

nancydrewlights2.jpgHappily, my worries were proven baseless almost from the beginning. For one, the hidden object aspect of the game is brilliantly executed and does a very good job of integrating the game play with the story. How many times have you played a hidden object game and thought to yourself, 'Is finding a hotdog really vital to my ulterior motives at this point?' No, in Nancy Drew, every single object you find is an integral part of the story.

Speaking of story, I couldn't help but fall in love with not just the story, but how it was told. Through a combination of stylized cartoon/comic-book cut scenes, discovered articles, and live voice acting, the convoluted web of mystery and deception is told in a way that is both intriguing and sometimes funny. Eda's voice drips with Hollywood diva-ism, while I felt that the director's Australian accent was a nice touch (Disclaimer: Not being from Australia, I fully recognize that the accent may be completely off). Combine this with beautifully drawn settings and it is clear that a lot of effort was put into making this Nancy Drew adventure a gift to both the eyes and the ears (and one that the designers intended for you to enjoy whether you wanted to or not; you are frequently quizzed on what has happened up to that point).

That's not to say that this game doesn't come without it's faults. Most notably missing is the all-important hint feature that no hidden object game should be without, especially one in which you aren't given a list of things to find in the first place. Usually what you have to find is pretty obvious, but occasionally you can find yourself a little too close to pixel hunting for comfort.

Also, the mini-games could probably use a little tweaking; the first time or two you play one of the mini games they are a little too easy, and then all of a sudden they become hard enough to invoke the worst profanities out of even the most patient of gamers.

But these minor complaints aside, Nancy Drew is just gaggles of fun bundled up with a nice story that should be entertaining for kids and adults alike. Promise of a special ending for getting the highest detective rank is a nice incentive to play the game again, but is hardly necessary given how fun it is all on its own.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version

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


| Comments (9) | Views (9)

Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download answers a question that has been plaguing mankind since 1984: who ya gonna call (especially if there's something strange in your neighborhood)? The answer is, unequivocally, QWAK. Wait, no, the other thing. Ghostbusters. Yeah!

thisisacryforhelp.jpgThis is a Cry for Help (Mac/Windows CD, compilation) - The artistic life of Edmund McMillen (Meat Boy, Aether, Triachnid, and others) now available on CD! The epic disc contains 17 games, some of which were never released to the public (such as the "lost levels" of Gish!), along with 450 pages of comics, 300 pages of sketches, animations, movies, and plenty of extras. A nice peek into the creative mind of one of indie gaming's best-known artists. (Note: The disc contains some mature content.)

thegearthatworks.gifThe Gear that Works (Windows, 1MB, free) - A remake of the classic Gearworks puzzle game, your simple goal is to place gears so they link together to form a functioning chain. Click to add a gear, and right click to remove one. You have a limited number of removals per stage, so plan thoughtfully and hit that mouse button only when you must!

sudokuadept.gifSudokuAdept (Mac, <1MB, free) - The concept of placing numbers on a grid is simple enough that you would think most sudoku games would get it right. Unfortunately many of them don't, which is why SudokuAdept comes along with a clean, simple interface to make your number crunching a smooth experience. Keyboard or mouse controls, lots of customizable options, and millions of puzzles make it a one-stop-shop for your sudoku cravings.

qwak.jpgQWAK (Windows, 5MB, demo) - The "super-playable cute platformer" is a remake of the 1989 game of the same name. All you do is collect fruit for points and throw coconuts at enemies to keep your character safe. Keys, levers, and bits of armor are scattered around the level to both help and hinder your progress. For a crazy time, grab a friend, haul him/her to your keyboard, and give the two player simultaneous gameplay a run. Also available for Game Boy Advance!

ghostbusters.jpgGhostbusters (Windows, 13MB, free) - A remake of the classic Ghostbusters game released for a number of legacy systems (Atari 2600, Sega Master System, NES, etc.). This one stays pretty faithful to the original while giving it the requisite graphical upgrade along with a few minor gameplay tweaks. Outfit your car with ghost busting gizmos, then set out on the streets to hunt down and trap the little nuisances.


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Rating: 4.2/5 (25 votes)
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Nightshift Legacy: The Jaguar's Eye

JohnBNightshift Legacy: The Jaguar's Eye is a hidden object game that follows its prequel Nightshift Code closely in terms of style and story. Join Mike and Isabel as they travel through the jungles of Guatemala, across Spain and to the streets of Moscow researching the mystery of the ancient Jaguar's Eye.

nightshiftlegacy.jpgGameplay is very straightforward and offers an alternating experience between hidden object scenes and a variety of mini-games. You'll start in the jungle examining the site of a plane crash but quickly move to a number of more varied locations. Mini-games are tied directly to the story and are often more puzzle-like in nature. For example, the first one you'll encounter tasks you with completing a "translation" of the Jaguar's Eye codex by marking possibilities on a grid using a series of clues, similar to picross (though without the numbers).

Between levels you'll get an update on Mike and Isabel's quest via a series of comic book-style cutscenes. These are easily some of the most entertaining parts of the game, as both main characters have a good sense of humor and always seem to fall into the worst of situations. It's the kind of cheesy adventure Indiana Jones fans will definitely appreciate!

nightshiftlegacy2.jpgAnalysis: What made Nightshift Code so entertaining is exactly the same thing as what makes Nightshift Legacy worth playing: atmosphere and story. Neither offer any great advances in gameplay, but the main characters are interesting and the plot (though a bit contrived) really holds your attention.

In terms of difficulty and length, I have a one-word answer that satisfies both questions: medium. The game isn't too difficult, and you'll likely breeze through much of the hidden object portions as well as the mini-games without too much trouble. And while 42 levels looks good on paper, when nothing really stumps you for very long, they go by in an afternoon or two without much problem.

A good gameplay experience suited for casual hidden object finders coupled with a fun setting and story. Nightshift Legacy: The Jaguar's Eye is an excellent game to pick up as a relaxing weekend project. You might also want to try the first game in the series, Nightshift Code (Mac/Windows)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Link Dump Fridays

PsychotronicThis special edition of Link Dump Friday features a selection of traditional spot-the-difference games with a pleasing presentation and a story to tell. Coincidentally, each of the following games also contains something I have an irrational phobia about, and that's how I've listed them.

