April 2009 Archives


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (101 votes)
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AdamBNeon MazeI'm sorry, you have to be the blue key to read this review. No, wait, now be the green key — I mean, the red key. Oh, sorry, I drifted off there. You see, in Neon Maze, by Vitaliy Zlotskiy and Sergey Arseniev, things can get a bit crowded with all the colour switching and pattern memorizing. An up-front warning: Anyone with a colour-related eye issue will have difficulty with this game.

Playing equal parts as a maze, a hide-and-seek game and a guessing game, the idea is to run around a glowing labyrinth in your little mouse-controlled blur-pod while attempting to find the exit platform. Easy, just like a maze. Except that it's not. The neon-coloured walls and corridors do more than add decoration — they are a warning! Attempt to touch anything not the same colour as you and expect a sharp, shocking jolt and a reduction in bonus points.

To explore new sections of the maze, you will need to change your ship's colour. Touch a red gear to become red, and move effortlessly through red walls. Touch a blue gear for the same with blue walls — and expect the red walls to now be your enemy. As the levels advance, you will need to collect keys of the same colour as yourself, which then open new areas as the levels unfold around you. Each level uses this manipulation of boundaries to its own end, resulting in an expanding spiral of technical and involved level design, rather than a linear approach.

Analysis: Tossing in new surprises every now and then, such as locked doors, teleporters and one-way walls, does a lot to stretch the simplistic idea the game is built on. However, the large, similar-looking levels, which can only be viewed a section at a time, can cause disorientation as you move through them hunting for areas that have just become accessible. That said, the graphical presentation and the surprisingly intricate level design more than make up for any shortcomings. And at just 25 levels long, Neon Maze is the perfect length for a decent challenge.

Play Neon Maze


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (136 votes)
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FunnyManThe Great War of PrefecturesAh, Japan. Progenitor to the weirdest and most original games you've ever seen. Home of Mario, Katamari Damacy, and more web-based games than you can shake a stick at. Truly, we owe those crazy thinkers a lot.

Kinda makes you want to hire an army and invade them, doesn't it?

Well, put down that walkie-talkie, because ZigZaGame have created a game to scratch just that itch. The Great War of Prefectures plays like a cross between Risk and a Real-Time Strategy game, with Japan's prefectures (analogous to other countries' states or provinces) serving as the territories you fight over.

The first thing you get to do when you start a game is pick your initial prefecture. It's an important choice, because the prefecture you pick will determine whether you are immediately crushed, survive but can't expand, or begin squishing all who come near you. You want a prefecture with as few neighbors as possible, but it's not quite that simple.

Pick Your PrefectureEach prefecture comes with a special power, and some are definitely better than others. For instance, some produce units for free, an immense boon when you're just starting out and haven't acquired enough prefectures to get lots of gold. Then again, maybe you'd just prefer to start in a prefecture that gets a bonus to its gold.

Whichever you choose, your first turn will be quite uneventful. Buy some units from the panel at right, then move to the second tab and pick a base for your prefecture. Bases act like secondary powers for their prefecture, and you can hover over them to read a description. Choose carefully, because you can only pick a new one if an enemy captures the prefecture and you retake it. Whichever you pick, you'll want to end your turn next (double click Finish Turn), because your neighbors are far too strong to attack just yet.

At the start of your second turn, the units you bought last turn will be available for attacking, so you might be ready to make your first conquest. To do so, click and drag to select your units, then click one of the red arrows to attack. Depending on where you are, you might want to wait another turn, because you can only move your troops once per turn. It would be rather pointless to take over another prefecture only to lose your first one.

Go forth, my minions, and KILL THEM ALL!When you do make your first attack, you'll enter the battle mode, which is where the RTS part comes in. You control your units by using the tags at bottom, one for each unit type. Drag the tag around to have your units form up in a line at that point, or click it once to change it to Will, which lets them leave formation and fight whoever they please. If you need an extra boost to defeat your opponents, double-click Strategy at bottom right to call upon an ancient Greek god for a temporary power-up. You can only do this once per battle, so if you get in dire straits again, you'll have to double-click Withdraw and make a run for it.

Analysis: When I first opened The Great War of Prefectures, it made a bad impression. The graphics—especially the tutorial—reminded me of a webpage from 1995, which is to say "brightly colored, annoying, and hard to read."

It also has one of my pet peeves in Flash games: a custom cursor that can't be disabled. I can't say if it was the game, the Linux version of Flash, my particular system, or some combination thereof, but for the entire time I played, the cursor was lagging behind the actual position of the mouse by half a second or so. Simply clicking a button was an exercise in frustration. I got about a third of the way through, saved my game, and walked away for a day, because it was driving me up the wall.

But, and this is the important bit, I came back the next day and finished it anyway. I didn't force myself to; the next time I remembered it, I wanted to play it again.

There's a certain elusive quality that some games have, a combination of fun and compelling that makes them stick in your mind. You don't always even see it right away, but it's what pulls you back in after you thought you had enough. It's the reason you say to yourself, "Oh, I'll just play one more round before I quit." Thirty rounds in a row.

Whatever it is, The Great War of Prefectures has it. Despite a bad first impression and a continuous dose of frustration (which, with luck, most of you will never see), I really liked this game. There's a fascinating little strategy game hiding behind the often-clunky interface, and if you can stick with it to the very end, you will be amply rewarded for your patience and effort.

Play The Great War of Prefectures


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (120 votes)
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GrimmrookQuest in the DarkRaise your hand if you think that six whole months is simply too long to wait until Halloween. Go on, don't be shy, I'm raising my hand too. Well for those of us who wait all year for Halloween to find us again, Quest in the Dark provides a good excuse for us to pause our scary movies and put our costume planning on hold.

After picking an avatar and entering your name, you find out that you have somehow fallen down the "rabbit hole" and are trapped inside your own nightmare. An eerily cheerful host greets you and tells you that in order to escape, you must first find a magic potion. This is the only way out.

Using your mouse, navigate your avatar through the haunted mansion that looms before you, collecting items and solving puzzles as you go. Beware the various ghosts and skeletons that stand in your path (or don't. They aren't that bad, as it turns out), and above all else, don't forget to find that potion!

Quest in the DarkAnalysis: Perhaps the best way to describe Quest in the Dark would be Trapped for kids. There are many basic similarities: lots of items and puzzles, a dark motif, and an isometric layout with a point-and-click interface.

But Quest in the Dark is most definitely softened up for a younger crowd. The story line, for starters, is nowhere near as hardcore as Trapped's, and even the main bad guy is kind of cute and cuddly. The graphics are far more friendly and the puzzles are, for the most part, much simpler.

But don't be fooled. There are a few puzzles/tasks that can be elusive or tricky to get around. It's even more challenging because a majority of the items you collect are not actually employed in the game, but only add to your final score total.

Unfortunately the game does employ an isometric layout, which is very clunky and takes a while to get used to. Moreover, while the artistry is quite good and hits the mood it is going for perfectly, I think including hardly any sound at all was a missed opportunity. And finally, if I were to come up with any further gripes, it would have to be a kind of awkwardness in the dialogue, but I am forgiving on this front, given this is translated from an originally Japanese game.

But if you are willing to overcome the isometric design, Quest in the Dark is an exceptionally cute and surprisingly engaging point-and-click adventure. There's not nearly the depth you'll find in similar games, but the upside is that you can feel comfortable sharing this title with the little ones.

Play Quest in the Dark


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (542 votes)
| Comments (81) | Views (1,880)

JayThe Great House EscapeFinally we find out why we have been trapped in so many different rooms in the Great Escape series by Mateusz Skutnik and the Pastel Games crew. Apparently there have been ghosts at every turn, slamming doors and locking us in various areas of the house, and now it's up to you do deal with those ghosts, once and for all. The Great House Escape takes the locale from each of the six previous installments, plus hallways connecting them all, and turns them into one big final "great escape" game.

Included are the same super-saturated visuals, groovy soundtrack, and peculiar puzzles we are used to seeing from this series. Use your pointing and clicking skills to locate items, and use those items to help you make your escape.

Play The Great House Escape


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (209 votes)
| Comments (12) | Views (869)

GrimmrookReincarnation ADDOAll you pathetic humans have the concept of reincarnation wrong, as you will discover playing Chris Gianelloni's point-and-click adventure, Reincarnation: A Demon's Day Out. You see, reincarnation isn't karmic. You don't come back as a banana slug if you were bad, and you aren't going to get to be a Hollywood heart-throb if you were good. No, reincarnation is a loophole that Hell has to put up with in the ultimate battle for souls. God decided to give the dam… er… darned a way out of Hell and redeem themselves, thus finding their way up to Heaven. Lucifer, in order to overcome this, has to send out his demons to re-kill "reincarnies" before this happens.

This is, of course, EVIL…

As a demon, you use your point-and-click skills to manipulate the objects around you, solving puzzles as you go. Your demonic powers include levitation and the operation of simple machinery while your creativity allows you to get to no limit of utter mischief.

This is, of course, EVIIIIL…

Gain entry to the reincarny's house, find his sin, and then come up with a way for him to return from whence he came… That's to say, Hell.

This is, of course, EEEEEVIIIILLL…

Well, maybe not finding his sin, that's probably justice, but let's never mind that. Remember… EEEEEVVVIIIILLLLL!

Analysis: This style of point-and-click adventure is really beginning to come into its own, evolving much from the plainer Hapland-style games. With the Reemus series, The Visitor , and now the Reincarnation series, the type of point-and-click adventure where you act as an invisible hand that modestly affects the environment on behalf of the character has come to develop loads of character, depth, and charm.

With Reincarnation we see healthy doses of humor blended generously with a sort of light-hearted taste of the macabre. Nicely drawn in cartoony drawings, gorgeously animated, and fairly well written, Reincarnation is easy to look at and easy to get into. This is helped along by the surprisingly good voice acting which really throws its weight into the project. Lucifer has a notably posh accent, while the demon you play as has an accent I can only characterize as standard evil.

And did I mention he was EVIL? If I haven't, don't worry. In an endearing way, our little purple imp takes no end of pride in expressing how EVIL he is.

The puzzles hit a sweet spot between easiness and creativity. A deductive eye should be able to suss out what needs to be done in each room without taxing the gray cells too terribly much, but the difficulty level isn't dumbed down so much that you don't appreciate the level of intricacies of all of your EVIL-doing.

There are a few downsides that should be mentioned. For one, while the voice acting is well done, the recording of the voice acting could have used a quick polish or two and you can hear some of the hisses and static that accompany amateur recordings. Meanwhile, while the puzzles themselves are decent, there are a few moments where you are forced into pixel hunting, which is always maddening.

Aside from that, Reincarnation: ADDO is a nice little EVIL point and clicker with a dark sense of humor and puzzles that should neither place a heavy burden on your brain nor your time.

Play Reincarnation: A Demon's Day Out

[Hungry for more EVIL? The second chapter in the Reincarnation series is out.]

Play Reincarnation: Riley's Out Again


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (90 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessWow! Just two weeks following their last release, increasingly prolific Japanese developer Place of Light has bequeathed onto us Loom Blend, another high-quality escape game to satisfy our mid-week cravings. Most excellent! The game's scenario is nothing new: you are in a room filled with diabolical puzzles and more than a few secrets, and must employ all of your wits to escape. A simple premise, but one that Place of Light does very well.

Loom BlendBefore I get on with the review proper, one quick thing I want to mention: after Loom Blend loads, two swastikas appear around the game's title. These are not, however, the type of swastikas associated with the Nazis; rather, they are symbols of good fortune that have been used around the world for thousands of years. Nazi swastikas are tilted and the "arms" always run clockwise, while the traditional symbol is not tilted and may run in either direction. The swastikas that appear in the game fall into the latter category.

Ok! Lesson over, on to the review. Loom Blend is, to put it simply, excellent. Place of Light has consistently presented some of the best escape games out there, and this one is no exception; with attractive graphics, some exceedingly clever (and, for the most part, logical) puzzles and a professional, clean interface (complete with save feature!), Loom Blend is a joy to play. Oftentimes, one of the most enjoyable elements of an escape game is the room's transformation from seemingly ordinary to intriguingly complex as the player discovers its secrets; Place of Light seems particularly skilled at these sort of metamorphoses.

You will, several times during the course of the game, be presented with Japanese characters without an English translation. Don't panic! You do not need to know what they say or mean in order to escape. You may have to remember or identify the characters when solving some of the puzzles, but that's completely doable without an understanding of the language. Unfortunately, however, for those of you running Linux the game may be unplayable; it seems that there's one code (that changes every play-through) that Linux has a text display issue with and so will not display. Sorry, Linux guys/gals.

For the lucky rest, you're in for a real treat. So, enjoy...and let's hope that Place of Light keeps up the pace!

Play Loom Blend


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (108 votes)
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MarcusDesktop TD ProThere are any number of tower defense games available nowadays (In fact, you may still be laboring under the yoke of Gemcraft Zero). But one that has stood the test of time, and one of our all-time favorites, is the classic Desktop Tower Defense.

Now Paul Preece of the Casual Collective has released yet another version of this classic time stealer. Desktop TD Pro is a substantial update to the original game, both in terms of graphics and features, while still remaining true to the reasons we continue to come back to this particular tower defense title.

For those that haven't played Desktop TD, the concept is a bit different than the majority of tower defense titles, in that the main game has no defined path for the enemy to follow. Much like When Orcs Attack, it is up to you to use your weapons to build maze-like structures that guide the enemy towards their ultimate doom. Since there is no pre-defined path, the game makes sure that there is a path through your defenses so that the enemy at least has a chance of making it to the exit. No chance of blocking them in a corner and watching them squirm.

The other unique property of Desktop TD is the artwork. The game literally takes place on an office desktop, with notepads and telephones and pens and such scattered around. Your towers are hand-drawn representations of cannons, rocket launchers, and gun turrets, bombarding the cute, hand-drawn minions bent on getting to the exit and decimating your life points.

Desktop TD Pro keeps these concepts, while adding new ones to the mix. For starters, you can now choose between five different desktop backgrounds, once they have been unlocked by playing through the scenarios. You also have a choice of tower graphics. You can stick with the tried-and-true hand-drawn look, or you can choose the more modern-looking rendered towers. The graphics do not change the gameplay in any way, but it does suggest that further updates to the game may include new graphic sets.

Desktop TD ProAlso new to the series are a number of gameplay options. Scenarios are basically an extended tutorial, slowly introducing the player to the different enemies and towers in the game. Sandbox is the basic game, but this time around you have control over many aspects of the game, from the difficulty of the enemies, to how often waves appear, to what towers are available and what you can do with them. And, once you register with the Casual Collective, you can save your game settings for the future.

Next are the Sprint Modes, where you can challenge yourself not only to survive through all of the waves, but to complete them as quickly as possible. Because of this, waves will only come one at a time, no matter how long it takes to defeat them. But once a wave is defeated, the next will start immediately, leaving you little time for building or upgrading your towers.

The last mode is the online mode. This allows you to compete in online matches against other players. Unfortunately, with the relative newness of the game, I was unable to find a game to join to test this particular option. Once people start playing the game more regularly, this mode will no doubt become more popular.

Analysis: Desktop TD Pro's new game modes really add to its shelf life. The Scenarios in particular are excellent, allowing new players to work into the full game slowly. Some of them are truly challenging, making them must-plays even for tower defense veterans.

Another fine addition to the game, the Sprint Modes will keep you on your toes. They are as much about finding the right strategy to survive as they are about making on-the-fly decisions about tower placement and upgrades. With no space for planning between waves, you will find yourself scrambling to make your changes, trying to anticipate the needs of the next wave while not completely ignoring the current one. I've only been able to beat a couple, and my times were not that impressive. Since the scenarios play out the same each time, you can use trial-and-error to hone your tower strategy.

A strong contender for Best Tower Defense Game Ever, Desktop TD Pro is definitely one that you should take a look at. Even if you think that your tower defense skills are sorely lacking, Desktop TD Pro gives you the tools to improve your game and defeat the onslaught of baddies coming around the corner.

Play Desktop TD Pro


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (206 votes)
| Comments (69) | Views (231)

GrimmrookGrayOnce in a while, we come across a game that is more than a game; more like an experience, something that hits you deeper and offers a message more profound than your average coffee break pastime can supply. Take Gray, by Intuition Games (Effing Hail, Dinowaurs), a very curious entry, but a potentially enlightening one as well.

There's not much to the gameplay. You are a white or black androgynous person in the midst of a rioting mob, filled with people of the opposite shade. Your goal is to "talk" to the people who are highlighted and attempt to convert them to your point of view.

This conversation mode provides Gray's only actual gameplay. When you stop one of the rioters, an interface opens up. No, you will not be convincing this person using well-crafted arguments or a firm command of facts and figures. Instead, you simply wait for their signal to head your way, and you hit the [space bar] to send your own signal to meet it. Ideally they will meet in the middle, and if you get enough signals to meet, you will convert this person.

You keep doing this until you have converted the entire mob, at which point you change to the opposite color and start right back from the beginning. After a bit, a twist will be thrown your way. This twist is essentially what the game is all about, and so I won't ruin it for you.

What you take away from the final revelation is up to you and will probably rely upon your own life experiences. One of our staff thought the game was broken. Me personally, having spent four years in political blogging before coming here (off topic, working at Jay is Games is way better than political writing, hands down!) I was absolutely floored by what I saw, and amazed at how accurately such a simple little game could hold a mirror up to modern political discourse.

But don't let my own political take on things scare you away, or even shade your interpretation of what happens. Since first playing Gray I have thought of many ways that the final twist is analogous to different facets of life. Could it be making a statement about popularity? Fads? Gullibility? It's up to you to decide.

Play Gray

Thanks for the suggestion, Thezeu!


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (71 votes)
| Comments (19) | Views (16)

zxoDeep LeapIt might not look like much at first – OK, it doesn't ever look like much – but the unassuming DeepLeap might well be one of the best pure word games to grace the internets in quite a while. Javascript guru John Resig dabbles in game design, combining the basic gameplay of Scrabble with the sweat-inducing intensity of Text Twist in this fast-paced word-forming game.

You are presented with a constant stream of letter tiles, which you must quickly dispense with by forming words of 2 letters or more. A word's score is the sum of the values of the letter tiles (much like in Scrabble), multipled by a number of bonus factors. Earn these bonuses by submitting longer words (+0.5x for each letter above two), maintaining a streak of validly submitted words (+0.1x for each word in the streak), and clearing your queue (2x bonus). You must act quickly, though, for if the queue ever reaches nine tiles, a timer activates and the first tile in line starts turning red. If you don't submit a word in the few seconds before the timer runs out, that tile disappears, its point total is subtracted from your score, and worst of all, your streak bonus is reset!

Fans of leisurely, puzzle-like word games may find DeepLeap too fast-paced and may feel tempted to head directly to the Jumble. But before you go, give DeepLeap a shot! I myself normally choose stress-free puzzle modes whenever they are available, but I found this game remarkably addictive, and here are some of the reasons why:

It's accessible! Whether you have the vocabulary of a member of the Decemberists or that of a fifth-grader, you should be able to find words to submit without too much difficulty. You don't ever have to let the queue fill up — if you see a 3- or 4-letter word in the tiles that are already up, just go with it! Keep that ever-important streak going! Of course, it's better for your score if you're able to hold out for longer words, but it's not like you ever have to find a 9-letter monster. Also, DeepLeap doesn't make you feel inadequate if you didn't know that fragments like CEL and AWL are actual words.

It's balanced! DeepLeap is both offensive and defensive. Sure, it's great that you are able to submit SPHINX, but if it leaves you with EEO in your queue, then maybe you're better off playing something something like POXES and leaving HINE – giving you a much better chance of clearing your queue with your next word. It's designed never to give you more than 3 vowels or 4 consonants in a row, so with some care you can avoid ending up with draws like AIEUUUBAI. On the other hand, this is exactly where the 2-letter words come in handy as panic buttons.

It's fun! If the first two games that come to mind are arguably the world's most popular word board game (Scrabble) and the most popular word video game (Text Twist), you can probably assume that it's captured at least some of what's made those games so popular, which this definitely does.

It's addictive! The short but intense nature of DeepLeap combined with virtually unlimited replay value make it oh-so-easy to finish a game, take a deep breath, and then jump right back into the maelstrom. This is sometimes known as the "just one more game" syndrome.

Now, that's not to say that DeepLeap isn't without its problems, and since John Resig currently presents it as a demo, I feel no hesitation in pointing them out for the greater good of the finished product: First of all, the letter values are definitely out of proportion, meaning that not only are words containing Q, X, or J pretty much guaranteed to be worth as much as most words twice their size, but if one of these letters shows up in your queue, you'd better do your darnedest to get rid of it, or pay a stiff penalty!

Secondly, the timer needs to be more visible, especially when your queue is full and you're trying frantically to find a word while simultaneously attempting to discern the subtle differences between crimson, cherry, and carmine.

Lastly, the tile timer could stand to be a little slower as the queue fills up; after all, the possibilities for forming words are increasing exponentially, so it would make sense to give the player more time to process the new letters.

Although DeepLeap is currently just a demo, I see very few other flaws. Part of the greatness of the game lies in its simplicity, and I don't see that adding new gameplay features like powered tiles could really improve it. Music, sound effects, and eye-pleasing graphics would certainly add a bit of polish, but that would just be the rainbow sprinkles on top of an already-delicious ice cream sundae.

Play DeepLeap


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWanna know what I did this past week? I grew flowers. I slithered around tiny planetoids. And I hurt my head messing with number puzzles. Oh, and I made a pie, but that has nothing to do with the games below.

seeknspell.jpgSeek 'n Spell - Grab a few friends (with iPhones) and head outdoors to a park or other open area for fun in the sun collecting letters to spell words and earn points. Using the GPS capabilities of the iPhone (not compatible with iPod Touch), Seek 'n Spell displays an overhead view of your location with randomly placed letters all around. When the game begins, run around and be the first to collect each letter and then spell words with the letters that you find. Highest score at the end of the game wins. Customized settings allow for games from 1 to 30 minutes in length. It's such a simple concept that works great and is a lot of fun to play!

flowergarden.jpgFlower Garden - Virtual pet games seem like more work than fun to me, but Flower Garden is changing my mind. Your garden consists of twelve pots, each filled with soil. Choose a flower seed to plant, keep it watered within the green safety zone, then kick back and wait. Not seconds or minutes, mind you, more like hours, maybe even overnight! The flowers grow while you're away, all you have to do is check up on them from time to time and see they receive enough delicious H2O. Unlock new flower seeds during the course of play, each with its own watering needs and growing times, and snip a few flowers to create a bouquet you can e-mail to a friend!

snakegalaxy.jpgSnake Galaxy - If you've played Snake once, you've played every iteration out there, right? Not necessarily. Snake Galaxy takes the ever-growing reptile into space where you curl around 3D planets in search of more power-ups. At its core, this is the same Snake you grew up playing, but the addition of gorgeous 3D environments and responsive touch controls makes it surprisingly fun. And the unlockable "themed" worlds are brilliant!

numbrosia.gifNumbrosia - Now entering the numbers-based puzzle ring, Numbrosia! The presentation leaves a lot to be desired, but once you wrap your head around this game, you wouldn't mind if it were decorated with rainbows, stars, and pastel penguins. Your goal is to make all of the squares on the grid equal zero. You can slide rows or columns with a swiping touch, or do a "math move" and add/subtract one from a row or column. The trick is in lining everything up so that a little addition or subtraction evens everything out, but the challenge is doing it in as few moves as possible.

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 (407 votes)
| Comments (120) | Views (3,050)

Windosill

PsychotronicWindosill is the story of a toy car, a little blue box with wheels and a smokestack, who one day dares to journey outside of its confining storage shelf. You, armed with the power to touch, carry, poke, prod, and experiment, will lead the toy through a cool blue dream presented in stages, a series of shadow-boxes full of curious characters and structures, each with its own puzzle to be solved.

WindosillThis is the new point-and-click (and drag and tug and spin) game from Vectorpark, a.k.a. Patrick Smith, who brought us the enigmatic Feed the Head, among other wonders. In fact, Windosill is very similar to Feed the Head. It lets you explore a surreal environment by touching things, watching their incredibly smooth animation as they respond to you, and unpeeling their internal logic. You do travel from place to place this time, but as with all of Smith's work, the focus is always, always on playfulness and discovery.

Unlike Feed the Head, Windosill costs a few dollars to play the full game. The first half is free, however, and worth experiencing on its own.

Is it worth buying the second half of the game? Yes. Yes, it really is. It won't occupy you for long, but neither will it waste your time. Playing through it more than once reveals all kinds of connections you wouldn't notice the first time. Even the winking blob in the first room has new resonance when you know the fractal mutant it appears as later.

Analysis: It's a joy to play Windosill, because although the tone is dreamlike, the population is so physical. Each object has its own weight and material, its own squishiness, sproinginess and yield. When you click on some widget or worm, your cursor disappears as the object reacts, and every time, you feel like you just reached into the screen and grabbed hold of something solid.

