June 2009 Archives


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (38 votes)
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You Are Games

Psychotronic[Note: This contest has concluded. Scroll down to the bottom of the article to find the results.] Welcome to a new feature here at Jay is Games. If you've been visiting for a while, you've surely noticed that the site has grown and changed over time. Especially in the last year, we've attracted a ton of new readers, and along with them came new suggestions, new energy, and new JIG staff members. The site would not be what it is without you. You Are Games, every bit as much as Jay is.

I was initially attracted to JIG during one of the awesome Casual Gameplay Design Competitions, and while the next one of those is still a ways off, we wanted to give you another way to be creative and participate with us on a regular basis, beyond the usual comments and critiques of the daily games. You Are Games will change from week to week, but it will always be an opportunity for you to do stuff, whether it be a mini-competition about level design (like this week), a writing or art challenge, or a hunt for hidden flash game gems in a certain genre. We've got plenty of ideas, but we're going to play it by ear and see what happens.

That brings us to the Jay is Games Incredibots 2 Mini-Brawl!

Incredibots 2We have mixed feelings about Incredibots 2, which Grubby Games recently released into Public Beta. Like the original Incredibots, it's one of the most versatile web applications around for creating physics-based robots and scenarios, and the sequel is easier to use than ever. You can now move pieces around in groups by just clicking and dragging with the mouse. You can adjust the gravity and many other variables that used to be constant.

However, Incredibots 2 doesn't include any official challenges, which were the center of the single-player experience in the first game. Instead, you are encouraged to create your own, and user-generated content being what it is, there is a wide range of quality available in the current line-up. This is the biggest change to Incredibots; it is now a big, friendly level design tool, with nearly endless possibilities. It's hard to recommend as a casual gameplay experience at this point, but for a brand new column about reader participation, it's just about perfect. Go go gadget level design contest!

Your mission for this Mini-Brawl is to create a challenge for your fellow JIGsters using the Incredibots 2 challenge editor. There are three restrictions:

  1. The Sandbox Size must be Small. The dialog box that pops up when you click the Challenge Editor button lets you select the size of your building arena, and to keep our designs tight, let's all use Small, the default size.
  2. The "Allow User Construction" box must be unchecked. That means the player of your challenge can't make their own robot; you have to supply both the robot and the obstacles. To find this checkbox, click on the "Restrictions" button in the upper right of the Challenge Editor screen.
  3. There must be at least one Win Condition. The "Set Conditions" button in the editor takes you to the win condition screen. There needs to be some sort of goal, so we players have something to strive for.

Everything else is fair game. Let your imagination run wild, and feel free to post your creations here in the comments for everyone to play.

Play Incredibots 2

Entry LinkIf you wish to enter:
Please send a link to your challenge to the address on the right with the subject line "Incredibots 2 Mini-Brawl" and include your JIG display name (the name that appears when you comment here). To get the link to your challenge, play your challenge and click on the "Link to this Challenge" button in the control bar. The deadline is this Sunday evening, the 5th of July, at midnight, EST. The JIG staff will choose our favorites from the entries and post them here next week, and then maybe we'll have an audience vote too. Again, we're playing this by ear right now, and your feedback about our new feature is encouraged.

We're not sure what the prizes will be. This is mostly for the glory and the amusement. But there will be winners in the following three categories: Most Fun, Prettiest, and Best Use of JIG Mascot. That's the little guy doing a jig on the word "Gameplay" in our logo. Maybe someone will win all three categories! Anything is possible!

Feel free to discuss Incredibots 2 in the comments, and if you have ideas for other things we can do in the You Are Games column in the future, let's hear them. Also, extra-special thanks to Mat Annal of Nitrome for creating our lovely You Are Games banner. Cheers!

...And the results are in!

Winner: Most Fun
"HeartBreaker Part 1" by Rydash (DarknessKeeper here on JIG).

Winner: Prettiest
"minigolf" by qwertybacon.

Winner: Best Use of JIG Mascot
"JIGMan Mouse Game v1" by Rydash.

And the other challenges (in the order received) were:
"JIGMan Parachute v1" by Rydash.
"Mars Rover Test" by jsq0228.
"JIG Sliding Puzzle" by BND.
"Portal HeartBreaker" by Rydash.
"JIGMan Parachute v2" by Rydash.

Because of the small number of entries, everybody who entered a challenge gets a six-month "Incredibots Supporter" membership, courtesy of Ryan Clark at Grubby Games!

The above links should work for most people, but if they aren't leading you to the contest entries, try searching for the titles of the challenges using the game's search function. It's located in the menu under File --> Load Challenge. Make sure the Sort Filter is set to "All Time", and be aware that the search function is case-sensitive. Grubby Games is aware some folks are having problems, but they haven't yet been able to track down the bug and fix it.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everybody who participated!


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (96 votes)
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The Fun FairlceninexpAll is not what it appears in Anode and Cathode's latest release, The Fun Fair. Thankfully, you won't find any creepy clowns in this point-and-click adventure game, but you will find a slew of carnival themed mini-games, intriguing characters and some interesting puzzles.

Part 1 of The Fun Fair starts with your character standing outside the entrance to a fairgrounds with various amounts of coins and counters (the amount will depend on the difficulty level you have chosen). You are not quite sure why you decide to enter, but it has something to do with Sophia's mystery. Using your mouse to click your way around the expansive fairgrounds (or, if you prefer, click on the mini-map in the top right corner) you will encounter useful items used to further your quest as well as additional coins and counters. The coins are used to play the carnival mini-games, which make up quite a large portion of actual gameplay. Completing a carnival game will unlock items that will ultimately allow you access to later portion of the game. Some of these games are purely luck based (the cleverly named Wheel of Luck is probably a good example), some are easy enough to accomplish with very little skill (Horse Race) and some require the equivalent speed-mousing dexterity of a Ninja neurosurgeon to complete on the hardest game setting (The Far West Legend).

The Fun FairThere are 3 prize tiers in the carnival games: the lollipop, the useful inventory item and the trophy. The lollipops are for doing poorly in a game, the useful items for doing well and the trophy is awarded when you've been outstanding. Fortunately you will need quite a few lollipops to exchange for items as the game progresses and even more fortunately the trophy items are non-essential — they are just a point bonus to your overall score.

After completing the carnival games and getting at least all of the useful items new character dialog options will become available. This will give you the opportunity to trade for needed items, which will in turn allow you to access new areas until you can progress to the adventure's final scene.

Analysis: There's a lot of diversity in The Fun Fair which makes for an eclectic game. Some players might find that the combination of different game elements leads to an incongruent gameplay experience. Other players not usually attracted to the genre might find an unexpected treasure. Unlike Anode and Cathode's other point-and-click games, The Fun Fair also requires the player be marginally comfortable with fast paced mousing (usually found in action games) which makes The Fun Fair rather unique in the point-and-click adventure genre, which will likely turn off more casual players. The few puzzle/character interaction elements to be found are straight forward and not difficult — the difficulty level is instead included in the carnival mini-games.

The control scheme for actual character navigation is fluid, although the pseudo-isometric point of view might take a few minutes to get used to. Inadvertently walking into a carnival game location or vendor booth can occasionally happen (and you'll be looking at a black screen for 5–10 seconds on scene exit as the fairground map rebuilds itself) so use of the mini-map will definitely save a lot of mouse clicks and time and is highly recommended. The area to explore is quite large and the "fog-of war" is a very nice touch.

The Fun Fair features beautiful artwork in some of the game locations and looked very polished. The music is sparse and haunting and compliments the artwork very nicely. Together they do a great job of setting the atmosphere of an ethereal fairground ready to be explored.

The Fun FairA rather glaring omission is the lack of a save feature. Why the developer neglected to implement a save feature when there is the distinct possibility of a player rage-quitting when the timer runs out in a mini-game (and you only needed one more duck!) is unknown. There are also a few bugs that became apparent when playing through the game upon first release. After visiting the King of Pancakes the second time and receiving the ugly sock painting, grab the carrot and exit the scene immediately (this will make sense in-game). If you do not you may face eternity having a one sided conversation with the King of Pancakes until you refresh and have to start all the way back at the beginning. There were also some issues with countdown timers in carnival games being erratic; this made the carnival games either impossibly fast or unfairly slow. The music, as sparse and pretty as it was could probably benefit from a mute button. Hopefully these issues will be addressed in part 2.

Incorporating elements from multiple genres, Part 1 of The Fun Fair definitely presents itself as a game that holds a lot of promise for upcoming parts in the series, especially if the series continues to be 100% clown free.

Play The Fun Fair


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (92 votes)
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zxoBubble Cannon 2The games of Gareth Thomas, aka Gaz are known for their simple yet addicting natures, and while they may not be as eccentric as a Tonypa game, they're almost always neat little timewasters worth checking out. Although they can be quite fun, his games usually don't have a lot of depth to them, and often you'll find them tucked away in a Link Dump rather than being given a full feature. Such was the case with Bubble Cannon, a collision-based game in the style of Gimme Friction Baby.

In Bubble Cannon 2, Gaz has updated that initial offering, keeping the core of the game intact, but changing around some of the nuts and bolts. You still aim and shoot with the mouse, and your goal is still to eliminate balls by colliding them with their similarly-colored mates, but instead of an infinite supply of randomly-colored balls, you're now limited to just a few. In order to keep on playing, you'll have to replenish your supply by eliminating balls that are already in play. Also, the game is now divided into 10 levels, and with each new level you must account for an additional ball color. As in Combine, each additional color increases the difficulty greatly, so while it's possible to breeze through the first few levels, this is not an easily beatable game.

These changes may seem small, but they make a vast difference in the pacing. They introduce a much-needed difficulty ramp that does a great job of sucking the player in, then cranking up the challenge before monotony sets in. There's also a sense of urgency in Bubble Cannon 2, which gives importance to every shot. Under threat of a dwindling ball supply, each shot must be put to the greatest strategic advantage — whether that means eliminating balls from the field or clearing the path for future shots. In short, Bubble Cannon 2 is exactly what the original should have been: engaging and very addicting!

Play Bubble Cannon 2


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (185 votes)
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Kidnapped By AliensSonicLoverWriters of science fiction stories love to exploit the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, and what happens when that intelligent life comes face-to-face with ours. We've seen it hundreds of times in movies and books; The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic example, made new again by a recent movie remake.

So it should come as no surprise to see a game about being Kidnapped By Aliens. Developer Selfdefiant tells the story of a human protagonist (you) who has been kidnapped and awaits who-knows-what from his or her captors. Sharing a room with a "Human Pod" sign, an impenetrable elliptical door, a rather small bed, a yellow locker, and a bizarre pipe full of blue liquid that appears to function as a toilet.

By the use of a little ingenuity, our hero manages to escape the cell and explore more areas of the UFO, with the ultimate goal of returning to Earth... perhaps.

Analysis: It's about time that something from Selfdefiant gets featured here on JIG. His latest game, Kidnapped by Aliens, shows us he knows how to make an extensive escape game and do it right. The surreal but perfect background sound and puzzles that make sense without being too obvious turn this game into an enjoyable experience.

A couple puzzles are a little obscure and the game has a few glitches, but nothing that gets in the way of the fun. It's definitely worth a play.

Play Kidnapped by Aliens


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Mobile Monday

JohnBA big bunch o' arcade games have been assembled for this week's Mobile Monday. It was actually really easy to gather them, too. All I had to do was put out a bit of arcade bait and they came a-runnin'...

wildwestpinball.jpgWild West Pinball - I'm as much a pinball fan as I am a connoisseur of Somalian sorghum. Which is to say, I'm not. But I had a pinball itch for some strange reason, my iPod was in my hands, so I went digging. I found Wild West Pinball, a free, single-table pinball game that goes to great lengths to preserve the old-school pinball feel, which I can appreciate. It's got bank robberies, an Indian village, a wanted criminal, railroad tracks and more. Nice setting, good pinball action, and you can't beat the price. Oh, and be sure to watch the title screen for a few seconds for a 3D tour of the table.

knightsonrush.jpgKnights Onrush - From prolific iPhone game publisher Chillingo comes a rather handsome castle defense game in the tradition of Defend Your Castle. Knights, bomb toters, and other baddies rush the fortress to the side of the screen. Using your almighty finger of almightiness, fling them to the sky to protect your beautiful pile of stones. Buy upgrades to improve both your offensive and defensive capabilities in-between rounds. Things get real hectic and real wacky after a few levels. A free Knights Onrush Lite is also available.

musteatbirds.jpgMUST. EAT. BIRDS. - Gotta love a game with that straightforward of an objective. Also gotta love a game with a character called a nomster. Fire nomsters from the makeshift slingshot by dragging and releasing the rubber band. Your goal is to not eat the birds— just kidding! Chomp away at those fluttering little things, the more the nombetter. Crash a couple of nomsters together to make a big nomster. You know you want to.

startrigon.jpgStar Trigon - Based on the original Namco arcade game from 2002, Star Trigon is all about rescuing uchujin who are adrift in space. Your character circles small planetoids either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Tap the screen to hop from object to object, leaving a trail in your wake. Fence the uchujin in with a trigon and your work is done! The tutorial is short and painfully slow (just let me play already!!), but otherwise the game's a great little time waster. A free Star Trigon 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 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (68 votes)
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Time Gentlemen Please

GrimmrookZombie Cow has just unleashed upon the world a sequel to their award-winning point-and-click adventure, Ben There, Dan That, called Time Gentlemen, Please! If you haven't yet played BTDT, you might want to stop here and start there first, because plot spoilers are below.

It feels like an eternity has passed since Ben and Dan embarked on their great journey to fix their television, escape from evil aliens, and make it back home in time to catch Magnum PI. Can you believe it's really only been a year? And, by a year, of course I mean two weeks. Confused yet? Oh, you just wait.

Time Gentlemen PleaseAt the conclusion of Ben There, Dan That!, it turns out that the evil aliens were in fact Ben and Dan, albeit older, evil, future versions of the duo. Thanks to an obsolete timeline, however, the evil Ben and Dan disappear, but this does not produce the obligatory happy ending. After a mandatory comprehensive Magnum PI marathon (including the Murder, She Wrote crossover), the entire population of the world has died because supreme world leaders Ben and Dan forgot to tell them they could take breaks to eat and handle other biological functions. Now, in order to save the world, Ben and Dan have to go back in time and prevent the invention of coat hangers (which started this whole mess in a roundabout way if your way of thinking is just twisted enough) in their second major point-and-click adventure.

Oh, you thought the plot summary was done? Ha-ha! We haven't even made it to the opening credits yet! You see, Ben and Dan manage to stop the invention of the coat hanger well enough. Only, somehow, this has paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take over the world with a giant mech-suit and an army of robo-zombie-dinosaur clones. Now your goal is to stop yourselves from stopping the invention of the coat hanger so that Hitler doesn't end up taking over the world with his dinosaur clone army. If you manage to harm or kill the dictator in the process, that'd be a happy bonus.

Confused? Good, you're ready to play. Time Gentlemen, Please! is controlled with the mouse, just like your standard old-school adventure game. Right click to cycle through a host of different cursors, each allowing you to perform a different function such as walk, talk, use, and look. Guiding your mouse up to the top of the screen will bring up a control panel that will allow you to save, load, quit, and access your inventory (here depicted as a nice home made bindle).

Collect items, search for clues, and solve a plethora of puzzles to stop Hitler. Wait, no, you're trying to stop yourselves. Well, okay, you're trying to stop yourselves and Hitler. Well, wait, you're really supposed to undo all the bad things that resulted from time travel, but before that you have to, um, do a little time traveling. Now are you confused? Don't worry, there's no cause for alarm. This kind of thing is bound to happen whenever Ben and Dan get near time travel equipment. Hmm. Okay, maybe there's cause for a wee bit of alarm.

Analysis: Ben There, Dan That! took both the staff and audience prize for our Best of 2008 freeware adventure award for good reason. From its irreverent humor to its innovative item based puzzles, BTDT captured the heart of many gamers (those that weren't outright offended by it, anyway). Though it's not free (just really, really close to being free), Time Gentlemen, Please! manages to meet or exceed the high standards set by its predecessor in all other areas with ease.

The Ben and Dan adventures are intentionally designed to act as one part homage, one part parody of the old Lucasarts games such as Sam and Max and Maniac Mansion. As such, the artistry does a great job of paying its respect to the era with its cheerily angular cartoon lines and brilliant crayon box colors. In this adventure, though, the folks at Zombie Cow decided to put some special effects in which come off looking particularly snazzy.

Time Gentlemen PleaseThe similarities only start at the aesthetics, though. TGP is heavily laden with item based puzzles, many of which are of the variety that make you feel as though your skull is about to crack open. Great care was taken to make seemingly unsolvable puzzles doable, however. Hints are embedded all around you, and particularly thorough adventurers will find themselves rewarded with enough information to make the seemingly impossible possible.

To tell the truth, while the Ben and Dan adventure games trade on their comedic value, I found the puzzles to be the most enjoyable part of the game. Sure, the solutions are often times absurd, but in this game everything is absurd. Further, the Zombie Cow team did a marvelous job of creating puzzles where the solution always feels like a gentle nudge away ultimately creating lots and lots of those "ah-ha!" moments that adventure game enthusiasts live for.

Part of what makes the puzzles so great is the innovative usage of time as a commodity that can be manipulated. Time travel in Time Gentlemen, Please! is possible on both an external and internal level. What this means is that through your adventures you will travel backward and forward in time (external), but also you will have the ability to age and de-age specific items (internal). What results is a myriad of puzzles that challenge your ability to think in a way in which time is both non-linear and malleable. Pretty deep, right?

Those who fear deep philosophical thought, fret not. Despite the time mechanics, Time Gentlemen, Please! is a playground for just about every type of humor that is likely to get you ousted from civil society. This is not a game for the easily offended, the squeamish, people with a heart condition, or pregnant women. Ben and Dan break nearly every social taboo with crude abandon, and they are hilarious as they do it. The writing is simply wonderful, but what really delivers the punch are all the tiny little details. Facial expressions and body language are used with surgery like precision to drive the laughs home.

If you liked Ben There, Dan That!, you'll love Time Gentlemen, Please! It's bigger, better, harder, and raunchier than the original by a mile. If you haven't delved into the adventures of Ben and Dan, what are you waiting for?

Note: Time Gentlemen, Please! is an adventure game for adults. This game contains foul language, scatological humor, mature humor, and humor about Nazis. If there are five minutes that could possibly be deemed appropriate for humans, I haven't found it yet. You have been warned.

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 (46 votes)
| Comments (33) | Views (98)

Enlightenus

JohnBEnlightenus is Latin for — wait, no it isn't! Actually, Enlightenus, from Forgotten Riddles creator Blue Tea Games, is a story-driven hidden object adventure game made backwards. Instead of looking for and collecting a list of items in cluttered rooms, your job is to find where items belong and put them back. Compare your inventory with the objects on the screen and decipher which items go in which location. It's a simple gameplay switcheroo that shoves Enlightenus away from the pack and into the spotlight.

enlightenus.jpgYou are Inspector Doubleleaf, a famous detective called by novelist Edgar Lee to unravel an intriguing mystery. The author has a machine that can transport him to different worlds, a trick he uses to find inspiration for his novels (cheater). An energy surge threw everything out of whack, however, scrambling his stories and hiding the pages of his novels in an alternate version of his mansion. And now it's your job to put everything back together.

The introduction eases you into this uniquely constructed game, and subsequent chapters expand on the concept in measured increments. As you explore each room of the mansion you'll come across pages of Edgar's novel. Each page is a hidden object scene (well, the opposite of that, but you get my drift) that, when completed, gives you buttons that are used to complete puzzles elsewhere in the mansion. It all weaves together into a fantastic plot that feels like a cross between Myst and Harry Potter.

Putting objects in their place is much more of a brain trick than you might think. Your only clues are the names of inventory items and short labels found around the scene. For example, an item might be labeled "hostage cow" and a UFO floating in the background might be casting a "bovine beam" to the ground. See how that works itself out? Some objects have to be used before you can uncover uses for other items. Can't very well see the bovine beam if the barn door is shut, can you? A hint system serves as a gentle nudge, but don't rely on it too much. Completing found object scenes will require some actual thought and light riddle solving, something many hidden object gamers aren't used to.

enlightenus2.jpgAnalysis: Enlightenus isn't a comedic game, but I couldn't help but grin at its premise. I mean, here I am putting found objects back where they belong, almost like I'm cleaning up after some hidden object gamer played the very same stage! Besides the twist on the genre, Enlightenus also has a distinct Azada or Dream Chronicles feel, and you really can't go wrong if you follow in those footsteps.

If I were to choose one area Enlightenus needs improvement, I would have to say accessibility. Despite its reverse mechanics and adventure game leanings, this game falls into the hidden object genre. Hidden object games tend to be straightforward. From exploring environments to finding items in a scene, everything takes place on a nice and neat track. Enlightenus encourages you to move around and explore, solve puzzles in your own order, and unravel a number of riddles. This non-linearity will frighten a small set of casual gamers away, though, in truth, it shouldn't. Perhaps its a fault of our genre labeling habit, as I don't feel Enlightenus got anything "wrong" in its design.

Enlightenus is a beautiful and inspired game, from its story to presentation to the scattering of apropos mini-games. You'll love the atmosphere, you'll adore the adventure sensibilities, and after you get accustomed to it, you'll love putting objects back where they belong.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (101 votes)
| Comments (14) | Views (12)

DoraBango!Look! Up in the sky! Is it a puzzle? Is it a platformer?... no! It's both! It's Bango! Isn't it majestic? Isn't it glorious? Just don't stare up at it too much. You might be smashed in the face by a falling block, and then boy will your face be... uh, well, not red so much as... broken.

Created by RJGames (Nitro Platform 2), Bango! is an exercise of not only skill but patience. Using the [arrow] keys to move left and right, and tapping the [space] bar to jump, you play a tiny little stick figure with admirably sparkly feet who dashes about the screen on top of brown blocks. Once you've touched a block, beware; as soon as you step or jump off one, it falls. The goal is to clear the screen of all of them, and some genuinely fiendish block placement in later levels makes that much harder than it sounds.

In fact, some levels are so hard we really felt for the nameless, faceless little protagonist. Who put him there? Do the blocks fall because of the curious sparkles that trail his every move, making it both blessing and curse? What is his motivation? Is there some sparkly little love interest waiting just off screen? Oh! That must be it. How romantic! Keep running, little hero! We believe in you!

While Bango! has been on the casual gameplay scene for a while now, we held off featuring it initially due to several bugs that made the game more frustrating than fun to play. Although most of these have been ironed out, one of the bigger ones persists. If you happen to brush against the side of a block while attempting to jump up onto it, the block will vanish as though you already stepped off of it. You'll wind up having to carefully judge even the smallest jumps, since a wrong foot in this game means having to restart the entire level. You could argue that this makes the game even more challenging, but having the careful planning you put into navigating later levels be undone by a collision detection issue is frustrating to say the least.

Still, there's a lot to like about Bango! The simple, bright graphics. The ultra peppy soundtrack. The ability to take your time and think your way through the levels. If puzzles are your thing, then Bango! is here to be your new best friend. Get ready to run and jump your way to victory and high scores! Just remember to always watch your step.

Play Bango


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (23 votes)
| Comments (9) | Views (124)

Hollywood Tycoon

JohnBFinally! It's about time a resource management/casual tycoon game came along that's more than a fresh coat of paint and a few new tricks! Hollywood Tycoon puts you in charge of a movie studio, giving you the power to buy scripts, hire actors, build sets and much more. As you earn cash you get to upgrade everything from your sets to actor trailers, prop studios, script centers, distribution buildings and more, allowing you to make bigger, better movies that rake in millions of dollars of profit. And it's fun for hours upon hours, too!

hollywoodtycoon.jpgMaking a movie has been whittled down to a very simple process of building a themed set, choosing a script, selecting an actor and clicking on the "start" button. Which genre of set you build is up to you, with choices ranging from western to sci-fi, horror to historical settings. Script cards scroll by on the top of the screen, simply grab one and drop it onto your set to get the movie started. Next, take a yellow actor card from the queue and drop him or her onto the set. Now you're ready to film! Each script and actor has a cash value listed at the bottom of the card, all of which goes into the cost of your movie. Lower-budget scripts and actors will get the job done, but remember you have to spend money to make money.

Each script and actor has a star rating in one of four categories: drama, action, comedy and romance. Money is made by matching scripts with sets and actors with scripts. Let's say, for example, your script has a two star rating for drama and one star for romance. To get more cash from the production (and, by implication, make a better movie), use an actor with the same ratings or, at the very least, a rating of any value in both categories. Once the film is ready and you enter the evaluation screen, you'll (hopefully) see the cash pile up.

The physical game world is divided into two main areas: production buildings and movie sets. You'll spend most of your time fiddling with sets themselves, keeping them repaired and upgraded as necessary. The other corner of the map is used to upgrade the actor pool, get better scripts, increase distribution and so on. You won't spend much time here, as the upgrades are costly and, once built, don't need much attention. But when the cash starts piling up you should scroll down to see what you can accomplish.

Speaking of upgrades, each movie set is actually a four-tiered building that you can improve as your cash flow increases. Basic sets only have enough room for one actor, limiting the cash bonus you get for properly utilizing an actor's skills. With each upgrade, however, you unlock an additional slot and can combine actors to meet the demands of your increasingly complex scripts.

Although not you aren't pressured by the passing of time, Hollywood Tycoon takes place in yearly increments as indicated by the calendar icon at the top corner of the screen. As the days and months tick by, your studio ages and sets need repair. You have to buy wood for construction and film to create movies, both of which can only be done between rounds, so pace yourself so you don't have to end the year early and lose precious movie-making months.

hollywoodtycoon2.jpgAnalysis: I have a bit of a soft spot for the old days of Hollywood. The movie industry was still trying to figure itself out in the early 1900s, so artists were throwing their creativity in every direction just to see what they could accomplish. Now, of course, movies are a commodity we take for granted. They're more likely to be filled with pointless storylines and big explosions than real art (Transformers 2, I'm looking at you).

Hollywood Tycoon's initial setting brings back the feeling of movies as they once were. It's a business, of course, but the focus isn't necessarily on money as it is on pairing compatible sets, scripts and actors to create a movie that works. You feel a quiet impulse of satisfaction when you get everything right, a response that goes well beyond the cash you earn. Later, once the lot is filled with sets and production buildings, you have to run a tight ship to stay afloat. But the entertainment value never leaves the game even though things get a little more complex and challenging.

