February 2009 Archives


  • Currently 4.3/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.3/5 (25 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (36)

Unwell Mel

ArtbegottiFor a doctor, one's proudest moment may be when they graduate from a school of medicine and receive the diploma that they hang on their office wall. For a doctor, one's dream could be to find the cure for a disease once thought to be uncurable. For a doctor, one's delight may come from seeing a patient walk away from the office with a smile they had never shown before.

unwellmel.jpgFor a doctor, one's biggest nightmare is a patient like Mel.

Unwell Mel isn't a terrible guy, really. He isn't uncooperative with his doctors (although one could say his diet might be a little off), and he at least has the determination to see the necessary practicioners to get his ailments cured. Mel's biggest problem is that he has just about every medical malady in the book, if not the whole bookshelf.

Treating Mel is a rather simple process, especially for those familiar with match-3 games. In the grid comprised of Mel's organs (some of which are shaped like dogs and birds, which we'll assume is normal), click two adjacent pieces of food to swap them and form a line of three in a row to clear them. Thrown in with the food are medical packs, which can restore your power-ups, and bugs that, in some instances, actually help you clear away disease.

In each level, you are given the task of clearing away all of the gunk from a level, clearing a certain number of bugs from a level, or both. Gunk, the discoloration of tiles on the grid, is cleared away by making a set of three or more on top of that particular tile. In addition, you may need to break away the crud that covers a tile before you're able to do anything with it, by either making a set with the item encrusted in the crud, or blowing the crud up with a bug or power-up.

Power-ups come in two different forms. Power-ups on the board can be formed by creating sets of four or more items. Clearing four can get you candies which act as wild cards, coins which add to your score and help you buy items, and explosives which can clear out items and crud. Clusters of five can earn you money bags of coins to grab, candy bags that spread wildcards around the board, powerful blue pills that alter time and space, and more. You can also purchase power-ups from Ed, the local salesman, who's got all the tricks you need to knock out gunk and bugs.

unwellmel2.jpgAnalysis: One of the things that adds to the appeal of Unwell Mel is the punny wit of the diseases themselves. Whether you realize it or not, thousands (or hundreds... dozens? A couple?) of people suffer from Carpool Tunnel, Footen Mouth, Retrogameritis, Tickle Me Elbow, and yes, Hypochondria ("The good news is, you're not a hypochondriac...").

It's possible that the difficulty level for this game might be just a shade on the easy side, given the large amounts of time to complete each level. But while some levels can be passed with little effort at all, others might catch you off guard with their surprising difficulty. Much of the difficulty is offset by the use of the power-ups you buy, but being able to use them becomes a greater challenge, since you must restock your power-ups between uses, and whether you win or lose a level, they don't automatically reset. This means that if you lose a level having used down all of your power-ups, you start the next level with nothing. While it isn't impossible to recover from this situation, it is a definite setback.

For those of you concerned about Unwell Mel being another depressing primetime medical drama, fret not, this game works hard to be cheerful and light. Beyond the punny humor lies a chipper soft jazz soundtrack and characters that you can't help but love. The same dev studio behind Fairway Solitaire crafted this game, so that gives you a good idea what to expect in terms of quality. As you work to dream the impossible dream and cure the uncurable Mel, you'll have a good time doing it. Give Unwell Mel a try, and experience the joy of being one of the world's finest doctors for someone who really, really needs it.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (18) | Views (11)

Weekend Download

AdamBShooters! Shmups! Games where you hit buttons and destroy things! Vertically scrolling, arena, clones, remakes, minimalistic... shooting games! Thusly is the theme of this edition of Weekend Download. Except for that other game at the bottom...

droneswarm.jpgDroneSwarm (Windows, 18MB, free) - Remember Harpooned, the Japanese whaling "simulator" from a while back? Years earlier, the same developer created a one-level side-scrolling shooter which wholly embodies the arcade glory of videogame past. Visually sumptuous in every respect and rewarding skill above luck, the game is a well balanced and highly polished delight. If only its development would continue. Still absolutely wonderful through and through.

beastinvaders.gifBeast Invaders 2 (Windows, 10MB, free) - I'm not sure why, but I love games that are difficult to explain. Take for example Beast Invaders 2. At first it seems like a very sleek Space Invaders clone with new graphics, when in actual fact its a remake of a Space Invaders hack from the Atari days, which replaced the aliens with animals. So its a new version of a hacked version of an old game. Did I mention how extremely well it plays? Well, it does.

boidtrancermaniac.gifBoidtrancer Maniac (Windows, 1MB, free) - In this arena shooter, you are confined to the screen, while you kill Asteroid-like birds who can fly off and on screen as they loop from one edge to the other. Very simple in premise and execution, Boidtrancer wins big on its sound design: A simple twinkle-twinkle for each kill, a sound which then overlaps as you kill in succession to form an impromptu little melody. Minimalistic in the best way.

thefoolandhismoney.jpgThe Fool and His Money (teaser) (Mac/Windows, ~27MB, free) - A short demo/teaser of the upcoming puzzle-esque game. The game plays out with a series of chapters that contain bits of text. In order to proceed, you must solve the puzzle above the text. It's a simply-made game that offers a lot in terms of variety and deliciously devious metapuzzles to solve. You can also play the previous game in the series released several years ago, The Fool's Errand, as well as pre-order The Fool and His Money. (Note: Linux users have reported the Windows version of the game runs well under Wine!)


  • Currently 4.1/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.1/5 (29 votes)
| Comments (5) | Views (77)

The Wizard's Pen

StaceyG"The Wizard's Pen is a fun, breezy twist on the hidden object genre by Pop Cap, maker of Peggle and Bejewled Twist.The Wizard is missing and, with the help of his magical pen, you must conjure up all that is hidden to find him!

wizardspen.jpgYour main task is to go through the Wizard's books, filled with blank pages and, with as few strokes of the magic pen as possible, guess the image that starts to materialize. The fewer clicks you use to guess the more stars you get, advancing you faster through the game. Collect enough stars and you will unlock the wizard's special sketchbooks. After each completed book, you search around the wizard's tower through cluttered rooms that appear as standard hidden object puzzles. Your real task is to find the bits of the objects that are missing and magically restore objects with the wizard's pen.

There are many books to get through, each with its own hidden theme. There are a handful of variations of visual puzzles to keep things interesting, so you won't always just click to reveal portions of the image. There are several special challenge puzzles like scrambled mosaics that become more organized, zoom-outs, abstracts and untwisting of the pictures to bring the objects into focus. One challenge erases the previous guess, so you have to remember what you saw. The number of chances you get on each page of the book is indicated by the burning candle. You must make the correct guess before the candle is snuffed out!

As you advance, you will unlock magic spell potions that are used as different types of hints to help you through the books, like the power of perception which will let you see much larger blocks of the pages, or a crystal ball spell that will reveal a jumbled vision of the next few images you have to guess. You get to select up to three potions for each book. New potions become available as you go along. Each potion is only for a single use, but you can select the same potion again for a later book if you find it useful. Mouse over each potion to read what it does.

wizardspen2.jpgAnalysis: You can always count on Pop Cap to have strong production quality and enjoyable gameplay. The graphics, art and sound were all quite good. The twist of finding the missing objects makes this game stand out from the endless sea of hidden object games. It can be a bit repetitive, and in particular it would have been good to have more locations for finding objects. The mini challenges do a good job of breaking up the repetitiveness of the sketchbook puzzles.

The game has a high tolerance for how you enter your guesses in the book puzzles. For instance, if the object is sunglasses, and you write glasses, your answer will be accepted. Misspellings and synonyms for the objects work too, which is pretty impressive and keeps the game moving quickly, as you don't get stuck having to be too exact. Things can get a little tricky when you are trying to figure out what's missing in a location, because the word clues provided can be cryptic. Especially if you don't know the names for the items that you can't see to begin with! Some of the clues have clever multiple meanings as well. You might need a hint or two in these sections.

This game may feel too easy for some, but the frustration factor is low, so most of you who like the normal hidden object games will get a kick out of The Wizard's Pen.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.8/5 (160 votes)
| Comments (91) | Views (42)

The Dream MachineArtbegottiFor those who might have been wondering what Anders Gustafsson, the creator of the Gateway series from our first two Casual Gameplay Design Competitions, has been up to lately, rest assured knowing that he has been stuck on a deserted island for quite some time now.

Or has he? Gustafsson sent us word of his latest project, The Dream Machine. This point-and-click adventure, with similar play mechanics to his Gateway series, is still only in the demo stages, but is well worth checking out now. You may complete the demo within just a few minutes, but it's a very compelling teaser for the beautiful new world of adventure that Gustafsson has in store for us coming in an April-ish timeframe. Who knows what lies beyond this island of mystery?

As requested by Gustafsson, please leave your kind constructive criticism and feedback in the comments, as he bug tests his latest creation and readies it for the big release.

Play The Dream Machine demo


| Comments (14) | Views (3)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBOne of my friends can use the teleport. What? You've never heard of it? Then, I'll give you King Banana. That didn't make sense, did it? You're the enemy of all zombies! You monster!

  • icon_spidergame.gifSpider Game - It's not creepy. It's not icky. It's not even fuzzy. Play a hungry little spider whose sole purpose in life is to jump around and eat bugs! Weee!
  • icon_powerpool2.gifPowerpool 2 - From Ninja Kiwi, the same team behind the Bloons series of games, comes a highly-polished, no-frills game of billiards. Click and drag the mouse to choose your shot's angle and power, then release to fire away.
  • icon_gravibounce.gifGravibounce - Boing. Boing. Boing. Or, rather. Tap. Tap. Tap. These are the noises you'll become accustomed to in Gravibounce, a stylish physics-based arcade game where you control a bouncing ball moving through blocks with different strengths and directions of gravity.
  • icon_zoozzle.gifZoozzle - Is it a sliding game? Is it a matching game? I dunno. But whatever the genre mix it falls into, it's fun. Swap tiles to complete pictures, then watch as they vanish and are replaced by more jumbled images. Really stylish, and really quite fun.
  • icon_dreamhoppin.gifDream Hoppin' - A really, really, really simple action/platformer with music that's nothing short of the bee's knees. Tap and hold the [spacebar] to jump. Then... jump over stuff.

  • Currently 3.9/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.9/5 (151 votes)
| Comments (75) | Views (72)

PsychotronicPopopopA game for anyone who loves tromping on bubble wrap, Popopop by Bad Viking offers you 42 puzzles of color combo popping action. There are some obvious parallels with Ninja Kiwi's Bloons series, in the sense that you POP a whole lot of BALLOONS, but the methods are totally different. Plus, Popopopop gets an extra gold star for being named after its dominant sound effect (also see: Clack).

On each level, you'll see a colorful layout of bubbles arranged on a grid, and a selection of starter bubbles in a box on the left. To start a combo, drag a bubble from the box into an empty spot on the grid. It will pop, causing any nearby bubbles of the same color to pop as well, setting off a chain reaction. Your objective is to obliterate all the bubbles in the grid (except for the ones decorated with a skull-and-crossbones) without running out of starter bubbles.

As you beat levels you will, as the instructions say, "meet new and exciting balls that do different things and offer new challenges." Which means the further you get, the harder Popopopopop tries to make your life a living hell. What initially looks like a pure puzzle game pulls back its mask to reveal a gauntlet of precision timing and mouse dexterity.

Among the special bubbles are the needle, which gives you a limited amount of time to pop stray bubbles with your cursor directly; and the thundercloud, which can destroy all the bubbles in a straight line, but requires split-second timing to hit your target. Those Jolly Roger bubbles I mentioned, if popped, instantly make you lose. One bubble actually blacks out the screen and forces you to complete the level by intuition.

So it's not a nice game. There's even a level called "Blind Luck", and it ain't kidding. A lot of players will give up at that point, if they didn't already quit at "Perfect Timing" or "Perfect Timing II". But it's all in the spirit of fun. You can easily picture the makers of Popopopopopop giving each other high fives as they discover yet another way to cripple the poor suckers playing their game. "Hey, what if we blind them now?" "Yeah, and then let's cut off their legs!" "Yeah! Screw you, players! Hahaha!"

If the official levels are getting you down, give some of the player-created levels a try. As part of the current, welcome trend in web-based puzzle games, there's a simple level editor with a rating system. That alone makes Popopopopopopop more like a playground than a challenge. Good, silly, frustrating fun. Once you stop to pop, you can't stop the pop till you top the crop of pop pop pop pop.

Play Popopopopopopopop


  • Currently 3.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.7/5 (103 votes)
| Comments (17) | Views (35)

heywizard.gifJohnBHey casual gamer! Here's a stylish platform adventure about wizards, nifty upgradeable special abilities, and running around red-colored landscapes zapping things with lightning! Created by Spelgrim, Hey Wizard drops you in the shoes of a wizard trying to get his abilities back from the evil Megagate. Using little more than spell physics to fling yourself around the landscape, destroy all of his evil minions while upgrading your abilities with each trophy you grab.

The goal of Hey Wizard is to find every enemy spawn gate in each level and destroy it. Stages are constructed in an open-ended kind of way where you're free to roam around and carve your own path, though apart from completing your task there's very little else to do. As you defeat foes you earn ability points that can be used to upgrade spells and one or two general stats. Nothing complex (or even numbers-based), just good old fashioned power-upping.

In Hey Wizard you are unable to jump, probably because of those knobbly wizard's knees attached to your scrawny wizard's legs. Instead, you use your magical abilities to go airborne. Your skills are displayed at the top of the screen and are accessible via the [1], [2] and [3] keys. With the lightning ability selected, press and hold the left mouse button to charge your wand and aim it at the ground. Release and the wizard goes flying. Your second ability, fire, works like a jetpack and allows you to hover around for a few seconds. The third spell, necrohand, has a number of creative uses that you'll have to find on your own! All spells have a time-limited meter and take a few moments to recharge after use, so don't think you can just run around blasting everything like a maniac.

A short, text-light tutorial helps you grab the basics of this unique game, so be sure to give it a quick runthrough before diving in. In addition to the main adventure, Hey Wizard also features 60 or so achievements you can unlock for doing normal/strange/stupid things. Be sure to check them out!

Analysis: Hooray for adventure-based platforming games! Hey Wizard throws its hat in a crowded ring of genre-crossing games such as Iji. It doesn't share too many similarities with its bretheren, however, and the physics-based skills and easy-to-use upgrade system are a welcome change of pace.

Here's the only downer about Hey Wizard: there's a learning curve. A slight learning curve. Getting used to the spodgy (that's not even a word, but I'm using it anyway!) physics takes time, and even when you feel confident, strange things will still occur. Switching between lightning and fire to blast-jump and hover can be tricky, as your momentum carries over and affects how the "jetpack" physics function. But, as they say in competitive glass eating competitions: practice, practice, practice!

The game isn't without a few minor glitches as well, and on more than one occasion I found the wizard "sticking" to certain parts of the terrain or even walking on his own! A quick lightning bolt discharge usually dislodges him, so it's little more than a minor annoyance. I also take issue with the red bats disappearing in front of the red landscape when I'm trying to zap/run away from them. A little highlighting would go a long way in this case.

Hey Wizard gets a lot of things right in the "exploration-based upgradeable skills platform adventure" category. The sense of humor sprayed on the menus and text screens is a nice touch (the "awesome" button on the game's intro text is gold), and you'll have a ton of fun zapping your way around the levels and growing stronger with each enemy you destroy.

Play Hey Wizard


  • Currently 3.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.7/5 (61 votes)
| Comments (12) | Views (12)

ArtbegottiSpin-n-MatchIn an appropriate effort at justifying their name, BubbleBox has sponsored a game in which you play with bubbles in a box. Isn't it delightful how these things all work out? Spin-n-Match, by Jess Hansen, is a simple puzzle game that will torque your brain to its limits.

On the left, you see a grid of jumbled up balls. On the right, you see your target formation. Your task is simple: Make the left look like the right. This is done by rotating clusters of four balls (with your mouse or the [Arrow Keys]/[Space Bar] combo), similar to Bejeweled Twist. It doesn't matter which ball goes in which spot, so long as the colors match. Once you match the image, you're on to the next puzzle.

There are forty patterns to solve, which increase in size and complexity as you go along (such as adding in more colors). Once you figure out the techniques to manipulate the balls in the way that you want, solving the levels is pretty easy. However, the real challenge lies in trying to meet (or beat) the developer's target number of moves. For most levels, the target is 4-8 moves, but can you plan ahead to meet the goal on your first try? Can you conquer the tasks with brute force and trial and error?

Analysis: What makes Spin-n-Match interesting is that at the heart of a very simple game, you have two possible levels of difficulty. You can try to simply beat all forty levels, which can be tricky enough when you're struggling to figure out the best way to switch two misplaced balls without ruining the rest of your progress. If that's too easy, then you can go for the developer's target scores, a task which could drive you batty.

Either way, Spin-n-Match is a nifty little puzzler that'll keep your head spinning. (Fifty bucks says you saw that coming.)

Play Spin-n-Match


  • Currently 4.2/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.2/5 (8123 votes)
| Comments (427) | Views (1,645)

Weekday Escape

JessAll room escape games have secrets. Some room escapes, however, keep their cards especially close to their chests, relinquishing their grasp bit by bit; these are sometimes the most frustrating, and often the most intriguing. Sagrario's Room Escape is such a game, and a superb one at that.