Smith offers a world where everything is magical, where you can discover the rules from scratch, like a child. The laws of physics are more or less familiar, but everything else is new. You play with Windosill and it plays back, sharing its secrets in baby steps, never cheating, never even betraying the presence of puzzles or goals. It feels like before you arrived, all these geometric plants and bird heads and giant moons were just sitting there lonely, blue, waiting for a playmate.

Windosill may be short, but it feels complete. The beginning is just like any other morning, right down to pulling open the curtains to check the weather, but the ending is downright spiritual. This game will reward you and intrigue you, inspire you without preaching, leave you wanting more.

Play Windosill

Thanks to Languidiir, Marglark, and Asher for sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (827 votes)
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Virtual Families

MarcusVirtual Families is the latest addition to the impressive lineup of simulation games from Last Day of Work, makers of the Virtual Villagers series. Virtual Families takes the basic concepts of Virtual Villagers and brings them home — literally. No longer are you concerned with a village of people trying to survive the ravages of the wild. Now it's just a single family in a single house. While the concept may seem over-simplified when compared to Virtual Villagers, you'll find that it's less about simplifying the game and more about concentrating on the details.

Virtual FamiliesYou begin by adopting your first virtual person. This is a very important choice to make early on, as the attributes that you settle on will affect how the rest of the game plays out. You can go through any number of different people to adopt. Each has their own physical appearance, profession, salary, likes and dislikes, and opinion on whether or not they want children. This last attribute is of particular importance. Couples who do not both want children can still have children, but you will have to work extra hard to keep them happy. Depending on how you want your virtual family to run, choose wisely.

Once adopted, your person moves into their house. You start immediately showing your person where and how to do certain things. Depending on their profession, show them their work area, be it the computer room, the shop outside, or the kitchen. Place them on the various pieces of litter scattered about the house and show them how to keep the place tidy. If you have played any of the Virtual Villagers games, you'll already understand the mechanics at work here. As your person learns behaviors, you can use one of two paddles to either praise them for an appropriate behavior, or to punish them for an inappropriate behavior.

As the game plays on, you will receive marriage requests from various suitors. Each have their own attributes, professions, and likes and dislikes, and views on children. The important thing here is to find one that is the best match for you little person, although the temptation to go after the one with the big, fat bank account and well-paying career will be hard to resist.

Virtual FamiliesWhether you choose to remain single or to take that marriage proposal, the next thing to think about is growing your family. As a single parent, you may be given the opportunity down the road to adopt a child. As a married couple, you can try to make a baby at any point in the game. Keep in mind that there are factors involved in this process, such as how long it has been since the last pregnancy, the mood of either of the parents, etc. It's not 100% guaranteed to produce offspring, but it usually does. Once a child is born, the mother will have control for the first few months. After that point, the child will be another member of the family, which will require the same behavioral shaping as the parents once did.

There are a number of other things that can and need to be done around the house during the course of the game. You'll notice almost immediately that the floor is in disrepair in sections of the house. There are a number of other problems, as well, such as the leaky watering hose outside, or the garden shed without a door handle. Many of these problems will require the purchase of tools and other items to complete which of course will require funds, so your career of choice is very important. Money is also used to buy house upgrades, such as bathroom fixtures or a new flat-screen TV.

Just like Virtual Villagers, Virtual Families continues to run even when the game isn't open. It is an important aspect of gameplay, since your family will continue to evolve, even when you are not around. As long as they have food your family can survive a couple of days without interaction, but if you're not going to be able to play for a couple of weeks, you may want to go in and pause the game before quitting. You don't want to come back to a house full of skeletons, do you?

Virtual Families 2 is out! Check out our review and walkthrough for Virtual Families 2: Our Dream House!

Children that you have will grow to about 18 years, and then go off to college. When it is time for the current generation to move on, you will be given the option to give the house and all of its assets to one of your kids. At that point, they will move in and the game cycle will start again. Going to the Family Screen will allow you to keep track of multiple generations of people that have lived in the house. How many generations can you create?

Analysis: At first glance, Virtual Families seems like little more than a stripped-down version of The Sims. The limited effect that you have on the environment of the home and the house itself is quite evident. You don't have the option of creating a different living space for your families; you can't even move the furniture to a different part of the room. With the exception of upgrades, there is little you can do the physical house. This allows you the time to focus on the interactions with your little people.

The level of interaction with the virtual people in the game is totally up to you. Unlike The Sims, you do not have to watch your person's every move. Your virtual people will do things like get up in the morning, go to work, and eat without extensive prodding from you, as long as they have the supplies and materials required to complete a task.

I've never been a huge fan of the character designs for the Virtual Village series, and the characters in Virtual Families are almost identical. Something about the way the head gets positioned on the body at times, depending on what the person is focusing on as opposed to where they are walking, or what they are working on, just seems unnatural.

Virtual Families is a natural progression of the Virtual Villagers series, and the results are quite good. While Last Day of Work has already announced a fourth Virtual Villagers game set for release later this year, I hope a sequel to Virtual Families isn't out of the question!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Defender of the Crown

MarcusAllow me to set the Wayback Machine for the year 1986. A new developer, Cinemaware, has decided to bring to the market a game with some of the most beautiful, detailed graphics ever seen. The platform of choice? The venerable Commodore Amiga. The game in question was Defender of the Crown, a strategy title set in the contentious medieval times of England. Unfortunately, the original game was released with many features either incomplete or missing entirely. Later ports would bring many features back into the fold, but none of them surpassed the graphic beauty of the original.

Defender of the CrownFast forward twenty-some years, and Cinemaware, now under a new banner, has released a newly revamped version of the classic game, aptly titled Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever. The graphics may not be as (comparatively) ground-breaking as the original, but the heart of the game remains true.

After the assassination of King Richard, a civil war arises, with Saxon and Norman lords struggling for control of the kingdom. You play as one of four Saxon lords. Each lord has strengths and weaknesses in leadership, fighting, etc. Much of the difficulty level in any game sets as much with your lord selection as your own strategic skills. Your goal is to defeat the Normans, either ally or defeat the remaining Saxon lords, and take your place on the throne of England. The core of the game takes place on a map of England, with various political territories marked out. You begin in control of a single territory, and move your army to capture adjacent territories. As you capture land, your gold value increases, allowing you to buy a larger army or to build fortresses to strengthen the hold on your territories.

When you come up against an occupied territory, you switch to a view of the field of battle, your army on the left, the opponent's on the right. At the beginning of each round, you are given the opportunity to activate a hero card. These cards are collected as you conquer territories, and offer such bonuses as reducing enemy archer effectiveness by 50%, or increasing your knight's effectiveness by 50%. Once you make your card decision, the round begins. Using simple yet effective animation, the battle plays out. If you find yourself outmatched, you can always attempt to retreat. This will often leave you with further casualties, and in some cases will be blocked entirely by your opponent, forcing you to fight to the bitter end.

There are other aspects of the gameplay that take place in the form of minigames. You can raid enemy castles for loot, or, in some cases, to rescue a fair maiden. This is accomplished in a series of one-on-one sword fights with various guards of the castle keep. Instead of the arcade thrusts and parries of the original, you are presented with a series of moves that the enemy will used during the round: attack, special attack, and defend. Some of these moves will be replaced with question marks. Your goal is to best match your attacks and defense against your opponent and hope that the outcome is in your favor. Once you defeat all of the guards of the keep, the treasure, whatever that may be, is yours for the taking.

You can also call or be invited to tournaments. These are either archery or jousting matches, and they can be played for honor or for land. Obviously, playing for honor is the easiest way to get experience with these games, for if you fall on your backside, all that will be hurt is your pride. Playing for land is just as it sounds: you put up a territory against one from your opponent, winner takes all.

Defender of the CrownThe last of the minigames happens when you siege a castle. You start by lobbing boulders at the castle walls, attempting to crumble them. Once you have punched a hole in the castle defenses, you can lob Greek Fire and disease into the castle in the hopes of defeating some of the army that awaits. The more damage you do, the easier it will be to defeat the remaining soldiers and take over the keep.

Analysis: Defender of the Crown: Heroes Live Forever is an excellent successor to the original game. It keeps intact many of the important things from the original game, including the minigames, much of the strategy of the main game, and the beautiful graphics, while giving the game an update that helps to bring it into the modern realm of casual gaming.

The computer AI is something that some players will find a benefit while others will find frustrating. There are five other lords battling against each other for control of the realm. This means that it is possible to go an entire game with little or no interaction with your opponents, save what has been initiated by you. Watching the lords battle amongst themselves can be entertaining, but it can also make you feel more like an observer than an actual participant in the game.

The minigames help to break the monotony of the strategic game. Feeling a bit anxious? Raid a castle for some much needed gold. Feeling competitive? Call a tournament and take your opponents honor or, if your feeling particularly skilled, his land. This is one aspect of the game that I'm glad survived the transition. Not only are the minigames fun, but they also show off some of the best graphics of the game. Moving through the dark depths of the castle keep during a raid is particularly spectacular.

While not as strategically complex as modern games such as Age of Empires or Empire: Total War, Defender of the Crown set the bar for strategy games of the time, and this latest incarnation makes for a perfect introduction to these types of games in a casual setting. For what dost thou await? Get thee out and download this gem! As you command, my liege.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Defender of the Crown is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (25 votes)
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Cate West - The Velvet Keys

JohnBA new hidden object mystery game has appeared: Cate West - The Velvet Keys! Following the style, story and gameplay conventions set by Cate West - The Vanishing Files, The Velvet Keys casts you in the role of the young scarlet scarf-wearing author/psychic as she digs through occult legends in search of a way to contact departed souls. It's a great-looking game with surprising variety and an enticing plot that gushes out as the game progresses.

catewestvelvet.jpgCate West has the unique ability to see places, people and things associated with items simply by touching them. Naturally, this is quite useful in murder investigations, and that's exactly where Ms. West finds herself in this game. The Velvet Keys begins in an asylum where you look into the disappearance of a former patient, a man you might recognize from The Vanishing Files. Cate uses her ability to search for clues by going through the patient's cell and gathering certain items, hidden object-style. She soon discovers this case may be more complicated than anyone thinks, and after a mysterious man visits her in the middle of the night, things start to get really serious.

Cate West - The Velvet Keys packs a fair amount of gameplay diversity into its unassuming package. Not only are there hidden object scenes, but you'll also have to put items back in their proper places, engage in "spot the difference"-style games, find a handful of one item (locating 15 stars in one scene, for example), and complete a few simple mini-games. You're never stuck in one mode for too long, which keeps the game's pace moving at a steady clip.

At the start of the game you can choose between normal and relaxed mode, the former featuring an in-game clock while the latter is without. In most scenes you have unlimited use of the hint button, and it recharges in just a few seconds, which is nice. Be warned, however, that with each use you decrease your points bonus at the end of the stage. Sometimes one more glance at the scene can be well worth the time.

catewestvelvet2.jpgAnalysis: The Velvet Keys had me from the first scene in the asylum. While there were fewer crazy characters and wild conspiracy theories than I would have liked, the story spun by Cate West still captured me from chapter to chapter. It has an intriguing murder mystery/police drama/Da Vinci Code vibe, paired with Cate's psychic powers which makes the whole set-up possible.

The plot will have fans of The Da Vinci Code a little excited, as Gamenauts has woven quite a bit of arcane legend into this tale. Sometimes what the story asks you to believe is a bit far-fetched (one of the characters actually points this out, which made me feel a bit better), but it's all fair in the spirit of the game. I couldn't help but notice the dialogue was more expository in nature, with characters popping in and spouting things like "Ok. I just opened the cabinet.". It's a fair substitute for expensive cutscenes, but the game leans on them just a little too heavily.

Even though Cate West is a story-driven game, there are a number of points-related features present, including a penalty for frequent mis-clicks, chain bonuses, hint bonuses and more. Normally I couldn't care less about accumulating, but the ending you get is based on your score ' a mechanic I could do without, although some gamers will appreciate the challenge. I don't think a story should revolve around something as non-story-related as your score.

Just like its predecessor, Cate West - The Velvet Keys paints an intriguing mystery with varied gameplay and great artwork. The emphasis on scoring points and its affect on the ending is unfortunate, but the game draws you in so well you'll hardly notice.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download is dedicated to cells. No, not the kind you find in prison, the kind you find right here, inside your body. The squishy little things surrounded by a lipid bilayer membrane. How about a hand for cells? All 100 trillion of them!

themushroomengine.gifThe Mushroom Engine (download) (Windows, 4.1MB, free) - The Mushroom Engine is a platform game based on Hempuli's original Jump On Mushrooms: The Game, reworked in collaboration with Nifflas. In this game you don't play, you un-play. It begins with the end credits and you undo everything you would have done, from un-collecting coins to un-stomping enemies and so on. You can't break the game rules, meaning you can't do something that would have been impossible if you were playing the game from start to end (falling too far, getting coins twice, etc.). Because you have to mind things like the number of coins you un-collect or bumping into a reanimated enemy, the game plays more like an action-based puzzler. Which is... unique!

madhouse.gifMadhouse (Windows, 4.8MB, free) - Described as a "top-down shooter adventure-RPG with a comical horror theme", Madhouse plays like a cutesy version of an old-school zombie splatterfest (Zombies Ate My Neighbors, anyone?), only it's much more than that. Play as a zombie, amnesiac mercenary, deranged sociopath dressed as a clown, a little guy wearing rags, or any of twelve other unlockable characters, each with its own special abilities, weapons and stats. There's even multiplayer support! And don't let the cute pixel graphics fool you, as this one packs quite a lot of blood and carnage into a tiny package.

gate88.gifGate 88 (Mac/Win/Linux, 13MB, free) - A 2D multiplayer action/real-time strategy (RTS) game! You are in control of a small ship that must defend structures placed in the middle of space. As you fly around blasting foes, plop buildings such as turrets and research stations to help expand your little colony. Features multiplayer over internet and LAN.

pandaland.gifPandaland (Windows, 18.8MB, free) - As simple as platformers can be, Pandaland is all about an indie pop girl saving her home from evil brats. Throw cherries to defeat your enemies and grab food floating in the sky to keep your health up. The game is a bit on the short side, but the amount of quirky, colorful settings are worth running through at least once.


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (35 votes)
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Plan It Green

Ms.45To celebrate Earth Day (April 22), National Geographic has sponsored Plan It Green, a casual building sim in the style of Build-a-lot that joins the sparsely-populated ranks of "green" games (see Electrocity, Climate Challenge and even Boonka for more examples).

planitgreen.jpgTrue to its name, Plan It Green focuses on boosting energy credits by designing green buildings and communities using four types of structures: residential, parks and recreation, commercial, and facilities such as power plants. Your goals are structured in a similar manner to most building sims where you must meet certain targets, such as "build a pre-fab home with five upgrades, supply three homes with recycle bins, research eco-industries, etc.". Once you meet the goals, it's on to a new district to make things a little bit greener.

There are just a few things you'll need to pay attention while playing the game, including building materials (which can be ordered via the menu at the bottom), cash flow, and most importantly, district happiness and overall environmental health. In addition to installing Earth-friendly devices in individual homes, you can also upgrade your district with improvements that affect the entire community. Installing a bike path, for example, helps you meet your goals and benefits every structure. You can also turn on a grid to show you which structures are performing the best and which need extra attention. If you demolish structures, you get some of the materials back, which does have economies of scale — the bigger and more valuable the property, the more materials you gain.

As you work through each scenario you unlock bigger, more elaborate ways to save on energy costs, reduce pollution, and make your district as environmentally friendly as possible. Plan It Green doesn't hit you over the head with its cause, opting instead to provide a casual building game with a strong green slant.

planitgreen2.jpgAnalysis: As you'd hope in an environmental game, the visual setting in Plan It Green is lovely — not as gorgeous and charming as Wonderburg, but pretty in an oddly retro way. The cheaper pre-fab and eco-buildings reminded me of Daly City, the suburb that inspired Pete Seeger's song "Little Boxes". You can build things like soccer fields and swimming pools that don't generate income but help you meet your happiness goals and spruce up the place.

The gameplay is very, very fast — if the Build-a-lot series makes you grind your teeth in frustration ("FINISH THE FREAKIN' UPGRADE ALREADY!!!"), you are going to LOVE the snappy pace of Plan It Green. The speed and simplicity of it all does make Plan It Green fall on the easy side, however. There are no ultimate deadlines as in Build-a-lot (which is ironic given that environmental upgrades would surely be imperative, unlike purely aesthetic ones), and the bonus for meeting the five star rating is so unobtrusive I didn't notice it was there for several levels. The tutorial also continues on a bit beyond what is necessary — I found myself thinking "Yeah, just leave me alone to discover things already".

So how good is the environmental message? Plan-It-Green offers the chance to build "eco-businesses" such as a bike shop, co-op food store and organic coffee shop. Aside from whiffing slightly of exclusivity (surely if we're serious about being green, we need to ensure environmentally preferrable products are in big mainstream supermarkets?), there are tradeoffs involved — your Fair Trade coffee may assist small farmers overseas, which is great... but takes up a decent amount of energy to ship to your suburb. Similarly, the best residential structure you can build is called a Zero-Energy Home — a "three storey family home. 100% self-sustained. They do not use a city's municipal energy", which immediately made me think "Why does a single family need a three storey home???" The whole "reduce" part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" slogan tends to get ignored by people for whom shopping fills the void, and I say that as someone who very much likes filling the void with a spot of Prada.

The biggest surprise for me is that the best environmental power facility you can get, after you've built wind farms, hydro plants and so on, is... a nuclear facility. I'm old enough to remember when that suggestion would get you hung from the nearest old-growth tree, and not necessarily by the obvious suspects. I trust the developers are already living next to a nuclear reactor, and have the usual amount of eyes.

It may fall short of presenting the ultimate in eco-friendly building, but Plan It Green does its part to raise awareness. Beyond its message, however, is a great-looking casual building sim that shaves off frustration and easily competes with the well-established franchises already on the market.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Plan It Green is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (106 votes)
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kateHeadspinLet me read you a story. It's about a world filled with pop-up people who live in pop-up houses next to pop-up castles and pop-up trees. This is no ordinary fairy tale, though. This is Headspin Storybook, from State of Play Games, which offers a unique spin (literally!) on the spot-the-difference genre.

Click on "play" and the picture book opens, revealing a two-page layout. Your goal is to make the right side of the picture into a mirror image of the left side. You do this by clicking the previously mentioned pop-ups on the right side, making them flip around to mirror the left.

Find and fix all of the differences under the time limit, and you're rewarded with a rainbow or a star shower, depending on whether it's day or night in the little storybook world. Oh, and you get points. The faster you finish, the more points you get. Over 20 levels of gameplay, the images become more intricate, your time limit gets lower and there are more discrepancies to find.

Analysis: Much like Puzzle Defence, Headspin Storybook's graphics are simply adorable. The colors are perfect, the little pop-up people are precious, and the timer and points display fits seamlessly into the overall layout. The solid graphics made me want to dive into this little world, until I started playing the game and realized that my visual awareness skills? Not so hot.

It may seem simple to just find the object that doesn't match its opposite and click on it, but these little pop-ups are tiny and the differences between them grow more subtle with each level. When you hit Level 10 or so and you're faced with a page filled with nearly identical flags, you may resort to clicking around like a maniac. Don't despair, however, since there's no Game Over. If time runs out, you simply lose 1000 points and restart the level with a different layout altogether.

The Renaissance Faire-esque soundtrack fits the mood perfectly, but becomes repetitive over time. Add that to the jarring chorus of "Booo" you get if you fail a level and you may want to turn off the volume on this one, especially if you fail more than once or twice in a row.

Headspin Storybook combines fabulous graphics with a creative twist on a worn-out genre, providing a 20-30 minute diversion that you'll want to keep playing until the story ends.

Play Headspin Storybook

Thanks for the suggestion, Luke, Denver, and Addison!


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBHow much thought do you put into laundry detergent? I mean, really, is this one of your great concerns in life? Do you wake up in the morning and worry if you made the right decision on aisle ten in the grocery store yesterday? Should you really have gone with that off-brand stuff? Was saving a little cash really worth putting your clothes at risk? Well... was it?

  • icon_visible.gifVisible - Visible is the game you would have to play every day of your life if you had to mind your shadow's well-being. Oh, and if you lived in a 2D platformer. You play both the main character and his reflection below, but instead of avoiding obstacles on one side, you have to mind both. And just because the bottom is a reflection doesn't mean it's the same as the top!
  • icon_germz.gifGermz - A Bejeweled-style game with germs instead of jewels. EWW GROSS GERMS BLECH!!! Fortunately you're zapping the little buggers, and a few power-ups appear from time to time to really get the virii frying. The colored pencil-style visuals are great, and I kinda like the germ sound effects as well.
  • icon_guesstimation.gifGuesstimation - I'm guessing this game is about making guesses. I'm also guessing you'll need to type in the number (according to your best guess) of items on each screen. Then you'll get some sort of "score" (I guess). I dunno, I guess you'll like it. I also guess it was made by Ninjakiwi.
  • icon_thelinegame.gifThe Line Game: Orange Edition - A stylish mouse avoider with a delicious orange flavor. Zip around each level avoiding walls, bouncing things and spinny things (which the game explicitly warns about). Best of all, at the end of each level you are rewarded with a screen full of juice!
  • icon_spinningbubbles.gifSpinning Bubbles - A bubble-matching puzzle game that takes place in a circular arena. Slide around the orb firing colored balls at the cluster of bubbles in the center. You can play the game the normal way, or you can just sit on the side and see how long you can spin the middle structure before you get bored and go back to writing the Link Dump Friday you started half an hour ago!

  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (64 votes)
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ArtbegottiPirate DefenseLook! Off in the horizon! Ships with flags with skulls and crossbones! And tons of peg-legged men hobbling right this way! Why are we under attack? Oh, you say you left our chests full of booty out for easy viewing by off-shore invaders? Well then, I suppose we've got pirates on our hands, and the need to defend against them!

Enter Pirate Defense, a new take on the tower defense genre, made by the good people of Hero Interactive (Storm Winds, Bubble Tanks 2). The pirates may be ascending the hill to nab your booty, but you've got the power of homemade traps to stop them. While some traps allow you to deal out damage to your attackers (stinging bee hives and explosives), others can be used to divert their paths and send them flying into other traps (swinging logs and lures). Just set up a trap, attach a trigger (if necessary), then watch the pirate mayhem ensue. Excellent! Those rough-and-tumble sailors will never know what sent them roughly tumbling.

While we're still working on a proper review for this shiny new game, please give it a try and let us know what you think by leaving us a comment. Bear in mind that since the gameplay here isn't exactly like your average TD game, it might take a little bit of experimentation to see how each trap works. Try the pre-set Sample level first to get a quick feel for the overall objective, then experiment a bit by tackling the Fun Modes (Fixed and 100k Gold) to get your sea legs. Next, try your hand at the Regular and Challenge Modes when you think you're ready to tackle the crashing waves (of pirates).

Play Pirate Defense


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (60 votes)
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PsychotronicSnake BallThis is just the kind of unique thing I like to stumble across. Snake Ball is a little gem from the back catalog of John Nesky, author of the adorable Planet of the Forklift Kid.

True to the title, you play a snake beset by balls. Your job is to score a certain number of points within a certain time limit, by corralling the balls into a pit with your sinuous body. Green balls score a few points, and they have a calming effect on you. Red balls score twice as many points, but contact with them slowly drives you insane.

An insane snake is a disturbing sight, I'll tell you what. It twitches like it's being strangled.

Control your snake's head with the mouse, and the rest of you will follow. At the beginning, your tail will likely be a liability, flailing around and batting valuable prizes into the distance. With just a little practice, though, you can learn to encircle your targets with tight movements and drag them into the pit. Butting them with your head at just the right angle works, too, and random flailing is always an option if you get frustrated.

There are 23 levels, and they get pretty difficult. This is probably not a good game to play with a laptop track pad, or if you like to keep open beverages near the computer. Don't let me tell you what to do, though. Live on the edge.

Analysis: Snake Ball reminds me of Gregory Weir's Sugarcore, with its simple but readable graphics and creative approach to level design. Each challenge has a different twist, whether it be a new type of ball or an unusual limitation. One level gives you a short little snake body, forcing you to make all your points via head-bump. One takes away the time limit, but gradually sucks away your score as well. One type of ball instantly drives you insane if it falls into the pit, while another completely heals your troubled snake mind and awards you points for teetering close to the brink.

These are welcome variations, but the core gameplay is already well designed. You have to flirt with insanity to make points quickly enough, but if you gather one too many red balls, your spasming body will make you nearly useless. That creates constant tension, and the tricks each individual level plays mostly mix up the pace. I just wish there were some way of representing your score, time limit, and insanity level other than an unassuming set of gauges in the corner of the screen.

New elements enter the mix right to the end, and by the last level, the screen is chock full of different threats and scoring opportunities. It's about dancing with chaos. This game is a challenge for sure, but you're not afraid of a little craziness, right?

Play Snake Ball


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (172 votes)
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ArtbegottiPowerupCan you feel it? That buzzing in the air? That's the feeling of the excitement of a new Nitrome tingling at your senses. Or someone just stuck a fork in the microwave, but it's more likely the former. Power Up is a physics-based puzzler with a high-voltage bolt of challenging fun that lasts for up to 32 levels.

