July 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.8/5 (69 votes)
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Bookworm Adventures Volume 2

JohnBIt's word game meets RPG in the excellent release from PopCap, Bookworm Adventures Volume 2! Mother Goose leaps from the pages of her book when the Big Bad Wolf comes a-knockin', and our bespectacled hero Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Lex is the only one who can help. Spell words to damage each enemy as you work your way through 30 chapters, gaining levels and earning unique trophies along the way. It's everything the original Bookworm Adventures was with a little extra oomph.

The structure of Bookworm Adventures 2 is so utterly casual, you can't help but get the hang of it immediately. Each chapter is a series of one-on-one battles with fairy tale characters gone awry (and other creatures later in the game). You'll start to get suspicious when you defeat a gingerbread house, and when a tea party attacks you, things get downright odd. Dealing damage is a matter of spelling words using the grid of letters below. The longer the word and the more difficult the letters are to use, the more damage you deal. After defeating a handful of underlings you'll take on the chapter's final boss before trekking to another mixed-up fairy tale world.

bookwormadventures2a.jpgIn true RPG fashion, you'll encounter status ailments that affect you, your letter grid, and your foes, special letter gems that grant bonuses when used in a word, and potions to help Lex when he really needs a hand. Also, some enemies are vulnerable to certain categories of words. The smoke creatures you encounter in a later chapter, for example, are vulnerable to color words (blue, black, green, etc.), while a certain underwater foe really hates fire-related words.

After felling each chapter's boss you'll earn a brand new trophy. Trophies grant you abilities when carried into battle, such as increasing damage dealt by your attacks, lessening the length of status ailments, etc. You can only equip a few of these for each chapter, so finding the right combination for your playing style is a crucial strategy for the game. Bookworm Adventures 2 also introduces companions who tag along and assist Lex by creating healing potions, removing status effects, and performing other handy tasks. Select your companion in-between chapters, just like the trophies.

Analysis: In the early days of gaming, amassing points was both the driving force and main reward for your time and effort. Nabbing that high score in Asteroids and entering your initials on the leader board (there must have been a ton of Alan Sloan Smiths out there) made you Mr./Ms. Awesome. Now, however, game creators are making these rewards more tangible. Bookworm Adventures 2 is a prime of example of this. Instead of just tossing you a few points for words you spell, your actions are organically applied to the game world. Now, when I spell GLUTEN, I don't get meaningless points, I get real results in the form of damage dealt to my enemy, bonus gems appearing below, and more. That oh-so-important risk-rewards loop video game theorists love to talk about is put into high gear, and the real result is you want to play for hours on end.

bookwormadventures2b.jpgBuilding casual puzzle games laced with RPG elements is the new "in" thing to do, and the original Bookworm Adventures was one of the titles that helped popularize the hybrid genre. Bookworm Adventures 2 stands on its predecessor's legs and accessorizes like any good sequel should, adding a big bow here, a few frills there, and some sparkling jewelry to finish the look. When it struts out on the runway you'll see improved background art and animation, the new companion system, and the same sense of humor evident in every text description and enemy character you meet.

Bookworm Adventures 2 has plenty of content to keep you spelling for days on end, though it takes an hour or two before the linearity loosens up and you really get in to the game. Even after you finish the lengthy story mode you'll have fast-paced arena battles and infinite replay mode to keep you busy. There's also a mini-games tent that pops up from time to time, offering a handful of unique word-based games as a pleasant break from the main quest.

The only real down side to Bookworm Adventures 2 is that it made me want more. More enemies to defeat, more unique ways to fight them, more trophies to equip, and more companions to adventure with. The game isn't short in any of these areas, but I always felt like I was just getting a taste of the unique experience this game could offer. For example, I spelled the word "BEAR" when I was fighting a bear. Nothing special happened, and I really wanted it to! How cool would it be if there were hundreds (or thousands) of enemy-specific bonuses included throughout the game? Think Scribblenauts meets Bookworm Adventures and you'll start to get really excited. Hear that, PopCap? There's your inspiration for Bookworm Adventures 3.

It's PopCap. It's Bookworm Adventures. There's so much to love about the game you won't know where to start!

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 (110 votes)
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GrimmrookThe BeggarThe sound of chainmail clinks in your ears, drowning out the merrymaking behind you. A gauntlet covered hand digs hard into your arm, and you stifle a whimper with whatever pride you have left. You stammer and plead, your pencil thin legs pumping wildly, your eyes darting back and forth for a kindly soul to come to your aid out of the sea of strange faces looking on with morbid curiosity. Despite your pleas, the guard hauls you towards the gate, his face grim and uncaring, and tosses you to the cold hard ground that has served as your bed for far too many nights. Thus begins this experimental art game from Scott Brodie, The Beggar.

Now is the point in the review where we would normally discuss the goals and controls of the game. But much of what makes The Beggar a worthwhile experience is exploration. Not necessarily exploring the world itself — the entire map of the game is only a handful of screenshots long — instead, you must explore the mechanics of Brodie's pixelated world. It's up to you to discover the ins and outs of The Beggar, though I suppose it won't hurt to tell you that just about everything can be done with the [arrow] keys and the [Z] key.

Beyond that, you must carve your life out for yourself. You must figure out how and what to eat. You must figure out where to go and what to do. You must learn the laws of the land the hard way, and you must discover the nuances of interacting with the people you pass by on the street.

It's this last bit that is most important. If you've ever had the misfortune to live without a roof over your head, you will know that survival is often a gift bestowed upon you by the kindness of others. You must learn to subsist on the charity of strangers, lest you fade and wither away to nothingness.

Analysis: Like Gray or Passage, The Beggar distills a complex and difficult concept into a small package that sloughs off the white noise of everyday life. Brodie then takes this simplicity and combines it with the sense of serendipity found in games like The Majesty of Colors, to create something that is at once simple and complex. Your personal experience in The Beggar is governed by your explorations of both the game and your own thoughts.

The BeggarIt seems that these days to call a game with big pixels beautiful is all too easy. Still, The Beggar is quite beautiful. The anonymity provided by the simple graphics works well here, as it highlights the actions of the characters, and frees the player to attribute emotions and feelings to them. Meanwhile, an interesting selection of colors, both bright and drab, do a good job of subtly setting the mood.

Though the graphics are simple, Brodie is masterful in expressing complexity and making points with visual cues. Pay attention to how your beggar fades and withers as he goes without food, or how people throw their money on the ground for you. A careful eye may even detect the shrinking of bread as you carefully ration out a loaf as long as you can.

But these are all a sideshow for the main focus of the game, which is your interaction with other humans. There is a world of communication expressed here without a single word of dialogue. Furthermore, you find that over time your relationships with others can change, evolving from your own choices and actions. I would say more, but I would hate to ruin the sense of discovery for you.

Unfortunately, The Beggar has its shortcomings. It can sometimes be a bit too vague and abstract. Abstraction in works like this can be good, because it lets the audience draw from their own thoughts and experiences, but there are times when Brodie fails to give enough cues to trigger this form of introspection. Perhaps a bigger letdown are the endings, all of which are abrupt and a little unsatisfying.

The endings can be forgiven, though, because the game itself is its own reward. No one game lasts very long, but there is quite a bit to do, and once the doing is done there is even more to think about.

The Beggar's greatest success as a piece of art is that it doesn't preach. It never drags you by the nose or forces the message down your throat. In fact, perhaps there is no central message to the game. Maybe it's just a vehicle for you to contemplate a subject. Whatever moral you take from The Beggar is one that you have arrived at yourself.

Play The Beggar

Update: For anyone experiencing issues with the Shockwave browser version, free download versions are available at Scott's site for both Windows and Mac.


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe are gentlemen and ladies of fine and varied tastes, are we not? Of course we are. Just as we appreciate the subtle nuances of a performance by the noble street mime, so too are we receptive to cows, and the exploding thereof, are we not?... Wait, what do you mean, "no"? Okay, what about funky robots?... rabbits with disconcertingly large grins? Wow, you're picky! Next thing you'll be telling us you don't want the piano lessons we signed you up for to help make you extra refined! You start in an hour, by the way.

  • Photo KingPhoto King - For every photo you have ever given someone bunny ears in, been caught sneezing in the middle of, or made gang signs in, this is your punishment. To take cute pictures with a cute camera of cute bunnies and cuter animals for a high score which may also be cute, depending on your tastes. It's all fun and games until your wrist just snaps right off. You'll see.
  • The Way of the Exploding CowThe Way of the Exploding Cow - The history between cows and aliens is a long and bitter one, much documented and also fairly icky. But not anymore. Now there's hope. Now there's you. Because you can make a difference, and fend off invaders while you milk your noble herd. It's intense, it's honorable, it's... kind of weird. And, honestly? Still a bit icky.
  • Puffball HunterPuffball Hunter - We're not sure what exactly happens to the little Puffballs after you set up your traps to herd them into boxes for easy capture. We like to believe they're being whisked off to a happy ranch where they can frolic forever. The cold, hard reality, of course, is that this is where bathrobes come from.
  • FrobotFrobot - Oh no! We were going to describe this game, but we don't think we're funky and/or crunky enough! I mean, this is a game where you play a robot with disco fever blasting groove back into the hearts of squares everywhere. This is serious business, daddy-o!
  • Demolition CityDemolition City - Ah, demolitions. The sport of champions. Which naturally leads us to dynamite, the breakfast of champions! Of course, I don't typically strap my breakfast to a fragile structure and try to destroy it so that it falls below a certain height requirement, but then I guess I'm not a champion. *sigh* Someday...

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (114 votes)
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PsychotronicWhen Pigs FlyOne day, a perfectly normal bipedal pig goes out for a walk. Squealing contentedly and terrifying butterflies, she hops up a hillside... and meets with tragedy. A camoflaged hole in the earth drops her into an underground cavern, its exit beyond the reach of a simple pig's leap. Even a pig who is starring in a platform game. Her solution is to spontaneously sprout a pair of feathery bird wings and fly her way out. The only problem is, with fat wings outspread, she is too wide to leave the way she came in. So it's into the abyss, full of lava pools and spikey ceilings, to find another escape route. All through the cavern alternate pathways beckon, but her fragile new limbs keep her from exploring. She is stuck with the decision she made, wherever it leads her. She's taken her own path, an unlikely hero, traveling with powerful but sensitive wings.

When Pigs Fly is the first Flash game from developer, critic, pixel artist, and sometime provocateur Anna Anthropy, also known as Dessgeega or Auntie Pixelante. You may know her as the author of Calamity Annie and Tombed. This first dip into the browser game pool is a well-constructed offbeat platform game with classical stylings, but be warned: it is hard enough to give you fits.

Control your porky avatar with the keyboard. The [left] and [right] arrow keys move you horizontally, but you can't walk, only fly. Hold the [space] bar to rise and release it to fall (you can also use [shift] or [Z]). Spend the first few screens getting used to the quirks of the physics. You have a bit of momentum in the air, and you'll want to practice not smacking into the walls before the many, many stalactites arrive. Your other important control, depending on the quality of your speakers and your tolerance for Daphny David's heart-warming, brain-shredding sound effects, is the [S] key that turns off the squealing. [M] mutes the game entirely.

The pig can stand comfortably on solid ground or even bump her head on a flat ceiling without dying, but her wings are the most fragile creation in the history of the universe. Tap a wall with a wingtip, and you instantly crash to the center of the Earth, shrieking in pain. It's like the new wings are made of pure nerve endings, or maybe they just were never intended for use in a pig-to-wall impact situation. Lucky for you, there's a checkpoint on each screen, so you can immediately tackle the same obstacle again. If you need to quit, or ragequit, your progress is saved on every screen, so you have the option next time to take up right where you left off.

The path through the game is linear, and your first try might last between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on your retro platformer skill. Maybe more. At the end, you unlock a few new options, including Time Attack, a single-life sudden death mode, and a challenge to negotiate the cave backwards. If you have an account at Newgrounds, you can also earn some medals.

Analysis: There's no getting around it: this is a tough one. Though its learning curve is smooth, even expertly polished, When Pigs Fly assumes you have a certain level of hand-eye co-ordination and patience. If you're over 800 coins on MoneySeize or you charged through Don't Look Back in five minutes, this is a walk in the park with a basket of strawberries. But some of you are just going to hate it.

It's not the level design's fault. When Pigs Fly is built on classic NES-era design principles, which just means that it teaches you how to play as you go, without any coddling. You learn how to tap the flight button to hover at a certain height, how to smoothly negotiate a U-bend, how to use the head bounce to avoid excessive hovering. Each new screenful of obstacles pushes you just a little bit further. The only quarrel I have is that the collision box on the stalactites is larger than you'd expect, just so much that they don't have to physically touch you to kill you.

There are several incentives to push through the adversity. Amon26's infectious soundtrack helps. The tiled pixel graphics give a subtle sense of depth to this flat world, and a couple of nice visual flourishes reward you for reaching certain checkpoints. There could be even more of that sort of thing, and I wouldn't complain. But just moving the pig around is interesting. Because the wings are so much more vulnerable than the body, even circumventing a single floating block requires skill, and an innocent staircase becomes a jagged nightmare.

What does it for me is the unpretentious story, which adds a layer of meaning to the game without ever calling attention to itself. Anyone who has ever been stuck in a rut has wished for wings to pull them free, whether they take the form of a new job opportunity, a new relationship, or just a brave new approach to a problem. Each set of wings comes with its own brand of suffering, but ultimately, you learn to fly. Okay, so I made that a little pretentious. It's also a game about a flying pig who dies a lot.

Play When Pigs Fly

You Are Games

PsychotronicLast week, we asked you all a question: "What should the theme of the next Flash game design competition be?" The response has been amazing. Nearly 340 replies later, we hear you loud and clear. Emerging from the shadows of the internet, casting aside your cloaking devices, raising megaphones to eager lips, you have cried as though with one voice: "More games about giant flaming monkeys!"

Who are we to resist the tide, odd as the choice may seem. It is our pleasure to announce the theme for Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6: Giant Flam...

...actually wait. Hold on a tic. It occurs to us that there may be even more readers out there, with even more opinions, too busy to post their own ideas, but not too shy to click a box sitting next to a word.

So let's have a poll!

casual gameplay design competition 1casual gameplay design competition 2casual gameplay design competition 3casual gameplay design competition 4casual gameplay design competition 5casual gameplay design competition 6

Your assignment this week on You Are Games is to vote for the theme of the next Casual Gameplay Design Competition. Choose up to 10 theme candidates from the master list, which is composed entirely of your suggestions. The poll will close on Sunday evening at midnight, August 2nd.

Take note: there's a lead-up question that asks whether you are planning to participate as a player or a game developer, and the follow-up question will be different depending on your choice. We're trying to get a better picture of what our readers are interested in. Players get to choose what kind of games they like to play, while developers can indicate what motivates them to enter a competition like this. After you've answered the multiple-choice question in the poll, we'd appreciate it if you'd share your thoughts about those topics here in the comments.

The big list is the same one that Donut compiled last week, which was in turn based on the compilations by Cy Reb and Peelz. Once again, we can't thank you three enough for taking the ball and running with it. With the response we got last week, we're more excited than ever to be holding another competition.

Take the Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6 Theme Poll.


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (91 votes)
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DanTheArcherSaunavihtaWhile all of us, at some point or another, have forgotten our gloves at home on the day of the big snowstorm, not all of us know what it is to be truly cold. Even fewer people have had the fortune to bump into a steaming vent of natural gas on that same day, and I'm not sure anyone has, on that same day, been chased around the vent by murderous snow plows. Except maybe for some guys in Alaska. [It's true. That happened to me last week. -Ed.] If you've never before experienced said circumstances all at once, then you're in for a delectable treat from developer Spelgrim, a stylishly absurd physics puzzle ("phuzzle"?) by the name of Saunavihta.

Your mission is straightforward. A frothing geyser of black vapor lies somewhere in every level, and it's up to you to send the shivering little protagonist tumbling into the miasma. Of course, there are snowflake-slinging snowmen, those ruthless snow plows, and other frosty foes to contend with, so it won't be easy. Thankfully, the game's kind enough to tuck a decidedly useful trick up your sleeve: white objects can be disintegrated with but a single click of the mouse. As in the other members of the Tumbledrop family, you can vanish obstacles on a whim and rearrange the topography as you see fit. With a little ingenuity, you might even get those good-for-nothing snow plows to do some of the work. Take that, snow plows.

A lot of this game's appeal has to do with the style, which saturates every pixel. The art has an almost Dia de los Muertos aesthetic, crossed with doodles that the one deranged kid in your fifth grade class used to make of stick figures dismembering each other. An ominous pall looms over the entire game. When you win a level, a sinuous voice whispers "Yeeesss..." in a manner befitting a demon tempting their master to ruin. Losing a level has the voice utter "So cold..." in such a way that you genuinely feel guilty for leading the character astray. Keep in mind, this is a physics-puzzler pulling this off, which is something of a feat. The music's got that same macabre vibe that suffuses the rest of the game, so if you've been digging the sound of it so far, the soundtrack shouldn't disappoint.

There's a very satisfying gravity to the character; he/she/it is light enough to be catapulted successfully when the situation calls for it, yet dense enough not to bounce around like a superball. This creates an ideal physics-game scenario, where the puzzles involve using your gray matter instead of your twitchy trigger finger. There's elements of timing in some of the levels, to be sure, but they'll never require you to react within a fraction of a second. On the other side of the coin, many gamers might find a large number of the 25 levels relatively simple, but that doesn't detract from the game's fun factor or its darkly madcap sense of style. So if you'd like, you can go ahead and leave that pair of gloves at home today, because the sauna is open, and the fumes are feeling fine.

Play Saunavihta


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (80 votes)
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GrimmrookDisk FieldIn honor of the bare bones presentation of J. Appleyard's new physics puzzle ("phyzzle"?) Disk Field, this review will eschew the typical literary aesthetics you may have grown used to here. No, you won't find any metaphors or outlandish similes here. Nor should you expect to see any form of puns, gags, running jokes, irony, hyperbole, and most definitely no impromptu song lyrics. I don't do song lyrics.

What you can expect from Disk Field is a simple yet engrossing action puzzler that works wonders with a fairly basic concept. Your goal is to guide your black and white disk into the red hole. Unlike most games of this nature, though, you do not control the disk nor do you control any form of device that can be used to hit or otherwise propel the disk. Instead, you control the actual field of play.

Specifically, you control the direction of the many arrows that dot the field. Whichever way the arrows point, so goes the disk. Simply rotate the arrows clockwise using the [right] arrow key, and counter-clockwise using the [left] arrow key.

As you progress, you will find a number of obstacles both subtle and obvious keeping you from your goal. You will contend with black holes that teleport you to white holes elsewhere on the map, moving platforms that can shove your disk any which way, blue arrows that defy your attempts to control them, and much more.

Analysis: No, Disk Field is not a pretty game, but we've been around long enough to know that flashy graphics don't always translate into a pleasurable gaming experience. Throw in as many lens flares and particle effects as you want into an action sequence and it doesn't amount to much if it's still not much fun.

Disk FieldLuckily, the sacrifices made on the visual front are more than compensated for with the gameplay. It's a fairly innovative idea, to control the very nature of each level in a comprehensive and dynamic manner, and is executed here quite nicely.

With no shortage of grace and ingenuity, Appleyard uses the basic mechanic of Disk Field to create a series of levels that will test both your mind and your dexterity. At once you must envision the board as a whole to plot your course through the labyrinth as well as employ deft reflexes to negotiate some of the trickier paths. Disk Field's clever approach to level design supports primary obstacles with minor variations in topography for maximum effect.

Interestingly enough, while Disk Field looks at first to be void of frill and flare, there is a kind of subtle beauty at work here. The way the contour of the playing board twists and undulates at the command of your fingertips is smooth and entrancing. Your eye begins to see a topographical grace in each level, picking out the divots and hills as you coax your disk from one end to the other. No, there may not be any snazzy visual effects, but don't let that fool you into thinking there isn't a sort of visual direction to be appreciated.

Disk Field doesn't explode onto the scene with clamorous bravado. Instead it arrives with subtlety, dignity, and contradictions that seem to work. It is plain, but not without beauty. It's a thinking game, but one that requires you to be nimble of finger. And like all good casual games, it's a quick play that can have you coming back over and over again for "One more try."

Play Disk Field


  • Currently 2.9/5
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Rating: 2.9/5 (138 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverIn the gloom of the weekly search for good escape games, we often find a few shining stars that we missed before. Purism is such a star. A previous project from Japanese escape game designer FonGeBooN (Confined, Ambivalence), Purism follows the same formula we're used to: you're stuck in a room you'd probably never see in real life, and you have to solve all manner of puzzles to get out of it.

PurismSome noticeable features of this particular room include some unusual panels in the walls, a door with no handle, a small chest of drawers, some metallic shelves, and a tree-like sculpture with many red, blue, and yellow balls. All of these will be instrumental in your ultimate departure.

Most escape game developers have certain trademark details their games are known for. FonGeBooN's are shiny graphics, a small but noticeable bit of pixel-hunting, and puzzles that are clever but sometimes frustrating (like one particular puzzle in this game). Because this is one of FonGeBooN's earlier projects, it's noticeably shorter than Confined, but it's still worth a play if you've got the escaper's itch.

Play Purism

Update: It appears that the author's site is no longer online, and therefore we are mirroring the game here for posterity.


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (71 votes)
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DoraWarp ShotIn the future, all of us are as lights. Perfect, shining beacons in the dark, calling out to one another across the endless reaches of eternity. And to get around, we'll all ricochet off walls through glowing neon portals and keep track of how good we are at it with a golf scorecard. Yes, really. We know these things, don't question us. So you should probably prepare yourself by playing the newest physics puzzle ("phuzzle"?) title from John Cooney and Armor Games, Warp Shot. Also, in the future, all currency will be replaced with awesome indie guitar solos, so I'd start taking lessons if I were you.

The objective of the game is simple. You: glowing white dot, hot with destiny. Exit: shining white portal that beckons you ever onward with luminous promises of glory. Click and hold on the white dot with the left mouse button, and then drag your cursor in the direction you wish to shoot. The game handily provides you with a gray line that shows the path you're likely to take, so you can plan your shots better. When you're ready, release the button and watch yourself go zinging across the screen, and plunk yourself within the exit to win the level.

If it sounds simple, that's because it is. Mostly. More often than not you'll have to use portals to get around, bright neon circles that connect to a matching colour somewhere else on screen. Jump in one, and you'll pop out the other. Later on, you'll need to work against black holes determined to wreck havoc with your gravity, tokens to open the door, spikes, anti-gravity fields and more. The game is surprisingly good at introducing a new element into the play just when the old ones are starting to get... well, old. It was enough to keep me playing as the levels got increasingly complex. I just wish there had been an option to disable the sound effects instead of the sound in its entirety. Guitar? Lovin' it. Cymbals? Not so much.