  • icon_dreams.gifDreams - Fairies. Especially fairies who wear ballet slippers, despite the fact that they can fly. That just seems wrong.
  • icon_madworld.gifMad World - Dancing skeletons. Okay, I guess that one isn't so irrational. But I'm scared of perspective-warping animated transitions, too.
  • icon_jasminejack.gifJasmine and Jack - Angry bees. Dogs with huge square teeth. Also, children.
  • icon_helpinabox.gifHelp in a Box - Destructive robot cats. Cardboard boxes. Shirts with mushrooms on them. Receding hairlines. Children. Instruction manuals. This game is like a nightmare for me.
  • icon_dragonwizard.gifThe Dragon and the Wizard - Role players. Seriously. They freak me out.

| Comments (20) | Views (1)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBRainbows. Unicorns. Fluffy bunnies. Smiling baby seals. Cotton candy trees. None of these things are featured in this edition of Link Dump Friday. Instead we have binary puzzles, meat-based action heroes, and a game centered around tossing people into buckets!

  • icon_bigbodsays.gifBig Bod Says - Big Bod says... click on this link! Big Bod says... play this game! Now go eat a banana! HA! Big Bod didn't say Big Bod says, and therefore you lose points.
  • icon_binary.gifBinary - A simple math-based puzzle game that tests your binary conversion skills. In other words:
    01000110011101010110111000100001!
  • icon_mouzemaze.gifMouze Maze - A mouse avoidance game with quite a bit of polish and style. Move the spark through each stage without running into anything solid. Bonus points for a great steampunk visual theme!
  • icon_peoplebucket.gifPeople Bucket - He he. It's a game about throwing people. Into buckets! PIck up the mannequin figures and fling them over the line, aiming for the bucket-like goal across the stage.
  • icon_downhillsnowboarding2.gifDownhill Snowboard 2 - It's ragdoll snowboarding at its best. Slide down the snowy slopes and try to look as cool as possible, performing tricks with the [arrow] and [A,S] keys for points.
  • icon_meatboy.gifMeat Boy map pack - Remember the user-created level pack promised in the original review of Meat Boy? It's here! Expect some seriously challenging new stages for the fleshy hero.
  • JayTripleJack Holiday Promo - TripleJack Poker is offering a special holiday promotion: Free Power Player upgrade for 24 hours. Offer good for new or existing members. Just create a new account, or log on with your existing account. Let the pie tossing commence!

| Comments (10) | Views (1)

Citizen Gamer at MSNBC.com

JayWinda Benedetti writes the Citizen Gamer column for MSNBC.com, and she just published two articles today that you may find good reads...

Some of the information gathered for the column came during a phone conversation Winda and I had recently, and it was a pleasure chatting with her about something we are so passionate about here. Our sincere thanks go out to Winda and the kind people at MSNBC.com for helping to shine a little light on our love, as well as on our own little corner of the Web! :)


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Rating: 4.7/5 (295 votes)
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PsychotronicThe Majesty of ColorsThe Majesty of Colors, by Gregory Weir, is an expressive interactive story about choices and consequences. You play the part of a nightmarish Lovecraftian beast from the undiscovered ocean depths, as it creeps to the surface and encounters the human race for the first time. A first-person narrative provides context, and helps guide you through your emotional encounter with this confusing new world.

Your only means of interaction is a single, sinuous tentacle. Hold the mouse button on things to pick them up, and release to drop them. The branching storyline takes place through a series of vignettes, and your fate depends on your conduct in each situation. There are five possible endings, and each story is quite brief.

Go play the game first, before you read any further. It won't take long, and I don't want to spoil anything for you.

Analysis: This is very similar to Daniel Benmergui's charming I Wish I Were the Moon, both in structure and graphical style. I found The Majesty of Colors more compelling, though, because its interface is more concrete and personal, and because its narration sets the scene so well. Plus I like giant be-tentacled monsters rargh rargh.

I found that each individual vignette was so well framed, I instinctively knew what I needed to do in order to succeed, whatever my moral compass decided success should be in that moment. The blocky, pixelated graphics are a strength here, rather than a mere style choice. By abstracting the artwork so much, Weir lets us project our own stories onto the characters. After I had already discovered all the endings, I found myself doing strange unscripted things, like dangling a shark in the air in front of a surely terrified child, or trying to hand out balloons to fishermen.

It would be interesting if more of these random interactions were supported in the game. Although it initially feels open-ended, The Majesty of Colors focuses on a narrow range of possibilities, and that means the experience is over too soon. Why can't I snatch sea gulls out of the sky? Why can't I drag myself over to the island and steal the beach towel? It's a small world, so let me explore it fully.

It's rare to play something with its roots in emotion, rather than mere atmosphere. I can relate to this game, because I once had a dream about vibrant colors that I would never see again. Because I've looked down upon the seething crowds of New York from a 40th-story window. Because I knew a girl who dreamed every night about a sea full of floating corpses. Because I've turned strangers into friends, and friends into strangers.

Play The Majesty of Colors


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Rating: 4.7/5 (113 votes)
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PsychotronicTetris FriendstYep, it's just Tetris. No physics model, no three dimensions, no subversion of the concept. Tetris Friends is the official Flash implementation of the greatest action puzzle game ever made, from The Tetris Company itself. And it's perfect. "Simple, fun, free," just like it says at the top of the screen.

This version of Tetris is very friendly indeed. Bright, clear visual and sound effects accompany your every move. The keyboard controls—wonder of wonders—are completely customizable. A three-tiered strategy guide and a basic history of the game are just a click away. The history is biased toward recent Tetris products, and tragically, it doesn't mention Atari's brilliant arcade version, but it's still a nice touch.

Oh, and there's a tousled little boy mascot who cries when you screw up, and cheers when you clear lines. And then occasionally, briefly, bafflingly, he goes Super Saiyan. All I can say is: he's no little Russian dancing guy.

