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March 2009 Archives


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (70 votes)
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PsychotronicMonochro ObserverAnyone who's ever fallen in love with a rough-and-tumble beauty from the wrong side of the tracks will understand the passionate heart of game developer Tatsuya Koyama. His creation Monochro Observer is a tragic, lovely little puzzle game about two people from opposite sides of the visual spectrum, learning to work together towards a common goal, to finally taste the forbidden love that sparks between the deepest shadow and the shiniest, twinkliest, luminescent-i-est-iest light.

Your goal for 20 brain-teasing levels is to join these star-crossed children of fate by bringing them to the flashing gray exit. The catch is that the black person can only move in the light world, and the white person only in the dark. Each character has the ability to create or destroy blocks of the opposite color. A block that behaves like a wall or a stepping stone in one world acts as a pathway in the other.

You may recognize the general idea from Yin Yang or Sean Howard's blog, but this is much more of a puzzle game and much less of a platformer. There's not even a jump button; your avatars can only climb the height of a single block.

Switch control between the two lead characters with [Shift], and walk with the [Arrow Keys]. To create or destroy a platform at your feet, press [Z], which works so long as the space isn't already occupied by a two-tone solid wall. The other controls are the hotkeys for the user interface. [X] undoes the last move you made, and can take you all the way back to the beginning of the level, one step at a time (very useful). Restart the level immediately with [C], return to the stage select with [S], and restart the entire game with [1]. Turn the music on or off with [M].

You see where it says [Shift + Del] at the bottom of the stage select screen? That evil combination of keys erases all your progress. I have sacrificed a percentage of my life so you don't have to. Normally, the game remembers your progress between play sessions.

Analysis: I should mention that the developer didn't actually put anything in Monochro Observer to indicate romantic undertones, but there's something about the delicate presentation that makes me want to don my Exaggerational Interpreting Hat. Just look at those little munchkins, staring at each other across the impassable divide between worlds. Lonesome. Longing. The fire of passion smoldering in their eyes…okay, I'll stop.

But I don't have much to say about the actual design of the game. It's a good set of puzzles. They thoroughly explore the central idea, rewarding and challenging in more-or-less ideal balance. It's helpful to think through the solutions, but if you are better with practice than theory, the forgiving Undo Button lets you fart around as much as you'd like without penalty.

It's just interesting that such a simple concept, built with a traditional eye for game design, can be so evocative. Although the direction is ambiguous, the game still takes you somewhere, just by making strong choices with the music and graphics, and by having a curious title. I can't touch you, but I'm observing you, you monochromatic thing from another realm of being. What are you feeling? What is the difference between us? What will happen if we cooperate? Where will that exit take us, and is it worth the struggle to get there? Are you single? What do your lips taste like? Do they taste like cherries? All I want is delicious smooches! Why won't you loooove meeeee???

Um…sorry about that. Go enjoy some puzzles. I'll be okay.

Play Monochro Observer


  • Currently 3.1/5
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Rating: 3.1/5 (131 votes)
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MarcusPuzzle DungeonPuzzle Dungeon is a funny little adventure game from eyehook, the creator of Color Box. The title conjures up any number of different genres; perhaps a match-3 game like Puzzle Quest, or an RPG, or even a hidden-object adventure. As you will quickly find out, Puzzle Dungeon is none of the above. It is a simple, casual roguelike, the descendant of classics such as ADOM and NetHack.

You start off with your stalwart adventurer on the surface, and descend into a randomly-generated dungeon of ever-increasing complexity. On your journey, you will encounter various nasty creatures who are out to stop your progress. Use your mighty stick and cloak to fight them off and continue through the dungeon. Along the way, you will also come across treasure chests and gems. Open the chests to find gold and useful random items, and mine the gems for more money. Use the gold at one of the slot machines located randomly throughout the dungeon to win even more items.

Treasure chests and gems are where the "puzzle" part of Puzzle Dungeon comes from. Landing on a chest presents you with a puzzle screen; line up a column of yellow boxes by moving them two-at-a-time left or right. Alternatively, you can use a skeleton key, if you have one, to bypass the puzzle. Landing on a gem presents you with a simple match-2 game. Clear the board by matching one of two block types, either vertically for the light ones or horizontally for the dark ones. Or, again alternatively, you can use a spade to dig your way through most of the level if you happen to have one.

Analysis: There have not been many javaScript-based roguelikes, so Puzzle Dungeon gets some credit for being one of the first. It also saves your progress, which is important, since it's not always possible to make it through the levels in one sitting. And it has some nice graphics, with well-illustrated monsters and good item icons. It is also legitimately fun to play. But this little game does have some flaws which keep it from true greatness.

The main problem is the promise of more gameplay unfulfilled. During the first few levels of the game, you are taunted by a character who gives you a cursed cloak, which eventually becomes a legitimate defense against creatures. Sounds like the makings of a system to upgrade items, right? And with a number of extra slots in your inventory for equipped items, you'd be right in thinking so. But, after the last cloak encounter, he never shows up again. And, after 100 levels, there doesn't appear to be any other way of collecting equipment.

Why 100 levels? After 100, the creatures are undefined, and so the game is not able to generate level 101. It really makes the game feel either A - unfinished, or B - abandoned. Either way, Puzzle Dungeon could be truly fun if the developer were to add in some more equipment and more levels, or else a new quest that allows you to ascend back through the levels from which you came.

Another minor quibble is the complete lack of sound. While that wasn't a problem for the classic roguelikes, a more modern approach would allow for some sort of soundtrack and simple combat sounds, if nothing else.

Puzzle Dungeon is a fun little diversion, a game that you can sit and play for a few minutes of hack-and-slash action and then let be. The lack of sound actually makes it somewhat office-safe, and the fact that it saves your progress makes it easy to pick up and put down quickly. If the developer would revisit the title, I think it could become a classic.

Play Puzzle Dungeon


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (136 votes)
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DoraSugarcore.pngHave you ever thought about being a candyman? Of course you have. Maybe you dreamt of striking it rich in a high-tech candy lab, combining high-fructose corn syrup with various unnaturally hued dyes. Or maybe you're a bit of a romantic, and you fancy taking a rainbow, wrapping it in a sigh, and then soaking it in the sun to make a groovy lemon pie? And you could, certainly — but there's another way, a better way, and Gregory Weir's new game Sugarcore is here to open your eyes.

The premise is simple enough. See, there's delicious candy out there for those brave enough to mine it. Using only your mouse, you must spin a giant orb made of coloured candy blocks. Incoming bullets will fire automatically, and your job is to get them to strike the blocks of your choice, which destroys them and adds their value to your score. Some colours are worth more than others, and you'll have to dig deep and execute some fancy moves to get at them.

Of course, you'll also have to watch out for chocolate, which will liquefy if you hit it and fill up all the empty blocks you've destroyed, undermining your hard work. And then there are the candy's natural defenses… but I'm sure you won't have any trouble with that. You're a pro!

Although Sugarcore starts out slowly, the pace quickly escalates as you advance through the levels. Three different characters will assign you missions, each with a different style of play. In addition to mining out valuable candy ore, you will need to use your incredible rotation skills to keep the candy core safe from invaders… or, you know, destroy it.

Your reflexes will have to be quick whatever your assignment, so it's a good thing the mouse control is so responsive and easy to pick up. The downside is that the game only recognises your movements if the cursor remains inside the game's borders; venture outside them, and the candy will either stop moving or jitter around in the wrong direction, which can potentially foul up your objective. While there are a lot of levels, almost none of them are over 60 seconds long, which often means making every move and bullet count.

SugarcoreArmor.pngAnalysis: It may look and feel like a puzzle game at first glance, but it's not exactly relaxing. Sure, there's cotton-candy music that reminds me of being five years old and watching clouds drift by overhead. There are adorable character designs and bright colours that look like they came straight out of my old Lego sets. But after a few levels I was leaning forward in my chair, staring at the screen with an intensity usually reserved for open-heart surgery performed by a surgeon with an involuntary twitch. With how swiftly things move along, you're better off just reacting than trying to think out your every move.

Some of the levels are incredibly fiddly, requiring you to move your mouse just so at just the right moment, and even one improperly placed bullet can be the difference between winning and losing. Still, with such bite-sized levels, you're never set back very far. I didn't ever stop having fun, even if I never expected to have quite such a grim attitude towards chocolate. The different objectives for the three sets of levels each present their own unique challenges, and it's good to be able to swap to a different level when another starts to get frustrating.

Don't let Sugarcore's ultra-simple presentation deceive you. There's a surprising amount of charm and cheek here — although perhaps not that surprising if you've played any of Gregory Weir's previous games. There may not be a lot of replayability or depth, but there is a solid amount of fast-paced puzzle blasting, and treating yourself to this candy won't make you feel guilty.

Play Sugarcore


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Mobile Monday

JohnBThe 11th annual Independent Games Festival awards were announced just a few days ago, and you'll be happy to know the Mobile category was filled with excellent iPhone games. Even better, we've already featured most of them on previous Mobile Monday articles! Check out the iTunes IGF Mobile page to see where the spotlight is currently shining.

We're still giving away iTunes gift certificates to cover the cost of every game featured in the current Mobile Monday article. Simply 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, Coldfrog!

kyper.gifKyper - From Ian Marsh, creator of Textropolis, comes a speed-based space game where your only goal is to... well... go really fast! Tilt the iPhone left or right to move across the bottom of the screen. Two types of asteroids fly at your ship: ones that make you slow down, and ones that make you speed up. Avoid hitting either at all costs, but the closer you are to the "speed up" asteroids, the more speed you'll gain. See how fast you can go before crashing!

fieldrunners.jpgFieldrunners - Easily one of the best, most polished and well-rounded tower defense games on the iTunes App Store, Fieldrunners drops you in one of three maps and challenges you to destroy oncoming soldiers by placing a few towers in their way. Carve a complex maze to maximize shooting time, and use the cash you earn from victories to upgrade your defenses. A ton of replay value, unlockable maps and modes, and overall great presentation makes this one well worth grabbing.

drop7.gifDrop7 - This simple puzzle game has all the makings of a classic. Blending your traditional Tetris-style block matching with games like sudoku or Blocksum, drop numbered discs to the bottom of the grid by tapping the screen. If a disc's number matches the number of orbs in a row and/or column, that disc vanishes. Setting up chain reactions is simple and very rewarding, and three game modes ensures every casual gamer will find something for him/herself.

radioflare.jpgRadio Flare - A music-based shooter that recently walked away with the Best Audio award at the 2009 Independent Games Festival Mobile. Control the ship with your left thumb, and connect up to four enemy ships by drawing with your right thumb. Enemies explode into red flares in rhythm with the music. Tons of enemy formations to vanquish, a good few dozen stages and unlockable achievements add a little bit of challenge. 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.


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Plant This!

JoshOne of the more unique tower defense titles that's been released this year, Plant This! is a highly-stylized, maze-based strategy game. Instead of featuring a pre-defined path for "creeps" to follow like we see in most tower defense games, it employs the "open field" design, in which you create the path by using your towers to corral the creeps down the map as inefficiently—or slowly—as possible. Plant This! features a pretty slick graphics engine and contemporary interface, even by download-game standards. The music and sound effects really complement the lighthearted "garden" theme, helping to make it accessible to most kids as well as adults.

plantthis1.jpgThat's not to say it's a kiddie game, though. Despite the floral-themed tower array and cutesy cadre of insect creeps, even the most hardened tower defense vets will find a challenge here, especially past the "easy" setting. That said, the storyline is a bit ridiculous, placing you in the role of "Gopher," some sort of laboratory-designed super-rodent who used to play chess with his lab professor before being tasked with defending gardens from an onslaught of invading bugs. Okay, maybe it's more than a bit ridiculous. But that doesn't detract from the cool gameplay, which is what really makes this game noteworthy. Even though I'm crazy about tower defense games, I was never really attracted to the "open field" subset of the genre, found in titles like Desktop Tower Defense. I can't easily articulate why; I suppose I just found it counter-intuitive to waste resources on towers (rather than cheap walls or blocks) to create a forced path for creeps to follow.

But Plant This! just makes it work (mostly by using a combination of gameplay mechanics that usually aren't implemented—all together—in the same game). For one thing, you receive the full amount of money back when you sell a flower-tower, making it easier to correct mistakes. Also, the basic flower (a sunflower) is super-cheap at only five bucks apiece. This makes it easy to use them as building blocks to form your maze, while only spending more cash upgrading specific ones as you see fit. There are a nice variety of flowers as well, and you won't have to wait until the end of the game to unlock them all. A new one automatically gets unlocked every few stages. You'll find your typical "slowing" towers, area-of-effect towers and rapid-fire towers, as well as a few that are unique to this game's mechanics, like the tulip (which can be used to fill smaller gaps in your maze) and flowers that counter specific abilities of creeps, like jumping.

The overall objective is pretty standard fare: bugs will enter the field from the top of the screen in waves, trying to reach the bottom. Every bug that successfully reaches the bottom of the field will subtract one "life" from you until you reach zero, at which point you lose. The tutorial stage does a pretty good job of prepping you, although it's still a bit unclear as to how the bugs' "pathing" works. Through trial-and-error you can begin to predict how they'll react to things like dead-ends, or whether or not they'll turn right or left when presented with the choice. Still, a little more clarification would have been helpful. Trying to design the "perfect maze" quickly becomes an addictive factor in the gameplay. The longer the bugs are exposed, the easier it becomes to destroy them. You'll find yourself trying to design long "fake-out" corridors in the maze, causing them to turn around and retrace their steps. The key is making their journey from one end of the field to the other as inefficient for them as possible, and placing the right combination of towers throughout the field (as well as keeping them upgraded).

plantthis2.jpgFlowers are upgraded in ranks, up to a maximum of five. The cost of upgrading each flower is relative to its base cost, so expensive towers will cost a lot more to upgrade. Like many tower defense games, it's usually better to upgrade a smaller number of towers to max rank than to upgrade a lot of towers to mid-rank. In addition to planting flowers, there are several other ways to defend your garden. Every once in awhile, a "special" bug will come out mixed in a wave of creeps. You can click on these bugs to have all nearby flowers target it, which will focus their attacks on it. Once it's destroyed, it will do a number of things depending on what color it is, like giving you an extra life, or freezing all nearby bugs in place. You also have a "Squish" ability that's a little less useful than it sounds. By planting a flower on a bug, it will damage it or trap it (I found this to be inconsistent sometimes, probably a "bug"—ha ha—in the gameplay). Use at your own discretion, although you can always sell the flower to get your money back.

Analysis: There's enough content and well-designed gameplay in Plant This! to keep it fun and interesting through multiple sessions, whether it's for 15 minutes or a couple of hours. Fifty levels spanning over three difficulty modes is a respectable amount of content, and there are lots of staged events throughout, like alterations of the field (sometimes a pain in the neck) and even "toy" bosses and mini-bosses. Thankfully, your carefully-designed mazes persist through 10 levels, so you don't have to start from scratch too annoyingly often. The game does have its downfalls though, most of which are preference-based. There's no "relaxed" mode, which is something players have complained about. The wave timer is always ticking down, sometimes making it tough to re-design and tweak your maze before more bugs are on the way. As mentioned, creep pathing isn't always obvious, and the "invisible grid" of flower placement versus that pathing isn't well-defined. Sometimes you won't be able to predict whether or not a creep will be able to get through unless you actually let one try.

Achievement-junkies will appreciate the various "trophies" that can be earned in-game, as well as the emphasis that's placed on scoring. There are some cute little distractions like your "flower book" and "bug jar," both of which can be referenced to review what you've encountered and unlocked. Aside from the few setbacks it faces, Plant This! proves to be a well-polished and stylish game that will attract many players who usually don't enjoy tower defense games. Most fans of the genre will love it, and fans of the "open-field" or "maze" tower defense subsets will go absolutely bonkers for it.

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
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Rating: 4/5 (33 votes)
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Be a King

JohnBBe a King is a new fantasy strategy title from 300AD. It follows in the tracks of games such as King Mania, Forgotten Lands: First Colony, and the Build-a-Lot series and blends a streamlined building-centric real-time strategy game with a handful of casual knowhow.

beaking.jpgIn the year 950 AD, Europe is still in the early part of the medieval era. Fear and uncertainty rule the people as they live with the constant threat of disease, starvation, and barbarian attacks. But one prince wants more for his people. Invisioning a stable society where villagers could live, work and play in comfort and safety, he set out to craft a medieval utopia, one tiny settlement at a time.

Pleasing the villagers is a relatively easy task, as all they require is food to eat and a simple home to rest their weary heads. To build a farm or a house, simply click an open plot of land followed by the corresponding icon at the bottom of the screen. Wait a few seconds and you're in business! Later you'll get a handful of new buildings to create, including barracks that ward off enemy attacks, the third pillar of your safe and successful society.

But building things isn't free. In Be a King you have four resources to think about as you expand your village: wood, stone, gold, and workers. Wood, workers and stone can be purchased from the menu at the bottom of the screen, but gold is only received by collecting "rent" from your villagers. Think of it as a "hey, I'm making this place pretty awesome" tax. Buildings can also be upgraded, which is faster and cheaper than creating new structures, and occasionally you'll get the chance to found guilds that boost building speed and decrease the cost of materials.

And then there's the ability to hire heroes, an interesting twist on the old casual RTS/building game. Heroes will fight for your village and can also undertake quests that appear on the left side of the screen. A successful quest often rewards you with gold, materials and other goodies. An unsuccessful one results in... well... let's just say you'll need to hire another hero...

beaking2.jpgAnalysis: Simple but pleasant, Be a King steps into an increasingly crowded genre to claim a little corner all its own. It doesn't go too heavy on the strategy side of things, which can result in a less-than-challenging experience, but it's still an enjoyable run through 25 different levels. And I was glad to see the medieval setting didn't get too fantasy-cliche.

One point of mild frustration for me was the game's relatively slow pace. I'm no real-time strategy expert, but I know how to figure out a game and I've played plenty of similar titles in my day. If you're new to the genre, you probably won't mind, but everyone else will feel the drag from time to time, especially during the tutorial. Be a King could also use a bit more variety. Keeping things simple is one thing, but pulling out too much can result in a repetitive experience, something this game suffers from in later levels.

Despite it's sometimes too-simple design, Be a King stands out on its own with a great visual package and easy to learn gameplay. If you enjoy games like Tribal Trouble or Build-a-Lot, Be a King is for you.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Be a King is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

AdamBWhat, no theme this week? Actually, there is. The theme is... uh, eclectic. Meaning a collection of things which just happen to go together because I say so. Enjoy this weeks partially themed Weekend Download!

pacmanphysics.gifPac-Man Physics / Pac-Man Zero Gravity (Windows, 1MB, free) - Ever play Pac-Man and think: Wouldn't this be better if everything was all swirly and roamed freely around the screen? Also, when you eat a powerpill, everything gets sucked into a black hole which can potentially kill you with no warning? Well, finally your dreams have come true with these bizarre renditions of Pac-man. (Click the green arrow to download Pac-Man Physics.)

king.gifKing (top link) (Windows, 600kb, free) - For whatever reason, the King of somewhere is trapped in a series of rooms. The only escape is to jump on the heads of weird blobby things. For points, combo jump every enemy to death and stay airborne at the freeze of every level. Strange, and strangely addicting. The download link is at the top of the page on the right. Some users will need to download d3drm.dll as well.

30secondhero.gif30 Second Hero (Windows, 600kb, free) - Without a doubt, the shortest, and strangely one of the most enjoyable RPG's I've ever come across. In 30 Second Hero you race against the clock to level up enough before you enter the cave and defeat the boss. You have thirty seconds in which to do this. Battle enough enemies to save coins and spend them in the castle to buy headgear, armour, weapons or an extra 10 seconds of time. Click the large link at the top to download.

zombieholiday.jpgZombie Holiday Prologue (Mac, 46MB, free) - This is what old-school action/platform games are all about: limited lives and high difficulty! Set in a creepy but well-drawn atmosphere, control Francis as you investigate the disappearance of your friends and the source of a mysterious zombie invasion. The game's environments grow as you play, and your weaponry also expands as you progress.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (21 votes)
| Comments (6) | Views (37)

Sea Journey

JohnBSea Journey is... well, it's Puzzle Quest with pirates! Built around a tile-swapping Bejeweled-like game, you venture into the great blue ocean in search of treasure, upgrading your vessel along the way. Each match-3 game you play is a fierce battle at sea, complete with cannon salvos and mystical spells conjured by talismans.

seajourney.jpgYou begin as a lowly merchant equipped with a small, weak merchant's ship. After a surprise pirate attack, the captain discovers a letter and a talisman aboard the conquered vessel. Intrigued by the promise of wealth and power, he and his crew set out on a journey of exploration. They had no idea how many enemies they would make along the way.

The core of Sea Journey is a match-3 game that fuels battles between yourself and a computer-controlled opponent. Depending on which kind of tiles you match you'll perform different actions in combat, spreading a surprisingly intricate game of strategy before your eyes. An offensive tactic is to match cannon balls to signal your ship to fire, dealing direct damage to your foe. You can also play a defensive game and match wheels to pull your ship away from the enemy, causing most of his attacks to miss. Your enemy has the same abilities, however, so not only do you have to think about acting upon your opponent, but sometimes you'll make a move just to prevent him from acting upon you. Enthralling!

Between battles you have the opportunity to visit friendly islands where you can upgrade your ship's stats, buy better vessels, and change which type of ship you take into battle. Ranging from the attack-oriented Corsair to the mysterious Spectre, each boat has a different array of spells to use in battle. Spells are fueled by red, green and blue gems you match during battle, allowing you to save up and do some extraordinary things to the playing field and your hapless opponent. They also add yet another layer of combat strategy and force you to re-think every match you make on the grid. Do you save up blue gems for a spell, grab a few coins or experience scrolls for later, or just unleash the fury of the seven seas on the enemy and pick up the pieces later?

seajourney2.jpgAnalysis: Once I saw the remarkably Puzzle Quest-like mechanic sitting at the core of Sea Journey, I had no choice but to play. Unfortunately this happened late one night, and I ended up tile swapping into the wee hours of the morning. It had me hooked from the start, and I didn't quit playing until I saw the journey through to the end. Well, I got some sleep, but, you know, after that, I didn't quit playing.

Sea Journey isn't just a Puzzle Quest clone. Sure, it borrows the same basic idea, but the game doesn't try to follow in the match-3/RPG granddaddy's footsteps too closely. The biggest differentiator is actually one small change in the mechanics. Instead of taking the battle one tile swap at a time, both you and your opponent have three moves each turn. The usual rules of "match four get a free move" still apply, but having multiple swaps per round adds something important to the game: strategy. Yes, now you can set up moves, move gems around and hack away at rows and columns with a goal in mind. There's much less random luck in Sea Journey and much more careful planning.

You'll get a good three to four hours out of Sea Journey before you reach the end, not nearly as much content or replay value as Puzzle Quest, but it's great while it lasts. Unfortunately most of the upgrades and talismans can be obtained during the first 1/4 of the game, leaving the last 3/4 feeling a bit empty and artificially lengthened. Another low point are the atrocious mini-games. From time to time you'll have to solve a simple memory game, click flying green icons while avoiding red ones, and play "where's the symbol?" with groups of shifting circles. I can see what Divo Games was trying to accomplish with these diversions, but they're so lackluster it's barely even worth the effort. The background scenery is really nice, though!

I'd also like to take a moment to point out the music in Sea Journey. The variety of tracks isn't large, but the music you're treated to while solving puzzles is nothing short of epic. Seriously, if I ever become a pirate, that song is going to play on my ship all day and all night, right up to the point when the mutiny happens and my former crew smashes the speakers. Kudos to the composer!

Sea Journey is great. There, I said it. I enjoyed it from beginning to end in all its epic Puzzle Quest piratey goodness. And so will you!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (43 votes)
| Comments (173) | Views (46)

GrimmrookLabyrinthYou don't know why you came to this place, the Labyrinth. Oh there are foggy recollections, romantic tales of daring do and narrow escapes and riches beyond the dreams of mortals. There was also laughing and music and other adventurers clapping each other heartily on the back.

And mead, of course. You realize that your worst decisions always seem to involve mead.

You focus upon the task at hand. Get in, get the treasure and get out. Simple, yes? Only, the Labyrinth is no child's maze and its twists and turns have swallowed up many a greedy treasure seeker. Worse still is this cursed place's resident demon, the Minotaur. Half bull, half man, this beast is more clever than the Sphinx by a hundred-fold, and he has laid his puzzles and riddles throughout the dark twisting tunnels.

