January 2009 Archives


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (58 votes)
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Weekend Download

JohnBRetro RPG fans, perk up your ears: Laxius Force is your latest old-school fix. Inspired by classic 16-bit role playing games, Laxius Force boasts 17 playable characters, multiple storylines that gradually weave together an intriguing plot, and original artwork and music. All while battling countless foes, earning experience, and equipping your party with powerful weapons and armor.

laxiusforce.jpgLaxius Force is largely linear in nature, though like any RPG there are numerous side quests and optional adventures you can embark upon to earn extra items, experience, and gold. Or you can head out just for the fun of exploration! Battles are turn-based and take place from your party's point of view. Use the menu system to choose actions, then sit back and watch the fighting ensue. Random battles are mostly absent from Laxius Force, as you can usually see enemies before you engage them. There are some areas where your foes can hide, however, so don't be too surprised if you're forced into a fight here and there. Besides, what's an RPG without combat?!

Once you get a few characters together you'll need to do some party management to keep things flowing smoothly. Each character has his or her own set of skills on the field of battle, so forming a party requires a bit of thinking. Only active members gain experience from combat, so be sure to switch people out from time to time so no one falls too far behind.

Analysis: I'll have to admit it right from the start: part of the reason I enjoy Laxius Force is due to my love of Super Nintendo-era RPGs. The tiled graphics, the slightly cheesy plots, the menu-based combat and the raw challenge of felling massive foes are a part of my blood. That being said, Laxius Force does a great job of evoking that mid-90s feeling without bringing back the pitfalls that haunt me to this day (level grinding, cheap enemies, etc.). It's new age retro, if you will, and I really couldn't ask for more than that.

laxiusforce2.jpgIn terms of challenge, Laxius Force hits the middle of the mark. Cheap deaths aren't too much of a problem, though you'll have to do some light leveling and/or smart battling in order to survive early portions of the game. Bosses can be tricky and won't simply fall to your blind attacks, forcing you to watch, learn, and adapt your strategy with each one.

Laxius Force isn't without its flaws, however, and if your vision isn't clouded by those rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, they may stand out more than you would like. A big part of any role playing game is the dialogue. You spend a lot of time talking to characters and reading text boxes, so naturally having a skilled pen behind the scenes is an important facet. While the story and characters are interesting in Laxius Force, the developer's native tongue isn't English, and this shows through in the occasional awkward paragraph or slightly confusing sentence structure. Nothing you can't overlook, of course, but it does detract from the experience a bit.

One curious exclusion from the game is the lack of a way to flee from combat. If you can't avoid an enemy outright, you're forced to fight, so you'd better be ready to win. If your party is defeated you'll restart from the last town or dungeon entrance at the price of 10% of your gold. Not too bad, considering how most role playing games simply reload your last save.

Fans of other indie RPGs such as the Aveyond series will feel right at home in Laxius Force. Keep in mind, however, that these games aren't aimed at a casual audience, per se, though their pick-up-and-play value is still quite strong.

A good looking, lengthy (30 or so hours of gameplay) and delightfully retro role playing game that will please just about any RPG buff out there. There are some minor quirks in the dialogue and battle system, but otherwise it's smooth adventuring.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Laxius Force is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's a weekend of power-hitting downloads! *shock and awe* Four huge games lurk below, each bearing the hopes and dreams of a different set of gamers on its respective creative shoulders. It's enough to make a grown gamer cry. *sniffle*

walkietonky.jpgWalkie Tonky (Windows, 16MB, free) - A prototype demo for a game currently under development, Walkie Tonky is a physics-based action game where you play a giant robot invading Earth. Kick, smash and pummel your way forward using the mouse buttons to punch your way through attacking vehicles. Use the [up] and [down] arrow keys to grow larger or smaller to avoid enemies and get a better grip on ground-based rubble. Excellent visual package and a very engaging concept show real promise in this work-in-progress game!

tagpowerofpaint.gifTag: The Power of Paint (Windows, 60MB, free) - A first-person puzzle platformer that gives you an amazing ability: the power to paint. The grayscale world around you is quite bland, but load up a paint can in your gun and suddenly everything comes alive. Paint some green on the floor, for example, walk across it and like magic, you jump! Soon you start to see colors not as decoration but as functions, making Tag an absolutely mind-bending experience.

puzzlequestgalactrix.jpgPuzzle Quest: Galactrix (Mac [Flash version only]/Windows, demo, free) - Asking someone if they like Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is like asking "Do you like breathing air?". The creators of the hyper-addictive RPG/puzzle hybrid are getting ready to unleash another game this February on a number of platforms (PC, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, Nintendo DS). Puzzle Quest: Galactrix features the same style of tile-swapping, level-upping, magic-unleashing gameplay we're used to, only now it takes place in a sci-fi environment! A brief demo is available to give you a taste of the gameplay. You can also try the free Flash demo for a pared-down, less attractive version of the same.

legendofprincess.gifLegend of Princess (Windows, 10MB, free) - Ever wondered what would happen if a Legend of Zelda game fell in love, got married, and had a beautiful child with, say Contra III? Imagine no longer, as Konjak, creator of Noitu Love 2, has released a short, one level "created just for fun" game that puts you in that role! Fight your way through gorgeously drawn sidescrolling stages as a hero who looks conspicuously like Link and fights enemies conspicuously like those found in the Zelda series using weapons such as boomerangs. It's a little bit of awesome! (Note: Look for the "Download it HERE" text to grab the file.)


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (40 votes)
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Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

JohnBBased on the Defoe classic, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is a game that straddles the now-familiar gap between hidden object and adventure genres. Young Robinson Crusoe was born to a merchant in the mid 1600s, but his heart belonged to the sea. After years of traveling the oceans, a storm ravages his vessel, stranding him on a deserted beach. His ship seems mostly intact, so Crusoe boards it in the hopes of finding food, supplies, and any surviving shipmates. It's your job to help the boy stay alive and repair the ship so he can find his way home.

robinsoncrusoe.jpgGameplay consists of the standard list of items alongside scenes filled with objects, your lone cursor tasked with hunting down the missing items. There are also a number of mini-games to be found (many of which can be skipped) along with some light inventory puzzles. Some scenes begin with a surprisingly fun "generic" item hunt where you are given goals such as "find all the mousetraps" or "locate 15 starfish". For some reason this out-of-the-norm thinking really livened up the game.

Each scene contains a number of sparkling hotspots that represent puzzles to be solved (which usually relate to blue items in your list) or sub-scenes you can explore. The first of these puzzles requests you find a "black seagull", though the only seagull on the screen is white. The solution? Grab a stick leaning against the ship, rub it inside the cannon to cover it in powder, then use it on the seagull to turn it black. Most inventory puzzles aren't as creative, but this one really sets the tone to get your mind wandering in later levels.

One nice inclusion in this game is the ability to play in one of two modes: Relaxed or Survivor. The former offers time-unlimited play and supplies you with ten hints to help you find those impossible items. Survivor mode cuts the hint roster down and times your game, but it really doesn't add to the challenge that much. Stick with Relaxed unless you really want to race against the clock.

robinsoncrusoe2.jpgAnalysis: When you base your casual game on a classic tale, you'd better get at least two things right: story, and atmosphere. Adventures of Robinson Crusoe happens to do just that, providing ample audio and visual appeal while delivering a rather faithful interpretation of the Defoe novel that will delight fans of the book without alienating anyone who hasn't read it.

On the down side of things, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is a rather short game, consisting of six chapters that will take you just over half as many hours to complete. The locations are varied, including a forest, temple, swamp and more, but you'll blaze through at such a speed you'll barely have time to take in the scenery.

A great story, engaging puzzles, and a delicious setting, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe delivers a superb hidden object experience.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Link Dump Fridays

PsychotronicWith a nearby volcano threatening my loved ones, I thought it might be a good time to let off some steam. This week's Bonus Link Dump is all about shoot shooty shoot bang thwa-bam! Use of your mind is discouraged, but your lizard brain may come in handy.

  • icon_smubr.gifSuper Mega Ultra Battle Robot - Despite the name, Super Mega Ultra Battle Robot is pretty laid-back and groovy, at least until one of the gigantic bosses shows up. Lots of different weapons and toys to play with here, including a sword and a mega-ultra time shield that slows down bullets.
  • icon_mechanicalcommando.gifMechanical Commando - So. Fast. Paced. It may get a little repetitive, but this overhead shooter piles on the explosions. Big rooms full of turrets and giant mechanical bosses break things up, and there's even a story! Not, like, a story that you'll be stealing for your creative writing class, but it's nice to know the explosions have meaning.
  • icon_virus.gifVirus - Not only do you have to stop the viruses from reaching the bottom of the screen, you have to beat back the hexagonal mesh-work they leave behind. You get a choice of three different ways to use your bombs (using the number keys 1 to 3), and you'll need to figure out the best situation for each. Nice vector graphics.
  • icon_melbius.gifMelbius - A colorful side-scroller that would have fit snugly onto the Mega Drive in 1991. It's also quite hard—one hit from any of the dozens of moving objects on-screen will kill you, you cute little bird-thing. Switch between four different weapons, and don't forget to pace your shooting to keep your gun charged up. Scroll down the page to find the game, right above the keyboard reference.
  • icon_b29assault.gifB29 Assault - Fight your way up through the city, kill a boss, and then fly straight back down and kill another. Collect power-ups for stronger weapons. It's standard vertical shooter time! There's some simple gesture-based weapons to spice things up, though, and the long life bar means you can play this one without slamming an energy drink prior.


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThis week's Link Dump Friday is infested with puzzle mites! Yes, the rare puzzle mite, a creature so small, so insidious, only I know it exists. Puzzle mites like to crawl under keyboards and infest internet circuits, turning ordinary games into puzzle games! No one is safe from their wrath. Not me. Not you. Not your pet kitty. FEAR THEM!!!

  • icon_gravitat.gifGravitat - What would be a simple matching puzzle game is made better by one tiny mechanic: rotating gravity. Click to drop blocks on the screen with the goal of lining up three or more in a row. After each drop, however, the playing field rotates 90 degrees, forcing you to think several moves ahead in order to stay out of trouble.
  • icon_sirtet.gifSirtet - A parody of sorts of Tetris (Sirtet is Tetris spelled backwards, you see) where you can only make tetrads, matches of four shapes. Place five or more together and they turn into immovable blocks. Which is bad.
  • icon_xor.gifXor - A simple logic puzzle where your goal is to eliminate all of the colored blocks from the screen. Place the cursor over a set of blocks (rotate with the mouse wheel) and click to fill empty spaces with pieces while eliminating existing shapes. Try and plan your moves so the last click clears the board! Tons of levels make this one a big winner.
  • icon_rollercoastercreator.gifRollercoaster Creator - Built around a Line Rider-esque concept, Rollercoaster Creator is a creativity-based puzzle game where you draw and assemble rollercoasters designed to collect coins and transport the riders to the goal safely.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (309 votes)
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JessBars of Black and WhiteNew from Gregory Weir, eternally inventive creator of The Majesty of Colors, comes the enigmatic and unsettling Bars of Black and White. It is an escape game, but the point is not to escape the room; it is a social commentary—or maybe it's really just an exploration of one person's mind? The possible interpretations are endless, which is assuredly what Weir intended. One thing is certain, however: you'll leave the game with far more questions than answers.

You begin on your couch in your apartment. Everything initially looks normal enough, though you're a bit confused…when was the last time you went out? You can't even remember. Soon, with the arrival of a very special device, the true surreal nature of your situation becomes apparent. I think that this is definitely a game best played with as few preconceived notions as possible, so while I'd love to expound upon my own ideas of what the game represents, I'll let you develop your own.

Gameplay is simple and intuitive point-and-click, with only a couple of items to collect and one or two fairly easy puzzles. The simple but not sloppy line drawing-type graphics perfectly enhance the game's mood; they hover on the boundary of the real and the imagined, much like the game's protagonist. Weir has done everything right, and Bars of Black and White is truly compelling and emotionally evocative.

Time to escape...but into what?

Play Bars of Black and White


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JayBest of Casual Gameplay 2008After much deliberation and discussion for our largest annual "Best of the Year" feature yet, we have just published the results of the audience voting, along with our own picks that will serve to represent this year's "Best".

Update: A separate "Audience Award" appears above the voting results for each category.

You will notice that we deviated from the popular vote several times. We wanted to be sure some notable titles received the recognition and praise that we feel they deserve. Some games may have been at a disadvantage, due to their authors not having popular websites to help promote the voting, and the results showed a definite skewing in some areas that we attributed to this phenomenon.

Regardless of whether you agree with us, we are sure you will find much to celebrate among the excellent games represented within. Thank you again for participating in the Best of 2008 (we received more than 40,000 votes this year!), and here's to another year of great casual games!

Let's see the results!

Here is a handy list to the results pages for each of the categories:




  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (178 votes)
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PsychotronicPerfect BalanceFlash developer ttursas has already made a couple of games inspired by Super Stacker and 99 Bricks (which are, in turn, very similar to ngmoco's iPhone game Topple). While the physics engine ttursas has been using seems very solid and reliable, with none of the bounciness of similar games, they were still just regular old free-form stacking challenges without much personality. That changes with Perfect Balance, a game so confident in its influence, it constantly reminds you to breathe.

"RELAX," Perfect Balance says, as your fragile tower yields to the chasm. "TAKE A DEEP BREATH," it says, as you foolishly balance a circle on a triangle, hoping that the law of gravity will be distracted by pretty lights for five seconds and let you get away with it. "HEY, MAYBE THAT ISN'T AS STUPID AS IT LOOKS. OH, DANG, I GUESS IT WAS. TRY AGAIN, MORON." Okay, it doesn't say that last one.

But you know that's what it's thinking.

Perfect Balance is an 80-level puzzle game that asks you to… wait for it… balance a collection of shapes… wait for it… perfectly on a tiny jutting spire, or maybe a slanted line, or a sprinkle of floating cubes. It never looks easy, although some of the really hellish-looking levels turn out to be rather straightforward, and some of the relatively simple-looking ones are fronting for explosive migraines.

To place a block, just pick it up with a click of the mouse, then click somewhere else to drop it. Rotate a block you're holding with [A] and [D]. You don't get to replace a block once it's chosen, or move it once you've put it into play, so no touchies unless you mean it. This is a thoughtful game. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. RELAX. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. RELAX.

Analysis: What really sets Perfect Balance apart is the atmosphere, which has sort of a heavy-handed salvation/damnation theme. The first half of the game, "Harmony," comes with a random microscope-assisted picture of some skin cells (correct me if I'm wrong) in the background, spacey music, and tinkly zen sound effects that are supposed to be calming but start to sound like mockery after you've watched a few doomed triangles tumble serenely off into nothingness.

Once you defeat the first 40 levels, you get to try them in "Inferno" mode. That means the blocks are more numerous and difficult (not to mention blood-stained), the music turns into a surreal industrial caterwauling, and the background becomes an equally random red-tinted hotel room. Inspired by Sartre's Huis Clos, I hope. It looks pretty comfortable, for an inferno.

I enjoy how the puzzles ask you to understand different properties of physics, including friction and inertia. It was while stacking eight isosceles triangles on a 45 degree slope that I realized most physics games would never ask such a thing of me, and I felt the broadening vistas of transcendence that come with performing a seemingly-impossible feat without violating any natural laws. Like juggling. Or playing a minor chord. Or flirting. And then it's all RELAX. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TINKLE TINKLE ZEN ZEN ZEN and I realized I was just playing a game. But it was a magical moment.

Play Perfect Balance

And if you want more Perfect Balance levels, try all the games in the Perfect Balance series


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (115 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessHip, hip, hooray! T2B Escape 4, a new installment of one of our very favorite escape-the-room series, has just been released. It offers all the complexity, creativity and whimsy that we've come to expect, with the T2B Escape 4difficulty ramped up a generous handful of notches. This is, by no means, an easy game and probably is best suited to veteran escapers, those with at least a basic idea of how these games operate; while newer gamers are of course encouraged to play as well, some might become very frustrated, very fast. Heck, I write a column about escape games, and I was still confounded a fair number of times.

Like the three previous chapters, T2B Escape 4 places you into an odd, rather charming little room and then tasks you to escape. The graphics are very nice, minimalist enough to simulate a real room without becoming boring, and the cleanness of the interface bespeaks the professionalism of the developers. The real star of the show, however, is the multitude of intriguing and diverse puzzles that inundate the room. We've got simple puzzles, complex puzzles, puzzles that cannot be solved until the very end, puzzles that can be cracked with nothing but a little clever thinking... the number and variety are really amazing. What's even more impressive is that a few are ones that I've never encountered before. After playing enough escape games, a certain number of types of problems emerge, and about 90% of puzzles encountered will simply be variations of those themes. For that reason, the uniqueness of a number of the puzzles in T2B Escape 4 is both refreshing and exciting.

As great as this is, however, I do feel that the game has some significant (but very fixable) flaws that, if ameliorated, could substantially improve the experience. For one thing, the lack of a save feature after four games seems inexcusable. This is especially true considering how long and involved T2B Escape 4 is; playing the entire game in one sitting might be unrealistic for some, not to mention that it's dangerously easy to accidentally hit a link and be transported away from the page. My other major gripe is the amount of pixel-hunting involved. Many of the game's secrets are revealed by looking under, behind and around various objects, and it can be very difficult to find the appropriate hotspot in order to change viewpoints. This can become extremely frustrating. If the cursor could perhaps change from an arrow to a hand whenever the player moused over a usable item or hotspot, it would make a world of difference without diminishing the inherent challenge or fun of the game.

So, some advice: examine everything. Even if it seems unusable at the time, most of the room's objects come into play at one time or another. Make sure to look at the close-up view of the various items you collect, as a fair number can be combined or manipulated. Be ready to click anywhere and everywhere. And finally, have fun! The game's a challenge, to be sure, but a good one...I know that y'all are more than up to it.

If you like T2B Escape 4, make sure to check out the first, second and third chapters as well.

Play T2B Escape 4


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (76 votes)
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Gabriel ben JaminEscargone screenBefore we begin the review proper, a bit about me (and not for the sake of my ego): I have a physical disability that impairs my hand function. Therefore, I aim in my intermittent contributions here to represent the interests of the disabled gamer by reviewing casual games for their accessibility as well as their other qualities.

From the vault of SKT Products, creators of simple oddities such as the Moai games and the recently reviewed Mr. Sweets, we're dusting off one-switch game Escargone. The story is in Japanese, but thanks to the efforts of a few of our readers, I can provide a synopsis: You are Gone, the snail servant of a Moai on a UFO. The Moai wants to buy booze and a new golf club, but he's strapped for cash, so he's sent you to gather some of his native currency—shells and circular stones—scattered about in the 30 platforming levels that you must navigate.

The instructions, illustrated in little cut-scenes before the beginning of the first few levels, are also in Japanese. I won't rob you of the joy of discovery, but it will spare you a lot of frustration to know that every mechanic in Escargone can be activated by a single click, by repeated clicks, or by holding the mouse button down. Jumping, the most basic and essential, is accomplished by a single click. I can't say at all by what means a snail is capable of jumping, but we'll let Gone worry about that.


Analysis: This game could be regarded as belonging to the Early Period of SKT's work, due to a few significant flaws. Aside from a few gameplay issues, the graphics and music are polished, but rather devoid of the quirks and charm of, say, a Moai game. After a few repetitions, the music will send you looking for the mute button, only to find none. No complaints about the sound effects, which include spoken bits presaging those in later SKT games.

As far as accessibility, Escargone is in a category of games that is inherently easy to operate. Most players should have little trouble playing it, although the repeated clicking has to be done at a rate that those with particularly slow hands might find to be a strain.

On the other hand, the level design can make the one-switch controls frustrating. Missing a jump can often mean not only having to try again, but also having to wait for the snail (an aptly chosen character, it sometimes seems) to crawl to a wall, hit it, turn around, and crawl all the way back to where you tried to jump. On a few occasions, this means traversing the entire width of the level twice, a punishingly tedious process when there are no more items to collect.

And while we're speaking of item collection, in spite of the added points they confer, collecting all the seeds is challenging only in terms of false difficulty: They are difficult to collect because doing so is a strain on your attention span. As someone who obsessively collected every possible ring in the Sonic games, I am especially saddened to say that (although that may say more about me than about the game).

But where these issues don't take you out of the game, Escargone is genuinely fun, particularly after all the elements are introduced—you must use every skill you have learned in combination to solve tricky timing and jumping puzzles. At this point, it starts to feel like a real platformer, rather than a one-switch adaptation of the platform genre.