With thirty levels, Warp Shot is just the right length for its concept, and the simple, sleek graphics make it a visually tasty treat, too. Once you beat it there isn't a whole lot of incentive to go back and do it all over again, unless you really feel the need to refine your score to flaunt it in your best friend's face. But it's a bouncy, stylish way to spend a coffee break or two, and will keep your toes tapping the entire time.

Play Warp Shot

Thanks to Arikiko, India and Popper for sending this one in! =)


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (1252 votes)
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zxoLock-n-RollUntil recently, if you wanted to enjoy the addictive combo-making game Lock 'n' Roll, you needed to have an iPhone, or at least needed to convince your BFF to lend you theirs.

But not anymore! James Prucey (with the help of Sean Hawkes) has just released a Flash version of this iPhone classic for the whole Internet to enjoy! Loosely based on Poker Solitaire, the idea is to place colored dice into configurations that score the highest number of points possible. The key difference between Lock 'n' Roll and its various predecessors is that it has a subset of prime combos that not only score more points, but clear those dice from the board, freeing up space in which to continue making combos. Thus, you should learn these 4 combos well, as they will be a key part of earning a good score. These prime combos are:

  • All 4 dice the same color and number

  • All 4 dice the same color and all different numbers

  • All 4 dice different colors, but the same number

  • All 4 dice different colors and all 4 different numbers

Lock-n-Roll cleared combosIt's not crucial to memorize the other scoring combos, but you should at least be aware of them. Another aspect of the game that takes a little while to get used to is the sheer number of scoring groups — not only do rows and columns count as distinct groups, so do the diagonals, each 4 dice quad, and the four corners. It's therefore possible for a single die to score in as many as 7 different groups!

Your other best friend is the Joker. No, he's not some makeup-wearing misunderstood misfit. Far from it, in fact! He's best buds with all the dice around him, acting as a wild card to make the best possible combination for every scoring group he's in. The downside is that each Joker reduces by 25% the point value for each combination it appears in. Jokers are common early on — you get your first one at only 250 points — but become scarcer as your score increases. To use a joker you've earned, simply drag it from above the board onto one of the squares. It doesn't matter if there's a die already there, just go ahead and put the joker right on top of it.

Lock 'n' Roll shines despite its minimal presentation, but like other simple strategy games, the draw was never meant to be lush graphics or endearing characters. It belongs to a class of "neat little games" that are easy to learn and quick to play, yet offer tremendous mileage and plenty of strategic depth, joining such classics as SameGame and Zilch, as well as a number of card-based solitaire games.

However, mere words cannot fully convey all the marvels of Lock 'n' Roll, so please enjoy the following lyrical review, written by yours truly:

(To the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic)

Our eyes have seen the glory of the rolling of the dice;
They are lacking fives and sixes, but besides that, they're quite nice;
When we place them on the board they are locked in, as with a vise;
We'll play 'til break of dawn!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Or, in modern lingo: boo-yah!
Lock 'n' Roll does something to ya!
Where has our free time gone?

We will place the dice in groups of four and try to make a set;
We can either make them all the same or try for a quartet;
When we do this both with colors and with numbers you can bet
Those dice will soon be gone!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Or, in modern lingo: boo-yah!
Lock 'n' Roll will try to screw ya!
Dadgum! Dagnab! Doggone!

When we reach two-hundred-fifty points, a joker will appear;
It will complement precisely all the threesomes it is near;
Drag it onto any die and it will steadfastly adhere;
Like dog poop on our lawn!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Or, in modern lingo: boo-yah!
Lock'n'Roll just might subdue ya!
Come on, you dice, respawn!

We are grateful to James Prucey for this marvel of a game;
With its mix of luck and strategy, it's never quite the same;
Though it used to need an iPhone, now we all can praise its name;
Oh Lock 'n' Roll, ROCK ON!

Play Lock 'n' Roll


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (119 votes)
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DoraPandemic: American SwineThe Pandemic games have had a few years now to condition us into lean, mean, virus makin' machines, and frankly, we liked it. While the original struggled with its own concepts, the sequel was a twisted, clever little venture that appealed to our sadistic sides. Bacteria? Martial law? Rodent-borne parasites? Awwwwww yeah. Not only did it mean a lot of us spent time getting looked at funny when people realised what we were doing, it also made Madagascar the target of a lot of unwarranted gamer bitterness. So now that we're all appropriately diseased little deviants, it seems a lot to ask from Dark Realm Studios that we should trade in our virii for vaccines and fight the good fight in their newest strategy game, Pandemic: American Swine.

That's right. Instead of choosing boils or blackouts, you'll be managing the media, the borders, the government, and more in your attempt to both stop the spread of disease and stamp it out. While handing out breathing masks doesn't exactly inspire one to maniacal cackling the same way calling down a plague of psychosis on the long-suffering populace does, it's still surprisingly fun.

The game is played out on a large map of the United States, and each state requires your attention. While some are limited to handing out masks and increasing military presence, others have air ports, harbors, and more. You can click on each icon to bring up the city or state's current status, along with a list of actions to take, and the cost attached to each one. The upside to these is that they bring in more money, which is crucial to combatting the flu. The downside is that open ports of entry means a greater chance of more infected travelers to deal with. It's a lot to deal with if you've never played before, but fortunately the sickness spreads slowly enough for you to learn the ropes and establish yourself. A little. Sort of. Maybe.

One of the key elements to winning the game is your relationship with the media, which is doing its best to whip the American people into a frothy lather of panic. Each time they report on an event, it pops up as an icon on the left side of the screen for you to click on. You'll notice that as the flu spreads, so does the panic in the country, indicated by the letters slowly turning red in the word at the top-right of the play window. If you want to keep the public calm, you'll have to work hard on not only giving the media positive things to report on ("President Dora makes sock puppet for child! Nation rejoices!"), but working to keep the virus from spreading until you have a vaccine ready. And even then, you've still got your work cut out for you, as deploying the vaccine takes time and a lot of money.

So what does all this mean for the series and its fans? Well, that depends on you. For a lot of us, what made Pandemic fun was the darkly humorous spectacle of it all, and the transition to a more outright strategic game may be a tough one to take if that isn't your bag.

Pandemic: American SwineAnalysis: My first impression of the game was that it was going to be obscenely easy. After all, I had studied the habits of my old nemesis Madagascar. I'd simply shut down everything, hand out some masks, then kick back and make prank phone calls to Alaska until it burned itself out. So you can imagine my surprise when this brilliant strategy shortly saw terrible things happening in Seattle, my budget in the toilet, and the media shrieking for my head on a platter while the good people did their best impersonation of chickens in an earthquake. Huh, I thought, as the mortality rate begun to rise into the millions, that's probably not a good thing.

But while a good amount of effort has gone into making the game a balancing act, it ultimately comes down to how much money you have to throw around. Even when your vaccine has finally been researched, you're going to need a ridiculous amount of cash to be able to spread it around, which often comes down to keeping borders open whether you want to or not. I can't imagine how that tourist campaign even works. We've got history, sno-cones, and death by the millions! Bring the kiddies! And since cash only flows into your budget at the end of each day, you're going to spend a lot of time twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the clock to roll around.

Ultimately, however, American Swine wins out against the originals by feeling much more like something that requires effort and strategy than it does like a personal misery-making device. The better you get at managing all your states, the more it feels like you're actually accomplishing something. Feel the game is too easy? Try the difficulty on hard. And have a few nuclear strikes ready.

Pandemic 2 allowed you to speed up or slow down time, which was perfect for those of us with ants in our pants for the next stage of gameplay. After all, those pustules weren't going to grow themselves. By contrast, American Swine moves at its own pace, advancing a day at a time. In the beginning, you might be a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of territory you're responsible for and long for a slower speed. Later on, when you're more comfortable with the controls and are sitting on a nice, relatively stable government, the ability to click forward a day or two to advance things would have been nice.

So one wonders. Why swine flu? Attempt at tongue-in-cheek satire, or an effort to make the game topical? As it stands, the game could have been named anything else and still been functional. I guess Pandemic: Vaccination Hero didn't have the same ring to it. All in all, American Swine is a good game, if a departure from what made its predecessors so fun. Fans of the series may be disappointed at the lack of boils and sores, but give it a chance and you'll find a surprisingly tricky game of germ warfare at your fingertips.

Play Pandemic: American Swine


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Rating: 4.5/5 (189 votes)
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DanTheArcher Splitter 2Some of you casual gamers may recall a nifty little puzzler from Eugene Karataev in 2008. You may also remember cleaving wooden shapes with a carpenter's finesse, and perhaps you faintly recollect escorting a grinning little fellow across gauntlets of blocks and bricks. If you're really unfortunate, you'll remember the unsettling main menu graphic, where that same little fellow watched your cursor, dagger in hand, as he smiled from ear to ear. Hey, don't feel bad. That's what I remembered.

Karataev is at it again in Splitter 2, the sequel to his fiendishly addictive physics puzzler from yesteryear. The basic premise remains unchanged: your charge, a yellow smiley face with eyes eerily glued to your mouse, must make its way to the exit circle in each level one way or another. All you've got are whatever contraptions are lying around the level, your wits, and a cursor that can slice right through solid wood like it was string cheese. 32 mind-bending levels await your dicing prowess, and what's more, Karataev has graciously included a robust level editor this time around, allowing those with Casual Collective profiles to engineer their own obstacle courses.

Much of the magic that accompanied the original Splitter returns, such as the elegant simplicity of the level design and the fluidity of the animation. The game's hypnotic reset also makes a comeback; there's something oddly entertaining about watching your failed attempt piece itself back together, like watching a building explode in reverse. While some of the puzzles seem to rely a little more on timing, nailing that perfect angle on your cut, or sheer dumb luck, the vast majority are genuine brain-teasers that ought to stir up more than a couple of neurons.

Play Splitter 2

Thanks for sending this one in, Anthony!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBOMG IT'S SPACE ACE! We've come a long way from starry-eyed kids standing in a sticky-floored mall arcade drooling over the beautiful images on the screen. And you could "play" the game! With just a quarter! Now a pile of those quarters will buy you the game outright, a portable version you can have and hold and cuddle all the day and night long. Sticky, candy-covered floor optional.

spaceace.jpgSpace Ace - The classic arcade game without the classic 225lb arcade cabinet! Help Ace rescue his girlfriend Kimberly from the evil Commander Borf in this "action" game from animation maestro Don Bluth. Every bit of the game has survived the transition from laserdisc to flash memory intact. The gameplay is exactly like it was in the arcade. Wait for cues on the screen, and then either hit a directional control or the action button. If you time it right, you move on. If not, well that's what the extra lives are for. Regardless of what you think of the gameplay, the quality of Bluth's classic animation is worth a fiver alone. A free Space Ace Lite is also available.

ninegaps.jpgNine Gaps - If you like sudoku puzzles and have ever wished for something with a bit more bite to it, then Nine Gaps might just tickle your fancy. Each puzzle presents a 3x3 grid into which you must place the digits 1 through 9. The twist is that mathematical operators stand in your way, dictating the logic by which the numbers must be placed. Make each equation evaluate correctly horizontally and vertically to solve the puzzle. It's a no frills app with 3 difficulty settings and just enough challenge to work your brain into shape, one puzzle at a time.

blueattack.gifBlue Attack! - Head up the front lines in an intergalactic war between Red and Blue, on your way to destroying the Red home planet. You can take up to 8 wingmen in a variety of formations to help you take down the red aliens. On top of that your ship is fully customizable, everything from your shot spread to turning radius and acceleration. Even the controls are customizable allowing you to choose between touch and tilt controls to guide your ship to its prey. There is a lot of game here, and it will be sure to keep you happily occupied for hours.

triazzle-screen.jpgTriazzle - This might be the prettiest puzzle game on the iPhone. It may also be the most deceptively difficult puzzle game, too. The objective is simple and familiar: fit the triangular pieces onto the board such that all like-colored bugs and insects align properly. When they do, the characters will animate bringing the puzzle game to life. The trick is, um, finding the right spot for each piece, a feat that is easier said than done. With three difficulty settings, each with a selectable number of pieces (9 or 16), and even a kids mode, too, this is one game that will keep you and your family entertained (and challenged) for hours.

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (20 votes)
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Prism for freeIf large file adventures are not your thing, here is a special freebie treat for Windows users today: the colored light puzzle game, Prism, can be yours absolutely free.

Many of you enjoyed the browser version, when it appeared in a previous Link Dump Friday, despite some performance issues with the Flash implementation. The download doesn't seem to have those issues, so it's pretty much just a good, fun, wholesome, casual puzzle game that the whole family can enjoy.

Just download the game, and choose "Buy now". The game will be put into your cart with a total cost of $0.00. Don't delay, we are unsure how long this offer will be valid.

Cheers to Zachary for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.5/5 (59 votes)
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Nancy Drew Ransom of the Seven Ships

kateGirls around the world have looked up to Nancy Drew for generations. Her intellect and courage are timeless, and she's been depicted in novels, comic books, movies and TV shows. It would be a mistake to dismiss her as belonging to the realm of tween girls, because without her, we might never have met Buffy Summers, Dana Scully, or Veronica Mars, just to name a few.

Her Interactive has been cranking out Nancy Drew games since 1996, and Ransom of the Seven Ships is their 20th point-and-click adventure. We've featured Lights, Camera, Curses! from their Nancy Drew Dossier series, but their hallmark is, and continues to be, the complex large file mysteries.

Nancy Drew Ransom of the Seven ShipsA bit of background may be in order for those who may be unfamiliar with this girl detective. Nancy Drew has been solving cases and nabbing criminals in book form since 1930. She started out as a plucky blonde running errands for her father, lawyer Carson Drew, in her blue roadster. During her exploration of River Heights, she'd usually stumble upon a band of smugglers or counterfeiters and save the day with her quick thinking and seemingly inexhaustible personal talents. She could scuba dive, tap dance (in Morse Code!), ride horses and sail boats, just for starters.

Along the way, Nancy's tresses changed from blonde to titian, she aged from 16 to 18, went to college, fell in and out of love with Ned Nickerson, focused less on her social life and fashion, and developed into a modern young woman. Still as plucky as ever, today's books feature a Nancy that drives a hybrid, owns a cell phone, and solves cases at music festivals and on reality show sets.

The Her Interactive games portray Nancy as resourceful and intelligent as she ever was. She's in great demand all over the world as a teenage sleuth, having closed cases in France, Italy, Canada and Ireland, as well as across the United States. Her circle of friends includes cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne (a girl, despite the masculine name).

In Ransom of the Seven Ships, Nancy, George and Bess have won a free vacation at a tropical resort on Dread Isle, a small island east of the Bahamas. Nancy arrives a day after her friends and is shocked to find that Bess has been kidnapped, the resort owners are nowhere to be found, and she and George are cut off from communication to the outside world. A ransom note demands that, in order to save Bess, Nancy must find the treasure of El Toro, a Spanish captain whose fleet of seven galleons went down near the island almost 300 years ago.

Dread Isle is much too large to explore on foot, so one of Nancy's first tasks is to fix the resort's golf cart. Of course, before playing mechanic, she needs to find the key to open the shed where the cart's battery is kept. After replacing the battery, she puts her math skills to good use by determining how to fill each of the battery's cells with an equal amount of water. This mix of logic and object collecting is the backbone of the game's increasingly complex and intelligent puzzles.

Nancy Drew Ransom of the Seven ShipsAnalysis: Ransom of the Seven Ships is a puzzler's dream come true. Cryptograms, slider puzzles, matchstick manipulation, a Blokus variant, and the hardest game of underwater Sudoku you'll ever encounter are just a few of the many challenges you and Nancy must overcome. Even better? Every single one of these obstacles is seamlessly integrated into the intricate plot. With each solution you're one step closer to outwitting both the kidnappers and El Toro.

The mouse interface is incredibly intuitive, and gameplay is a piece of cake. The cursor changes from an arrow to a magnifying glass to a hand, depending on the options within the scene, and will glow red when you mouse over an object that can be examined more closely. An optional in-game tutorial will have you up and running in no time.

Dread Isle is a tropical paradise, and the graphics and soundtrack reflect the Caribbean influence perfectly. Steel drums abound, native birds sing in the trees, and even Nancy's footsteps in the sand sound authentic. The voice acting is fabulous, although there's no option to skip the sometimes longwinded discussions. And can we just talk about the exquisite graphics for a minute? The colors pop, the sea sparkles, and each location is lovingly rendered with a careful eye for texture and detail.

Unfortunately, the game's weakest point is the animation. The static first person scenes are absolutely perfect, but when you need to control Nancy from the third person perspective, the quality takes a step down. Speaking of that third person perspective, driving the golf cart, exploring in a sailboat and rock climbing are a treat the first few times, but grow tiresome fairly early on. Some sort of warp feature would be greatly appreciated.

Nancy Drew Ransom of the Seven ShipsA staple of this series is the incorporation of historical facts and educational puzzles. Players will need to decipher a code using maritime signal flags, identify different types of bats, and learn how to plot longitude and latitude. Every single bit of information needed is in the game itself, so there's no need to consult external sources.

For an educational title aimed at young adults, this is a surprisingly difficult game. Make no mistake about it, these puzzles are hard. Thankfully, you can choose to play as a Junior or Senior Detective. The Junior level is highly recommended if you're unfamiliar with the series. Junior Detectives get the "task list" feature, a helpful tool when determining what to do next, and the overall difficulty level is lowered as well.

With hours and hours of casual gameplay, a solid plot, tons of educational content, gorgeous graphics, and a bevy of challenging puzzles, Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships is no mere child's game.

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: Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Seas is a large-file adventure game and, as such, no demo is available.


(17 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Passport to Perfume

MarcusThe life of a parfumeur is a busy one. Making the perfume, running about all day filling bottles and selling the fragrant wares to any and all that come calling. Not to mention the frequent trips to the four corners of the world in search of the rarest of ingredients to make the most fragrant, and the most profitable, perfumes available. Add to that the constant searching for the rarest of fragrances—the one worn by Marie Antoinette herself—a search that claimed the life of your dear father, and you'll soon find that Passport to Perfume isn't your usual time management game.

Passport to PerfumeIn Passport to Perfume, you play Sophia, an aspiring young perfume maker living during the 1940's. In standard time management fashion, you spend your days serving the customer's needs, trying to give them what they want fast enough to make the most money from them. To do this, you have a couple of different methods, depending on what the customer requests. The first is to select from a range of pre-bottled perfumes that you simply pick up and sell to the customer. Second, you may be asked for one of your signature scents. These require that you take an empty bottle and fill it with one of the scents that you create. Each of these scents have a different color, and can be mixed to form even more scents.

To further complicate matters, there are a number of bottle shapes to choose from, and you have the option of adding different colored spritzers to the bottles. This increases the worth of the perfume, but also increases the time that it takes to serve the customer, and, as usual, the customer's patience quickly wears thin. Luckily you have things like beautiful flowers to calm their nerves. Get them their perfume in time, and they'll even leave you a bit extra for your trouble.

Unlike many time management games, the money that you earn doesn't only go towards upgrades for the shop, although that is one of the major purposes. You also need to keep an eye on your shop supplies. You have a limited supply of empty bottles for your signature scents, and also a limited supply of your pre-bottled scents. These must be purchased between levels, and trying to predict what you will need during the next round can be quite the challenge. Because, once you sell out of a particular bottle or scent, those customers will leave the shop without buying a thing. And you need every dollar you can rake in.

After a number of rounds, you change into your adventuring clothes and head off to faraway lands in search of new ingredients for your fragrances. You are presented with a travel map, a la Indiana Jones, as you watch your plane slowly make its way to the next exotic location. At this point, the game switches to a fairly simple hidden object format where you must locate a number of different ingredients and bottles in the scene. The scenes are actually made of different layers that move back and forth, simulating 3D motion. Quite often, objects will be covered up by foreground objects until the scene shifts and they are revealed. Later scenes will have you taking tools to uncover the items that you must collect.

After collecting the new ingredients, you can go into the mixing screen between rounds and change the mix of your signature scents. By switching between your available ingredients, you attempt to balance the selling price of the fragrance with the time that it takes to fill a bottle with it. Is it worth the extra time that it will take to fill the bottle in order to make a small fortune on one fragrance? The more money you make, the closer you get to finding the elusive scent of Marie Antoinette.

Passport to PerfumeAnalysis: From the first bit of introductory story that you see, you realize that Sophia isn't your usual shop owner, and that Passport to Perfume is not going to be your usual time management title. As you slowly add more bottles to sell and more things that can be done to complicate the final product, the action can get somewhat intense. Not nearly as intense as something like the Chocolatier series, which is what I believe the developers were going for with this game.

I did find myself spending a good amount of time mixing and remixing ingredients to find new scents. I had fun trying to weigh the benefits of the cost of the fragrance with the time that it took me to fill each bottle. Sometimes they paid off, other times they became a hindrance, especially if I got too greedy and created a fragrance that took way to long to put in the bottles. Your customers will only wait so long, you know. They've got lives too!

Even though the hidden object sections of the games were exceedingly easy to complete, the scenes that served as the backdrops were beautifully rendered, and were quite nice to look at. The idea of using a multi-planar camera approach is a unique feature, and one that I think could be applied to a much more full-featured hidden object game to give the scenes a feeling of motion and depth. As it is, they are nice to look at as you quickly pick out the objects that you need to collect.

I have to take issue with one of the aspects of the main game. A number of the stations you access have more than one target that can be clicked. Unfortunately, one of these targets simply allows you to set the bottle down and does not activate the action that is required to complete the station's purpose. Quite often I would attempt to queue up actions only to find that I had effectively skipped a step,and had to redo everything. I have yet to find a use for setting a bottle in one of the workstations without actually activating it, so why this feature was included is beyond me.

I applaud the developers of Passport to Perfume (Mean Hamster Software, creator of Everything Nice) for attempting to bring some new aspects to the time management genre. They didn't quite hit the target in some areas, but the main game is a lot of fun, if a bit too easy. Even if you don't consider yourself a master of the dash, I would recommend giving Passport to Perfume a try.

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

JohnBGames exist to expand your mind, train your reflexes, broaden your appreciation of all things— naaah! I'm kidding, who cares about all that stuff, amirite? Really, most of the games we play exist just so we can have fun. And that's exactly what we have on this edition of Weekend Download: three tiny, simple games to deliver a bit of mindless fun.

tanaka.gifTanaka's Friendly Adventure (Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Tanaka is having a birthday party, but first he must gather his friends. Walk in any of the four directions and a friend will appear each time you enter a new screen. When you've found a bunch of them you can return to the menu and visit the party, checking out a few bits of info about each pal. The game consists of nothing but walking and random friends, but something about that simplicity made me come back to play again and again. Must find all 72 friends!!!

alexitron.gifAlexitron's Journey to Learn GML (Windows, 1.7MB, free) - It may be the creator's first time working with Game Maker's scripting language, but this autobiographically titled game happens to be a bit of fun! Your only goal is to hop on every enemy on the screen. Some try and scoot off the platforms before you can hit them, which is bad, but others just float, hop, slide or run back and forth. Kill them all, move to the next level. Repeat.

xorpl.gif!Xorpl (Windows, 2.4MB, free) - A tiny, tiny game of nothing but exploration. Seriously, that's all you do! As a little alien dude, you can walk across the ground and jump over obstacles in your way. Explore one of several branching paths, avoid a few traps, and see the game's three different endings.