This is not your average dungeon crawl, but instead an online riddle, similar to not pr0n, or God Tower, only with more than a few twists and turns to set it apart, and a horde of fiendish puzzles that just may trap you for eternity.

If you've never played an online riddle before, this is how it goes. You are presented with a single page with a picture or some sort of central image that could include words, numbers, grids, etc. From that and the title, you must deduce a password in order to proceed to the next level. You can just guess, but be careful. You only have a limited number of tries for any one level before you are locked out for a brief spell. This serves to deter people randomly guessing their way through the game, as well as giving you time to think about the problem and rework it properly before trying again.

So, what is your fate to be? Will you emerge from the Labyrinth victorious, treasure in hand? Or will you crawl out, thankful to have your very life? Or will you, like so many others, fall victim to the Minotaur's devices, never to be heard from again?

Analysis: There are a ton of online riddles on the internet, and we tend not to feature them, but the Labyrinth stands out in so many ways and is so well done that it was destined to find its way here. In fact, there are three principle ways in which it deviates from the norm.

LabyrinthThe focus of online riddles tends to be on intensive Google searches, high-end image manipulation, and even a little HTML usage. In the Labyrinth you'll definitely find yourself on Google a few times, and you'll have to manipulate some images, but you won't have to mess with HTML, the searches rarely get in-depth, and all image manipulation can be done easily enough in MS Paint. No, the focus of this riddle lies in code breaking and logic, which makes it more accessible to people who may not have supplemental skills, while at the same time opening new avenues of mental challenge. You'll find that you'll spend more time with scratch paper and home-made models than you will with a search engine.

The second thing is the community and support provided in the forums. Spark Plug, the game's designer, did an outstanding job of making the Labyrinth as self-contained as an online riddle can be, and that includes the extensive versatility of the forums. There, you can not only find hints on individual levels, but also a general beginner's guide, as well as FAQs about codebreaking using traditional ciphers. In a stroke of genius, you can also form teams, and a quick PM to Spark Plug will net you and your partners your very own forum, where you are granted virtually unlimited freedom to discuss the puzzles and post answers. The site's staff may even drop by to nudge you along when you and your mates get stuck.

But the real genius of the Labyrinth is the fact that it is, in fact, a Labyrinth. There is no map, but the puzzles are organized in a non-linear format, complete with dead ends and loop-arounds. On a practical level, this means that just because you solved a puzzle once doesn't mean that you won't have to go back and solve it again with new information. This is where Spark Plug's true brilliance shines through. It is simply amazing that a puzzle that may have occupied you for weeks has an alternate solution that you didn't even see the first time around. In other situations, you will return to a puzzle and with only slight alterations come up with significantly different answers.

All of this adds up to an experience that is unlike any other. Don't expect to have this done in a day, or even a week, and I think it would take an exceptional mind to conquer this challenge on one's own. But when all is said and done, the frustration and the work is more than worth it, to finally come back out of the Labyrinth, treasure in hand.

Oh, yeah, and if you thought that was easy, there's a sequel that's harder than the first.

Play Labyrinth

(NOTES: First, this game does require registration, but you won't be asked any sensitive information. Also, in order to maintain the integrity of the puzzle, please do not post any blatant answers or methodologies here, and please do not link to any walkthroughs or answers on a different site. Trust me, this kind of stuff ruins the experience for everyone involved and does the game's creator a great disservice. Questions and hints of a gently nudging nature are encouraged.)


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBHello, and thank you for reading Link Dump Friday. Due to an abnormally high volume of words, your ability to read may be delayed more than usual. Please be patient, your attention is important to us. A representative will be with you shortly.

  • icon_pongoutae.gifPongOut AE - Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think: Gee, I want to play Pong, but I really want to play Breakout, too. What's a sleepy-headed casual gamer to do? PLAY BOTH AT THE SAME TIME! You'll be surprised how well it works.
  • icon_bubblecannon.gifBubble Cannon - A nice little physics-based matching game from Gaz, creator of Super Stacker 2 and Particle Blaster. Fire bubbles, bump like-colored ones three times to make them disappear, and let nothing come near the spikes at the bottom!
  • icon_snakerunner.gifSnake Runner - Like snake but, you know, different. Pilot an infinitely long snake through each stage, collecting coins before reaching the goal at the end. As always, if you hit a wall or your own tail, you lose. Oh, and heh, snakes can't run, they don't have legs!
  • icon_blackwhitecar.gifBlack White Car - I have a car that can turn into a worm-like thingie and scoot underground. I also have a helicopter that my car can stick to. I use these abilities to avoid rocks and birds and stuff, but I also use it to collect money that's just, you know, floating around. I'm awesome like that.
  • icon_linearrpg.gifThe Linear RPG - Use the right arrow key to progress the story and get further in the game. Use the left arrow key to do just the opposite. As you move, you gain experience points and lose hit points from the battles you instantaneously encounter. Wanna walk further without kicking the bucket? Level grind on earlier parts of the line. Think this one makes a statement about role playing games of today?
  • icon_gawpsters.gifGawpsters - Connect the fluffy gawpsters by drawing lines between them, careful not to let other colors bump into your matrix. Grab power-ups to slow down the gawpsters movement or do other nifty, helpful things.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (92 votes)
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SonicLoverEngineer of the PeopleYou may have already played the "Games for Engineers" that Zachtronics Industries is known for (Bureau of Steam Engineering, Codex of Alchemical Engineering). Now the author has come up with something new, and given its central concept you'd think playing it would blow up the space-time continuum. It's a computer game about programming computer chips. Welcome to KOHCTPYKTOP: Engineer of the People.

This game's a bit less accessible to non-engineers than the others were, but once you know what it's about, it's a cool puzzle game. You've just been hired to a semiconductor factory called H3, and your job is to construct computer chips that follow specific input/output rules. For example, on the first level you have to make four NOT gates (which outputs high current if supplied with low current, and vice-versa).

To build your wiring, click on one of the five commands on the right (or press the corresponding number key) to select it, then use the mouse to place what you selected on the grid. Click and drag to place silicon on the "lower layer" or metal on the "upper layer". Current cannot pass between silicon and metal unless connected with a VIA. Hold [Shift] to switch between the two types of silicon, or to allow the eraser tool to erase metal.

Only metal can connect to the twelve input/output squares on the border, and the "+VCC" squares are always supplying power. Once you think you've got things sorted out, click the Verification tab on the display at the bottom to test and see if your design works. If it does, great, move on to the next level; if it doesn't, go back and make some corrections.

Engineer of the PeopleThe key to designing successful circuits is understanding how NPN and PNP gates work. Here's a quick lesson for the uninformed: NPN gates allow current to flow through the N-silicon "line" if current is supplied to the P-silicon "latch", and block it otherwise. PNP gates are just the opposite: current can only flow through the P-silicon "line" if there is no current to the N-silicon "latch".

If you're still confused, there's a tutorial video in-game that can help you understand things. We highly recommend viewing this before playing if you have any doubts at all. There are also some links to Wikipedia entries on the game's home page at Zachtronics Industries that explain certain concepts important for the higher levels, such as the Adder, the Flip-Flop, the Counter, and the Multiplexer.

Analysis: Kochy- Coch- Kochpti- aw, hell, Engineer of the People is one of the more difficult and engineer-oriented "Games for Engineers". Zachtronics is definitely becoming truer to its mission, although whether or not that's a good thing depends on the perspective of the individual. Let me just say that designing the screenshot level above wasn't that different a challenge from trying to solve some of the normal levels. It was fun, though.

I can't find much to complain about. The soundless audio and simplistic graphics we saw and loved in Zachtronics' past two games shows up again here, and the gameplay is well implemented. There's even a vague storyline hidden in the game.

PsychotronicPsychotronic - Though Engineer of the People once again provides an incredibly stimulating sandbox for ideas that other games dare not touch, I feel like it doesn't reach out to the user as much as it could. A more hands-on tutorial would help, and the editing tools could be more intuitive. I can select a section of circuitry and save it for later, but I would appreciate being able to rotate or flip it as well. I also found the working grid to be too tight, so that I often went outside of the lines and then had to go back and erase errant materials.

On the flip side, any game that has me involuntarily designing circuits in my head while I take a shower is doing something right. It's easy to share solutions, thanks to a simple copy-paste system like the one in Codex of Alchemical Engineering. Even if the concept sounds intimidating, give Engineer of the People a chance.

Play Engineer of the People


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (105 votes)
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PsychotronicAssembler 3I'm trying something a little different here. Instead of posting a game that I really like and wish to share with you all, I'm going to post something that I actively hate and wouldn't even wish on my worst enemy. Just for funsies.

Assembler 3, by Bryce Summer, is a game about TWITCHING RAGE or to be more specific, a physics-based puzzle game with 44 levels, in which you must carefully position green objects within their equally green outlines. It's sort of like you're recreating a crime scene where an innocent wooden crate or barrel was murdered. It was probably done by hanging or drowning, since the outlines are usually located in mid-air or submerged in water. In order to solve the crime, you must stack other crates and girders so they will support the green objects unwobblingly.

Just click and drag stuff around with your mouse; it's very intuitive.

Analysis: What is not so freakin' intuitive is the skittish, cracked-out physics engine, which has a habit of making the piece of flotsam you're holding spin around like the Tasmanian Devil after three espressos, knocking the living spit out of everything else you're trying to balance. It's strange, because these boxes look like they're made from wood, but they feel like they're made from monkeys. Weightless, somewhat sticky monkeys who have no mass but nevertheless contain all of the world's evil.

What is really fantastic is the incessant knocking and clattering sounds that your evil weightless monkey crates make as you fidget and fuss them into position. It's enough to make you cry "Oh glee!" and pop a dozen festive aspirin. There is also a level editor.

Maddening and compelling, Assembler 3 is sure to scratch your itch for GRAAAAAAAGH JUST STAY ON THE STUPID WEDGE YOU MOTHERLESS SON OF A DRIFTWOOD BANDIT PUNCH YOU IN THE MRRAAAAAAAAAAAGH UGLY-FACE! For more physics-y phun, you might also try Splitter or Color Infection.

Play Assembler 3

NOTE: And if that's not enough pain for you, you may enjoy Assembler 1 or Assembler 2.


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Rating: 3.9/5 (92 votes)
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PsychotronicDrift RunnersDrift Runners is a rip-roaring overhead racing game from developer Long Animals, with a variety of goals and a focus on destruction, rather than mere speed. This is one of the most entertaining racers I've seen in Flash, thanks mainly to one thing—it gets the controls right. That may be an odd thing to say about a game with no button for brakes, or even reverse, but this is an arcadey racer that knows what it wants to be: fast, chaotic, and fun. There were no brakes in Super Sprint either.

Just choose a car (makes no difference, really) and a paint job, then pick a track (only one is available to begin with) and you're off to the races. Steer with [Left] and [Right], accelerate with [Up]. Remember, this is Drift Runners, and that means you won't carve the corners so much as shred them. Drifting wouldn't give you this kind of advantage in real life, but here it lets you slide through corners with no regard for traditional physics.

Each of the six tracks has several different achievements to earn, but don't bother going for everything in the first try. Most of them contradict each other anyway. You'll need to get first place in a race to unlock the next one, but winning races and earning points are two separate animals. You get points by clocking air time over jumps, drifting, smashing up the roadside ornaments, doing pretty much anything at all besides peacefully driving within reasonable speed parameters with your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel.

Be sure to collect coins from the side of the road. You can spend them to upgrade your car between races.

Analysis: It's not the ideal overhead racer some of us are waiting for. The courses feel a little too similar to each other, and some of the achievements seem redundant. There's a balancing/cheating effect in place to keep the races close, which is fine and even helpful when you're lagging behind, but sometimes the enemy AI takes advantage and passes you at utterly unfair speeds. And there's no engine sound effect. I can understand if Long Animals didn't want the game to be 95% revving, like so many other racers, but I still want to hear my little car go go go.

But again, Drift Runners gets the controls right. It looks pretty. It makes crashing and screeching sounds at all the right times, and it rewards you for breaking stuff. That spells fun in my book. Give it a spin.

Play Drift Runners


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (125 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessQuaint Room, created by Japanese developer Mofuya in 2005, is not the most ambitious of escape games. Released barely a year after Crimson Room, the great grand-daddy of the genre, the game hearkens back to a less complicated time. But ah, let us not forget the joys of simplicity! Though briefer and less intricately-plotted than many modern escape games, Quaint Room is nonetheless a quality piece of work, a yummy amuse-bouche that leaves the player wanting more.

QuaintRoomThe scenario is simple. You awaken, disoriented, in a tiny, charming (one might even say...quaint?) room, a cubbyhole furnished with little more than a cupboard and low table. You were visiting your uncle...but wait, you don't have an uncle! What on earth is going on? What's worse, you're locked in this strange place. You can't remember how you got there, but one thing is clear: you gotta get out.

Quaint Room is among the shortest of the room escapes that I've fully reviewed, and certainly one of the easiest, containing only a couple of relatively simple puzzles. Despite this, however, the game is impressively polished and well-made. The graphics, while far from photorealistic, are aesthetically pleasing in a tidy sort of way, and the interface is completely smooth and user-friendly. The game also makes good use of sound, an oft-neglected component of the escape gaming experience; the lack of music and occasional jarring, electrical buzz adds a note of discord to the otherwise peaceful ambience. However, many will be happy to note that unlike in Mofuya's other games, it is impossible to die or find yourself in an inextricable situation while playing Quaint Room.

So, take a break. Relax, step back a few years and enjoy this lovely example of classic Japanese escape gaming goodness. It's the middle of the week, you deserve it!

Play Quaint Room


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Rating: 4.7/5 (211 votes)
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PsychotronicHost MasterHost Master and the Conquest of Humor is a retro point-and-click adventure game in the style of early LucasArts adventures, brought to us by Double Fine, the gently twisted studio responsible for Tasha's Game. And when I say "in the style of", I mean "constantly making jokes about". Even the very first screen is a reference to the days of DOS, and the user interface is a deliberately clunky riff on classic adventure game awkwardness. In fact, the whole game is a tribute to Double Fine president Tim Schafer, who helped set the standard for game humor in 1990 with The Secret of Monkey Island, and kept the streak going over the years with cult favorites Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and Psychonauts.

You take the role of Schafer, backstage at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, completely unprepared to host the event. (In the real world, the real Tim Schafer is in fact hosting at this year's GDC. Host Master and the Conquest of Humor has so many layers of self-reference, it threatens to collapse in on itself, taking the whole conference and possibly the universe with it.) Your goal is to scour the area, collecting as many jokes as possible before you finally walk on stage. The more jokes you find, the better the evening goes.

Control your character with the mouse. A list of possible actions, more than you'd think you'd need, rests in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Click on one of those, and then on an object in the scene, in order to get something done. It's definitely an awkward system compared with modern adventure games such as The Several Journeys of Reemus or Emerald City Confidential, but this game is paying homage to the classics, and besides, it gives you plenty of room to experiment and find hilarious easter eggs.

There are a surprising number of jokes squirreled away in every nook and cranny of the greenroom. On my first play-through, I thought I was doing pretty well with 5 jokes, but it turns out you can find more than four times that number. As with Tim Schafer's own games though, the true reward is in the countless humorous asides in the dialogue, earned whenever you interact with practically anything. It's all very sharp and clever, tying the history of games to the present day with a deft hand.

If you have even the slightest nostalgia for early graphic adventure games, Host Master and the Conquest of Humor is made for you.

Play Host Master and the Conquest of Humor

Thanks for sending this one in, Jakkar and Alex!


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Rating: 4.4/5 (152 votes)
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MarcusCombineOn the surface, Combine, by Fafv, seems to be just another in a long line of Dr. Mario clones in the match-3 genre. Rotate and drop dual-colored pieces into a well. Join 3 or more balls of the same color, and they disappear. Nothing remarkable about it; been there, done that. But if you pass Combine over, you will be missing a unique game.

The difference is in what happens when you make matches. Instead of simply disappearing, the match will leave behind a ball of a different color. Eh? Well, take a glance at the left side of the board. You will notice a rainbow-like scale, with a small arrow pointing to one of the colored balls. This is your current level.

How, exactly, are you supposed to advance levels? This is where the combinations come in. You start out on the yellow level, meaning the only colors that can drop are green and yellow. Matching three green balls makes a yellow ball, and matching three yellow balls leaves behind an orange ball. Once you finally match three orange balls, you move up to the orange level, and now orange balls can drop along with yellow and green, and your next goal is to make a red match. Ultimately, you'll move all the way up the rainbow of colors to white.

Of course, the higher the level, the more colors you are juggling, and the harder it is to make the next set of matches. The fact that you always leave behind a ball also adds to the difficulty, since you are never clearing away a space completely. Later levels require serious strategy, and make this a truly clever little game.

Analysis: We were all pretty much ready to pass on Combine, but then we got down to actually playing through the game, and realized that the twist here really changes its dynamics. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to breeze through the first couple of levels. But once you get about three-quarters up the scale, you'll really start having problems creating matches and keeping the well empty enough to continue.

The graphic presentation is fairly simple. Nice, vibrant colors for the balls, but nothing too special. Which, in a way, is a good thing, because nothing detracts from the unique gameplay. On the flip side, it might keep people from giving the title a spin. I'm not one for "graphics for graphics' sake," but if they draw people in, haven't they served a higher purpose? Sound is very perky and upbeat. Sort of like that person that is terminally happy, even at ungodly hours of the AM. Can get a little annoying after a while, but not bad.

Combine is a deceptively deep puzzler that deserves a second look. Once you get into the game, you will be hooked, trying to make that last couple of levels on the scale. Definitely give it a chance.

Play Combine


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (164 votes)
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Wandering Willows

JohnBOk, so it isn't the weekend, but the latest game from PlayFirst, Wandering Willows, just can't wait that long! Combining some of the best parts of Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Animal Crossing and Virtual Villagers with a sprinkling role playing know-how, this game is something so incredibly alluring you'll burn through a few hours of game time before you realize what hit you. It's a pet-raising recipe-collecting item-bartering friend-gaining character-customizing leveling-up collect-a-thon!

A hot air balloon is gently hovering in the sky when a seagull suddenly pierces its canvas, sending you gently crashing to the ground. You land in Wandering Willows, an island inhabited with strange (but cute) animals and a handful of fellow strandees. Your goal is to repair your balloon so you can get back in the air, but in order to accomplish that, you'll need a hand. The locals are more than willing to help, only you'll need to do a few things for them first...

Wandering WillowsAnd so your epic quest of running errands begins! Wandering Willows is all about mini-quests that lead in to solving the bigger puzzle of repairing your balloon. To get the wicker you'll need to repair the balloon's basket, for example, you'll need to find some sticks to bring to one of the villagers. In order to get the sticks, however, you'll need to dig them up. You might also have to bring the villager an additional item he needs to make the basket, sending you on another quest with even more items to find and tasks to complete. And believe me, that's only the beginning!

Your actions are divided into a few easy categories: making objects (cooking food, planting seeds, creating clothing from patterns, crafting flower bouquets, etc.) and working with goods in your inventory and in stores. Your pet companion has several actions as well, including climbing, which allows you to nab things from trees, charming other animals, and digging to uncover items. These abilities level up with use, and you'll need to keep your pet strong to be able to reach the highest items and dig in the toughest parts of the ground.

If you're worried about keeping all of this sorted out in your head, don't worry, Wandering Willows provides you with a great tutorial to ease you into the game. A handy toolbar gives you easy access to all of your current quests, inventory items and food recipes are also easily accessible, and the mini-map lets you see who needs to talk to you and where you need to go to complete your mini-quest. The layout is perfectly conducive to a casual experience, no steep learning curve required.

Wandering WillowsAnalysis: This is one tough game to tear yourself away from! Wandering Willows has a great over-reaching main goal that keeps you driven towards a larger end, and the mini-quests you complete in the interim bestow a superb casual flavor to the game. Pick up and play, or sit and stay all afternoon. I did both with the game, and I'm still hooked. Within the first half hour you'll have mastered the basics, and from that point everything is an extrapolation of the core mechanics. The game actually has a lovely progression from simple errand running to a larger-scale role playing-esque experience.

Visually, as you can tell, Wandering Willows is cute-to-the-core. You can almost feel the happy fun rainbows pouring out of your monitor. The animals are adorable and rather creatively drawn, and the items have an almost whimsical look to them.

Here's the true beauty of Wandering Willows: it's extremely open-ended. At all times you feel as if you can do anything, make anything, and explore anywhere you want. A few areas aren't accessible at the beginning of the game, and you'll need to do certain things in order to unlock additional items, clothing patterns, etc., but other than that, you're not pressured by any clock, scoring system or anything. Kick back, enjoy the scenery, and do some seriously fun item collecting.

Wandering Willows is one of the freshest casual games I've played in some time. This review only touches the surface of the many things you'll uncover and experience throughout the game. It's difficult to categorize because it breaks so many genre conventions. None of that matters, though, because from the moment I started playing it, I knew I was in for a great time.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (78 votes)
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ArtbegottiNosobowSuppose I were to hand you a 24-piece children's jigsaw puzzle. The picture's not important, just imagine whatever you want on there. If you want the Smurfs, you've got the Smurfs. If you want Bruce Lee, you've got him. You open the box, spread the pieces out on the table, and I say, "Go." So what's your reaction? Most likely, you'd be racing to get that puzzle together as quickly as you can. It's a simple puzzle, why shouldn't it be done fast? As you slap the final piece into place, you shout, "Done!" and look at me for the time.

"…What time? I don't have a stopwatch, I wasn't timing you… What did you want?"

Perhaps I'm spoiling a bit of the game here, but this is the basic premise behind Tonypa's (Pushori, Floribular) latest creation, Nosobow. To play, look at the set of colored tiles on the screen. Some of them have exact matches (without rotating), some don't. Your job is to eliminate the non-matching tiles from the screen by clicking on them. Removing all singletons from the board advances you to the next level where tiles are worth more points, but clicking a member of a pair puts you in jeopardy of losing the game.

By the way, there's no time limit. You have all the time in the world to complete each level. There are no buzzers waiting to go off, no bombs about to explode, and I'm not standing behind you with a bucket of ice water ready to be poured down your back when the clock strikes six. Nor should there be. Nosobow is a game of concentration with shades of a memory challenge thrown in, not a game of reaction times or quick thinking. But who says you won't make it one? It's only a matter of time before you begin to lose your patience with yourself and you start making hasty clicks, and you click the wrong tile.

Luckily, the game isn't over yet… maybe. A false click starts a randomizer, which can stop on a special tile that cuts your score in half and lets you continue playing, or on a tile that lets you continue scot-free, or on the dreaded "game over" tile. The three choices are equally weighted, so you have a two-thirds chance of continuing the game, but half of those times, it will cost you some of your hard-earned progress. So needless to say… it's best not to slip up.

Analysis: Behind Tonypa's brilliantly simple design lies a deviously intricate psychological game of self-pacing and concentration, which is pretty easy to get caught up in emotionally. Especially once you hit the higher stages, it's hard not to panic for a few moments when you click the wrong tile. Nosobow is a compelling game that will have you groaning in anguish every time you have to start back at square one.

Play Nosobow


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (93 votes)
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PsychotronicOpen Doors TwoA sequel to one of the most interesting puzzle games of last year has arrived, with an arresting makeover and just the right amount of extra spice. While the first game eventually wore thin by working its lonely gimmick to the bone, Open Doors 2 features compact puzzles with just the right number of new doors and mechanical gizmos. With a sparkling presentation and superb level design, this is one of the best puzzlers we've seen so far this year.

Your objective, as a pillowy square in a graph-work maze, is to reach the "X". You only need press the [arrow] keys to get there, but your path is complicated, naturally, by a whole lot of doors. Shove them closed from one side; open them by going the other way.

Your progress saves automatically, and if you are a completist, you'll come to appreciate that. There are two seperate medals to collect for time used and steps taken on each of the game's 36 levels. The difficulty caters to both puzzle-heads and more casual travelers. It's not too hard to beat the game (not all that easy, either), but collecting all the golds, especially for the time-based medals, will mess you up.