In sum, Escargone is hardly an infinitely replayable game, but it is eventually rewarding to the patient player.

Play Escargone


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (75 votes)
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PsychotronicSpace PipsSmooth and bold, with a delicate, classical presentation and a spicy but brief aftertaste, Space Pips serves as a nice pre-dinner aperatif for those with a taste for Geometry Wars-style arena shooters. Control your bloodthirsty space polygon with the [arrows] or [WASD]; aim and fire with the mouse. Your shattered enemies will leave behind a twinkling cloud of valuable particles, or "pips", which should be collected and spent at the bluntly-titled "Space Shop". Press [Q] or [esc] to enter the shop and browse the upgrades. No word on what key you're supposed to push if you're steering with the arrow keys.

Space Pips borrows quite a bit from Geometry Wars, but not without giving credit. It's a somewhat casual take on the theme; you get a health bar instead of a supply of lives, and the shop lets you customize your progress to a certain degree. Two things the game really needs: an audible indicator whenever your pip total passes 100, since that's the magic number for purchases; and some visual warning when a bad guy is about to appear. When you're moving, which you always should be, you simply don't have enough time to react to some nasty critter popping into existence a millimeter from your port bow, especially when it's got a flippin' shield.

To make you feel better, collecting space pips makes a magical, soothing sound, like wind chimes. "Have some more pips," the game seems to be telling you, "the wealthier you are, the more comfortable you'll be when I kill you." What a lovely gesture. And a valuable life lesson as well!

Play Space Pips


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (199 votes)
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PsychotronicClosureTyler Glaiel, the programming and musical composition half of the team behind Aether, has released an amazing new platform-puzzle game with a unique look and gripping, oppressive atmosphere. Closure is yet more proof that accessible browser games can be used to tell stories—memorable, expressive stories with layers of metaphysical depth. The exciting thing about Closure is that it's not much like anything you've played before; but the brilliant thing is that it functions perfectly well as a technically impressive puzzle game with dynamic background music and some tricky timing/jumping challenges, without anybody needing to worry about its meaning. It's a pretty onion, even if you don't peel it.

The trouble with writing about a game like Closure is that a large part of the game's value is in discovering it. Mind you, I'm going to write about it anyway, so my advice is to STOP READING RIGHT NOW AND PLAY THE GAME. SERIOUSLY, YOU WILL SPOIL YOUR EXPERIENCE IF YOU READ ANOTHER WORD. DROP YOUR EYEBALLS AND STEP AWAY FROM THE ARTICLE. I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT THE CONTROLS ARE.

Okay, that's a little unfair. Here's the controls and a basic summary of the gameplay. BUT REMEMBER I WARNED YOU. I WAAAAARNED YOOOOOOOOOUU. Walk around with [left] and [right], jump or go through doors with [up], pick up and put down objects with [down] or [space]. If you get stuck, restart the current level with [R] (for Restart), [K] (for Kill), or [enter] (for um… Enter the level… again… or something…). Your goal in each area is to reach a door and walk through it. The problem is the fact that the walls and ground are only solid while illuminated, which means that you'll have to carry around orbs of light if you enjoy walking on solid earth, as opposed to falling through an endless abyss of nothingness for eternity and forever.

Once again, play the game before you read the analysis bit. Most of what I have to say won't even make sense until you've finished all 30 stages. I'll try not to spoil the storyline, but still, it's best to have a personal reaction to this game, and you cannot unsee what you have seeEEeen (wiggly spooky fingers). It's a fairly large (7Mb) load, but I think you'll find that the wait is worth it. Your progress will be saved automatically, and you can choose to start at any level you've completed if you reload the game.

ClosureAnalysis: The only real letdown here is in the actual platforming. Jumping is inconsistent while going down slopes, and sometimes it's hard to tell when a wall will block you or support you. Although each puzzle has a logical solution, the physics may not consistently work the way you expect, leading to some trial-and-error deaths and restarts. There is often a sense that you can glitch your way to the exit without finding a proper solution. None of this is so bad that it ruins the game, but it can be enough to occasionally break your involvement.

Everything else, though, is remarkable. Closure tells a complete story almost entirely without language. There is a smattering of text in the game, but it mostly exists to introduce the controls and accent the atmosphere. Everything else, including the ambiguous ending, is done through Jon Schubbe's stark and deliberately primitive background artwork. The main character drawing reminds me of Alberto Giacometti's sculptures, in the sense that it resembles not the human figure but the shadow that is cast—which of course is your first clue as to what is happening in the game.

This is a perfect marriage of genre and concept—illness, coma, or any other dramatically altered state of consciousness can leave you cycling through psychological loops, struggling to make incremental breakthroughs which may or may not have any bearing on the real, physical world. Very much like a puzzle game.

The graphic style resembles a film negative, either under-exposed or over-exposed depending on the conditions, which reflects the reality of the protagonist's situation. When you are sick, because of illness or in this case, violence, you may retreat into a world of pure consciousness, populated by memories and fleeting images of your surroundings. Your mental world exists only insomuch as you are able to cast your attention on it, and that is your struggle here: to shed light on what is important.

Is there a chance that I'm over-interpreting? No, I don't think so. While it's great that Closure (unlike pure art games such as Passage or I Made this, You Play This, We Are Enemies) stands solidly as an innovative but traditionally-structured puzzle game, Glaiel has built meaning into it deliberately. This is the journey of Jacob Singer and James Sunderland. If it doesn't quite have the emotional resonance of Jacob's Ladder or Silent Hill, it's not for lack of effort.

This is the most important thing to hit your browser since Aether. Whether you're looking for fresh new gameplay, or you're interested in games with subtle emotional values, Closure is where it's at.

Play Closure


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAnother Monday, another wide range of iTunes App Store games for your amusement! From the frantic shooter to the calm and collected poker table with a little critter munching and physics toppling in-between, you won't have any trouble passing the time on train rides, car trips, or the annoying space in-between breakfast and lunch most people call the "workday".

We would also like to congratulate the winner of last week's iTunes gift certificate drawing: waycooler! Each week on Mobile Monday we offer you the chance to win an iTunes gift certificate that will cover the cost of every game featured in the article. All you have to do is sign-in with a Casual Gameplay account, leave a comment giving feedback about one of the games, then check back the week after to see if you've won. Simple!

spacedeadbeef.jpgSpace Deadbeef - A sidescrolling shmup on a touch screen-only device? By all rights it shouldn't work, but this free game is surprisingly playable (and tons of fun). Touch and slide your finger to move your ship up and town, tap it to shoot the gun, and use your right hand to fire homing missiles at the enemy. It seems like an awkward setup in words, but when you play it, you'll see how well-made this hectic game is!

topple.gifTopple - A fun physics-based shape stacking game with one of the most satisfying control schemes on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Simply use your finger to move blocks around the screen, setting them wherever you like with the ultimate goal of building a pile as high as you can. To rotate pieces, hold your finger over a block, then touch another point on the screen with a second finger and twist.

thtouch.jpgTHTouch - A classic Texas Hold'em Poker app that looks great, makes excellent use of the touch screen, offers decent opponent AI that will challenge most any casual player, and is also light on the wallet. Play against up to 10 computer-controlled opponents in tournament-style poker. Checking, betting, and folding are all accomplished with a flick of a finger. Not many sounds in this one, and there's no option to play a cash game instead of a tournament. Still, if you love poker like many of us here at JIG do, then you will likely enjoy this little gem.

crittercrunch.jpgCritter Crunch - Most match-3 games have run their course on my gaming shelf, but Critter Crunch breathed a little life into the well-used puzzle genre. Slide your finger across the bottom of the screen to move the hungry little creature around. See the little guys lined in the columns above? Tap your critter to eat the bottommost one, then move and feed it to a larger creature. Feed it again to cause it to burst, setting off a chain reaction and eliminating same-sized creatures nearby. Several unique combo moves add a lot of strategy and chain reaction possibilities to the mix. Critter Crunch Lite is also available to get a free taste of the gameplay before you take the plunge.

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (20 votes)
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Masters of Mystery: Crime of Fashion

StaceyG"Masters of Mystery: Crime of Fashion combines the standard hidden object game with a detective story and forensic tools, in the vein of the CSI games or Women's Murder Club.

Masters of Mystery: Crime of FashionYou are Detective Carrie Chase whose new assignment is to solve the murder of an up-and-coming fashion designer, Neil Lane. Accompanied by your cranky boss, you must search the city for clues. You travel into the world of supermodels, photographers, plastic surgeons and talent agents, questioning various acquaintances of the victim. When the suspects start turning up dead, your quest becomes more serious. Hunt for clues in both the upscale and sleazy parts of town, from nightclubs, photo studios, and the marina, to rummaging through run-down apartments and dumpster diving in an alley. Analyze the evidence and figure out who the killer is before more bodies start to drop.

The use of the forensic tools as part of revealing the objects is what sets this apart from the usual hidden object game. As you sift through lists of items you'll uncover a set of useful tools that are stowed in your inventory, such as a blacklight, magnifying glass, fingerprint duster and flashlight. There are interspersed mini-games that are a welcome break for your eyeballs, including several spot the difference games with blood evidence, anagrams, jigsaw puzzles, and fingerprint matching.

Some scenes have close up spots you have to hit: a purse, a trunk, a file drawer. A question mark will pop up if you mouse over an object you can inspect closer. Each forensic tool will be added to your inventory as you find it. In later levels you will need items like a key or crowbar to open the close up areas.

There are a couple of twists in gameplay and story to keep things interesting, along with good photorealistic locations, making object identification easier. Each item you collect is treated as evidence with a snapshot taken of each one. The evidence you gather progresses the story along by giving you clues that lead you to the next location. They all fit nicely into the detective story.

Masters of Mystery: Crime of FashionAnalysis: The detective elements in Masters of Mystery: Crime of Fashion really enhance the hidden object part of the game, though they aren't quite as strong as some other games of a similar ilk. The addition of the forensic tools really makes this more interesting than the average hidden object games out there.

The density of objects and effort finding them was pretty easy for the first half of the game, it gets more challenging as the second half of the story progresses. You can glide through the first chapter in the demo, which may feel too easy. It does get harder, although never so difficult that you run out of time and have to start a level over.

The hint system was good, which is always a welcome addition. It's used like a power up, where you have to wait for a recharge before you can use it again. There were a few spots when it really comes in handy, especially if you've just dusted every inch of the scene looking for prints.

Late in the story there is a very brief animated scene which is well done and I would have loved to see more moments like that. Most games seem to front load the more ambitious production moments and peter out towards the end, this game had its higher production value in the latter half. Some of the story and dialogue was a little cheesy, but overall since those elements were short, it worked pretty well.

The levels and story are strictly linear, which is a downside for the detective part of the game. It would have been nice to be able to choose between locations when you find a clue, or jump into a mini-game, rather than have to finish a locale before moving on. The fact that your path through the game is forced reduces the sense of satisfaction in actively figuring out the crime. Although there is a clever use of a spot the difference game that you do use to solve the final clue leading to the conclusion.

But this is first and foremost a hidden object game, and the addition of the detective elements makes it a better one. The designers at Big Blue Bubble have given a purpose to the hunt, with sparse but effective story details and mini-games that really move it along.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Masters of Mystery is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish Games


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (44 votes)
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PrismaPix

ArtbegottiFun Five-Letter Word Of The Day: Prism. Scientifically speaking, prisms are transparent blocks with angled edges that can disperse white light into a spectrum of colors. Non-scientifically speaking, it's what you see on the cover of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album. Gamingly speaking, prisms were the inspiration for PrismaPix, a picture logic game from KPix Games.

prismapix.gifThe sort of logic that you'd use in a round of PrismaPix is similar to that of a game of Minesweeper or Conceptis Puzzles' Fill-a-Pix. The numbers scattered across the screen represent how many immediately surrounding squares are to be filled in, including the square with the number itself. (This means that you can see numbers as high as 9, instead of Minesweeper's usual 8.) To fill in a square and see that portion of the picture, left click. To mark a square as definitely not being filled in there (with an "X"), right click.

However, PrismaPix differs from similar logic puzzles, as you are not solving one grid of numbered squares at a time, but several grids, from three to eight. Each grid represents a dominant color, which appears in all of the filled-in squares in that grid (or some close shade, if not the exact color). Each square will be filled in exactly one of the grids, which means that filling in squares in one grid will put X's on all of the other grids in that same location. Similarly, Putting an X in the same square in all but one layer will automatically fill in the square on the remaining layer. When you deduce which layer each square is filled in on, the finished picture is revealed. Yay, you win!

PrismaPix offers three levels of difficulty to fit your puzzling tastes. The easy level gives you clues focusing on one number at a time (for example, two of the squares surrounding a 7 are X'ed out, which means you fill in the other seven squares). The medium level picks up the difficulty by asking you to compare the overlap created by two adjacent numbers (when a 1 is right next to a 4), and the hard level widens the logical possibilities (when a space separates a 2 from an 8, or when a 1 is a chess knight's move away from an 8... it makes sense when you try it out). In addition, you can choose to have the computer let you solve the puzzle unaided, or you can choose to have it tell you when you've made a mistake, or you can play in "Sudden Death" mode (my personal favorite), where one incorrect click sends your entire puzzle up in flames, sending you back to the beginning (or your last save point, if you remembered to make one).

prismapix2.gifAnalysis: First things first, it must be said: PrismaPix is not a pretty game. Or at least, it's not pretty in the sense that a PopCap or GameLab game or something from another large game production company might be. The interface is very basic and blocky, almost no frills whatsoever. The included music, a variety of classical music MIDI files, might get a bit grating after a bit, and you might find it more pleasing to mute the MIDI and put on your own iTunes playlist. The victory screen consists of random juxtapositions of the picture with an unrelated quote. It would be easy to shrug off a game like this, just for the lackluster presentation.

However, one cannot overlook the fact that PrismaPix is still a very clever twist on a familiar genre. Unlike other similar puzzles that have you solving one static, black and white picture, PrismaPix takes advantage of stunning photographs and adds some much needed color to logic puzzles. While you can predict the final pixeled picture of other puzzles, PrismaPix guarantees that you know the end result: Every square is filled in. But what do the mysterious grids hold? The "multidimensional" spin puts the traditional logic puzzle in a new light.

Even if you only try the demo of this game, you're still presented with a LOT of puzzles to solve. Each "Puzzle Pack" has 25 pictures in it, each of which can be solved in all three levels of difficulty. (The picture, and hence, the layers of the picture, do not change, but it's unlikely that you'll memorize the exact positions of everything when you switch between levels.) Buying the full version unlocks over 1000 other puzzles in themed Puzzle Packs, with new puzzles released periodically.

PrismaPix is definitely a game for the whole family. The adjustable levels of difficulty and puzzles of all sizes are good for the young as well as old. And whether you're just getting started and still using the computer's help to fix errors or playing Sudden Death where a mistake feels like the equivalent of the school bully pushing over your tower of blocks, you still feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish a picture and get to see it proudly tiled across your screen.

So while it might lack the bells, whistles, and animated animals with excessive cuteness that other games might have, PrismaPix still holds a solid, addictive game with a creative twist. It's easy to learn, no matter which level of difficulty you go for. Try PrismaPix, and experience puzzling, as though presented through a prism.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBTwo tiny games and one behemoth in this edition of Weekend Download. Aquarium and Little Ghost Joe are both rather cutesy and simple, whereas Nexuiz is gritty, serious, and all shooty with guns and stuff. Variety's neat, innit?

aquarium.gifAquarium (Windows, <1MB, free) - Created for the TIGSource Bootleg Demakes Competition, Aquarium is a take on Bit-Blot's Aquaria game with simple (and rather good-looking) pixel graphics and retro-style gameplay/soundtrack. Quite a bit more shooting and enemy dispatching than the game it's based on, and don't expect the same level of atmosphere. But hey, it's a demake, what do you want?!

littleghostjoe.gifLittle Ghost Joe (Windows, 10MB, free) - A really simple Mario-style platformer where you play a ghost who has set out for revenge against the still-living man who killed him. In order to do that, however, you have to cross the Evil Mountains and get past hordes of minions first. Basic platforming controls and rules apply, though the camera movement is kind of annoying, even though you get used to it after a minute or two.

nexuiz.jpgNexuiz (Mac/Windows/Linux, 375MB, free) - A free open-source deathmatch-based first person shooter. Woo! Comes with a single player human vs. AI bots mode along with true multiplayer, and there are plenty of extra maps you can download and fight in. With a tagline reading "simple, fast, intense, and completely free", how could you possibly pass it up?

harvestmassiveencounter2.jpgHarvest: Massive Encounter (Mac/Windows, 53MB, demo) - Enjoy frantic real-time strategy games that overwhelm you with hundreds (that's not an exaggerated number) of enemies? Harvest: Massive Encounter, reviewed last spring, is now $9.99, half its former price, and is available for both Mac and Windows platforms. Play the humans defending an expanding plot of land against swarms of alien UFOs, mechanized bots and other baddies. It's an extremely frantic game that draws liberally from the tower defense genre and will probably make your brain hurt from the sheer scale of battles that take place.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (121 votes)
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Chocolatier: Decadence by Design

KarmenAfter the war ended — World War II, that is — people all around the world were ready for something nice and sweet. Luckily, the famous Chocolatiers, Baumeister Confections, managed to keep afloat during those difficult times, and can still satisfy the world's sweet tooth. Unfortunately, Alex Tangye, the sweet heiress, who you might remember from Chocolatier 2, has bigger problems on her mind than chocolate. Her husband, Sean, is missing, still lost at war. She wants to go looking for him, but to do that, she'll need to leave her chocolate factories in good hands: yours.

chocolatierdecadence.jpgChocolatier: Decadence by Design is the latest
installment in the popular Chocolatier series. Decadence by Design returns Chocolatier to its original format, allowing you to make chocolates in factories, explore new ports around the world, running errands and completing quests. So, even though this sequel is set a half a century after the first, fans of the original Chocolatier will feel right at home. But don't let the old style fool you — this is the Golden Age! Cars with fins, neon signs, and new features in the factories add excitement and creativity to the game.

Baumeister Confections is expanding into the coffee business, with new concoctions and machinery. While chocolate bars and infusions are made in the traditional fashion (if shooting ingredients into twirling gears counts as "traditional",) coffee production is a whole new game. While you still need to shoot the ingredients into place, the coffee beans, creams, and sugars must be lined up in groups along a moving conveyor belt. At first, it looks easy, but as the belt moves faster with more and more ingredients, you might run out of places to put things. (Could these be the same people who hired Lucy?)

chocolatierdecadence2.jpgThe sweetest new feature in Decadence by Design is a variation on the confectioner's laboratory seen in an earlier version. In a secret lab tucked away in some remote corner of the world, you can create your own chocolate confections and coffee drinks. You pick the ingredients, and if they hit your taste buds the right way, you can not only name the treat, but design it as well. Select the colors and shapes of your toppings and fillings, and then give it a name and a description. If you're lucky, people all over the world will soon be clamoring to taste your new creation.

Analysis: At first glance, this Chocolatier game doesn't seem to be much different from other versions. However, new features are soon revealed, and suddenly it is more addictive than ever. Will you become the CEO of Baumeister confections? Will Alex Tangye find her husband? Will these people ever stop bugging you for your famous Cayenne Truffle Bars, the ones with yellow spots and violet stripes? If you hope to find out — or hope to create something more appetizing — then try Chocolatier: Decadence by Design.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Chocolatier: Decadence by Design is available from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBSometimes I wish I could switch some of the elements of each Link Dump Friday game. For example, what if you had to deliver food to a hungry robot in a bubble? Or match a bunch of shapes so a poor little MS Paint detective could solve a mystery?

  • icon_tumblewaiter.gifTumbleWaiter - Feed the hungry piggy (ahem, "valued customer") in this arcade-style physics game. Use the [A] and [D] keys to move the waiter left and right, and click on blocks to remove them. Don't drop the food!
  • icon_scriball.gifScriball - Sort of a combination of Line Rider and a mouse avoidance game, Scriball turns your cursor into a solid line and tasks you with guiding a ball to safety. Ok, less Line Rider, but you get the picture!
  • icon_marbylA.gifMarbyl - A simple matching-based game of reflexes. Catch falling shapes with your mouse, lining up combos by grabbing like colors/shapes. To move on to catching another type, you must match either its shape or color, forcing you to make fast decisions while keeping track of your cursor.
  • icon_bubblebot.gifBubble-Bot - Similar to the Four Second series of frantic micro-games, Bubble-Bot casts you as a robot in a bubble who must survive randomly assigned tasks as long as possible. The longer you stay alive, the higher your accumulated score.
  • icon_dblocks2.gifD-Blocks 2 - You have a limited number of clicks to destroy all the arrow blocks. Click on an arrow to remove it and all of its same-pointing brethren in that row or column. With a new background on each level, D-Blocks 2 wins the Largest Volume of Superfluous Artwork in a Puzzler award.
  • icon_mspaintadventures.gifMS Paint Adventures - Is it a comic strip? Is it a game? Is it a mildly interactive web-based form of entertainment with no forseeable ending featuring crudely drawn visuals and a point-and-click interface? YOU DECIDE!