Sagrario's Room EscapeThe first thing you'll probably notice is how very bare the room seems. Designer Valentin Sagrario has chosen a decidedly minimalist aesthetic; the small, warmly beige space contains nothing but a door, a chair, a picture and a metal briefcase. Well... that's not entirely true. Upon a second glance, you might begin to perceive small, easily overlooked details: the faint outlines of panels against one wall, a scrap of paper, a loose floorboard. Once you really begin to look, you'll be astonished at how much this ostensibly near-empty room does, in fact, hold; the simplicity of the space belies the true complexity of the puzzles contained within.

Ah, the puzzles. Sagrario's inventiveness is definitely impressive; the number, quality and variety of puzzles are top-notch. I experienced more than a few wonderful "aha!" flashes of sudden insight; those sorts of moments are the mark of a really great escape game, one that effectively straddles the line between logic and perplexity. Notable is that maybe more than any other room escape, Sagrario's Room makes great usage of the inventory; you'll find yourself frequently combining items, manipulating and using them in multiple fashions. This is probably a byproduct of the relative spareness of the room itself, and one that I really enjoyed.

As excellent as Sagrario's Room is, a few areas could use some tweaking. First, while it's not terribly excessive, there are a few instances of frustrating pixel-hunting. The interface can be a little bit annoying, as it's not possible to change views while an object is selected; this doesn't make sense, and ultimately just results in a lot of excess clicking. Some sort of soundtrack would have been nice, and would have really added to the room's overall atmosphere. Finally, I had a difficult time identifying a couple of the collected items, which (especially considering how important the inventory is) at times significantly delayed my progress. For this reason I suggest, when stuck, trying to combine everything with everything else; even if A and B do not appear to have any relationship, using one with the other might be a vital step in escaping.

These minor complains aside, Sagrario's Room is really wonderful. The game's graphics are some of the best in any room escape, comparable to the sublime Vision; for that reason, even this minimally decorated space appears elegant and chic. The puzzles are creative, complex and extremely enjoyable. Oh! One more thing: although there's not an actual save button, the game remembers your progress and, upon your return, gives you the option to continue or begin a new game. As Sagrario's Room is quite long and difficult, the existence of this feature is a relief, and also bespeaks the professionalism of the game's creator.

Polished, perplexing and profoundly entertaining: a near-perfect escape game.

Play Sagrario's Room Escape


| Comments (17) | Views (7)

zxoAcrobabbleIt's no secret that we here at JIG love us some acronyms (I think it's because the name makes such a festive one!). So when you commenters turned us on to Acrobabble, we got so excited that we POPPED (Peed Our Pants, Prompting Emergency Diapers). You see, to us, Acrobabble represents the finest in CRAB (Creative Reverse-Acronym Building). You might even say Acrobabble is a COWARD (Cavalcade Of Words And Random Definitions). But I think we can all agree it is a DAWG (Darn Awesome Word Game).

If you played the recently reviewed Farragomate, then you're all ready to JOIN (Jump On In Now). Actually, first, you'll need to join literally, as in register. TANG (There Are No Guests) in Acrobabble, but they do make registering easy by accepting a variety of existing logins from other sites, including Yahoo, Google, and Facebook; or you can simply create a new Acrobabble account. Once you're signed up, join a room and get those creative juices flowing!

Like Farragomate, each player in a game must SAVE (Submit A Verbose Entry) based on some given theme. All the entries are then presented anonymously for voting. Points are awarded for the number of votes an entry gets, with bonus points for having the most votes, voting for the winner, and having the fastest submission to receive a vote. The main difference is that your prompt in Acrobabble is an acronym of 3-6 letters. You must come up with what it stands for. It might not sound so hard now, but it's a different story when your SAD (Seconds Are Dwindling) rapidly and you're drawing BATBOY (Blanks Across That Brain Of Yours).

ANALYSIS (Advanced Nerdiness And Little Yellow Spiders In Stilettos): Acrobabble pretty much sticks to the beaten path in terms of how the game is set up (although, to be fair, its roots go back to the mid-90s, when games like this were just becoming popular). But what it does, it does well. The Flash interface is solidly designed and couldn't be easier to use. The chat is usually active and the players quite friendly; in addition, there are a few basic chat commands, including a ban feature which helps to keep the potty-mouths out of the clean words rooms. The narrator can help you through the first couple of rounds, but you'll want to turn him off before long.

As for the acronym mechanic, it lends itself to a higher level of creativity, as you are free to use (or make up) any words you choose. However, I've noticed that the prevalent attitude toward what makes a good entry can be rather peculiar, so it may take a while to adjust your playing style to RUMP (Rack Up Maximum Points). A couple of hints: theme trumps all – if you can't relate your entry to the theme, it won't score well; extraneous words are OK – if you can't use up all your letters in a single phrase, no big deal, just turn that last one into some TOES (Type Of Exclamation. Shazam!). Finally, always remember that FART (Funny Acronyms Rate Terrifically).

So: GRANDPA! (Get Ready, Acronyms Next Door! Play Acrobabble!)

Update: Unfortunately, Acrobabble is no longer available to play.


  • Currently 4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4/5 (101 votes)
| Comments (24) | Views (9)

PsychotronicPanda StarThe difference between Panda Star and most other entries in the popular panda genre is that this bear can fly, not unlike a fish. Your objective is to launch an ambitious panda into the night sky and light up all the stars you find there, which have gone dark because they apparently lack panda juice. The relationship between panda bear and celestial body is symbiotic, you see. When you touch a star, it alights, in turn providing the panda with more energy to continue his chain of midnight happy panda joy.

It may sound like a puzzle game, and even play like one at first, but don't be fooled, panda lovers. This is an arcade-style game of skill that merely looks and sounds like a slow-paced mystical journey of spirit. The layout of stars on each level is random. When you fall to the ground, your game ends instantly, your panda bruised and discouraged, your progress lost, your score finalized.

The panda controls less like a monstrous cuddly bruin, and more like a Mini Cooper. Launch him off the ground with [space], and steer him with [left] and [right]. You'll quickly lose steam, but by touching stars you can recover your velocity. If you can't quite make it to the next star, press [space] again to use one of your Boosts. You only get three of these, though, and extras are hard to earn.

If you're itching for achievements, Panda Star's got 30 of 'em. Although they won't do you the courtesy of explaining afterward what you did to earn them, most of the names are self-explanatory.

Analysis: There are a lot of nice details that give Panda Star an extra spark, including the lingering swoop of the light trail behind you and the makeshift constellation that appears as you restore life to the skies. Not to mention the unusual choice of background music, a remix of Deep Forest's Sweet Lullaby. (If you want to mute the music, press [P] to enter the Pause Menu, then press [M] to mute.)

The best thing about Panda Star is the variety of skills to master, considering that this is basically just a game of Snake with a flying plushie. Because you are a magical panda, you can warp from the left side of the screen to the right and vice versa, which can often save you from using a boost.

Even more useful is how, even when you've run out of momentum and entered freefall, you can still hit a star on the way down and get catapulted right back into the game. In fact, this becomes your most valuable tactic as the sky fills with stars on the advanced levels. You'll never hit all of them in one go, so the trick is to get early altitude and drop on the stragglers from above. Since you can rotate while falling, you have more control at this time than any other, despite the inherent tension that comes with the act of plummeting.

Panda Star won't change the world. It's a small game with small aspirations, and it really could use an adventure mode or a puzzle mode where you can save your progress. But it made me happy one evening in a simple, panda way, and maybe it will do the same for you. Programming by Steve Colie (creator of Unique) and art by Mike Morin.

Play Panda Star


  • Currently 4.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.7/5 (290 votes)
| Comments (59) | Views (329)

Gabriel ben JaminStick RangerDan-Ball, creators of the Powder Game sandbox games, as well as many other simple, cute Java games, are appealing to the traditional RPG fan with their recent offering Stick Ranger. If you recall Irritation Stickman, the controls are roughly the same, although the pacing is drastically different.

Create your four-character party by assigning a class to each member—there are the Boxer, the Gladiator, the Sniper, the Magician, and the Priest—and send them on their way through stages with austere backdrops, fighting stick figure monsters for gold, items, weaponry and experience, not forgetting to grab little rice balls to restore HP, of course. You may interfere as you see fit by dragging them around the screen and managing equipment. Note that to exit an area, you have to drag (or, as I like to do, fling) a stickman to (at) the exit.

The in-game option menu allows you to turn off the autopilot on any character, leaving it to stand slack-jawed as the rest of the party marches on. And you can access the World Map at any time to run away, crying, to the nearest town (although this nullifies your progress through the area you left).

The town is what you'd expect in a game of this nature: a store with stuff that's inferior to what you find in the field, an inn that heals all wounds, and… citizens? Nope, but there's a Book o' Information you must pay an exorbitant fee to read from. And leveling up is accomplished by clicking the plus sign next to one of four stats (HP, strength, dexterity and magic) you wish to upgrade. All the makings of a fun, if standard, RPG.

Analysis: Stickman Ranger is certainly physically accessible; the controls are simple, and things move slowly enough that even the most impaired of hands can operate it with minimal risk of total party kills.

Score one point for Dan-Ball there, but, to be blunt, I don't feel like it delivers on the fun. Stick Ranger feels an awful lot like an ant farm with the trappings of an RPG. Sure, you get to do all the RPG work, but you barely figure into the combat—maybe you drag a guy over to food or smack them into some gold, but it's mostly their game. It's hard to feel involved in a game that runs on autopilot, especially one so abstract.

The stripped-down look of Dan-Ball games usually lends to their simple charm, especially in the more toy-like games, Powder Game being a perfect example. It also works well in silly, action-oriented games, where you hardly even notice your character. But it unfortunately alienates the player in an RPG, a type of game in which your rapport with the characters is vital.

Still, as you invest more time in it, the item system is detailed, the combat is more or less balanced, and the world map is quite large. These are merits not to be overlooked.

Whether you like Stickman Ranger depends on what you're looking for. If you like RPG item management, or exploration, but you can take or leave the hack'n'slash action, Stickman Ranger will suit you fine. If you really need to feel involved with your characters, you will find it less than satisfying.

FunnyManFunnyman - Most RPGs work by meticulously balancing the three S's: Story, Skill, and Statistics. The Story involves you emotionally, mastering the required Skill keeps you busy, and the Statistics give you a sense of accomplishment as they grow. If any of the three fail, it can be fatal to the game.

Stick Ranger takes this finely-tuned technique and throws it out the window. This is a game about Statistics, with only the thinnest veneer of Story and Skill. The game becomes an upwards spiral, with nothing to distract you from the sense of accomplishment when you gain a level or pick up a new item. Like mySQLgame, Stick Ranger strips the genre down to its bare essentials, and it works. If you're looking for a game that pulls at your heartstrings, this isn't it. But if level grinding is one of your guilty pleasures, give it a try.

Play Stick Ranger


  • Currently 4.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.5/5 (99 votes)
| Comments (19) | Views (70)

JayCursor*10 2nd SessionYoshio Ishii (Nekogames) has just released a sequel to his unique, if no frills, self-cooperative game, Cursor*10. The update, aptly named Cursor*10 [2nd Session], offers a whole new set of levels with the premise and objective still the same: You're a cursor in a tower. You have to reach the 16th floor in 10 lives, but your lifespan is rather short.

Sounds hard, right? In addition, all your previous lives are being replayed, in real time, at the same time as you play. You will have to think on your feet and use cunning and puzzle-solving prowess to get through all 16 levels before your lives (and time) run out.

Play Cursor*10 [2nd Session]


  • Currently 4.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.7/5 (186 votes)
| Comments (50) | Views (179)

Psychotronicpsychotronic_mirrorsedge2d_titleThe highly anticipated first-person platformer Mirror's Edge has arrived on next-generation consoles to a mixed reception. While the art direction and fluid controls gave the game a unique look and energy, the ham-handed story and awkward combat sequences often made playing it a chore. "Good try, and better luck next time" seems to be the critical consensus, and one more promising gambit for big-studio productions gets buried in its own confused execution.

At least one unimpeachably good thing has come out of the project, however: Brad Borne's Mirror's Edge 2D. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009With the support of publisher Electronic Arts, Borne has combined the ludicrous physics of his own Fancy Pants Adventure with the stylized world of Mirror's Edge to produce a joyful ode to side-scrolling platforming. We previewed a demo build of the game last November, and this is the full version finally, including 3 levels and a couple of time trial modes (the site promises more features in the future). For many of us, this is what the commercial 3D game should have been. Just give this a plot (hold the ham) and a few more urban playgrounds to explore, and it would be a dream game. As it is, it's a marketing tool done absolutely right.

You play Faith, who is a sort of rooftop-leaping anti-establishment courier in a dystopian future. All you have to do is run, jump, swing, and slide from one end of the level to the other, but there are messenger bags and wee little Mirror's Edge logos to collect if you crave self-reflexive bling.

Mirrors Edge 2DIf you find a red skylight, try crashing through it to enter a curiously spartan room with a secret file, guarded by a machine gun-toting government tool. Hide behind things when he's shooting, and sprint for the next source of cover when he reloads. You don't have any combat moves, so just run, Faith, run. If you collect all the secret files, you unlock a mode that lets you speed run all the guard rooms in one go.

Traverse your environment using more-or-less standard platforming controls—the [Arrow Keys] move you around, and [S] or [/] jumps. If your keyboard is like mine, [/] won't serve you well; it fails to register when I'm holding down two other keys. Pay attention to the notes posted about—they explain how to perform the more difficult maneuvers, like swinging from hooks and clambering up walls.

Analysis: Mirror's Edge 2D is an attractive game, even if the atmosphere rings a bit hollow without the accompanying story. The background art (including work by Mastermind: World Conqueror's Mike Swain), gives the requisite sea of skyscrapers an interesting off-kilter look, and Faith's animation is smooth and convincing.

More than anything, though, this is a showcase for Brad Borne's ever-strengthening sense of classic level design. Though you'll have to slow down if you want to collect every messenger bag and trinket, the real heart of the game is in running full tilt. Once you're familiar with the controls, it's surprisingly easy to hurl yourself around without falling. Occasionally the hand-drawn art style makes it hard to understand which walls are solid, and the occasional curved surface doesn't handle intuitively, but most of the time the game world feels chunky and reliable, perfect for wall-jumping and launching off of ramps with legs pinwheeling.

Unable to take shelter in the anything-goes abstractness of the Fancy Pants world, Borne has made everything into physical, justifiable objects; the illusion that you are leaping between rooftops and crane arms really adds some gut to the process of falling to your death. I found the vertical maze of the sewer level a bit hard to swallow, but once you put a sewer level in a game ostensibly about parkour, you're already meddling with the occult forces of banality, and things can only end strangely.

My only real quarrel with Mirror's Edge 2D is with the main character, who compared to Fancy Pants Man, has the humor and joie de vivre of a landed mackerel. Faith makes up for her lack of orange bell-bottoms with popping ruby trainers and a kicky hairdo. She should be five by five, living entirely large. So why the constant grimness? Even an oppressive authoritarian city has room for smiles, especially for the people standing on the rooftops.

Play Mirror's Edge 2D


| Comments (18) | Views (1)

Mobile Monday

JohnBA few seriously impressive games on this week's Mobile Monday, with Zombieville USA and Rolando delivering some high-quality visuals to brighten up that tiny touch screen. And just for contrast, we have Falling Balls... But who says black on white graphics aren't fun to look at?

Remember: 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! Congratulations to last week's winner, Allegra!!

zombievilleusajpgZombieville USA - Remember the tough side-scrolling shooters of yesterday? Zombieville USA aims to recapture some of that blissful Contra-style magic with an iPhone/iPod Touch game featuring zombies, guns, more zombies, and more guns. Use the arrows at the bottom of the screen to move and tap anywhere between them to fire your weapon. Mangle the zombies that appear before they attack you, and jump into houses for ammo/health/cash bonuses. Buy new upgradeable weapons between stages and see how long you can survive! A free lite version is also available.

rolando.jpgRolando - A deliciously cute platform-style game where you tilt and turn your iPhone/iPod Touch to solve physics-based puzzles. Need to move up to a higher ledge? Try weighing the seesaw and rolling your way up there. You'll also bounce on trampolines, push blocks, bombs, and wake sleeping Rolandos! A free lite version is also available.

fallingballs.gifFalling Balls - Seriously, folks, it couldn't get any simpler than this. All you have to do is stay out of the way of the falling boulders. Two-color vector graphics (well, technically three, if you count the blood when you get squished), tilt-based control scheme, and circles of various sizes assaulting a stickman. Note the Wilhelm scream when you die.

ghostbuddy.jpgGhost Buddy - The kind of technical achievement I like to see on a platform of this nature, Ghost Buddy casts you in a first-person role where you hunt ghosts and return them to the properly-named grave, zapping evil ghosts in the process. The fun catch is that the world moves along with your iPhone/iPod Touch, creating a virtual world of sorts where your point of view is, well, your point of view. A free lite version is also available.

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 4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4/5 (22 votes)
| Comments (2) | Views (11)

Dreamsdwell Stories

GrimmrookDreamsdwell Stories is a unique match-3 type puzzle game with some strategy elements (similar to the village building variety such as Totem Tribe or Westward III) built into the experience.

dreamsdwell.jpgHave you ever wished you had a little magical place all to your own? You know, the kind of place where you don't have a zone manager telling you what to do in some futile attempt to establish his dominance over you, or where that term paper you've been slaving over until one o'clock in the morning every night for the past three nights is no longer due? We're talking about a place so nice that even the troll under the bridge is actually a pretty decent fellow.

If this is what you're looking for, then Dreamsdwell may just be the place for you. All you need is a quaint little village complete with castle, pirate ship, and bridge (for the troll of course), and voila! Your happy place awaits!