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 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (45 votes)
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Many Years Ago

GrinnypThe casual village sim Many Years Ago drops itself in a crowded genre, competing with games like My Tribe, Virtual Villagers, Escape from Paradise, Totem Tribe, and many more. Why, then, should anyone bother with another village sim? In four words: laid-back and relaxed gameplay. In one word: dinosaurs!

Many Years AgoYour island civilization has been wiped out by a volcano (my, that sounds familiar). After customizing the tribal chief (a.k.a. you), start the villagers off by assigning a few basic tasks such as gathering resources, constructing buildings, finding tools, and so on. Before you know it you'll be charged with completing major tasks that require tons of resources, several tools, and a little effort on your behalf.

Building up resources will take up most of your play time, the rest goes by in a flash. Navigating the island paradise is smooth and easy, featuring three simple ways to get around: click and drag, scroll at the edge of the screens, or click the inset map to jump from place to place. Put a villager on a task by left-clicking the villager followed by his or her destination.Your people will happily take care of themselves, dropping their tasks to eat and drink, take a nap, or visit with friends or family and occasionally making a new little villager. They can also be surprisingly picky eaters, forcing the player to keep a wide variety of foods available.

Whimsy is a cornerstone of Many Years Ago. Chuckle as your villagers chatter to each other in their incomprehensible language, each voice unique to the person speaking. Ponder what the little furry creatures are for. Worry that once the bridge is built the dinosaurs will wreak havoc on your little settlement. Yes, dinosaurs. That is indeed a helpful pterosaur occasionally flying by to drop coins into nests which can be used for experience points. The sauropod and hadrosaur living on the other side of the river will wander by, feeding on the trees near your village and checking out the toddlers in the corral. Yes, toddlers. Yes, a corral.

Yet another thing that sets Many Years Ago apart are the tasks — many practical, some just out and out funny — like building a wooden corral to keep the village children from running amok and disturbing your workers at their appointed chores. Some duties can even be surprisingly complex. Baking bread, for instance, takes several steps, including the construction of three separate areas along with an intricate sequence of harvesting and milling the corn, transporting the flour, baking, and storing the bread.

And hey, how about those mini-games? Familiar fare such as match-3, pipe puzzles, and pair matching have been beefed up to an almost ridiculous degree in Many Years Ago. Two games feature an astonishing 49 levels each, moving them into the category of mega-mini-games.

Many Years AgoEach mini-game has a nice little "twist" on the standard setup. Match-3, for instance, features a cute sabre-toothed kitty who you must lead along a path inside the grid. Make matches that allow him to follow said path to a treasure chest and you can win resources, but only if you've managed to break all the blocks and chains before he arrives. The pipe puzzle is a maze atop a plant that needs to be manipulated for the seedling to grow to the surface so it can bloom. However, the plant is already growing, so rotate the pieces fast before it hits a dead end and dies. Beginning several of the tasks also leads to little one-shot, micro-mini-games that are fun and quick and can also be skipped if you're not in the mood.

Analysis: To begin with, Many Years Ago is filled with lush scenery and animations throughout its environments. The palm trees have that lovely interwoven bark that makes you want to run your hands over them. (Note: Not advisable in real life, since that dense bark in some varieties of palm trees harbors a nasty breed of scorpion.) The palm fronds are a luscious, verdant green, and gently sway in the tropical breeze. Small furry creatures shuffle around on the ground, perhaps searching for food. Water in the spring and your storage area is actually running. Listen closely and you can almost hear the pounding surf. Perusing the backgrounds almost makes you feel as if you were on a vacation, and the "kick back and sip some tea in the shade" gameplay fits the visual setting perfectly.

The tutorial gets you started and nudges you in the proper direction without being too obtrusive. Objects that need to be found are in plain sight, no monkeys or other visual aids needed. The nicest feature of all? Three mega-mini-games are entirely optional. This leaves you free to play the mini-games as you wait for your villagers to rack up needed resources, to gain more resources or experience points, or just for fun. Or you can just ignore them completely and watch your villagers spear fish in the river.

Many village sim games feature time management tasks so intense you can feel like a paranoid taxi driver on a three day coffee jag trying to navigate downtown New York during rush hour. The casual, laid-back atmosphere of Many Years Ago takes a complete 180 from that mind-set. There are no hidden items to collect, no mysteries to solve. Everything is laid out in the task directions so some might consider the game too easy. This, however, is missing the point. While many of these type of games can be as stressful as a day at the office multi-tasking, playing Many Years Ago feels more like hanging out in a hammock, watching the sunset, enjoying the beach, and hoping the vacation never ends. True casual gameplay.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4/5 (122 votes)
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PsychotronicPixelPixel is the new shooter from Hero Interactive, the developers of the Bubble Tanks series, and it's a curious little game. The titular pixels serve quadruple duty as your health bar, your ammunition, an omnipresent collectible, and the shrapnel in countless explosions, but the graphics themselves are not pixel art. All the characters are rotation-friendly collections of shapes that only become pixels when you blow them up, as though they were hiding their identity under a shadowy disguise, and by killing them you expose their pixelly lifeblood in a detonation of truthfulness.

It is very easy to control Pixel: move with the mouse. Shoot with the mouse button. You lose a few points from your life counter when you fire, but that's a small price to pay for the chain-reaction fireworks that result from every successful hit. By collecting the pixels from explosions, you both fuel your life counter and send out even more deadly pixels that can set off yet more fireworks. With every particle leaving a fading trail behind it, and a nonsense level of particles on-screen at any given time, a random screenshot of the game looks like an abstract expressionist painting from Jackson Pollack or Sam Francis.

Because it's such a trifle to fill the screen with death, Pixel is pretty much a cakewalk, from a survival standpoint. The more enemies show up, the easier it is to annihilate them in seconds. The game breaks things up a bit with mini-bosses and a satisfying mob of tentacles at the very end, but none of it is very challenging. I was able to unlock all the extras in my first playthrough. Rather, this experience is about relaxing into Brian Hall's mesmerizing soundtrack and watching the pretty colors zoom around. It's terrific as a chill-out casual shooter, but if you need a game to push back a little, this is probably a one-time play for you. It really could use some harder difficulty settings. However, with several unlockable ships and background themes (including the health hazard "seizure"), Pixel is a nice place to visit when your secret raver itch needs to be scratched.

Play Pixel


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraNo matter how tough we are, how much we say we like grilling, or macho things like riding wheelies on our dirt-bikes in the parking lot outside the retirement community, each and every one of us has a cuddly-wuddly side. That's right. I'm looking at you. I know, deep down, you've been looking, searching, for something to love and hug and pet and call George. Shhh, it's okay. That's where this week's Link Dump Friday comes in, with an extra helping of adorable. We'll find that missing piece of you today. Or, um, play some games. You know, whichever is more fulfilling.

  • Froggy FeastFroggy Feast - This would be a charming bug-themed take on Tetris, where you valiantly struggle to save your creepy-crawly comrades from the sap they've become stuck in. If not for the Frog. Look at him. Sitting there. Watching. Waiting. Judging. Be careful. For when you gaze into the Frog, the Frog also gazes into you.
  • KahootsKahoots - This is a game where you (sshhh, keep it down) indulge in a little puzzle solving (be quiet, seriously!) to get the Kahoots safely to the exit in every... um... the... ARGH. SHUT UP, PEG BEAST. Phew. Right now, you may not understand. But you will. You will.
  • Red BallWonder Bounce - You remember that level on Super Mario where Mario read the forbidden words and his soul was expelled from his body, forcing him to battle wave after wave of evil spirits trying to steal his body by leaping on their heads? Of course not, because it would have been insane. But if it did exist, it would look a lot like Wonder Bounce. Which is not insane at all, just really... weird.
  • Red BallRed Ball - Red Ball doesn't ask much, really. All Red Ball wants is for you to use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to reach the flag at the end of each level in this physics platformer. You'll help Red Ball, won't you?... why not? Red Ball would do it for you. Red Ball loves you! Love Red Ball! Love him!!
  • Me vs EarthMe vs Earth - [Warning, mild animated violence.] ... what? Why are you looking at us like that?... oh. So a game where you play a genetically mutated scientist who blasts his way across the landscape by shooting blobs of... something at his enemies to gain levels and super powers isn't adorable. Is that how it goes? Well, that's just crazy talk. Next you'll be telling us explosions and massive property damage aren't adorable, either.

  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (62 votes)
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GrimmrookGalactic CommandosThe future is awesome! Cats and dogs play together, nobody ever gets sick, wars are a thing of the past and everyone who wants a pony gets one. There is absolutely nothing ever that can go wrong. Ever. Unless "ever" happens to get interrupted by the landing of a hostile alien ship. That's why we keep these Galactic Commandos around.

The Galactic Commandos are a paramilitary trio that get called in to do the dirty work like fighting off bad guys while the rest of us lounge about eating mint chip ice cream and riding ponies. In this action/puzzle platformer you control all three unique future soldiers. There's your cigar-smoking heavy weapon specialist who can launch explosive rockets and perform a seriously destructive ground pound. There's your defense specialist who fires a pea shooter and totes an impenetrable energy shield. Last but not least there's your stealthy scout, capable of double jumps, balancing on narrow platforms, and sliding unnoticed past enemies to stab them in the back with his ninja-like sword.

Control of your assault team can employ two different control sets. You can move, duck and jump using either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys (it is recommended for IE users to use the [WASD] configuration, as the [arrow] keys will scroll your browser along with controlling your characters). Cycle back and forth between your characters using [<] and [>], or [C] and [V]. Each character can also attack using [N] or [Z], while the [M] or [X] keys activate that character's special ability.

With this highly trained team at your fingertips, you must infiltrate the alien craft and nullify the threat so the rest of us can continue to enjoy our ice cream and ponies. And by "nullify the threat" I do mean blow the thing to smithereens.

Analysis: Take the Lost Vikings and Megaman and kind of smoosh them together real nice and you have a pretty fair idea of what Galactic Commandos is like. You get the puzzle aspect from the former, but with a nice bit of futuristic action from the latter.

Galactic CommandosOn the whole, Galactic Commandos is a nicely executed game. It's visually clean, employing a nice cartoony future motif backed up by an upbeat, chipper soundtrack. The only way to really describe the overall effect is Megaman-like.

While the controls are not exactly airtight they do get the job done, and actually manage to help give the different characters personality. The scout's light and speedy feel contrasts beautifully with the sluggish heavy artillery expert.

The balance between the three characters is impressive and after the opening few levels you really do need to use all of their different abilities to see your way to the end of each level. It's also quite nice to know that inactive units are rarely in trouble, since they all rest in a safe state. The scout becomes invisible, the defense character keeps his shield activated, and the heavy artillery specialist automatically fires his rocket launcher (when he's not puffing at a cigar mind you).

Galactic Commandos does suffer from its flaws, chief among them being rather uninspired level design. Unfortunately, the level design doesn't allow the player to take full advantage of the three-character dynamic. There was the potential here to create a game that really made you think about how to make it through each level. As it stands, this aspect of the game never really provides much of a challenge. Indeed, Galactic Commandoes overall is not that hard, and shouldn't give most of you much trouble. On the positive side, the lack of challenge makes this action/puzzle platformer an extremely casual experience.

The less-than-amazing level design also results in a tendency towards repetition. Perhaps being able to upgrade old abilities or gain new ones later in the game could have spiced things up a bit, but as it stands, it totters dangerously between good action packed fun, and tedium.

Still, Galactic Commandoes remains a light romp that may not put your skills to the test, but manages to hit the fun button all the same.

Play Galactic Commandos

You Are Games

PsychotronicSimple Puzzle. Grow. Replay. Ball Physics. Upgrade. We've had some good themes over the years for the Casual Gameplay Design Competitions. The last couple have seemed almost prescient, coming right before the explosion of physics games, and then the current upgrade craze. With each competition, the CGDC has grown in size and scope; the prizes, the complexity of the games, the level of audience participation, the logistical nightmare behind the scenes.

Let's take it back to basics.

casual gameplay design competition 1casual gameplay design competition 2casual gameplay design competition 3casual gameplay design competition 4casual gameplay design competition 5casual gameplay design competition 6

Your assignment for You Are Games this week is to answer a question: What should the theme of the next Flash game design competition be? A good theme is specific enough to inspire, but simple enough to allow for a lot of different interpretations. No need to send your replies to us by email; just post them here in the comments. This isn't a contest. Yet.

Update: Whoa! I guess you all might like to have a game design contest! Many thanks to everyone who has made suggestions, and extra super mega thanks to those who have taken it upon themselves to compile lists out of the chaos. I'm setting a cut-off for new ideas, so we can get to work on Phase Two. Post your themes before the end of the day Sunday, July 26th, EST.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (128 votes)
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PsychotronicThe Space Game MissionsBack when The Space Game was released, casual real-time strategy lovers everywhere agreed that it was one of the very best such games you could play in a browser. It feels a little like an open-ended tower defense title, but lets you play more creatively, with the ability to place your mining platforms and laser banks anywhere in two-dimensional space. Thanks to the required network of energy relays and supporting structures, you end up building this amazing-looking spider creature of a base, tendrils splayed out around the asteroid belt, bursts of neon light pulsing through its veins, lashing out with highlight beams at the incoming swarms of space pirates. It's like Las Vegas in space. But cheaper.

The biggest criticism I had of the original The Space Game was its monotony. Real-life military space mining will probably be like that — just an endless slog through the solar system, pressing little buttons on your space remote to have the nanobot army build you another missile center — but here in this Earth video game, I wanted more variety in the missions, a story please. A goal beyond "Get you some money. Now you are the wealthiez!"

That's what The Space Game: Missions is. The main story path branches off into three sub-plots, each centered around some unique treasure you have to protect, or huge threat you have to face. With 8 missions on the backbone, and 13 more on the ribs, that's a meaty gameplay chowdown. While your own capabilities haven't changed from the first Space Game — your weapons are identical — your focus has to change quite a bit when you are, say, defending a moving rocket from attackers along the length of its flight path, or when you're limited to using the minerals from a single giant mining laser. The tight, balanced gameplay is the same; it's just more engaging this time.

The new missions are hard, even on the easiest setting, and you can unlock a total of four difficulty levels for each. Again, meaty. Even without any major gameplay shake-ups, this is a more than satisfying challenge for The Space Game veterans. Thanks to the in-game tutorial, newcomers should be able to appreciate it too, though you might want to try the first game before diving in here. This game is largely fan-service. We wanted a harder game with a stronger story, and that's what developer David Scott has given us. No multiplayer yet, but this is still a great update to The Space Game, the one and only.

Play The Space Game: Missions

Thanks for sending this one in, Jell and Philip!

You can also play the game at Kongregate


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (111 votes)
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DoraSpace OddityWe're sorry, but you're not going to need those enormous fluffy sleeves, the leotard, or the pancake makeup today. It's okay, we were all glammed up with nowhere to go, too. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered Pastel Games' newest point-and-click game had nothing to do with David Bowie's magnum space-rock opus. Especially since all this hairspray is itchy and makes it hard to concentrate on Space Oddity. And judging by the mission we've just been offered, we're going to need our heads clear.

A top-secret space station conducting archaeological work deep in the galaxy has stopped communicating with its base, and you've been sent to uncover the problem. Base believes it's a simple mainframe issue keeping communications down, but that station looks awfully lonely floating out there in the black... and awfully quiet. It's up to you to point and click your way through the dark and get to the bottom of things. After all, it's just a routine mission, isn't it?

Space, as one might expect, is a fairly creepy place, made much more so by the ominous silence that pervades most of the game, broken only by the hum of the engines. Aided by sublimely slick artist Kamil Kochanski, the atmosphere here is excellent, from the sparse light that spills into the gloomy corridors, to the complete HUD change whenever you put on a hazmat suit. A lot of detail has gone into the way everything from the inventory to the ship itself looks and feels.

The problem is that same atmosphere also makes this game somewhat difficult to navigate. The shades of various colours used here, while making the game look positively haunting, tend to bleed into each other, making figuring out what you're looking at and how you should interact with it a bit of a pain. There's also little help where your inventory is concerned; the game sits back, folds its arms, and seems to expect you to click blindly across most screens until you find out what works. And while deciphering the correct order to do things is satisfying, it can also be a little frustrating to discover that certain items can only be used at certain times. The puzzles aren't difficult because they're particularly challenging; they're difficult because the design is a little clunky.

Still, despite being short, and tripping itself up a little in terms of navigation and direction, Space Oddity feels like a promising start to what may be an intriguing series. Creating an effective atmosphere isn't always easy, despite the aplomb with which it's been pulled off here, and I was left eager to find out what happened next. Fans of Mateusz Skutnik's work won't be disappointed, and hopefully the next installment in this eerie space adventure is right around the corner.

Play Space Oddity

The game can also be played at Pastel Games.

Thanks for submitting this one, Alabaster!


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (111 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessLoom Custody is the latest escape game from uber-talented Japanese designer Place of Light. In it you wake to find yourself ensconced in a grimy, nearly-bare cell. The blue sky glimpsed through a high window grate is the sole spot of cheer in your bleak prison; with a bit of exploration, however, you will find that the room is far more intriguing and complex than it first appears. To have any chance of escape, you must discover clues, solve puzzles and use all of the limited resources at your disposal. A classic scenario, but one that Place of Light does very well.

Loom CustodyAnalysis: While I enjoyed playing Loom Custody, I was ultimately left feeling underwhelmed. While still very good, it does not entirely live up to the standards set by the rest of the developer's body of work.

However, Loom Custody is in no way mediocre. It contains all of the important elements of a high-quality escape game: the puzzles are thought-provoking yet refreshingly logical, the interface clean and professional, the graphics nicely evocative of your predicament. There are even a few fun surprises! It's just that after the releases of so many superlative games by Place of Light, Loom Custody does not quite live up to my expectations of what the developer is capable of. The game is simply too short and relatively easy to stand up next to the likes of the extraordinary Room Marine (my personal Place of Light favorite, and one of the best room escapes I've ever played). I also felt that while its puzzles are interesting, Loom Custody lacks the element of innovation that is present in the designer's other creations; there is nothing in the game that I haven't seen before in some shape or form. On the other hand, Place of Light produces games considerably more quickly than many other top-notch escape game developers. Maybe it's just an issue of quantity winning out over quality.

Even if Loom Custody is not Place of Light's magnum opus, it is arguably one of the better room escapes out there. While I hope that the developer's next release will be a return to longer, more difficult games, I can't deny this one is pretty darn good; well-crafted, good-looking and entertaining, it's more than worth your time. Have fun!

Play Loom Custody


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (105 votes)
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GrimmrookKnightfall 2In the first Knightfall, you saved the princess and lived happily ever after. But what exactly does happily ever after mean? Knightfall 2 from Megadev seeks to answer this question. It seems that happily ever after isn't so happy after all. You see, our princess turned blushing bride didn't realize that she was marrying a hero that would lounge about in his boxers all day drinking mead, the mass in his arms migrating ungracefully to his midsection. Oh no, if he wants his happily ever after to actually be happy, then he better get his iron clad butt back out there and get to heroing, or so help her, she's going to rearrange his armor with a very heavy wooden spoon.

Knightfall 2 is a match three style puzzle game with quite a few twists (at least one of them is literal) and some heavy RPG elements thrown in. You will find your character on a grid-like board surrounded by enemies and different colored blocks. You can't move your knight directly, but you can open up gaps by destroying groups of same-colored blocks. Click a group once to highlight it and a second time to destroy it. You can also rotate the board by either clicking on the arrows on either side of the board or by using the [right] and [left] arrow keys.

Your goal in any given level is to snag the key and make your way to the door. There are a host of monsters standing in your way, but you can handily dispatch them by falling on them from above. When you do this, your knight thrusts downward with his hand drill and eradicates the foe. Beware, for the monsters you face can fight back and hit you from a wide variety of locations on the board. Don't let yourself get too caught up fighting monsters, though, for you've only a limited number of moves, or Action Points. Once those are gone, your hero takes damage every time you destroy a group of blocks.

While its basic gameplay is similar to Knightfall, there are a number of improvements in Knightfall 2. It's bigger, for one thing, and now gives you a map that you can travel around, allowing you to choose which dungeons you conquer first. With the bigger map there are more enemies, including several new bosses, each with their own unique properties. A well-stocked fairy store and mana-based spells flesh out the RPG qualities of the game. And finally, groups of blocks smaller than three can now be destroyed, though at a greater AP Cost.

Analysis: This is how you make a sequel. The first Knightfall was an innovative game that caught our attention and easily won our respect. Knightfall 2 manages to capture the same magic, while adding a slew of improvements that speak directly to the feedback received from the first.

Knightfall 2The real story with Knightfall 2 is how the Megadev team took a good thing and made it so much better. From the opening movie to the first time you see the game map you realize that this is so much bigger than Knightfall. There's just so much more of everything that made the first Knightfall such a success.

This outing is gorgeous, fun, and addictive. The graphics have taken a few steps forward but still have a respectable retro feel about them, and the music direction is wonderful (I'm particularly entranced by the haunting tune from the snowy areas). Meanwhile, the match-three variation remains familiar enough to draw in puzzle fans, while fresh enough to broaden its appeal. Indeed, I've always felt that the draw of Knightfall's gameplay has been its open-ended quality. The ability to manipulate the board in so many ways lets the player adopt a number of different strategies. This allows the personal capabilities of the players to inject their own freshness into a well established genre.

The RPG elements of Knightfall 2 are more pronounced, though it must be said that there could still stand to be a little more (we still would like to see multiple character classes and a little more control over statistics). The fairy store helps, by allowing you to buy more items that give you control over your character's abilities and growth. But perhaps more substantial is the spell system. There are scrolls to be had this time around, but many spells are now based on mana collection which is directly connected to the number of slain enemies and broken blocks in combat.

Another major improvement that I think really gives Knightfall 2 a lot of its character is the addition of several different bosses scattered throughout the game. These area guardians really show off the creativity of the Megadev team, and their ability to cast broad experiments while at the same time remaining true to the game's core mechanics.

You may get seduced by the new enemies and the pretty new settings, but don't get so wrapped up that you don't notice the small things as well. Achievements are now explained (a common criticism we remember from the first Knightfall). The game now includes a comprehensive in-game tutorial as opposed to an external YouTube video. You now have the ability to knock out single blocks or doubles at a higher AP cost. This little adjustment gives you more options to get yourself out of a tight spot, but forces you to weigh costs vs. benefits before doing so.