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Rating: 4.2/5 (89 votes)
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PatrickGurabichonIn a world where vehicles are made up of cute, abstract creatures raptured by a conveyor belt, and everything is made of crazy blocks floating against a sky background, only the puzzle solvers will survive.

Gurabichon, another game by the Polygon Gmen, is a real zany stew of physics, gravity manipulation, and conveyor mechanics. You control a pair of owl-like creatures that roll around like wheels in a tank, trying to get to the goal in each level. In order to get them there, you´ll have to think outside the belt.

You can drive the two adorables by using the mouse and clicking on the left side of the game window to move left, click on the right side to move right. This causes them to roll, which moves the conveyor, which moves them, in a sort of self-reinforcing physics dance. Additionally, you can change the direction of gravity by pressing the [arrow] keys, or clicking the arrow icons at the bottom of the screen. In most levels, only a few directions are available, but in some you have complete, four way control. Switches, blocks, carousels and bizarre, caged animals fill out the array of elements. The game offers 30 levels filled with unique challenges: can you solve them all?

Analysis: Quintessential Japanese Kawaii combined with a fairly refreshing double-threat of mechanical innovation, polished and smoke free. A bit obscure at times, most frustratingly the physics can provide "emergent" snags that make puzzle solving difficult. Fortunately, you can play any levels you want, everything is unlocked from the get-go and you can skip the tricky ones, so get going.

Play Gurabichon

Thanks to Grant for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (107 votes)
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PsychotronicDeath VegasWe don't feature a lot of violent games here on JIG, but Adult Swim's Death Vegas, a superb technical fighting game from Spiritonin Media, serves up a rare mixture of thrills and substance. Though it has style to spare, and action so visceral you can practically feel someone squeezing your viscera like those stress-relief martians with the pop-out eyeballs, it also features a unique and balanced combat system. It won't rival Guilty Gear or Soul Caliber for complexity, but there's enough depth here to satisfy anyone looking for a good juicy brawl in a browser.

A slick tutorial will ease you into it, but Death Vegas operates very differently from other fighters, so it may take some getting used to. The basic back-and-forth revolves around high, mid-level, and low attacks. When a fighter is about to strike, a preview of the blow flashes on the screen for a split-second, warning you where you'll need to block. Hold [up] to block high, [down] for low, and [left] for mid-level. Press [A] while holding an arrow key to unleash your own punches and kicks.

Making successful attacks and blocks builds up your Star Meter, which fuels the intimidating Hyper Attack. Being on the receiving end of one of these combo-licious bad boys essentially requires you to play a quick game of Simon Says. Memorize the sequence of attacks, and you may be able to deflect them all and emerge unscathed, ready to return the favor. Fail to block them all, and you may experience some light bruising. Your other option, if you've built up enough stars yourself, is to counter the Hyper Attack with one of your own, which results in a dramatic, silhouetted, button-mashing mini game of DEATH.

Death VegasThus far, all of the game's characters play the same, but the key to mastering Death Vegas lies with their special abilities. Each fighter has two, and it's just as important to understand what you may be up against as it is to wield your own tricks effectively. When fighting chubby sleaze-meister Duff, it's wise to aim for his face or his ankles, since he can parry your mid-level attacks with his powerful belly. Knowing that the German goliath Helmut has a slow but unblockable long-range attack should persuade you to keep him within arm's reach whenever possible.

Death Vegas includes a surprisingly lengthy story mode, with a chapter devoted to each of the game's nine characters (for a total of eight, since nearly indistinguishable villains Dante and Onward share the final episode). You can't save your progress, but after completing the first chapter, you can skip to any section of the storyline freely. You also have the option to play a quick duel against the computer, or another player on the same keyboard. There is no online multi-player, but this game requires so much precision, even the slightest lag would have spoiled it anyway.

Analysis: To put it in our own Grimmrook's words, "It's like if Sin City and Street Fighter II had a love child that resisted its parentage just enough to become a unique and beautiful snowflake." A snowflake that will head-butt you in the chest and kick your eyeballs in the kidneys. From the take-no-prisoners opening metal theme song, to the impressive character animation, to the pop-in close-ups of every brutal impact, Death Vegas will continually show you it means business. Rarely have I seen a game that so thoroughly evokes the crunch and grind of hand-to-hand combat without resorting to blood or dismemberment. In fact, a few well-timed moments in the storyline are the only time we see blood in the entire game, other than the background splatter that appears for emphasis at the end of a fight (visible in the title screenshot at the top of this article).

Death VegasThe story is much better than you might expect from a fighting game. True, nearly every scene serves as a justification for more fisticuffs, and the style owes more than a little bit to Frank Miller neo-noir, but it's all quite entertaining in a seedy, desperate way. It's fun seeing the narrative jump from character to character, Crash-style, and the presence of such bizarre characters as Lourdes, a plunger-wielding assassin posing as a cleaning lady, proves it's not really taking itself too seriously. The one curiosity is that some of the story sequences are unskippable, and sometimes you just want to bury the gabbing and zip to the next thwack-fest.

As for the combat, I can imagine the shine wearing off of it, once the initial adrenaline rush dissipates and the stylistic flourishes start getting repetitive. There is a lot of smart design work here to delay that moment, though. While in theory, you could play eternally by simply paying close attention and blocking every telegraphed blow, in practice Death Vegas is constantly trying to trip you up. The longer a strike-and-parry session goes, the more the Diamond Meter in the top center of the screen builds up. That means the hits start coming faster and faster, and the next strike that connects will do more and more damage. That's called building tension, son. And even with a limited move set, taking full advantage of your fighter's special moves will let you sneak hits on the most alert of opponents.

If you do find Death Vegas getting stale, the experience is customizable. Are your opponents crumbling too easily? Crank up the difficulty. Do you need less warning time before you block? Turn down the Slow Mo. Are the default keys awkward? They're fully adjustable. This is the level of quality and detail we always hope for when we load up a Flash application.

In short, Death Vegas is awesome. It's an extraordinary browser game that can deliver such a gut punch, and do it with flair. Prepare to take a violent journey to the dark underbelly of the Strip.

Play Death Vegas

Thanks to Loki for sending this one in!

[Note: The violence and sparse moments of bloodshed aren't the only reason we've rated Death Vegas red. There's enough adult subject matter in Death Vegas to give parents pause for any number of reasons. The super-pumped boxer character, for instance, has syringes sticking out of his back and arms at all times.]


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (99 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessThis week we travel a bit back in time to visit Terminal House, a classic escape-the-room game that we've neglected for far too long. Developed by GUMP, Terminal HouseTerminal House is the first of a series of four adventures that chart your oddly pastel-blue hero's quest to gain freedom from mysterious captors; perhaps the least sophisticated of the group, it is nonetheless excellent. Equal parts ominous and goofy (a strange combination that somehow works), Terminal House's only major flaw is its inclusion of multiple tough mini-games that can easily become tiresome and discouraging; while the concepts are great, the execution is a bit lacking.

Many escape games begin with the awakening of a confused protagonist. The hero of Terminal House, however, appears more baffled than most; first angry and then bewildered, he seems to be unsure of anything at all. His befuddlement is understandable, though, as his enemies must be diabolical indeed to construct such an odd room for him to escape from. Oh, it looks normal enough at first glance: a couch, a soda machine, a projector screen, nothing too weird. After a little exploration, however, things take a turn for the bizarre... a computer-like device that dispenses money in exchange for photographs of Santa Claus and cavemen? Sodas that increase your strength and reflexes? An arm wrestling machine? Strange, to be sure. But wonderful! I love the game's quirky sensibility, its commingling of surreal elements and standard escape-the-room tropes.

Unfortunately, some of those same great features are also the source of the player's potential frustration. While the game itself is fairly straightforward and not terribly difficult, a few of the necessary hurdles (most specifically, the arm-wrestling mini-game) can be downright confounding. I actually came pretty close a number of times to abandoning the game completely, but eventually my stubbornness won out. I'm glad it did; besides those few teeth-grinding moments, Terminal House is a really great game. The graphics are simple but well-made, the soundtrack is excellent and the puzzles creative and interesting; if you can muster up the patience and skill, you're in for a rewarding and fun experience.

If you like Terminal House, be sure to check out the subsequent games in the series, Rental House, Guest House and Boat House. Each installment improves on the previous ones in ways both small (i.e., adding a save feature) and big (retaining the quirk while reducing the frustration). The full four-chapter experience is one of the best of its kind, and it's absolutely a journey worth taking.

Play Terminal House


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (150 votes)
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ArtbegottiFlash CatNo, it's not the sidekick of a comic book hero. No, it's not an attachment for your camera. Flash Cat is the new racing game from Nitrome with twisting tracks in stylish 3-D, angry aliens and roadblocks to trip you up, and a mechanized spider-like creature as your vehicle — convenient for those of us who can't afford either our own mechanical spiders, or to get airlifted up to the racing tracks high above the city.

In each of the eighteen tracks, your goal is to drive your arachnid-ish vehicle to the finish line. The tracks have plenty of twists and turns, so you've got to use the left and right arrow keys to navigate the courses ahead. (While we've managed to get roads to suspend themselves thousands of feet above the ground, scientists are still clueless as to how to add guard rails to them.) To jump some of the smaller barriers in your way, use the up arrow, and use the down arrow to slow down your vehicle.

But as if scientifically non-existent guard rails wasn't enough of a problem, there are plenty of aliens inhabiting the track, air ducts to blow you off course, and large jumps that you have to hope you have enough speed to get over. Drive through the power-ups on the track to gain invincibility, weapons, extra high jumps, and even bonus points. You've got plenty of tools at your disposal to get you to the end, but can you keep up enough speed while keeping your wits about you to reach it?

Analysis: Flash Cat packs a lot of visual punch, but not without a price. The three-dimensional tracks and the backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, but the track and its features can sometimes become quite confusing. Unlike many past Nitrome games where newer features are explained as you encounter them, all you receive before a level is a quick explanation (sans visual aid), and you've got to adjust rather quickly. If you're not familiar with the visual differences between a normal wall, a broken wall, and a jump, you could end up falling back to sea level rather quickly.

In addition, your view of the track ahead is also limited to a somewhat short distance. This is likely to save the drain of trying to draw the track in its entirety ahead of you, so the game runs more smoothly. However, in some levels with longer jumps, you might get air... and not know where to land! When the track eventually does come into view, it might be too late to steer yourself back in line with it, and kitty goes skydiving without a parachute once again.

In terms of handling the cat-spider combo, one thing you need to understand is that you won't be hitting any tremendously sharp turns. You won't need to "steer," so much as just "veer." Fans of games like Mario Kart who are used to hairpin-turn power-sliding might find this a bit hard to get used to, but after a few times of oversteering yourself off the edge, you'll eventually get the hang of it.

While it might be a bit of a trial-and-error experience when you begin playing, Flash Cat still has enough visual appeal and challenging aspects to keep you coming back for more. And since it'll take a lot of coaxing to get your own cats to ride mechanical spiders, consider this a convenient alternative.

Play Flash Cat

Thanks to Tobie, Danielnator, and Alex for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (181 votes)
| Comments (59) | Views (277)

bureausteam.gifJohnBFighting robots plus brain-taxing logic-style puzzles? Sounds like a winner! Bureau of Steam Engineering, from the author of The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, is a visually stark game of planning, building, testing, tweaking, and building some more. You are an engineer outfitting robots who are about to go into battle with deadly weapons. Using pipes and valves you must connect each mechanical part to an engine and ensure it functions properly before unleashing the machine.

Bureau of Steam Engineering shares a lot with its Alchemical Engineering cousin. Both are difficult to learn and even tougher to master, but the rewards for doing so are so enormous you'll want to invest the time. The contraption filling most of the screen is a top-down view of your robot's innards. Two steam boilers sit at the bottom corners — each one provides power to whatever mechanisms you attach them to. At the top of the screen you'll notice an array of pipes, valves, weapons and more. Simply drag and drop parts, holding the [ctrl] key and clicking to rotate them when necessary. If you want your robot to move or crouch, you also have to connect the mechanisms at the top of the screen to a boiler. Finally, valves that switch when a certain amount of pressure has built up can be tweaked by clicking the wrench icon at the bottom of the screen.

Now comes the first big decision: what do you want your robot to do? The goal is to build a machine that can defeat a specific opponent, so read the hint printed under the "intelligence" tab first. Robots have two basic kinds of attacks: long- and short-range. Your machine has space for two weapons, but attaching them and supplying them with the power they need are two entirely different matters.

To start, try clicking on the "melee weapon" tab and placing a flamethrower on the left side of the robot. Next, attach a series of pipes leading from the left steam engine to the valve on the side of the flamethrower. Assuming you have all open pipes sealed, if you clicked "fight" your robot would face off against its foe with flamethrower a'blazin'. This doesn't do us a lot of good, however, as the enemy is too far away to receive any damage. Now we need to get the robot to walk. Run a series of pipes from the right-side steam engine to both valves under the walking mechanism. On the left side, place a fuse valve so the pressure feeding into the gear will alternate, allowing the robot to move. Now click "fight" and see what happens!

Making everything function in Bureau of Steam Engineering is often a complex engineering feat that can only be arrived at through trial and error coupled with precise planning. Make liberal use of the "help" screen (the ? icon on the left side of the screen) to familiarize yourself with all the parts of the machine.

Analysis: Another deep, heady game, Bureau of Steam Engineering takes some time to get into, but once you do, you're thoroughly hooked. It's rightly called a "game for engineers", as it's all about solving problems and building a machine to your specifications. I'm no engineer, however, so the game does have appeal to the rest of us gamers out there. It doesn't have the near-infinite solution set as The Codex of Alchemical Engineering, allowing you to slide into a more comfortable routine of building pipe configurations to accomplish common tasks.

A keyboard shortcut for removing pieces would be superb, as sometimes you'll find yourself halfway down a failed engineering road and must manually drag every component off the screen to rebuild from scratch. Right now there are only four robots to defeat, making the game last just one (long) afternoon, most of which you'll spend learning how to play. The "ending" hints at further episodes, however, which would be more than grand!

Complex at first, but after you mount the steep learning curve, more rewarding than most puzzle games around. Bureau of Steam Engineering is a true challenge that's worth every minute of head-scratching and valve tweaking.

Play Bureau of Steam Engineering


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (489 votes)
| Comments (89) | Views (8,674)

JayGrow TowerGreat news! Not only does the US have a spiffy new president today, but the world now has a spiffy new Grow game hot off the release wagon from On of Eyezmaze in Japan.

Grow Tower is the next in the beloved Grow series of games first created by On over 5 years ago, and we have enthusiastically featured every one of them.

For those new to Flash games who might never have yet played one of these wonderful games, you play by clicking on the icons, one-by-one, with the objective being to reach Lv.Max (Max Level) for each of the items. Order matters, and depending on the order you click, the items will combine and react with each other to reveal a wide array of fascinating outcomes. But there is only one correct answer in this one, says On, and it's up to you to find it. Always charming and adorable, we hope you enjoy playing these games as much as we do!

Play Grow Tower

Still want more Grow? Play the entire Grow series of games (in order of release)...


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (82 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (22)

GrimmrookDodgeThis is going to be a little tough to accept, but Dodge is a game where you essentially dodge things. I know, naming games based on what you do in them is a radical concept, and perhaps the world isn't quite ready for it yet, but that's the risk that developer Moogoat decided to take.

Dodge is pretty much your run of the mill avoidance game except you use the arrow keys instead of the mouse, you can pass through enemies as freely as a ghost, and instead of just playing to see how long you can stay alive, you actually have to complete levels. Hmmm... alright, maybe avoidance doesn't work so much.

Okay, let's try this. Dodge is pretty much your run of the mill classic arena shooter game except you have no weapons, none, never. Neither are you ever awarded any power ups, nor do you even have a semi-sharp attachment on your neon blue carapace with which to gouge your enemies by running into them at just the right angle.

Now wait a minute, here's a game where you have to face wave upon wave of enemies, and you don't have so much as a dull spoon to defend yourself with? That's not fair, you may think, but this is the fast-paced and frenetic hand you've been dealt, serving up a bountiful feast of action-y goodness that's hard to put down.

Using only the arrow keys, you must guide your little blue craft through twenty stages of lethal neon madness. You don't have any weapons of your own, but the hundreds of enemies eager to see your undoing have more than enough to make up for that, and thus the only thing you can do is turn their heat seeking bullets right back onto them.

Your foes start out simple, but as the game progresses you'll be faced with more challenging units, from little teleporting purple squares that make the screen blink before sending ultra fast green bullets your way, to orange snipers that do some serious damage with their doubled-up lasers. To your benefit, your life bar is considerably generous, and at the end of each stage you'll have the ability to refill the whole thing at the cost of 25,000 points off your score. Can you dodge your way to the end and earn some serious bragging rights, or will your vessel be joining the rest of the shattered remains that litter the floor?

DodgeAnalysis: One sign of a great game is the ability to instill in you a feeling that you're doing something jaw dropping and awe inspiring even though you're doing little more than pounding away at your keyboard or controller. This feeling is Dodge's wheelhouse; it's hard not to get a surge of adrenaline as you plunge head first into a hail of red and green bullets, cackling wildly the whole time, "Can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!!!" (Please, someone tell me I'm not the only one screaming this as I play this game… please!)

That's to say that the gameplay in this game is tweaked to twitch-inducing near perfection. Every time you dodge a bullet feels like, well, dodging bullets, and redirecting half a screen's worth of enemy fire onto a cluster of baddies should hit your action gamer's pleasure center like a lightning bolt. As the game gets progressively more challenging you may think, yeah, the hundreds of bad guys you face can be daunting, but you're faster, more clever, and better than they are.

The trick, though, is that Dodge is not really as hard as it may look or feel. The life gage is very forgiving, granting you a ton of hit points while enemy fire doesn't really do all that much damage to you in the first place. On top of this, by the time you may need a refill every other level or so, you should have the points accumulated to easily afford this.

While managing your health takes some of the challenge out of the game, the enemies themselves aren't all that difficult to contend with either. They each have easily identifiable patterns, and the three types of enemy fire you have to contend with become predictable with just a little practice. As a result, what you have is a game that is moderately challenging, but feels much more intense thanks to solid gameplay balance and art direction.

Aesthetically speaking, Dodge does little to stand out. The whole simple geometric shapes in neon colors on a black background is a fairly common motif these days; not quite to the point of being overused, but not exactly fresh either. One nice little touch I appreciated, though, is how when an enemy bites the dust, its broken remains stick around, so that by the time you've gotten to the end of the game the backdrop looks completely different than it did in the beginning.

Nor is the music destined to find its way on the Billboard charts. Standard techno fare that meets the needs of an action game, no more, no less. No, neither the music nor the visuals are particularly outstanding, but in a way that's a good thing, and keeps the focus on the action where it should be.

Two other minor quibbles. The controls can feel just a touch clunky. Maybe it's just that I'm spoiled by analogue control providing full 360 degree movement, but the eight directional movement can feel just a little unseemly, especially when you first pick the game up. The other problem is that as intense as this game is, it is also highly susceptible to slowdown. This actually makes the game easier, of course, but can do a lot to reduce the high-strung feel that it is going for.

But those places where Dodge is lacking don't come close to denying the fact that this is an insane thrill ride wrapped nice and neat in your browser.

Play Dodge


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (70 votes)
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PsychotronicGodlaserWhen a company calls itself Pyew Pyew, you know they're not going to make games about ponies. No, Godlaser, the opening salvo from Casey Yano and Anthony Giovanetti, is a vertically scrolling manic shooter (see Pararalyzer or The Last Canopy), influenced by Treasure's Ikaruga, among others, with a few tricks all its own.

Steer your ship with [WASD], and aim and fire with the mouse. The main thing you have to know, as the opening tutorial spells out in detail, is that enemy bullets come in three different flavors, and you can render yourself invulnerable to them by switching your ship to the correct color. Press [Q] for red, [E] for green, and [R] for blue. Changing forms serves a triple purpose—your main weapon takes on radically different characteristics, and absorbing bullets of your current color charges up one of three special meters that activate special abilities. You can heal your ship this way, release an area-clearing bomb attack, or even recharge your auxiliary weapon (fired with the [space] bar) once you have one.