Building this little fantasy paradise won't require hard work with saws and splinters and blisters on your thumb. All you have to do is perform your special magic with the multicolored stones... Oh, did I mention that? You get to do magic in Dreamsdwell. Specifically, you link three or more stones of the same color into chains. The longer the chain, the more gold and jewels you get which can then be used to build up your village. You can make your chains as long as you want, but you can't overlap, and you can only shift color if you use one of the powerful rainbow stones that occasionally pop up.

You don't have all day to do this, mind you. Where would be the challenge in that? No, you have a time limit to compete with, and as the game progresses you'll also have breakable barriers to contend with as well as indestructible barriers, and if you waste too much time the stones on the board will start to freeze and you can't unfreeze them unless you link a chain in their vicinity.

As you progress, your little village will grow and become populated by farmers, knights, and even fairies. I even heard tell of some sort of dragon. No, not the burn down your village and sit on a pile of gold type of dragon, the other kind... I think...

Analysis: Do you like combos? Are you the kind of person that only goes to restaurants if they have combo meals? Did you memorize every single bazillion hit combo in every fighting game ever? Do you start saying syllables starting subsequently with similar sounds simply because, well, since you already started, you might as well wrack up the combo while you're going? If this is the case, you may find a friend here in Dreamsdwell.

dreamsdwell2.jpgWrapped in a package of crisp, sometimes beautiful, graphics and catchy theme music, the core of Dreamsdwell is its rather unique match-3 style puzzle game. In fact, I haven't seen a puzzler quite like this one before; the chain making mechanic allows Dreamsdwell to feel more like Boggle than your run of the mill match-3 type game.

Unique is good but is worthless without execution, and this is another thing that Dreamsdwell does well. Aside from the pretty visuals, I found that new mechanics were added at a suitably gradual rate. Also, the difficulty level doesn't ramp up quickly at all, making this game accessible to players of all skill levels (although it isn't very color blind friendly). Add to this the fact that Dreamsdwell has no questionable content to be seen, and this becomes a perfect game to share with the little ones.

Overall, the puzzle portion of Dreamsdwell is extremely fun and addicting. The driving incentive in the game is to build bigger and better combos and there's plenty of freedom to do so. It is apparent that the goal in the creation of this game was to make it fun, not hard (so you junkies of all things crazy difficult may find this title disappointing).

Unfortunately, Dreamsdwell comes with some faults as well. Cosmetically, what little dialogue there is is sometimes clumsy with glaring errors in grammar. Also, you may find a few minor inconsistencies in the way the stones can be linked together in the puzzle portion of the game.

But Dreamsdwell's largest weakness centers around the village building portion of the game. This fraction of the game is hardly game at all. There is zero managing, all the locations are predestined, and the bounties for building new structures are minimal. Instead of taking this part of the game seriously and therefore making a really great hybrid game, it is pretty clear that the intent of town building is to do little more than to break up the puzzles every once in a while. Thus, building Dreamsdwell is little more than a distraction from the heart of the game as opposed to an integral part of it. Happily, there is a quickplay mode that is available early on if you don't feel like mucking about with building the village.

Overall, if you were to look at Dreamsdwell as a fusion game it doesn't do very well, but that shouldn't distract from the fact that this is still a very fresh addition to what has become a very stale genre of match-3 puzzles.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.7/5 (20 votes)
| Comments (3) | Views (44)

Boonka

Ms.45Boonka is a cute, kid-safe and surprisingly challenging puzzle game with unique gameplay that combines strategy, timing and satisfying explosions. A luscious green paradise has been invaded by Skours, nasty black clouds who cut down trees and turn the whole world grey, chasing away the adorable rainbow-coloured Boonkas and generally being total downers. The sage Bababoonka introduces you to each tree (they have names — Glen, Susan, Dave) and gently encourages you through the process of growing them from a stunted stump to a magnificent specimen of hardwood by doing what you do best: make color matches and blasting them skywards!

boonka.jpgInitially, Boonka looks like a match-3 game, but there are several important differences. To grow a tree back, you need to link boonkas of the same color in a horizontal row (or other patterns if you're willing to get more complex), causing them to fuse together. These matches don't vanish, however, and instead you must put two fairies next to each other to create a rocket-like explosion, pushing linked boonkas up and off the play field. The screen fills from the bottom and if it hits the top of the screen the whole thing implodes. You can form special chains (called Croshkas) and discover new power-ups and awards as you play.

It sounds easy, but it becomes significantly more challenging as time goes by. Sometimes you may not get the fairies until your play field is nearly full and you need to make sure you've linked the boonkas (and the fairies) in such a way that the whole screen will be cleared, not just the columns directly above the fairies. Although it's a kidsafe game, your language when black clouds are hovering and you're about to get zapped may not be suitable for all ages.

boonka2.jpgAnalysis: Boonka has been compared with Meteos, but it focuses on strategy rather than speed, and it's not competitive as such. The gameplay variety is also greater with new strategies, combos and bonus opportunities unveiled almost every level. There are even a number of extra modes of play that round out the game's overall appeal quite nicely.

It's impossible to play Boonka without admiring its presentation. It's more like a playable storybook, complete with colorful visuals and characters no sane, sober and awake person could dream of. The graphics form a nice shell around an interesting game, though it would be hard to imagine Boonka being so fun without so much eye candy.

Familiar puzzle mechanics taken to a new level, Boonka is just the kind of polished gem we like to see shining from a crowded genre.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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


| Comments (10) | Views (7)

Weekend Download

JohnBFour simple but stunning games this week, ranging from strikingly bare-bones to the artistically slanted. Classic Night breathes a rare sense of wonder into a normally stale genre, while Where doesn't pull any tricks and simply drops you in a gorgeously-drawn maze.

jumpman.gifJumpman (Mac/Win, 2-3MB, free) - Old school platforming at its slipperiest (that's an allusion to the main character's physics, not a statement about retro gaming!), your simple goal is to guide the blocky character to the exit of each stage. Of course enemies get in the way, which is never a good thing, but fortunately you can rotate the stage using the [A] and [D] keys.

kakuronichiyou.gifKakuro Nichiyou (Mac/Windows/Linux, 4MB, free) - A basic but extraordinarily usable incarnation of the kakuro number-based logic puzzle. This game features over 200 puzzles to solve along with an automatic solver and the ability to create your own puzzles. To insert a number, simply click on the square and type. It couldn't be easier!

where.jpgWhere (Windows, 9.5MB, free) - A short but beautiful first person maze game where your goal is to walk to the balloon. Use the [arrow] keys to move and the mouse to look around (which is admittedly a bit awkward). Tap the right mouse button while moving to run. No enemies, no puzzles, just walking around in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

classicnight.jpgClassic Night (Windows, 40MB, free) - A basic concept illustrated with beautiful finesse, you are trying to help a talking moon give off more light than the sun by collecting light and using it to build lamp posts, candles, and other light-giving structures. It plays like a 2D sidescrolling strategy game and looks like a gorgeous children's storybook.


  • Currently 4.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.8/5 (124 votes)
| Comments (87) | Views (393)

Emerald City Confidential

JohnBPoint and click adventure games will never die, thanks in part to the efforts of Wadjet Eye Games, creator of the Blackwell series, The Shivah, and now, Emerald City Confidential. In the studio's latest title you are cast in the role of Petra, a young private eye trying to make a living in the strange Wizard of Oz-inspired world known as Emerald City. The hand drawn artwork is utterly captivating, the storytelling and writing top-notch, and the game itself is a package you won't be able to tear yourself away from.

emeraldcity.jpgAs with most detective-based games, Emerald City Confidential starts out innocently enough with a client barging into the PI's office with a desperate plea. In this case we have Dee Gale, a well-off woman seeking her missing fiance who, even though he "travels" quite often, hasn't been seen for days. With little else demanding her attention (except for an arch nemesis in the form of a suit-wearing lion), Petra hops on the case, accepts the cash advance, and begins her investigation.

Traveling around this magical 1940s film noir land is a simple affair. Each location is filled with objects to examine and people to talk to. Use the mouse to navigate dialogue trees, initiate conversations, grab items and use inventory objects. Simple enough. As you travel throughout Emerald City and the lands beyond, you'll gradually uncover pieces of Petra's history and learn a lot about the harsh streets from various creative/shady characters. Talking dogs and robotic sentries, anyone?

Analysis: The artwork and story are what make this game truly shine, and the depth of which both burrow is impressive. Every location, every character, and every relationship in the game is steeped in mystery. Beyond the game's well-integrated puzzles, you'll also have to put together bits of story lines to make everything fit, a sort of meta-puzzle that takes place outside of the confines of the game.

emeraldcity2.jpgThe backdrops in the game (of which there are over 40, each one drawn by hand) are nothing short of gorgeous, and the amount of imagination put into every nook and cranny of the game is breathtaking. Emerald City Confidential paints a complete world from many levels, creating a surprisingly immersive experience for an old-school adventure game.

One pitfall Emerald City Confidential avoids is packing the world with too many things to investigate and areas to explore. It suffers a tiny bit in that the adventure is more linear, but the storytelling and character designs are so interesting, you honestly won't mind. In fact, if the puzzles were more intricate, I feel they would detract from the plot too much, which is one area this game really shines.

Beautiful, intriguing, well-thought-out, and put together so perfectly you'd swear it fell off the awesome tree, Emerald City Confidential is a stunning adventure game anyone — even non-adventure fans — can really get into.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (44) | Views (5)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBWell, would you look at that! This edition of Link Dump Friday happens to be number 101! So, if you've been a fan of LDF since the beginning, you've played over 500 games. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! Feel accomplished? I sure do!

  • icon_azayaborneo.gifAzaya: Mission Borneo - A fast-paced platformer in the vein of The Fancy Pants Adventure, which is reason enough to give it a shot! Run through the forest collecting gems, wall jumping, sliding down hills, and shooting arrows at enemies.
  • icon_superd.gifSuper D - A 2.5D platform/puzzle game where you play a rolling/walking cube making his way up a rotating tower filled with locked doors. It's a bit more challenging than you might think, and boy is that background music familiar! *wink*
  • icon_runelephantrun.gifRun Elephant Run - Your objective in Run Elephant Run: run. Obstacles: things that make you not run. To win: keep running. From jmtb02, maker of Achievement Unlocked (you might recognize the elephant) and the Four Second series of games.
  • icon_crackshot.gifCrackShot - Shoot stuff! Quickly! You're a wild west gun hero! Use the mouse! Aim for the targets! Bounce bullets off of hard surfaces! Win!
  • icon_ultimatecrabbattle.gifUltimate Crab Battle - GRAAAH! It's an absurdly over-the-top battle with a giant grab! Contains nearly every weapon and pop culture reference known to mankind. PROTIP: Hold the A button to attack for MASSIVE DAMAGE.

  • Currently 3.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.8/5 (79 votes)
| Comments (18) | Views (56)

PsychotronicExorbis 2For it is written in the book of Exorbis 2 that colored orbs shall be lonesome and alone and by themselves. And lo, there shall come a player to reunite the fallen orbs with their like-colored targets. And that player shall be handsome and/or beautiful and possess the mind of a mammal of the sea, such as a dolphin maybe. For lo, it is written that dolphins have relatively large brains, and therefore to say such a thing is a compliment.

And that player shall strive over the course of one hundred levels to reunite orbs and targets, and yea, the task shall be arduous and difficult and tricky, but the player shall persevere, because this kind of thing is what the player lives for, can I get an amen?

And yea, and lo, and yea, the player shall manipulate the orbs by clicking with the mystical Mouse of Ages, by clicking on Sliders to move the orbs to and fro, by clicking on Rotators to move the orbs roundabout, by clicking, by clicking, and no keyboard input shall be required, can I get an amen?

For it is written in the book of Exorbis 2 that there shall be a level editor, and lo, there was a level editor, and it was good. And it is written that the level progression should provide a multitude of choices if the player got stuck, and there were many choices indeed, and that was also good. And it is written there should not be any sound effects, and that was not so good, but frankly I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, can I get an amen?

And I say to thee that for a tile-based puzzle game to have controls that are clickable tiles themselves is clever, and should be rewarded with song, but only if thou hast a nice voice and know something other than Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, for some of us have heard enough covers of that song to last us the rest of our lives and into eternity. And I say to thee that if thou enjoyest Exorbis 2, you might also like the Telescope Game, which is similar. Let us play.

Play Exorbis 2


  • Currently 3.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.8/5 (122 votes)
| Comments (40) | Views (55)

JoshSin MarkSin Mark is a Bowmaster Prelude-inspired side-scroller by Armor Games' Con Artist (Warfare 1917), featuring subtle strategy elements and lots of magic arrow, spell-weaving fun. It's meant to be played with your hero as mobile as possible, unlike many of the static, turret-defending bow-and-arrow games in this genre. Progressing through a series of levels battling waves of Middle Earth-type monsters, you'll extract magic from "Rune Stones" to build a larger arsenal of offensive and defensive spells, all of which are cast from your trusty bow. The interface is classic Diablo-style with a red and blue orb representing your health and mana. It's a challenging game with satisfying action mechanics that requires a bit of skill to master.

You'll find the controls to be pretty straight-forward for this kind of game; use [A] and [D] to move left and right, respectively. Unfortunately there's no jumping, although that's part of the strategy, as you'll see soon enough. Use the mouse cursor to aim your bow, click and hold to draw, and release to fire. Longer draws will yield higher velocity, inflicting around 50 percent more damage than the shortest possible draw. As mentioned, the arrow mechanics (trajectory, velocity) are pretty satisfying compared to many other games of this kind; you're usually able to hit your target with pinpoint accuracy all the way across the battlefield, instead of just taking an "educated guess" as to where your arrow will strike. The only other controls you'll have to worry about are spell keys [1] through [5] (if you don't like clicking the icons), and using [Space] to extract magic from Rune Stones when you come across them.

Sin MarkEach level is a platformer-style terrain of slopes and hills that you'll traverse from left to right (and vice-versa, as levels progress). Monsters will spill out of portals and march towards you; some of them fire arrows like you, while the rest are melee fighters that need to be right up in your grill to inflict damage. The monster portals can be destroyed; in fact, they have to be to complete each level. After the final portal and remaining monsters are mopped up, you'll move on to the next stage. In later stages, you'll find yourself having to go back-and-forth instead of just left-to-right, as the number of portals in each level increases (they'll start to respawn). Along the way, you'll see the occasional Rune Stones that you can extract magic from in order to build your spells. You'll be exposed and unable to attack or move for a few seconds, but it's important to harvest every one you come across if you want to have a large selection of spells to choose from.

These spells can be created between each level by combining various types of magic together. There's a handy "recipe" book that lists the required combination for most of your spells, although you won't know exactly what each one does until you learn it. You can usually infer which are offensive and defensive by their names, such as "Rock Wall" or "Fire Storm." Some spells' purpose is two-fold though, keeping enemies at bay while damaging them at the same time. Before the level begins, you can swap out different spells and order them however you want. You'll also come across the occasional "Trinket," which is an item dropped from monsters (at a 1 percent drop rate) that augments your abilities with things like increased damage or mana regeneration.

Analysis: Sometimes it's easier to notice a game's faults when it actually happens to be fun and relativity well-made. You find yourself wishing for more, or disappointed in specific aspects that hinder your personal playstyle. If you're enjoying Sin Mark, it's not too hard to notice what's lacking, like a melee weapon for your character, more items/armor that boost your stats, or the fact that stats aren't even a part of the game. A character leveling system would have been great, with the ability to increase things like movement speed, hit points, attack power and more. Many people feel there should have been the ability to jump, even though most of the game's strategy is centered around the "push-or-retreat" of taking of ground (which would be rendered null if you could just jump over an enemy).

Despite this, Sin Mark still proves to be a valiant effort that's enjoyable, engaging and somewhat difficult to master. There's a lot of multitasking required; aiming your bow, gauging the right velocity, choosing the best spell for the situation and trying to gain ground while keeping enemies from doing the same. It's something that both action and strategy fans will probably enjoy, tiding us over until Bowmaster 2 is finally (and hopefully) released this year.

Play Sin Mark


  • Currently 4.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.5/5 (120 votes)
| Comments (245) | Views (239)

Weekday Escape

JessRoom Marine, the latest release from Japanese developer Place of Light, is an uncommonly lovely escape game that is also, for better and for worse, unusually difficult. Room MarineWe've come to expect great things from Place of Light; their previous games, Room Fake and Room Bath, are both excellent and well-executed. With Room Marine, however, they have positively outdone themselves.

First off, the game is gorgeous. Cool, blue and with a hint of a nautical theme, the room in which you are confined is perhaps one of the prettiest in the genre. Of course, looks can only take you so far; in addition to attractive, the game's intuitive controls make the room very easy to navigate. The handy save feature relieves the burden of trying to complete the game in one sitting, and the overall lack of pixel-hunting considerably reduces the player's frustration. All in all, from a mechanical and aesthetic standpoint Room Marine is a joy to play... which is a good thing, because this game is hard.

The first thing you might notice when taking a preliminary gander around the room is the daunting number of locks and bolts, boxes and safes that greet (taunt?) you at every turn. It is immediately apparent that this room is not messing around—it's going to take some serious cerebral calisthenics to crack this baby open. This is exciting, of course. That's the point, isn't it... to stretch your brain, to grit your teeth and think and explore until the insight is finally attained? At the same time, however, such complexity can be overwhelming; it's not easy to keep track of 25 different areas in which one might theoretically use a newly-acquired object.

Complicating this further is the fact that while the majority of Room Marine's puzzles are reasonably logical and flow together well, one or two are downright mean. One in particular quite literally stared me in the face for a full 20 minutes, waiting patiently while I fruitlessly clicked around the room again and again in hopes of discovering some new secret. This puzzle and a few others skirt the line between difficult and unfair, and perhaps even cross that boundary; it's debatable whether they add to or detract from the game's enjoyability.