There are a number of bonuses you can work for with each script, such as awards for good editing, creative props, costumes, bonuses for pairing actors with identical stats, etc. In fact, progress in measured in the form of achievements, most of which you obtain through normal play. Collect 20 achievements, for example, and you'll move on to a new chapter. It's an especially nice bonus how the game's progression mirrors the history of movies, if on no other level than the background music.

My only issue with Hollywood Tycoon is a minor one: scrolling. Moving the mouse to the edge of the screen nudges your view in that direction. This is fine, most games of this nature feature the same mechanic. But your row of actor and script cards is at the top of the screen, as are the filter and speed buttons for the marquee, so any time I went to change these settings the screen scrolled up a bit. I had to re-adjust my view each time I chose or filtered a card out of the queue, which was an easily preventable fault.

There are literally so many good things to say about Hollywood Tycoon I couldn't fit them all in a review. The interface might turn you off at first, as it's a pretty busy screen to look at, but give it a minute or two and clicking around becomes second nature. Don't let the "tycoon" in the title fool you, this is no rehash of every game you've ever seen. It's a bit of movie-making magic.

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

JohnBIt's the weekend!!! That means you have a little extra time on your hands. That means I get to take away some of that time with a handful of free games. That means you get to have fun on your weekend. Don't forget to mow the lawn, though.

spaceexploration.jpgSpace Exploration: Serpens Sector (Mac/Win/Linux, 10MB, free) - A simple game with a simple goal: explore the galaxy! The Serpens Sector has just been opened for human exploration, and as captain of a scout ship, it's your job to check out each system. Fly to various planets and stars, meet the locals (if there are any), explore ancient ruins, search for artefacts and more. Bring your findings back to Fleet HQ and they will hopefully reward you with more fuel so you can continue exploring. It's a bit of an arcade game combined with some strategy/RPG elements, but short missions play out in just about ten minutes, which is perfect for any casual gamer. This is an early development preview. (Thanks, Tacroy!)

bitfortress.gifBitfortress (Windows, 4MB, free) - A short, work in progress build for a challenging vertically-scrolling shooter. There's only one level to play, and once you beat the last boss the stage loops around and you start from the beginning. The game has a surprising amount of personality for such a simple presentation. Also fun to know: Bitfortress was made in eight hours!

tombed.gifTombed (Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Created for the two-day Ludum Dare 14 competition, Tombed is a simple arcade game by Auntie Pixelantie, creator of Calamity Annie and many others. The spiky ceiling is coming down, and it would be in your interest to stay away from it. Tap the [shift] key to dig through non-solid blocks, eliminating entire groups of them with each shovel thrust. When spikes meet blocks (even solid gray ones), they disappear, so sometimes the only way forward is to wait for the ceiling and take advantage of a gap you couldn't create yourself.


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (36 votes)
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Avalon

JohnBAvalon is a beautifully illustrated casual simulation game that focuses on gathering resources and exploring a magical forest. It ditches the traditional top-down point of view in favor of a sidescrolling 2D perspective which, surprisingly, diminishes that cerebral simulation feeling. As with any casual sim, it's easy to see the influence Virtual Villagers has had, but Avalon strays well off the rails with its setting, graphical style, and the ability to inspire you to explore the world around you.

avalon.jpgIn Avalon you assume the role of a Fairy Queen on a mission: go to the world of Avalon, occupy the island, and find the four elements that will restore magic to the Fairy Kingdom. This translates into you, the player, managing an ever-growing community of fairies who need to gather resources and explore every niche of their setting in order to find each element. You don't have to worry about caring for each worker beyond keeping a stockpile of food, freeing you up to explore the landscape and mine it for secrets.

There are three resources to manage in Avalon, each one gathered from landmarks scattered around the screen. Food feeds the fairies and comes from berry bushes, while pollen is used to spawn new fairies and comes from flowers. The magic resource comes from glowing white flowers. You'll also encounter random (and not-so-random) objects and events that may provide additional resources. They could also harbor danger, however, so it's your choice what you want to make of them.

While food and pollen are both important in their own right, magic is one resource you'll want to keep well-stocked. There are a dozen or so special objects in each area that can be investigated and nurtured further. These small irregularities (a beetle squirming on a branch, a mysterious moving bush, a piece of rotten fruit, etc.) are mysteries waiting to be uncovered by the fairies' magical powers of chanting, an ability that consumes magic. These secrets often open up new areas, new abilities, resource bonuses or more mysteries that need to be solved. Assign a worker or two to sing to these objects and see what happens.

One of the more interesting aspects of Avalon is its choice use of mini-games. Harvesting resources can be a slow process that requires very little intervention on your part. What better way to pass the time (and give your harvesting a boost) than to play a game or two? Click on the buildings to start a mini-game (assuming you've unlocked it). Each one lasts only a minute or so and, surprisingly, they're much more than a simple clone of a game you've played a thousand times over. I especially enjoyed the fan-blowing pollen game, and the bonus it provided was even better.

avalon2.jpgAnalysis: Avalon achieves a near-perfect balance between open-ended gameplay, linearity, exploration, and the repetition of tasks. Your chief activity will be deciding how many fairies to allot each job. My normal setup had just a few workers gathering food and pollen while everyone else was off gathering magic. An equal number of fairies were tasked to singing and solving mysteries. Beyond this, however, you have little control over what happens, only the order in which it does. Even though you're walking down a straight path, you've got the freedom to stop and smell the enchanted flowers along the way.

Avalon takes place in real-time, meaning the fairies perform their duties even while you're away. The forced pace is meant to encourage short but frequent spurts of gaming. Avalon isn't as sluggish as, say, Sprouts Adventure, but it felt quite a bit quicker than Virtual Villagers. You'll get many hours of enjoyment out of Avalon, but those hours will be spread across days as you play for short bursts, checking in on your fairies several times each day.

The interface in Avalon is very simple and lets you point, click and assign jobs one fairy at a time. Unfortunately there's no way to select multiple workers at once, and when your community grows to be over a dozen strong, this becomes an issue. Further complicating matters it the fact that fairies usually wander around once they complete a task, meaning you'll have whole groups of workers doing nothing with no way to find them except by scrolling through your entire flock one fairy at a time. There really needs to be a way to select fairies by status, specialty, or group location.

Avalon is an addictive piece of entertainment that lasts a good long time, even if some of that enjoyment is postponed because you're waiting on the fairies to do their thing. Avalon isn't as open-ended as most sims, and the replay value is minimal at best, but the game will enchant you from the start and give you plenty of enjoyment throughout.

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 (170 votes)
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Castle CorpArtbegottiIn the current economic climate, sometimes you have to take a new approach to your problems. In that spirit, the latest offering from Nitrome is almost the opposite of a standard tower defense game. Instead of building structures along a path to repel a gang of marauders, you play as the characters on the path trying to destroy the fixed objects shooting at you. Your mission? To protect your shareholders. Welcome to a long long time ago, when economic recessions went medieval.

As the head of Castle Corp, you're clearly aware of the state of the global economy. In fact, it seems like all of your business making flags and capes has gone to Happy Family Shields and Accessories Incorporated over on yonder hill... So what does a failing business do to get itself back on its feet? (I should warn you that if you say "federal bailout", I will have no choice but to smite thee with my mace.)

Of course, you fight back. To do this, open the "Inventory" tab at the bottom of the screen to see the crew of knights you can employ. A knight can be placed at any of the starting pads on the map, and will start walking along the path until he reaches the end. If a knight meets an enemy, they will engage in a melee-style battle. However, a brawl takes a long time and can drain your knights' energy, so it may be helpful to take advantage of his rocket boosters. (Stay with me, it gets even better.) Aim your walking knight's trajectory with your cursor, and click to fire him through the air. He'll tackle airborne nemeses, collect coins for spending, and do other things that authentic knights did back in the day with their rocket packs. It's like reliving the Middle Ages!

Your goal is to knock away all enemy soldiers and weapons with your knights. As you plunder your way through HFSA Inc.'s headquarters, your enemies' supply of warriors and weapons become greater and stronger, with automated crossbows, fire-blowing mysical eyeballs, and cannons that shoot pigs. Some will even take more than one hit to destroy, but that's where your loot comes in. Between levels, you can purchase power-ups that let you boost your strength for battle, cast devastating spells, and carry chickens that lay eggs on your enemies. Seriously, it's by miracle alone that I haven't made a Monty Python reference yet.

Analysis: While Nitrome isn't known for taking stabs at current events, they do so here with great aplomb, balancing overused phrases from the cubicle world with an almost absurdist sense of humor, and taking it all back to the Middle Ages. You'll know when you get to take your first chicken-aided flight that this game was meant to be a ridiculous parody, and it's done quite well.

Those who have learned to equate "Nitromehard" with "Nintendohard" might be in for a bit of a surprise here, since the game helps the player along with a lot of handicaps, especially when it comes to power-ups. Did you buy a bunch of power-ups you realized you didn't need? You can sell them back for full price. Did you pick up a power-up you don't want? Sell it, and get something else for your money. Did you blow a whole ton of money and power-ups on a level, only to later lose that level? No worries, you get everything right back for your next go. You might almost think this game is being just a bit too forgiving.

There are a couple of known bugs still floating around (but being worked out), but none of them really hinder the gameplay much. If anything, they actually work on your side. For example, there have been instances where losing a level restarts you with an extra power-up or two in your stash. Oh, and remember playing peek-a-boo as a baby? Here's a hint: If you can't see a mounted weapon like a trebuchet or pig-shooter, it can't see you, so you can walk right by it without taking damage.

At the end of the day, Castle Corp boils down to a fun little anti-TD game with a great sense of topical humor. Maybe what every businessman needs nowadays is to throw on some armor and go medieval.

Play Castle Corp

Cheers to Julian, Mark, Funlerz, Emil, Maqrkk, Saladgoat, Ben, and Aethelind.cullen for sending this one in! =)


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe can all agree that arcades are pretty awesome. An arcade is the only place where you can pay two dollars to play a rigged crane game to not win a stuffed Scooby-Doo toy painted green and called "Ralfie-Roo" to avoid copyright infringement. And when you're hungry, why, stop by the vending machines for some chips made by a brand you've never heard of that may have been refilled as early as six years ago! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! You should be at one right now!... or come to think of it, I guess you could stay here with us and play these games that evoke all the style, fun, and difficulty of an arcade game from your computer chair. Yeah, that would be pretty sweet, too.

  • Plant PongPlant Pong - When our robotic overlords rise up and clamp our tender flesh in the cold metallic pincers of slavery and iron-fisted oppression, and least we'll have beautiful gardens to look longingly at while we toil in the factories. Of course, they'll force us to fling drops of water around the screen using physics and blind luck to grow the flowers first, but hey. Flowers is flowers, yo.
  • Yan Loong Legend 2Yan Loong Legend 2 - When you first load this side-scrolling hack-and-slash fighter, the incredible music will make you close your eyes and imagine you're Bruce Lee (or Chun Li) on a mountaintop somewhere, balancing on a post against the setting sun while David Carradine plays the flute. And then you'll have to reload because of all the swords that pierced your flesh while you had your eyes closed. Who closes their eyes while playing a game anyway? You're silly.
  • vel.shock()vel.shock() - If there is one thing we here at JiG love, it's blowing things up. And if you can reflect enemy fire back to make them blow themselves up? Well, that's a pretty sweet fruit right there, mon ami. Since neither this game nor the one it was based off of require you to use your own bullets, you can get back to building that bullet throne once you're done playing. We know you have one.
  • Puristic RotationPuristic Rotation - Story? We don't need no steenkin' story! All we need is an endless supply of bullets and baddies are we are good to go go go in this shooter! Besides, now you can make up your own plot! You'll never take over Earth's supply of Reese's Peanut Butter cups, Doctor Octopus! Not when the casts of Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are here to stop you!
  • Balloon Headed BoyBalloon Headed Boy - If this game had been released thirty years ago, we would have all been watching John Travolta in a whimsical fantasy comedy about a charming young lad who used the inflation powers of his pink head to float about a colourful landscape. That would have been much less depressing. Where were you when we needed you most, Balloon Headed Boy? Just where the heck were you! ? *sob*

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (405 votes)
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DoraHow to Raise a DragonA world where candy is a precious commodity to be mined and sold. A prison where the bars aren't always so obvious. A beast that slumbers beneath the ocean, dreaming of a brighter world. And now? Gregory Weir wants you to choose your own path in How to Raise a Dragon, an interactive story with more than one outcome. A lot more.

This game is about you. Well, actually, it's about a newly hatched dragon, but the narrative that unfolds as you progress does a surprisingly good job about drawing you into the role. You'll begin the game breaking out of your egg, all alone in the middle of the forest. Well, except for all these intriguing plants and bugs to eat. But it won't stay that idyllic for long. Use the [arrow] keys to move right and left around the screen, and [X] to eat certain things. While early on tapping [Z] or [Y] will only make you jump, as you progress you'll be able to tap it twice to leap even higher, or multiple times to fly. And of course, once you get old enough, you can use [C] to breathe fire. Or maybe something... else?

The story unfolds over four chapters, each with different things to see and do. While you can barrel through the game in under five minutes if you really try, you'll be missing a lot. The second chapter is where your decisions start to have real importance, so take your time, explore, and consider your options. Do you want vengeance? Do you want to forgive? Or do you just want to be left alone?

Once you complete the story, the game allows you to return to any chapter you like and play from there on. It's a nice touch that lets you really explore everything the story has to offer, without necessarily replaying the entire thing. Although, why you wouldn't want to, we can't imagine. Unless you were a robot with a heart of circuitry and gears for imagination. You're not a robot, are you?

How to Raise a DragonAnalysis: While it doesn't have quite the emotional impact of The Majesty of Colors, How to Raise a Dragon is still pretty impressive. Being able to reach an end more ambivalent than either laying waste to everything you see or being the sort of dewy-eyed protector fourteen-year-old girls doodle in their notebooks was refreshing. I just wish it were longer; I felt like the bulk of the outcome was riding solely on that second chapter, and it would have been nice to have more than one or two decisions determine my destiny.

But what the story lacks in length it makes up for in charm. The pages from the fictional book the story mimics appear before and after major decisions, and do a great job of gently guiding you to your objectives without making you feel like the game is yelling, "HEY STUPID. WHY DONTCHA FLAP ON OVER HERE?" A more direct approach, or telling you exactly which items did what, would have both made the player feel hectored and taken away the great sense of wonder the game has.

While this story unfortunately isn't dragon-bite-sized, it remains a solidly enjoyable treat. It doesn't break any molds the way Gregory Weir's previous games have, but it does tell one heck of a story. And with so many potential outcomes, why not take a different path next time and see what the future holds?

Update: Gregory Weir has made an update that incporates several fixes, a new behaviour, and the ability to use the [Y] key as an alternative jump key.

Play How to Raise a Dragon


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (82 votes)
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zxoSpacetacular VoyageThere's no denying humans and asteroids live a troubled coexistence. It's not that they're enemies per se; let's just say that their interests rarely coincide, and if one just magically ceased to exist, few tears would be shed by the other.

Sash MacKinnon's Spacetacular Voyage, the latest chapter in this saga, puts you at the helm of a single human ship. By now, the humans have developed collision-proof armor for their ships (probably using some sort of advanced nano-muffin technology). However, they haven't yet figured out a way to negate the laws of physics, and the asteroids know this.

You must make it through 10 levels containing deluge after deluge of asteroids without letting them knock you all the way to the bottom of the screen. But of course, you're not going to just stand there and take the abuse; you've got some abuse of your own to dish out! Crash into as many asteroids as possible for extra points. Plus, if you ever get into a real jam, hit the [space] bar to create an explosion, which will get those asteroids off your ship in a hurry!

Spacetacular Voyage's glowing vector graphics pay tribute to the original Asteroids, but it leans much more heavily on physics. The collisions are very elastic, but your ship's shape is designed to deflect them away from you while still keeping your momentum relatively high. The balance between making as many collisions as possible while keeping your ship afloat is a great touch, allowing two levels of play: simply completing the levels or going for a great score. Even the levels themselves have been thoughtfully designed, throwing something new at you with each new stage. And what would a simplistically modern game be like without some taunting and bad puns? You feel bad when you fail a level, and the game makes you feel even worse by telling you exactly how much you FAIL, which inexplicably makes you feel better about failing. That's some serious psychology at work.

So while it may not be earth-shatteringly groundbreaking (superfluous redundancy is still hilariously funny, right?) or gorgeously lush, Spacetacular Voyage offers ten levels of solid gameplay with plenty of replay value. Really, what more could you want?

Play Spacetacular Voyage


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (61 votes)
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PsychotronicZodiac ReactorWe are talented creatures, human beings. We can kick an object hanging above our heads, we can train a chicken to run an obstacle course, we can bury our childhood traumas in a string of toxic relationships. Apparently, we can also perform the high-speed mental calculations required to play a game like Zodiac Reactor.

Brought to us by Sam Horton of Funface Games, Zodiac Reactor plays like an intense bout of hyperspace Simon. The reactor's purpose is nothing less than creating brand new stars; your job is to collect the Elemental Particles necessary to fuel the process.

Your tools are the humble [arrow] and [space] keys. Each directional key represents one of four elements; air, fire, water, or earth. Colored orbs will spiral inward from the rim of the circular reactor, and you must press the appropriate key when an orb is inside the Target Zone—the smaller, shimmering circle in the middle of the screen.

When you miss, the core temperature of the reactor rises, bringing you one step closer to a Game Over screen. If you nail it, the particle adds to your reservoir of that element and you are one step closer to birthing a cute little celestial body of your own. You get to name it and make a comment on the high score boards and everything. If you get there, I encourage you to come up with something better than "easy" or "i lost when i started falling asleep" so I don't have to come crush your head with my own slow, unskilled fingers.

The regular game cycles between three modes to keep things fresh. Quad Mode (motto: "Time to kick it up a notch!") is the simplest, machine-gunning you with a series of short bursts of particles. Speed Mode challenges you to match 100 orbs in a row as the pace gradually works its way from Turtle to Japanese Bullet Train. You get a hefty bonus for completing all 100, but fat chance unless the military has been performing unethical upgrades on your central nervous system. The last is Orbital, which takes away your directional cues and forces you to identify the particles solely by color. This mode also mixes things up with Chaos Orbs and bombs, both of which must be blocked by holding the [space] bar.

If you want to focus on either Orbital or Quad, there are survival modes available on the Play Menu; and if you want to see how crazy things will get, you can start right off with Terminal Velocity, which is just as intimidating as it sounds.

Zodiac ReactorAnalysis: As a game of pure reflex, Zodiac Reactor's appeal may be limited. If you're not gaping at the screen like a caffeinated zombie, your mind blank of everything but the color-eye-finger connection, you're not playing it right. That's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but for zen masters and pantherfolk, this is heaven.

It's not just that it goes real fast. The game is actively trying to trip you up by mixing color and directional input, somewhat like a rapid-fire Stroop Test. Your wiring will shift and adjust eventually, but it can be strange at first to press [up] when a red particle is flanking you from below.

But what really makes this more than just Guitar Hero Galaxy Edition are the details. The gently insistent background music. The wavering bass of your score chain advancing. The gentle glow of a completed rune. The increasing pitch of the confirmation sound as you cartwheel through the Speed Round. The anticipatory blast of steam before each new barrage of particles. The crackle and rush of the different elements as they fire. These are cosmetic touches, but they make your abstract task feel significant.

One misstep, in my opinion, is the color of the Chaos Orbs, a sparkling blend of purple and white that looks a smidgen too close to the pure white air particles. That and the fact that the slower bombs bear the color of one of the four elements, when you can only block them with the shield. Arguably, these are just more tricks meant to short circuit your operating rhythms, but by the time they show up in numbers, I'm plenty challenged enough, thank you. "Time to kick it up a notch" indeed. Nuts to you, Zodiac Reactor. I'm hanging on to the last notch with my fingernails as it is.

Any time you can collect all of a particular element during a round, you get an elemental bonus. These bonuses are interesting. They only activate when you are performing perfectly, at which point you hardly need to have your health restored. But since collecting all the air particles extends your Temperature gauge, doing well while the pace is still within your comfort zone can give you a fighting chance later. I might have preferred a system that rewarded you in smaller increments for every successful keystroke, but this method does encourage you to strive for greatness.

With sharp and attractive production values, Zodiac Reactor goes beyond the call of duty in its presentation of a very simple concept. It's a gorgeous game and finely crafted, but again, it's not meant for everyone. For an addled old fool with fond memories of the original Tempest like me, it feels amazing to dominate one of the faster rounds. That sense of accomplishment is unmatched by any other Flash game I've played in a long time.

If you're a certain type of hyper-focused young gamer with reflexes untarnished by the ravages of time, it might even be easy for you. Well, don't tell me about it, you whipper-snapper. Your pants hang too low and your music is just whiny noise and my pool is off-limits on holidays. I curse you with every ounce of my creaky, arthritic soul.

Play Zodiac Reactor


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (220 votes)
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DoraThe Dead CaseFour out of five doctors agree that it is rarely a good sign to wake up considerably deader than you went to sleep. The fifth doctor was unavailable for comment due to being stuck in a coffin, but we're sure he'd agree. The Dead Case is a point-and-click murder mystery from Zach Schaffer, where the murder you're trying to solve is your own. If only you could remember who you are.

Amnesia as a plot device isn't anything new, but is typically the domain of dainty female love interests or burly-yet-vulnerable military supersoldiers. In your case, you're a non-corporeal spirit, a rather unpleasant looking one, who wakes up in an unfinished grave. While you could spend eternity terrifying children, you ultimately decide to set out to discover who you are, and why your town has such an active ghost problem.

Unlike most point-and-click games, The Dead Case focuses more on the story than on puzzle solving. Your ghoulish counterpart isn't the only restless soul in the area, and you'll get the chance to speak to other spirits and help them figure out what happened to them. Library Ghost, for example, is your source for hints and information, while Schoolyard Ghost is too wrapped up in her own misery to be of much help. (Not featured: Public Restroom Ghost and Walmart Greeter Ghost.) Not only will you need to find out your own past, but each spirit you come across represents a different story that needs to be untangled for you to proceed.

The story is a decent length, and can probably be completed between a half hour and an hour of gameplay. Although it doesn't feature a save function, after major story developments you'll be presented with a password you can use to return to that point whenever you wish.

The Dead CaseAnalysis: My biggest gripe with the game ultimately comes down to the constant trudging back and forth. The town is fairly big, but in most cases, needlessly so. A disappointing chunk of screens have absolutely nothing to interact with on them. Peppering them with a few random, non-essential souls to speak to would go a long way towards taking the sting out of them.

The map that is featured on the options menu is often absolutely essential to figuring out where you are, but is not as useful as it could be. Especially since early on in the game you'll spend a lot of time wandering around trying to find someone to scare or talk to. The ability to click on any location you've visited and instantly be transported there would not have gone unappreciated, and might have made this game really great instead of just "Well, it's good, but... "

Which is a shame, because I really liked unraveling the mystery behind our hero's demise. The game features interesting characters, a surprisingly touching moment or two, and a story that drives you to want to see its completion. Ghosts? Murder? Ethereal eyeballs? I am so there! If you can look past the few flaws, The Dead Case is a worthy addition to the genre, and well worth an afternoon of your time. Or... *flicks flashlight on under chin* AN ETERNITY!!

... too much?

Play The Dead Case


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Rating: 3.5/5 (158 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessI don't think I could describe Smile For Me, the sweet new escape game by Japanese designer Robamimi, any better than the game does itself: "This is escape game, but have not to escape. Sorry, you die please. You become a departed, and change to the smile the sorrowing bereaved." Says it all, don't you think?

Smile For MeOkay, okay, maybe not. To translate: in Smile For Me, you are a recently deceased person who, seeing the tears of a grieving loved one, seeks to bring joy to that individual. But how, exactly, are you going to accomplish that? In your new home, a silvery room high in the sky, you'll have to solve puzzles and use the heavenly tools at your disposal to bring a moment of happiness to your bereaved beloved. Awww.

I liked Smile For Me a lot. It's earnestly and unabashedly sentimental—which, in a world that at times seems to look down upon genuine emotion, is actually really refreshing. The puzzles are for the most part challenging without becoming overwhelming, though I did come across a few "seriously? you expected me to do that?" moments of eyebrow-raising "logic." Happily, a hint system is in place to bring you through those occasional bumps in the road. You'll also need to do a little math, so be prepared to pull out your calculator. Your reward for completing Smile For Me is a one of the nicest endings I've seen in an escape-the-room game, sweet and a little sad. You might find yourself genuinely moved.

The game is very well-crafted, with the excellent graphics we've come to expect from Robamimi as well as a mellow, melodic soundtrack. A save feature is provided, and a square mute button can be located above the inventory. Although the game is not heavy on pixel-hunting, be sure to check each and every clickable location (there are quite a few of them); if at some point you seem to be missing an important item from your inventory, rechecking previously visited areas will probably help. Also, on the game's title screen (after it has loaded), be sure to click "English" before you press "Play."

If you're in the mood to kill monsters and blow things up with comically oversized weaponry, this is not the game for you. If, however, you feel like you might like a breath of fresh air, a few minutes of unadorned sincerity to cleanse your palate (and a darn good escape game to boot), then click on the link below. It'll definitely make you smile.

Play Smile For Me


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (78 votes)
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Pwong2JoshI can't believe the time has come when this cheesy intro can finally be made: "Pwong 2: it's not your grand-daddy's Pong." That's right, it's been almost 40 years since the original Pong was let loose upon the world, conceivably a wide enough window that some of our younger readers could actually have a grandpa or grandma who used to chuck quarters into the classic game at their local arcade. There have been tons of Pong clones throughout the years; even spin-off games like Breakout and Arkanoid that date back almost as long. We've seen many hybrid games as well, which is just about the only category that Pwong 2 (developed by Jonas Richner, a.k.a. JGames) belongs in.

A sequel to a lesser-known original, Pwong 2 is like the hyperactive biker outcast stepchild of its Pong parents. This game offers some serious sensory overload. The basic principle of Pong is still there; two opposing paddles whacking a ball back and forth, hoping to score by shooting it past your opponent. The first difference is that Pwong 2 has a vertical layout, rather than the more traditional sideways playing field. Everything begins deceptively normal and steady, with just a single ball lazily knocking back and forth between you and your computer opponent. Use your mouse to slide your paddle (on the bottom) from side to side.