On each level, you'll find two robot heads. One's surging with luscious electric beauty, while the other could use a bit of a charge. Your goal is to create a path of metal blocks to transport some of that electric power from the first robot head to the second. This is done by grabbing blocks with the mouse and carrying them where you want them to go. When your path reaches the goal, you've still got to hold your breath for another few seconds for the robot to charge, so you'd better hope your building isn't too precariously made!

To help you build your paths and towers of teetering blocks, you'll find some levels have magnetic blocks that can hold metal blocks together, honey-covered blocks that can stick to any surface, coffin blocks that help you cross treacherous grounds, tesla coils that can pass electric current between non-adjacent locations, chests that store and move unused blocks, and other tricks to help you get from Bot A to Bot B. Keep in mind though, you've got to keep your current out of water and other dangerous situations, and the current has to pass through electricity-conducting objects to count (so those wood blocks and honey blocks are great for support, but they can also become obstacles if you're not careful).

Analysis: While Nitrome's take on the A-to-B puzzle game is unique, there are unfortunately some notable bugs that may make playing this game a bit frustrating. Aside from some glitches with visual and audio elements (sound effects looping after the associated action has already ended, "collision" clouds appearing where there isn't anything happening at all, etc.), there are also some gameplay glitches to deal with. The physics engine used here gives the objects a bit of "bounce," but perhaps a bit too much bounce. Occasionally, the tiniest collision can send pieces flying in an almost exaggerated flurry of motion. Some players have also noted that the current may flow from one robot to the other, but the second robot does not charge.

The controls for this game can be problematic to get used to as well. When you grab a block, you're essentially holding on to it by the specific point your cursor is on. This means that it can rotate on your cursor's axis, due to gravity. This is useful for flipping blocks to different orientations, but a pain if you just want to lay a block flatly on top of a tower. This, in conjunction with the collision exaggeration mentioned above, means that a very patient and steady hand is useful in completing most levels.

Despite the numerous bugs (which may hopefully be fixed in the future), credit must be given for what could be considered a bit of a change of pace from some of Nitrome's other products. Rather than a time-pressured rush to the finish line where three hits means you have to start a level over, Power Up is a game that relaxes the pace a bit. You have all the time in the world to finish a level (although there is a scoring bonus for speedy runs), and you don't have to worry about losing lives. Drop a piece in the water? No problem, you can either fish it out or pull it out of the chest again, depending on the level. Power Up doesn't force you to play any certain way at all. In fact, each level is practically a sandbox for experimentation by itself. Sometimes, taking a few extra minutes to plan out a level makes the victory charge all the more energizing.

Play Power Up


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Rating: 3.8/5 (84 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessIt can't be easy to always be on the road. The constant back and forth between locations, the many nights away from home, the endless string of bland hotel rooms; after a while, even the smallest bit of extra hospitality might be enough to make your day. It's nice when hotels go the extra mile, right? A fruit basket, super-fluffy towels, maybe a glass of complimentary champagne…lovely. In all seriousness, though, I think that the good folks over at G-Sensor, the new escape game from Japanese developer HILG, have gone just a wee bit overboard in their eagerness to please their patrons.

G-SensorAs the game begins, you, an unnamed business-person, have just checked into your room at Uncle Boo's Hotel. You see a questionnaire on the desk; it thanks you for your stay and asks if you have any demands. Cheekily, you write that you wish to be placed into a "safe room" (an odd request, to be sure) and, exhausted, promptly fall into bed. Just as you drift off to sleep, a strange voice echoes in your head: "Certainly, Sir." The next morning, you wake in a different place altogether! It certainly is "safe"; locked up tight, you'll need to solve puzzles and figure out the mechanisms of the room in order to escape. It was nice of the hotel to honor your request so thoroughly…but really, couldn't they have left you the key?

G-Sensor has many of the qualities of a great escape game. It's clear that, especially in regards to the game's puzzles, HILG had some really creative ideas; the last major puzzle in particular I found to be innovative and exciting. That being said, it seems that at times the game does not possess the necessary clues to make the logical leap from problem to solution (this is despite an in-game hint system, which I found to be nearly useless). There are many intelligent and interesting puzzle elements embedded into G-Sensor, but this lack of logical fluidity makes it harder to fully appreciate them. Happily, however, while the game can sometimes be unnecessarily frustrating, it never becomes unplayable and always remains entertaining.

The game's graphics are pretty good, if a bit bland in color, and I'm not sure that they explain G-Sensor's surprisingly long load time. The interface is simple, classic point-and-click, and the inventory system is easy to use. The game does have a bit of pixel-hunting, but nothing terribly excessive; make sure to click all the obvious angles and you should be fine. There's a save feature, which is nice, and the background music can be toggled on and off. As I mentioned earlier, the game does have a hint system; it seems sporadic at best, however, and the Japanese-to-English translation (specifically in the hint system, the rest of the game is okay) isn't great. On a related note, although some of G-Sensor's loading text is in English, make sure to press the language selection button before beginning the game. The button will say "Japanese" when you first see the loading screen; pressing it will change it to "English."

Despite not having quite the professional polish of some other high-quality room escape games, G-Sensor is nonetheless solid, well-plotted and very enjoyable; what deficiencies may exist are mainly made up for by the game's excellent puzzles. So, let's help this hapless traveler:

Play G-Sensor


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Rating: 3.5/5 (61 votes)
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PsychotronicPuzzle DefencePuzzle Defence, from Dibblez, is a charming mash-up of the SameGame play mechanic with RPG elements. It's not quite on the same level as Knightfall, but it gives you 20 levels of relaxed, undemanding gameplay, and the graphics are cute.

Scary, adorable monsters are attacking your castle, and the only way to defend yourself is to match them together, puzzle/strategy-style. Your goal is to defeat enough enemies to advance to the next level. To maneuver them together, you have to destroy blocks of landscape. Click on any group of three or more tiles to make them disappear, allowing more mountains, grassland, crops, gold, and creatures to fall in from the top. Once you have a group of two or more monsters, click on it to eliminate them.

If a bad guy reaches the bottom of the screen, it damages your castle and leaves. If a pile of gold reaches the bottom, it adds to your wealth, which you can spend between levels on upgrades.

On later levels, the monsters get stronger and tougher. They arrive in greater numbers, do more damage to your castle, and must form larger groups before they are vulnerable. This gradual evolution of threat and the light customization (I like the upgrade that converts crops to gold) gives Puzzle Defence a little strategic oomph, but really it's just a pleasant way to spend 20 or 30 minutes. The sound design passes the Crunch Thump Crunch Thump likability test, and I generally just want to hug the game and tousle its hair. I'd love to see a fleshed-out sequel.

Play Puzzle Defence


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Rating: 3.4/5 (35 votes)
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ArtbegottiTantrixIn 1988, Mike McManaway invented a board game using red and black cardboard tiles, which he called "The Mind Game." Since then, the board has been eliminated, the tiles have become more colorful and made of Bakelite, and the game now known as Tantrix has fully evolved. This online solitaire version is designed to introduce some of the basic strategies of Tantrix, a game that falls in the category of "simple to learn, yet difficult to master."

For the Discovery and Xtreme modes, there's only one simple rule to follow: All of the touching sides of your hexagonal tiles must match in color. Using this rule, your challenge is to create a loop of one color, using all of the given tiles. Each tile contains three segments of a colored path, which can twist and turn in many directions. In Discovery mode, you're told which color to use to make your path; in Xtreme mode, you must figure it out on your own. To move a tile, click and drag it to a location on the grid. To rotate a tile, click on it. Your goal is to make each loop in as little time as possible.

In Solitaire mode, your challenge is to shoot for a high score using all 14 tiles. While you're not required to form a complete loop of one color, the length of the longest chain of a single color determines your score, and forming a loop doubles the score of that chain. Thus, the highest score possible is 28 points. To play, click the "Next Tile" button on the right to get a randomly-selected tile. Place it on the board where you'd like, but remember that once the next tile is revealed, you can't change its location. In addition, one more rule is added to the mix: If there's an open area on the grid surrounded by three tiles, the first playable tile that fits must be played there. This can hurt your strategy, as it can keep you from playing a needed tile elsewhere on the board. If you think you've had a high-scoring run, you can submit the total of your last five games to a high scores board.

Analysis: This friendly solitaire version is an excellent introduction into the world of Tantrix. Although it might not have the renown of other board games like Scrabble, international tournaments are held annually for the multiplayer version of the game. With a 20-plus year history, Tantrix continues to attract new players.

One problem with this particular implementation is that the Discovery and Xtreme modes are in fact nearly identical. While the point is that one guides you gently by helping you decide which colors to match, and the other leaves you on your own, both introduce tiles in the same order. This follows the suggested rules of the physical version of the game, but doesn't translate well to digital.

The real gold is the Solitaire mode, which poses a unique challenge every time you play. The random selection of tiles almost feels like you're playing an opponent, since you can't determine how the game will change next. The tricky part is getting five high-scoring rounds in a row to submit to the high scores table. With persistence and planning, anything is possible.

If this mini-version of the game tickles your fancy, be sure to check out the official Tantrix website for more about the game and tournament information. If you want a "easy-yet-hard" puzzler to snack on, give Tantrix a shot.

Play Tantrix


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Rating: 3.8/5 (110 votes)
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MarcusPlanet BasherUpon first look, Bad Viking's (Popopop) new title Planet Basher looks like some simplistic ballistics-y physics-y star collecting toy. Take your slowly rotating cannon at the top of the screen, line it up with some stars, and fire. The rocket you launch collects any stars that it touches before it drops off the bottom of the screen. Woohoo. But that was before I bought my first planet.

Once you fire all your shots and collect as many stars as you can, you go to an upgrade shop where you can, among other things, buy planets. So I bought one, placed it on the screen, and went to the next level. I fired my first rocket directly at the planet, and it bounced off! It was then that I realized the true fun of this game. It's about building bounce trails with enough planets to keep your rocket in the air long enough to collect the 200-stars-in-one-level necessary to win the game.

When it comes to spending star dust, there are a number of other opportunities, such as upgrading your rocket's star magnet and the fuel for said magnet. This gadget pulls in stars from all around you in a mass of magnetic attraction, for as long as the fuel holds out. The star shower allows you to make the stars fall faster and more frequently for a limited time. You can also increase the size of any planet on the playing field. All of these objects and upgrades are crucial to completing the mission.

Analysis: Planet Basher is a strong game, the kind that comes out of nowhere and kicks you in the butt. Fortunately, it sticks around to give you a pleasing gaming experience. Planet Basher's game style isn't easy to categorize, but the closest I can come are the pachinko simulators in Japan or PopCap's recent hit Peggle. [Ed. - You might also try John Cooney's Hedgehog Launch for a game with a similar structure.] Bouncy-bounce off of the planets that you've set up, collect as many stars as possible, and upgrade yourself into a position to collect all 200.

Game execution is pretty much flawless. I didn't come across any weird glitches or pockets of questionable game-physics while playing. The ability to shuffle around planets in between rounds is very nice, giving you a chance to close up holes in your rocket shots. Graphics are appropriately bright and bouncy. The music is nice, especially the rock riff used for the main game. Extremely cool, Bad Viking. Keep up the good work!

I've been able to complete the game in 18 rounds. Apparently, good players are completing it in around 10 rounds, while some have even managed it in 5. I guess with a couple of well placed planets, some excellent shots, and a cool hand on the star magnet, it could be possible. Either way, Planet Basher is a blast to play.

Play Planet Basher


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Rating: 3.7/5 (69 votes)
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zxoBipoleWhat's that you say? You've got the making oppositely charged balls annihilate each other in a physicsy sort of way fever? Yeah, that bug has been making the rounds ever since we reviewed Collider last week. Don't worry, although it's very contagious, our doctor tells us that the only adverse effects are deep cravings for hot cross buns and a new-found appreciation for Paula Abdul.

Luckily, there is a new, cutting-edge treatment that is gaining popularity among sufferers. From the labs of Spil Games comes Bipole, a physics-heavy spin-cycle of a puzzler, conceived as part of the recent Global Game Jam. The goal is simple: annihilate all particles by colliding them with particles of the opposite charge — denoted here by color. Use the [left] and [right] arrow keys to rotate the level, taking advantage of gravity and electrostatic attraction/repulsion to gain momentum and drive particles towards annihilation. As with real-life charged particles, like colors repel while opposites attract.

BipoleAn additional feature that will surely drive physics purists absolutely bonkers: pressing [space] locks the particles in position, completely erasing any momentum they had built up. During this time, other movable objects in the game will continue their motion, and you may still rotate the level. Pressing [space] again unfreezes the particles.

The Spil team also seems to have discovered the secret behind magnetic monopoles, for sprinkled throughout the 35 levels are dots of magnetic charge, which attract and repel according to the same rules as the particles. However, if a particle gets too close to one of these monopoles, its charge is reversed! The ability to switch particle polarity is a double-edged sword, hindering as often as helping, so be very careful how you use it. The monopoles can sometimes be toggled on and off by hitting a switch with a particle, which again can be both helpful and harmful. Finally, I probably don't need to even say this, but don't let the particles touch the evil-looking flashing material marked with a skull!

Analysis: Bipole plays like a bizarre hybrid between Sola Rola and Magnetism, capturing the addiction and frustration factors of both. Although there are certainly puzzle-solving elements to the game, success depends more on execution than planning, and that [r]estart button will come in quite handy after many a mistimed maneuver. The learning curve is perfectly executed through the first ten or so levels, after which the difficulty fluctuates like a slinky trying to yo-yo on a trampoline. Some levels are pretty straightforward and some are quite involved. There are two or three that rely heavily on luck (with the low point being the level that requires you to be holding down the arrow key from the very beginning), but for the most part the level design is solid.

With its chill soundtrack and sleek graphics, Bipole is almost as much fun to see and hear as it is to play. In fact, the authors have released not one, but two versions of the game, which I will call Noir and Cute. It appears to make absolutely no difference which you play, and you can even switch halfway through and your times will be loaded automatically.

So fear not, feverish fans of physics fun, for a prescription of particle projectiles will cure what ails ya.*

Play Bipole

Thanks for the suggestion, Bryan!

*Side effects may include dizziness, visions of anteaters, and a startling wonderment at just where all that time got off to.


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIf you're a fan of strategy games, we've got a real treat for you this Monday. Both KDice Trainer and UniWar tackle the genre from different angles, the former adopting a casual-friendly stance while the latter isn't afraid to get serious with unit management and tactics.

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, Saltone!

kdiceiphone.gifKDice Trainer - A single-player version of Ryan Dewsbury's addictive multiplayer classic, KDice, is now available to take with you on your iPhone. Gameplay is like Risk, only with dice instead of army units. Attack adjacent territories as you battle other colors for control over the map. At the end of your turn you get bonus dice based on the largest number of contiguous territories that you control. In other words, the larger your land, the stronger you are. Simple, but highly engaging. KDice was inspired by the single-player game, Dice Wars, by Taro Ito.

uniwar.gifUniWar - What if Advance Wars and StarCraft got together and baked a cake? And what if that cake weren't a cake, but a game? UniWar would probably be the result, as this turn-based strategy game plays like a combination of both popular mainstream titles. Buy, build and control your army of units as you fight your opponent for control of the precious bases. Many units have special abilities that betray their low attack/defense scores, so sometimes muscling your way to the end isn't always the best road to victory.

totomi.gifTotomi - A portable version of the Flash game of the same name, Totomi is an animal-filled stacking-based puzzle game. Animals and food all have relationships with each other, which makes stacking a bit more complex. You can pile zebras on top of each other all day long, for example, but as soon as you put a lion in the mix, he'll gobble them right up. Putting a leaf on the zebras is a different matter. It's a unique puzzle experience that's made a smooth transition to the iTunes App Store. A free Totomi Lite version is also available.

cosmicnitro.gifCosmic Nitro - From the creator of Galcon comes a frantic tap-to-shoot arcade game that doubles as an "I'm afraid I'm going to tap my iPod to pieces" simulator. Asteroids, toxic waste, meteors, UFOs and other space debris are hurtling towards the city. Simply tap the screen to blast the baddies, making sure to fry any pieces they throw off as a result of being destroyed. Stay alive as long as you can and earn massive points. Things take a minute or so to warm up, but when you're huddled over the screen, iPhone clutched in two hands tapping with as many fingers as you can manage, you'll see why it's a great game.

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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Cindy's Travels

MarcusWhat happens when "happily ever after" is over? The business of the kingdom, of course. At least, that's what happens in Cindy's Travels: Flooded Kingdom. Cindy, known to the rest of the world as the glass shoe-wearing maiden before midnight, Cinderella, is now in charge of the affairs of the kingdom. When huge piles of junk begin to overtake the land, turning the countryside into a fairyland landfill, Cindy takes it upon herself to figure out what is causing the pile-up, and she gives the kingdom a good cleaning along the way.

Cindy's TravelsUsing a match-3 system similar to games like Cradle of Rome and 4 Elements, make long chains of matches to clear a path for Cindy to her next destination. Each path in clearly defined, and that makes it easy to concentrate on the locations most in need of cleaning. You are not completely at the mercy of the chains, though. You do have your magic mirror, which will slowly charge as you clear chains of objects from the field. Once it is charged, a large chain will set off the magic, clearing all the objects in your vicinity, allowing you to move ahead along the path.

There are even more magical items that will help in your journey down your path. These power-ups will charge as you make matches on the board, just like the mirror. One of the most useful is the hammer, which destroys a single block in your path. Other power-ups include a magical spell that auto-selects any chain of 3 or more and destroys it, allowing you to find chains that you might not see. Yet another will allow Cindy to move two spaces along her path without clearing anything out of the way. These power-ups charge in a top-down order first. The further down the list, the stronger the power-up, and the longer it takes to charge between uses. So use them wisely.

The match-3 levels are interspersed with a few different mini-games that Cindy will encounter on her journey. You will help Cindy move logs off of her path, Rush Hour style; as well as find hidden objects using an overhead view. These serve to add a bit of variety to the game to keep things feeling fresh and compelling. Make it down the path through the levels and solve the mystery of the growing garbage in the kingdom.

Cindy's TravelsAnalysis: There seems to be a growing trend in the match-3 genre toward gameplay that uses the matching mechanic for a greater purpose. It's not just about clearing the entire board of tiles anymore, but about creating paths through the play field, for example. These new sub-genres, if executed well, may breathe new life into an otherwise over-saturated genre.

The mini-games in Cindy's Travels are fun and well-implemented. They feel more like they are a part of the game as a whole rather than tacked on at the end in an attempt to add variety. The presentation is tightly integrated and there is no shift in perspective, graphic style, or control mechanics. The transitions from match-3 to mini-game and back again is flawless, and pulls you right into the story.

The graphics in Cindy's kingdom are lush and colorful, with detailed objects and easy-to-recognize bits and bobbles that must be located in the hidden-object levels. The character designs can look a bit odd when viewed from the top, especially with the females. Nothing that's not family friendly, but just kind of odd in appearance. I especially like the levels that take place at night, with items that glow, giving the whole scene a nice, almost magical feeling.

With a solid story and hours of gameplay, Cindy's Travels: Flooded Kingdom is a welcome addition to the match-3 genre. While character perspective may take a bit to get used to, it certainly doesn't detract from the fun packed into this title. Take up Cindy's mirror, clear the land of refuse, and get back to the business of "happily every after."

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (90 votes)
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PsychotronicSentokun in KamakuraThis new game by developer Hyohyohyo (green giant) is a short 3D action adventure about personal growth and wanton destruction. Sentokun in Kamakura is the story of a monk with antlers on his head, on a quest to defeat a giant, antlered cowboy. I don't know the fine details of the plot, but I assume their conflict is antler-related.

At the beginning, the monk is too weak to prevail, so to build up his strength, he must ransack a peaceful coastal town and raze it to the ground. If you wish there were more browser games that let you throw houses at people, you may enjoy this.

The number in the upper-left is your strength. It increases whenever you collect coins, pick up objects, destroy things, or defeat enemies. The bad guys basically operate as gateways; initially, they outclass you, but once you work out your issues on the local scenery, you'll be strong enough to trounce them.

Steer your hero with the [Arrow Keys]. He moves like a tank with treads made of banana peels, but you'll adjust. The [Z] and the [X] keys are context-sensitive. When nothing special is going on, [Z] triggers a forward leap, which is a great way to get around quickly. [X] makes you do a somersault straight into the air, and while you're there, [Z] smashes you into the ground. That butt-stomp is useless for combat, but it's the perfect way to collect nearby coins.

Nearly every object in the game, including mountains and buildings, has a weight, which you can see by walking right up to it. Press [Z] to pick the item up, and then you can rotate around and press [X] to throw it. You can pick up things that are a little too heavy by jamming on the [Z] button a few times, but if you try that with something way too heavy, you'll hurt yourself. Just like in real life, exercise caution when uprooting a tree with your bare hands.

Combat works nearly the same as picking things up. Just walk into the bad guy, and hammer on [Z]. For extra antler monk wrestlemania fun, press [left] and [right] while you've got them in the air. If you get beaten, you probably need to whale on the landscape some more to power up. You can also weaken or crush your enemies by heaving a large enough object at them.

Analysis: Sentokun in Kamakura is a happy, carefree game. You can't hurt yourself very easily, except by blundering repeatedly into the same powerful enemy, and the main character feels heavy but nimble. The chorus of sugar-accelerated voices in the music suggest that the best way to play is with reckless abandon, leaving fragments of architecture and dramatic clouds of dust in your wake.

There's obviously some Katamari Damacy influence, in the sense that you start out helpless and grow strong by destroying everything you see, starting with the smallest objects and working your way up to the hugest. One important part of the formula is missing, however—the only sign that you're getting stronger is the emotionless number in the corner. Your character doesn't grow fatter or more muscular or anything, which detracts a bit from the joy of evolving into an unstoppable creature who can literally move mountains.

It's too bad there's only one level and not much challenge. Sentokun is almost like a tech demo, a colorful, flat-shaded playground for you to smash into shenanigans. If it ends too quickly, try combing the area for every last destructible object, in an effort to maximize your strength before the big showdown. You don't get anything special for doing that, of course, but this is the kind of game where you make your own moments. Like watching a once-mighty tree sail out over the horizon where you've thrown it, or beaning a humongous cowboy with a volcano. Those kinds of moments.

Play Sentokun in Kamakura

[Note: Press [Z] to pass the opening screen. The plot is probably nothing like what I described. It doesn't even look like a cowboy. More like a garbanzo bean with a temple on its head and antlers on the temple. It was easier to say "cowboy".]

[Update! More information on the actual source of the conflict between these two antlered behemoths can be found here. Thanks, JoseHeno!]


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Rating: 4.8/5 (36 votes)
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Wallace and Gromit: Fright of the Bumblebees

DoraAre you ready for adventure? Are you ready for mayhem? Are you... feeling a bit peckish? Then grab your favourite brand of cheese and get comfy in your favourite sweater vest. Telltale Games, developers of the equally tasty Sam and Max games, has just released the first adventure in a new series plucked straight from the popular British cartoon and movie. Wallace & Gromit: Fright of the Bumblebees is the first in a series of episodic adventure games, and it's point-and-click gaming at its finest with everyone's favourite cheese-loving inventor and his beleaguered pooch.

wallacegromitfright.jpgWallace & Gromit are entrepeneurs, of a sort. Wallace is continually applying his abstract inventions to new business ideas, and his latest is honey — "From Bee to You". After breakfast one morning, Wallace is commissioned to produce fifty gallons of the stuff for an event to be held that night — a tight deadline even if he had more than one hive of angry bees. Wallace being Wallace, he comes up with a scheme to produce an enormous amount of honey in a short amount of time, but he's neglected to take into consideration that science and nature don't normally mix.

Depending on where in the story you are, you'll have control of either Wallace himself or his long-suffering canine companion, Gromit, both of which can walk around using the [WASD] keys. Move your mouse over an object and if white brackets appear around it, you can click to interact. Using an item is as easy as holding shift to open your inventory, clicking on the item, and then clicking again on who — or what — you want to use it with. Make sure you come back and check on items when you switch characters, too, as Wallace & Gromit interact with things in different ways.

The hints and walkthrough on the official site definitely come in handy from time to time. A lot of the puzzles are abstract to say the least, unless you're one of those people who instantly knows what to do with a badger, a tennis racket, and a stick of butter. Since the game generally tries to provide items to you when you would need them, however, it scales back on the frustration of other adventure games which have you trying to use an item over and over throughout the course of an entire game. In general, the puzzles are more diverse than the standard bring-this-item-to-this-character variety; when was the last time you had to use advertisements to craft a suitably scathing insult?

wallacegromitfright2.jpgAnalysis: Fright of the Bumblebees is just beautiful. Let's get that out of the way right now. I spent a great deal of gameplay just marveling at how gorgeous everything was and how near-flawless the animation is, shot from every angle. The titular characters are lovingly rendered so close to the original series that their designs even incorporate little fingerprints and cracks to make them resemble the clay sculptures. The game is packed with the show's signature style and unique appeal, down to the so British voice acting (Wallace himself is voiced by the official backup actor, Ben Whitehead) and the roly-poly orchestral soundtrack. The spoken dialogue is only in English, but subtitles are available in several languages. Gromit's expressions, of course, need no translation. The downside is that this means older computers might have trouble running it smoothly, so make sure to check yours against the specifications.