I don't wish these criticisms to downplay the inherent awesomeness of Room Marine, however (if anything, these are the best sort of quibbles... too much instead of too little, too hard instead of too simplistic). The game is an obvious labor of love, exceptionally clever and creative, and is in many ways the epitome of what a room escape game ought to be: ingenious, beautiful and highly entertaining. While the difficulty of the game can be at times taxing, the reward is more than worth it; if you're a serious connoisseur of escape games, you're gonna love this one. And hey, you don't need the next few hours for anything else, do you?

Play Room Marine


  • Currently 4.3/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.3/5 (130 votes)
| Comments (58) | Views (167)

JayBlock DropBlock Drop is a brand new puzzle game, and a new direction for game designer Dan Russell-Pinson, creator of the previously reviewed Tipping Point series. Instead of the adventure games he is known for, Dan set out to create a game with wider appeal. And the game's redeeming qualities don't end there.

The game offers classic casual gameplay with simple instructions that will seem immediately familiar to many: Use the [arrow] keys to jump from block to block making them all disappear. Press [shift] to jump two spaces. As you jump off a block, it sinks away into obscurity. The objective is to make all but the checkerboard square disappear by landing on all the other squares first.

Sometimes two or more blocks will be stacked on top of one another, and they will require multiple jumps to remove completely. These stacked blocks can make it difficult to see every block, so an overhead mini-map is provided in the upper right corner of the display to help you plan your moves accordingly.

Rather than shunting you on to the next level as in most puzzle games, each level gradually transitions into the next. The end block of one puzzle becomes the starting block of the next. Hours pass gently as you progress, slowly revealing sunsets, starscapes, and sunrises.

Analysis: Although we have seen similar puzzles games before, what sets this one apart is the implementation. Apart from the usual photo-realistic backgrounds and images that we've seen in Dan's other games, the levels and even the music is all randomly generated, ensuring that every game that you play is unique. A code is generated with each level that allows you to come back to that same level, but the puzzle may be different, so sharing level codes for help with solutions is just not possible, unfortunately.

Since each level is randomly generated, the game goes on indefinitely, with each level increasing slightly in complexity and difficulty, at least in theory anyways. As can be expected from randomly generated levels, the relative difficulty jumps around a bit. A minor complaint, though, since it can be refreshing to get a slight reprieve following a more challenging level.

Uniquely engaging, captivating and relaxing—all of these things in an enjoyable puzzle game with great replay value besides.

Play Block Drop


  • Currently 3.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.5/5 (48 votes)
| Comments (12) | Views (5)

Psychotronic3000AD3000 AD, from Sloth Productions, is a mech-battle game shown from a top-down perspective. Control the movement of your walking war machine with [WASD], aim and fire with the mouse, fire your shoulder rockets with [space]. The pacing is much less arcade-oriented than Rock Solid Arcade's similar Robokill. 3000 AD is a more stomping, creaking affair, much like classic tales of tall machines like Mech Warrior. Here your steel chassis will absorb gunfire, and lots of it. Your job is to dish it out faster than you take it.

In between missions, you need to balance the weight of your armament with the power of your engine, if you don't want to be nearly immobile. You can hold [shift] to vent exhaust during play, which speeds you up significantly (also good for frying nearby infantry), but also superheats your core temperature. Keeping your cooling system upgraded lets you use both your venting and your weaponry more often.

The graphics are a curious combination of sophisticated and hideous. Marvel at all the fog, water, and explosion effects, even as you squint to understand what might be shooting at you. The initial effect of the extremely low resolution may put you off, but as I grew used to it, I felt that the style gave it a stately feeling. It's almost like a story of olden times, when pilots were bearded, pixels were gigantic, and mechs were huge and clunky, not like these modern mechs with their hyper-skates and their glitch-core bina-rave parties.

Play 3000 AD


  • Currently 3.3/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.3/5 (81 votes)
| Comments (15) | Views (5)

ArtbegottiReceiver IKReceiver IK is from Yoshio Ishii, author of the Hoshi Saga series. You start the game with one single dot. The dot moves in a random direction at a slow, fixed speed. Coming out of the centers of the four sides of the screen are essentially pong paddles on chain-like apparati. As you move the mouse, the paddles follow your movements, as well as they can given the restriction of their chains. Your goal is to block the dot from moving off the screen. However, every eighth hit produces a new dot, which you must also keep in play. With only three or four dots, this is an easy task, but as you accumulate more dots, you've got more to juggle. Since a new dot comes with every eight blocks, you'll be gaining them at a faster rate the longer you play. Once one dot goes off the edge of the screen, it's game over.

Analysis: Probably the simplest way to describe this game is "sadistically pleasant." Honestly, it's a very slow-moving game, if you're good at it. And the delightful pings and twangs the dots make when they hit the paddles is soothing, almost like wind chimes—random, and increasing as the wind picks up. But when your score gets into the hundreds, you've got over a dozen balls flying around, and you're scrambling around like mad trying to keep everything in play, you notice the demonic side of the game. After you lose, you can't help but say to yourself (or out loud, to each his own), "Ouch… I could probably do better." And then you play again. And again. And that high score is just tempting you, waiting to be beaten. And even when you do beat it, you still want to beat it again. Receiver IK is easy to play and aesthetically simple, with vector-like graphics and soothing sound effects, but the evil challenge is what keeps you coming back for more.

Cheers to Ishii for another delightful game!

Play Receiver IK


| Comments (13) | Views (3)

Mobile Monday

JohnBGreetings! Your iTunes App Store-based lesson this week: "simple" doesn't necessarily mean "not fun". All of the games featured this week are rather simple, but thanks to some snazzy design choices, they're extraordinarily fun. And remember: 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! Congratulations to last week's winner, Fred!

distantshore.jpgDistant Shore - A wonderfully captivating game that's as simple as walking on the beach, picking up seashells, and sending messages in bottles. Tap the screen to move across the sand. Find five shells to get a bottle, access it in your inventory, then type a message and toss it out to sea. Bottles are randomly delivered to other Distant Shore players, you can even reply to messages you receive! There's just something intriguing about talking to random, anonymous people...

dactyl.gifDactyl - Doesn't get much simpler than this. A grid of bombs fill the center of the screen. When it flashes and the fuse starts burning, touch it as quickly as you can to extinguish the flame. Tap as many as you can and go for a high score. Let a bomb explode and it's game over. Makes great use of the multi-touch feature, you'll feel both hemispheres of your brain integrating like there's no tomorrow.

newtonica2.gifnewtonica2 - A great physics-based puzzle game with tons of challenge. Your goal is to guide the little birdie to the goal of each stage. Touch a black sphere to send out a "cosmic wave" which, if close enough, will push the baby bird across the screen. Mind the bumpers and try to collect all of the donuts in the game's 36 stages. A free lite version is also available, as well as newtonica2 resort, featuring more newtonica2 puzzles.

smiles.jpgSmiles - Easily one of the best puzzle games on the iTunes App Store so far, Smiles takes the matching concept to a new, cuter level. All without the nasty time-based pressure many modern games impress upon us poor casual folk. Depending on which mode you're in (Zen or Drop), your goal will be different, but the basic idea remains the same: touch a piece to swap it with the current piece displayed at the bottom, making matches on the screen above. Three main modes of play are available, and you can grab them as individual apps or as one big (cheaper) package: Smiles Zen, Smiles Drop, Smiles, and Free Smiles.

americandominoes.jpgAmerican Dominoes - There are presently only 3 implementations of Dominoes in the iTunes App Store, and they're all created by Soneso (Rogobete Christian). American Dominoes is our favorite and gets the job done admirably. Featuring 3 popular variations including: Five-Up, Block and Draw, the game also provides 3 difficulty settings when playing against the computer. Two-player, over Wifi or using the same iPhone/iPod Touch, is supported as well. Lots of tile sets and backgrounds, as well as scoring and rules settings round out the customization features in this excellent implementation. Downsides: the arrows that you press when there are more than one possible location to place your domino can be confusing, and scrolling of the play area becomes necessary late in the rounds.

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 4.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.7/5 (340 votes)
| Comments (43) | Views (383)

PsychotronicThe Space GameThe latest game from David Scott of The Casual Collective has either the most generic title ever, or the most confident. You see, it's not just some space game, it's not one of those space games, no, it's The Space Game, the one and only; and yea, there has been no other space game before it and there shall be none after. Scott describes the game as a mashup of Vector TD 2 and Oxeye Studios' Harvest: Massive Encounter, and that's a fine summary. It combines the epic scale and frantic pace of Harvest with the depth and abstract style of Vector, and the result sets a new standard for browser-based real-time strategy games.

The Space Game is set in the vast reaches of Canada, oh wait I mean SPACE, where there await fields of mineral-rich asteroids, ripe for exploitation. You, playing the part of a heavily armed mining company, must set up shop in the midst of the 'roids and extract their mineralistic goodness. That's it. Game over.

HOLD ON THERE ARE SPACE PIRATES. Hundreds and hundreds of them, actually. It seems that the best asteroid belts lie within pirate territory, and they love nothing more than to crack open space miners' skulls and feast on their space brains. Expect them to send unbelievably huge swarms of space ships to accomplish that space goal, which results in some space gigantic and space exciting space battles. Space.

The Space GameSo, the basic flow of gameplay is to pop out mining orbs near the asteroids, harvest their minerals, and use those resources to build defenses against the pirates, which in turn allows you to stay alive to mine another day. In order to power your miners and your laser defense grid, you'll need to build Solar Stations, and connect them physically to your other structures by means of relays. All this feels very fluid and natural; building a structure, if you have enough minerals of course, is as simple as clicking once on its icon in the build menu (or pressing its numerical hotkey) and then clicking on the screen where you want it. Upgrading one is a mere matter of clicking on it, and then pressing the space bar or clicking the upgrade icon.

The Space Game comes with a decent selection of modes with multiple difficulty levels, including a Mining Mode, where you accumulate a proscribed number of minerals as fast as possible; and a Survival Mode, where you stay alive as long as you can. I advise playing the Training mode first, then making your way through the well-tuned and perfectly-paced story missions, which smooth out the learning curve by introducing the different enemy types one by one.

Analysis: The Space Game is a shining example of how to make complex gameplay accessible. Your onscreen indicators convey a huge amount of information without overwhelming you or obscuring the wide open, attractive play field. Mastering the keyboard hotkeys allows you to build at a blistering pace, but it's possible—even reasonable—to play the entire game using only the mouse. All of your available options are there to make your gaming experience easier and more pleasurable. The space pirates are your enemy, not the controls. There's even a colorblind mode, selectable through the in-game options menu. This is the slickest, most professional presentation I've seen from the Casual Collective, or nearly any other Flash developer for that matter.

If you enjoy The Space Game, be sure to play the follow-up, The Space Game: Missions.

The freedom of building in two dimensions gives you a lot of room to experiment and find your own strategy. In the end, it's essentially a numbers game, like any other tower defense title, but the sheer scope of the battles make it feel like quality space opera. Because you can see each new wave of pirates coming, it's always a mad scramble to get a new bank of lasers powered and assembled before they arrive. Constant tension plus simple controls plus nearly unlimited mathematical depth equals awesome strategy game.

It's a common problem with defense games, but The Space Game is so tightly focused, it can start to feel repetitive. If the game continues to develop, I'd like to see a story mode with, you know, an actual story, and a deeper variety of goals. However, this is an absolutely rock-solid foundation. If the game is successful, Scott plans to add multiplayer games, player-controlled ships, and a variety of other modes that should extend its life. And there's no reason why it shouldn't be successful. After all, it's The Space Game, the one and only.

Play The Space Game

Note: The Space Game is also available to play at the Casual Collective, where you get access to a couple of bonus modes, if you have a membership.


  • Currently 3.9/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.9/5 (28 votes)
| Comments (6) | Views (16)

Loco Mogul

JohnBLoco Mogul is a new casually-oriented sim game from ApeZone. Accurately described as a cross between Oasis and Railroad Tycoon, your job is to survey uncharted territory, build a railway connecting towns, then run a train from station to station, picking up and delivering shipment carts as efficiently as possible. It's an ambitious combination of genres that plays both like a strategy game and a resource management title, complete with rail-themed music and visuals.

locomogul.jpgEach stage is broken into a 100-square 10x10 grid which is, at first, hidden from view. Your first task is to survey land by clicking blocks and looking for settlements. Finding towns is a bit like playing Minesweeper, as you'll slowly uncover numbers indicating adjacent squares where the people demand rail service. Surveying costs money, however, so keep an eye on your cash and don't waste it on sightseeing.

Once you've found a few towns you can begin to lay track connecting them together. The path you carve is entirely up to you, but because the second round of each level relies on efficiency, keep things simple and build shortcuts as often as you can afford to. Each settlement must also be serviced by a station which can be placed on top of any existing piece of track.

With stations placed and the railroad connecting your settlements, its time to start the real work. Clicking "Run Train" starts the time management portion of Loco Mogul. Each station is assigned a letter as are floating shipments atop each station. If a shipment has "E" below it, for example, that cart needs to be delivered to rail station E. You earn cash for each successful delivery, so maximizing profit is a careful strategy of minimalism. Take your time, however, as the only limitation to this portion of the game is miles traveled by your train.

After the level is complete you're given the chance to visit the bank and either purchase train upgrades or buy out investors. Subsequent stages also feature obstacles like hills or trees, both of which cost money to eliminate, forcing you to re-think just how important that remote hill settlement is for your business.

locomogul2.jpgAnalysis: Simple, original and engaging, Loco Mogul is everything a casual game should be. It's easy to pick up and play in short spurts, but you can just as easily whittle away an entire afternoon surveying land and driving carts around the map. It's a unique experience that manages to present a good challenge without frustrating even the most casual of players.

A lot of great extras are introduced as you play Loco Mogul, such as new terrains, bridge building, and helpers who you can discover while surveying. Unfortunately most of these are dispensed early in the game, leaving little incentive to play through later levels. In the end, the game comes off feeling a bit light. Replay value is still fairly strong, however, thanks to randomly generated maps.

It's great to see a game combine so many genres into one finely-tuned product. Switching between Minesweeper, tycoon and time management styles keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and you enjoy every minute of Loco Mogul as if you were a little kid playing with a toy train.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (16) | Views (3)

Weekend Download

JohnBHello humans, and welcome to the Global Game Jam edition of Weekend Download! The GGJ is a three-day event held in dozens of cities around the world. People show up, pitch their ideas based on a theme, form groups and start making games! The results (of which there are also dozens) range from spectacular to quirky to artistic to downright weird, but all show enormous creativity in one way or another.

din.gifDin (Windows, 69MB, free) - You are Billy, a casually-dressed guy walking down the street. You cross paths with friend after friend, each starting a conversation with you. At certain points, each person will ask you to press a key. Press it within a few seconds and you score a point. The challenge is to filter out the pointless chatter and focus on which keys to press and in what order. Oh, and just one more thing. Could you just press the nine key for me?

restrainingorder.gifRestraining Order (Windows, 5MB, free) - Look carefully at the title of the game. Next, download the game. Finally, play the game. See how it fits? Without spoiling things too much, Restraining Order is a fun cartoon-style arcade game where you use the [arrow] keys and [spacebar] to, well, do things. It features several endings and gameplay that adjusts to your style, ranging from hardcore challenging to forgivingly casual. And... yeah, well, just go play it, you won't be disappointed!

illusorypersistence.gifThe Illusory Persistence of LOVE (Mac/Windows, 41MB, free) - A great single-button arcade game starring two little orbs of opposing properties. Mint and Periwinkle, bound by a rigid link of love, are destined to forever spin and bounce around each other. Mint doesn't like moving and clings to anything he touches, but Periwinkle's rather more excitable and can't stand still. With just a single button press you can swap Mint and Periwinkle's position, using force and gravity to move through each stage toward the pulsating heart at the end.


| Comments (13) | Views (5)

Link Dump Fridays

Ms.45Bah humbug! What sort of present do you give when you're happily married to your Ph.D in the digestive function of sub-Saharan dungbeetles? "Here my little darling, I bought you a new statistics package!" Here are some other ideas for what to do on a day like today...

  • icon_heartpounder.gifHeart Pounder - Similar to Bloons, this is a great game for people who have just been dumped. You have a limited amount of shots to clear the required amount of little smiley hearts from the screen. It looks adorable, but it's fiendishly difficult. Hearts make a really satisfying smashing sound when they break.
  • icon_muckaboutcupid.gifMuck About with Cupid & Fate - A surprisingly good advergame designed for Match.com which is aimed at guys. It's based on Arkanoid, with a couple of twists - you're bouncing Cupid on your cloud, and you have to avoid soppy stuff like flowers, hearts and candy. The bricks you break are things like burgers, chips and consoles. As you level up, unbreakable male and female symbols appear among the burgers, and once you've broken all the bricks you need to aim your guy into a vortex in the middle of the screen. It's difficult, and I need to warn you guys that if you are NOT getting your girl flowers and candy, you had better come up with something engrossing for her console.
  • icon_makeyourownromance.gifMake Your Own Romance - Does entering completely inappropriate words into a build-your-own-story game ever get old? I don't think it turnip.
  • icon_restaurantromance.gifRestaurant Romance - Odd little point-and-click where you're the maitre'd and you're trying to win a beautiful woman away from her lunkhead date. Resort to all sorts of unethical behaviour to show her she'd be way better off with you. JayIsGames does not endorse putting laxatives in your romantic rivals' dinner.
  • icon_valentiner.gifValentiner - Nifty little heart-themed version of Gold Miner. As the angel (boy or girl, your choice) swings their arrow, shoot golden hearts and reel them in to win points. You need to reach a certain target to get to the next level. If you get one of the stony hearts, it will take ages to reel in and only give 1 or 2 points, losing you valuable time. You can also pick up bags of gold and gift boxes, and buy powerups.
  • icon_searchforlove.gifValentine's: Search for Love - No, not a dating sim - an incredibly frustrating and challenging game where you need to find hearts that have been displaced within an image. Much, much harder than it sounds, especially when the image is of a blue sky with a few clouds.
  • icon_meetmyvalentine.gifMeet My Valentine - In this special Valentines Day edition of Difference Games' spot-the-difference series, our sweethearts encounter canine interference on the road to happiness. KAWAIIII!!!
  • icon_queenofhearts.gifQueen of Hearts Quest - Simple shooter - don't let any of the hearts get past you or the game is over. You can only move up and down, spacebar to shoot.
  • icon_sudokuhearts.gifSudoku Hearts - Arrange the hearts in a 3x3x3 grid, ensuring that the same colour isn't repeated in any row, column or square.