Over the years, a few new features have polluted the purity of Alexey Pajitnov's original design, but they're mostly for the good. You can now see four tetriminos in the oncoming queue, which is perhaps too much information to be useful, but at least you'll know when a straight block is coming up. The popular "ghost block" will let you know exactly where a block will fall if you drop it, and if you're like me and you find the ghost block INCREDIBLY ANNOYING, you can turn it off. Finally, you can shift a piece into a holding box for later use, or as we say at my house, "cheat".

The best part for tetrexperts who get bored during the early slow levels is the bonus scoring options. Beyond the usual point boost you get for engineering a 4-line tetris or dropping tetriminos from the top of the screen, you get rewarded for performing a T-spin, or for clearing lines with consecutive blocks. Essentially, the cooler you are, the more points you get.

But what elevates this Tetris above all pretenders is the little necessities. How you can always rotate a tetrimino, even when it's shoved up against a wall. How you can still jockey a block around after it has already touched the floor (which is absolutely necessary after the terrifying jump in speed at level 10). How the randomization has been tweaked so that you never encounter long, stupid strings of Z-blocks. It's simply a pleasure to play Tetris when everything works the way it should.

Even if you think you're burnt out on Tetris for life, give Tetris Friends a try. You might just re-discover what once made this your favorite game in the world.

Play Tetris Friends

Note: The name comes from this implementation's original incarnation as a Facebook app, which you can play here, if you have an account. On Facebook, you can play Tetris Friends with a variety of different visual themes, background music, and scoring goals.

Thanks for recommending this one, Sebastian!


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (75 votes)
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PatrickI Made This, You Play This, We Are EnemiesFrom Jason Nelson, the deranged creator of Game Game Game and Again Game, and Alarmingly These Are Not Lovesick Zombies, comes I Made This, You Play This, We Are Enemies, a platformer wearing the Web's skin and laced with hidden passages. Those who have no stomach for cognitive dissonance will want to move on, but fans of Nelson's previous work will find a funny onion to bounce around in.

Controls are what you would expect to find in a platformer, use the [arrow] keys to move, press [space] to jump. Each level is a single room, with the goal to reach an invisible door in the opposite wall, usually with arrows guiding the journey. Your conventional exploration will be stymied by crazy things that make you purchase a farm and restart the room, not to mention visual and auditory noise that keeps you on your toes. The game has some hidden levels, so you will have to explore to find the true ending.

Analysis: "We Are Enemies" plays off the notion that game designers and players are at odds, and that games are about hardcore challenge. He short-circuits conventional challenge by allowing you infinite respawns, and then launches into a gleeful exploration of Web noise culture, with all the poignancy of a William Burroughs cut-up (which means as much as you want to make of it). The gameplay is simple but that's alright, this is an aesthetic adventure and not as mind-blowing as the first time around, but worth drumming up a few wry smiles. My favorite part was T. Boone Pickens holding a wad of bills.

Get down with your Enemy.

Play I Made This, You Play This, We Are Enemies


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Rating: 4.6/5 (358 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessGood news for those weary of spooky-to-downright-terrifying point-and-click adventures. Charger Escape, the newest release from Pastel Games, is not simply an excellent escape game... it is also one that features ponies! And farm animals! And kittens!! Must... refrain... from squealing...

Charger EscapeWith soft, beautiful art and a sweet story from Barbara Jarosik and programming by Mateusz Skutnik, Charger Escape is that rare game that manages to soothe and relax you even as it challenges your mind. There's a coziness about the locked barn in which you find yourself; everything looks clean and warm, especially in comparison to the night sky seen through the windows. The "Charger" in the game's title refers to the placid pony who occupies the barn's single stall; it will be the key to your escape, though in a most unexpected fashion. The game's interface is classic point-and-click, with nothing particularly new or exciting. It's worth noting, however, that I encountered exactly zero instances of pixel-hunting (yay!).

Charger Escape is not particularly difficult, nor is it very long. This does not mean, however, that it is not clever; the puzzles are well-executed and creative, even if they're not migraine-inducing. In the end, however, what really stuck out to me was the game's rich and whimsical environment. Most point-and-click games only "respond" if the player clicks on something directly relevant to the end goal of escaping; not so with Charger Escape. This game eschews such minimalism in favor of extensive interactivity. Click on the doves on the window, for example, and they coo and nestle together; bring your cursor near one of the horse's eyes and it will blink. Such small delights bring the already-charming game further to life!

Step into a softer world...

Play Charger Escape


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Rating: 4.7/5 (419 votes)
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JayMeeblingsMeeblings is a fun and quirky new action puzzle game from NinjaKiwi. If the title makes you think "Lemmings" then you're on the right track, but Meeblings is something different still. The objective is to get the target number of little Meeblings to any of the "Way Out" signs present in the level. Some levels have only one "way out", others have more.

To make things interesting, and to help you accomplish your task, you'll learn to activate the special powers of any Meeblings available. There are Herelings that attract other Meeblings; Therelings that push other Meeblings away; and Sizzlings that burn holes in things. And that's not all. You'll meet Gravlings, Treeblings, Zaplings, and Feeblings, which can't do anything at all.

Use the physical properties of each type of Meebling to your best advantage and guide as many Meeblings as you can to their goal. There are 50 levels in all.

Leave it to NinjaKiwi to come up with something wacky and original, and a whole lot of fun.

Play Meeblings


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Rating: 4.2/5 (78 votes)
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PsychotronicDownhill BowlingAsk a 5-year-old how to make bowling more awesome, and you might get a response like this: "Okay, it's like reg'lar bowling, okay? But it's on a volcano. And the ball is rolling down so fast it's on fire! And then the ball learns to fly! And then the ball gets really big and then it gets really little and then it rolls into a tree trunk and a raccoon throws it way up in the air! And the raccoon's brother rides the ball in the air because he can steer it because he is a smart raccoon. Shoot the ball out of a cannon! And that is how I would make bowling more awesome."

