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May 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.8/5 (282 votes)
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Weekend Download

ArtbegottiWhen you read something, you usually retain some sort of information from the words you've seen. After a few seconds or minutes of reading, you've amassed a bit of knowledge and can find ways to apply it. But what if the flow of time wasn't linear? Best of Casual Gameplay 2009What if you could obtain that knowledge, then go back and use it in situations long before you started reading? This is one of the key concepts Braid, a puzzle platformer created by Jonathan Blow, is built upon. With a deep, intriguing storyline, gorgeous watercolor backgrounds, enchanting music, and the unique ability to manipulate time, Braid is built from dozens of unique puzzles (no filler material) that will challenge your ability to think laterally while inspiring your philosophical mind to search for meaning with every object you encounter.

As you begin the game, you'll notice how Braid feels like your ordinary platformer. Run, climb, jump, and bounce off the heads of enemies, all in the name of collecting a puzzle piece. The story even seems to involve rescuing a princess! However, the significant twist (and oh, what a twist it is) is... time. BraidAlmost every puzzle in this game requires you to manipulate time to some extent, whether it be through trial-and-error or altering the speed or direction that time flows. Holding down the [shift] key will move time backwards, letting you undo an action (such as dying) to let you have a new perspective on what you've just done.

Part of the journey Braid takes you on is the thrill of discovering how time moves uniquely in each world. That much said, we'll try not to spoil too many of the twists for you, but we will offer you this advice: with probably 99% of the games you've played in your life, time has marched on steadily, and there's been nothing you can do about it. The clock has always ticked down, the bonus points have slowly decreased, and the desire to keep moving just for the sake of moving has plagued you. If you want to succeed with Braid, don't let this happen. The one mechanism you've never been allowed to tamper with is now your biggest tool for solving each puzzle. Think of how time can be used in that world, and how it can be applied to each specific task. If all else fails and you get completely stuck, take a break. Time is on your side, after all.

Jonathan Blow's puzzle of time won't just twist your mind with its new style of mental gymnastics, but features enough gorgeous eye-candy to leave you craving more. Each pixel is coated with pure awesome and served with a warm cup of stunning. The music and sounds not only serve as a soundtrack for your adventure, but almost become a manipulable toy by themselves, able to be twisted as you play with time. However, one of the truly astonishing aspects of this game is the deeply involving story, which sweetly lures you in at the beginning, and blows your mind as you travel onward.

BraidJohnBTo say that Braid is breathtaking is a massive understatement. If it doesn't change the way you think about games as tools of expression, you're missing out on more than half the experience. In creating Braid, Jonathan Blow knew that a video game would be the only suitable medium to tell the story. Why? Because games are interactive, they create a unique bridge crossing the gap between player and game. Reading or watching movies is a passive experience, whereas games are active. Blow played with this in a number of ways, toying with the player in such a way that the interaction between you and Braid becomes a story (and a game) on its own.

One of the biggest points of discussion in Braid is its story, and there are as many theories on its meaning as there are people to play the game. What has Tim done that he regrets so much? Who is the princess, what does she represent? And what's this about an atomic bomb? After completing Braid for the first time, I went back and replayed the entire thing with a friend, picking apart every little sprite and event, watching enemies spout from cannons and wondering if their direction or position carried a deeper meaning. Of course it was all just speculation on our parts (and a little presumptuous, too), but how many games burrow themselves into your mind that deeply? How many spark such long, deep and engaging conversations outside of the game itself? Very, very few, and for that alone, Braid deserves high praise.

BraidOn the surface, Braid's story is about regret, mistakes, and learning from each one. The ability to manipulate time is something all of us have wished we could do. Imagine going on your first date with the ability to reverse time! In Braid's case, not only are we erasing mistakes we have made (stepping on spikes, falling off a platform, etc.), but we, as players, retain the knowledge of making the mistake when we repeat the action. All the regret of losing a life and restarting a level is gone. Braid also plays with a number of gaming conventions, particularly those made famous by the Super Mario Bros. series, to make you think you'll experience a classic video game scenario (rescuing the princess, anyone?) before turning everything on its head. It's "wow" from so many levels.

Each puzzle in Braid is unique, there's no copy/paste filler material, so instead of memorizing how to pass a certain obstacle and applying that knowledge later on, you only learn how to play the game, which means manipulating time and allowing it to manipulate you. The different time mechanics as you progress through the worlds — from simple rewinding to shadow characters and so on — can also be interpreted in the light of the mistakes/regret theme of the story. What if you could just take a step backwards and undo what you just did? The unique nature of the puzzles led me to believe there had to be some sort of meaning encapsulated within each. The final, greatest puzzle in Braid is its story, and that one, I'm afraid, isn't meant to be solved.

If you're in the mood to be intrigued by a game, Braid is for you. If you want some fodder for the next "games are/aren't art" argument you find yourself trapped in, Braid is required playing material. Don't use a walkthrough for this game, just play through it, experiment, and enjoy the thrill of working out the puzzles on your own. When you reach the last level, it will be one of the most emotionally stunning moments you will ever experience in a game.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Note: Braid's music is a collection of songs from a number of independent composers. Check out the soundtrack on the official Braid blog. Also, if you're interested in Braid's story and its various interpretations, this story FAQ summarizes some of the themes and meanings.


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (46 votes)
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Eternal Eden

DoraCasual gaming means different things to different people. For me it encompasses both the hours of my life that mysteriously vanish whenever I load up IVAN, and phenomenal Solitaire skills(z) I have developed while on hold with the cable company. By contrast, an RPG is something that implies a required commitment; certainly, at over sixteen hours of gameplay Eternal Eden from one-man band Blossomsoft is a pretty hefty date. But is it worth your time?

Eternal EdenNoah lives in a land where nobody ever grows old, nobody ever gets sick, and certainly nobody ever dies. They are provided for by the Tower of Eden, which grants them everything they could ever want. All of this is thanks to their "Father", a mysterious figure who created the people of Noah's land in his image, and then left on a boat one day long ago. When Downey, Noah's best friend, decides to violate Eden's only rule by picking the forbidden fruit from the top of the tower in an attempt to win the Princess's favour, the world is forever altered.

The occasional awkward speech from Noah aside, Eternal Eden features a pretty darn likeable cast of characters. While most of them are archetypes you've probably seen before in fantasy RPGs, all of them have their own personalities, and well-rounded ones at that. The inter-party banter is fun to listen to, and while some friends may come and go, the three who stay with you throughout the game do grow on you quite a bit. A favourite of mine was Jean, who won me over early on by being surprisingly charming whenever he could tear himself away from a mirror or from belittling Downey.

On the surface, Eternal Eden is mechanically like every RPG ever to have graced a console. You travel around battling monsters with a turn-based system to collect experience to level up so you can fight bigger monsters, all while keeping an eye on your HP and MP. Sound familiar? Don't worry. Surprisingly, the game injects a few new concepts that keep the gameplay from feeling dated. Not the least of which being a complete lack of random encounters. Mmmmmm, yeah.

Battles have a little strategy injected by giving your enemies weaknesses beyond the standard rock-paper-scissors. Rats, for example, can be "drowned" with a water spell, and if your opponent is scaled, piercing weapons are your best bet. While adventuring in the field, investigate nooks and crannies to discover hidden passages and items. There's also a surprisingly addictive minigame involving turtle hunting. Yes, I spent an hour trying to hunt down all the moon turtles I could find, and I'm not ashamed to admit it! ...much!

Some people aren't going to like the old-school look of the game, but for me it brings the nostalgia home even more, and features some surprisingly good designs given the engine. Areas are thoughtful and well planned, easy on the eyes without being swarmed by too much decoration. The character design is bright and cheerful, and while my old friend palette-swapping makes a reappearance — "cave spider" becomes "moist spider" by virtue of a blue plaint job — the enemies look pretty good, too. So it's a bit unfortunate that, by contrast, the music is "just okay".

Analysis: So, let's see. People living in eternal paradise thanks to Eden. Frequent references to a Father who made them in his image before he left. Forbidden fruit... mmmnnnnnope, doesn't ring a bell. It's actually very easy to cross a line from trying to impart a message into actually hectoring a player, and Eternal Eden is usually solidly in the former's court. The downside is that whatever that message is actually comes across a bit muddled — after a certain point, the game's story slips into a much more traditional RPG mold, complete with Mystical MacGuffin. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that the game ends up feeling much more like, say, Secret of Mana. Still extremely enjoyable, but candy instead of food-for-thought.

Eternal EdenThere are a few things that hold the game back from reaching it's full potential. One of them is that a large chunk of the game is exploring the many dungeons, and all of them are fairly large, some of them placed nearly back to back. By contrast, most villages and areas where you can interact with other characters are very small and spaced far apart, which is a shame, because I really looked forward to the in-party dialogues. A mini-map of some sort also would not have gone unappreciated, since most dungeons feature a fair amount of to-and-fro-ing as you solve puzzles to unlock new areas. Why hello, Gray Corridor, have we met before? I'm sure we're going to get to know each other very well. In some cases, it winds up feeling like padding rather than an actual integral part of gameplay.

Another mechanics quirk is that the game doesn't prompt you to confirm your choices. Any of them. While it makes rapidly clicking through your inventory to sell off your accumulated treasure a snap, it also means I accidentally sold a rare item once or twice with no way to get it back. Be careful when running multiple saves as well, since the game won't ask if you're overwriting one, either.

Eternal Eden also features a lot of puzzles, some of which are quite clever, but you rarely encounter more than any one variety in a dungeon. After the first two puzzles I completed involving rolling rocks to clear pathways, I was going to make some snarky comment about big rocks and homeowner protection. After the fourth and fifth, I simply wanted to set something on fire. I understand that using rocks to depress switches in dungeons is a time-honoured RPG tradition — Lufia being a prime example — but all I wanted to do was get on with the story and find out what happened next.

Ultimately, Eternal Eden is a game that feels like it was made by a fan — someone with a passion for the genre — and that's a wonderful thing. There are so many quirks and details put into the game that make exploring everything a real pleasure. It's a big world out there, and it's a bigger job to save it. Despite a few gameplay issues and minor grammatical errors, Eternal Eden sets a new benchmark in quality for other aspiring RPGs. Strap on your sword, young knight. Adventure is calling.

Attention ATI Graphics Card Owners: There is a compatibility issue that seems to affect Eternal Eden when playing fullscreen for some people. According to the game designer, about 5% of people have this issue. (Myself included.) Please try the demo and see if it works for you. Windowed mode (accessed by pressing [ALT+ENTER] during the game) runs fine.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (21 votes)
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Mystic Emporium

MarcusYou'd think that being able to do magic would make things like running a magic shop a snap. Just wave your wand and POOF everything is taken care of. Well, turns out it's not all that easy, if Mystic Emporium is any indication. In fact, it's going it take all of your time-management skills to be a successful magic shop owner and satisfy the mystical people and creatures of the realm.

Mystic EmporiumIn Mystic Emporium you play Lilly, a young witch who, after working for some time at the magical library, decides to try her hand at running a magic store. She comes upon an old store owner who would like to take a well-deserved break from the business. Lilly takes over and her career begins. It'll be up to Lilly and her Miyazaki-inspired black cat to keep things going day-to-day to keep the shop open and lucrative.

During the course of the day, various witches, wizards, and creatures will enter the store, and it's your job to serve them in a timely manner. The goods Lilly sells are not just pick-up and go. They require some attention before they're ready to be sold. Potions must be mixed, berries must be grown, and magical items must be enchanted. Potions require that you first gather ingredients from your shelves and mix them in a cauldron. At first, potions only require one or two ingredients, but soon they will require more ingredients than you can carry at once, forcing you to make multiple trips to the shelves. Of course, you can only mix one potion at a time in the cauldron. Eventually, you will be able to purchase additional cauldrons, and upgrade the ones that you have. You will also be able to purchase other upgrades for the shop, including more shelves for magical items, objects to help keep your customers patient, new shoes to make Lilly move faster, and other things to spiff up the store.

Your customers don't have all day to wait for their wares, and they will let you know it. A small meter beside each patron shows their patience level. When that disappears, so does your customer, along with their money. The faster you serve them, the more money they leave. Collect enough cash by the end of the day to progress to the next level. If you can beat the expert goal, you'll get a bonus as well.

Mystic EmporiumIn between some levels, you are faced with a match-3 puzzle much like SameGame. As you make matches of a particular color, you slowly fill up a potion bottle. Once the bottle is full, the mini-game is finished, and you are rewarded with a special charm. These charms will do things such as giving you a greater chance that customers will leave a tip. Interestingly enough, the mini-game is sponsored by an actual real-world energy drink, Mana Energy Potion.

Back in the main game, as the customers come faster and faster, you will need to be able to think a number of steps ahead to make sure that you can serve them in a timely manner. Mystic Emporium allows you to queue up moves, regardless of how fast Lilly is moving. This lets you plan out her path and allows you to concentrate on future requirements while Lilly goes through the motions. You can gain more speed if you can memorize the ingredients for the spells, allowing you to go directly to the shelves after adding the spell to the cauldron instead of waiting for the cauldron to tell you what ingredients to add. In the later levels, if Lilly is standing still, then you're might be missing something!

Analysis: I was initially afraid that Mystic Emporium was going to be a simple retread of Miriel the Magical Merchant, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this game stand well on its own feet. The subject matter may be similar, but Mystic Emporium adds quite a bit to the formula, making the player concentrate on a number of different processes for getting the customers what they are asking for. From the couple of clicks required to sell a magical item to the eight or nine clicks required to produce a potion, you really need to keep your wits about you when the game enters the higher levels.

The graphics and animation in the game are nicely done; the visuals are very consistent and animations are smooth. There are some really nice effects for magical spells. The backgrounds are detailed, and the different ingredients and magical objects are distinct enough that you will not mistake one for another. The character designs all have their own custom animations for coming into and leaving your shop, and each have a very distinct look.

One minor problem I have with the game begins to manifest itself when the action gets particularly frenzied. The cauldron has two different areas that it can be clicked. You click on the top of the cauldron to start a spell and to add ingredients. To start the process of brewing the spell, you click on the bottom of the cauldron. As I found myself frenetically clicking around the screen in order to keep up with everything, I would often click on the wrong part of the cauldron at the wrong time, which would bring Lilly's chain of commands to an abrupt stop as the remaining clicks no longer were valid. You simply have to be aware of where you are clicking at all times.

Mystic Emporium is an excellent addition to the vast number of games in the time-management genre. The gameplay is solid, the presentation is professional, and most of all, it's fun! Can you help keep Lilly in business? Check it out and give it 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.

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBSomething for just about every type of gamer in this edition of Weekend Download, including a few titles heavy on exploration (one with a grappling hook! :-O ), a psychedelic shooter, and an experimental art game complete with vomit!

ivorysprings.gifIvory Springs (Windows, 4MB, free) - An unfinished platformer project by Konjak, author of the Noitu Love games as well as the greatly appreciated Legend of Princess game. In fact, Ivory Springs is very similar to both games and has that great Mega Man-ish/Metroidvania feel we all love to death. Being an abandoned project, expect to encounter a few glitches during your half hour or so of gametime. But that half hour is superb!

kaivo.gifKaivo (Windows, 1.1MB, free) - A breathtakingly simple exploration game that drops you in a deep, dark cave with little more than the ability to jump and a versatile grappling hook at your disposal. Use the hook to latch onto walls, floors and ceilings to move around the sparse landscape. Avoid quicksand, touch the disk icons to save, and keep looking for that elusive gold!

stormassault.jpgStorm Assault (Windows, 27MB, free) - An unforgiving horizontal shooter made as a tribute to Konami's classic Gradius series. As you defeat enemies you'll pick up capsules that advance a meter on the bottom of the screen. Upgrade each weapon when its rectangle is lit, and don't even brush against an enemy ship or it's all over for you. There are only a few stages to play, but what's there is quite good. The website and game are in Japanese, but the really important texts (weapon names, etc.) are written in English.

thegutter.gifThe Gutter (Windows, 11MB, free) - A very short and experimental art game similar to The Graveyard in nature. You play a drunken hobo wandering down a dark alleyway. Stop for a moment to admire the ever-swaying viewpoint, take a sip of booze, and maybe even vomit on the pavement. Oh, and is that a cat? If you got a kick out of the free version, donating $5 unlocks a new feature: death!

synso2.jpgSquid Yes, Not So Octopus: Squid Harder (Windows, 15MB, free) - Psychedelic colors, rockin' chiptune music, tons of things flying around the screen, and you, squid, in the middle of it all, just trying to stay alive. This is a near-final beta release of the game, with the full version coming soon! Be sure to try out the original Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! for more shooting and torture (but still no octopus).

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under Windows Vista and are virus-free. Mac users should try Boot Camp, Parallels, or CrossOver Games to play Windows titles, Linux users can use Wine. If you know of a great game we should feature, use the Submit link above to send it in!


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (30 votes)
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Yosumin!

JohnBSugar-coated, filled with rainbows and sunshine and love, and cheerier than a dentist the day after Halloween, Yousumin! is a new puzzle game from Square-Enix. In the same way Bejeweled Twist put a spin on the matching genre, Yosumin! shifts things around to deliver a new kind of puzzle game that's unique yet familiar at the same time.

yosumin.jpgTo clear pieces from the board, all you have to do is create rectangles or squares. Find a rectangle by looking for the same yosumin pieces at each of the four corners, then just drag a box (or click opposing corners) and watch everything disappear. Depending on the size of the set you created you'll get bonuses, such as a little extra time to fill up the meter on the right. Instead of scrutinizing small parts of the board like most puzzlers encourage you to do, Yosumin! is about scanning the entire grid and searching for patterns. It's a fundamental shift in the matching genre, and one that's just different enough to make you go "ooh".

Each level has a number of conditions you must meet before you can progress to the next stage. At first it's simple tasks such as matching a certain number of yellow, red, and green yosumin. Later, though, you'll have to get creative when the conditions become stringent, such as creating small sets, super sets, or only squares. And then there are the giant yosumin that appear and stained glass pieces you collect in adventure mode, adding a whole new level of puzzle solving to the mix.

As the game progresses you'll come across new types of yosumin that add a little cinnamon to your hot cocoa. Goldmin serve as wildcards and can be any color you need them to be, while wingmin can be moved around the board without restriction. Also keep an eye out for badmin, bigmin, plusmin and bossmin pieces, each with its own unique properties, some of which are more detrimental than others.

yosumin2.jpgAnalysis: The bottom of the matching puzzle barrel has been scraped so many times I'm afraid there's nothing but splinters left. It takes something special to get my attention these days, and only a few games have managed to do that in the last year. Bejeweled Twist did an excellent job reinventing the match-3 without really reinventing it, Dragon Portals tweaked the formula ever so slightly as to give me a giggle or two, and now Yosumin! hops along and falls somewhere in-between with its level of innovation and pure addictiveness. The game is immediately captivating, and while the novelty wears off just over halfway through the game, I kept coming back for more day after day.

No puzzle game is truly interesting unless there's a strategy to be discovered, developed, and mastered. Yosumin! does this by balancing the size of the sets you make with the bonuses you receive, both points-wise and with extra time. Sometimes it's a sound decision to make a number of smaller matches to stall the timer and to freshen up the board in the hopes you can make a large set. Other times you'll find yourself working the far corners of the screen so you can clear the entire board at once, a cheery event appropriately called a Yosumin!. There's also a combo meter to the left of the playing field that fills when you complete sets of like-colored yosumin in a row. After a chain of four, the board is cleared of that color yosumin, freeing you up for some major rectangles. This is one of the more difficult strategies to master, as you have to be both fast with your mouse and keen with your eyes. But it pays off!

As far as longevity is concerned, Yosumin! is surprisingly robust for a puzzle game. There are over 180 stages to play in the main adventure mode, the main chunk of the game where you unlock new characters, special equippable "treats" that affect gameplay, and collect shards. Endless mode is also available and is, well, endless. Unfortunately most of the game's content is shown in the first few dozen levels, leaving the rest of the game to dwindle into triviality. That isn't to say there's no challenge, just that you'll be less motivated to keep playing beyond then.

If you're curious as to how the game plays, check out the free Flash demo of the game available on the official Japanese Yosumin! website. It's a greatly-simplified version of what the download offers, but you can get a feel for the unique mechanics without much effort.

It's a bit of a surprise success, but Yosumin! has almost everything you would want in a casual puzzle game. It sputters and stalls halfway through when it runs out of new content to share, but the core mechanics are superb and interesting to the end. The more you play it, the more you love it.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (472 votes)
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PsychotronicEscape The BathroomHey, everybody! You may be pleased to know that Shawn Tanner, otherwise known as Afroninja, has finally released Escape the Bathroom, the next game in the popular and long-delayed Escape Series. This time, you wake up in a bathroom to find the exit blocked, not by a locked door but by a bank of lasers. Use your pointing and clicking skills to escape, using mostly just common household items hidden around the room.

Afroninja's escapes have a certain grittiness to them, in the sense that we can imagine (especially after five Saw movies) some nutball actually setting up a room this way in reality, then kidnapping people and dumping them into it. Escape the Bathroom isn't about abstract puzzles; it's about using physical objects in unexpected but plausible ways.

As always, the escape is short but intense. A timer clacks away in the corner, reminding you once per second how tragic your brain is. The puzzles are completely logical, so you have no excuse for your slowness. See your score at the end? That's how long it will take to escape if a genuine Jigsaw comes to get you.

Play Escape Series #4: The Bathroom

Play the entire Escape Series...


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraAhhh, heroes! They come in so many forms, don't they? This week's Link Dump is devoted to unlikely heroes. Some of them are lab experiments, some of them are bounty hunters, and some of them do unspeakable things to peasants! Don't let the lack of gravity defying hair or a weapon bigger than their torso put you off; each and every one of these fine games features a role model waiting to happen. Or, um. Not.

  • NooBoo Mary: The Witch QueenNooBoo Mary: The Witch Queen - Apparently, Mary has a membership towards some sort of Angry-Mob-of-the-Month Club, because once again, it's up to you to do terrible things to little people until they explode like blood-filled balloons. I can't think of a more wholesome way to spend an evening!
  • Oozing ForeverOozing Forever - Warning: Some Profanity. If you're one of those people who has trouble keeping hold of your sentient goo, you might find this slippery physics adventure a little difficult. Otherwise, plunge your arms up to the elbows in the glowing green stuff as you take revenge on unscrupulous scientists! What do you mean, "EW"?
  • Galactic StampedeGalactic Stampede - You know, I always wanted to be a bounty hunter, but carbonite is so expensive, and don't even get me started on the hazards of malfunctioning rocket packs! Fortunately, not only can I pretend to be one in this point-and-click space adventure, I can be a surly, bipedal alien mouse, too! Why, it's like someone's been reading my Christmas wishlists!
  • Run, Bobby, RunRun, Bobby, Run - Awesome hair, awesome shades, awesome explosion, awesome helicopter! No, it's not the newest film by Michael Bay, but add Bruce Willis to this slick little challenge of avoidance and endurance, and you've got yourself an Oscar waiting to happen! Where do I sign?
  • Invention SuspensionInvention Suspension - Wallace and Gromit need your help to collect the parts for their newest invention, though I'm not sure why. You would think creating a helicopter you could fly with the [WASD] keys and deploy a giant magnet with the [SpaceBar] would be exciting enough. Maybe I'm just easily impressed?

  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (77 votes)
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failsafe.jpgJohnBFail-Safe is a work of interactive fiction created by Jon Ingold. It could be one of the strangest text-based games you've ever seen (in a simple, subdued kind of way), as Ingold removes all meta-commands from the parser, forbidding you do to things like saving your progress, consulting a help manual, or checking your inventory. But there's a good reason for this. Fail-Safe immerses you so deeply in the world that even the conventions of playing a game would snap you out of it. And when you start playing, you'll see why that's a crucial part of the experience.

Fail-Safe is one of those games where discussing the plot, puzzles or content would ruin everything. Even the smallest mentioning of an event, setting, character or sentence kind of spoils the fun. Well, you would still get some enjoyment from figuring the game out and seeing an ending, but the immersion factor would be lost, and that's where Fail-Safe really shines. I will say this, however: as the game begins, you are responding to a distress call. Now, start reading, think about the game world, and don't look away from your screen until you've saved the day.

Analysis: When I first played Fail-Safe my eyes widened with excitement. It took little more than three paragraphs to grab my attention, rivet my fingers to the keyboard, and keep me thinking about the in-game events until the bitter (and not-bitter) end. Big game developers spend enormous amounts of time and money developing concepts that can reel players in like squiggling little fishies. And here Jon Ingold does it with a few lines of text and a whole lot of intrigue. That's exactly what I like in a game.

The pressure is always on high in Fail-Safe, but not so strong that I didn't feel I had time to "explore" my "surroundings". (Yeah, you'll understand those quotation marks once you play the game.) Almost all of the text in the game is spoken dialogue, keeping descriptions organic and interesting without that bitter flavor of exposition. This also serves as an additional tool of immersion, preventing you from dropping back into "look and see" mode as a player. The parser even stays in-character, spouting story-appropriate text in response to your failed commands.

Fail-Safe is a short game, perfect for any casually-minded player, but there are multiple endings to uncover, and I'm sure you'll want to see more than one. If you're new to the interactive fiction genre you might struggle a bit with this game, so you might want to level-up your IF skills before jumping in. Llama Adventure is a good place to cut your teeth. And when you're ready to lose yourself in a great story experience, Fail-Safe will be waiting for you.

Play Fail-Safe

Cheers to Brian for sending this one in!

The links above point to JIG's internally developed Flash-based Z-Machine interpreter (thanks asterick!), with the story files hosted here by kind permission of the game's author, Jon Ingold. That means you can play Fail-Safe in your browser rather than having to download and run the game in a standalone interpreter. If you would rather download the game, grab the file at the Interactive Fiction database followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (62 votes)
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DoraAzul BaronisOh my God, it's full of stars!

…and lasers! And explosions! And bright green ships!

Hmmm. The Black isn't looking as Black as it's used to, in Azul Baronis, a retro space shoot-em-up from Andrew Martin and James Pags. In fact, it's downright colourful! Why, space would be pretty cheerful, if it weren't for the hundreds of people who want to send you out in a blaze of glory. It may be an older game, but I ask you; does blowing up gigantic death ships with your tiny space fighter ever go out of style?

While the tutorial informs you that you are some sort of unsavory warlord who thinks a regime of terror and slavery is awfully keen, it never crops up again throughout the game. So if you'd rather close your eyes and pretend you're liberating defenseless bunnies from space fur-traders, you can do that too. Personally, the promise of becoming the most violently neon fleet in the galaxy was all the motivation I needed. Nobody shall be more extravagantly hued than I!

The game goes out of its way to make the experience comfortable for you. The tutorial does everything but stroke your hand reassuringly and offer you toffees before it sends you out to get vaporised — and you will be. Use the [WASD] keys to fly around the screen, pressing [Space] for a quick boost of speed when the yellow bar at the bottom right of the screen is full. Keep track of the battle on your radar, where you can see your allies and enemies represented by coloured dots. And what do you do when lasers start firing your way? Why, you click the mouse and send some hot lasery death right back! If you need to take a breather, pressing [P] will pause the game for you, where you can access the other options as well, such as turning off the game's oh-so-arcade soundtrack.

You can expect to do a fair amount of exploding of your own. Each small ship can take eight shots before it gets destroyed, which sounds like a lot before you're swarmed by two dozen enemies who don't like the cut of your jib. As long as you still have ships flying on your side, you'll be able to click through the surviving CPU-controlled allies and press the [Space] bar to instantly control one of them, dropping you right back into the action. Which is nice, since this also nets you the chance to control some of the bigger, badder ships, too.

Azul BaronisAnalysis: Gameplay consists of flying after folks really fast to shoot at them, and flying really fast away from folks who want to shoot you. This lack of fancy trickery may be a let down for some, but for me it meant that I could really just enjoy the game without worrying about pulling off the Super-Ultra-Hadoken combo. All I had to worry about was flying in curliques like a crazed bumblebee so nobody could get behind me long enough to blow up my tender engines before I blew up theirs.

You can wind up doing a lot of fumbling when you first start out, so the radar will come in handy figuring out where the fun is happening. Because the map repeats on itself — ie, go left far enough and you'll pop out on the right side — you can never really get lost, but it's still very easy to get seperated from the action. At its best it's an annoyance, as you have to zip back towards the battle where all your companions are busy dying fiery, painful deaths. At its worst, it can be an instant death sentence as the fifteen enemies who followed you suddenly have you as their only visible target.

Every battle is randomised, down to the number of troops you and your enemies have, and here the game engine shows its sadistic side. You're rarely ever given more than a dozen ships in the beginning, and your enemies' numbers dramatically increase with every battle. If you're facing two different factions, they'll happily shoot at each other as much as yourself, but that's still double the number of opponents you're facing. Add to that a lack of a save feature, and it's easy to get blasted into space dust in later levels because you just didn't have the luck of the draw when it came to determining your firepower that round.