  • Currently 4.6/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.6/5 (37 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (185)

Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island

JohnBWonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island is a brand new game in Midnight Synergy's Wonderland series. These retro-themed isometric puzzle/adventure games are some of the best around, as they retain the spirit of what makes the genre so enjoyable while adding new, more modern twists to the experience. Wonderland is threatened once again, only this time the quest to save the world goes terribly wrong. Shipwrecked and marooned on the shores of Fire Island, its your job to maneuver through sets of puzzle challenges and make your way to freedom.

wonderlandfire.jpgA story and puzzle-driven game at heart, Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island pulls you from level to level in an almost seamless string of quests through a variety of landscapes. Each adventure is filled with sub-adventures that often have unique goals, though most of the time you'll be hunting for stars, moving switches, and chasing the mischievous little Stinkers. You'll never be confused as to what to do next, as the game spells everything out for you in clear (sometimes bouncing) text. There's plenty of variety in the dozens of stages, both in terms of content and visual setting, so you won't get bored any time soon.

If you're familiar with the Wonderland series, you'll be glad to see some of the best features introduced in Wonderland Adventures have been retained, namely the mouse-driven, keyboard optional controls and the upgraded audio visual package. To move around the stage, collect items and interact with objects, simply point and click, the game's pathfinding intelligence does the rest. For those times when a little manual nudge is necessary, you can also use the keyboard to do some motions, though the mouse is required for a lot of puzzles.

wonderlandfire2.jpgAnalysis: One thing's true about Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island: it's practically impossible to run out of good things to say. The vast and sprawling world is packed with grand puzzles and hidden secrets. There are hundreds of quests to complete, making this game an extremely long adventure you can complete in short bursts or with marathon gaming sessions. Sure, the cutesy voices and bright, colorful visuals may not be your thing, but you can't argue that underneath it all, this is a stellar game.

Although well-built and full of content, Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island still won't be for everyone. The old-school-style puzzle adventure concept is just that: old-school. For this reason you'll probably get that familiar "done this before" feeling when you hunt for objects to hold down buttons or have to find the right combination of switches to open a bridge. Wonderland Adventures does something remarkable with the familiar setup by making it fresher, newer and more modern. Same old skeleton, brand new skin and an all-new look.

While a quick look at Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island may inspire cute and cuddly images, the game definitely offers its share of complex puzzles for the adult gamer. Most of the dialogue is hammer-to-the-head simple and the story is fairly predictable, though, so don't expect prose when walking into the game.

Isometric adventuring done right, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better (or longer) experience than with Wonderland Adventures Mysteries of Fire Island.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4/5 (111 votes)
| Comments (58) | Views (24)

SonicLoverMirror ImageGood evening, students. Are you enjoying your classes at Nitrome's University of Archery, Mountain-Climbing, Home-Building, Ice Chiseling, Ninjutsu, Cable Car Engineering, Underwater Exploration, Etc., Etc.? Today we add a new title to that prestigious list of things we teach: witchcraft. Welcome to our new program, Mirror Image 101.

My assistant is passing out the scepters right now. Please try to ignore the fact that the scepters all look exactly like mouse cursors; I don't argue with what the higher-ups decide. We're going to start with the most basic of teleportation spells, the Mirror Jump. Everyone spread out, please. It's a very simple spell to use. Just stand up and use your scepter to draw a straight line perpendicular to your line of vision in the direction you want to warp, and at half the distance. Poof! You'll warp to the other side of that line!

Just be careful with this maneuver. You can't warp through solid objects, so it's not all-inclusive. Later in this course we'll learn about using mirrors and magic teleporters to get to other places with your Mirror Jump, as well as using the Magic Mirror pick-up to leave duplicates of yourself behind when you warp.

...Josephine, Carl, what happened to the two of you? Maybe it wasn't a good idea for everyone to try that at once.

Anyways, now for a little historical background. This spell was pioneered by a warlock who used it to save a ruined village that had been overrun by demons. Because he was physically handicapped and could not move his legs, this was the only way he could get from place to place through the village's 36 levels. Not that moving by foot would have helped much because the magic of the demonic vortex had created giant gaps in the streets that the warlock had to Mirror-Jump over.

To make things more complicated, the warlock had to find keys to unlock various gates that the villagers had locked, as well as step on pressure pads to make spikes retract. Not only that, but he had to contend with moving platforms and various demons that barred his path and behaved in various ways. Fortunately he could take his time, as his magic always made time stand still except when he warped.

Analysis: I think Nitrome could have thought of a better name for this game than Mirror Image, but names don't mean everything. No matter what you call it, it's a very addictive game; I had a hard time pulling myself away from it so I could write this review!

Mirror Image has all the qualities of a good Nitrome game: a fully exploited gimmick, stunning pixel graphics, and an enjoyable music track, all sewn together into a very playable package.

Unfortunately the accessibility is a bit weak. It may be difficult for anyone who doesn't have at least a basic knowledge of geometry to get very far in this game. I not very good at visualizing angles easily, so I spent a lot of time checking my jumps with a straight-edge, and later with a ruler. It helped a lot, trust me.

The control system has its flaws, too. I found it a bit frustrating not having any easy way to "cancel" a line and redraw it from another point when my measurements proved to be a bit off, and that can often be the difference between life and death. I've lost more than one game to accidentally warping the warlock to his doom with a bad cancel. Also, for some reason I felt it a bit unintuitive that his jumps were measured from the bottom-middle of his sprite, and I would have liked to "skip" turns on occasion.

So why did I keep playing? Because it's Nitrome, of course. Nitrome always adds just the right amount of charm to their games to make them enjoyable. The demons look so evil, and yet so cute. The warlock lets out that delightful little cackle when he reaches the end of each stage. Those little details are always the redeemer of any Nitrome game.

Overall, Mirror Image is a very entertaining puzzler whose good points ultimately outweigh the bad.

Practice that Mirror Jump at home, everyone! But don't lose those scepters, they're school property and they weren't cheap! Class dismissed!

Play Mirror Image | egamI rorriM yalP

Thanks to everyone: Aethey, Achalei, Ivan, Tobie, Maqrkk, Ashish, Sam, and Curtis for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4/5 (84 votes)
| Comments (19) | Views (14)

ArtbegottiSentencesEver have one of those days where you just can't talk straight? You know what you want to say, but everything comes out as a mushmouthed mess, or you can't even find the words to begin with. It happens to everyone, even some of the greatest thinkers of our time. Now, you have the chance to help recreate some of their legendary sayings with Sentences, a word game by Pictogame that combines familiar game elements into one fast-paced language-fest.

Each of the ten rounds of play contains a cluster of quotations from famous personalities. Depending on the round, you'll use one of three familiar game mechanics to reveal the quotes. The first is speed-typing, in which you type letters in order to spell out the words above. However, you can only see three upcoming letters, so use caution when guessing ahead. The second is a word rearranging game, in which you use the mouse to drag words into their proper order. The third is akin to Hangman played against the clock. Type or click on letters to fill in the blanks.

Each round consists of a few puzzles (the number increases on later rounds), followed by a bonus question. And it's a simple bonus question; all you have to do is identify the author of one of the quotes from the round you just played… you were paying attention, right?

There are 200 quotes to unlock, which gradually pick up in length and difficulty as you progress through the game. Each round has a bronze, silver, and gold medal target score that require tremendous accuracy and speed. You might need to use a bit of memorization to get high scores, but then again, what's wrong with being able to rattle off your new pearls of wisdom to your friends?

Analysis: Sentences might not be original (given that it's a combination of three other games), but this gives it the advantage of being a game you can quickly pick up and play—because you already know the rules—and replay because of how much there is to accomplish and learn. There's a good variety of quotes to work with, from the simple, familar lines ("I have a dream," "Carpe diem") to the more complex and thoughtful, to the comical quips and one-liners, and even a few Bushisms thrown in for good measure.

Visually, Sentences isn't mind-blowing, but then again, there's beauty in the simplicity. Almost all of the game takes place with white letters on a black background, and any use of color is made to grab your attention (such as "Oops, You Missed A Letter!" Red and "Good Job, Here's Your Bonus!" Green). It won't be long before you're good friends with that jovial font (is it Cooper?) and the slideshow-esque transitions.

While learning something might not be your first priority when playing a game like this, Pictogame has made sure that the opportunity is still there. Clicking on an author's name brings up the Wikipedia entry on that person. On the flip side, Sentences still qualifies as an advergame, since you can purchase a t-shirt, hat, mug, apron, or other consumable with any quote from the game on it. Luckily, the advertising is as low-key as the game itself, so you likely won't notice it, because you'll be busy memorizing quotation authors (hint hint).

Sentences is simple to play, tricky to master, and has a little bit of an educational edge. Give it a try, and you may find, like Denis Diderot, that "Pithy sentences are like sharp nails which force truth upon our memory." Or that your typing skills are rusty. Or, you know, both.

Play Sentences


| Comments (15) | Views (2)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThere are no hidden messages in this opening paragraph. It contains no inside jokes, references to external events, or puns. It isn't dedicated to anyone, real or imaginary. This Link Dump Friday paragraph does not taste like butter.

  • icon_left4kdead.gifLeft 4k Dead - A 2D top-down shooter that's an absolute blood fest. Loosely based on Valve's Left4Dead game, this little guy clocks in at under 4k in size and is written in Java. Impressive lighting effects for such a tiny game, and you'll have fun blasting zombies for a minute or two. Or 4!
  • icon_cableminer.gifCable Miner - Gah! The simplicity! Gah! The challenge! Gah! The utter addictiveness of it! All you do is tap and hold the [spacebar] to grab the wire, releasing it to jump higher in the air. Use the [arrow] keys to move. Then... win! Many times!
  • icon_bomboozle.gifBomboozle - Connect groups of adjacent, like-colored blocks to remove them from the screen. Destroy large groups to create a bomb, which can then be used to remove indestructible blocks and cause chain reactions. Nothing revolutionary, but the visuals are fun and interface very touch screen-esque.
  • icon_shapeswitcher.gifShape Switcher - A nicely-designed top-down adventure-type game that uses colors and shapes to create door puzzles. Doors are locked according to shapes or colors, and fortunately for you, the main character can alter both. To move through a blue square door, for example, you should either be blue or be a square.
  • icon_pedeoff.gifPede Off - A simple but somehow enjoyable clone of the classic arcade game Centipede. And... um... it has pretty flowers?

  • Currently 3.9/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.9/5 (134 votes)
| Comments (20) | Views (27)

DoraPanda Tactical Sniper 2Prepare to join the elite, the bravest, the fuzzy-wuzziest squad on the planet. That's right. The call has gone out to you to join… the PANDA. National Geographic would have you believe Pandas are the teddy bears of the Orient, and all they really want is to be left alone on a misty mountaintop somewhere to eat bamboo and occasionally be the subject of a cute YouTube video. This, in fact, is a lie, since everyone knows that what pandas really want are diamonds.

Awwwwww yeah.

See, here's the scoop, but keep it on the DL. Panda: Tactical Sniper 2 from Robotjam, has you act as the newest hired gun to join Panda's ranks. Panda's one smart teddy, and he only wants the best. Not only are you going to have to help Panda rescue his friends—THE MAN has them wrongfully imprisoned—but you'll need to get some sweet wheels, among other things, before you're ready for the big time. And Panda's got plans for you. He's one smoooooth—

Shut your mouth!

I'm just talkin' 'bout Panda.

Controls couldn't be simpler. You use your mouse to navigate around the scene, and click the mouse button to fire. Shortly after starting the game, you're given the ability to radio Panda (by clicking on the walkie-talkie icon in the corner) and let him know when it's safe to move forward. You can also get various achievements and power ups, such as being able to press the space bar to reveal the entire screen temporarily, rather than just looking through your scope. None of the abilities I unlocked ever really made a huge difference for me in the game, but if you like having a twinkling row of virtual medals staring back at you, then Panda: Tactical Sniper 2 will deliver.

Analysis: In this game, you're not actually expected to snipe people, which makes for a surprising change from other games that have you staring down the scope of a rifle. If you're like me, your first instinct is going to ventilate the face of the first security guard you see, but surprisingly this won't fly. It seems Panda doesn't condone mindless violence, so you're going to have to think outside the box of bullets and shoot other objects in your environment to achieve your goals. You might need to shoot down a ladder for one of your companions to scale, or use a few careful shots to disable a security system.

Time is only a factor on a few levels, so for the most part you can take it slow and puzzle out what you need to do. There's no penalty for restarting a level, and in fact failure usually results in a little hint for what you should have done. Fortunately, none of the puzzles are overly complicated or require some sort of otherworldly logic to complete, and after a few cursory shots you'll probably be able to figure things out. The downside is there's only ever one way to complete your goals, and the storyline is barely there.

Panda 2 is a very friendly-looking, cheery little sniping game. The bright, simple graphics actually remind me a lot of those old Playskool building sets. Only with more bullets. And, um, Pandas. If you're looking for a quick way to spend your lunch break and further the cause of Panda's need to have really, really big diamonds—something sorely neglected by the World Wildlife Foundation—then this is the game for you. It's a quirky concept that will appeal more to fans of puzzle games than shooters, especially given the perky aesthetic, but it's definitely worth a look.

Play Panda: Tactical Sniper 2

Thanks to Rob for suggesting this game!


  • Currently 4.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.5/5 (125 votes)
| Comments (256) | Views (133)

PsychotronicCyadoniaCyadonia is a new sliding block puzzle game in the vein of Blockoban or Orbox B, and well you might wonder why you would need such a thing. Especially when you first start up Cyadonia, it seems like a poor cousin to some recent entries in the field of schlepping blocks from A to B. There's no sound, the puzzle designs seem basic, and the main character is an insubstantial-looking Iron Cross that morphs and twitches in a manner unbefitting of a hero. In my humble, obviously somewhat random, opinion.

What the simple production values are hiding is that James Newcombe, the author of Cyadonia, has packed the game with every idea for a tile-based puzzler you can think of, including pushable blocks, lasers, teleports, bouncy blocks, key-and-lock combinations, invisible blocks, mines, remote-controlled blocks, remote-controlled mines, remote-controlled sandwiches, remote-controlled mirrors for reflecting lasers… actually wait. Maybe it would be easier if I listed the stuff Cyadonia doesn't feature:

Bunnies and ninjas.

There, that was easy. Anyway, there are tthhrreeee hhuunnddrreedd levels in Cyadonia, and such a number deserves to be written all stretched out like that. They are sub-divided between 20 smaller areas, and you can skip around freely between sections, though bear in mind that objects introduced in the earlier levels get re-used in the later, more complicated puzzles.

In a curious development for a Flash-based game, there is no mouse control whatsoever; even the menus are operated by keyboard. Just control your Cyad cross-thingy with the [arrow keys]. Press a direction, and it will shoot that way until it hits a wall. Your goal is to bring the Cyad to the green exit with a blinking X. On many levels, the exit block is inaccessible until you collect all the diamonds scattered about the room. Some levels have a timer.

Analysis: The downside of putting every idea you've ever had into a single game is that it might not do any one thing well. Cyadonia's puzzles don't always have the elegant, tuned feeling that I look for in my block-shoving excursions, and that's doubtless because the quality got spread out. However, there are just so many of them, with so many good ideas sprinkled into the mix, I have to give the complete experience a hearty (or rather, brainy) thumbs-up. Some of the giant puzzles later in the game are so convoluted and peppered with every trick in Cyadonia's considerable arsenal, they would make Chip's Challenge proud.

The sparse action elements are probably least successful; when you have to press a slow-motion key to help aim a laser through a wall gap, you're pretty far from Cohesive Puzzle Design Land, but if those things irritate you, feel free to solve one of the other 250 levels.

Likewise, if you're jonesing for the missing music, let me suggest the mellow electronic stylings of Newcolator's audio page.

There aren't really any brand-new ideas in Cyadonia, but it borrows so liberally from all across the tile puzzle spectrum, it feels more like culmination than exploitation. My favorite part of the game is how the later sections tell little abstract stories with their little abstract tiles, as though you are making your way room by room through an Aztec temple, for example. Basically, it's just a mammoth puzzle game with an incredible amount of variety. It could be tighter, but it couldn't be much more ambitious.

Play Cyadonia


  • Currently 3.4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.4/5 (98 votes)
| Comments (83) | Views (57)

Weekday Escape

JessAs intriguing as it might be, Cosmo does not refer to the sugary-sweet beverage beloved by the chic set (escape from the $10 cocktails?). Instead, our solar system is the "star" of the show; time to bust out that 3rd grade astronomy, yes?