Analysis: Developer Ozzie Mercado has replaced the stylish but messy blueprints from the first Open Doors with a bright, almost glowing palette that makes it absolutely clear how to interact with things. I can't stress how important it is, no matter what "style" or "mood" a designer is reaching for, to entwine the look of game objects with their behavior, and that's exactly what the makeover here has accomplished. It also doesn't hurt to provide six different color schemes. Extra bravo for that.

Rather than overloading the game with new features, Mercado added just enough moving parts to keep things interesting for 36 levels. You have your levers, which react to your movement only along their primary axis. You have your floors that disappear after being used (always my least favorite part of any tile puzzle, these appear in blessedly few levels). You have your double doors, which act as traditional one-way obstacles.

Each level blends these elements together in exactly one unique way, and that means there is exactly one problem to solve at a time. When your brain starts to swim, just break it down in pieces. The previous Open Doors could be overwhelming once the levels got too large and complex, but here each puzzle is vigorous, asking assertive questions and rewarding you cleanly when you find the answer.

Top it off with a curious, folky soundtrack ("I'm going ho-o-o-oooome…") and you have something that could be the standard for casual games. A simple idea, an attractive approach, and an agreeable length. Good show.

Play Open Doors 2


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Mobile Monday

JohnBPirates, crayons, galaxies and picross grids populate this edition of Mobile Monday! If only they were used together in a single game. A space-themed picross puzzle where you make pictures of pirates using a crayon? I'd play it, that's for sure...

We're still giving away iTunes gift certificates to cover the cost of every game featured in the current Mobile Monday article. Simply 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, samalakar!

7cities.jpg7 Cities - A nice classically-themed tower defense game where you fight off pirates out to loot the Seven Golden Cities of the Amazon. Eight unique maps, seven different towers, a slew of fantasy creatures (kraken, anyone?) and of course the ability to upgrade units. Towers have a unique skill tree that allows you to customize how you play the game: a heavy hitting powerhouse, or a splash damage frenzy?

galcon.jpgGalcon - The classic Risk-like strategy game, in sci-fi space form. In Galcon your goal is to overwhelm your enemy by sending space crafts out to conquer their worlds. The number of troops on a given base is displayed in the center, all you have to do is swarm the planet and reduce that number to zero. Expand your empire, spawn more warriors, and own the galaxy. A free Galcon Lite is also available.

picgrid.gifPicGrid - I'm a picross addict, and I've kept a sharp eye on the iPhone nonogram scene since the app store first opened. It's been disappointment after disappointment for a long time, and then PicGrid appeared. It's a no-frills presentation kind of game, but that simplicity is what saves it from the uninstallation graveyard. No sound effects, no music, the game doesn't punish you for incorrect guesses, and a basic iPhone-style menu system to navigate. Tap a square to fill it, choose the "X" and tap to mark as blank. Most of the puzzles are on the easy side, but that hasn't stopped me from squeezing a lot of enjoyment out of it. A free Lite version is also available.

crayonball.gifCrayon Ball - A matching game with a little physics thrown in for good measure. Your goal is to get crayon-colored balls to huddle in groups of four or more. Tilt the iPhone left or right to shake things up a bit, and tap a ball to make it disappear. But be careful! Each time you tap a ball it increases the "danger" meter below. When the meter fills, your game is over. A handful of nifty power-ups spice things up quite a bit. It seems a very chaotic game at first, but after a minute or two of playing, you'll realize there actually is a solid strategy behind those colorful orbs.

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
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Rating: 4.8/5 (36 votes)
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Capoeira Fighter 3

GrimmrookFrom Spiritonin, creator of Adult Swim's Death Vegas, comes Capoeira Fighter 3, a 2D fighting game with a free online demo and full-fledged downloadable version. Featuring more than two dozen playable characters and a refined, logical system of combos, it's one of the rare fighting games that captures the nostalgia from the genre's heyday while updating everything to fit in with a new generation of gamers.

capoeirafighter.jpgAs the name might suggest, this is a fighting game based on Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art with roots that many believe extend to Africa. Capoeira is known for its acrobatic movements not entirely unlike American break dancing as well as for its deeply rhythmic nature. Unlike any form of dancing, Capoeira employs arcing kicks, sweeps, body throws, and other techniques designed to hurt an opponent.

This sets the stage for a game that takes me back to my junior high school days. Back then I had a lunch time ritual. As soon as the bell rang I would cross the street to the pizza parlor to buy an order of breadsticks, and then I would cross again to the tiny little baseball card shop where a coin-op Street Fighter 2 machine stood calling to so many of us throughout the morning. Packing in like sardines, we could not help but be mesmerized by this new revolution in video games. How many violent games seemed uninspired because you only got, at best, three moves? How great would it be if we could pound each other to a pulp on screen? And now here it was, a game that cut to the core of gaming, providing boss battle after boss battle and sending us into a frenzy that would spawn countless clones over the years, some good, some absolutely terrible.

Street Fighter 2 wasn't the first fighting game, but it started a revolution that spawned countless clones before eventually fading to the 3D scene. But for those lucky enough to have stumbled upon this gem we can at least relive that magic in Capoeira Fighter 3. At your disposal are 29 characters and more modes than you could shake a berimbau at. Select your favorite fighter and team up to tackle the arcade story mode, or fly solo among a plethora of survival matches. Unlock new characters and revive that old feeling you got when your quarter clinked home and you were mere seconds away from martial art gaming bliss.

Analysis: Capoeira Fighter 3 has so much going for it it's next to impossible to choose a good place to start. Both graphics and gameplay are absolutely top notch, and none of this should come as a surprise to those who have enjoyed Death Vegas. This game is a feast for the eyes, the fingers, and all those little synapses in between.

Visually, Capoeira Fighter 3 is most like the Street Fighter Alpha series. The portraits of all the characters are done in a very richly detailed anime style. Once you have selected your character, you are treated to beautiful painted backdrops and what may at first glance seem to be some of the most gorgeously-animated sprites you have seen in a while. But take another look: those aren't sprites, the characters are actually cel-shaded polygons. To be honest, I was shocked to discover this. The game looks like a cartoon with the very best production quality, and stays silky smooth in animation throughout.

Then there's the gameplay itself. It may seem like overkill to have so many characters using the same fighting style, but Spiritonin manages to create diversity and balance even within this limited range. Each practitioner of capoeira employs different moves and techniques and adheres to subtly different styles. Height and weight are taken into account as well with the larger characters moving slower but hitting harder while the smaller characters move like buzzsaws across the screen.

capoeirafighter2.jpgTo further differentiate one character from the other (as though this wasn't already enough), offense and stamina are quantified and vary from one to the next. A character with high stamina (that is, they can employ longer combos and use more attacks without getting tired rendering them unable to chain together combos or use the special dodge technique) is likely to not have a high offense stat and vice versa.

A problem that such diversification tends to run into is poor balance, but again Capoeira Fighter 3 passes with flying colors. Each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and this tends to level the playing field quite nicely. This attention to balance even extends itself to how this game makes itself accessible to players of all levels of expertise. This is a game where you could go in mashing buttons and come out performing halfway decently. On the other hand, taking the time to learn the intricacies of any individual character will reward the discriminating fighter connoisseur to no end.

And if you should happen to get bored with capoeira as the principle fighting style, there is plenty of unlockable variety to be had (some of it mixed in with a sense of humor). As you build up credits, you will be able to unlock characters that employ Karate, Jeet Kun Do, Shaolin Kung Fu, Wrestling, and more. Fans of the first Karate Kid movie will especially enjoy their first introduction to Johnny Zappa, I should think.

It is important to not just rate Capoeira Fighter 3 as its own standalone game but also to look at it as an entry into an old and well-established genre. In this context, while it may be an homage to the fighters of old, in many ways it exceeds the playability of those titles it intends to pay its respects to. This is because both the move and combo system allows for a surprising amount of depth.

The strength and speed of strikes, for instance, are not governed by hitting the "weak kick" or "strong kick" buttons, but based upon which direction you are pressing at the time you are launching the attack. This creates a far more organic means of selecting strike speed and power because it just feels more natural that holding back while you kick should hit harder than standing still. Furthermore, I don't think I've seen a combo system this well executed in any of the fighters I've played. Momentum is not merely taken into account, but the lynchpin of the entire system.

Here in Capoeira Fighter 3, you can build your own combos simply by understanding the way the body works, by recognizing that if you are moving counterclockwise, the next logical strike should come in a clockwise direction (or counterclockwise as well if you are in the process of spinning). By grasping the way momentum governs the game, it's quite possible to ring up combinations in excess of 20 hits with neither memorization nor luck.

After such a long review, it would seem that we've stumbled across a perfect game, but Capoeira Fighter 3 does have one drawback. The sound department could definitely use a little sprucing up. The sound effects in the fighting fall a little flat and lack the oomph one desires when a foot collides at high speed with someone's cheek bone. And the music, while it is mostly traditional Capoeira music, can get somewhat repetitive. It pains me to say this, but after playing for a while, I began to crave stock gaming techno.

Both Street Fighter and Tekken are recognized in this game by Spiritonin, a fan paying his respects. Indeed, Capoeira Fighter 3 looks like Street Fighter and plays a little more like Tekken. But in truth the game goes far beyond either game and even beyond a simple homage to the golden age of fighting games. It is a love letter to both those lauded titles and also to the crowds of people that packed tight around them, quarters jingling excitedly in hand, waiting for our chance to turn into, for just a little while, unrivaled masters of martial arts.

You can play a free version of Capoeira Fighter 3 in your browser window, download a Windows-only demo, or grab the full-featured version for the same platform.

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Curse of the Pharaoh 2: Napoleon's Secret

MarcusWhen Anna decided to follow her step-brother William on his quest to solve the ancient riddle of Queen Nefertiti, it nearly got her killed. Now, with William lost under a pile of stone and rubble, Anna has more questions than answers. She decides to start asking those questions of Professor Cullen, who is currently supervising a dig in Egypt. But as helpful as the professor seems, it soon becomes clear that he is intent on stopping Anna from finding any real answers to her questions. Undeterred, you continue your quest, finding yourself in Venice and Egypt, in libraries and museums, all the way meeting a variety of characters who seem to be out to keep you from finding out the truth. You soon stumble onto the real secret: the French general Napoleon was also on the trail of Nefertiti hundreds of years earlier, also trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance. What was Napoleon after? Why would he have taken on this decidedly non-military journey? Those answers, and many more, will soon become clear.

curseofthepharaoh2b.jpgCurse of the Pharaoh 2: Napoleon's Secret, like its predecessor Curse of the Pharaoh: Quest for Nefertiti, is a hidden-object title with added puzzle elements, such as spot-the-difference games. The first presents you with a scene on one side of the screen, and an almost-identical copy on the other side of the screen. A number of differences have been scattered about the scenes, from objects missing from one of the scenes, to objects being different colors or orientations. The other hidden-object scenes involve locating a laundry list of random items scattered about the picture. These usually involved a number of single items and at least two or three groups of items, be they forks or cups or hats.

In each scene, there are a number of common objects to be located, as well. There are three Egyptian coins in each of the levels that you must locate. Collecting these coins will allow you to purchase different helps to get you through the game. The other objects to be located in each scene are pieces of a pharaoh's mask. Only by completing the pharaoh's mask can you complete the area and move on to the next location.

The various helps that can be purchased with the coins you find can be invaluable in your quest. The first item to purchase is the double-pointer. This will provide a pointer that mirrors your location on each side of the spot-the-difference scenes, making it much easier to locate differences. You can also purchase hints, something that will turn mirrored spot-the-difference scenes into standard spot-the-difference scenes, and items that will help you with fire and water scenes. These scenes are locations that will either slowly start to burn or fill up with water as you are locating the items you need to find. The fire extinguisher will allow you to fight the flames and the oxygen tank will allow you to turn back the water filing the level, each allowing you more time to locate objects.

There are also items specific to your quest that must be located in each of the scenes. These are denoted by the silhouettes in the four spots at the bottom of the screen. These items will either help you to complete one of the scenes at a particular location, or will figure into the puzzle at the end of each location. Once you get further into the game, these objects will have to be taken from scene to scene to complete each scene. A statue found in the first scene may actually be needed to complete the fifth scene, while a piece of stone needed to complete scene 2 may not be found until you play the sixth scene.

curseofthepharaoh2a.jpgOnce you complete all six scenes in a location, you will be faced with a puzzle that you must solve to progress to the next location. The puzzles are all logic-based puzzles, getting progressively harder as you progress through the game. Once you complete the puzzle, you are then granted access to the six scenes in the next location.

Analysis: Curse of the Pharaoh 2 is quite a lot of fun. The story is interesting and fun to follow, even if the locations don't always entirely make sense. Like most hidden-object games, the items that you are forced to locate in each scene have little to nothing to do with the game, and are quite often completely random (staplers and tape dispensers in the hall of an altar?). For what it's worth, it is an accepted convention of the genre, but I always appreciate it when developers try to break out of those conventions. The locating of the different specific objects for each scene and the puzzle at the end of each round helps to alleviate the randomness of the other objects, but it will always seem odd locating writing pens along the canals of Venice.

As interesting and varied as the scenes are, they are really quite easy when compared to other games of the genre. While this makes Curse of the Pharaoh 2 an excellent game for players new to hidden-object games, veterans will make quick work of the game. The story is interesting enough to keep most gamers involved in the game for the duration, though.

The voice acting, though, is enough to make you turn the sound down. It is truly dreadful, like every bad accent that you have ever heard or done yourself thrown into the game with a bunch of recycled phrases that get repeated at you ad-nauseam. Luckily, this only happens during the first scene in any location, but even that is really too much. I think the story would have been better served by a text interchange between characters before each round; certainly our ears would have. The music, I fear, isn't much better. It seemed fine at first, but once you find out just how short each musical selection is, you will soon realize just how many times the music will repeat as you attempt to locate objects in the scene. Luckily, both of these minor annoyances can be dealt with in the same manner: turn the volumes down.

Do you have what it takes to follow the trail and learn Napoleon's Secret? If so, then take Curse of the Pharaoh 2 for a spin and settle in for some hidden-object fun. While it may be a bit on the easy side, the story will keep you going until the end of the game. Gather your pens and staplers and get to work!

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Rating: 4.4/5 (38 votes)
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Farm Frenzy Pizza Party

JohnBThe well-received Farm Frenzy series of time management games has now expanded to include... pizza? HA! I'm joking. Wait, no I'm not. Even funnier than my little gag there is the fact that Farm Frenzy Pizza Party is actually a good game. It doesn't innovate much beyond what the first two titles layed out, but the addition of some new buildings and new products adds a decidedly more strategic twist to the experience.

farmfrenzypizza.jpgHere's the basic set-up: you're in charge of a farm, taking care of animals and harvesting the products they occasionally leave behind. Click the ground to sprout grass, the basic unit of food all animals consume. Then buy a chicken, for example, and she will leave eggs, or a cow to leave milk, etc. Each product is stored in the warehouse and can be used to manufacture more profitable goods or simply sold in town for some quick cash. Your choice!

The goal of each level is to meet a set of objectives, but most of the time one of those objectives is to make pizza! Because you're starting out with raw ingredients you need to do a bit of refining before you're left with that delicious disk of enjoyment. New buildings can be used to combine basic products and turn them into more complex ingredients. Gather a few eggs and they can be turned into egg powder which, in turn, can be used in conjunction with flour to make dough.

Farm Frenzy's characteristic arcade slant continues in Pizza Party with even more bear attacks than before. Finally got enough grass planted to feed your animals and think you have things under control? Just wait until one of those fuzzy guys falls from the sky and starts punting your chickens off the screen. Rapidly click a bear to cage it and stock/sell it as a product. No more growling, and your wallet will be all the happier.

farmfrenzypizza2.jpgAnalysis: Never has making a pizza been so complex! Don't get me wrong, Farm Frenzy Pizza Party retains the rather simple construction of any casual game, but keeping recipes straight in my head, learning to recognize icons and having a nimble enough mouse finger to plant grass, cage bears and harvest products is a real doozie. It becomes a manageable one after a little practice, and the moment everything "clicks" is a grand one.

Farm Frenzy Pizza Party drops you right into the game and doesn't pull its punches. Even the tutorial heats up fairly quickly, which I'll admit is a nice change of pace. You'll be forced to manage a number of animal products and refined ingredients that need to be combined to help meet your quota. Throw in a few attacking bears and having to deal with your limited warehouse space and you've got a frantic game. The key to staying alive is careful management and a little bit of strategy, none of which the game helps you with (which is a good thing).

On the less-than-shiny side of things, Farm Frenzy Pizza Party really is just more of the same. The new additions skew the gameplay somewhat, but visually and structurally everything else is identical to the first two games. The pizza part is good (who doesn't love pizza?), but working with so many new ingredients becomes a pain when you have to identify tiny icons in an instant.

Despite copying so many things from its predecessors, Farm Frenzy Pizza Party manages to stand on its own legs and deliver a good game. Sans the anchovies.

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Weekend Download

AdamBIn platform games, it's standard fare to jump over or on top of your enemies. Occasionally you are granted a weapon with the rather limited range of directly in front of you. Fortunately, every now and then, an often overlooked method of weaponry is employed: control the hero with your left hand on the keys, while simultaneously aiming anywhere on screen with the mouse, providing 360° of free-firing joyous joy.

abuse.jpgAbuse / fRaBs (Mac/Win/Linux, 200kb - 3.5MB, free) - Originally released in 1996 as a commercial title, Abuse was a dark game which centered on a hero who delved into dark passageways and dingy corridors to wantonly blow away hordes of mutants. A few years after its initial release, it became public domain and has been ported to several different platforms since. The project fRaBs (Free Abuse) was started to give a fresh approach to the game with whole new levels, plus additional user created levels.

tagap-wd.jpgTAGAP (Windows, 97MB, free) - Previously reviewed here upon its initial release, The Apocalyptic Game About Penguins is still one of, if not the most action packed, explosion filled, penguin-centric game with flamethrowers and machine-gun hover tanks to be seen in the freeware market. Throughout the game, you'll traverse throughout different terrain, wielding a host of dual-use weapons while blowing away rampaging zombie penguins. It's a hefty download, but worth it if you missed it the first time.

easter-avenger.gifEaster Avenger (Windows, 5.9MB, free) - In this Easter-themed game, you play not as a jolly rabbit, but as an Easter egg who is sporting a major attitude, disembodied arms and a host of weapons (including a shotgun and baseball bat). Hop through the levels while placidly shattering any fellow eggs who happen to get in your way. Although control can sometimes be an issue, its not often you get to play as an egg in any situation, let alone one with violent intentions.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (37 votes)
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The Clockwork Man

JohnBThe Clockwork Man is a beautifully illustrated hidden object game from Total Eclipse. Set in a stunning steampunk world, you follow aspiring engineer Miss Miranda Calomy and her clockwork companion Sprocket as they travel from London across the seas and beyond. The adventure doesn't stray far from the hidden object standard, but the story and setting are exquisitely presented and the game itself a true joy to experience.

clockworkman.jpgAt the game's outset, Miranda receives a letter from her grandfather Cornelius, a scientist and accomplished inventor. Well, she received the letter days ago, but somehow it got lost in the disheveled mess she calls a home. What's a poor hidden object gamer to do? You guessed it, clean up the mess by finding items on a list! Once you locate the envelope you learn exactly what Cornelius needs and set out on your journey.

The Clockwork Man features several types of hidden object scenes that do a great job bending convention. The first type you'll encounter are zoomable levels where you can get an up-close view of part of the stage. You'll also get to see scrollable scenes that feature parallax objects gliding before your eyes. Use the controls at the bottom-center of the screen, the mouse wheel, or arrow keys to zoom in and out or scroll left and right. Apart from the hidden object scenes, you'll also encounter a handful of unique mini-games, all of which fit the game's steampunk setting very well.

clockworkman2.jpgAnalysis: First things first: The Clockwork Man is a beautiful game. Every item, every object and every scene is drawn with intimate detail, even the backdrops show a lot of love and attention. The game features a lot of voicework, and while I'm normally not a fan of this in casual games, Total Eclipse gets it right with surprisingly good actors. It all ties together into a neat package you can't take your eyes away from until you reach the end.

The hint system is worth mentioning, as this is usually one of the things that can make or break a hidden object game. Sprocket functions as a hint machine and he gets to equip four fun gadgets that offer a different way to find items. The only drawback is that each device uses some of his power, so the more specific the hint, the more power is consumed. Wait a while and he'll recover energy, but don't hold your clicks in the meantime. The Clockwork Man doesn't have a timer and you aren't punished for clicking too much, so feel free to explore the gorgeous scenery with as many button pushes as you like!

Now for the bad news: The Clockwork Man is a bit on the short side. For all of the meticulously handcrafted artwork, the beautiful scenery and stellar voice acting, you'll find it ends far too soon after just three enchanting chapters. It's a wonderful ride while it lasts, and the possibility of a sequel doesn't seem too far-fetched.

A beautiful atmosphere (and I'm not just saying that because I love steampunk), gorgeous settings, and hidden object gameplay that gets everything right. The Clockwork Man is nothing short of breathtaking on almost every front. The only crime the game commits is making you fall in love with it before leaving you after just three or four hours of gameplay.

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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (68 votes)
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PsychotronicGlueFO 2.0GlueFO 2.0, from the irRegular creators of Sproing Reloaded, has a simple premise: what if the heroic ship in Asteroids couldn't afford ammunition? What if the global recession were in fact galactic, and the only way you could afford to bust space rocks was by gluing drifting pebbles to your hull, and then spraying them at the asteroids like deadly gravel?

That's basically the whole game—fly your sticky self into the teeniest asteroids, and fire them at the bigger ones. Use your bonus points between levels to buy power-ups like the tremendously useful Orb Vacuum and the surprisingly pointless Rotational Thrusters. Move your ship and fire with the mouse, activate your upgrades and expendable weapons with the keyboard.

Improvements on the first GlueFO include lots of new power-ups, a creative set of challenge stages, and not one but count 'em two survival modes. My favorite gameplay addition is the evil GlueFOs, who will chase after your own ammunition and rocket it at you with pants-wetting accuracy.

Due to the generous (but non-refillable, mind) life bar, this isn't a horribly difficult game. However, if you're the sort of player who likes a stronger sense of achievement, then you are still in luck. Guess what else you get in GlueFO 2.0. Go on, guess! Achievements! You get achievements! Yaaaaay! Everybody gets achievements!

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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBSome of life's greatest mysteries are the little things you never get answers to. Like why the number of chocolate chips in a cookie is always even, or why your socks seem to keep getting holes in them even though you only wear them with your good shoes. Link Dump Friday is not one of those mysteries. It tells you exactly what you will get, every time! How awesome is that?!

  • icon_thetower.gifThe Tower - A nice take on the defense genre (see BowMaster Prelude and Defend Your Castle for more) where you must build a tower by purchasing and stacking different types of crates, then physically defend the structure while wave after wave of enemies (including cows, boars, and knights) attack.
  • icon_ritris.gifRitris - A variant of Tetris (ever heard of it?) where you get to live out a Tetris player's wildest dreams: creating your own blocks! Draw the shapes you need at the bottom of the screen and send them to the top to clear lines.
  • icon_typicalwednesday.gifA Typical Wednesday Afternoon - So uh, what'd you do last Wednesday? If it was anything other than move around a confined white space shooting at geometrically shaped enemies that swarmed you in patterns, you probably did something out of the ordinary, because this game illustrates what typical Wednesday afternoons are like.
  • icon_chromatica.gifChromatica - A good-looking implementation of the Lines style of matching puzzle. Ain't it pretty? And the power-ups make for an interesting ride.
  • icon_neavesplanetarium.gifNeave's Planetarium - Ever wanted to get a good look at the night sky without the city lights, clouds, cold winds and creepy people walking their dogs? This is the perfect solution, simple in its elegance and extraordinarily useful for stargazing. Just point and click to see what's above your head this very moment. From Paul Neave, creator of Flash Earth.

  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (73 votes)
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zxoSmokin BarrelsShine up your six-shooters, 'cause it's time for a good old-fashioned gunfight! From the Gamesheep Team (creators of Mindfields) comes Smokin' Barrels, a wild west showdown where it's shoot or be shot! With every new challenger, you take your health meter into your own trigger-happy hands! Will your name be rendered synonymous with "quickest draw in the west"? Or will you be forced to replenish your health through liberal application of whiskey?