There is also an extensive and unusual amount of customization available—not only do you gain experience points by killing enemy craft, but you collect money from their broken remains. The points go toward new abilities from a Diablo-style skill tree, while the money can be spent on upgrades to your ship's core statistics.

Analysis: What this all amounts to is an incredibly ambitious and far-reaching shooter, especially for something playable in your browser. In fact, the ideas outstrip the execution, because what should be an amazing game feels like it may have been released a bit too early. When it's working, when you're weaving through a maze of criss-crossing bullet patterns like a magic reindeer through a snowstorm, it's brilliant. But there is also a laundry list of features that are implemented clumsily or missing altogether.

The controls feel too complicated, simply because I don't have seven fingers on my left hand. The instructions on the power-up screens are confusing and sometimes contradictory. The pacing in many of the levels jumps erratically between hectic and yawning; a long stretch of helpless, boring cannon fodder enemies can give way suddenly to a vicious ambush. There is a puzzling lack of music during the levels, and when the boss theme kicks in, it fails to get the blood pumping for a good showdown.

But Godlaser just feels like it has too much potential to overlook. So I turn to you, the Jay is Games readers, for some constructive criticism. Your valuable and articulate insight has helped many a game developer in the past, so let's roll up our sleeves, tighten our suspenders, and give the good people at Pyew Pyew some feedback. If you don't like the game, what would make you want to play it? If you do like it, what about it is working for you? Godlaser is the first game from a pair of developers with a deep love for shoot-'em-ups and a lot of dedication. Let's help them get to the next level.

Play Godlaser


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (458 votes)
| Comments (696) | Views (480)

SonicLoverElectric BoxA new, creative puzzle game has surfaced, and it rocks: A little gem from Candystand that's called Electric Box.

The premise is quite simple, and I'm sure that you'll agree: You've got some power at point A, so get some to point B.

It doesn't sound that hard, you say? Well, you had better doubt it, 'Cause if it were that simple, who would make a game about it?

There's many tricks and gadgets you will have to use to win,
Like doodads that give power out, or things that take it in.

The levels of Electric Box are built to test your mettle;
One stage, you might reroute the steam of an electric kettle.
Another might use mirrors to shine red lasers here and there,
And if you're not prepared, you'll end up tearing out your hair.

Analysis: Electric Box is quite a pleasant sight;
Its chain-reaction gameplay makes me want to play all night.
The sounds and music are spot-on, and really suit the mood;
The graphics, too, are lovely fits, if I may so conclude.

There's only one small quibble of which I wish to complain:
The built-in levels go as fast as dragon-beasts are slain.
I conquered all fifteen of them in less than half an hour,
Which left me hungry to supply more targets with more power.

But Candystand has thought of that, and here's how I was shown:
A simple level editor will let you make your own!
So make and share your levels—make just one or make a twosome—
(But use some spoiler tags; the codes are often long and gruesome!)

The built-in levels don't quite count; the spotlight's on creation,
So let's all play and share until we lose all motivation!
You'll want to play this game until there's cobwebs on your socks,
So what's the holdup? Go right now and...

Play Electric Box


| Comments (2) | Views (0)

JayBest of 2008 voting is now closed!Just a quick update to mention that voting for the Best of 2008 is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated and voted. We are now tabulating and preparing the results for publishing, so please check back in a few days for a list of the winners. We will make another announcement when the results are up.

Also, we want to take this opportunity to announce that we are in the process of revising our game rating system. Previously a set of 3 tags: "kidsafe", "pg13" and "mature", we are moving away from suggesting an age or audience for the games we review and instead simply flagging potentially objectionable content. You will begin to see colored symbols appear within the game review headers identifying the content. Clicking on the symbols will take you to a new page that explains the new rating system in detail.

I've included a rating-g tag on this entry as an example of how they will appear.

As always, thanks for all your feedback and suggestions!


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (52 votes)
| Comments (27) | Views (94)

GrimmrookGriswold the GoblinGreen skin? Check. Big old batwing ears? Check. Gross boils and growths sprouting all over? Double and triple check. Uncontrollable flatulence? A very unfortunate check. It's strange that something or someone so undeniably gross could also end up being so endearing, but that's Griswold the Goblin, and after featuring the first part of his epic serial adventure, we simply couldn't help ourselves. We had to go back to the beginning to see where this little guy came from.

In Griswold the Goblin (no subtitle, thank you very much), we are introduced to the odious yet adorable little green guy in his first flash adventure. And oh what a great time to drop in on Griswold's life, for miserable and downtrodden though he may be, his luck's about to change when the rock he trips over turns out to be a very pretty rock. A pretty, shiny, multi-faceted, red rock that fills the eponymous Goblin's very heart and soul with song and joy! And then his luck is quickly changed right back to the bad kind when his new found treasure is stolen from him that very night.

Griswold the GoblinNow we must engage on a wild romp to retrieve Griswold's shiny red rock before some nefarious ne'er-do-well employs it in his dastardly machinations. For those who have already plunged headfirst into Chapter 1 of Islands of Fire, you will find instantly recognizable the game's sardonic humor and cartoonish charm. Also, there is the abundance of clever puzzles that still remain for the most part largely logical and thus solvable without too much help.

Of course, there are some rough spots, many of which were thankfully addressed in the later installment. The control scheme is a bit clumsy; Griswold is navigated using arrow keys which can be a little frustrating at times. And call me lazy but do you really have to open up your inventory every time you pick up an item? The absolute worst, though, is the final mini game at the very end that had me mere seconds from tossing the computer monitor straight out the window followed quickly by a rage induced tree stump demolition spree that I'm sure the neighbors wouldn't look too fondly upon.

But these minor quibbles aside, the first Griswold the Goblin remains a light-hearted and charming adventure, one that will leave you with little doubt as to why a sequel had to be made.

Play Griswold the Goblin


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (63 votes)
| Comments (27) | Views (18)

PsychotronicGravity Pods 2Actionscript guru Keith Peters has released a sequel to Gravity Pods, his unforgiving physics puzzle challenge from last year. This time out, not only will you need superhuman patience to defeat all 50 levels, but also fist-clenchingly perfect timing. If your brain has the intestinal fortitude for it, Gravity Pods 2 will let you make the impossible seem possible.

The object of each stage is to hit the purple exit gate with a projectile fired from a turret. Click on the turret and drag to set your aim loosely, or make fine adjustments with the [>] and [<] keys. Fire with [space]. Your path to the goal will be indirect, to say the least, lined with obstacles that will both help and hinder you. The plain green barriers stop projectiles cold, dark blue circles repel them, red stars attract them, and light blue circles (new to Gravity Pods 2) reflect them from their surface.

After a handful of training levels, the game opens up (to an overwhelming degree) by allowing you to place the gravity pods yourself. Anywhere on the playing field is fair game, even inside of a wall or on top of another pod. After you've placed a pod, you can select it with the mouse and fine-tune its positioning, step by step, with the [arrow] keys. Even a one-pixel change can make a dramatic difference here.

You can choose your starting level freely, and the game will remember which levels you've beaten. But strangely, there is no Menu or Back button, so if you stumble into a difficult puzzle and want to extricate yourself to the main menu, your only option is to reload the entire game.

Analysis: It's safe to say that Gravity Pods 2 isn't for everyone. There's an exacting, cerebral tone to it that could be considered off-putting, and the gameplay is all about trial-and-error. Shoot, move a pod one pixel to the right, shoot, adjust the turret angle by 2 degrees, shoot—it's enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Thankfully, there are no longer any limitations on your ammunition, so experiment to your heart's content.

The reward here is in overcoming instance after instance of wonderfully cruel level design. By the final stretch, they no longer even resemble levels. They look like jokes.

"Hey," says Keith Peters, "Wouldn't it be funny if you had to shoot between the blades of three different rotating walls through a narrow corridor in the shape of a "U", and you only had a single gravity pod to place? Wouldn't that be hysterical?"

"Yes it would," says you, "I sure am glad you're a kind soul, and you would never actually ask me to do such a loony thing."

Says Keith Peters, "I have some bad news for you. Welcome to level 45."

The new bounce pods are often too small for the kind of precise calculations this game needs; their surfaces reflect projectiles unpredictably, behaving more like crazy little polygons than perfect circles. Also new to Gravity Pods 2 are rotating walls, which are, trust me, the most annoying things ever invented. They sometimes require such split-second timing that you'll wonder if you might have inadvertently insulted the game's mother, and this is what it's going to do to you in lieu of reaching through the screen and breaking your septum.

But this kind of adversity can be rewarding. You have all the time in the world to get the answer right, and when you do, you'll know you've reached perfection. It's like boot camp for your cortex. "This is my vector turret. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I must master it as I master my life. Oorah!"

Play Gravity Pods 2


| Comments (32) | Views (47)

Mobile Monday

JohnBGreetings mobile gamers! Did last week's article help you sufficiently smudge your iPhone/iPod Touch? Good, because here are four more games to help rid your hands of that pesky finger grease. We also have a fun announcement to celebrate our new column: each week we'll be giving away one iTunes gift certificate you can use to purchase every game on a Mobile Monday! All you have to do is sign in with a Casual Gameplay account and leave a comment on the article telling us something you liked/disliked about one of the games. A random winner will be chosen and announced the following Mobile Monday, so be sure to check back to see if you scored some free games!

frotz.gifFrotz - Fan of interactive fiction? We certainly are, and thanks to Frotz, you can take it all on the road! This free app comes packed with a few dozen interactive fiction adventures, including three we've reviewed on JayIsGames such as Varicella, Lost Pig, and 9:05, along with the ability to browse and download games from the Interactive Fiction Database. View text either vertically or horizontally, and a simple tap on the screen brings up a keyboard for entering commands. It couldn't be easier. Or cheaper, seeing as how it's free!

edge.gifEdge - An award winning, stylistically beautiful platform game now available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Move around spacey geometric structures by dragging your finger across the screen to rotate the cube, climb stairs, collect prisms, press switches, ride platforms, and perform gravity-defying acts of awesomeness. There are over 40 levels of increasing complexity, plus one level to unlock by collecting all the prisms on every stage. The design is elegant and among the best we've seen from any app in the store. Later levels can get frustrating as the game forces you to learn new moves that require precision and accuracy. Borderline casual to hardcore audience. If you enjoy the free version, get the full version of Edge.

locknroll.gifLock 'n' Roll - A unique and original strategy game using 4-color, 4-sided dice (work with me here, it's a bit difficult to describe). Roll the dice and place them into the grid to create various combinations of sets of 4 to score points. Make a row of single-colored dice, for example, to score a few points, but earn even more if you can line up numbers and colors alike. Once you place the dice they are locked in and cannot be moved, only cleared by making the most difficult (and highest scoring) combinations: four of a kind or a run of 4 in all the same color or one of each color. Jokers are awarded periodically based on score, which can help make those difficult combos and help you clear the board for more dice. A brilliant and addictive casual game. Give this one a couple of plays before you dismiss it, as it is not the easiest game to grasp at first. Check the INFO screen for a list of all the combos. If you enjoy the free version, get Lock 'n' Roll Pro and support the developer of this great game.

textropolis.gifTextropolis - A nice new take on a favorite casual game, Textropolis gives you the name of a city, breaks the letters apart, and asks you to spell new words with them, much like Boggle. As you guess more words you earn stars that allow you to "travel" to new cities, unlocking challenges as you play. A fun feature is the ability to get hints by shaking the iPod Touch/iPhone, plus you can send e-mail postcards from the city you're "visiting".

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (43 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (101)

Youda Farmer

JohnBFrom the creator of Youda Camper comes another overtly-titled casual game: Youda Farmer. In this resource management sim you play the role of a farmer growing and gathering crops and other food products to sell in town for profit. Using the money you earn, buy new facilities and upgrade existing ones, stimulating the town itself to open new shops and expand current ones.

youdafarmer.jpgThe world of Youda Farmer is divided into two major zones: your farm and the town. Each round of play reflects this division and takes part in two stages. When working in the farm you'll focus on growing/harvesting food products in the most efficient manner possible. Everything happens automatically, all you have to do is click on the icon. So, for example, if a flour order appears at the bottom of the screen, click it to start growing, and once the bag is produced just drag it into a crate. The truck soon comes by and automatically loads everything up before moving on to the next item. The challenge comes from deciding the order in which to harvest things, as each click sends your truck to a different part of the farm. Do you ignore the flour in favor of loading just one more crate of eggs, or should the most urgent order get some attention?

After the farm round ends, your truck putters into town, ready to deliver goods to the various businesses. Here, things work in a similar manner as harvesting crops. The baker might order some eggs, in which case you simply click his icon followed by the specific orders floating above his character. The truck comes along, unloads the food, and you get paid. Easy!

When both rounds of play are complete you get a chance to spend the cash you earned on a number of new buildings and upgrades. Each one adds another layer of product to your inventory, as well as another route for your truck to drive. Make note of where the new building appears on your map, as a key to shaving a few seconds off of each harvesting run is to hit each stop without having to backtrack!

youdafarmer2.jpgAnalysis: I was initially overwhelmed by Youda Farmer's seemingly complex setup and interface. With all these buildings, all this driving, and so many orders popping up out of nowhere, how was I supposed to make sense of it all? A very brief tutorial gives you a feel for the basics, and after that you set out and start farming on your own. Before long I felt comfortable with the game, so while the learning curve is slightly steeper than most games of this kind, it certainly isn't an obstacle.

After getting to know the game, you'll get sucked in by its unique take on a tired genre. It even surpasses innovative games like Airport Mania and Now Boarding in a few areas. Instead of directly doing any farming, you're more of the schedule manager or truck driver, though even by that definition the game fudges the rules quite a bit. And besides, Youda Truck Driver doesn't have that catchy ring to it.

My only real complaint with Youda Farmer is the intense difficulty that appears much too early in the game. I had already lost a round after 20 minutes of play, something that is practically unheard of in casual games. Saying things get "hectic" would be a gross understatement, but with a little practice you can get things back under control.

A resource management game of a different sort, Youda Farmer isn't afraid to break the mold in a few key places to deliver something challenging and unique.

Play the free Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Youda Farmer is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (23 votes)
| Comments (2) | Views (22)

Fabulous Finds

Ms.45I am an absolute chump for thrift stores, op shops, yard sales, swap meets and real open-air markets (not the ones where you get charged 200% extra for the privilege of buying cinnamon-and-myrrh scented soap in the open air instead of a shop, the ones where gnarly old Lithuanians sell battered Dr. Ock figurines, ice skates and lemons from the home tree for only 50c per bag). So playing Fabulous Finds isn't so much gameplay for me as a continuation of real life. The only way gameplay could be more realistic is if someone made a game where you have to correct budget papers in order to have them signed off by your manager by 4pm. (Hmmm...)

fabulousfinds.jpgThe premise of the time management/hidden object game Fabulous Finds is that your eccentric old Aunt from Carmel, California (most famous to me as the town where Clint Eastwood was Mayor for a time) died and left you her house with all her crap, er, priceless treasures in it. You're stuck with the property taxes, so you'll need to have a garage sale!

Firstly, you've gotta find all this stuff. The first puzzle is a hidden object exercise — find everything in the room that fits a particular theme. If the theme is, say, Fashion and Beauty, you might be called on to find a scarf, a mirror, or a hairdryer, which in turn will need a cord. You can use hints, but be careful — the hints you have are for the yard sale as well as the hidden object game.

The yard sale part of the game is tricky. Shoppers, distinguished by some item of clothing or feature, will enter your yard looking for something, and you'll get a hint as to what it is — "Snorkeler wants to breathe underwater". You identify Snorkeler as the gal who's wandering around your yard with a snorkel on her head, and if you found an aqualung (or another snorkel!) in your hidden-object search, it'll be in your yard somewhere. Give the customer what they want by picking them up and dropping them on top of the object. Once they've got what they want, they'll leave the yard to let other customers come in. Keep in mind that, although you may be able to see the hint for Snorkeler, they may not have entered the yard yet — you might need to sell to some other shoppers first.

The other major part of the game is decorating each room as it gets cleaned out. You'll be given a set of hints (such as "add a dash of green") and a Sims-style room where you can buy furniture and accessories with your yard sale earnings. You have a fair bit of choice over what you do (if you have the money, feel free to add some completely unnecessary plants and gewgaws), but you'll know when you've added the right objects because the star meter will fill up.

fabulousfinds2.jpgAnalysis: This game isn't beautiful, but the range of gameplay it offers raises it well above more gorgeous games that you'll play once then abandon. Room decoration is a lot of fun, but what sold me on the game was how difficult the yard sale itself is. Snorkeler is at least fairly easy to identify — other shoppers are not so obviously distinguished (Surfer doesn't helpfully carry a board, and is hard to pick out from Sports Nut or 80s Wannabe), and what they want can become very, very obscure. Sometimes they need to complete a task before they can buy something, like finding their wallet (which is tiny and not obviously a wallet).

Once you've completed the game, you can redecorate the rooms any way you like, with three different options for the basement. The one way I would improve this game is to make the hidden object puzzles replayable with the option to choose a theme. The ability to keep redecorating is nice, but if you want to keep finding objects, you need to create a new profile and start a whole new game.

When I initially downloaded this game I was ready to not think much of it, but when the game suddenly ended its 60-minute trial, I was anxiously trying to find a baking implement for Jackie O, and I became most upset.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Fabulous Finds is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBWe polled over 800,000 random people on the street and asked them one simple question: are you a squid, or are you an octopus? The response was overhwelmingly the former, prompting us to re-evaluate our personal belief systems so that squid occupied the highest echelon of importance.

spaceball2000.gifSpaceball 2000 (Mac/Win, ~20MB, free) - A great little sci-fi-themed ball-bouncing physics-based platform-puzzle game (could I have worked any more hyphenated phrases in there?!). Use the [arrow] keys to move and build bouncing momentum as you work your way to the key card that opens the level's exit. You can also reverse the stage's gravity by tapping the [spacebar], though you're limited to a few of these in each stage. Use the platform-specific links above to download the game directly.

squidyesnotsooctopus.gifSquid Yes! Not So Octopus! (Windows, 6MB, free) - An arena shooter with an unusual name, you take control of a squid (not an octopus, mind you) raised in the shadow of a mushroom cloud trying to fend his home world from alien robots. Oh, and it's his birthday, too. Fire your Beams Of Electro Death to destroy your foes once and for all!

themanipulator.gifThe Manipulator (Windows, 5MB, free) - A 2D puzzle-platformer with a unique twist: your main weapon is the ability to control the enemy! Tap [X] to "fire" and hit one of the soldiers, then control him as you would yourself, using [X] to shoot your weapon. Move through the level and clear the way using these hapless souls, and when you're good and ready, walk your way to the exit at your leisure.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (333 votes)
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Totem Tribe

JohnBLet's pretend you have a casual sim game like Virtual Villagers, Westward, or My Tribe. Now, instead of focusing on village management, you shift things in a real-time strategy direction, similar to Breaking the Tower or Warcraft. But let's not fuss over gathering resources, just allow the player to build, unlocking units as he or she plays. Now, to keep things interesting, scatter a handful of objects across each island and encourage the player to search for them, hidden object-style. Did we leave anything out? Oh, yeah, inject some Fun Molecules and wrap the whole thing in an irresistible coat of Addictive Sauce +4. What do we have? Totem Tribe, your latest cross-genre addiction.

totemtribe.jpgTotem Tribe manages to pull together some of the best elements from a number of popular casual games and create something twice as engaging without upping the complexity. Gone are resource managing, complex building/unit requirements, and villagers who act while you're away, but in are over 20 islands to explore, friendly and not-so-friendly characters to encounter, mini-quests to earn spells, and unlockable artifacts that grant your tribe special abilities.

Legends say Tetala Island, home to the peaceful Hawk Tribe, was once marked by a glowing sparkle that came from the sky. A mighty relic called the Tear of Heaven, rumored to grant unimaginable wisdom and enlightenment to its possessor, soon descended. As the young chieftain Aruku, you must lead the Hawk Tribe to prosperity as you explore the lands in search of totems that unlock the secrets of the Tear of Heaven.

totemtribe2.jpgTotem Tribe does a fantastic job walking you through the basic gameplay elements without holding your hand too much. The first level introduces huts, workers, how to build structures, and giving orders to active units such as scouts. Subsequent stages give you a few more units/buildings to manage, all presented at a pace that keeps your attention without overwhelming you with things to do.