But despite its balance issues, there's something incredibly addicting about Azul Baronis. The gameplay is fast, furious, and challenging, and there's something intensely satisfying about managing to pull off a victory despite overwhelming odds. It's old-school Star Fox complete with radio chatter, without the annoying formation minigames, or that stupid Frog.

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Rating: 4.1/5 (68 votes)
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PsychotronicRedstar Fall ProIt's time to revisit the history of communism, browser game style! Redstar Fall is back, with 20 more levels of physics puzzle mayhem. The new levels are tough and finicky as a dried-up alley cat, so if you haven't played the first game, go do that first.

If you must soldier ahead with no experience, then here is the low-down. On each level of Redstar Fall Pro, a red star lives on the top of a teetering tower of bricks and explosives. Your job is to bring the star safely to rest on solid ground. Or as is often the case, ground that is floating mysteriously in mid-air. The red star stands on deceptively solid ground, you might say. Just like communism!

You perform this task by clicking on the support bricks one at a time, thus blowing them up or vaporizing them. There's about a one-second delay between clicks, so strategy takes precedence over reflexes.

Again, these are the "Pro" levels (though you won't get one red cent for completing them), so if the solution seems impossible, you're probably just not triggering the right obscure domino reaction. Play around! Relax! Watch the fuzzy clouds float by. Ponder the modern-day ramifications of the 20th-century Cold War. Whatev.

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Thanks for sending this one in, Patrick!


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JayTwitter buttonDo you Twitter? Seems everyone is these days. If you have a Twitter account, be sure to follow us @Jayisgames

We'll be giving away random free stuff all spring and summer, including Big Fish Games coupons, iTunes gift certificates, and more! Tell your family and friends to follow us, too. The more eyes watching, the more chances you have to win! :)

(Twitter button courtesy of MilkAddict.)


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Rating: 3.7/5 (75 votes)
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MalloryPanicBreakout.jpgWho doesn't remember trying to beat Breakout on their Atari? Er, maybe at the arcade? On your computer, while procrastinating on your final papers? How about on your cell phone on a long train ride? I have all those memories, though most are the latter ones. But no matter when or where, we know exactly what to expect when it comes to Breakout.

It's all there in Panic Breakout from Taro Ito's GameDesign. Just add a big ol' round smiley face as the paddle, more than one ball, and falling powerups. Start by left-clicking and one ball shoots into play. Use the entire face, sides and all, to keep the ball going, while also trying to collect hearts, stars, skulls and more dropping from the destroyed bricks. The wall gradually marches down the screen — faster and faster on higher levels — so work quickly.

Hearts are extra/spare balls and they're vital to staying in the game. After collecting them, release the balls at any time with a click. The number collected serves as the face's mouth, whether it be one or five, and they'll all be released once you run out of balls in play. The game ends if the ball(s) sink and there are no more left in reserve — with the face making a panicked-looking :-0 — or the bricks drop past the dotted line.

The letter Ps enlarge the smiley-paddle and skulls shrink it down a size. Cinderblocks cause a line of blocks to appear at the bottom of the screen, preventing any lost balls for a brief period. Stars speed up the balls in play a little, which helps clear those bricks before they advance too far, but also makes things more hectic.

Analysis: If you're used to the simplicity of basic Breakout, multitasking between collecting powerups and destroying bricks is a little overwhelming, causing even a bit of panic during the first few plays. Yet it's not as hard as it looks. On the other hand, keeping more than two balls in play while doing all of the above is as hard as a juggling act, which makes Panic Breakout's carnival music appropriate.

Having a circle-shaped paddle is awkward at first. I mean, how could that possibly work? It's round! Only the ball is supposed to be round. Once you're used to it, the face works out very well, especially when you need to make shots at different angles — ones you could only make with a weird circle-shaped paddle.

Panic Breakout has a bland black and white color scheme, which I didn't notice at all during my first few plays. Not sure why. I think I was distracted by all of the different shapes and associating them to their usual colors (wait, the hearts aren't red?) in my mind. I guess there's no time for colors when you're doing all that multitasking. And panicking.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (107 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverIt's another blast from the past with this week's Weekday Escape. It's an oldie from our old friend Bianco-Bianco by the name of Escape from Dr. Ichie's Factory, another gem in the Dr. Ichie series (you may remember the Room and the Café).

Dr. Ichie's FactoryThe story's a familiar one: you wake up in the middle of an odd factory building, and you find a note from the culprit, Dr. Ichie, telling you that you have to solve some puzzles to escape from it. Well, Doc, we eat rooms like yours for breakfast every Wednesday. Pity this area isn't as comfortable as the other two.

Navigation is a simple affair. To turn, move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen, and when it turns green, click. To use items, click them once to select them, then show the game what you want to use them on. To examine them, double-click. And, of course, you know the rest.

Analysis: We all know what Bianco-Bianco does best, and they do it again. Everything we know them for is here: puzzles that make sense without being too obvious, photorealistic graphics (and a nice panning system from screen to screen), a little pixel-hunting (but not a lot), and (*sigh*) no soundtrack whatsoever. I know some games are over-the-top with it, but I wouldn't have minded at least a *ping* when you picked up an item.

Nevertheless, the Factory is such a well-designed piece of work that it's definitely worth a play.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (56 votes)
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DoraChupSometimes at night, do you lie in bed, close your eyes tightly, and wish, wish, wish with your secret heart of hearts… that you were a metal barrel? One that was able to move and compact itself to leap great distances? Perhaps over pits of spikes to collect tokens? Shhh, shhh, it's okay. It's okay. We know exactly how you feel. And judging by Chup, the newest platformer of barrel-leapin', coin-grabbin' action, Tomas Pettersson does, too.

Chup is played primarily using the [arrow] keys or [WASD], which you can use to move your barrel around the screen, despite a lack of legs or feet. (I like to imagine there's a tiny skateboard there, which makes it more extreme.) Press [Left] or [Right] to move, and [Up] to preform a small jump. But for big distances, click and hold the left mouse button, which makes your barrel crouch down in a state of cat-like readiness. You can then move your cursor around the screen, and a path of red dots will show you the length and arc of your leap, which can help you plan some really tricky landings. When you release the button, the barrel will vault magnificently in the direction its path indicated, like a particularly clunky gazelle.

And sometimes hit a wall. Which is okay, because occasionally you'll need to do so to rebound onto a ledge behind you. But sometimes there are also spikes, which wait to perforate your tender barrel hide. And sometimes there are moving blocks, which wait to crush your fragile barrel shell. Surprisingly, your barrel isn't very sturdy.

Your goal is to reach the little glowing platform in every level, but that's not all there is to do. Scattered throughout each level are scores of glowing coins, and collecting all of these will increase your ranking and raise your score. Sometimes it's as simple as an extra hop in the air on your way to the exit, but often coins are in places that force you to go out of your way to get them. But don't take too long, since you're also awarded bonuses based on how quickly you finish. And how many "launches" (jumps with the mouse button) you take.

At only sixteen levels, Chup is more of a snack than a meal. It also looks and sounds like something you should be plunking quarters in at the arcade, sandwiched in between Ms. Pacman and Contra.

ChupAnalysis: Chup is an incredibly fiddly game, and if you're a timid platformer like myself, you'll miss out on a lot of those speed trophies. I spent a lot of time in later levels gingerly nudging my barrel closer and closer to the edge of platforms. In levels where the ceiling is low or you're trying to land on narrow moving platforms, it's important to judge your leaps carefully, so naturally I also spent a lot of time restarting every level over and over. And if you're about to tell me you blew through the entire game on your first try, my glare will be so intense as to burn a hole through the internet, so I hope you're willing to accept the responsibility for the charred remains of all those LOLcats.

And, in a way, that makes Chup a nearly-perfect platformer. While later levels can be pretty punishing, it's not the sort of hateful difficulty that was prevalent in, say, Unfair Platformer. After all, games aren't fun if they're too easy, but they also cease to be enjoyable if you need precognitive abilities and the reflexes of a jackrabbit to complete them. While most of the levels will require a restart or two — or three, or four — it never became frustrating enough that I wanted to quit the game out of spite.

A bit of leniency might have been appreciated as far as all the deathtraps went, however. The barrel doesn't appear to be made out of paper mache, soap bubbles, children's dreams, or anything else that would account for all the rampant instakill. Being crushed? Okay, but I'm pretty sure a barrel should be able to survive a two-foot fall onto densely-packed orange spikes. The farther you play, the more the levels start to resemble some sort of diabolical demon's machine. If you were to tell me the designer went mad after completing them, I would not be surprised.

I'm still not entirely sure what a "Chup" is. Is it the sound a barrel makes when it leaps into the air? The type of coin you're collecting? Or is it the feeling you get from crossing the finish line? Only one way for you to find out.

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Rating: 4/5 (89 votes)
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PsychotronicHeavy WeaponsHeavy Weapons is a new arena shooter from Long Animals (Drift Runners) and Robot Jam (Panda: Tactical Sniper). It bills itself as "the ultimate Flash shooter", and assuming they aren't talking about some kind of camera designed specially to produce red-eye, then that must be a diss on other worthy contenders like Death Vs. Monstars or Zunderfury.

On what grounds does it claim the title? Basically, there's lots of stuff in it. There are 60 levels, packed with nearly as many species of cannon fodder, who drop valuable crystals when you heartlessly mow them down. And there are 21 weapons to spend those crystals on in the between-level shop. Presumably, those are the heavy weapons of the title, but very few of them give the impression of overwhelming destructiveness. I'm assuming that they are simply hard to pick up.

Move your ship with [WASD] and shoot with the mouse. Press [Space] to cycle through your weapons, or, if you don't mind the early onset arthritis that will result, use [Q] and [E] to switch weapons more precisely. You can also scroll the mouse wheel, but since that simultaneously scrolls my entire browser window, I do not so much enjoy that option.

Purchased weapons are added permanently to your arsenal, but you can only take three into battle at a time. This is the main strategy of Heavy Weapons: customizing your ship to take on the particular mix of abstract creatures and ships in each level. Though the first 10 levels or so will let you get away with any old splatter-caster, the next 50 will punish you if you make the wrong choices.

Each level requires you to destroy a certain quota of enemies, and then gives you 5 seconds at the end to gobble up money at double value. Warning: you can still die during this bonus period, which I've nicknamed the Ragequit Coda. Kind of a questionable design choice there.

Analysis: The best part of the game is the huge variety in your weapons. While you'll probably center on a couple of no-nonsense standbys (marry me, Arc Spread), it's great fun matching the quirks of the oddball ones to the challenges of the increasingly specific bad guys.

SplinerThe Spliner, for instance, sends out a blast of spiralling energy in a line and then runs out of juice quickly. It doesn't do a lot of damage, and it can't cope with a sustained flow of enemies. But nothing incinerates a swarm of lightly-armored ships faster, and if you switch to another weapon after setting off the Spliner, you can double your firepower for a second as it continues to pulse.

The game is set against an abstract neo-primitive backdrop of vectors, a topographical map that, with each level, suggests a new world without defining it. The enemies with the most personality are the ones based on other shooters. The aliens from Space Invaders. The neon shapes from Geometry Wars. The drones from Boxheads. Combined with the early-3D look of the other baddies, it all evokes a feeling of strange timelessness, as though the past 20 years of shooter history has been digested by a digital amoeba and fossilized.

The problems mostly come with Heavy Weapons' structure. Long Animals and Robot Jam are going for a very specific experience, sometimes at the expense of player comfort. You can't upgrade your ship's hull or speed. You can't upgrade your weapons. You can't sell the weapons you have to try others, and you can't even go back and farm cash on the earlier levels (you only get a level select after beating the entire game), so it's very possible to get stuck on a tough level with a weak selection of arms and no way to switch strategies. That's bad news in a game with 60 levels and only one save slot.

Worse, you have no idea if that new expensive weapon you're blowing hundreds of thousands of credits on is one of the standbys or one of the quirky experiments. All you get before the irrevocable purchase is a vague description. There should be a video of the weapon in action, or even better, a practice arena. It's hard to collect money in this game, especially when the enemies cluster right on top of the crystals from their dead fellows, and a preview of my purchases would be not only appreciated, but necessary.

Heavy Weapons is pointlessly hardcore, in other words, although the smooth controls and forgiving early levels might sucker you into thinking it's a easy-going casual shooter. This will be great for players who don't mind restarting a long game a couple of times, trying to optimize their upgrade path, but frustrating for everyone else.

I also have to award a special booby-prize to the loud, jarring, nonsensical sound effect that randomly assaults your ears when you die. The game had such a nice moody atmosphere going before it started screaming and gibbering at me.

Don't let me scare you off from trying it, though. Heavy Weapons is still one of the sharpest shooters I've seen in Flash, with a distinctive look, a kitchen sink approach to design, and a unique conglomeration of influences. Great? Yes. Ultimate? Eeeeeeeeeehhh… I don't know. Let's put it in the Worthy Contenders folder.

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (87 votes)
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FoxFyre

JoshWhen two skilled game developers get together and collaborate, something good is bound to come out of it. The first of those two is John Cooney (a.k.a. jmtb02), Head of Game Development for Armor Games. He's the man behind classics like Achievement Unlocked, the Dark Cut series, TBA and so many more. In one of his recent projects, he's teamed up with talented programmer Joey Betz to create Fox Fyre, a stylish bunker warfare game with an old-school vibe, heralding back to classics like Scorched Earth and Death Tank. If you're not familiar with those titles, think of the Worms series, which marked a sort of evolution of the genre. Fans of jmtb02 will probably remember his self-professed love for all things retro, and Betz is no stranger to the action and strategy genres (Crush the Castle, Monkey Metric), making this a great team-up. If there is one thing that Fox Fyre offers above all else, it's some good old retro-bunker-smashing action (with a few new and unique weapons to obliterate the terrain in the process).

FoxFyreA quick primer to bunker warfare: You control a tank, bunker or soldier/worm/pirate, depending on the game. In Fox Fyre, it's a bunker. The enemy controls one opposing bunker (or more), and you both take turns lobbing shells at each other until one of you is nothing more than a smoking crater in the ground. Sound simple? Hardly! First of all, most bunker warfare games (including Fox Fyre) feature destructible terrain. This complicates the mix to no end, since the enemy can burrow in to avoid shots from certain angles, or rise up on a hill to get a better vantage point to fire from. The good news is that you can do the same, creating a dynamic environment around you that will either help or hurt you. In most bunker warfare games, turns are taken one after another. But in Fox Fyre the action is in real-time, with a unique "cooldown" system akin to what you might see in an action-RPG. All of your abilities work on timers; once you fire, you have to wait until the weapon's cooldown is up, which is like waiting for it to recharge. Different weapons have different cooldowns, so you'll need to juggle your shots and plan ahead.

The game begins with one or more enemy bunkers positioned along the terrain. You're given the chance to choose where to set yours, which gives you a huge advantage if you're strategic about it. Just click the mouse to set your turret, and the battle begins. You'll immediately be able to start firing at your enemy, and vice-versa. Destroying enemy bunkers (and doing it as quickly as possible) will earn you cash, which you can spend on a cornucopia of upgrades. There are a dozen different weapons to buy, plus eight "defensive" weapons; all of which can be upgraded a number of times. Your bunker has five weapon slots (including your free starter weapon), so you can use to swap out offensive and defensive weapons between each level. But it doesn't end there; you can buy two more bunkers as the game progresses, giving you the option of using almost all the weapons and defenses in a single battle, if that's your strategy.

FoxFyreAnd if you like strategy, or just arcade-style shooters and bunker warfare in general, you'll have a field day with all the weapons in Fox Fyre. Aside from your obligatory machine-guns, mortar shells, cluster bombs and thermonuclear air strikes, there are plenty of wacky environment-warping weapons like diggers and fillers. There are even air-warping mechanics, something I've never seen in a bunker warfare game. You can switch between weapons by clicking the icons at the bottom of the screen, or just hit the hotkeys [1] to [5] assigned to each one. Same deal switching between bunkers, or use [Q], [W] and [E].

Analysis: Sure, we've seen bunker warfare in Flash before. But the collaboration between Betz and Cooney wasn't lost in Fox Fyre, and it's obvious from the first shot you fire. The graphics and UI have a stylized polish that mixes old with new, retro with contemporary. Lots of little details—like the reverberating terrain as bullets strike it, or the paradoxically soothing color gradients and ambient soundtrack—are what give this game its personality. And the gameplay is solid.

Bunker Warfare vets might dominate this game a little too easily, which will annoy some, and elate others. Beyond that, its flaws are limited. The graphics and physics rendering may prove taxing on older machines, but the coding seems to be pretty well optimized for most setups. On the other hand, if you've got a screamer (that's what we used to call "l33t" PC's back in the day, kids) you might want to indulge yourself and enable the game's "fullscreen" option. But for the life of me, I couldn't enable this feature myself, no matter how many times I clicked the button at the bottom. It seems that Armor Games' launcher/pre-loader just won't give you access to that feature. That might have to be chalked up as another flaw, but you'll be hard-pressed to find many more, making this one of the more impressive bunker-warfare Flash games to be released in some time.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (64 votes)
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GrimmrookReplicatIn Replicat, from Mindless Labs, we see the same innovative mouse avoidance mechanic employed in Time 4 Cat, only this time with the warp drive pushed all the way to "insane."

You start off as a starship pilot just minding your business, plodding along through the vast empty expanses of space, when all of a sudden the hyper-drive malfunctions. This can't be good. Somehow the hyper-space jump manages to break reality just a little bit, and as you pop out the resulting wormhole, you realize that replicas of yourself will soon be hot on your tail. Your only chance now is to visit planets as they materialize in order to learn how to make the copies of yourself go away before they inevitably ram your ship and send you to the space version of Davy Jones' locker.

Like Time 4 Cat, this is a mouse avoidance game where the speed of the objects to be avoided are based upon the speed at which you move your mouse. Don't ever want to die? Simple, don't move. Unfortunately, the collectible objects are not on the same malleable timeline, and their point value decreases constantly whether you are moving or not.

Where Replicat diverges from its intellectual predecessor is not only in its sci-fi theme, but in the fact that the objects you are forced to dodge are copies of yourself. Each new starship on the scene apes the path that you've been taking all along, and the longer you manage to stay alive, the more of them there are. This adds quite a bit of depth to the formula, as you not only worry about the present, but think about the future, plotting a course now that will be easier to dodge when your lethal copycats trace it.

Add to this a side quest or two and a very neat sort of power-up that lets you see the immediate path of your counterparts and what you have is a surprisingly well fleshed-out game based upon one of the simplest gameplay mechanics in casual games. As more copies present themselves, the tension quickly builds to manic proportions, while the ability to effectively choose your own playing speed really makes it accessible.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBOoh, now here's something special! Six independent iPhone developers have joined together to offer seven word games for just 99¢ each! From speed-based spelling games to quirky word/picture combinations, there's no shortage of iPhone wordery to be had. The sale lasts through May 31, so get grabbin' while the grabbin's cheap.

imangi.jpgImangi - An imposingly large grid of letters fills the screen, with a few red bonus tiles dotting the landscape. Slide the rows and columns to create words vertically or horizontally, but the goal is to spell as many words as you can... simultaneously. Keep experimenting with letter positions to get the grid as green as possible. Sort of a combination of a sliding-based matching game, a word game, and a Rubik's cube. And yes, it might break your brain.

moxie.jpgMoxie - A slow, strategic word game that challenges your vocabulary and creativity with letter placement. An empty 5x3 grid sits at the bottom of the screen, and at the top sits one letter taken from your queue. The object is to spell words using these letters, but to gain real points, you need to keep a chain of words going by replacing letters with new ones or adding on to existing words to make them longer. Moxie - Free Edition is also available.

stitchemwords.jpgStitch'em Words - Similar to a rebus puzzle, Stitch'em Words challenges you to create words using both pictures (which represent words) and letters. After guessing what each image is, look at the empty spaces above to determine which words the game is looking for. Have a picture of a pea along with the letters C and E? You've got the word peace! It also bears a striking resemblance to the previously-reviewed Mac/Windows game PictoWords. A free Stitch'em Words Lite is also available.

wordsquares.jpgWord Squares - Similar to Imangi above, Word Squares takes things to a smaller scale and tasks you with manipulating individual letters on a grid so the entire board spells words. Black letters can be moved as you please, but white letters are there to stay. No sliding here, just careful, head-scratching letter placement. A free Word Squares Lite is also available.

Also try out Wordology, an attractive tile-based spelling game, the previously-featured Textropolis, and Wurdle, a slick Boggle-type spelling game, all on sale just like the above games!

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (44 votes)
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DeadLikeAntsJessIt was recently estimated that there are nearly seven billion human beings alive today. Incredible. The most remarkable aspect of the human condition, however, is not simply how many of us there are. What is truly astounding is that each individual is unique, a single and unduplicated combination of nature and nurture that can never be replicated or replaced.

Now, imagine what it would be like to be stripped of that individuality, to be just one of an army of identical workers, a cog in the machine, undifferentiated by any special ability or trait. There might be a certain satisfaction in such an existence. It could be nice to be able to abandon the search for meaning, to know without hesitation exactly who you are and where you belong... or, at least, that's what you'd tell yourself. But what if, one day, you had the chance to stand out? What if you, among all your identical peers, were called upon to perform an important task, and perhaps even take on a position of leadership and power? Such an opportunity might be irresistible even to your own humble heart.

In Dead Like Ants, a sublime piece of interactive fiction by C.E.J. Pacian, this is precisely the situation you find yourself in. You are an unnamed female ant, a simple worker. You and your thousands of sisters labor ceaselessly in the service of your colony; an unexciting, if productive, existence. Today, however, is very different. Your mother, the Queen — whom you have never before laid eyes upon — has requested your presence! She has a very special task for you. Every spring, it seems, five dangerous creatures come to the colony and threaten the safety of all therein. When this occurs, the Queen sends one of her daughters to negotiate with these monsters, thereby averting trouble for another year. This spring, you are the chosen emissary. What an honor!

Of course, you're not sure what to do when you actually encounter these creatures. Your mother didn't really specify. Still, it couldn't be that hard, right? You wouldn't dream of turning down such an extraordinary gesture of trust and esteem from the Queen. Best of all, your mother has hinted that if you succeed you may earn your wings, just like her own graceful pair. Best not to try her patience and keep her waiting...

Analysis: The premise of Dead Like Ants seems straightforward enough: resolve the conflicts posed by the five dangerous creatures threatening the colony. This could easily become an epic quest, but Pacian chooses instead to go down a simpler, more poetic route. The game's main goal is not so much to present a steep intellectual challenge as it is to tell a story and offer a thought-provoking experience; on those counts, the game succeeds brilliantly. Pacian possesses real talents in the realms of language and characterization, and the game's insect cast in particular benefits from his (or is it her?) skills. A snail becomes a snooty, aristocratic lawyer, a butterfly a coquettish damsel-in-distress; these quirky portrayals make perfect sense within the story. Also, despite the game's somewhat serious and sometimes dark mien, there are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments.

One benefit to Dead Like Ants' story-centric approach is that, to those new to the wonderful world of interactive fiction, the game will be relatively accessible and unintimidating (particularly when compared to sublime but exponentially more difficult games like Varicella or Anchorhead). While there is plenty to discover within the game's framework, the commands/actions needed to simply reach the end are fairly straightforward. Pacian further increases the game's user-friendly quotient by including an instruction and hint system within the game; simply type "About" and you'll find all the help you'll need.

There is much more that I'd like to say about this deeply clever, poignant and sweetly macabre piece of interactive fiction. However, like the wonderfully enigmatic point-and-click adventure Bars of Black and White, a large part of the enjoyment derived from playing Dead Like Ants lies in the thrill of sudden, unnerving understanding; despite what one might assume, you will find that this is a game with, to say the least, an unusual goal. It's time to leave safety in the pursuit of greatness. Steady your heart and straighten your spine!

Download Dead Like Ants (Mac/Windows/Linux, 1MB, free)

To play this game, you'll need both the game file and an interpreter. Download Dead Like Ants from the Interactive Fiction database followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon

GrimmrookDracula. While the character may need no introduction, it's appropriate to at least warm you up for what's in store in Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon. The war-torn streets of Vladoviste populating this long-form point-and-click adventure aren't a place for idle speculation, and you'll find the game will bury you deep in the legend of Dracula.

dracula3c.jpgWhile the literary character is but two centuries old, there is something about Dracula that has allowed the story to spread throughout Western culture as though he were much older. Count Dracula is a litany of dichotomies analogous to our own human natures. At once he is romantic and noble, both through title and occasionally through motivation, and yet he is vile, evil. The creature he represents, the vampire, offers an interesting compromise of nightmare and desire: immortal, and yet cursed, powerful beyond the dreams of mortal men, and yet feeble in the face of such harmless everyday things as sunlight and garlic.

Dracula lures both romantics and those obsessed with the macabre, and as such it's little wonder we would find so many different re-tellings of his story in books, film, television, and of course, games. I admit, all of this is quite a long introduction for a character who needs no introduction, but it's important to understand the background of the legend. Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon exists within that journey from the reality of Vlad the Impaler, the madman the Count was based upon, to the myth of the best-known vampire, Dracula.

Upon the death of one Martha Calugarul, you, Father Arno Moriani, are tasked by the Vatican to research Martha's life, uncover the facts of the miracle worker from Transylvania, and decide if she's worthy of canonization. Her ministrations to the wounded during the Great War would seem to make her a viable candidate for sainthood, and her fate as such rests in your hands.

Yet, upon reaching the little ruin of a village, you happen upon the traces of a darker narrative just beneath the surface of her good works. There is an evil at work, one that Martha had discovered and sought to track down and do battle with herself, ultimately dying in her quest.

dracula3b.jpgAs this darkness seeps up all around you, you find yourself obliged to see it through to the end, to rediscover this mighty evil and finish the work Martha started. But such a task will not be easy, not even as easy as the arduous tasks set forth by novelist Bram Stoker. No, to find the vampire, you must set out on the journey to be a vampire. You must walk the Path of the Dragon.

Analsyis: The key to enjoying Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon is understanding exactly what you're in for. You will be disappointed if you go into it thinking this will be another scary point-and-click adventure game with lots of gotcha moments and item-based puzzles. The game's basic structure is conventional enough, though, and falls into the first person adventure category quite nicely. In most settings you are granted near-full movement, though there are a few instances where this is quite stylishly not the case, and you move from scene to scene along pre-determined paths. Hover your cursor over a hotspot and it will change to a context-sensitive action, another convention that streamlines the playing experience but somewhat limits your freedom of exploration. It's tough to wring information out of an environment when you can only do what the game wants you to do.

Dracula 3 is a text-heavy game, and its puzzles involve multiple steps, items, and research, forcing you to pay very careful attention to every conversation you have. The readings you are supplied with are not merely supplemental but vital to the way the story is told. To give you an idea, there are full, unabridged versions of both the Bible and Bram Stoker's Dracula available to you early-on. Yes, if you've never read the original Dracula, here's your chance. The game unfolds with a steady sort of deliberateness tempered with subtlety. It isn't scary so much as it's pleasantly eerie, and it takes its time to unfold methodically, steadily, deliberately, and subtly. If you're one of those players who skims through in-game texts, you'll miss most of what Dracula 3 has to offer.

dracula3a.jpgEven with the strong emphasis on text, Dracula 3 doesn't come up short in the ear and eye candy departments. The settings are remarkably well-rendered and lit to provide just the right level of uneasiness. Vladoviste, the village where you'll spend most of your time, is exceptionally well-done with war-torn buildings providing a marvelously creepy backdrop. The sky seems to perpetually dangle upon the dark precipice of twilight while wisps of silvery fog creep through the alleyways. Perhaps the one drawback to the settings is that the passage of time isn't marked. Vladoviste is always on the night-end of twilight, while the outskirts leading to the castle are late afternoon. It's a little disconcerting if you pay too much attention.

Filling out the aesthetic qualities are rendered characters and voice acting, both of which are very well done. The people you meet may not necessarily look photo realistic, but they at least feel organic and are brought to life by the actors. The only flaw I noticed was an apparent inconsistency with accents from one character to the next. Should a rustic old Transylvanian grave digger have a standard American accent?

The sights, the sounds, and the volumes of text in Dracula 3 come together to create a brilliant game whose soul is not unlike the text it's based upon. The apprehension of meeting Dracula is slowly built as you stitch together clues and read bits and pieces of information from the sources you meet. The final effect is a game where the tension slowly mounts, slowly grabs at you, and sucks you in. And, every once in a great while, you might be presented with a jump-out-of-your-seat moment.

WindowsWindows:
Visit the download page
Get the full version

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

dracula3_walkthrough.jpg

We've just finished a complete walkthrough (with images) for Dracula 3!! Be warned: contains major spoilers, so proceed only as a last resort.