Sounds pretty fun, right? You bet your sweet bippy it does. But miraculously, that's exactly how Downhill Bowling plays. Every level starts you at the top of a mountain and lets you hurtle to the bottom, collecting strings of coins for points and toppling sets of pins arranged in traditional triangular formation. Steer left and right with the [arrow keys] and press [space] to use power-ups when you find them.

Downhill Bowling runs on the Unity browser plug-in, which you should already have if you played Off-Road Velociraptor Safari or anything else from the 2008 Unity Awards. If you don't have Unity yet, this is a great excuse to finally download it (the game will link you to it directly). So far, it's a better platform than Flash for great 3D games like this.

Analysis: Downhill bowling is an amazing concept, and GameResort has implemented it with style and whimsy. You get 10 well-designed levels with a solid assortment of alternate paths and challenging pick-ups. You get five checkbox achievements for each level, for added replay value. You can play for either the best score or the best time, and compete in the online leaderboards for each. It's great value for your money, and since this is a free game, that means infinite value and possibly eternal life.

Downhill Bowling plays well, but it would play even better if there were an option for mouse control. The binary on-off nature of the keyboard controls doesn't let you make fine adjustments easily, and downhill racing games like this are all about fine adjustments. I also had issues with the cannons, which can be aimed very precisely; but usually the target is so far away, it's borderline impossible to make an accurate shot. Plus, it's a 3D game, and occasionally the camera just flips out and buries itself in a mountainside.

Don't let any of that stop you from trying it, though. Downhill Bowling is pure fun, a game from a parallel universe where we all walk around on candy cane stilts and bowling is a cross between Mario Kart and cheese rolling. This is my advice for game designers: if you want to improve something, filter it through the mind of a 5-year-old, or remember how it felt to be one.

Play Downhill Bowling


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Rating: 4.4/5 (61 votes)
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author_ungo.pngUngo: Hola. My name is Ungo, and this is my best friend, Virop. We work for an interplanetary shipping company. Recently, we were to transport a special piece of cargo (more specifically, a talking doll), but got distracted along the way and crashed.

author_virop.pngEsklavos_card.pngVirop: The planet we crashed into was called Akea, and as we found out after getting separated, it was in a state of war. A band of creatures called the Uros were invading with superior numbers and superior technology. We could not avoid getting caught up in the events, but with our help, the Akean population managed to defeat the Uroz and restore peace to the planet.

Ungo: It was quite an adventure. I was chased around by several Uros, passed through an underwater gauntlet, and met an Akean woman who used a magic flute.

Virop: And I infiltrated the Uros' base, prepared a fine fish stew, and had more than one bad dream. It was an experience neither of us will forget anytime soon. It's such an impressive story it can't be told in one sitting. That's why the Esklavos folks broke it up into a seventeen-game series, plus one optional musical interlude for story background.

Or you can just go to the Esklavos home page and choose from there.

Analysis: The Esklavos series is lengthy, but every episode is worth playing. It's classic point-and-click puzzle solving with some other bells and whistles thrown in at times. The chapters are a bit short by themselves, but that's why there are seventeen of them.

The difficulty level is a bit high. Some of the logical steps aren't so logical (using earwax on a finger bone to lubricate a cart?), and it isn't always obvious what the solution to a problem is. Also, some puzzles literally cannot be solved without brute-forcing them, like the crystal arrangements in C9. A rule of thumb is to try everything that seems like it might work and even things that don't.

The point of redemption is the atmosphere. Esklavos tells a very suspenseful and exciting story, not to mention humorous at just the right moments, and you'll want to play each chapter to the end to see what happens next. Also, the backgrounds are photorealistic, and the voices and background sound are spot-on. The chapters were not all released at the same time; it's best to play them in order if you want to get the full impact.

The folks behind Esklavos are truly masters of their trade, forgiving a few flaws. Even though the series was originally written in Argentinian Spanish, English translations are available for the second chapter and on.

Ungo: Virop, I'm hungry. Can we go get some hamburgers?

Virop: Ungo, we just ate lunch half an hour ago!

Play Esklavos Chapter 1: The Crystal Cave


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Rating: 4.1/5 (29 votes)
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Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii

JohnBAlabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii is a new adventure game that builds inventory puzzles into a hidden object-style interface. You play the young Alabama Smith, an archaeology student who has just been given the opportunity to study in Naples. His mentor tells him of a mysterious amulet buried in the ruins of Pompeii that is rumored to grant the owner the ability to travel through time.

alabamasmith.jpgThe adventure begins in the university library with one seemingly not-so-simple goal in mind: find a long-lost hidden room. Surprisingly, a few clicks later you'll be staring down its dusty staircase and into a forgotten chamber. Making your way there is a simple matter of solving puzzles by finding items and either combining them in your inventory or using them directly on objects in the scene.

One key difference between Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii and most casual adventure titles is this game spells your tasks out on a list at the bottom of the screen. Instead of blindly fumbling for items and ways to combine them, all you have to do is check the window next to your inventory and try to accomplish the tasks listed, usually in order from top to bottom. While this does take some of the oomph out of the adventure, casual players will appreciate the light hand-holding.

An interesting option available early in the game (which can be toggled between levels) is the choice between Casual and Expert mode. Expert is more like a traditional adventure game where you look for items and figure out how to use them with the puzzles at hand. With Casual, however, you're presented a list of items to find (much like a hidden object game) along with additional in-game hints and the ability to skip mini-games. The choice is entirely up to you.

alabamasmith2.jpgAnalysis: Simply dropping the word "Pompeii" in a game's title will immediately conjure epic images in your mind. Alabama Smith had me from the title screen, and its simple combination of item puzzles and no-frills storytelling was just enough game to keep my attention the whole way through.

Here's where Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii starts to stand on shaky ground: puzzle construction. I mentioned earlier that your tasks are listed at the bottom of the screen. While unconventional for an adventure game, it's an acceptable solution to make the game more accessible to casual players. But even with things spelled out in front of you, you'll still have to resort to the hint system in order to get things done. This is purely because a handful of the game's puzzles make no logical sense.