Wallace & Gromit is one of those things that you either get or you don't, and the appeal of the series' goggle-eyed characters and their implausible adventures is largely dependent upon your appreciation for unabashed silliness. If you can accept that a dog can grow a prize-winning giant cucumber, or that a man can have his brain swapped with a rabbit, then you'll do just fine. If reading that sentence caused your brow to furrow, you might encounter difficulties. The game is a lot of things, but serious isn't one of them, and the very British humour is much more dry than everyone might be used to. The jokes are kid-friendly, but not so watered down that adults won't get a giggle or four out of them.

As the first in a planned series of four adventures to be released monthly, Fright of the Bumblebees is, in my opinion, worth every penny so far. The price of which includes, incidentally, the three upcoming adventures as well. Often games that are based off of established shows tend to feel very commercial, or just consist of a basic gameplay system with token nods to the source material. By contrast, this game feels like a real labour of love. If you've ever wondered what butter has to do with catching squirrels, or where Strongium comes from, you owe it to yourself to check out this game. And even if you haven't, it's still worth a look.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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Weekend Download

AdamBThis week, three of the four games featured come from the development group Free Lunch Design. Why? Because one of their games turned this writer onto the world of free games and further to that, in all its history JIG has featured just one of their games. What better way to say, thanks for all the lost time spent playing, then to shine a bit of light on their highlights.

icytower.gifIcy Tower (Windows, 4.4MB, free) - One of the most classic free games where the object is unceasingly repetitive and never, ever changes but somehow remains continuously enjoyable. Simply gain enough speed in the small tower's base to hurl Harold the Homeboy against the walls of the infinitely tall tower. As you do, you then ricochet off the wall, then combo higher and higher into the stratosphere while jumping off increasingly smaller platforms in your quest for every homeboy's desire: a really big score.

froghunt.gifFrog Hunt (Windows, 3.55MB, free) - Hoorah for games which can't be played according to their rules! In stark contrast to Icy Tower which only has one rule (jump) and can't be disobeyed, Frog Hunt has one rule (catch frogs) which can't be followed. Simply attempt to not get squashed by giant hopping elephants while a God-like figure randomly gives you points for no reason. It's bizarre, it's fun and best of all, no frogs are harmed during the game play period.

zombiepox.gifZombiepox (Windows, 2.56MB, free) - What's more fun than jumping and frogs? Zombies? You betcha! Especially when you're hopelessly outnumbered and also weaponless. How to defeat the zombie horde without a weapon? Supply them with the one thing they don't have - that's right, hurl brains at the zombies to turn them human. Return all the zombies to their former, upright and breathing status and viola, instant hero.

gate.gifGate (Mac/Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Not a Free Lunch Design game, but something you'll get a kick out of nonetheless. Gate is a "programming" game where you must wire the innards of a robot trying to navigate the Martian landscape. Connect thrusters to sensors so when the latter is activated the former kicks in, allowing the 'bot to move and change direction. Before long you'll be adding NOT gates and wrapping your head aroud increasingly complex logic circuits. There's no tutorial, so you should have a working understanding of what's going on before you take the plunge. Similar to KOHCTPYKTOP: Engineer of the People, but with a much different goal in mind.


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UfoPilot 2: The Phadt Menace

JoshA little-known sequel to an even lesser-known original, UfoPilot 2: The Phadt Menace is a fun little action shooter that pays homage to the classic Defender, with gravity-based elements reminiscent of all those "moon lander" games that you've probably played throughout the last decade. You're tasked with leading rescue missions to save your fellow pilots, who are being held as prisoners-of-war by the Phadt Armada, a hostile alien enemy. Developed by Spell of Play, the game features an original soundtrack and physics-based graphics presentation, leaning heavily towards the arcade motif, but less cartoon-like than most shooters. This may be, in part, because of the physics/gravity engine (it's difficult to articulate without being a developer, but the game looks like it feels and plays, with debris from explosions affecting the environment in small, pixel-sized amounts).

UfoPilot 2: The Phadt MenaceLike most action games, the story takes a backseat to the gameplay, which is pretty fulfilling if you're a fan of gravity-influenced flying and blowing things out of the sky. However, this isn't your typical run-and-gun shooter, which might appeal to fans that have been yearning for something a little different. There's a lot of unique environments like underground caverns and above-ground ruins to fly around in; a stark contrast from most shooters that just throw you in deep space with some asteroids to crash into. The goal of each level is to rescue a certain number of captured pilots that are being held in little bunkers scattered throughout the map. There are always five prisoners in each bunker, and you've got to fire a single shot at the bunker to destroy it and free them. (Yea, the irony of blowing up the building your buddies are being held in seemed a little odd to me, too.) Once a bunker is destroyed, they'll run out screaming like lunatics. To rescue them, you've got to land somewhere close to them, and they'll automatically start running to your ship. Once aboard, you can either fly to another bunker or unload them at the mothership, depending on how much cargo room you have left. Conceptually, it seems simple enough—until you factor in the dozens of things trying to blast you out of the sky.

From the first few levels you'll be met with laser and missile turrets, tanks, falling rocks and even other alien pilots (that amusingly cruise around in ships that look almost exactly like the ones from Tron). But perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is your own flying skill, which will probably lead to your destruction more often than enemies, at least until you get the hang of it. Your thrusters are controlled by pushing the right mouse button, allowing you to fight gravity and follow the direction your mouse is pointing. The left mouse button fires your lasers, so it takes a bit of practice to use both these abilities in harmony, yet independently of one another. You also have three special weapons (gathered as power-ups): bombs, heat-seeking missiles and a unique "bounce" weapon that ricochets of surfaces a few times. These weapons are deployed using [Z], [X] and [C], as displayed on your in-game HUD. Additional power-ups include invulnerability shields, extra lives, anti-gravity boosters and armor replenishment.

UfoPilot 2: The Phadt MenaceThe game features three modes; Classic, Time Attack and Arcade. You'll probably want to start with Classic, since it allows you to play in whatever style you like, at your own pace. At the start of each level, you're presented with an upgrade screen that lets you tweak six different aspects of your ship; weapons, armor, engine, payload, spin and target. Weapons and armor are pretty self-explanatory. Upgrading your engine gives you stronger thrust, while payload dictates how many rescued pilots you can carry at once. Lastly, "spin" refers to how fast you're able to turn—or pivot—your ship (which is more important that it sounds), and upgrading "target" lengthens the distance between your aiming reticule and your ship, helping you to shoot more accurately. The catch with upgrading is that you're only given 12 points to spend, regardless of progression. While this allows a strong start, it also discounts the possibility of becoming "stronger" in later levels. It might seem like a dumb move on the developers part, but therein lies the real challenge at the heart of the game; dynamically adapting both your ship and play style to overcome different obstacles, depending on the level. Sometimes you'll need brute force to defend yourself from heavy alien resistance, while other times the level design will call for greater finesse and control of your ship, or even stealthy tactics to avoid confrontation altogether.

Analysis: For a small indie arcade game, the music and graphics in UfoPilot 2: The Phadt Menace are surprisingly good. The backgrounds are a far stretch from breathtaking, but the animation and explosion/particle effects are pretty cool and uniquely stylized for this game. It really fits the theme of a physics-based arcade shooter, although there's obvious room for improvement (max resolution is a paltry 640x480). Presentation aside, gameplay can be frustrating because of what a cruel, unforgiving mistress gravity plays in this game. You might find yourself banging into things left and right, which drains a hefty bit of armor. Landing is also a challenge, since anything but a delicate touchdown will damage your ship a little (and you'll be trying to land a lot, since rescuing pilots is half the game). Fending off attacking aliens and zeroing in on turrets also takes a bit of practice, but becomes really rewarding once you get the hang of it. Additional options would have been a great feature, such as the ability to tone down the gravity, or turn it off completely. The Arcade mode offers a different flavor of gameplay, automatically upgrading aspects of your ship as you progress, among a few other variations from Classic.

You don't have to be a glutton for punishment to enjoy this game, but it's not going to be the easiest arcade shooter you've ever played. The rough action doesn't overshadow the strategic elements so much as to ruin the game, although you might disagree if you just spent the last half hour blowing up into the side of a wall. Thankfully, you can try it before you buy it by downloading the demo, available through the hUb distribution client (similar to Steam). It's a commendable effort that adds a unique dimension to the Defender and Asteroids era of games that many arcade fans still love to this day.

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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DoraGemcraft ZeroIn mid-2008, we featured a game called GemCraft, which immediately went on to become one of the most well-received tower defense games of all time. Now, strategy fans can rejoice, because GameInABottle has released Gemcraft Chapter Zero: Gem of Eternity, and it's even bigger and badder than the original.

Acting as a prequel to the original, GemCraft Chapter Zero tells the story of a wizard who has become so entangled in his search for the fabled Gem of Eternity that his colleagues have cast him out. If the story doesn't compel you, that's to be expected, because GemCraft's muscle lies in it's incredibly addictive gameplay.

Prior experience with GemCraft isn't necessary, since the game provides you with tips and explanations throughout. At its core, the gameplay is deceptively simple; place magical gems atop towers to attack the monsters that arrive in waves and head towards your base. Enemies arrive in waves, and you can see when the next one is coming by keeping an eye on the bar at the left side of the screen. If an enemy reaches your base, it does damage to your mana, which you use to create your defenses, and if your mana reaches zero, you lose the level.

But there's a lot more to GemCraft this time around, as your first encounter with the map screen should tell you. Now winning a battle grants you experience which increases your level. Gaining a level allows you to purchase a wide variety of skills to help in the next fight, and even unlocks new battle modes for each area. For achievement fans, there are also an enormous number of amulets to try for, awarded for everything from defeating a particular number of monsters to using an ability to win a battle. GemCraft Zero is here to pull you in for the long haul.

Gemcraft ZeroAnalysis: I was a little overwhelmed the first time I opened up the game and saw the sheer number of options available for everything, which makes the game appear much more difficult to pick up than it really is; Gemcraft Zero is as difficult as you want it to be. At first glance it appears a virtual hydra of a game, with so many spells, battle options, and tactics that it may scare off people expecting a strictly casual gaming experience that fits neatly into a coffee break.

The truth is, however, that GemCraft Chapter Zero manages to be one of those games where you can sit and play a few rounds when you have time, thanks to the save feature, but it will also cheerfully suck out your brain for hours at a time if you let it. The addition of levels and skills to buy means there's something more to strive for beyond simply staying alive, and customisation freaks will be able to tweak their army to their heart's content. There's something immensely satisfying in seeing the serpentine enemy advancement vaporised by your carefully laid plans, and since each level has multiple battle modes that can be unlocked the stronger you get, it lets the difficulty scale with your skill. It is possible to finish the game by powering through on the vanilla setting, but being able to test your mettle against other difficulties keeps the game from becoming tired as you go along.

GemCraft Chapter Zero is impressive for a variety of reasons, but the simplest is how it manages to take such a simple objective as the tower defense genre usually presents and make it so darned appealing. And this is coming from someone who can't usually play these games without zoning out after five minutes and wondering what's on Discovery Channel. One of my only real complaints is how largely silent the game is aside from its sound effects. A few simple music tracks in the background of the battle screen—where you spend the lion's share of your time—would have been nice, but honestly, I got so absorbed in what I was doing that I forgot all about it before long. Any fan of tower defense games shouldn't miss this one, but even those who may not normally be interested in them should at least give it a try. It's made me a convert, and should sit comfortably as king of the hill for a long time to come.

Play Gemcraft Chapter Zero: Gem of Eternity

UPDATE: GameInABottle has released an update to GemCraft Zero, 1.01, which fixes several issues with the gameplay and addresses the difficulty in some levels.


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBThe following text was taken directly from the pages of my super-secret diary. Less of a diary, more of a journal. Not so much a journal, now that I think about it, sort of a captain's log. Complete with stardates!

  • icon_roboriot.gifRobo Riot - IT'S 18 GAMES IN ONE AND THERE ARE ROBOTS!!! Actually, that first bit isn't true, it's just two games in one: a puzzle game and a reflex-based arcade game. But there are robots. Lots of 'em. And they're different colors, too. In Crowd Control you're trying to clear 'bots by drawing squares with like-colored machines in each corner. In Assassination, you shoot stuff. Wee!
  • icon_bestfriendsforever.gifBest Friends Forever - A simple platform/puzzle game in the vein of The Lost Vikings. Control a set of BFFs (which stands for, obviously, Banana-Flavored Fruit) who work together to make it through a handful of levels. For example: plop one friend on a button to keep spikes down so the others can pass safely. That's what friends are for, right?
  • icon_volcano.gifVolcano - Ok ok, so a volcano has erupted, right? And this really big wall of lava is chasing you, ok? How do you escape? By turning into a panther to run, a monkey to climb, and a mouse to scurry through tight corridors! Use the [z], [x] and [c] keys to switch animals, and try to keep a respectful distance between yourself and the liquid hot magma.
  • icon_mightyredorb.gifMighty Red Orb of Eternal Power (with three little white balls gravitating around it) - With a title like that, what more can I say? A mouse-avoder game with some unique power-ups and the ability to shoot and destroy the walls. Then there's the hoarse guy who yells at you when you mess up.
  • icon_jumpnrolla.gifJump 'n' Rolla - An action/skill game that bears some resemblance to titles such as Dolphin Olympics and Monkey Kick Off. The goal is to make it as far down the mountain as you can. Tog jumps on his own, it's your job to make sure he lands on his feet, not his head.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (210 votes)
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DoraBridgecraftHow cute can you take it? If your answer is merely "pretty darn cute", that won't be enough, because the latest game from Picaso Games is adorable enough to make Scottish-Fold kittens on the other side of the world jealous. Even your cursor becomes pudgy and extra cuddly as you set out to help the little Euwins return home. It seems a massive tidal wave has scattered them across the land, but fortunately for them, they have a steady supply of building materials, even if they don't quite know how to use them. That's where you and one very clever physics engine come in with Bridgecraft.

The gameplay feels similar to Armadillo Run or Pontifex. You start each level with a budget that you can use to purchase building materials, like the standard deck, and add either steel or the weaker rope for support.

Start by clicking on the anchor points, denoted by little green circles, and draw a line to direct where your bridge will go. Clicking on a green circle again will delete anything attached to it, returning the cost to your budget. You'll need to work in segments, and since some obstacles are bigger than others, you're going to have to strengthen your bridge with the appropriate material. Rope may be cheaper, but it's more than a little unforgiving when it comes to bearing weight. For the most part, each material behaves like it should, so you should feel more comfortable with a reinforced steel bridge than, oh, a swaying bridge made of water-logged macrame.

BridgecraftWhen you're ready, you can click the green Start button to send your little critter tottering trustingly out onto your bridge. If the bridge snaps, you'll have to try again. You can choose to Undo a single move, Reset the whole level, or add more support to the existing design, if you have any funds left. There's no real penalty for failing, so you can try over and over again as often as you like. In fact, you'll probably want to make use of the "Show Stress" button at the top of the screen, which will highlight areas that are under particular strain when the Euwin tries to cross and help you figure out where the problem lies. That the levels take place on a grid makes it that much easier to really fine-tune your measurements.

For those of us with less than a passing interest in architecture, Bridgecraft can prove frustratingly challenging at times, as you watch construct after construct surrender to the elements and send your unhappy looking Euwins tumbling into the watery depths. You may not need a degree in engineering for this one, but it helps to have a basic understanding of structure and support. 70 levels is plenty of time to become a building master, but I'm still not sure whether the physics engine is unforgiving, or I'm just inept at engineering. I'm sorry, little Euwins. Your trusting eyes will haunt me in my dreams!

Analysis: Don't be fooled by that happy smiling sun. It's a good thing this game is so unrelentingly cheerful, since the soothing colours and shapes can help when you'd rather throw your keyboard out the window, after yet another bridge falls apart like a soggy pretzel. That's what I get for passing notes during science class. It takes a lot of experimentation and patience to figure out exactly what each level requires, since working within a budget means there is rarely more than one solution for any given puzzle. Adding to your stress, the Undo button only lets you undo a single move, which forces you to reset the entire structure if your mistake happened early on in the building process.

If any game could be described as appealing to a niche group, then this is probably it. The challenge of building a sturdy bridge under monetary constraints isn't going to be everyone's cuppa, and with nary a bloodthirsty alien or magical sword to be found, those craving fast-paced action had better look elsewhere. What's surprising, however, is how this one grew on me. The satisfaction in completing a level and seeing your design stand tall is pretty addictive, to say nothing of the increasing challenge as the levels go on.

Bridgecraft is an exercise in patience, common-sense, and ingenuity. If the trial-and-error doesn't discourage you, and I encourage you not to let it for this one, the experience can be rewarding. For me it also serves as a reminder of why I got that F in shop class.

Play Bridgecraft

Thanks for the suggestion, Scott, Mat, and David!


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Dream Chronicles 3: The Chosen Child

JohnBHey look, it's Dream Chronicles 3: The Chosen Child! The latest installment in the Dream Chronicles series has arrived, and it's as breathtakingly brilliant as everyone would expect. A little bit of hidden object finding, a little bit of puzzle solving, and a whole lot of adventuring can be found in this superb sequel, along with some of the most gorgeous scenery you've seen since looking out your own window (assuming you live in a fantasy world with fairies, fountains, and vibrant gardens). It's an excellent follow-up to the previous Dream Chronicles games and a fantastic game in its own right.

dreamchronicles3.jpgIn Dream Chronicles 3 you reprise the role of Faye who is in search of her missing husband and daughter, kidnapped by Lilith, the Queen of Fairies. Unfortunately it seems her memory has some, er, "gaps", as she lives in a tree house and remembers practically nothing of her former life. Not even her name! A helpful voice soon appears to help guide you on your quest, and before you know it the adventure begins, those trickster fairies pulling pranks on you at every turn.

Dream Chronicles 3 is structured much like Dream Chronicles 2. Each area, which consists of half a dozen or more unique locations, has a set of puzzles to solve using items you find strewn about the landscape. Finding these objects is a straightforward affair, all you have to do is travel back and forth, scrutinizing the scenery for pieces of a machine, colored stones, keys, parts of a windmill, or whatever it is you're looking for. Often you'll pick up objects that don't seem to have a use just yet, and then again, sometimes you'll need to get your hands on something you just can't find! Carrying items between scenes is an important part of solving the intricate puzzles.

Don't miss our reviews and walkthroughs for the entire Dream Chronicles series!

Mini-puzzles are strewn about Dream Chronicles 3, ranging from word unscrambling to potion mixing and other logic-type games. Nothing that breaks the atmosphere, of course, and they're a welcome (but subtle) shift of pace from the game's hidden object/adventure theme. Dream Chronicles 3 is also filled with flavor-text, little bits of information that pop up when your cursor passes over many of the items. Clicking these objects produces a short description at the bottom of the screen. Entirely optional in most cases, but clicking and exploring are all part of the adventure game experience, and it's nice to have this aspect fleshed out to such an extent.

New in The Chosen Child is the nexus, a hub-world of sorts that allows you to travel between areas by pulling levers to rotate a massive set of gears and portals. Instead of being confined to a linear path, Dream Chronicles 3 opens the door for wider exploration, creating the epic feel the series needed to move to the next level.

dreamchronicles3a.jpgAnalysis: If Myst were a casual game, it would be Dream Chronicles. That's a tall order to fill, but the two series share a lot in common, from the top-notch visuals (Myst was gorgeous in 1993!) to the silent worlds filled with fantasy content. Dream Chronicles 3 has a decidedly more modern slant to it, obviously, and its focus on object finding and mini-games certainly sets it apart from the classic Myst masterpiece.

Even though Dream Chronicles 3 can be categorized as a hidden object, the type of item hunting you do in this game is quite different from most. Objects are hidden very naturally, no over/undersized partially-opaque camouflage cop-outs here. Instead, the things you need to find are small and can usually be found in logical (or at least semi-logical) places. There's no penalty for going on a mad click-fest, but Dream Chronicles 3 encourages you to take a breath and just look at the scenery, a mechanic made even more powerful by the impeccable visuals you'll want to stare at regardless of what's hidden there. Soon, items will pop out at you, and I never had a frustratingly difficult time finding what I needed.

Dream Chronicles 3: The Chosen Child is a breathtaking follow-up to the first two games in the series. These titles just keep getting better and better. It's a perfect blend of object finding and adventure gameplay, and the puzzles are constructed so cleverly you might even giggle when you think of the solution. And I swear you'll melt from the combination of the gorgeous visuals and enchanting music. In short: Dream Chronicles 3. Play it now!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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KeroWe've just finished a complete walkthrough (with images) for Dream Chronicles 3: The Chosen Child!! Be warned: contains major spoilers, so proceed only as a last resort.


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thefogfall2.gifJohnBNew from Pastel Games and Mateusz Skutnik, creator of Covert Front, the Submachine series, and The Great Escape series, comes a sequel to last year's desolate adventure, The Fog Fall. After escaping the shelter in the previous game, The Fog Fall 2 begins right where you left off, standing victorious on the grassy ground above. Apocalyptic war zones are never a place to hang around and celebrate, however, and so your quest continues with a broken-down truck, a few well-dressed soldiers, and some mutants hiding in the fields.

Item and inventory puzzles are the name of the game in The Fog Fall 2, so prepare to click every corner and examine every object you see. Items you collect are stored at the bottom of the screen, and to use them simply click on an item followed by the area you wish to use it on. It's also a good idea to think of logical uses for objects you gather, then aim your cursor at spots you think they could be used, just in case you can take a closer look at things...

As you investigate the town you'll find a number of items useful to your quest. A townsfolk or two provide a helping hand, though if you ask me, they'd be a lot more helpful if they'd just give up their items without asking me to rummage through every house on the block. But that's not much of a game, is it?

Play the entire Fog Fall series:
The Fog Fall 1The Fog Fall 2The Fog Fall 3The Fog Fall 4

Analysis: The artwork in all of Pastel Games' titles has this smooth, graphic novel feel to it, and the look fits perfectly into the world of browser gaming. The Fog Fall 2, much like Covert Front and Submachine, conveys a desolate world using pastel colors, dull tones, and sparse but chilling ambient sound effects. It's the sort of bleakness that's palpable, but not overwhelming, which pulls you into the game world without burying you in it. In other words, the exact level of investment you want in a casual browser game.

The Fog Fall 2 seemed a bit easier than its predecessor, and you can probably charge through in half an hour or so, depending on your adventuring skills. It was interesting to be able to roam freely in the shelter where the first Fog Fall game took place. Not only did this heighten the story's sense of progression, it also gave you a little ego boost right from the start. "Remember this place? Yeah, you broke out of there! Good job!"

The Fog Fall 2 is a great game to get tangled up with for half an hour. Let's hope we don't have to wait another year for the next installment!

Play The Fog Fall 2


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Rating: 4.3/5 (103 votes)
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PsychotronicI Love TrafficJohn Cooney (Achievement Unlocked, Grid16) brings us a cheerfully nihilistic look at traffic, in the form of a fast-paced, fun little reflex-tester. Click on the stop-lights to switch them on or off, allowing cars, buses, and semi-trailers to pass through intersections safely. Each level asks you to pass a certain number of vehicles within a certain amount of time. As the game moves forward, you'll have to deal with more lanes of traffic, more complex traffic patterns, and stricter time limits. Can you beat all 20 levels, oh Invisible Sky-bound Weaver of the Woof and Warp of Interlocking Automobiles? Or will the jabbering banjo music drive you insane first?

Analysis: I Love Traffic is not a game about people. It's a game about cars. It says so right on the main menu screen, and it's utterly true. The drivers of these vehicles have no control over themselves — they just drive right into the middle of the intersection when they see the green light, as though you threw a big bag of automobile catnip out there.

"You caused an accident!" the game tells you, as the cars collide, leaving entertaining skid tracks all over the highway. And you did. The second these tiny, digital drivers got in front of their virtual dashboards, they were doomed, their decision-making skills silenced by the purr of the engine, their fate entirely in the hands of the traffic gods. That's you. And you murdered them.

The message? Don't be like them, when you're behind the wheel. As my openly hostile driving instructor once told me about intersections, "Always look both ways! First you get hit from the left! Then you get hit from the right! You're a punk, and you're gonna get killed." Then he got me in a choke-hold and demanded to know the location of the emergency flares. Mr. Shipler would have loved this game.

Play I Love Traffic


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Rating: 4.4/5 (59 votes)
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PsychotronicShichi Narabe[Warning: You may need to disable your browser's pop-up blocker to play Shichi Narabe.]

Shichi Narabe is the Japanese version of Sevens, a card game played all over the world with minor regional variations. This single-player Flash implementation of the game has no English translation, but the rules are very simple.

There are four players. At the beginning of a round, all the cards in a regular 52-card deck plus the joker are dealt out. The four 7s, whoever has them in hand, go immediately into the center of the table.