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Fairy Godmother Tycoon

kateSmall business owners these days really need to watch the bottom line. Peasants often don't have a lot of magic beans to spend, and Persuasion Trolls only go so far as a marketing strategy. Keep your prices reasonable and stock up on Pixie Dust. It also helps to have some in-store entertainment, like a jester, so your customers don't get bored while waiting to purchase a potion that will put out the fire on their heads.

Fairy Godmother TycoonWhat? These factors aren't a concern for modern-day entrepreneurs? The citizens of Onceuponia beg to differ. Strange and disturbing curses run rampant in the land and a quality potion store is hard to find. You'll need a shrewd head for business to succeed at Fairy Godmother Tycoon, a fabulous game of the (surprise!) tycoon genre.

The Fairy Godmother's monopoly on the potion business is on the verge of collapse due to some healthy competition, so she hires a promising young assistant to reestablish her empire. You start off in the Tutorialville store with one simple potion recipe unlocked and need to work your way through the various villages of Onceuponia. Discover new potions to sell, upgrade your store and warehouse, hire corporate spies, knock your rivals out of business, and, above all, accumulate copious amounts of cold hard magic beans.

There are two sections to your day: preparation and selling. In the first, check the daily forecast. Is there a high chance of Broken Hearts or Giant Head? Purchase ingredients for the respective curative potions accordingly. Need to increase your brand awareness? Hire Pop-Up Gremlins for the day, adorable little creatures that jump up and down while waving eye-catching signs.

When the store opens, keep an eye on the action while villagers meander around town. With the help of various spell upgrades, you can adjust your potion prices during the day or order a Flying Elephant Drop to restock your supplies. Each level has a different goal to reach, whether it's forcing your opponents to shut down their store or accumulating a certain amount of net worth.

Occasionally you'll have the opportunity to hire free-lancers, like stinkbugs guaranteed to drive customers away from another store in town or Pandora, whose curiosity results in unpredictable outcomes. Other fairy tale characters will also pop in from time to time in search of advice or favors. Help them out and there may be something in it for you.

Fairy Godmother TycoonAnalysis: A tired genre gets a sorely needed infusion of creativity in Fairy Godmother Tycoon, a basic tycoon game wrapped in a pretty, pretty package. Gameplay doesn't deviate from the fundamentals of the genre, but there's so much more here to enjoy that it simply doesn't matter.

The heart of the game lies in its fractured fairy tale humor, which is consistently funny from start to finish. Puns and wordplay abound, while every character you meet has a distinctly quirky personality, from the aptly named Prince Combover to a litigious Jack & Jill to the obviously evil Sneersworth. Spell summaries, potion titles and ingredient descriptions alike all have the same tongue-in-cheek sensibility.

Since the game was released a couple of years ago, some of the humor is admittedly a bit dated (Mad Cow jokes, anyone?). However, anything that references Arrested Development gets a free pass from me. This lighthearted spirit extends to the crisp bright graphics. Some poor cursed peasants actually do have inflated heads, while others can't stop singing, at least until they drink their potion. Each village, from Sure Would Forest to Castle City, has a different look, as does the cast of characters.

There are a few things missing here, however. A chart showing what the previous day's prices and forecast were is sorely needed. The ideal price varies by demand, and unless you've upgraded your spells, you can't change pricing once you open the store. A larger variety of curses and potions would be nice, but it would simply be icing on the cake.

What we have here is proof that there is no need to overhaul an older genre in order to make a fun and addicting game. Instead of fading away as just another tycoon game, a commitment to style and quality makes Fairy Godmother Tycoon a standout in an overcrowded field.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Fairy Godmother Tycoon is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish Games


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Platypus

StaceyG"Pew Pew Pew Thwak. Thwap Thwup Splat, Wheeee! The review of Platypus could end there, but in the interest of, you know, explaining things, I'll continue. Platypus is a wonderfully unique side scrolling shooter created by Anthony Flack. Everything in the game — from the enemies to the backgrounds and even the weapons fire — is made from plasticine. This playable claymation shooter is filled with action and quirky design choices that have made it an instant cult-classic.

platypus.jpgPlatypus drops you in the action as soon as you fire up the game, leaving the backstory either to your imagination or to read elsewhere. The Collosatropolians are attacking your home of Mungola, and as the last of the Platypus fleet, it's your job to take them down. You have an array of weapons to use, ranging from spread shots to rockets and even lasers! Defeating whole squadrons of enemies can produce a power-up star, a crucial item that grants you 20 seconds of using the above-listed weapons. Shoot the star to select your gun, then touch it to start kicking some plasticine tailwings.

Platypus is very easy to learn but gets more challenging the further in you get. Getting your hands on the right ammo and power-ups is key. There are occasional bonus crates that float up on balloons which contain additional goodies (such as orbiting guns, which are niiiice) or points. Make sure you hit the crate and not the balloon, otherwise you'll curse Zeus and Poseidon as the box falls to the sea. Enemies also leave behind fruits that grant bonus points. Fruit you ask? Makes as much sense as the name Platypus, just go with it.

You have the option of playing with the mouse, arrow keys ([spacebar] to fire), or joystick to control your ship, and you can play with 2 players at a time (or three players in the sequel). Playing in co-operative mode is pretty sweet!

platypus2.jpgAnalysis: Platypus isn't a new game. It was released a few years ago, and the story behind the game's development is a bit of a sad one. After being paid a pittance and signing away the rights based on a demo, it took creator Anthony Flack over two years to finish making the game. A fire in Anthony's home destroyed everything he owned save the clothes on his back. Fortunately a copy of Platypus' code and assets had recently been made and were residing at a friend's house. Plasticine was hard to come by in New Zealand at the time, so he ended up going to a local toy shop and buying all the little rainbow packets of modeling clay they had. He mushed it all into one big gray lump and made everything by reusing the same clay over and over. Color was later added digitally. For those interested in the process, there are some great pictures of the models for the enemy ship in Flack's next game, Cletus Clay, which is very similar to the ships in the Platypus games.

When looking at Platypus for a potential review, we had a hard time deciding which game to feature, the original or Platypus II. While the first game was older, it had so much more charm than the somewhat sterilized sequel. More blood, sweat and tears were poured into the animations, leaving the second game to feel rushed and recycled by comparison. The action heats up faster in the sequel and the power-ups appear much earlier, but in the end, something about the original game is much more addicting. Perhaps the fact that it seems more difficult, and you cherish the achievement of making it through a level or discovering the precious power ups. It makes you want to hunker down and keep playing. The music in the original builds nicely and changes the mood of the levels, adding to the driving feeling that makes you want to keep going.

These games may not be for the hardcore shooter fan, but will appeal to the casual game fan, and may even convert some that aren't fans of shooters. They really embody the qualities of a good casual game, not too grueling, not too long. And the style of the games really draws you in and make these really fun to play. Once you've played a level it is unlocked, so the replay value is decent, you can start back at the beginning to improve your score, or just select your favorite level and pew pew pew thwaka wacka away.

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

JohnBTIGSource has long been a focal point where independent game developers congregate, and its recent TIGSource Cockpit Competition inspired several dozen programmers to craft over 40 fine games for our playing pleasure. The following are the four winners as chosen by votes on the TIGSource forums. Aah, independent games, how we love your rampant sense of freedom and unchecked creativity.

envirobear.gifEnviro-Bear 2000 (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - Oh boy, winter is coming, and as a bear driving a car, you know it's time to hibernate. Unfortunately you aren't quite fat enough to survive the cold season, so you'll need to fatten up by nomming some fish and berries. You have five minutes to drive around the forest collecting as much food as you can. Use the mouse to grab and manipulate things, and remember you can toss stuff out the windows or sunroof. When you've gained enough weight, head into the cave for a nice nap.

okkuplektor.gifOkkuplektor (Windows, 3.1MB, free) - One of the more complete and varied entries in the cockpit compo, Okkuplektor is a 3D action/shooter where your goal is to make it to the exit cube at the end of each stage. Gather weapons and ammo by touching the hovering power-ups, and shoot anything that, well, shoots at you first. Several environmental "hazards" have affects on the world around you, so it's actually worth flying around and exploring a bit rather than just hitting the fire button and moving forward. Retro-styled low-res visuals give it a great old-school feel, and the controls have just the right amount of float to simulate flying some sort of hovering vehicle.

starcannon.gifStar Cannon (Windows, 3.9MB, free) - Oh yes, it's time to shoot some UFOs! Protect the city from invading baddies by zipping around the faux-3D terrain and shooting everything that comes your way. Shields and ammo automatically replenish if you take a step back and wait a moment, so the action is paced quite nicely. I'm digging the retro-Martian color palette, too!

vectorlocust.gifVector Locust (Windows, <1MB, free) - Another superbly-made 3D game, this one adopts a slower, more deliberate pace than Star Cannon and adds building/protection/strategy elements as well as a stunning set of vector visuals. Viewed from the cockpit of of an Advanced Vector Based Vehicle, defend against the invading Orange Vector Locusts while maintaining your Blue Power Node network. Move with the [WASD] keys, look around, fire and repair structures with the mouse, and use the Q/E buttons to build turrets and cannons.


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Youda Marina

Ms.45Some of the happiest memories of my childhood involve touring through Gippsland in a small yacht. We're not rich; years of reading Cruising Helmsman magazine ate into Dad's brain and he decided to stop being a 'gunna' (as in "one day I'm gunna buy a yacht"). So we hired a little boat and took it around some scenic destinations, played with the 'roos and the koalas, and stopped at some romantic little pubs for barramundi and chips. I haven't been on a yacht since, so Youda Marina was a pleasant blast of nostalgia for me, although its facilities are more reminiscent of the Gold Coast.

Youda MarinaAs you might expect, the objective in Youda Marina is to run a successful marina. You do this by building facilities, attracting visitors, earning money to gain fame. Get started by building a radio station to attract boats, and a ramp with some docks so they can stay at your marina. This is the most basic marina, but of course you'll want to do more. And you will have to, because you must play through the tutorial and gain at least a few levels of the first and easiest map before the relaxed mode is unlocked. A helpful old sea-dog will give you instructions, enabling you to understand how things work and build up an income.

Initially, boats will only want the kind of dock most suited to their size — a very small, not too profitable dock. But as you develop your marina with bigger docks, clicking on a boat will bring up a number of docking options with different likelihood of being accepted. You can go for the guaranteed income, or offer the sailor a bigger and more expensive dock and hope that they're willing to pay. It's possible to boost your income by adjusting the price of the docks, but be careful — if you set the price too high, boats won't dock with you.

Youda Marina 2The major challenge of Youda Marina is to balance the competing needs for money, reputation, fun activities and geographic space. There's two kinds of currency in this game: money and reputation. Gaining reputation is what will ultimately win the game for you by allowing you to gain levels and to build facilities. Adequate lighting, emergency services and shore facilities all help to build a daily increase in your reputation, thus paving your way to success. Having adequate police, fire and medical facilities also builds your reputation by marking you as a trustworthy operator that the big cruise companies can feel comfortable trusting with their passengers. Fun things like bars, restaurants and amusement parks will attract visitors, make them happy and let you run events to raise funds... but it's only worth running events if you have people staying at your marina!

Youda Marina 3As you become more successful you'll need to juggle demand for different dock sizes — thankfully you can destroy ramps and docks when you discover that no-one wants little size 12 and 14 docks any more since it's all about the international cruises now. I hope you remember high school geometry, because you're going to need it to work out where you'll be able to place the giant cruiser that just loomed into the bay with 200 passengers.

You win the game when you've gathered enough reputation to rise through all the ranks. Note that winning the game is just the beginning, so think twice before moving on to the next map once you've won — I returned to a map after winning to take some screenshots, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was still attracting new and different boats. You can also continue to meet milestones if you like.

There are a couple of odd things about Youda Marina: you can't speed up the game, which for an impatient person like me can be agonizing, and you can't zoom in to view the facilities you've built. That said, there is a lot to like in the interface — just click on the boat icon and it will take you straight to the next boat that wants a dock, without you having to hunt around. You're free to build anything anywhere you like, unlike the Build-A-Lot games formula. Even the deadlines given for each task are fairly generous, so the game doesn't feel rushed at all. And the boats are so pretty, and the steel-drum reggae so relaxing, that it underscores the essense and nature of casual gameplay. Make yourself a Pina Colada (or a Shirley Temple) and settle in to live the dream!

Play Youda Marina (Flash version)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (121 votes)
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MalloryDropletsEvery level adds a new layer of frustration in Droplets, the newest from Nitrome. Despite the title, there's no water falling from the sky — only little bunny-like creatures. From the top of the gameplay area, drop the pixelated long-eared "droplets" in the right place and the right pixel, at the right time and the right angle, to collect carrots and enough points to advance to the next level.

Landing on numbered blocks and flying through carrots will award points, but the path to them is never obvious. Click, position and release the little creatures one at a time. They'll spin down into a world of electrified yellow rectangle birds, bombs, tubes, springs, sleep-inducing soil and even the wind (signified by wind machines and flower petals flowing in various directions). Click again to open or close the droplet's ears — two navigation options that can be helpful against the level's obstacles.

No matter how the creature falls, perfection is key. The droplet needs to be correctly positioned down to the very pixel in order to avoid certain obstacles or to fit through areas. Get it wrong and it could end up fried or tired. Luckily, there are about three to four droplets — and chances — in each level.

Analysis: Frustration may cause you to throw your mouse pad across the room, but with Droplets, there's something addictive about the challenge. It's similar to both Nitrome's own Small Fry and Plinko, the classic game from The Price is Right, but its obstacles and adorable graphics are enough to set it apart.

The droplets, as well as the hazards they come across (including the bombs), are tiny, cute and unassuming. The music is simple, but very calming. Even when the electric birds foil your timing yet again, you'll find yourself giving it another try.

As in many other Nitrome games, the instructions are embedded into random places in the level screens (mostly the botton), rather than popping up before it starts. Being able to read and reread the words as a guide is helpful, but the placement also makes it easy to overlook the directions while you're struggling with the droplets in the wind.

Play Droplets


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraBabe! Sugar! Bubbeh! Where have you been? I'm your agent, you can't just leave me hanging like that! What do you mean, you don't have an agent? Look, Starshine, that hurts, really it does! I know I've been slacking a little lately, but I just lined up a whole bunch of new gigs for you! Yeah, baby, you've got talent and they know it! They've been lined up for you! Stick with me and you'll go far, Puddinpop! Whoop, hold on — my enormous cellphone is ringing.

  • FathomFathom - That flinty stare! Those girded loins! Why, you've always dreamed of being the world's tiniest marine, haven't you? Of course, you may be under the misconception that marines shoot things and collect bolts, when in fact they spend most of their time propelling themselves underwater around schools of fishies. It's a common mistake.
  • Funky Samurai Kengo-ChanFunky Samurai Kengo-Chan - Speaking of misconceptions, what's with the sword? I told you this was a samurai gig, and you come unprepared? Sheesh! You'd think you didn't know a samurai's deadliest weapon is the keyboard, which they use to type out the deadly alphabet against their foes and unleash the fury of the homerow! It's just like that one movie with that one guy. Yeah, that one!
  • Mr MulletMr Mullet - [Warning: cartoon violence] So maybe you'd like to help someone a little more follically challenged than yourself. If you're handy with a mouse, you can help him get revenge on the people who've wronged him with their magnificent moustaches and hairstyles. It'd be great publicity, Sugarlips! No cash pay, but we do know a lady who makes a mean meat pie…
  • Cookie TycoonCookie Tycoon - Some people burn with purpose. Some are destined for greatness. Those people will require cookies, which you can provide if you're good at managing a business. Yeah, that's right, Dollface, it's just like that coffee shop gig we landed you! You're one smart cookie!
  • Cosmic CannonCosmic Cannon - Hey, check out this ad I found. Maybe it's up your alley! "If you love nothing better than to fire enormous cannon balls that look like tasty jawbreakers in order to rack up high scores as you keep them aloft, this is the job for you!" I think the name is Nitrome. Hmmm… nope, never heard of 'em!

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PsychotronicThe Scene of the CrimeWelcome to the first episode of a possible new series from Pastel Games, the masters of short, atmospheric point-and-click adventures. With a story conceived by Karol Konwerski, The Scene of the Crime takes us into the sleazy, blood-stained world of detective novels. Kind of a Great House Escape as re-imagined by Frank Miller.

In a world so noir that sunshine has been legally replaced by ominous street lamps, you play the part of a detective on a murder case. Rather than track down the perpetrator yourself, your job is to collect evidence and put together a case for conviction. Point and click your way around the grisly crime scene until you've ticked off all the necessary plot points, and then leave the apartment to conclude the story. Access your briefcase full of forensic tools through the icon in the lower-left.

There's a nice physicality to this, aided greatly by Kamil Kochansky's thick, twisted visuals. The fiddling with forensic tools, the clump of your footsteps as you explore the apartment, the syrupy background saxophones by composer Kolczok—it all puts you in the scene. The adventure is short, just a chapter in the saga, but even so, there's a feeling of disconnect between the vibrant cutscenes that book-end the story, and the gameplay itself. It might have been more effective to sprinkle parts of the (surprisingly violent) closing scene throughout the game as you discover details, CSI-style.

Even with the shortness and schizophrenia, this is a promising dark new direction for Mateusz Skutnik and crew. Step into the gumshoes of a new hero and explore.

Play The Scene of the Crime


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MarcusStunt Pilot 2Stunt Pilot 2 is the long-awaited sequel to Rock Solid Arcade's original precision aerobatic flying game. While the basics of the original are carried over, Stunt Pilot 2 adds a number of features that make it well worth a look.

Each level sees you flying your plane through a number of rings in order to complete the course. In a change from the original game, you now have to "unlock" an exit ring by first flying through all of the normal rings in order. You will have to avoid a number of obstacles along the way. Giant rock formations, hot-air balloons and zeppelins, racing pylons, and trees are just a few of the things that could bring an early end to your stunt flying career.

You should also be on the lookout for point coins scattered throughout the level. The most common is the 10-point coin, but cannons located in many levels will shoot 50-point coins that you can catch in midair. There are also bonus tokens to be had. You can earn an extra life by collecting four tokens that spell out "LIFE", or give yourself more time to complete the current level with the fuel token.

The control scheme couldn't be much simpler. Use the [up] and [down] keys to control the ascent and descent of your plane. Or, if you choose, you can also use the [left] and [right] keys. The Option menu allows you to reverse the controls, making the up key control descent instead of ascent and vice versa for the down key. If you're used to playing other flying games, that setup might seem more natural (I know it does for me). The [space] bar controls your boost. Be careful though, because using the boost depletes your already limited supply of fuel for the level much quicker. Most early levels don't require the use of the boost, but later levels will, so use the early game to get used to flying with added speed.

Stunt Pilot 2One readily apparent addition to the game is the explosions. No, not just your fiery death every time you collide with an obstacle. In most of the levels, you will find a number of small, yellow explosive devices attached to the obstacles. As you fly through the trigger ring for the device, it will go off and the obstacle will explode. This creates another hazard, as you might now have to contend with a toppling racing pylon, or a deflating hot-air balloon.

Intermixed with the normal levels are a number of bonus levels, where you have to keep your plane as close as possible to a curvy line in the air. The closer you are, the faster your score for the level will increase. If you can stay directly on the line, it will catch on fire, and you will earn a bonus at the end of the level. The paths become truly devious and challenging in later levels.

Probably the biggest addition to this sequel is the level editor, which will let you create your own courses for the game. You have access to all of the rings, obstacles, and bonus tokens, as well as background objects like the little people that run around and observe your aerobatic stunts. You can save your levels and come back to them (once you create an account at Rock Solid Arcade's website), and you also get a URL that will allow you to share your levels with other players.

Analysis: As much fun as I had playing the original Stunt Pilot game, I have had that much more fun playing its sequel. This game is an extremely well put together package. The controls are tight, the graphics are crisp and detailed, and the level design ramps the difficulty at a nice pace, allowing you some success before really making you work for it.

I really like the addition of the explosive devices. It makes the courses much more exciting, in a Hollywood sort of way. It also creates an added challenge in many of the courses, as you are often required to trigger certain explosions in order to progress through the level. The falling debris keeps you on your toes as you attempt to avoid it.

This added explosive content also extends to your plane itself, as there are a number of different ways to wreck your plane this time around. Fly straight down, and it will embed itself halfway into the ground. Skip it over an obstacle, and watch the fuselage bounce along the ground. Clip a wing on a ring, and watch your plane go spinning to its ultimate demise. Generally, your pilot parachutes to safety, but occasionally there isn't time. At times I found myself trying to crash my plane in different ways just to see what would happen.

On the downside, there are a few things that I need to take issue with. The first is more of a warning. Make sure that you have a fast enough processor for this game. I would suggest something over 2 GHz, but your mileage may vary. I originally played this game on a computer with a slower processor, and it felt like I was trying to fly an elephant. It made precision flying in the later levels nearly impossible. I was ready to mark the game down for poor control, but then I played it on my computer at home, and found that it ran much smoother and controlled much better. Just something to be aware of.

The original game allowed you to continue from the last level that you completed. This was very handy, and something that has almost become a staple of multi-level casual games, but this feature has been inexplicably removed from the sequel. This can get frustrating, as you are constantly forced to play through levels that you have completed over and over again to progress in the game. This is a decision that I hope the developers might reconsider in a future update.

Stunt Pilot 2 is truly a joy to play. I keep coming back to it over and over again as I slowly hone my mad flying skillz in order to make it one level further this time. If you enjoy this type of flying game, make sure to check out the original Stunt Pilot, as well as another of Rock Solid Arcade's flying games, Dogfight 2: The Great War. They are all sure to put your flying skills to the test.

Play Stunt Pilot 2


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Plants vs. Zombies

For any Windows users out there who have been holding off on purchasing the brilliant and hugely enjoyable Plants vs. Zombies from PopCap, wait no longer!

Plants vs. Zombies is now available from Big Fish Games for a mere $6.99! That's a steal of a deal for a game that will likely be in the running for Casual Game of the Year 2009.

Big Fish Game Club changes

In fact, ALL GAMES are now $6.99 at Big Fish due to a significant change to the Big Fish Game Club. Gone are the restrictions and requirements, you can join or cancel at any time! That means if you're paying more than $6.99 for any game at Big Fish, you're paying too much.

Here's how it works:

  1. Join the game club (for $6.99) and you immediately get 1 game club credit to use for any game you want.
  2. Then cancel (if you want) and you will never be billed again.
  3. Join and cancel as often and whenever you wish. All games: $6.99.

What could be more simple than that?


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (117 votes)
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ArtbegottiShift 4They say the third time's a charm. That is, of course, unless the third time ends with you getting into a spaceship. Whether the fourth time's a charm depends on your ability to evade giant squid attacks.

Intrigued yet? What if I were to tell you there's an awesome song at the end of this game? Okay, now we're all on board!

Shift 4 is the sequel to episodes one, two, and three. In this puzzle platformer, your goal is to work your way from point A to point B by unlocking gates, manipulating the direction of gravity, and, oh yeah, Shifting yourself through negative space. (If you're not sure what that's referring to, I'd strongly recommend going back and playing through the first few games, or else you'll get stuck rather quickly.)

If you're familiar with the Shift series so far, a lot of the elements in this game will seem very familiar. However, twists do come, as you will eventually find yourself having to Control more than one silhouetted fellow. (How, you ask? Just think about it.) You've now got to use a team of folks to reach the exits and advance. Luckily, it only takes one to reach a door, and the rest are pulled in automatically, but the death of even one crew member means you've got to restart the level. All this and more await our intrepid hero(es) in an outer space adventure that's still monochromatic in every amazing way possible.

Along with the main game are two sets of user-made levels and a level editor for creating your very own classic Shift levels and sharing them with your friends (sorry, not yet compatible with the new multiple-man system), multiple achievements to unlock, as well as the traditional sense of humor and flair for flipping through floorboards. The School of Shift is back in session, and it's time for another lesson in puzzle escapology.

Play Shift 4

Shift for iPhoneAlso, just released in the iTunes App Store, the original Shift experience now in handheld mobile form so you can take Shift with you wherever you go. The on-screen controls for running and jumping are unique and work surprisingly well (move left and the right arrow turns to a jump button; move right and the left arrow becomes jump). An excellent port of a now classic Flash game series original. A free Shift Lite is also available.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (115 votes)
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KarmenNails.jpgArt used to make sense. Then Picasso started moving body parts around, Jackson Pollock dribbled buckets of paint onto canvases, and Rene Magritte told us, no, this is not a pipe. Ever since, some people have scratched their heads and stared in wonder. Just what do you do with modern art? Maybe you want to poke it and shake it and make it dance like a ferret hopped up on pixie sticks. Well, if you're looking at Nails, a digital composition by Han Hoogerbrugge, you are in luck.

Nails consists of 27 interactive art scenes, typically starring an inked-out Hoogerbrugge wearing a suit and tie. Most begin with the man casually standing on top of the grey background of the page. His hands are in his pockets. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. But when you click or run your mouse across the man, everything takes a turn for the bizarre.

He may split his personality, act out the alphabet on a whim, or jump out of his clothes and hop around in the nude. He might sit on top of the hood of a car and bark like a dog. Ok, to be honest, I don't know if that's a modern art thing, or a guy thing. Whenever you click, be prepared. In Nails, anything from the odd to the obscene can occur. Multiple figures interact in strange and violent fashions. One scene might take inspiration from Nietzsche's philosophy, the next from the Talking Heads.

Speaking of modern rock music mixed with modern art, Hoogerbrugge experience extends beyond his Nails creation. In fact, if you are a fan of the Pet Shop Boys, his work might seem a little familiar. Hoogerbrugge created the animation for their music video, "Love, etc." which was released earlier this year. A few of the animations found in Nails make appearances in the video.

If you can't get enough of this strange artwork, between a music video and these 27 sets of bizarre flash work, don't despair. Don't pull your head off, either—this guy makes it look too easy. While Nails seems to be complete, Hoogerbrugge's inked outline still pops up on a regular basis, in the comic-like ProStress 2.0.

This interactive art may not be suitable for small children. It may neither be appropriate for the easily confused or the easily offended. It may not make sense. But that's what modern art does. So, if you do modern art:

Play Nails


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (83 votes)
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lceninexpMetalix TDI have to make a brief confession. I really like shiny things. I'm serious. I also really like tower defense games, especially quality tower defense games.

Apparently the designers over at PointZero Co. also shared this peculiar combination of things to like when they sat down to design Metalix TD. Besides being a top quality tower defense game, it's also undoubtedly very, very shiny.

At first the game appears quite sparse. An ominous glowing red line that makes a path toward what can only be a rotating red crystal you have to protect. There are no specific build slots to build your towers. You're free to build anywhere. Nothing really new yet, so… Place a few shiny towers near the red line and start the first wave. You'll decimate some robots that look like very shiny waddling eggs. As the last one explodes in a tiny screaming mushroom cloud you'll get the satisfying "Wave 01 Completed" and start feeling comfortable. You've done this before. You can do it again.

And then the red line moves.

Those carefully placed towers (the ones you set so carefully on corners and other strategic places) are suddenly not quite so strategic. If towers happen to be on the red line and get hit by a shiny robot, they'll take damage and eventually explode. Fortunately, the designers thought of this and gave your towers the ability to move.

And here the subtle brilliance of Metalix TD becomes apparent. The entire strategy of the game is so wonderfully dynamic. It'll be rare you'll ever have a massive surplus of gold but moving a tower only costs 5 gold per square. This allows towers to slowly strafe the red line, unleashing rockets in a shiny mini-Armageddon.

With the exception of the "path of invasion" changing, Metalix TD plays like most tower defense games. Buy a tower, upgrade a tower, heal a tower, etc., and has well written instructions that explain the functions of all in-game interface options. It's that one exception that makes it so much fun to play and hard to master.

Analysis: When a game comes along that changes something so fundamental about its genre, it makes sense to pay attention. With Metalix TD you get all the usual tower defense conventions, like tower upgrades and wave types, but the gameplay experience is quite unique. The red line the robots move down is randomly selected, which definitely adds to the replay value. In later levels it's an increasing challenge to utilize a tower's ability to move, especially when towers cost more each time one is bought.

The graphics are smooth and, well, shiny. The variety of enemies is interesting and sometimes amusing. The sound track and sound effects all fit amazingly well to make for a pleasant experience. The ability to fast forward some of the early waves would be a nice addition. So would a save feature.

Metalix TD offers a refreshing change of pace to the tower defense genre. It can get be a little frustrating watching a tower move just a little to slowly to catch that boss ball rolling toward your crystal (and you don't have the gold to upgrade its speed)…but that's when you can sit back and take pleasure in how everything is just so very, very shiny.

Play Metalix Tower Defense

Thanks to Shazbot for suggesting this game, and to Icenine for reviewing it!


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (46 votes)
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ArtbegottiChuckaBOOMIn order to avoid arousing terrorist suspicion from government organizations like the CIA, this introduction paragraph will not jokingly describe the joys of throwing bombs around. Instead, we will discuss ice cream. If you ever go to the ice cream store, try getting a scoop of Berries and Cream on top of a scoop of Whitehouse Cherry. That's my favorite combination so far, with Blueberry Cheesecake on top of Strawberry coming in a close second.