The dedication to story telling here is also a welcome addition. From the humorous opening sequence to eavesdropping in the local pub, Knightfall 2 does a good job of patching together the story of this world through anecdotes. It's like watching a quilt get sewn together in such a way that perhaps there is not an exact beginning, middle, and end, but instead a meandering history that is held together by a common thread. At times it's whimsical, and at times it isn't. You can play the game without paying much attention to the various characters you meet, but doing so adds a sense of depth that strengthens the whole package.

An enamored reviewer could keep going, but what's the point? In the end, Knightfall 2 is everything Knightfall was only more of it and then some. At this point I'm just keeping you from experiencing it yourself.

Play Knightfall 2


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Rating: 4.6/5 (266 votes)
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DanTheArcherUpgrade Complete[The following is a winning entry in the YouAreGames: Reviewers, Assemble! contest. Congratulations again, DanTheArcher, and thank you to everyone who sent in Upgrade Complete reviews! For more information about how the results were chosen, please visit the contest announcement page.]

Among the myriad puzzles facing game designers is the system by which a player can blossom from a lowly newcomer of humble origin to a full-fledged killing machine, doling out 9999s of damage left and right. RPGs seem to have boiled this down to the precise science of "level up," while action games have tackled this problem with various approaches. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Some merely grant the character abilities on a need-to-use basis, while other games implement a sort of experience system not unlike their role-playing cousins. More and more frequently, however, we see games that make use of currency to purchase bite-size enhancements for distinct weapons or parameters. These improvements are more commonly referred to as "upgrades," and as it turns out, Tony of Shift fame has something to say about them.

Upgrade Complete, from a gameplay perspective, works like a shmup in reverse. (A shmodown, dare I say?) Instead of your intrepid craft trying to pilot its way through fleet after fleet of alien adversaries, your ship is tasked with protecting the bottom of the screen from the hostile invaders. The [left] and [right] arrow keys (or [A] and [D], if you prefer) steer the ship left and right, while the [space] bar activates any of the assorted weapons that you have equipped.

Obliterate as many of the enemies as you can while collecting the cash they leave behind, but remember that should a single foe make it past the bottom of the screen, the level is lost, and you'll have to play it over again from the start. Sounds unforgiving at first, but keep in mind, the game is expecting you to lose repeatedly. In fact, it's downright COUNTING on it. Which is where the titular upgrades come into play.

In between skirmishes, you can spend your not-so-hard-earned loot on new parts for your ship, or save up and augment the gadgets you've already got. The novelty of the game, however, lies in its unparalleled meta-upgradeability. If you'd like, upgrade the buttons on the main menu. Or maybe the title logo. Or if you're feeling ambitious, upgrade the game graphics themselves, propelling yourself through a chronology of graphical styles. By the end of your stay, you'll be surprised you can't upgrade the upgrade system itself.

Upgrade CompleteAnalysis: From the very first moment you start playing, when it requests that you purchase the necessary preloader upgrade to load the actual game, you know what's in store. In the great satirical tradition of Achievement Unlocked, the design team here saw a particularly obnoxious trend of current games, and decided to lampoon the hell out of it. (The team even cites Achievement Unlocked as an inspiration in the credits, as well as a certain renowned game-review site...) While there's an undeniable, cheeseball fun in the shooting, this offering is a parody first and a game second.

This game oozes with digital sarcasm from every upgradeable orifice. (Of which there are quite a few, mind you.) From tabs in the bottom of the screen that zoom in and out to report your manifold "achievements," to distinct purchases between a soundtrack and a mute button, you can tell the creators had a message. I preferred the UI-hijinks over the explicit condemnation of upgrade systems at the game's end, but hey, they weren't going for subtlety with this one.

There isn't a whole lot of skill involved in the combat; it's mostly about how many missile launchers you can afford and upgrading the daylights out of them. At its core, though, that's what this game is out to prove. If there's no loss penalty and only more upgrades to be had, then ultimate victory becomes this inevitable force, like a meteor, moving slowly but surely towards you. One could argue that virtually any game with an upgrade system is guilty of the same crime, which raises questions about whether or not any of them can be truly "hard."

My gripes are few, but one of the major ones involves enemy explosions at the final stage of upgradeable graphics. Every destroyed craft detonates in a flash of searing light, intense enough that you may consider turning the brightness down on your monitor. Other than that, any criticisms of the game's implementation are a bit like criticizing why it's a chicken crossing the road and not a black-capped chickadee. When it's all said and done, a joke's a joke, whether it involves starships or chickens.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe my chicken needs some upgrades.

Play Upgrade Complete


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Rating: 3.9/5 (107 votes)
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MoonlightsArtbegottiThe next time there's a cloudless night, head outside and take a look up. It's beautiful, isn't it? Lots of stars, possibly some planets, maybe even the moon... How amazing would it be to just climb up a tower and reach the moon, and beyond?

Rather coincidentally occurring around the 40th anniversary of when the Apollo 11 voyage landed man on the moon, BonusLevel has launched Moonlights, a construction game of lunar proportions. Each level asks you to reach the light of the moon in the sky, not by a shuttle, but with a tower.

In most cases, each level starts you off with a triangular base of semi-solid rods and nodes. Your goal is to reach the moon by adding more branches to your structure in a fashion not unlike World of Goo. Here, instead of dragging balls of goo, you can simply move your mouse to where you'd like to place a node (white rods will appear if you're close enough), and click to plant it. If you wish to remove nodes (and you eventually will, as later levels require you to recycle your nodes), simply click and drag to form a box around the nodes you wish to remove. Once you've built your tower so that any node touches the moon(s), it must remain there for about five seconds before you've officially cleared the level.

However, a man-made tower to reach the sky isn't without faults. Your tower is affected by both wind and gravity, although in some cases, gravity isn't always pulling you downward. Also, you must work your way around other planets and asteroids that can affect your tower. While green planets are like terra firma and act as the starting point in most levels, they will also cling on to nodes that touch them, and solidify the rods coming from them. On the other hand, purple asteroids will instantly disintegrate nodes that touch them. Light blue planets will solidify a portion of your tower, but also make it impossible to remove nodes by dragging a box over them.

Also available for iPhone and iPod Touch.

Analysis: One benefit to a game like Moonlights is that it gives you a glimpse of a commercial title, but at no cost. Some would argue that this game is practically a "rip-off" of World of Goo, but a better description would be that it's an offshoot of the genre of physics-based tower-building that WoG popularized. So for those who haven't had the chance to purchase WoG yet, Moonlights could be an introductory sampler.

On the other hand, some concerns might be raised over the restrictions on the game if you aren't a member of BonusLevel. Roughly speaking, people who play this game could fall into two categories: People who play to try to get the lowest scores possible on each level (and subsequently are more likely to be BL members), and people who play just to get to the end of a game. If you belong to the former category, you'll most likely get more enjoyment from this game than those who don't (although I would love to be pleasantly surprised). Yes, the usual BL level-saving restrictions apply to non-members, and yes, only members can record high scores, but it might be worth it to consider a membership just to get the full enjoyment out of this game.

In terms of controls, you might have a bit of trouble getting a specific rod/node configuration when you're working in tight spaces (especially if the tower is moving), and if you attempt to drag out a section of the tower to remove by starting too close, it might count it as adding another node. Otherwise, the controls feel natural for a construction game of this type. Moonlights even helps you visualize the underlying physics by coloring over-stressed rods red, showing you where you might want to quickly place some reinforcement.

While the graphics might not consist of much more than colored circles and lines on a star-ridden background, the simplicity works to its advantage. This is, after all, the night sky that we're dealing with here. Factor in the soothing background music (not unlike that of Boomshine) that swells whenever you complete a level, and you're in for a pleasant experience that'll have you drifting among the moon and the stars.

Play Moonlights


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Rating: 4.7/5 (225 votes)
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PsychotronicTwin Shot 2Nitrome is a good developer of off-beat casual action games, but as we see time and time again, it's their sequels where things get interesting. Now comfortable with the original concept and armed with a ready-made catalog of character art, they tighten up the level design, scrape off the rough gameplay corners, and get creative with the power-ups and new enemies. That's pretty much the case with Twin Shot 2: Good and Evil, a sequel to the fast-paced bow-and-arrow blast-fest that so many of us loved back in February.

Here are 50 new levels starring the chubby cat-cherub duo and by extension, their overworked fletcher back home. Move and jump with the [arrow] keys and fire with the [space] bar (use [WASD] and [F] if you're the other player). Perforate adorable blobby creatures of all shapes and sizes with an unlimited supply of arrows, and then collect the loot they leave behind and fly to the next level. Rinse and repeat till you face one of the best Nitrome bosses in recent memory, and then it's time to go to Hades for Round Two, and another 50 levels.

The catch is that the second group of levels (the "Evil" levels), aren't free. This is Nitrome's first experiment with micro-transactions, using the new MochiGames system. This is something you're going to be seeing in a lot of games soon, so now is as good a time as any to make an account. Much like GamerSafe, MochiGames is a way to keep your high scores and progress for a game saved in a central location, so you can access them from any computer. It also lets developers offer premium features for a small fee of MochiCoins, which you can purchase using real money or by completing tasks in certain games.

Twin Shot 2The Evil Levels in Twin Shot 2 feature a whole new cast of enemies and several new gameplay ideas, such as blocks you can push around to reach higher places, or spikey monsters that won't die until you bully them onto a bed of hot coals. It's nothing more than 50 more Twin Shot levels, but if you're a fan of the game, you won't be disappointed. They'll run you 3000 MochiCoins, or about $3.75 US under Mochi's current pricing. For another 1000 MochiCoins, you can buy a suite of cheats and extras, including a fun secret character from another ancient mythology-based Nitrome game and a cool Random Level Mode that includes the original Twin Shot levels and even some extra levels that you won't see in the main game.

Analysis: It's getting redundant to say that a new Nitrome game looks good. With an evocative background picturing a titan holding up a giant city full of waterfalls, and some of the most charmingly weird little characters you can imagine, Twin Shot 2 paints a believable, twisted, innocent and strange picture of Greek mythology. Most of your curious gelatin-demon foes come in several forms, armed and unarmed, carrying or riding other species of demon, breathing and hopping with life and personality. Even the lowly spikey-slime flollops with fumbling purpose, and the ubiquitous shadow-people have at least one great new transformation. You won't like them when they're angry.

What's exciting about Twin Shot is the interactivity. Your enemies can leap on your arrows just like you, and catapult themselves off the same conveyor belts and vanishing platforms. As you alter the landscape by eroding blocks and making temporary stepping stones, you change the flow of the cat-and-mouse gameplay.

Twin Shot 2The Twin Shot games feature two kinds of levels: the more thoughtful puzzley ones, where you need to climb ladders made out of your own arrows and track down enemies hiding in difficult-to-reach corners; and the more action-oriented ones full of leaping bad guys and tricky platforms. For my part, I think Twin Shot 2 is at its best when it's barely hanging on to the edge of chaos. The controls are too slippery for the puzzle-quality precision you need on some levels. It's hard just getting an arrow to stick in a wall at the correct height, let alone jumping from that arrow to get off another perfect shot through a gap in a wall.

Even more than the first Twin Shot, the sequel is made for social play. Take the two-headed weiner dog that can only be defeated if you stun both the left and the right ends within seconds of each other, or the trio of tragedians that need to have all their masks knocked off at once. It's not unmanageable on single-player by any means, but this game really shines more brightly in co-op.

There are still some persistent design errors. The sides of the screen are wraparound, but the play area is larger than the screen, so you often can't see whether there's an enemy waiting just on the other side. It can also be frustrating to hunt down the last enemy on a large vertically-scrolling level, and just wait until your partner scrolls you off the screen in the middle of a jump. The worst part is the difficulty curve, which zig-zags cruelly at times with miscalculated tricks and traps, although the game as a whole is fairly easy by Nitrome standards.

But at the same time, if Twin Shot 2 didn't aim so high and try so many things, it wouldn't succeed half so well. The genius moments are the craziest ones. When you have to navigate two interlocking mazes of platforms and walls, each moving independently, or hop into a little cloud armed with lightning bolts and engage in some high-stakes sky-jousting with the shadow people, you may be convinced for a moment you're playing the greatest Flash platformer ever. The bonus levels flooded with falling coins and bombs, the heart-tipped arrow power-up that sets off a chain reaction of love explosions, the creature of all mouth who eats your arrows and spits them back — these are great things to have in a game. Whatever its faults, Twin Shot 2 doesn't lack for imagination.

Play Twin Shot 2

Thanks to Nick, Adrian, and Sphax for suggesting this one!


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (156 votes)
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The Heist 2Reader review[The following is a reader-submitted review by Donut.]

Hey, there you are! You must be our new driver, right? We were just waiting for you so we could begin. But first, I guess I should explain what's happening here. You see, we are thieves. Though we prefer to call ourselves the Wealth Redistribution Committee. It sounds better, don't you think? Anyway, we had a little "project" going on a while back, which we called The Heist. The plan went flawlessly. We had so much money, we didn't know what to do with it. But apparently the driver did, since he took it all for himself and disappeared. However, Johnny Two Shoes, the mastermind behind the scheme, wouldn't give up so easily. He came up with a new plan, cleverly named The Heist 2! Our goal? A healthy 5 million Credits. No, we're not crazy. Just greedy.

Now that we have that cleared up, let me show you the Hideout. Treat it like your new home. To your right, there's Sam, our automotive expert. Talk to him if your car needs some upgrades, like a stronger engine, better armor, or maybe a landmine dispenser. I'm sure you two will get along just fine. His services aren't free, though, so start saving your cash.

In the middle of the room is Megan, the only woman on the team, and probably the deadliest of us all. She has all kinds of underworld contacts, so she's the one to call if you ever need more people in your crew, or you want some shiny new guns. Last but not least is Lester, our mission manager. He's Johnny Two Shoes' right arm (or foot, heh heh), and has access to all the plans. He decides where you should go next, and whether or not you have the required resources to tackle more difficult projects. I wouldn't mess with him if I were you.

That brings us to you. After you choose a mission, you should stay parked outside the place while your compatriots do the dirty work. Cops are going to try to make our lives harder, so keep an eye out for them, and use this handy walkie-talkie to keep track of the situation and call your men back before things get ugly. Once they get back to the car, just go go GO! The car manual says "Use the [arrow] keys or [WASD] to drive, [space] bar for your equipped special ability, mouse to aim if you own a turret and the [shift] key for a real cool slow-mo effect". Sadly, I can't make heads nor tails out of this driving lingo, but that slow-mo part sure sounds fun.

The amount of money that we "borrow" from our targets somehow increases depending on how well you drive. For example, slamming a cop's car into a wall (or sending it flying with missiles, heh heh) will add some credits to what you already had, and for some reason you also get some extra fuel for the car gadgets. Scientists are currently studying this phenomenon, but they haven't come up with an explanation.

One last thing I should mention is that while the stereo system at the Hideout is always tuned to our favorite song, you can turn it off by pressing [M]. You'll notice that the car radio has been disabled, but that's just for your safety. Because, you know, music can be distracting when you're driving. Especially if you're running from the cops. Yeah.

Well, that is all there is to it! This isn't going to be an easy score, and "earning" 5 million credits is going to take a lot of sweat and blood, but we'll get there in the end! Are you up to it?

Play The Heist 2

Thanks to too many of you to count for sending this in. Cheers!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBSome classic games from several platforms have made their way to the iPhone, making pull-out-of-your-pocket-and-play much easier than before (laptops aren't so pocket friendly). Vector Park has finally dabbled in the iTunes App Store, and a familiar Facebook game also makes its iPhone debut. OH! And there's Worms!

acrobots-iphone.gifAcrobots - Patrick Smith of Vector Park has ported his Acrobots webtoy to the iPhone so we can now take the little life-like bots with us wherever we go. Just touch to grab and throw them around the screen and watch as they interact with the other bots and their surroundings. The mobile app features the same fluid animation and features as the previously reviewed Flash app plus six new parameters to tweak: stickiness, air drag, balance, size, speed and quality. Several pre-set buttons provide for a variety of acrobatic fun on the go. Looking forward to seeing more of Patrick's creations go mobile!

surfacer.gifSurfacer - All those hours spent trying to perfect your timing playing Boomshine will pay off, as long as you remember to do just the opposite in this sleek avoider game. Your goal is to add discs to fill up 2/3 of the screen. Seems easy enough, but the strategy becomes more like old-school Jez-ball when you get bombarded at later levels. Simple, addictive and free, baby!

bumperstars.jpgBumper Stars - The popular Facebook game is now available in an app for the iPhone. The game features the same addictive arcade fun in a small, portable app. Bounce Bumpy Beaver around the play field just by touching and dragging to aim, release to shoot. Collect all the food to move on to the next level, and knock out all the bumpers for a score bonus. Play to earn credits that can be used to purchase additional gameplay items. The app even connects with your friends on Facebook (if you wish) via Facebook Connect. Just login to share your high scores and even challenge your friends.

worms-iphone.jpgWorms - It's classic Worms gameplay on the iPhone! Your favorite weapons like the Banana Bomb, Holy Hand Grenade, Concrete Donkey, the Sheep and 20 others are all here. Throw in randomly generated maps and tons of challenges and you get quite a beefy game. Might take a bit to get used to the touch controls, but afterwards you'll have loads of fun with this one. It's even got multiplayer so you can blow up your friends, too!

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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You Are Games

PsychotronicBack at the beginning of June, we posted a short review for Lights, an excellent new room escape game by Neutral, one of the masters of the escape genre. Because we wanted to get the word out quickly, we posted a brief blurb about the game, and that blurb has been serving as a place-holder for over a month. One part of the recent Reviewers, Assemble! contest was to write a complete review of Lights, in order to give it the recognition it deserves.

Our favorite review we received was written by Mike. The introduction to his review is a bit longer than we usually like, but we feel it effectively captures the drama of finding a quality room escape game after hunting fruitlessly for hours; and the analysis section is spot-on. Congratulations, Mike! And thank you to everyone who participated!

Read Mike's winning entry here.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (32 votes)
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Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy

kateOnce upon a time it was a dark and stormy night, and there was this guy pondering away in his study. He had just broken up with his girlfriend or something and was getting all lamenty when this bird flies in and starts taunting him. The guy goes crazy, because the bird is quothing the same thing over and over again. So the moral of the story is to not answer the knock at your chamber door or else a pigeon will drive you insane.

midnightmysteriesedgar.jpgThat's how the story goes, right? Maybe. Well, the point is, you are now prepared for Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy, the latest hidden object game from Mumbo Jumbo, creator of the Samantha Swift series. Even if you've never heard of Poe (meaning you spent your life living at the bottom of the sea), all you need to know for the game is he wrote scary stuff and he's dead. Now his ghost can't rest until his death is avenged, so you have 24 hours to solve the mystery or his soul will be dragged down to the underworld. Sure, the real Edgar Allen Poe died under suspicious circumstances, but we won't get all speculative and take the game for more than a piece of fiction, will we?

With the help of a supernatural pocket watch you can travel into Poe's stories and explore them for objects that have been, well, hidden. Some of these items will go into your tool bag to be used later, whether you need wood planks to light a fire, or a sponge to clean a dusty window. You'll also need to solve some puzzles, play mini-games, and talk with the fictional characters scattered about.

Analysis: Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy offers up a solid and enjoyable ghost story based on actual history. Some knowledge of Poe's works makes the game especially fun. Find ravens in the scene and your hint counter goes up. Click around randomly and the ravens are scared away by an angry one-eyed black cat. The storyline becomes clearer if you know why there's a skeleton behind that brick wall or the reason that Captain Kidd makes an appearance. However, if you're unfamiliar with Poe, it won't hinder your enjoyment of the game one bit.

midnightmysteriesedgar2.jpgWant a great-looking hidden object game? Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy is one of the best candidates out there. Ripples on the water with fish swimming below? Check. Wind rustling the trees? Check. The pseudo-realistic style of visuals sits between a hand-drawn comic and a meticulously detailed still life, and you won't mind drinking in all of the visual nuances throughout the game.

Midnight Mysteries stumbles a bit with clue descriptions and click detection, the plague of most hidden object games. When you're tasked to find a bottle and there are several candidates in the scene, you need a bit of luck to find the right one on the first try. Some of the mini-games could also use clearer instructions.

Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy stamps its way into the hidden object scene and holds its ground with well-integrated story and gameplay, great artwork, and logical hiding places for items. It's perfect for casual audiences who aren't looking for a lot of challenge but want a good gaming experience nonetheless.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (83 votes)
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Pure Hidden

MarcusAll right class. Everyone take a seat on your meditation mats. Take a deep breath, and exhale. Good. Now, everyone in the lotus position. Excellent. Now, close your eyes, and envision your perfect gaming atmosphere. Something quiet, serene, free of the everyday problems of the real world. Do you see it? Does it look something like Pure Hidden? Then you are on the path to Nirvana. Good luck.

Pure HiddenPure Hidden is designed to be a hidden object game unlike any other. There is no story, no mystery to solve, no thinly-veiled plot designed to accommodate the endless locating of things that have nothing to do with the story, much less the surroundings. Pure Hidden takes a very zen-like approach to the hidden object genre. The games exist to be played, not to serve any external plot or characters. It makes the entire process of playing a relaxing, soothing experience.

You start out at the game tree, a large, leafy, vine-like plant that twists and turns about the screen. As the game progresses it sprouts leaves which slowly turn into blossoms. Blossoms "ripen" and produce games, the most prevalent of which is, of course, is the hidden object level. Locate the objects in the scene from the laundry list below. As you find items they drop off the list and new ones are added. You can't actually select an item unless it's showing in the list, and it's a good idea to remember where you found an item, as you'll likely be asked to find the same object later on. Collect all of the items or locate a purple list item to complete the round.

These seemingly random objects — rubber ducks, action figures, umbrellas — all relate (tangentially) to the next round. When you return to the game tree you'll notice one of the blossoms has turned into a game box. These boxes are filled with games to play, puzzles to solve, and toys to mess around with, such as popping bubbles to keep the on-screen music playing.

Pure HiddenAnalysis: Whoever thought up the idea for Pure Hidden was something of a genius, in my estimation. The hidden object genre has quickly become flooded with endless iterations of the same game. Whether they are mysteries that must be solved, or stories that are played through in a linear fashion, loosely tying the hidden object scenes together, eventually they all seem the same. Even when you are able to find the next Mystery Case Files from the hordes of wanna-bes, it's still a bit stale. It takes a truly well-designed game to stand out from the bunch, and Pure Hidden does that very well.

I love the fact that OUAT Entertainment has chosen something so organic as a plant to tie the game together. It doesn't seem like a gimmick to get around the lack of a plot, story, or characters. It's a plant that offers up games instead of apples or grapes. How cool is that? I want one for my yard!