The gameplay mirrors the harrowing simplicity of a wild west duel. First, holster your gun by moving your pointer into the "safe zone" at your feet. When the referee says "Draw!", move quickly to the target that appears and click to shoot. Whoever hits the target first deals damage to the other player based on accuracy and weapon strength. As long as both players still have hit points, the duel continues.

Of course, this would get old very quickly without some sort of variation. As you progress through the ranks of gunslinging opponents, they become faster and more accurate. Luckily there is a store with many fine items for purchase to help you keep pace. Upgrade to a better gun for more power and speed! Buy exploding bullets for maximum damage! Don a leather vest to minimize HP loss; and of course there are four items that grant access to the minigames! Yes, you can earn extra cash by betting on dice rolls, throwing knives, shooting targets, or racing horses, and unless you've got lightning reflexes these minigames will become absolutely necessary to maintain enough cash to keep entering duels.

Smokin BarrelsAnalysis: If you've been around the site for a while, you may have noticed that I tend to gravitate toward puzzlers, platformers and strategic games, while avoiding games that are heavy on coordination and reflexes. This begs the question: what on earth is it about Smokin' Barrels that prompted this review? First off, it does a great job of capturing the dramatic tension of a duel through its simple but effective main game mechanic. More importantly, though, it offers plenty of added value with the numerous upgrades and minigames. The designers did a good job of balancing the costs and revenues so that you have to keep a close eye on your cash flow, lest you be caught with zero health and no money for medicine.

To top it all off, Smokin' Barrels finds a happy medium between "leisurely Segway ride through the park" and "fiery gauntlet of doom". It's challenging, but not inaccessibly so. Of course, given my general lack of skills in the manual dexterity department, this statement may not apply if you were born with a joystick in your hand. Still, losing a duel will generally have you scurrying back to the minigames to earn enough cash to take another shot, the words "I can beat this guy, I know it" madly galloping through your skull.

The one glaring weakness in Smokin' Barrels are the minigames themselves. While nobody expects brilliant new gameplay concepts in a minigame, there's nothing in any of the four that hasn't been done many times before. The rewards for playing are slightly undervalued, so that you usually end up playing the minigames more than the dueling, which is the part that's the most fun. Also, for three of the four minigames, there's virtually nothing to keep you from playing as often as you want once you've bought access, which removes a lot of the risk that's built into the game's economic system.

Personally, I think a better design would have been to have the minigames give a better return per play, but limit the number of plays before you have to rebuy your minigame access. Then again, me sucking less at dueling might get rid of this problem altogether!

Despite its occasional flaws, Smokin' Barrels succeeds in wrapping the tension of a high noon six-shooter showdown in an intricate poncho of minigames and economics for a totally enjoyable casual experience.

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  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (60 votes)
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MarcusCubic DisturbanceExplosions are fun. That's a simple fact, as far as I'm concerned. One of my favorite shows is "MythBusters" on the Discovery Channel, and Adam and Jamie have much the same view of destruction that I have: the bigger the explosion, the better. So, what could be better than a game based on explosions?

Tim Stadlet's Cubic Disturbance is just such a game. The goal is to get the yellow outlined cube to the bottom of the screen. The only way to do this is by placing bombs in various locations and letting physics do the rest. You have an unlimited number of bombs, and you can place them literally anywhere on the screen that you wish, even on top of other objects. The closer a bomb is to a movable object, the greater the effect.

Each bomb is equipped with a timer that can be set anywhere from .1 seconds to 9.9 seconds. By scheduling bombs in sequence, you can move blocks around the game field, one explosion after another. Some blocks, however, are not affected. One type are the immobile walls that make up the level. Another type are blocks with a circle/stripe through them, which can only be moved by interacting with something else in motion. Some blocks come tethered to others, so that, for example, if you drop a block on one end of the tether, causing it to lower, it will raise the block at the other end. Still other blocks are pinned to the level and act as balances, rotating on their stationary pivot.

Many levels will take quite a bit of experimenting to get right. You can restart the level at any time, move bombs around, change their timing, and test again to your heart's content. The ultimate goal is to complete each level using the fewest number of bombs. Just because you were able to scoot the block to the ground with 7 bombs doesn't mean that you couldn't have done it with 5. There are multiple solutions to many levels, which adds to the variety and fun.

Analysis: Physics games have always been a favorite genre of mine, especially when they operate smoothly and correctly. Cubic Disturbance does both of these things, and does them well. It doesn't take long to get a good feel for how bomb placement will affect a given situation, which can cut down drastically on the trial-and-error involved in solving the later levels. I appreciate being able to return to a puzzle and tweak my solution without starting the whole game over. Half of the fun is going back to the timers, adjusting them by just a fraction of a second, and seeing what ensues.

Two things that I think would make this game more appealing: bigger explosions and sound. When I say "bigger explosions", I don't mean the physical force. Right now when a bomb explodes, a few white particles limp a few pixels away from the bomb's location, which doesn't exactly match the force that the bomb is generating. Something a little more impressive wouldn't go amiss here. Of course, when you think about explosions, you also think about the sound they make. There are no sound effects in Cubic Disturbance, which I think is a bit odd for a game about bombs. I have been known to make my own explodey sounds whilst playing the game, but a few bangs and booms would make the experience so much better.

Cubic Disturbance is a challenging physics game with a fun premise. If you like making things explode, then this game might just be for you. Just watch your hands and fingers there! (And for more destructive physics fun, try Ninja Kiwi's Boombot.)

Play Cubic Disturbance


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Rating: 4.5/5 (108 votes)
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PsychotronicPerfect Balance: New TrialsHave you been wandering around in a haze since the first Perfect Balance, your heart crying out for the opportunity to wedge more things together? Do you miss the wedging like a starving shark misses bluefish? Have you taken to stuffing kittens in pickle jars, just to stop the cravings? Are your hands covered with scratch marks? Then Perfect Balance: New Trials is here to offer you sweet, sweet, soul-crushing relief, in the form of 30 more levels of tough block-stacking.

Like in the first game, you play by selecting shapes from the menu at the top of the screen with the mouse, then placing them somewhere on the screen where they won't immediately fall into the abyss. TAKE NOTE: You can rotate blocks with the keyboard, using either the [Arrow Keys] or [A] and [D]. One welcome new feature lets you return a block to the menu if you change your mind about it.

I can't honestly say that this is a soothing experience, despite the (sarcastic) sounds of waves and birdies in the background, but I can recommend it as a method of teaching yourself to handle stress. If you can handle this, then staying cool during an avalanche should be a slice of pie. Just remember what the game tells you: RELAX! TAKE A DEEP BREATH! RELAX! RELAX! TAKE A DEEP BREATH! RELAX!

Play Perfect Balance: New Trials


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Rating: 4.5/5 (264 votes)
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icebreakerredclan.gif

JohnBThe vikings and the ice that trapped them have returned in an expansion on Nitrome's original physics-based puzzle game, Ice Breaker.

Ice Breaker: The Red Clan introduces lots of new obstacles to deal with strewn about an all-new set of levels. Vikings are trapped in the ice, walled-in by rock, or otherwise prevented from reaching the ship. Using your cursor as a cutting tool, it's your job to set them free. Manipulate each environment to provide a clear path from viking to ship and carve your way through 40 brand-new levels.

Here's what's on the roster for our rusty-haired vikings: ice blocks that rocket apart when you cut them, "grabby stones" that let you create hooks to other surfaces, fat ladies that need to be deflated, and fog that impedes your cutting ability. Oh, and ice. You'll have to deal with ice, too.

The levels in Red Clan are much more inventive than the original Ice Breaker. You can tell the team had more time to focus on design with a finished game mechanic ready to roll. Unfortunately some of these levels require precise solutions, and when you're cutting ropes on swinging boulders or slicing ice to knock over bulging fat ladies, precision isn't quite the name of the game. It encourages you to be inventive with your solutions, however, and I never got so frustrated I wanted to ragequit.

Same great ice-viking taste, now in strawberry flavor! Ice Breaker: The Red Clan is an excellent expansion of the already grand puzzle game.

Play Ice Breaker: The Red Clan


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Rating: 3.6/5 (116 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessToday we're going to plunge into the vast, bottomless depths of the ancient past—aka, 2007—to bring you an enjoyable, well-crafted escape game. Another Room, by Japanese designer Mofuya, is a sweet, semi-short example of classic pointing and clicking.

EscapeThe game isn't anything fancy, to be sure. No photorealistic graphics, no cut scenes, nothing dazzling or over-the-top... at the same time, however, everything is executed with near-perfect competence. The game's puzzles are simple but well-crafted; while not wildly creative or different, they nonetheless offer a satisfying variety of problems to tackle. The room's neat, somewhat subdued appearance is pleasing to the eye and makes it simple to navigate the surroundings. And, although Another Room's interface can be slightly clunky (combining items takes a few too many clicks), on the whole the game plays easily and intuitively.

One dubious element to this generally excellent game arrives at the very end: in a somewhat unfair twist, it's extremely easy to die just as you're about to escape (what a sucker punch!). While I like the idea of having to learn from your failures and replay the last bit a few times to get it right, in the absence of a save feature this can become an exercise in tedium. I won't ruin the ending or the surprise, but I will offer a piece of advice: just when everything seems set, take one more gander around the room and see if anything has changed. You should especially think twice if you still have unused items in your inventory.

But hey, who doesn't enjoy a little danger? Another Room is a ton of fun, a prime specimen of classic escape gaming goodness. Enjoy!

Play Another Room


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Rating: 3.7/5 (70 votes)
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MarcusTiltSome of the best games are ones that simulate a real-life puzzle, such as a Rubik's Cube, or physics games like Crazy Machines. One of my favorite physical puzzles has always been the wooden labyrinth. You remember, the game where you turn knobs to roll the little steel ball to the exit, without hitting any holes along the way? Even though the solution was the same each time, I would play Labyrinth for hours on end, trying to make it to the exit faster and faster.

Tilt is an example of the wooden labyrinth in digital form, and an excellent one it is, too. Using the mouse, you tilt the board up, down, left, and right to direct the ball to the exit. Of course, one of the advantages of a digital version is the fact that the maze configuration does not have to stay static, and it certainly doesn't here. There are 66 different levels, many of them devilishly hard.

The game starts off simple. Just make your way around the walls and get the ball to the exit. But soon, extra elements are introduced. Now you are trying to get two different balls to two exits simultaneously. Okay, not so hard once you get the hang of it. But then it becomes three balls to three exits. Then four. Then the balls are different sizes, and must be directed into specific areas. The levels eventually become less like Labyrinth and more like those small plastic cube puzzles where you have to get all the metal balls in the holes at the same time. Throw in other obstacles, such as pads that slow balls down or attract them like a black hole, and things can become an exercise in frustration. And that's only half-way through!

Analysis: Truth be told, I was expecting fewer multi-ball puzzles and more variations on the original wooden labyrinth, but Tilt's variety does keep it interesting. Later in the game, the mix of classic mazes with more puzzle-like levels becomes much better. The special pads make many levels less about careful maneuvering and more about coming up with a strategy to get the ball to the next "safe" section. Your only competition is the time it takes to complete each level. You have an unlimited number of "lives", and can reset a level at any time, should you get stuck.

TiltTilt can be played either in the browser window or full-screen. To get the full experience, and to increase your accuracy, I would suggest playing full-screen whenever possible. The gameplay seems to smooth out, making the board much easier to control, and allowing you to make minute changes in the tilt.

The one real gripe I have is the way that the game saves progress. You can continue where you left off after a fashion, not having to play through all 66 levels in one sitting. But in order to continue, you have to play through the level previous to the one you are currently playing. You know, the one that took you 2 hours to finally beat? If I've already beaten a level, I don't quite understand the purpose of making me finish another level in order to not have to replay the first one. [NOTE: Since this review was written, this feature has changed. It is now possible to continue from the last level played.]

That issue aside, Tilt is one of the finest implementations of Labyrinth that I have ever seen in Flash. The controls are easy to understand, and 66 levels will give you literally hours of gameplay. So jump into the labyrinths of Tilt and see if you can come out a winner!

Play Tilt


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Rating: 4.8/5 (1796 votes)
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PsychotronicHex EmpireHex Empire, unfortunately, is not about an ancient land of witches turning each other into mules and spiders. The name refers to hexagons, the traditional battleground of the pen-and-paper wargamer. Hexagons tile well, you see, and they look nice with doodles of rivers and mountain ranges between them. They are pointy, but not so much that you need to wear goggles while working with them, like you do with squares or triangles. Dash them with pepper, and they taste good on a hamburger bun. Hexagons are winners.

This is a good game for fans of Risk and Dice Wars, for strategists who like to compare numbers but dislike the fuddy-duddiness of unit weaknesses and initiative and terrain bonuses. In other words, it's a casual turn-based strategy war game, pitting you against three computer-controlled armies in a battle for dominion over a randomly-generated plot of land.

Your objective is to capture the capital cities of your enemies. The map is littered with smaller cities and coastal ports, and generally speaking, it is a good idea to control as many of these as possible. At the end of each turn, each city in your territory will generate a unit 10 soldiers strong, while ports and the rest of your occupied land add soldiers to your cities randomly.

There is only one unit type, though for easy reference, it changes appearance depending on its strength. Your main restriction is that you can only move five units per turn, though you will quickly find yourself with more than five groups of soldiers. It's up to you whether you spend your precious five turns consolidating weaker units into more intimidating ones, or pushing the battlefront forward. Though it may seem restrictive, these are the choices that make Hex Empire interesting.

The other factor is morale. Winning or losing battles directly affects the strength of your army, so much that a losing battle can be reversed sometimes through a series of demoralizing surgical strikes. A unit's maximum physical strength is always 99, but in a battle between two maxed-out squads, the more courageous one will always win.

Replayability comes from the random map layouts. If you find a particularly fun one, you can write down its ID number and revisit it freely. The downside is that awkward maps are common, granting unfair advantages to some factions and mucking things up with large bodies of water. Just hit the randomize button again if the first map is too weird.

Analysis: Hex Empire occupies a comfortable spot between the simplicity of Risk and the number crunching of the Avalon Hill-style board games that inspired this whole soldiers-on-hexagons thing. You do have to pay attention to the numbers, and even add them together occasionally, but moving a squadron just comes down to two mouse clicks.

The five-move restriction, and the way your fighting units degrade quickly in battle, forces you to strategize instead of simply expanding as quickly as possible. The further and faster you push, the more likely you are to end up with a shattered and cowardly front line, ripe for a counter-attack. Real strength in this game comes from an almost chess-like approach, with units constantly guarding and reinforcing each other. There's a distinct and relaxing drumbeat to it, once you get the feel.

Could it use more variety? Possibly. Should it have multiplayer? Definitely. Do the rules governing the ups and downs of morale seem capricious? Sure. But Hex Empire lets you jump right into battle without much fuss, and offers enough tactical depth to be addictive even after several wars have ended. A bit of a treat, really.

Play Hex Empire

Gen


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Rating: 4.1/5 (124 votes)
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ArtbegottiGenEver play Crack the Whip? Get a bunch of people to hold hands in a line. The goal of one person at one end of the line is to push, pull, drag, and yank the rest of the people around, and to get someone to lose hold of their neighbor's hand. It's good fun; the most fun you can have breaking your arm, really. Not that we've experimented with different methods or anything.

Consider then, the case of Gen, a physics game with the same whippy slingshotty action. Your goal is to bring all the yellow cells to the blue goal blob, without hitting the red barriers. What makes this tricky is the way you move the cells along. Click the mouse to turn your green controller cell yellow, and any yellow cell within a certain distance will be attracted to it like a magnet. Clicking again removes the attractive force, but a cell's momentum is maintained. Remember, if you move your mouse away from a group of attracted cells too quickly, you might lose control of them.

Along the game's 20 levels, you'll have to find your way around red blobs which instantly kill off your cells, as well as movable barriers, green forms that repel your yellow cells, and other obstacles. You'll often have to plan your moves ahead of time, so as not to accidentally drag one group of cells into a barrier while trying to manipulate another one. Twenty levels doesn't sound like very many, but the increasing difficulty will keep you swimming around in the petri dish for a while.

From Eugene Karataev, creator of Splitter. Art by Alexey Egoshin.

Play Gen

Thanks to Ryan for sending this one in!


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Rating: 3.9/5 (75 votes)
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MarcusTiny Trials


attention deficit disorder
at·ten·tion deficit disorder
(?-ten'sh?n)
n.
Abbr. ADD

1. A childhood syndrome characterized by impulsiveness and short attention span, and sometimes by hyperactivity that often leads to learning disabilities and various behavioral problems.
(Courtesy dictionary.com)

Tinymania, the creators of Tiny Trials, seem to have had ADD in mind when they developed this collection of minigames. They come at you at a rapid pace, in succession, leaving little time to recover before the next one attacks with sadistic intent. It reflects the Four Second series from a couple of years ago, but adds an online leader board, updated in real-time to reflect your standing against other people playing around the world.

The minigames range from arcade games where you shoot monkeys in barrels to mind-benders where you have to guess the next number in a series. The scoring method varies by game. One has you controlling a little race car (think Super Sprint), racking up as many laps as possible in a limited time. Another has you tap the left and right arrow buttons to balance a ninja on a ball for as long as possible.

Tiny TrialsThe real-time leader board keeps tabs on the currently logged in players and their progress. You are assigned a percentage based on your score, but I'm not sure what it is being compared to. The more games you play, the more points you gain, the further your percentage goes up, and you slowly climb the leader board. Of course, if you make too many missteps, it's going to take quite a bit of effort to take those top few positions.

Analysis: The creators of Tiny Trials actually refer to these games as "microgames," and that term fits them quite well. Each one lasts a maximum of 30-45 seconds, with many of them much shorter. In about 25 minutes, I went through almost 80 games, which includes time in-between games to show the score (about 5 seconds). The remarkable thing is the sheer number of games available. Out of 80 games, I did replay a fair number, but each one has a number of variations, such as shooting aliens popping out of craters instead of monkeys in barrels.

Replaying the same game usually won't give you a huge advantage, with one notable exception. The "Guess the Celebrity" microgame presents you with a silhouette and slowly fills it in with the features of a famous person's face. The goal, of course, is to guess the celebrity's name correctly before the reveal. Not so bad, I guess, except that there are only three variations, the choices are always the same, the answer is always the same, and they seem to show up more often than the other games. The fact is that these particular microgames exist to promote a trivia site. A banner for the site is displayed on the score screen after you choose your answer, and stays there for a good 15 seconds, much longer than any of the other scoring screens. I guess you've got to pay the bills somehow, but it's all pretty blatant, and really takes you out of the rhythm.

That quibble aside, I have to say that though the games are tiny, they're big on fun. Whether you sit down for a marathon go and try for the top spots in the leader board, or you just want a two-minute fix of quick gaming, you're bound to have a blast with the plethora of microgames in Tiny Trials.

Play Tiny Trials

Thanks for the recommendation, Simone!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBA collection of simple but absolutely captivating games for this week's Mobile Monday. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit with each of these titles. Shouldn't I be off learning Japanese or trying to cure diseases or something? Maybe after just one more level...

We're still giving away iTunes gift certificates to cover the cost of every game featured in the current Mobile Monday article. Simply 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, Benabik!

asterope.gifAsterope - A short, challenging but very rewarding action game where physics are both your friend and your enemy. Androids are invading Earth and it seems you are the only one brave enough to venture into their giant asteroid to save stranded astronauts. You don't control your tiny red ship directly. Instead, tap the touch screen to fire a hook onto the rocks that will change your direction as you move. Once you become skilled at maneuvering your ship, it's great fun to navigate tight passageways. The game's a bit on the short side, but there are a few unlockable modes that give it some replay value.

theseus.gifTheseus - A slick implementation of Robert Abbot's Theseus and the Minotaur puzzle/maze game that features a ton of levels to work your way through. The goal is simple: make it to the exit on each level. Unfortunately there's a red minotaur in the way that would love to eat you, and for every one step you take, the minotaur takes two. Lucky for you this guy's a bit dumb and can easily be trapped in corners. With a little forethought and clever planning, you can hack your way through this long and satisfying game one puzzle at a time. And if you aren't so clever, a hint button does the work for you. Also comes in a free Theseus Lite version.

eliss.gifEliss - A puzzle game of a different sort, Eliss treads into new territory and makes great use of the multi-touch feature on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Combine and split the colored "planets" that appear to maintain order in the increasingly chaotic universe. When a squeesar appears, fit the appropriate sized/colored planet into it to make it vanish. It's that simple, but it's also that addictive. You will have to work quickly and efficiently so that no planets of dissimilar colors collide, thereby reducing your health. Great production values and addictive gameplay move this game into must-have territory.

carnivalhammer.jpgCarnival Hammer - Ok, I admit it, this little diversion is a guilty pleasure of mine. Just like the carnival game, lift and swing your iPhone to strike the platform and send the ball flying up the board. The higher you go, the tougher you are. Although there's very little content to enjoy, the art style really captivates and I still found myself driven to hit the ball to the moon.

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (56 votes)
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Lost in the City

JohnBEver wanted to combine a hidden object game with a riddle-centric room escape title? Like strawberries and bananas, the two genres go together remarkably well, as Elephant Games' Lost in the City eloquently showcases. Steeped in mystery, you travel from room to room finding items, solving puzzles, deciphering riddles and completing simple mini-games as you unravel a particularly intriguing storyline filled with strange plot twists.

lostinthecity.jpgYour first date with the charming April went well, and you were quickly falling for this beautiful girl. The bliss didn't last long, however, as you began to feel strange after an innocent cup of coffee. The next thing you know, you awake in an abandoned city, lost and trapped with no knowledge of how you got there. A series of clues seem to be guiding you to something, so with no better plan of action, you set out to follow the path wherever it may lead.

Each room presents you with a handful of items to find as listed on the right side of the screen. A magnifying glass is available to get a 10x zoom on an area of the scene, so don't be afraid to use it for those tiny objects. In addition to finding objects you'll often have tasks to complete such as "play the video tape", "drink the coffee" or "use the phone". How you accomplish these tasks isn't explained, though everything is spelled out quite nicely with the items you pick up and store in your inventory.

For the mini-games, expect nothing more than a few simple "assemble the image" puzzles alongside keypad riddles where you have to figure out the code. Pretty standard stuff, the challenge level is just about right, and you won't be jolted from the game's somewhat intense atmosphere by an ill-fitting puzzle getting shoved in front of your face.

As you move from room to room the storyline is gradually unveiled piece by convoluted piece. Where are you? How did you get here? Who is playing this game with you and why? And most importantly, what role does April play in all of this?

lostinthecity2.jpgAnalysis: Games like Lost in the City are my bread and butter of the casual adventure world. Its strongest feature is by far the story, and I was drawn in from the "oooh"-inducing opening paragraph. It's a bit like watching an episode of Lost, with new questions being raised at every turn. Gotta love a good mystery, and Lost in the City delivers. The game's structure is also pleasing and manages to blend the best parts of the room escape genre with a hidden object game.

There's very little to criticize about Lost in the City, as most potential flaws are smoothed over by the fact that the game doesn't overextend itself and try to be more than the sum of its parts. Yes, the object finding can be a bit tedious, yes, the visual quality of some of the scenes could have been punched up a notch. But in the grand scheme of things, these don't detract from the experience of intrigue and mystery.

One thing I would like to lodge a complaint about is the scoring system. In games of this nature, exploration is what it's all about. What can you click and what happens when you try? Here, however, you're punished for misclicks with a penalty of lost money. Money is used for buying hints and unlocking bonuses from the title screen, both nice extras for any game to have. The problem is I'm afraid to try anything for fear of losing cash, leading to an unfortunately strong sense of game paranoia. The casual mode makes things less stressful than the full-on timer mode, but I still feel the punishment for trying to play the game is far too harsh.

Lost in the City is an excellent blend of casual hidden object gameplay and classic room escape adventuring. If you're a fan of either of these genres, enjoy a good mystery, or have a hankering to solve riddles, taking a stroll through this game is a no-brainer.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (33 votes)
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4 Elements

MarcusOnce upon a time there was an ancient kingdom where its people lived in peace and harmony. The various magical creatures that inhabited the land kept the evil at bay along with the power of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. But one fateful day, an evil blight came across the land and destroyed the four temples of the elements. As their protective power was taken from the land, it slowly turned from a green and verdant paradise to a cold and lifeless land full of ice and snow. It's up to you to unlock the power of the four books of elemental magic and restore power to the 4 Elements.