Most adventure games (especially interactive fiction) relies on the player's ability to see a game world and extrapolate uses for the items provided in the scene. Alabama Smith encourages just the opposite, however, and wants you to stick to the list and keep your creative instincts to yourself. It feels a bit stifling to an old-school adventure gamer like myself, but I still found plenty of enjoyment in completing puzzles and working my way through the story.

Alabama Smith in Escape from Pompeii sets its sights high and wants to be listed amongst the best-known casual adventure games. Even though the story is interesting (if a tad contrived) and the game mechanics themselves easy to use, more logical puzzles and less reliance on lists would put the final level of polish on the title that would make it outshine most games of its genre. As it stands, however, you've still got a grand adventure.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.3/5 (28 votes)
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Parking Dash

JohnBWho would have thought parking cars could be turned into a casual game? Parking Dash, following in the long footsteps of other time management games such as Diner Dash, Wedding Dash, Cooking Dash, etc., twists the genre's formula around a bit to park the game at a safe distance from Cloneville. The end result reminds me somewhat of Airport Mania — a breath of fresh air that breaks the mold in all the right places.

parkingdash.jpgYou play the role of Karma, a young woman who inherits a parking garage situated behind Flo's Diner. Needing a bit of cash, Karma decides to become the sole valet attendant of the space, parking cars and entertaining customers to earn bigger and better tips.

The core of the game is simple: park cars when a client brings one in, give it back when he or she returns. Simply click on people when they appear, then click on their car when it drives up at the bottom of the screen. Next, choose a spot to park the car, keeping in mind that cars situated against the wall will be blocked in if you park something behind it. Above each person's head is a clock that lets you know when he or she will come back, so be sure to put cars with a quick turnaround in an easy-to-reach place.

Story mode progresses as most games of this ilk do, with increasingly challenging levels that feature more impatient clients entering at a faster pace, more cars to park, and less time to deal with it all. The number of parking spaces available increases as each stage progresses, even to the point of adding lifts that can hold a car in mid-air! Basic upgrades are available between levels that help keep customers patient or makes the cars move faster.

In later levels you'll come across interesting and almost whimsical clients who have special needs or bring in cars that take up more than one space. Limousine and hummer drivers deposit vehicles that cover two spots, for example, and some customers will need preferential treatment in order to stay happy (and tip well).

parkingdash2.jpgAnalysis: Normally, games with "Dash" in their title (or "Mania", for that matter) turn me away with their decidedly unoriginal names. If a game can't bother to have an exciting title, why would I expect its content to be exciting? Parking Dash broke that stereotype, however, and managed to slide itself under my radar with its slightly different approach to the genre. The game blends the conventions of time management sims at almost every turn, creating a captivating experience I found I kept wanting to come back to.

There are around 50 levels in all, plenty to keep you occupied with the ins and outs of running a small valet service. With the variety of upgrades, car types and other small chores, there's enough content here for several multi-hour sessions. And the way Parking Dash is built, you won't have any frustrated gaming sessions, just smooth and delicious parking bliss.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBDid you know that the original meaning of the word "weekend" referred to the time from noon Saturday to Monday morning? Did you also know the word "download" seems to have originated in 1980? AND, did you know I spent a little too much time reading about the etymology of these words?

meritous.gifMeritous (Windows, 3MB, free) - A very simple but wholly addictive exploration-based role playing game with strong action/arcade leanings. Shuffle through rooms in the dungeon dispatching enemies with your chargeable psychic powers. When they die, grab the crystals and use them to upgrade your stats. And of course there are treasures to be found and bosses to be fought. The color of the rooms indicates how much danger you're in, and depending on the type of music humming in the background you can tell what part of the map you're in. Highly recommended.

marathon.gifMarathon Trilogy (Mac/Windows/Linux, various, free) - The spiritual predecessor of the Halo series, Marathon: Aleph One, Marathon: Durandal, and Marathon: Infinity are first person shooters created by Bungie and originally released in the mid 90s. Now all three games are available free as open source projects. You take the role of a security officer aboard an enormous starship in the year 2794. Defend the crew from a race of alien slavers and slowly uncover the corruption amongst the humans you once trusted. Don't expect top-notch visuals or modern play control, but do expect a story-driven experience and a surprisingly deep atmosphere. Note: To play the games, download an episode along with Aleph One for your OS. When both are unpacked, copy Aleph One into the appropriate Marathon folder and you're good to go.

verge.gifVerge (Windows, 7MB, free) - A 2D platformer created by the developer of Bonesaw for the TIGSource Commonplace Book competition. Take control over the unnamed protagonist who must travel between two worlds in order to solve simple puzzles. Impassable blocks in your way? All you have to do is die — that's right, go step on some spikes, Karoshi style — and you'll be transported to the flipped underworld where you'll likely find a way to get through. But be careful, as enemies in this dark realm will attach to you and steal your energy, so make your trip through the underworld a short one.

cosmicinvaders.gifCosmic Invaders (updated version) (Windows, <1MB, free) - If Space Invaders were a tower defense game, it would be Cosmic Invaders. Buy and deploy one of several types of turrets at the bottom of the screen. As the aliens descend from above, they fire and destroy as many of the buggers as they can. Spend the cash you earn to repair and upgrade turrets whenever you have a spare second.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (81 votes)
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Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox

JohnBHungry for a great-looking adventure/puzzle game? Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox is your greasy bag of delicious potato chips. Which... is a good thing! A follow-up to the original Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor, this installment features a wonderfully imaginative visual presentation that fits snugly on top of a puzzle-centric hidden object/adventure body.

mortimerbecketttime.jpgA time portal in Mortimer's uncle's house has opened, allowing modern-day objects to pass through to locations across the globe and throughout history. As the wide-eyed hero, it's your job to travel back and gather the items to set things right. Making matters more difficult, items that passed through the portals have been split into pieces, so instead of hunting for whole objects, you have to find shards and piece them together. Uncle Jerome's Time Bomb was also lost to the portals, so you'll need to find and assemble those pieces so you can close the portals once and for all.