The backgrounds for each of the hidden object games also play a part in making the entire process seem less of an oddity. The fact that there is more artistry than reality in each of the scenes makes finding a life preserver in an outdoor street cafe more of a silly game and less of a jarring break from real life. The backgrounds also become a thing of art themselves, for when you successfully finish each of the hidden object rounds, the background images become wallpapers that you can use on your computer, thus giving you more of a tangible prize for winning each round than a simple "Good Job!"

Get pure hidden object - sheetal satvara" target="_blank">Pure Hidden for your iPhone!

Of course, for the more competitive souls out there, there is a scored mode that you can play the game in instead of the more laid-back "zen" mode. In the scored mode, you will play against the clock to finish each of the games. The quicker you are, and the fewer hints you use, the greater your score will be. I, myself, prefer the simple serenity of the zen game, though. You still get to see how long it takes you to complete each game, but it really doesn't matter in the long run, does it? So long as you finish at some point. It's all just there, man.

This is one of those genre-busting games that developers need to take a serious look at. Pure Hidden has made the hidden object game fun for this reviewer again, and I believe that, with a little calm meditation and maybe a friendship rock or two, it will do the same for you.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBOhhhhh, sometimes I can't get enough of that old-school retro-styled CRT TV in the living room playing games when I'm supposed to be learning my multiplication tables goodness! An incredibly low-res Quake-inspired game is a heavy dose of nostalgia, but pile on top of that a short Lucas Arts-style adventure game and an unofficial sequel to a near-forgotten NES title, stick a Post-It note on the front, and you've got a recipe for a relaxed weekend.

heed.gifHeed (Windows, 12MB, free) - A short adventure game created using the AGS engine by Ben Chandler, author of Annie Android. The unnamed protagonist is in a bit of a philosophical mood, questioning the purpose of his existence from the beginning of the game. A curious-looking fly initiates a series of events that both answers his questions and raises more. Great scenery, an intriguing plot and a delicious soundtrack make up for the easy puzzles.

kungfu2.gifKung Fu 2 (Windows, 9.6MB, free) - Oh, here's a good one to bring back some fond memories. Remember the old Irem game for NES called Kung Fu? Yes, you remember the burlap sack sound effects, stiff controls and endless barrage of foes you couldn't wait to take down. Well, Gary Gasko has gone and created an unofficial sequel with better visuals, better sounds, and better control. Cleverly titled Kung Fu 2, this nostalgia trip features nine stages and a surprisingly accurate reproduction of the original game's mechanics. You know, only... better.

qquak.gifQQUAK (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - A low-res first person shooter inspired by the likes of Quake and Wolfenstein 3D. Walk around the small arena shooting pink enemies that spawn and grabbing ammo and health from the blue crates that appear. Stay alive, make your opponents stay not-alive, and you're good to go! Three maps, four weapons, and an infinite number of single-color enemies to shoot makes it surprisingly fun. I love low-res FPS games! (See 8-bit Killer for another great example.)

post-it.gifPost I.T. Shooter (Windows, 7.5MB, free) - Another game created for the Experimental Gameplay Project's Unexperimental Shooter theme, this little gem by Crayon Physics creator Petri Purho is made entirely out of Post-It notes. Invading aliens (made of Post-Its) wobble in from the right, shooting Post-It bullets at your Post-It ship. Fire your own Post-It weapon through the Post-It sky to turn the Post-It aliens into Post-It explosions!

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 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (536 votes)
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DanTheArcherMinecraft[The following is a winning entry in the YouAreGames: Reviewers, Assemble! contest. Congratulations, DanTheArcher, and thank you to everyone who sent in Minecraft reviews!]

The term "sandbox game" is one that gets thrown around a lot lately. While it seems the English lexicon is lacking a universally accepted definition (or Urban Dictionary, anyway), the phrase often promises nonlinear gameplay with vaguely defined objectives (if any), and a heavy emphasis on exploration and just sort of fooling around within the game world itself. What if there were a sandbox game, however, where the developer gave you the tools and the know-how to make the sandbox yourself? You can't do WHATEVER you want (sandboxes still need to be filled with sand, remember), but the size of the box, the grain of the wood, the Fisher-Price toys that will litter its surface... all these factors are in your hands now. Welcome to Minecraft, an ample offering from developer Markus Persson, based on the open-source project Infiniminer by Zachtronics Industries.

While there's quite an array of controls to learn for tinkering, basic movement around the world is accomplished via the [WASD] keys, and moving the mouse controls your first-person perspective. [Space] bar is for jumps, and [R] is for teleporting back to the spawn point should you become stuck. [G] summons odd AI-controlled dummies referred to as "mobs," who don't do much other than bolt around erratically and act as unwilling guinea pigs in your various terrain experiments.

When you're ready to worldcraft, use the left mouse button to conjure your currently selected block, or to dematerialize the one you're facing. To alternate between these two functions, simply click the right mouse button. The [1-9] numeric keys will pick which brand of block you'd like to create from the bottom selector, while pressing [B] will open up a much larger palette for you to choose from. There are other buttons and doodads, but the ones mentioned cover the bulk of your arsenal.

In terms of formal instruction, that's really all there is to it. Uncage your imagination, and let it take you where it will. Construct an impregnable fortress, and then plant tulips on the parapets. Dig a vast network of subterranean tunnels, and then drop a colony of mobs down the rabbit hole, and watch as they endlessly wander. Or, if you're in a particularly metacognitive mood, make a sandbox.

Analysis: This game is still in its "alpha" phase of maturity, so Persson will have made plenty of tweaks by the time Minecraft is old enough to walk on its own. You might think that means the game doesn't have a lot to offer right now, but the truth is solidly on the contrary.

Minecraft is something like being handed a bin of LEGO bricks without a manual. Some people put one brick on top of another one, sigh, and then decide they're bored. Other people disappear inside this whirlwind of colored plastic, and when the dust has settled, they've made a fully functional microwave oven. While I believe most people fall somewhere in between one of those two poles, the fact remains that a lot of players are going to toodle with the controls a bit, chase a couple of mobs around, and then call it a day. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and if this isn't your cup of tea, then no one will be offended when you order coffee.

But for those who have the blueprints for that microwave oven, this game will appeal to your sensibilities in a way few others will. There's a veritable toy chest of block types to choose from, and while there really aren't differences between them other than color and texture, that won't stop you from fashioning whatever wonders inhabit your whimsy.

The graphics have this appealing retro blockiness about them, which makes sense when you consider the building medium. There isn't anything in the way of music or sound, and while this can be bizarre at first, the silence begins to take on a sort of Zen quality as you become more and more embroiled in your creations.

If I had any complaints, I would wish for a way to generate your own water instead of having to reroute it from already existing reservoirs. Water is one of the few elements other than blocks that you have to work with, so I'd like to see it more ably represented in the game's work bench.

Otherwise, sandboxes ahoy!

Update: Since this review's original conception, many technical issues have been resolved, and this writer felt responsible to address some of the now-expired points to avoid any undue judgment of the game.

The soft instrumentals complement the game's innate tranquility, so no matter what construct you're hammering together, you'll always have this feeling of walking through a sand garden. (No sandbox pun intended.) The echoes of your footsteps match whatever substance you're traversing, so expect padded rustling on grass or clip-clopping on wood. Occasionally, the sound effects will fall out of sync with your motion, but it's a tiny flaw in an otherwise immersive audio experience.

There's also tons of fun in the game's multiplayer servers, where architects can team up to devise even grander creations, or partake in one of the many fan-made activites. (Spleef, anyone?) One of the more notable concerns with the multiplayer, however, is the frequency of careless players stomping in and dismantling others' handiwork. While there's a banning system in place, be wary when venturing into the multiplayer realms.

Much more content is planned for Minecraft once it evolves into its beta stage of development, including new game modes that feature equipment, items, monsters, and other swords and sorcery staples that could give the game a fantasy bent. Not all of it is sorted out yet, but be confident that Minecraft is certainly going places.

Play Minecraft


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (33 votes)
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Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine

JohnBDepartment 42: The Mystery of the Nine is a hidden object adventure game from Frogwares, creator of Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened and Secret Missions: Mata Hari and the Kaiser's Submarines. Take the role of an agent working for Department 42, a secret organization that investigates paranormal events. Yes, kind of like X-Files! Nine malevolent artifacts that were sealed away in Grimstone mansion have gone missing, and it's your job to find them before their evil influence spreads chaos around the world.

department42.jpgThe core of Department 42 is a straight-up hidden object game with a number of adventure-style puzzles and mini-games lining its perimeter. You'll spend most of your time looking at lists of objects and scanning the scenery for cleverly hidden items. Occasionally one of these items will make its home in a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. This inventory comes into play during special puzzle scenes where your goal is to complete a few objectives by manipulating objects on the screen. Lighting an oil lamp, for example, could require finding items as well as using bits from your inventory.

In an always-welcome break from convention, the mini-games in Department 42 are more than just cheap clones of every puzzle game you've ever played. Instead, nearly two dozen diversions are woven right into the game. And you know what? They're really, really good! Without giving much of the story away, the first game you'll play involves deciphering a set of runes using an unlabeled key. All puzzles, mini-games and scenes are accessible from the main menu after completion, so you can go back and replay them at any time.

department42b.jpgAnalysis: Frogwares studio, the developer of Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine, is well-known for high-quality games with breathtaking scenery, good (if sometimes predictable) puzzle design, and the occasional awkward piece of dialogue. That's exactly what Department 42 delivers, with all the implied (cute) quirks intact. The visuals are intimately detailed from the backdrops to the items themselves. Sometimes you'll swear you're looking at a photograph. In particular the lighting effects are well-done, and Frogwares wasn't afraid to show this off whenever possible.

One annoyance makes itself immediately apparent in Department 42: click detection. In the beginning of a hidden object scene, I have the habit of clicking a few random items before looking at the list, just to see if I can clear a few things out of luck. I was surprisingly unsuccessful in Department 42, but after examining the list I noted several items I had already found and clicked. As it turns out, sometimes you have to click just the right cluster of pixels to collect an item, a mechanic that, I suppose, doesn't affect the basic gameplay all that much, though it's a disappointing oversight on the developer's behalf that stands out because the rest of the game is so highly-polished.

Department 42: The Mystery of the Nine is a great game no matter which angle you view it from. With beautiful locations to scrutinize, mini-games that almost overshadow the game itself, and excellent puzzle-themed scenes, there's no shortage of goodness to be found.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (575 votes)
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DoraWilliam and SlyIf you think you're familiar with the work of Lucas Paakh, think again. Just released, William and Sly is a gorgeous adventure set in a world of melancholic beauty and high fantasy. You play Sly, a small fox living with William. You'd love nothing better than to spend your days leaping through the trees in search of mushrooms, especially those hidden away by greedy gnomes, but today William needs your help. The elaborate teleportation system he set up has suddenly become deactivated, and it's up to you to find out why and fix it with the help of the mysterious fairyflies. Just be careful of where you step, as the sinister Darklings are also after the fairyflies... for an entirely different reason.

The world outside William's door is enormous. Rain-slicked mountains, towering fir trees, and hidden caverns await your exploration. Tapping [shift] will bring up your objectives screen, and your map when you finally gain one. Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move around, and tap [up] or [W] to leap. Don't be afraid to fall, because Sly can take anything you throw at him. In fact, the silky-smooth control scheme practically begs you to push it to its limits and run, leap, and maybe even soar your way to discover every hidden item. The game is a stunner, with a haunting soundtrack and incredibly smooth visuals.

Analysis: The downside is that as fun as it is to play, you'd better enjoy it while you've got it. If you're not intent on exploring the map for all it's worth, you can actually finish the game rather quickly. Is it still fun? Oh yes, tremendously. But it winds up feeling like a chunk of a much larger game rather than a complete one on its own. The tidbits of the mythos behind it we're offered hint at a much bigger world, and after activating all the stones I would have liked to have been able to explore it further. In a way, this is actually a mark in its favour; leaving someone craving more can be a big compliment.

William and Sly feels like the casual gameplay equivalent of one of those relaxation CDs, only instead of whale songs we've got a lovely landscape to explore with some very fun platforming. The area design is actually well laid-out, and with how big the map is I'm a little flabbergasted at the amount of work that must have gone into it. The platforms and trees are placed at logical intervals so running and leaping through them feels natural and breezy, and you'll get more adept at spotting corners where hidden mushrooms may lie. If you're looking for an epic journey, William and Sly may fall short for you, but taken as a treat rather than a full meal, it's still a gorgeous game with a lot to offer.

Play William and Sly


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Rating: 4.6/5 (409 votes)
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DoraCovert Front 3For many, the spy is a romantic ideal. The femme fatale in a trench coat, seducing with a smile and vanishing with the dawn, the only evidence of her passing some missing documents... or the surfacing of an incriminating photograph sometime later. M-24-7-69, alias Kara, leads a life less glamorous. For some time now, she's been on the trail of Karl van Toten, and she spends more time watching her back in seedy alleyways than sipping martinis in a smoky bar. And now she's drawing closer in Covert Front Episode 3: Night in Zurich, another gorgeous point-and-click adventure from Karol Konwerski, Mateusz Skutinik, and the fine folks at Pastel Games.

If you're unfamiliar with the first two installments in the Covert Front series, this third episode is likely going to confuse and mystify you. While early on Kara receives the documents and photos she acquired in episodes one and two, they're still not going to do a whole lot to enlighten you except in the most basic, "This guy bad. We chase him." sort of way. Which admittedly may be good enough for some people who only want to do the whole "spy thing" and look mysterious, but others may benefit from playing the others first.

Navigation remains simple. Use your mouse to interact with the scene, clicking on an area when the icon changes to a hand to indicate you can do something there. Some scenes are wide, and can be scrolled through by moving the cursor to either side of the play screen. Kara's inventory can be accessed by clicking the small letter "i" in the bottom right of the screen, and clicking on an item will either activate it, or ready it for use.

Play the entire Covert Front series:
Covert Front 1Covert Front 2Covert Front 3Covert Front 4

So is it difficult? Fairly. There's no hand-holding in Covert Front, and many of the puzzles require a lot of thinking on your feet. Some of them can look downright mean spirited at first encounter, but the real beauty of the game is that as in any good mystery, the clues are always there for you if you know where to look. Instead of forcing you to tramp back and forth over areas, picking up a lot of useless junk and trying to combine it to create whatever mystical MacGuffin the situation demands, you'll spend a lot of time using your brain, which is a very welcome change for the genre.

A lot of the game revolves around figuring out how to get Kara's next set of orders, and here the thought and planning put into the tasks really shines. There are codes to be found, buildings to be snuck into, secret numbers to call, and more. The game automatically saves your progress, so you can pick it up whenever you like if you need to take a break and go back to your boring civilian life. Just don't blame us if you find yourself scrutinizing the ingredients in your Cheerios for hidden messages. And... you probably shouldn't tell anyone if you do that either because they'll probably think you're crazy. But not us. We understand you.

... that's comforting, right?

Covert Front 3Analysis: It's been two years since we last saw our favourite spy, and fans of the series will be glad to know she's held up well, minus a lot of hair. Perhaps better even than the previous installments, Night in Zurich absolutely nails the atmosphere of danger and intrigue so essential to old spy tales. Mateusz's signature art style captures with aplomb the look and feel of a setting fraught with suspicion, and even the puzzles only serve to further set the mood. To succeed you'll literally have to think like a spy and search for hidden meaning in everything. Is that train schedule really as innocuous as it seems? What about the Bible on the bedspread? Just remember to watch your back while you're nosing around for clues.

But you should probably keep an eye out for hotspots, too, since the game seems to take delight into tucking them into odd places. It's never exactly pixel hunting per se, but there were times when I stumbled across entirely new screens after frustratingly searching the same areas over and over because the transition point was tucked in at an odd angle. There are also a lot of screens that have absolutely nothing to do with advancing the game, so you can waste time trying to find a secret that simply isn't there. These things make the game feel less tight than it should be.

Sound is an aspect that can make or break a game, and for the most part, Covert Front is easy on the ears. The voice acting is a nice touch, if a little uninspired, but really isn't needed for the amount of dialogue in the game. By contrast, the music by Brian Wohlgemuth is always perfectly chosen for every scene, and even areas that are only peppered with sound effects are incredibly atmospheric.

Covert Front isn't just a great point-and-click adventure. It's a great story, rife with missing agents, espionage, secret mechanisms, and all the things that make spy drama great. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, and while newcomers might find the occasionally brain-burning puzzles a bit daunting, anyone with a taste for mystery will find a lot to like here. While I hope we don't have to wait as long for the next offering from the developers, if two years is what it takes to make something this good, then it's time well spent.

Play Covert Front 3: Night in Zurich

Read all our Covert Front series reviews and walkthroughs...


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat did someone ask you to do today? Pick up your socks? File a report? Stop opening other people's lunches in the company fridge, taking a single bite, and then carefully re-wrapping it all? The nerve of some people! If you wish that once, just once someone would ask you to do something completely ridiculous, then you have come to the right place. For here we have for you, helicopters that need to be used to perform acrobatics, flaming ropes that need to be drug around by minors, and so much more. Because weird is fun. That's our story and we're sticking to it!

  • onFireonFire - Today's Girl Guides and Cub Scouts work hard to help little old ladies cross the street and provide us with cookies we'll eat in the middle of the night straight out of the box. But do any of these fine young boys and girls know the fine art of dragging a lit rope through highly flammable grass to light a campfire? Use your [arrow] or [WASD] keys to keep this incredibly dangerous tradition alive for a new generation!
  • Water WerksWater Werks - It's summertime, and yours thoughts have turned to the great outdoors. Ice cream, frisbees, physics water puzzles with goggle-eyed little rolling monsters. Oh! The memories. Maybe you should make some new memories to cherish, by using the cursor to point your nozzle, and clicking the left mouse button to manipulate the environment to guide the little critters into the gaping maw at the end of each level! No, no, it's cool. They want you to do it! Probably.
  • The Last Mech DruidThe Last Mech Druid - If Jean Claude Van Damme was ever hired by Greenpeace to make a movie about saving the environment, it would probably look a lot like this, only with more glistening pectorals. One would think that using enough heavy weapons to ignite an entire rainforest to protect a single tree would be problematic but I guess that's why you're the Mech-Druid and we're not. So get out there and upgrade your way to peace with guns, lightning, fire, and... dragon talents? Whoah.
  • Sparks and DustSparks and Dust - This game is about... uhhh... hm. Well, there's some guys with eagle heads and hatchets over there. Maybe you should dive-jump them? You know, so they'll drop some glowing stuff? And then you could... pick it up? And some coins? Man, I don't know. Now's not a good time. I dropped my keys here three hours ago and I still haven't found them. Stupid mist.
  • icon_partyboat.gifParty Boat - They said we weren't cool enough for this party, but once we promised to hire a helicopter for you to use the [arrow] keys to perform amazing acrobatics for them, it was totally okay! Well, they did say they were going to be shooting things at you. But we told them you were cool with that. You are cool, right? Hey, if you die, can we have your WHAM! CDs?

  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (124 votes)
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PsychotronicGet Off My LawnThe neighborhood kids are on your lawn again, and it's time to take action. And that action is murder. The blob-like troublemakers come in all sorts of species and flavors. Fast blobs, slow blobs, blobs wearing protective welding masks, blobs wearing dorky glasses, explosive blobs... and they all want nothing more than to ruin your beautiful length and edge work. Why? Because the dirty little anarchists hate order. In Get Off My Lawn, a new arena combat game from Hot Air Raccoon, you finally decide to put an end to all the shenanigans, armed with the oversized blades on your trusty, indestructible, probably non-regulation lawn mower.

Just move around with the mouse and barge into enemies to splatter them all over your careful landscaping. Anarchist juice makes good fertilizer. When your power gauge is charged, hold the mouse button to activate a spinning cyclone attack that sucks in all the bad guys on the screen and mulches them together. That's an important tactic, since you'll be able to buy all kinds of upgrades between rounds, and killing several cute blob-people in a row multiplies the money you get by quite a lot.

This is obviously a partial tribute to Amorphous+, although it lacks that game's delicate balance. The action in Get Off My Lawn has all the precision of a sniper riding a unicycle. If this were a movie, the director would keep telling the actors to "careen more".

And that's both good and bad for an action game. Mostly, Get Off My Lawn is all about light-hearted carnage. "Weeeeee, ahm killin' stuff!" is the zen mantra here, followed often by "Come back, jello-man! Stay on the screen so I can splatter yoooooo!" For anything hardy enough to take a couple of whacks from the lawnmower, it's too easy to shove them out of bounds and lose the all-important bounty. And when everything is spazzing around like a pack of blind two-year olds full of Hallowe'en candy, it's hard to do skill-intensive things like attack a moving target from behind, or dodge an explosion.

In the end, Get Off My Lawn keeps such a firm toothy grip on the idea of fast-paced, campy, semi-violent entertainment, it's easy to forgive its lack of depth. As an up-and-coming geezer myself, I can appreciate the wish-fulfillment aspect of a game where you slice a gang of pranksters into grill strips. Oh yes, one day my crankiness will be feared.

Play Get Off My Lawn


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Rating: 4.7/5 (471 votes)
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kateBunniWe here at Jay is Games would like to point out that we are not responsible for the ridiculous amount of rabbit-based puns in this review. You see, Bunni: how we first met is exceptionally and insidiously cute, which we believe to be the mysterious cause behind this leporide-intensive wordplay. The game's sheer charm has overwhelmed our staff, leaving them unable to type so much as a paragraph without yelling out "Bunni cute happy making!" or something similar. We hareby (D'oh!) apologize for the inconvenience, and warn you to proceed at your own risk.

From Andre Spierings and Daniel Cook, the masterminds behind Fishing Girl, comes Bunni: how we first met, an insanely adorable game that is most easily categorized as resource management. Reminiscent of Animal Crossing or Wandering Willows, Bunni combines role-playing, simulation and a non-linear format, resulting in a distinctly underused genre of gameplay.

Our hero is a cute little bunny with a cute little bunny crown, a newcomer to an island chain that recently experienced an "incident." As a result, its inhabitants and natural vegetation have been damaged, and like any good hero, you need to restore the land to its former glory. Along the way, find the girl, fall in love and marry her. Of course everybunny knows that the best way to a girl's heart is to gather rocks and wood so you can buy her things she likes, so get to it!

BunniThe best way to navigate the island is to speak to other characters, which will usually have helpful exclamation points over their head. After receiving some hints and guidance, harvest resources by gathering workers to employ at your mills and mines. On the first island, only other bunnies are available to work for you. As you open other islands, foxes, pandas and monsters may be able to help you for the right price. Visit the store to buy and plant trees and flowers to keep everyone hoppy.

The interface is delightfully intuitive, and smooth and shiny besides, just like 24-carrot gold. Point and Click is the order of the day. Click on objects to pick them up. Click and drag on an object in your inventory to place it where you like. Click on trees to harvest their precious and delicious fruit. Click on other characters to talk to them. Click or hold down the left button to make your bunny hop towards the cursor. In fact, let's all take a bunny hop break. I'll be right here singing the song for you. Bunny hop like you mean it, people!