4elements.jpgGameplay in 4 Elements starts off as you attempt to find the key to unlock your first book. This is accomplished in a hidden object game where you must find the parts of four different objects. Each of these objects will in turn interact with something in the scene. There is a definite sequence to the events, as you will only be able to complete one of the objects. You must then use it to interact with something in the scene, which will then reveal the last part of another object. You continue until you've completed the fourth object, which will then interact with the scene to reveal the key to the book.

Your fairy guide will use the key to unlock the magic book and reveal the first entry inside. On the left page will be a rather blank-looking picture, and on the right will be a bunch of garbled text. The core of the game is played with the purpose of completing the picture and unscrambling the text.

The bulk of the gameplay is a match-3 variant made popular by the game Cradle of Rome. Starting at one end of a chain of matching runes, drag the mouse to connect them together and release to make them disappear. The goal here is not to clear the board, as it usually is in games of this sort. Your goal is to create a path for magical energy to flow from the starting location to the elemental altar at the end of the level. Clearing chains will clear the tiles below, allowing the energy to flow through. If you start a chain of five or more runes, the end of the chain will result in an explosion that will take out a number of tiles around the final tile. The longer the chain, the larger the explosion. Particularly long chains can create devastating blasts that will take out 20 or more tiles at once.

Of course, it's never quite as simple as that. You will have to guide the energy through the twists and turns of the maze-like game boards. You will run up against frozen pieces that have to be matched to thaw them out, boulders that cannot be matched, and iron blocks that cannot be moved. Luckily there are four different power-ups that can be charged by matching runes of a particular color. The first is a spade that will destroy a single tile. Very useful when you just can't seem to match that one last rune. The second is a bomb that will destroy the runes in the area of the blast. The bomb will also destroy frozen pieces and boulders, but will not destroy iron blocks or the tiles below the runes. The swap power-up allows you to swap two adjacent runes, allowing you to potentially make larger chains. You cannot use the swap power-up to swap boulders, iron blocks, or frozen runes. The final power-up allows you to shuffle every rune on the screen, giving you the chance to create more matches from a field of runes that may have grown stale. You'll also have to keep an eye out for flaming arrow launchers and other machinations that can be used to create massive chain reactions.

4elements2.jpgOnce you complete four rounds, thereby unscrambling the text and completing the picture, you are entered into another hidden object variant where you need to find the differences between two versions of the picture that you just completed. Once you locate the four differences, the section is complete, and you are on to the next entry in the book. Complete all four entries in the book and you will go on to the next element.

Analysis: This is by and far one of the best match-3 games I have played in quite some time. The gameplay is truly unique in that you are not simply trying to clear the board, trying to make a number of matches, or collect a number of particular pieces. The idea of creating paths through the game board for a flow of energy is something that I haven't come across before, and it really helps 4 Elements stand out from the crowd. The game boards are generally larger than a single screen and in later levels can become absolutely massive, making it progressively harder to complete the board before your timer runs out. The use of the flaming arrow devices turn many of the boards into puzzles where the key is flowing the energy to the next device, and not necessarily directly to the end of the board. This, too, gives the game a feeling of being much more than a simple match-3 game.

The hidden object sections of the game are well done and could easily stand on their own as a smaller game. Finding the parts of the objects in the opening sections can be quite difficult, since often the parts are small and oddly shaped. You also are never completely sure what you are looking for, so you end up searching for something that looks out of place, or that vaguely resembles a section of one of the objects you are completing. You can use a hint to locate particularly sneaky bits, but there doesn't seem to be any sort of penalty for random clicking on the screen, so sometimes the best bet is to click on anything anywhere. Locating the difference in the two pictures is a bit easier since you are only looking for four things, but I did run into a couple of differences that were pretty subtle.

The graphics in 4 Elements are quite well done. The play fields are colorful and vibrant, and the effects animation for things like explosions are spectacular. The hidden object scenes are well illustrated and hide objects well. I never got the feeling that I was pixel-hunting, but some of the items are quite difficult to locate. The fantasy theme is well executed, with nicely drawn fantasy creatures and landscapes. The sound is also quite impressive, especially the music, consisting of instrumental tracks that definitely evoke the fantasy scene that is unfolding in front of you. I never felt the need to turn the music down or off, and felt it all worked quite well, especially the opening theme and the background music during the game.

In a crowded genre, 4 Elements has the qualities to stand out from the crowd and make it not only worth your time to download, but worth your hard earned gold coins to purchase. Take up the challenge and restore the power of the four elements to an ancient land. You won't regret it.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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


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Rating: 4.6/5 (199 votes)
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JayKagi Nochi Togira



They say seventeen
is difficult, but I think
it is obvious.

(Ari)


Back to the basics again with Kagi Nochi Tobira 2, the simple and original puzzle game sequel to the very well-received Kagi Nochi Tobira from September of last year.

The objective is very easy to understand: find the key, then find the door. How you go about doing that is unique to each level.

There's not much else to say other than the raw creativity and sense of discovery in these simple puzzle games create an exceptionally engaging and appealing experience. Similar in concept to the Hoshi Saga series. Another example of why simple ideas are often among the most fun!

Play Kagi Nochi Tobira 2

Thanks to Psychotronic and Valarauka for getting the haikus started. Share your haikus about Kagi Nochi Tobira with us in the comments, and you may see them show up in the review. :)

For other similar games, try the Hoshi Saga series.


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Weekend Download

AdamBA lot of games featured on JIG are intensive. They require Flash 10, or Unity or some sort of graphics card capable of displaying something more than monochrome. However, sometimes gamers just don'thave the latest hardware requirements to play the latest whiz-bang flavour of the month. So without further ado, here are a selection of games developed for the trusty old DOS system. You can play them on Mac, Windows and Linux using the handy DOSBox emulator, which is free. You'll need to type a few things into a command prompt, but don't be scared, it's laughably simple to do, and a quick tutorial covers just about everything.

jetpack.gifJetpack (DOS, 500kb, free) - In the included 100 levels, our trusty man-with-a-jetpack will encounter traps, spinning blades, spheres of doom, and something to make it all worth while — treasure. Jump, soar and dodge your way through the all of the levels, then create your own in the included level editor.

godofthunder.gifGod of Thunder (DOS, 1MB, free) - One of the most classic of RPG's (in my mind) tells the story of Thor, the thunder god, and his quest over three epic stories to finally face his brother Loki. Along the way the quest will bring him in strife with snakes, witch hags, television repairmen and frequently haggling apple salesmen.

urthwurm.gifUrthWurm (DOS, 19kb, free) - The classic side-scrolling 'helicopter game' except this time in downloadable DOS based mode. Hold [space] to rise and release it to drop, correctly timing the undulations of your pixel-copter in order to traverse the dangerous cave system ahead of you. (Note: You'll need to scroll down a bit for the download link.)

froggie.gifRevenge of Froggie (DOS, 450kb, free) - Hardly anything can beat the pure, simple fun of getting a frog across a higway and lake without getting squashed or drowned. Well, a lot of things can, but work with me here. This version of the arcade classic Frogger features two modes of play, including "extended" — ooh, extendy.

primroseiphone.jpgPrimrose (Mac/Windows/Linux, 1MB, free) - Oh, it's a game that doesn't require DOS! Jason Rohrer's Primrose game was featured on last week's Mobile Monday, but did you know there's a free version as well? Two colored, connected squares appear at the bottom of the screen. Tap the grid above to place the first square, then tap any open space in the same column or row to place the second square. The goal is to surround one color with squares of another color. The idea is simple, but like any good puzzle game, mastering its intricacies are an entirely different matter. Grab it for your OS and see why its tile placing is one of the heaviest mental challenges you'll ever get from a puzzle game.


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Rating: 4.2/5 (33 votes)
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Women's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey

JohnBWomen's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey (or, if you want to get really fancy and see the full title, James Patterson Women's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey) is the latest installment in the mystery/hidden object adventure series started by Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet, both of which are based on the books and television program of the same name. Investigating the death of a young boy, you play the role of several different experts, each with a specialization and accompanying gameplay mode. Gather evidence and clues and piece things together in the forensics lab to solve the mystery!

womensmurderclub3.jpgMost of your time in Women's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey will be spent playing as Detective Lindsay Boxer, an investigator with the San Francisco police department. You'll be the first on the scene to question suspects, gather information by talking to witnesses, collect evidence and take photographs for later analysis. These first-person scenarios are much like a hidden object game, though there's a good variety in the types of tasks you'll undertake. One scene has you searching for a way to turn off a fan, for example.

After some evidence has been gathered, it's back to the forensics lab where medical examiner Claire Washburn performs her magic. By completing simple mini-games you'll distill facts from the evidence gathered by Lindsay. For example, the first mini-game involves mixing various chemicals from three moving belts to determine the blood type of two samples taken from the crime scene.

Much of the game progresses in this manner, with Lindsay's hidden object scenes gathering data while the other women play supporting roles. You visit a number of locations to interview suspects and question locals who may have a connection with the deceased. The story unfolds in a rather linear manner, but the mystery is well-cooked, so you'll want to sink your teeth in for bite after bite of delicious (and intelligent) plot.

womensmurderclub4.jpgAnalysis: The first Women's Murder Club game took the familiar mystery/hidden object concept and made things a bit different with a more crime-focused slant. The sequel continues in the same vein and doesn't really change the formula beyond adding different mini-games and an entirely new plot. The puzzles in A Darker Shade of Grey are where things get interesting, as they're very well-thought-out and actually make you think, not just blindly go through the motions. This doesn't carry through to some of the mini-games, unfortunately, as most of them (especially the forensic games) are pointless busywork.

While the story is intriguing, I have to admit I wasn't really drawn into the experience as much as I was in the other game. Many of the characters seem stiff and unresponsive with dialogue that's almost completely void of flavor. Sometimes you might as well be reading from a textbook. The strength of a game like this is often in its writing, and here I can't help but feel it slightly missed the mark.

Despite its few writing flaws and less-than-stellar mini-games, the story and progression of events in Women's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey make it worth a visit. Murder and mystery drench every scene, and playing as three different characters, each with her own unique gameplay mode, livens things up to make this hidden object adventure a tier above the rest.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Women's Murder Club: A Darker Shade of Grey is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Rating: 4.4/5 (75 votes)
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Karmeninteractionartist.jpgWhat can you do in a single day? Well, not build Rome, of course. You could build a game, at least. That's what Chris DeLeon decided to do. Each day, for 219 days in a row, Chris designed a game. Some began as imitations of classic arcade games, while others, which he calls "commucepts" or "spaquoids", were more experimental in nature. By the end of last June, he had a fantastic collection of odd and curious web toys, all available to play at Interaction Artist.

Having each been created in a single day, these games are not very large or content-intensive. Yet, sometimes a tiny game can have a big message. Take Candy for instance, the perfect game for anyone who has ever been disappointed with a game that ends without a win screen. You won't spend long wondering how to play, but you might wonder if the reward is deserved. If Candy seems a little too obvious, try the enigmatic Armistice Key.

Some games are just good fun, like Warmer, a 3D maze that shows you how close you are to the goal by getting hotter or colder. With Firewriter, you can draw a picture and then, as the title suggests, light it on fire. Juggle rotating spheres of dust in True Hopes. I'm not sure what it has to do with hope, but it is oddly mesmerizing, like driving down the Bay Bridge.

interactionartist.jpgMost of the experiments on Interaction Artist are simple toys, sandboxes and mazes. That isn't to say they are free of politics and opinion. A handful of the games represent the author's moral beliefs. So, if you happen to be an easily offended cattle-ranching nun, you may want to avoid such games as
Steak
, Iconoclast Rage, and ManipuLie'ted. On the other hand, some games examine more universal challenges, like the ambiguous goal of Do As Told.

You probably won't find the ultimate flash game at Interaction Artist, but perhaps fragments of games to be. Many of the concepts are new twists on old ideas, while others are simply pleasant distractions. Some will have you scratching your head in confusion and some will send you scrambling for the back button. That's to be expected with a game a day—some days are good, others not. Even with the occasional flop, the strange toys and commucepts at Interaction Artist can keep you busy for hours. Best of all, if you keep asking "What was he thinking?" as you play a game, check out the author's analysis by following the Archived Journal link at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes his commentary can shed light on the purpose of a game.

Play the games of Interaction Artist


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThis is the edition of Link Dump Friday where you do what I say! It's like Simon Says, only Simon's a jerk, so this is called "JohnB Says, Everyone Does". JohnB says... make me a grilled cheese sandwich! JohnB says... comb your hair! JohnB says... play these games below and leave an amusing/constructive comment!

  • icon_etherwar.gifEther War - A sequel to Ether Cannon, this shooter addresses most of the issues raised with the original game and adds some great new visual effects, upgrades and other bonuses. It's a great-looking game that's best described as "intense". Actually, let me rephrase that... "OMGINTENSE!!!!!".
  • icon_bigbucks.gifBig Bucks - A real-time real estate-based (real) board game. Drive your car around the board and purchase properties as you see fit. Upgrade houses and when other players land on that square, they pay you rent. Everything happens in real time, so you don't have time to sit and twiddle your thumbs, and power-ups make things even more interesting.
  • icon_superstarcombo.gifSuperstar Combo - Zip back and forth across the line collecting stars and avoiding the moving blocks. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well... it is. But it's fun. So play it anyway. Ok?
  • icon_blobink2A.gifBlobink 2 - A sequel to — you guessed it — Blobink! Run around the black-and-white town painting everything with your gooey, colorful self. Don't do it because the Water Mafia has stolen everything, do it 'cause I said so!
  • icon_d403.gifD-403: Journey of a Service Droid - A cute lil platformer where you play a robot fighting mutant creatures to save the Empire. You get bombs and stuff to throw, too, that make you want to play?

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Rating: 4.3/5 (77 votes)
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JoshWizardDefenseTouted on its website as one of "the world's best tower defense games," Wizard Defense is a new strategy game (still in beta) developed by Big Park, Inc. When it comes to presentation and graphics, I just might have to agree—I don't know if I've ever seen a Web-based tower defense game with such a rich back-story and polished UI. You play a young wizard who resides at the Espeon School of Wizard Defense, hand-picked by Edith—an "elder"—to defend the land from evil magic forces and monsters.

Your towers are called Elementums, each drawing its power from an element like wind, fire, earth and so on. Unlike many element-based TD games though, there are no gems or detailed resources here to play with. It's a pretty simple design, actually. You begin with just two Elementums; Leafros (a tree) and Voltoss (a storm cloud). Towers cost "Lumens" to build, which is basically the game's magical equivalent of money (you earn Lumens for each monster you destroy). Each of your towers can be given one "boost"; power, speed or range. While the towers cost different amounts of Lumens to build, the boosts always cost the same amount.

The boosts are pretty self-explanatory, especially for TD fans. However, since you can only give towers one boost each, they're pretty extreme (especially the range boost, which also improves critical hit chance). The speed boost doubles your attack speed and the power boost really increases damage a considerable amount. Lastly, boosting an Elementum also enables a secondary, inherent ability, such as temporarily freezing enemies or causing area-of-effect damage.

The controls are standard fare for this kind of game; just point and click with the mouse. Each stage of the game consists of two levels with around seven or eight waves of monsters. Your character is positioned at the end of the path, which would represent the "base" in most other TD games. You have 10 points of life, and lose them if enemies are able to get past your towers and attack you.

WizardDefenseYour character doesn't just serve as decoration, though—you can also cast offensive spells that damage monsters and supplement your Elementums. You'll learn these spells—rather slowly—as you progress through levels by earning "medal points." At the end of each quest, you're awarded a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on your score. Each medal is worth a different number of medal points that unlock spells, like the "Magic Bolts" spell that lets you target monsters directly, or the "Fire Wall" that you can place down across the path to damage any monster that passes through it.

Analysis: Story-wise, you might liken Wizard Defense to the Harry Potter franchise at first glance. The whole "young-wizard-at-a-magic-boarding-school" is a bit similar, even if only in premise. It's the back-story though—along with the highly-polished website and fleshed-out characters—that actually confused me at first, wondering if this was some new intellectual property like a novel or cartoon that was licensed into a Flash game to promote it. Typically, you just don't see this kind of production value in independent Flash games (especially in the tower defense genre, which is still primarily a grassroots movement). It's got its own Web site, complete with professionally-drawn art with lots of written story behind it, and even a forum section. More importantly, this production value is evident in-game as well, with great animation and sound, gorgeous backgrounds and an overall gloss that's usually only found in downloaded games.

That being said, the first question is whether or not the gameplay lives up to the standard of its packaging. The answer? Almost. First of all, the game is labeled as still in beta. While there's not many bugs that hinder gameplay aside from the occasional UI overlay hiccup, it might suggest that the developers are still tweaking things behind-the-scenes, like enemy hit points or other balance mechanics.

Even though there are three levels of difficulty available, some tower defense veterans might find Wizard Defense a bit on the easy side. That's not to say it's a cakewalk; the medium and hard modes offer fewer resources and tougher enemies, and will pose a challenge to most players. The overall mechanics are a bit simple for this genre though, suggesting that it was designed to be accessible even for a pre-teen audience.

However, that doesn't stop Wizard Defense from being one of the most impressive TD games I've ever seen. Aside from the ending coming a little too quickly (and for some, requiring registration to play past the first quest), there's not too much to complain about. Multiple path routes and a variety of tower and spell abilities offer just as much strategic fun as any other defense game. Rooted by its rich story and dazzling presentation, it's something that every casual gamer should check out.

Play Wizard Defense

Thanks for the suggestion, Ed!


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Rating: 4.3/5 (139 votes)
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PsychotronicBloody Fun Day"You're the reaper! You like to kill things and harvest their tasty souls," begins the tutorial, and that sets the dark, whimsical tone for the entire game. Bloody Fun Day is a turn-based strategy game from Urban Squall (Battallion: Nemesis), built around the character of a cute little nihilistic, selfish grim reaper.

This is another take on SameGame-style color grouping, in the same general family as Knightfall. Your objective is to score as many points as possible by reaping the Cuties, who populate a hexagonally gridded island like dense, colorful game pieces. Their crime is incessant happiness and adorability. Their punishment is a gratuitously bloody death.

Move the reaper by clicking on adjacent cuties. Not only will you slay your target, but also every critter of the same species connected to it. You then absorb all of their souls, which have different effects depending on their color. The red cuties are most important, because they give you life, and with your life meter decreasing with every move you make, you'll need all the red souls you can get. Other colors go toward your various special reaper powers.

As you scythe your way through the cuties, you'll be creating a maze of obstacles for yourself. The reaper leaves behind an unwalkable barren wasteland; and slain creatures leave behind eggs, which decrease your points and won't hatch if you break them, and should therefore be avoided. Every few turns (indicated by a handy tracker on your left) all the eggs hatch, reforming the game board with a new assortment of prey. As you play, the interval between hatchings gets longer, making it more difficult to stay alive until the next reboot.

There are two modes: the 5-level challenge, where you try to score as many points as possible before the game ends; and the unlimited challenge, which is more of a survival mode, but still awards you medals based on your score.

Bloody Fun DayAnalysis: It might seem at first that Bloody Fun Day is just a handsome but simple puzzle/strategy game, banking on cartoony violence for its appeal. It seems like it could perhaps use more variety, maybe some enemies, or differently-shaped islands as the levels progress.

But the truth is, although it might not hurt to include some extra features in the sequel, this is already an exceptionally well-crafted and deep game. The special powers are balanced and interesting, each one useful in several different circumstances. The three different families of powers support each other, making it feel like your efforts in one area can always be redirected to another.

For instance, the black ability Fire Storm can reap the souls from a group anywhere on the map. It's a great thing to keep handy when you're nearly out of life and need red souls quickly. But if you're already near a large group of red cuties, you might want to use Harvest, a blue ability that doubles the soul bounty of your next move. If you don't have enough souls to use Harvest immediately, you can use your charged-up Fire Storm to harvest the necessary blue souls from elsewhere. It's those kind of choices that keep Bloody Fun Day fresh long after a more loosely-designed game would be getting stale.

The big thing that's missing is special animations for your reaper powers. I mean, come on, there's an Eye Laser power, but when you use it, there's no big honkin' eye laser that fries the cuties into little black crispy bonsais. They just fall into bloody pieces as though you scythed them normally. What good is that? Even the Fire Blast power doesn't make, you know, a fire blast. Yo, what's up, Urban Squall?

Missed opportunities for carnage aside, though, Bloody Fun Day is a refreshingly original and strange video board game from a developer who gets more interesting with every new title. A bloody good time.

Play Bloody Fun Day


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Rating: 3.3/5 (67 votes)
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PsychotronicFifty Comedies50 Comedies asks you to identify the titles of fifty movies (of the comedic variety) based on visual puns. Just scroll around the collage full of oddities and mutants, and click on a clue when you think you might know what film it represents. Good for movie buffs, trivia toughs, and fans of fun, light-hearted stuffs.

There are some baffling interface problems, especially for such a simple program. You have to type all your answers in lower case, and you can't press enter to input a guess. You have to switch back to the mouse and click the Enter button. When you scroll off the edge of the picture and then back, the screen jerks like a kitten dreaming about a gerbil farm. On top of all that, the image is blurry, which I think is supposed to represent film grain, but actually looks like it's been Xeroxed a few dozen times and then chewed up by weasels.

Still, we found ourselves addicted to the clever puzzles and the challenge to our cinemaphile sensibilites, so we are sharing this set of 50 devious, obvious, and curious riddles with you. If the scrolling bothers you, try the image-only version of the game here. Have fun!

Play 50 Comedies


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Rating: 4.2/5 (87 votes)
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StaceyG"Leaf BlightIf you celebrate Arbor Day and always thought a logic puzzle was just what the holiday needed, then Grace Avery's Leaf Blight is for you. We're posting early in case anyone goes by the Belgian tree-planting day in Flanders, which is a month earlier than Arbor Day in the US. So get out those pruning shears and prepare to think.

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to snip off the dying leaves to keep your trees healthy and strong. You only get a limited amount of moves to remove the leaves in the right order. Clipping off some will have an effect on the others, so you need to follow a simple set of logic rules.

Red leaves will randomly sicken other leaves on the branch by turning them yellow. Yellow leaves will sicken their neighboring leaves, and an orange dot is a warning sign they are about to turn red. Purple leaves will randomly infect leaves every four moves, and will get an orange dot when they are about to strike. Brown leaves are dead and will need to be removed but they will not spread to the next leaves.

Analysis: This relaxing logic puzzle starts out fairly easy, but does get more vexing as the levels progress. There is a tutorial and a nice slow paced learning curve to let you pick up all the rules. Leaf Blight lets you take your time, and gives you unlimited chances to resolve a level. For those craving competitive leaf cutting, there is a countdown timer, which will give you bonus points for solving levels under the time limit.

The graphics look a bit primitive, but they nicely evoke the feeling of woodcarving art. Small animated flourishes, such as a bird passing by or the moon waxing overhead, give the artwork some warm touches. The music is pleasant and adds to the overall relaxing feel of the game.

In the option menu you can turn off music and or sound effects, and there is a colorblind option, which adds symbols to the colors. If you'd rather create than solve logic problems, there is a level editor as well.

A series of bendy trees, mellow music and 60 levels of leaf picking madness await you!

Play Leaf Blight


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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JessKilmainhamEscape from Kilmainham Gaol feels like it could be set in a movie of wartime and intrigue... something between James Bond and The Great Escape? Creator Matt Slaybaugh (also of the entertaining Escape to Obion point-and-click series) plunks the player into a desolate, barren cell with seemingly no hope of escape. But wait, what's this? A letter tucked into a chink in the wall. Apparently your captivity is due to one Simeon Meade, a member of the mysterious Talos Organization. He can't help you escape directly, but it is possible to unlock your door from inside the cell... and apparently, one of Meade's operatives has prepared your prison with the necessary tools. Of course, it can't be too obvious, or else the guards will be tipped off. Looks like you're going to have to solve some puzzles!

I like this game for a number of reasons. The appearance of the cell seems photographically accurate (especially the texture of the brick walls... nice), and really does give the sense of being trapped. I also appreciate that for once, there's actually some sort of rationale as to why the player must go through such hurdles to escape; it's enjoyable to feel that there's some sort of logic to the scenario beyond arbitrary whim. The puzzles, a bit less fanciful than those of most escape games, correspond well to the environment. Also: no pixel-hunting! Hooray!