CosmoActually, the only real skills you'll need on this adventure are in the realm of pointing and clicking. Cosmo, from the excellent Mydia (who is also, incidentally, the creator of Room W&R), is a lovely escape game that does nearly everything right; the graphics are good, the puzzles varied and inventive, the interface clean and user-friendly. Aside from one or two of the dreaded quasi-unreasonable "leaps" of logic that tend to plague even the best escape games, Cosmo is easily one of the better room escapes to come along recently.

No backstory, not even a few confused words from the protagonist; with no explanation, Cosmo deposits you into a room filled with odd objects and devices. Strange diagrams, a video screen, a spread of brightly-colored glass dolphins…such a curious place! Of course, this room was not designed for any practical purpose. You'll need to collect items, put together puzzles and explore all facets of the room to get out. All the usual room escape goodness. Nothing really new here, but that's okay; why mess with a good thing?

Ok, I sort of lied at the beginning of the review; completing Cosmo does take just a smidgen of comprehension of mathematics and astronomy. It's very likely, however, that Google can easily provide the information you require. While I know that some prefer that escape games exist as self-contained units, able to be finished without any outside information, I personally like when developers integrate a bit of the external world into their creations (provided that the information required isn't too esoteric, of course). Doing so greatly increases the material available to the developer, thereby leading to enhanced creativity and ultimately a richer genre.

Note: Cosmo may take a while to load and does not have a loading bar on-screen, so don't fret if it seems that the game is frozen. It should load eventually.

Play Cosmo


  • Currently 4.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.5/5 (235 votes)
| Comments (32) | Views (128)

JoshMushroom RevolutionA fantastic little tower defense game hit casual gaming websites last week, flying in under the radar with little fanfare, yet quite deserving. Mushroom Revolution is a cartoon-styled strategy game rooted with the tried-and-true tower defense formula, with a simplified elemental tower system similar to last year's hit, GemCraft. A sequel to the obscure Mushroom Farm Defender, Mushroom Revolution is actually more of an updated an improved version of the original, with better graphics and bigger gameplay. At first glance, the comic-looking mushroom "towers" and cutesy creeps might seem like it chooses style over substance, but the gameplay is actually pretty engaging (and challenging), able to hold its own among most of today's popular tower defense games. A large variety of both offensive and defensive tower types offer many different ways of completing each level, which is the main reason Mushroom Revolution stands out in a genre that's been forced to keep reinventing itself to stay relevant.

Mushroom Revolution screen 2There's really no drawn-out story as to why you're using mushrooms (called Gomphus) to defend against incoming waves of little Pokemon-looking creeps, yet the premise is so whimsical anyway that you probably won't mind. There's a nice help screen that gives you the basics of what you need to know, which is more than adequate to get you started. You begin by purchasing and placing a Gomphus somewhere on the playing field, just like any other tower defense game. Most of the action is controlled with the mouse; just click a Gomphus in the bottom panel to buy it and place it on the field. Tap [space] to cancel your purchase, and use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move around (or just drag the cursor to the edge of the map). There's only one type of Gomphus available to buy (which serves as the basic tower type), but that little brown mushroom can be upgraded and tweaked to provide many different abilities. These abilities are given to your Gomphus by adding different-colored gems to it, each gem representing an element (fire, water, earth, wind and thunder). A single gem only changes the Gomphus' attack to that element, which certain creeps are either resistant or susceptible to. But once you add a second or third gem, things really get interesting.

Different combinations of gems yield different kinds of attacks; you of course you have your obligatory "slowing" type of tower, but there are many others that perform really cool abilities like damage-over-time, splash damage and cash-stealing. There are even a few abilities I've never seen implemented in a tower defense game, and I'm a pretty big fanatic of this genre. But I won't spoil them; half the fun is discovering what effect you'll get from different gem combinations. The first level is more about exploration and learning than anything else, and it's where you'll discover most of the 20 different elemental combinations available. Thankfully, you can track what each gem combination yields by clicking the menu button and opening the "Combination List." You also get "accessories" to play with, which are little charm-looking objects you'll receive after you successfully complete every fifth wave of creeps. Each accessory has a specific function that can supplement a tower with things like increased range or a faster reload time. It's important to try and match accessories with towers that would benefit the most from their ability, since you can't swap them out.

Analysis: Mushroom Revolution is a great little casual game that's just as accessible to gamers who aren't fans of genre to those who are. The developer, Fortunacus, is no stranger to developing these kind of games and really nailed it with this release, finding that elusive median where lofty vision meets grounded playability. There are a few features that might be found bothersome, such as the inability to change gems and accessories, the high number of enemy waves in each level or the static zoom-level. Although you can spend points between levels on upgrades like higher damage and life, a few more options would have been nice. Most of these boil down to personal preference though, and don't really hinder the game experience. Personally, my biggest complaint is that Nintendo and this developer never met, because Mushroom Revolution would have made a great WiiWare game under the Super Mario Bros. franchise (just think Goombas instead of Gomphus, with a few other changes)!

Play Mushroom Revolution


  • Currently 4.4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.4/5 (57 votes)
| Comments (23) | Views (32)

zxoFarragomateDid you know that Magnetic Poetry was invented as a way to write song lyrics? Luckily, nobody ever seriously considered using them for this purpose (or did they?), and they've wound up as the poetic equivalent of doodling on scratch paper. For some people, though, idle word shuffling just doesn't cut it. You know who you are; you're the cutthroat competitor, the one who collected every bit of gold in N and will take on any comer who dare challenges you in Tetris. "What good is Magnetic Poetry if you can't be the best at it?" you might be saying.

Well, wonder no more, for Paul Preece and David Scott (AKA the Casual Collective) have just the thing: Farragomate! Compete against up to 9 other players to make the best sentence out of a given pool of words. To start, just enter your name and join, or create a game. Each game consists of 10 rounds. During a round there are two phases: sentence building and voting.

During the sentence building phase, click words to put them into the submission box and drag them to move them around. Try to make a complete sentence that fits the theme (if there is one) and makes some sort of sense. It's harder than it seems, because you have at most 80 seconds to look over the words, think of something to say and get them all in order before they are submitted.

After time is up, all players sentences are displayed (unmarked, so you don't know who submitted what), and you then vote for your favorite from among the other sentences. Each vote is worth 1 point, and the top vote getters each receive 5 points. Anyone who votes for the winner also gets 1 point. At the end of ten rounds, the player with the most accumulated points wins!

Farragomate was almost certainly created as a tribute to Psychobabble, a discontinued Popcap game built on essentially the same principle. Psychobabble fans who were disappointed when Popcap pulled their multiplayer games will absolutely find Farragomate to their liking, as there is little difference between the two.

Analysis: At its core, Farragomate is a party game, the sort of thing your family pulls out to ward off drowsiness after Christmas dinner. Now, it's quite difficult to successfully make a party-style game work over the internet; for one thing, the face-to-face contact and inside personal knowledge that makes such games as Taboo, Balderdash, and Apples to Apples fun just cannot be recreated on a computer screen. Farragomate also shares this shortcoming.

However, a game like Farragomate lends itself much more readily to a computer screen interface than to pencil and paper, and there are two features which can add a slight amount of personalization to the game. First, the players may vote on themes for the round. Second, the names of the players are always available as possible words to use in your sentences. Unfortunately, this second feature also provides a loophole to introduce potentially offensive words, even if you use the filtered wordsets.

A word of caution: juvenile humor abounds, so if innuendo and references to various bodily functions send your eyes rolling back into your head, you may find Farragomate underwhelming. Even the filtered word sets aren't exactly G-rated, hence our orange rating. But if you can get past that, Farragomate presents a unique challenge to both your left and right cranial lobes, and provides a fix for all you jonesing Psychobabble junkies.

Play Farragomate


  • Currently 4.5/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.5/5 (156 votes)
| Comments (26) | Views (41)

ArtbegottiTwin ShotOn February 14th, some people celebrate a day of love and romance, where a little fellow named "Cupid" flies around shooting arrows that cause people to fall in love. Then again, if you're not big into Roman mythology, that might sound like just as much hoo-haw as a groundhog with annual meteorological tendencies. (Not that I'm bitter. I just think he wouldn't see his shadow if there were fewer paparazzi flashing all these lights at him, but that's a debate for another day.)

Regardless of whether it's for the holiday, Nitrome has just released Twin Shot, a new platform adventure full of Roman architecture and archery a-plenty.

You play as one of two cherubs (orange or purple), armed with a bow and arrow. Your goal is to eliminate the enemies on the screen by shooting them. But what if an enemy is in an area you can't reach? There are two ways to go about getting there. First, note all the different types of terrain for you to walk on. You can jump up through some blocks, and fall down through others. Other stones are solid from all sides, while some crumble beneath your feet, or materialize at timed intervals. If the terrain fails you, remember that your primary weapon can also double as a handy instant wall-mounted footstep placement device! (In other words, shoot an arrow into a wall and you can stand on it.)

Fifty levels await you, o intrepid dealer of arrows, but why not grab a friend to play along with you? Twin Shot is designed so that two players can partake in the platforming glory, each with their own sets of keys (player one uses the [arrow keys] to move and [Ctrl] to fire, player two uses [WASD] to move and [F] to fire). You still have to eliminate all the enemies, but with a second player, you get the chance to choose between co-operative play or all-out warfare against your "ally". At the end of each level, a running tally counts the number of rounds each player has dominated. Who will be victorious? (Answer: the archery shop down the street, selling arrows like hotcakes.)

Analysis: Twin Shot is a beautiful platformer, with creative nods to Taito's Bubble Bobble. While the levels might be a bit on the easy side, that's partly why you can get so quickly wrapped up in this game. In the grand tradition of Bubble Bobble's 100+ levels, you have many places to explore, and you should be allowed to go far without too much difficulty.

The sound effects and music also take somewhat of a retro cue, with a bit more of a bleep-bloop sound than some recent Nitrome games. The graphics are quite stunning, with very detailed character designs and backgrounds from Markus Heinel, who also illustrated Ice Breaker. The end result is a game that's aesthetically compelling and soothing.

On the whole, Nitrome brings another excellent platformer to our attention, perfect for playing with a friend or taking the solo challenge. And even if that groundhog says it's going to be cold for a while yet (not that I'm bitter!), this game should help to warm your heart. Awww.

Play Twin Shot

Thanks to too many of you to count for submitting this game!


  • Currently 4.4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.4/5 (150 votes)
| Comments (51) | Views (16)

GrimmrookTotem Destroyer 2Have you noticed that stacking has become the "in" thing lately for casual games? Everyone's doing it, sometimes with big friendly smiley blocks, sometimes with cold metallic blocks and archetypical heaven and hell themes. All the cool kids are stacking these days, and you know something? I think we're ready for a game where you destroy stacks instead of building them.

Either Gabriel Ochsenhofer has a great sense of timing or this is all just a coincidence, but either way, it's good for us—Totem Destroyer 2 is finally out!

What's that you say? You thought you collected all the golden idols in the first Totem Destroyer? Ha ha! Boy, you couldn't be more wrong if you said we should run with scissors barefoot through a thumbtack farm. No, it's time to dust off the ol' fedora, fasten the whip to the belt and hop in the plane, because there are hundreds more golden idols awaiting us, and yes, that means more totems to destroy than you can shake a sack full of bombs at.

For those that have yet to indoctrinate themselves to Totem Destroyer, game play is simple. In each level you must bomb all of the destructible blocks (otherwise known as totems) by clicking on them, without allowing the golden idol(s) to touch the ground. While the charcoal-gray indestructible blocks provide the eventual resting place for the idols, you must still blast your way through all the plain brown totems, the bouncy green sloppy totems, and several new varieties that can explode, fly away, or only be destroyed when they touch another of their kind.

Totem Destroyer 2Analysis: The first Totem Destroyer was a great game that employed a wonderful physics engine and provided an excellent puzzle experience with just a hint of action thrown in, though it did have its shortcomings, including being just a tad too short.

Totem Destroyer 2 is bigger, better, and gets right a lot of the things its predecessor got wrong.

Both the graphics and the music have received a facelift. Now blocks have details: cracks and knicks for the fragile brown blocks, little runnels of ooze for the green bouncy ones. Even the background enjoys a little attention, with tiny little birds soaring through a sky of fluffy clouds. You're even treated to different musical tracks that change every great once in a while.

But the changes go far beyond the cosmetic here. For instance, there are more kinds of golden idols: big fat round ones, little tiny ones, top-heavy hammer-shaped ones. The best thing about this is that each idol has its own properties. The triangle idol can fall from great distances and stop on a dime, but don't try that with the sun shaped idols—they'll roll right off and you'll be starting over again. Small idols go flying when you set off explosions, but the big and heavy guys weather the blasts with less movement. Oh, and in some levels, you'll have to save multiple idols as opposed to just one, so good luck with that.

Of course, one of the most obvious additions are the three new types of totems. Explosive totems obviously explode. Combo totems can only be destroyed when they come into contact with each other, and UFO totems start to fly away if they don't have enough weight holding them down. Each of these new types of totems are used in creative ways which maximize the potential of their characteristics and result in some truly interesting levels.

Have you had enough New yet? You have? Too bad, there's more! A whole lot more. In fact, Ochsenhofer boasts a minimum of three hours of game time before everything is said and done, with hundreds of idols for you to rescue. Yes, whereas the first Totem Destroyer was over when it reached level 25, this one is just getting started.

And did I mention there's a level editor now, too? I didn't? There is, so once you've played through all of the included levels you can go back and start making your own.

Amazingly, with all of the New coming off of Totem Destroyer 2, it still manages to hold onto the great gameplay and charm that made the first one a hit. On top of that, the level designs feel much better. Some are definitely based more on speed and timing, while others depend on thinking your way through, but solutions that rely upon luck seem to be fewer and farther between.

Sequels always carry with them some risk. It's easy not to deviate enough from the original, just as it can be easy to overdo it and come up with something that hardly resembles the original at all. But Totem Destroyer 2 is a beautifully executed follow-up that should not be missed.

Play Totem Destroyer 2

Thanks to Nicop, Wilco, Ace, Scott, Jace, Adeel and Dom for sending this one in!


| Comments (18) | Views (4)

Mobile Monday

JohnBAn impressive list of games to start of your iTunes gaming week, and each one does something special in the artwork category, giving you some gorgeous eye candy to stare at while you play. And don't forget: 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! Congratulations to last week's winner, Donut!

skybound.jpgSkybound - A surprisingly addictive physics-based arcade game created by Tumbleweed Interactive. Bounce the ball upwards by drawing clouds on the touch screen. Hit a brick and the ball becomes heavy for a few seconds, but land on a floating balloon to get a massive boost upwards. Three modes of play are available: Easy, Normal, and Boss, which pits you against a tres cool floating eye monster. A number of interesting achievements keep you coming back for more, and I just can't get enough of the awesome artwork. A free lite version is also available.

trace.gifTrace - Similar to the web-based Draw Play (though much less frantic), Trace combines drawing and traditional platforming to form a creative blending of genres. Using the arrows and jump icon at the bottom of the screen, move the little character through the stage, swiping your finger on the touch screen to create platforms where needed. A great variety of stages, simple artwork, a simple idea, simple execution, but a very fun result.

spin.jpgSPiN - Super Shape Puzzle - A silhouette looms in the center of the screen, then a 3D object appears in front of it. Rotate, flip and twist the object to make it match the silhouette. Multiple game modes give you plenty of variety, and a free lite version lets you try things out before buying. The idea is simple, but the execution is nothing short of perfect. And check out the amazing art style! The studio behind SPiN, Secret Exit, is also working on a few other games, so definitely keep an eye on these folks!

rubenlullaby.gifRuben & Lullaby - An uncommonly artistic game on the iTunes App Store, Ruben & Lullaby plays out like a visual novel, only without the text! Ruben and Lullaby are a young couple having their first fight. The future of their relationship is quite literally in your hands. Rub the screen to calm each character down, shake the iPod Touch/iPhone to make them angry. You can even direct where their eyes look, all of which has an affect on the other character's emotions, facial expressions, and the argument as a whole. It's a stunning use of emotion in a game, and the dynamic soundtrack and multiple endings are worth experiencing several times over.

bobbycarrot.jpgBobby Carrot Forever - A beautifully illustrated top-down adventure/puzzle game reminiscent of classic gaming's best offerings. Move Bobby Carrot around by touching the edges of the screen. Collect carrots, hit switches, find and use a number of creative items (watering cans, lawn mowers, etc.) to carve your way to the exit in each stage. Surprisingly imaginitive design. Around 60 levels will offer hours upon hours of gameplay, so you won't run out of things to do for a very long time. Fans of Adventures of Lolo and the Wonderland series will definitely want to check this one out. A free lite version is also available.