ChuckaBOOM! is a new game from Ninja Doodle (Hardboiled) that makes throwing bombs fun. (D'OH!) The object of each level is to clear a target number of stars, using bombs that go off three (short) seconds after you fling them. Clear enough of the randomly colored Bloo— er, sorry, stars from each level with the limited number of bombs, and you move on to the next level.

Before you start flinging bombs around, some levels offer you some helpful tools that you can drag around the playing field for use as you see fit. Booms are one-time-use stationary bombs that you can strategically place for chain reaction action. Canons [sic] fire beams that can destroy anything in their path, as well as set off other Canons and Booms (double-click to rotate them). Also, any bomb that you fling can be caught again, just in case you need to double-check your angle or force. Doing so causes the timer on the bomb to reset.

Of course, playing a game like this without obstacles to overcome is like putting chocolate sauce on chocolate ice cream. (Sorry, irrelevant simile.) Most levels feature a sort of brick that bombs can't touch, lest they be sent back to the starting position. Later levels introduce semi-transparent bricks, laser traps, teleporters, and even ask you to blow up stars in the dark.

Analysis: If ChuckaBOOM! reminds you of a certain other game that has you throwing darts at balloons, you'd be correct in noting the similarities. However, the time-release twist brings an interesting new element to the game, since you can't just have good aim, but you need to have the right force behind your fling as well.

Unfortunately, the game is fairly easy and a shade on the short side, although perfectionists who want to rock the high score board will find plenty of reason to keep replaying levels. What makes it so easy? You're given a limited number of bombs, but if a bomb never "goes off," you don't lose it. Therefore, rather than being penalized when you hit a block or run into a laser trap, you just get another free shot from the beginning. Because of this, some levels can be completely cleared without a single bomb exploding. If penalties for missed bombs were included, the game's difficulty would certainly increase to a much healthier level, like the precision required in a game of Bloons.

That is, of course, not to say that ChuckaBOOM! is a pushover. Like working with normal bombs or broken ice cream scoops, a careful, precise hand is needed to get the best results. So if you think you're ready for a go, try a game with fun explosive-flinging and a name that's fun to say. (We recommend elongating the third syllable.)

Play ChuckaBOOM!


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (186 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessMelon Lacquer. Mellifluous Lymphocytes. Marimba Lion. Just what, exactly, does #07 ML stand for? Surely such an intelligent and well-made room escape game must have a suitably clever name. Well, I guess it doesn't really matter…though I do, I must admit, like "Marimba Lion." I'll have to remember that one.

07MLAnother high-quality creation of consistently excellent Japanese designer 58 Works (Cottage, Escape from Test Kitchen 2), #07 ML has it all. Aesthetically pleasing, with a number of interesting puzzles and a logical flow, the game provides an all-around first-rate experience. The player is launched into the game sans frills or fanfare, without even a cursory attempt at a backstory or introduction; it's just your wits vs. the room, no other context required.

The adage "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is especially useful advice for this game; in a couple of important instances, an action must be repeated numerous times to be effective. Otherwise, the puzzles are remarkably straightforward (if not exactly based in reality). With the exception of the final puzzle, nothing about #07 ML is wildly different or innovative; on the plus side, however, absolutely no leaps of questionable "logic" are necessary to escape the room. Don't take this to mean, though, that the game is easy or simple. There's plenty here to occupy your little gray cells, as Hercule Poirot might have said; the difference is that in the end, it all makes sense. This can be a rarity among escape games, and is something to be treasured.

The room itself is cool, clean and appealing, with white walls and minimalist furnishings. Interestingly, the keys in the game are beautiful, like tiny works of art; this shows an attention to and affection for detail that not many designers share. Navigating around the room is easy, and there are only a few instances of pixel-hunting. The absence of any sort of music seems to be a staple of 58 Works' games, and does not detract from the experience in any significant manner. I do, however, wish that the designers had chosen to include a save feature; it's such a simple element, and yet one that can radically decrease the frustration level of the player. Come on guys, get on it!

This minor annoyance aside, #07 ML is a really wonderful escape game. 58 Works just keeps getting better and better, more professional and polished with each game, and I'm excited to see what they produce next. In the meantime, we can keep trying to figure out what ML stands for. Miracle Lathe? Macabre Lotus? Oh well, whatever…

Play #07 ML


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Rating: 4.4/5 (125 votes)
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DoraSeed of DestructionGentlemen. Ladies. I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here today to this secret underground bunker lit only by a single dramatic light bulb. The simple fact is there's nobody else I can trust with this. Nobody else can do what you do. Even now the threat is looming closer, the giant shadow of doom hovering over our fair city. The army is defenseless. The airforce? Useless! No, what we need is a man of your skill. Unless you happen to be a lady, which is also fine. We need you, my friend, to combat… THIS GIANT SPERMATOZOA.

AWWWW, no! C'mon, come baaaaaaaaaack! Darn it, why does nobody take me seriously?

Okay, so at first glance, Seed of Destruction, the newest title from Florian Himsl (Komix) of Twin Hobo Rocket and Coil infamy, may not seem like it's for everyone. Playing the role of a gleeful fellow perched atop a gargantuan sperm, you zip through the city at breakneck speeds, squashing people beneath your impressive girth and deflecting missiles back at their shooters. But I'm sure there's a very good reason for it! A very deep, meaningful, thought provoking… uh… what is he doing to that grenade?

Using the [arrow] keys, you control the Seed and send it hurtling through the streets of terrified passersby and grim-faced military. Pressing the [up] arrow accelerates, while [down] decelerates, and you use [left] and [right] to rotate accordingly. Pressing and holding [space] can help you build up speed, indicated by the blue bar, that when released causes you to burst forward and ram enemies, but your primary means of defense is your tail. If a missile or other projectile is headed your way, you can twist around with the [arrow] keys and deflect it aside, instantly destroying whatever it collides with. Or if you like, you can also simply bludgeon things with your enormous torso. The Seed is very accommodating to your needs!

Seed of DestructionWhile the game starts off slowly, with you indulging in a bit of harmless pedestrian squelching, things quickly get serious as the army shows up to put a stop to your antics. If you think the worst you'll have to deal with is a grenade or two, think again when the bomber jets start dropping out of the sky. It's going to take some fancy flying to keep them from ruining your fun — which is to say, blowing you to smithereens — but if you've got the skills, the Seed has the means.

Seed of Destruction is hand-drawn by artist Grey Gerling with pencil crayons, and it's a technique that works here. Sporting cute and snarky animated cut-scenes between levels, the simple art holds up well during gameplay. It's more ribald than vulgar, and I spent most of my time with a half amused, half confused smile on my face. The music by Sulek is a toe-tappin', finger-snappin' guitar romp that makes you feel like you should be rocketing over a conveniently placed dirt ramp right beside the Duke boys, so don't be afraid to saddle up. (Daisy Dukes are optional, but encouraged.)

Analysis: Despite the cheeky subject matter, Seed of Destruction is so outlandish, so silly, so cheerfully bawdy that you can't help but like it. It's like a cuddly Saint Bernard that trashes your living room and then wants its belly rubbed. The expression of delight on your little rider's face, the way you can juggle grenades in mid-air, and the somehow just right guitar soundtrack combine to completely overrule any initial squeamishness I might possibly have had. The presentation is just so gloriously over the top.

Initially, I found controlling the mighty steed a little unwieldy. It's not exactly built for hairpin turns, and I spent a lot of time having missiles explode on me because I didn't allow enough time for me to actually spin my tail all the way around. Since explosions send you flying, I also spent a lot of time getting tossed about the screen like a pinball against a set of bumpers. Sure I was handling it like a pro before long, but I'm still impressed the little guy was able to keep hold of his cowboy hat.

At five levels, Seed of Destruction feels a little short, even with the four added mini-games. Pausing the game at any time by pressing [p] brings up a menu that allows you to adjust the difficulty, but even with it set to hard you can still expect to breeze through the game in a single sitting. Does that mean you should pass it up? No and no sir. Not only is Seed of Destruction one of the weirdest experiences you'll have in a game, it's a lot of fun to boot. Is it life-affirming? Is it poignant? Maybe! I guess it just goes to show that with a song in your heart and a giant sperm at your side, there's no end to what you can accomplish. The more you know.

Play Seed of Destruction


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (182 votes)
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PsychotronicTower of GreedI love when the theme is right there in the title. Tower of Greed, by Epic Shadow, is a game about the banker's favorite deadly sin, in the form of an aggressively retro, fast-moving platformer. You'll need agile fingers for this one, and a realistic attitude about your own compulsions. Will you exit the tower with untold riches? Or will you be betrayed by your own stinking avarice? Let's find out!

Our hero for this adventure is a white blobby flavorless fellow with charming green vertical eye-slits and various nubs that represent arms, legs, and possibly ears. Control him with the keyboard; there are configurations available for both lefties and righties. He runs, jumps, and climbs ladders with the best of 'em.

The Tower of Greed, an endless spire full of ladders, spikes, crumbling platforms and other exciting business, scrolls downward at a constant rate, always forcing new obstacles upon you. You die if and only if the bottom of the screen overtakes you.

Your mission is to collect as much treasure as possible, and then escape (press [up] or [jump]) alive through one of the periodic exit doors. That last part—the escaping—is more important than you think. If you don't use one of those exits, if you perish to the Nothing, then your collection of riches gets wiped from memory like you never had it. No high score, no bragging rights, no peck on the cheek, no enchilada. It's similar to the soul-crushing hi-jinks of Survivor 115, if you remember that one.

What's worse, and you're going to want to sit down for this, and I'm not sure why you would be reading this while standing, but sit down anyway, is that you also lose your achievements when you die.

Yaar. That be what I said, matey. Because they're not actually achievements, you see, but trophies, and you have to physically take them out of the tower through an exit if you want to keep them. If you die, then bye-bye cute little achievements! Bye-bye sweety darlings! I'll try to earn you again next time! Right after I murder some game designers!

There are two main modes available. Arcade mode is the brutal one, where with every door, you have to decide whether you want to quit the game and take your winnings, or continue on and possibly lose everything. Big bucks! Big money! No Whammies! No Whammies! Survival Mode gives you more breathing room, by letting you bank your money and trophies when you reach a door and still keep playing. Less hardcore, but also less likely to cause an aneurysm.

Tower of GreedAnalysis: All things considered, it's a good thing that Tower of Greed moves so very quickly. If you lose your progress, and you will, it doesn't take long to jump back in and make some more. The tower's "levels" are randomly selected, so it's never exactly the same game twice.

The level design is mostly simple and workable, with two or three different paths available at any given time, so you are almost always within arm's reach of safety. The dead ends and risky jumps are all gem-laden optional areas, designed to take advantage of your dot dot dot greeeed.

Your vanilla-man walks and jumps with absolutely no realism, which is good, because that's the only way this could possibly work. He has no inertia, air resistance, or friction. He stays where you put him and moves like lightning when you request it. About as ghost-white and bland as a lead character can possibly be, he is nontheless trustworthy.

The enemies are perhaps not such a great design decision. They too move with incredible speed, especially the vicious, ladder-climbing Snail Shark, but they can't kill you directly. Their goal is to delay you until the auto-scroll catches up, or possibly just knock you off a platform. Randomly appearing creatures that move too fast to be avoided are annoying, not fun. Annoying annoying annoying. They should have been stripped from the game and tossed in a juice-maker.

Regardless, I am firmly pro-Tower of Greed. The maddening features are the same ones that suck you back in over and over again. I can't say enough good things about a platform game that pulls random levels out of a hat and throws them at you rapid-fire, even if many of the harder bits are just the easy bits with more disappearing blocks and conveyor belts. It's a tough game, but it traps you anyway, by attacking the weak spot at your core. Endless treasure at your fingertips, but you have to know when to say when.

Play Tower of Greed


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (157 votes)
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GrimmrookLlama AdventureHead for the hills, boys and girls, jmtb02, (John Cooney of Armor Games), is at it again. This time you won't be concerning yourself with traffic lights or suicide prone obsessive elephants. Instead you play the role of an adventuring llama, in the aptly named, text-based adventure/interactive fiction, Llama Adventure.

Yes, you are a llama. You have no choice about this. You may think you are a human, or a monkey, or a twelve-eyed alien from the planet Grunkia, but what you think is irrelevant. The man behind the mirrored glass tells Best of Casual Gameplay 2009you that you are a llama and if you know what is good for you, you will believe him. Following any and all instructions given to you is also not a bad idea if you enjoy things like breathing and not being dead.

As a llama, you find yourself in the first of a series of rooms, at the end of which is promised pastures of green, edible freedom. But before you can enjoy the fruit (or more appropriately grass) of grazing heaven, you must solve the puzzle of each room. Fail to adequately solve any of the puzzles and you will go from being a perfectly healthy llama to a dead llama. No pressure.

As in any text-based adventure or interactive fiction, Llama adventure is played by reading the text and typing commands in order to do things like look around, collect items, and perform actions. Unlike the average IF, though, the interface for Llama Adventure has some visual and aural cues to make things easier. Keywords that the program recognizes are highlighted in different colors, and when you type them in, an audible chime signifies a recognized command.

This means that, should you find yourself erupting in a ball of scorching flame, you have no one but yourself to blame.

Analysis: This is a piece of interactive fiction for those who have never been very good at interactive fiction. If you've ever found yourself stymied or intimidated by the interface and sheer volume of commands on display in your average text-based adventure, you will most likely appreciate the lengths to which jmtb02 went in order to streamline the process. Not only are keywords nicely highlighted, but some erroneous commands are answered with alternative commands that will work. Thus, Llama Adventure distinguishes itself as one of the most accessible text adventures out there.

Also commendable are the well thought out puzzles. They are for the most part quite logical, challenging but not ever quite impossible. The key characteristic at work for the harder ones is deception and misdirection. Cooney's great talent here is not in making a difficult puzzle, but instead getting you to look the other way for a relatively simple puzzle.

And then there's the ending. I wouldn't want to give too much away, but if you are like our own Psychotronic, whose mental wavelengths are a little disturbingly close to those of jmtb02, then you'll probably get it right away and enjoy a little chuckle. I, on the other hand, had to go through five phases not entirely unlike the five stages of coping with death. First there was frustration, then puzzlement, then despair, then anger, followed by a grudging understanding. I'm still waiting for forgiveness to come along, but it seems to be running a little late.

Yes, jmtb02 does love to skewer us, and does so perhaps a little too sharply here. But whether you get the ending completely, or walk away with a sour taste in your mouth, you can't deny the fact that Llama Adventure is quite an accomplishment in a genre that has always experienced accessibility issues. It's easy to manipulate, fun to play, and if you can take a joke you won't mind Cooney poking fun at you a bit in the end.

Play Llama Adventure


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (359 votes)
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FunnyManGiggleI love Google. Google is awesome. I wish Google would index my car keys. Sure, some people may get a bit worried about how big they are, but I say they're just being silly. I mean, if anything happened to Google, how would we find Wikipedia articles? Seriously, they should just put "The Wikipedia Search Engine" under their name.

Wait… "Giggle"? "Kiwipedia"? "awesome penguin article"? "Search under a table"?!? That's not my Google screenshot! Help, somebody's sabotaging my snobbish fanboy post on Livej—ayisgames? Uhh… Hey, look, a penguin!

Learn to FlyAw, you didn't look fast enough. Anyway, that reminds me of a game I've been playing the last couple of days. In Learn to Fly, by Light Bringer, you play as a penguin who looked himself up on Kiwipedia and took the whole "flightless bird" comment as a mortal insult. So he decides that he's going to learn to fly, presumably so he can visit whoever wrote that and give them a stern talking to.

The controls couldn't be easier. Press [left] to tilt back, [right] to tilt forward. For the first few days, you'll just want to keep your bird as flat as possible, so that he skips like a stone on the surface of the water. Once you buy the first glider, though, you'll see a bit more strategy, as a slight tilt adjustment can make a big difference in how you fly. And when you get the rocket, you'll be tapping the space bar with surgical precision to get the most out of your limited fuel.

Whatever your equipment, your goal is simple: fly as high, long, and far as possible. You get money for flight height and distance, and flight time adds a multiplier, which ranges from 1 to 3. Mastering all three categories can make you a rich penguin.

Once you get the hang of the basics, you should pay attention to the achievements for each level. You need a certain number of them to unlock each successive level, and completing them also rewards you with even more urgently-needed cash to upgrade your not-so-flightless penguin.

JATO PenguinSpeaking of upgrades, there are six to choose from, all easy to understand. Ramp Height lets you start higher up and Acceleration makes the ramp slipperier, meaning you start faster. Even with a good starting height and speed, though, you won't get very far unless you upgrade your Air Resistance, letting you keep your speed longer. Air Resistance, in turn, requires a good Glider to be useful, because a bad one (or worse, none at all) makes you drop like, er, a flightless bird. If you still need some more speed, you can buy Rockets to give you a boost when you need it, and Rocket Fuel to keep them burning longer. It's so simple, you wonder why the other penguins haven't figured it out yet.

Analysis: It would be easy to dismiss Learn to Fly as nothing more than another "fly to the right, get as far as you can" game or a clone of John Cooney's Hedgehog Launch. I can already imagine the old hands out there looking for some random object to bounce off of and get a boost skyward. I've got news for you: you won't find any. Nope, in Learn to Fly, it's just you, the salty air, and the open ocean as far as your eye can see. And your geared-up penguin, of course.

As I've said before, stripping away the extraneous bits and bobs will sometimes improve a game, because both developer and player can focus on the core fun. This game is another excellent example. By removing the random obstacles and giving the player control, Light Bringer have switched from a game of pure chance to one of pure skill. If something goes wrong out there, you'll only have yourself to blame. And frankly, that's the way we like it.

Still, even with those changes, the longevity would be pretty short, because once you've got your flight technique ironed out, there's really not that much more to do. Which is where the upgrades enter the picture. See, while your starting penguin can only hope to bounce off the water in imitation of those other flying games, as soon as you pick up a glider, the strategy flips completely: Suddenly, hitting the water is a Bad Idea, because while it bounces you upwards, it also drains a big chunk of your speed. With all of the ways you can upgrade your penguin, you'll be adjusting your strategy continuously as you go along.

The fun doesn't even end when you finish the game, either. If you click Continue, you'll be able to keep flying, buy any remaining upgrades, and see how far you can get. As I suggested earlier, though, you will quickly hit a wall where you can't do significantly better, no matter how well you finesse your penguin. If, on the other hand, you select Back to Menu or refresh the page, you will be able to play again from the beginning. Why? Because the game cleverly told you how many days it took you to finish, and gave you one simple line of either praise or scorn. What do you mean, "Think you can do better?" Of course I can do better! Give me one more shot, I'm sure I can knock another day off!

Play Learn to Fly

P.S. My personal best is 17 days. Think you can do better? :)


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Mobile Monday

JohnBA few old games made new populate this edition of Mobile Monday. Namco is releasing a choice few of its classic arcade games on the iTunes App Store, one of which is Galaga! EA is also jumping on the retro bandwagon with Lemonade Tycoon, a mobile port of the original Shockwave game that made mixing lemonade the cool thing to do.

peggle-iphone.jpgPeggle - Peggle for iPhone OS is finally here! It has everything from the PC version you fell in love with, including the same addictive gameplay, the same challenges and trophies, and the same realistic physics with which to make all those skill shots. It's like carrying the PC version with you where ever you go. Aiming is supported with 3 degrees of precision: touch anywhere to aim; a (soft) scroll wheel for smaller increments; and double-tap zoom mode for those precision skill shots when you're down to your last ball for Extreme Fever! You can even save replays for reliving those classic Peggle moments.

fnurgletoe.gifFnurgletoe - Inspired by the game of Egg Chess (and reminiscent of Tic-Tac-Toe/Noughts and Crosses), Fnurgletoe is a casual game of strategy and short-term planning. The goal is to complete a line of identical orbs on the 3x3 grid. You and an opponent (either the iPhone or an IRL human) take turns placing eggs of three different sizes. On your turn you can make any small egg larger or place your own in an empty space. Out-maneuver your opponent FTW!

galagaremix.jpgGalaga REMIX - There's nothing like reliving a bit of nostalgia! Galaga REMIX features the original Galaga arcade game — released in 1981, for those that can remember that far back — updated for the touch-enabled mobile platform. In addition to the faithful port is a remixed version featuring better visuals, boss battles, new weapons and more. It may be too simple for those raised in the modern age of gaming, but if you cut your gaming teeth in an arcade, this is a little slice of yum. A free Galaga REMIX Lite is also available.

lemonadetycoon.gifLemonade Tycoon - The original Lemonade Tycoon game is back, ready to buff up your business management skills while you ride the bus to work. Check the weather forecast before your sales day begins, then tweak your lemonade recipe (more sugar? more ice?) to attract customers, fiddle with your pricing structure, buy supplies and much more. It's one of the best classic sim games around, and even though it looks dated on the iPhone, it's still as addictive as ever. And FREE. Aaaand now I want a glass of lemonade...

bebot.jpgBebot: Robot Synth - Not a game, but you can have as much fun or more with this great little synthesizer/musical toy. Bebot is a feature-rich, real-time musical synthesizer with a unique interface that takes advantage of the iPhone's multitouch surface. Up to 4 notes can be played simultaneously, using multiple fingers, by touching or sliding your fingers around the screen. A variety of presets offer immediate fun on-the-go, and a wide array of parameters allow for customizable sounds that you can save and load later at any time. Use Bebot as a musical toy or as an instrument to play along with your favorite iPod music.

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 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (83 votes)
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PsychotronicUnderworld TripI know what you've been pondering at the back of your mind: "Mario dies a lot, right? What if, instead of instantly reappearing at the beginning of the level, he had to earn his reincarnation by traveling the realms of the Chinese underworld Diyu, being judged by the kings of Yama?" Well, here's a game about that very thing!

Underworld Trip, a collaboration between Yoshio Ishii and Yossa, is a moody platform challenge with graphics made out of the largest pixels ever engineered by mortal humans. This story is similar to Terry Cavanagh's Don't Look Back in theme and style, but it draws on a different mythological tradition and lays on the atmosphere much thicker.

There are 8 tricky levels and multiple endings, some of which are quite disturbing in a low-resolution, leave-the-horror-to-your-imagination way. It's a short adventure, and some of the obstacles flirt with cheapness, but there's a nice variety of classic platforming goodness here, and it's always a pleasure to see a new piece of work from Nekogames.

Play Underworld Trip


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (24 votes)
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Clash N Slash

MarcusWhen it comes to action games, Clash N Slash has the makings of a great one. Big guns? Check. Hordes of attacking aliens? Check. Lots and lots of explosions? Check and check. There's more happening on-screen than any namby-pamby little puzzle or hidden object game. This is an action game, for action game players. Do you have what it takes?

Clash N SlashClash N Slash started life as a flash game and was later expanded to the full-featured download you see today. The concept is quite simple: you control a ship in orbit above a planet. It's your job to defend the hunk of rock from the near-constant onslaught of alien craft. As you destroy invaders, some will leave behind goodies. Collecting these goodies will fill two upgrade meters, one for the planet and one for your ship.

Upgrades are performed on-the-fly, not between rounds like many other games. Once the meters are full, press the right mouse button to enter the upgrade screen. For your planet you can build research facilities to repair damage more quickly and nuclear weapons to help your defenses. The ships can be upgraded with options like faster speed, larger clips for your weapon ammo, faster reload times, etc. The planet's upgrades are of the utmost importance, as your ship can re-spawn an unlimited amount of times, but if your planet takes too much damage, it's game over for you.

As you advance rounds, you will travel to other planets that need protection. Many times you'll also be given access to a new main weapon for your ship. Of course, each of these planets and weapons will start out with no upgrades and will have to be leveled-up as you play. Not only will you unlock new weapons, but you'll eventually unlock new levels to weapons that you already have. For example, the pulse laser fires a single shot that destroys multiple targets in its path. The second level for this weapon adds a spread, allowing it to destroy a wider path of enemies. The latest weapon to be unlocked, while all shiny and new, may not always be the best weapon for the job, and it will be up to you to decide which one to use as you dispatch the alien fleets.

Of course, those pesky aliens are not without their tricks. At first, they sort of float in from space, slowly coming in as you pick them off one by one. Soon, they become organized, attacking in waves, using formations that make you concentrate your fire in one direction while another group comes up from behind. Sometime the enemies will come super-sized, requiring more firepower to take care of than normal ships. You will have to contend with asteroids and minefields, as well. But, luckily for you, the space junk floating in the universe can come to your aid. You will often see barrels floating along with the alien ships. These barrels will do a number of things when hit with your weapon. Some will send out a nuclear blast, clearing away any enemy ships in the vicinity. Some will set off a chain reaction, destroying similar barrels around the screen, taking out any enemies that are within the blast radius of each explosion. Still others will slow down nearby aliens by freezing them, or covering them in green goo. As your screen fills with a seemingly impossible number of invaders, look for these barrels and give them a shot.

Clash N SlashAnalysis: Clash N Slash is one of those action games that I keep coming back to over and over again. The mechanics of the game are simple — it's not about precise control of your ship, its all about point, click, shoot, BOOM! In many ways, the game acts like a cross between the classics Missile Command and Stargate. You can be more concerned with simply aiming with your targeting reticule since your ship will rotate as it comes around the planet, allowing you a full 360 degrees of action. And like Stargate, your enemies are constantly coming at you from all directions of the screen, so you have to be vigilant.

Once the action gets started, it really becomes exhilarating, watching explosions go off left and right, hitting barrels and watching them chain-react and take out an entire screen of invaders. This is by no means and easy action title, though. Later levels are truly a challenge, and you will have to work hard to make sure that none of the alien ships make it to your planet. Many times I found myself concentrating on the outer edges of the screen, trying to clear the enemy before they even got close, only to glance back at the planet and realize that somehow one or two ships slipped through and were that close to hitting my planet. Depending on whether or not my weapon was about to reload, sometimes I could get them, other times not.

There is one complaint that I do have. When I would hit a barrel that set off a chain reaction and destroyed a large number of ships on the screen, my game would momentarily slow down. Now, I don't know if this is because of my machine configuration, or the fact that I am running Windows Vista, but it does detract a bit from the gameplay experience, as my ship stutters to its next target. Luckily it's only momentarily, and doesn't seem to affect the rest of the game, which generally runs quite smoothly.

Variety in weapons and in enemies keeps this game from becoming monotonous. The fact that you have to keep upgrading new planets also helps. The chance to see what new weapons are available keeps you coming back for more.

Ready to take out some alien scum? Give Clash N Slash a try. Just keep in mind, we are not responsible for any loss of sleep, spouse, friends, or employment while playing this game.

Although arguably not as good, a sequel is also available: Clash N Slash Worlds Away.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (47 votes)
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Weekend Download

Grimmrook3 Days: Zoo Mystery, a new hidden object game from Realore Studios, drops you in the middle of a mystery at the local zoo. You play as the owner's niece, Anna, whose job it is to find several animals that have mysteriously disappeared. You have three days to solve the crime, otherwise the feds sweep in and shut the place down for good! Serve meals, work with the police, become a salty dog, circumvent hi-tech security systems and so much more in this eclectic mystery.

3dayszoomystery.jpgDiving head-first into 3 Days: Zoo Mystery shouldn't be a problem for anyone who's ever played a hidden object game. In each level you're provided a list of items to find (in this case the list is pictorial as opposed to written), and when you find an item, simply click it. 3 Days introduces several departures from convention, such as the ability to manipulate your environment by moving things out of your way, and even a plasma gun that will teleport large items to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT DIMENSION! (Don't worry, they come back. Hopefully the same as they were before they left...)

As you pick your way through this zoological whodunit, you'll not only be employing your object finding skills to help the many wacky personalities you meet, you'll encounter a number of odd jobs, puzzles and mini-games as well. Your tasks will range from something as simple as cleaning up after a party to helping stop a rogue particle accelerator from BLOWING UP THE WORLD!

3dayszoomystery2.jpgAnalysis: While it may seem like a small thing, the ability to manipulate your environment (and in some cases make it disappear), really does make a difference in the hidden object genre. It's such a natural act (well, okay, sending objects to another dimension may not be natural, but just run with it) that you do it every time you're looking for something in real life. Can't find the car keys? Start moving couch cushions, items on the counter, etc. To this day I can't think of a single game that lets you shift objects around to look for items. This heightened level of control enhances the enjoyability of object finding by a distinct margin.

Few tasks you encounter in 3 Days present much of a challenge. Well, except for slider puzzles. Those things seem to inhabit every corner of the game, and I just can't do those things! Otherwise, the relatively low level of difficulty keeps the game moving at a steady clip. Puzzles and mini-games are both plentiful and varied, and you'll encounter everything from word searches to jigsaw puzzles, tower stacking games and a few original creations as well, such as reconstructing a coffee maker!