Pwong2All of the sudden, a few more balls enter the mix. It's okay though; you're doing good... just a few balls, right? No big deal, just keep moving back and for—"Arrrgh!!! What the #^@&? Too many balls! They're everywhere! Game over man, game over!"

As if a dozen or so weren't enough already, the screen will eventually become filled with balls flying left and right, up and down. The more balls in play, the less they'll count against your score if you lose them. So at least there's that. You also have a few tricks up your sleeve, like the ability to launch a "ghost paddle" up in the air above you, used to preemptively catch incoming balls without actually being in that spot by the time they get there. This ability is fueled by ammo that you can snag by collecting the bigger, glowing orbs that occasionally descend. Just click the left mouse button to fire it.

You'll also see a few other nice power-ups drop from time to time, like paddle extenders, slow-motion and "sticky" paddles. You can also upgrade your paddle between matches, spending the points you earn on three things: extending your paddle, making your paddle's "curve" more extreme and the length of which power-ups will last (or the frequency in which they drop—it's not specified).

There are several different game modes beyond just Easy, Medium and Hard; the Extreme and Insane modes give you less time and more of a challenge. There's even a two-player mode that you can play with a friend, using both the arrow keys and [A] and [D] keys. An achievement system is included, albeit sparse.

Analysis: By nature, there's just not too much more to the game than what's immediately obvious, so it can get a bit repetitive after awhile. The glow-trail graphics are a neat effect, but could also be an annoyance issue with some people (not to mention the high-frequency, trance soundtrack if you're not into that sorta thing). You can mute the game with [M], pause with [P] and reset with [R]. When it comes to gameplay, there really isn't that much to criticize since you're just moving a paddle back and forth. I suppose gamers with a high-end, 2000 dpi mouse may have a slight advantage over those with a junker, but I can't imagine it would be that substantial.

It's a casual action game through and through, shiny enough to capture your attention for 20 minutes at a time. Just don't expect much in the way of replay value after you've completed all the difficulty modes and achievements.

Play Pwong 2


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (73 votes)
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LaserworxArtbegotti[An Upfront Warning: This will not be a problem for everyone, but the auto-save in Laserworx did not work consistently for some JIG staff, so closing the game and coming back to it meant they had to start over again. Try refreshing the browser page after a couple of levels to make sure your game is being saved.]

Laserworx is an enlightening puzzler by Liszkay (Treasure in the Dark) where your goal is to light up all the lasercells on a grid. One hundred beaming levels await you, hoping to trip you up with a plethora of tricks and twists.

Scattered about the floor are several laserspots, which can often be moved around by dragging them with the mouse. Between certain pairs of laserspots, you'll find, naturally, laserbeams. These laserbeams always form a straight line connection between laserspots, even when placed on the grid in different rows or columns. (In other words, diagonals are very much allowed.) When a laserbeam passes through a lasercell, even by the tiniest corner, the lasercell will switch on (or off). Light up all the lasercells, and you'll be on your way to the next level.

But (literally) blocking your way are the dreaded laserwalls, which— Sorry, they're just plain walls, I guess not everything has the word "laser" tacked onto it. Blocking your way are walls, which render any laserbeam that passes through them useless. Also, you have to deal with your own laserspots, which can only move across unoccupied floor tiles, and that's even assuming you're allowed to move them. You'll eventually have to juggle moving around almost every element of the game, including the lasercells, the walls, and even the floor tiles.

Each level has an unlimited amount of time to work with. Instead, your score for a level is determined by how few "moves" you make in order to get to a solution. Each time you drag any object one square, a "move" is deducted. There is no way to undo moves (except by restarting a level), so be sure to plan ahead for a high score.

Analysis: One of the many positive notes about Laserworx is that across its 100 levels, the idea of moving things around to connect objects in lines doesn't tire quickly. In fact, the levels are set up to give you a variety of challenges in order. One level, you might be moving the laserspots, the next might have you moving the lasercells and the walls, the following level might have you moving laserspots that control the movement of other laserspots. All the while, you've got to pay attention to which lasercells are already lit and don't need a laserbeam passing through them.

This game's interface is nicely set up, with switches and sliders that make you feel like you're at the control panel of some higher establishment for intergalactic laser manipulation (hereafter referred to as SHE-FILM).

As a final tip, keep in mind that you have the ability to move objects across the board into a lot of configurations, but even though the level might be symmetric in nature, your solution does not need to be. One of the hardest habits to break your mind free from is the urge to make the left side look the same as the right, or have the whole thing be diametrically symmetrical (looks the same when turned 180 degrees, like most crossword puzzles). Often times, the easiest solutions look like a box of red toothpicks dropped on the floor. If you can let go of any perfectionist tendancies you might have, you'll learn to appreciate a line for the fact that it's a line, no matter how slanted.

Play Laserworx


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (47 votes)
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PsychotronicPhantom Mansion: Treasure of the Seven SeasPhantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea is the third game in the second batch of tile puzzles from the Phantom Mansion series starring spiky haired little Hector and his endless quest for treasure. Push crates, dodge the cutest little itsy-bitsy monsters, unlock doors, ride magic carpets over a spiraling vortex of horror. It's a pirate themed carnival of wonder, Sokoban style!

The Phantom Mansion games feature colorful kid-scary graphics and a decent number of variations on the simple gameplay. The puzzles are just about at the right difficulty for a casual game; tough enough to hook you, but rarely mean enough to hurt you. However, they also suffer from a relatively slow pace. Wherever you need to be, Hector's got to walk there, and he's in no hurry. Control him with the [arrow] keys and access the options screen with the [space] bar.

Phantom Mansion: Treasure of the Seven SeasThe latest episode is Phantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea. The previous episodes in order are:

And for Hector's previous adventures in the world of spooky block-shoving, read our review of the complete Phantom Mansion: Spectrum of Souls, which spans the rainbow (+1) with eight more collections of puzzles.

Play Phantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea

Play all the Phantom Mansion series games:
Phantom Mansion: Red ChamberPhantom Mansion: Orange LibraryPhantom Mansion: Yellow TowerPhantom Mansion: Green GalleryPhantom Mansion: Blue BallroomPhantom Mansion: Indigo DungeonPhantom Mansion: Violet VaultPhantom Mansion: Black Sanctum Phantom Mansion: The Black SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The North SeaPhantom Mansion 2: The Arabian Sea

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (283 votes)
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DoraDouble EdgedIt seems like all you really have to do is mention Nitrome, and people know they're in for a treat. They sort of feel like the Willy Wonka of casual gameplay, distilling fun down into tasty little pixel packages. Up until now, there has been a disappointing lack of games where you can wield a barely conscious chicken to destroy all who oppose you. Nitrome has come to fix that and bring a little sunshine into your day with Double Edged.

Double Edged can be played on your own or with a friend. Either way, it's time to put on your massive helmet and gird those manly loins, because ancient Greece is calling. You might think it's just another side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure. And then the little satyrs would go running past you. Followed closely by the juggernauts and the chickens. And the first time you stunned a boar so you could pick it up and throw it at someone, you would know something wonderful was happening.

Played with the keyboard, you use the [arrow] keys to move around the screen, [<] to attack and [>] to jump. If an item is in front of you, the [<] key picks it up, and tapping it again will throw it in the direction you're facing. If an enemy disarms you, or you just want to swap your weapon for one you've found, stand close to the weapon and tap [<] to pick it up. If you find yourself surrounded, pushing [<] and [>] at the same time will unleash a whirlwind attack that will knock down and stun most enemies.

If you've never played a side-scroller before, it's okay! Shhhh, shhhh, it's okay. Put down the paper bag, because we promise you Nitrome has made this as easy as possible for you to learn. Each time enemies appear, you'll need to kill all of them before the big, flashing, disembodied hand will give you the go-ahead to the next area. As you progress, enemies will drop coins that increase your score, which can be picked up simply by walking over them. If you come across a treasure chest, bust it open by throwing it against the side of the screen, or someone's face. Inside, you'll find precious coins, and occasionally equally precious (but significantly more delicious) roasted chicken, which replenishes your health.

While most of the levels have you simply fighting your way from one end to another against hordes of enemies, most of whom apparently shop at the same helmet outlet you do, every few stages you'll come across a different boss. Some of them can be handled by old-fashioned stabbin', but others require a special trick to defeat. None of them are very challenging, but the little stories behind each one add a lot of personality to the game and really make it stand out.

Double EdgedAnalysis: Rendered in Nitrome's familiar pixel-perfect art style, Double Edged not only looks great, it plays great too. And by that I don't just mean the controls are easy and the frame-rate stays silky-smooth. Well, they are, and it does, but what I really mean to say is, Double Edged might be the most fun I've had in a free flash game all year. I bludgeoned a man to death with a chicken. I hurled boars and men who had been turned to solid gold at my enemies.

Ladies and gentleman, you can ride a tiger. I owe Nitrome a Christmas card this year. And they should be invited to all of your birthday parties.

While it's not the longest game you'll ever play, what's there has been polished to a mirror finish. In a previous review for a similar game, limited control keys were cited as a poor decision. Surprisingly, the same concept works much better here. The single attack button allows you to focus on the constant moving you need to do to keep ahead of your enemies. Since each weapon you'll pick up has its own attack, you aren't left fumbling with the controls in frustration, trying to figure out if you're facing the right way with the planets in the proper alignment to trigger a special move. Fans of more strategic gameplay may be put off by the lack of a control scheme they can master and hone their skills on, but in my opinion it makes Double Edged user friendly, so that you can jump right in without missing a beat.

Aside from its brevity, the only other real complaint I have with Double Edged is that it's also fairly easy. Even when the screen was being swarmed by legions of little Grecian Stormtroopers, I was only ever rarely in any danger of dying. Some enemies do more damage than most, of course, but most of their attacks can be laughed off. Maybe because they haven't learned the fine art of boar-bashin' or chicken-chuckin'. What this means is that while Double Edged is tremendously fun, beating it doesn't feel like any sort of momentous achievement, either.

If you're looking for something fun to take up an afternoon, Double Edged is here to sweep you up into its burly, reassuring embrace, stroke your brow, and then throw you at an enemy soldier. It's not thought-provoking, but it is a wicked amount of fun, and sometimes that's all you really want from a game. Offering fast gameplay with a friendly design and a great sense of humour, Double Edged is a great addition to Nitrome's library. Just don't let PETA find out about it.

Play Double Edged


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (184 votes)
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DoraPhage Wars 2Chemistry sets these days are pretty lame. Good luck trying to extract DNA from mosquitoes imprisoned in amber with something that has difficulty producing a decent baking soda volcano. If you've been longing for something to fill the petri-dish-shaped hole in your heart left by a childhood of an unfulfilled desire for dangerous genetic experimentation, Phage Wars 2 is here to crash through a window with a rose in its teeth and woo you with the promise of creating the deadliest virus known to man. Just try not to swoon face-first into a table of samples seething with virulent disease.

From Armor Games and Joey Betz comes a game about breeding stronger, faster, more magenta-y viruses, and other wholesome pastimes. Unlike the original where you were only able to choose from a selection of premade viruses, the sequel has a much broader scope. You're put into the shoes of a new laboratory technician tasked with creating the ultimate virus, and you'll do so by pitting your creation against those that came before you.

The game is played entirely with the mouse, and from the virtual desktop the game presents you with, all you need to do is click on something to get started, exactly the way you would with your own computer. The bulk of the gameplay takes place when you click on the "Run Experiment" icon, which will present you with several tests to choose from. You'll need to work your way through all of them to advance and achieve your dream of becoming the nastiest, most plague-bearing-est virus on the planet. GO TEAM.

Once you begin an experiment, your virus will start out in a single cell and so will your opponent, each with your own colour to help you tell cells apart. The number in your cells, which can regenerate all the way up to 100, represents your virus's strength. Click on one of your cells, drag over to an enemy cell and release. Half of that cell's strength will split off and head on over to attack; if its value is greater than the enemy cell, you'll take it over. It sounds simple because it is. But the enemy is constantly on the attack too, and as the experiments progress, you'll find yourself harder pressed to both hold and gain ground. The experiment succeeds if you manage to take control over all the cells on the field.

Upon completing a test run, you're typically presented with the message that you've discovered a new gene. These are modifiers that can be spliced into your existing virus to affect everything from how fast it regenerates to how quickly it moves. As you evolve, so do the other species, and you'll need to keep moving to stay alive. The analysis program can be run after each test to show you how your virus is stacking up, and can be a good way to find out which areas you might be lacking in.

Phage Wars 2Analysis: Phage Wars 2 is an improvement over the original in a lot of ways. The AI is faster and more aggressive. The ability to customize your virus is a great touch. The interface is smart and engaging. And I get to pretend I'm an Umbrella lab technician!

Presented on a virtual desktop, Phage Wars 2 goes a long way to get in character and stay there. Everything is designed to make you feel as though you're working on an actual lab computer rather than playing a game. While the visuals aren't quite realistic, they're still extremely effective for their purpose. Windows pop up and minimize with the appropriate sounds. The documentation is accessed via a "Read Me" file that looks like an actual text document, complete with ASCII title. It's a lot of tiny touches that combine to make one very clever and absorbing experience and made my nerd-o-meter ping off the scale with delight.

Despite being billed as a strategy game, this isn't something where you can kick back with a cup of coffee and expect to mull over your every move while thoughtfully stroking your chin. The gameplay is actually very fast; enemy viruses begin swarming the instant the level starts up and rarely take a breather. As such, rather than carefully plotting out a plan of attack, most of your time will be sent trying to capture as much ground as possible as quickly as possible while the enemy batters at your defenses. The stronger you make your virus, the more easily later levels can be won by a blind, zergling rush in all directions. With the exception of regeneration, most of the other attributes don't appear to have a very big impact.

Still, from its quirky presentation to its fast-paced gameplay, Phage Wars 2 is a solid little package. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in originality and style. It plays well, and the only bugs you'll encounter are the contagious, necrotic sort, which makes for a nice change of pace. For featuring the only weapons of mass destruction that could be undone by a spritz of Lysol, Phage Wars 2 is a winner in my book. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go disinfect. Everything.

Play Phage Wars 2

To explore the roots of this style of gameplay, try Galcon, King Mania, or Nano Wars!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAn iPod full of diverse games on this week's Mobile Monday. My personal favorite happens to be TonePad. Mostly because I like messing around with sound without, you know, actually accomplishing anything or learning real musical skills.

DioramaDiorama - Like the classic Labyrinth game where you roll a ball around a level, only this one has a remarkable 3D perspective that changes as you tilt the iPhone. Navigate narrow bridges and roll through hidden tunnels to reach the goal. Also included is a stereoscopic view that allows you to view the game in 3D with the correct eyewear. There's no sound as of now, but an upcoming version will fix that.

Outpost KalokiKaloki Adventure - A slightly trimmed-down version of Outpost Kaloki that works wonders on the small-screen. Kaloki Adventure is a delicious casual strategy game that will remind you of Lemonade Stand. And not just because you're selling lemonade in the first scenario (fact: all alien species love lemonade). Upgrade arms of your space station with various shops to supply travelers with what they need. Power stations are needed to keep things running, and you have to find a good balance between selling cheap goods and expensive treasures, otherwise your customers won't part with their space cash. A free Kaloki Lite is also available.

TonePadTonePad - Did you play Andre Michele's ToneMatrix featured on a previous Link Dump Friday? If so, you know exactly what to expect with TonePad. A grid of dots fills the screen, and all you have to do is tap one to fill it. Every few seconds a wave sweeps along and plays each lighted circle. The higher the filled dot on the screen, the higher the pitch. Create some seriously catchy sound loops or just see what a smiley face would sound like. You can even save, load, upload and download songs! TonePad is free, but TonePadPro allows you to use your creations as ringtones.

TrainsTrains - A simple game of directing incoming trains to their color-coded stations to unload cargo, and then directing then safely away again. Just tap on the track intersections to change orientation and direction for the trains. Some trains are longer and worth more points, some move faster, and all present a challenge that is quick and easy to pick up and play. If you enjoyed Flight Control, you will find a lot to enjoy with Trains as well.

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 (175 votes)
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GrimmrookUse BoxmenIn Greg Sergeant's aptly titled puzzle platformer, Use Boxmen, you, believe it or not, use boxmen to collect boxes.

It sounds fairly simple and straightforward, but it's not, really. You are a little blue boxman. Correction, you are a "strange, superior figure" that controls the cheerful looking little blue boxman in his quest to collect the spinning box at the end of every level. Why? Because the narrator told you to, that's why. Sounds easy enough, sure, but now let's throw in some spikes, switches, traps, big giant black tooth looking things that can kill you with a tiny touch, and some death defying leaps and all of a sudden what seemed simple just got a whole lot tougher.

As in many platformers, you use the [arrow] keys to run, duck, and jump, but you find out very quickly that this is far from adequate to negotiate the puzzles that keep you from your coveted boxes. You need help. Thankfully if you press the [shift] key, you can summon a happy orange boxman to aid you in your quest (the number you can summon changes from one level to the next). These little guys can be quite industrious, but they aren't the world's best thinkers. They will do whatever it is you are doing when you summon them. If you're standing still, they'll stand still, if you're jumping, they'll jump, etc. Oh, and they are very much expendable, just like you.

Now you have all the tools you will need , but you'll still need that big gray thinking thingie upstairs if you hope to collect the boxes and figure out what the narrator is up to (besides making an incredibly popular internet game, of course). As you move from one level to the next you'll have to come up with increasingly creative uses for your boxmen from making them power generators to using them to "see" invisible platforms. Put your fingers and your noodle to the test and maybe, just maybe, you'll figure out what all those boxes are for, and maybe what's up with that narrator guy as well.

Analysis: Use Boxmen exudes charm the way an ink soaked sponge exudes ink, especially if you push down on it really hard. From the music that sounds like wind chimes made in a happiness factory, to the way the little orange boxmen run with their arms waving behind them like two thin wisps of old man hair, Use Boxmen feels like a really tough platform puzzler was hugged by a kindergartener on a sugar high. Even the boxes you collect at the end of each level explode into a burst of celebratory confetti.

Use BoxmenBut don't be fooled, this game is NOT easy (this is the same guy who made Death Dice Overdose after all). Behind the pastel blue skies and overly huggable characters lies a game that is devious as both a platformer and a puzzler.

As a puzzler, the challenge stems from first discovering completely how the orange boxmen work. They do what you are doing when you make them, but different situations will have different results. Crouching, for instance, works differently for your main blue boxman compared to the orange guys. Once you've figured the ins and outs of the orange boxmen, the challenge shifts to visualizing all of the actions required for each level. You have to take into account every set of spikes, every switch, every jump, and every platform, and you have to decide which paths you'll force your clones to take, and which one you'll take yourself. Thus, solving puzzles requires a balance of predicting future behavior and engaging in trial and error in real time. This combination provides a rather unique and satisfying experience.

Solving puzzles is only half the battle here as Use Boxmen takes its platforming element very seriously. You will quite often find yourself making hairpin precision jumps and dashing back and forth through levels with barely a pixel's width of clearance between you and certain death. As a result, just because you know how to solve a level doesn't guarantee you a thing, you still have to actually act it out. Thankfully the controls here are as smooth as dark chocolate layered in silk on a bed of chinchilla fur. There is just the tiniest little bit of slippage in controlling your blue boxman, but this is not so much to a fault as it is a natural expression of momentum. Also, the platforming element may feel a little too unforgiving, but the game is consistent to the pixel with its precision.

The only way such a beautiful balance between puzzling and platforming could be pulled off is in level design, and generally the level design is brilliant. Each board taunts you with multiple possibilities, throwing all sorts of stuff your way like a kind of smoke screen in order to tease you away from the true solution (protip: It's always a good idea to look at how many boxmen you can create in a level. This might give you an idea as to your possibilities). My one qualm is that the levels don't really open themselves up to multiple solutions. This isn't necessary, but having more than one solution per level would give players a marvelous opportunity to explore the copycat mechanic at work here to its fullest potential.

Unfortunately, Use Boxman isn't that long, and the learning curve, while gradual, is a little steep. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for gamers with a certain level of patience and a skill set that matches the game's challenges, but it does mean that this game may not be accessible to all comers. You can't have too much of a good thing, and Use Boxman would have been well served by having a lot more levels with a kinder learning curve to go along with them.

Cute, clever, and unique, Use Boxman manages to appeal to both the child and the obsessive gamer in us. And yeah, maybe it makes me want to run stupidly down the street with my arms waving behind me like a buffoon while wearing a silly grin on my face.

Play Use Boxmen

Thanks for suggesting this, David, Arikiko, Calvin, and Sijapu17. Cheers!


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Mystic Mine

MarcusSometimes, the control scheme of a game can make or break it. If it's too complex or simply not intuitive enough, players might get frustrated. If that sounds like your story, then Mystic Mine will be your kind of game. Its controls couldn't be simpler (just one key does the job), but the game is by no means simple. A true challenge awaits those who enter the mine's dark depths.

Mystic MineMystic Mine is a track-switching action-puzzle game. Much like classics such as Candy Train and the current iPhone offering Trains, you must switch tracks ahead of your mine car, which is always in motion. The goal for each level varies, but most common will be the collecting of coins scattered throughout the mine. Collect enough coins before the clock reaches zero and you'll advance to the next level.

Later levels will have you collecting diamonds, racing to flags, and trying not to get blown up by dynamite. And you won't be alone in the mines. Computer controlled mine cars will enter into the fray with you, in an attempt to keep you from completing the level. They will try and pick up coins before you can. They will also try to steal diamonds before you can deliver them and pass off dynamite so it is you, and not them, that is left with a charred surprise. Bump into another mine cart to pass an item along. This often results in frantic passing contests, especially when done near an incline.

Yes, like any good mine, there are inclines and declines. But, lest we forget, this is a "mystic" mine. In this mine, you can always go down, if you so choose. This is accomplished by using a graphic technique not unlike M.C.Escher's Ascending and Descending, assuring that there is always a downhill path to keep your cart moving.

By far one of the best features of Mystic Mine is the party-style multiplayer mode. Up to six players can play at once, each using a different key on the keyboard. These games are truly frantic, as six cars bounce around the screen at once, all trying to accomplish the same goal, all the while passing dynamite, stealing diamonds, out-racing other mine cars, etc.

Mystic MineAnalysis: In a gaming world where it seems that complex means better, Mystic Mine comes along and kicks you in the head with its utter simplicity. There are no complex puzzle patterns, no stealthily hidden objects to find, no impossibly complex rooms to escape. It's just you, the mine cart, and the switch. Making your way around the mine to collect your bounty may seem like a simple proposition, as well, but when you figure in the fact that you can only use forward momentum (i.e. you cannot throw your cart into reverse), and the fact that you may have to take a path around the entire mine to get from point A to point B, doing so before the clock runs down suddenly seems like a daunting task.

There is a lot of strategy to be discovered here, especially when it comes to outsmarting the computer-controlled mine carts. The primary strategy is, of course, to switch the tracks before they can and send them off to another part of the mine. This requires good timing, though, as the AI carts can often re-switch the track before you have time to respond in kind. Another useful strategy, especially when trying to pass off dynamite or to steal a gem, is to get them caught on an uphill slope. With a couple of exceptions, carts cannot go uphill, and will come back down before reaching the summit. If you are behind the computer, you will bounce off each other, the switch will be made, and you can make your escape.

I really like the use of the M.C.Escher optical illusion to ensure that you can always go downhill. If there was a point where you could no longer reach a particular part of the screen due to a missed turn, they game might get frustrating. The fact that everything is always downhill from everything else makes it easy to concentrate more on getting to the treasure and less on whether you're going to get stuck somewhere.

The graphics, sound, and gameplay of Mystic Mine are all excellent. The three-quarter perspective pixel graphics give it an old-school feel, but the entire game is really an homage to old-school gaming, where it was more about whether a game was fun than whether it had the best graphics or the most complex concepts. Grab a key, sit down, and take a mine cart for a spin.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
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Rating: 4.6/5 (59 votes)
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Sprouts Adventure

JohnBSprouts Adventure is the latest in the increasingly long line of casual sim games made famous by Virtual Villagers, Totem Tribe, My Tribe, etc. This one separates itself from the pack by clearing away the bloat to leave a streamlined experience behind. Sprouts Adventure gives you a clear, goal-oriented simulation that meters out its rewards at a careful pace, ensuring you are never overwhelmed with choices and fully appreciate each new upgrade you get to use.

sproutsadventure.jpgSprouts Adventure is all about the little sprouts and their daily life of eating flowers, taking naps, and building things around their tiny village. As an unseen guardian, it's your job to make sure each sprout is well-fed and well-rested while pushing them to work on new buildings whenever possible. If a sprout gets hungry, drop him or her onto the garden patch and listen to them munch away. Sleepy sprouts need some time in the nap hut, while unmotivated/incurious sprouts could use a little recreation.

The game is paced by village improvements that become available one brainstorm at a time. With each new building you gain another tool that helps you keep your increasingly large flock of sprouts healthy. Beyond each critter's personal needs, your only concern is keeping as many workers hammering away at unfinished buildings as you can. The rest is up to the slow passage of time.

As the silent overseer, you have access to spells that can be used in several ways. Wind, for example, can perk a sleepy sprout up and give him or her a few extra minutes of awake time. But what would happen if you used wind on that kite? The sun spell helps your garden grow, but don't you think it would warm chilly things up, too? Spells are unlocked by collecting karma points gained from nabbing butterflies and stones that appear from time to time. Certain events also bestow karma points, so explore every inch of this little world and never pass up a chance to gain a few more!

Random items appear from time to time around the village, such as butterflies, clumps of flowers, and shiny stones. Simply drag a sprout to these items to collect them, netting that character a few curiosity/motivation points, some food, or better yet, karma points for you.

sproutsadventure2.jpgAnalysis: At first glance, there isn't very much to do in Sprouts Adventure. It's a stark game, especially for the first few hours of play, but after an hour or two that starts to change. This simplicity forces you to do two things: investigate the world around you, and take frequent breaks. Sprouts Adventure is a casual game built for the casualest of casual players. Pick up and play, set it down and walk away, and don't worry about anything other than keeping your sprouts happy.