Analysis: Analysis completed. Cuteness has been confirmed. Graphics determined to be endearing. The presence of bright colors and pleasing sound effects has been detected. Reaction of individual game players is unknown, but predicted results may include giggling, gleefulness, or a symptom known only as Squee.

Bunnies are wascally little creatures who don't always behave in ways you might expect, so it might not be a surprise that there are drawbacks to the game. You can't save your progress without creating a free account, which might be a dealbreaker for some. The main quest does not take long, but if you have a healthy sense of exploration you'll find plenty to do, including completing all the achievements and opening up all the available islands. In order to do that, you'll have to collect quite a few red gems, which are in short supply. There are plans in the works to let you buy gems with real money, but for now, you're mostly stuck shaking trees.

If the classic film Night of the Lepus had starred the kind of rabbits from Bunni instead of the terrifying kind, there would no longer be any bunny-based nightmares for a certain game reviewer. I'm just saying. I'm also just saying that if I were a large dimwitted southern man I might ask "Tell me about the rabbits, George," and if you didn't want to, you could retort "I don't carrot all for that question" and then I would remark that bunnies aren't as cute as everybody supposes and then...

Let go, Jay! Where are you taking me? I have to spread the bunny puns! They have hoppy legs and twitchy little noses! Actually, resting comfortably does sound like a pretty good idea...

Play Bunni: how we first met


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Rating: 3.4/5 (40 votes)
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DoraGravitex 2Fly me to the moon, and let me adjust my pitch and force to ricochet around the stars... let me pick up coins scattered around things that look sorta like Mars... in other words... it's Gravitex 2 from KChamp! It's a premise that not even ol' Blue Eyes himself would have been able to resist, since everyone knows he was a sucker for physics puzzles with level editors. True story and not in any way made up to facilitate a lame song joke. Honest!

The concept is simple. You play a shining, heroic yellow ball who launches through space and collects the various coins peppered throughout the game's 100 levels. To do this, you'll need to use the [Left] and [Right] arrow keys to set your angle, and press [Up] or [Down] to adjust your force, all of which can be seen in the panel at the bottom of the screen. (Alternately, if the [arrow] keys aren't your thing, you can type in these numbers manually in their respective boxes, or drag the gauges with your mouse.) Once you're satisfied, it's time to hit the [Space] bar to fly towards the goal point in each stage. Of course, nobody ever said gravity was easy to deal with. The bigger the object, the stronger the pull it'll have, and the more force you'll need to be able to break free, rather than smashing into it, thus putting an early end to your lucrative career in space coin scavenging. You'll encounter a number of obstacles, such as red planets that repel you and blue planets that will draw you in.

The downside is that "mastering" the controls mostly comes down to trial and error for every level, since with no penalty for restarting you could just slowly increment the values of your power and angle until you get it perfect. The game also runs out of toys to show you early on, so while later levels are larger, certainly, and much more complex, you're never really going to be surprised. Oh, is it a bigger red planet already, darling? Just compensate with the angle again, there's a good muffin.

But Gravitex 2 is worth a look both for its clever puzzles and its pretty little physics engine. Watching your golden avatar soar magnificently through space like some heavenly Skittle and perfectly collect every coin before plunking neatly into the exit is very satisfying indeed. Think the levels are too fiddly? Well, why not make your own? While it might require a lot more thought than other level editors, the physics behind this one means you can make some genuinely fiendish stages if you're willing to put in the time, effort, and little blue planets. After all, it's not the size of your gravitational pull that matters. It's what you do with it that counts.

Play Gravitex 2


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Rating: 3.7/5 (54 votes)
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KeroNeuronSomeone out there is making a fortune off of these inescapable boxes. Between arena shooters and room escape games, this is probably the only business growing in our economy. Neuron Is one of the latest additions to the ever growing army of Geometry Wars clones. In case you aren't familiar with the concept, I'll fill you in: everything wants you dead. Enemies spawn around the arena in waves, and your job is to kill them dead before they do the same to you. Move with the [WASD] keys, aim and fire with the mouse, drop bombs with the [space] bar. Kill or be killed. Seems simple enough right?

Not quite. Neuron provides all your standard GeoWars enemy types, from the simple "moves at you slowly", to the "faster than you could ever hope to be", and let's not forget the classic "dodges your bullets so you better trap it before it kills you". Okay so maybe they spent a little too much on their inescapable box, and not enough in the naming department, but they've got a few new types of enemies up their proverbial sleeves too. Unlike in GeoWars, some of these bad guys shoot back, as well as being able to take multiple hits.

Your enemies aren't the only ones that have had some upgrades though. For each enemy you kill, you will get some data points you can spend on upgrades like improved fire power, additional health, or a faster ship. You can also buy extra lives and bombs. On top of the upgrades you also unlock perks every few levels, which can, among other things, make your ship smaller, regenerate your health, or make your bullets explode on impact. And for those of you with a burning desire to accomplish everything there is to offer in a game, there is also a set of achievements to be earned.

Analysis: Although there seems to be a veritable smorgasbord of similar games out there, Neuron manages to feel fresh and new. The stylized particle effects make looking at the game almost as much fun as playing it, although some older machines may have to turn the effects down to run the game at a decent rate. Although it's a little on the short side, the perks and upgrades keep this game from fading into the crowd of other arena shooters. For those of you with OCD, the achievements will add some replay value to the game, however it would have benefited greatly from an endless mode. The game does a great job of being what it is, a short fun shooter that will help you be slightly less productive than normal. Excuse me while I go invest in some of those inescapable boxes...

Play Neuron


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Rating: 4.5/5 (169 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessNot-quite-new from always excellent Japanese designer 58 Works, (#07 ML, Cottage) Escapers #05 Space is a wonderful, uncomplicated shot of pure escape game goodness. Substantive and entertaining yet not too tough, Escapers #05 Space could be the perfect oasis in the middle of your hectic week.

Escapers SpaceWith no explanation, you find yourself aboard what appears to be, judging from the vast starry skies glimpsed through the portholes, a space station. You are locked in a storage room, but getting out of there shouldn't be too difficult; the real challenge comes after you stumble across the very handy but frustratingly underfueled spaceship that offers your only chance of escape. Can you muster your wits to solve the puzzles, fix the ship and find a way back home?

The answer to that question, for those with even a modicum of escape game experience, is probably "yes." Escapers #05 Space is not very difficult; the game only has a handful of puzzles, and the ones it does have can be solved with a minimum of fuss. "Easy", however, does not necessarily imply "not clever." In fact, Escapers #05 Space is an extremely satisfying little game. Everything just fits together so well; each puzzle's clues flow perfectly into its solution, nothing is too esoteric or difficult to understand, and your efforts leads to a satisfying conclusion. What the game lacks in intellectual challenge is more than made up for by the strength of its construction and gratifying sense of logic.

Visually, the game is quite nice, with uncluttered graphics eminently suitable to the environment. Like other games by 58 Works, Escapers #05 Space lacks any sort of soundtrack (which, considering that the game takes place in outer space, is just fine). There's no save feature, which generally I would find deeply annoying, but in a game this short it isn't really a big deal. The inventory is simple and clean, navigating is easy to do and pixel-hunting is near-nonexistent: excellent all around!

Escapers #05 Space is wonderfully refreshing. True, it may not be hugely ambitious either technically or in terms of its puzzles, and it's not quite as sophisticated nor as developed as 58 Works' later creations. Nevertheless, the game is well-constructed, entertaining and breathtakingly logical; the latter quality, in particular, can be very difficult to find in an escape game. If you've been ever been confounded by an escape game's seemingly inexplicable "logic" or spent hours clicking everywhere except a room's one-millimeter-wide hotspot, you're going to relish playing this one. Enjoy!

Play Escapers #05 Space


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Rating: 4.5/5 (138 votes)
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DoraMedievalSuper Puzzle Powers... activate! Form of... a falcon!... No, wait, wait. That's not it. Hang on. Falcons can't use jigsaw puzzles! Their claws can't move the pieces properly, and they're forever getting distracted by fighting over a freshly caught rabbit. So if you're a falcon, or a rabbit, freshly caught or otherwise, this probably isn't the entry for you. But if you love puzzles? Oh. Oh-ho. Oh-ho-ho, have we got a treat for you, dear reader. Recently, we brought you a puzzle from the fine folks at SmartKit and Plexus, and you proclaimed it quite tasty indeed. Well, friend, it's time to warm up your puzzle muscles, because we're back with more:

Unlike standard puzzles, the pictures here are cut out at odd angles and make complex shapes, so figuring out what goes where is a much more difficult affair. Left-click and drag the pieces around the board, using the [arrow] keys to rotate them. Unfortunately, it's missing the key to pound on the pieces with the heel of your palm to make them fit. Maybe future editions will include a mini-game where you get to hunt around underneath the couch for a missing piece while the cat attacks your feet.

Analysis: While you can go a long time without making a connection when you first start playing, once you do fit your first pieces together the rest can swiftly follow. Pay attention to the edges of the images rather than the images themselves, and be on the look out for odd angles. The bigger and more distinctive a piece is, the easier it is to find a mate for it, and once you've fit a few together you'll start recognizing the shapes they form around them. Well, that or you'll swear off puzzles forever and retire to a puzzle monastery where you'll take a vow of puzzle abstinence. Definitely one of the two, anyway. Just remember. Breathe, and rotate.

What's disappointing is that you're not actually assembling a scene here. You're just fitting images with a common theme together, making a collage. Unless people performing waterboard sports on the back of a pool table is a hip, new thing we're unaware of, this puzzle logic does not resemble our Earth logic. But if it's challenge you want, this actually works in its favour if you don't mind the chaotic imagery. It takes what would otherwise be a five-minute puzzle and adds a new level of difficulty to it. You'll either like it, or have to go lay down for awhile after fifteen minutes because of the eyestrain from your furious, searching stare.

If you're looking for something you can take your time with and while away an afternoon on, Plexus puzzles are easy fun for all ages. It's a good reminder that just because you can camp spawn some newbies with the best of them doesn't mean you can't get your butt kicked by a good, old-fashioned brain bender.

Play Medieval


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Rating: 4.7/5 (294 votes)
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zxoRed RemoverIt sounds like it should be the name of a top-secret Cold War superweapon, or perhaps a very specialized brand of bleach, but Red Remover has nothing to do with either Soviets or stains. Instead, we encounter a sociopsychological inquiry into the implications of the emotional spectrum on the temporal-spatial behavior of Euclidean polygons. Or more simply: sad shapes are not welcome and must be exiled far, far away. Come to think of it, maybe it has to do with the Soviets after all...

Regardless, this latest offering from Gaz (Super Stacker, Particle Blaster), charges you with the task of removing all of the melancholy red blocks (including fixed blocks!) in a level while keeping all the exuberant greens. If the blocks are light red, no problem, just click once and they're history! However, blocks of a deeper crimson hue are not fooled by your clever mouse-wrangling. Dispense with these using your double-edged sword of momentum and gravity. Yes, there is gravity. Oh, is there ever gravity!

On the surface, Red Remover seems like a younger sibling to Totem Destroyer and Redstar Fall trying to copy what its big brother and sister have already perfected. Then, like a youngest child, it blossoms suddenly into something altogether different. For you see, gravity isn't quite the constant that early levels might make you think. Each shape has its own orientation, indicated by the direction its face, er, ...faces. It's a little bit disorienting at first to have blocks fall in four different directions, but it becomes quite natural after a few levels, and Gaz puts this twist to good use in his level designs, which are for the most part solid. Some require precise timing, while others are more sequentially-based, but for the most part they do not rely on chaotic motion and lucky bounces ‒ something that cannot always be said about previous tumbledrop games. There is a logical solution for each one. As a result, the 40 levels go by faster than you might expect if you've played those previous games.

There are some cheap attempts to add replay value by introducing pars halfway through (meaning you only get to see how well you did on the first 20 levels after the fact) and by offering a "bonus mode" where you get to replay the levels with a totally unfair handicap. By beating every level in par and in bonus mode, you gain access to 5 bonus levels, a mere crumb for your efforts. Luckily, Gaz has also included a level editor, so you can make your own levels and share them with other Red Remover fans.

Aside from the brevity and a one-step-too-many level reset procedure, there's little to find fault with in Red Remover. So go ahead, wear that spiffy white tux to the Leningrad Spaghetti and Shiraz Festival, 'cause you're prepared for any foreseeable disaster.

Play Red Remover


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Rating: 4.2/5 (103 votes)
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ROWOWOR

ArtbegottiWhat words can you pull from a string of seven letters? For example, let's take ROWOWOR. At the beginning of the string is "row", which obviously means a set arranged in a linear fashion. In the middle is "wow", which is either an expression of surprise, or the act of impressing someone. At the end is "wor", which is of course, referring to the Wizard of Wor... Okay, that one's a stretch.

ROWOWORIn any case, you now have the basic gist behind Tonypa's new word game creation, ROWOWOR. Your goal is to rack up points by creating as many unique words as you can within a string of seven letters. Each level begins with two letters already set in the row for you. The next letter appears up top, and the next two letters in the queue are located below. Using your mouse, line up each letter in the place where you want to insert it, and click to place it there. If a word of three or more letters is formed, it turns green, and you'll receive points for it (if you don't break it apart before the end of the round). Remember that you can't change the order of the letters, so make all of your placements carefully. The round ends when you fill the row with seven letters. Your score for all your words is added up, and the board clears to make room for two new starting letters. If you failed to make any words, your game ends.

And in a nutshell, that's ROWOWOR. However, there's one more tricky rule: Each word can only be used once. Your list of words that you've used is recorded (but hidden), so while you might get away with using "eat" and "see" in one round, not only will you not get points for them the second time around, but they also won't help you advance to the next level. So instead of sticking to your safe and easy list of "Cat in the Hat" words, you've got to push for the more complex words (Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys?) in order to stay alive longer.

The reward for longer words drastically increases as well. While three-letter words are a measly 10 points, four-letter words are 25 points, and five-letter words jump up to 100 points. If six-letter words are worth a whopping 500 points, you can only imagine the tremendous boost your score will get if you can nail down a seven-letter word. Also, if you manage to include all seven letters in at least one word, you get a 150-point bonus.

Analysis: Once again, Tonypa delivers a clever puzzler in a simple-but-catchy style. In what could be considered his first word game (okay, there was White is Not Enough, but that was a word association game), you can still see his talent for spinning a simple idea to make a whole new challenge.

One concern with most word games is the quality of the dictionary, and the word list for ROWOWOR is quite adequate. You won't find a lot of obscure three-letter words that Scrabble experts memorize, or words that crossword puzzle makers use in emergencies, but just about all of the words you'd use on a normal basis can be found here. (Besides, who uses "cwm" in everyday conversation anyway?)

In terms of difficulty, the game is balanced so that any player can have a good run for their money, regardless of how many dictionaries they've memorized. The kicker that can still make or break a game is the random letter distribution. While the odds of getting a certain letter seem to run parallel to common letter distribution patterns like ETAOIN SHRDLU, you still run into the occasional round with Q, J, X, a few A's, and nothing else to help you out. That's just an element of luck you have to put up with, but most predicaments give you a fighting chance.

ROWOWOR might even serve as a deeper challenge for veteran wordsmiths. Most word games ask you to rearrange the given letters to make up a list of words, but here, your rearranging abilities are limited. There are always two (or more) letters that can't be flip-flopped, and you must work around this restriction by tweaking everything you've ever experienced in a word game. Anagrams are fun to play with, but anagrams with a ball and chain can become vicious. The three-letter words are an easy opt-out, but how long can you survive with them dwindling away?

Play ROWOWOR


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Rating: 3.6/5 (84 votes)
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DoraThe Great Red Herring ChaseYou slam the cab door shut behind you. The sound of rain drumming on the roof fills your ears as you slick your hair back out of your face. The driver shifts around to look at you, the leather seat groaning beneath him. Cigar smoke, glowing silver in the light from the instrument panel, wreaths his head. Breathlessly, you point ahead to the tailights of the red car in front of you, rapidly picking up speed. "Yeah, sure," the cabbie chuckles, tapping out his cigar as he shifts gears and tromps on the gas hard enough to jolt you in your seat, "what're you, some kinda detective?" Your only response is to tell him to drive faster. You won't let them get away. Not this time. This is it. The big hit. This is... The Great Red Herring Chase.

Noir was never so strange as in this quirky little title from Intuition Games and Jiggmin. Played entirely with the keyboard, it puts your speed and accuracy to the test as you type out your instructions to your driver. You say you wanna go left? Easy as peaches. Just check at the bottom of the screen, where all your commands are listed, and type the one on the left side. While they start out simple, the phrases become more and more complex the farther into the game you get. Apparently shaking the seat violently and screeching "GO GO GO" like a demented howler monkey wasn't good enough. Just remember to keep an eye on the command panel, as they shuffle every time you issue a new one.

The objective is to follow the red car in front of you until it gives up the chase. If you let it get out of your sight, an arrow will pop up on the screen indicating roughly where the car is, and a timer will start counting down. If it reaches zero, you'll have to start the chase all over again. But we're sure you won't have that problem. After all, you're whoahmygosh, did you see that U-Turn? That's gotta be illegal! Watch the car's taillights for advance warning of which way it plans to turn. If you don't start typing early, you're likely to go flying right past. (Wait, is this why my Driver's Ed teacher was always grinding his teeth when I drove?)

If typing isn't your thing, visit the options from the main menu and you can adjust the difficulty to "Click", which lets you give commands simply by clicking on each one with the left mouse button. Despite presenting its own set of challenges, especially when riding hot on the tail of your quarry, it's still considerably easier than "Medium" or "Easy" difficulty. Which are, of course, easier than "Hard", which is easier in turn than the job Sisyphus got stuck with. A little. Somewhat. How big was the boulder? Even if you consider yourself a decent typist, the game is probably going to make you feel differently about your skills by the end of the session.

Be warned; while you can repeat a level over and over until you beat it, the game won't save your progress for you. Close the browser, and you'll have to start all over from the beginning.

The Great Red Herring ChaseAnalysis: While not long or varied, there's a lot to love about TGRHC. It revels in its own silliness, with dialogue so bizarre you know it has to be authentic. This is Dick Tracy, Bugs Bunny, and a typing game all rolled into one. I was hooked from the first gleam of the cabbie's cigar. And when I was determined to apply that lipstick? Fuhgeddaboutit. It's zany fun, and definitely in a class of its own.

Still, even by forcing you to step it up with new phrases as you go along, the game isn't exactly what you'd call deep. Like the tinkly piano soundtrack? You'd better like it a lot, because there's only the one musical track. There's no variation in the city or the cars, and you're still only ever telling the cab to go left, right, faster, or to turn around, no matter how colourfully it's phrased. And while the story is interesting, the ending isn't very satisfying. This is admittedly not an RPG, but I was still longing for some more interactivity, especially against the lovely artistic style of Greg Wohlwend, who I think should be out illustrating some gritty detective comic for me right now. (Preferably written by Jiggmin, but Garth Ennis would do nicely, too.)

But for what it is, The Great Red Herring Chase is a wild success. It's a short but incredibly enjoyable diversion, with tons of style and cheek. Will it help you learn to type bettter? Probably not. But will it broaden your vocabulary of obscure noir slang to mystify your friends and family with? Duck soup, babe.

Play The Great Red Herring Chase


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Mobile Monday

JohnBThe iTunes App Store just turned one year old, bringing over 13,000 games to mobile players who like to keep their fingers busy smudging their handheld devices. Of course, not all of those games are worth your time and money, which is why Mobile Monday highlights the best of the best each week. We'll play the duds, you just go and have fun!

mystique2.jpgMystique. Chapter 2: The Child - The second chapter of the 3D horror-themed room escape games is bigger and better than the first episode in just about every way possible. After escaping the room in the first game you find yourself in an equally spooky (and really, really dark) hospital. Dozens of animations, new characters, tons of items to play around with, and 14 locations to explore.

jimneychimney.gifJimney Chimney - A grand vector-based shooter whose main gimmick is the iPhone's multi-touch interface. Use as many as five fingers to send streams of bullets out to destroy bad things trying to ram into you. The first five minutes of playtime you'll have a really stupid grin on your face, but eventually the fact that you can't see through your fingers will bug you. This is the kind of game I love seeing on the App Store: simple, small, arcadey, quirky, and free.

envirobear2010.gifEnviro-Bear 2010 - Oh, you thought you'd seen the last of the big furry guy who needs a nap, didn't you? Last seen as an entry in the TIGSource Cockpit Competition, Enviro-Bear is back and touch screen-enabled! The hungry bear isn't fat enough to survive the cold season, so you need to stuff him with fish and berries before it's nap time. Drive around the forest collecting as much food as you can. Use the touch screen to manipulate things in the cockpit, including turning the steering wheel and tossing debris off the windshield. Requires the latest version of the iPhone/iPod Touch OS.

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (75 votes)
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Tales of Monkey Island

MarcusLeChuck advanced on Guybrush Threepwood as he stood between the possessed pirate and his lady love, Elaine.

"Say yer prayers, bilge-rat!"

"But, it's not even bedtime! And besides, I'm not done with you yet," Guybrush quipped as he swung at the pirate again with his cutlass.

Tales of Monkey Island"By the way," Guybrush paused in mid-sword fight, "did you know they're coming out with a new Monkey Island series?"

"Surely this isn't the time for this?" Elaine pointed out.

"No, really, it's being made by those guys that did Sam and Max, and the one about the guy and his dog."

"You mean Charlie Brown and Snoopy?" LeChuck interjected in mid-swing.

"No, no. The other guy and his dog. You know."

"Oh, you mean Wallace and Gromit!" Elaine exclaimed. "I love them!"

"Enough of this! Let's have at it, boy!" and LeChuck took another swing at Guybrush, which he artfully dodged.

"Look, how can I tell you about this new episodic adventure starring me, Elaine, and a whole cast of new piratey characters if you keep swinging that thing at me?"

"I dunno, but let us know when ya figure it out," LeChuch sneered.

"It's got lots of adventure, and puzzles, and... ummm... action figures!"

LeChuck stopped in mid-swing again. "Action figures, ya say?"

"I think you've got him, love!" Elaine whispered, "Now, finish him off and get us out of here."

"Not until I finish talking about chapter one of this great new adventure, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal!" Guybrush said.

"Oh, Guybrush," Elaine sighed. She would have put her head in her hands, but they were tied behind her, and she had already come to the conclusion that her head didn't tilt that way.

Yes, Guybrush, Elaine, and even LeChuck are back for more adventures in the first installment of the new Monkey Island episodes from Telltale Games. I'm happy to report that this classic adventure series is in very good hands.

For those who were looking for the remake of The Secret of Monkey Island, that one is set for release later this month. Tales of Monkey Island is a completely new series, an adventure that takes place "sometime after an imaginary Monkey Island 5" according to design director Dave Grossman. And from scene one, it looks, acts, and feels like it. We are greeted by familiar voices right off the bat, as both Dominic Armato and Alexandra Boyd have returned to provide the dialog for Guybrush and his lady love, Elaine. Unfortunately, Earl Boen was unable to return to voice LeChuck, but you will be able to hear him in the Secret of Monkey Island remake.