The game is divided into scenarios that take place on different islands. Each scenario brings something new into the mix via a series of small missions, each tied directly into the story line. For example, one island is infested with crows, but your fighters can't attack enemies in the air. A little exploration reveals a hermit who knows of a run-down workshop hidden in the forest. If you find the missing pieces of the building and repair it, the hermit promises to teach your tribe archery, a skill perfectly suited for ridding the trees of those pesky birds.

Missions are always different but usually include optional side-quests you can undertake while waiting for your workers to build. Some islands, for example, have hostile tribes that will attack your village, while others are more peaceful and require you to seek and find certain items, build special structures, repair derelict buildings, and so on. Missions are surprisingly varied and keep you entertained as well as challenged for the duration of the game.

totemtribe_shadowking.jpgAnalysis: Another surprise simulation-based genre bender, Totem Tribe hits the sweet spot between game types and delivers something truly special. I was shocked at how addicting it is, as both the story and gameplay work together to draw you in to this marvelous new world.

The game's blurb text promises hidden object gameplay, which seems out of place in a strategy title, but I was pleased at how Enkord handled the situation. Gems are scattered throughout the islands, some are fairly obvious while others blend in with the background. There are also treasure bonuses to be found, several of which are really difficult to locate. Completing certain missions also requires you to find items obscured by the foreground, but I was never stumped for more than a minute or two in these situations.

Although the game is structured in a nice, simple way, I found myself craving a few control shortcuts that would have made the experience a little smoother. For example, moving around the map is accomplished by "pinching" the terrain and sliding the ground in the direction you want to look. When you're trying to build a building, however, you can't pinch without first de-selecting the building, forcing you to go back into the menu screen and choose the building again. Sliding the cursor to the edge of the screen would have been a nice shortcut to scrolling while placing buildings, and even though the [arrow] keys scroll, the incremental movement they provide is not as convenient as just moving the mouse.

Great design from top to bottom, Totem Tribe will draw you in with a familiar premise and keep you playing with its new take on some old ideas.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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

PsychotronicGriswold the GoblinI think we can all agree that episodic adventure games are good, as they represent a commitment from the developer to deliver a full, satisfying storyline without delaying the final product. Instead of gorging ourselves in one sitting, we can enjoy our meal in courses, already savoring our anticipation for the next entrée.

With that in mind, allow us to remove the dome cover from Griswold the Goblin: Islands of Fire — Chapter One, a beautifully compact and well-produced point-and-click adventure game from B-Group Productions. Take the reins of Griswold, a droopy half-alert fellow with ridiculous posture, as he embarks on a sure-to-be-epic quest, for no other reason than that his TV broke and he's just bored enough to look for some treasure. In the animated introduction, we see there is some sort of mysterious evil at large, armed with a robot fish and messing with important magical forces; but at the beginning of his day, Griswold is just feckless and greedy, as you'd expect from a proper goblin.

Navigate Griswold's adventure mostly with the mouse. Click the icons at the bottom of the screen (or rotate the mouse wheel) to switch between Walking, Looking, Handling, and Talking; then click on objects to interact with them. Click on the MENU button or press [space] to enter the inventory screen. A few events involve mini-games, and you can control all of those with the mouse as well.

Griswold the GoblinAnalysis: This is not the first story about Griswold; programmer/scriptor Casper Smith and artist Chris Gianelloni have a previous collaboration under their belts starring the lovable gawky hero. However, this new adventure is a step up in every way, featuring smooth cartoony artwork and animation, a fitting soundtrack by Brian Holmes, fewer farts, and a completely voiced script.

The voice talent is exceptional, doing as much to anchor us in Griswold's world as any other element of the game. The various characters suffer a bit from Random Funny Accent Syndrome (and Griswold himself sounds a lot like Abe from Oddworld), but they sound distinctive and, most importantly, believable.

I just have to call out the designers on one decision: an early action-oriented mini-game that doesn't add much to the story but might frustrate some players with the precise timing required. If you get hung up on that one, just know that the other mini-games are more brain-oriented, and there isn't anything else that arbitrary later in the game.

In a welcome departure for this game genre, the puzzles all have logical, physically plausible solutions. In fact, they may be almost too logical, to the point where you will instantly know the purpose of most objects, and the only challenge is in figuring out what you can interact with. There are none of the wild flights of fancy found in, for example, the Journeys of Reemus; but on the other hand, Smith might just be warming up. By populating the first chapter of Griswold with these prosaic trials, he earns our trust, and the right to get weird on us later on. I mean, we already know there's a big robot fish ahead. Who knows where this saga will lead?

Play Griswold the Goblin: Islands of Fire — Chapter One

[Warning for those with slow internet connections: Griswold the Goblin takes a long time to load, and it displays a white screen at the beginning for longer than you'd expect. Don't worry; the pre-loading screen will kick in about a third of the way through.]


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBFirst, I believe that this website should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a Link Dump Friday on the moon and returning it safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

  • icon_thatwordgame.gifThat Word Game - Letters of all sizes fall from the top of screen, piling into an atrocious mess at the bottom. Click them in order to spell words, the longer the better, and try to score time bonuses to stay alive.
  • icon_kutuke.gifKutuke - A different take on the memory matching concept, your goal is to click and eliminate the main symbol. In order to do that, however, you must first click its prerequisite, which itself may have one or more prerequisites, and so on. Work backwards and eliminate the chain.
  • icon_mazestopper2.gifMaze Stopper 2 - Stop the guy in blue from reaching the flag before your character by placing obstacles in his way! Freeze/unfreeze time with the [spacebar] and place stones with the mouse. Simple, but challenging.
  • icon_alphabreakical.gifAlphabreakical - A stylish Breakout clone centered around destroying letters of the alphabet. Break the blocks in the right order (as indicated by the moving star icon) for tons of points.
  • icon_ninjaornun.gifNinja or Nun - One is a battle-hardened mercenary, bringer of swift justice and master of subterfuge. The other... is a ninja. And it's your job to find and click the ninja as quickly as you can.
  • icon_dropple.gifDropple - Control the bouncing ball to pick up coins scattered about the platforms (some of which... MOVE!) across the stage.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (163 votes)
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super_energy_apocalypse_recycled-b.jpg

zxoNot satisfied simply to have won second place in our 5th game design competition (CGDC #5), game designer Lars A. Doucet has been busy reworking, researching, and refining his entry, Super Energy Apocalypse. We are proud to announce that the full-fledged game has now been released!

super_energy_apocalypse_recycled_1.jpgThe core mechanic in Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled remains intact: build a base and keep it defended against a nightly zombie onslaught. The economy of building revolves not around money, but energy, of which there are many different sources, from coal to wind to nuclear. Each building you erect produces a certain amount of waste, which must be taken care of before it pollutes your base, because pollution to these zombies is like spinach to Popeye, and they grow mean and nasty real quick.

Since the game basically takes you through all the steps you need to know, I won't go into detail about how to play, but I will highlight some of the many, many improvements made since we last reviewed the Super Energy Apocalypse. First of all, it is now virtually bug-free (at least, I haven't found any). super_energy_apocalypse_recycled_2.jpgSecondly, the energy costs have been updated to reflect real-world data (more on that later). Finally, there are a heap of new features, including three difficulty modes, variable terrain height, a flame turret to really toast those zombies, new types of enemies, variable weather for wind and solar energy, recycling centers which turn garbage into material and energy, a reworked storyline and some major polishing of the artwork and interface. And last but not least, a sweet theme song as a reward for beating the game!

Analysis: If you've played the original, you'll recognize the dusty New Texas landscape and tentacular zombies, but you'll also be able to appreciate just how much work was put into this new version. In fact, there is quite a fascinating story behind it: Even before CGDC5, the idea behind the game had sprung from conversations about global warming, about which Lars admits he was a skeptic. After taking second in the competition, he realized he might just be onto something big, but a lot of work needed to be done.

"The game was buggy as all getout, and the research numbers were essentially made up on the spot. I'd paid my petroleum engineer roommate $50 to scour the internet for some numbers for me, … and the time I gave him to research (less than a week) simply wasn't enough to get anything like a realistic simulation."

A professor of his, after seeing the original game, hooked Lars up with HARC an energy-focused non-profit organization, which offered him "what will probably go down in history as one of the best Flash Game sponsorships EVER." It turns out, they'd been trying to develop educational games for years with little success, and Super Energy Apocalypse was exactly what they were looking for, so they hired him to finish the game!

Armed with a sponsorship, he spent the summer gathering data:

"I pored over EPA databases, through Toxic Release Inventory reports, and googled my brains out trying to get a hold of information on power plants, mining operations, everything. I called up trucking companies asking them what the average mileage and curb weight of a municipal garbage truck was."

super_energy_apocalypse_recycled_3.jpgYou see, Super Energy Apocalypse was never intended to be a fully balanced game. Lars wanted actual costs, actual outputs, actual pollution to dictate a player's choices. If that means nuclear energy is too costly to use, then so be it. The result is a game in which its problems and solutions mirror those in the real world – except maybe for the pollution-eating zombies. It took a lot of work, but the end result is one of the most enjoyable and fun educational games ever created. One of the main problems with most "educational" games, is that they feel more like a pop quiz with a game tacked on to keep the kiddies interested. Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled deftly avoids this downfall by incorporating the real world directly into the core mechanics of the game, steering it towards a "learn-by-doing" experience.

But what Lars himself learned by making the game?

"As the semester came to a close, I looked back on all I had learned through this dinky little project that had consumed the better part of my life. I found that, ironically, … I actually believe in Global Warming now. There's the nuanced understanding that there are so many environmental issues at stake, that even if Global Warming were to go away we still would be in a heap of trouble.… Energy Apocalypse taught me to see all environmental issues as a complete system, not just one part."

Not only that, but Lars discovered that there is a market for games like this, and more importantly that he could turn his "Flash game hobby" into a viable career. So, budding game designers take heart! The casual game field is full of opportunities and still growing, and more opportunities like Lars had are bound to occur.

Play Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (38 votes)
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StaceyG"CuarentazoCuarentazo, by Ecuadorian multimedia artist Ronald Jaramillo, is a Flash translation of Cuarenta (Forty), a popular card game in Ecuador. You can play solo against the computer, or multiplayer against one opponent or in teams. Click "Juega" to play, or click on "Multijugador" above the game screen to get to the multiplayer lobby. Select "English" to read through the instructions. The rules are a bit complicated, but after playing a few times it becomes fairly simple.

There are 40 cards in the deck and you must make 40 points to win by capturing the most cards and scoring points during play. You can take any card from the table that matches a card in your hand by rank or that add up to the rank in your hand. For example, a 6 in your hand can capture a 6 on the table, or a 4 plus a 2.

You gain two extra points when you capture the card your opponent just put down, called a caída (a fall) or if you clear the table you get a limpia (clean). The most complicated part is capturing a sequence of cards. If a 2, 3 and 4 are on the table, and you have a 2 in your hand, you can capture them all in sequence. The 8, 9 and 10 cards are removed from the deck, so a 7 and Jack are in sequence. You can't add up cards to match the rank of face cards, and you can't take two of the same rank like a 3 and a 3 to make 6.

So the killer move is to combine an addition capture and a sequence capture. If, for example, the table is (2, 3, 6, 7, J), you can play a 5, claiming the 2 and the 3 together, and the 6, 7, J in sequence. That's all in one play.

Once you learn the basics, you can turn your attention to the most interesting part of the game where strategy comes into play, figuring out what you can set up in advance, or guessing which cards might be safe to play without your opponent scoring extra points against you.

The cards are dealt five at a time until the whole deck is used, and then there is a re-deal if necessary. Whoever has captured more cards before the re-deal gets extra points depending on how far ahead they are, and the game ends when one of you reaches 40 points. If you want to learn more about the game, including some of the rarer scoring rules, here is a link to the full rules to the original card game, Cuarenta.

Analysis: The sound in this game is what really sells it. Every time you win or lose a point, a choir of excited voices yell at you! They cheer and jeer you, which will make you want to play more. You won't have any clue what's going on at first but it sure will sound exciting!

The graphics are fairly rudimentary, and not entirely intuitive—selecting cards takes some getting used to. You double click to lay one of your cards on the table. If you want to take cards from the table you should first click on the cards on the table that you want and then double click the card in your hand to capture. You can't unclick a card in your hand, it will act as a double click and finalize a decision. If you did not select cards on the table and you accidentally double click your card, it will just be put on the table. So just select another card in your hand instead.

The gameplay AI seems pretty good, although sometimes it makes a mistake and gets yelled at, to mimic a real opponent. When this occurs against the computer, one of its cards will be brought partially forward as a penalty, and you must click on it to place it on the table.

It's always a joy to learn card games from different countries, and now with so many game designers around the world, we can learn more and more of them.

Play (Juega) Cuarentazo


  • Currently 3.2/5
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Rating: 3.2/5 (67 votes)
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ArtbegottiAirDropThey say that if at first you don't succeed, then skydiving probably isn't for you. And we all laugh at these morbid jokes, because a lot of us have never actually gone skydiving before. But if you ask any professional skydiver, they'll tell you all about the true horror of skydiving… colored walls, floating in midair.

Air Drop is a mouse-avoider game from Finefin, the creator of Dotville. As most skydivers know, your goal is to get from Point A (umpteen thousand feet up) to Point B (the ground) relatively unscathed. However, due to either global warming, old refrigerators leaking chlorofluorocarbons, or the rising cost of airplane flights, a series of walls and tunnels has formed in midair, and running into them would likely be painful.

As you navigate the walls by guiding your skydiver with the mouse and collect coins for extra points, you'll notice that you have the ability to control the speed at which you fall. If you move your cursor towards the top, your descent will slow down, while moving your cursor back toward the bottom will speed you up. You'll get more points for a faster fall, and be less likely to get caught up at the top of the screen waiting for a wall to move for you. (Oh, I forgot to mention… some walls move. We'll just blame that on the wind.) Use strategy to zoom ahead where you can, quick maneuvering to navigate around the walls, and avoid getting hurt to rack up a high score!

Analysis: The cheery pixel-art and energizing music make this a fun game to play, and the variable falling speed gives you a bit of control over how difficult you make the game for yourself. The major drawback is that there are only eight levels and the final landing to this game, which (pun unintended) fly by rather quickly. On the other hand, it's highly unlikely that you made it from Point A to Point B unscathed (and the analysis of each level at the end is proof), so you know your finger is itching to click the "Jump!" button again. Hey, you know what? If at first you don't succeed, try skydiving again!

Play Air Drop


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (111 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessTime Escape is aptly named, as it may indeed take you quite a bit of time to complete—this game is long! Not that that's a bad thing, of course (can we really ever have enough pointing and clicking goodness?). An escape-the-house, rather than escape-the-room, adventure, EscapeTime Escape is a complex quest that will test your wits and boggle your mind.

December 31st, 1999. A mysterious conversation occurs between two concealed figures, only to be cut short by an unseen disaster. 100 years later, you wake up in a library, disoriented and alone. What are you doing in this strange house, and how can you escape? What connection is there between the events of the past and your situation now? To find out, you'll need to follow the trail of clues left by your predecessors and unravel the mystery of your own identity. If you're lucky and use all of the house's resources wisely, you might even get out in one piece.

Analysis: James Young, the university student creator of Time Escape, cites Mateusz Skutnik's Submachine series as one of the inspirations for his handiwork. This is definitely apparent in the game's appearance, play style and general mien; like the Submachines, Time Escape involves traversing a many-roomed building, picking up a large number of both generic and odd items and using them in expected and unexpected ways. Young also borrows a few other, more specific, elements of Mateusz's games, such as clues in the form of a series of cryptic notes and a backstory based in time travel and otherworldly phenomena. I do wish that in a few instances, Time Escape had deviated a bit more from the Submachine formula (for example, Young has a nearly identical system of finding "secrets" in the form of tiny colored balls), but on the whole the similarities do not detract from the game's creativity or quality. And really, could he have chosen a better developer to emulate?

I definitely enjoyed Time Escape, but at times the game tested my patience with the sheer amount of backtracking that was necessary to complete the adventure. I found it easy to become disoriented when navigating the house's various floors; a map would have been invaluable (the provided compass didn't prove of much use to me). Combined with the fact that many of the items obtained are used in earlier parts of the house, the game occasionally became more taxing than fun. Also, I found it frustrating that some seemingly-obvious actions, such as smashing a brick wall with a hammer, were discarded in favor of more dubious solutions; this meant that at times the game devolved into a "try everything with everything" clicking fiesta.

Despite these criticisms, I think that Time Escape is great. The graphics are quite nice, the interface is clean and simple and the soundtrack adds a wonderful ambiance. Creating such a complex, lengthy and atmospheric game is quite an achievement, especially for such a young designer; I can't wait to see what Young comes out with next! Enjoy.

Play Time Escape

A larger version of Time Escape is available, but is lower in resolution.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (85 votes)
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PsychotronicMore Blocks With Letters OnLook, I apologize in advance for posting this game. The first game was pretty popular, and as soon as I heard that Marty Sears had released More Blocks With Letters On, I knew you all would want to know about it. But great jumping giblets, this is a hard bloody game. Seriously, boggling at these puzzles feels like my brain is being sucked through my colon. It's like being punched in the eyes by tiny taunting monkeys wearing professorial cardigans. If you haven't played the first Blocks With Letters On, go play it before you even consider clicking on this one; the sequel's difficulty picks up at the point where the last game left off. Which was already freakishly difficult.

For the uninitiated, Blocks With Letters On is a game that seamlessly combines language riddles with physical tile puzzles. Each level provides you with an assortment of blocks (with letters on), and you must find a way to position them in the supplied pink spaces so that they spell an English word. All manner of clever obstacles will interfere, including sticky walls, number-coded doors and switches, and pads that turn your blocks (with letters on) pink and give them the power to fly.

Click on a block to select it, and then press the [arrow] keys to move it around. Press [space] to cycle between all your blocks. On levels with teleports, move a block into one and press [enter] to transport it to another teleport of the same colour.

Sears has an endlessly surprising sense of humour and apparently a sadistic streak the size of the Atlantic Ocean, which makes him a dream come true for masochistic anagrammists who enjoy being battered like rats in a plinko machine. The bizarre, hilarious vignettes between levels have returned, and I'm far too stupid to get past level 6, so I have no idea if all the content is kid-safe. In every sense, proceed at your own risk.

Play More Blocks With Letters On

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (92 votes)
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PsychotronicColor InfectionColor Infection and Color Infection 2 are a pair of puzzle games built on the useful Box2D physics engine. They feature a bare-bones presentation, no music or sound effects, and a color scheme that is arguably hideous. Their saving grace is a selection of incredibly devious puzzle designs, the kind that make you sit back and bask in their cleverness, even as they taunt you with arcane complexity.

The objective on each level is to turn all the yellow balls brown, by bringing them in contact with other brown objects. Your only means of interaction is clicking on stationary pink objects to make them disappear, thus setting various convoluted chain reactions in motion. Color Infection 2 (and one level in the first game) features green balls as well, which must be kept uninfected by the brown ones in order to beat the level.

Included are a few nice usability features: press the [number keys] to adjust the game speed, and in the sequel, pressing [B] toggles a primitive but considerate colorblind mode.

Color Infection's designer, Tapir, could probably use an artist collaborator to get these games looking a little more appealing, but his talent for diabolical contraptions makes him a blessing for those who enjoy watching the interplay of gravity, inertia, and friction. Other than an ill-advised run of nearly identical levels at the end of Color Infection 2, you'll just see one intriguing setup after another. This is just one stylish makeover away from being one of the coolest puzzle series around.

Play Color Infection

Play Color Infection 2


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (109 votes)
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PsychotronicMonolistMonolist, from Japanese developer (or possibly super-powered spy team) Polygon Gmen, is what you would get if you took classic Space Invaders gameplay, multiplied it by three, strained it through a net made of Arkanoid bonus drops, and then sprinkled in nine hundred million bullets. Like a recreational energy drink, it's cool, refreshing, burning sweet, and highly caffeinated.

The aliens, played here by a cast of nefarious transparent squares, are attacking simultaneously on three separate planes! Three separate planes! Three separate planes! It will behoove you to repel them with your nine hundred million bullets, because if any one of those three squadrons reaches the ground, you gonna get all 'splodey.

Move [left] and [right] with the appropriate arrow keys. Press [up] to jump onto the next plane into the screen, and [down] to flip the other way. Press [P] to pause the game. You will fire automatically, but if you want to try out a policy of appeasement, you can hold [space] to stop shooting. Good luck with that.