One of the most endearing parts of this game are the little easter eggs you uncover just by using your sprouts on different parts of the landscape or by playing around with spells. That bridge has one obvious function, but that doesn't mean there aren't recreational uses for it, too. Sprouts Adventure rewards inquisitive players who aren't afraid to play around with their game, and because there aren't any stats to manage or technology trees to fudge, you are more than encouraged to mess around with the world.

New discoveries, buildings and events are sparse, but that rarity makes them a prized commodity. You feel like you earn every spell, every structure, and every happy sprout, and once things get rolling halfway through the game, you'll have plenty of things to keep you busy. Sprouts Adventure is the simulation game for casual gamers who are serious about being casual.

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

MarcusThis week, we'll take a look at the finalists in the 2BeeGames Indie Game Competition. Out of the six, we have previously featured two: Auditorium and Bumps, and the other is technically not a download Buccaneer Battle. Here is a quick rundown of the remaining three amazingly deserving titles. You like to vote, right? After playing these games, go vote for your favorite!

StormStorm (Windows, 33MB, free) - This is one of those unique puzzle games that comes along every once in a while that makes you sit back and think, "Is it genius or is it just odd?" Using the "powers" of the storm, namely wind, water, and lightning, complete each level by getting the small white balls to fall down various holes and off the screen. The physics are well done, the levels are challenging, and the background graphics are beautiful, invoking a feeling of playing in a painting by Monet.

Save the PlanetSave the Planet (Windows, 57MB, free) - A colorful arcade gallery shooter where you have to protect the planet Earth from waves of attacking aliens bent on her destruction. As you frantically shoot at baddies, you also have to complete other tasks, such as moving raindrops to make flowers grow. The game is challenging, and the graphics are bright and happy. It's definitely a unique blasting experience.

Heresy WarHeresy War (Windows, 161MB, free) - A 3D-space battle simulator with production values that rival commercial releases. Play a fighter pilot witnessing the beginning of a civil war on the outer edges of the galactic frontier. The game includes a full campaign mode and an instant action mode that will throw you immediately into the midst of battle. A multiplayer mode is also planned for the game, allowing you to take on other space pilots from around the world. The graphics and gameplay here are top-notch, putting it in the company of classics such as Freespace.

Make sure that you head over to 2BeeGames and cast your vote for your favorite indie title. The winner will not only receive $10,000 for their efforts, they will also get a publishing deal to bring their game to consoles around the world!

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 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (32 votes)
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Tradewinds: Odyssey

DoraAh, the sea! Bracing wind raking fingers through your hair! Sunlight refracting off the waves like a thousand priceless gems! And — what's that? OH MY GOD, IT'S A KRAKEN! Poseidon, save your poor, wretched disciple! Wait! What's that, off the port bow? Is it . . . is it help? . . . no! Pirates! And now they're shooting my flesh! They're filling it full of arrows! My hate for them is like a thousand angry suns! Merciful Zeus, why?! The sea is terrifying! Thank goodness you get to experience all the wonder of ancient Greece and fierce naval battles from behind the safety of your monitor in this latest installment in the Tradewinds series from Sandlot Games, Tradewinds: Odyssey. Now with 60% more harpy attack! Huzzah!

Tradewinds: OdysseyOdyssey is huge. Featuring a total of six heroes to play as, two of which are only available after completing the game once, and each with his or her own story to follow, it's ambitious to say the least. The game takes entire stories, places, and people from Greek history and mythology, and turns them all slightly askew by dousing them heavily in a modern sense of humour. A varied cast of heroes to choose from including a bitter priestess, a minotaur, and "Phil" means a different story each time you play a new game.

One of the first things you'll notice is how lovely Odyssey is, sporting some really gorgeous art-nouveau character designs and luscious colours. Even the cities make me think Greece was perpetually painted in a flattering, pre-dawn light, which is good, because you'll spend a lot of time in them. The cities are where you'll buy the items you need to trade or sacrifice your blessings, do most of your questing, and, most importantly, take care of and buy your ships.

Once you leave the city, you'll find yourself on the overland map, where blue question marks direct you to side quests, and orange ones mark your main quest. While you're sailing to-and-fro, you're going to get closely acquainted with hordes of pirates. You can choose to run from the battle if you like, but if you fight and win, you'll be rewarded with not only valuable drachma, but whatever items the enemies were carrying. Battle is also so straight forward that even novices will be able to fight without fear. Simply tapping the sword button at the bottom of the screen either pauses or resumes the battle, and blessings can be activated by hitting the appropriate icon. While you can direct your ships to fire on specific targets, they often do well enough on their own that you can leave them to act independently as long as you monitor their health. If they sink, don't worry. New ones are always available for purchase.

Finishing the game not only unlocks two additional characters, it also enables Free Trade mode, where you can feel free to sail and roll in drachma to your heart's content. Add in the numerous accomplishments you can net yourself alongside the six main campaigns, and you've got a winning title that's impressive on replayability.

Tradewinds: OdysseyAnalysis: Odyssey offers a lot in the way of trading — as the title of the series would imply — but I'm sorry to say I barely touched it my first play through. By becoming the scourge of naval ne'er-do-wells, I was able to make roughly enough drachma to plate my entire armada in gold, and still have enough left to build a money bin to shame Scrooge McDuck. This isn't a complaint. I'm actually impressed that there's enough elbow room in the game for you to find some way to make gold that fits your playstyle, so if you prefer to avoid all but story-related combat, you can still make a living selling honey to Athens, even if it proceeds at a more sedate pace.

Which is nice, because honestly, given how little flesh is wrapped around the bones of the combat, it's good to have other opportunities. My main strategy consisted of hitting the button to start combat, and then air-guitaring while my troops and the enemy began the time-honoured tradition of filling each other's faces with arrows. And 90% of the time, it is always arrows. It gets a little tedious when all I'm called on to do is hit the button to cast a healing blessing once in a while. There's no real strategy to speak of, since the entire thing basically boils down to one big endurance contest.

Because you never actually get to make a decision in any of the quests, your input is limited in sailing the ship where it wants to go, killing any enemies (with arrows), and collecting a reward. It never stops being fun, but there are times when the main story feels more like an interactive visual novel, minus most of the interactive bits. Even adding one or two choices to the outcomes of some of the sidequests or the main story would have gone a long way towards really fleshing out the gameplay and made this a fantastic game instead of just really, really good.

While I ran through the game initially with Phoebe, it was Petrakles with his petulant declaration of "But pants chafe!" who won my heart. I looked forward to every conversation I had in the game. Despite dropping a few awkward potty jokes, Odyssey is, for the most part, pretty funny. If you're looking for a serious, sweeping epic of a story, you'll need to keep looking, because Odyssey is a game that spends all day oiling it's pecs and wants you to tell it how pretty it is. Go in with the right mindset and it will treat you right for a long time. Offering wit, diverse gameplay, and a ton of reasons to replay it, Odyssey manages to overcome it's balance issues to become a title I have no problem recommending.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (107 votes)
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GrimmrookRaider Epsiode 1Have you been hankering for a two-fisted retro platformer you can sink your teeth into? If so, Raider: Episode 1 from Pseudolonewolf may just hit the spot.

Anyone who has traveled the breadth of the galaxy has heard the stories before. Stories about ghost starships or whole civilizations that have wiped themselves out through non stop war (and, amongst the most cliche, both). These are the stories told in the seediest of back-galaxy starship stops and they always seem to end in some vague reference to treasures unfound that the bravest of explorers still chase after to this day. Entertaining, sure. They definitely serve to pass the time while you wait for your star-cruiser to finish fueling up. But no one takes them seriously, right?

Only, this time the story doesn't stop with the vague reference to massive treasure. It keeps going and even includes coordinates. This is enough to make any space pirate reconsider the veracity of a story, but for you, Arkus Zei, a mixture of curiosity and empty coffers practically guarantees a quick jaunt to the specified coordinates. Even if it's just to prove that the story was nothing more than a story after all.

The funny thing is that when you get to the location in question, there is in fact a starship there. Correction, a ghost starship. Well, you've made it this far, it'd be a waste to turn back now, wouldn't it? Once you board the deserted vessel, the [up], [left] and [right] arrow keys move you in their respective directions whilst the [down] arrow key lets you crouch. [A] lets you jump, [S] swings your sword, and [D] shoots your blaster. Explore as much as you can and don't hesitate to pick up whatever treasures lay hidden in the labyrinthine corridors of the ship, but be careful. No end of spikes and monsters await you and they're none too eager to let their spoils go so easily. Also be sure to keep an eye out for the checkpoints sprinkled throughout the game. These handy stopping points allow you to respawn at their location should you die, but watch your lives in reserve as well for once they're all gone, it's back to the beginning for you whether you like it or not.

Keep your wits about you, watch your jumps, and you just might survive long enough to reach the greatest treasure in the galaxy.

Analysis: The first thing that should be mentioned is that this game is hard. Maybe not I Wanna Be The Guy hard, but even on the beginner difficulty, Raider: Episode 1 will prove to be a hefty challenge for many gamers. This works, though, considering that this game intentionally hearkens back to a time when the good games were the ones that made you throw your controller against the wall in frustration.

Raider Episode 1As Pseudolonewolf points out, the one departure from those games of old is that Raider has a far more developed story, and a considerably well told story at that. True, most of the plot is revealed in moderate sized text sequences at the beginning and the end of the episode, but there is a great deal of personality and character expressed in those well written lines. Your anti-hero, a grizzled lone space pirate, is suitably cynical with a nicely dry wit about him. While it's never animated, as you read some of his reactions you can practically see his little alien eyeballs rolling sarcastically in their sockets. Ultimately, when it comes to plot, what you have is something that is engrossing and well told, but doesn't get in the way of the game in the least.

Raider not only tells a decent story but looks and sounds pretty solid as well. If you like pixels, you're sure to love Raider's style which hovers somewhere in between latter-day NES and early SNES. Meanwhile the music represents the best of the era in that it is well orchestrated, perfectly matched for the game's content, but also easily tuned out. Maybe it's just me, but this is one of those rare games where I just stopped listening to the music after a while as opposed to scrabbling for the mute button.

You can't talk about a platformer without analyzing the controls, though. At first, jumping in the game may feel a little awkward but it shouldn't take you long to acclimate yourself to the feel. Once this minor hurdle is overcome, Raider exhibits some remarkably tight controls. You'll face no end of tricky challenges but the precision and consistency with which your character responds creates a sweet spot in platforming. Yes, it's hard, but at least you're given the tools to overcome.

But the true brilliance in Raider stems from two related principles. First, as hard as everything is, you still get the sense that it's possible. There's a school of platform game development in which the games are only possible in the academic sense. Raider manages to swoop in just a little bit underneath that. This makes it both addicting and frustrating in such a way that if you are playing on a laptop you should bolt it down to something (unless you don't mind it being shattered against your wall, but then you won't get to play any more). The second thing that really makes this game work is that accomplishing anything, maybe even a small sequence of jumps, feels like pulling off a death defying, jaw dropping feat. Largely because you just did. Thus, perhaps Raider's greatest strength is a level design that is both the biggest challenge and reward in the game.

Counting against Raider are few minor flaws. From an aesthetic point of view, the game lacks variety a bit. Yes the graphics are beautiful if you appreciate pixel art, but the backgrounds never change. The platforms you face on the first room are the same type and color as those you'll face all the way to the boss battle. This lack of variety extends to the enemies of which there are only a handful. Even some basic color swaps might have spiced things up a bit. But, to be fair, if you're in the zone you'll probably be too busy jumping and shooting and slashing to worry much about this.

The other problem is so small it's almost a nitpick, but after playing through the whole game, it stands out as the one thing that really seemed to bother me. If the base of a ladder is on a platform as opposed to free floating, you must physically jump off of the ladder once you get to the bottom. I know, this seems small and petty, but in a game that is otherwise exceptionally well executed this stands out like an off note in a beautiful symphony.

In the end, when you load up Raider: Episode 1 in your browser you can expect solid controls, a good story, and magnificent level design that will put your platforming skills to the test. This first in a series of five episodes sets a high standard for the four episodes to follow, and I can't wait to see what Pseudolonewolf has in store for us next.

Play Raider Chapter 1


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHere at JIG, we know you take time out of your busy schedules of polishing your monocles, straightening your gold bullion, and walking your pedigreed teacup poodles to visit us. And we appreciate it! That's why we scour the web to bring you only the finest games about pandas, catapults, and gold coins that quack like ducks when you touch them. Be sure to put in a good word for us at the country club! We promise not to eat all the lobster tails this time. Honest!

  • TipoverPanda's BIG Adventure - Chart a course for adventure and poop jokes in this, the latest, greatest (and unfortunately shortest) game in the Panda series. Instead of sneaking your way past complex laser grids to steal diamonds, you'll be trying to figure out why the mummy doesn't want your shovelful of horse manure. It's a question for the ages! Fortunately, you have a tardis — I mean, portaloo to help solve it.
  • Symphonic Bus TourSymphonic Bus Tour - This game is just like Sonic the Hedgehog. Only... instead of a hedgehog you have a bus with an overhead rack. And instead of going really fast, you actually have to carefully maneuver through portals, hills, and moving platforms. And instead of rings, you're carrying precious, precious band instruments. Hmmm... actually, this is nothing like Sonic at all! What crazy person would even suggest that it was? Sheesh!
  • Quest for PowerQuest for Power - Quest for Power is what Peanuts would look like if it was set during the medieval times, and Charlie Brown had a catapult instead of an inferiority complex. Build your fortifications and conquer England as King Blockhead — I mean, Arthur.
  • OranOran - When I was a little girl, I was once dared to spend the night alone down by Hangman's Pond in the Bonemarrow Forest. I saw things that night. Things that changed my life forever and left me with a terrible, burdensome knowledge. Anyway, to make a long story short, this is a platformer about collecting shining golden coins. Isn't that nice?
  • Hover KartHover Kart - Hmmm. There's something awfully familiar about this multiplayer racing game! Careen around the track collecting tokens and power-ups to capture first place! If somebody passes you, do what comes naturally. Namely, shoot 'em with a rocket! Trust us, you won't feel so bad about it the first time it happens to you. (Or the second... or the sixteenth... )

  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (93 votes)
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JessHooray! Japanese escape game designer Robamimi has made the excellent decision to remake one of its early, nice-but-flawed games into a much higher quality piece of work. Even if you've played the original, Who Am I? Remake has been given a thorough enough makeover to justify another look.

Remake Who Am IThough the original Who Am I? was good-looking and contained some clever puzzles, it suffered from a lack of polish and occasionally crossed over into illogical territory. Robamimi has ameliorated these problems by reformulating (and, in numerous cases, entirely changing) the game's puzzles, cleaning up the interface and adding a save feature as well as a twinkly soundtrack. While all of the game's puzzles are well-designed, I found one in particular to be quite sly; if at some point during the game you feel as if you cannot proceed without knowledge of another language, take a step back and reconsider the information. By thinking "out of the box," as it were, you might find your answer. Oh, also, if at any point the game's super-sweet soundtrack becomes irritating, you can turn it off by clicking the square button above the inventory.

While Remake: Who Am I? still doesn't quite approach the brilliance of the very best escape games, it's nonetheless smart and skillfully executed, an enormous step up from its antecedent. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll surely be grateful for Robamimi's overachieving ways. Enjoy!

Play Who Am I? Remake


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (142 votes)
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DoraHedgehog Launch 2Once again, it's time to guide a valiant knight and his trusted steed on their glorious mission. Okay, so it's not so much a valiant knight as it is a hedgehog with a rubber band and a rocket pack. But the mission is still glorious! Yes, we here at Jay is Games proudly support the ancient and noble art of launching hedgehogs into space. Via the center of the earth. And eventually... Nebraska?

If you liked the first edition of launchy goodness from gaming juggernaut Armor Games and jmtb02, chances are you'll find a lot to enjoy in Hedgehog Launch 2, including the creator's trademark cheek. Especially if you thought the original was missing shoes, and magnets. Other than that? Not much has changed. You still click and drag to shoot your willing little critter as far as you can, and you still have to fly around the screen using the vaguely unwieldy controls to collect the cash you'll need to make your upgrades. Which is a lot. The additional accessories you can buy are varied enough to warrant replays and endless tweaking in your race to the moon, especially since most of them required the cash equivalent of several Swiss bank accounts. (Legitimately obtained, we assure you. Why are you looking at us like that?) If you want to get everything maxed out, you're going to be playing a very long time indeed.

The addition of new items to get and a slight graphical improvement wind up making this one feel like the game the original should have been, rather than a new game. Is it fun? Oh yes. It provides that special thrill you only get from strapping wriggling little animals into an elastic band and then snapping them through the core of the earth. Don't pretend you don't know what we're talking about. Your time has come, my friend, in Hedgehog Launch 2. Hog harder, faster, farther.

Destiny awaits.

Play Hedgehog Launch 2


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (304 votes)
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JayGrow 3 RemakeA while ago, On of Eyezmaze announced on his blog that he had lost the files for his original Grow game due to a failed hard drive (reviewed here way back in 2004). But he was able to recover some of his work from the original SWF files, and decided to do more than fix a Flash Player versioning issue with it: He added a new ending (there are now 2!) and a hint button as well. The result is Grow (ver. 3) Remake.

Simply drag the item icons, one at a time, onto the big red sphere. The objective is find the correct order that will grow each item to its maximum level (some require more time/turns than others do).

This first release for the Grow series is a little more difficult than the others that came afterward. With 12 items, that means there are 12! possible permutations (over 479 million!!). Fortunately, the game gives you clues after each attempt identifying what level each item achieved and whether it reached its "max lvl" (maximum level), and the new hint systems helps to uncover the new hidden ending.

The new 2nd ending is so radically different and so extensively animated that it provides a compelling reason to relive this awesome little game once again!

Play Grow (ver. 3) Remake

You can still

Play the original Grow (ver. 3) with the Flash Player versioning bug fixed, too.

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (205 votes)
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zxoDynamic SystemsLet's see, a physics-based puzzle game where you must help a ball find its way to a goal. Where have we seen this before?

Yes, Dynamic Systems, created by Lorenzo Nuvoletta, is another in a long line of games first made popular by The Incredible Machine, where you must fabricate an overly elaborate system of simple machines to perform a task that would hardly impress a toddler: putting a ball in a bucket. In each level, you're given a silver ball, a bucket, and an assortment of objects with which to exert your domination! OK, domination might be a bit of an overstatement considering you're performing what amounts to an ostentatious computer simulation of clean up time, but if that's not a task you're capable of dominating, you might want to stick with banging pegs into holes for just a bit longer.

Dynamic SystemsMost of the objects in Dynamic Systems are static, meant to change the path of the ball without introducing any additional momentum. Deflections and elastic collisions are par for he course, and gravity is very much your friend. To help you find just the right path, the angles of all of the objects can be fine-tuned It's also quite refreshing to be given curved sections of track to play with, as these can redirect the ball without stealing too much momentum. Each level also usually contains some sort of moving device (pendulums, springs, wheels, etc), but rarely does the player have any control over the placement of these. Once you've mastered all 40 levels, you can design your own with the built-in level editor.

Analysis: One feature that makes Dynamic Systems great is that each placeable object can be rotated to any angle you might wish. However, one feature that makes Dynamic Systems frustrating is that each placeable object can be rotated to any angle you might wish. For a relatively simple system, the fine-tuning works beautifully, but if you've got an elaborate contraption, the number of possible configurations quickly approaches absurdity, and it can be frustrating to have to readjust every part of a system just to gain those few extra pixels of distance. Luckily, most levels are designed with a specific solution in mind that doesn't require precision positioning to achieve. Whether or not you recognize the intended solution is another story altogether. In fact, shortcuts abound, as they inevitable must in a game such as this. However, rather than forcing the player to take the long way 'round by placing barriers across these shortcuts, the author elegantly solves the problem by awarding more points for longer solutions, leaving the player simultaneously satisfied at solving the level while still wondering if maybe they could have done better.

Dynamic SystemsWhat makes Dynamic Systems stand out among other games of its kind, though, is the fluidity of movement and the sleek graphical design. Its worn-out industrial feel recalls and improves upon that of Collider, and the comparison is even more favorable when you consider the physics. It's like watching mercury race molasses down a waterslide! Yet, the physics aren't over-responsive either. They just feel right. You can nit-pick about the interface if you want (the parts menu should be mouse-overable), but overall, you'd be hard-pressed to name another Flash game that so successfully blends visual design and pleasing physics.

So, although the gameplay treads well-worn paths, its unshakable foundations of good game design make Dynamic Systems a worthy addition to an established line of great games.

Play Dynamic Systems


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zxoBroken Picture TelephoneI often find that the awesomeness of a game scales directly with the difficulty I have pulling myself away from it to write the review. Using this criteria, Broken Picture Telephone, by Alishah Novin stands alone in its level of awesome. On a scale of 1 to ninja-pirate-zombie-robot, it's cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped bacon in a Monty Python reduction. In fact, I think I'll just skip the rest of this thing and

Play Broken Picture Telephone

What!? You want to know what it's about? Sheesh. All right: remember Telephone, the kids' game where you whisper a message to someone, and they whisper it to the next person, and so on, until it reaches the end of the line and sounds have-some-fruitly nothing like the message you started with? This is pretty much that. With pictures.

Play Broken Picture Telephone

Now you want to know how to play? Come on! It's easy. You will have to sign up for an account, and yes, it's one of those sites that makes you check your email before you can play. But once you're signed up, just choose whether to start a game or join an existing game. You'll either be given a picture that someone drew, or some words that describe a scene, and you'll be asked to give whichever you didn't get. Describing a picture is pretty easy, just click the note and type. On the other hand, if you're asked to illustrate, your MS Paint skillz will be put to the test! Six brush sizes and eleven colors are all you get! Luckily, it doesn't make much difference if you're a good artist or not, since the beauty of the game lies in the hilarious misinterpretations of bad drawings. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to

Play Broken Picture Telephone

Broken Picture TelephoneWhat!? Analysis? OK, fine: Back in high school, I loved art classes, because the teacher would tell me what to draw and I'd do it with a passable amount of skill. At the same time, however, I knew that I'd never cut it as a career artist, because I couldn't ever come up with something to draw on my own. Now, I have BPT to take care of that task, and it does so beautifully, allowing enough words to give a decent description while still giving you plenty of leeway to add in details as you see fit. On the flip side, it's often challenging to concisely sum up an entire picture in a dozen words rather than the usual 1000.

Play Broken Picture Telephone?

Sigh. Didn't think I'd get away that easily. Guess I'd better finish this review…

In BPT, participating is only half the fun. The other half is in following the randomness that you help create through all its bizarre mutations. In fact, you don't even need to sign up to view the archives. In fact, you could easily spend many happy hours just reading through past games. Usually, the story morphs in disjointed but still amusing ways, but occasionally you find gems that tell a nice little vignette.

Just be aware that this is, after all, the internet, and you may come across pictures that are juvenile, lewd, or downright obscene … in fact, roughly half of the games are marked as mature. The players are pretty good about marking when games have mature content, but it is self-reported, so do be careful. You can change your account settings so that you'll never see any part of any game that has been marked mature, but this also means that if someone adds mature content after you've played a game, that you won't be able to view the finished product.

So there you have it. A participatory writing/drawing game based on the old favorite playground game Telephone, that's chock full of hilarious random divergences and oozes fun like bacon oozes grease! Now, can I please

Play Broken Picture Telephone

Warning: Because Broken Picture Telephone features people drawing anonymously over the internet, there will inevitably be bad language and depictions of adult situations. Although these are usually tagged as mature content, please exercise caution if you are offended by explicit content.


Update: Since the game has been offline for several months now, we have removed the tags so it won't show up in our normal tag listing pages. If and when the game comes back online, we'll reinstate the tags. Tags saved here in case the game comes back online: art, browser, drawing, free, funny, html, multiplayer, rating-r, simpleidea, turnbased


  • Currently 3.5/5
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Rating: 3.5/5 (123 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessSo, just what is the mystery inside the Mystery House in Japan? I guess we could ask Japanese designer Bianco Bianco to let us in on the secret of its newest escape game. Or, conversely, we could just go ahead and play. Yeah, that's probably the better option.

MysteryYou begin the game in darkness. After fumbling around long enough to locate a source of light, you'll find yourself in a small room appealingly decorated in a traditional Japanese fashion. But wait...with closer scrutiny, you might notice something strange. The pattern spreading like a Rorschach blot across the double doors of the room's exit looks disconcertingly like a face, and not a human face, either. And are those handles on the doors, or are they eyes? What on earth is going on? It looks like escaping this mystery house may involve more than just finding the right key...

All mysteries aside, MHIJ's handful of puzzles are well-designed but fairly standard room escape fare, mainly involving combining items and solving codes. Nothing fancy here, but nothing illogical either. One puzzle uses Japanese characters, but another item will help you to easily decipher them and come to a solution; the other Japanese text in the room (which can be found on various objects you collect) is not crucial to completing the game. I do wish that the game was a bit longer and more substantive; veteran escapers will probably be able to finish MHIJ in 10 minutes or less. Still, what is there is quite well made (and with a fun ending!), and in my opinion a short, well-executed piece is highly preferable to a longer, mediocre game. Quality over quantity, right?

MHIJ's graphics, while hardly photorealistic, are nonetheless quite nice and professional-looking. The game doesn't have any sort of soundtrack, but in this particular case the silence meshes well with the room's spare decor and general ambience. There's no save feature, which is always a little bit irritating, but for a game this short it's not such a big deal. Navigating around the room is easy, and I only counted one instance of moderately annoying pixel-hunting (hooray!).

While not the magnum opus of the escape game genre, Mystery House in Japan is fun, quick, and indisputably well-designed, perfect for a brief break in your day. While Bianco Bianco may not be the most stunningly original designer out there, it can always be counted upon to provide a solidly constructed and entertaining experience. Enjoy!

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DoraBO: The Secret of SteelA certain governor once made a certain movie about a certain barbarian. This movie, aside from teaching us that you should always be nice to your slave boys because they grow up to carry out angsty vendettas, was generally responsible for portraying the barbarian as a misunderstood, noble, justice-seeking hero. Which is boring. Fortunately, Barbarian Onslaught: The Secret of Steel, the latest side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure, is here to kick in your door, throw some exploding barrels at you, eat some ribs it found in a crate, and then dismember you in a variety of ways. You're a barbarian now, baby! And it is going to be awesome.