Tales of Monkey IslandAnalysis: The style of Tales of Monkey Island is in keeping with the style of the original series. In fact, the character designs and backgrounds are very similar to the series' first 3D outing, Escape from Monkey Island. Here the game is rendered in real-time, unlike Escape which mostly used pre-rendered backgrounds. Other advanced graphics effects are in use here, as well, such as lighting and focus pulling. The engine also supports high resolutions, although it ran somewhat choppy on my system at my maximum screen resolution of 1440x900. Lower resolutions render the game just fine, and it looks gorgeous anyway.

Of course, the sound here is top-notch. The voice acting, as always with the series, is extremely well done. Unlike other recent entries into the point-and-click adventure genre such as Jack Keane, the voice acting doesn't sound like it's being provide by the rejects of the local community theatre troop. Micheal Land returns to provide the background music for the new series and does a fantastic job. The soundtrack adds to the scenes in front of you without taking over, and is great to listen to in its own right.

The hallmark of the Monkey Island series has always been the writing, and series writers Mark Darin, Michael Stemmle, and Sean Vanaman do not disappoint. The snappy banter is there, as are the silly one-liners that Guybrush seems to always come up with. There are some great moments, such as when Guybrush is trying to guess what the password is to get in to see Deep Gut. "What's the word?" "I understand that the bird is, in fact, the word." Other encounters with characters are also well done. As you go through the dialog, you are presented with choices as to what to say next. One thing that I noticed is that you often do not say the text that you choose. I am assuming that perhaps we are given an insight into Guybrush's internal dialog as he talks with the characters, but it is odd, never-the-less.

The one complaint that I have about the game comes in when you have to control your main man, Guybrush Threepwood. Unlike previous games in the series (and pretty much every other point-and-click adventure game) Telltale Games has chosen to drop the usual "click to go here" control scheme. Instead, you have the choice of using the [WASD] keys or clicking and holding the left mouse button and rotating Guybrush in the direction you want him to walk. The click and rotate scheme gets annoying about 25 and half seconds into the game, as you bumble around the deck of your ship trying to find some root beer. Why they didn't stick with the standard interface is beyond me, but if you use the keyboard, you'll be a much happier pirate.

While Launch of the Screaming Narwwhal may not have the replayability of other entries in the Monkey Island series, it is an excellent lead-in to the set of episodes, and it includes enough witty dialog and head-scratching puzzles to keep you busy until The Siege of Spinner Cay makes it's appearance next month. With plenty of comedic value, and a surprising cliff-hanger of an ending, you'll definitely want to set sail with Tales of Monkey Island.

"You fight like a dairy farmer..."

"How appropriate, you fight like a cow." (Sorry, had to do it.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (34 votes)
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Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light

GrinnypEver wake up and say "I need some adventure in my life?" or "What I really need is to drive myself insane looking for cunningly hidden object pieces in ridiculously picturesque settings." It's ok, you can admit those kinds of things here, and Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light will fill that "magical journey sprawling over five continents" adventure/hidden object gap you've been looking to fill.

magicencyclopediamoonlight.jpgDeveloped by Alawar and Vendel Games, Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light is the sequel to Magic Encyclopedia which put you in the shoes of a young magic student, Katrina, running all over the globe in search of her brother. Moon Light features a slightly older Katrina who is still a student at the Magic Academy. Now, however, she's drowning in homework and plagued by terrible nightmares. Salvation arrives when an origami messenger crane brings news that your professor has disappeared and your brother is hot on his trail. Katrina must make a momentous decision: homework... global adventure... homework... who are you kidding? Get moving!

Essentially a hidden object game with adventure elements, Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light takes you from a Mayan temple to a Russian cottage, from a German castle to a Pearl Diver's hut in the South Pacific. The messenger crane comes along for the ride, giving a quick tutorial in the game's dynamics and leading the player to each scene as the story unfolds. The premise is simple: in each scene there are certain objects that need to be found. However, like Flux Family Secrets, the objects are broken into pieces, which can make gameplay a little tricky. Once assembled, items can be used in scenes to unlock more items or unlock some surprisingly tough mini-games. And don't forget to collect the jewels to activate the professor's amulet!

Navigation through the scenes is quick and easy, quite an improvement over the original game. Each area can have up to four different locations with scenes that are interconnected. This means you'll need to move back and forth to amass all object pieces to complete a section. Despite this complexity, none of the sections involve more than two separate locations, allowing the player the choice of participating in small doses or devouring the game in one long marathon. Movement between connected areas is accomplished by clicking special coins in the control panel, allowing you to travel back and forth between a Chinese temple and a Mongolian Yurt with ease. Cursor changes indicate areas that need a closer look (eye), mini puzzles (question mark), things to take (hand), things that need manipulation (hammer), and doorways to other rooms (animated legs). When encountering something new the friendly messenger crane appears to give helpful advice.

magicencyclopediamoonlight2.jpgAnalysis: Sequels can be worrisome. Things that are minor annoyances the first time around can become major aggravations if allowed to continue. No such problems here! Gone are the slow load times and slamming doors between scenes that plagued Magic Encyclopedia. Gone also is the clumsy and annoying "search for (blank)" to acquire more hints. Hints are on a refilling timer, and a timer to skip the mini-games is also a welcome addition. The mini-games themselves are less "I've seen that before" and lean more towards pure logic. Animations between the scenes run more quickly while imparting vital story information. One of the bright spots of this game is the method of dividing the adventure into stand-alone bite-sized chunks, making it perfect for casual gameplay.

Finding object pieces can be tricky, as its more difficult to find abstract shapes than specific items. There's very little of the standard "hiding pieces behind other things, having them lurk in dark corners, or burying them in tons of clutter" that characterize so many hidden object games. No, the object pieces lay boldly on top of the scene, blending in so cunningly that it will amaze you even as you move towards permanent eye-strain attempting to find them.

Let's pause for a moment and discuss the backgrounds themselves. Part of the charm of the first Magic Encyclopedia was the storybook-style hand-drawn scenery, making you feel as if you were wandering through a fairy tale. Instead of sticking to the same formula or jettisoning the concept altogether, Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light kicks up the volume and takes it to dizzying new heights. Still lovingly hand-crafted with bright, bold colors, each scene is a work of art in its own right, tempting the player to simply gaze in wonder. If the first Magic Encyclopedia was like wandering through an enchanted book, Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light is like floating through a surrealist work of art.

Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light is a solid, satisfying, stunning addition to the adventure/hidden object genre. A beautiful game to get lost in!

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 (269 votes)
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PsychotronicParasiteYou are the Parasite, a squelching land squid from the stars who sees profit opportunities where a less sophisticated alien might see bunnies and butterflies. Your goal in this new platform game from Nitrome is to destroy all of the world's tree spirits (played here by the supporting cast of Princess Mononoke) and replace them with mining structures. Your space ship is a cross between a hot rod and a coal boiler. Your weapon of choice is zombification. You strut when you walk, you break wind freely, and you feed on the life-blood of planets. If you had bones, you would be bad to them.

Move your soft, squishy, vulnerable body around with the [arrow] keys and jump with the [up] key. In a break with the Nitrome tradition of three-unit health bars, anything you touch will kill you. Your best survival strategy then, as a morally flexible space parasite, is to find a medium-sized creature and jump on its head, thrusting your tentacles into its skull and steering it around by tugging on its brain-meats. Ha ha ha haaaaa, fun!

Once you have enslaved a creature, press [Z] to use its unique ability (if it has one) and [X] to abandon it to live out the rest of its days in peace and prosperity. Or rather, to explode into chunks. Possibly peaceful ones.

Most of your victims will take one of three forms: a kitten with insect wings, a silverback bear-monkey, or a gob-horking pig. Most of the gameplay over the course of the game's 20 levels revolves around using the natural abilities of these creatures to overcome obstacles. For example, the kitty-fly not only serves as an air taxi, it can transport crates and other objects with its tail.

Analysis: Parasite is yet another great-looking game from Nitrome. Although the mainly purple-and-green background color scheme had a depressing effect on me over time, I could never get enough of the character animation. The purposeful slither of the alien, the clumsy toddle of the bear-monkey, the way your enslaved subjects drool with soulless malevolence — if you have even a touch of the arch-villain in you, this game will charm you down to the core of your thin, waxed mustache.

The central concept is so good, I wish that the level design supported it better. Having a bruiser, a helicopter, and a projectile vomiter at your disposal, you'd think there would be more puzzles involved. But Parasite mostly wallows in platforming and reflex challenges, sometimes the exact same challenges several times in a row. It's maddening to me that the pig's spitballs can rebound off of walls to hit difficult targets, but there are only two such targets in the entire game. That you get to ride an acorn like a guided missile, but the screen is too small for you to see oncoming hazards in time. And then there are three full levels about flying that horrible acorn. This game is an action platformer wearing the clothing of a puzzle platformer, and neither role fits comfortably.

There are enough moments of real ingenuity, though, that I can still recommend that you play some Parasite. When I drop an exploding bee hive on a pack of armored snails, or when I navigate a maze of wooden barriers and tunnels with a pair of zombie slave bears, I can feel the same kind of exuberance and love that went into Fat Cat or Final Ninja Zero (the same production team worked on all three games). The controls feel good enough, the lead character has a powerful presence, and the music does a nice trick where it gets sinister whenever you zombify a subject. All the pieces are here for an amazing game; they just need to be put together more cohesively. Here's hoping for a sequel.

Play Parasite


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Weekend Download

JohnBThe Experimental Gameplay Project has returned! Originally started by Kyle Gabler and Kyle Gray, the site encourages rapid prototyping of new gameplay concepts in a short period of time. World of Goo began as an experimental game called Tower of Goo, so you can see how much creative potential an idea like this has. With the relaunch a new theme was unveiled: Unexperimental Shooter. Developers had seven days to create games based on a classic shmup concept. What could come of this craziness? Well, the first few releases are featured below. Play and enjoy!

bunnyblaster.gifBunny Blaster (Windows, 5MB, free) - Created by Shalin Shodhan, this game is all about shooting bunnies. Don't worry, though, because each time one is shot, it multiplies! Actually, that's the point of the game, to clone rabbits as quickly as you can to reach 1,000. You have four guns at your disposal and shooting is done with the mouse. Great time-waster that's far more entertaining than should be allowed.

frobot.gifFrobot (Mac/Win/Linux, 6.4MB, free) - Disco! Dance! Experimental shmup! All in one! Frobot by Kyle Gray is based on the classic arcade game Robotron and controls with the [WASD] keys with the mouse to shoot. Take out the businessmen (who are obviously trying to crash the party) and they turn into dancers. The more dancers you have, the more powerful you are. The best part of the game is the dance at the end of each level. Seriously, you'll love it.

protoshooter.gifProto Shooter (Windows, <1MB, free) - The most shmup-like of them all, Proto Shooter by Allan Blomquist is all about destroying enemies in space with pew-pew weapons. Left click to fire, and right click to freeze time in a 2D-ified chunky pixel Matrix-esque kind of way. You receive a score multiplier for accuracy, so conserve shots instead of going all ballistic and tapping the mouse button as fast as you can.

eggwormgenerator.jpgEgg Worm Generator (Windows, <1MB, free) - Created by Kyle Gabler, this one isn't so much a game as it is a neat thing to watch. You're looking at a fish tank of sorts where proto-lifeforms spawn and evolve on their own. As they become more complex and unique they begin to crawl to one side of the screen. It's fun to watch the little guys and gals learn to walk, and you almost feel for the ones that creep to the wrong side of the bowl...

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 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (33 votes)
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G.H.O.S.T. Chronicles: Phantom of the Renaissance Faire

GrimmrookAh, the Renaissance Faire. It's an excuse for grown men to walk around in tights, and for women to wear elaborate corsets that were designed with the apparent misconception that breathing is a luxury, not a necessity. There are the minstrels playing lutes, the exciting joust tourneys, the phantoms, the bad English accents, and all without the annoyances of things like poor bathing habits and the Black Plague. Wait a minute, phantoms?

G.H.O.S.T. Chronicles: Phantom of the Renaissance FaireYes, phantoms. In the hidden object game G.H.O.S.T. Chronicles: Phantom of the Renaissance Faire, you play a ghost hunter called in to aid a renaissance faire/theme park that has seen better days. First, one of its esteemed owners, Margaret, dies. Not long after that her husband and co-owner, Robert, also passes on. But before Robert's untimely death he remarried, dooming the fate of the Spears' family park to a legal battle between Robert's widow and his son. If all that daytime TV drama weren't enough, the poor faire appears to have become the residence of a particularly nasty spirit that has disrupted the day to day lives of the park and her employees.

Now you must track down the ghost, if indeed the phantom is a real ghost, and help put a stop to the strange goings on that have plagued the renaissance faire. To do this, you'll need to hunt down plenty of hidden objects and solve a number of item based puzzles. Keep on the look out for fairies while you roam the grounds of the faire for these little nymphs will aid you on your quest. Depending on the difficulty level you select, they will either give you hot or cold type clues, or just hover around particularly elusive objects.

Investigate the grounds thoroughly and help put its employees and more benign spirits at rest. If you keep your wits about you and exercise your keen object finding skills you should be able to hunt down the trouble-making spirit and perhaps even settle once and for all the fate of the renaissance faire.

G.H.O.S.T. Chronicles: Phantom of the Renaissance FaireAnalysis: While Phantom may have a strong adventure game element going for it, perhaps its strongest point is the core hidden object game itself. Note to other would-be makers of hidden object games: this is how you hide objects! I tend to be picky when it comes to this genre of games, and Phantom gets it right from the start.

Instead of shrinking items down impossibly small, or using objects so obscure you wouldn't be able to tell what you're looking at even if it smacked you in the face and called you a rude name, there just doesn't seem to be any end to the cleverness with which the items are hidden here. I can't count how many times I've used hints only to chuckle at how well I had been tricked. Everything from color manipulation to a solid understanding of lines and contours is used to camouflage items in plain view making these items a particular treat to look for.

This alone would make a game that is satisfying to me, but Phantom holds so much more for the discerning object finding enthusiast. On top of the exceptionally well hidden objects, the item based puzzles that are becoming a staple of the genre are themselves quite clever and intuitive, and in at least one instance had me tempted to perform an experiment in my kitchen sink. This element of the game is just challenging enough to keep your gray matter chugging without causing it to steam up or flame out in frustration.

Also, Phantom just looks beautiful. Have you ever been to a theme park and wondered what it would be like to roam around after hours with the attractions all to yourselves? Somehow Phantom manages to capture that feel perfectly. No, the images aren't breathtakingly beautiful, but instead they portray a kind of quieter, meeker elegance that exudes the feel of getting to see something magical from behind the scenes.

Rounding out a solid package is the story telling. As you make your way through the park, you'll meet a host of characters, alive and otherwise, that stitch together the animosity riddled strife that hangs over the renaissance faire. The ghosts genuinely feel put off by the new mischief making spirit, whilst the living inhabitants gossip with an almost morbid glee about the melodramatic plot regarding the park's ownership. Strong writing and good voice acting seal the deal here.

There are a few things that hold Phantom back, though. For one, character animation is almost laughable, and you get the feeling that the developers should have either chosen static images or gone with full animation instead of trying to find a happy medium between the two (because the medium that was found was anything but happy). Also, while the story telling during the game is quite exemplary, the same could not be said at the beginning and end of the game. You are essentially dumped into the game with little explanation, and the ending was something of a let down.

But though the ending was a disappointment, that can't detract from the fact that the game itself is a blast. Excellent adventure elements and hidden objects done right make this a great game for item hunting enthusiasts.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraGuess what day today is? *dancing* It's Friiiiiiiiiiday, it's Friiiiiiiiiiiday! And you know what that means? Tomorrow is Saaaaaturday, it'll be Saaaaaturday! And then it'll be Suuuuuuunday, which is almost Mooooooonday!... wait, no. No! That's not right at all! Monday is nothing to dance about! The weekend is all too fleeting, so take some games to get into the swing of it and cherish it while it's here!

... we don't see you cherishing. Cherish harder!

  • Mr T Versus the Sushi TankMr. T Versus the Sushi Tank - You: Mr T, hero to all, bearer of bling and mohawks. Sushi Tank: evil oppressor of truth, justice, and cheeseburgers. Naturally, these two titans cannot coexist! Move the T-Mobile with the [arrow] keys and fire with the [space] bar. Don't forget to drink your milk!
  • Save Our CitySave Our City - They didn't listen to us! They called us mad! Mad! They said the teddy bears weren't a threat, that mounting a massive cannon in the middle of the city was silly! Well who's laughing now? Huh? Bet you wish you could aim with your mouse and click to fire the cannon against waves of bombs and the teddy-bear invasion, don't you?! Who's laughing now! Hahahahahaha!... oh, time for our medication already?
  • QueensQueens - And now, a cheerful little tale about a beautiful Queen in a far-off kingdom, shoved down into a pit by her silent husband and forced to run a short but deadly gauntlet of traps and unreasonable platforming sequences. Disney passed on this one. Can't imagine why. It would have had some great songs, don't you think?
  • Cyber Recession Warrior: EdgarCyber Recession Warrior: Edgar - If you're a fan of pepper mills and online RPGs, you're familiar with grinding. Aside from having a title that is one extra adjective away from being a magical princess anime ("Super" or "Pretty"), this game also offers you a big heapin' helpin' of grinding mayhem in a cyber setting. Now strap on your cybernetic implants and get out there and hunt us up some mad loots. (And it better be MAD loots, too. We'll know if it isn't.)
  • FNGRZ of FURYFngrz of Fury - If you are one of those people for whom "chat speak" inspires less of a "lawl" and more of a seething resentment, you might want to pass this game by. Which is a shame, because you can use your text-fu to incapacitate a Kung-Fu Cow so that it sprays milk everywhere in slow-mo, Bruce Lee style. File this one under Things That Make You Go "Huh".

  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (123 votes)
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Dora1066Ah, Middle-Earth! No, put the elf ears and the ranger cloak away, Bob. Not that Middle-Earth! We're talking about a thousand years ago here, when men were Vikings and the English were less into John Cleese and 'fish and chips', and more about sticking their swords into anything that moved. Preloaded wants to take you there in 1066, a surprisingly deep game of strategic medieval warfare. Featuring top of the line production values and some of the hardest won battles you've ever seen, rampage throughout the ages to the dulcet tones of Sir Ian Holm. No, stop swooning! You've got a war to win!

Battles play out on a large grid, with you clicking on your troops to select them, and then moving them square-to-square. If an area is green, you're able to reach it. If an enemy is in your path, you'll automatically engage. Selecting the formation of your troops can mean the difference between dismal failure and well-earned victory; placing three units in a row from top to bottom activates the Shield Barrier formation, for example, which greatly boosts their combined defense.

Each time you engage an enemy, you'll have to play a little "minigame" to determine the effectiveness of your attack. Taunts have you type out a phrase as quickly as possible. Directly attacking an enemy has you hit the [arrow] keys as they appear on the screen. Charging someone has you tap the [space] bar to build up power. And you'll have to select your angle and strength of your shot if you want to use your archers. I don't know about you, but I have an entirely new respect for Vikings now. War is hard! Imagine how much more difficult this must have been for them without keyboards.

Actually, as with many games, 1066 sounds more complicated than it really is, and you'll learn more by throwing yourself into a skirmish than you will by studying the instructions. Your goal here is to either kill all enemy troops, or lower their morale enough through successful attacks or taunts that they flee the field. You'll need to experiment with what works best and learn to use not only the terrain but your own enemies against themselves. Don't expect to master it within five minutes.

Everything about 1066 is stylish and well-groomed, and here for once in a browser game that style doesn't interfere with the game itself. The visuals are absolutely lovely, and the soundtrack and voice-overs are very well done indeed. The downside is that older machines may not be able to run the game as smoothly as newer ones. While my laptop has no problems with it, my PC tended to choke and snarl from time to time, resulting in periods of slowness that can make some of the minigames almost unplayable. Like those gritty, appropriately visceral sound effects as swords and spears start swinging? Plan on hearing those a lot when you first start out. As in, a lot a lot.

1066Analysis: 1066 tries to do a lot, with multiple minigames associated with issuing commands, complex troop placement, and morale. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. While the fiddliest gamers are going to appreciate being able to choose their shots just so, and form up their phalanx like so, the rest of us are just going to want to shoot an arrow at a dude, and maybe call another dude a rotten cockerel. So we're not complex, sue us. It would be nice to have the opportunity to turn these little minigames off and just have the armies clash on their own. You have to be in the mood for the sort of complexity that 1066 offers, and if you want fast-paced hack'n'slash casual gameplay, 1066 isn't your girl.

You can expect to do a lot of trial and error early on. Trial and error here meaning, of course, watching the English tapdance all over your Viking corpses and toast each other with obnoxious hurrahs. 1066 really earns its strategy stripes here, as blundering forward without a plan is the fastest way to get yourself newly ventilated with a few dozen spearpoints. Every battle presents a new challenge, and you'll need to really think out your moves to be successful. One of the nice things about the game is that you really can fight to the bitter end and squeak out a victory, no matter how bleak things look. A well-timed taunt followed by a volley of arrows can turn the tide, and it makes winning extremely satisfying.

I spent a lot of time in the beginning unsure as to how I felt about 1066. It's like having a friend who you have a lot of fun with, but is the obnoxious sort that thinks randomly tripping you up or shoving you into things is funny. 1066 wants nothing more than to trip you up, stampede over your prone form, and make off with your women, children, and exotic spices. The game really grew on me as I gradually came to understand more of the strategy at work behind it, however. Instead of desperately trying to hold the morale of my army up long enough to squeak out a victory, I was sending the enemies fleeing with a series of well-timed attacks that left them devastated and more susceptible to my taunts. Well, who can blame them? Calling someone a "dog scut" is about as devastating as you can get. Try it out the next time you're stuck in traffic.

If your definition of casual gameplay is something light and fluffy you can leap into for a few minutes, 1066 is going to bewilder and intimidate you with its lengthy battles and steep learning curve. But if you're willing to sink the time into it and pick up the moves, the end result is remarkably rewarding.

Play 1066

Thanks for sending this one in, Phil, Todd, Nanimo, and Keith!


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (84 votes)
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PsychotronicKoi2Koi2 is another score-based shooter from the bright colors and unusual minds at Party-Tencho. If you're still recovering from their last mix-up of smoochies and shoot-em-ups, Kissma, this will bring the nightmares back. Prepare yourself for falsetto sound effects and visual logic from the planet Eyestab.

You play a man with blow-dried hair and a terrible sweater, sitting across from a woman who can best be described as "tolerant". The object of the game, as you both slide up and down on hydraulic lifts, is to poke her in the forehead with your finger as many times as you can in one minute. You don't have to lean over — your disembodied hand will just fly over there whenever you click the mouse button.