That being said, the puzzles are not terribly creative, and one in particular struck me as less-than-intuitive. Also, while the game's music is certainly atmospheric and appropriate, it can eventually become annoying and intrusive; the option to turn it off would have been nice. On the whole, the game could have benefited from a bit more attention to such details, as well as a little more understanding of what the player should expect to be logical in the game world.

Still, Escape from Kilmainham Gaol is enjoyable and interesting. A different spin on an old standard, the game will satisfy your urge for adventure and intrigue... all without leaving the comfort of your cozy home/office/beach cabana/aircraft carrier. Not a bad deal!

Play Escape from Kilmainham Gaol


(2 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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JessToya Room 2Toya Room 2 is the quintessential example of why I really, really wish I could read Japanese.

Ah, what a beautiful game. And so intriguing! From the first glance onwards, one cannot help but be drawn into the game's vibrant environment. Or, rather, environments—the game really ought to called Toya Rooms. The player starts in the present day, but with a push of a button can be transported into the same room some indeterminable span of time into the past; press another button and the operation is reversed. Two separate, subtly different rooms to zoom between, each one affecting the other... interesting, no?

At least, that's what I think is going on. As you might have surmised from my first comment, the game is entirely in Japanese, and is quite text-heavy; it's equally possible, then, that I have the situation entirely backwards. Whatever the case may be, it seems clear that the game's major goal is to somehow help the odd creature that lies, barely conscious, on the floor of one of the rooms; you'll need to collect items from both time periods to save him/her/it. To be honest, though, you probably won't find this to be too difficult of a task.

Toya Room 2 is beautifully atmospheric, creative, entertaining... there's a lot here to love. Furthermore, I suspect that there's a great story going on; unfortunately, due to the language barrier many players won't be able to follow along. Maddening! The game is also disappointingly short, only containing three real puzzles, and ends with surprising abruptness. On the upside, its relative easiness means that those who cannot read the text will nonetheless be able to successfully complete the game. For a coffee break or brief pause between classes, Toya Room 2 could be just about perfect—a beautiful bite-sized morsel of escapey goodness to tide you through the day.

Play Toya Room 2


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Weekday Escape

JessToday we have two short but excellent escapes for your mid-week gaming pleasure, and they couldn't be more different. One is gorgeously quirky, an eccentric little time-traveling escape game that will fascinate and bewilder; the other is a gritty and darkly realistic game that challenges the player to break out of the confines of a bleak prison cell. So, take your pick... whimsical or grim? Fantastical or gloomy? Whatever you choose, you're sure to enjoy.

  • Toya Room 2Toya Room 2 - The player starts in the present day, but with a push of a button can be transported into the same room some indeterminable span of time into the past; press another button and the operation is reversed. Two separate, subtly different rooms to zoom between, each one affecting the other... interesting, no?
  • Escape from Kilmainham GaolEscape from Kilmainham Gaol - You're in a cell, seemingly with no chance of escape. But wait, what's this? A letter tucked into a chink in the wall. Apparently your captivity is due to one Simeon Meade, a member of the mysterious Talos Organization. He can't help you escape directly, but it is possible to unlock your door from inside the cell...and apparently, one of Meade's operatives has prepared your prison with the necessary tools.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry, but you will find a place for comments on each game's review page.


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Rating: 3.6/5 (92 votes)
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GrimmrookMonkey MetricOOOK! Ee aarua ook oook eeeep rooga rooga. Rooga rooga ak ooooook rrrrrr o ooook aaaaaaaaah! Ee aroo k k oook ega ega orp! Raaaoo!

HELP! We family of monkeys live next to fire mountain. Fire mountain get VERY angry and now monkey family SCARED! We send bravest monkey to go save us and we need you to help! Please!

Ugh unh oook eep ooh ooh eeeh ah aha. Urr uroogh rugh rugh eoook. Roooogh. Ungh plbtplbt. Oop ook, eegha oop oook reega plbt. Ungh ah oook rooga rooga, eeook?

Move brave monkey using squares with pointy things on them. Use levers by pushing long skinny bar thingy. Flip levers. Stand on switches. Push things on switches, dodge other creatures until you bring monkey to goal of each level. Do this to get monkey to fire mountain and save us, okay?

Ree ahhh. Eeeah roogh ahhh. Urgh urgh urgh ahhh. Ahhhh nnnn nna ooh. Ooh ahhh ee ee eeooa kikiki ooh nini ahhh! Eek ooh!

Game look petty. Music and sound pretty. Challenge not too hard at all. Very cute puzzly adventure for you. You help us and we pay you back with maybe bananas or picking bugs out of hair for free! Thank you!

Play Monkey Metric


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Rating: 4.7/5 (221 votes)
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PsychotronicMusic Catch 2Music Catch 2 delivers everything you'd want from a sequel to Reflexive's surprise hit Music Catch, especially if what you want is more ways to collect thousands of shimmering doo-dads. Essentially this is the same game, with three more lovely piano tunes by composer Isaac Shepherd, and a few different choices for how the collectibles will bloom and fade away.

If you never played Music Catch (or even if you did), the game is simple. As the background music plays, a cavalcade of blue shapes and symbols will appear, loosely in time to the rhythm. Your goal is to collect as many of them as you can with the cursor. Special yellow shapes make your cursor grow (happy!), while red shapes make it shrink (sad!). The rare purple shape gives you temporary purple vacuuming power (super joy!). New to Music Catch 2 is the rainbow shape, which turns every on-screen shape to yellow, presumably because there is gold at the end of rainbows. Which I can vouch for, by the way; sometimes you have to dig.

Now available:
Music Catch for iPhone/iPod Touch!

Some of the new movement patterns make the game dramatically easier than others, but Music Catch was never about challenge anyway. It's just an easy way to relax, scooping up armfuls of trinkets and grooving to the mellows.

After a few plays, you'll unlock the ability to play any song of your choice as the background music, although you can't use your own music library directly. Your options are restricted to publicly accessible MP3s with their own URL, which you must type into the appropriate dialog box. Thankfully, the game remembers songs you've recently used, so you don't have to re-paste them.

Play Music Catch 2


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Rating: 4.3/5 (114 votes)
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MarcusMofuya DefenseDay 1: We've been sent here to protect our base from what they are telling me is going to be a constant barrage of enemy attackers. I've used what little funds they've alloted to me to build some cannons, but I haven't seen any enemies yet. I think Wolkowski in assignments is pulling my leg…

Day 2: Wolkowski not pulling leg. Assignment sucks. Funds too low. Please send more guns. And beer. But mainly more guns.

Day 14: Not sure who Mofuya is, but apparently they're behind this defense. Hmmm… Mofuya Defense… has a nice ring to it.

Day 23: I think we're getting the hang of this. Of course, it helps that we get money for every enemy vehicle that we destroy. That's allowed us to upgrade our weapons and buy new ones. No nuclear weapons in sight, but one can always hope…

Day 57: Enemies Destroyed: 384. Beers Consumed: 1,376. Enemies still coming; beer slowly running dry.

Day 82: I need a couple of days R&R, but my CO claims that if I leave Johnson in charge, we'll lose the battle in a matter of days. I think that he's underestimating Johnson's skills. Day spa, here I come!

Day 83: Base is nearly destroyed; enemy vanquished at last possible moment. Going to take all our funds to repair equipment, base. CO did underestimate Johnson… it only took him one day. Note to self: demote Johnson at earliest opportunity.

Day 125: We've been holding our own against the onslaught of enemy forces for what seems like months now. The more cannons we set up, the stronger vehicles they send at us. I'm starting to think this isn't going to end. Still unsure who's paying us for destroying them, but I'll take what I can get at this point… oh, and the beer is officially gone.

Day 137: Johnson thought it would be funny to set an EMP generator in the middle of nowhere to see what would happen. What happened? Electrical generators overloaded, all of the turrets shut down, and the enemy made it through nearly unscratched before I got stuff back online. Note to self: demote Johnson ASAP.

Day 145: Leave it to Johnson to almost get the base destroyed… again. All you need to know is that teddy bears, vodka, and small explosives do not mix. Note to self: shoot Johnson.

Day 152: Airstrike destroyed our generators… again. So much for that 52 inch flat-screen I was saving up for…

Day 164: Our base has been over-run. By little motorcycles. With guns. Who knew? I guess I should have upgraded the base weapons instead of buying that Xbox 360 off eba--- Transmission Terminated at Source ---

Analysis: It's always nice to see a tower defense game come along that is fun to play, nice to look at, and adds something to the genre. There is a simple charm to the pixel artwork in Mofuya Defense, something that, while I won't call it nostalgia, harkens back to the 8-bit glory days of Nintendo and Sega. These tiny, cutified graphics are a joy to look at.

But they belie the game that lurks beneath, a cunning and difficult tower defense game if ever I've seen one. This is due not only to the wide variety of attacking units, but also to the addition of power resource management. Watch the amount of power your weapons are consuming. If you build a cannon or upgrade a weapon and consume too much, everything on the battlefield shuts down until you can remedy the problem. While some may have come to tower defense games to get away from that sort of resource management (I did initially) it is just enough here to keep the game challenging without making you focus your every waking moment on your power levels.

The addition of base defenses is another welcome feature. This gives the player yet another chance to catch those few stragglers that made it past the towers before you had your defenses completely fortified. And, believe me, it'll happen again, and again, and again. That's why it's just as important to continue to upgrade your base along with your other towers.

Mofuya Defense is an excellent addition to the tower defense genre. With cute pixel graphics, a comfortable learning curve, a good number of weapons at your disposal, and additional features not found in other tower defense games, it's definitely worth investing some time in.

Play Mofuya Defense


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PsychotronicDeath Vs. MonstarsThis is the kind of efficient plotting and character design I like to see in a shooter. What's your motivation for exterminating vast populations of cute eyeballey critters? Well, you're Death, you see, and in a shocking twist, you like to kill stuffs. No city in peril, no alien threat—all you want to do is *bang* *bang* *bang* *bang* and a *click* *ka-ching* and take their money.

Death Vs. Monstars (from HDOS Databank request 01 creators GameReclaim) is not your typical Flash arena shooter, thanks to a clever control scheme that lets you play only with the mouse. You fire, constantly and hyperactively, in the opposite direction of your movement. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009This makes sense, because when you dodge away from a wee beastie who wants to catch you and chew on your giblets, you'll automatically be shooting at it. To strafe, just hold the mouse button to lock your firing direction. Easy, but it takes some adjustment if you're used to the old wasd-and-mouse setup. I prefer this, frankly. It feels clean and elegant, and it lets you carve your way through the hordes like buckshot through sherbet.

As the everlasting incarnation of mortality (and so adorable!), you also get some super powers. When your anger meter is full, double-click to turn enemy bullets into gold and release a wave of destruction in all directions. Your other meter is Slow Motion—hold the [Space Bar] to activate it and slip through the crowds like a slug through sherbet.

Between levels, spend your accumulated blood money on new weapons, regenerating health, and the like. The main menu screen is a little hard to read at first, so here's the quick explanation: missions are on the left, and they unlock in sequential order as you beat them. Weapon shop is on the right. Mmm…sherbet.

Analysis: The engine behind Death Vs. Monstars is impressive, hurling hundreds of moving sprites around the arena with nary a stutter. And what makes a shooter work, really, is the smoothness. Without it, there is no rhythm; and with no rhythm, there is no rush blood trance rage.

Though it takes a few missions before the Monstars (a cunning portmanteau of "monsters" and "supraorbitar" (oh hush, it could happen)) start shooting back, it doesn't take long at all before they're attacking in large enough groups to transform you into a creature made of pure reflex. Luckily, the bright colors and crisp character outlines make it easy to see all the important details in the chaos. This game is a superb argument against particle explosions.

I have already heard some talk that the money system is unbalanced, that it is too easy to "farm" certain levels and therefore gain an unfair advantage; and to this I say, "Don't farm then, you addled daftmobiles. Try to beat it without repeating any levels, like a hero would."

As brainless as Death Vs. Monstars comes across, it is constructed smartly. monsters appear in well-paced waves, and their movement patterns complement each other. It's a surprisingly casual shooter as well, due to the simplified control scheme, the upgradable health bar, and the abusable weapon shop. The hardcore shmup fan will lay waste to this game fairly quickly, but not without a great deal of joy; and there's always the final endless "Score-Hog" level, for high score bragging rights.

In Short: Death Vs. Monstars is super-awesome. Sherbet is yummy.

Play Death Vs. Monstars


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Mobile Monday

JohnBArt meets history meets puzzles meets airports in this edition of Mobile Monday! We're still giving away iTunes gift certificates for the cost of every game featured in the current Mobile Monday article. Simply 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, Mr Seb!

primroseiphone.jpgPrimrose - A new puzzle game from developer Jason Rohrer, the mind behind Gravitation and Passage. Two colored, connected squares appear at the bottom of the screen. Tap the grid above to place the first square, then tap any open space in the same column or row to place the second square. The goal is to surround one color with squares of another color. The idea is simple, but like any good puzzle game, mastering its intricacies are an entirely different matter. Fortunately for us mere mortals the high score board features playbacks of the most talented Primrose players, allowing you to watch their strategies and make them your own. It's a surprisingly deep and varied puzzle game that's well-worth your time!

luxdlx.gifLux DLX - The downloadable Risk-like strategy game comes in a number of flavors for Mac, Windows and Linux, such as the previously reviewed American History Lux. Now you have the power of troop movement-based world conquest in your grubby little hands! Simply tap to move your armies to adjacent territories, taking over rival colors as you please. Over 50 maps and devious computer AI make this one a clear winner in the strategy catetory. A free version, Lux Touch, is also available.

airportmaniaiphone.gifAirport Mania: First Flight - Another casual game makes the transition from computer to iPhone/iPod Touch, Airport Mania is Reflexive Entertainment's killer time management game with cute airplanes and innovative, rewarding gameplay. Tap a plane to set it down on a runway, then move it to a gate to start unloading passengers. If it needs fuel or repairs, send it to the appropriate garage, otherwise it's back to the runway and into the skies. Chain together multiple landings/takeoffs for massive combo points, and marvel as the planes hum and whistle as they go about their business. An excellent port of an already excellent game.

metasquares.jpgMetaSquares - A simple but elegant capture-based puzzle game where you take turns placing pieces with the computer. Your goal is to create squares by capturing four corners. The catch is that you can do this at any angle, opening up a wide range of possibilities. A free browser version is also available if you want to get a feel for the puzzle before buying.

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


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The Wonderful End of the World

ArtbegottiGood news: The world is ending! Bad news: It's your job to gather up stuff on the earth to save for later. I know, I know, you're thinking to yourself, "AGAIN?!? But I just did that last month! I had to cancel my annual euchre tournament to collect stuff, and now you want me to do it again? Geez Louise..."

wonderfulend.jpgDon't worry, we promise it won't be as bad as last time. This time around, it's not just any old end of the world, it's The Wonderful End of the World. There, now doesn't it all seem so much more worth it?

Terra, the goddess of the earth, knows that the world's inevitable doom is coming, so she uses a puppet on the earth to collect as much stuff as she can, for rebuilding the world later. You can control the transparent puppet using the [WASD] keys and/or the mouse, or by using a gamepad, if you happen to have one hooked up to your computer. By moving the puppet into objects that are smaller than you, you can pick them up, and they become a part of your body. Be careful around larger objects, as they can bounce you away, causing you to lose time. But as more stuff sticks to you, you eventually grow larger, meaning that you can pick up larger objects. While you might start out a level picking up pieces of a model train set, you could end up picking up people, cars, and entire buildings.

There are 12 unique worlds to unlock, and three ways to play each. In Timed mode, you have about three minutes to gather up as much stuff as you can. In Timeless mode, you have all the time in the world, but still want to gather up the target amount of objects as quickly as you can. If you don't feel like taking on any specific goals and feel like going on a free romp, then Exploration mode is for you. Receiving high grades in the Timed mode unlocks more worlds and features.

Analysis: Again, I know what you're thinking: Katamari Damacy. And it's true, the basic concept of collecting random objects by increasing size is the same between both games. Dejobaan Games has managed to maintain a lot of the Katamari spirit, with quirky graphics, absurd game play, and worlds that encourage exploration and the desire to keep on collecting.

wonderfulend2.jpgAudibly, The Wonderful End of the World might lack some of the quirks that the Katamari series had. Obviously, asking for the next big "Katamari on the Rocks" or "Lonely Rolling Star" would be a little much, but the creators of the game could have gone for a little more than some stock loops. They're not bad at all, but some might sound uncomfortably familiar from other games. And for those who loved every yelp and cry of every object picked up with a katamari, you might be a bit disappointed to find that only certain objects generate item-specific sounds, but it's still fun trying to hunt them down.

While I hate making constant comparisons to Katamari Damacy, it should be noted that the game play in The Wonderful End of the World is a lot more linear. While KD had a lot of levels with specialized tasks, such as collecting as many animals as you can or trying to roll up objects to make the most expensive katamari possible, the goal here is more to just roll up stuff, period. However, what this game lacks in game play diversity, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. You'll find yourself in awe at how brilliant and expansive the world can become as you grow larger.

If you've never played Katamari Damacy or any other Katamari game before, The Wonderful End of the World is definitely worth experiencing. If you've played KD only a few times and loved running around shouting "Save the pandas!" at random intervals, this game will be sure to bring back all of the amazing memories you had. If you're the die-hard Katamari enthusiast, you might see this game as a knock-off, but definitely one of the most spirited and impressive ones out there. The Wonderful End of the World is undoubtedly worth trying. You'll get stuck on it pretty quickly.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Nanny Mania 2 Goes to Hollywood

JohnBCleaning up is rarely fun to do. Unless you're cleaning someone else's mess, right? Hmm, no? How about if you're cleaning up someone else's mess... in a casual game? That's the surprisingly successful recipe for fun in Nanny Mania 2 Goes to Hollywood. After helping Mayor Whitby and his family in the original Nanny Mania, Emma moves on to help Sophia Ashford, an incredibly wealthy woman who can't seem to keep her family affairs in order. It's your job to help raise the children, care for pets, and keep the house spotless as clueless teenagers leave unmade beds and babies create problems of their own.

nannymania2a.jpgNanny Mania 2 is all about turning chaos into order, and most of what you'll do will bear an eerie resemblance to real, actual chores in your home. Fortunately it's much easier to make the bed, do laundry, and clean the aquarium in this game, as all you have to do is click the mouse and wait a few seconds. Each level begins with a number of items in disarray, each highlighted in a nasty red outline. Send Emma to the nearest trouble spot to start cleaning, keeping an eye out for new messes created by family members wandering the home.

Not everything you do in Nanny Mania 2 will be a "click it and forget it" affair. Some tasks, like doing the laundry, feeding the baby or picking up litter, require you to gather items from about the house and move them elsewhere. With laundry, you even have to switch it to the drier and put the clothes away. Your extra work nets extra rewards, however, as you'll earn a combo bonus for doing everything in one big chain.

nannymania2b.jpgAnalysis: Time and resource management games are getting to be crowded genres to compete in, as it seems just about every repetitive task we tackle in real life has been turned into a casual game. The original Nanny Mania played off of our innate sense of order and let us clean up messes without having to actually do anything. There's something enormously satisfying about making a house clean just by clicking a mouse. Speaking of which, when are my futuristic cleaning robots going to arrive in the mail? I sent the check off months ago...

Nanny Mania 2 keeps the same formula, pleasing visuals and light-hearted setting that made the original so enjoyable. New features include pets you have to care for, combo bonuses, a variety of house layouts and a few new chores to complete. Just enough to make it interesting. The game is also a good length with surprising replay value if you enjoy topping your previous stores.

One thing I'm disappointed with in Nanny Mania 2 is the upgrade system. The number and variety of items is fine, but you can only access them at certain points in the game, forcing you to make decisions you have to live with for quite a long time.

More polished than its predecessor, Nanny Mania 2 takes a great formula and steps it up a notch for another excellent resource management experience.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Nanny Mania 2 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

AdamBWhen you think about it, music is all around us. That's usually because we have our iPods in our ears. Or our MP3s blasting through our computer. Or some concert DVD on the telly. Or we have the radio on. The point is, now you can play games and actually make music at the same time, isn't that something!

mariopaintcomposer.gifMario Paint Composer (Mac/Win, 8MB, free) - With big cute graphics, a simple interface and the ability to do (well, almost) anything, Mario Paint Composer is a wonderful remake for the budding musician in all of us. Mix together the over dozen included sounds through any tempo and pitch to create that masterpiece cat-meow solo you've always dreamed of.

monoworld.jpgMono World (Windows, 100kb, free) - In this music-based tool, you are given free reign in several different situations. Let your creativity roam as you figure out, on the fly, how to create wonderful melodies with sliding rods, laser beams or shaking spheres. Press escape for colour and enter to return to the menu. (Download link appears at the bottom of the developers page.)

balldroppings.gifBalldroppings (Mac/Win, 500kb-1MB, free) - Ever thought how, when you drop something, it should be more musical? Well grab a hold of Balldroppings and create a line or two dozen to bounce pixels off, up, and all over the screen. Each line plays a note as the ball, and subsequent over-lapping balls cascade around your screen. (Also available for some mobile devices for roughly $10)

thecrowd.jpgThe Crowd (mirror) (Windows, 7.6MB, free) - Although not a tool in which to make music, or even a game to play, The Crowd is an interesting and atmospheric experiment in behavior. Assign people either love, hate or security and see how they interact with others around them. Be sure to have your speakers on to experience the full, truly warped experience.


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Rating: 4.4/5 (45 votes)
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The Serpent of Isis

GrimmrookThe Serpent of Isis is a new hidden object game by Gamgo with some considerable mystery and adventure game elements added into the mix. Beneath the ever shifting sands of Egypt, untold treasures remain buried. These are the kinds of treasures that drive men mad, possessing the minds of the adventurous and luring explorers into catacombs that twist and writhe beneath ancient pyramids. The Serpent of Isis was just such a treasure, and your grandfather was just such an explorer.

serpentofisis.jpgYour grandfather managed to attain the coveted treasure, but shortly thereafter it was stolen from him. Now, a century later, a mysterious letter is slipped under your door tipping you off that five passengers aboard the Mont Palu Express are attempting to smuggle the lost Serpent of Isis.

It's now time for you to take up the quest your grandfather started so long ago. You must chase down the Serpent of Isis, searching for clues, scouring European cities, and tracking down the people that stole your family's legacy.

Analysis: Considering the popularity of Hidden Object Games, they are definitely not hard to find. Finding a great Hidden Object Game, however; can be rare and remarkable. In this context, Serpent of Isis is quite remarkable indeed.

Production quality is simply top notch, if only lacking a little bit in ambition. There's no voice acting and jaw dropping cut scenes, but in not over-reaching, Serpent of Isis excels in staying humble. The visuals are both clean and gorgeous with music that is perfect for setting the mood. Even the presentation (using playing cards to identify locations) is clever without being obnoxious.

serpentofisis2.jpgBut how does Serpent of Isis play? One word: wonderfully! The core of the mechanic is good old fashioned object hunting that will definitely keep purists very happy. At the same time, Serpent of Isis manages to stay true to object finding while finding a multitude of ways of mixing things up. This is where the adventure elements really come into play. As you are faced with one hidden object scenario, there will be items that you can't access without first having other usable items in your possession and probably solving some puzzles as well. This will have you running back and forth from one scene to the next, and it's a blast. On top of this, there is no shortage of puzzles and mini games that are surprisingly fresh while also resurrecting some golden oldies (like piecing together the torn pieces of a map or a letter).

Serpent of Isis is notably generous with the hints, and by finding the special clues for the five suspects in each scene, you can get even more. This is most handy for those who are not perhaps the most die hard hidden object fans, or for those struggling with the timed game.

But perhaps the best of all is that there's just a whole lot of game to be played here. A common problem that a lot of hidden object games have is that they're over just as you're getting warmed up. That shouldn't be a problem with Serpent of Isis.

All in all, Serpent of Isis is incredibly well done and is easily one of the best hidden object games to come out since Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (102 votes)
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MarcusKnightfallMy liege! You have returned from your quest! I trust that you did duly vanquish the foe and rescue the faire maiden. No? Oh, well, this is awkward. What happened? Maybe if we start from the beginning...