The game is played with either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys for movement — whichever you prefer. The meat of the mechanics, however, lies in the all-powerful [spacebar]. Tapping it once is a "quick attack", a brief, weak sword slice. Hold down the bar and you'll execute a more powerful strike. And that's just the beginning. You can pause the game at any time by hitting [P] and read the encyclopedia with [E], which explains in detail how to execute all the moves. It's something you'll usually end up falling back on, since the in-game instructions are visual aides and are often maddeningly vague.

Once you do figure out what you're doing, however, Barbarian Onslaught becomes pure glorious fun. You can knock down enemies below you with a boot to the face and then impale them for an instant kill. You can pick up an enemy and headbutt them repeatedly or toss them off a cliff. It's one of those things you know you probably shouldn't enjoy so much, but you can't help it. Eeeeeeee, lookit his wittle head bounce on the ground!

Easily one of the biggest things the game has going for it is it's style, hand-drawn by Johan Hjärpe. The style is cartoonish enough that the violence isn't overwhelming as it might be with more realistic graphics. Skulls, spleens, and other organs bounce across the landscape after particularly vigorous swings of your sword. Special attention is paid to the death throes of your enemies, of course, who stagger about convincingly after you do the unspeakable to them. All of it is encompassed by a sweeping, fantastic soundtrack that's just the cherry on top.

BO: The Secret of SteelAnalysis: Barbarian Onslaught is not really my type of game ordinarily, but there's just something about it's amazing style and over-the-top cartoony gore that is just plain fun, and manages to keep being so despite the game's flaws.

The [spacebar] is the be-all, end-all of your arsenal. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Being a proud, ham-fisted button masher I was able to make my way through the game without much finesse and a whole lot of body parts. Whenever I wanted to pull off one of the other moves, things got trickier, and often frustrating. The game seems to have trouble recognising whether you want it to preform that simple universal slice-and-dice, or say, grab your foe and headbutt their face into tomato paste. Even just one or two more keys would have made a world of difference.

Despite having a respectable number of levels, Barbarian Onslaught is actually pretty short. Most of the levels are extremely straight-forward and can be bulldozed through in a matter of minutes. In the long run, this winds up being a mark in it's favour. As fun as the game is, ultimately it does wind up getting pretty repetitive the farther you go. It still has a lot of value as a spectacle, and a darned entertaining one, but with no achievements to strive for or new weapons to find, it doesn't offer a lot of replay value.

Barbarian Onslaught isn't exactly a thinking man's game. But that's okay, because there are times when this game's wild exuberance just fits. You know what? Some days you want to solve complex puzzles built on sophisticated physics engines. Other days you want to find the sort of people who design those games, give them a wedgie, and drive wheelies in a parking lot blaring obnoxious hip-hop from your speakers. On those days? Barbarian Onslaught is there for you. HIGH FIVE, BRAH, THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME!

Play Barbarian Onslaught: The Secret of Steel


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GrimmrooklacotipaTonypa has a well-earned reputation for developing games that at once exhibit simple elegance and deceptively deep gameplay. Lacotipa, a tile-based puzzle with roots that extend back to Pipe Dreams, most definitely stands as a solid addition to Tonypa's already considerable stable.

The goal in Lacotipa is simple enough. You are presented with a board with at least one tile on it. Each tile has anywhere from zero to four connectors that point up, down, left, or right (for clarification, the zero tiles show up on later levels and are automatically placed on the board as a sort of obstacle). Your job is to eventually close off all paths created by the connectors using one of the five available tiles at the bottom of the screen. Closing off a path can be done by connecting a capping tile to a connector, using connectors to form closed loops, or by successfully directing a pathway to the edge of the playing field. As the old adage goes, learning to play is easy, mastery is not.

Tonypa strikes a wonderful balance of luck and skill here. The randomly chosen tiles for you to place and the inability to rotate tiles takes at least a portion of your fate out of your hands. This does not hamstring you completely, but instead forces you to think about the puzzle differently, playing a game of probability with each potential path you create. Plus, you are given all the time in the world to plot out your moves. Thus a rather old style of puzzle/strategy game is injected with a new twist that can be quite addicting.

Complementing the gameplay is Tonypa's trademark minimalist approach to aesthetics and smooth theme music, here provided by Kevin Macleod as usual. Tiles are little more than stylized icons, admirable in their own way for their quiet beauty, and yet they don't distract the slightest bit from play. Meanwhile the cool jungle beat in the background is pleasant, unobtrusive, and imminently listenable.

Perhaps the one quibble we had was that the instructions could be made a little more clear; some of us didn't realize that using the edge of the playing field was a valid option until we had already lost a frustratingly large amount of games. But aside from that, Tonypa has produced yet another simple, beautiful, and addicting game for us to obsess over.

Play Lacotipa

Thanks to Shannon for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 3.6/5 (70 votes)
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zxoCrane WarsAs humans, we face the daily struggle between constructive and destructive behaviors. On the one hand, a functioning society requires us to extend our arms in friendship, maintain civility and build trust. On the other hand, blowing stuff up freaking rules!

This is also the case in Crane Wars, the latest game from Flashbang Studios. You play the role of a crane operator, and your mission is to grab hunks of building and stack them on top of each other. Just move the mouse to target your crane and click and hold to grab an item. Release the mouse button to let go of the item, but be careful, as it will maintain any momentum it has when you release it. It's not necessary to make perfect stacks – the game recognizes any block on top of another one as a single building. However, poorly aligned stacks are more likely to topple over if you try to add to them. After you've gone through a few blocks, gold-colored blocks will begin to appear. These complete any building upon which they are put, earning you lots of points.

Crane WarsLike any other skilled laborer worth their salt, you're a card-carrying union member, and you cost your financier money whether or not you're working, so you'd better hurry up and stack before the funding runs out! In Crane Wars, time literally equals money! Unfortunately, those lousy, two-bit scabs are working on a site right next door, and they don't much care for union types. If you let them, they'll steal your blocks and even fling cars at your buildings with their own crane! Naturally, the only thing to do is to beat them at their own game. When you're not busy stacking, you can grab a truck, a crate, heck, even a building block and wing it over, raining destruction on those filthy scabs are earning you points to boot! You'll probably find it helpful to switch to a better view of the scabs' site by holding down [space].

As in life, it's best to spend the majority of your time doing constructive activities, for a number of reasons: there's more of a risk to throwing objects, since they are harder to control when thrown, and it eats up more time than simply stacking them; also, throwing too often isn't worth it, since it takes the scabs time to build up something worth destroying. Yet it feels oh, so right to sacrifice a union building block for the greater benefits of seeing a scab skyscraper topple to the ground in a blaze of glory! Doing so even yields a fair amount of points, with more points awarded for taking down larger buildings.

Analysis: Whichever member of the Flashbang team that came up with the idea of a rival construction site deserves a gold star. Seriously. They could have just turned crane wars into a stacking game with their neat top-down control system, and it would have been mildly fun. But just by adding some enemies next door, the game suddenly gained so much more depth. The best part is, there's no one best way to play. You can build and build, and the scabs will leave you more or less at peace. Or you can just go crazy, chucking object with nary a regard for the wanton destruction of property, union or scab. Or find some happy medium that suits your personal preferences. It's just as possible to earn good scores through destruction as it is through construction (although you're more likely to drop a couple stinkbombs with an aggressive assault strategy).

The controls feel extremely natural for a game that you would expect to be pretty fiddly. The X-Y (or, if you want to get technical, r-θ) mouse controls feel smooth, and almost always target the object you want them to. It might take a bit to get used to the lack of Z-control, as the game automatically raises and lowers the crane to avoid smashing into existing stacks, but ultimately it's one less control you need to worry about, which is always a plus for casual gamers. The only thing I found myself wanting was a way to turn those yappy construction workers off, or at least give them a bigger jokebook.

Anyway, check out this well-balanced (snicker!) stacking game, just the latest in what is already an impressive set of games from Flashbang.

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GrimmrookshydwarfWhat we don't know about Shy Dwarf (Plachy Trpaslik in Czech), a strange new platformer from Jaromir Plachy of Amanita Design, could fill a book. Maybe three.

What we do know is that Shy Dwarf is a gorgeously animated little adventure where you play as a little black blob with a jaunty red hat. We would like to take it for granted that this little black blob is in fact the eponymous Shy Dwarf, but that might be over reaching just a little. Using the arrow keys you must negotiate surreal landscape after surreal landscape to reach your goal. What that goal is... well, you'll have to figure that out on your own.

Mixed in with the platforming is a light bit of puzzling. No single level is as simple as run and jump; little twists will be thrown your way from a bunch of different copies of you appearing out of nowhere to exits that are not readily obvious at first blush. Still, despite the highly abstract material and modest puzzle elements, it shouldn't take you too terribly long to reach Shy Dwarf's end.

Aside from the abstract nature which may turn off some, the only real drawback is that the actual controls can be a little clunky. Jumping feels just a touch clumsy and in one of the later on levels where the control scheme changes a bit, control is decidedly not as smooth as it could be.

In the end, Shy Dwarf is something of an enigma. Fun, short, and completely baffling. We're not sure exactly what it all means, or if it's supposed to mean anything at all. Whatever the case, we couldn't resist its unmistakable charm. Besides, sometimes it's fun to be totally confused.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBWhile I'm a big fan of retro games, developers have yet to convince me that a touch screen is an adequate replacement for a physical controller. With a touch screen you get no tactile feedback, and I feel that ruins many iPhone games. This week we have several titles whose controls are better without d-pads and buttons. And believe me, that's a tough fact for me to admit!

diabolika.jpgDiabolika - From Derek Yu (yeah, the Aquaria and TIGSource guy) comes an iPhone remake of one of his early games of the same name. Diabolika is a puzzle game that's all about chain reactions. Your goal is to destroy the demons that appear on the grid by setting monsters in key locations so their explosion ignites other monsters. Each piece has an area of affect, shown when you touch the icon, but the explosions only begin when you tap a placed monster. Arrange monsters so you take out the most demons with the fewest explosions and you're good to go. Fun fact: The original Diabolika and its sequel are two of my secret favorite puzzle games. SSHHH!

gogorescuesquad.jpgGo Go Rescue Squad - It's cute firemen saving helpless people from even cuter fires! AWWW! This side-scrolling puzzle game lets you control several rescue squad members who can climb ladders, leap chasms, and carry/throw a number of objects, all in the name of helping panicky family members to the exit. The touch screen controls fit this game well, making it one of the few sidescrollers that haven't made me cry and want my d-pad back.

stackus.jpgStackus - Physics-based stacking games are multiplying on the iTunes App Store, but Stackus is one of my favorites, if for nothing more than its presentation. Not only do you have to stack shapes on a platform, but you also have to disassemble shapes without knocking anything down. All of this takes place while a character mocking you in the background, which is... well, it's neat. Neat to be mocked! The pieces have way too much friction than they should have, and sometimes I felt the affect weight has on the structure isn't quite accurate, but that aside, it's an extraordinarily fun physics game, right up there with Topple.

moonlights.jpgMoonlights - Build a remarkably World of Goo-like structure that reaches the night sky! Simply tap a space near two nodes to add a new node. Gravity is controlled by tilting your iPhone, and the standard "pinch" zoom controls are also available. Try to build a (relatively) stable structure that touches the moonlight for at least five seconds. Harder than you might think!

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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FreeRealms

JoshAnd now for something completely different...Free Realms. Sorta like White Castle or Guinness Beer, you might love it or hate it, with no middle ground to stand on. In fact, it belongs to a genre of games that you'll usually never see here at JIG; the burgeoning market of "massively multiplayer online games" (more widely known as MMOs, provided you haven't spent the last decade living in Antarctica). Generally, MMOs are huge, beastly things that soak up hours and hours of playtime, along with heaps of money—which is why it's one of fastest-growing sectors in PC gaming. It seems about as far away as you can get from "casual" gaming, doesn't it? But there's something fundamentally different about this particular game, which has drawn in over 3 million players since it launched a little over a month ago.

FreeRealmsThe MMO market has been mutating. Every publisher on the block started developing MMOs of all different kinds, some with dreams of becoming the next "World of Warcraft-killer," while others simply tried to cash in on the trend, making a quick buck here and there with micro-transactions. Some ideas worked while others failed; many games enjoyed brief success only to fall apart a few months later. The rubble left behind began to coalesce as developers went back to the drawing board, eventually finding hope in the "free-to-play" business model that Free Realms is built upon. The idea is that instead of charging a monthly fee—as traditional MMOs do—the game is completely free to download and play. Revenue is generated from optional features, which can be anything from additional game content to small, in-game vanity items (like clothes or character-enhancers).

But the question still remains; "What's an MMO doing here at JIG in the first place?" The answer is severalfold, although the most important is that Free Realms is (arguably) the most-accessible MMO ever made. It's often compared to the hugely-popular Club Penguin by the media, although I'd personally make that association in concept only, if you're not familiar with the genre. Developed by Sony Online Entertainment, Free Realms is specifically designed to appeal to the teen and adult demographics almost as much as younger kids, which are its bread and butter. Many of the "MMO norms" have been thrown out the window: there's no cost for the game itself (nor is a subscription required) and SOE has made every effort trying to assure parents it's a family-friendly environment.

As to do with JIG's readers, the entire game is built around the concept of mini-games and casual gameplay (perhaps not in the strictest sense that our readers would define it, but more "casual" than any MMO I've ever played). Free Realms takes place in a persistent, quasi-fantasy-themed world with lots of different vivid and lively environments. Less emphasis is placed on the traditional staples of MMO gaming, such as deeply-rooted lore and the progression toward an endgame of epic battles. Instead, Free Realms offers a digital playground of sorts; a world filled with everything kids are daydreaming about while they're at school—and one which they can actually play in when they get home.

FreeRealmsMany of the usual MMORPG-based elements like character stats and reward-based quests are still woven into the game, but they're designed in an almost-foolproof way, so as not to get in the way of short-term fun. As an example to that extent, you're given a dotted trail to follow that leads you to and from each quest objective, making it almost impossible to get lost (it can be disabled). The idea is that things will never get too complicated or tedious, and that's where the mini-game aspect comes in... Almost everything that's progression-related is accomplished through a bunch of different kinds of mini-games. Instead of picking a character class at the beginning and being stuck with it, you can choose what class—or "job," as the game calls it—you want to play at any given time. Every job has different mini-games that provide "stardust," used to enhance your skills as you level up. However, you're given the ability to jump into almost everything from the get-go, instead of having to grind away before you get to the good stuff.

The progression system is so diverse that you can choose to play entirely without fighting at all. The combat system in Free Realms is no more prominent than any other activity; it just serves as one of the jobs (again, think classes) you can choose. Instead, you can be a Kart Driver, Adventurer, Pet Trainer, Chef, Miner or almost a dozen more (including several of the combat-based jobs like Brawlers or Ninjas). Some of the mini-games used to "level up" your jobs are simple, like Checkers and Bejeweled-type games, while the rest are originally-created mini-games like go-kart racing, demolition derby, training pets with mouse gestures, finding your way through mazes to deliver packages and a lot more. There's even an original trading card game you can play, with a job as a "Card Duelist" attached to it.

FreeRealmsThis whole trend of tearing down conventional MMO barriers and being as accessible as possible reaches beyond just the gameplay. If you can believe it, Free Realms is technically considered a "browser-based" game. It's installed via a browser plug-in, which bridges the game client to the server. You can even run it in windowed mode. All of the world geometry, character models and textures are loaded on-the-fly as you move from one sub-zone to another, a technique used to cut down on client size. It's also optimized to run on lower-end machines; the minimum system requirements aren't as demanding as most modern games. But it also means that most content will be loaded from the server-side, so you'll have to deal with loading screens pretty regularly.

Right about now you're probably wondering what the catch is. "No such thing as a free lunch," right? As I mentioned earlier, most free-to-play MMOs use micro-transactions or optional subscriptions to generate revenue. Free Realms uses both. For $4.99 USD per month, you can become a premium member, unlocking five more jobs, letting you play up to three characters and giving you access to certain quests and game items that you can't get with a free membership. You can also buy "Station Cash" to fund your membership, or use it to buy special in-game items that you can't obtain elsewhere. I was pretty amazed when I found out how far Sony is trying to go to make this Station Cash as ubiquitous as possible; their "Station Cash Cards" are sold in like a bazillion brick-and-mortar US stores (even 7-Eleven).

Analysis: One of the nice things about Free Realms is that you're not playing a crippled game if you don't spend money. That's a popular racket for a lot of MMOs these days, usually from companies that don't have enough faith (or financial backing) in their own games to believe that players will spend money eventually, if they enjoy the game. Free Realms doesn't take such a heavy-handed approach, allowing free members almost the same level of access as paying members. Although the whole cheery, cartoony setting really isn't my bag, I couldn't help being impressed by the amount of production value that SOE put into this game. Not only is it well-polished and easy to play, it really can be fun for adults, as well as kids.

But if you've never played an MMO before, you might get a little frustrated at the beginning if you're expecting you'll be able to judge whether or not you'll like the game within the first 20 minutes. It'll probably take you at least that long just to finish the tutorial. Normally I'd say you gotta learn to walk before you run, but I have to remember that many of our readers won't initially find the same familiarities in this game as most of the ones we cover. So instead, I'd urge you to be patient, at least for the first hour's worth of playtime or so. Once you get past the "tutorial speed bump" and learn how to interact with the world, you might discover a lot of enjoyment to be had in all the mini-games and "casually-converted" MMO elements. After you get the basics down, it's entirely possible to log on for just 20 or 30 minutes and have some fun.

WindowsWindows:
Play Free Realms
(Note: There's a one-time plugin (approx. 60MB) you'll need to install before you play. Afterwards, it's all browser-based.)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Try Boot Camp
See this Free Realms on BootCamp guide for help

Psst...hey, a little birdie told me you can check out this fansite to find all the "free item codes" that have been released so far.

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened

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


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Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened

GrimmrookSherlock Holmes: The Awakened is an ambitious mystery adventure from Frogwares. It simultaneously attempts to remain faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's eponymous sleuth, provide a crossover with another body of work with its own cultish following, and blaze new trails in the well established adventure game genre.

kyle-sherlock-1.pngIt is autumn, 1894. London buzzes with excitement over the arrival of a foreign princess. Our hero, Sherlock Holmes, finds himself bored as is often the case when he is not actively tracking villains meticulously through deductive logic and the careful observation of clues. Indeed, we find the famed detective in such a state that he has reduced himself to petty deductions about the local book seller and scouring the papers to keep his mind busy. That's about when he and his good friend Dr. Watson stumble upon an item of interest.

The aboriginal servant of one of Watson's well-to-do patients has gone missing, an event that raises hardly any interest at all. The local constabulary assures our investigative duo that the young man has most likely succumbed to London's more carnal and sinful allures and is positive that the servant will undoubtedly show up in a few days lighter of pocket and wiser in his way. However, Mr. Holmes is not nearly as sure.

Applying a keen eye and a devastating intellect, Holmes comes to the conclusion that the servant did not leave of his own free will, but instead was spirited away. To where and for what reason the young man is taken remains unknown but the path that Holmes and Watson now must walk is perhaps the deadliest they have ever come up against.

Yes, they have faced off against desperate crooks and cold blooded murderers, but there are darker things in this world. Things that people refuse to believe in if for no other reason than to save their sanity. As the world's greatest detective travels to the continent and half way across the globe to the new world, he will come to learn that there are things in the dark that are worshipped, that are waiting just beyond the wall of reality and eager to satiate their unending hunger on the very whole of existence. Things with tentacles that were here before us, and have been patiently waiting all along.

You control Sherlock Holmes and occasionally Dr. Watson as they walk this path in this unique adventure title. Collect items, examine clues, and create devices in order to overcome obstacles in your way and get to the bottom of this long and complex mystery. Admittedly, this isn't new ground in adventure gaming, but The Awakened is anything but your conventional point and clicker. Hoping to set a standard for adventure games in the future, developer Frogwares has opted to put you in a fully three dimensional world with a movement scheme that is more like a first person shooter than your average adventure game. For those that fear change too much to take such a bold step, fear not, for standard third person perspective and controls are also available.

So now it is time for you to don the deerstalker hat and wield the mighty magnifying lens. You may be allowed a quick puff on the pipe and a few notes on the violin but tarry not. The world may be at its end, and the game is most definitely afoot.

sherlockawakened3.jpgAnalysis: There is no question that The Awakened is a highly ambitious game. While first person three dimensional movement is nothing new in the world of gaming, it is a rather radical concept for what is ultimately a conventional adventure game with item based puzzles. On top of that, The Awakened attempts a sort of high-wire balancing act in remaining faithful to the well established Sherlock Holmes universe whilst at the same time introducing elements of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Thus, full analysis must incorporate all of these aspects as well as determining The Awakened's success as a standard adventure game.

Perhaps where The Awakened succeeds the most is in spinning a successful Sherlock Holmes yarn. There are no doubt purists among those who are fond of the famous detective. For some, none other than Basil Rathbone can ever portray Holmes, and there are perhaps others who remain loyal to a little known portrayal years ago by Frank Langella. Even for these poor folks, it behooves them to put away their prejudices for Sherlock Holmes is masterfully reproduced in The Awakened. Within one will find a suitably complex mystery as well as all those things about Holmes that has endeared him to generations upon generations of avid readers. As you pick your way through this adventure you will comb through clues, make fantastic deductions and even reaffirm Holmes' title as master of disguise, fooling even Dr. Watson himself. Rounding out the success in this area is a nicely dry wit that seems always at the ready as well as rather impressive voice acting with few flaws.

The Awakened also provides a healthy adventure game as well. True mystery games are rare, usually whodunits end up as little more than item based adventure games with trench coats and fedoras. To a degree this remains true with the Awakened as well, but the mystery elements that are injected into the gameplay compliment the adventure gaming aspects quite well. The item based puzzles are for the most part well done and as logical as those found in any other adventure game, and the sleuthing puzzles are a sheer treat that will mix things up quite nicely. In fact one of my fondest memories of The Awakened was just such an instance. I remember stumbling upon some footsteps at one point and nearly giggling with joy as I followed them to their conclusion. Unfortunately, sometimes these sleuthing aspects can become a little too unforgiving and it can get frustrating when you are barred from proceeding until you find all of the clues for a particular portion of the game.

sherlockawakened2.jpgWe come across something of a double edged sword when dealing with the first person shooter approach to the game, though. To be fair, this is an impressive innovation and one that greatly adds to the enjoyment of The Awakened. It really sucks you in, especially when you are hunting for clues or when you are creeping through the passages of an insane asylum. Shooters have enjoyed the immersive effect of the first person perspective for years and The Awakened definitely capitalizes on that. The problem here is that one gets the feeling that Frogwares sort of rushed it, not taking the time to bring The Awakened up to speed with modern FPS games. The graphics would be impressive five or ten years ago, but are at best mediocre today. Further, many of the cut scenes end up being rather clumsy as different characters will often be feet off the mark or will exhibit the stiff emoting of bygone 3D characters. Finally, some of the minor characters are little more than color swaps with other minor characters which not only is confusing, but gives the impression as though the game is incomplete.

Where The Awakened stumbles the most, however, is in its attempt at integrating the Cthulhu mythos. This game is billed as a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft's science fiction horror anthology, and indeed, you'll find quite a few likenesses of Cthulu throughout your quest. But there is not one, not a single mention of Cthulhu during the entire game. As you play you will come across what is clearly the Necronomicon, a book written by the Mad Arab Alhazred, but not a single character manages to actually come out and say as much. By the time I found myself closing in on the end of the game, I realized I would be satisfied if just one character once said the word, "Cthulhu," but even that did not happen. If you aren't a fan of Lovecraft's works or are unfamiliar with the Cthulhu mythos, I imagine this may not be a big deal. If, on the other hand, you come to The Awakened expecting to delve deep into the canon of Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and others, you will be frustratingly disappointed.

Despite The Awakened's shortcomings, though, there's simply no denying that this is one fun Sherlock Holmes adventure. The story, though convoluted, remains intriguing throughout. The voice acting, despite some weak spots here and there, is top notch. And the in game strategy guide comes through as perhaps The Awakened's greatest asset. With this strategy guide The Awakened manages to be as difficult or as easy as you need it to be and helps the game maintain a brisk and enjoyable pace. Yes, there is no shortage of things to dislike about Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened, yet at the end of the day it still manages to spin a kind of magic that makes it a pleasure to play (PROTIP: Save often. There are instances where you can "die" which will result in having to restart at your last save point).

WindowsWindows:
Large file, no demo available
Get the full version

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

Note: Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a large-file adventure game and, as such, no demo is available. If there are any large file games you would like to know more about and would like to see reviewed next month, please let us know.


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (83 votes)
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Escape from Paradise 2: A Kingdom's Quest

JohnBIn the mood for more beach-themed Virtual Villagers-style simulation gaming? Escape from Paradise 2: A Kingdom's Quest is now available, and it delivers exactly what its predecessor did and quite a bit more. Instead of straightforward village management, Escape from Paradise 2 blends in mini-games to break up the action, and combined with a little hidden object finding and character stat upgrading, you have a game that will quickly sink its hooks in you.

escapefromparadise2a.jpgBeing shipwrecked isn't an easy life, even when you're on an island named Paradise. The first game was all about earning your freedom and sailing off into the sunset. As the second game reveals, however, the hero of Escape from Paradise wasn't so keen on leaving and decided to make this place his home. But the Great Chief of the local people was a suspicious and jealous man, and he banished our hero to the outskirts of the kingdom.

Depending on your character's chosen gender, you are immediately joined by Prince or Princess Perusah on the island. Their advice is to rise to the level of chieftain by helping the local tiki tribe build huts, wells, and other structures. As you fix up parts of the island, you earn the loyalty of more and more natives, slowly building your following as you go. The game plays out in a linear manner with challenges opening up each time you complete certain tasks. Sometimes all you need to do is build a few huts to gain access to a new part of the island. Other times you'll have a multi-step puzzle to solve. An inventory bar allows you to grab, store, combine and use certain items you find laying on the sand.

Escape from Paradise 2 is more than hut building, of course. Each member of your tribe has four stats you must tend to: thirst, hunger, social, and sleep. It's easy to drop a worker off by the well for a drink to raise the water meter, even though you won't want to take him or her off the job. You also have stats you can upgrade which, in turn, increase each character's speed at three basic tasks: cutting wood, gathering food, and building.