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.


| Comments (14) | Views (7)

Weekend Download

JohnBHungry for a good, meaty adventure game? We've got three excellent titles that will draw you in with a deep story, keep you hooked with delicious artwork, and perplex you at every turn with some seriously challenging puzzles. They may not be as casual as some might prefer, but they more than make up for it with a heavy-hitting presentation and well-designed gameplay.

syberia.jpgSyberia (Windows, Mac, 228MB) - Conceived and designed by Belgian comic artist Benoît Sokal, Syberia is a classically-styled graphical adventure game that has won a number of awards over the years. You take control of Kate Walker, an American lawyer sent to a remote French village to finalize a take-over of a toy factory. She quickly learns that the previous owner has passed away and her brother must be contacted in order to proceed. The story pulls you across Central and Eastern Europe and wraps itself around subplots as you go, weaving a delicate and intricate web you must untangle on your own. Both art nouveau and steampunk elements make cameo appearances in this game, creating a truly striking setting that's practically unmatched in the gaming world. Also available in a Mac version.

draculaorigin.jpgDracula: Origin (Windows, 1.72G, no demo) - As the name implies, this adventure is all about the famed vampire as told through Bram Stoker's works. Dracula has learned of a manuscript that has the ability to raise souls from the beyond. Take the role of Professor Van Helsing, whose singular purpose is to destroy Dracula, and keep the valuable manuscript out of the fiend's hands. The visuals are a stunning mix of 2D scenery with 3D characters, and the soundtrack fits the game like a glove. And what vampire game would be complete without the traditional array of blood, crucifixes, stakes, and garlic?

syberia2.jpgSyberia II (Windows, 1.16G, no demo) - Picking up where the original Syberia left off, the sequel also continues the series' stunning art style and challenging steampunkesque puzzles. Kate Walker abandons her stressful life in New York to accompany an inventor traveling to the remote land of Syberia where, rumor has it, prehistoric mammoths still survive. Journey across the frozen wilderness, passing through remote villages and hazardous passageways until you finally reach Syberia. (Free 1-hour time-limited demo available.)


| Comments (15) | Views (4)

Weekend Download

JohnBIf you were looking for the latest edition of Weekend Download, I'm sorry to inform you it's been in a terrible accident involving scissors, a blowtorch, and those annoying little pudding cups in the aluminum tins that, if you snap off the "easy open" tab, suddenly become an impenetrable fortress of pudding protection.

nud.gifNUD (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - A tower defense game that puts heavy emphasis on the placement of towers (called NUDs) in relation to each other. NUDs provide adjacent NUDs with various bonuses, so if you want to maximize your firepower, experiment and come up with the best tower arrangement. A forgiving build/undo system lets you tweak and refine your pattern with ease, and a sweet old-school vector graphical style does nothing but add to the game's appeal.

macheist.jpgMacHeist 3 (Mac/Win/Linux, free) - In MacHeist 3 you take on secret agent-style missions by solving Flash-based puzzles right in your browser window. Dig deep enough into the espionage story and complete the puzzles and you'll score a collection of free Mac-only software (while helping out charity organizations as well). Any operating system can play the games, but only Mac users can enjoy the booty. You have to register to play, but it only takes a second, and you'll appreciate the nice prizes for playing a few simple browser games.

afterliferickard.gifAfterlife: Rickard's Quest - (Windows, 4.5MB, free) - An extra-challenging action/puzzle game that relies on physics and precision movement to lay on the difficulty. You control a hot air balloon (piloted by Rickard, of course) and can toss bombs and use a Deadly Hunting Umbrella to vanquish foes. There are tons of unlockables, including extra game features, new balloons, and unique abilities, all spread out over 100 levels. Certainly more than an afternoon time waster, and you can't beat the price!


  • Currently 4.4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.4/5 (62 votes)
| Comments (18) | Views (462)

Nick Chase: A Detective Story

JohnBNick Chase: A Detective Story is a gritty, film noir-style casual adventure game flavored with hidden object scenes and loads of delicious inventory puzzles. Based on classic detective stories and graphic novels, you follow the down-and-out Nick Chase as he embarks upon his first job in ages. From his messy office to shady hideouts of even shadier characters, you'll have to use your own detective skills to piece together evidence and solve puzzles. It's one of the most enjoyable detective games I've played in quite a while, and the stellar voice acting and gorgeous hand-drawn art scores major points in my book.

nickchase.jpgThe hard-boiled Private Investigator is in sore need of a job. When a mysterious man known as The Collector calls, Nick is in no position to turn him down. Staring at his cluttered office, one of your first puzzles involves finding a brush to clean the fishtank, then hunting for food to feed the poor little fishy. Not much of a challenge, of course, but it serves as an introduction to the style of puzzles you'll be solving throughout the game.

At the bottom left of the screen is a tab marked "TASK" that contains, as one might suspect, the current objective you're working on. Missions are generally straightforward and involve some item finding along with inventory-object assembly and a few quick, entertaining mini-games. A great example of this is in a "scientist's lab" where you must find parts of a contraption, assemble them and figure out how to turn the machine on, all to get a little analysis done on a drop of blood you discovered.

After completing a scene the story unfolds through a series of black and white comic book-style cut scenes where Nick narrates his thoughts and actions. These serve more than to simply advance the plot, as they do a spectacular job setting the stage for the entire film noir experience. The story itself is really interesting and could stand on its own as an enjoyable read. The text is skippable, however, but a big chunk of the experience is reading (or listening to) the well-written dialogue. So, you know, don't skip it!

Hints are dispensed in a rather creative manner: bullets loaded into a revolver's barrel. Find and click the shiny little things hidden amongst the clutter in some of the areas, and when you need a helping hand, click the barrel and watch what happens.

nickchase2.jpgAnalysis: Ok, it's true. I couldn't possibly lavish more praise upon the visual style and overall presentation of this game. I've never been a fan of the detective genre, per se, but it's beyond delightful to see such a faithful transition of a film/comic book style into the relatively new media of a video game. Developer Gestalt Games gets everything right, too, with almost perfect voice acting, puzzles and mini-games that fit the setting like a glove, and an art style that may as well have been lifted from a graphic novel itself. Ooh, I do love atmospheric games like this!

From a gameplay perspective, Nick Chase: A Detective Story does stray from the norm a bit, though not to a great extent. No lists of objects to find (thank Odin!), no pointless wandering from scene to scene, just puzzles, dialogue, mini-games, and gritty rooms filled with mystery. I'll admit, however, that the puzzles are rarely much of a challenge, so you'll probably breeze through much of the game without getting stumped more than a couple of times.

A huge success on every front, Nick Chase: A Detective Story goes above and beyond the hidden object/adventure game genre with a great storyline, believable atmosphere, and more gritty detective references than you can shake a fedora hat and magnifying glass at.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.8/5 (21 votes)
| Comments (13) | Views (135)

magnumopuschallenge.gifThe Codex of Alchemical Engineering: Magnum Opus Challenge - Yes, that's exactly what cerebral puzzler The Codex of Alchemical Engineering needed. A longer title. Anyway, there are fifteen new brain-teasers here, created by both the author of the original game and its fans. When Zach (the author) says that this expansion may destroy the minds of those who haven't finished the first game, do not take his words lightly.

And while 15 extra levels may not seem like much, these puzzles are extremely challenging and each one will likely take you hours to complete. We recommend you play some of Zach's other games in the Zachtronics series of games first before tackling this one. You may also want to go to your local university to get an engineering or computer science degree if these games appeal to you. :)

Link Dump Fridays

PsychotronicI tried to warn you, Professor. I told you they would try to stop us. The Army. The Air Patrol. The angry neighbors with their grill-bows and lawn guns. But you wouldn't listen. You just had to test your Ultra-Hyper-Matter-Expansion Ray to try and pack more levels into innocent games! You've packed them full to bursting! And now, Professor, now… a second Link Dump is upon us!

  • icon_stormwindslostcampaigns.gifStorm Winds: The Lost Campaigns - Now where did I put those campaigns? Oh hey, I found 'em! Hero Interactive's gorgeous steam-punk action/defense game Storm Winds gets seven beefy new levels, with a ton of new weapons and enemies. Mmm. Steamy punks are my favorite kind.
  • icon_ragdollcannonremake.gifRagdoll Cannon: Remake - In the wake of Ragdoll Cannon, Ragdoll Cannon 1.5, and Ragdoll Cannon 2, can there be any ragdolls left alive? Apparently so. Your job, as always, is to feed them and give them shelter blast them out of a cannon into solid bricks and targets. Hey, it's not torture if they look like notebook doodles!
  • icon_hammerfest.gifHammerfest: The Parallel Dimensions - The English server for finely-tuned arcade platformer The Caverns of Hammerfest finally gets the Parallel Dimensions levels, previously only available in French and Spanish. Look for secret wormholes hidden in the main levels to access the new areas, just so they can thrash you mercilessly. English Hammerfest now also features a full translation, with item names and everything. That weird spotty thing you've got 85 of? That's a "surprise cake". Warning: The subscription plan has changed slightly. You can now play only once a day for free, or you can pay to accumulate daily games as usual. If you bought games way back in 2007, you should have quite a pile of them by now.


| Comments (52) | Views (3)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIt's Link Dump Friday, ANAGRAM EDITION! Because it's fun, here are nine other ways to express Link Dump Fridayage without straying from those 12 delicious letters: Midland Fury Kip, Kinda Lid Frumpy, Pilaf Muddy Rink, Fairly Kind Dump, Armful Kiddy Pin, Milady Drip Funk, Rapid Mind Fluky, Farm Kiddy Lupin, Amply Druid Fink.

  • icon_alienpeekaboo.gifAlien Peekaboo - A matching game of a different sort, this one challenges your visual skills to pick out alien twins in a crowd of funky looking characters. Click any two matching aliens to zap them away. You can also match aliens who aren't next to each other by utilizing the orbiting ships to reflect the "zap laser" around two corners.
  • icon_chainoffire.gifChain of Fire - Normally, playing with fire is a bad thing. In this case, however, it's kinda the point of the game. Your flaming cursor has the power to ignite both man and tree, the former of which will run around and light other things on fire once he himself is burning. Incinerate everything on the screen using as few actions as possible.
  • icon_musicalevenizer.gifThe Musical Evenizer - Imagine a rhythm game built around your typical run-and-jump platformer. This is The Musical Evenizer. Place up and down arrow boxes to try and keep the platforms at an even keel. The game's opening text describes it best: You are a tiny little man that lives inside of a computer. All of the other tiny computer dwellers would be so jealous of you if you could keep these volume bars even with the middle line. Especially when music is playing. So jealous.
  • icon_whiteningtile.gifWhitening Tile - Another twisted take on a matching puzzle game, this one is played on a grid where you push Greek letters from chutes to the squares inside. Pull groups of three together and they vanish, saving you precious space in this extraordinarily challenging title.
  • icon_xtremetugboating2.gifX-Treme Tugboating 2 - An absolutely hectic arcade game where you... well, you spin around a moving blob of water while jumping to collect items, enjoying one X-TREME event after another. Avoid bad things like meteors, rocket ships, sharks, and giant-fisted punchy guys. Do not avoid rainbows, coins, blobs, fish, and bubbles.
  • icon_ducksim.gifDuck Sim 2008 - What's it like to be a duck? Gosh, I've always wanted to know. But wait! Now I can! Duck Sim 2008 fulfills every little boy and girl's wildest dream by letting you play... as a duck!

  • Currently 3.9/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.9/5 (43 votes)
| Comments (7) | Views (5)

ArtbegottiSproing ReloadedHooray for manageable elastic! irRegular Games has released Sproing Reloaded, a sequel to Sproing, which was featured in a previous Link Dump Friday. For those of you who have difficulties getting a paddle ball to work for more than one or two hits, this is a much less frustrating choice.

Like in the previous Sproing game, you control a small dot, on which an attached elastic line holds a large blue ball. Moving the mouse around the playing area pulls the ball as well, but with a bit of whiplash-like action. The faster you jerk the mouse, the faster you can whip the ball around. On each level are blue circles which need to be destroyed by hitting them with your blue ball-on-a-string. However, you can't just idle around and let the circles come to you, your ball has to be moving at a great enough speed to eliminate them.

But there's a catch! (Because what game about balls would be complete without a catch?) Solid yellow, orange, and red balls enter the playing field periodically, and they are not your friend! Avoid these balls as much as you can, because hitting them reduces your health level. Luckily, you have three weapons at your disposal, which can freeze the balls, make you invincible, or wipe them off the screen completely. A pause screen in between each level lets you buy these power-ups, as well as the ability to tweak your ball's performance and restore health.

Analysis: While Sproing Reloaded brings a fresh look at the elastic-ball-on-a-string game, it must be noted that a lot of level designs from the previous Sproing have carried over almost identically. Still, this doesn't make anything any easier, as you'll still find yourself struggling to survive to the next level, only to find you've painted yourself into a corner, and the red balls are blocking every way out.

The simple "primary colors on black" design makes the game easy to look at, but one must wonder how irRegular Games decided upon their music. There are eight or so short loop-ish pieces, which individually sound fine, but when selected at random and played back-to-back (as the game does), it becomes a little disorienting to hear the conflicting styles and tempos go back and forth without any warning.

Music and familiarity aside, Sproing Reloaded brings a good mix of simple physics gaming that's hard to master, 30 achievements to keep you coming back for more, and a bit of quirky humor to show you the author's personality. And if nothing else, it beats those darned paddle balls.

Play Sproing Reloaded


  • Currently 4.7/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.7/5 (122 votes)
| Comments (85) | Views (78)

Auditorium

PsychotronicOh hey, look who's here! How's it going, cool cat? What's shakin', bacon? You look good, very well rested. And is that… wait a minute… waaait… is that a little bit of a tan? Did you go out and do that water-skiing class you were talking about? Righteous! You keep following that crazy rainbow, you crazy leprechaun. No, seriously, you look great. And you're not that short. Me? I'm good. Busy busy busy. Work, you know. Work. Work work work workity work. All I can do is try not to let the man get me AAAAAA I CAN'T HIDE IT ANY LONGER! THE FULL VERSION OF AUDITORIUM IS OUT AAAAAAAA HOLY MACARONI AAAAAAAAAA KERMIT ARMS AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

AuditoriumYep, it's true. For those of you who enjoyed the demo (read as: practically everyone), you can now purchase the complete version of Auditorium, which features over 70 levels, 15 musical compositions, and much, much more gameplay. You gotcher Black Hole, which sucks up all your pretty particles into its heartless maw. You gotcher Rabbit Control for speeding up the Flow, yer Deflect Control for bouncing it around, yer Portals for teleporting it from place to place. There are no major surprises, but if you just want five times as much Auditorium, you won't be disappointed. All the levels from the demo have even been redesigned, so if you've already played those 15 stages to pieces, you won't feel like you're repeating yourself.

If you never did play the Auditorium demo (How's your cave these days? Cool and shady?), here's a quick run-down of the gameplay. The Flow is a stream of particles drifting through a vast empty space. Your job is to direct the Flow through one or more fixed containers, each of which plays a different instrumental part of an overall symphony. You can steer the Flow by means of Controls: symbol-emblazoned circles that exert force on passing particles. Just click and drag with the mouse to move the controls anywhere on the screen, or to expand and contract their sphere of influence.

For instance, The Attract Control pulls nearby particles towards its center in a spiral. Direction Controls push the Flow in one of the four cardinal directions. The Repel Control boomerangs it back the way it came. By allowing you nearly complete freedom to manipulate the position and size of your controls, Auditorium lets you approach each puzzle from several different avenues.

When you finally fill all the containers, the screen shifts, like the universe just hiccuped, and you can relax and bask in the tuneful sound of your success. That's right, the single most common complaint from Auditorium's demo days has been addressed. When you complete a level, the game will stay with you, playing your painstakingly assembled song until you click the mouse to move on. This is one of the few Flash games you'll want to play with headphones, or at least a good speaker set-up.

Cipher Prime, the two-man development team composed of William Stallwood and Dain Saint, is asking $10.99 for Auditorium. It's still an online game—your purchase gives you a name and password for the site, which allows you to log into your account from any computer without losing your progress. The disadvantage is that you have to be connected to the internet to play. Of course the demo is still available, if you need to convince yourself.

AuditoriumAnalysis: Auditorium was our overwhelming choice for the Best Browser-Based Puzzle Game of 2008, but it's worth noting that it doesn't dominate the field in any one aspect. It's not the most involved, complex puzzle game around; some are more interesting. The music is stunning, but I probably wouldn't buy the soundtrack. The visuals are lovely, but they're just little colored dots zipping around. It's not even the most accessible game in history; it was a lot easier to pick up and play Pac-Man, before hardly anyone knew what a video game was.

The combination of all these things, however—the ease of play, the graphics, the music, the puzzle designs, the very concept—is intoxicating. It's like when Star Wars came out, and everyone's imagination sparked at the idea that there was this unseen Force that could be slung around by extraordinary people to do amazing things. Well, Auditorium lets you control the Force, like you're an orchestra-wielding Jedi.

Auditorium's flaws mostly concern its structure. The levels are divided into Acts, and they unlock one Act at a time, which means if you get stuck on a particular puzzle, the only other levels you can skip to are even more difficult ones. I would have preferred to have the first level of several different Acts available, so I could skip to different compositions when I get frustrated. When you're stumbling around fruitlessly, waiting for a flash of inspiration, those gorgeous musical samples start to repeat way too often.

The simplicity of the interface has one major drawback. When you have several overlapping controls, it can be unreasonably difficult to move the one you want. It would be nice to be able to press a key to cycle between your options.

None of that ruins the experience, of course. Auditorium is addictive as sweet caffeine, and it says something positive about humanity that this game has garnered such wide appeal among dedicated gamers and Luddites alike. Solving a tricky puzzle and going to the next one is a powerful draw, of course, but the main reward here is just plain old beauty. No saving the universe, no destroying some ancient heart of evil, just a chance to listen to some good classical music and watch a light show. And it's one of the most popular Flash games ever. How great is that?

Play Auditorium


  • Currently 3.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.8/5 (113 votes)
| Comments (44) | Views (11)

MDenmden-bubblequod-screen1.jpgQuod. \ˈkwäd\. British slang for prison. Very few games teach you new vocabulary words while entertaining you, but BubbleQuod, a physics-based puzzle-platformer from Ukrainian developer Garbuz Games, manages to do both quite ably.