Your goal is to play all the cards in your hand. Taking turns, each player can lay a card on the table if it is in sequence with an already-played card of the same suit. The sequence can ascend or descend, and Aces are considered adjacent to Kings. If you can't make a play, you'll have to use one of your three passes and hope things have opened up by your next turn.

The joker can take the place of any card in the deck, so long as you can immediately play the next card in sequence. For example, if the 6 of spades is on the board, and you have the 4 of spades and the joker in hand, you can play the joker in the place of the 5, and then you will automatically play the 4 in the same turn. The joker is unplayable if it is your only remaining card.

Scoring is even simpler: you get more points the earlier you go out. Don't be the last player to shed your cards, though, because a giant claw will pick you up by the head and carry you away.

Analysis: Wait, claw? What? Yeah, no kidding. While my Japanese is rusty and non-existent, there seems to be a storyline, revolving around a room full of stone cactus-people locked in an endless Deer Hunter-esque card game death-match. You play a green cactus battling for its very survival. Your doom is certain, your only hope to prolong the sweet breath of life for a few more rounds of Sevens before The Claw hauls you off to the Great Gravel-Maker in the Sky.

Or something like that. A translation would be most welcome.

This implementation of Shichi Narabe leaves a few things to be desired. There's no visual cue when you're out of plays, so I spent many turns clicking through each one of my cards, in case I missed a possibility. I'm also not sure why my cards have to appear in my hand in random order. I wasted a lot of time scanning over my hand to make sure I don't have any more hearts, when they could just as easily have been grouped together.

The game itself depends partly on luck, which makes it an odd choice for this one-strike-and-you're-out bloodsport framework. You will pick up a few strategies, but sometimes everyone else will have the sevens and the joker, and you'll be stuck staring at a rainbow of kings and aces. You're claw food, buddy. Back to zero.

The addictive appeal comes from the same place as solitaire—maybe you'll get lucky the next time, and there are many ways to increase your chances. You may find yourself playing a lot more rounds of Shichi Narabe than you planned. Even if you're not into card games, it's worth playing at least once, to see the vacant, curious look the cacti give their loser friends as they are carried away to be mulched.

Play Shichi Narabe


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Rating: 4.3/5 (127 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessLoom Above is a new release from Place of Light, one of our very favorite escape game developers! Without doubt a cause for celebration.

Loom AboveWhy the title Loom Above? I can't really say, as the game seems to involve neither weaving nor malevolent figures towering menacingly above the player. That's all right, though... such logical inconsistencies aside, the scenario is the usual escape game setup: you find yourself in a locked room and must solve puzzles and collect strange objects in order to break out.

Loom Above is not nearly as long or challenging as Place of Light's previous releases (which may come to some as a relief) and there are far fewer items to find. The puzzles are all fairly straightforward and the game, all in all, will probably take veteran escapers no longer than 10 minutes or so. Despite this, Loom Above is a joy to play because of how well everything fits together. The logical trajectory of the game flows nicely, the transitions from puzzle to puzzle feel seamless and everything just generally makes sense. Place of Light obviously took a lot of time and care to make the game into a well-oiled machine, and it shows.

While not as aesthetically pleasing as their last release, Room Marine (it doesn't help that this game's predominant color scheme is shades of brown, while Room Marine was decorated in gorgeous greens and blues), Loom Above is nevertheless rendered in a professional and attractive style. The room is cozy, if impersonal; a guest bedroom, maybe? The game's interface is clean and intuitive (and simple; you are at no point even required to take a close-up look at any item in your inventory) and a save feature is present, though you probably won't need it. Some music to add atmosphere would have been nice, though not essential.

Despite being what could be described as "Place of Light Lite," Loom Above is nevertheless an unusually inventive and well-created room escape game, with a number of tricks up its metaphorical sleeves. And really, considering how hard Place of Light's games can be, an easier and more forgiving release from the developer is not a bad thing whatsoever; I do wish it had been a bit longer to compensate for the reduction in difficulty, but you can't have everything. I did notice on Place of Light's website that a new escape game, entitled Loom Blend, is coming soon... perhaps, like the equally wonderful developer Neutral, Place of Light is choosing for now to focus on creating easier, shorter games at a faster pace? Time will tell.

Play Loom Above


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (172 votes)
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JayScary GirlScarygirl is a huge (hours long) and absolutely stunning platform game just released today by a collaboration of companies, including art direction by concept creator, Nathan Jurevicius, an Australian-born artist now living in Toronto, Ontario.

Update: We have decided to hold off on publishing a review at this time due to the myriad bugs and control issues the game suffers from at present. It's disappointing to see a game so beautiful be marred by so many gameplay issues. We are hopeful that Touch My Pixel takes all the constructive criticism they are receiving in the comments and give the game several iterations of quality-control and refinement. We would be pleased to give this game a follow-up review should that happen.

Be sure to read our full review of Scarygirl.

Also worth noting is the servers the game is being hosted on were unprepared for the onslaught of traffic the game is receiving, no doubt due to its visual appeal. So, Touch My Pixel is asking people to be patient until they can address the traffic overload, which is compounding the frustration players are experiencing.

Play Scarygirl


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (110 votes)
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zxoColliderThe unanticipated delay in firing up the ol' Large Hadron Collider has given people across the world a shot at being the first to observe the elusive Higgs Boson. Stepping up to the plate for the casual gaming crowd is Dan Russell-Pinson (Block Drop, Tipping Point), with his new game, aptly named Collider.

Using proprietary physics simulation technology, Collider lets you in on the particle-smashing action! Simply annihilate all charged particles by crashing the positive ones into the negative ones. Each of the 25 levels contains a number of positionable particles, which you must place above the eerie green overlay, as well as particles which cannot be moved directly. Once you've placed all the particles, click Play (or hit [Space]) to start them in motion, then just wait and watch. Hit [Space] again to reset if, like the LHC, your mission of collision is a vision of derision and you're wishin' for remission!

Watching particles drop may not exactly sound like a killer game waiting to happen, but Dan throws in a few quirks that quickly turn the game into a puzzle-solving endeavor along the lines of Color Infection. Rolling particles across colored switches activates various levers, platforms, pinwheels, and other moving elements, and colliding particles of different sizes will leave some leftovers after annihilation for you to clean up. Most levels are designed such that many solutions are possible, but there's one "intended" solution that's more elegant than the rest, which is exactly how physics puzzlers should be designed. Only a handful of levels require copious fine-tuning of particle positions, but that doesn't mean that the rest will be a breeze. Some thinking required, although no level should require a Ph.D. in high energy physics. However, in case you do get stuck there are links to the solutions available right in the game.

The spacey music and sound effects clash against the rusty patina of the pipes and the various dingy backgrounds, suggesting a post-apocalyptic environment in which all this colliding is perpetrated. The music is actually quasi-random and is regenerated at the beginning of each level, so it should never weary your ears.

Apparently, Dan never got the message that particles need to collide at velocities pretty durn close to the speed of light in order to be of any use. Often the particles just crawl along, and while it might be nice to have a magic button that speeds things up, such a feature — like the notorious Boson — remains elusive. Aside from that, there's really little to complain about with Collider, and a whole lot to like. So while he may not be out there finding a unified theory of everything, Dan does a pretty good job at making a superb casual game.

Play Collider

Thanks for the suggestion, David and Dan!


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (47 votes)
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GrimmrookPrizma PuzzlePrizma Puzzle is a new tile-based puzzler by Silengames, strong on aesthetics and brimming with potential. Using your mouse, your job is to form a path of light beams from a source of your choice to all of the pyramid-shaped goals. You only have a limited number of moves to do this, though, and once one of the prisms on the board is used, you can't re-use it.

As a puzzle concept, Prizma Puzzle is most definitely familiar, and the primary challenge lies in choosing the correct path. But while the basic concept isn't new, a variety of different prisms flesh it out. They allow you to refill your available remaining moves, increase your maximum number of moves, or launch you across empty expanses. What results is a rather neat little experience where you have the freedom to choose between multiple solutions, while also striving to illuminate the best path to success.

This is wrapped up in a very snazzy-looking package. The 3-D rendered objects and lighting effects establish a nice sci-fi setting, where it's not a stretch to imagine you are working on some super-futuristic motherboard or something. Unfortunately, the story is left entirely up to your own imagination, as there is no actual "fi" established in the game, in regards to the "sci-fi."

But Prizma Puzzle suffers from a very serious drawback, in that it's just not all that challenging. Maybe I'm just cynical, but if I manage to finish a game without scrambling for a walkthough I get the feeling that it's just too easy, and Prizma Puzzle doesn't even really become challenging until the last five to ten levels. The speed-based award system partly makes up for the difficulty level, but Silen Games could have done this title a world of good by throwing in a level editor.

Regardless, Prizma Puzzle is definitely fun and should keep you entertained nicely through a lunch break or so. You might try eating a sandwich with your non-mouse hand, or if you're really up for a challenge, some yoghurt.

Play Prizma Puzzle


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (65 votes)
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DoraLeonWarsAh, the classic tale. Humans meet monsters. Humans enslave monsters. Monsters rise up and strike down the human heir in an act of bloody vengeance. Really takes me back, you know? The story behind The Leon Wars isn't its driving force. This is turn-based strategy gaming at its best, putting you in charge of one of two factions, vying for control of the land.

You can play as either the humans or the maligned monster race, and although the difference is largely cosmetic as both sides have access to many of the same abilities, it's still nice to have the option. After all, some days you want to liberate some towns, other days you want to crush some innocents beneath your taloned foot. Whichever side you pick, you'll start the game with access to only a few types of units. As the game progresses, you can research new types of technology and beasts, expanding your arsenal. There are only two additional tiers to research, but the units you can create are diverse enough to satisfy most any of your combat needs, whether you want someone to hang back and cast support magic, or a big juggernaut on the front lines for tossing back your opponents like tic-tacs. If you've ever wanted to order a giant flaming sentient orb or a griffon rider into battle, this is the game for you.

LeonWarsYou construct your armies with gold and iron, and each unit (up to six in an army) has its own unique abilities and requirements. Create an army by first choosing a hero, and then fleshing out the rest with whatever units you feel are most appropriate. You have to choose where to place each unit in your army too, which is important since some units can only attack enemies directly adjacent to them, while others can bring the pain from wherever they are. When you encounter an enemy army, battle plays out like the turn-based RPGs of yore. In between battles, you'll need to heal your armies and bolster your defenses.

A save feature is included that lets you pick up wherever you left off if you need a break. Warning: There is no auto-save. You have to select the Save button manually.

Analysis: The Leon Wars really feels a lot like SNES classic Ogre Battle. You'll spend most of your time on the overland map, directing your troops to capture the nearby towns and mines that generate the gold and iron you need, while your opponent tries to do the same. It forces you to be more aggressive in your play-style than you might want, which sort of hampers some of the potential for real strategy. As you gain access to more research and technology, however, putting you on more of an equal footing with your enemy, things loosen up a little. And while the battles are straightforward, you're often left hand-holding your armies against even weaker opponents, which slows down the pace of the game. The option to have your armies automatically fight some battles would have been a welcome addition.

Still, for all that, the game manages to be a solid gem. It's surprisingly long and can be pleasantly challenging at times, and the tidy, gore-free presentation is easy on the eyes. This shouldn't be missed by any fan of turn-based global domination. And monsters. Feel free to put on your viking helmet for this one. I know you've got one.

Play The Leon Wars

[Note: The Leon Wars was released early last year, but if you missed it, now is a good chance to catch up with an unusually good strategy title. If you like The Leon Wars, you might also enjoy Brute Wars or Monster's Den.]


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (48 votes)
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PsychotronicZerosumZerosum is an intense variation on match-3 puzzles. Easy to learn, hard to master. Some day far in the future, math will be taught entirely through computer games, and something a lot like Zerosum will be the professor. It will be a caring but cruel mentor, who passes out high-energy protein snacks for correct answers, and when you get them wrong, tasers you. That's quality learnin'. Since I'm not in school any more, it's too bad we're not there yet.

You play Zerosum on a grid of blocks with numbers on them. Your goal is to make matches, by lining up at least three of the same number in either a row or column. Everything is done with the mouse. Select one of the numbers on the grid, and move it into an adjacent number. The two digits will add together. If the sum is greater than 9, the tens digit will be dropped, so 7 + 8 results in 5, for example. A block with a zero is a powerful wildcard—it matches with anything.

On the right is a list of the upcoming digits, which appear in the vacant space whenever you make a move. When you run out of these, your game is over. To prevent this you have to keep making matches, reducing the Extend meter on the left. Each time that meter reaches zero, your stock of digits increases. As you advance in levels, the Extend meter grows, making it harder and harder to stay in the game.

Making matches also gradually fills the Burst meter at the top, which sets off a kind of bonus round. During Burst Mode, matches can form with any combination of connected blocks, not just ones in a straight line. This is your chance to rack up a few extra blocks for your stock, if you can form a few large chains.

If you survive long enough, you may encounter some special blocks. Metal blocks keep the same digit no matter what, ice blocks must be thawed out by making a nearby match, and blocks with a circle of surrounding arrows will increment every turn.

Analysis: Let me address the timer issue, because I know that time limits are a real bummer for many of you. Yes, there is a strict time limit on each move, and logically, that will prevent you from playing the ideal strategy, thus stressing you out. In the timer's defense, you can't deny that it gets the blood pumping, and it also ensures that the game will end reasonably quickly. Without it, you could spend the rest of your life hunting for the best move every turn, and frankly, you've got other stuff you should be doing.

Zerosum is a great example of how to train a human brain to work in new ways. Initially, there seem to be limitless choices for every move, but you will begin to recognize patterns and opportunities. Out of necessity, you'll develop more and more sophisticated strategies; setting up future combos, sprinkling the board with zeros, planning three moves in advance. It's brain candy, once you get into it. Like defusing a bomb constructed by a six-year-old arch-villain.

This also demonstrates how Match-3 games like Bejeweled and Tetris Attack aren't a design dead end. They can be transformed from a casual and relaxing past-time to an intense and intellectual past-time, just by adding some adding. If you like this, you might also enjoy Chain Factor.

Play Zerosum


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (119 votes)
| Comments (32) | Views (44)

PsychotronicKissmaInstead of trying to summarize Party Tencho's Kissma with a regular review full of sentences—which would be kind of like trying to extinguish a grease fire with a pail full of mackerel—we're going to share an excerpt from our original e-mail conversation about it. These were our comments to our reviewer mailing list when we first played the game. We hope this peek into the inner workings of Jay is Games will be helpful and enlightening. And heeeeere we go:

Psychotronic - I just don't know how to describe this.

Kero - words fail me.

Jay - It's KISSTASTIC!

Dora - Oh my stars and garters.

Jay - I thought I was doing GREAT, but got "lowest kiss class" :(

Marcus - It sort of reminds me of the Parodius games on the old Turbo Duo. Just... odd... And, yes, "lowest kiss class" for me, as well :(

JohnB - I thought of Parodius, too! This thing is too crazy for words. Favorite kisspower: THE CLAW GRABBY MASHEEN! I love the "music" for this game, btw.

Jay - It looks like something Alien Melon (Blue Suburbia/Haxed by Megahurtz/Alexis) would do.

Dora - How can I be lowest kiss class?! I had a kiss cannon! AND KISS SHURIKEN.

JohnB - I didn't see EITHER of those. What, are there several dozen kiss powers?!

Jay - I had spidey's Kiss Web and the Kiss HAMMER

KissmaArt Begotti - Yeah, keep playing, it just gets crazier. I think I'm on my eighth game, and I'm still seeing new ones (although I've had repeats already as well). 82,600... still lowest kiss class. I'm hoping 100k isn't the next milestone?

Kero - 92.2k and lowest kiss class

Dora - This game is out of control. Someone needs to regulate the funk here, 'cause it is cra-zay!

Art Begotti- OOH! If you get the pongy-breakouty power-up (rolling kiss?), you get TWO THOOOOOUSAND!!! points per kiss. It's harder though, since you don't have as much control where the face goes.

Art Begotti - Oh... Eeugh... so if I'm interpreting the high scores right, your kiss grade is merely determined by whether or not you make the top 30. That's... disappointing.

Still riotously fun, although a pain if you get the wrong power-ups.

Dora - If only this were available for Gameboy. Then I could take Kissma wherever I go! :'(

Art Begotti - Who says you can't take Kissma wherever you go? (You're at least a girl, you can get away with running around and kissing random strangers in bizarre ways more easily than any of us guys could.)

Kero - If you press K you kiss everyone on screen. takes a few seconds before it activates though

Dora - Maybe if I ripped out the soundtrack so I could play it from the speakers on my MP3 Player . . . oh, if only . . .

StaceyG - :()

JohnB - I can just see one of us walking into a room, seeing 15 or so people meandering around, going about their business, all the while we're sizing up potential KISSMA scores. "Ok, I can hit the scruffy homeless guy twice before he wakes up, that's 300 points total, then I grab the bottle he's clutching which is obviously a super KISSMA power, allowing me to perform an AEROBIC KISSMA on a bunch of the others..."

Art Begotti - AAAAUGH!!! I tied for last place (98.1k) but I didn't get in!

Dora - Guys, guys! You're cheapening the Kissma Experience(tm) by focusing so much on the scores! Stop the fussin' and th' feudin'! Remember what Kissma is about -- fabulous hair and forcing your drunken affections on total strangers!

Ms. 45 - But Dora, I can do that anywhere!

SonicLover - If I ever end up in the same room as you, Dora, do me a favor and pretend I don't exist.

Dora - Since you ask so sweetly.

Play Kissma


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Mobile Monday

JohnBSeveral major casual gaming franchises are still making their way to the iTunes App Store, including the fan-favorite Virtual Villagers series! I'm pleased to report the miniaturization has gone surprisingly well, so if you had a hard time tearing yourself away from Virtual Villagers before, good luck resisting the temptation to pull your iPhone out of your pocket...

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, jupchurch!

flightcontrol.gifFlight Control - Ever wanted to be in charge of routing flights safely from the air to the ground? Me neither, but somehow Flight Control makes it fun. Tap and drag an airplane to set its path to the runway. Make the trail as long and windey as you like, as long as the plane makes it to the ground and doesn't smash into another plane, you're good to go. See how many vehicles you can safely land in one sitting!

virtualvillagersiphone.jpgVirtual Villagers 2: The Lost Children - Yup, it's Virtual Villagers on your iPhone! The same village managing, puzzles-solving, science-researching, fishing and gathering fun from the PC/Mac versions has been miniaturized for the touch screen platform. Everything has been preserved and made portable, including the "always on" gameplay that continues while you're away. Also available is the free Virtual Villagers 2 Lite! The original Virtual Villagers - A New Home is also available. Unlike Virtual Villagers 2, this one isn't a direct port of its big-screened cousin, so don't be shocked when you see the new visual style!

wordjong.jpgWordJong - It's like mahjong, but, you know, with words! Tiles with letters are piled on the screen, and in order to remove them you must spell words. A new puzzle is added every day and you can compete for the biggest score with other WordJong players. Clear the screen with the longest words you can to score big points. Also available in a free lite version.

floodit.gifFlood-It! - A very simple puzzle game where the object is to flood the entire screen with one color. Tap one of the colored circles at the bottom of the screen and that color will be flood-filled from the top-left corner of the grid. Continue tapping colors until you've taken over the entire screen! You have a limited number of moves, though, so be efficient. Best of all, Flood-It! happens to be free!

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 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (37 votes)
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Flux Family Secrets: The Ripple Effect

Ms.45It's been quite a while since I've been genuinely excited about a hidden object game. They usually look fantastic with immense effort put into the artwork, but the hidden object aspect of things suffers from a lack of diversity along with a handful of poor mini-games thrown in because, well, that's the done thing these days, isn't it? So I'm very happy to say that Flux Family Secrets: The Ripple Effect is a quality addition to the hidden object genre. And I like it!

fluxfamilysecrets.jpgFlux Family Secrets builds on the hidden object genre with a well-integrated adventure/mystery story, challenging tasks and fun trivia. You are Jesse Bennett, a woman seeking the answers to her mysterious past. Out of the blue, you receive a letter from Veronica Flux who claims she can help you. You accept the proffered plane ticket and go to meet Veronica, who suspects you may be a member of the Flux clan. Veronica then reveals the existence of "ripples" which affect great historical achievements, displacing treasures and spreading them around the world and through history.

The Fluxes are time travellers, moving through space and time to correct the effects of these ripples...

...or are they?

Ripples work by theme, apparently. Your first task is to sort out the mess caused in the world of Art, with objects spread around the dwellings of Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Hatshepsut. Where Flux Family Secrets gets interesting is that the objects are parts of an identified whole — you'll be finding pieces of the Mona Lisa in Shakespeare's room to put together and place in Leonardo's studio, thus allowing you to find that last bit of the golden cat statue for Hatshepsut's tomb, generating a mini-game, which you need to win to find the key to a chest in Shakespeare's room... Some objects are helper items that allow you to find the main items (keys, knives, scissors etc), others trigger interesting snippets of trivia about the person whose room you're rifling through.

Analysis: I really enjoyed the linkage between the different themes — the fact that Mozart appears in the Music section and the Wright Brothers in literature exposed me to new information (I didn't know the Wright Brothers ran newspapers before getting into the transport business) and is creative and thoughtful. Conversely, though, you meet the same six or so characters throughout the game, which made me think wonder why the developer put so much effort into different scenes but didn't bother to introduce new characters. You could have had Leif Ericsson in Travel, Jane Austen in Literature, maybe Nikola Tesla in Invention, all ready for their close-ups in the time it would have taken Hatshepsut's sarcophagus to render. Maybe the development team is more into artwork than history.

fluxfamilysecrets2.jpgI clearly am a bit of a sucker for great artwork, but part of the charm of Flux Family Secrets is the care that has clearly been put in to the scenery. For instance, when you return to Amelia Earhart's office, you can see the hangar outside from your previous search. Similarly, the Abbey Road studios can be seen from different views. The objects to be found are all relevant to the theme and setting — you're looking for a fire hydrant in a 17th century studio because it's essential for restoring Amelia Earhart's hangar, not just because you're looking for a random bunch of stuff.

The mini-games really shine. Although there are one too many incidents of Mastermind for my liking, I really like the Einstein game (you have to cause atomic reactions to clear the board of coloured dots), and some of the other games, while familiar (there's a Simon tone game, a Tic-Tac-Toe, a couple of sliding puzzles and jigsaws), are well executed and fit appropriately into the scenery (the Simon game takes place in the Abbey Road studios, for instance). I've played hidden object games where I've skipped through every mini-game — this is not one of those!

There's no penalty for hints, but you have to wait for them to refill. Wrong clicks add to your time penalty, and the game has a bit of a sarcastic touch — if you use an object somewhere it's not supposed to be, you'll trigger snarky little comments like "Just trying anything in the inventory, huh?" (YES I AM YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE MAN). The only reservations I had were a couple of weird little glitches where I managed to "win" a mini-game without actually doing anything, and where I passed through the final search part of one of the themes without having found the final object. Other than that, I can highly recommend Flux Family Secrets.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
| Comments (17) | Views (199)

Bumps

MarcusWhether they are little fur balls with eyes or animals with big heads, everybody likes things that are cute. Tell me to rescue a batch of baby bunnies from someone's sinister clutches, and I'll go through hail and high wind to make sure it gets done. Bumps, the latest physics puzzler from Utopian Games, has cute coming out of its ears. It's a charming combination of games like Eets and Loco Roco-esque Tau-ri Bedrock or Rolando.

bumps.jpgYou see, the Bumps are a peaceful race of creatures who like nothing more than to roll around, bumping into each other. But, one day, a fleet of alien space craft came and captured many of the bumps, looking them away in energy bubbles until they could figure out what to do with them next. The remaining Bumps realized that if they could find all of the keys to unlock the energy bubbles, they could set their friends free. And thus your quest is set.

Like most physics puzzlers, you don't have direct control over any of the characters on screen. You instead are allowed to place small Bumps (the number varies per level) at strategic points around the screen. Press the Start button, and let gravity, velocity, and Newton's laws take over. The goal is to collect all of the keys to free the imprisoned bumps.

It's not all happy-cute rolling around and key collecting, of course. Power-ups come along that can make the bumps grow, shrink, dash and more, adding another layer of strategy to the game. Sometimes you'll have to start a bump on its journey far away from the destination so it can grab a power-up or two to collect keys along the way.

bumps2.jpgAnalysis: Fact: it's nigh impossible to resist the cute exterior presented by the Bumps. Seriously, I challenge you to look at those screenshots and not say "DAWWWWW!!!". Bubbly eyes aside, the gameplay is simple and sweet with a good mix of experimentation and strategy.

Challenge-wise, Bumps hits about the middle of the road, offering some levels that are a real puzzler, with others that you can breeze through without a second thought. Most of the difficulty comes from finding just the right places to drop your bumps so they get the job done. It's trial-and-error most of the way, which provides a great casual gaming experience.