The game is divided into areas that are situated on a series of small rendered maps. Within each time period you can travel between these scenes, solving puzzles and collecting items as you go along. There are eight settings in all, ranging from the "ordinary" (a pub filled with vikings) to the strange (Big Ben in the Nile River?!). The overworld maps lets you see at a glance how many items are left to find and how many puzzles still need to be solved. Once you complete them all, you'll gain access to the portal and move on to a new area.

The puzzles are what make Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox so interesting to play. Certain hotspots in each scene make the cursor turn into a set of moving gears, alerting you that one of the items you piece together fits here. For example, in the first area you'll eventually put together a group of pigs which, naturally, fits with the lone pig standing in one of the scenes. Not every puzzle is this logical, but because each item only works with one puzzle, you won't have a rough time completing them all.

mortimerbecketttime2.jpgAnalysis: Cheery, whimsical, and a bit campy from time to time. Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox is a light-hearted adventure game that doesn't take itself too seriously. The hidden object aspect is watered-down enough so anyone will enjoy it, and the puzzles are just tough enough to make you think for a second. Couple that with no time clock and no penalty for mis-clicks and you have the makings of a "kick back and relax" casual adventure game.

On the less cheery side, Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox often defaults to blind luck when it comes to finding items. Locating full objects would be challenging enough on its own, but when you don't even know the shape of what you're seeking, it becomes a frustrating matter of pixel scrutinizing. Looking for a piece of the wood pile in your inventory? Scan for brownish things. Half the time those brownish things are mostly concealed by other scenery, which leads to even more frustration. Fortunately the in-game hint system is unlimited and refills in just a few seconds, so you'll probably be using it every time it becomes available.

Despite missing the mark on how to hide objects. Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox delivers a great casual puzzle adventure experience.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (15) | Views (2)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnB(The following paragraph was created using a random paragraph generator. Seriously!) Link Dump Friday noses throughout a physic electron. A carrot reflects Link Dump Friday under the wound. Link Dump Friday sweeps behind the obnoxious comedy. The tax courses an encouraged pot within this joke. How can games caution within Link Dump Friday?

  • icon_squigglesquid.gifSquiggle Squid - A simple but charming arcade-style game where you play a squid dashing around under the ocean collecting plankton. The squid follows your cursor and can dash with a quick click of the mouse button. Each time he dashes he lets loose a cloud of ink that collects plankton caught in the fog. The farther away the cursor, the bigger the cloud.
  • icon_superamazingtigerboy.gifSuper Amazing Tiger Boy - Well, looks like aliens are invading earth. As a really rather amazing tiger boy that can fly, it's obviously your job to take care of the situation. This somewhat slow-paced shooter has a great cartoonish look and feel, and the power-ups you collect and unleash are fun to watch.
  • icon_drawmything.gifDraw My Thing - Multiplayer online pictionary! Gather in a chat room with a group of people and you all take turns drawing and guessing what's being drawn. Get two points for right answers, one point for drawing and having someone guess your picture.
  • icon_jigcircle.gifJigCircle - Like a jigsaw puzzle, only with circular pieces instead of the usual cut-out shapes. This takes away piece hunting and a lot of trial-and-error and allows you to focus on completing the picture at hand.
  • icon_aquaturret.gifAqua Turret - Waves of enemy ships attack a lone turret in the middle of the sea. Using a dual-barreled attack along with a surprisingly fun charge shot, help the turret defend itself against the baddies and upgrade to more/better weapons between waves.
  • icon_SX150X002.gifSX150X002 - A non-interactive movie (of sorts) created by Yoshio Ishii of Nekogames, author of the Hoshi Saga series. Sit and stare at the undulating bubbles, rolling colors, and constantly throbbing background ambience. Is this what it's like to drink soda and eat pop rocks at the same time?!

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (240 votes)
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PsychotronicFat CatBeen wondering what Nitrome creative duo Simon Hunter and Aaron Steed have been up to since the release of Final Ninja? Well, here's your answer. They've been very busy being amazing, and Fat Cat is the strange hybrid product of their amazingitude. It wears the face of an exacting bullet-fest such as The Last Canopy or Pararalyzer, but underneath, its heart pumps the blood of a tightly choreographed puzzle game. I've never seen anything quite like it.

You control two characters simultaneously. First is the titular Fat Cat, a sanguine purple feline blimp who moves slowly and explodes if he gets hit three times by enemies or bullets. Your goal is to keep him alive through 21 levels, including 3 boss fights and a truly astounding volume of cannon fodder enemies. His lone attack is a doozy—a screen-devouring burp-powered laser that crushes certain wall tiles and shreds even the toughest enemy battleships. The catch is that the laser is fueled by food pick-ups, which tend to appear only just before they are needed. Steer the cat's lazy lard butt with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, and fire the mega-laser-burp with [space].

The second character is an indestructible, multi-talented, and well-armed blue guardian owl. Control this one with the mouse, and fire an unlimited barrage of fireballs by holding the mouse button. The owl does nearly all of the heavy lifting in Fat Cat, with the power to block projectiles, drag around movable blocks, flip mirrors to redirect lasers, press special buttons that activate power-ups, and even drag the fat cat around bodily when his natural flight speed proves too pokey.

The difficulty level is fairly high, due to both the slim margin for errors, and the challenge of controlling a warrior with each hand. If you're having trouble, consider playing Fat Cat with a friend. The cat and the owl rely on each other to solve problems, but they act separately, making this one of the most interesting cooperative games around.

Analysis: Fat Cat is a searing indictment of the United States government's recent decision to bail out multiple failing corporations with federal tax money. The "fat cat" of the title represents the irresponsible CEOs who have reacted to the growing US financial crunch by taking expensive spa vacations and flying private jets to Washington in order to grovel for more hand-outs, so they can continue their game of high-stakes blackjack at taxpayer expense. The fat cat's little owl guardian is, of course, the analogue of the federal "wise owls" who continue to support a planned economy, even when its structure is crumbling in front of them. Thus Nitrome casts you as the villains in an allegorical quest about greed and the inevitability of corruption.

Kidding! None of that is remotely true. Fat Cat is literally about a big fat flying cat and his magical owl buddy. There is no sub-text whatsoever.