Your enemies will not return fire, but they will drop triangular bonuses as you destroy them. Collecting these grants you temporary firepower upgrades, though some are significantly more useful than others. Hint: the dark blue one is your best friend, but you may want to avoid the purple one till you know what you're doing.

The warning monitor in the lower right informs you if an enemy squadron on any battlefront is approaching too close to your precious earthsoils. For better or for worse, these warnings are not accompanied by a cacophony of alarm sirens, so stay alert.

Analysis: We'll be sure to keep an eye on Polygon Gmen, not just because they might be supervillains working undercover, but because they have an obvious knack for putting modern twists on a time-honored gameplay foundation. Monolist is simple and chaotic enough to be played by anyone, but a super-taut combo-based scoring system gives it the depth it needs to appeal to all you turbo-charged space ninjas out there.

The minimalist graphics could be more interesting, perhaps, but when you grab the blue triangle and lay waste to that tiny little screen with 5 concurrent streams of bursting particle mayhem, you'll appreciate the readability of simple shapes.

The Polygon Gmen (...assemble!) know that the great 2D shooters were all about crowd control and time management. Enemy formations often include a string of outliers, so that an observant defender can quickly cripple their rate of descent by stripping those limbs. On later waves, when particularly motivated formations attack with enthusiastic speed, your tactical plan will be just as valuable as your reflexes.

In one of the few strikes against Monolist, the collision detection between your ship and the power-ups is awkward; only the nose of your ship can make the pickup. Also, you can simply leave off the side of the screen if you want to. Normally, I would call that sloppy programming, but it's such a suicidal thing to do in this case, I prefer to think of it simply as a doomed exit strategy.

Play Monolist


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Rating: 3.4/5 (68 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (19)

SonicLoverMr. SweetsThey call him Mr. Sweets. He makes a living selling delicious candy to children, with the help of music and a match-three puzzle game. What you're probably interested in is the puzzle game, which was developed by SKT Products, the makers of Magnet 2 and Bombsweeper 3D.

Match-three games are used for just about every job nowadays: tend a flower garden, kill spiders, battle foes in an RPG, take care of zoo animals; you name it, there's a match-three game for it. Next we'll be matching three to present cases in a court of law.

Mr. Sweets has a bit of a language barrier for non-Japanese speakers, but the gameplay is simple enough to understand in any language. You've got a grid filled with pieces of candy, and each piece has a bump on at least one side. Click a piece, and the bumps expand, pushing pieces around and usually knocking one or two off the screen. When three pieces of the same color align in a row, they expand as well, possibly creating other threesomes as a result, before disappearing.

When the meter on Mr. Sweets' cart fills, more sugary goodness drops in to fill whatever empty space has filled the grid. The goal for each level is to make enough matches to satisfy the customer's sweet tooth and fill the meter above her head before the sun sets. This quickly becomes more and more difficult as the levels increase (no surprise there), but it's easier if you can master pulling off double-digit combos to rack up the points.

Analysis: It's hard to bring a new twist to a classic and do it well, but SKT know what they're doing. Once I started playing Mr. Sweets, I simply could not pull myself away until my game ended and the girl walked away in tears.

The audio works, the graphics work, the gameplay works, the controls work. I'm having trouble finding something to complain about. All this game needs is an option to turn off the music and the sound separately instead of both at once, and it will be perfect.

Go and get your sweets on! And don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards!

Play Mr. Sweets


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (93 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (31)

PsychotronicTwo RoomsTwo Rooms is a new action/puzzle game from Lilley Design that will test your skills of both logic and finger agility. Two cubical robots (or possibly microwaves, or sub-woofers, or watch faces, I'm not sure) are stuck in a room, and your job is to free them. Or rather, I should say that they are stuck in two rooms, one on the right and one on the left, and they must work together to escape. Between them and freedom, you will encounter a variety of walls, switches, crates and other obstacles you must manipulate so that at least one microwave can reach the checkered patch of floor that marks the exit.

Control your boxy twin escape artists with the [arrow keys] and switch control from one to the other with [space]. Walls decorated with a streak of color can be set in motion by moving a 'bot over the corresponding switch, which is of course usually located in the opposite room. If you get stuck, or if one of your characters gets crushed by moving walls, restart the level with [B] or [N]. Pressing [P] brings up the Pause Screen, which also contains an hint for each level.

Analysis: Two Rooms is a classy production in many ways, from the title menu screen, which is like a mini-puzzle of its own; to the way you can instantly flip between levels you've completed with the [Q] and [W] keys, to try for better completion times. However, there are a few options only accessible by mouse, and I'd prefer never to have to jump from the keyboard to the mouse, since the game does require two hands to play normally.

Later on, there get to be a lot of differently colored walls and switches, and the subtle color choices can be almost indistiguishable. In other respects, the visual presentation is readable and handsome, if somewhat charmless. I'm no huge fan of random googly eyes on game characters, but I would have liked at least a blinking red eye on my lifeless protagonists here, just so I could identify more strongly with them than I do with the surrounding walls.

I want to make special mention of the musical score here, since Lilley Design take obvious pride in it, and offer you an unusual amount of control over the background tunes. Besides the option to turn off the music or sound effects, the Sound section on the pause menu allows you to choose between cycling through all five available tracks or repeating your favorite one. The Credits screen, a model example of how the credits for Flash games should be done, links each individual song to its composer's page on Newgrounds. The generous selections here do give this a long load time for a game of its type, but it's worth it for music this entertaining.

The overall game length feels a little skimpy, but there's no shortage of variety. Almost every one of the game's 30 stages teaches you something new, and the final stretch of challenges combines everything you've learned into a meaty stew of complex chain reactions. It's just about perfect for an hour's worth of puzzle solving, and because most levels require both speed and smarts, your whole brain gets a light but refreshing workout.

Two Rooms gets especially interesting once it starts hiding switches and other game objects inside crates, or putting entire maze sections within movable walls, but there's far too little of that kind of thing. The unexplored potential there could make for an excellent sequel ("Two Rooms Two" is pretty catchy), but this is already a satisfying chunk of blocky shifting puzzle action.

Play Two Rooms

Thanks for sending this one in, Treniac, Theprogram00, and Sarah!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWelcome to a brand new feature here on JayIsGames: Mobile Monday! Since the launch of the iPhone and iPod Touch App Store last summer, mobile games have not only been easier to come by, but far more plentiful. An explosion of content has flooded our way, drenching us lucky gamers in a cornucopia of gaming choices. But with so many games to download, what's a time-pressed budget-minded casual gamer to do?!

Rather than buying all 80 bajillion iPhone games yourself, JayIsGames will do what we've always done best: sift through the deluge and let you know what games are worth your time. If you know of an iTunes App Store game that deserves a mention, use the "Suggest a Game" link at the top of the page to let us know. Now, kick back, grab your favorite touch-enabled Apple device, and get ready to be... distracted!

aurorafeint.jpgAurora Feint II: The Beginning - Puzzle/role playing hybrid games are all the rage, especially after Puzzle Quest came along and made the new genre a household obsession. Aurora Feint is all about Bejeweled-style matching and clearing blocks, though the twist is you can only move them horizontally. Tilt the iPhone to the side, however, and the blocks tumble and shift, allowing new moves and a whole other level of combos to be created. As you clear blocks you level-up and earn "essences" which can be turned into RPG-style tools. If you enjoy this version of Aurora Feint, check out Aurora Feint II - Arena Daemons and Aurora Feint II - The Tower Puzzles as well.

taptaprevenge.jpgTap Tap Revenge - Fan of rhythm games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, or Frets on Fire? Tap Tap Revenge, one of several music games from Tapulous, is your cup of tea! Play through a good-sized catalogue of popular songs on three levels of difficulty, tapping the appropriate "fret" when the note comes to the bottom of the screen. You even have to shake and tilt the iPhone on occasion!

enigmo.jpgEnigmo - One of the first physics puzzle games released for the App Store is still one of the best. Enigmo is all about moving water droplets to pots using reflectors, converters, sponges, tubes, and spring-loaded platforms. Set the gadgets using the simple touch-based interface (pinch the screen to zoom in and out), then turn on the water and see what happens.

toybotdiaries.jpgToy Bot Diaries - A short and quirky arcade-style puzzle platform game that quickly turned into a series. You take control of the Tiny Toy Bot who awakens inside a strange machine and wants to get out. Tilt the iPhone/iPod Touch to move left and right, and a simple tap on the screen fires his handy grappling hook that can latch onto coins (which are used to open gates) or hold onto objects and swing back and forth. Toy Bot Diaries makes good use of the system's accelerometer and features a surprisingly fun (if unrealistic, at times) physics engine along with a delicious blend of puzzle/adventure gaming. In addition to this free version, try out the full Toy Bot Diaries, Toy Bot Diaries 2, and Toy Bot Diaries 3!

A big "Thank you!" to Mat Annal of Nitrome for the wonderful artwork that we commissioned him to create for our new banner. Cheers, Mat!

NOTE: Games listed may not be available outside of North America. Prices are subject to change and are therefore unlisted. Please see the individual game pages for purchasing info.


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Rating: 4.6/5 (60 votes)
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Be Rich!

JohnBBuild-a-lot has a new competitor in town: Divo Games' Be Rich!, a strategy-oriented casual tycoon game of real estate planning, building and investing. The game's title gives away your ultimate goal of raking in cash by constructing and upgrading houses in various cities to increase your profits and up your credibility. It takes a more real estate-centric approach to building than the Build-a-lot series does, although the similarities between the games are hard to ignore.

berich.jpgYou begin with a small neighborhood surrounded by quaint scenery. Each level has a number of goals you must meet in order to proceed. Tasks such as raising your rent to a certain level, constructing a number of buildings, earning a specified amount of cash, etc. can all be accomplished with a few mouse clicks. Navigate the menus at the bottom to construct houses, other buildings, and decorative items, then build on the grid where you see fit.

Raising rental income is as simple as building more houses, upgrading existing units, and purchasing lots that occasionally come to market. Bonus buildings such as shops and workshops boost your income and keep houses under good repair respectively.

Unlike the Build-a-lot series which focuses on resource management, Be Rich! is more tycoon-centric and ditches several arcade-style ideas in favor of cold hard simulation. You don't have to worry about managing materials or workers in this game, only cash flow, freeing your mind to worry about the singular goal of the game: get rich.

berich2.jpgAnalysis: When you're going toe to toe with a heavy hitter such as Build-a-lot, you can't pull your punches. Be Rich! smacks the established series right in the kisser by following the same visual direction, gameplay setup, and keeping a number of conventions the same. In fact, if you've played any of the Build-a-lot games, you can skip the Be Rich! tutorial!

Fortunately for us hapless players, Be Rich! doesn't come straight from Cloneville. The game's design may be similar, but there are key differences that break it free from that Build-a-lot mold. For starters, the visual style comes across as quaint, serene, and in many cases, beautiful. Just look at those mountains surrounding the lake! The little touches like people walking on the streets and cars driving on the roads add a human aspect to the experience. You aren't some nameless tycoon slinging boards for cash, you're constructing homes for people to live in. It's a small but welcome touch.

Other differences between Be Rich! and Build-a-lot include the ability to create roads (SimCity-style), and more freedom what to construct and where in general. The game allows you to choose what to build and where, opening up the simulation aspect without making things too complicated.

It may follow in the footsteps of Build-a-lot, but Be Rich! strikes a path of its own. More sim, less time management, same strangely addictive fun.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (17) | Views (9)

Weekend Download

JohnBSerious question: if you were a failed experiment of genetic engineering, what would be your weakness? In the case of the poor critter from this week's game Abandoned, it's a limited supply of oxygen. Personally, I would be unable to comb my hair without first dislocating my left shoulder. Think about it. That'd be a rough life.

caster.jpgCaster (Mac/Windows, ~20MB, demo) - A 3D action adventure game that brings back a lot of memories from the Nintendo 64/PlayStation era. Dash, jump, fire, super jump and walk your way through a series of missions as you destroy bug-like creatures and collect energy orbs they leave behind. After each level you can upgrade your abilities tower defense-style. You (and some enemies) can even deform the terrain, which is a nice (and epically dramatic) touch.

abandoned.gifAbandoned (Windows, 12MB, free) - A simple game of exploration that brings back fond memories of Super Metroid. You play a creature who is the result of a failed genetic experiment trying to escape the lab. You have a limited supply of air and must move quickly to find the right power-ups to clear the way to freedom.

greentech.gifgreenTech (Windows, 15MB, free) - Eliminate global warming in this deliciously retro strategy game from the creator of Shellblast. Steer the wind by moving the hurricane (cursor) to pull clouds of pollution from factories into the cleaning facility. If only it were this easy (and fun) in real life!


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Rating: 4.8/5 (89 votes)
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Crayon Physics Deluxe

JohnBPetri Purho of Kloonigames has a reputation for churning out experimental prototypes in a matter of days. In 2007 one of these prototypes was the sandbox-style puzzle game Crayon Physics. The premise was simple — use a "crayon" to draw shapes that immediately come alive and interact with each other, the ultimate goal being to collect a star somewhere on the screen. The experiment was a hit, and soon it was announced that a full-fledged version of the game was in the works: Crayon Physics Deluxe.

crayonphysicsdeluxe.jpgEach stage in Crayon Physics Deluxe features at least two objects: a ball and one or more stars. Your goal is to move the ball to collect the stars and finish the stage. It's that simple. Using the left mouse button you can draw using crayon-style lines. Click, drag, and when you release, the shape you made comes alive and is given mass. You can draw wild shapes, plain shapes, lines, hearts, stars, bacon, monkeys, and everything in-between, it all interacts using realistic physics. You can even build rudimentary machines that are powered by gravity, attach shapes using hinges, and give the ball a little boost by clicking on it. Don't let typical gaming conventions limit yourself, as creativity is the key to enjoying Crayon Physics Deluxe.

The game is laid out in a series of islands, each with several stages that contain puzzles to solve and stars to collect. Grab enough stars to unlock more islands that have more stages to play around with. Later you'll come across new concepts and items such as rockets that do exactly what you think they'd do when smacked with an object. And if you're feeling particularly adventurous, give the easy-to-use level editor a try.

crayonphysicsdeluxe2.jpgAnalysis: It's best to consider Crayon Physics Deluxe as a physics-based creativity tool as opposed to a puzzle game, even though there are certainly puzzle-like aspects to its structure. The real purpose is to let your imagination run wild coming up with strange solutions to each level. Most of the time there's no "intended" solution, though a simple box or two will usually do the trick. Don't be afraid to play with the game's own rules, either, such as allowing the ball to fall off-screen so it appears back at the starting point. You aren't penalized for losing the ball, nor do you have limited crayon ink or a finite number of shapes that can be on the screen at once. Seriously, just go wild with this one!

The game is packed with a sense of playful wonder that shows in many ways. For starters, you can draw on the world map, and your doodles are saved even when you quit the game. You can also change the color your crayon draws with using the mouse wheel button, a feature that only exists for aesthetic purposes.

We all love physics toys, and Crayon Physics Deluxe is easily one of the best. It's built around having fun, not challenging your brain, and if you walk into the experience with that in mind, you'll enjoy every moment of gameplay from start to finish.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


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Liong: The Lost Amulets

JohnBNow here's a new genre-crossing idea: a hidden object game and mahjong-style tile matching. Bet even your strangest of late night dreams wouldn't have paired those two, would they? Liong: The Lost Amulet dares to try something different with the Chinese-themed item finding/tile matching game. The visual presentation and soundtrack are nothing short of exotic, and the gameplay mashes some interesting ideas into an unfamiliar frame that works better than you might imagine.

lionglostamulets.jpgThe five amulets that hold the elemental world in balance are missing. Working through alternating scenes of hidden object gameplay and tile matching, you'll hunt down these amulets to restore order. Between levels you'll also engage in randomly-chosen mini-games such as memory matching, tangram-style puzzles, and more. And if all this genre-mixing hubub turns you off, there's always a straight-up mahjong game available from the title screen, bells and whistles included.

The hidden object scenes are actually quite different from the genre's standard fare. For starters, they're viewed from a top-down perspective, so items are generally hidden in much more natural ways. The wording can be a bit confusing from time to time, but nothing was too ambiguous to make things frustrating. Many of the items tend to be quite small, forcing you to squint more than usual. A hint system is always available to get you out of a tight spot, however.

During the tile matching sequences you'll face a pile of tiles with five slots at the bottom of the screen. These slots show which tiles you can pull from the stack, simply find a matching pattern on an open tile and click to remove it. The goal is to work the pile down to nothing, grabbing a few bonuses on the way to the floor.

lionglostamulets2.jpgAnalysis: Liong: The Lost Amulets was another one of those "Oh, hi! Where'd you come from?!" games I get to experience once in a while. It really is a fun and innovative game that does a good job with its promise of combining disparate genres into a single adventure. And when hidden object scenes weren't going my way, I retreated back to the title screen and played a round or two of mahjong.

One excellent game-wide feature is the option to tweak the game's settings to make it easier or more challenging as you please. Turn off free-tile highlighting, play the hidden object games in relaxed mode, and switch mahjong tile styles to make things easier on your eyes.

While the concept is unique and offers a new take on some old ideas, I can't help but feel it could have been taken a bit further to really provide some sparkle and shine. The whole purpose of bending genres is to introduce a new experience for the gamer. Liong: The Lost Amulets pulls this off, but the separate elements aren't quite stitched together to form a new whole. The result feels almost like a collection of separate games with a gossamer-thin line tying them together.

It came very close to being a heavy-hitting genre-smashing game with its unique combination of games and gorgeous presentation. Liong: The Lost Amulets falls just short of being a revolution, but it still manages to serve up a great gaming experience.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4/5 (144 votes)
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Reader reviewPixel PopThe following is a reader-submitted review:

Nitrome continues its relationship with MTV Arcade with their latest, Pixel Pop. It's like a rhythm-based Wario Ware, in which you play colorful mini-game levels with a musical timing element. Destroy attacking fighters and tanks as Godzilla! Stake vampires as they rise in their coffins! Um...eat...stuff. It's all here, with three difficulty levels across four distinct stages, a different song in each level, and a final "mix-tape" stage that surreally switches context between the stages over the course of the song.

All you need is your mouse. There are some levels with a motion element, but by and large, it's one-switch action. It's no DDR, though; clicking in time to the beat yields to complicated click-hold-and-release patterns, all melded smoothly into one motion. And all to a soundtrack too infectious to sit still to.

Analysis: I think we can skip over the part where I talk about the graphics and sound that have become a staple of Nitrome's style, except to say that the C64 references have never been as explicit.

Pixel Pop strikes a delicate balance between adding novelty and complexity to a rhythm game on the one hand, and remaining comprehensible on the other, and it is a qualified success. Toward the end, the tasks can become almost too intricate, to the point where you are too distracted by the kinematics to notice how they tie together with the on-screen action, or with the music. At the same time, the precision of the timing increases sharply between difficulty levels (from downbeat to upbeat to off-beat), making for a steep and sometimes frustrating difficulty curve.

This problem is alleviated somewhat by the fact that each stage in a set emphasizes some of the same parts of the rhythm, and they share some conceptual similarities—they all might require you to anticipate the beat, for instance. Thus, the biggest hurdle is the first stage.

The timing of the game is thankfully hiccup-free.* I noticed the animation or sound sticking occasionally, but it all resynced to the music quickly and flawlessly, though a few sound cues seem to mute on occasion. There are one or two bugs that can be exploited to the player's advantage, but they're very difficult to find.

All in all, Pixel Pop is a polished, quirky and entertaining title, if you have a decent sense of rhythm. I heartily recommend it.

Play Pixel Pop

Thanks to Maqrkk, Alex, Joseph, Repairmanman, Jninjaz, Aethelind, Mrsico, Luffely, Sijapu17, Rosie and Boris for sending this one in!

*Note: Your mileage may vary. A couple of our reviewers had trouble playing this one due to synchronization problems.


| Comments (16) | Views (3)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBA peculiar phenomenon manifested before my eyes while writing this week's Link Dump Friday. When examining the titles for each game, I realized they were remarkably interchangeable! With a few minor alterations of my own, of course.