It was a lovely moonlit night. The brave knight and his faire maiden sat alone on the hilltop, overlooking the peaceful village below. It was a night to remember. Nothing could spoil this moment. Suddenly, the moon disappeared and the sky turned red. From below the hill, a demon appeared and floated in the air in front of the couple. Before the knight knew what was happening, the demon captured the faire maiden and took her deep into the depths of the Earth. The knight jumped to his feet, trusty drill at the ready, and dove into the ground after them.

In Knightfall from Megadev the objective is to get your knight to the key for the level exit, and then to the exit itself. This sounds easy, until you realize that you do not actually have direct control over your knight. In order to reach items on the game board, vanquish foes, and reach the exit, you have two main actions that you can do. By double-clicking on groups of matching blocks, you will make them disappear, much in the same manner as the classics: Same Game, Sega Swirl and Collapse! This alone won't do much good. You also have the ability to rotate the game board 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. This allows you to change which way is "down", and make it easier to line your knight up with his goal.

KnightfallOf course, no adventure would be complete without baddies to dispense of along the way. There are a wide variety of monsters to come up against, each with their own methods and ranges of attack. For instance, the slime will only attack when right next to you on the board. Mages can blast lightning across the entire board as long as you are lined up with them either vertically or horizontally. Dragons and minotaurs will attack from a couple blocks away. You, of course, can attack back by coming up next to a baddie and rotating the board so that you come down at them from above, drill pointed down ready to attack. In true RPG fashion, you'll receive gold and experience points for each creature dealt with.

You have a limited amount of hit points that can be replenished by either drinking a magic potion or by eating chicken. Both of these items can either be found on the game board from time to time, ready to be collected, or can be purchased between rounds with gold that you have collected. As you gain experience points, you will slowly gain levels, which in turn will raise the maximum hit points that you can have. There are a number of other items that you can collect and buy, including spells that will do anything from allow you to rotate the board 180 degrees to destroying all creatures on the screen to turning all of the creatures into chickens.

As you are clicking matching blocks, attempting to remove the obstacles in the knight's way, you may wonder what keeps you from clicking on blocks for the entire round and gaining copious amounts of experience points? The answer to that would be action points. In leu of some sort of timer for each round, you are instead given 50 action points. These points are only used when you clear out matching blocks; you can rotate the board all you want, and you won't use any. If you end up using all of your action points before you manage to make it to the exit, your knight will begin losing a health point for every extra move you have to make. While it's good to collect other items and to vanquish foes along the way, it is generally in your best interest to open and make it to the exit as soon as you can.

Analysis: Knightfall is one of those games that instead of retreading a popular style of game, mashes-up the styles to make a game that is more interesting than the sum of its parts. Part Mr. Driller, Same Game, and Puzzle Quest, the gameplay in Knightfall is well balanced and well executed. The game includes a tutorial which is executed in an interesting way, in the form of a YouTube video showing how the mechanics of the game work, complete with narration of what's going on on-screen. While I generally prefer hands-on tutorials, I had no questions about how to play the game after watching the short video.

Once you complete the three different difficulty levels of the story mode, you can always take the game on in Purgatory mode. This is a never-ending series of levels of ever-increasing difficulty where instead of collecting a key to open the door to the next level, you need to dispose of all of the creatures on the screen. With the same action point limit of 50, this can at times be a daunting task.

There are (wait for it...) 28 achievements to be had during the game, as well. One thing that I don't like about the achievements in Knightfall is the fact that there is absolutely no description of the achievement or what you might have to do in order to win it, save what you may be able to glean from the rather obscure titles. Somehow I've managed to collect the "Rainbows over Camelot" and "Deadly Gentry" achievements, but I couldn't begin to tell you just how I accomplished it.

That small complaint aside, Knightfall is a definite keeper. With a fun story mode and an unlimited purgatory mode to keep you coming back for more, the mix of matching game and RPG is, once again, a success. While it does call into question at what point the electric drill was invented, we'll leave that to the historians and go back to busting rock and beating baddies to rescue our damsel in distress.

Play Knightfall


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Rating: 4.7/5 (68 votes)
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JessPlanetariumMost games can be easily sorted into categories. Shooters, room escapes, platformers… much can be gleaned about a game's content from its genre alone. Once in a great while, however, a different sort of creature comes along: a game so special, so different, that it defies categorization. Planetarium is one member of this exclusive club of wonderfully unique creations.

How to begin? For lack of a better description, Planetarium is a story-puzzle in twelve weekly installments, into which is woven a fantastical fable and many marvelous puzzles. Beholder, the British developer of Planetarium, has concocted an intriguing tale: a young girl, with no memory but perfect foresight, receives a love letter from far into the future. Together with her friend the Mathemagician, a genius with an aptitude for machinery and mathematics, she must travel towards the source of that strange missive, and in doing so, undergo a transformation that will alter her very essence.

Beginning the game is easy. Simply create a username and password, and you're set—you're not even required to submit an email address (By the way, did I mention that no ads appear anywhere on the game's website? I love it!). The moment that you register, the game has begun for you, although there is a slight catch. The ruling force in Planetarium is Time: the vagaries of time, its mutability and stony inevitability. This theme suffuses Planetarium's story, its puzzles and, as a natural extension, its rules and restrictions.

Only the first chapter of the game is immediately playable. The next chapter will be available a week later, and the third one a week after that; all in all, that means that Planetarium fully unfolds over a three-month duration. This period begins the moment that you register a username, so every player is on his or her own individual timeframe.

PlanetariumAnother important note: Planetarium requires you to log in (even for a moment) at least once every 10 days, or your username will be frozen. I am not the most patient person in the world, and I must admit that at times this slooooowness drove me to distraction. In the end, however, the protracted pace of the game made it all the more rewarding.

Each installment consists of an illustrated scene and a significant amount of accompanying text, depicting another step in the journey of the unnamed girl and the Mathemagician. Three puzzles can be found in each chapter, by clicking on the appropriate hotspots in the illustration: a keyword puzzle (mainly riddles), a number problem, and a tricky "either-or" question. Cumulatively, these 36 problems are the game's Minor Puzzles; each solution that you enter goes into a slot in your Table of Solutions.

36 puzzles… that's quite a daunting task. The creators of Planetarium could be forgiven for recycling classic puzzles, and indeed some of them (particularly the riddles) may be familiar to you; however, most are unique to the game. Many of these thoughtful, often elegant problems require abstract, out-of-the-box thinking; others require the player to hunt through past or future installments for information (which means that not all can be solved immediately). While most of the puzzles do not require outside information to solve, you'll find that Google will probably be needed for a handful. All in all, this collection of puzzles is a pretty remarkable achievement.

PlanetariumThat being said, those 36 puzzles are not what make Planetarium so memorable. The Minor Puzzles, in fact, are only the stepping stones to unlocking Planetarium's heart, its true mystery: the Major Puzzle. Never explicitly described, the identity of the Major Puzzle must be detected through clues and hints embedded in every conceivable place in the story. It's up to you to discover how to solve the Major Puzzle; but as the game's website notes, if any of your Minor Puzzle answers are incorrect, your answer to the Major Puzzle will probably be wrong as well.

After twelve weeks, you'll be granted access to the complete, illustrated solutions to both the Major and Minor Puzzles (thank goodness!), as well as the "xiii forum", where players can share their thoughts on the experience. But even this is ruled by time; one week after you gain access to the forum and solutions, your username expires and you may no longer see past the first chapter of the game. If you want to venture further, you must create a new account and once more endure the long weeks between installments. There's something poignant about knowing that your time in this game is ending, that its secrets will be closed off once more; even after the curtain falls, the ticking of the clock never ceases.

I could go on for quite a while. I could talk about the cleverness of the game's prose, the quirky beauty of the illustrations; I could expound upon the intricacies of the game's themes and the elegance of the clues. But why drone on about what you can discover for yourself? Planetarium is the best kind of entertainment in its purest, most unblemished form; it exists entirely for the enjoyment of its players, and has done so since 1999.

Create a username and password, and off you go on your twelve-week journey of whimsy and erudition. Don't be surprised if this brilliant, unique and beautiful game soon becomes one of your favorites.

Play Planetarium


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBBONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK! BONK!

  • icon_colourmyheart.gifColour My Heart - A short, atmospheric platformer with a cuddly message of love. AWWW! Try clicking on various objects for some fun animation surprises.
  • icon_theblackyeti.gifThe Black Yeti - Much less cuddly than the previous game, this creative title puts you in control of a cave-dwelling yeti out to capture curious humans. But what's this mysterious color-changing thing with your furry coat?!
  • icon_thatdamgame.gifThat Dam Game - There's a crack in the dam and water is about to burst and flood the village! Armed with a catapult and tons of stuff to load into the catapult, run back and forth gathering items and setting your shots to the right power. Lighter objects (apples) need less power, while heavy things (cows, people) need more. Fun!
  • icon_throughwalls.gifThrough Walls - A great puzzle game of spatial orientation, you must rotate a set of blocks in the foreground to match the "hole" in the wall in the distance. Tap the [spacebar] to see if it fits through!
  • icon_breakthehabit.gifBreak the Habit - Stop eating junk food, thinking bad thoughts, and depriving yourself of sleep! Instead, play this game where you complete three arcade-style challenges simultaneously to keep our hapless hero healthy and happy. And if you were expecting a game about smashing nun-related clothing, sorry to disappoint!

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Rating: 4.4/5 (101 votes)
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GrimmrookGlobetrotter XLIf you were to tell me that finding random places on an unlabeled map could be addictive and fun, I would have laughed at you. Very hard. Then you would have shown me Globetrotter XL, and I would have been forced to stop laughing and then admit your superiority over me.

Lucky for me, I already know about Globetrotter XL, and having been sucked in by its deceptive appeal I now know better than to laugh at people that walk around and randomly tell other people that geography can be fun. Ha ha! I bet it is you now looking at me like I'm a lunatic! Don't be so smug.

Globetrotter is as simple as it gets. You're given a map and you're given a location, and you must click on where you think that location is on the map. Sure, this is easy if you're looking for New York, United States or London, England, but good luck with Tunis, Tunisia on your first go, and believe me, Australia can be trickier than you may think.

There are ten levels, and for each level you get a set number of locations, and a point goal. Meet the goal, by getting as close to the location as you possibly can, and you advance. Fail to meet the point goal, and it's back to the very beginning for you.

Oh, yeah, and then on level 7, the borders between nations disappear. Good luck with that.

Analysis: I first have to mention that Globetrotter XL is a clone of a Facebook application that has been out for a while: Traveler IQ Challenge. Each variation has its good points and its bad points.

For Globetrotter, the nice large map is definitely a plus, as is the geological definition. When the borders get taken away, sometimes the only thing that you can use to find the inland locations are the visible geological formations.

Another positive is the soundtrack (which can be muted if you find it getting on your nerves). As you hunt down Burkina Faso, your ears are treated to a wide spectrum of music, from a funky disco beat to a track that sounds like it was ripped straight from one of Final Fantasy VII's darker scenes.

But the most intriguing thing is the game itself. I still don't fully understand why it's so compelling. It's an e-version of sticking thumb tacks in a map on a cork board. And yet, you feel driven to push further, because now you remember which country Zambia is, and you're not going to screw it up this time! To this effect, the levels with their point goals add to the addiction. Falling short of the next level by only a hundred points practically guarantees another go because you were this close!

There are a few things that I think Globetrotter could have done better. For one, an achievement system could have helped. Unless you are a geography savant, it'll take you forever to beat the game, but once you've finally completed level 10, there's very little incentive to do it all over again.

Also, the point system could use some work. Instead of awarding points proportional to the distance between your guess and the actual location, the system here is somewhat tiered. You get about 500 points for getting a strike (hitting the target dead on) or being very close to a strike, you get about 300 points for being close, and anything outside of close range is about 150 points or less. This is most noticeable when you need only four hundred points to make it to the next level, but because there are no four hundred point scores you essentially need a strike to move on.

But aside from this, Globetrotter XL remains a surprisingly addictive experience. If this game (*cough* or maybe the internet in general *cough*) were around when I was in grade school, I might have done a whole lot better in geography.

Play Globetrotter XL


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (243 votes)
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PsychotronicDon't Look BackIf the Greek legends had been invented by programmers at Atari circa 1978, they might have turned out something like this. Don't Look Back is a modern retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, although there are some subtle differences. For one, the mythical poet favored a harp over a handgun, and for another, he didn't need your platforming skills to guide him on his journey.

Simply use the [arrow] keys to control your hero. Jump with [Up] or [Z], and shoot with [X] or [space]. Your path is linear and concise, but potentially frustrating if you're not up to the challenge. You have unlimited chances, and death will never set you back too far, but there isn't much room for error. It's a difficult game, but then, Hades is a difficult place to be. So is grief.

Analysis: Terry Cavanagh, the author of Don't Look Back, is part of a growing collection of independent game designers who are telling personal stories in classic video game language. This is not a brand new movement, but it has only recently started to transition into a browser-friendly format. The fact that this emotionally rich game is already being well-received by the harsh critics of Kongregate bodes well for literate gaming.

The antique art style serves the same purpose as in The Majesty of Colors; it lets your imagination fill in details and makes the characters relatable. It was always easy to identify with Pitfall Harry's troubles, even though he never said a word.

However, the difficulty level of Don't Look Back, though appropriate to the storyline, limits its audience. You can't tell your mom this story, unless of course your mom was a wiz at Montezuma's Revenge. It takes a specific kind of gaming literacy to make these jumps and dodge beneath these leaping creatures.

Given that you can make it to the ending, you'll find that Don't Look Back is an interpretation of the myth of Orpheus, rather than a simple remake + action game elements. Cavanagh changed the ending for a reason. The resulting story means something specific to me, but if you are young enough or lucky enough to have never lost someone close to you, it will mean something different to you. Or even nothing at all. It can just be a tough platform game with cool retro graphics.

But every game with a lead character necessarily has a moral. Every single one. It's just rare that the moral is so uplifting.

Play Don't Look Back


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (287 votes)
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PsychotronicMagic Pen 2Magic Pen 2 is the sequel to Alejandro Guillen's Magic Pen, the popular and fairly faithful Flash adaptation of Petri Purho's Crayon Physics Deluxe. This edition features 32 more puzzling levels, all selectable from the moment you start the game, mostly set in various crayon-rendered versions of historical locations. The level designs feel a bit more intricate this time, with more on-screen obstacles and even a few moving contraptions to cope with. The usual nice coloring book illustrations and relaxing music round out the package.

The idea, as always, is simple. Get the red ball (or square) to touch all the flags by drawing physical objects directly onto the screen with your crayon-like cursor. Drop a large sphere from above to knock the ball to one side, draw ramps to help it roll up large steps, attach hammers to the landscape with hinges and knock it over gaps. Your abilities are limited only by your imagination and the shape recognition algorithm's inability to recognize concave angles.

Press [S] to place a fixed pin, and [D] for a rotating hinge. Press [A] to erase a shape. A welcome addition to Magic Pen 2 is the wind cursor—press [W] and click near the red shape to give it a little nudge in the right direction when your plan isn't quite unfolding perfectly.

There are no major improvements to the formula, but such a childlike, pure idea doesn't need them. This is a heap more Magic Pen for everyone who loved it the first time. Enjoy.

Play Magic Pen 2


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (130 votes)
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GrimmrookExploitYou've spent years building up your skills. You've cut your teeth on company firewalls, local municipal security systems, and university databases. You read lines of code the way an English major reads "See Spot Run,"—that is to say, very easily. You're the best hacker out there, and yet you waste your skills hacking facebook accounts and emo blogs.

That is, until your friend sk3tch emails you with a hacking proposition that's just too good to pass up. The island nation of Locha doesn't enjoy the freedoms we enjoy here in the good ol' U.S. of A., and her trodden-upon citizens don't have an internet so much as a couple of highly monitored forums surrounded by firewalls. No citizenry can truly be free when the gatekeepers of knowledge keep information under lock, key, and surveillance that involves high-powered weaponry.

The goal is simple: hack away at Locha's servers and give the citizens of this tiny country the freedom of information that all people deserve.

Exploit is the latest game by Gregory Weir, creator of The Majesty of Colors and Bars of Black and White, but it is quite different from those two titles. The hacking takes the form of a tile-based puzzle game, where you must shoot packets into a grid from orange ports on the perimeter, and ultimately get one of those packets to reach the green Root Node. If that sounds simple, it's only because I haven't mentioned all of the other kinds of nodes that get in the way, redirect your shots, or reveal ports you didn't even know were there.

Plot out your moves carefully and pay special attention to incoming emails, and not only will you help the oppressed people of Locha, but you might, just might, prevent a terrorist attack here on our own soil.

Good luck, hacker, you're going to need it!

ExploitAnalysis: Hacking has become a mainstream vehicle to blend various gameplay mechanics into a storyline. Look at the Sly Cooper games or the now defunct ARG Jamie Kane. But while in many games the hacking portal to alternative gameplay is merely a part of the whole, in Exploit it is the primary focus.

Weir delivers the story brilliantly, without overdoing it with any cutscenes or voice acting. The plot advances entirely via emails and news articles that pop up in your inbox between each hacking mission. What really sells it is the care with which these interludes are written. Sk3tch's correspondence is suitably juvenile for a hacker's best friend, while news clippings are so similar to reality, they will make news junkies like myself feel right at home. You'll even happen upon a couple of phishing scams.

The minimalist approach not only makes the story feel more real (in a way it's almost ARG-like itself), but it also draws the focus onto the puzzling aspect of the game quite well. Now, I know nothing about hacking—and I'm pretty sure that real hacking is completely different from what is offered in Exploit—but I do know puzzles, and this system is brilliantly constructed. Because most of your actions are time limited, you really have to plot your course in advance, putting the focus on thinking your way through the puzzles, as opposed to leaning on hit-and-miss tactics. The puzzles in the story mode aren't too taxing, but if they don't provide enough of an obstacle for you, there's a challenge mode available with 16 extra puzzles, and a level editor where you and your friends can try to stump or outhack each other.

Aesthetically, I want to say I'm getting tired of the dark background and brightly colored geometric shapes that are becoming a casual gaming staple, but it really works here, especially if you were a fan of the old 80s movie Wargames. It, like the email-driven story, adds an appropriate old-school hacker feel. As for the music, it's not much to write home about, but does a nice job of adding tension.

Gregory Weir has challenged himself to release a game per month for this entire year (Bars of Black and White was the first), and if his offerings continue to be as intriguing and varied as the first two, I think this is going to be a good year for both Weir and all of us who enjoy great games.

Play Exploit


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (124 votes)
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MarcusBowja 3 Ninja KamiBowja 3: Ninja Kami is the latest point-and-click adventure from Pencilkids Games, and the third entry in the Bowja series. As the titular ninja, you use your cunning, skill, and handy bow-and-arrow to find an ancient artifact and save the Ninja Spirit, all along the way finding clever ways to defeat the evil purple ninjas who constantly impede you.

The game starts off like an Indiana Jones movie, with Bowja in a WWII-style prop fighter, following a convoy of trucks and jeeps through the desert. After a few well-aimed shots with his bow-and-arrow, he bowls down an enemy jeep and lands the plane on a flat-bed truck. He then battles his way to the front of the convoy to retrieve the ancient artifact and then return it to the Ninja Spirit. But there will be more obstacles to face, more ninjas, and even a giant robot. And even if you make it through this adventure unscathed, there is an entire bonus adventure awaiting your skillful attention.

The gameplay itself is very straight forward. Very simple point-and-click mechanics. Your mouse pointer changes when it rolls over something that you can interact with. The most common interaction for Bowja is firing his bow-and-arrow at something, and you will find that this is the answer to the majority of the puzzles in the game.

Analysis: The Bowja the Ninja point-and-click adventures from Pencilkids Games are, as you might expect, mostly kid friendly. Any violence is purely cartoon in nature. The evil ninjas fall off of moving vehicles, only to bounce up and come back at you. Instead of letting you hack them up ninja-style, your enemies go running for their little purple ninja lives. When you thwart their plans, they shake their little fists and explicative characters appear over their heads. It's all very cute, and makes for a very entertaining game.

Once you figure out the basic interactions (which you will in the first few moments of the game), you can walk through the story pretty unencumbered. If you do something wrong, the worst that happens is you get sent back to the start of the section. There are no lives to be lost, no life to drain. And if you end up getting really stuck for some reason, there is a complete walkthrough only a button-click away. The only limiting factor is a timer with ample supply. Of course, once you complete the game once, the challenge is to try and make it through as quickly as possible.

The animation and graphics in Bowja 3 are excellent. The ninjas are reminiscent of the tiny characters from classics Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. You can even discern emotion from their little faces. The animation is very smooth, and helps to give the game a flowing feeling from one action to the next, to the point that if you know where to click ahead of time, the entire scene plays out almost seamlessly. The scenes themselves are also well drawn, and although they are at the same scale as your tiny ninja, the hotspots are fairly obvious. There is no pixel-hunting here, a source of frustration for many point-and-click adventurers.

Although short on game, the charm of the graphics, animation, and overall feeling of the game more than make up for it. Bowja's latest adventure won't take long to complete, but you'll enjoy the ride while you're there.

Play Bowja 3: Ninja Kami


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (61 votes)
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PsychotronicSchizophrenzySomething new has awakened on the game pages of Adult Swim, something that fans of Manuel Fallman's Mindscape may enjoy. Schizo-Phrenzy, from Smashing Ideas Inc., is a self-consciously surreal platform adventure with an art deco look and a discourteous attitude towards gravity. It will fill your shoes with spider eggs during the

night. If they hatch, you are in real danger of having your privacy invaded. I suggest you write your congressperson. But think carefully about your alias before you sign the bottom, for it may be the only thing left when they take you. You play John K. Facey, a private investigator with extremely long legs, and yet they are the least of his problems, considering the worm-things with flaming eyeballs that roam the streets. Schizo-Phrenzy offers 9 levels of action across 3 different areas, as you quest to defeat the mysterious "Mayor" and his army of hallu

cinations. It is possible that all of this takes place only in John's mind, but then it is also possible that you are taking place only in my mind. So I try not to assign blame.

Also there is a floating baby wearing a bunny mask.

Control your noodly hero with the [Arrow Keys] and jump with [Up]. Your sanity level and health bar are one and the same (as you always knew they were), so as time (if you believe in time) passes or you sustain damage, your grip on reality wanes. Collect pills by searching for them or by crushing monsters with your feet, and swallow a pill with [Space] to restore some small, temporary sliver of normality. The lower your sanity, the more disturbing creatures will attack you, and the more often subliminal pictures of a

bear and some bloody hors-d'oeuvres flash violently on screen. You can't tell which parts I'm making up, nor will you ever hear that sound frequency again, since the ringing in your ears stopped.

Analysis: Allow me to breathe with my mouth open for a moment. My nostalgic fondness for psychedelic console platformers such as Pandemonium and Skullmonkeys doesn't blind me to the fact that they often focused on stylistic flourishes at the expense of solid gameplay. Schizo-Phrenzy falls prey to the same issue, with sometimes awkward controls (especially when climbing or swinging on a rope) and some strange wiggly glitches that occur when opposing gravity fields vie for control of your hero. It is also a special pet peeve of mine when a spikey creature can, nay must, be jumped upon.

SchizophrenzyStill, the game's indifference to regular physical laws keeps it feeling fresh for a while after the novelty of the presentation wears off. Some simple but intimidating clashes with the titanic Mayor give you something to look forward to, and the rainbow-festooned bonus areas give you motivation to explore.

The relationship between your sanity level and the number of monsters onscreen proves to be unfortunate, since the worse you are doing, the harder the game tries to overwhelm you. This is not a recipe for comfort. But then, "comfortable" is low on Schizo-Phrenzy's list of attributes, below "arch" and "nonsensical".

The game is worth playing just for the main character's animation, somehow both sinuous and staccato, a platform hero with refreshingly honest legs. The enemies are chunkier but always inventive, and the art deco backgrounds are an underused choice and an appealing choice of playground.

Even though Shizo-Phrenzy runs out of ideas quickly (does there really need to be a giant Powerpuff Girls monster in the background on every level?), it also doesn't outstay its welcome. You should be able to face down the Mayor's final form and discover the full extent of John K. Facey's madness within an hour, and then move on to other, less colorful things. I recommend playing it, if you don't mind some occasional violent imagery (it's Adult Swim, remember), and I think my opinion carries some weight since I discovered all my molecules are made of music. Now if you'll excuse me, there are some hungry faces visible in my wallpaper, and I should really feed them before they notice the cat.