Bumps is something a little different, which is always welcome in my book. A little bit of strategy, a little bit of experimentation, and a lot of bubbly-eyed cuteness. Bumps is a great diversion for any afternoon!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Bumps is also available from Big Fish Games:
Big Fish Games


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Paradoxion

JohnBParadoxion is a classic logic puzzle game from VSBgames. Not the head-pounding hurts-your-brain kind of logic, this one's a sit and stare, look and compare sort of game. Using gems, orbs and other materials from your inventory, arrange everything on the grid to set off chain reactions that clear the board. It's a relaxing game that manages to stay challenging without resorting to timed rounds or combo systems.

paradoxion.jpgA grid holding an assortment of orbs fills most of the screen, with your inventory occupying the right-hand side. Study the arrangement on the board, then click an item to grab it and place it on the grid. When three or more orbs of the same color are together (later you'll encounter more complex matching requirements), they vanish in a flash of light, pushing free orbs at the end of the chain one square away. Use this pushing effect to your advantage, creating matches that shove other orbs into their proper place to create another match that continues the trend. Step four: profit!

The order in which you place orbs is significant, however, as the pushing doesn't radiate to all sides. So, for example, if you place a green orb on the left side of two adjacent green orbs, an orb to the right would get shoved, but not on the left. It sounds awkward in writing, but in practice it's as simple as calculus. I mean, pie. Simple as pie. In later levels you'll come across orbs that need four or five in a row to create a match, gems that must be arranged in squares, teleporters, disintegrators, and of course, the titular paradox. Scary!

There are three level packs in Paradoxion, each containing 30 puzzles to complete. After the first dozen or so, the challenge really sets in, so you'll have plenty of content to keep you coming back day after day. There's also a custom level editor that allows you to play user-made levels or create and play your very own puzzles!

paradoxion2.jpgAnalysis: Most puzzle games rely on a timer, scores or some sort of combo system to crank up the challenge. If you slip-up, you lose, so there's a constant pressure in the back of your mind to keep performing at your best. After all, it's you versus the game, right? Sometimes you just want to relax, however, and Paradoxion is the perfect game for that. No timers, high score tables, bonus multipliers, dancing panda bears, flying raccoons, smiling ice cream cones or combo meters to keep track of. Just look at the grid and work out how to clear it on your own schedule.

Even though the game is a few years old, the visuals in Paradoxion have held up quite well. Everything has a smooth, polished look to it, from the shining gems on the grid to the planets sitting quietly in the background. The music provides the perfect ambience for the thoughtful game, and after each level you'll be treated to a quote from a famous historical figure.

Paradoxion's interface can be entirely mouse-controlled, but there are a few keyboard shortcuts that make things a lot easier. Use the 0-9 keys to quick-select inventory items, the tilde button to re-select the last used slot, and the [U] key to undo your last move. Alternately you can use the mouse wheel to scroll through the inventory and choose the last-used item, but you have to visit the options screen and enable this.

If racing against the clock or forcing yourself to reach for a high score isn't your thing, Paradoxion will make your day. Its brand of logic puzzles manage to present a hefty challenge without turning on the pressure, allowing you to kick back, arrange some orbs, and achieve that satisfying zen-like sensation you get when a big chain reaction clears the grid.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

AdamBThis week, word skills and paint skills will go head to head in a dazzling array of visual and wordy deliciousness. In the left corner we have the book smarts, with knowledge of words and quick thinking. In the other corner, painting, featuring brushes, stamps and a burning desire to see a creative vision realized. It's the author vs. the auteur in this weeks... Weekend Download.

cubaletra.gifCuba Letra (Windows, 11.4MB, free) - Athough its not the most visually appealing game ever made, this highly addictive word game rests comfortably on the attributes it does have, namely the ability to encourage you to create longer words. Imagine Bookworm meets Bust-a-Move, where letters snake around a path heading towards the game-ending black hole at the other side. Use those letters to spell words and you'll stay in the game. The creation of extended words such as "meanwhile" "creation" and "extended" will earn you extra lives, bonus points, multipliers and special letters. Attempting to use simple words like "use" "words" and "like" will gain you points, but they also create glowing red letters that drop more letters onto the track, forcing everything along at a faster pace.

tuxpaint.gifTux Paint (Mac/Win/Linux, 9.3MB, free) - And speaking of visual appeal, here is a paint program for children, allowing them to create visual masterpieces without the hassle of actual paint, paint stains, wash rinse cycles or high-quality carpet cleaners! Children are always clambering at the computer wanting to 'help out'. With a couple of tweaks in the handy configuration tool, this program can be set to run full screen and without any easy way to quit the program (Alt+F4 still works) allowing the child to create freely without accidentally clicking through to a sensitive part of your computer's files. The drawback, it seems, is that using the keyboard has little effect. Your child will have to be of an age where mouse-skills are already present in order to take full advantage of the program. Of course, the hardest part is sharing the game, and not just playing with it by yourself because its that fun.


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Alchemist's Apprentice

GrimmrookIs your current job getting you down? Does it feel like you need a microscope to look at your paycheck, or like your boss doesn't truly appreciate your creativity, knack for finding hidden objects, and aptitude at matching three or more objects of the same color? Are you at a dead end in your career? Cheer up! An exciting field is open and waiting for you as an Alchemist's Apprentice!

alchemistsapprentice.jpgHere at our fine campus we will teach you how to use the mystical alchemy machine where you can reap tons of gold from matching up rows or columns of the same tiles. We'll sharpen that eye of yours so you can pick out a scrap of archaic paper in the midst of a cluttered desk. We'll even teach you to build towns using the gold you earn from your real-world matching skills!

But, you might ask, what kind of future is in store for you as an Alchemist's Apprentice? Well, let's take a look at the most famous Alchemist's Apprentice in history! If you'll recall the now time-honored tale, this young lad, not much different from yourself, had discovered that his eccentric uncle had abandoned the province he ruled in search of the Philosopher's Stone. In his absence the province faltered and it was this young Alchemist Apprentice that came to save the day.

Using the very same skills we teach at our fine campus, this apprentice used the gold he created from the machine to rebuild his uncle's province and follow in the footsteps of the famed alchemist himself. And now we offer that same path to you! So come, enroll in our fully accredited* facilities and turn your future into GOLD!

Analysis: The first thing that needs to be said is that Alchemist's Apprentice is most definitely not a match-3/hidden object game hybrid. Not in the strictest sense anyway. In true hybrids, the elements of differing game types are blended to create a single game play experience. With Alchemist's Apprentice, what you have is a fairly standard match-3 game with a few fairly standard hidden object levels to mix things up a bit.

As the match-3 aspect of the game goes, there isn't a whole lot of new to talk about. Various buildings will grant you the ability to accumulate and cast several spells, such as the explosive fireball or the lightning bolt which can take out a whole column or row of tiles, which is pretty impressive. There are two other things that are notable about this match-3. First, it's beautiful with backgrounds that look like they come straight out of a story book and tiles that appear to have been carved with loving detail. Second, it's not easy. At least it probably won't be easy for those of you who are not avid match-3 addicts.

alchemistsapprentice2.jpgThere is also a town building portion that is very reminiscent of Dreamsdwell Stories. It's considerably stripped down but offers you the opportunity to build and improve upon various different structures from time to time, each of which offers little bonuses in the match-3 levels.

The main challenge is derived from attempting to gain a set amount of gold within a time limit, and there are plenty of things to help you meet your goal. From a host of spells and a straightforward combo system to a mini-game where you take control of a leprechaun and try and catch gold that actually grows on trees. Still, with these things to aid you, passing a level on your first try can quickly become a challenge. Luckily you can use your previous score to buy more time, allowing subsequent attempts to be a little easier.

The match-3 aspect of the game really hits its stride once you have constructed all of the buildings in the town and leveled them up a bit. That's when all of the special effects really start to take hold and the manic combos that follow will have any match-3 enthusiast giggling with glee. As for the hidden object aspect, there are few levels to play (one for every ten match-3 levels), but they are rather nicely done, and at least the objects you are sent to find make some sort of sense (as opposed to looking for a hotdog in a medieval castle).

No, Alchemist's Apprentice doesn't exactly rock the gaming world, but it quickly becomes highly addictive and, if you're a fan of match-3 and hidden object games, this is definitely a fun entry that provides both.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

* Note: Accreditation at our facilities is currently only recognized on campus grounds.


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DoraBrain HotelFace front, true believers, for another installment of wonder and mayhem from your super friends at Jay is Games! Today we're going to reach into the vault of yesteryear — providing, of course, your definition of yesteryear is a 2005 point-and-click adventure game about supervillains, from the author of A Case of the Crabs and The Goat in the Grey Fedora. Some of you will be familiar with this strange gem of a title, but others may have been too wrapped up in their consoles to notice when it snuck onto the scene. And if you've never checked into the Brain Hotel before, there's no time like the present to make your reservation.

Meet Ed. He's a bit of a schlub, but don't hold that against him. Ed would seem an unlikely candidate to save the city… mostly because he is. You won't find a utility belt or a freeze ray or even a cleft chin anywhere on him. What he does have, aside from a disgruntled outlook on life and a rapidly receding hairline, is work. Namely, Stuff Bringers, a delivery service that winds up getting drafted one day to deliver a package to a guest at the cozily named Brain Hotel, right around the time the annual supervillain convention is taking place. He thinks actually getting his package into the hands of his customer is the difficult part. He's wrong.

The game lets you play online in your browser window, but you can also download the game for free — for both Windows and Mac — which will eliminate some potentially frustrating load times at certain scenes for those of you with slower connections. At just over 31 MB, it will barely make a dent on most hard drives, and you'll get the added benefit of being able to play in almost-full screen — which, unfortunately, doesn't do a whole lot for Ed's ugly mug. Sorry, Ed.

Brain HotelAnalysis: Brain Hotel doesn't look bad, per se, and the big, simple interface gets the job done, even if it's not exactly pretty enough to take home to mother. But the heavily painted and saturated characters and environments, interspersed with real objects, looks more than a little messy at times, rather than the inked, comic-book feel the designers seemed to be trying for. What you will notice immediately, however, is how strikingly professional it all is. Brain Hotel boasts not only smooth animations that make every character look and feel distinct, but some of the best voice acting you'll likely have heard in a game in a long time, free or otherwise. Each character's personality comes through in his or her voice, and you can tell the actors were having a fantastic time with it all.

Along with the characters, Brain Hotel's biggest gold star comes from it's humour and ability to take itself less than seriously. It's hard to poke fun at how flamboyant or outrageous some of the characters are because they're already doing it to themselves. There were times when I honestly laughed out loud at some of the dialogue, which, while occasionally mildly risque, never resorts to crudeness to elicit laughs.

Of course, not every line is solid gold. There are times when it feels like the writers are reaching too far to come up with "zany" dialogue, rather than letting the game's own weirdness speak for itself. As a result, some of it just sounds silly instead of being honestly funny, like a stand-up routine by Fozzie Bear, or the sort of nonsense joke a five-year-old might tell that just leaves you smiling politely.

As you might expect from a science-fiction themed comedy point-and-click adventure, some of the puzzle solutions are, shall we say, less than obvious. You're not usually given a whole lot of direction as to what you need to do to accomplish your goals, so you'll find yourself advancing more easily if you exhaust every dialogue option and examine everything around you. I was rarely actually frustrated because exploring the game and experiencing all the weirdness is as much a reward as the end of the game itself.

So what are you waiting for? Get comfortable on your pink bearskin rug. Strap on your spandex, straight your mask, tell your young ward to hold all your calls, and get ready to save the world, one supervillain at a time.

UPDATE: This game is no longer available to play completely on the Web (all known versions get stuck at the first cut scene triggered when accessing the front desk computer). Previously tagged as: adventure, browser, download, flash, free, game, linux, mac, nbounty, pinheadgames, pointandclick, rating-o, scifi, windows


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBSort of a shooterey, retroish, trance music-like Link Dump Friday theme this week. Or is it an old-school-style trancey shooter musical theme? Either way, most of these games kinda sorta lean against one or more of those concepts. I guess. Right? Well... hmm. Aah forget it, I'm going back to making music with Tone Matrix.

  • icon_herosarms.gifHero's Arms - Run around the overworld defeating monsters to earn gold and level up your character, then dive into the dungeons to hunt for better items and take down big bosses. The game plays very well for a Zelda "clone", but the most surprising part is the game's reported length: 10-15 hours for a straight run through, 20-25 hours to full completion. Inspired by overhead adventure games such as the classic Legend of Zelda series, and a great deal of attention went into restoring that retro look and feel.
  • icon_tonematrix.gifTone Matrix - Nothing much to see here. Plenty to hear, here. A simple but smart music-based web toy where you fill in squares on the grid to make a short loop of chiptune-style music. The higher the square, the higher the pitch. String together soothing sounds, or just draw funny pictures and see what they sound like.
  • icon_pwong.gifPwong - If Pong were made by a techno club junkie, this is what it would be. Slide the paddle back and forth to knock the ball to your opponent at the top of the screen. Now do that ten times per second for twice as many balls. Power-ups give you a little help, but other than that, it's just you, the music, and an ever-shifting haze of colors.
  • icon_retroshoot.gifRetroshoot - A game that inspires "oohs" from its neon visuals, Retroshoot is exactly what the title implies: a retro shooter. Your ship fires on its own (and makes a pew pew noise), all you have to do is move the mouse, collect power-ups, and don't die.
  • icon_theparbox.gifThe Par Box - A webtoy with tons of visual effects you can play around with. Interact with the eye candy by moving your mouse, and scroll through different visuals with the left and right [arrow] keys, 50 to see in all. Hit the right arrow key eleven times to see the best one ever!!!

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (156 votes)
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JoshOrbitalDecayEvery so often, a small indie Flash game comes along that sits on our "fence" for awhile. We can't review 'em all, so we weigh the pros and cons, discuss the feedback and consider its merit. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to whether or not it's just plain fun. Orbital Decay is one of those games; a retro-styled, shooter/strategy release from Piron Games that I just couldn't bear to see passed up, despite its niche appeal. Inspired by the hundreds of side-scrolling, 2-D arcade-shooters before it, Orbital Decay pays blatant homage to the Super Nintendo era of 16-bit graphics that pang a little nostalgia in many of us.

Instead of the tired old formula though, it incorporates some really interesting strategy elements that you typically don't see in Flash games this small and simple. You play the commander of a massive battleship, or some sort of deep-space warship. (I preferred to think of it as my very own Battlestar JIGtactica—some of the mechanics are eerily familiar.) The story isn't too clear, so don't expect some epic, Hubbard-esque space opera. The long and short of it is that you're alone in space, forced to defend yourself against waves of hostile aliens.

OrbitalDecayYour ship begins with just a main cannon (the Ultragun) and a single fighter (a much smaller ship that pilots itself, patrolling in front of your battleship). The main cannon is the only weapon that you directly control (mouse to aim, click to shoot). Destroying enemies earns currency called "RU", which is used to buy more weapons, ships and upgrades. This is all done through in the build menu, accessed by pressing [Space]. You're shown a diagram with over a dozen "build points" all over the battleship. Click one of these points to bring up its menu, and you get the option of building one of three different turrets; a rocket launcher, laser gun or flak cannon. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but you can upgrade various aspects like range and damage to compensate.

As mentioned, the only gun you control yourself is the main cannon, which can also be upgraded. At first, I was a little bummed about this, but after a while it turned out to be a blessing. When things get heavy, you'll be glad you've got gunners controlling all the other turrets. Fighter ships and repair drones are your final resources. The little fighter ships swarm around and do a decent job of slowing the enemy down if they're upgraded. You have four launch bays total, three of which need to be built before you can use them. The repair drones (also upgradable) are even more important, since you'll need them to come out and fix your ship and turrets when you're getting pounded.

Analysis: Orbital Decay is broken up into a half-dozen levels or so. Enemy ships gradually enter from the right side of the field, first appearing as little radar blips. They come in waves of increasing intensity, similar to a tower defense game. In fact, I found myself drawing more than one similarity to the tower defense genre, which I thought was pretty interesting, considering it's a side-scrolling shooter. There are many different ways to build your battleship, such as focusing on long-range defense, or opting for in-your-face offense. You can min/max dozens of upgradable aspects of your turrets and fighters to create a personalized strategy.

The gameplay gets a little repetitive after awhile, but the challenge really increases on the hardest setting. There are some crazy-looking alien ships to giggle at, and the on-screen narrator is a nice little retro touch. But if you're not a fan of the old-school graphics, don't count on being the least bit dazzled by its presentation. You might even find the controls a little "old-school," mainly when it comes to aiming your cannon. The lack of responsiveness takes some getting used to. But hey, it's a 1000-ton battleship cannon, so whaddaya expect?

Orbital Decay puts a pretty cool twist on an old genre. Even though the overall package might come across a bit lowbrow, the gameplay can be a lot of fun for the right players. As our wise and poignant Psychotronic mentioned, "It's a unique way for action/defense fans to scratch the itch."

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Rating: 4.6/5 (144 votes)
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GrimmrookA Case of the CrabsYou ready for a golden oldie? Well, Nick Bounty's A Case of the Crabs is so golden you can't even see the gold because it's all in black and white (er, that means it's really old, circa 2004). So get those brains fired up and those clicking fingers oiled for this whodunit point-and-clicker.

It's the big city, and Nick Bounty is a down-on-his-luck noir-ey noir-ish black and white, fedora wearing gumshoe looking for his next client…

Okay, stop for a second. I mean, come on, we all know what happens next. Somewhere between the gritty descriptions of the big city and the ruminations on how it's a good thing he's taken to sleeping in his office because his rent is three months late, some knockout femme fatale will walk in with a slinky evening dress (it would be red, except this is black and white, so it's really gray), and she'll start going on and on about her rich husband's murder or some such. And really, there will be no need to investigate, because she obviously did it herself, because the femme fatale always did it, or else the "fatale" part wouldn't be necessary. We only conduct investigations because if there were no investigations, there wouldn't be a movie/book/video game etc…

Wait, what's that? It's not a femme fatale, but a guy carrying a crate of crabs? Pfft! He's still probably the one that did it…

What do you mean he couldn't have done it? Oh, yes, I suppose a knife sticking out of his back might put a damper on my theory. Still, was it the lower back? Because you know if you reach around just so…

Okay, okay, I get it. Let's gird up our loins with trench coats and well worn shoes, and hit the pavement in this cold, ruthless burg. We've got a killer to catch, and also, a counterfeiter of crabs.

ACaseOfTheCrabs"Analysis: As was the case with Goat in the Gray Fedora, a Case of the Crabs isn't so much a whodunit as it is a pretty standard point and clicker, granted a very funny point and clicker.

The visuals are fine (better, in my opinion, than the updated 3D graphics used for GitGF), and unless you hate slow jazz it's hard not to dig the background music. And the voice acting is pretty solid, even if the production quality is a little rough around the edges.

But what really matters is that A Case of the Crabs is truly hilarious parody. From the opening sequence to the final confrontation, there is no shortage of jokes and playful jabs at the old private dick tales of yore, all told by someone who obviously loves the genre he's roasting.

As for the item-based puzzles, many are fairly simple, but they are sandwiched between the ones which defy logic. This may put off some players, but true PnC fans will tear up with affection — no point-and-click adventure enthusiast is a stranger to item usage that makes zero sense whatsoever.

It's been around for a while, so we expect many of you are already familiar with A Case of the Crabs, but if Nick Bounty's first adventure missed you, now's a great time to give it a go.

Play A Case of the Crabs


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (172 votes)
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PsychotronicEffing HailIt's time for massive property damage! Indulge your secret (or perhaps not-so-secret) desire to smash skyscrapers and spy satellites with the power of your mind. Effing Hail, brought to you by Jiggmin and Greg Wohlwend (Dinowaurs), takes place during the worst hailstorm in history, and you are the unseen power behind the devastation.

I understand if you're hesitant. After all, it's normally a mighty challenge to take down a skyscraper with nothing but hailstones. But it's not quite so hard if you build a ball of ice 35 meters across, and then fling it.

Hold the mouse button to produce an upward current of air. Hail will fall freely from the outer atmosphere, and your job is to catch a hailstone with your updraft and keep it aloft in the moist air as it gathers mass. Once it reaches sufficient hugeness, try to steer it at your target. To crush the house in the opening scene, try a hailstone about the size of a house. Then, if you're like me, giggle hysterically.

Analysis: It may bring back memories of such exercises in mouse-driven destruction as Pillage the Village and Defend Your Castle, but to gravely understate things, Effing Hail has its very own character. To begin with, the indirect way you guide your icy death-spheres home makes this much less like a glorified update of Whack-a-Mole, and much more like a game of skill.

It would already be a pretty terrific game if all you did was drop improvised asteroids on buildings, but it's so much better than that. The first time you heave a stadium-sized hailstone at an orbiting satellite is a revelation. Airplanes, weather balloons, and pedestrians all demand different tactics, and the solid physics engine makes the whole thing feel like recess in November.

I predict the combination of simple controls, wanton destruction, obsessive fans trying to form the largest possible snowball, and the slightly off-color humor will make Effing Hail into a cult hit; but as an application, it could be more complete. The mission-based timed mode is the only way to play. There's no sandbox option to let you smash things up freely, and I want one. Also, at the time I'm writing this, there's no way to restart a level, or turn off the music and sound effects separately, or even pause. It's strange for a game that looks so good to be missing basic interface functions.

Speaking of the graphics, they're fantastic. Everything looks like it was cut and pasted from a weather diagram, complete with little airflow arrows around the airplanes' wings. The look is a work of genius, right down to the detailed newspaper article that serves as your Game Over screen, complete with an authentic-looking chart that catalogs your destructive efforts.

Effing Hail: it's effing brilliant. Aw, there I go giggling again.

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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (58 votes)
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MarcusMateMasterChess, the definition of a "thinking-man's game." Without it, we wouldn't have games like Risk, Stratego, or even tower defense games. When it comes to predicting your opponent's next move, chess is the master's master.

MateMaster takes chess and moves it a step further into the casual gaming realm by turning the classic board game into strategic puzzles. These puzzles are the same type of mind-benders that still appear in some newspapers next to the word jumble and bridge game brainteasers. They represent what chess players call "endgames."

The idea is simple: produce a checkmate in a given number of moves. Checkmate occurs when you put your opponent in a position where they can not make another move without their king being captured. At the beginning of a puzzle, pieces are set on the board as if you were near the end of a game. Some puzzles will involve only a couple of pieces while more complex ones will often use a larger number.

The puzzles start off relatively easy, with checkmate only one move away. Simply move the right piece into position, and you win. These puzzles will help the uninitiated to get a feel for what the various pieces look like and how they move. When you click on a piece, small circles appear on the board wherever you can place it.

As you graduate to more difficult levels (there are six in total), the number of moves increase, with the "fiendish" level set requiring checkmate in 6 moves. This requires quite a bit of strategy to think through, because you are playing a game against an opponent, who is not going to just sit back and watch you capture their king.

Analysis: As puzzle games go, MateMaster is fairly unusual. While two-player chess games on the Internet are common, this type of riddle is harder to find. The uniqueness helps to offset the rather bare-bones presentation of the game. And with 650 different puzzles, you'll be busy with MateMaster for quite some time.

While the puzzles are challenging enough, the included engine for playing a full game is somewhat lacking. I'm no chess expert, but even I was able to beat the computer by sacrificing a few pieces and chasing down its king. Perhaps the purpose is to initiate beginners, but anyone who is succeeding at the higher puzzle levels will find the computer opponent far too easy.

But MateMaster is about the puzzles, and it delivers in spades… or is that pawns? Bishops? Well, anyway, regardless of your Elo rating, you'll find a challenge that will suit you with MateMaster.

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  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (387 votes)
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PsychotronicFinal Ninja ZeroWhat's better than a game about a shuriken-chuckin', rope-swingin' cyber-ninja with green glowing eyes and powers of invisibility? Two games about that ninja. Nitrome's Final Ninja Zero is a prequel to Final Ninja, our choice and yours for browser-based platform game of 2008. It's 20 more levels of explosions, stealth, and lasers, with plenty of new surprises to befuddle and destroy you.

Steer your ninja with the [arrow] keys or [WASD]. Aim and throw stars by tapping the mouse button. Hold the button to extend a climbing rope that sticks into walls. Press [down] to activate your cloaking device, which is a very cool effect that warps lasers around you, and of course prevents sensors from spotting you and setting off nasty alarms.

Zero tells the story of our hero Takeshi 40 years before the vendetta against his master Akuma, back when he worked as a mercenary for the espionage department of a powerful mega-corporation. During his first mission against rival Food Pharma Corp, a mission which somehow involves both samurai and hamburgers, a mysterious force incapacitates him, and he finds himself imprisoned within blah blah blah blah there are cyborg ninja monkeys!

Did you hear me? Cyborg. Ninja. Monkeys. Play this game and you get to fight them.

Final Ninja ZeroYou also get to dodge behind pipes to hide from snipers, who this time around have infrared scopes so they can still find you when you're cloaked. You get to disguise yourself as a surprisingly nimble scientist. You get to hack into remote-controlled mines and fly them around like your own personal carrier pigeons made of dynamite.

Gee, that sounds like fun!