3 Days: Zoo Mystery suffers from a somewhat inconsistent presentation. The quality of the graphics seems to rise and fall, as some of the settings are absolutely beautiful while others, not so much. The narration falls short of perfection and the storytelling really stumbles at times. The plot meanders as you go from animal detective to being the designated odd jobs person for the entire town. As I stocked crates filled with boots and tires I thought to myself, "Self, what does this have to do with solving the case?" The characterization is also lacking, and in many instances, potentially emotional moments tend to get hijacked by abject absurdity.

While the story may leave something to be desired, it doesn't spell doom for 3 Days: Zoo Mystery. Swooping in to save the day are the numerous mini-games and diverse gameplay, leaving you with a refreshing and pleasant hidden object mystery to solve!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

AdamBWith the review of Tom Sennet's "When The Bomb Goes Off," last week, a grave realization came to hand: our site is tragically void of Cool Moose games! This travesty will be rectified presently. Thank you and have a lovely day.

runman-monster_2.gifRunMan's Monster Fracas (Windows, 3.8MB, free) - Run, run, run. I'm gonna get you! is the motto of RunMan's Monster Fracas. The most thrilling of the RunMan series and also the most compelling. Hold the right key to speedily escape from the giant mouth with teeth which wants to chow down on you. Slide down slopes and hop over hills to add moments to your freedom and keep going into the night. The scenery, from springboards to cacti, are interactive (though mostly to your detriment) and the soundtrack, featuring a bag of lollies as an instrument, fleshes out the simple and endearing nature of the game.

crush_2.gifCrush! (Windows, 4.4MB, free) - Easily the most fleshed-out and full-featured of Tom Sennett's offerings, Crush! tells the simple story of a monster who wants to smash apart a town. Much to the chagrin of the towns hapless inhabitants, who naturally call in law enforcement officers, then the army to deal with the issue. To dispatch unwanted monster-killers, you can independently pick up whole buildings and enemy helicopters while frying citizens or knocking planes from the sky with laser beam eyes. In all the game employs eight controls for destruction, plus two more for moving your head up and down and walking left and right. Practice makes for good control of your monster by the time the enemies roll in thick.

acwabatiacs_2.gifAcwabatiacs (Windows, 4MB, free) - Want to play a bizarre game? Well, the first question you need to ask yourself is: how bizarre do I want to get? If your answer went some way towards a top-down game where you control a centipede with a bear strapped to its backside which eats sheep... then you're in good company. Acwabatics is a jovial little game where the goal is exactly that, and nothing more. Eat the white sheep for points and sustenance and the rarer gold sheep for bonus health and longer play time. Nothing in this game makes sense... least of all how its so completely and utterly filled with replayability.


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (1494 votes)
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BlueBeanie

DoraWhen you're small, the world is a big place, and most of us growing up had some sort of security blanket that made us feel safe. Something you took with you everywhere, even when your parents tried to stop you. A stuffed toy, battered and covered with dirt from long afternoons at the playground. A scrap of baby blanket stuffed in a pocket. Other people looked at them and saw only junk, but to us they were talismans that gave us the courage to face our problems. Eventually, we grew up and they were lost or tattered beyond repair, or simply forgotten in an attic. But sometimes you just can't let go. Malaysian artist Daphne Lim, who is studying multimedia at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, has crafted a story about chasing after what's important to you even if nobody else understands why, in the form of a point-and-click adventure called The Blue Beanie.

The Blue BeanieThe unlikely hero of the story is a tiny, plump white woodland creature whose prized possession, a very dapper blue beanie, is stolen one day when he leaves it out to dry. Most of us would write it off as long gone, but our hero is not about to let it get away that easily. Despite his small stature, he's off to rescue his beloved beanie no matter what the odds, and what follows is one of the most charming games we've had the pleasure of playing in a long time.

For the most part, gameplay is straightforward pointing and clicking. Move your cursor around the area, and watch for it to turn into a hand to show you can interact with something. Clicking on it might make something amazing happen… or not. Often, you have to figure out the correct order to click on objects to proceed, which requires a bit of trial and error since most of us have little experience being tiny woodland sprites. Occasionally, you'll also use the mouse to steer your little hero safely around obstacles, or to clear a path for him. The game never tells you exactly what you should be doing — although it does nudge you gently in the right direction if you pay attention — so a bit of patience and a lot of experimentation is required.

Inspired by Samorost, The Blue Beanie is presented with animated characters against beautiful painted or photographed backgrounds. Add in the music (by Mark Holdaway of Kalimba Magic), which has a Peter and the Wolf way of mimicking the action onscreen, and the entire experience is a sensory treat. Seasoned point-and-click gamers may find the story a little brief, but it's an experience that will delight anyone with a sense of whimsy and adventure.

The Blue BeanieAnalysis: For a game with such a tiny protagonist, The Blue Beanie manages to feel like an awfully big adventure, and the hero packs a lot of personality into his tiny frame. Daphne Lim has a real talent for creating sympathetic and expressive characters, working with body language as much as facial expressions to create someone you can really connect with.

While working without any real dialogue may be a plus for the aesthetics, however, it can be a hindrance when the puzzles come around. There's no real penalty for simply clicking blindly around the screen, but this rarely accomplishes anything either. Ultimately I found the best thing to do was watch the little hero for clues; he'll look at things you should be interacting with, or react in a way that hints at your next action when you prompt him. Each screen represents a single puzzle, but there's also a lot of other little visual touches for you to discover, so take your time and examine everything.

The Blue Beanie feels like it should be a children's book, but it's so well put together that it comes across as the sort of innocent pleasure even grown-ups can enjoy. For me, the game conjured up fond memories of Tove Jansson's Moomins, both in look and in feel, and by doing so the story connected with my childhood. I wasn't expecting such a genuinely heart-felt little adventure tonight, and I feel like I should thank Ms. Lim for it. It really did feel like a treat.

With a lot to offer for people who like the journey to be as rewarding as the end, The Blue Beanie is a simple, sweet, lovely little tale that shouldn't be missed.

Play The Blue Beanie


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (191 votes)
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PsychotronicSuper KaroshiAs the crowd of skateboarders cackling at their friend with a new groin injury can tell you, comedy comes from pain. Pain and surprise. That's why it's so hard to make a funny video game. Players are already primed to be surprised and challenged and beaten down, so most attempts at humor just get absorbed into the ongoing buzz. Clever writing and visual jokes help, but only as rest stops on the main highway of tension. It takes a special kind of genius to make a player laugh through pure, unexpected wrenching of gameplay conventions.

On a totally unrelated note, there's a brand new Karoshi game! Super Karoshi, the fifth chapter in this series of suicide-themed platform-puzzlers, is also one of the best. Creator Jesse Venbrux, who never met a bloody impalement he didn't like, has found a happy middle ground between the anarchic surrealism of the second Karoshi with the twitchy puzzles of Factory and Suicide Salaryman.

The basic controls are [left] and [right] to walk, [up] to jump, [R] to restart a level. The only rule for escaping these rooms of death is that you have to find a way to die. But beyond that, the rules twist like a hillbilly in a hurricane. Every time you think you've got it figured out, the sheltering sky of cause and effect develops another crack, until your every gamer instinct has turned against you.

Your new ability — to transform into an indestructible, flying, Super Saiyan alter-ego when you collect a certain emblem — is dubious comfort in a game where the goal is to kill yourself. For the tortured soul, immortality is a curse. Your only solace is to put your corporate lemming co-workers out of their misery before doing yourself in with the aid of a chunk of kryptonite. TGIF, guys. Catch you on the other side of oblivion.

GrimmrookKyle E. Moore - It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a... OW! Ew... is that a spleen? Super Karoshi definitely mucks about with the gameplay mechanics more than its predecessors, and for this strange series, that's saying something. Yet despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, this also feels like one of the least challenging offerings to date. Considering that the Karoshi games have never been what one would call easy, this means it's a little more accessible than most, giving newcomers an opportunity to get excited about the franchise. Okay, brb, got some spikes calling my name.

SonicLoverSonicLover - Remember when we reviewed Karoshi: Suicide Salaryman a while back? Super Karoshi is like that, only a lot more creative. There's a lot more thinking outside the box (literally in at least one case), and a lot less raw puzzle-solving. I feel that this is a step in the right direction for the Karoshi games, even though I haven't played any of the downloadable ones. I see they kept the 'K' puzzle, though (you'll know it when you see it). I enjoyed every minute of Super K.

ArtbegottiArtbegotti - Some games are like a piece of bread. The more you play them, the quicker they become stale. The Karoshi series has proven itself to be more like a piano, becoming better the more you play it. As this is the fifth Karoshi game in the series (you can follow the in-game links to view previous episodes), veterans might see some similar puzzles to past editions, but will still find new life in a game that probably shouldn't be compared to bread or pianos, because neither are very relevant.

DoraDora - Never having played any of the previous Karoshi games, picking this one up was for me a lot like listening to half of a conversation about gorillas. It's weird, it's confusing, maybe a little scary, and you're not sure whether it would be polite to laugh or not. But once I stopped trying to "get" it, the more fun I had with it. For a game whose sole premise is to do horrible things to your willing, muppet-faced pixel counterpart, it's surprisingly devious with its puzzles. After every puzzle completed, I sort of wanted to pat myself on the back for figuring it out, but I suppose a pit full of spikes is just as satisfying.

Play Super Karoshi


(16 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Dragon Portals

JohnBNew from Myth People, creator of Miriel the Magical Merchant and Azkend, comes another matching-based puzzle game with a new take on an old mechanic: Dragon Portals. The friendly dragons have been bound to earth with dark magic. Young Mila is called in to save them by dropping orbs from one dragon to another, matching groups of like-colored ones to keep the dragons aloft. It's a nice departure from most matching games, and combined with Myth People's signature art direction and epic power-ups, makes a game well worth trying out.

dragonportals.jpgInstead of stacking, shooting, swapping, slamming or other S-related verbs, Dragon Portals is based around dropping. Several dragons are flying together in a group, each with a row of orbs on its side. Click an orb and it falls to the dragon below, snuggling itself between existing orbs. You can only drop an orb if it will create a match, however, so don't think you can sit and swap orbs until the fire-breathing cows come home. Fortunately you can drop orbs that will create a match when its originating layer seals together, which are tough to spot sometimes but well-worth finding.

The power-ups in Dragon Portals will really make your day. Every few levels the dragons give you an opportunity to choose one of two bonus items that you equip to use in subsequent rounds. There are three categories of power-ups: destructive, creative, and passive. The Symbol of Simple, for example, is a passive power that removes one orb color from the game, simplifying your matching duties but making the dragons' descent much faster. The creative power Hand of God sorts orbs on each dragon according to color, while destructive powers such as Thor's Hammer and Meteor are great for blasting orbs into oblivion. You can equip one power from each category and switch them between levels. These powers appear during the game when you make long matches and combos, but you can activate them whenever you like.

Furthering the "Hey that's cool!" factor, at the end of each level you're treated to a short bonus time where you can rack up a few extra points. The music kicks in, the dragons cruise higher and higher, and all you have to do is make matches. It's one of those little moments in a game that are especially rewarding. There's also a photography mini-game that serves as a nice diversion.

dragonportals2.jpgAnalysis: Hooray for Myth People! I've become something of a fan of the studio since discovering some of its earlier games. Dragon Portals follows the Myth People design philosophy well: take an existing game type, change the formula just enough so it feels different, paint some beautiful artwork over everything and set it loose upon the world. The final product feels familiar but manages to engage your brain in a different way, drawing you in and holding you there longer than you would have expected.

The dropping mechanic isn't revolutionary, but it's different, and it's a lot of fun to learn how to use. Building a strategy, such as dropping multiple orbs into the same slot, takes a little time, but then you're well on your way to Dragon Portals mastery.

One slight disappointment I had with Dragon Portals is the pacing. The difficulty level spiked early in world two, forcing me to re-play several levels before completing them. This, combined with a slow doling out of the power-ups dampened my feeling of progression and caused that dreadful stagnant feeling to descend. Suddenly I woke up and realized I was playing a match-3 puzzle game, not a Myth People match-3 puzzle game. It was a sobering moment, but in the end, the only real damage it did was make me take a break before coming back to play again later.

A different and great-looking kind of match-3 game. It may not have the same level of magic as other Myth People games, but it's a new experience in a familiar genre that you will enjoy picking up every once in a while.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (47 votes)
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JoshMoonRocksReleased last week by indie developer allenp, Moon Rocks is an impressive little shooter-defense game that's pretty challenging and fun. Loosely inspired by the classic arcade game Missile Command, you're tasked with defending your little chunk of the planet's surface from an onslaught of asteroids, ice comets, enemy ships and plenty of other things that threaten to turn your base into Swiss cheese. Unlike the old 2-D style of Missile Command and many of its clones, Moon Rocks emulates a three-dimensional grid space for building your base. It doesn't really affect gameplay, since the falling asteroids are still two-dimensional (as far as I could tell), but it's a better way to optimize the UI real estate and manage your base. Plus, it just looks cooler.

If you don't expect too much in the way of back-story, you won't be disappointed—there really isn't one. In the campaign mode, you command a sort of mining colony or fleet, jumping from planet to planet to gather resources, while the enemy AI players try to do the same. The more resources you gather, the more towers and technology you'll be able to unlock. This is all managed through the map screen, which you'll see between each level (also giving you the choice of which planet to attack next, while your opponents do the same). Besides unlocking brand-new towers, you can spend points to unlock higher levels of certain towers, like your cannons and lasers. You can also spend points on technology to increase things like tower armor, tower cost and lots of other different upgrades. In order to buy most of your towers in-game though, you've got to purchase one or two Factories and place them next to the crystal-looking objects on your grid, which represent mines. Factories will steadily increase your resources, and you can upgrade them into Refineries to bring in the money even faster.

MoonRocksYou get a fairly wide array of towers, most of which work in synergy with one another to provide the right firepower for the right situation, and the defense you'll need to fend off the asteroids and the special attacks your opponents will send your way. Your basic weapon is the Cannon, which can be upgraded three ways: speed, power and "frag," which makes the projectile explode on impact, bursting into more projectiles. The Laser can only be upgraded in power, but it's useful for focusing in on single targets like big asteroids. You've also got an Anti-Aircraft gun, a Solar Shield to protect your base, an Anti-Gravity tower to slow incoming asteroids, and a few other useful towers like the Air Base, which is used to send fighters over and attack one of your opponents. A similar tower, the Gravity Well, is also used to attack an opponent's base by hurling special asteroids at it, like the Ice attack to slow its towers, or a Radioactive attack to break apart asteroids into even more pieces.

The premise might sound a little confusing at first, which is why it's a good idea to read all the tutorial sections and click on the "?" icon in each screen, which labels the function of each part of the UI. Essentially, your main objective is to defend your base and destroy as many incoming asteroids as you can. That's how you ultimately win each level; by destroying more asteroids than your opponents. But you can also attack an opponent's base in the hopes of destroying a few of their own towers, slowing them down while they have to rebuild. They can do the same to you (and they will), which is why it's important to invest in an Anti-Air gun or two, and a Solar Shield. All of your opponents' data is in the upper-right corner of the UI. You can see a real-time graph of how many asteroids everyone is destroying, as well as selecting an individual opponent to view their actual base, or direct attacks toward them if they are gaining the advantage.

Analysis: There's no denying Moon Rocks has a steeper-than-usual learning curve. Without reading the Help section and playing the tutorials, you'll be flying blind when it comes to the more intricate aspects of the game—specifically, the mechanics between you and your opponents. But once you get the hang of it, the game doesn't feel detached or punishing at all (although it's still quite a challenge beyond the Easy setting). It's an interesting combination of arcade and casual Flash game elements, like a cross between Missile Command and a tower defense game.

There's a nice Quick Play option that throws out the enemy opponents and unlocks all your towers, allowing you to play as long as you can survive without any distractions. Unfortunately, there's no way to save your progress, even in Campaign mode. Apparently it's something the developer had to sacrifice to release the game on time. On the other hand, you can complete each map in an hour or two. Still, that's something not many casual players will appreciate. But overall, the gameplay is solid, the graphics and sound are stylized and respectable, and it's a pretty fun and unique game if you enjoy strategy-shooters.

Play Moon Rocks


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Link Dump Fridays

Dora"Where's John?" Well, I … I certainly didn't tell him he could only hang out with my gang if he spent the night alone in Old Widow Agabee's house at the end of Gypsy Graveyard Avenue, if that's what you're implying! And even if I had, just because nobody's heard anything from him since other than a single mournful wail is no cause for alarm! No, it's totally cool! I got this! Here, have some games while I go off and do something that most certainly does not involve bartering with an unspeakable evil for John's release!

  • Survival LabSurvival Lab - Everyone loves science, but the closest we usually get to it is a lame baking soda volcano we slapped together in third grade the morning of the Science Fair because we'd spent the last four weeks playing SNES and eating Pop Rocks. Survival Lab is a chance for you to make up for all that, in one itty-bitty pixel package. Hop, run, dodge, and upgrade your way with the [WASD] keys through 26 levels of dubious scientific merit. The cannons, buzz-saws, mines and more would put a damper on anyone's day, but the job does come with a slick orange jumpsuit and free sympathy bouqet for your next-of-kin. Aw, c'mon. Do it for science!
  • NecropolisNecropolis - You have ladies, and you have adventurers, but not every lady is a lady adventurer. I can't disable ancient traps, and the last time I tried to leap over a pit of spikes I had a heck of a time trying to explain it to the ER doctor. Ms Lillian Trevithick is made of stronger stuff than I. Maybe it's the Sundress of +2 Dodge, but she isn't afraid to descend into dusty tombs littered with deathtraps in search of ancient treasure, and if you're handy with the [WASD] keys, you can give her a hand. She may not have a franchise like Lara Croft, but she does have Gregory Weir in her corner, which should count for something.
  • Savior Tower DefenseSavior Tower Defense - You there! Have you ever been caught on video pretending to be Harry Potter and are now the highest rated thing on You Tube since Lightsaber Kid? Lucky for you, the tower defense genre has realised you're a sorely overlooked market! Use your mouse to scribe arcane symbols on the battlefield to conjure up spells and beasts to keep the enemy from breaching your defenses. But that's not all! … what? That is all? … oh. Okay.
  • Red MoonRed Moon - If this game seems familiar, it might be because you've so much as glanced at Armed With Wings or its sequel. Fortunately, this time through your hero knows how to jump without behaving like her body is made of popsicle sticks, and the same gorgeous animation is back with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the combat seems to have suffered for it. I blame wizards, but then, I blame wizards for everything. I just hate them so much.
  • Perfect Balance: PlaygroundPerfect Balance: Playground - I don't know about you, but when I was a lass about yea *holds hand up to knee-high on a grasshopper* what I really enjoyed most was stacking things on other things. And if those things then had to remain balanced according to the laws of physics? Oh man! Kids love that stuff! Perfect Balance: Playground is easy and charming puzzle-stackin'-non-action for all ages. I especially liked getting cheered upon every completion. Yaaaay!

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Metaplace

JohnBMetaplace is a browser-based community of user-created virtual worlds that also serves as an online games platform. Metaplace gives you the tools you need to create just about anything your twisted head can conjure — from casual social lounges to games both basic and complex — all with an extremely flexible set of building tools. If you can surf the web, you can use Metaplace, and this level of powerful simplicity makes it one of the most attractive virtual world communities around.

metaplace.jpgBrowsing through the hundreds of worlds on Metaplace, you'll see all kinds of sights. Dreams, for example, is a beautiful realm built around the concept of exploring a woman's dreams. White Chapel 1888, on the other hand, is a murder mystery game where you investigate crimes in 1888 London during the reign of Jack the Ripper. Oh, and then there's Altar of Saget, so, yeah, you can see just about anything in Metaplace.

After creating your profile and logging in, Metaplace drops you in your home world, a sandbox-like area where you can create whatever pops in your head. The first thing you'll want to do is get familiar with the building tools, as you'll be spending a lot of time here customizing your worlds. Just click on "build mode" at the top center of the screen and a few new toolbars will appear. Don't be afraid to try things out, as your curiosity is the best way to learn how to use Metaplace.

The tools you'll be using most are the terrain shapers/painters and the object toolbar. Your world doesn't have to be flat, you can have hills, valleys, sharp cliffs, plateaus, and everything in-between. Each square on the grid can be painted with ground tiles to complete the look, and you can even create water, walls, and impassable tiles to keep visitors on a set path.

Here's where the fun begins: adding and customizing decorative, solid, and interactive objects. Metaplace has its own marketplace where other users have created and shared dozens upon dozens of items, objects, tools, scripts, plugins and more. To access them, all you need to do is click on "Add Objects" followed by "From Marketplace", then search for what you need and drop it in your world. You can also pull objects from Google 3D, though they almost never work as smoothly as marketplace items do. And if that's not enough, Metaplace allows you to create objects using any image you can find, whether it's on the internet or on your computer. Just click the "+" button on the objects toolbar, name your item, choose the image and you're good to go!

Once an object is in place, feel free to rotate, resize and slide it anywhere on the grid. Clicking on "behaviors" opens up another bucket of customization tools where you can program your object using a browsable, searchable set of behaviors. Want a waffle that follows players and occasionally dispenses Marcus Aurelius quotes? That's easy! Again, the best way to learn how to use behaviors is by letting your curiosity get the best of you. It isn't complicated, but there are a lot of options at your disposal.

If you want to get some dirt under your nails, Metaplace gives you access to a scripting language that lets you do some really interesting things. Your average user can do a lot with the point-and-click graphical tools, but programmers (even amateur ones) can accomplish strange and wondrous things in Metaplace.

metaplace2.jpgAnalysis: I've never been one for virtual worlds, massively multiplayer titles, or most games that emphasize content creation over actual gameplay. During my first tour of Metaplace, however, I was floored by how easy the creation process was and impressed by many of the worlds people had already designed. And none of them were programmers, just Metaplace folk with an artistic eye. I sat down, learned the building tools and began crafting. It was more fun than I initially thought, and I was especially fond of the old-style isometric layout. At the helm of Metaplace (and lending some serious cred to the project) is Raph Koster, lead designer of Ultima Online, creative director behind Star Wars Galaxies, and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

Part of what makes Metaplace so attractive is its simplicity, both in terms of building/creating worlds as well as exploring them. The learning curve is small, and within half an hour you'll feel at home in build mode. The toolbar at the bottom of the screen gives you access to more information about the world you're in and lets you browse more areas as well. Add friends, favorite cool worlds, or "meep" other users just to poke them and let them know you know they're around.

Because Metaplace tries to be a true... erm... meta... place, allowing users to pull content from any source, some things end up being a bit quirky in practice. I can't even begin to tell you how long I spent messing with a custom-built couch, trying to get Metaplace to recognize which direction it was facing so sitting users weren't facing the wrong direction. Also be prepared to invent creative workarounds, especially for content imported from Google 3D. Metaplace does a good job handling such a wide variety of content, but as the service ages and prepares to leave beta, I would like to see this improved, along with a more reliable interface.

Now for some practical information: cost. Metaplace is free to join, free to explore, and free to play. When you sign up you get your very own world to play with, also for free. If you want to create new worlds, however, you'll need to purchase them. At the time of publication the pricing structure was still being finalized, but casual Metaplace visitors/builders need not worry about forking over any cash. Just join it and have some fun.

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

Interested in giving Metaplace a try? We've spent a few weeks working on our very own lounge, a place where everyone can come in, sit on the swings, gawk at the fenced-in writers, watch the Kraken swim, and explore some of our favorite casual gaming content. It's a great introduction to Metaplace and will show you some of the things people have done with the platform. After creating your account, simply head over to the JIG CasualGameplay Lounge and say hi!

Pictured in the banner above are the builders of our Metaplace lounge along with a few other members of the JIG crew. From left to right: Marcus, Jay, Stacey (main lounge work, co-built room escape), Pam (main lounge work), Psychotronic, JohnB (project coordinator, built the simulation, puzzle, downloads, and point-and-click worlds, co-built strategy and room escape), Jess (co-built room escape), Grimmrook (built the action and adventure worlds, co-built strategy). Also pictured: our pet waffle, hiding behind Pam.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (109 votes)
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PsychotronicMinimThe last game we saw from developer Atomic Cicada (still waiting for a game that's actually about a giant rampaging radioactive cicada, by the way) was Grid. It didn't have any major new gameplay twists, but it had an exceptionally considerate user interface, and it looked so pretty I kept checking my hair in case it came over to talk to me.

Their gorgeous new puzzle game Minim goes a step further and crams some new gameplay ideas in there. The objective is simple, as it is in all great casual games. Each level shows you a molecule made up of number atoms and modifier atoms. Your job is to combine connected atoms until there is only one left, which then vanishes in a puff of total existence failure.

Combine two identical numbers to form the next number in sequence. A "3" and another "3" turn into a "4", for example, and then that "4" can merge with another, to become a "5". A modifier, such as "+2" or "-1", will just change a number by the appropriate amount. Later molecules introduce multiplication and division, and some spacial tricks, like atomic bonds that let you switch the position of two numbers. There are always two constants: a number on an atom can never have a value higher than "10", and it always has to be a whole number. No decimals or fractions.

Analysis: Atomic Cicada make a good-looking game. The important game elements are readable and clear even at a glance, and the user interface does an slick job of providing information without intruding on the playing space. Each new gameplay twist comes with a subtle notification at the bottom of the screen, and if you want more information, just click on the note to expand it.

Even better, your view of the puzzle is totally customizable. You can rotate a molecule any way you like (similar to the pseudo-3D pixel clouds of Coign of Vantage) by clicking and dragging on the screen, and you can even adjust the position of individual atoms. Also returning from Grid: the wonderful, life-giving, indispensible, unlimited, coquettish Undo Button (hallelujah, hallelujah). Here the puzzle is your enemy, not the interface.

It all takes place on a sophisticated stage made of red and yellow haze which, appropriately, is what you might see if a blood vessel burst in your brain. For the sake of your health, try to stay relaxed when the cuddly little math game starts beating the tar out of you halfway through its 35 levels. There's nothing wrong with the learning curve—it's smooth as a baby's bottom. You'll barely notice the difference when the game stops dispensing comforting hugs and starts in with the knuckle sandwiches. Yeah, that's how the cute ones hook you.

Play Minim


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (52 votes)
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AdamBMarsTDAh, tower defense genre. How you taunt with your towers, your upgrades, your evolving strategies. How you draw the player in with simple creatures to dispatch with ease, then pull the carpet away to reveal how that carefully pre-planned strategy was full of holes. How you put shame to preparations and defensive design with the greatest of ease. And look — a giant walking octopus which is out of water and also on Mars.

Coated in retro pixelated graphics and pipingly sharp music, Mars TD by Taro begins in a casually simplistic manner: Select one of the two available towers, place it on the map, and complete level one. Get more coins, buy another tower, and clobber the aliens in level two. Repeat. From the simple beginnings stem two obvious strategies — buy lots of towers or upgrade the few which you already have.

The first strategy is strength by numbers. The second is simply strength by strength, but also comes with an interesting quirk. For each alien destroyed, you receive coins. Not only do you get to keep those coins, but that same amount is deducted from the kill-tower's upgrade score. A particularly deadly tower will soon be very cheap to upgrade. It's up to you whether to upgrade quickly, which is more expensive, or to leave a tower weaker for longer, which gives the increasingly strong aliens a chance to break through your defenses.

To purchase a tower, select it from the right-hand column, and place it on the map. Allow the alien bodies to pile up. When a tower is selected on-map, the top-most option in the menu is the Upgrade button, with the current upgrade cost. The lowest option is the Sale value. These either increase or decrease depending on the current strength and efficiency of the tower, so keep an eye on the numbers.

The middle option is Move. This lets you swap one tower with another, if you should so desire. This option is free between rounds, but the cost varies if you want to do it in-game. Moving to a new, unoccupied spot will require that you purchase a wall — this is the square option in the tower select menu — then swap it with a tower. When your towers have been set adequately, click the Current Wave button to start the round. If a level is running badly, select the button marked "menu" then the middle option to restart the level. Just note that this will cost you one of your Continues.

Analysis: The variety of towers, whose weapons increase in ferocity and ability with upgrades — for example a freeze shot comes from the second tower when strong enough — really brings an extra element of strategy into Mars TD. Depending on what you purchase and upgrade, and when, your resulting arsenal can be vastly different from turn to turn. Planning from the beginning and being able to modify your plans on-the-fly as you adapt to the current level's intensity brings added depth to the later levels. While the language barrier may be a tad daunting, there is nothing so frightening that a little clicksperimentation can't handle it. Besides, your enemies are walking octopi and disembodied rotating dog heads that bounce, to name just two varieties. What's not to like about that? Those with a penchant for strategy and a flair for retro will really enjoy this game. There is a lot to uncover.