Play Schizo-Phrenzy


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (84 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverThis week's Weekday Escape is from a— what? What do you mean, why isn't Jess writing the blurb for this week's Weekday Escape? I am Jess!

Kid's RoomAs I was saying, this week's Weekday Escape is from a previously unknown developer by the name of Robamimi. Enter the Kid's Room. The story behind the escape is that you left your myPhone behind when visiting your friend's house, and he hid it in the kid's playroom. You go to get it, possibly to get away from your annoying myRobot for a while (what other myGadgets does this nutter have?), but some prankster locks the door behind you when you enter. Of course.

...Stop calling me SonicLover! I already told you I'm Jess!

Well, it must be one brainy kid who plays here, because this room is filled with as many cryptic puzzles and gadgets as any seasoned room escaper (escapee?) has grown accustomed to seeing. You'll have to put your mind to the test to get out, with or without your myPhone (there are two endings, depending on whether you manage to find it).

Analysis: Robamimi's native language is Japanese, but thankfully everything is translated into (comically broken) English. Thank goodness for that, otherwise a couple of the puzzles wouldn't be possible to solve, although a lack of knowledge about geography or time-telling would also be an obstacle.

...What do you mean, why does my icon say SonicLover if I'm Jess? Don't believe everything you see.

Anyways, Kid's Room is an excellent piece of work, with puzzles that make sense, fine 3D graphics, and just the right amount of satisfaction when you figure something out. The inventory system is a little unusual, but very intuitive — click the green (top) rectangle to use an item, or the blue one (bottom) to inspect it. The difficulty level is perfect; Robamimi even thought to provide a hint system in case you get stuck. There's a little pixel-hunting, but it's bearable.

Play Kid's Room

...Stop it! I already told you I'm not SonicLover, I'm Jess! What does it take to convince you people of that?!


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (109 votes)
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JayTortuga Vol. 2Tortuga Episode 2 is an escape-the-room game set on a pirate ship; the second installment of the Tortuga series, from Mateusz Skutnik, Marek Frankowski and team, collectively known as Pastel Games.

This episode picks up right where the first one left off, so if you haven't played the first episode yet, you should do that now.

You have just escaped the locked room from episode 1 and the pirate is still sleeping off the sleepy spray you got him with prior to your escape, but you are still locked up on the pirate ship. You must look for items and clues to reveal a solution on how to get off the ship.

Analysis: This episode is very short, like the first one, and there is one unfortunate caricature present that some may find offensive. Other than that, it's a bite-sized escape game with the usual appealing graphics and engine we're used to seeing from the Pastel Games crew.

Once all the episodes are released, I hope they decide to combine them and give players the option to play the entire game all together, because these mini-episodes come off as such a tease.

Play Tortuga Episode 2

Update: We received this word today from Mateusz about the chef's caricature: "The racist content was completely unintentional, we're apologizing to anyone who felt offended and we're redoing that character right now and new version should be online tomorrow."

Update #2: We are pleased to report the changed version is now online.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (110 votes)
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MarcusPortal DefendersA word of warning: Portal Defenders is an extremely violent game, which has earned it a Rating-R(ed) from us, our most severe rating (see our ratings explanation page for more info). While we generally don't feature games that aren't "family-friendly," we felt the quality of this game merited a review. Please be advised.

When we review flash-based games here, we usually don't say much about the portal where it was found. Generally speaking, the games have very little to do with the portal, and since the games are often to be found on multiple portals, it serves little purpose in the overall enjoyment of the game. However, the site in question here deserves a mention because Portal Defenders would not exist were it not for the site and community of Newgrounds. While it may seem like just another beat-em-up, Portal Defenders is so much more, especially if you've been around the Flash portal scene for a while.

In a style reminiscent of Castle Crashers, or classic games like Double Dragon and Final Fight, Portal Defenders sees the player taking on one of two (initially) personas, each with different strengths and weaknesses. It just so happens that the characters are based on the real-life head-honchos of Newgrounds, Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin. It is your job to help Tom and Dan protect the portal from a variety of evil ne'er-do-wells, from the scratching Kitty Krew to actionscript junkies to animators. Each has their own styles of attack, and each has a boss character that you must defeat. Like Tom and Dan, all of the other characters in the game are based on actual members of the Newgrounds portal. You might recognize some names of popular Flash authors like jmtb02 and Tyler Glaiel.

The beatings commence as you take your character of choice and his favorite kitchen implement to task against the waves of baddies to come. Press [A] to unleash an attack with your spoon or fork against anyone in the way. Pressing multiple times will create attack combos. If you manage to get your opponent in the air, continued pummeling will create air-juggle combos that earn extra points, and keep the baddies from counter-attacking while they're in the air. Pressing [S] lets you jump away from attack, or lets you jump into the fray, hopefully missing your opponent's initial attack. Hit [D] to throw an explosive surprise at your enemies. This is an excellent way to take care of a group of lackeys or to knock a boss down a few life-points before you go at him with your tableware.

Portal DefendersThere are three mini-games to help, as the developers put it, "distract you from the unbearable repetitiveness of endlessly mashing the same button." The P-Bot Zamboni game has your character hoping into a robotic cleaning machine in order to mop up the gallons of blood that have fallen all over the arena floor in the previous match. This lets you start the next round with a shiny clean floor for the next onslaught. The next is the Treasure Chest Decoder. Try and guess the combination to the chest by jumping on the different buttons. Only the correct code will give you access to the goodies inside. Last, but not least, is Paint The Town Red. This is basically a big, bloody Etch-a-Sketch. Walk through some blood, and use your footprints to draw your gore-filled creation. You can even submit your pictures to possibly be featured on the game's website.

Of course, what would any current game be without achievements? There are twenty achievements available to unlock in Portal Defenders, including five super-secret achievements you won't know until you unlock them. The standard achievements range from hitting your first enemy to viewing every game-over ending (complete with spinning newspaper headline and "Batman" trumpets) to beating the game with all 6 characters.

Analysis: Portal Defenders is a game made by (disturbed) Flash game geeks, for Flash game geeks. There are enough in-jokes in this game to keep any fan happy (one of the gangs of baddies are known as the "akshunskriptors") and the production quality is top-notch to boot. The animation is well-done, with combo movements tweening seamlessly into one another. Your character even does a rather embarrassing little victory dance at the end of each round.

Gameplay is old-school button-mashing fun, with nothing to get in the way of the bloody enjoyment of pummeling your opponents to death. One of the more disturbing takes on the beat-em-up genre is the way you replenish hit-points, by eating the various internal organs that will from time-to-time pop out of your defeated, decapitated enemies. Did I mention that this game was disturbing?

Portal Defender is hard. Very hard. Hard like you may never actually make it through the game unless you were one of the developers, and even then it'll take a month of Sundays to make it happen. You have the extent of your life bar, and whatever guts you can ingest to boost your HP, to make it through the game. There's no extra life, no continues. When it's game over, it's Game Over. Frustrating? Yes. Does it keep you coming back for more? Strangely enough, yes it does. I've probably played the game 25 times while writing this review, and while I have yet to make it past the third boss character (damn you, Mindchamber!) I've had a blast playing each time. And, of course, the achievements are icing on the bloody, gory cake.

We can give a game no better endorsement than go play it now! If you are not averse to ridiculous amounts of gratuitous violence, then you can do worse than giving Portal Defenders a go. Pick up your favorite cooking utensil and go beat some baddies!

Play Portal Defender


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Rating: 4.1/5 (128 votes)
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ArtbegottiThe GlassworksThe writing's on the wall at The Glassworks Company for Kapowski, who just got fired for getting a little too creative at work. Now you've got to prove to your boss that you're capable of making it in the window-washing world with your new power gloves and a little high-flying daredeviling.

In Nitrome's latest platformer The Glassworks, almost all of the platforms are vertical panes of glass. Your job is to try to reach the top of the company headquarters by reaching the floating horizontal platform on each level. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to navigate around the maze of glass panels. At times, you will be required to jump from one panel to the next using the [Z] or [N] key to leap (note that this detaches you from the glass), then hitting it again to reattach yourself to the pane. You can also hit the glass using the [X] or [M] keys to push buttons, whack enemies off the other side of the glass, and oth—

What's that? Yes, I said the other side of the glass. There's two sides to every window, isn't there?

In addition to the maze of panels you see before you is the maze on the other side. You can cross over to the back of the windows by shuffling off the edge of a window with no border or by whacking a special rotating glass panel in the middle of a larger panel. Levels will often require you to cross over to the other side to navigate around deadly molten glass and dodging mechanical window buffers.

But wait, it gets worse. As if molten glass on the outside wasn't bad enough, security guards on the insides of some buildings may make a dash for their security zappers to try to fry their floor, electrified tiles that zap at regular intervals need to be timed carefully, and fans require precise movement to navigate around (or being on the other side of the glass). Oh, and one more thing... Just because it's the future, doesn't mean you won't be attacked by the window washer's worst fear... Bird poop.

Analysis: Is the glass always cleaner on the other side? Nitrome's new puzzle platformer adds some unique twists to the usually one-sided genre. However, The Glassworks might get a bit aggravating at times. You'll find that in some cases, it may be impossible to beat a level during the first run, since you might not be able to see an obstacle until it's too late for you to switch over to the other side of the glass. High score runners beware, this will take some extra plays through to finesse your way to the top.

In addition, some levels require intense accuracy to make it through tight gaps between molten glass beams. It doesn't help that the hit detection isn't the clearest thing in the world, so getting from here to there unscathed can get frustrating quickly, especially once the molten glass starts moving.

On the flipside, the glass world is beautifully designed to show that not everything is spotless in the future of industry. With a little determination and your navigating, Kapowski can get his job back and make it clear who's on top of things in the glass cleaning business.

Play The Glassworks


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (97 votes)
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StaceyG"Blush

Blush is a unique and beautiful, 3D rendered, underwater physics-based arcade game by Flashbang Studios, in which you play a betentacled creature fighting your way through the ocean deep.

You have just 4 minutes to fight off a variety of sea creatures, such as jellyfish, squid, crabs and sea serpents, by finding their weakness and then exploiting it. When you destroy creatures, collect the eggs they leave behind with your tentacles and bring them to the brightly glowing orbs. Doing so will increase your speed and extend the length of your tentacles. Spin your tentacles with the mouse to collect eggs and to attack other creatures. The more you grow the faster and farther your attacks will reach. The faster you deliver eggs to the collectors, the more formidable your enemies will become in return. And while you may occasionally lose tentacles in a fight, they will be restored when you bring eggs back to the orbs.

Unlock a series of achievements and race against the clock to meet more intense enemies and to greatly increase your score. Make sure to explore the bottom of the sea floor, as there are some additional challenging foes down there as well.

BlushAnalysis: The 3D rendered graphics and underwater environment in Blush are gorgeous, the lighting is brilliant, and the music calm and soothing. In contrast, the gameplay, with its 4-minute window and the circling and swinging motions required with the mouse, is frenetic and addictive. Combined these qualities simultaneously give the game a relaxing vibe like Flow, and the frantic pace of a shooter game. The undersea world the designers have created is stunning and the lighting effects give it a surreal and compelling quality that really draws the player in.

However, a non-timed version is sorely needed for all of us casual gamers, since you are presently limited to just four minutes of play in arcade scoring style. It would be so very nice to be able to advance through the game in levels, and at your own pace, and to play for an extended period of time.

Blush started out at TIGJam, where it was called Squiddy, and in 8 weeks the developers from Flashbang Studios have made a gorgeous game that is a joy to play. The game design is so well done for such a short time frame, although they were developing the idea for quite some time before the 8 week production. Here is some behind the scenes footage of the game. The footage shows a zoomed-out view of the entire ocean (spoiler!), but viewing it will also help you get your bearings.

You will need to download the Unity browser plug-in to play the game, if you don't have it already installed. It is a fast and painless installation, and so very worth it.

There is a special achievement for playing during today's launch, so get it while you still can.

Play Blush


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (55 votes)
| Comments (16) | Views (23)

MarcusDinowaursIn the stone-age town of Bedrock, there's nothing more common than dinosaurs. We use the huge stegosaurus as a bus for public transportation. The rock quarries are full of brontosauruses, moving huge stones from one end of the quarry to the other, and back again. Some people even keep some of the smaller dinos as pets. Is it any surprise that we also use dinosaurs for military actions? Strap a cannon to the back of a triceratops and you've got a jurassic tank bent on domination. Dinowaurs from Intuition Games shows us that those stone-aged humans were well-versed in the art of strapping large implements onto the backs of dinosaurs for their own advancement.

Dinowaurs is, at its core, a projectile game in the vein of Team 17's classic Worms series. You control a dino of your choosing, be it ankylosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, or brontosaurus, equipped with various armor and weapons. The goal is not only to destroy your opponent's dinosaur, but also to take over their villages. Once you have managed to destroy and/or capture all three opposing villages, you win the match. These villages are not only important from a territorial standpoint, they are also the means by which you collect gold to buy weapons and ammo, and also where you go to equip weapons and heal your injured dino warrior.

Villages have three levels of support. The closest to your enemy's territory is the lowest level of support. Weapons and ammo cost more if equipped here. The village in the middle of your territory has the second highest support rating, and consequently, weapons and ammo are a bit cheaper. The village furthest back in your territory retains the highest level of support. Weapons and ammo bought and equipped here will be the cheapest. The trade off, of course, is that in order to equip at the highest level of support, you leave most of your territory open to enemy attack.

Analysis: One of the first things you will notice when playing Dinowaurs is the art style. The backgrounds for each of the battlefields are lovely to look at. An artistic backdrop for the carnage that is happening in the foreground to be sure. The dinos have a much different look, a fun art style that may remind you of a certain animated cartoon on Comedy Central. Strap a meteor-seeking radar dish on the back of an ankylosaurus and you can't help but flash back to Cartman with a huge alien probe coming out of his… umm… back-side. The surrealistic graphics are part of the charm that is Dinowaurs. It doesn't matter what weapon you use, they all are designed to look like Atlas carrying an alien spacecraft on his mighty shoulders.

One of the more bizarre has to be the U.S.S. Iowa weapon. We'll forgive the fact that the U.S.S. Iowa was a lead-class battleship and not an aircraft carrier, because the weapon is required to be an aircraft carrier for the gag to work. Once equipped, your poor dino will find itself hauling an actual aircraft carrier around on its back. When fired, the carrier sends out a squadron of bombers that drop their ordinance where you choose. The entire scenario is completely preposterous, which is what makes it so much fun!

DinowaursAlong with the variety of weapons, you can also customize your dinosaur with various clothing items, tattoos, and armor. These can be purchased either by winning ranked matches (more on that) and earning DNA points, or by earning Kreds, Kongregates' own "currency." Once purchased, these "boost" items will change the stats of your dino, making it faster, more resistant to enemy fire, etc. This is one of the neatest features of the game, but it is also one of its most limiting factors. Let me explain…

There are two types of matches that a player can join. Unranked matches are fights against other players that act as skirmishes or practice matches. No points are earned, and the outcome does not affect your statistics in any way. This is a good way to get your feet wet and try out the features of the game against a human opponent. Ranked matches, however, are played for points. You earn DNA points by killing the enemy dino, destroying and capturing enemy villages and, ultimately, winning the match.

Now, of course, this should become easier the longer you play the game. And, as you earn DNA points, you will be able to slowly upgrade your dino with better boosts. The system would have been nicely balanced had that been the way of things. But Kongregate, whose goal as a portal is to direct traffic to other portions of their site, allows players to earn Kreds by doing other things on their site that have nothing to do with Dinowaurs. So, in essence, the battles eventually come down to whoever has enough Kreds to buy the maximum upgrades for their dinosaur. Ranked matches have basically taken the use of boost items out of the equation, since the player with the maximum upgrades will have a marked advantage over any lesser dino. Luckily, a fairly advanced matching system will help keep you from walking in on a veteran while you are at noob status, but it's still not a perfect solution. I won't judge the game on this aspect, but it does factor into the fun.

The politics of portals aside, Dinowaurs is a blast to play. The art style is fun and care-free, the music is catchy, and the weapons are weird. If you're looking for an escape from the ordinary projectile game, and a chance to interact with actual human beings, give Dinowaurs a go.

Play Dinowaurs


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (92 votes)
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zxoTransmoverThe ray gun: time-honored weapon of choice for protection against baddies of all kinds. But if there's nothing to protect against, what good is it? Transmover, a puzzle platformer by Japanese developers Polygon Gmen, introduces a new function for your favorite hand-held emitter of energy: transmotion.

The physics behind transmotion are not entirely understood. It is widely thought that the gun itself actually takes advantage of a loophole in the principles of String Cheese Theory, which as everyone knows*, states that all matter and energy are in fact composed of a pair of vibrating subatomic particles, known as curd bosons and wheyons. Each pair is connected by a mysterious force called the yummy vector. The gun, using a process called "cutting the cheese", separates the curd bosons from the wheyons and sends them flying off in the desired direction. When the curd boson "bullet" strikes a specially prepared block, the bosons are absorbed and the yummy vector is re-established. Here, the process gets a little bit fuzzy and green: somehow, the wheyons become entangled with the gun-wielder, bringing him along for the ride along the yummy vector. Because of the law of conservation of cheddar, a mass of equal cheesiness must follow the reverse yummy vector, also known as the yucky vector.

In layman's terms, this simply means that when you fire your gun at a block, you and the block switch places. It's a neat little tactic that injects new life into the block-maneuvering platform genre. Each level contains a key, a door, and one or more types of block. Use the [Arrow Keys] to move the character around the screen to collect the key and reach the exit. Fire your gun using [WASD] at the light green blocks to switch places with them. You'll need to do this a lot, as your character suffers from what is starting to become an epidemic among puzzle platform heroes–a severe lack of game (i.e. he can't jump).

Once you've gotten the hang of constructing stairways and bridges of all kinds, Transmover starts introducing twists. Some blocks can only be shot from certain directions; some explode instead of switching spots; still others become permanently locked after being transmoved. It's enough to make your head spin! Oh, and speaking of spinning, there is one final type of block that twists your shot 90 degrees, as if the game weren't tough enough already! The instructions are all in Japanese, but they aren't really necessary to play the game. If you're unsure of what a certain type of block does, just shoot it and find out. When (not if) you get stuck, hit [R] for a quick restart.

Analysis: The Polygon Gmen (Gurabichon, Monolist) are quickly emerging as one of our favorite developers in 2009. They have a way of teaching casual classics new tricks without either ripping off the originals or losing the reason they were so much fun in the first place. Although elements of Lode Runner and Portal (among others) are present in Transmover, it plays more as if it were mentored by these classics than as if it were borrowing from them.

As usual, Polygon Gmen have topped the game off with little flourishes that could only have originated in Japan, from the curious zapping noise of the ray gun to the hysterical arm-flapping as you fall. The blocky graphics probably could not be less artistically rendered, but they get the job done while whispering hints of platformers from a bygone era.

There are 60 levels for you to enjoy, and if that doesn't satisfy your appetite, there are 100+ (and growing) user-created levels to conquer as well. Yes, Transmover comes complete with a level editor, and while your creations aren't assigned specific codes, they are cataloged numerically in the online stage section, and you need only tell your friends the level number to look for (try #104 out for a particularly zxoical experience). The 60 levels included with the original game vary in difficulty, but are roughly arranged in ascending order. However, if you find the difficulty curve too light, or a particular puzzle to be especially mind-taxing, all levels are available to play at all times, which is a nice feature for a game like this.

All in all, we're thrilled to see the creative output from Polygon Gmen continue, and look forward to many future games from them.

Play Transmover

*There are those who do not accept String Cheese Theory on the basis that it contradicts their religious creationist beliefs: "In the beginning was the Curd, and the Curd was with God and the Curd was God." However, most respectable cheesologists maintain that these creationist theories are full of holes.


| Comments (22) | Views (3)

Mobile Monday

JohnBThis week's Mobile Monday highlights one of the most disturbing trends of the 21st century: adding a lowercase "i" to the front of words. Our example: iDracula. Why on earth does the name Dracula need an "i" in front of it? Unfortunately, playing the game doesn't offer any clues, so I suppose we'll just have to deal with it. Or should that be, iSuppose?

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, JohnnyCaps!

idracula.jpgiDracula - Undead Awakening - If you thought serious, mainstream-style games had no place on the iPhone, iDracula aims to prove you wrong. A survival-horror isometric shooter, you control movement with your left thumb and firing direction with the right, a setup that works so well you'd swear you had dual analog sticks in your hand. You play a vampire hunter who is being hunted himself. Survive wave after wave of witches, werewolves and vampires by moving and shooting in all directions. As the enemies grow stronger you pick up better weapons that help you stay alive, and certain upgrade "perks" are available as you gain experience. A free lite version is also available.

zenbound.jpgZen Bound - From the same studio that brought us SPiN, Zen Bound is a relaxing yet thought provoking 3D game where your only goal is to have a good time, not get a high score. Use your fingers to rotate, twist and spin the block of wood in any direction, wrapping the rope around as much of the surface area as you can. Each shape has a few tough nooks and crannies to get to, but fortunately you only have to cover a percentage of the sculpture to move on to the next piece. Excellent use of the touch screen, and you can even change the rope's origin by tilting the iPhone!

jellycar.gifJellyCar - It's squishy. It's bouncy. It's a car. Made out of jelly! And you know what? Everything else is made out of jelly, too! This physics-based driving game challenges you with moving the jelly car through a series of puzzles. Tap the sides of the screen to move in that direction, and tap the car to grow big or small to fit through small spaces or push objects over.

spawnilluminati.jpgSpawn Illuminati - The most fun "doing nothing" you'll have with your iPhone/iPod Touch. Spawn Illuminati lets you play with colored particles while listening to your favorite music (or just silence). Just drag one or two fingers around the screen, swirling and chasing the moving colors however you see fit. Tap the screen with three fingers to bring up a menu packed with features you can tweak. A free Spawn 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 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (26 votes)
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Iceblast

JohnBIt's cold outside. No, really cold. So cold that the polar ice caps (which melted under a previous un-cold spell) are re-freezing and casting the entire world into a new ice age. Bizarre crystals begin to form across the globe, and they seem to be impervious to most things that get rid of ice. Like, you know, warm things.

iceblast.jpgFortunately an elite team of combat-ready women have been assembled, each with a special ability that can chip away at the ice. In Iceblast you take control of Skye, Luna, and Sun and destroy ice crystals to restore the world to its happy warm-like state. Using a fun puzzle/strategy layout reminiscent of The Lost Vikings, you must find the most efficient way to clear each field of ice to earn points and upgrade the girls' abilities.

Commanding the fighters from behind your monitor, simply click a character's portrait to send her out on the field and attack any piece of ice you choose. Skye, Luna, and Sun excel at a different style attack. Luna is really tough and can destroy big chunks of ice in one hit. Skye is fast but can only attack one shard at a time for very little damage. Sun can summon mirages of herself to attack additional shards anywhere on the screen. After each attack, the character must rest to recharge her power before going out into the field again.

Iceblast gets really interesting when combo attacks come into play. When a shard of ice is destroyed, it deals damage to adjacent shards. If you chip away and plan your moves right, you can eliminate whole groups of crystals with a single move, scoring massive points for your team. Building combos is what Iceblast is all about.

Between levels you get the chance to visit a training dojo and item shop where you can spend credits to decrease resting time between attacks or to buy better weapons that can destroy bigger chunks of ice. Spend wisely, however, as what you invest in really makes a difference in later levels.

iceblast2.jpgAnalysis: An unassuming little game, Iceblast took me by surprise with its simple but engaging premise. Breaking ice with a team of superheroines? SRSLY?! But the puzzle/strategy mix is definitely a winner, and it encourages you to find the path of least resistance to clear each screen of shards. Do you go for big combo points, try and get multiplier bonuses, or just fly into a click frenzy and hope it all works out ok? As the game progresses, you have to get smarter and smarter about what you do, and it's a great experience.

On the flip-side of the frozen coin, Iceblast presents you with a pretty basic visual package that gives the game a dated look. From strange color schemes to awkward menus right down to the anime-inspired characters, it all screams "blah" and will likely turn some players away. If you can look past the presentation, however, you'll be delighted to find a game worth chipping into.

Despite its too-simple visual style and somewhat unintuitive assembly, Iceblast manages to pull things together and create a fun (and different!) casual puzzle/strategy game. There's even a limited Flash demo that will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of gameplay!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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