It sure is, Betsy. Final Ninja Zero may not be a giant leap forward from its cyber-pappy, but it's still a fantastic game. Not exactly a casual game, mind you. About a quarter of the way through, you'll already need some serious platforming skills or you're ninja dust. But the challenge is how you know you're a true warrior, from the first tricky wall jump past a cutting laser to the slightly disappointing final boss.

Analysis: Wait, what? Yes, Betsy, there are some disappointments. While the first half of Final Ninja Zero offers non-stop shocks and thrills, introducing new enemies and abilities regularly and putting you through a gauntlet of tight and focused levels, the second half… doesn't. The new ideas just stop, and everything from the first half gets recycled, but five times more difficult.

Mind you, it doesn't become a bad game at that point, by any means. It just comes down off the crest of the wave that it was riding so effortlessly. That's the curse of platform games: they don't stand up well under the weight of repetition.

The other big problem, as before, is that a browser window surrounded by clickable ads is very badly suited for a game where you're clicking around all the time. Unless you can engineer a clever solution, be prepared to occasionally take a sudden break from dueling with samurai to plan your vacation in sunny Arizona.

Golly, that sounds discouraging!

Don't be crazy, Betsy. Final Ninja Zero is still one of the finest platforming action games you can play in a browser. It's so fun just leaping around spewing ninja stars, even a one-on-one battle with a machine-gun toting grunt is a blast. The infamous Nitrome difficulty, the gorgeous Nitrome artwork, and the bizarro Nitrome pacing are all part of the experience. Once again, this development team proves they possess the powers of incredible action-adventure. The rest of the internet would do well to infiltrate their lair and steal their secret.

Hint: the secret is cyborg ninja monkeys.

Play Final Ninja Zero


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (109 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessAh, l'amour. The tingling bubbles in your belly, effervescent like champagne. The delight at the mere thought of seeing your beloved's face, the raw happiness that fills you to near-bursting; nothing, surely, could be more intoxicating than this initial infatuation. Even as the years go by and rapture subsides into loving companionship, it is impossible to forget that early, bright passion.

The Wedding AnniversaryThe Wedding Anniversary, a sweet, compact escape game from Japanese designer Robamimi, takes place on the night of (surprise!) one couple's anniversary. Your rather mischievous spouse has locked you into a bar and hidden away your ring... ok, kind of an odd way to celebrate, but perfect for all the married puzzle-lovers out there, right? Now, you must escape and rejoin your unseen love.

While The Wedding Anniversary is not terribly difficult, it is certainly satisfying; the puzzles you encounter are varied and interesting, and Robamimi has succeeded in avoiding any of the questionable "leaps of logic" that plague the majority of even high-quality escape games. The game is also quite good-looking, with graphics reminiscent of Gotmail's venerable series of escape games; unlike Gotmail, however, Robamimi has chosen not to include much in the way of pixel-hunting (hooray!). The game's interface is clean and friendly and a handy save feature is included. Perfect!

These are all excellent qualities, but what is perhaps most appealing about the game is its cool, easy-going ambiance. A simple piano tune floats through the air, melodious enough to enhance the game's atmosphere without unduly distracting the player; the deserted bar is decorated in a sophisticated and minimalist style. All in all, the game has an air of unhurried relaxation, inviting you to complete the puzzles at your own pace and enjoy the ride along the way.

With just enough challenge to engage, but not overtax, the mind, The Wedding Anniversary is a perfectly mellow respite from the workday world. Relax, kick back and indulge in a bit of sentimentality... it's more fun than a chick flick.

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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (428 votes)
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DoraMe and the KeyI don't know about you, but I'm sick of rescuing princesses. And villages? They never stay un-pillaged! And don't even get me started on alien hordes…! I work and I slave, and what thanks do I get? End credits! Maybe, if I'm lucky, a scoreboard I can enter my name on for a whole ten minutes before someone better knocks it off. Yeah, I guess you could say I'm a little tired of the effort outweighing the reward. Fortunately for you and me, my friend, Bart Bonte knows that at the end of the day, sometimes the simplest rewards are the sweetest. And that's where Me and the Key comes in and tends to my fevered brow with a series of charming logic puzzles and one very simple goal.

Me and the Key is a series of mini-games that all have the same end — getting the titular key. That's right. There's no zombies, no spaceships, no power-ups. Just you and a slowly evolving set of puzzles designed to test your common sense, and your ability to think outside the box. Most of them can be completed in under a minute once you figure out what you should be doing, and for the most part all you have to do is point and click. It's impossible to really paint yourself into a corner, so you can feel free to experiment. Sometimes the solution is as simple as playing an old arcade classic, and sometimes you'll need to make a tree grow so you can harvest its luscious tangerines. Just like at my old job!

Me and the KeyAnalysis: Those of you looking for high-res graphics and orchestral soundtracks may find yourselves disappointed. Like its concept, Me and the Key's visuals are simple, incorporating bright, round graphics and adorable design. While this keeps the interface clean and easy to navigate, the endlessly repeating background tune isn't nearly as endearing. The bubble-gum-pop quality of the music is cute for the first five minutes, but you may find yourself thankful for the mute button before long.

But Me and the Key is a success where it sets out to be one. The puzzles, while frequently obscure at first glance, are often exceedingly easy once you figure out what you're intended to do. A few feature mild tests of your reflexes, but most are well-designed adventures in logic. Often when I thought I was stuck, I realised I was over-thinking the game and missing the more obvious solutions. It's like being put into an empty room and trying every elaborate scheme you can think of to escape, only to find the door was never locked at all. Only one or two puzzles had me honestly furrowing my brow and wishing for a walkthrough. Oh penguin, why do your eyes haunt me so?

Me and the Key saves your progress, so you can attack each of its bite-sized challenges on your own time. It doesn't have a lot of replay value, but it fits neatly into your lunch break… or the time between memos when your boss is out of the office. If you're looking for some quick, quirky satisfaction, do yourself a favour and pick up Bonte's newest title. A key may not seem like the greatest reward you could wish for, but the smug feeling you'll get at solving this series of abstract little puzzles will stay with you long after you close the browser.

Play Me and the Key


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Rating: 4/5 (69 votes)
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DoraCaptain Dan TitleWhat-ho, my refined gentlemen and ladies! You have been chosen not just for your good taste and exceptional breeding. We have seen the expressions of disdain on your faces at the grand galas as you listen to the inane patter of your peers. We have heard the yawns you try to stifle during the operas, while all around you subdued men and women clap demurely in their kid gloves. We have determined that you, along with the one known only as Monocled Man, are the only ones who pick up a pistol and help… Captain Dan versus the Zombie Plan! (brought to you by Ian Snyder and the good people of BonusLevel)

Oh, yes, you may well laugh. Perhaps you consider it beneath you? Mayhaps I should have mentioned that these are no ordinary zombies? They are vicious creatures with unusual abilities coupled with ravenous taste for your sumptuous flesh, and you are armed only with a simple pistol.

Yes, it will be a long road, to be sure, with many, many levels of difficulty, but Captain Dan's remarkable technology will assist you! In fact, he tells me that by pressing something called the [WASD] "keys" you may direct Monocled Man about the "screen". Further, if you have such a device as a "mouse", you may simply "click" to fire when you acquire a weapon! Such things are beyond a simple maid like myself — I haven't the foggiest what rodents have to do with this crisis — but I am sure you will fare well!

Captain Dan TitleAnalysis: Yes, stealth and quick feet are rewarded here rather than running pell-mell into a level, gun blazing, but you may find yourself doing a tedious amount of waiting. Often you will have only a short window of opportunity to move unseen, and missing this means you will simply have to sit and stew before it presents itself again. Of course, sometimes this happens slower than you may prefer, as these zombies are in no hurry to move anywhere when not making a beeline for your delicious cranium. You must be swift and stealthy as you guide Monocled Man through the area using the environment to his advantage, for if he is spotted, he shall quickly be swarmed. A single touch means certain death.

Ah, but these are trifles, my friends. I know we are speaking of life and death here, but you may even find yourselves enjoying it all. It sounds positively scandalous, but it's true! It's incredibly satisfying to spin about and ventilate the heads of the oncoming horde after spending so much time sneaking about. The challenges mount at a steady pace, so you will likely not feel overwhelmed even in the more frenetic levels, and the introduction of new creatures keeps things "fresh"! Perhaps an odd thing to say about rotting corpses, but it's true!

Ah, me, but I do prattle on. I can see you're anxious to go. I won't keep you, for destiny and bullets await! Godspeed, good friends. And do try to keep your clothes clean. Polite society frowns on even heroes such as yourselves tracking brain matter across the bearskin rugs!

Play Captain Dan versus the Zombie Plan


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Rating: 4.1/5 (82 votes)
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PsychotronicZedRayDevelopers Kenji Sihan and Bela von Hoffman say their new reflex/puzzle game is inspired by the classic Snake Game, by Missile Command, and by color-matching games. I would add in the light cycles from Tron, and maybe a pinch of ChuChu Rocket. Then I would put the whole thing inside of a chicken fryer, insert the chicken into a turkey, and stuff the whole mess inside… oh, let's say a pelican. Roast at 325 degrees for 5 hours, sprinkle oregano, and you've got yourself one tasty monstrosity. Mmm… turpelicken.

ZedRay is kind of a tasty monstrosity itself, an exciting and original game that can't quite decide how to present its ideas.

Your goal is to destroy all the neon light beams by directing them into each other. Beams of two different colors will stop cold, waiting to be freed, while beams of the same color will vaporize. Depending on your personality type, you can either think of it as pairing beams of heavenly light in blessed eternal union, or as bashing deadly missiles together. Either way, if you let one hit the ground, you lose.

Control is with the mouse. Beams travel downward at a constant rate, but you can decide whether they go left or right. To change a beam's direction, click near its tip. Click on a beam's body to accelerate it into one further down the screen. Oh, and if it's a beam that isn't moving yet, click on its tip to jump-start it, which is the same gesture you use for changing direction.

Hit the interactive tutorial as your first stop, and after that, try the Beginner levels in the Puzzle section. There's another set right below that, labeled "Easy", but I think that got mis-translated from "Yikes". The ones marked "Insane" probably don't exist. The Arcade Mode will also spank you and serve you your mouse hand on a platter, at least until you develop some unique skills.

Analysis: ZedRay is a simple game, but it makes you flex unusual brain muscles. It's like untangling a living, angular ball of laser yarn. If you go in expecting a pure thinking game, you'll be surprised at how some levels force you to click quickly and flawlessly. We're talking split-second timing, here.

The mouse control is a valiant attempt to keep the control system accessible, but it's hard to find the right spot to click when several lasers are traveling close together. The little arrows that serve as visual cues for this are clear, but there's an attention disconnect between pointing with the cursor and watching the little white indicator arrow pop up. A sound effect would have helped.

One more gripe. You have a chance to look at each puzzle before clicking Start, in order to figure out an attack plan. However, some beams aren't moving when a level begins, but they look identical to the ones that are. Which means you often can't make a plan, and you will definitely fail on the first attempt.

Gosh, that sounds unplayable! you must be thinking. Well, it's not. It's great, actually. Zedray is a highly inventive game with just a few interface hiccups. You get plenty of puzzles to solve, an unlimited arcade mode, a level editor, and an attractive spartan presentation. You can't go wrong with neon primaries on black stone.

Play ZedRay

[Note: Since this article was published, the authors of the game have made several updates to the interface. These changes have improved the play experience quite a bit. - Psychotronic]


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Rating: 4.4/5 (193 votes)
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PsychotronicRobot DinosaursRobot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When they Roar is a short, character-driven side-scrolling shoot-'em-up, controlled with the mouse. Hold the mouse button to fire, but be sure to release the button to let your power meter recharge. Due to the thematic complexities in Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When they Roar, the following review will take the form of a dialectic between myself and 5th-century Greek philosopher Socrates.

Psychotronic: There is only one level in this game, and a short one at that.

Socrates: Robot dinosaurs that shoot beams when they roar.

Psychotronic: Including lives and a health meter seems to have been merely a nod to convention, and not a considered design decision. Rather than implementing collision physics, the developer has allowed the protagonist to fly through solid walls, thus breaking the illusion of a persistent game world.

Socrates: Robot dinosaurs that shoot beams when they roar!

Psychotronic: Most players will find the difficulty level low and replay incentives limited. The artwork barely meets the minimum requirements to be comprehensible. The sound effects appear to be improvised vocalizations. Gameplay depth is non-existent.

Socrates: RAAAAWWR!!!

Psychotronic: I concede.

Play Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When they Roar


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Rating: 4.3/5 (65 votes)
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GrimmrookMalstrums Mansion(Warning: There is no save feature for The Malstrums Mansion, but there are several instances in which death is possible. As a result, a certain measure of patience will be required.)

What better way to start off our week than with a creepy visit to Malstrums Mansion? Oh, I'm sure you can find better ways, but I'm afraid that this little journey compels you.

You see, your family name hangs upon you with a terrible weight. Lost within the shadowy recesses of the Malstrum family tree are whispers of plague, death, and—upon the darkest branches—things that are far worse than both. Luckily for you, time and distance have shielded you from the worst of things, and yet you feel a mysterious beckoning to the Malstrum estate, the place that was once the home and symbol of your decayed lineage.

With your wits and patience as your most valuable weapons, you must plunge into the blackened depths of your own history and root out the evil that has been rotting there for centuries. So go on, push open the wrought iron gates and ignore that whispered welcome to your family's decaying home; it was probably just the wind. You can't let a little fear stop you. You have demons to exorcise.

Let's just hope they aren't real demons.

The Malstrums Mansion is a retro point-and-click adventure in the style of the old Apple Macintosh version of Shadowgate, though the many inspirations here will surely not be lost upon fans of the NES version. Created by Aceteam as a kind of break from their main project, ZenoClash, this dark journey puts you in a familiar first-person adventure set-up. Use the command buttons on the side to explore your surroundings, collect items, and solve puzzles. To move from one area to the next, simply click on the small box off to the side with arrows indicating exits.

Analysis: Because this is likely to be the strongest issue some of you will have, I'll deal with the lack of a save feature up front. No, you can't save your progress, and, yes, this is a significant drawback, particularly for a game that hopes to follow in the footsteps of Shadowgate, where death is not only possible, but highly probable. I won't lie to you, you will need either a good deal of patience or at least a willingness to come back to the game after sufficiently cooling off, in order to enjoy its finer points.

There are, however, a few things that Malstrums Mansion does to make the missing save feature a little more palatable. For one, there aren't nearly as many cheap deaths as there were in Shadowgate and the other titles that serve as this game's inspiration (though there are a few dangers lying in wait). Also, no matter how long it has taken you to get to a certain point before you die, it should never take but a few quick minutes to retrace your steps. There are plenty of rich descriptions and such to make your first visit to any room deliciously long and detailed; but navigation can also be exceptionally quick.

Malstrums MansionIf you manage to get beyond the missing save feature, and I truly hope you do, what awaits you is a treasure trove of nostalgia mixed with horror.

As homage to an era of gaming from bygone days, Malstrums Mansion is unbelievable. The heavily pixilated black and white graphics are at once just as chunky as they were on the old NES or Mac, and yet lovingly crafted, reminding us of what artwork was possible with such limited tools. Indeed, Aceteam does not hold back when it comes to taking you back, claiming that this game was created twenty years ago and even making you boot it up on an artificial "Pear" OS desktop. I got a little misty-eyed when I had to type in a password based on a specific word in the "about" document, as memories of my old computer games came back to me.

More astonishing, though, is the way Aceteam creates an atmosphere of fear within such constraints. The howling of the wind and foreboding voice welcoming you to the mansion set you immediately on edge, and the promise of death lurking around every corner keeps you there. You are kept on such high alert throughout, if something were to, say, jump out at you, it would be wise not to be drinking something, so you don't spray it all over your keyboard. Indeed, Malstrums Mansion is proof that you don't need professional-quality sound effects or high-end graphics to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

As far as puzzles go, they are relatively easy and shouldn't tax your brain too terribly much. Most of them involve trial and error, and separating red herrings from what's truly important. It seems that today the convention in adventure games is to provide you with only the items you need. Malstrums Mansion, on the other hand, throws a ton of items at you. Many are useless, while some are useful in several different situations.

Malstrums Mansion does fall short in a few areas. While the graphics are beautiful, they suffer from the same curse that many games of that era and style suffered from; sometimes it's difficult to identify things. Occasionally you come across a garbled, pixillated mess and it's hard to tell whether or not there's an item you need there, or if it's just a failed bit of background. Also, it would have been nice if there were just a few more sound effects and some music thrown in. After leaving the courtyard, the silence of the house can either be taken as unsettling, or simply lacking. Finally, this is a browser based game, but the playing field is rather large, and even with minimizing my tool bar as much as possible, I still had to scroll up and down a lot in order to take in the settings and read some of the longer bits of text.

But make no mistake, the drawbacks to Malstrums Mansion are nothing compared to what it has going for it. If you love games that give you the creeps, if you love point-and-click adventures, or if you just like to relive the early years of gaming, this is a title you simply can't afford to pass up.

Play The Malstrums Mansion


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Rating: 4.2/5 (159 votes)
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GrimmrookEscape the Red GiantI have always counted myself lucky that I won't be around when the sun dies. Think about that, huh? The sun gets all swollen (like me at a buffet) and red (strangely enough, also like me at a buffet) and starts eating planets (I hate to belabor the me at a buffet point, but this one's obvious). Yes, best not to be around for that, or so I thought until I played ooPixel's (Rapid Wars, Gride) brilliant new action game, Escape the Red Giant. Now I know that all you need to have fun during a solar system destroying apocalypse is a pair of roller skates and an amazing ability to jump. You don't even need a hermetically sealed space suit!

All you need to know about the story is in the title itself. The sun is about to die, and you have to keep yourself alive for as long as possible by jumping from one asteroid to the next. Your only tool to help you, besides an Olympic aptitude for high jumping, are your roller skates. What good will roller skates do you in a death defying race against a dying star? We'll get to that, trust me.

Controls are simple. On the surface of an asteroid, you can skate clockwise or counterclockwise using the [Left] or [Right] arrow keys, and to jump off, press [Up]. Once you are in space, you can forget about steering. You probably shouldn't have forgotten your rocket pack at home. But if you have enough momentum, and you hold the up arrow key mid flight, you can crash through asteroids instead of landing on them.

Those roller skates I mentioned? They come in handy while building momentum, which you will need tons of, because that star behind you is growing really fast, and champion jumper though you may be, your froggy legs alone won't be enough to escape the red giant.

Escape the Red GiantAnalysis: When you first sit down to play ETRG, it may seem like there's not much to it. Hop from rock to rock until the inevitable happens.

But keep playing, and you find that there is definitely some depth involved. There are somewhere around 50 different "tricks" available to you, and a subtle technical skill set is involved, which makes this more than just a bunch of rock hopping. For instance, clipping an asteroid at the correct angle while holding the right directional key will send your little guy whirring around it like a tornado, potentially allowing you to whip through space at near light speed. Alternatively, there are times when it's best to slow down (like when you are heading towards the sun as opposed to away from it).

This is encased in a physics engine that may not be faithfully realistic, but at least has an appreciative eye for detail, such as the way the gravitational pull of different sized asteroids will alter your flight path (how the enormous gravitational pull of the star behind you doesn't override all of this is best ignored).

The result is tight and incredibly addictive gameplay. The more you get a feel for how ETRG works, the more you want to try it again to see how much further you can get. This urge is prodded along by a background convention pulled straight from Dolphin Olympics 2, where you are awarded extra points for reaching certain landmarks, such as Mars (without sneakers) or (poor) Pluto.

Unfortunately, aside from the landmarks, everything else tends to get repetitive. Just changing the colors of the asteroids would have been nice. The music is infectious to a point, but you'll eventually be looking to mute it.

But for the most part Escape the Red Giant is one of those games that you don't think of much the first time you play, or the second time you play, or even the third time you play. It won't be until maybe the forty-second time you play that you stop to realize, "Oh, I'm addicted aren't I?"

Play Escape the Red Giant


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWe're back with more iTunes App Store gamery! Two of today's titles are iPhone ports of their bigger casual cousins, one a full-fledged downloadable game, and the other a browser-based adventure. Each one adapts extraordinarily well to the small screen and touch-only interface, and it's surprisingly handy to have them in a portable form.

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, Rek!

submachineiphone.gifSubmachine - If you've visited our site more than a few times over the years, you've seen several games Mateusz Skutnik has been involved with. One of his best-known works is the Submachine series of point-and-click adventure games. Here is a perfectly-preserved touch-enabled implementation of the original game, ready to puzzle you on the train, lounging around at home, or in the corner at a big party with a bunch of people you don't like.

ancientfrog.jpgAncient Frog - Slow and steady wins the race, and in this case, gets the bug. Move the little froggie's legs one at a time to position him near the fly. Simply touch and drag to place a foot onto the water droplets, but remember that the frog can't stretch too far. Use as few moves as possible to make it under par for each level. There are over 100 stages to play, six different species of frogs, and a number of unique environments to traverse, each as gorgeous and soothing as the last. A free Ancient Frog LE version is also available.

geodefense.jpggeoDefense - Tower defense games are gaining popularity on the iTunes App Store, and geoDefense delivers one of the most strategic (and visually stunning) experiences of them all. Place towers on each map to maximize its effectiveness against hordes of unique enemies. Your buildings can be upgraded just like most TD titles, and here you really have to decide which is more important: extra firepower, or bigger guns. The vector graphics are nothing short of gorgeous, and I can't get enough of the particle explosions and wobbling grid! The free geoDefense Lite is also available.

azkendiphone.jpgAzkend - I have a soft spot in my casual gaming heart for most games created by MythPeople. Azkend is a matching puzzle game released last year for PC and Mac, and it's a great fit for the iPhone's little touch screen. A team of archaeologists have discovered a relic in the far East, but there seems to be a curse attached to it. Group similar tiles together to create matches as you traevel from temple to temple on your way to return the relic, earning talismans that grant you awesome powers (hammer of destruction, anyone?) along the way.

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: 4.1/5 (41 votes)
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CSI: NY

DoraHow great is it to be a detective? You wear expensive suits, your hair always looks perfect no matter what angle you're seen from . . . oh! And of course you get to utilize everything from hidden objects, spot-the-difference, fun puzzles and more to catch your man! And if you do it by playing one of Big Fish Games' newest releases, CSI: NY, you get to do it all with a substantially decreased likelihood of getting shot! And hey, who doesn't like not getting shot?

csiny.jpgBased on the show of the same name, CSI: NY puts you in the gumshoes of several detectives as they attempt to solve four new cases set in the nitty-gritty of New York. You'll explore every place from alleys to penthouses, and encounter a wide variety of colourful characters — some more friendly than others. Fans of the show will recognise familiar faces here, but if you haven't seen it before, you won't be missing any information needed to enjoy the game. The simple point-and-click interface is friendly enough to pick up on your first try, and the game is adept at pointing you where you need to go within each scene without it feeling as though you're being spoon-fed information.

CSI: NY features a lot of different gameplay elements, all featured as little minigames you need to complete to advance the story. While hunting for hidden objects will surprise nobody, you'll also find yourself dusting for prints, reassembling shredded evidence, constructing portraits of suspects to help identify them, and more. While most of them will take only a minute or two, which helps keep the game moving at a brisk pace, others require a bit more thought. Bear in mind, however, that in addition to featuring some rather elaborate murders, you'll also wind up occasionally having to get a little closer to bodies than casual gaming generally requires. The last "episode" is perhaps the most explicit in terms of violence and content, but it's nothing you wouldn't see in a 9 PM television slot.

csiny2.jpgAnalysis: Never having been a fan of hidden object games, I was pleased that the objects you were expected to find at least had some business in every scene. But the designers' thoughtfulness ended there; you need to identify by silhouette, and in more than one case I was left grimly clicking through row after row of identical items trying to find the one that was relevant to my case. And while for the most part the forensic portions of the gameplay are fun and varied, there will definitely be one or two you'll hate... and wind up having to perform back-to-back on at least one case. It feels at times that they're trying too hard to deliberately pad the gameplay length.

Maybe I've been jaded by too many over-earnest high school-caliber performances, but I was genuinely pleased and surprised at the professional level of the voice acting — what little there is of it, anyway. It's saved for key scenes, usually at the beginning and end of each case, and as a whole is pretty good. It might not seem important that the waitress sounds authentically Noo Yawk Italian, but given the setting, it's a nice touch that adds to the atmosphere. By comparison, the animation is bland and stiff, consisting of the otherwise lovely hand-drawn characters sort of blinking vapidly while they wave their stiff limbs about. It's not terrible, but given the amount of polish in other departments, I almost wish they hadn't bothered and left the scenes stationary.

Where CSI: NY really shines, however, is the cases themselves, which are frequently outrageous in the fine tradition of prime-time television. The writing is always at the very least proficient, and the snappy dialogue comes across as naturally as the medical jargon does. While some of the cases are stranger than others, and none of the mysteries are ever very challenging, each has a varied and well-defined cast of characters unique to it that helps carry you along even in the more cut-and-dry scenarios.