Fat CatAnyhoooo, the dual-character gameplay really makes this game something special. Because of the owl's unrestricted mobility, and its ability to block 90% of enemy projectiles, you'll rarely have to do any dodging. It won't hurt to have some shoot-'em-up twitch skills, but if you find yourself actually weaving through bullet patterns, manic shooter-style, you've probably screwed something up.

Almost every problem in the game can be solved through the joint deployment of brainpower and firepower, which puts Fat Cat in that most rarefied genre: the puzzle shooter. In the tradition of the grand old thoughtful shooters like R-Type, your success relies on level memorization and understanding your arsenal of abilities, both defensive and offensive.

Now, that may not be to everyone's taste. Some of the levels can feel quite long, especially when a particularly tricky and deadly challenge sends you back to the beginning before you've even had a chance to consider the solution. But what will keep you clicking on "try again" is the sheer cleverness of it all. You get to crush whole armies with big flying blocks. You get to charge up with napalm and carve a fiery path through a sea of techno-organic baddies. You get to fry enemies with their own lasers and outmaneuver homing bees. Homing bees! It's like a dream come true.

It also doesn't hurt that Fat Cat's graphics are some of the finest pixel work around, with huge, complicated cities scrolling by in multiple background layers. It's a happier, blockier-looking game than either Final Ninja or Dirk Valentine, but no less incredible.

I can't wait to see what these guys come up with next.

Play Fat Cat


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Weekday Escape

JessWe've had a good chunk of undeniably spooky stuff featured recently on Weekday Escape: monsters in basements, ghosts flitting about haunted mansions, trap-laden cells to flee from... a whole collection of classic horror-movie standards. Compared to this week's offering, however, all the aforementioned are about as "scary" as a gaggle of baby bunnies, all in their Sunday best, enjoying a tea party.

Hotel626Hotel 626, an advergame created to promote Doritos snacks, is an amazingly innovative, beautifully-produced nightmare of a game. After "checking in" (giving the website your name, email and creating a password), you are immediately whisked away into the opening movie: your awakening, in the middle of the night, in your room at this hellish hotel. Strange noises echo in the distance. Your breath quickens, your heart pounds, and some animal instinct screams that you need to get out. You throw on your shirt, dash into the hallway, and then the real game begins.

The journey through the hotel is comprised of ten levels, each of which involves its own creepy, unique task or puzzle. Some are extremely simple: locating the correct door, for example. Others involve more complex undertakings, such as figuring out a code or snapping a picture of a ghost's face. None, to be honest, are objectively very difficult or intellectually taxing. What you're really playing against is your own adrenaline, and the knowledge that if you mess up/take too long you're bound to meet a rather unfortunate end. And that, really, can be far tougher to overcome than any MENSA riddle. Luckily, if you do fail and die, the hotel is magnanimous to offer you the chance to either try it again or move on to the next level.

One impressive measure of the game's creativity is the lengths that it goes to create a sense of immersion in the scenario. At the beginning, while registering, you are given the option to allow access to your computer's webcam and microphone; if you do so, both those elements will be used in later levels. Also, near the end of the game, players in the United States can enter their phone numbers and receive a kah-reepy call from a "friend." Finally, as the name of the game implies, the Hotel is only "open" (accessible) from 6 PM to 6 AM, the better to set the spooky stage. However, for those of us who are impatient (me) or too chicken to play the game in the dark (also me), you can easily cheat by changing the time on your computer.

Of all the unanswered questions posed by this enigmatic hotel, perhaps the greatest mystery of all is how any of this relates in the slightest to Doritos (least relevant piece of viral advertising ever?). Still...I don't really care. Hotel 626 is superb, with wonderful visuals and audio, and manages to approximate the fear of such a situation (so far as I can imagine) better than any other online game I've come across. Heck, if it'll encourage them to make more of these, I'll go out and buy a bag of fake-cheddar-cheese-flavored corn chips right now!

If you're brave enough, your room is ready...

Update: Doritos has taken both this and Asylum 626 offline and they are no longer available to play, unfortunately. Previously tagged as: advergame, browser, escape, flash, free, game, horror, macwinlinux, pointandclick, puzzle, rating-o


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Rating: 4.4/5 (22 votes)
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10 Gnomes #11

KarmenOn the first day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the second day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the third day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the fourth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the fifth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the sixth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the seventh day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see seven next to statues, six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the eighth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see eight gnomes-a-hiding, seven next to statues, six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the ninth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see nine faces peeking, eight gnomes-a-hiding, seven next to statues, six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the tenth day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see ten gnomes altogether, nine faces peeking, eight gnomes-a-hiding, seven next to statues, six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats and a small gnome in a stone niche.

On the eleventh day of 10 Gnomes, I looked and tried to see eleven creatures staring, ten gnomes altogether, nine faces peeking, eight gnomes-a-hiding, seven next to statues, six in pajamas, five pearl-white beards, four on a roof, three other gnomes, two pale hats, and a small gnome in a stone niche.

Well, the twelfth day of 10 Gnomes hasn't happened yet. So we're waiting for the twelfth game, with eleven chapters waiting, ten gnomes altogether, fa-la la-la-la-la-la.

It's sad to see Mateusz Skutnik's delightful hidden object series coming to an end. (Unlike this butchering of Christmas merriment, which, I promise, has stopped.) This penultimate installment of 10 Gnomes, titled "The Remains" takes place along a quiet village street, and might be one of the most charming and challenging yet. Can you find all the gnomes? Try for it yourself!

Play 10 Gnomes #11

Or, go and replay all the 10 Gnomes games.

Cheers to Jamie for suggesting this one and thanks to Roland and Stacey for helping write the lyrics! =)


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Rating: 4.7/5 (74 votes)
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MDenDoomYou kids these days with your Halos and your Gear Wars and your Half Lifes... you don't appreciate what we had to work with! Back in my day, we didn't have no fancy-schmancy high-end graphics in our shooters! No complex storylines, neither. We didn't even have a jump! You know what we had? We had Doom.