Mini-games play an important role in your success in Escape from Paradise 2. You earn food, wood and skill points by playing them, and they range from simple matching games to card games and more. There's also a strong hidden object theme in the main part of the game, as you'll catch a glimpse of several items while surveying the island. Click on them and see what happens!

escapefromparadise2b.jpgAnalysis: Escape from Paradise 2 takes another great stride away from Virtual Villagers convention, setting itself apart from the best-known casual village sim even more than the original Escape from Paradise. In doing so, it edges closer to Totem Tribe and its mixed-genre structure, which certainly isn't a bad thing.

Unlocking new challenges was my favorite part of the game, and each time something new became available my eyes lit up with excitement. The little mysteries scattered throughout the island — cracked stones, birds, gems, bumps in the ground, etc. — slowly become useful. I love that kind of progression in a game, and Escape from Paradise 2 handles it well.

One fault that continued to bother me while playing Escape from Paradise 2 was a lack of background tasking. The game requires a lot of waiting, such as waiting for wood to be gathered, waiting for huts to be built, waiting for characters to sleep so they'll work again, etc. You can disable auto-pause under the options menu, allowing the game to run in the background, but when you come back, the map will have moved because the game still tracks your mouse movement, even when minimized. The only aural clue you receive is a beep when you run out of food or wood, so if you don't check back frequently, you might return to see villagers dawdling or almost starving to death. You can always hunt the sands for hidden items or play mini-games with the monkey while everyone gets their chores done, but sometimes I'm more task-oriented and want to be productive!

More than just a village sim, Escape from Paradise 2: A Kingdom's Quest is a complete casual gaming package. It's got object finding, it's got puzzles, it's got over a dozen mini-games, and, oh yeah, there's some simulation stuff in there, too. Everything is balanced to keenly that no one aspect drowns out the other, leaving you free to enjoy every minute of game time.

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

JohnBAll three games featured this week seem to be a bit on the chilling creepy eerie ominous side of things. Nothing like hordes of zombies leaping from behind locked doors, more like quiet, haunting environments that are suspiciously empty but filled with cautious intrigue...

themirrorlied.jpgThe Mirror Lied (Windows, 7MB, free) - A spooky, horror-themed RPG that plays more like a top-down room escape game. It's rich in ambiguity, and as you start you're treated to some cryptic phrases before waking up in a dark, empty house. Move around the rooms interacting with the objects and gathering items to solve the game's simple puzzles. It's a short experience, only half an hour or so, but worth it for the atmosphere alone.

takishawaisdead.gifTakishawa is Dead (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - A short, simple, and unpolished 3D platformer created using Game Maker by Andrew Brophy. The art style makes it a treat to see, and even though the game itself is rather standard, it's a good experience and feels different enough to be entertaining. Use the [Z] key to read text and talk to people, [X] to jump, the [arrow] keys to move and [WASD] to switch camera angles.

somnia.jpgSomnia (Windows, 30MB, free) - A demo for a game in the works from Cryptic Sea, Somnia is a 3D game that's all about light and shadow. Move around the nightmarish world using standard first person controls, but when you stand on a ledge, take note of where your shadow falls. If it touches another object's shadow, you can use the left mouse button to switch to a 2D "shadow mode" that allows you to gain access to other parts of the world. Roll about in shadow mode, and when you revert to 3D, you'll appear wherever your shadow was. When the mechanic clicks, it's one of those ah-HA! moments I love to experience in a game.

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 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (39 votes)
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Big Brain Wolf

JohnBOnce upon a time, in a kingdom ruled by a red-hooded princess, there lived a young wolf. Unlike the rest of his family, this wolf was neither very big nor particularly bad. In fact, he wasn't too fond of eating people, preferring to eat vegetables and play chess instead. His mother wasn't too pleased with this, and she reminded him every day how he brought shame to the family. One morning her musical howl didn't fill the air, and the not-so-big, not-so-bad wolf knew something was wrong. Thus begins Big Brain Wolf, an adventure/puzzle game that parodies nearly every fairy tale and fairy tale character you can imagine, providing some surprisingly challenging puzzles along the way.

bigbrainwolf.jpgBig Brain Wolf is built from an adventure game blueprint and uses brain teaser-style puzzles to provide challenge. Point and click your way through a lush cartoon world, examining objects and speaking to NPCs on every screen. When an obstacle prevents passage, such as someone requiring a password or some activist sheep blocking your way, it's time to get solving. Puzzles range from the ordinary to unique, simple to brutally challenging. A basic hint system provides a nudge or two, but otherwise it's just you and your skull full of wiggling cells.

The story in Big Brain Wolf is one of the game's big draws, and it paints a deliciously complete satire of fairy tales as a whole. Watch as Pinnochio the lawyer tries to prove his client's innocence (and that he's a real boy)! Thrill as the three not-so-little pigs try to buy real estate! Chortle as every wolf in the game pokes fun at you for being an asthmatic vegan! The nuances in both dialogue and animation are deep and encourage you to click everything in sight just to get a laugh.

Living up to its "brain" name, Big Brain Wolf features half a dozen brain games designed in collaboration with neuroscientists from Brain Center International. Each one is designed to help with specific functions of the brain and can be played as often as you like from the menu screen. Earning points in these games scores you keys that unlock hints in the main adventure, so not only are you getting a mental workout, you're helping yourself beat the game, too.

bigbrainwolf2.jpgAnalysis: Big Brain Wolf has the reworked fairy tale feeling found in Emerald City Confidential along with the sense of humor from Fairy Godmother Tycoon or the Shrek movies. There's also a Professor Layton vibe for those of you acquainted with the Nintendo DS titles. From the game's opening through every puzzle and scene, Big Brain Wolf is dripping in parody, and you'll lap up every ounce of it.

While it may have a cartoon exterior, Big Brain Wolf isn't designed for kids. The humor will go over the heads of most children, the puzzles are more challenging than many kids can wrap their heads around, and there are one or two instances of mild language. It might be a good one to sit down and play with your kids, however, and with over 60 puzzles to solve across five chapters, there's several hours of game waiting to be played.

Moving around in Big Brain Wolf leaves something to be desired, as once you click, the animation is set and you can't break stride. Some actions require the wolf to move to a certain part of the screen, leaving you to stare as he lumbers across the ground, helpless to interact. This sluggish performance may discourage some players from exploring, as it can feel like a chore waiting for the wolf to respond. Don't let a tiny wait turn you away from going click-crazy, though, as Big Brain Wolf rewards the inquisitive in hilarious ways.

It's a bit of a surprise hit, but Big Brain Wolf hits the sweet spot between humor and serious adventure/puzzle gaming. It's more cerebral than the Sam & Max series, and more structured, varied and adventure-like than The Amazing Brain Train. This is a game you'll want to pick up for the writing and visual presentation but will love for its humor and great puzzles.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Big Brain Wolf is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade Town


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (105 votes)
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starbeacons.jpgArtbegottiWhat happens when you take a galaxy of stars and frozen meteors and send a ship plummeting through it, bouncing off of everything it hits? The fourth seasons finale of The Jetsons! Ho ho ho... I kid, really. There were only three seasons.

OR! It could also be Star Beacons, a pachinko-style arcade game from Steel Panda Studios. When an evil space armada captures a planet of jolly water creatures who use a giant star as their source of light, it's up to you, an intrepid waterite in a cool spaceship, to scour the deepest depths of space to retrieve the pieces of your broken star/sun.

In each level, you'll find yourself positioned at the top of the screen with a bunch of stars, meteors, and other space creatures scattered below you. Use your mouse to guide the turret, and click to fire a pellet at the space matter below. Anything your ball bounces off of on its way down the field is removed from play. On the way down, you might also encounter frozen blocks that shatter on impact, solid meteors that can't be destroyed, and aliens shooting at your ball. Naturally.

There are twenty levels to conquer, as well as five unlockable bonus levels. Given the limited supply of balls to shoot, can you conquer each level and restore your star to full brightness?

Analysis: Hey, look, it's Peggle! No, not quite, but Star Beacons does bear a resemblance to PopCap's megaton downloadable. Beyond the fact they're both pachinko games, of course. It might be unfair to compare a free browser game to a years-in-development title from a huge studio, but it's impossible to play Star Beacon without thinking of Peggle. The resemblance isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For starters, the basic setup in Star Beacons, from the block arrangement to the visual style and overall cartooney atmosphere, is practically Peggle Light. Aiming works in a similar manner in both games, though you can't fine-tune your shots here, only use the mouse to aim and fire. The physics in Star Beacons sometimes feel a bit off, as a one pixel difference can send the ball flying in a completely new direction. Also, don't expect to find any power-ups other than the occasional exploding item. Star Beacons is straight-up pachinko.

Star Beacons isn't the first game to borrow from Peggle, and it certainly won't be the last. But what it lacks in originality it makes up for in faithfulness to the source and raw fun factor!

Play Star Beacons

The game is also available to Play at Kongregate


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (92 votes)
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Casual Space screenshot

DoraSometimes deciding whether a game qualifies as "casual" isn't that easy. First Jay goes and meets with our secret "contact" in the secret parking garage behind our secret headquarters at midnight to get the secret coordinates. Then Kyle has to follow them to the ancient jungle temple in South America where he holds the undead army of the sorcerer-king Umbultak at bay using the Scimitar of Jess while Kate deciphers the ancient runes on the Altar of Casual Gameplay. And Psychotronic wrestles a baboon because... uh... hmmm. You know, I actually don't know why he always does that. Huh. Anyway, it's a very delicate process! Thankfully, Casual Space, the newest game from Steel Panda, has saved us the trouble by including the word "casual" right there in the title! Which is actually quite deceptive, since over forty levels, bonus stages, boss fights, upgrades and more means this is one big adventure.

Casual Space screenshotCasual Space tells the story of the once-peaceful planet of Capium, whose sun-star was attacked and shattered one day by the evil Space Armada and scattered throughout the vast galaxy. Presumably because this is what evil Space Armadas do, but perhaps also because they think a planet filled with tiny creatures made of water is an easy target. Well, one small hero in one small ship is about to prove them wrong as he sets out to gather the missing star pieces and preferably not explode along the way.

The controls in Casual Space are handled nearly entirely with the mouse. The ship follows your cursor around the screen at a short distance, leaving it up to you to navigate a path around obstacles. Clicking the right mouse button activates Power Mode, which causes your hero to do the water alien equivalent of hulking out and turn bright red, dashing after your cursor and smashing through ice and enemies for as long as the red power bar holds out. Just watch out for things like asteroids and planets; the damage you take is determined by how fast you're going, so keep that in mind when you're Knievel-ling about the spacescape.

In most levels, the objective is to collect all the star pieces to open a portal to the next stage. You can see how many you need in the upper-right corner of the screen. Stars can be anywhere, from floating around in small groups to encased in chunks of ice you'll need to break open. Once you have all of them, you can head straight for the portal, or you can pick up the other gems hidden around for extra points to spend on upgrades between levels. Just make sure to keep an eye on your time.

Occasionally, you'll come up against a boss fight, which is a welcome change of pace that I wish had happened more frequently. Your enemies are thoughtful enough to leave out floating signs that hint as to their weaknesses, but it's still a nice added challenge. Looking at the big, beautifully detailed maps gives you a hint as to what's coming up next, and I found myself eagerly looking forward to each new area.

Casual SpaceAnalysis: Space expeditions would be a lot more frequent if reality were as colourful as this. Zipping along through the surprisingly lovely backdrops to the Willy Wonka-esque soundtrack while you collect adorable little stars is sweet enough to induce a sugar coma at times. Thankfully, the game manages to balance its quirky, kid-friendly presentation with some genuinely challenging gameplay.

One issue I have is that the collision mechanic seems a bit overzealous. Not only space anomalies, but everything from the ice to asteroids will send you ricocheting backwards like it's made of rubber or jell-o. (Mmmm, space jell-o...)

You know how two-year-olds can be playing quietly together one minute, and then the next one of them has cracked the other over the head with a Tonka Truck for no reason? Casual Space can be like that to you. Midway through the first map, there are several levels where the entire play field is constantly in motion. Dodging all the flying obstacles while trying to grab the stars which are also moving seemed almost impossible at times. Oh, Casual Space, why do you hurt me when I love you so much? Thankfully, the game immediately presents you with several lovely levels to make up for it, and it only gets better from there.

Yes, it's true, I found the game to be pretty addictive. While I wish the difficulty curve would make up it's mind, when you find your rhythm for a particular level, it just works. I love the bright, cartoony presentation. I love the way the game paces itself by adding new things every level to keep things interesting. Casual Space is a sprawling adventure filled with lots to collect and unlock. People with a steady hand who like a challenge will find a lot to enjoy about it and will stay busy for a long time. Just don't forget to wear your spacepants. I'd let you borrow mine, but, well, you know... I had them specially made.

Play Casual Space

The game is also available to Play at Kongregate


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraDo you ever worry sometimes that you don't use your think-maker organ enough? You know, the one in your eyeball-holder box! Well, never fear, because this week's Link Dump Friday is here to force you to dust it off before it's too late.

  • TurnzTurnz - That purple block has been staring at us for a while now, and it's making us nervous. Just... staring! Creepy. Maybe you could help us out, you know, rotate the screen with the [Arrow Keys] or [WASD] to slide it into a target? robotJam would thank you for it..
  • The FactoryThe Factory - I may not be a teenager anymore, but I still know what's "hawt" with the kids these days! Kids like math, I'm sure of it! Use that newfangled "mouse" of yours to bounce those divisible gears around, "dude"! So, where're all the cool parties at tonight, fellow cool people? It'll be "gnarly"!
  • Cat Gets 100 StarsCat Gets 100 Stars - Cat wants stars. Cat needs stars! If you were to use your [Arrow Keys] to help Cat get all 100 of those sneaky stars, Cat would go from ":(" to ":D"!
  • Cat Cat WatermelonCat Cat Watermelon - We need more cats, and we need them balanced on towers with part of a complete breakfast, stat! So maybe you could grab the cats and the watermelons out of the sky with your mouse and use the [AS] keys or your cursor to rotate them so they'll stack. What are you asking questions for, it makes perfect sense.
  • Vector EffectVector Effect - We know what you want. You want to blow stuff up on a pulsing grid, maybe zip around in a glowing ship and release bombs for multipliers, amiright? And you especially want to be able to do it with either the [Arrow Keys] or [WASD], amiright? It's cool. We got what you need.

  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (146 votes)
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Starcom

JoshYou might not have picked up on the recent buzz surrounding Starcom, but it's a game that's been hotly-anticipated from Wx3 Labs within the developer community throughout the last couple months (and finally hitting Kongregate today). I was particularly stoked for Starcom's public launch ever since I played the pre-release last month. Having played tons of space shooters in the past, I wasn't expecting anything too different from the norm. But once I started playing, I didn't stop until two hours had gone by and I had finished the game from start to end. And I absolutely loved (almost) every minute of it.

StarcomStarcom is a top-down space shooter and strategy game, with subtle RPG elements like a well-paced story progression and "missions." Don't let the "top-down" label fool you though; this game takes the genre way past what you might expect. You're stationed aboard a Galactic Command Starbase (space station), playing the role of a space fighter pilot with a starting mission of fending off alien attacks. Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to control movement, use the mouse to aim and fire your primary weapon. Eventually you will arm yourself with missiles that can be fired by first locking on then pressing [space].

The first few missions serve as a tutorial, training you to use your ship so you can eventually zip around the galaxy with ease, fragging all those alien hostiles after your blood. After you've completed the first couple missions, you're thrown into the heart of the game. Sometimes you will be sent out for the obligatory run-and-gun mission, but about half of all the missions in Starcom feature some really fun and diverse tasks beyond the norm. Some involve stealth, some require speed, while others almost seem like suicide-missions. But they all progress well, and the story is actually above-par for a game like this.

And it doesn't even stop there; you'll find toys like the insanely-cool "Jump Drive" module that allows you to "hit warp speed" and basically teleport across large distances. All the little artifacts that you pick up can be traded in at your Starbase for new gear, and there's a ton of them. In fact, you'll eventually have to buy a "retrofit package" so you can pack more gear and weapons into your ship. Your commanders at the Starbase will periodically award you with money and gear, but always be on the look-out for items you can pick up that are floating in the debris of the alien ships you destroy.

An auto-save feature allows you to save every time you leave the starbase, which is advised since if you ever lose your ship under heavy warfare, it's game over.

Analysis: The unfolding story in Starcom is actually one of the best I've seen in an action-shooter game like this. Most of the time I don't even bother trying to immerse myself in the stories with these genres, because they either suck or are non-existent. Starcom really shines in this sense, revealing story elements at just the right moments, while incorporating it all into the gameplay progression.

But the story is just the tip of the iceberg. The main reasons why this game rocked so hard were the top-notch gameplay and polished graphics (the slew of upgrades and ship configurations didn't hurt, either). From the very first minute of gameplay, you can tell there's something special under the hood of this game. I know nothing about coding, but whatever methods the developer used to make this game produced a rock solid movement and physics engine. It's more precise-feeling than probably any top-down or arena shooter that I have ever played.

The control mechanics are well-implemented, and the physics, graphics and sound effects all work really well together, blending a bit of retro style with modern Flash tech. Your shields and power system are well-balanced, and the game progression is just perfect.

On the downside, it may be difficult for some to find your bearings and keep track of which wormhole goes where, although if you do get lost, you'll probably find your way back in just a minute or two. Making your way back to starbase to recharge or to save your progress can be a little tedious as well. Some people might not like how precise the aiming system is, but that's more of a preference thing. I actually liked the kinetically-realistic shooting system as opposed to the more "cartoonish" shooters.

And the game ends way too soon. It took me about two hours to beat, and I was having so much fun that it just wasn't enough. I wanted more. Lots more. I'm hoping the developer decides to release a few expansions or sequels, because this is way too good of a game to never see again, in some form or another.

Play Starcom


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Rating: 4.3/5 (324 votes)
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Scarygirl-b.jpg

katePreviously mentioned back in April when it was first released, we postponed a full review of Scarygirl until some of its initial bugs and control issues were sorted. Now, for the review..."

Some games serve as simple occasional diversions from your everyday routine. Some keep you coming back for more, whether it's due to replayability, quirky humor or pleasing graphics. Once in a great while the very best of games manage to completely draw you into their world, a world so complete and exquisitely developed that you want to spend hours there, exploring and dissecting and ruminating.

Scarygirl.jpgScarygirl, a collaboration between Nathan Jurevicius and Touch My Pixel, is one of these rare and elusive games. Flawed yet compelling, this Technicolor platform/adventure game is bursting with whimsy and wonder.

Scarygirl (perhaps a pirate, maybe a zombie, eternally adorable) has a bone for one arm and a hooked tentacle for the other. She wears a party hat with the Jolly Roger on it. She lives in a treehouse. She enjoys collecting jewels and fish. After a particularly troubling dream, she decides to seek guidance from her two mentors. One is a bunny and one is an octopus, of course.

She quickly consults with her advisors, and like any traditional heroine, she is charged with a quest. To discover the meaning behind her dream, she must travel through forests, swamps, cities and sewers, searching for clues and information along the way. And so we begin.

Scarygirl's world is as complex as it is frustrating and as beautiful as it is dangerous. The majority of the game can be boiled down to a traditional platformer in terms of mechanics. You know the drill. Use [arrows] to move, jump with [up], spin attack with [space]. Explore the level, kill the enemies, collect fish to increase your health and gems to increase your score. Activate a checkpoint to save your progress. You're doing great!

Except that, many times throughout the game, none of the above actually applies. The control scheme frequently changes along with the goal of the level. Fortunately there's plenty of in-game help that clearly explains your present objective and defines the active controls. Unfortunately, just when you're used to running, jumping and spinning, you're suddenly riding your rocket bike and bunny-hopping over rock formations. Fortunately, there are plenty of checkpoints along your journey. Unfortunately, the checkpoints are abruptly and quickly phased out, and you'll need to repeat entire levels again and again.

Completion fanatics will relish this chance, striving to collect every fish, treasure, or elusive old-school console game strewn throughout the levels. Offering hours and hours of gameplay, Scarygirl manages to balance its flaws with sheer ambition and a rock solid sense of place.

kate_scarygirl_screen2.jpgAnalysis: At first glance, Scarygirl comes at you blazing on all cylinders like a triumph in Flash game production values. From the very start of the introductory cinematic sequence, the player is offered a glimpse at what appears to be one of the most fantastic Flash games to ever appear on the Web. And yet once you dig a little deeper, the game seems to suffer from a severe case of "everything but the kitchen sink-itis." Swimming? Check. Boss battle? Check. Bike ride? Check. Trading? Collecting? A Mastermind-esque puzzle? Check, check and check.

The problem here is that its mostly traditional platforming basics aren't fully developed. Scarygirl plays like a compressed console game, never fully exploring the possibilities of each component, a conceit that is ultimately unsatisfying. Perhaps the most infuriating element is a lack of consistency. In the underwater level, you need to keep an eye on your oxygen level, periodically finding an air pocket to replenish it. Later, when you explore the sewers, swimming through flooded tunnels, no oxygen is necessary.

In the same vein, some levels drip green goo from the ceiling. You'll need to avoid the droplets, but the puddle underneath is safe to stand on. In a later level, however, what seems to be a puddle of the same goo does, in fact, harm you.

This same inconsistency applies to almost everything around you, slowly and cleverly becoming an integral and appealing part of the game. You don't know which fantastical creatures are the enemies until you try to walk past them. Does this bird want to take away my health fish? No, but this other bird does! Can I jump on that lady's hat? Of course I can! How about this pipe-smoking gentleman? Absolutely not!

The game's biggest flaw turns into its most compelling feature, a parlor trick that is rare indeed. The unpredictability factor serves to infuse Scarygirl and the world around her with a sense of exploration and adventure, a sense that the player is truly part of this journey, resulting in the desire to investigate every pathway available. And we haven't even discussed the art yet.

Oh, the art. The whimsical, stylized, gorgeous art. If Shag and Mary Blair had a slightly gothic and surreal love child, that child would be Scarygirl. The design never falters — each character is as lovingly drawn as the next. The game is dreamlike and capricious, beginning with the fantastically beautiful work of genius that is the opening movie.

In the end, the good outweighs the bad. Players can put up with loose controls, slipping and sliding their way through levels, when the brilliance of the rest of the game is so appealing. Every element combines to lift Scarygirl above the competition, serving to create one of the most exasperating yet fulfilling Flash games available today.

Play Scarygirl


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Rating: 4.3/5 (142 votes)
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FunnyManPolygonal FuryWhen you start up the first level of Polygonal Fury, from new developer DogInLake, you may get a feeling of déjà vu. For some reason (boomshine), it feels very familiar, but it's hard to (boomshine) put your finger on exactly what it's similar to (boomshine, boomshine, boomshine).

The basic premise of Polygonal Fury is straight out of Boomshine, and the first level will seem very familiar to veterans of that game: Simply click on a circle, and it will explode. Any circles that touch the explosion before it finishes also explode, and so on. You only have a few clicks to eliminate as many as possible, so pick your shots carefully.

Variety!As you continue onwards, however, you will note that Polygonal Fury has expanded on this simple concept. There are two additional shapes: squares zoom off in one of the four cardinal directions until they hit something and triangles fire a sniper shot, eliminating one random shape anywhere on the screen. After a couple levels, shapes gain hit points, so instead of triggering with a single click, explosion, ram, or shot, some will need to be hit twice. In later levels, some take as many as four.

It is, however, not all bad news. Each level has three levels of "complete". Bronze gets you to the next level, but is only worth one point. Silver requires more shapes to be cleared, but awards 3 points. And Gold is the best of all, giving you 5 points for clearing almost all of the shapes. Once you've collected some points, you can spend them on any of 11 different upgrades.

Oooh, shineys.Each shape has three types of upgrade, one that improves the basic shape, one that adds "Super" versions of it, and one that gives the super shape a chance to be even more powerful. For instance, you can improve the explosion radius of circles, super circles have an even larger explosion, and upgrading the super circles gives them a chance to deal double damage. Arguably the most powerful upgrades, however, are the two click upgrades: Double damage and additional clicks.

Each upgrade (with the exception of double click damage) has multiple levels, each more expensive than the last. Adding a second point of damage to your triangles will cost you 15 points, but the third point is another 20, for a total of 35 points or 7 gold medals.to upgrade them fully. Fortunately, you can redo earlier levels to improve the medal you have, and if things get truly desperate, you can click Reset and reassign your points as you see fit.

Analysis: Polygonal Fury could have easily been another cheap Boomshine clone, but DogInLake clearly put some love into making it. The level balancing is simply amazing, with the challenges you are forced to meet increasing right alongside the abilities you've purchased so that you're challenged by each new level.

The three shapes are also surprisingly well-balanced. Each one plays a specific role in continuing the chain reaction, a role which is reinforced by the upgrades given to it. Circles are short range, hitting everything nearby and sustaining the reaction. Triangles handle long range, hitting a single shape with pinpoint accuracy and spreading the reaction to new areas. And squares are hybrids, moving in a straight line, able to hit one or more targets at any distance, if they are timed right. A few of the later levels completely lack one shape, and those are some of the hardest levels in the game, because all three types are indispensable, even with full upgrades.

The graphics and sound of Polygonal Fury probably won't be winning any awards, but they get the job done. There's also a rather half-hearted attempt at a story that feels tacked-on and is completely forgettable. And at times it's a royal pain to click on the shape you want to, between its motion and the bizarre tendency for a click to hit a shape beneath it instead.

Honestly, though, all of that is unimportant. Polygonal Fury is all about skill, difficulty, and upgrades, and it has those nailed. Everything else is minor quibbling, because it doesn't really get in the way, and the core gameplay is a blast.

Play Polygonal Fury


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (126 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessA lighter. Some flour. A stick, a rock, a knife and a towel. How, using only these handful of items, can you escape a room? Six different ways, apparently, at least in Room Escape SIX, a new escape-the-room game from Japanese designer Kotaro. You are the latest challenger to enter a strange, hexagon-shaped building that exists solely to be escaped from; how you do so depends upon the way in which you use the room's odd furnishings.

RoomThis game is a bit unusual in that the meat of its challenge takes place on the inventory screen. After the room's objects have been collected (which will take, even the first time you play, a total of about 30 seconds) you can begin the entertaining, experimental process of combining them. Each method of escape requires certain combinations of objects (and/or actions to be performed upon those items); as you might imagine, this involves a good bit of trial-and-error. To a limited extent, it is possible to reverse the combining process; with the push of a button, you can separate an object into its original component parts. This only works, however, if the separation process is realistically feasible. For example, if you've tied the towel to the stick, you can separate the two; if you've cut the towel into pieces and realized it was a mistake, however, tough luck. In the latter situation, the "Reset" button is your only option.