Despite a few design and pacing flaws, CSI: NY remains a solidly enjoyable title for anyone with an interest in crime drama and quality. In fact, you could even say to miss it... would be criminal. *puts on sunglasses* YEEEEEEEAAAAAAA —

...oh, uh. Sorry. Wrong show.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (29 votes)
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Wonderburg

MarcusThe land of Wonderburg has been laid to waste by evil minions, and it is up to a wizard and a stalwart gnome to travel the lands putting right what has gone wrong. That is the premise of the time management strategy game Wonderburg. While it doesn't venture far beyond what games like the Build-a-lot series have established, it's a charming title that stands firmly on its own two feet.

wonderburg.jpgAs with most building games, Wonderburg puts you in the role of the nigh-omnipotent landlord who must build and repair houses, buy and sell plots of land, and in this case, chase away pirates and exorcise spirits who haunt homes! Everything is carried out with a few simple clicks on your handy menu bar, the rest is up to the magician Alisa and Rudy, a gnome with a knack for carpentry. Keep your tenants happy and you'll be rich and successful in no time!

You can't just fling houses on the ground willy-nilly, of course. To build something, first you'll need to own a plot of land. Most levels supply a few open spaces for you to use, otherwise you'll need to clear debris or purchase lots for sale. Next, choose what type of building you want to construct and, provided you have enough gold, materials and available workers, your house will appear in just a few moments. Later levels will introduce a number of different houses and buildings that you can construct, some of which affect how you'll play the game by reducing costs, speeding up build times, or giving you a helping hand with maintenance.

In order to fix up each section of the ravaged land, you'll need to meet a number of objectives outlined in the main section of the menu bar. You may have to upgrade a certain number of houses, rake in a set amount of rent, or perform other tasks, all in the name of moving on to the next level. As you slowly work your way through each level, picking up the pieces of a destroyed land, you'll restore the kingdom of Wonderburg to it's well-built glory.

wonderburg2.jpgEach level also contains some sort of enemy that you must defend your houses against. Creatures such as ghostly pirates and thundering trolls will occasionally attempt to take up residence in your houses, stopping them from producing rent. It is up to your magician, Alisa, and her witchy friends to exorcise them from the buildings, turning them back to normal rent-producing structures. Again, this costs money, so be sure you have a steady income!

Analysis: While it isn't a huge step above Build-a-Lot in terms of innovation, Wonderburg stands on its own as an excellent example of a resource management strategy game. With a timed game and a more casual relaxed mode, it's playable by gamers of all skill levels. The storybook setting is nothing short of charming, and some of the animations could have been lifted from a Saturday morning cartoon. Gotta love that snoozing dragon on the title screen.

Both visuals and sound are excellent, the latter becoming very important as you enter levels with a dozen or more buildings to keep track of. Various cues for buildings falling into disrepair or houses becoming possessed will cause you to snap into action. Houses with ghosts and broken faucets don't pay rent, so you'll need to act fast! Wish that were true in real life, I swear I've seen a ghost or two around here...

The feel of Wonderburg is so similar to Build-a-Lot you find yourself wondering if they simply replaced graphics and story with witches, monsters, and medieval cottages. The mechanics of the two games are almost identical, although Wonderburg's ghostly hauntings are rather amusing. This game doesn't take itself as seriously as others in the genre, and as a result, you won't take it as seriously, either. In other words, we're just here to have some fun, build some houses, and chase away pirates, trolls and ghosts.

It's not a new page in the resource management book, but it's certainly a well-illustrated and charming addition. Grab your hammer and magic wand and give Wonderburg a try.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBYou like old games, right? Games that were made before everyone had a computer in their home. Or games that were made last week and just look like they came out of the decade that brought us Prince, Trapper Keepers, and rolled-down socks. Simplicity knows no age, of course, and that's just what these games strive for in one way or another.

annieandroid.gifAnnie Android (Windows, 4.5MB, free) - A short 2D adventure in the style of classic LucasArts and Sierra games. Living in a world full of emotionless robots, Annie wants nothing more than to ask the handsome Mailbot out on a date. Unfortunately she has been assigned to be another bot's partner. That just won't do! Annie sets out to win his heart and defeat RoboHQ, you know, while she's out and about. Created by Ben Chandler, the entire game is drawn using a six-color palette as a self-imposed artistic limitation.

youprobablywontmakeit.gifYou Probably Won't Make It (Windows, 3.6MB, free) - From the expert in games that are both punishing and a punishment within themselves, Jesse Venbrux (Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman), comes a single-screen platform game that will make you yell in agony. Tap the [up] arrow key to jump, tap it again to double jump. Make it to the exit and don't touch the spikes. If you fail, a bloody mess is smeared across the screen and you have to do it all over again, this time staring at a path left by your previous attempt. Good luck.

assassinblue.gifAssassin Blue (Windows, 9.4MB, free) - A combat-centric platformer game where you play an assassin crawling, jumping and climbing through a castle dispatching ninjas with cool sword moves. Tap the attack button just before your enemy attacks and you'll slice right through them in a very bloody (and dramatic) way. Break an enemy's guard with a special attack, then perform your hitman moves while he's stunned. Download a music pack with better-quality sounds from the link above, or just stick with the fairly catchy MIDI tunes the small download comes with.

pingpong.gifPing Pong! (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - It's ping pong! It was made by cactus! Don't let the simple visuals fool you, there's actually a game to master at the core. There are several different types of hits you can perform, all using [z] and one of the [arrow] keys. How you serve and return shots is all part of the strategy. The computer opponent is nice, but it's even better to sit down with a friend for some multiplayer ping pong!

houseglobe.gifHouse Globe (Mac/Win, 15MB, free) - Crafted by Oxeye Studio (Harvest: Massive Encounter), House Globe is a "demake" of Relic's classic real time strategy game, Homeworld. Your mothership is the large craft near the center of the screen. Harvest resources by sending ships out ot nearby asteroid fields and use them to research more powerful technologies and defend yourself from alien attackers. The source game is one of the first successful 3D RTS games, so naturally House Globe is 2D!


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (44 votes)
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The Legend of Crystal Valley

StaceyG"The Legend of Crystal Valley is a mini-epic adventure game with an eclectic mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements. Gather items, solve both environmental and inventory puzzles, and examine everything you see as you travel through over 150 locations, each just as extraordinary as the last.

legendofcrystalvalley.jpgThe main character, Eve, receives a note from her father asking her to visit his estate. After exploring the old farmhouse she discovers a portal that takes her to a fantasy realm known as Crystal Valley. A number of strange worlds collide here, leaving creatures such as dragons, witches, aliens and robots stranded in the most unusual of cirsumstances. Even more unusual is the fact that everyone seems to know her father! You'll run across a number of portals through space and time, magic spells and other oddities as you search for Eve's father and a way out of this strange world.

The gameplay sticks closely to traditional adventure fare. The mouse is your weapon of choice and allows you to take and use items, examine objects, and travel between scenes. The cursor changes color depending on which action you can perform, which is a nice user-friendly touch. Most of the gameplay consists of carrying out tasks and favors for characters in order to collect objects that solve the level. Eve has a knack for fixing an assortment of machines and you'll use this talent to solve several mini-puzzles along the way.

legendofcrystalvalley2.jpgAnalysis: While many games don't change much beyond what the demo showcases, The Legend of Crystal Valley isn't afraid to take you on a wild ride. You would never expect the many varied locations and bizarre characters you encounter given the modest starting location. The game has an ambitious storyline that works both for and against it. Mixing science fiction and fantasy is one thing, but to also include Eastern European mythology as well as references to the modern world is a little over-the-top, and the plot suffers from a lack of cohesion, especially at the end. However, the broad, complex scope motivates you to keep playing to see what will happen next, and the variety of worlds you visit makes you feel as if anything could happen.

The locations are quite compelling and beautifully rendered. The backgrounds, lighting and shadows are filled with detail. Traveling through impressive environments is what makes this game fun to play. Adventure fans will feel a bit disappointed with the slightly rough look and feel, as character animations are choppy and imprecise and Eve's default movement speed is agonizingly slow (hold the [spacebar] and she'll get a little spring in her step). Seeing as this was an self-financed indie effort, we can cut them some slack. There is no spoken dialogue (and a bit too much written dialogue), but it was originally intended for English speaking audience, so everything reads smoothly.

Although parts of its presentation could use a little polish and shine, The Legend of Crystal Valley delivers a wonderfully deep storyline and a great variety of locations that make playing from beginning to end an experience worth absorbing.

WindowsWindows:
Sorry, no demo is available
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Sorry, no demo is available
Get the full version


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (183 votes)
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SonicLoverTower CoreDate JF379: We have finally created Subject XY, and biologically he's exactly as we engineered him to be. We will soon put him through virtual training. Here at Core Laboratories, we're always reassuring ourselves that the cake is perfectly real, and that there is no obligation to think with portals.

Date JF392: Subject XY has successfully completed his virtual training. Will keep him in status until we find room in our schedule to give him the next step.

Date JF418: XY has passed the Prism Lab training with flying colors (no pun intended).

Date JF420: We have now given Subject XY his briefing and permitted him access to the Soul Laboratory. We now have a female companion for XY; said companion will henceforth be referred to as Subject XX.

Date JF466: Subjects XY and XX have now been shipped to their current living quarters on Earth. We were going to send some cake with them, but we had a shortage. Too bad; it's quite delicious and moist, and I'm sure they would enjoy it. We hope they can protect our former home planet from any issues that may arise.

Date JF481: Our first issue arose. An alien being has decided to attack Earth while it was vulnerable. We can't let this happen. Unfortunately, the planet's defense systems are powered by a special Power Core Deluxe which we forgot to charge before leaving.

Thankfully, there is a way around this. Subject XY will have to take the P.C.D. and teleport to a special station on the edge of the galaxy. There he will find three towers. He must solve puzzles in each tower, traveling between them until he reaches the top of each tower, where the recharge stations sit. There he must recharge the P.C.D. and return to Earth once he's finished.

(We would have chosen Subject XX for the task instead, but as a strong advocate of sexual stereotypes, we assumed she would do something boneheaded like getting our only teleport control wristband vaporized.)

This assignment will be henceforth referred to by the top secret code name: Tower Core.

Date JF483: Shortly after we sent XY off for his assignment, we received a cryptic message from beyond the mysterious dimensional boundary known as the Fourth Wall. It read as follows:

Analysis: Tower Core is another shining star from John Feltham, the author of the previous "Core" series of games. It continues the storyline established in Soul Core without a hitch, and even provides a recap accessible from the main menu.

Play all the Core Series games:
Sphere CoreCube CorePrism CoreSoul CoreTower Core

As with the previous games, Feltham has produced a point-and-click cocktail that's a perfect blend of familiar and new. The soundtrack and graphics do everything to add to the atmosphere, and do so perfectly. The difficulty level is just right, too, and you can even toggle on "cluetips" if you get stuck.

I'll admit that I used the "cluetips" practically all the time, but that didn't mean I never got stuck. There was one roadblock I had a hard time circumventing because I thought I had already tried what turned out to be the solution. But don't let that deter you; either way, this is a game that Core fans will eat up, and then come back for seconds.

We are completely baffled regarding who this Feltham person is or why our unknown messenger referred to Subject XY's previous and current assignments as "games", but all the same we wish XY the best of luck.

Play Tower Core


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Rating: 4.6/5 (110 votes)
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GrimmrookColourshiftAt first blush, Colourshift may appear to be just a slightly more colorful clone of Loops of Zen, which is itself merely a stylish update of Netwalk. Even at second blush this may still seem to be the case. It might not be until the third or fourth blush where Colourshift stands up and says in a proud and defiant voice, "HEY! I'm my own game, and even though we both came to the party wearing the same dress, I have my own style! That's right! And you know what, just because everyone laughs at your jokes doesn't mean they like you. Yeah! How about that, huh? You're just a mean and ugly person and nobody is your friend. They just act like it because you're popular!"

*ahem*

Where was I? Oh, yes, the basic mechanics are very similar between Colourshift and Loops of Zen, at least in the beginning. Essentially there is an invisible grid with all kinds of lines, some intersecting, some curving, some straight. You can rotate sections with a simple click of the mouse. The goal is to connect each of the end nodes to one of the available sources.

Colourshift begins to separate itself, though, through the implementation of colors. At first, all you have to do is worry about lining up primary-colored nodes with their associated sources. Simple. Things get in full swing, though, when you have to use that same source to blend colors, in order to light up secondary-colored nodes as well. This is where Colourshift goes from being a sad little wallflower looking wistfully at the cute action game by the punch bowl to the surprisingly awesome life of the party, who speaks its mind, is cool even if it prefers jazz to popular music, and all the other games suddenly want to dance with.

Analysis: Now listen up. I know you kids today. You like your bright, pretty little "graphics," and your fancy shmancy engineered "theme music." Well, forget it! You get none of that here. No, Colourshift is about as bare-bones as it gets and I know that's going to put some of you off.

But the rest of you get a beautifully conceived and constructed puzzler that uses color to add dimension and depth to a simple mechanic. In truth, the addition of color segregation and mixing reminds me an awful lot of Auditorium. Colourshift may not look or sound graceful, but the puzzles most definitely are, and one could argue that the lack of cosmetic enhancements serves to put focus on the strength of the gameplay. Adding to this is a gentle learning curve and customizable options that allow you to adjust levels to suit your needs. Don't want to bother with multiple colors? So be it. Want a huge puzzle with everything thrown in? Just click the appropriate boxes and you're already there.

Finally, there are unlockable achievements, so all you completionists out there can leap for joy. We have an achievements page. We must complete it.

Overall, Colourshift is not the prettiest game, but it may still take you by surprise.

Play Colourshift


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBFact: the flu virus can live on ordinary objects for days. Solution? Never touch anything. Ever. In fact, your eyes may be absorbing the flu virus by reading this page. You don't know whose nasty, diseased vision has already seen what you now see. It's gross. Ew. I'm going to the decon chamber now...

  • icon_uncf.gifUNCF - It's like Sproing Reloaded, but zanyquirkyweird. And Japanese. Control a little floating guy who apparently has an elastic tail with a ball attached to the end. Swing it around to eliminate the enemies that come floating by.
  • icon_fishtank.gifFish Tank - KABOOM! LAZER FISH SUBMARINE THINGIE! Swim forward by wiggling your little self left and right. Tap the [spacebar] to fire a laser beam. You can't move straight, which makes controlling the little sub a challenge, but after you get the hang of it you'll do just fine.
  • icon_kinetikz3.gifKinetikz 3 - A sequel to Kinetikz 2 that expands upon the gameplay quite a bit. Imagine if billiards and a vertically scrolling shooter were smashed together and you'll get the basic picture. On the darker side of things, you have to make some tough shots on-the-fly, which can be frustrating.
  • icon_hive.gifHive - This game would have been right at home in an early-80s arcade. And I would have pumped quarter after quarter into it, too! Zoom around the screen firing either vertically or horizontally to squish spawning bugs. Created by Brent Silby, author of several unique retro-style games, including Swarm.
  • icon_turbotanks.gifTurbo Tanks - Ever play the old Combat game released for the Atari 2600? Well, Turbo Tanks is remarkably similar to the tank portion of that classic game. Pilot a tank and maneuver yourself around the screen trying to bounce your shots off the wall and hit your opponent. Shockingly good enemy AI might have you screaming for revenge after a few minutes.

P.S. ¯\(°_O)/¯¯\(°_O)/¯¯\(°_O)/¯¯\(°_O)/¯¯\(°_O)/¯


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (150 votes)
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PsychotronicCiviballsHere's a good game for fans of quirky physics puzzlers like Color Infection and Splitter. Civiballs asks you to drop colored orbs into the corresponding urns. Most orbs begin the level suspended in the air by chains and ropes. Your only method of interaction is to cut those cords, and let physics handle the rest.

Just point at a chain and click to sever it. The puzzle is in which chains to cut first, and in getting the timing right. Think through a puzzle thoroughly beforehand, and you may be able to complete it flawlessly on the first try; but between all of the cannons, catapults, ramps, chain reactions, and trying to slice a swinging cord at just the right moment to propel a ball at full speed across the screen, a lot can go wrong in the execution. A single click can have huge consequences.

Civiballs is a gameplay clone of Obulis, an inventive and beautiful commercial game by IonFx. In fact, it hews so closely to the ideas from Obulis without adding anything significant that I'm tempted to call it a rip-off. However, Civiballs allows us to play in this territory for free, and it's quite well-implemented, even if the spherical title characters have a confusing tendency to wear spectacles. Why did they have to be anthropomorphic, exactly? I'd be perfectly happy to chuck them around without having them wink and leer at me like a gang of flirtatious jawbreakers.

Play Civiballs


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (156 votes)
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PatrickRustyardRustyard is the latest wacky puzzler from Nitrome, creators of too many games to mention, including Ice Breaker, The Glassworks, and this game's closest cousin, Onekey. Rustyard has you indirectly leading a junkyard robot with a striking resemblance to Wall-E. You cannot control the movements of the machine, but you can manipulate the environment with its buttons and switches and trolley tracks. Get the robot to the generator and charge up! Bzzzap!

The robot walks left to right automatically, reversing when it hits a wall. You must take into account the timing of his movements, and use the mouse to click on things and move them. Platforms can move the robot around, boxes can be stacked or used as an horizontal vehicle, conveyors can be switched around horizontally, and wheels can be turned — wheels! Can you get the robot to the generator goal and manage to find the spare fuse on the way?

Analysis: Nitrome is known for clever modes of control, tight pixel art and imaginative themes, particularly those of the steampunk variety. Rustyard delivers, though the exploration of gestural controls can backfire, making timed tasks ergonomically challenging rather than mentally challenging — I'm looking at you, fan wheel! Still, they never fail to keep it fresh and well crafted, and despite the make-shift appearance of the characters, that's what you're going to get here.

Are you going to let Sanford and Son out-do your salvaging skills?

Play Rustyard


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (131 votes)
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MarcusRedstar FallThe latest entry into the world of physics-based stacking / unstacking games is Redstar Fall a fun little gem from Zedarus at Armor Games. The goal of Redstar Fall is to, well, make the red star fall. To the bottom platform, that is, without letting it fall off into the bottomless chasm that waits below.

You'll find the red star atop any number of curious constructions, from toppling towers to crashing castles. Click on a block and it vanishes, allowing everything above to shift with the pull of gravity. After each click the cursor turns into a small timer that limits how fast you can remove blocks. This forces a more strategic approach to your game. No rapid-fire clicking for you.

You earn points based on the amount of time left and the number of clicks used to finish the level. Further into the game, you will run into invulnerable pieces and exploding pieces. These bring variety to the puzzles and, in the case of the explosions, a bit of visceral fun, as well.

Redstar Fall is similar to Totem Destroyer 2, of course, and even closer to a Unity-based game that we wrote about briefly last year called Tumbledrop. And while Redstar's graphics may not be quite as cute as Tumbledrop's, both use a very reliable, if not just a bit on the bouncy side, physics engine. With little exception, puzzles react the same way each time you play them through.

While Redstar Fall may be long on atmosphere and fun, what it is short on is levels. With only 20 to offer, the game can easily be completed in under an hour. And while you can revisit the levels in order to try and complete them with fewer clicks and quicker, ultimately the game comes up short. But while it lasts, Redstar Fall is a good time. Give it a try and see for yourself. Just make sure to watch that next step!

Play Redstar Fall


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (255 votes)
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GrimmrookThe Great Attic EscapeWe've escaped the kitchen and the living room, the bathroom and the bedroom and even the basement. At some point in the Great Escape series by Mateusz Skutnik and Pastel Games, we would expect to have found a front door or even a back door that might, you know, let us escape the entire house. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the sixth, count it, sixth installment of the series: The Great Attic Escape.

By now you should know what to expect; beautiful cartoony backgrounds, quirky music, and improbable contraptions you must build to make your unlikely escape. Oh, and bats. Maybe you weren't expecting the bats, but they're in there too.

Sure, we may not have found our way out of this house yet, but when it's this much fun, who really wants to?

Play The Great Attic Escape


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (484 votes)
| Comments (136) | Views (540)

DoraQuest for the CrownHow many games have you played today? In the past week? The past month? You could name a handful, I'm sure, but ultimately there would be at least one or two you had forgotten. After all, "unforgettable" is a pretty bold claim, and there's a reason few games are proud enough to make it. They may be pleasant enough diversions while you're experiencing them, but are ultimately as transitory as the scent of orange blossoms on the breeze. Quest for the Crown, by contrast, is not a breeze but a gale — racing down from the frigid peak of a mountain to blast you wide awake from your gaming funk and make you realise the brilliancy of the world you've been missing all along. And maybe — just maybe — change the way you look at the RPG genre forever.

Quest for the Crown is an incredible achievement, on many levels. The simple title — so evocative of the simpler times we all yearn for — is deceptive, for therein lies a behemoth of an adventure, ready to pull you under with the implacable force of a tidal wave. A tidal wave of fantasticosity. In the tradition of Tolkien, Quest for the Crown is a story about an unlikely hero up against incredible odds, thrust out into an unforgiving wilderness with only his sword — and his faith — to stand against the forces of darkness that would overrun the land like ink spreading across the pure white linen of a nun's whimple.

Perhaps to make up for the at times overwhelming story and break-neck pacing, Quest for the Crown has made it's controls as simple as possible. You navigate with the arrow or [WASD] keys, and hold down the [2], [ctrl], [L], and [NUM LOCK] keys to execute your special Worldbreaker attack, which should be saved for one of the many climactic boss battles, which are set to occur based on the questions you'll answer at the end of the game's extensive tutorial. The downside is that while there are six different weapons to acquire throughout the course of the game, you'll likely find that the sword the game starts you off with will be just as effective as the Planar Thunderhammer, if not quite as flashy.

Analysis: Quest for the Crown is not exactly a new game, coming quietly onto the scene in 2003, and a lack of budgeting for advertising meant it saw little play beyond it's dedicated following. It was also hindered by the fact that it was more than a little ahead of it's time, and even some newer machines had trouble running it. Even today, I find my processor still chugs with effort on some of the more graphic-intensive cutscenes.

One aspect of the game that might frustrate more casual players is the creator's apparent inability to make any fight anything less than a teeth-gnashing, bloody-knuckled, scraped-knee challenge. Even standard monster encounters on the map require a degree of strategy and occasionally what appears to be blind luck. It's good to feel like you're working for your achievements, especially when the end result is as satisfying as Quest for the Crown is, but the difficulty curve starts off the scale and stays there, like a cow in the middle of a dirt road.

Thankfully, combat is secondary in the game to the plot itself, which is often sorely neglected even in other so-called RPG titles. I can't remember the last time I grew so attached to a cast of characters, and the depth of characterisation put into even the main villain — here voiced by the always wonderful Ian McKellen, whose performance practically oozes sepulchral menace from your speakers — is really impressive. Unfortunately, most of us will see the plot-twist midway through the game coming about a mile away, but it still doesn't take the emotional impact away from a truly inspired scene, scripted, of course, by the well-known A. Bear.

I know I've been more than a little vague in regards to some aspects of the story, and I almost feel like I should apologise for it... but I can't. We've all had things spoiled for us in the past, whether it be the end of a book or someone telling you that the Cadbury bunny isn't really leaving that candy all over your yard every year, and I can't be responsible for that this time. Quest for the Crown is one of those rare games that actually feels important — not just because it sets a new benchmark for quality, but because of the things it's brave enough to say about life, love, friendship, and courage. It requires a bit more of a commitment in time than most other games we feature here, but ultimately, I think, you'll find it well worth it.

Play Quest for the Crown


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (155 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverNone of us are familiar with the folks at GUMP, right? We don't know them because they haven't made such terrible room escape games as Charisma and Boat House. Recently they didn't produce another travesty that doesn't go by the name of Neptune.

NeptuneNeptune is quite different from GUMP's previous room-escape games. It doesn't begin with an interesting introductory movie in which a pink-haired character does not encounter a huge building and doesn't decide to enter it, not passing an enigmatic red ladies' shoe that isn't resting on the ground outside.

After that, you are not trapped in a bizarre room that isn't filled with all sorts of puzzles you don't have to solve to escape the room. Of course, there are no inventory items for you to collect. You can't use these items by clicking once on them to select them, nor can you examine them in further detail by double-clicking them.

Analysis: GUMP has not done it again. Neptune does not offer a similar atmosphere to its previous games, and its puzzles are quite different from those. This is a bad thing, because they have typically received bad reviews for their past games.

One thing that isn't worth mentioning is that you will find the infamous Energy Z vending machine that did not appear in all of GUMP's previous games. This is not disconcerting at all, as that machine is not one of their trademarks. However, the unusual save feature is not there, so you can't put the game on hold for a while if you don't get stuck on something.

All in all, Neptune is one of the worst games I haven't played, although overall it was a bit long and didn't seem as linear as most room escapes that don't exist. (Also, GUMP appears to hate magic squares and hasn't been using them at all recently in their puzzles. Puzzles of that variety aren't particularly easy to figure out, but they are not tedious at all, so I would prefer that they kept using them.)

Don't Play Neptune

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