  • icon_kubekounter.gifKube Kounter - You like kounting kubes? Konsider this game your holy grail. Watch as the cubes fall and count them as quickly as you can. Enter the amount and get scored based on how long you took. An alternate title for the game: Too Many Kubes!
  • icon_toomanyninjas.gifToo Many Ninjas! - Is such a thing really possible? Well, in this case, yes, it is. Wait for a ninja to leap out of the shadows and attack, then press the appropriate cursor key to defend yourself. It's all about timing, reflexes, and blind luck. From the creator of QWOP. Alternate title: Ninja 'Nnihilator.
  • icon_littlemastercricket.gifLittle Master Cricket - From the creator of QWOP (and the above ninja game) comes a simple physics-based cricket title where you use the mouse to swing the bat to smack the ball into the targets across the screen. Don't hit it too hard or you'll foul out. Alternate title: Cricket Clop.
  • icon_tritowers.gifTri Towers Solitaire - A nice Flash implementation of the classic Tri Peaks solitaire game. Click on cards one higher or lower than the card showing on the stack at the bottom, trying to remove all three peaks of cards in order to keep your game going. Alternate title: Magically Appearing Castles.
  • icon_whereonearth.gifWhere on Earth? - A fun little quiz-type game where your only task is to locate monuments on a map. When a famous building is shown, click the vicinity where you believe it resides. Points awarded for speed and proximity. Alternate title: THERE IT IS!!!!

| Views (2)

PsychotronicOnce again, a year has passed. We've tried our hardest to recommend the very best online games and downloadable casual games available on the Web, and now it's time for you to have your say. Yes, it's time for the fifth annual Jay is Games "Best of" feature. Help us out by voting for your favorite games of 2008!

Vote now! ...and vote every day!

(Please Digg this—if you have a Digg account. Help us to spread the word about all these great games!)

And the categories are... >>


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Rating: 4.3/5 (120 votes)
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StaceyG"Time4CatIf you have ever had a cat, you surely asked yourself at some point "How did the cat suddenly appear there?" Well this game may explain it, as you play a cat who has control over space and time!

Time 4 Cat is a new mouse avoidance game, by Megadev, in which your movements also control the enemy, so you can make everyone stop and start, or go faster or slower. Your goal is to hustle through the big city and scoop up all the food that is dropped. Each piece of food has a count-down timer on it, the faster you collect the food the higher your score. There is an occasional white sphere for a bonus power up, which gives you control over the immediate crowd by left clicking the mouse, allowing you to push all the people out of the way with a force field. Each sphere collected is single use and you can only keep three at time. The obstacles become more daunting as the density of people increase and there are bicyclists to contend with. Adding an extra dimension to the problem are shadows of passing clouds obscuring your view a bit, and eventually the people start to materialize and dematerialize creating quite a challenge.

Analysis: This game is elegant. The art work is simple and hip. The music adds to the enjoyment of the game — it starts out as ambient music then begins to syncopate and subtly build over the course of the game, adding some tension when things escalate. There are some nice sound effects thrown in; if you listen close you can hear the cat purring when it catches the food. But you don't want to hear the cat meow when it runs into a pedestrian, as that ends the game.

The game is easy to play in a short time frame, and fun to replay and try for the highest score by concentrating on speed, or slowing down for accuracy. You could even cha cha cha to the beat. Unlike most mouse avoider games, where it can get so frantic that you can barely see what you're doing, the thing that makes this game stand out is the fact that you can slow everything down and go at your own pace. It remains challenging while being relaxing.

Play Time 4 Cat

Thanks to Spector17 for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (156 votes)
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Psychotronicpsychotronic_crossblock_title.gifHere's a delicious little treat from DJ Trousdale at deviantART. Crossblock is a simple and rewarding puzzle game with a sublimely deceptive difficulty curve. At first, you might think it's too easy—after all, each puzzle is just a collection of white squares on a grid—but the complexity grows organically, quicksanding you deeper with each level, until you find yourself waist-deep in Puzzle Solving Mode, goggling at some mad conglomeration of blockwork, your brain shutting down in whinnying, eye-rolling stupefaction.

Your goal is to eliminate all the blocks on a level by dragging a line across them, one horizontal or vertical group at a time. Each level has a number that indicates how many blocks you can cross out at once. Just click and drag across a group, consisting of exactly that number of blocks, to erase them.

This is all a lot easier to understand when you're looking at it, and the game eases you into it with a gracious and sinister hand. The lovely hand-pixeled scrolling backgrounds and jazzy soundtrack (all by the game's author) help make you feel comfortable and unthreatened, but don't be fooled. There will come a point where you just can't believe that such a straightforward, honest-looking pile of blocks can hold so many baffling complications; that such a friendly, casual game can so effortlessly grab you by the peaknuckles and lead you around the room skipping.

Nice work, DJ Trousdale. Good puzzle game.

Play Crossblock


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Rating: 3.9/5 (117 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessEscape, the third chapter in the Trapped series by Godlimations, inspires in me a confusing mixture of feelings. There's much to admire about the game—excellently animated cutscenes, a number of clever puzzles, an interesting story—but it also at times comes off as amateurish and cheesy. EscapeAn obvious labor of love, Escape manages to be one of the most epic and expansive room escape games I've played while still providing more than a few wince-worthy moments. Kooky!

In Escape, you play as Dialla Reineheart, a spunky red-headed lady detective tasked with bringing down a sinister crime syndicate. Your partner, Mickey, has been tragically slain by the leader of the gang, the ruthless Dan McNeely; now, you must escape from his clutches. This won't be easy. Even after absconding from your jail cell, there's the matter of finding the evidence needed to bring down the syndicate once and for all...not to mention getting past Merik, Dan's violently brutish second-in-command. And, of course, there is the inevitable final showdown with McNeely himself. What sort of demons will Dialla have to confront when she comes face-to-face with her own past?

Escape is a significant achievement. It's one of the longest escape games I've ever played, spanning four rooms and half a dozen very nicely-animated cutscenes; it also contains a smooth, well-integrated combat section, which is not easy to pull of in the middle of a point-and-click adventure. I was struck most by the completeness of the package that Escape presents: multiple rooms to escape from, a fleshed-out backstory, animated cutscenes, voice acting... Godlimations really went over and beyond to create a game that transcends the room escape genre to become something more substantial and complex.

However, as much as I admired and enjoyed Escape's various cutscenes and story elements, at times I just could not get past the cheesiness. The characters are almost ridiculously two-dimensional (the spirited heroine, evil henchman, heartless criminal mastermind, etc), and approximately one-third of the dialogue consists of evil cackles and plaintive wails. The voice acting is mixed; while some was quite good (I especially enjoyed the campy maliciousness of the actor voicing McNeely), Dialla's voice practically made me grind my teeth. Finally, strangely enough, only certain cutscenes are skippable; considering the length of some of these sections and the fact that there is no save feature, it would have been nice to always have the option to move directly to the next interactive portion of the game. These may seem like petty criticisms, and certainly they don't relate directly to the gameplay; still, these components are a significant enough part of the overall experience to warrant examination and appraisal.

While I found that overall the game's puzzles were rational enough, there were moments that required leaps of questionable logic. The final room in particular contained one puzzle that completely baffled me; it was only after 10 minutes of random clicking around that I accidentally stumbled across the solution. That being said, the game's interface is clean and largely intuitive, and pixel-hunting is nil (woot!).

Even with these criticisms, I don't want to diminish how impressed I was with many aspects of the game. Godlimations is a very talented group, and the effort they put into Escape definitely shows; the game's aesthetic, most of the gameplay and the overall immersion of the experience are really excellent. I think that if the team had scaled down the size of the game just a bit (one less room, perhaps?) and focused their attention upon perfecting the rest, Escape could have been really marvelous. The potential is there... with time and experience Godlimations may very well create some masterpieces.

While you might enjoy playing the Trapped series' first and second parts, it's not necessary to do so in order to understand Escape. Also, while I certainly wouldn't call the game for mature audiences only, there is a fair amount of cartoony violence, so you may want to keep the little ones away.

It's time to end this once and for all:

Play Escape


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (142 votes)
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ArtbegottiEvacuationHave you ever been driving with the family on a summer day, with all the windows rolled down, the dog sticking its head out the window, and everyone enjoying the breeze of the moving car? When all of a sudden, a bee flies in one of the windows, and everyone's panicking to get it out? I can't say I have, because I don't own a dog. I could venture a guess as to what it's like anyway, thanks to Evacuation, a new retro-styled puzzle game by Ryan Chisholm and Bennett Foddy, creator of QWOP.

Aliens have invaded your spaceship's cargo hold, and your job is to get rid of them, but without the aid of fancy guns that flash a few colorful lights before they vaporize their target. Instead, you harness the maze of gates in your cargo hold to suck the aliens back into outer space. Clicking on a colored gate will open all gates of the same color, and clicking an open gate will close the gates similarly. When a path of open gates leads to the outside air (or lack thereof), anything not tethered down (which is everything) will get sucked outside.

Also wandering around in the cargo hold are your crew members, necessary to keep the ship afloat. Clicking on a room places a flag there, and all capable crew members will work their way into that room. However, if they get caught by an alien, GULP!, they're gone. If they get sucked outside of the ship, EEEK!, they're gone. Most importantly, if an alien sneaks into the control room and consumes the ship's captain, GAAH!, it's all over. At least one crew member (the captain included) has to remain aboard the ship in order to win each level. If you can clear a level without losing a single crew member, you'll be rewarded with two extra crew members from a limited stockpile.

Analysis: On the one hand, Evacuation has a good blend of strategy and luck that makes each level a challenge to figure out. There's no time limit, so you're free to consider all of your options before choosing which gates to open. Tiny, visor-wearing lives are at stake here! On the other hand, some levels leave you feeling a bit too lucky. The level generator, which seems to be making up random levels following a pre-set difficulty curve of some sort, gives a few no-way-to-lose levels from time to time (for example, your captain being put in a room with all solid walls, with no way in or out). One thing that's not entirely clear is whether or not the movement of the aliens and crew members is pre-set or random, which could effect how one plays strategically.

The music does get grating after a bit, but ultimately, it helps to set up the feeling of futuristic-space-travel-attacked-by-aliens goodness. The retro Commodore 64-style graphics also help, with computer fonts and cute little spacemen walking around everywhere. Evacuation might not be the most complex game out there, but (WARNING! PUN AHEAD! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!) one thing's for sure... It'll definitely suck you in.

Hey, we tried.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (59 votes)
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PsychotronicChickens Flying SchoolIf you would describe yourself as both nurturing and sadistic, today's game is perfect for you. Chicken's Flying School, from Xenao Games, is about preparing newborn chicks for a big flying tournament 20 days from now. Since time is short, and you'll apparently be needing a massive troop of trained performing chicken infants, it's sink-or-swim time for the little puffballs. Or, to be more specific, it's get-tossed-into-the-air and-don't-fall time. I have never been more serious in my life than when I say this: Don't try this at home. Do not teach baby chickens to fly by throwing them. You will make everybody sad.

But in a video game, it's totally fine. Adorable, even! On each level, you need to launch a certain number of chicks into the sky and keep them there with puffs of air until they learn to spread their wings and fly on their own. The resident hen will supply you with a steady flow of eggs. Once a chick breaks free of its shell, you can send it upwards with a click of the mouse button. Then keep it from falling to the ground by clicking underneath it with something I've never heard of called an "air sponge". This is easy enough with one chick, but handling multiple flight pupils simultaneously will take a lot of quick thinking and crowd control technique.

After a certain length of time in the air, the little cuties will figure out how to stay aloft by themselves, flutter over to the nearby fence, and perch there in a manner reminiscent of Hitchcock's The Birds. I'm guessing the chicks are planning to thank you for your tough-love style of tutoring by using their newfound powers of flight to go for your eyes.

As you pass levels and the weather gets worse, your job gets more complicated. Gusts of wind threaten to blow the chicks off-screen. Rainstorms make them water-logged, so they fall faster. Predators arrive to terrorize them, and must be booted away with a click of the mouse.

To help balance the odds, power-up clouds float by once in a while. If you burst them in time, they grant you temporary bonuses, like helium balloons for all the little tykes, or a larger, more powerful "air sponge". Activate your bonuses by either clicking on them or pressing the appropriate number hotkey.

Analysis: Chicken's Flying School reminds me of the now classic Popcap title Insaniquarium, which was not so much about time management as it was about attention management. By the last level of this game, you'll be keeping at least four chicks in the air at any given time whilst popping rain clouds to stave off the weather, watching for approaching pests in three different corners of the screen, trying to center everybody in the middle to guard against strong gusts of wind, and planning out a strategy for your dwindling stockpile of power-ups. It's a lot to think about, and if you don't loosen up first, the constant, tense clicking will hurt your wrist. Seriously, don't hurt yourself playing this. The chickens aren't worth it.

Chickens Flying SchoolBut the consistently high level of involvement makes the game fun, and the atmosphere is sugary-sweet enough to make your arms tingle. The artwork is almost supernaturally bright and colorful, while kids of all ages will appreciate the detailed character animation. That fox is so sneaky. Those chicks are so helpless. That rooster who comes to distract the hen is so muscular. The music will drive you insane no matter who you are, but some of us like to flirt with insanity occasionally, thank you very much.

My one big argument with Chicken's Flying School concerns the overall pacing. Xenao Games are trying to stretch about five good gameplay ideas across 20 levels. In order to cover the distance, they roll out new complications at a constant rate, and gradually increase the number of chicks who need to graduate from flying school each level. But instead of just making the later levels harder, they also make them dramatically longer, which eventually turns this from a test of skill into a grinding slog. Don't feel like you have to complete the whole game in one sitting.

This is the sort of game where you're clicking along, going pleasantly mad, having a good time, until you realize that level 18 is twenty times longer than level 1 was, and what you thought was going to be a cute little diversion is now going to make you late for your shift at KFC. Well, at least you'll soon get your revenge.

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  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (537 votes)
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icebreaker.gifJohnBNewly thawed from Nitrome, Ice Breaker is a great-looking physics-based puzzle game involving vikings, chunks of ice, and vikings frozen inside chunks of ice. Using the mouse, simply draw lines to cut the ice and drop vikings onto the ship. You'll often need to manipulate the frozen environment to create a smooth path for the vikingcicles to slide down, so timing and a little experimentation with physics are your two best friends in this game.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009To slice a chunk of ice, all you have to do is click and drag the mouse. You can only cut using a clean stroke, so the line must begin and end outside of the ice. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to scroll the map, or just slide the cursor to the edge of the screen to take a look around.

Ice Breaker doesn't confine the action to cutting and dropping. More physics puzzles are introduced quite quickly, including fixed points where ice can swing from and ropes that can bind pieces of ice together. You'll also find a few other obstacles and bonuses as you slice your way through the game's healthy 40 levels. And even when you're not trying to complete puzzles, it's a lot of fun to cut up the environment to see what kind of havoc you can wreck.

New expanded versions now available!

Analysis: The gameplay in Ice Breaker is reminiscent of the under-appreciated Nintendo DS game Soul Bubbles. In both titles you manipulate objects by slicing chunks off of larger pieces to make them more manageable. In Ice Breaker, for example, you'll often need to cut slivers of ice so a frozen viking can slide down a pathway. Sometimes chiseling a pillar into a properly fitted bridge will be necessary to move a viking to safety, bringing into play your ability to mentally visualize and rotate oddly-shaped objects in your mind.

I've always enjoyed Nitromes pixel-perfect art style, but Ice Breaker's visual presentation really impressed me. Maybe I just like the Norse-like influence, the subtle hints of a grand mythology looming just behind the fuzzy bearded viking guys. The moment I saw the ship floating in the cold waters I was in awe.

A few minor gameplay quirks, such as the mini-map covering areas you need to cut and the slightly "sticky" scrolling function, are slightly annoying but far from ruin the game. A clickable mini-map would also be a nice feature, allowing you to quickly view different areas without moving through the whole stage.

Great-looking, well-balanced and a lot of fun to just play around with, Ice Breaker is an excellent physics-based puzzle game that you'll thoroughly enjoy.

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  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (599 votes)
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SonicLoverYHTBTRMy name? That's not important. Just call me "the avatar". Allow me to share the story of my venture through a deep tunnel with interesting purple wallpaper, and my battle with the fierce boss at the end.

This was no ordinary boss, oh no. This was the Grinning Colossus. And he was impossible to defeat with my regular arsenal of axes. I had to employ a creative means of attack in order to take him out. You'll never guess what it was. My feats of heroism were immortalized in a flash game by Mazapán, called You Have to Burn the Rope. Move [left] and [right] with the corresponding arrow keys, jump with [up] or [space], and throw axes with [down] or any other key.

Though it only received a passing mention in a previous Link Dump Friday, YHTBTR has earned quite a fanbase. It boasts a game manual, four walkthroughs (including one YouTube walkthrough and one in German), a speedrun posted on YouTube, a Spanish Wikipedia page, a text-adventure version, a novelization, and a fan-comic. (Links to all of these are provided at the bottom of the game's web page.) There's even a reference to it in The irRegular Game of Life.

Here are some genuine comments from the JIG community about the masterpiece of gaming that is YHTBTR:

"You have to burn a rope" [sic] is seriously hard, especially the final boss. But I love how the ending credits show screenshots of the most exciting moments. Remembering what incredible feats I had to do during the course of the game made me all teary-eyed... -baba44713

[YHTBTR is] the most amazing, graphically intense game ever produced with the most intriguing story ever made. -ThemePark

ZOMG. How could you not give YHTBTR a full review? It has all the requirements of a great game--drama, comedy, cuteness, fire, a rope—I am taking my blog reading business ELSEWHERE! -joye

YHTBTR is the best game ever, no holds barred. -symar

The ending of YHTBTR is the best I've seen in a game since Portal[.] -mysteriousracoon

After some hours of intense brain concentration, I finally beat YHTBTR. Amazingly fun, escpecially [sic] the credits song. I think I'll just press refresh and start again! -Donut

YHTBTR is the best game ever! I love it! -AF

See what all the hype is all about:

Play YHTBTR


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (86 votes)
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zxoPyroWhile I admit that the staccato *pop* of a punctured Bloon can be quite pleasant, I dare anyone to deny the ultimate satisfaction that comes from lighting stuff on fire! Fortunately, there is now a great way to soothe your burning desire while maintaining the physics-y puzzle-iciousness you've come to expect from Bloons and other offerings.

From game designer Michael Gribbin comes Pyro, a bevy of burning, a calamity of combustion, and a triumph of torch. In short, a game of flame! The goal is simple: light all of the torches. If the copious numbers of wooden blocks spread across forty levels should also happen to go up in smoke, so much the better! Each level requires a certain number of torches (usually all) to be lit, and a given number of fireballs with which to spread your fiery chaos, though occasionally you may collect bonus fireballs.

Click and drag the fireball at the top of the screen to set the angle and power, then release to put it into play. Lighting all the torches with a single fireball earns you an ace, and once you've collected enough aces, you gain access to one of four secret levels. Some levels cannot be beaten with a single fireball, but you can still earn the ace by using only two.

Analysis: In contrast with everyone's favorite dart-throwing-monkey game, Pyro features sparse levels reminiscent of a medieval castle: wood, stone, torches, and nothing else. The puzzle lies more in plotting out a complex, ricochet-riddled path than in using an arsenal of special tools, especially if you're collecting aces. Even the special powers of the rare bonus shots are used without creativity, introduced and then forgotten, providing hints of future complexity left unfulfilled. Now, I don't mind a bare-bones game (in fact, some of my favorite games may be found in under the simpleidea tag), but the limited use of the special fireballs leads me to question why they were even included.

Nevertheless, the minimalistic design makes Pyro accessible to both careful course-plotters and those who prefer to fire early and often, just to see what happens. Awarding aces for perfect shots pacifies those pesky perfectionists who might otherwise balk at having more fireballs than necessary, while also making the game accessible to people who need those extra shots. Also, you can go back to any level you want and try again to get that ace (and get one step closer to unlocking another secret level), which adds a certain amount of replay value.

My only real gripe with the game is that the fireball will occasionally bounce differently than the trajectory line suggests, but since restarting is fast and simple (just press the [s] key to stop a wasted fireball), it's not really a major issue. So don your flame-retardant underpants and get ready to play Pyro!

[Note: This game is tagged pg13 because of some light swearing in the congratulations message at the end of the game.]