Play Mars TD


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (91 votes)
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DoraThe Spider's BrideFor most of us, spiders are reason to do extremely ridiculous and frantic ew-ew-ew dances whenever we suspect they're near us. This means spiders are probably pretty lonely, but it's not all bad. Spyke Games is here to tell you a story of love surpassing all odds, and bug juices in The Spider's Bride, a fast-paced game of mop-balancing skill. The Bride will do anything for her dear Spider, including bashing dozens of helpless butterflies for him to feast on. Ah, l'amour.

Taking place in a cozy little love nest, the game has you wielding a mop to crush butterflies. Sound easy? It's not, since you accomplish this with the broom balanced on the palm of the Bride's hand. Her hand moves with your mouse, which you move around the screen to try to keep the mop balanced. Move your mouse a little farther away, and she'll follow, but keep an eye on the mop. If it falls, it kicks up a cloud of dust which causes you to lose time. If you need to take a breather, hit [space] to pause the game.

Butterflies hatch from larvae in the bottom left corner of the screen. As they flutter about the room, push up quickly with the mouse to crush them against the ceiling with the mop. Bonuses are awarded for killing more than one at the same time. Keep an eye on your time at the bottom right, because if time runs out, you'll lose the wave, and Spider will lose some health. If his health runs out, you lose the game.

With simple controls and a nice, compact little package — twenty waves — The Spider's Bride is easy to pick up whenever you have a minute. As the game progresses, different types of butterflies are introduced, and you'll have to watch out for bees as well, which can sting you and cause you to flinch. Beat all twenty waves, and you can receive some very exclusive wallpaper featuring our star-crossed love birds, which is, um, a reward, even if I'm not certain I want Spider's oddly suave mug staring at me whenever I boot up my computer.

Analysis: My initial reaction to Spider's Bride was bewilderment. What was happening? Why was a spider sporting a toupee? What had those butterflies ever done to me? More importantly, why the heck are they so slow? Butterflies take their sweet time flapping up to a height that lets you get the mop under them, and a few times I lost a wave grinding my teeth because they were dancing around somewhere in the vicinity of the Bride's shoes. It didn't happen often, but I still felt cheated whenever it did. There were also one or two occasions when my mouse ventured outside of the realm of the game window accidentally, causing the mop to temporarily become "stuck" and lose a few seconds of play.

The game isn't going to appeal to everyone, partly because of its straight-forward premise, and partly because of just how creepy it is. The butterflies splatter like blood-filled balloons when you hit them, and Spider crunches down their corpses with relish. But even with the Bride's vacant stare and unsettling smile, it's still strangely pretty, as well. Character styles and themes are reminiscent of Roman Dirge's Lenore, or a film by Tim Burton. Or, in the case of Spider's immaculate moustache and red eyes, my own deepest nightmares.

Kind of cute and more than a little creepy, Spider's Bride is one of those games that makes people who see you playing it ask with mild concern what, exactly, you're doing. I suggest your response should be, "Killing butterflies to feed my bloated spider soulmate. Duh." and follow it up with a look that suggests they're not firing on all cylinders. After all, you don't have to explain your love of squashing butterflies against a dirty ceiling! I understand you. Spider understands you, chère.

Play The Spider's Bride


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (108 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessOh, the delights of childhood. Candies and fairy tales, rocking-horses and music-boxes; who would want to abandon such pleasures? Wait a minute... maybe, when creating Toys, that was all part of Japanese designer Mydia's plan! Build a room escape game so enchanting that we won't want to leave; we'll instead click aimlessly about, drinking in the sweetness, never gathering up the will to escape... simply diabolical. I applaud you, Mydia. You are a worthy foe.

ToysLuckily, we are all escape game professionals. No time for sentiment; we've got a room to escape! Beyond its pastel cuteness, Toys is a compact, high-quality escape game that, if not exactly groundbreaking, is certainly enjoyable. Its puzzles are solid, though mainly variations on themes we've seen before; the player must collect mysterious scraps of paper, combine objects, figure out codes, etc, etc. Some outside knowledge is required to solve one of the puzzles, but a Google search or two should be sufficient to find all you need.

Unfortunately, the only original aspect of the game is the one I feel duty-bound to spoil. A prominent feature of one of the game's puzzles is the usage of stereograms, a form of optical illusion in which a three-dimensional image is hidden within a two-dimensional picture. I was initially hesitant to reveal this (as it is unique and creative, and it's always nice to preserve the surprise of discovery), but ultimately, as the game can be rendered unfinishable if the player is not familiar with this sort of illusion, thought it best to mention. If you're unfamiliar with them, you can learn how to view stereograms. It appears that the illusions do not change from one play-through to another; if after a few attempts you don't quite get the hang of seeing the images, another player will surely supply the necessary information in a walkthrough.

On the more technical side of things, Mydia does a very nice job. The game's graphics are well-done, the room charming and easy to navigate, and pixel-hunting is at a minimum; the only glaring omission I see is the lack of a save feature (which, in a game this short, might not really be necessary anyways). All in all, a high-quality production.

So, enjoy diving into this solid, if not stunning, escape game. Quaint and sweet, it might be the perfect antidote to the midweek blahs. You might be an adult, but go ahead:

Play Toys


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (223 votes)
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GrimmrookasmallfavorThis message is approved by the Galactic Ministry of Regulation. All of the information herein is in strict accordance with current regulations, laws, guidelines and bylaws, and is for your own good.

Statistics show that "favor trading," an illegal alternative to the government sanctioned bartering system, is on the rise. Should you find your services or goods requested as, "A Small Favor," you should decline the request and report the offending individual(s) to the authorities immediately. This is for your own good.

You are not to collect items and talk to people by "pointing and clicking" your "mouse." This is considered dangerous and suspicious activity by the Galactic Ministry of Regulations and is believed by many experts to lead to the exchange of goods and services through the outlawed favor trading system. This is for your own good.

All citizens are allowed a weapon. The Galactic Ministry of Regulations reminds you that it may only be charged or loaded in authorized areas. Recharge stations in unauthorized areas are only to be used by authorized security personnel. You are not to disable, tamper with, or in any way circumvent security systems. This is for your own good.

Play all the Small Favor games:
A Small FavorAnother Small Favor

You may access your inventory at any time; however, you are not permitted to take items from that inventory and use them to complete tasks or to give them to other citizens other than in the instance of government sanctioned trade stations. This is for your own good.

Finally, you are not, under any circumstances, to click on the above link or any of the pictures in this message as they will lead you to a game that has been classified as subversive by the Galactic Ministry of Regulation. This is most definitely for your own good.

Analysis: Jay Ziebarth a.k.a. Zeebarf, of The Several Journeys of Reemus and The Visitor fame, has added programmer Caulder Bradford to his stable in the hope of freeing himself up to focus on the art and writing in his games. It shows.

asmallfavorYou can't analyze A Small Favor without holding it up to Zeebarf's earlier works for comparison, and, yes, this newest entry has his characteristic art stylings and smoothness. But from there, A Small Favor blows its predecessors out of the water.

Of course those things that have earned Zeebarf his reputation are still in place. The writing, though perhaps a bit spare, is as good as ever, sprinkled here and there with sardonic wit. Meanwhile, the illustrations perfectly capture the feel of this dystopian sci-fi world, ranging from the parched expanses of a desert wasteland to the seedy interior of a rundown transport station.

But A Small Favor feels so much more deep, more fully explored, than Zeebarf's earlier games. This more traditional free-roaming Sierra/Lucas Arts approach to adventure games gives the player a stronger connection to the main character. Meanwhile, the complexity of the back story (protip: read all the material available to you on the loading screen) is such that the mind begins to fill in the gaps. This means that, while you only get to play one episode in this world, you can feel how it extends beyond that which you see. Everything around you has a personality and a history and ultimately a narrative depth that sucks you in.

The puzzles are also highly commendable, complex and definitely challenging at times, but also very logical. They shouldn't require too many leaps of faith. In other words, the puzzles are actually great amounts of fun to play through.

Even little nuances, like the way accepting a new mission will result in a message popping up on the screen with the flair of an arcade game or the way that unholstering your gun brings up crosshairs (though they aren't exactly necessary), are a joy.

We've enjoyed much that Zeebarf has offered in the past, but if A Small Favor is a taste of what's to come, I think it's safe to say that he will be a virtual powerhouse for fans of point-and-click adventures. From the excellent gameplay to the rich storytelling, A Small Favor is one of the best online adventures out there.

Play A Small Favor

Also available to Play at the Zeebarf website


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (86 votes)
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PsychotronicMiracle WitchWe'll try to have a more thorough review up soon, but we wanted to tell you right away about a cool new action game from Nigoro, the authors of Death Village and Rose & Camellia. This is Miracle Witch, the story of cute little witch Polfe and her quest to defeat the evil king Yeah Walusa, which is the best name for an evil king ever. A stunning and ambitious game from this always entertaining Japanese developer.

It plays a little like Merlin's Revenge, or perhaps a really fast-paced, mouse-controlled Legend of Zelda. There's a huge island to explore, rife with secrets and hostile monsters. Certain objects, when found, can open up caves and other parts of the island, leading to even more powerful treasures, and so on.

Control Polfe by just moving the mouse on-screen wherever you'd like her to go, and let forth a stream of deadly magic power by holding the mouse button. Try not to blunder right into the monsters—that's a good way to die quickly. Instead, approach them cautiously and start shooting well before they get within head-cracking range. Also, it's probably best to just avoid the sea serpents entirely, at least at first. You'll see what I mean.

There is another control scheme as well, which lets you move only when you click the mouse button. Your spells are then activated by double-clicking. Less frantic that way, but more clicking required. Switch to this control method by pressing the [space] bar.

Switch between your attack magic spells (once you've found them) by clicking on them from the display at the bottom of the screen. Do the same for more benign items like keys and magic stones. This can be counter-intuitive, since your hero also moves whenever you try to point at anything, but just whip the pointer right down to the menu, and Polfe will stop in her tracks and wait. Other icons in the lower right control the visual quality, sound, and volume. The little purple orb restarts the game.

Fair warning: this game is hard, and it will punish you mercilessly at the slightest mis-step. Here are a few basic tips for survival:

- Save all the time. Any time you find a treasure, just save the game right away. It's the icon in the lower-right that says "SAVE". You'll want to make a practice of clicking on that. It is your new best friend. If you don't save, and some nasty thing kills you, which will happen lots, you'll go right back to the title screen with all the progress you've made missing utterly from your life.

- Heal. Any time you are outside, you can heal your wounds by standing still for a few seconds. This doesn't work in caves or buildings, and it can't save you if something kills you in one hit, but it's extremely helpful at all other times.

- Destroy everything. Many secret chests and locations are revealed (indicated by a musical tone) if you blow up the right bad guy or piece of the environment. If you hear a metallic tinging sound when you attack something, it means you'll probably need to come back later with a different weapon and blast it to pieces. Also, enemies will randomly drop gems that power up your magical strength, so it pays to make slaughter a part of your regular routine.

This is a pretty involved game, and it can be difficult to find where to go next sometimes, so help each other in the comments (using spoiler tags, of course). Have fun!

Play Miracle Witch


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (277 votes)
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MarcusCargo BridgeCargo Bridge from Limex Games seems simple at first glance. Just build a bridge to span the gap to allow your little mover guys access to the cargo that they need to complete the level. Sounds pretty easy, right? I mean, how hard can building a bridge really be? The answer may surprise you.

Cargo Bridge takes a slightly different approach to the building process than similar games such as Bridgecraft or Armadillo Run. The build mode actually takes place on a blueprint version of the level. Along with various measurements of the length of gaps and the angle of inclines, it also shows the anchor points to which you can connect your bridge sections.

You have two tools with which to build: paths and supports. Simply click and drag to lay down bridge segments. Keep an eye on your limited funds for each level. Longer segments are better than short ones whenever possible, since there is an initial cost for each segment, no matter the length. Select a bridge section and then press [delete] to remove it (Backspace won't work).

Utilizing the anchor points, you will attempt to create a structure that can withstand the stress that will be put on it. This stress will change from level to level. On some, your bridge only has to hold up to the weight of one mover. Others have multiple movers, so the structures must be stronger. There are even levels that have you moving a odd rolling elephant. Since elephants are no light-weights, your bridge had better be up to the task.

Later levels increase the difficulty by having you build bridges across larger gaps, up and down inclines, and around obstacles in your path. You are also given access to new building materials, as your cargo becomes heavier. Some levels give you limited funds, forcing you to build minimalist structures that will hopefully hold up under the strain. Something else that you must keep in mind is that your movers can only handle inclines up to a certain angle. Too steep, and they'll stop there, spinning their little feet in a futile attempt to make it up the hill.

If you want a break from the main game, you can enter the Challenge mode. Much like the side game in World of Goo, you use the money that you have collected to build the longest bridge you can. This can be a lot of fun, as you are constantly changing parts of your design to support the length of the bridge.

BlueprintAnalysis: I really enjoyed Cargo Bridge, even more than I did Bridgecraft. The physics are spot on, the graphics are cute, and the build mode is a welcome change. It makes it easier to concentrate on the structure when you strip out the background graphics and colors. Once I realized just how the anchor points worked, I had no problem building stable structures, at least in the early levels. Some of the later levels are devious challenges, but I never felt that anything was impossible, maybe just somewhere beyond my mad bridge-building skillz at the time. But as you learn the ropes, be prepared for bridges that act more like springy gelatin than solid structures. And don't worry about the screams of your movers as they fall to their ultimate doom—you can always turn the volume down.

I do have a couple of complaints, though. The main one is that the build mode is a bit unintuitive. There are no keyboard shortcuts for any of the tools, so you are constantly mousing over to icons.

My other complaint is more of a suggestion for the future of the game. It would be nice to have a mode that would allow you to create your own challenges. This would make Cargo Bridge something that you could come back to for quite some time, even after finishing all of the levels. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for a downloadable version of the game, but I think it would be a valuable addition.

If you're itching to show off your bridge-building prowess, or just want to mess with some fun physics, give Cargo Bridge a try. I mean, where else can you have so much fun rolling an elephant?

Play Cargo Bridge

Thanks for sending this one in, Bonez565 and Spector17!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (201 votes)
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GrimmrookPizza CityEveryone who's ever delivered pizza for a living is a part of a kind of shared experience. Only we who have pushed pies from pizzeria to private residences can fully grasp the apprehension of filling a gas tank with tip money while half a dozen pizzas cool in the back seat. Only we know the frustration of watching someone whip out a wad of cash only to count out exact change, or the terror felt when the illuminated pizzeria sign mounted atop our cars calls out like a beacon saying, "please rob me," in the worst neighborhoods. And now, thanks to Pixeljam for [adult swim], we can relive those moments in the new driving game/pizza delivery sim, Pizza City.

As a delivery driver, you will pick up the pizzas from Tony's and shuttle them to their many different destinations around town designated by green oval markers on the ground. The [arrow] keys are used to steer, the [space] bar will bring up your inventory and end conversations, and the [X] key activates the emergency brake. You'll have to be quick about it, as customers will only wait so long before they start to get angry. At the same time, you'll want to practice caution, as hitting other objects will damage the pizzas, lowering your tip and reducing your job security. Hitting most pedestrians will lower your score and could put the cops on your trail. If you let too many arrests or poor deliveries eat away at your job security, you're as good as fired.

Pizza City has so much in common with the first two Grand Theft Auto games, it seems to fall somewhere between spoof and demake. Like the notorious crime sims from Rockstar Games, you roam a city with virtual free reign in your car via a bird's eye view. There is a main goal (delivering pizzas and working your way up the pizzeria career ladder), but there are also plenty of other side quests to undertake, such as returning a teddy bear to a girl or finding bling for a gentleman of ill repute, should you need a break from your prime objective. But it's the risqué overtones buried throughout the game and the frantic cop car chases that really send one on GTA flashbacks.

True to Pixeljam's trademarks as established in Dino Run and Gamma Bros., Pizza City is resplendent in big blocky pixels and chiptune-like music. The controls can seem awkward at first, almost like you're driving a bumper car on ice, but also like Pixeljam's earlier efforts, once you get the feel for the game the control scheme becomes natural and comfortable. Pizza City isn't for everyone and the relatively simple gameplay may turn some off, but there's more depth lurking here than meets the eye and it definitely rewards those who choose to stick with it.

Play Pizza City


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Mobile Monday

JohnBMonkeys with balloons, kids with slingshots fighting off zombies, an ultra-powerful hero who runs around blasting giant bugs and making dents in the earth, and, erm, a number-linking puzzle. This, ladies and gentlemen, is your typical Mobile Monday.

pathpix.gifPathPix - Did you get a kick out of the puzzles featured on our review of the Conceptis website? PathPix (also known as Link-a-Pix) is a superb implementation of the numbers-linking puzzle for iPhone and iPod Touch users. Simply tap and drag to fill in spaces on the grid. You can erase by double-tapping any wiggly line, and there's even a way to partially draw lines and continue them later. The zoom/scrolling functions are a bit sluggish, but otherwise it plays smooth. There are over 100 puzzles to work through, each rewarding you with a color picture and quote upon completion, and, while none of them are particularly challenging, it's worth the small price of entry to have Link-a-Pix in your pocket.

kidsvszombies.jpgKids vs. Zombies - I know I know, we have Plants vs. Zombies and Martians vs. Robots. Think you can handle a third "vs." game? Sure you can! This old-school arcade-style shooter puts you in control of three kids, each with a unique weapon to use in the fight against brain-munching undead. Tap each kid to take temporary control and dispatch foes as efficiently as you can. Use the cash you earn to buy new weapons or upgrade various attributes between stages. The game plays very well on the touch screen and has this classic arcade feel updated for modern gamers and modern gadgets. Loads of fun! A free Kids vs. Zombies Lite is also available.

caster-iphone.jpgCaster - Released earlier this year for Mac/PC systems, Caster has made its way to the iTunes App Store! This 3D action adventure game will immediately remind you of the Nintendo 64/PlayStation era of games. Dash, jump, fire, super jump and walk your way through a series of missions as you destroy bug-like creatures and collect energy orbs they leave behind. After each level you can upgrade your abilities, tower defense-style. You (and some enemies) can even deform the terrain, which is a nice, dramatic addition. As with any 3D game on the iPhone, the touch controls take some time to get used to, but otherwise Caster survived the miniaturization process perfectly intact. A free Caster Lite is also available. Now, send us Caster: Episode 2, please! :-)

bloons-iphone.jpgBloons - It's Bloons! On your iPhone! How neat is that?! The same balloon popping game you know from the world of browser games complete with a monkey armed with darts. Aim and choose throwing power by sliding your finger across the screen, then try and pop as many balloons as you can while conserving throws. It's that simple, and it's that captivating. Somehow the touch screen makes the whole thing a bit more visceral, too. One step closer to lining up real balloons and having at them in your living room.

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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Martians vs. Robots

MarcusI've always been a sucker for a good update to a classic game, and Asteroids has probably been "updated" more than anything out there. Martians vs. Robots from Tommy Twisters is an attempt to take the classic gameplay of Asteroids and bring it into the new century, using 3D graphics, expanded gameplay, and multiplayer options.

Martians vs. RobotsThe inhabitants of Earth once developed a race of robots who eventually rose against humanity and, well, kinda conquered us (Terminator, anyone?). Seeing what has happened on Earth, the Martians realize that the robots will come after them next. Using their own advanced technology, the Martians come out of hiding to take on the robots.

Playing timed rounds in the single player arcade mode, your main goal is to clear all asteroids and enemies as quickly as possible. Destroying asteroids often yields deposits of ore, which both the Martians and robots use to build weapons and ships. Using the ore you can switch to the research screen and begin to develop more powerful weapons and new vessels. Do this often during the early parts of the game, as when the difficulty ramps up, you'll want every advantage you can muster.

Martians vs. Robots also features an online multiplayer mode (with up to 24 players!) accessible via LAN or over the internet. Multiplayer matches consist of four different games: standard deathmatch, where it's every Martian and robot for themselves, team deathmatch, which pits the Martians against the robots, gauntlet ,where you main goal is not frags, but collecting the most resources, and capture the core, Martians vs. Robots' own implementation of the classic "Capture the Flag" game. The same ore gathering and research holds true in the multiplayer games, but during team-based play, your entire team gets to research the technology, which allows you access to new weapons and ships faster than if you were researching alone. Multiplayer matches also include a number of additional hazards, such as enemy gun turrets with you in their sites, and gravity wells that will attempt to pull you to your death. You can also use the built-in scripting to design your own multiplayer levels.

Martians vs. RobotsAnalysis: The timed levels in single-player mode keep Martians vs. Robots moving at a nice pace while still allowing you the chance to collect ore and research weapons. The weapons for each race are different but well-balanced. Robots can teleport, Martians can cloak their ships. Robots have homing missile, Martians have guided torpedos. It makes for nice variety.

Personally, I really enjoyed playing the single player game. The difficulty could have increased a little bit earlier, and I can see some players losing interest as they face yet another round of clearing asteroids that don't shoot back, but once you get into the later levels, the action against the robot enemies can get pretty intense.

I was never able to find a multiplayer match available to play, the servers are a bit sparse at the moment. The official forum hasn't been updated since August 2008 when the last version of the game was released. I did, however, set up a LAN game and play against a few friends on my own network. From my experience there, multiplayer was great, but I would love to see a match where 24 players duke it out all at once!

The instructions and control configuration screen all talk about a "true physics" mode, what I would consider to be a Newtonian flying model, the default model for the original Asteroids game. The default flight model for Martians vs. Robots includes acceleration, deceleration, and turning while accelerating. There is no option for rotation while your velocity takes you in a different direction, which makes movements like strafing impossible. If one could access a Newtonian flight model, then you would have access to many more advanced maneuvers.

Even if you can't experience multiplayer combat, Martians vs. Robots is still a, ahem, blast to play. If you like a good Asteroids game with a score of extras, then you should definitely give this one a try.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (21 votes)
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Everything Nice

JohnBWhile it may be built upon the same time management foundation we're already familiar with, Everything Nice skirts the perimeter of the genre with a recipe-based setup reminiscent of Miriel the Magical Merchant. Fed up with all the violent toys flooding the market, Abby has the idea to create classic, "happy" toys such as teddy bears and jack-in-the-boxes. A local businessman rejects her idea, but then she stumbles across the Wondermachine9000, a magical device that can create anything her imagination conjures. Just the thing she needs to start her own factory!

everythingnice.jpgAs toys appear on the conveyor belt below, its your job to set a number of machines in motion that create the ingredients you need. Click on a toy to see its recipe. A teddy bear, for example, requires one button, one ball of fluff, and one bolt of velvet. Click each machine to prepare the ingredients, then pick up the products from their respective bins. Remember, you can queue actions to free your cursor up to do other tasks while Abby does her thing.

Items in hand, carry everything to the Wondermachine9000, place it on the belt, flip the switch and wait for the magic to happen. Moments later a finished toy appears on the other side, ready to be boxed, ribboned and set on the shipping table. Complete each package before it falls off the conveyor belt to get paid, and make a few bonus toys to get a little extra coinage to buy an upgrade or two.

Between levels you have the option of improving Abby's equipment, making things move faster, more efficiently, and sometimes, automatically! Your cash piles up pretty quickly, and you'll be making purchases every few levels, but spend the money wisely, as the upgrades have a noticeable affect on the main game. Fast-walking shoes for the win!

everythingnice2.jpgAnalysis: The strategy in Everything Nice is unlike most time management games out there. Multi-tasking is, as always, your key to victory, but here you divide your attention between two major processes: building toys and packaging toys. Abby takes care of the former, guided by your clicking, but as soon as you drag the toy off the Wondermachine9000, it's all you. Abby continues her duties while you set the empty box out, drop the toy in, seal it up and place it on the shipping table. To further differentiate the two production lines, everything Abby does requires single clicks, while the packaging process is a drag-and-drop affair. It creates an interesting duality that I had some trouble wrapping my head around at first, if only because it's different from the vast majority of games in the genre.

The visual presentation doesn't impress me on any particular front, as I felt everything looked a little too dark, drab and stilted. But the art style is certainly unique in the casual realm of happy colors and shiny objects, so I still appreciated it on some levels. Many of the hotspots are a little awkward to reach (material machines, I'm looking at you), and I felt the draging mechanic used when placing and wrapping boxes was a bit unreliable. Sometimes, it seemed, the item would "stick" to my cursor, other times I had to click twice.

The challenge level in Everything Nice is a notch or two higher than most casual time management games. I was sort of shocked when I didn't breeze through half the game with an expert score on every level. Part of this comes from the need to memorize recipes (almost three dozen!) in order to be more efficient. It wastes valuable time clicking on each toy to check its composition before setting Abby to work.

Despite a few mechanical shortcomings, Everything Nice churns out a challenging game of quick clicking and fast recalling. It's like you took took one ball of time management, one recipe book, and one pinch of Miriel the Magical Merchant, put it all in a Wondermachine9000 and poof, out comes Everything Nice.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download is brought to you by: Platformers. Platformers, making you run, jump, stomp, dodge and run (some more) to the exit for almost 30 years!

crazyovergoo.gifCrazy over Goo (Windows, 3.5MB, free) - A simple and slightly quirky platformer with 50 levels of goo-bouncing fun. Drag and release the mouse to send the ball of goo flying through the air. Different levels have different gimmicks to help you to the goal, such as blue backgrounds that allow you to move in mid-air, green planets with their own gravity, and swinging mechanisms that build up your momentum. Quite a fun ride, and a level editor plus unlockables makes it even more appealing.

dadwouldbeproud.gifDad Would Be Proud (Windows, 3.9MB, free) - A short, punishing platform game that could cause you to rage quit in record time. All you have to do is make it to the exit in each level. Inconveniently placed spikes and other obstacles get in your way, so you must use your double jump and time-slowing ability to land on tiny perches and work your way through safely.

portalsthrudreams.gifPortals thru Dreams (Windows, 15MB, free) - A short experimental game inspired by Valve's now-famous Portal. Moving through a sunset-hued dream world, collect memories and bring them to the exit. Aim and create portals to help move yourself through each stage. There isn't much to the game, but it is a prototype, after all, and it shows a lot of promise. Love the atmosphere!


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (32 votes)
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The Tales of Bingwood

kateSo apparently '80s fashion is back in style, which, frankly, is a bit terrifying, especially for those of us who were permanently scarred by it the first time around. However, should you happen to like neon colors, giant bangs, and wearing turtlenecks under a t-shirt, you might want to put on some Adam Ant and take a look at The Tales of Bingwood Chapter 1: To Save a Princess.

talesofbingwood.gifThis 2D point-and-click adventure from BugFactory is a throwback to every Sierra and LucasArts game ever made. Maybe not every single one, but most of them. The ones that were made in the '80s, at least. OK, the ones that were made in the '80s in which the main character went on some sort of quest and had to click on everything and try to combine all the items in the inventory with all of the other items and where do they even get pants with pockets that big?

Ahem. This game is like those games. The word used here is "retro." At least that's what the kids say now, right? Moving on.

The village of Bingwood is in chaos! Princess Liliana has been kidnapped, as princesses often are, and her parents have turned to the townsfolk to save her. Our young hero, Tombrandt Driftwood, who bears no resemblance in any way to a certain Guybrush Threepwood, is "volunteered" for the task by his neighbors, even though he is naught but a lowly fisherman's son who is allergic to fish.

Like most medieval villages, Bingwood is filled with quirky characters to talk to, strange objects to pick up, and a variety of puzzles to solve, all of which may be useful in finding a missing princess. Use the mouse to help Tom explore every inch of the town and the surrounding countryside. There are four different options for interacting with the surroundings: look, use, speak and travel. The gameplay mechanics are simple: [right-click] cycles through the choices and [left-click] is the action button.

talesofbingwood2.gifAnalysis: It is entirely possible that this game was actually created in 1984 and only appears on the Internet through some sort of violation of the space-time continuum. That's probably not true, but, much like The Chzo Mythos, The Tales of Bingwood is a retro delight, from the 2D pixelated graphics to the liberal use of witty dialogue with a smack of potty humor.

It also improves on some rough patches that were detrimental to its predecessors. For example, you can navigate the world using a map, skip cut scenes and dialogue, and generally rejoice in all the good stuff that adventure fans enjoy. The plot may be basic, but the puzzles are not, and there's an excellent sense of exploration running through your journey. Happily, there is no way to die or be forced to restart the game because you missed an item and can't go back to pick it up. Instead of high-pitched beeping, there's actually a decent soundtrack and surprisingly good voiceover acting.

There are just a few minor flaws here. It's easy to forget exactly which character needed a certain favor or item, so some sort of to-do list would be welcome. Scrolling through rows and rows of inventory items to find the object you need becomes tedious, and there's no hint button to click when you're stuck. Since the gameplay is so open-ended, though, you can simply move on to another task without the risk of exploding in frustration.

The Tales of Bingwood will eventually be a trilogy, so this is just the first third of Tombrandt's quest. This actually isn't really an issue in terms of playability, but if you like your plot tied up with a neat little bow, you aren't going to get it here. What you will get is a well-crafted homage to adventure games of yore.