You'll probably be using that button a lot. The constant resetting can become a little bit tedious, but the short setup time needed to get back to where you were pre-mistake keeps it from being too much of a bother. It's a lot of fun to explore the different ways you can use and combine the objects; the game has a great sense of fun and whimsy, and an undeniable but not cloying cuteness. My one complaint is that one of the six endings (the simplest, ironically) is, in my opinion, really unintuitive. The other five, however, are all reasonably logical, and you'll probably stumble upon the last one by mistake anyways.

The game's graphics are simple and colorful, not extraordinary but certainly pleasant enough to look at. A soundtrack would have been nice, but the game's lack of one isn't a huge detriment. There is no pixel hunting, and navigating around the room is easy. The inventory system, by far the game's most important feature, is set up in a straightforward, user-friendly manner. Also, while there's no save button, the game will remember what methods of escape you've already discovered. You can play, find an ending, leave, come back and escape two more times, and so on--the game is basically a series of little escape vignettes. This makes it the perfect two-minute diversion, ideal for slipping in between classes or on a coffee break. Enjoy!

Play Room Escape SIX


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Rating: 4.7/5 (682 votes)
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DoraLittle WheelAsk anybody what the saddest thing is and you'll get a different answer. And probably a wrong one, too. Because the fact is that the saddest thing is not a kitten in the rain, a little boy with a skinned knee, or a crying clown — especially because clowns are evil and deserve any misery they get. No, friends, the saddest thing is one little robot, all alone in the world, who needs your help. Little Wheel, from the fine folks at One Click Dog, is a point-and-click adventure with the most style tucked into it's itty-bitty package that you've ever seen.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Little Wheel is the story of a world of self-sufficient robots. Everything runs like clockwork until one day when a mishap at the power core shuts down the entire civilization. After ten thousand years of rusting, a chance lightning strike restores power to one small hero, who sets out to start everything back up again.

Little Wheel is played entirely with the mouse, and the design could not be friendlier. There's no hunting for pixels or hot-spots, as things you can interact with are highlighted by a gray circle. Instead of collecting seemingly random items and rubbing them against everything to see if it advances the story, most puzzles in the game are solved simply by choosing to click these interactive areas in their correct order.

As such, it takes a lot of the thinking out of what would otherwise be some really difficult puzzles. Click on something and Little Wheel will putter off to investigate, and watching its actions will give you clues as to the order in which you should proceed. The journey isn't a long one, but it's a delight to see what new obstacle your little mechanical buddy has to tackle next.

Analysis: It would be a lot easier to feel sadder about Little Wheel's predicament if the whole thing wasn't so gosh darn pretty. Little Wheel's simple palette of sepia and black is still able to produce a remarkably detailed silhouette world. Structures and characters are rendered with loving detail, down to every winch and switch, and animated with just as much care. Everything moves as smoothly as a penguin sliding down a hill made of butter. Which, take my word for it, is very smooth indeed!

The only real complaint I have with Little Wheel is how short and relatively easy it is. Even if you don't use a walkthrough, it doesn't take long to figure out which item onscreen to click first. There are times when it's more like watching an animated short than playing a game, but the sheer amount of polish that has gone into it more than makes up for its length. If sacrificing an hour of gameplay has lead us to this gorgeously rendered and animated adventure, then that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Aided by a mellow, finger-snappin' jazz soundtrack that makes me want to kick back in a fedora and tell everyone to "Just relax, maaaan", Little Wheel is a stellar example of its genre. Its length and lack of replay value make it something more suited to a lunchbreak than a whole afternoon, but a healthy dose of charm and undeniable quality will make it one of the most memorable point-and-click adventures in a long while.

Play Little Wheel

Cheers to Dan for sending this one in! =)


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (250 votes)
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JayMorbidPastel Games has just released a new point-and-click game, Morbid, designed and illustrated by Maciej Palka with programming, animation and puzzle support from Mateusz Skutnik.

While everyone here at JIG agrees that the artwork contained within is well-conceived and the atmosphere is enticingly moody, we weren't as impressed with the gameplay. Hard-to-find hotspots turn this game into a disappointing exercise in frustration. The art just seems to get in the way of an entertaining experience, and it makes the game more difficult to play. Sometimes you can't differentiate between stylistic scribbles and objects you really need to pay attention to.

Sacrificing the interface for the sake of art was a poor design choice. The lack of direction also feels a little sloppy, since unlike Scene of the Crime, in which you have a reason to be searching around, this one just sort of plonks you into the countryside where you might not have any reason to think of peeping inside a tree trunk or picking up a random pot. A bit more story direction would have helped things along, instead of leaving us to stumble about clicking on seemingly random places.

Play both games in the Morbid series:

But decide for yourself (and please let us know what you think in the comments). We were on the fence about whether to feature this one, so I decided instead to compromise with a blurb that expressed the reasons for our disappointment. My hope is that it sparks some worthwhile discussion about it for this talented group of game designers.

Play Morbid


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Rating: 4.7/5 (456 votes)
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StaceyG"PretenderThe Pretender: Part One, is a fantastic new platform based puzzle game by Tim Knauf and Tristan Clark of Launching Pad Games, with very pleasing art work by Vin Rowe. Although the developers have just released the game as part of a game competition, and still consider it a work in progress, we think it's quite spiffy already and ready for some exposure.

You are a Victorian era magician. Your act had been growing a bit stale, so you were given a magical book to spice it up. Unfortunately, the book's magic is real and far beyond your parlor tricks. During the show, a door to another dimension opens up and sucks the entire audience into it. You must travel through this world and guide each poor ghostly figure back to the magic door on each level so they can get back to their Earthly life.

There are three different forms you can take to help you on your quest: your corporeal magician form; an airy figure that floats and that can manipulate wind; and a hideous earthen monster that can smash and move rock. By using a combination of forms you must figure out which routes to take, and which obstacles to destroy or move, to solve the puzzle of getting each audience member to the door. The tricky part is that ghosties can only follow you one at a time.

Use the mouse to access menus. Use [arrow] keys to move around. Press [space] to use powers or to click through the dialogue of story mode.

There are four sets of levels of increasing difficulty, and you need to get only four levels correct in each set to unlock the next set. There are optional story levels that you can skip if you just want to puzzle, or you may play through to see the short story unfold.

PretenderAnalysis: Launching Pad Games have paid significant attention to making The Pretender a joy to play and navigate through. Most of the levels aren't too difficult to figure out, and you may reset a level at any time to try again if you get stuck. Luckily you can skip a level here or there if you get really stuck by clicking on the map. Not having to complete every level in order to progress is an option that really helps avoid frustration. You can always go back later and solve the levels you skipped. The game also saves automatically so you can play at your leisure. Each level has a name, like chapter headings, which is useful when asking for help with a hint. Even making the story levels optional was a choice that had the player in mind.

The story is simple but gives the puzzles a mysterious feel, and the puzzle design and characters are all nicely integrated. The sparse sounds and bits of dialogue from the ghosts are a nice touch, and the intro music also fits the mood well.

Occasionally the game gets a bit persnickety when you are trying to move from a ladder to a platform, and you may have to move up and down a bit to find just the right spot to allow you to move sideways. Also, it was a bit confusing that the magician's wand makes a spark but doesn't have any powers unless you are in airy form. The air wand power with the sail boats is fantastic, but it would have also been nice to have a minor power when you are just in magician form.

If you choose to play through the story levels the game ends on a cliff hanger (thus the Part One in the title). So for those interested in the story, you'll have to wait for the saga to continue. But the puzzles are the main attraction here, smart and elegant brain teasers that get increasingly more complicated as the levels progress. Altogether a fun and challenging new puzzle game from a promising new group of Flash game developers from New Zealand.

Play The Pretender: Part One


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Mobile Monday

JohnBBig game developers continue to flock to the iTunes App Store to offer portable versions of some of their best-known games. Electronic Arts is no stranger to any gaming platform, and some very recognizable titles can now have a home on your system. The prices aren't always as friendly as they could be, but sometimes it's worth a little extra cash to get the glitz and glamor a large studio can provide.

thesims3.jpgThe Sims 3 - The Sims needs no introduction. Expect just about everything from the PC version in this slimmed-down port, featuring enough character customization and development goals as you can handle. Make your Sim fall in love, make him or her a real jerk, encourage them to be productive citizens or just create a depressed punk, it's your choice. The touch screen interface is well done, but one missing feature in this port is the ability to build houses for your Sims. You can only choose from pre-made houses, which is a bit of a bummer, but far from a deal-breaker.

trivialpursuit.jpgTrivial Pursuit - The same game I used to defeat my friends at back in high school is now ready for iPhone-related victories. This version comes with several modes of play, including single player (which is better than you might think), Wi-Fi multiplayer, and the good old fashioned "pass your iPhone to your friends when it's their turn". The questions are good, modern, and challenging (unlike the game in my friend's closet), and the visual presentation is superb. It's the next best thing to sitting down with the actual board game, and now you won't have to search all over the place for your pie pieces.

easudoku.jpgEA Sudoku - Sudoku games have run rampant on the iTunes App Store, filling every nook and cranny with games of all levels of quality. This version of the numbers game happens to be quite good, with slick visuals and easy touch controls that take most of the pain out of doing sudoku without a pen and paper.

cannonchallenge.jpgCannon Challenge - This little free app, which isn't from a big-name development studio, is a surprising amount of fun. Adjust height and velocity of each shot, then tap "fire" let the ammo fly. Your goal is to hit the targets sitting around the landscape. The visuals aren't anything to tell your Aunt Edna about, and the rather unceremonious transition from level to level is a bit of a let down, but I still found myself moving through each stage with my fingers glued to the screen, adjusting those invisible dials increment by increment.

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (123 votes)
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Altitude

JohnBBest described as a cross between Teeworlds, Team Fortress 2, and an RPG, Altitude is a shockingly addictive online multiplayer game from indie studio Nimbly Games. Grab a plane and take to the skies as you compete (and co-operate) with other players and earn experience points bombing the enemy base and taking down foes with a variety of power-ups. As you gain levels you unlock new planes along with equippable "perks" that enhance and alter each vehicle. The instant action grabs you from the start while the nuanced gameplay and healthy serving of upgrades keep you in for the long haul.

AltitudeEven though it's structured around online multiplayer matches, Altitude begins with a single-player training session that helps you earn your wings while leveling-up your plane. First, learn to pilot using the [arrow] keys and fly through a series of loops. Then its on to some simple player vs. computer-controlled bot skirmishes that get progressively more difficult. Finally, it's time to try equipping perks, the crucial items you'll use to customize your plane to suit your playing style. Do you use armor strong against collisions or against enemy fire? Depends on how reckless of a driver you are!

As you ground enemy planes, damage turrets, and complete plane-specific challenges, you earn valuable XP that increases your level. When you reach certain milestones, new planes become available. A total of five planes can be chosen (ten if you include their alternate versions), each with its own weapons and attribute scores in health, speed and agility. The explodet, for example, is a strong, slow, lumbering beast with deadly missiles and the ability to set land mines. Loopy, on the other hand, is a thin-skinned speed devil equipped with tracking missiles and an EMP! Which plane you pilot is up to your personal preferences, as each is deadly in the right hands.

Analysis: Your reaction after playing the training missions in Altitude will be something along the lines of amazement. Afterwards, the excitement will cool a bit as the gameplay settles in and you start to learn the real ins and outs of controlling your plane. After you gain a few levels, unlock an additional plane, and earn a few new perks, the amazement factor returns. This time, however, it doesn't go away. Altitude is one of those rare games that keeps its charm long after that new game smell has worn off.

AltitudeOne of the factors in designing a video game is creating a rewards structure that gives players an incentive to keep playing. Why trudge through hour after hour of gameplay if there's nothing in it for you at the end, right? Altitude satisfies that role in three ways: levels, perks, and planes. For starters, gaining a level is a reward in itself. Not much of a reward, but an achievement which makes you feel good. Gain a few levels, however, and you get something even better: a new plane! Different vehicles change how you play the game, broaden the gameplay variety, and give you a real reason to keep playing.

But that's not all! Perks are earned throughout all of this, pieces of equipment that become more and more useful as you unlock learn to use them. Challenges can be completed at just about any time, earning you bonus XP that go a long way to increasing your level.

If Altitude has a drawback, it's a lack of map variety. There are just over half a dozen pack-in maps to play, with a few community maps circulating the servers as well. These are divided between free-for-all skirmishes and team-based "bomb the fort" maps. Beyond that, there isn't much else to speak of. Another gameplay mode or two, nothing too complex, just slight variations could work wonders (capture the flag? king of the hill?). A few new terrain obstacles could also be a boon, as the only thing that really exists at the moment are turrets

With no real flaws and an extremely addictive gameplay, Altitude is one of the best casual online multiplayer games I've ever seen. It's well-balanced, easy to play, and nuanced enough to be difficult to master. It's one of those games that implants itself in your head so at random moments throughout the day you think "Ooh, I should go play Altitude, see if I can gain a level or two."

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Download the demo
Get the full version


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Braid Walkthrough header

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (39 votes)
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Avernum5

JoshWhenever I see a new isometric RPG released, I usually try to size it up and figure out what the developer was going for. What did he or she envision when creating the game? It's been so long since the Diablo-era of RPGs reigned that the technology has long-since passed the necessity of isometric design, with turn-based mechanics and "3/4" top-down viewing angles. These days, when come across a game like Avernum 5, I have to wonder if we're supposed to judge its merit using a different set of criteria— such as those considered "retro" games— the way we think of arcade clones and side-scrollers, for example. Developed by Spiderweb Software, Avernum 5 serves as a good example of this trend; reaching a precipice of sorts where a game genre almost has to be developed and marketed as a retro throwback to remain viable.

Avernum 5Usually I try not to subscribe to the theory that a screenshot is worth a thousand words, although sometimes, it might be worth a couple hundred. Just a quick glance will tell a seasoned gamer a few things about this game: it's obviously designed isometrically, it's a dungeon-crawl RPG, and the graphics look like something you might see on the back of a game box lying in a garage sale from a decade ago. What the screenshot can't tell you, though, are things like story-value, gameplay details and most importantly, the vision the developer had when creating the game. And after playing this game for a bit, I'm convinced it's a game of just that— vision. Not a vision of the future or the past, but simply the developer's idea of what ingredients it takes to cook up a fun game, one that they themselves would enjoy playing, "retro" or otherwise.

Avernum 5 is the fifth game in a series, believe it or not. That surprised me, because I'd never heard of it before. But lo and behold, four other similarly-styled RPGs precede it (the first three are remakes of a series called Exile, created by Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb). "Avernum" is the name of an underground domain that's home to the Avernites, a group at war with the surface-dwellers, collectively called the Empire. This time around, a group of adventurers is sent back to Avernum to hunt down an assassin who tried to kill the Empress. The story and its development is actually pretty thick for a closed-in dungeon crawler, unfolding constantly a simplified "choose-your-own-adventure"-styled dialogue.

Avernum 5You're given four characters to form your party, all of which you can control individually in battle. Each of them can be customized and tweaked to fill different roles, primarily as your typical melee, ranged and magic fighters. There are two game states: in-battle and out-of-battle. When you're not in battle, you control the party as a single unit, using the mouse to control movement by clicking where you'd like to go. If you're jumped by monsters (or attack them first), you enter battle. In this mode, the game becomes turn-based and each of your characters are allocated "action points," which are used in basically the same way as most other games: to move, attack, grab an item, etc...

You can use the mouse to control almost everything, but you'll probably drive yourself nuts if you try. You're given the option of using pre-configured keybinds for all of the most frequently-used actions, and most gamers will find it exceedingly tedious to not use at least a few of them (picking up loot, opening menus). As well as being able to customize the role of your characters, you'll find quite a bit of loot along the way, which adds another layer of dimension to the gameplay. Want to use a spear instead of a sword? No problem. The same kind of customization is available for magic-users, in the form of choosing specific mastery paths to follow as you level up and gain more skill points.

Lastly, underlying all those options and paths to follow, the game offers 10 classes to choose from, spanning over three races. You've got Humans, the reptilian Slith and the feline-like Nephilim. Just a few of the classes offered are Scouts, Shamans, Archers, Hedge Wizards and the obligatory "tanks," like Soldiers and Berserkers.

Analysis: Earlier, I mentioned the vision involved in a developer's creative process. When it comes to games like Avernum 5, I think it's important to try and recognize what the developer envisioned (and of course, whether or not he or she succeeded in that vision) the game to be. Specifically, my preconceptions about this genre (old, tired and cloned to death) would probably have kept me from even giving this game a shot, if it weren't my job. But then I never would have seen what this game is really about; a surprisingly-detailed dungeon-crawl/action-RPG that serves as a retro indulgence for all the old-school hack-and-slash fans out there who would rather sit down and play something that reminds them of the games they loved than many of the modern, graphically-intensive monster-RPGs trying to reinvent the wheel.

I'm not gonna yank your chain— if you're not even the slightest fan of this genre and you never have been, there's a better chance you'll get struck by lightning than enjoy this game. It's old-school R-P-to-the-G all the way; micro-managing, drawn-out reward progression and all. Avernum 5 is a bit less action-centric than many RPGs of its kind. But it excels at the other end of the spectrum, in strategy, character-building and story presentation. That's not to say you won't get anything more out of the experience than pulling out an old tabletop dungeon-runner; there's plenty of fun to be had here, and the game is decently polished. But it's one game that's definitely made for a specific audience, and I think that's exactly what the developer had in mind.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Available only through Spiderweb Software's website:
Download the demo


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Rating: 4.7/5 (50 votes)
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Alabaster

JessIt is a moonless night. The lantern light does not reach far. You are seldom frightened in these woods, but tonight is unusual.

Snow White is with you. Her wrists are bound behind her back. She has made as much of a nuisance of herself as she could, deliberately stumbling over every root in the dark, until you had to half-carry her this far.

Earlier, you killed a hart and left it here. It was a preparation: you didn't want to have to hunt such an animal in the darkness.

Now, you can't help wondering whether you should have spared the noble beast.

AlabasterSo begins Alabaster, an exquisite and addictive piece of interactive fiction created by a team of eleven talented writers and spearheaded by Emily Short—one of the Grande Dames of the genre and authoress of such classics as Floatpoint—that takes the oft-Disneyfied, candy-coated tale of Snow White and recasts it in rather darker hues. You assume the role of the nameless woodsman, a loyal but ultimately good-hearted servant of the Queen who has been given the unfortunate task of butchering the comely Snow White. Unwilling to murder an innocent, you have struck a bargain with the girl: she will go to a prearranged safe haven, while you will kill a hart to produce the grisly proof of Snow White's death that the Queen requires. The portentous night has arrived, and you are deep in the woods with the girl. But now, as the moment of truth approaches, you can't help but hesitate.

While your mistress has undoubtedly become a bit unhinged and performed some questionable actions, if certain rumors are to be believed, the girl may be no better than her stepmother. Such a strange young woman, with her dark, knowing eyes, her fetid breath and nocturnal habits... and why, on this bitterly cold night, does she seem entirely unaffected by the temperature? She stands before you, impatient, waiting. If you see your deal with Snow White through, the Queen will almost certainly detect your treachery and have you executed; but how, really, can you bring yourself to murder what appears to be an innocent child?

The only thing you can do now, frustrating as it might be, is to talk to her. You must attempt to ascertain the truth of this deeply puzzling situation and unravel the mystery surrounding Snow White and the Queen; only then will you be free to make what might be the most important and difficult decision of your life. Choose your words with care...

Analysis: A superlative piece of work, in certain ways Alabaster is somewhat different than the majority of interactive fiction that we have previously reviewed. While many IF games present a more-or-less linear plot to play through, complete with puzzles to solve, items to collect and so on, Alabaster's heart and soul lies in the conversation between the protagonist and Snow White. But really, "conversation" seems an inadequate term; the potential paths of dialogue are mind-bogglingly sprawling and intricate and, depending on the choices you make, will lead you to one of 18 (!) possible endings. This gives the game near-unparalleled replay value. Also, only through replay is it possible to understand the entirety of the situation; Short and her compatriots have created much more than a simple retelling of the fable, and the underlying truth of the game's scenario is far more complex than any fairy tale.

AlabasterThe structure of the gameplay is simple and intuitive. Most, but not all of your actions will involve asking questions and supplying responses; ASK, TELL and SAY are the three commands that you'll be using most often. The game supplies you with possible conversational prompts after nearly every line of dialogue, ensuring that you never run out of things to say. While immensely sophisticated, Alabaster is not infallible; you might find yourself accidentally skipping forward (with conversational prompts that you shouldn't yet have) or missing a potential ending because your command wasn't worded in a specific way. Still, on the whole you'll probably encounter very few problems.

Beyond its value as a superb piece of interactive fiction, Alabaster is also notable for its experimental and creative aspects. The game's website calls it "an experiment in open authorship"; Short wrote and released Alabaster's introduction, and 10 other writers contributed conversation text. It's extraordinary to me that the work of 11 individuals has synthesized so perfectly into one seamless product; this is a testament to the undoubtedly dizzying amount of work that must have gone into the game's creation.

This review wouldn't be complete without discussing the wonderful, evocative graphics that accompany the game. In an experiment in "procedural illustration", in place of a standard status bar Daniel Allington-Krzysztofiak has created numerous graphical sketches that indicate and change with the state of play. The sketches themselves are starkly black-and-white but delicately lined, and it's fascinating to watch them change with the flow of the conversation.

If, after playing Alabaster, you want to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the game's creation, you can take advantage of the website's wealth of interesting extras. Along with walkthroughs, you can download or link to the game's (jaw-dropping) conversation diagram, plot structure, cover art, and even take a look at the development process as charted through blog entries. Nice!

But before all that, of course, your first order of business should be simply to dive in. Alabaster is intuitive enough for a new player to pick up easily, yet rich enough to satisfy even the most experienced veteran of interactive fiction; a more wonderful combination of qualities is hard to find. Don't be surprised, however, if you find yourself unable to tear yourself away from the screen...like its "heroine", Alabaster is most entrancing, and it won't be easy to turn away.

Download Alabaster (Mac/Windows/Linux, 2MB, free)

Note: Because Alabaster is far more process-intensive than your average piece of IF, I highly recommend that you download the latest, fastest interpreter before playing: Zoom 1.1.4 for Mac and Git 1.2.4 for Windows. Links to pre-compiled versions of the game as well as the story file itself can be found at the official website.


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (22 votes)
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Faerie Solitaire

MarcusFaerie Solitaire is, at its core, a version of the classic golf-style card game found in Fairway Solitaire. Take cards off the pile or pull cards from the play area that are either one above or one below the target, the ultimate goal being to clear the screen. The usual suit of numbered cards (two through ten, jacks, queens, kings and aces) are at your disposal. It may seem a simplistic set-up, but if you throw in power-ups and a Pokemon-esque pet raising game, something magical is created!

Faerie SolitaireThe faeries of the land have been captured, and of course it is your job to rescue them. In true casual game fashion, the only way to save them is to play cards. But, you know, try not to think about that too much. Really this is a game of solitaire, plain and simple. Each level consists of cards arranged in a number of different patterns across the screen. As you remove cards from the top of each tableau, the card beneath it is turned over and can be played. Remove an entire arrangement from the field and you are rewarded with money and, often, other goodies.

Each level lasts for nine hands, and in order to progress you must meet an additional goal. These range from completing several hands with a perfect rating to earning a certain amount of money. Early in the game these are relatively easy to complete, but they become significantly more difficult as the game progresses, forcing you to repeat the last hand of the level until you have fulfilled the requirements. As you clear cards from the board you fill an energy meter at the top of the screen. Top it up and you'll release a faerie!

Collect money on each level and, between stages, you'll get to visit Faerie Land where you can buy power-ups. These helpful little guys include multiple undos, more cards being turned over at the start of each hand, and more gold at the end of each hand. From here you can also access your pets. Yep, you read that right... pets!

Removing piles of cards from the screen often rewards you with eggs and various other materials. Head to the pet hatchery with an egg in hand to activate it. Pets gain experience points as you play, and if you have enough materials, your pet will eventually evolve into a fully-grown magical creature! There are 32 different pets to collect throughout the game, and the only way to catch them all (see what I did there?) is to complete each hand with a flawless rating.

Faerie SolitaireAnalysis: Faerie Solitaire is very similar to Fairway Solitaire in a number of ways, but that works in the game's favor. The smooth gameplay keeps you interested in the game on a minute-by-minute basis, and the different card setups along with the pet raising game keep you coming back day after day.

While the story surrounding the game is well-written, it turns out to be somewhat of a throw-away feature. New plot points are only revealed between levels, and as the game progresses, completing all nine hands to finish a level takes more and more time. By the time you're done, you've pretty much forgotten about the story. It's something nice to tie the game together, but ultimately could have been dropped.

It should come as little surprise that Faerie Solitaire includes unlockable achievements. There are eighteen in total, including ones for completing each of the eight stages, collecting all of the pets, and completing all nine hands of a level in under nine minutes. The nice thing about the achievements is that you can mouse over the ones you have yet to accomplish and see what you need to do to unlock it. It's much easier when you know what you are striving for.

Faerie Solitaire is an excellent take on an old card game. It runs smoothly, the difficulty ramps up nice and gradually, and it's addictive enough to keep you coming back for more. You might be able to ignore the story, but you won't be able to ignore how much fun you'll have while you're playing.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download makes me hungry. Hungry for TOAST! It also, by extension, makes me want to ride on the back of a sheep, but that's a completely different thing, innit?

typefighter.jpgType Fighter (Mac/Win, 24MB, free) - A short anime-style fighting game created by Kevin Lee and Kyle Fujita for an intermediate game design and development course. It looks like ninjas have attacked your office building, and by typing in phrases when prompted, you can avoid their attacks as well as fight back. Charge your super meter and unleash a super attack (by typing SUPER, of course) to do some real damage. The art and sound are over-the-top dramatic, and unleashing special attacks by typing phrases like "DID YOU GET THAT THING I SENT YOU" is something I've always dreamed of. There are only two stages, so the game is rather short, but it's fun while it lasts! Note: Scroll down to the bottom of the page for download links.

detoren.gifDe Toren (Windows, 9MB, free) - From Edit Mode, the creator of the Game Boy-esque Lightmare, comes a puzzle platformer that's harder than it looks. Earn points by touching floor tiles with the ultimate goal of climbing to the top of the tower. You must earn enough points within the allotted time in order to proceed, so don't dawdle, just keep climbing!

toastboy.gifToast Boy (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - TOAST BOY! Toast Boy is tiny and his world is blocky and filled with solid colors. Toast Boy can fly using his jetpack. Toast Boy picks up a gun and can shoot enemies with this gun. Toast Boy is very fast-paced, hectic, even, and things move so quickly you won't even have time to wonder why Toast Boy has legs. Toast doesn't have legs in real life, does it?

sheep2.gifSheep! (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - A simple, short, cute and free solitaire-type game from Alexander Shen. Sheep cards appear at the top of the screen, each stack with a number and points value below. Simply place fence cards on the piles and try to eliminate all of the sheep in a stack. Fence in all the sheep before you run out of fence cards, and get bonus points for matching the face numbers on-the-dot.