Play Pyro


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Rating: 4.2/5 (26 votes)
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Kivi's Underworld

JoshKivi's Underworld, a new hack-n-slash action-RPG, is the second installment of the Depths of Peril series by Soldak Entertainment. The developers received a surprising amount of critical acclaim for Depths of Peril, a game that offered the Diablo-inspired genre a breath of fresh air. Year after year, the mediocre titles being churned out by developers with the intention of riding the coattails of "Diablo madness" has now reached a critical mass, and players usually don't give them a second glance anymore. But just as Depths of Peril caught their eye, the new Kivi's Underworld — set within the same world and mythos — is nothing to be scoffed at. In fact, as isometric action-RPGs go, it's a solid win.

kivi1.jpgI know what you're thinking..."The Diablo series is epic, nothing else comes close — I don't even want to look at anything besides Diablo 3 trailers!" Truth is, a few of us fans here at JIG had the same reservations. But just as its predecessor, Kivi's Underworld isn't some watered-down, derivative clone. It's not some quick-and-dirty rush-job by Soldak to repackage the Depths of Peril engine with new graphics and slap a "new game" sticker on it, which I mistakenly assumed before playing it (in fact, it's an advanced version of the original engine). It's a unique game in its own right, with vastly different mechanics and style. While Depths of Peril focused heavily on strategy and diplomacy, Kivi's Underworld is a lot more action-oriented; in some regard, what you might expect from a platformer, even though it's an isometric, top-down RPG game. Instead of a sprawling game-world like in most RPG's, you'll find a progressing series of level-like "adventures" with quests, achievements, new characters to unlock and skills to beef up. It's a pretty different kind of game than what you might assume from looking at the screen shots.

Kivi is your main character, a member of a race called the Lumen. The Lumen usually stick to their own, leery of outsiders. Kivi, on the other hand, is a real go-getter and decides to adventure out on his own, only to be attacked by the opposing Dark Elves during a mining expedition and left for dead (as seen in Depths of Peril). After his warning about the emerging Dark Elf threat falls on deaf ears, Kivi takes it upon himself to venture out and get proof, as well as taking on the enemy himself. Although I give these indie developers credit for weaving their own inter-connected lore to the series, it's a bit passé in Kivi's Underworld because the game is driven by hack-n-slash action, not lore-driven role-playing. But hey, some fans will love it. Soldak even has a virtual tome of lore and story continuity here on its website.

kivi2.jpgKivi is a warrior class, just one of 20 playable characters in the game. Granted, they're more like "mini-classes" (as developer Steven Peeler quotes them). But it's still quite a lot, especially for a small indie game. These characters are unlocked gradually throughout the game, each bringing a unique set of abilities with them. Some are unlocked by encountering them in-game, while others require a certain number of points accumulated. Every character has a main attack, a special ability (drawn from mana) and a passive ability. For example, Kivi's main attack is with a sword. His special ability is "Power Strike," a high-damage sword attack, and his passive ability is called "Stunning Blows," which always gives him a chance to land stun attacks. Just a few of the of the characters you have to look forward to are: [Spoiler alert; skip to the next paragraph if you feel like knowing some of the characters you'll encounter might spoil the surprise]...a Ninja, a Scout (rogue), Fire and Ice Mages and a Warlock.

The controls and combat system are extremely intuitive, and pretty effective when it comes to dishing out damage and keeping your defenses up. Just point the mouse to the spot you'd like to move to and left-click, or hold the button down to "auto-walk" and you'll keep following the mouse cursor. Click the left mouse button while the cursor is hovering an enemy (or a destroyable object) to use your main attack, or keep it pressed to auto-attack. Same deal with your special ability, which is controlled using the right mouse button. Various hot-keys are assigned (and configurable) for commonly-used actions, like opening your quest and character interfaces. Pushing [Space] will let you quickly use the lowest-placed power-up in your power-up box (which can hold up to three, collected from monster drops and chests--more on these later). Pretty much everything you can control with the mouse by clicking the icons on your UI can be done with keyboard. Tip: the exception seemed to be the ability to toggle item nameplates on and off, which can be done by pressing [Alt]. It's a handy feature when the screen feels too cluttered, or conversely, when you're having trouble seeing an item on the floor.

kivi3.jpgThe streamlined control lends itself well with the gameplay. In keeping with the hack-n-slash theme of Kivi's Underworld, hindrances to action are minimal. The whole game is basically just a series of dungeon runs, but the characters, monsters, quests and abilities keep the game positioned right inside the sweet spot between action and adventure. Each "level" of the game (called adventures) features a single dungeon, some with multiple underground levels. Actually, "dungeon" might not be the best word for every adventure, because some of them have an outdoor setting, even though they are all self-contained. There's a main quest objective in each level, as well as side-quests or achievement goals (like killing 20 zombies or finding all the secret rooms). Your score is paramount to character progression, and you get points for almost everything (even achievement "feats" like attacking the first monster in an adventure before it attacks you). At the end of each adventure, your score is tallied and determines whether you receive a bronze, silver or gold "trophy," which awards you one, two or three skill points to spend, respectively.

Skill points earned this way are spent on base attributes like offense, defense, health, mana and abilities. The skill system works a bit differently in Kivi's Underworld than in other RPG's. There are two types of skill points; temporary and permanent. The points you receive from trophies are permanent and will persist throughout the game. The temporary skill points will only persist until the current adventure ends. Temporary skill points come from weapon and armor drops (from monsters and chests), and will add one point to your offense or defense. There are also "Skill Up" drops that let you choose which skill to spend it on, although they are also temporary. It's an interesting mechanic, one that keeps the overall pace at a steady rate, but gives you a little extra edge in combat without committing to specific skills until you decide which way you want to take your characters. Since permanent skill points apply to all your characters—not just Kivi—you can wait awhile to see which character you enjoy playing the most before accidentally dumping a ton of points into mana, for example. In addition to your skills and abilities, there are lots of different power-ups to collect from monsters, chests, crates, barrels or basically anything that you can break. Some of them enhance your offense and defense in various ways, while others are similar to single-use "spells," like stealing monsters' health, casting rings of fire or causing a mini-earthquake that damages all nearby enemies.

Analysis: If you're a hardcore RPG fan, the gameplay and unusual mechanic of Kivi's Underworld might turn you off, or seem repetitive after awhile. On the other hand, it might be just the thing you've been looking for, considering all the isometric action-RPGs (yes yes, "Diablo clones," I know, ::sigh::) that you've probably tried out over the years. The developers at Soldak Entertainment really have a knack for putting a unique and enjoyable spin on the tried-and-true formula.

The drawbacks are minor; character pathing works pretty well, but occasionally you'll run straight into a trap you were trying to avoid if you're not an old-hand with isometric movement. The "fog of war" mechanic (the black areas that dynamically surround your character as it moves) is complete overkill and downright annoying sometimes, because it's just too tight. You get the feeling you're underground with just a candle to light your way, even if you're outside in broad daylight. Monsters will commonly vanish if they walk too far away from you, even if they're still a few steps away from the fog. Lastly, upgradable gear and weapons (or "lewt," as Blizzard fans affectionately call it), are no where to be seen. Granted, the game is designed in a way that you don't need it, and it helps streamline the hack-n-slash action without worrying about micro-managing, but a few different swords and helmets along the way would have been nice.

As it stands though, Kivi's Underworld is an awesome addition to the Depths of Peril series and will no doubt be well-received by fans of the genre. You can have the same amount of fun in a 20-minute session that you can in two hours, an attribute that's pretty rare even in action-RPGs. The graphics and sound are awesome for an indie game, much better than its predecessor. The overall polish given to this title really enhances the entire gameplay, making it a great casual game even for someone who winces when they read the letters "RPG."

WindowsWindows:
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  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (29 votes)
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Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure

JohnBFrom newcomer World Loom comes the latest resource management game to take the action out of the diner/restaurant/shop/airport: Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure. More of a business simulation along the lines of Build-a-lot, you must help Kate expand her profits by buying cars at low prices, fixing them up, and selling them for a hefty profit. The combination of time management and business acumen creates a delightful final product made even better by its whimsical art style and soundtrack.

fixitup.jpgWhen Kate returns home from college she finds her father's garage is failing. She decides to help out by cleaning and repairing cars to sell them at a higher profit so the shop can make its rent. As Kate soon learns, however, she has a knack for this business, and after her father's garage is back on its feet, she takes off to half a dozen locations from backwoods farms to Hollywood, California.

Each round of Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure has a set of objectives to complete and will progress in much the same way. Cars drive by, some of which are broken and worth less money. Click a car to have the owner make an offer, then drag the vehicle to your lot and start fixing things up. A trip to the repair shop is necessary for broken cars, while the body and/or tuning shop spruces up the ride and increases its resale value. Once all the trimmings have been added, drag the car or truck to the sales lot and wait for someone to make an offer. You can also leave cars on the lot and earn rent, depending on how urgently you need the cash.

It wouldn't be much of a game if you didn't have to manage your resources, and in Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure they come in two varieties: spare parts and employees. In order to fix broken vehicles and run them through the body shop, you need a certain number of parts. These can be ordered at any time provided you have the cash. The number of employees affects how many jobs you can perform at once, such as sending one worker to wash a dirty car (dirty cars earn no rent) while three others add a spoiler to an expensive truck.

Each location in Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure is arranged differently from the last, which adds a surprisingly strong feeling of variety to the game. I never realized how stale the locations in some time management sims can be! A number of achievement trophies can also be earned, and we all know how much everyone loves achievements! Earning special certificates can unlock new modes of play along with bonus levels, new buildings, and extra machines.

fixitup2.jpgAnalysis: Another surprise resource management game that's actually fun (see Parking Dash for my previous bewilderment), Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure builds a little variety into itself by including elements of tycoon sims while toning down the twitch gameplay several notches. Instead of worrying about how fast you can click or what order to do things, your main tasks is planning how to maximize your profits. There isn't much thinking involved, however, as this is still a casual game, but the level of financial decision making is sufficient to induce a thoughtful pause or two.

On the side of disappointment, I really wanted to see a little haggling in the game, there was so much potential to expand on this aspect of the business. Buying and selling cars is a straightforward "yes" or "no" response, and everyone seems to offer the same fair price. Just like in real life! (Note: That's sarcasm.) Even a little fake haggling would have made me feel ten times the car tycoon. Let me turn down an offer in the hopes the next sucker fine citizen will offer just a bit more.

A surprising winner in my book, Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure mixes all the elements in just the right proportion to make a fun, satisfying, and engaging time management game.

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Weekend Download

JohnBIf you ask me (trust me, you did... and if you didn't, you know you wanted to), the selection of games on this edition of Weekend Download are some of the most well-rounded and fulfilling titles ever to grace a single article. We've got a pixel-perfect 2D platformer, a 3D spy game, an old favorite RTS title re-imagined in open source, and the classic mahjong puzzle game. Can I get a "YAY!" along with a few high fives?!!

spelunky.gifSpelunky (Windows, 11MB, free) - A procedurally-generated 2D platformer created by Derek Yu, artist and one of the developers behind Aquaria. Take the role of a treasure hunter as you carve your way through caverns looking for loot. Use bombs to blast away obstacles, ropes to pull yourself to ceilings, and a few acrobatic-style moves to navigate dangerous ledges.

gravitybone.jpgGravity Bone (Windows, 24MB, free) - A short but nonetheless impressive 3D first person adventure game powered by the Quake 2 engine (though it doesn't require Quake 2 to run). Take on the role of a secret agent who must perform such dastardly deeds as taking pictures of exploding birds or sneaking into the furnace room to obtain a drink and deliver it to a man with red hair. Only about 20 minutes of gameplay, but the art style and overall presentation are too good to be missed!

widelands.gifWidelands (Mac/Windows/Linux, ~48MB, free) - An open-source realtime strategy game inspired by Settlers that's still under heavy development. You play the role of a regent of a small tribe who must manage and expand an ever-growing settlement. Produce resources, manage relationships with neighboring tribes, build an army and more. Includes a level editor and multiplayer mode where you can take on human or computer AI opponents.

ivorymahjongg.jpgIvory Mahjongg (Mac/Windows/Linux, 6MB, free) - A simple but surprisingly playable implementation of mahjongg. Choose from a few different tilesets and layouts, rotate the camera view using the [arrow] keys, and start clicking away.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (152 votes)
| Comments (1347) | Views (3,422)

Westward III: Gold Rush

JohnBCasual 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.

westward3.jpgEach new game begins with choosing a hero. Heroes bring unique backstories and bonus abilities such as unlocking the ranch or allowing you to build tanneries right away. After selecting a character you'll go through a tutorial that teaches you the basics of gameplay one step at a time. It's a little slow, but newcomers to the genre/series will greatly appreciate the assistance.

Controls are mainly mouse-driven, though there are several keyboard shortcuts that make things easier. Assigning tasks, moving villagers, building structures, etc. is a point-and-click affair, and moving through menu screens is simple and straightforward. Just about every bit of info you need to know is one click away, and once you get familiar with the icons you won't have any trouble with the interface.

The meat of the game takes place across a number of scenarios, each divided into a series of connected quests. These challenges gradually build your skills and your town as you go, introducing tons of fun tasks like battling bandits or blowing up mountain passes with dynamite, and simple necessities such as constructing wells, farms and other buildings. These quests are usually steps that lead to a larger goal, offering an excellent sense of progression and accomplishment. Everything is rather streamlined but with just enough wiggle room to give you a sense of freedom.

In addition to completing quests, you also have to consider the well-being of villagers in your settlement. Everyone needs food, water, and a job.

westward32.jpgAnalysis: The Westward series had a humble beginning back in late 2006 when it rode in just as the Virtual Villagers craze was beginning to subside. Sandlot Games took a chance with a wild west-themed village sim that sent players on journeys straight out of a classic western. The gamble paid off, and Westward has exploded as one of the most recognized casual realtime sim games around. With its excellent production values and smooth blend of missions and town simulation gaming, just about anyone who picked up the game was quickly hooked by its simple charms.

Westward III sticks to its guns and closely resembles Westward II in every way, from visual style to using the hero set-up to push the story along. Unfortunately you'll find few differences beyond that, though the quests and scenarios are unique and challenging even if you're a long-time Westward fan. There are also a few minor difficulty issues where it seems to spike at certain points in a scenario, leaving you lost and clueless as to what to do next. And would it break the gameplay too much to be able to speed up time while waiting for resources?

Westward III does what its predecessors have done quite well - deliver an evenly-paced wild west adventure in the form of a casual simulation. It's got a great sense of humor evident at every turn, and the gameplay itself is about as captivating as it comes. It doesn't innovate far beyond its predecessors, but who says every game has to be a pioneer? Enjoyable, challenging and fun down to the last nugget.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Westward III: Gold Rush is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (43 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (24)

10 Gnomes #12

PsychotronicI have full confidence that if you all do your duty, if your observational skills are toned, if no hot-spot is neglected, and if the best hunting and clicking strategies are performed, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our casual gaming honor, to ride out this storm of 10 Gnomes sequels, and to outlive the menace of gnomery, if necessary for ten minutes, if necessary alone.

We shall go on to the end, we shall find them on the rooftops.
We shall find them in the trees and on the benches.
We shall find them in the gardens.
We shall find them through the fog and in the gloom.
We shall find them in the shipyards.
We shall find them in titanic abandoned warehouses.
We shall find them even if they retreat to the quiet corners of their hometown.
We shall find them in the water forges.
We shall find them at the chemistry building up on campus, where they do their homework.
We shall find them on the beaches.
We shall find them in the quaint village streets.

We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, the gnomes somehow got hold of a tank, then our website, armed and guarded by the most enthusiastic, obsessive hidden-object finders the world has ever known, would carry on the struggle, until… wait… what? They do have a tank?

Oh.

Well, then perhaps we should run away.

Yes, it's true—the twelfth and final episode of 10 Gnomes is here, and even Winston Churchill might be getting a little worn down by now. Mateusz Skutnik promised a year's worth of gnomes, and he has delivered. Whether you quit partway through the series or you're just discovering it now; whether you've ferreted out all 120 gnomes singlehandedly, or you just appreciate the pretty scenery; you have to admire the guy's follow-through.

Let's bid a fond farewell to our timid multitude of miniature friends. The next time you look out at the world and fail to see any magic there, just imagine a gnome hiding around every corner. Then imagine you have only ten minutes to find them all. Or they'll get you.

Play 10 Gnomes #12

Or, go and replay all the 10 Gnomes games.

Thanks for suggesting this one, Mary!


| Comments (13) | Views (0)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThe first Link Dump Friday of 2009 also happens to set another impressive record: the first intro paragraph on JayIsGames to contain the word "bacon"! Remember this moment, as you will no doubt wish to tell your grandchildren where you were when this monumentally important event transpired!

  • icon_fall.gifFall - A simple but interesting puzzle game that requires some fast thinking. A phantom shape slowly descends onto the grid of shapes at the center of the screen. By sliding pieces in the center, try to put the matching shape where the phantom piece will land.
  • icon_mixel.gifMixel - A tiny but cute platformer where you play a big-eyed kitty who collects coins and grabs keys to progress to the next level. Surprisingly difficult, even on easy mode.
  • icon_flubberrise.gifFlubber Rise - From the creator of Oroboros comes a simple arcade game of timing and reflexes. Bounce the ball of flubber into the sky by clicking on it, and each time you fall, try to destroy as much as you can!
  • icon_mytheria.gifMytheria - It's a card-based strategy game! Yay! Your goal is to eliminate the opponent by bringing his or her life total to zero. Do so by drawing and casting combat cards much like a simplified version of Magic: The Gathering.
  • icon_frantic.gifFrantic - Your standard vertical shooter, only this one's a bit more n00b friendly. Choose a control scheme and start blasting ships, nabbing power-ups as they appear in the wreckage. A little slow-paced at first, but things pick up soon enough.
  • icon_lewellines.gifJewel Lines - A very nice clone of Lines complete with level goals, 3 difficulty levels, and appealing graphics and sound effects. It's even highly accessible, as it doesn't rely solely on color perception to tell the jewels apart. And it even tastes like bacon!

  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (84 votes)
| Comments (11) | Views (29)

PsychotronicDropSumDropSum is an elegant puzzle game released early last year by Nick Harper, the creator of Flipped Out (you may recognize some of the sound effects). Harper describes it as a cross between Tetris and Sudoku, and there are some obvious similarities to Chain Factor, but I would say that DropSum has since grown into a fully-developed, unique game that stands comfortably on its own. I have rarely encountered such a simple premise that offers so many layers of depth.

The basic idea is that you drop numbered orbs into a grid from above. Any time a straight group of balls adds up to 9, either horizontally or vertically, you score some points and all the orbs involved change color. They start out colorless, and advance to blue, then yellow, then a furiously spinning red octagon, before they finally burst and allow other balls to fall into their place. The numbers that fell then have the potential to form scoring combinations with their new neighbors, which may burst other orbs, and so on. Setting up large combos like this is the way to score serious points. If the play field fills completely, you lose.

DropSumThe "Basic" game gives you all the time you need to plan out complicated numeric chain reactions, but there are two other modes of play for the more action-oriented mathematician. "Timed" mode awards you extra points for playing quickly, while "Arcade" introduces power-ups and the melodramatically titled "Death Timer".

Although the basic game never forces your hand, playing slowly will still damage your score. Some of the bubbles release bonus stars when you burst them. Collecting several stars will grant you a substantial scoring boost, but they disappear after a set period of time if you don't earn any more. If you're shooting for points, a big part of the game is about targeting the star bubbles to keep that bonus multiplier going.

Analysis: DropSum has a hint of the feeling of a timeless masterpiece like Bejeweled, or indeed Tetris. It's not just the mechanic of dropping objects into a pit, but the fact that the gameplay caters to all skill levels. If you can add to 9, you can play it. You can set off some pretty impressive combos by messing around, getting lucky, and occasionally leaping on an obvious row of threes; but to really compete, you must develop an advanced eye for multi-part chain reactions and learn to execute them quickly.

If you'd like a sharp kick to the ego after you've finished a game or two, take a look at the leaderboards. DropSum has been around for a few months, and some of the high scores are truly inspiring.

The other thing contributing to that classic feeling is the fact that the game doesn't need any embellishments in order to be fun. The power-ups in the Arcade Game are a neat diversion, and I love how you have to earn the better weapons by creating larger combos, but it's all icing on an already scrumptious cake. The real attraction here is the pure awesomeness of numbers; all the different ways you can assemble a nine from lesser parts; the near-infinite possibilities for crumbling a tower of integers into itself. It's like an arithmetic playground.

Of course, that is the very reason why DropSum will never have the universal appeal of Tetris: the adding. A lot of brains, when they sit down in front of a game, don't want to do it. Pictures only, please. Serve my math as an optional side dish. And that's fine and dandy and probably normal… but if you ever find yourself yearning to lay down some damage with the power of sums, this is as good as it gets.

Plus, DropSum may be clairvoyant. Once after a game it told me "Your reactions are those of a deer in the headlights. You are as cunning as a banana." Which is exactly true.

Play DropSum

Thanks for sending this one in, Tad and Kelly!

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