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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Azada Free!

If you don't already own the unique, puzzle-filled game Azada,
then you can get the full version FREE!

Nothing to buy, no strings attached!
Offer good only until May 31, 2009, so don't delay — do it NOW...

  1. Go to the appropriate page:
  2. Click "Buy Now"
  3. Click "No Big Fish Game Club benefits"
  4. Choose "No" to backup CD
  5. Enter this code into the coupon field: FREEAZADA
  6. Click "Checkout"

And that's all there is to it! Free Azada! :DDD

If you already have Azada, or just want another free game, here are a couple of other games available for free for a limited time(!!)...


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (103 votes)
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RockbandsimDoraIf I were a rockstar, I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd buy all my jeans pre-grunged so I had more time to stick it to "da man" while I shredded on my axe guitar atop a semi barreling down a dramatically lonely highway. I'd party with Gene Simmons and that one guy from Poison, and I'd get fat checks for drinking soda and looking bored at clubs. Yeah, baby, I'd live it! Unfortunately, I grew up during the '90s, so I missed out on my chance for big stardom and bigger hair during the rockin' '80s. Fortunately, Mousebreaker is here with the aptly titled Rock Band Sim to fulfill all my raddest fantasies, letting me manage the career of a up-and-coming band of my own creation. Will they rocket to the top of the charts, or will they wind up doing mediocre covers of Ramones songs for free beers? Knowing my managerial skills, probably the latter.

When you first fire up the game, you'll be prompted to create your very own band of fashionably disinterested malcontents, I mean, rockstars. You can name your band yourself, or have the game generate an appropriately nonsensical one for you. You pick four bandmembers from a list of pre-generated musicians — singers, drummers, guitar players, and bassists, all with varying skills, and all who look like they just got thrown out of a Gwar concert. All the skills — charisma, drive, musicianship and flair — are fairly important to a successful band, but don't worry if yours seem a little lacking at first; there are multiple ways to build them up.

Once you've got your band, it's time to hit the big time. And by "hit the big time", I mean, "micro-manage your time and finances while you try to increase your skills and buy better instruments". What, did you think you'd be discovered in somebody's backyard and whisked away to open for the Rolling Stones on your first night? It's going to be a long time before anywhere really cool lets your mohawk in the door, so get ready to play a lot of dives and scrounge a lot of change. The main screen is a map with several locations on it, each with a specific purpose. Your house lets your band attempt to write their own songs, the shop sells things to increase your skills, and the Rock Pit is where you play all your gigs. Playing a gig not only earns you cash, it generates hype, which dictates the quality of shows you can put on, and helps your band level up.

Most of the game is played with the mouse, simply pointing and clicking your way through menus. Whenever you decide to play a gig, however, you'll use the arrow keys to match the beat and play a short tune. It's a lot like old favourite Super Crazy Guitar Maniac, only the notes scroll left-to-right instead of vice-versa. Make sure you don't miss too many of them or you'll bomb and lose the cash deposit for the gig. The better your band is, the more cash you'll rake in, so make sure you put some thought into not only your equipment but your skills as well. After all, the flashiest musician around is no good if he doesn't have the skills to back it up.

RockbandsimAnalysis: Unfortunately, Rock Band Sim tries to incorporate so many different tricks and gameplay elements that it winds up spreading itself too thin, so that some of the various activities don't seem as fleshed out as they could be. The addition of status ailments, which can crop up after events if you do poorly, seems clever, but they don't show up often enough to really impact the game. I'm also a huge fan of playing Guitar Hero when nobody is around to see how terrible I am, so the fact that each "song" you play is only ever rarely more than a handful of notes was disappointing. It feels a little gimmicky and out of place when the rest of the game plays more like an old flash date sim in terms of mechanics. If I can't play the entire song instead of just a few random clips, why bother? Way to kill my buzz, brah.

A lot of the results and events are randomised, and I have yet to ever meet a random chance generator that I liked. After every gig, there's a chance that you'll be presented with a decision that can potentially result in a big bonus for your band. On the first playthrough, I ran into them almost every other show. The second time I never saw a single one, which is a shame, since they break up the monotony that can set in when you're grinding away to raise cash or skills. I was also happier than I've ever been to see an option in the menu to turn off the background music loop.

For all that, however, Rock Band Sim is quirky and put together well enough to make it stand out from other sims. I can honestly say that if I had a band in real life, I would hire a guitarist named Harriet Crazytrain and a drummer named Toby Jellyfish. The random names for the songs your band writes are often hysterical — I'm still not sure if the fact that "You Download Your Nipples" sounds like an actual song is horrifying or wonderful. While it doesn't break any molds, Rock Band Sim should appeal to management fans and anyone with a sense of humour. The spirit is behind it, and its ability to glorify in it's own silliness is a winning trait. I grew pretty attached to my questionably talented little ne'er-do-wells, and I played the game more than once. You might never be a rockstar, but now at least you have a chance to live the dream without all the sordid tabloids and career burnout.

Play Rock Band Sim


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Link Dump Fridays

JohnBIt's meta puzzle time! Several words in this edition of Link Dump Friday have an extra letter floating around. Find them, gather them, and arrange everything in the correct order to spell something very important!

  • icon_meeblings2.gifMeeblings 2 - An update of Ninjakiwi's original Lemmings-like game, Meeblings. Use Meeblings with special powers to move the other Meeblings to the goal. Click the yellow Meebling, for example, to draw the others in that directionn. Red Meeblings burn through soil, purple ones invert gravity, and candy-striped ones give you a shoulder massage. Nah, made that last one up. But how cool would that be?
  • icon_nevermore3.gifNevermore 3 - A great loooking platform game stuffed with intriguing scenery at every turn. It's a bit light on gameplay, as most of what you'll end up doing is running, jumping, and jumping/running some more, but your eyes will have a great time while you're doing it.
  • icon_epicbattlefantasy.gifEpic Battle Fantasy - So, you know the part of an RPG where you get into battles, cast spells, summon massive creatures and spend most of your time worrying about hit points? This is Epic Battle Fantasy, all the fighting bits of role playing games without all that character whining explorey plot stuff in-between.
  • icon_acrowinhell2.gifA Crow in Hell 2 - So you're this crow sitting on a skull at the edge of a cliff. Then this jerkk on a motorcycle runs into you, dropping you into a pit that's deep, dark, twisty, filled with traps, and generally not-so-nice. Flap your wings and maneuver through the passageways collecting keys (using the [arrow] keys, unfortunately). Touch anything at all and it's feather dusters for you.
  • icon_ragdollgoalkeeper.gifRagdoll Goalkeeper - Drag and release to send the ragdoll goalkeeper flying in the direction of the bball. You only get one jump per round, so make it count. The best part of the game? That empty BONK! when you clang your head against the goalpost. That's right, I said BONK.

  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (189 votes)
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DoraSpewerHere at Jay is Games, we know we have a broad audience with discerning tastes. We know you take time out of your educated lives and wine tasting classes to visit us, so we endeavour to bring you only the most thought-provoking, the most mature, the most elegant and inspiring games out there.

HOWEVER.

In Spewer, the latest physics-based puzzle platformer from Eli Piilonen and Edmund McMillen, you take control of a little pink blob forced to run a gauntlet of increasingly lethal lab tests for a rather sinister looking scientist who finds something to fault in your every move. For most of us, this would be a pretty lousy way to spend a day, but Spewer never ceases to look absolutely thrilled at even the most menacing of deathtraps. It would be charming, a gentle reminder for us all to find joy in every situation, if not for the fact that it's probably due to Spewer being made up of vomit rather than brains.

Oh, didn't I mention? There's vomit in this game. Like, a lot of it. Pools, even. Yaaaaaaaay!

SpewerSpewer can be manipulated around the screen with the [WASD] keys, where [W] makes you jump… somehow, despite not having any legs to speak of. Pressing [R] lets you restart a level. In addition, you can click and hold the left mouse button to belch forth a mighty torrent of puke, turning the mouse to direct it. It's not just for giggles; this deluge of nastiness can also help propel you farther, and fill up otherwise dangerous areas so you can swim safely across, like some adorable, slime-laden tadpole. And when you're done, don't forget to hold down the Space Bar to suck all your vomit back up, since it can be reused indefinitely. I think I saw that on an episode of Bill Nye once. Isn't science great, kids? (Laptop users be warned: this game may be difficult or almost impossible to play with a touchpad.)

Levels are short, usually only one screen, and your objective is typically to reach the exit. Sometimes it's as simple as a few well-timed jumps. Sometimes it's a little trickier, as you navigate spikes, lava, switches and more. As you progress, the game introduces different elements such as different areas and types of vomit to keep things interesting. Because of how physics-intensive the game is, you may find yourself begin to lag the longer you play. The designers have included a link to a downloadable version of the game to help this, if turning down the graphics in the options doesn't help. Also included is a level editor, for you to create your own playgrounds of pukey goodness.

If bodily fluids squick you out, you may want to give this one a miss, but Spewer refrains from being very graphic thanks to one of the cuddly-wuddliest visual schemes I've seen in a while.

Analysis: Unfortunately, sometimes liquid — any liquid — doesn't play well with physics engines, and there are times when it seems Spewer's sputum simply wants to do its own thing, which isn't always in your best interests. There are a few levels that require you to fill up on vomit before you can use it by triggering locked containers of the stuff, and you're often left crossing your fingers and hoping the liquid falls out like it's supposed to. If you can, you can try to puke back up into the container to blast out any clingers, but this doesn't always work. Liquid can also squeak through cracks where you can't reach it occasionally, forcing another level restart. There's nothing sadder than watching a fleshy pink glob hopping impotently up and down beneath a switch because it doesn't have enough puke to reach it. (Sounds like a premise for a Disney movie to me! Where do I sign for my merchandise deal?)

There are also some minor collision detection issues, where the game apparently takes offense at you being close enough to breathe on the spikes and kills you for your insolence. Spewer's corpse always continued to look thrilled, but I rarely was. Also, why is Spewer's original puke powerful enough to help it sail across a gorge, but even a full, cannon-like blast of the stuff won't press a switch? Some levels also seem to be based entirely on something happening just right, or waiting around for it to happen, which breaks the flow (pardon me) of gameplay.

All of this means Spewer requires more than a little patience and a bit of a forgiving nature to really enjoy, but a little polish will go a long way towards resolving these issues. Spewer should appeal to the giggling, snorting six-year-old in all of us (heeee, Spewer), while still keeping the gameplay challenging and clever enough to keep your powerful grown-up brain piqued. Immature? Maybe a little. But gameplay issues aside, Spewer is a welcome addition to the physics genre. Maybe even the most adorable one. Awwww.

Play Spewer

Thanks for sending this one in, Swive!


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ArtbegottiPariboroWhat happens when you cross a pile of dominoes with a slot machine? Frankly, nothing good, as most slot machines have the ability to shoot dominoes at speeds up to 120 mph (193 kph), so it's best to stay away from a domino-toting slot machine if you see one, unless it's under careful professional supervision and in a Plexiglas box. But in case you never get the opportunity to stumble over a friendly slot machine, Tonypa (Pushori, Twibik) has a perfect alternative.

Pariboro is Tonypa's latest endeavor into the world of tile-based games of skill and luck. Forty tiles of three colors lie on the grid before you, and your job is to clear as many tiles as you can. On the right, a slot machine of sorts will automatically spin and stop on a pair of tiles. Find a pair of adjacent tiles like that on the board, and click them to remove them from play. If you clear an entire row, their empty placeholders will disappear, allowing more tiles to fall in from the top, and you get a nice score bonus. However, if the slot machine ever produces a pair of tiles that can't be cleared from the board, the game ends. It's as simple as that; keep clearing lines to stay alive and rack up more points.

In the long run, your goal is two-fold. The longer you can last, the higher your score is. Scores are automatically uploaded onto the high score server for instant comparison against the other Pariboroers of the world. Your highest score is always saved, so don't worry about losing your slot because of a bad game. But wait, there's more! If you're signed in at this delightful Casual Gameplay website, the game automatically detects your username and submits that as your high score identity. (Not logged in, or need to sign up for an account? Click the "Sign in" link at the very top right of the page.)

Also, as you finish games and reach higher scores, you'll notice that a piece of a mysterious jigsaw puzzle is revealed when you finish a game. If you can reach a certain threshold of points in a game, you'll be rewarded with a step towards a scoring bonus in future levels. Thus, the more you play, the greater chance you have of reaching a higher score!

Analysis: Pariboro is yet another classic casual game from Tonypa that exhibits his simple-yet-unique style of graphics and sounds. Perhaps Wikipedia should have a link to Tonypa's games on its page explaining "elegant simplicity".

Along with the simplicity, you will notice the fine balance between luck and strategy that you'll need to play this game. There is a one-in-six chance of any given pair of tiles coming up (if I calculated that correctly), but there is no easy way to take advantage of this. You can remove tiles in an ordered fashion to clear six consecutive rows with three turns, but getting the right domino to spin up is the tricky part. As fail proof as a plan might seem, the randomizer still somehow finds a way to get the best of you eventually.

If you're looking to find the best strategy for not losing as quickly, try playing a few games where your goal is to get the lowest score possible. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it helps you to realize what not to do in order to stay alive. Low-scoring games will happen eventually, and sometimes you will never even see it coming. I actually managed to (inadvertently) end a game with a score of 9. I have no doubt that it's possible for lower scores to happen, with an unlucky board setup and an unlucky set of spins. If you learn how to avoid these scenarios, you can become a high score king.

Bonus! Are you a fan of those snazzy fonts Tonypa uses in his games? Would you like to be able to type in all-caps glory? Tonypa has created and released several fonts used in his games on FontStruct, available for download!

Play Pariboro

Play other Tonypa games at Tony's website


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GrimmrookWhen the Bomb Goes OffPop quiz. You have five seconds left to live. What do you do? Coming at it from a different direction, let's say you don't actually know you have five seconds left, but your impending mortality has not changed. What would you wish to be doing for those final five seconds? These are the kinds of questions you may find yourself pondering as you play When the Bomb Goes Off, an intriguing micro-game collection from Tom Sennett.

The bomb is going to go off. This can't be changed. It's going to go off in, oh, about five seconds, give or take nothing. This can't be changed either. Your task is simple: guide a bunch of individuals through their final five seconds of life before the bomb does go off. Whether or not they achieve their goals before all of existence evaporates in a violent mushroom cloud-shaped cluster of exothermic reactions taking place at cruelly and devastatingly high speed can be changed… it just probably doesn't matter very much.

You help the series of doomed little stick figures by first determining what it is they are trying to do, and then using the arrow keys to guide them to their goal. Sometimes the tasks are obvious and easy, like handing a bottle of ketchup to someone else, and sometimes, well, sometimes we find that our fated folks have something more complex in mind.

Can you get 100% by helping all of the stick figures attain their goals before being vaporized by the big one? Or will you (more likely) fail a few if not all of them? Look at the bright side. If you aren't successful, it's not like they're going to know, right?

Analysis: To use a phrase from our own Psychotronic, When the Bomb Goes Off has "morbid likability." Sure, most micro-game collections have a sort of inherent attractiveness to them, whether the cohesive center that binds them all is good or not. There's just something compelling about having less then ten seconds to learn what you are supposed to do, and then doing it.

But I don't think I've ever seen something quite like WTBGO. The basic concept, an impending apocalyptic explosion, is truly terrifying. However, Sennett gives the entire idea the absurdity treatment, making the prospect of global annihilation seem excessively cheerful, with whimsical stick figures and an insistent piano track reminiscent of the Keystone Kops and penny arcades of yesteryear. It's all enough to make you laugh, or at least grin.

And then something happens. Not in the game, mind you, the game remains the same no matter how many times you play it, which would seem a poor recipe for replay value, but somehow the percentage score at the end will keep you coming back for more. No, it's not the game that changes, but you. Or, more accurately, your perspective.

When the Bomb Goes OffMaybe it will be the content of a task here or there, a sudden realization that at the end of the world this is the last thing a certain person will be doing. There are tasks that if you stop to think about them are utterly heartbreaking. They would be heartbreaking no matter what, but the complete finality of the game makes them even more so.

Or maybe it will just be a growing realization not tied to any one specific micro-game but instead an effect that is created by the sum total of everything you see. Perhaps it will seep in slowly, nothing more than a recognition that sometimes we take for granted far too much that the sun will rise again tomorrow, that all our fancy sciences have allowed us to grow smug with the fact that the sun is not a god prone to exploding if we don't sacrifice someone every full moon or something.

This is how When the Bomb Goes Off works on so many wonderful levels. It is a fun game, with controls that are alternately tight and loose based on the content of each scene. It is on its surface an almost absurd and funny game, the ultimate in gallows humor. And, if you let it, it will sneak up on you and provide something so much more profound.

I wish I had something to criticize here, something to prove that, if nothing else, I have not in fact been taken in so completely by this game. No, it doesn't have fancy graphics, but then, it's not supposed to. No, the controls aren't always pinpoint accurate and responsive, but then that's part of the territory with micro-games where you are changing up the entire game's world every five seconds. When the Bomb Goes Off is what it is, and it is itself so completely that any criticism would simply be irrelevant. Whatever effect it has on you is probably the exact effect it is supposed to have on you. An impressive accomplishment indeed.

Play When the Bomb Goes Off


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GrimmrookAndrokids2Now that I'm the father of two young girls, I know for the first time since I was their age what the world must look like through their eyes. Androkids 2, from JadeWare, may not provide much insight into the mind of a three-year-old or a five-year-old, but if my daughters were to make their own platform game this is exactly what it would look like.

In that spirit, I've shown this game to my children, and I will now dutifully and faithfully transcribe their discussion.

K: Wow! This game is soooo cool. You use those buttons with the arrows on them to make your guy move around and the big long button makes you jump and…

C: And-and-and you get fruit and different fruit can do ALL KINDS of stuffs. Like if you eat that fruit right there like a circle it will make you SO BIG or if you eat that other fruit you can jump REALLY HIGH and you go up with the stars and the moon ball.

K: CAM-CAM! I was talking.

C: But, sister, I want to talk…

K: Don't listen to Cam-cam because she's littler than me and she's just a baby and babies don't play games. So, ANYWAY, you jump up and stuff and sometimes you get these black bombs and they go BOOM!

C: And don't forge-et! You have to get all the lellow circle things.

K: Those are c-o-i-n-s Cam-Cam, and you're interrupting me and you're 'sposed to say "excuse me." And you don't HAVE to get the coins.

Androkids2C: Yes you do!

K: No you don't, you HAVE to find the key that opens the door like Mommy and Daddy's keys!

C: Oh, really?

K: (sighs, rolls her eyes) Yes.

C: I wanna try!

K: No Cam-Cam. You already got to play it's MY turn!

C: But you're already playing and you got to play earlery (translation: earlier)

K: No Cam-Cam. Stop pushing!

C: Keiki! You're not sharing!

K: YOU'RE the one who… who… who isn't sharing!

K and C: DA-DDY!

Analysis: I was planning on letting the girls do the whole review, but they've both been sent to their room for fighting and managing somehow to stick the leg of a doll into a port I didn't know my laptop had so I guess I will finish this on my own.

At first blush, it may seem like the childlike aesthetic is the chief thing going for Androkids 2. Indeed, this artistic endeavor is amazingly well done, with crayon colors straying outside the frantically wobbling lines, stick figure flowers, and a sun with a permanent, if a little lopsided, grin. The notebook-paper backdrop seals the deal and reminds me of countless days filling up my binders with doodles when I should have been taking notes.

But underneath the novelty of the artwork lies a very solid platform game. The controls are for the most part tight and responsive, and the level design speaks volumes. In fact it comes as something of a surprise that the creativity that went into designing the levels matches or exceeds the creativity that went into the game's artwork.

Perhaps the largest flaw in Androkids 2 occurs when your character has to contend with a narrow gap. It's a fairly common convention in these types of games that one be able to run over gaps that are only one brick in width; a holdover from the original Super Mario Bros. But while it is clear Jadeware intended to hold true to this mechanic, the side effects have resulted in making it more difficult than it should be to jump up through such gaps or fall down them when necessary.

Still, this is a rather small nitpick for a game that grabs you with its unique visual character and holds you with truly solid gameplay. If you subscribe to the school of impossible platformers you may be disappointed, but if you never quite got over collecting coins and jumping on the bad guys, this is definitely right up your alley.

Play Androkids 2


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Weekday Escape

JessPrisons are not, generally speaking, meant to be the most luxurious or comfortable of environments. In furnishing its new escape game Rougoku, however, Japanese developer Bianco Bianco may have gone a wee bit overboard: four gray walls, a foreboding door and a sad-looking pallet are all that there is to see in the game's dismal cell. Well, ok, that's not quite true. Anyone familiar with the escape game genre knows that such rooms are invariably filled with all sorts of nooks and crannies, secrets to be found and puzzles to be solved...but still, what a depressing place to be stuck in! Definitely an incentive to escape as soon as possible.

RougokuIn keeping with the game's minimalist aesthetic, Rougoku is generally simple and straightforward: there's no backstory, no music, no frills whatsoever, just a handful of puzzles and a door standing between you and freedom. Rougoku falls into the category of more "realistic" escape games, those that concentrate in large part upon collecting and using items in practical ways (with, of course, a few genuine puzzles thrown in); considering the game's environment, this makes sense. The puzzles themselves are not very difficult, and the game will most likely not take you terribly long to complete.

Despite the cell's spartan appearance, Rougoku's graphics are rendered very nicely and lend the game an appropriately desolate atmosphere. At no time is there pixel-hunting (yay!), but the game does lack a save feature (boo!). Unlike most room escape games, Rouguku's inventory can be closed or opened at the push of a button, which affects the experience neither positively nor negatively. Navigating the room is easy and intuitive.

The one element of the game that I found to be truly irritating was the unfair "surprise" at the end. Without giving too much away, it seems nearly impossible to succeed on your first play-through without some sort of precognitive ability; this, particularly considering that the game lacks a save feature, is very poor form. I don't want to entirely spoil the end, but I'll offer a piece of advice: before rushing out of the room, consider what might occur if a real prisoner were to somehow open his or her cell's door. With this in mind, act accordingly.

That criticism aside, Rouguku is a nice, solid room escape game. While hardly the most polished or complex example of the genre (and not Bianco Bianco's greatest work), it's nonetheless perfect for a coffee break or to satisfy that occasional, gnawing escape game hunger. Enjoy!

Play Rougoku


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Rating: 4.8/5 (558 votes)
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PsychotronicToday I DieSince even before I Wish I Were the Moon, Daniel Benmergui has been answering an interesting question: What are the narrative possibilities of a game where the player's only method of interaction is to move objects from place to place, one at a time?

I Wish I Were the Moon solved the problem by offering several different endings, with a simple means of reaching each one. It was charming, and inspiring in its clean originality, but it left an unwritten question: What if these same interaction techniques were applied to a single purpose? What if it all added up to something greater?

This is that game. With nothing onscreen but a few blocky characters and a short poem, Today I Die carves a slice out of an existential nightmare and serves it to you raw. You could classify it as an adventure game or a puzzle game, but it doesn't feel like it should be pigeon-holed with anything. The solutions are so well-integrated, applied with such holistic grace. You won't even realize how many jigsaw pieces are displaced until you discover how they fit together.

Inflated low-resolution sprites have become a shorthand for interactive narrative experiments. See Gray, Don't Look Back, and The Majesty of Colors for examples. Without complex characters and animation to distract you, the direct spark between player and game calls focus. Your brain turns on because it has to, in order to make sense of the visuals.

As satisfying as each moment is, Today I Die is still a very short ride. The exciting thing, more than the game itself, is the path it blazes—a true integration of story and interplay, unmanageable by any other medium but games. If this is a poem, imagine a novel. Somewhere, a budding game designer is playing Today I Die, brain suddenly burning with the possibilities.

Play Today I Die


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Rating: 4.8/5 (551 votes)
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DoraMorningstarSo you think you can handle yourself in a crisis. Little first-aid kit tucked away in your closet next to the Virtual Boy and the Bowflex? When's the last time you were forced to pilot your damaged spaceship into a brutal crash landing on an unknown planet while flames filled your vision? That's not something that happens every day, you know. Almost every day, but not every day. But the good news is Red Herring Games is here with a brand new point-and-click adventure game to show you just how to take care of yourself. Luckily, Morningstar is as entertaining as it is informative.

Slip into the spacesuit of Powell, one of the only survivors of the fiery crash. He swims into consciousness to the sound of his captain's voice crackling over the radio and promptly comes face-to-face with the body of one of his crew members. Well, I'm no space-expert (spacepert?), but it seems to me that that is rarely a good sign.

Morningstar is played through Powell's field of vision; the display looks like the view from inside a helmet, and you nudge your cursor to the sides of the screen to look around. If you can interact with something, appropriate text pops up as you pass over it. Click to pick up items, which will show up in your inventory at the bottom of the screen. The Menu button in the upper right lets you adjust the options or save your progress — important to remember since the game doesn't auto-save for you like other adventure games.

MorningstarWhile Morningstar does a good job of flooding you with items early on, it also, surprisingly, does an even better job of showing you what to do with them. For much of the game, Powell can communicate with his captain at any time by pressing the Radio button. Captain Novak may not be the most cheerful person in the world, but he'll give Powell information at any time about his current objective and nudge him towards where he should be headed. While the game does provide a Walkthrough button, making use of the surly Captain feels much more realistic.

The puzzles here are refreshingly logical, if mostly short and to the point. If Novak isn't available or you're just tired of him griping at you, you can usually figure things out for yourself without much trouble. Paying attention to your environment and listening to what Powell says when you examine your items is often all you need.

Analysis: In all respects, Morningstar is a remarkable game. One of the things I respect most about it is its ability to shift tones naturally. Powell and Novak spend a lot of time barking at one another, and it can often be amusing to listen to the power struggle between them. The game also has its tense moments, and really knows how to handle atmosphere. Even with the taciturn Novak available by radio, the game still does a great job of making you feel isolated and alone when it wants to.

I have no trouble believing Red Herring Games found a genie at one point and wished to make the most incredible opening movie ever made for a flash game, which in this case is a wish well spent. The animation and artwork in this game is just gorgeous. The voice acting, of which there is an astounding amount, is also very well done, but there is an option for you to turn it off if you don't like it, or if you just prefer to make your own space opera sound-effects. Krrrrrsshkt! Neeeeeeeown! Danger, Will Robinson!

Morningstar had me rapt right from the opening sequence and never let go. It's a fantastic example of what can be done with the genre, and serves as a reminder that just because a game is free and casual doesn't mean it can't be a powerhouse in production value, too. If Red Herring Games continues to produce games of this quality, they've got a great future ahead of them. But what they've done right now is pretty darn incredible, too.

Play Morningstar


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Rating: 4.8/5 (1143 votes)
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PlantsVsZombies

PsychotronicHow the zombies have fallen. Once they were a terrifying, cannibalistic reflection of our basest impulses, but decades of B-movie hackery have reduced them to an iconic geek totem, like ninjas or pirates or nuns. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009The Return of the Living Dead plastered them with a goofy catch-phrase ("BRAAAAAAAIINNSS"), and now, except for a couple of attempts to resurrect them as drooling sprinters, they're pretty much a joke. Just look at them here. They've literally been turned into plant food, getting pelted to bits by peas and cabbage.

Plants vs. Zombies is the strangest, most original game from PopCap yet. If you missed the teaser, starring an adorable sunflower voiced by Laura Shigihara and an entire rave party's worth of zombies, you might want to watch it now. It's one of the greatest promotional videos for a game in history.

PlantsPopCap has reason to be confident. While this is basically a melding of time-management gameplay with tower defense, it's so packed with colorful invention, it feels like a completely new concept.

You play the part of a home-owner in the midst of a typical zombie apocalypse, but exaggerated to a cartoon fever pitch. Beyond the suit-wearing regular zombies, you'll face zombies in football gear, zombies on pogo sticks, pole-vaulting zombies, and many more. The undead starving hordes are on the march, but your back yard is standing in the way, covered with fresh, fertilized topsoil. By planting various types of seeds, you must raise a crop of warrior vegetation that can defend your brains from the imminent devouring.

In gameplay terms, you have five lanes to defend (six on some levels) against the zombies, who enter on the right side of the screen and lurch slowly towards your home on the left. You select six plant types from your arsenal at the beginning of the level and then place them strategically on the lawn where they can fire on the approaching undead, who will fight back by munching on anything in arm's reach. You will gradually unlock a wide variety of plants (nearly 50!). Most of them act as stationary guns, periodically shooting peas or watermelons or what-have-you. Some protect the others, like the lovable Wall-Nut, some explode, like the Cherry Bomb, and some serve more specific purposes. Certain plants are effective against certain zombies, and vice versa.

LawnEach plant costs a certain amount of sunlight to create. Actual globs of sun will fall periodically to the earth, and you must click on them to add to your supply. The sunflower will be your staple crop, providing another source of sunlight globs that can be used to power the rest of your vegetable army. Watching for and collecting sun occupies your time between planting, much like the resource-gathering of Popcap's own Insaniquarium.