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 (37 votes)
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Treasure Seekers 2: The Enchanted Canvases

GrinnypNelly and Tom are at it again! Yes, the kids from the original Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold have returned, and this time they're all grown up! Just like the original game, Treasure Seekers 2: The Enchanted Canvases a unique hybrid of adventure and hidden object gaming that makes use of context-sensitive actions rather than laundry lists of items to find. Add to that some much-improved visuals (which is saying a lot!) and you have another potential hit on your hands.

treasureseekers2a.jpgNelly has just arrived home from Guatemala to find a letter from her brother, Tom. He has invited her to join him at a castle in Romania to solve a mystery, just like when they were kids. When she arrives at the castle, however, Tom has disappeared! The story of the siblings takes a backseat once Nelly arrives and begins to struggle through a series of enchanted paintings, solving problems for the inhabitants as she goes along. Fans of Azada: Ancient Magic will recognize this familiar set-up, but Treasure Seekers 2 goes a step further with more tasks and mini-puzzles to solve in each painting.

Artogon's context-sensitive interface, used in the original Treasure Seekers game as well as The Mystery of the Crystal Portal, is a welcome change to the hidden object/adventure genre, and it's extremely user-friendly. Your cursor changes shape when you move over a puzzle that can be solved. Click it and a circle pops up showing what items need to be collected to complete that task. Then, simply drag the needed items into the circles and before you know it, the puzzle is solved. In some areas you can work on different tasks at the same time, while other areas require you to complete one puzzle before you can move on to the next.

Both the cursor and the menu in Treasure Seekers 2 has been tweaked to show you which actions are possible over each hotspot, such as talking to characters, moving to a new screen, or interacting with an object. Contextual clues can also be gathered from speaking with the inhabitants of each painting, eliminating one of the major frustrations of Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold: finding yourself in a room with no clue where to begin.

treasureseekers2b.jpgAnalysis: A great feature in Treasure Seekers 2: The Enchanted Canvases the ability to choose between casual and advanced modes, allowing both novice and experienced gamers to have a good time. The mini-games scattered throughout the scenarios are varied and a nice mix of fun and challenging. And don't worry if you get stuck, they can be skipped after a certain amount of time. Also, much of the clutter of the first game has been cleaned up so you can really get a good look at those luminous backgrounds.

There are no penalties for misclicks, just a little red "X" to let you know you're in the wrong place. Hints are unlimited and on a timer that refills quickly, especially in casual mode. Skipping puzzles works in much the same way. An additional bonus in casual mode are little clues that pop up and point you in the right direction if you've taken too long to begin a task.

Since Nelly and Tom are older, some of the original sense of wonder is gone from the game, but Treasure Seekers 2 makes up for it with a healthy amount of whimsy in each scenario. Meet a trapped ghost, a forlorn werewolf, a snarky vampire, and an impatient monk amongst many other characters. Add to that the gorgeous locations and the challenging puzzles and you have yourself a winner!

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 (74 votes)
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DoraVector BoomIf popular media has taught me anything, it's that space is awesome. Sure, textbooks and "facts" would have you believe that it's a vast, cold and lifeless void, video games and movies will tell you the truth. Adventure lurks around every corner, from pitched space battles to things that want to lay eggs in your chest! Yes, space is a truly wondrous, precious frontier of fathomless delight. So get out there in Vector Boom, the newest sci-fi defense game from Hero Interactive, and start blowing it up!

What are you waiting for? They're going to get you if you don't get them first! What do you mean, "Who's they"? Clearly they... uh... well, obviously they're... hmm. Vector Boom doesn't exactly provide a whole lot of explanation as to why your space station is under immediate and constant attack, but the fact that the approaching waves of enemy ships and rockets seem particularly eager to turn you into space dust should be incentive enough for a little return fire.

Unlike most defense games, you'll take a much less passive part in the battles as you use your mouse to decimate incoming enemies. Hold left-click and drag on an area to select the scope of your shot's explosive power, indicated by the grey radius, and then let 'er rip. Each shot uses up power, as indicated by the blue bar at the top of the screen, and the bigger the blast the more you use. But be careful, as while power recharges fairly quickly, your enemies don't just wait placidly to be destroyed.

As long as you have power left, you can fire as quickly as you can click and select an area, so it's important to be constantly on the move for your next target. But at the same time, your enemies are on the move too. Not only shot timing but placement is important here; too small a blast won't take out all oncoming threats, but waste too much time making a big one and your enemy could be somewhere else by the time your shot lands.

Between each level, you can use the cash you earn to purchase various upgrades for your station. Things like recharge speed and increasing the amount of damage you can do is always tempting, but don't neglect your defenses. While they're nowhere near as effective as the shots you fire manually, you'll find turrets available for purchase that fire independently at anything that comes within range.

While some enemies will zip in towards you kamikaze style, others will fire on you from a distance, and there's a surprising variety of them. Just when you've gotten used to the idea of what appears to be a giant space oil tanker intent on exploding all over you, the mines and missiles start showing up. The different patterns of attack and movement force you to be on your guard and keep a close eye on your health, shown here by the green bar above your power. Keep an eye out for the various powerups — obtained by shooting them -- which can do anything from temporarily shielding you to magnetically drawing all enemies on screen to a single point... which definitely comes in handy as things quickly start getting hairy.

Vector BoomAnalysis: The first few levels of the game are deceptively easy. Had I really been some sort of interstellar space pirate queen, I would have been reclining comfortably on my throne built from the skulls of my enemies, smacking my gum and reading gossip magazines. And then level three would come along and swarm me to death. It doesn't take long for the pace to start picking up, and the tidy little groups of enemies get bigger, meaner, and faster. At first the amount of health you're given seems like a ridiculous amount, but believe me when I say the game doesn't let you get comfortable for long. The enemies may not do much damage individually, but as their numbers increasing to insane levels your health can drop dramatically in a short time.

Vector Boom's click-and-fire interface helps draw you in more than most other defense games, but I still found myself wishing for additional attacks. A wider variety, perhaps accessed by scrolling through them with the mouse, would have gone a long way towards keeping the gameplay fresh. Oh, what's this, enemy rockets? Guess I'll drop an explosion on them... just like everything else. Even one or two additional forms of ammunition would have spiced things up considerably.

At just ten levels, Vector Boom feels a little short, even with it's Survival Mode, which has you see how long you can last against endless waves of enemies. It's a nice option, but I really would have liked the main campaign to be longer because it's a ton of fun while it lasts. If you have fast fingers, you can blow through it fairly quickly. While Survival Mode grants you the ability to upgrade your station right away with a nice lump sum of cash, it's not quite as satisfying as clawing your way through the waves for enough cash to gradually turn your station into an all-powerful avatar of explosive death.

Vector Boom is a lot of fun, even if it winds up a snack rather than something really meaty. The gameplay quickly gets fast and furious, it's easy to pick up, and it's sleek, simple presentation is lovely. People who like their defense games to be played at a more sedate pace may be put off by Vector Boom's need for fast reflexes a bit of a turn off, but others will find the experience a welcome challenge.

Play Vector Boom


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraDo you ever want to gather something close to the warmth of your bosom, cherish it, care for it, stroke it and call it George? And then, afterwards, do you just really, really need to blow something up? This week, defend your tower or blow something to smithereens. Preferably both at the same time!

  • Choose Your 2012Choose Your 2012 - This game of time-limited global destruction proves there's no time for sentiment this time around when the objective is to visit the fieriest destruction possible on an unsuspecting planet. The only thing missing is bonus points for my maniacal laughter!
  • Ultimate TacticsUltimate Tactics - It looks pretty familiar, but Ultimate Tactics is alright by me because I support the wanton destruction of little blue bugs in a strategic RPG setting. Some people say they're harmless, but I say that's how they get you.
  • Slimey's Lunch TimeSlimey's Lunch Time - Interstellar purple blob beasts need lots of love and attention, and the most important part is remembering to help them toss people in the air to be devoured like tictacs! Look at how happy you're making it. Awwwww.
  • Warzone Tower DefenseWarzone Tower Defense - The only thing nobler than standing up in defense of something is dropping a missile on something while you do it. Build up your defenses to keep yourself safe from the incoming enemies, just like Gandhi would want.
  • Wild'n'Free EXWild'n'Free EX - I think we can all agree that the Rainforest is precious and should be protected. I think we can also all agree that the best way to do this is to utilize piranha as ammunition as you rocket through the mighty river Dolphin Olympics-style to rain toothy death upon interlopers.

  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (72 votes)
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slouchingtowards.gifJohnBSlouching Towards Bedlam is a work of interactive fiction created by Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster. Set in the Bedlam Hospital insane asylum in a steampunk-style 1885 London, you begin in an office with a brass-laden phonograph playing a demented soliloquy: "I discredit my profession; examining madness as if the world were a fluent thing and sanity as malleable as the warm wax of a candle." It's a subtly disturbing game that draws you into a rich, elusive world of intrigue and allows you to react to the story however you see fit, carving out five unique endings based upon your interpretation of the plot.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Slouching Towards Bedlam plays out in three main phases that flow together quite nicely. Having no knowledge of your past, your first goal is to do some exploring, poking around an empty office and listening to a few phonographs to piece together a bit of background information. Afterwards, you set out to verify facts and clear as much of the fiction as you can. Finally, when you've explored and digested as much as you can, it's time to take action. Depending on what you do, Slouching Towards Bedlam rewards you with one of five endings. There is no "right" ending, per se, which may seem odd for a story-driven game, but it encourages you to experiment and interpret events, drawing you in the world even more.

Analysis: Slouching Towards Bedlam feels more like a piece of interactive fiction than a text-based adventure game, as its puzzles are lightweight and you are constantly encouraged to explore, read, assimilate, and find a pattern amongst all the information you collect. You won't fight any grues, you won't amass an inventory of junk pilfered from every room you visit, and best of all, you won't crawl through any mazes. That's not to knock any classic IF games, of course, only that Slouching Towards Bedlam is about the writing, not gaming.

One of the most fascinating characters in Slouching Towards Bedlam isn't a character at all. The Triage Personal Analytical Engine is a small robotic-like cube that follows you wherever you go. From time to time it spits out random, almost code-like messages that force you to slow down and decipher what it's trying to say, if you can decipher it at all. Even more interesting, though, is its ability to feed you more information about many of the in-game objects. Simply point to something and the Triage Personal Analytical Engine gives you a run-down.

Slouching Towards Bedlam does more than lace a few insane asylum stereotypes together to try and creep you out. In fact, the structure of the game is built to immerse you one level deeper. It isn't immediately noticeable, but the game carefully avoids using the word "you" to reference the player. Instead, many parser responses are written in a passive voice which, once that settles in, becomes all the more unsettling. And as the plot progresses (something I refuse to spoil in this review), you'll begin your own little descent into madness. Fun!

Slouching Towards Bedlam holds several distinctions in the IF community, including the Best Game, Best Story, Best NPC, and Best Setting awards from the 2003 Interactive Fiction Competition, and one of the highest overall scores in IF Comp history. Once you start crawling through the game, you'll realize just how story-driven Slouching Towards Bedlam is, and the setting, character interactions and impeccable writing perfectly frame the experience.

Play Slouching Towards Bedlam

Cheers to Ctheiz 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. That means you can play the game in your browser rather than having to download and run it using 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 (1099 votes)
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kateGo Home BallDo you ever get tired of physics games? Has designing absurdly complex machines become mundane? Do you just wish that someone would do all that work for you? Today, dear readers, is your lucky day! Go Home Ball is here! (Applause!)

Go Home Ball is a shiny new addition to a special new subgenre of games that I shall call "physicslite." Or "litephysics." Which sounds better? Scratch that. We'll call it "physics fill-in-the-blank." That rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?

So there's this Ball. Ball wants to Go Home. It's your job to get Ball home. Ball lives in a hollow tree stump in a forest. Yes he does. Thankfully, said forest is filled with ramps, bridges, floating platforms, mine carts and more. These items are thoughtfully configured into those Goldberg-esque contraptions that you're just too tired to build anymore. Well, mostly configured. Some parts are missing, and that's where it starts to get interesting.

Each level is missing different objects: sticks, springs and swinging baskets, to name a few. Using the [arrow keys] and the [mouse], you can place the missing pieces in the appropriate spots, rotating or activating them when needed, easily creating a safe little path that Ball can use to Go Home. Game over! Yay for Ball! The End!

Incorrect! It's as if the forest itself is working against you here! Each item that you place has a life span of two seconds, and you can't place a second item while the first item is in play. Only precise timing on your part will keep poor Ball from falling into the void and you from losing 10 points. On top of that, there's a level timer to beat. And on top of that? Ball needs to collect all of the stars scattered around the screen before happily rolling Home.

Later levels become more intricate. You'll need to switch between items, using your hand to give Ball a little push and then quickly pressing [down] to switch to a spring for Ball to bounce on. A touchpad is not recommended for this one, especially as the difficulty increases.

Analysis: Go Home Ball is difficult, to say the least. Go Home Ball might very well suck the will to live right out of your brain, to say the most. The game is unforgiving in terms of timing (I'm looking in your direction, Level 8!) and combined with the short life span of your placed objects, your clicking skills will be pushed to the limit.

Ball isn't very helpful, either. You would think he would be, since he's the one who wants to Go Home and all. The gameplay is a bit stiff, you see. Ball simply refuses to bounce or roll like a normal ball would do. When you use your hand to push Ball, Ball shall stop exactly where he wants to. Ball will not roll back when he hits an obstacle like those lesser balls do. Amateurs.

And yet....

There's a certain inventiveness here. In most physics games, you'll set up your pathway or build your machine and then click "Start," watching your creation unfold in front of you without your direct interaction. Go Home Ball is delightfully and literally hands on in contrast, making you want to try a level just one more time, and then maybe once after that and then again besides until you haven't gone to work in three days.

The crisp bright graphics are pleasing, and the overall presentation is polished and slick. Dexterous players with quick reflexes will find Go Home Ball challenging yet enjoyable. However, I guarantee that at some point during your game you'll be unable to keep from yelling out (and you all knew this was coming, right? Right?) "Why you don't you just go home? That's your home! Are you too good for your home?"

Play Go Home Ball


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Rating: 3.5/5 (85 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessAre you sunburnt? Tired of the sounds of laughing children, ice cream trucks and blaring beach-weather anthems? You're in luck! Toybox, a new escape game from Polish designer Lukasz W., is here to inject a little darkness into your summertime. Okay, to be more accurate, a lot of darkness.

ToyboxThe game's scenario is not a pretty one: you wake, cold and alone, in a room lit only by a single, faint candle... that gleams off of the links of the chain connecting your leg to the wall. Uh-oh. From there, believe it or not, things only get worse. You are trapped in a house of horrors, and must solve puzzles and face supernatural terror in order to regain your freedom. Of course, there's also the matter of your murderous captor... where could he be? You might just find out.

The game's puzzles are on the whole only adequate, mainly of the standard "collect item A to solve code/open door B" type. One puzzle involving a piano struck me as being a bit dubious, though a quick Google search allowed me to proceed without too much difficulty. A lot of backtracking is involved, so be prepared to run back and forth between rooms quite often. It's important to note that at certain points of the game, new clues appear in previously-visited locations; so, if you find yourself stuck, retrace your steps. The game has multiple endings: a "good" outcome, two slightly different "bad" outcomes, and a bonus ending that I've yet to discover. Getting the good ending hinges upon finding a specific item, so be sure to pay close attention to your surroundings!

Without doubt, Toybox's most impressive aspect is its ominous, sepulchral atmosphere. This is a horror game, through and through: blood drips thickly from the walls, severed hands festoon the ceiling, nasty surprises wait behind every door. While the game's graphics are more than adequate, it's the additions of a handful of well-made, chilling cutscenes and a genuinely spooky soundtrack that elevate Toybox above mere goriness. All of these elements meld wonderfully together to produce an immersive, entertainingly grotesque ambience that is just cartoony enough to avoid crossing into true gross-out territory. In this respect, the game is outstanding.

While it's clear that Lukasz W. put quite a bit of time and effort into Toybox, a few small additions and alterations could have made the game better and more user-friendly. First and foremost, a save feature would have been nice (particularly when trying to discover the different endings), and a mute button would also have been appreciated. Although the game's inventory system is a little clunky, there is no pixel-hunting (yay!) and navigating around the house is easy. All in all, improvable but not bad.

As you might have gathered, this game is not suitable for the little ones; though the graphics are not realistic, the game is gory and frightening enough to upset the easily-spooked. For everyone else, especially fans of all things macabre, I'm sure you'll enjoy this very creepy and stylized, if not always substantive, escape game. Next time around, perhaps Lukasz will combine his obvious talent for creating an atmosphere with equally-fabulous puzzles; if so, we're in for some truly amazing fun.

Play Toybox


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Rating: 4.8/5 (458 votes)
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MikeLights[The following is a winning entry in the YouAreGames: Reviewers, Assemble! contest. Congratulations to Mike for writing the winning entry, and thank you to everyone who sent in Lights reviews!]

I don't remember what happened, but somehow I have awoken in a strange room. In the room with me are several desks, atop of which are several computers. There is no apparent exit.

Examine computers.

Each one is displaying a Room Escape game! If it weren't for the fact that I am trapped in this room with amnesia and a headache, I would find this development delightfully postmodern!

Play Room Escape 1.

That did not take very long. The puzzles were obvious, the narrative facile, and judging from the art I'd say the developer is heavily fond of the line tool in MS Paint. What a disappointing Room Escape game!

Play Room Escape 2.

This game is at least attractively rendered, but I am at a loss for what to do next.

Examine sofa.

Nothing happens.

Examine behind sofa.

Again, nothing happens.

Examine next to sofa, just where the shadow intersects the floor and baseboard.

GAAH, nothing, GAAH!

Examine walkthrough.

It says I should click just to the right of the sofa's shadow, below and to the left of the potted fern, but just outside the shadow of said fern. Really, Mr. Developer! This persistent, persnickety pixel-hunting has put me off this particular program, permanently!

Play Room Escape 3.

I have collected a glass of water, a scrubbing pad, a pair of nail clippers, and a stuffed toy capybara. What now?

Click about randomly.

Hrmm...

Combine objects randomly.

Well then...

Examine walkthrough.

Oh for criminy's sake on a rusty pogo stick! I'm supposed to plug in the toaster on the counter, shear the wire with the clippers, pour water on the wire, then scrub the resulting burn marks from the formica to reveal the code to unlock the icebox?! This insidious, ill-formed illogic insults my innate inductive intelligence, indeed!

LightsPlay Room Escape 4: Lights.

Hey I recognize the developer, Neutral, responsible for such gems as Sphere, Vision, and other classics of the Escape the Room genre. Perhaps this new game, Lights, will live up to the standards of its predecessors.

Continue playing Lights.

Huzzah, this game is all I could hope for and more! Warm, inviting 3D environments! Clever puzzles that don't rely on excessive pixel hunting or bizarre leaps in space-logic! Even Full Motion Video footage of an adorable Papillon! This computer title calls out its so-called competitors and, uh, okay, this one is getting away from me.

Examine just-opened secret door, revealing green fields, sunshine, daffodils, and two ponies.

Maybe in a second, after I find the secret ending.

Analysis: I do like me my escape games, bite-size portions of adventure gaming that they are, but while I am a little more tolerant than our alliterative protagonist, I do share some of his frustrations with the genre. It's a type of game whose creation is easy to execute but difficult to master, and even the best games often suffer the same pitfalls. It's tough to come up with puzzles that are at once difficult enough not to be boring but logical enough not to be frustrating. The remarkable thing about Lights, and Neutral's games in general, is that they walk this line with aplomb.

The trick is that the game keeps no undue secrets. What I mean is, all the items and locked cabinets are apparent either from the wide shots of the room, or from looking closely at things you were likely to look at anyway. You never stall because you weren't clicking on the right place to open the proper drawer, so the challenge is not in finding these secrets, but in figuring out what to do with them. What's more, the puzzles are interconnected, so you never feel like you are hopping from one discrete puzzle to another. This overall sense of momentum accounts for a large part of Lights' success.

Another area where Lights succeeds is in instilling a sense of exploration. New areas are constantly opening up, so just as you have exhausted one part of the room, a new part is made available to explore. One of the best parts of classic adventure games is the feeling of making new discoveries, and it is great that Neutral recreates this sense in micro-form.

Plus, even though I'm a cat person, I really do like the Papillon. Or is it a Pomeranian? Either way, it's totally unaccountable.

I should note what might be a small quibble for some people. There is a reflex-based mini-game that you must beat to progress in the game, and while I had no problem with it, it might not be what some are looking for in an escape game. There is an easy mode for this game, but this has the downside of taking much longer to complete.

Quibble aside, Lights is easily another grand success for the Neutral development team. If you like escape rooms with logical puzzles, exploration, and cute, tiny dogs, then I highly recommend it.

Play Lights


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (84 votes)
| Comments (70) | Views (79)

PsychotronicCryptic CanvasIn the tradition of 50 Dark Movies, Hidden in a Painting and 50 Comedies, here's another great game about identifying the titles of movies from a drawing full of visual puns. While I recognize that the previous sentence stretches the definition of both "game" and "great", I just can't resist a smorgasbord of rebuses. I can't even resist saying "a smorgasbord of rebuses". I've been saying it non-stop for the last half-hour, sometimes in a falsetto cockney accent, and the spider who lives in the upper-Northwest corner of my office is looking at me a little nervously. Feel free to set up shop under the porch instead, Mrs. Webberdasher. I won't change who I am.

So, Cryptic Canvas lets you guess the titles of 50 more movies from clues sprinkled throughout a handsome illustration by Amie Bolissian, and gathered under the theme of "great movies". This is again an abuse of the word "great", because Bolt is in there. That's not a spoiler; there's a big ol' unmistakable picture of a bolt, just sitting there on the grass, and the only reason I had a hard time solving that mysterious riddle is that my fingers kept typing "Wall-E" instead, out of principle.

That's not the only easy clue in the painting. Depending on how well you know your recent Hollywood hits, this could keep you occupied for a very short time indeed. But there are some very clever hints as well, and the interface is pleasant enough (the manual zoom feature is a blessing), and the artist commits herself to each gag, so even the brain-coagulatingly simple ones may satisfy you on the "lol easy riddle is easy" level.

A Note About the Sign-In: Cryptic Canvas asks you for your email address, as a reference so that you don't lose your progress. However, I gave it a fake address, and I was able to quit and resume my game later from the same computer without having to input the address again. So if you want to remain the anonymous cinephile, you can.

Play Cryptic Canvas


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (1891 votes)
| Comments (170) | Views (3,427)

ArtbegottiClickPLAYNinjaDoodle, not content comparing us to eggs or making us throw bombs around, now invites us to play a game that, ironically, starts by clicking "New Game." ClickPLAY! is a mouse-based discovery puzzler along the same vein as Hoshi Saga and Kagi Nochi Tobira that asks you to follow a very simple gaming convention, but in some rather tricky ways. Each level invites you to click the Play button, but you might need to figure out how to get to it first.

Play all the ClickPLAY games:
Click PLAYClick PLAY 2Click PLAY 3Click PLAY RainbowClick PLAY Rainbow 2Click PLAY Quickfire 1Click PLAY Quickfire 2Click PLAY Quickfire 3

Rather than having you play against a clock, the game scores you by counting the very clicks you use to advance through the game. Can you make your way to the end with a low enough score to earn a gold ranking? You'll need an experimenting mind and some fast fingers to beat the game (that is to say, this game is very touchpad-unfriendly). After you conquer the rampant Play buttons once, try again to get a lower score. Each time you play, you can't help but feel that you could get your score just one click lower and climb up the high score ladder. ClickPLAY! is a short game, particularly once you know the key to each level and you're going for your low-score runs, but serves as a nice quick puzzler for when you can't afford to click the Play button on a longer game.

Play ClickPLAY


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Mobile Monday

JohnBMusical games dominate this edition of Mobile Monday, with two of our four features emphasizing rhythm and reflexes over any other gameplay mechanic. Also weighing in is the hefty game Zenonia, an RPG that claims a full 40 hours of 16-bit-style role playing!

zenonia.jpgZenonia - One of the first full-length, original role playing games for the iPhone system, Zenonia packs a full 16-bit game into a tiny iTunes App. The action-RPG combines Zelda-like design with upgradeable skills and plenty of inventory management. The touch controls can be a bit fussy at times, especially if you're used to having a physical controller in your hands, and the dialogue is rough, but it's hard to argue with a full-length RPG that looks this retro-good.

worldoftunes.jpgWorld of Tunes - A too-cute rhythm game similar to the Nintendo DS title Elite Beat Agents. Tap each Tuney along with the beat as it flies to its target on the screen. You'll need to tap some Tuneys several times, while others need to be touched and dragged along a path. The music is good, if a bit sugar-coated, and four unique game modes give it plenty of replay value.

liltline.giflilt line - Another stylish rhythm game, this one conjures images of old Atari-age racing titles with its vector-style visuals. Pilot a white line through passageways by tilting the iPhone left to climb upwards, right to move down. Every time the line runs across a white bar (which just so happens to coincide with beats in the music), tap the screen. Don't miss a tap and earn more points!

platypus-iphone.jpgPlatypus - That's right, the plasticine shooter is now on the iTunes App Store! The scaled-down port looks as good as its PC-based brother reviewed just a few weeks ago, and the touch controls are highly-customizable. A free Platypus 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.

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