Doom was a simple game. You were stuck on Mars. You had to get unstuck from Mars. And between stuck and unstuck was a buncha monsters that wanted to kill you. So you got a bunch of guns and killed the monsters. None of this ninety-minute cutscene junk. You get to the end of the level, you maybe get a bit of text saying what's next, and you move on.

No mouse controls, neither. [WASD] to move, [Q] and [E] to strafe, [R] to open doors and use switches, number keys to switch weapons, and the space bar to shoot.

What? What was that? Why bother with a game that's 15 years old? Because it popularized the whole first person shooter genre! And at its core, it's one of the greatest of all time: undiluted by extras, a pure shooter at its core. In here, you'll find the foundations for modern FPS games, what inspired Bungie, Epic, and Valve.

To play this online Flash version, you'll need Adobe Flash Player 10. Compiled into Actionscript from the original Doom source. Sorry, the game is not compatible with PowerPC Macs.

So pay some respect to your elders! Don't make me go find the BFG 9000.

Play Doom


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Rating: 4.6/5 (139 votes)
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PsychotronicDangeresque Roomisode 1Dangeresque Roomisode 1: Behind the Dangerdesque is a short and sweet old-fashioned adventure game from Videlectrix, the faux video game company of the animated Homestar Runner universe. For the Homestar un-hip, "Dangeresque" is the hard-boiled detective alter-ego of Strong Bad, who is the lead narrator and practical jokester at homestarrunner.com. Dangeresque is so totally awesome, he wears mirror shades over his wrestling mask and wields a magnum with nunchucks taped to it. That's how totally awesome he is.

This is the first of hopefully many Dangeresque "Roomisodes", which just means that the entire episode takes place in a single room. Strong Bad/Dangeresque must solve a murder case from the confines of his office, because the chief thinks the case was solved months ago and his lazy detective just hasn't bothered to do the paperwork yet. How can Strong Bad provide physical evidence from a crime scene without leaving his office? That's where you come in, gentle readerplayer.

Dangeresque plays like a standard side-view adventure game, such as Ben There, Dan That. Move Strong Bad with [WASD]. Click on interesting objects with the mouse, and then talk to, examine, or use them by clicking on the appropriate icon. The game is non-linear, with three separate problems that can be tackled in any order, and the solutions require a pleasing mixture of playful experimentation and lateral thinking. The main attraction here, as with any Videlectrix game, is the surreal witticisms, so it's fun to exhaust all the interaction possibilities.

This is a very short game, but it exhibits the quality, humor, and good-natured spirit that we expect from Homestar Runner and the Chapman brothers. If you like this, you might also be interested in the downloadable Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People from Telltale Games, which has just reached its own Dangeresque-themed episode.

Play Dangeresque Roomisode 1: Behind the Dangerdesque

Cheers to Megawolf, Judacris, Peter and Demon for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.5/5 (413 votes)
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JayReemus Journeys Chapter TwoSeems everyone wants to release a new chapter in their ongoing series of games before Christmas. Next up: Zeebarf with the second chapter in his Several Journeys of Reemus series.

The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 2, subtitled "The All-Knowing Parasite", continues (as you may have expected) right where chapter one leaves off: a botched escape from the hatching death slugs that are slowly creeping their way across the land, annihilating everything in their path. Reemus and his trusty sidekick, Liam, are falling, falling down...

They land in a barn and continue their odd, twisted journey to save the land of the plague, and (hopefully) earn the hand of the King's daughter in marriage.

Analysis: Zeebarf is a fantastic animator and he uses his talents to tell an imaginative story full of interesting characters and fantastic situations. You will be entertained (and perhaps a little grossed out, too). The puzzles are not too difficult, but wacky enough to keep you from just breezing through the game.

Enjoy this next chapter, and see what a mess Reemus and Liam get themselves into now.

Play The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 2

Cheers to Calvin and James for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.6/5 (439 votes)
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author_david.gifTrapped Pt.3 The LabyrinthHere's what you need to know. My name is David Green; I'm a pianist by trade. But recently I've been caught up in a bizarre chain of events regarding myself and my wife, Becca, involving an enigmatic house—eighteen years in the past—which I just can't seem to escape from.

You know of me thanks to Rabbit Tell's Rodrigo Roesler. I've already told the first two parts of my story (otherwise known as the Trapped series) in Part 1: The White Rabbit and Part 2: The Dark. The trilogy is very plot-heavy, as most trilogies are, so trying to play the games in any order besides what the numbers suggests is ill-advised.

As Trapped Pt. 3: The Labyrinth begins, I have just killed a man—please don't ask about the details—and I can finally leave the house. Things have gotten even stranger now, however. The house has mysteriously rearranged itself, and the doors of the house take me to different rooms depending on what key I use to open them. Armed with only an enigmatic text called "The Map," a lighter, a bloody knife, an undead frog I recently resurrected Frankenstein-style, and the front door key, I have to solve the final mysteries of this house and escape once and for all.

Play all the games in the Trapped series:
Trapped: The White RabbitTrapped: The DarkTrapped: The Labyrinth

Rabbit Tell has ditched its trademark isometric style in favor of a more classic environment. Basic play is still the same, however: click on objects to check them out, use items on other items in slightly unorthodox ways (I bet you've never used a candy tin, a bag of crap, and a melted toy cannon to copy a key before), figure everything out and escape.

Analysis: Rodrigo made a brave move in switching away from his trademark isometric style. The switch seems to have been necessary in order to make a few puzzles flow correctly, and although fans of older adventure games will appreciate the new style, others may be confused or discouraged by the switch.

Some of the puzzles are also a bit non-intuitive. While I agree that I would probably never have thought of some of those solutions without peeking at a walkthrough, that sort of thing is perfectly normal for Rabbit Tell, so I won't dwell on it.

Overall, nothing feels stale, and The Labyrinth fits in almost perfectly with the rest of the series.

Now, what's this?! A clue... "On three separate occasions he searched for the truth, and every time he left with a souvenir of his adventures that he might have overlooked. Somehow they stayed with him from journey to journey; they were of no use by themselves, but when he took the three of them together, he found that there were much deeper secrets to be found..." What could that mean?

Play Trapped Pt. 3: The Labyrinth

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