To free yourself from your self-constructed prison to keep out the dangers of the world, you must roll across fifty stages and seek the bubble-bursting pin. The developers offer two levels of difficulty: "normal," which allows for in-air control, and "hard," which is more realistic.

Physics games are inherently tied to the success of their physics engine, and here BubbleQuod mostly passes. The bubble can be finicky at first, but after a few levels the controls become second nature. The objects with which to interact are varied, and introduced with enough frequency to stave off boredom until the difficulty curve takes over. (Said curve may be a bit unbalanced: difficulty increases quickly around level 20, and the last few levels may cause stress-induced baldness.)

The graphics are beautiful, with backgrounds evoking an inventor's workbook, scribbled with notations and designs. The music loop may get repetitive after a few levels, but a mute button is close at hand.

There are ten languages available, ranging from English and Spanish to Russian and Portuguese, but dialogue is kept to a minimum. It's just as well; this is a game that holds its own in any language.

Play BubbleQuod


  • Currently 4.2/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.2/5 (130 votes)
| Comments (52) | Views (81)

Weekday Escape

JessIt's a truly nasty day in New York. Not that I don't love snow (I do! It can be beautiful!) but when the wind is blowing and the flakes are sticking to your eyelashes and you soak your boots in a Escape from Dr. Ichie's Cafedeceptively deep, muddy puddle…well, that's when you want to throw down your hat and see if it's too late to apply to that nice graduate program in Honolulu. Alas, I doubt I shall be eluding the winter doldrums anytime soon. At least I can console myself with the sweet, sunny Escape From Dr. Ichie's Cafe!

New from Bianco Bianco, creators of Mystery House: Escape from Beginning Room and Dr. Ichie's Room, Escape from Dr. Ichie's Cafe places you once more in the grasp of the mysterious doctor. The mysterious, somewhat accommodating doctor, that is—he or she was, after all, kind enough to lock you in a cozily wood-paneled cafe, with the sounds of the ocean to soothe you as you search. Nice, right? Even better is the fact that the cafe is filled with clever puzzles that tread the fine line between challenging and infuriating, providing a mentally stimulating experience that never crosses into head-banging-on-table territory.

The game's graphics are very nice, cleanly rendered and quite realistic, and pixel-hunting is at a minimum. As always, a save feature would have been nice…but really, I have very little bad to say about Escape from Dr. Ichie's Cafe. Is it groundbreaking? No. Especially innovative? Not really. It is, however, a well-designed, charming, highly entertaining escape game that will keep you happily involved for half an hour to forty-five minutes. Moreover, it is a marked step up from Bianco Bianco's other creations, definitely more clever and sophisticated than the previous games, which bodes very well for the developer's future offerings.

Play Escape from Dr. Ichie's Cafe


  • Currently 4.6/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.6/5 (342 votes)
| Comments (201) | Views (1,148)

PsychotronicSuper Stacker 2As any girl with a bottle of super glue and her ex-boyfriend's CD collection can tell you, it's fun to stack things on top of each other. From the wacky antics of Tower Bloxx to the precise moodiness of last week's Perfect Balance, to the original Super Stacker, thumbing your nose at gravity is the best thing ever. Just ask this guy.

So here's the deal: Super Stacker 2 offers 40 levels of shape stacking, ranging from pathetically easy to hand-crampingly difficult. Every ten levels, you unlock a speed run, which lets you compete with your friends for shape-stacking fame and glory. If that's not enough, I have three very special words for you: Level. Editor. Booya. That's right—Super Stacker 2 has a fully-functional level editor, and the world will never be the same, no matter how much you want to go back to your comfortable existence before there was a level editor in Super Stacker. Pandora's Box is open now, yeah buddy.

NOW ME EXPLAIN YOU GAME. Each level offers you a number of pre-placed shapes, and a list of upcoming blocks across the top of the screen. Your goal is to balance all those shapes one at a time, so that they don't fall into the pit below. And I'm warning those of you with sensitive dispositions, these shapes look terrified of falling into that pit. It's probably filled with leopards. So, just click on the screen where you want to place each new shape, and if you do a good balancing job, they'll all make their happy face, and you'll get to go to the next level.

Analysis: This is about as casual as a stacking game can get. You don't have to worry about rotating pieces or which block to place next. Just click where you want 'em, one right after the other. Not that you won't have to engage your noggin—some of the harder puzzles will have you staring cock-eyed at them like maybe your head was stacked improperly on your neck—but the simplicity makes Super Stacker 2 extremely fast-paced and satisfying.

The only major problem comes on the later levels, when you have long, long, long strings of shapes to position near-perfectly, and one slip-up will send you back to the beginning of the construction job. Add to that the fact that you can't skip levels, and it's possible to get quite a little rage going.

To help calm your blood pressure, in case you're into user interfaces, Super Stacker 2 has the most thoughtful options menu ever. You access it by clicking the right mouse button. Imagine that! Accessible sound controls without plastering a big icon on the screen at all times! Whatever shall they think of next? It's just a shame that the sound effects are begging to be turned off in this game. Seriously, if I never again hear another shape shout "HUUHH" as it pops into being, I will die a happy man. Not to mention the hyper-irritating phone that rings whenever you let a shape fall into the pit. BRIIIINNNNNG. "Hello? Who is it?" "It's Failure. Thank you for feeding the leopards."

All things considered, Super Stacker 2 deserves to be considered one of the best stacking games on the web. I'm not a fan of the bouncy physics, and I can't quite identify what these moody bricks are supposed to be made out of, but it's at least internally consistent. Many of the level designs are really clever, and they're presented with so much humor, you can't help but smile sometimes. The audio rewards at the end of each group of levels are hilarious, and they just keep getting better as you go. You'll see what I mean.

Super Stacker 2: stack it on top… of the stack… of… games you're going to play… or something. Enjoy.

Play Super Stacker 2


  • Currently 3.4/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 3.4/5 (57 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (12)

PsychotronicThe New SwitcherooIt may feel like someone's pulling the old switcheroo on you, but don't be fooled. It's Flash author Samgine rolling out The New Switcheroo, a puzzle game based on the Lights Out template, where the object is to turn all the bulbs in a formation to the same color. In classic Lights Out, whenever you click a bulb, it and all its neighbors switch states, from lit to unlit or vice versa. Over the course of 30 tricky and creative levels, The New Switcheroo adds a handful of twists, both figurative and literal, to that formula.

The first level will prime you for what's to come. A few of the bulbs display a plus mark, which means that clicking them will affect five bulbs in a cross configuration like you'd expect. The bulbs with a single dot affect only themselves when clicked. Later, you'll encounter bulbs that affect a diagonal line, or an X, or a diamond shape, or other permutations on that same idea.

The real confusion starts with the bulbs that have the power to move other bulbs, or even rotate them. That may not sound so bad, but wait till you try to wrap your poor brain around it in practice. Complicating matters is the fact that you never know which color you're going for, so it's easy to get lost trying to turn everything white, when the only solution is to turn everything gold. The difficulty curve is fair, but it takes a few giant steps to reach the mountainous heights of the hard levels. I swear the very last puzzle looks like Samgine just pulled out 60 random bulbs from a hat.

Analysis: Other than a brief tune when the game first loads, The New Switcheroo has no sound effects and minimal graphics. The only nod to presentation is a cute option to change the two main bulb colors in the game (This also serves to make the game more colorblind accessible). I miss having some basic audio/visual perks to go with my puzzle solving, but they're not really necessary. You've always got the option of shouting "PING" and making blinking gestures with your hands at the screen, whenever you beat a stage.

30 levels isn't very many, but you'll see a new idea on almost every one. There's enough variety to make each puzzle feel distinct, rather than just a larger, more complicated interpretation of the rules. There are still places this concept could go (gravity-changing bulbs? bulbs that burn out after a certain number of moves? long florescent bulbs?), but it's a solid beginning, more than enough to keep you pondering for an hour or two.

Play The New Switcheroo


| Comments (16) | Views (3)

Mobile Monday

JohnBMore games, yay! We're still touching and tapping our way through the iTunes App Store each week, digging up games that are worth getting into. This time around we have a port of a favorite Flash game along with some puzzle action, fast-reflex tilting, and an Egyptian-themed dice-based poker game!

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! Congratulations to last week's winner, Mano!

tbamfh-itunes.gifTBAMFH (These Balls are Made for Hiding) - A port of Tonypa's popular and award-winning Flash game of the same name, TBAMFH is a trial-and-error logic-based puzzle title with a simple but stylish visual presentation. Your goal is to uncover the balls hidden in the field before you. Simply touch the screen where you want to fire the laser, then watch and hold your breath as it ricochets off any of the hidden balls. Touch the laser shooter when you've found the most that you can find to score big points. Unfortunately this port doesn't feature sound effects, but you really can't beat TBAMFH on-the-go.

monospace.jpgMonospace - A quick and simple game that forces you to switch between 2D and 3D perspectives in order to solve puzzles. Your goal is to eliminate all of the white squares by lining them up next to the blue one. When the level begins, take note of their relative positions, then slide your finger across the touch screen to rotate the large container cube in any direction. When you're ready, a quick tap on the screen flattens the cube, forcing everything into a two dimensional plane. If you did it right, some of the white boxes should be next to the blue box, in which case you simply drag your finger across them to send them packing. Tap the screen again to go into 3D mode, rotate the cube to a new perspective, tap again to flatten, and repeat until the cube is empty! Now available in two dimensions: Monospace and Monospace Lite.

dizzybee.gifDizzy Bee - One of the earliest, simplest, and best arcade-style games in the iTunes App Store, Dizzy Bee utilizes the system's accelerometer to control a cute, round bumblebee who's trying to rescue his friends. Collect flowers by tilting and turning your iPod Touch/iPhone, and try not to go "AWWW" every time the little guy makes that adorable buzzing sound. Each full version game includes 40 unique levels plus 5 bonus levels. Comes in three flavors: Dizzy Bee Free, Dizzy Bee (full), and Dizzy Bee 2.

motionxpokerquest.jpgMotionX Poker Quest - Journey up the Nile to uncover ancient temples in a manner you never considered before: by rolling dice! Shake the iPod Touch/iPhone to roll a set of five poker dice on the screen. You have 3 rolls to beat the computer-controlled opponent to earn coins, which is all good casual fun by itself. But what makes this game so addictive are its 12 beautiful Egyptian temples, 20 achievements, and 54 gorgeous sets of dice to unlock. One of our favorite apps to this day, MotionX Poker Quest has two flavors available: free and the full version. If you still can't get enough, try the original game that started it all (and which is just as good, but very similar), MotionX Poker.

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 4.8/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Rating: 4.8/5 (53 votes)
| Comments (42) | Views (111)

The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge

GrimmrookThe Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge is an unconventional point-and-click adventure game by Jonas Kyratzes, the same developer who brought us Infinite Ocean and Museum of Broken Memories. Well, it's not actually a game, per se, so much as a trans-dimensional portal or a window, but if "game" is more comfortable for you, run with it.

desertbridge3.gifSee, it works like this. All that nonsense about eyes being the windows to the soul is all very cliché and played out, however if we turn that concept on its head, even just a little bit, we do get something sort of useful. That is, aren't the eyes the windows through which we observe the world around us? And if that's the case, there must be lots of other windows around; the dog-eared pages of your favorite book are windows that let you peek in on your favorite stories, your television is a window that lets you observe the antics of your favorite characters (usually they are doctors or police officers. No one knows why this is really, but there you go), and your computer monitor acts as a window that lets you see inside your computer, taking all those ones and zeroes, mashing them up, organizing them, and displaying them into a configuration that is meaningful to you.

If we were to keep following along this train of thought, your browser is also a window, one that allows you to view all kinds of interesting different little worlds including this bit of internet real estate right here. And in this spirit, the House at Desert Bridge is also a window, a very special window, personally commissioned by Harold.

Who's Harold? Oh, he's a perfectly normal enchanted talking picture frame, a pretty excellent dude as the mushrooms might say. Harold has a problem, and so do the mushrooms, and Stripes the dinosaur, and the paranoid rabbit, and the Horraffe, and the rest of the inhabitants of the House at Desert Bridge. Old Man Bill has gone missing (also a totally excellent dude according to the mushrooms), well, maybe not missing, he might just be locked up in his study, but the fish in the bath tub and the rubber duck in the sink haven't seen him in a long time, neither have the chicken in the tower nor the Buttlerware. He does this sometimes, but all of Old Man Bill's creations are starting to get a little nervous, especially now that the power has failed leaving the Horraffe to keep the house alive on back up power.

And so Harold has commissioned Jonas to build this window so that one clever and cunning point-and-click veteran could come and help out the inhabitants and hopefully sort out this whole missing Old Man Bill business. Are you that cunning person they've been waiting for?

Analysis: For anyone that is familiar with Kyratzes' work, Desert Bridge at once is familiar territory and a departure from the norm. It is familiar in that it has a tendency to break with convention as well as being a game driven by its plot and story, but it's an aberration in that whereas most of Jonas' previous offerings have been dark and foreboding, Desert Bridge is much of the time whimsical bordering on the absurd.

Above all else, this game is a story. A cute, endearing, wonderful story that gradually peels back its soft-edged veneer to reveal something that is indeed a little sinister, thrusting the player from humor into apprehension into sadness. A story of such layers and complexity of thoughts and emotion could easily end up a crumpled failure, but Kyratzes tells it with a master stroke, indeed, it is quite possible that Desert House alone establishes Jonas Kyratzes as one of the master story-tellers in indie game development.

desertbridge2.gifThe child-like visuals, though seemingly rudimentary, are perfect in establishing the imaginative and inspired look of this strange world. We know that Kyratzes is capable of producing far more realistic and three-dimensional images for his games, but nothing creates that sense of youthful and reckless imagination as the cartoon drawings which set the stage for Desert Bridge. Blending beautifully with the imagery is the music composed by Helen Trevillion (you can actually listen to or download the soundtrack) which instantly finishes out the feel of Desert Bridge, the tinkling bells, the dancing oboe, all mingling together to create a sense of wonder, like the first time your parents took you to a theme park or a museum. The sights and sounds of Desert Bridge are those of magic being made all around you.

But the true stars of this adventure are the characters, each unique in their personality and in their idiosyncrasies. They aren't animated, they don't show any expression other than the crayon drawings they come with (and even at that only a handful are that lucky), but with words alone there is such a depth of character behind each creature that you meet. In fact, this becomes something of a lynchpin to the successful execution of Desert Bridge because in the rendering of their quirky personalities it becomes hard not to grow attached to them, to see them as somehow real, and when that sinister shade does reveal itself, that attachment developed between player and characters allows the severity of the situation to hit home.

In truth, it's hard to fault Desert Bridge, even if it isn't a game that's for everyone. It's most definitely a verbose adventure, and often times plays more like an interactive fiction than a point-and-click game, but again, this is fine because it is the story and the characters that really matter. The puzzles are surprisingly straightforward; the most difficult thing in solving them is actually not over-thinking them too much. Even the inventory and menu can throw some players off; figuring out how to save and quit the game can end up being one of the first puzzles you tackle here, but even that is done on purpose, one of Kyratzes ways of challenging your preconceived notions of gaming and the world about you.

Just because Desert Bridge is difficult to fault doesn't mean its impossible; there are a few things I feel could be improved. For one, because the scenery has no animation and there are only one or two instances when it changes at all, it's not always clear when you've picked up an item or have performed a task satisfactorily leading to some confusion. I remember playing for quite some time, opening up my inventory, and all of a sudden it was half full with odds and ends I didn't even remember obtaining. Also it can be easy to get a little lost due to the nature of the scenery. This is most notably the case when you get in the room with four doors, or when you are traveling outside the house. Luckily, the House at Desert Bridge is not so big that when you get lost you stay lost for too long. Finally, while the music is absolutely beautiful, the loop sometimes is not very well done and when you get to the end of some of the bits of music, the abrupt stop and start can feel like you've just driven over a speed bump at forty miles an hour.

It also is worth mentioning that this is not a children's game despite the cartoony appearance and the lack of objectionable material (there are only a couple of bad words and one biological reference that is a little offensive). It's not that the game is inappropriate, but it is deep, plays on some very heavy themes, and involves a lot of reading and concepts that may not appeal to younger audiences.

That being said, House at Desert Bridge is a wonderful work to behold. It's a story book for grown ups, a fairy tale for philosophers and parents. It instills in you the memory of what it is like to view the world as a child, to see everything with wonder, and at the same time it bears the burden of age, conflict, and struggle. It is a labor of love that is a story that is about labors of love, and while it's not for everyone, if such things appeal to you, I suggest you check out the manual from Bob the Spider (comes with the download, for your convenience), and step through the window that leads to the House at Desert Bridge.

WindowsWindows:
Download the freeware game

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

Recent Comments

 

Display 5 more comments
Limit to the last 5 comments

Casual game of the week

Maestro: Dark Talent

Browser game of the week

Pirateers 2

Mobile game of the week

Goblin Sword

Your Favorite Games edit

add
Save links to your favorite games here. Use the Favorites editor.

Popular on JiG


The Room

Virtual Villagers: Origins

Submachine 9: The Temple

Surgeon Simulator 2013

The House 2

Papa's pastaria

Fireboy and Watergirl 4: The Crystal Temple

Fireboy and Watergirl 3: The Ice Temple

Moonchild

The Royal Trap

Loren the Amazon Princess

1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum

Magical Diary

Heileen Series

Visit our great partner: maxcdn!

Monthly Archives

Legal notice

All games mentioned or hosted and images appearing on JayIsGames are Copyright their respective owner(s).

All other content is Copyright ©2003-2014 JayIsGames.com. All Rights Reserved.