There are 50 levels in the main Adventure Mode, spread across five different settings and about seven hours of gameplay. Each area requires a slightly different approach. At night-time, for example, you'll need to deploy bargain-price mushrooms to offset the lack of sunlight. In the pool, you'll need to support your plants on lily pads.

After completing the main storyline, there's still plenty left to do. The Survival Modes are like extended versions of a regular level, while the Puzzle Modes mix things up by hiding a variety of enemies in breakable vases, or by casting you as the zombies against a pre-figured squadron of plants. The real treat, however, is the Mini-Games, which riff on the main theme in just about every way imaginable. Look for bizarre hybrid call-backs to PopCap's previous games, like Bejeweled (here titled Beghouled) and Hammer Heads.

Having trouble with Zombies eating your brains? Are you always running out of lawnmowers? Don't miss our Plants vs. Zombies Strategy Guide!

Analysis: The surprise of Plants vs. Zombies is how much sense the match-up makes. Zombies are slow, but plants are immobile. Zombies can be decapitated, but plants can be eaten. It's like they were just waiting to co-star in a video game.

If you still shiver from dopamine withdrawal when you think back on the "Ode to Joy" from Peggle, you can get ready to kiss your social life goodbye for a few days. Plants Vs. Zombies rewards you constantly. The entire adventure mode is a parade of gifts—new plant seeds, new gameplay modes, threatening notes from your more literate zombie opponents. Each present comes right at the end of a level, so the desire to instantly hit the Continue button and play with your new toy is irresistible. The zombies even drop coins, which can buy upgraded plants and other goodies out of the trunk of your insane neighbor's car.

Because the plants are so specific in their look and animation, each one is not only a unique weapon for repelling the zombie horde, but a whole character, complete with a biography. Both the plants and the zombies get well-written, often hilarious entries in the Suburban Almanac, which is a source of both entertainment and valuable information.

PlantsThe shine doesn't come off the game until you've completed ALL the mini-games, and ALL the puzzle levels, and ALL the survival modes, earning of course a golden trophy for each one. Even then, there are a handful of high score modes, and the surprisingly addictive Zen Garden, a mellow side pursuit which may awaken a gardening version of the Pokemon catch-em-all ethos in you. If I could cross-breed plants to produce new mutated soldiers for battle, you would not be reading this review right now, because I wouldn't have been able to physically tear myself away from the game to write it.

The only real problem is that Plants vs. Zombies never does get very difficult. This is partly due to the silky-smooth learning curve. You barely notice the increasing challenge, since your skills and resources grow perfectly to match it. The other reason is that there isn't really a very wide range of strategy. Many of the later plants are just slight alterations on earlier ones, gauged to the needs of the current enemies. Despite a massive effort to inject variety by mixing mini-games right into the main adventure, many levels feel too similar to each other. This is especially true at the start of a level, when you're setting up the first few sunflowers the same way you did the last twenty times.

Get Plants vs. Zombies (PC/Mac) for only $6.99!

Get Plants vs. Zombies (iOS) for only $2.99!

Get Plants vs. Zombies HD (iPad) for only $9.99!

But these minor hiccups pale in the face of the endless barrage of cheerful absurdity. The fact that a zombie's first choice of armor is an orange road cone hat. The way a potato mine explodes with a deep-fried SPUD-OW! The angry eyebrows on a powered-up pea-shooter. Of course a zombie comes in riding an ice-making zamboni; it's a ZOMBoni! Of course a zombie bobsled team comes in after that; there's ice for them to slide on!

Without a doubt, this is one of the defining casual games of this generation. If you're a fan of Insaniquarium or Farm Frenzy, this is a no-BRAAAAIIINer (sorry), but there is enough quirky appeal in this title to seduce practically anyone. PopCap proves that following a goofy idea to ridiculous extremes can be a winning proposition. There won't be any Plants vs. Zombies clones, because you could never copy its force of personality. Highly recommended.

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (125 votes)
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DoraArrow of TimeYoung Prince Peep is having a really bad day. It's not because his name is Peep, as you might think, since Peep is actually a very appropriate name for a Whistle Knight. No, Peep is having a bad day because he is actually the last of the Whistle Knights, who have guarded the legendary Arrow of Time for generations against all invaders. Peep is determined to keep the Arrow safe, and thanks to Super Flash Bros, you can help him take the helm in this new defense title: The Arrow of Time.

It's nice to play a defense game that actually makes an effort to incorporate a story that unfolds as the game progresses, as this one does in short scenes between battles or dialogue before and after. We're not talking Tolkien or Jordan here, as far as fantasy stories go, but it serves as a nice incentive to keep playing.

Gameplay is pretty standard and takes no risks; enemies will appear onscreen, and you use massive arrows to destroy them before they can attack your castle. If your castle's health, indicated by a bar at the top of the screen, runs out, you lose the game, and are presented with a failure screen that seems designed for the express purpose of making you feel guilty about it. Thanks a lot, game, now I feel like a bully. Fortunately, the game autosaves between each level, so you never have to go back very far.

During battle, click on the prince and drag the cursor to pull back the string on your bow, which determines how far your arrow will travel. Release the mouse button to let the arrow fly. Destroying enemies gets you points, which you can use to purchase various defensive and offensive upgrades between battles. You can click on your castle at any time during battle to change the types of arrows you fire, once you've acquired new ones, and to use your upgrades.

Arrow of Time attempts to inject some new ideas into this by adding extra points whenever you destroy an enemy by attacking key areas such as wings and propellers. It should be fun to pick apart your enemies as they grow closer, except it's difficult enough to aim manually at a moving target, and it becomes even harder when you let loose with an arrow only to have it fall short because you didn't put enough oomph in the string. Speaking of, I'm not sure who decided it would be a good idea that you can hurt yourself with your own arrows if one ricochets back at you or falls back down on you, but I think I hate them a little. Especially during the boss battles.

Arrow of Time
Analysis: Arrow of Time has a lovely, dreamlike quality to its aesthetics and music that I really appreciate. It reminds me a lot of later Zelda titles in terms of tone and style. The graphics are simple and clean, and little touches, such as the castle actually looking ruined the more damage it takes, are nice. I loved the artwork between levels, simple as it is, and I grew fairly attached to our intrepid little hero who, for a prince, looks far more adorable than royal. In fact, it was the beautiful design and clever creatures that helped me push past the initial frustration I felt while trying to get used to Arrow of Time's battles. Unlike games where you place your defenses and they do the fighting for you, this one requires you to be a crack shot, and therein lies the bulk of the difficulty.

The lack of any onscreen indicator as to how much force you're putting behind your shots initially makes things a lot more difficult than they need to be. It's hard to feel like a stalwart knight when you're watching your arrows drop well short of an enemy like a Looney Tunes cartoon, and there were some times early on when I certainly thought dropping an anvil would be more effective. Since you have to shoot at certain parts to incapacitate your foes, it makes aiming that much more critical, and usually leaves you with a faceful of enemy fire while your arrows fly harmlessly past their heads. Does it get more instinctive as you go on? Sure. But the initial frustration may turn a lot of new players off.

Which is a shame, because this is honestly a game that grew on me the more I played it. The stranglehold of aiming loosens as you purchase several very helpful upgrades, and when you can finally sit back and let yourself think a little more strategically during battle, you can really begin to appreciate all the thought behind the game. It's fairly lengthy, which gives you plenty of time to perfect your aim, and once you do the game remains challenging without leaving you wanting to put an arrow through your monitor.

Despite some control and initial difficulty issues, Arrow of Time is an impressive example of a game that manages to be both action-packed and cinematic. Taken with a grain of salt and some patience, it can easily win you over if you give it a chance.

Play The Arrow of Time

Thanks for sending this one in, Clipartman!


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (254 votes)
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FunnyManCrush the CastleRemember those old building sets you used to play with as a kid? Legos, K'NEX, Lincoln Logs, or just the geometric wooden blocks that were often painted bright colors. Man, those were fun. You could spend all day carefully setting up one building after another.

And then smashing them flat!

Enter Joey Betz, with Crush the Castle. In this self-describing title, you control a trebuchet and fling rocks at a castle. Fall, you stupid castle! Fall before the might of my rock-flinging prowess!

Crush the Castle-ahem- Where was I? Ah, right. The controls are simple. Click once to start your trebuchet swinging, and again to release the rock towards the castle. Well, hopefully towards. You may find yourself sending a few straight up, straight down, or even backwards until you get the hang of it.

When you do get off a good shot, you get to watch it fly gracefully towards the castle, smash into a wall, and cause untold destruction, killing all of the inhabitants and turning the entire thing into a massive pile of rubble! Mwa-ha-ha!

-blinks- Er… Sorry, I'll try to stay more focused. If by some chance, you don't happen to eliminate all of your enemies with that shot, click one more time, and your trebuchet will be reset and rearmed. Don't go throwing those boulders willy-nilly, though, you've only got five shots to finish your destruction. Run out, and you'll have to retreat and try the level again.

As you progress through the game, you'll unlock additional types of ammunition. You can switch between them at any time by clicking on the type you want. Remember, bigger isn't always better. More usually is, though.

Analysis: If you've played a game called Castle Clout, you may note with dismay that this game looks very similar. Indeed, that was intentional, and was done with the permission of Castle Clout's maker. However, don't sell this game short because of that. Crush the Castle is not just a graphics update, it's a completely new game.

Controlling the trebuchet is much easier this time around, so you're actually in control. The goal is also different. You're not just trying to pummel the castle for points, you're trying to kill all the inhabitants.

Crush the CastleThe little creeps have an action movie extra's tendency to spout blood and die from the most minor injuries imaginable. And that's a Good Thing. They're like little festive piñatas, only filled with blood instead of candy. And if your indirect attack makes you feel a bit like a blindfolded kid with a bat, that only makes it all the more satisfying when a good shot makes the entire castle come crashing down, the residents spraying blood like miniature fireworks. It's like a birthday party and the Fourth of July all wrapped up in one! With blood!

This is a game that appeals to the inner five-year-old in all of us. The one that wants to knock something down, just because he can. Even when you've finished, it's a riot to take the triple-bomb (your final weapon) and go back and blow the earlier castles to smithereens! BOOM! \o/

But, hey, don't just take my word for it. Practice your Godzilla roar, and get ready to smash things!

Play Crush the Castle


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's a huge dose of nostalgia this week on Mobile Monday. Developers have been porting classic games to the iPhone/iPod Touch for some months now, and two of the latest to hit — Myst and Wolfenstein 3D — practically gave birth to their respective genres. I remember when running either of these games required a top-of-the-line computer. Now my music player can run them!

g-iphone.jpgG - Quite possibly the shortest name on the iTunes App Store, G is a game constructed around firing missiles in space in order to "ping" targets placed around the screen. Gravity beacons pull the missile off its path, so your job is to predict where the projectile will go and adjust the firing angle, launch power and firing duration to compensate. The story and visuals are remarkably complete, especially for an arcade/puzzle game of this nature.

iso.gifiso - A falling block puzzle game that adds a little flavor to the classic genre. Groups of three blocks descend onto a number of platforms sitting at the bottom. Tap the screen to switch the blocks order, and swipe it left, right or down to nudge the blocks in that direction. The goal is to make groups of three like-colors horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Setting up chain reactions is the way to go, and as you play, the game gives you a bigger variety of colors to make things even more difficult. The online leader board is a nice incentive!

myst-iphone.jpgMyst - Yes, the Myst. The first, the classic, the graphic adventure video game that launched countless copycats and was the best-selling computer game of all time until it was knocked off the throne in 2002 by The Sims. Now, the point-and-click game is a touch-and-tap adventure with a deep, intriguing storyline, brilliantly conceived puzzles that are every bit as grand as they were in 1993, and a strong emphasis on exploration. The still images show the game's true age, but this is the kind of game you get so involved with everything else just disappears. It's a bit on the heavy side, weighing in at a healthy 727 MB, so be prepared to wait while it downloads or syncs from iTunes.

wolfenstein-iphone.gifWolfenstein 3D Classic - It's the original Wolfenstein! The game that (arguably) made first person shooters popular has returned in all of its 1992 glory! Using a highly-customizable control set, control William "B.J." Blazkowicz as he attempts to escape from the Nazi stronghold. Attack dogs and armed guards make your life more difficult, while hidden rooms, med kits and weapons give you a much-needed boost. The game may be a bit low-tech for modern gamers to fully enjoy, but nostalgia junkies will swoon at the thought of carrying this game around in your pocket. The free Wolfenstein 3D Classic Lite is also available.

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (22 votes)
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TubeTwist

ArtbegottiWhen I was a boy, I used to love playing with marbles. I would always try to build towers using Lego bricks and tape cardboard tubes to the sides and make little pathways for marbles to go through. Eventually, I tried adding cups with balloons stretched over the opening to act as trampolines, and large funnels to catch wayward marbles. And my mother would always hug me and tell me that I would grow up to be one of the greatest Macroton experimenters to have ever lived.

tubetwist.jpgThat's actually a lie. We couldn't afford the balloons. Rubber was expensive back in the War of 1983.

But if you've ever had a yearning to try your hand at Macroton manipulation, TubeTwist might be the game for you. As the winner of several prestigious awards (including a nod from the Independent Games Festival, among others), TubeTwist has continued to expand to the Quantum-Flux Edition featured today.

If the technical jargon used in this game seems a bit daunting, then try this quick explanation for size. Your goal is to manipulate the path of the Macroton (a colored marble-like object) from the Injector Tube (the start) to the Reactor Tube (the finish) using a variety of scientifically-designed tubes (er... tubes). Some tubes can add a bit of propulsion to your Macroton or even shoot them out like a cannon, while others can divert incoming Macrotons different directions, or even remove or restore a Macroton's gravity.

In each level, you'll find an Injector Tube and a Reactor Tube, as well as some pre-placed tubing and other devices (which all seem to float in mid-air, by the way). Click on the spare pieces in the tray at the bottom to pick them up (click multiple times to pick up multiple pieces, or click on the number above each piece to pick up all of that piece), then click on the grid above to place your materials. If you mouse over a piece, you can also rotate it, or reverse the direction (such as with Accelerator Tubes and other directional pieces). Once you think you've got everything set up so that all of the Macrotons will end up in a Reactor Tube of the same color, click the On/Off switch (in the lower right corner) to release the Macrotons and see your setup in action. If you're successful, the energy is harvested from the Macrotons in the Reactor Tubes, and you've cleared the level. Otherwise, hit the switch again to stop the action and try again.

But what is this energy we're collecting, and what is it for? Professor Jaymour asked you to join her in her laboratory where she first demonstrates the energy extraction process. However, the energy storage unit becomes overloaded and explodes, knocking you out in the process. When you regain consciousness, you see a portal disappearing, and a note from Professor Jaymour telling you she's taken the leap of faith through the portal. Your job is to rebuild some of her remaining experiments to collect enough quantum energy to open the portals she's traversed, and hopefully return safely the lab of Here and Today.

tubetwist2.jpgAnalysis: Tube Twist's catchy 3D visual style, inviting music and sounds, close attention to detailed physics, and easy-to-learn gameplay show why this game has won so many awards in the past. The story line is also engaging, and you wonder what surprising new contraptions wait beyond the next portal.

However, it should be noted that while this game can lure you in quickly with its ease of play, the level of difficulty does eventually ramp up, with more and more Macrotons to collect and more and more pieces to finangle with. If you're looking for the sort of game where you can whip through a level quickly and move on, you might be daunted by some of the challenges beyond the first world.

On the flipside, however, it should be noted that there is more than one correct setup for solving most levels. In fact, it's occasionally possible to completely ignore some of the given tube segments and build a working solution without them. The KISS principle really comes into play here, especially when you realize some of the finer points of the game (for example, if you want to make a Macroton fall straight down, you can get away with not building a vertical chute leading it downward to its target about 90% of the time, thus saving a lot of straight tubing). So is this a flaw or a feature? That's all up to you. Some people might get a kick out of building the most efficient structure possible, some might feel a little wary about having a few parts leftover and look for a way to work them in. But there's no timer and no points system, meaning TubeTwist is exists for one reason alone: to have fun with.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (33 votes)
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Mevo and the Groovebenders

ArtbegottiBefore we begin the review proper, a quick word of warning: This game may induce the urge to grow an afro or purchase bell-bottomed pants. You have been warned.

Mevo and the Grooveriders is a funky music game that'll get your fingers a-snappin' and your toes a-tappin' (and your lips a-chappin' and your GPS a-mappin'?). You play as Mevo, a red alien that needs to reunite his band to save the universe from perpetual silence. (And the cats a-nappin'? Sorry, I'm done with that now.)

mevogrooveriders.jpgTo get started, grab your mouse or your keyboard, although you're only going to need two buttons to play. As Mevo jogs along the course trying to find his band mates, create music by tapping the left and right buttons when you come upon the corresponding notes. (The keyboard default is the left and right [shift] keys, while the mouse uses the... well, left and right mouse button.) Blue left-pointing arrows mean you hit your chosen "left" button, and yellow right-pointing arrows mean you hit your chosen "right". It's as simple as that, just like a two-button version of Dance Dance Revolution.

As the music plays you create your groove by popping the note bubbles as you run down a long path. The feeling of jumping from platform to platform feels like you're racing Mario to the end of a level, except you can't hit the brakes and go back for those missed notes. In fact, missed notes chip away at your life, and some notes can cost you five units of life— a pretty steep penalty, considering you only have twenty to begin with. Eventually you have the ability to choose your own path, with the upper path often being much more difficult than the lower, but taking the upper path and mastering the groove laid down up there can net you higher combos, more points, and even some unlockable items.

Each of the fifteen levels gets a bit trickier, throwing in some new twists like double arrows (hit both keys) and combo chains that unlock bonus paths and bonus Funk (for shopping, more on that later). Completing levels with certain requirements also gets you Gruvs, which unlock future levels. As you trek through the jungle, sail through the ocean, and fly through outer space, you'll reunite your band and bring funky music back to the universe. And look oh so fine while doing it.

Analysis: If you haven't gotten down in a long time, Mevo's an excellent game to help you build your groove back up. Unfortunately, it's unlikely you'll hear any of the songs from Mevo and the Groovebenders during the Super 70's Hour on the radio station, since they all seem to have been made for this game. It's a shame though, they could have had some fun with Mevo running around to the tune of The Spinners' "The Rubberband Man" or Earth, Wind & Fire's "September". But that'd cost a whole bunch more for royalties and extra 'fro picks and such.

mevogrooveriders2.jpgOne thing that separates this game from most music-tapping games like DDR or Guitar Hero is that Mevo doesn't have any system to indicate meter within the flying notes. In other words, you don't see any lines that show you whether what you're playing is on the beat or some odd syncopation. If you can get the hang of the funky rhythms early, you'll be golden, otherwise you'll have some troubles as early as the first tutorial level.

If you can cope with syncopation, the songs and challenges are at a reasonable level, offering an attainable goal without being overly simplistic. If some of the combo or points challenges are giving you some trouble, you can use your collected Funk to buy outfits and dances for Mevo. Depending on what outfit you're wearing when you enter a level, you can get power-ups that can help you crack some of the tougher challenges. This addition of the shopping feature adds some replayability to the game, as some outfits can only be unlocked by finding them directly in the levels themselves.

Unfortunately, one of the stumbling blocks of this game is the play area itself. You're controlling a man that runs along a path and jumps from platform to platform while gathering notes, but when you make extra-high jumps, you often can't see what notes you have to press when you land until it's too late. Also, the environment you're traversing "reacts" to how you move through it (for example, some pillars crumble right before you get to them, and platforms might raise or lower as you move over them), but these sudden changes in the world might reveal notes that you didn't see before, and likely missed because they showed up too late. These reflex-testing notes keep you on your feet, but more in a frustrating way, especially when trying to rack up a large combo.

A few minor issues aside, it's all gooooooood. It's hard not to feel the funky love grooving your way through the levels and making the music that saves the world. If you're ready for a good jam session, give Mevo and his crew a call.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (16) | Views (4)

Weekend Download

AdamBThe introduction to this weekend download has been stolen by a ninja and replaced with a depressed bubble. Sorry for the inconvenience. If you happen to see a ninja, please attempt to stop him and ask for this paragraph back. That would be very much appreciated.

ninjah.gifNinjah (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - With gameplay remarkably similar to the recently reviewed Neon Maze, this takes the gameplay element of not being able to touch things that are a different colour to yourself and applies it not to maze-like-strategy, but to the deft stylings of ninja ability. Either jump, grapple or — using the power of a machine gun — launch your way through the host of included levels before indulging the oh-so user friendly level editor.

Though some levels will become trial and error, depending on your ability to recognize the often different colour changes. This small quibble is dwarfed by the games level design - each being just a single screen and scalable with a combination of your three given methods of movement - which is truly impressive and contained within such a small download. But, basically, its a stealthy, colour matching, action platformer with ninjas! What's not to like?

plobb.jpgPlobb! (Windows mirror) (Mac/Win, 6.7MB, free) - This overly-colourful arena shooter plays like a mix between the classic arcade game Asteroids and a cheap disco. Trek towards the enemy bubbles and spit at them to deflate them. As their size reduces, they split into increasingly smaller bubbles until they pop completely or drop a pickup. The key to success in this game is: Unhaltingly, unceasingly, risk your life and blobby limbs to get as many pick-ups as possible. They are all good and some are much more impressive than others - just be weary of Old Man Time, who ticks away before turning the bubbles around you into instant toxic death.

tentonninja.gifTen Ton Ninja (Windows, 19MB, free) - Did you know it's awesome to be a ninja? You use a grappling hook to flip and swing your way throughout the sky, snagging magical gems, raking up killer combos, and killing enemies with the fantastic power of your vast buttocks. Sort of like if Spider-Man wasn't a whiner, and hung out with cooler heroes. Man, Tom Cruise needs to make a movie about ninja instead of samurai. There's a level editor in addition to the 22 levels that come with the game, so you can create and download your own. The gameplay is simple, but can get pretty frenetic.


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (152 votes)
| Comments (31) | Views (68)

kyle-ssgoldtouch-b.jpg

GrimmrookFans of Samantha Swift's previous caper have cause to rejoice. Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch, the newest hidden object adventure in the franchise, is finally out.

kyle-ssgoldtouch-1.jpgIt is said that behind every legend there is a morsel of fact, behind every myth a nugget of truth. Even fictional monsters like vampires and werewolves and bogeymen probably have hidden, somewhere in the annals of our history, their beginnings in the realm of the real and mundane. As you take up the guise of Samantha Swift once more, you will chase down the reality behind another legend that has survived across the span of eons.

It begins as a very lucrative deal. A friendly client hires you to track down a very special scroll, one that lists all of the items turned to gold by the famed King Midas. In return, you are free to keep anything else of value that you find on your treasure hunt for your museum.

But as you soon learn, there is not as much myth behind the Midas myth as once thought. The power to convert objects into gold that the fabled King wielded was very true, and very dangerous. You also come to find out that your generous benefactor is not so kind after all, and seeks to wield this power herself.

Now it is up to you in a wild race across the globe to hunt down the treasures of Midas and stop the golden touch from falling into the wrong hands. On top of this, you will slowly unravel the mystery behind your missing father as clues that could only be left behind by him bring you closer and closer to the truth of his disappearance.

Danger and intrigue await. On the upside at least your museum stands to gain a king's ransom in new artifacts... if you survive, that is.

Analysis: I had never tried the previous Samantha Swift game, but after plunging head first into Golden Touch, I find myself completely seduced by all the series has to offer. Generally speaking, Golden Touch is a hidden object game/adventure game hybrid not unlike previous offerings such as Nick Chase and Lights, Camera, Curses, though the hidden object aspect to Samantha Swift is for the most part more traditional.

kyle-ssgoldtouch-2.jpgBut despite a more conventional hidden object approach, there are still tons of adventure elements and puzzles to keep you happy. One of the things I find remarkable is the originality in the various mini games and puzzles you find. Sure, there are some well roasted chestnuts to be played through here, but there are also some unique offerings the likes of which remind me of the latter Mystery Case Files titles (maybe not quite so complex or hard), also known for their ingenuity. The combination of well-integrated mini-games and adventure-style item puzzles do an excellent job of keeping the game feeling fresh throughout.

Equally impressive are both the visuals and the story telling. While hidden object games generally rely on the strength of their story line in order to set them apart from the rest of the field, Golden Touch pushes itself heads and shoulders above the competition with dueling plot lines and above average cut scenes. Adding to this is the relevance of the hidden objects you will find. No hot dogs in an ancient cavern that has not been open in centuries here, many of the items you will look for are reused to solve puzzles and most of them fit well with the setting.

Occasionally the artwork comes off a little too after-school cartoonish, and there are one or two instances where there is a little too much ambiguity in the item list provided (note to developers: it's not a good idea to have your player searching for a "statuette" in a room filled to the gills with statues). But an excellent hint system, hordes of backdrops, no time limit, and plenty of game time for your money round out what is an otherwise outstanding game.

You have hidden object games, and then you have hidden object games! Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch is most definitely among the latter.

Play Samantha Swift and the Golden Touch (free browser version)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (89 votes)
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Paper Moon

kateWith apologies to Romeo and Juliet, there is no greater tale of romance than the one between a boy and his moon. This gentle love story is chronicled in Paper Moon, a black and white adventure/platform game with a first-class pedigree. It's the result of a collaboration between Flashbang Studios (Blush), Infinite Ammo and Adam Saltsman (Gravity Hook).

Paper MoonOur hero, a nameless spiky-haired little boy, moves and jumps with the [arrow] keys, but the real stroke of genius here is the use of the [space] bar. Hit it and the scenery will change: objects in the background will "pop" to the foreground and vice versa. With this ability, rocks come shooting out to kill enemies, platforms appear for you to jump onto, and new paths open up to be explored.

Get hit by an enemy or a piece of scenery yourself, and you simply respawn at the last checkpoint activated. The real enemy here is the timer — run out and the quest is over. On your travels, though, you can pick up time bonuses in the form of a handy little clock. Score points for smacking the bad guys with the pop ability and by collecting assorted fruits, racking up combos by grabbing more than one apple or cherry in a row.

Analysis: The gameplay may sound simple, but Paper Moon is much more than the sum of its parts. Originally designed to be stereoscopic, this monochromatic 2D world is exquisitely rendered down to the smallest detail — even the simple lines on the waves in the ocean and the teensy tiniest star in the sky carry the same design aesthetic. Alec Holowka's original score is pitch perfect, and the whole experience is infused with a dreamy retro modern feel.

Every time you play, you'll find something new. There are all sorts of alternate routes to take to your destination and plenty of precious point-giving fruits tucked away in remote corners. Blurst's achievements add to the replay value, and the game is just challenging enough that you'll keep coming back to it.

Put Paper Mario and Tim Burton in a blender and you get Paper Moon, a smooth, sophisticated example of how to integrate design and mechanics into a masterful casual game. Sure, you could cut out your own hand-drawn moon, tape it to your refrigerator and leap about beneath it, but that wouldn't even come close to this experience.

Play Paper Moon


| Comments (15) | Views (1)

Link Dump Fridays

JohnBNaming your pet can be a difficult decision. Do you go with something cute like Fuzzy, Furface, or Mittens? Or maybe something average and unassuming like Cat or Dog? Just yesterday I met someone with a pet rabbit called Tundra, which I declare to be the most awesome rabbit name ever.

  • icon_shaper.gifShaper - A puzzle game whose closest relative would be the tangram. The goal is to connect shapes at their joints to reach from the start point to the end goal. You can't overlap any of the red dots, but shapes can be rotated using the [arrow] keys or mouse wheel. Very interesting!
  • icon_applekabopple.gifApple Kabopple - Oh, what a cute little turtle that is! In case you thought the intro paragraph was a total non sequitur, consider this a tie-in: the turtle who stars in this game is named Torti. Awesome pet name? I think so! Anyway, Apple Kabopple is a simple arcade game where you drop apples into the basket on Torti's back. Try and chain them together for bonus points.
  • icon_picpiepuzzler.gifPicPie Puzzler - A slick jigsaw-esque game where you assemble pieces of a picture that have been cut into slices of a pie. The visuals and sound effects are one of the game's strong points, and both were created by Arseniy Desrosiers of Gamebalance. Oh, and the first level? OMGKITTIEZ!
  • icon_drift.gifDrift - You play a swimmey little dolphiney/fish thing that can latch onto points to pull itself through the stage. Let go early to allow momentum to carry you around, but watch out for... well, all the things you should watch out for (red danger spots, darkness, etc.). Reminds me of the pull stars from Super Mario Galaxy.
  • icon_powergolf.gifPowergolf - A simple physics-based golf game from Bloons creator Ninjakiwi. Just choose your angle, select the power and let the clubs swing. You can also play like me and just whack the ball as hard as you can and see how much trouble you can get yourself into. Your choice!

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