Periodically, a gift will fall from the ceiling and transform you briefly into a powered-up version of yourself with special abilities. You really have to see these to believe them, but if you play enough times, you will hit every B-movie character archetype you've ever loved, plus a couple more you didn't know you needed in your life. If you get lucky, you might even receive a combination of power-ups that allow you onto the high-score list.

Analysis: To me, this is a story about a real relationship between two people, taken to surreal extremes. The guy is trying to poke the girl in the forehead, which seems to be an expression of affectionate dominance (unless there's some special cultural significance I'm missing). She counters, playfully, by disguising herself, making sudden marriage proposals, winking at the player, generally being seductive and coy. The guy, in return, powers up by indulging extravagantly in his own geeky passions. For that brief period, he truly knows himself, and she is overwhelmed. But then they return to the status quo, where she's largely in control again. At the end, the girl applauds your efforts and invites you to try again. Like Kissma, it's a flirtatious game.

It is also very, very silly.

Play Koi2

You Are Games

PsychotronicThank you for sending in your entries, everybody! We had a great turnout for this one. We received 27 reviews, most of them for Upgrade Complete (understandably). We enjoyed reading them, and it looks like you had a lot of fun writing them, so chances are we'll try this again some time, or something like it. Congratulations once again to the winners, and thanks to everyone for participating!

A brief word about how the winners were chosen. The authors' names were removed from each entry in order to ensure that the judging was based on the text and only the text. Reviews were listed by category, in the order they were received. A panel of 8 volunteer judges from the regular Jay is Games writing staff looked at the entries, and they were asked to name their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place favorites in each category. The reviews with the most 1st-place votes were declared the winners.

Because we received so many Upgrade Complete entries, we'd also like to share the unedited runner-up reviews with you:

[This contest is now closed.]

It's a writing competition this week on You Are Games. We have selected three cool browser games that for one reason or another, haven't been reviewed here yet. Your mission is simply to write a review about one of them. We will choose our favorite three reviews and feature them on Jay is Games next week. It's that simple.

Here are the three games:

  • Upgrade CompleteUpgrade Complete - A game that many of you have been clamoring for in the suggestion box. It's a vertical shooter that lets you earn money for upgrades. The difference is that everything can be upgraded, including the graphics, the sounds, and the user interface.
  • MinecraftMinecraft - This sandbox game, written in Java, lets you build and destroy a 3D environment in real time with other players or by yourself. It's still in Alpha, which means it's evolving all the time, and that's a special challenge for a reviewer. If you're up for something a little different, try it out.
  • LightsLights - This popular escape game from Neutral has been sitting in our list of top-rated games for weeks, but all it ever got was a short blurb I wrote before I'd even played it all the way through. I think we can all agree it deserves better. It can be hard to put a critical eye to such a beloved game, but the trick is not just to say that it's great, but why it's great.

Entry LinkIf you wish to enter: Please send your review to the address on the right with the subject line "Reviewers, Assemble!" Sign your entry with your JIG handle, or, if you don't have one, with the name you'd like the review published under.

The deadline for entries is Wednesday evening, the 15th of July, at midnight Eastern Standard Time. You can submit one review for each game, but not more than one per game. I'm not sure why you'd want to write several reviews for one game, but I'm trying to cover my bases. People do a lot of funny things.

Naturally, we'll be looking for reviews that fit into the general JIG style, but that's a pretty wide range of possibilities. The first part of the article tells the reader what to expect — what kind of game it is, how you play it, what the goal is, where it fits into today's gaming landscape. The second part is the "Analysis" section, where you describe the strengths and weaknesses of the game, and get a little deeper into the reasons why somebody would want to play it. Basically, you start off answering the who, what, and where; and then explain the why and how.

Otherwise, we're looking for personality, clear writing, substance, and an understanding of the video game medium. There is no restriction on length. Just keep in mind that it's better to use a few words to say a lot than it is to use many words to say a little. "But Mr. Psychotronic of the Long-Windedness," I hear you inquire, "isn't you telling us that a bit like a hippopotamus telling a pig to lose weight?" To which I reply, "GRONK".

Don't worry about putting HTML code in there; the text is the important thing, and we'll take care of the formatting. But if you do want to throw in some pertinent links, I'm certainly not going to stop you.

More important than anything else, have fun with this! See you all next week!

Extra-special thanks to Griff for suggesting this contest in the Incredibots 2 Mini-Brawl comments.


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Rating: 4.2/5 (93 votes)
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DoraSwordless NinjaOh! What joy to be a ninja! Yeah, we see it. You know what we're talkin' 'bout. Leaping across tree tops, spending all your time being lit by the most dramatic light possible, running across water... and then one day you get to be in a movie with Chris Tucker! Awwww yeah. From Berzerk Studio comes an epic tale of ninja, demons, and frogs wearing boxing gloves in Swordless Ninja, an utterly charming platform adventure that will make you believe in little red ninja all over again.

... you... do believe in little red ninja... don't you?

The little fellow in question is Mabushi, who leads an idyllic ninja life until his beloved Miyuki is carried off by a jealous demon lord. Which wouldn't be a problem, except Mabushi's sword has been stolen as well! Most ninja would give up and despair. But not Mabushi. He knows that all you really need to succeed is bravery, determination, and the ability to incapacitate any foe by stomping on their head. It's an ancient, honorable ninja tradition. Really!

For most of us, a lot about Swordless Ninja is going to look very familiar. Using the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, you move Mabushi around the screen. If you jump against the side of a block or wall, hold [Z] or [K] and Mabushi will grab hold of the edge if it's within reach, letting you reach higher places. Leap on enemies to knock them out, then pick up and throw them with the [X] or [L] keys. Your goal is to reach the Yin-Yang symbol at the end of each level, but don't ignore the lucky coins, either. Collect one hundred of them and you'll get an extra life. They can be found everywhere, including inside the starred boxes which you can break open by jumping up into them.

Being a ninja, Mabushi is, of course, well-versed in the art of hop-stomping his foes into nothingness. (How else do you think ninja fight?) But hidden along the way are various power-ups to acquire that will enable him to shoot darts or shurikens, handy since some enemies like to be unpleasantly pointy up top. There's also a very special item that can make you invincible to all attacks... but not to falling off cliffs.

In addition to being a blast to play, Swordless Ninja is absolutely gorgeous. The big cheesy enemies, the cotton-candy pink clouds... Swordless Ninja manages to be easy on the eyes, while remaining easy on the processor at the same time. (If it seems like the game is playing too slowly to you, you can change the quality under the options.) Mabushi's little yips and yelps as he jumps around may start to slide from cute to annoying after a while, but these can be turned off via the options menu.

Swordless Ninja is a part of the new GamerSafe network. The new system allows you to play the same game on different portal sites, and it keeps track of your saved games and achievements no matter what site you play the game on. Account sign-up is free, and in addition to helping you keep track of your gaming prowess, it also enables you to start earning GamerPoints, and get GamerGold. GamerPoints are awarded for completing various achievements in your favourite games, but GamerGold needs to be purchased. The difference between the two is that while GP can unlock minor new items or upgrades, GG often unlocks bigger, fun new implements, such as "Samurai Mode" in this game. You can still play Swordless Ninja in its entirety for free, and without signing up.

Swordless NinjaAnalysis: Oh, Mabushi. Who needs Miyuki? Come and whisk me away to your bizarre, whimsical world of shurikens, bees, and angry plant... things. I haven't been this charmed by a game in a good long while, and for good reason; it's an absolute pleasure to play. The bright, cheerful graphics, the easy-to-master control scheme, the old-school style... all of it combines to make Swordless Ninja an easily accessible title to both newcomers to the platform genre and veterans alike. The difficulty curve is steady, but never unreasonable.

Still, it's not perfect. I have to question the idea to incorporate lives into the system. The plethora of coins laying about every level means you'll usually have a ridiculous amount of lives under your belt, so why have them at all? And like another red-suited platformer hero, Mabushi also dies with a single hit (unless he has a power-up active). You can call this a staple of the genre, but it still can make some levels unreasonably frustrating. And is there any particular reason why Mabushi can't swim, other than to make things difficult? All I'm saying is that if I were an esteemed ninja clan leader, and if any of my ninja couldn't swim, they would be taking weekly classes at the Y until they could.

Swordless Ninja goes out of its way to be accessible, and it shows. Not only with its multiple control choices, but in the scope of its levels, which are often very short and run on a straight path. This approach means that younger players won't be frustrated by it, but that for the most part, older gamers may crave a bit more of a challenge. But Swordless Ninja does so many things right, it's easy to overlook its shortcomings. It's a big world out there, with plenty of hidden levels to find, items, and achievements, and it's also just plain fun. As an homage to the genre, Swordless Ninja is a resounding success, and shouldn't be missed by anyone who has ever hopped on a Koopa before.

Play Swordless Ninja


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Rating: 3.1/5 (119 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessWaiting Room, by Japanese designer Ikutama, is without doubt the newest member of the elite "so sweet it'll make your teeth ache" escape game club. Melodic, tinkly soundtrack? Check. Cute, colorful graphics? Check. Sentimental and slightly sad story involving lost love? Double check. Don't let the game's charming trappings deceive you, however; Waiting Room has real substance and some formidable puzzles. The extent of the efforts needed to complete the game, which includes searching the internet, might turn off some casual gamers; those who persevere, however, will surely be delighted by this quirky and clever escape game confection.

Waiting RoomWaiting Room begins with your arrival at a train station in the middle of the Japanese countryside. As the game's slightly confusing introduction explains, things seem a little odd—a little old, to be more specific. It's as if you have stepped back 20 years! Perplexed, you enter the station's waiting room, and are confronted by a beautiful but downcast young woman. She is searching for a ring, and asks for your assistance. Seeing as you are mysteriously unable to leave the room anyways, why not give her a helping hand?

There's more to the story, of course, but in order to find out the details you'll need to make your way through some pretty tricky puzzles. Oh, those puzzles... I have some mixed feelings concerning them, actually. On the one hand, the majority are really quite good, and they do follow a certain logic. At times, though, some of the connections between clues seemed somewhat abstract; that is, I sometimes felt that the necessary links to connect document X with code Y, or whatever the case was, were not terribly obvious. This could, of course, just be a failing of my own intellect. However, if you're like me, you might find yourself engaging in more than a little bit of trial-and-error. Furthermore, one of the puzzles does (unless you randomly have the specialized knowledge required) necessitate searching the internet. Some players hate this, some aren't bothered by it in the least; in this case, I did find it to be mildly disruptive to the flow of the game. Still, despite these potential flaws, Waiting Room on the whole delivers well-crafted and entertaining puzzles (and two different endings!). Be patient, don't be afraid to try everything with everything else, and you'll make it through.

Waiting Room's neat, detailed graphics are very appealing, colorful but not cartoonish. The sweet, slightly melancholy soundtrack nicely enhances the game's ambience without excessively distracting from the gameplay. While the game has a multitude of hotspots, some of which are not immediately apparent, the cursor changes when mousing over a clickable area. This, happily, eliminates most pixel-hunting. The inventory system is clean and user-friendly, and navigating around the room is simple. The game's main technical weakness is the lack of a save feature, which is a serious no-no; Ikutama does, however, get points for including a volume control feature. Not perfect, but all in all a good job.

A damsel in distress, a missing ring, a room full of secrets and a sad tale to set right: the perfect recipe for your mid-week escape game indulgence. It's not easy—but really, what fun would it be if it were? Enjoy!

Play Waiting Room


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Rating: 4.2/5 (70 votes)
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DoraZigmond IIII am not a patient person. Usually when people suggest I take a break from the games with the explosions, bright colours, and bombastic music my response is a respectable pthhhbtbtbt. I don't want to sit around, methodically plotting out my every move, deciphering mazes and puzzles. At least, I didn't until I met Zigmond III, the latest game from Microsheep.

Zigmond III is actually the name of the hero, a roly-poly little detective hot on the trail of the intimidating Mr Evil (yes, really) who has stolen some of the greatest masterpieces of the art world. It's just like James Bond, really, only instead of getting strapped to an easily escapable table with a laser slowly inching towards your bits, you're pushing blocks and mirrors around cramped mazes, Sokoban-style.

Each level has only one goal; to reach the staircase to the next. It sounds simple, but Mr. Evil is true to his name and has set up an array of lasers blocking them all, and you'll have to figure out a way past if you want to save the day. Click on an area to have Zigmond patter over to it. Click on mirrors, crates, and barrels to have him push it in the direction he's facing, providing nothing is blocking the way. While crates and barrels will block the beam completely, mirrors will also reflect it, so make sure you're not standing in the wrong place when you move one in front of a laser. You can click the Undo button on the side of the screen indefinitely to go back a move, but be careful. Get zapped by a laser, and you'll have to start all over again.

Zigmond IIIAnalysis: Don't let Zigmond's body-by-Pillsbury physique and the game's cuddly appearance fool you. Some of these puzzles can be hair-pullingly difficult if Sokoban-style gameplay isn't your thing. After all, not everybody is looking for the sort of joy one can only get while nudging tiny barrels around the screen and accidentally frying yourself with a laser redirected by a mirror you were moving. It's slow, thoughtful gameplay, and you either like it or you don't.

The being said, if you do enjoy this sort of thing, rejoice! Zigmond III is as pure a puzzle experience as you can get. For the most part, you can ignore the timer on the side of the screen, since its really only there to make you feel bad about yourself. Ditto the step counter. The game wastes no time amping up the difficulty, so completing each stage really feels like an accomplishment. The puzzles are some of the most well designed I've seen in a casual game, so go ahead and give yourself that pat on the back you want to every time you complete a level.

In fact, if you were to ignore the puzzles completely, Zigmond III is actually very easy. There's no penalty for how long you take to solve a puzzle, or how many steps you take. No matter how many times you fry yourself with a mirror, you can always just start the level over again. There's no penalty other than the sting of your own ego for your failure.

Despite a rather high level of difficulty for the uninitiated, Zigmond III is a highly enjoyable puzzle adventure that plays as simply and as well as it looks. If you enjoy mazes, or don't but feel as though you should be punishing yourself for something, Zigmond will offer up a nice chunk of gameplay for all ages.

Play Zigmond III

Thanks for sending this one in, Ez and Yoav. Cheers!


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Flash Games Market SurveyWith the goal of gleaning helpful information and insight into the state of the thriving Flash game market from the perspective of developers and publishers, Mochi Media is requesting your participation in a Flash Games Market Survey.

So if you create games in Flash, or are involved in the publishing of Flash games, please consider taking this anonymous survey. Reporting will be on an aggregate basis only, no personally identifiable information will be released.

For more information about this survey, please visit the Mochiland blog.

Take the Flash Games Market Survey.

The deadline for participating in the survey is Friday August 7, 2009.


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Rating: 3.4/5 (134 votes)
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GrimmrookPirate LaunchArrrrr, not another one o' dem games where ye be tryin' to fly as far as ye can to the right? Is that what ye be moanin' 'bout? Avast ye filthy lubbers, I'll not be havin' with all this belly-achin' malingerin' on my watch! Thar be enough loot to make us all very rich pirates. We just need to get past the open water and the sharks, whales, and mines between us and it. We'll be needin' to take one o' these here cannons and turn it into a Pirate Launch.

Ye'll be wantin' to use the mouse to aim, and then hold that thar mouse button until ye be gettin' a good power to launch yer pirate with. Then ye'll be usin' the left and right [arrow] keys to rotate yer ship. Keep her steady lads and lasses, or it'll be Davy Jones' locker for the lot o' ya! The further ye go and the more flips ye do, the more gold ye will be gettin'. Dinnae be lettin' that gold sit around ye scurvy dogs. Ye'll be needin' that to buy upgrades that will help ye get closer to the big X that be markin' the spot!

Aye, the controls for this 'un may be a bit slippery for some o' ye land-lubbin' guppies, and it ain't as deep as Learn To Fly. But this here Pirate Launch can be a good time. Now go get me gold before I make ye walk the plank! Arrrr!

Play Pirate Launch


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Rating: 4.5/5 (124 votes)
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PsychotronicWarfare1944This new real-time strategy game from Con Artist teaches us some valuable lessons about the evolution of 20th-century combat. In the years between World War I and II, we abandoned trench lines for the makeshift cover of hedges and tombstones, and every battlefield became exactly three times as wide. If Hitler had thought to keep a machine gun squad entrenched on his center row, while sending Storm Troopers along the top and bottom, we might all be speaking German today.

That's the hook in Warfare 1944, a sequel to a game that was already one of the most engrossing casual strategy games on the web. Your soldiers still start at one end of the screen and advance horizontally to the other, but this time there are three planes of battle, opening up the possibility of flanking maneuvers or even bypassing some defenses completely.

The game can be played with only the mouse. Choose a squad type from the menu at lower right, then click on the row where you want to deploy them. The soldiers will charge into battle from off-screen, automatically attacking opposing units in their own row or in adjacent ones. While they are in the field, you can give them specific orders by clicking on them and then selecting an icon from the bottom menu, or with the [number] hotkeys on your keyboard. Win battles either by advancing all the way across the map, or by destroying the enemy's morale.

This is a cover-based game. Your units will automatically hold their positions at defensive lines scattered about the map until you tell them to move. Leap-frogging from one entrenchment to the next gives the gameplay its shape, since a soldier in the open is much, much more vulnerable to the whims of every passing bullet. Keep in mind that a single instance of cover can only support one squad, and the next one will just leap right over and get itself killed if you bunch them up.

The campaign mode tells a miniature story of the Normandy Invasion as the Allies push from the coast through Northern France. You can select either the easier U.S. campaign or the more defense-oriented German one, both of which take you through 8 missions concentrating on different units and terrain.

Warfare1944Based on your performance in each mission, you will accumulate experience that can be spent on training and equipment. There are plenty of options for both passive and active upgrades, which lets you adjust the game to your own micromanagement comfort level. Abilities like air strikes and grenades require giving a unit specific orders, while the permanent upgrades like additional firepower will allow you to focus on sending reinforcements, rather than babysitting the units on the field.

When you're done with both campaigns, you can still set up individual skirmishes to your taste. Choose your flavor of battlefield, difficulty, and even specific unit types. There is no multiplayer, but frankly this game is crying out for it. The single-player experience is terrific but short, and I want to test my skills against a human general.

Analysis: The flexible upgrade options give Warfare 1944 good replay value. I found it reasonable at first to just pile up my soldiers with guns and courage and send them off freely into battle, but the lure of smoke bombs and air strikes kept me re-campaigning in order to try out all the toys. The highest layer of upgrades are all powerful and fun, and it's convenient to be able to take two different skill paths to reach your favorites.

That's where Warfare 1944 is exceptional: in its subtlety. There are so many workable strategies, so much potential power in each specific unit, so many parries to each thrust, that you can fight through the game by reflex and instinct. That enemy tank is always a game-changer, but you've got bazookas, grenades, mortars, and artillery, even if you can't muster a quick tank of your own.

Warfare1944This is probably Con Artist's prettiest game so far, taking you through highly-detailed graveyards, fields, and townscapes. No need of dramatic anthems here; the cries of warriors and the stutter of machine guns are your theme music. The realism has a down-side — at a glance, the tiny soldiers sometimes blend squintingly into the background, and one looks a lot like another, whether they're carrying rifles or bazookas. And oh, what I would give for a mini-map! It's so easy to forget you have a spare assault squad crouched behind a row of sandbags, when you have to scroll the screen all the way across the battlefield to find them.

Con Artist's hyper-awareness of balance restrictions is probably overkill for a simple strategy game with a small variety of units. Considering the time lag between reinforcements, the experience point cost for new abilities, the resource cost for units, and the strict upper limit on the resource pool itself, it can feel like Warfare 1944 would rather not be played at all. Gameplay is sometimes less about effective strategy, and more about exploiting all the interlocking systems to get a large group of soldiers attacking in parallel. Preferably with a friendly tank in tow.

When you can't quite co-ordinate that unstoppable Blitzkrieg, though, when you're hanging onto each hedge row and stone wall by the grit on your fingernails, when the difference between victory and death-by-Panzer is a single bazooka shell... well, this game will grip you by the guts and squeeze as hard as anything else on the internet.

It's mightily easy to care about these straightforward walking soldiers. They fall prone under fire, they take solemn aim, they dolphin tragically through the air when a mortar strikes. When they're off-screen, I expect they smoke heavy cigars and crack jokes about brothels. Your mind's mission may be to win the war, but your heart's mission is to protect your men. That's quite an accomplishment for a little Flash game.

Play Warfare 1944

Thanks for sending this one in, Twilitlord and KingHomer!


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Rating: 4.5/5 (153 votes)
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JayTony's Tiny GameIn case you haven't noticed, we added a new mini-game to the sidebar over the weekend. This one is named just Tiny Game and it was created exclusively for JIG by the Flash and casual game wizard, Tonypa.

It's a very simple game: use the [arrow] keys to move and to collect all the gems. There is no jumping in this game. Your score is the number of steps it takes you to find all the gems.

There are a number of features that make this little gem exceptional. Besides the little gems that you must collect—50 in all, distributed randomly each time you begin a new game—the game will remember your position and progress across page views. So, no matter where you are on JIG, you can continue right where you left off.

Right-click to access a menu where you can choose to play the game in full-screen mode (if it's just a little too tiny for your liking), to turn off the music and/or sound effects, or to reset your progress and start anew. Also, be sure you're logged into your Casual Gameplay account if you wish your score to be submitted to the high score list when you finish. (Not logged in, or need to sign up for an account? Click the "Sign in" link at the very top right of the page.)

Update: We removed the game from the sidebar for now, but if you wish to play this awesome little tiny game, we've created a page in our free online games portal.

Play Tiny Game


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Rating: 4.4/5 (225 votes)
| Comments (44) | Views (1,648)

GrimmrookBeing One Lab EscapeYour eyes open on a green tinted scene in a nightmare. As bubbles slowly meander upward through your field of vision, the details of a dark laboratory etch themselves into your consciousness from just beyond some sort of glass casing. After desperately flailing about with the unit's internal locks, the viscous green fluid that envelopes you suddenly drains away and your transparent prison no longer holds you captive. This is the world of Psionic's Being One.

In this first episode you find yourself aided by an unknown benefactor, set loose upon a place where strange experiments have been conducted on humans and some... things that are decidedly not human. Your goal is to escape the laboratory, possibly discovering details about your confinement, as well as the identity of your unnamed ally in the process.

As is this case with most of Psionic's games (such as Ghostscape), Being One is one part point-and-click adventure, one part room escape, and one part hidden object game, though it should be pointed out that the hidden object elements may not be as strong here as they were in past offerings. Use your mouse to find items and solve item-based puzzles. Meanwhile, navigation is as simple as clicking on the yellow arrows that point to various landmarks.

With a dark setting and foreboding story, Being One promises to be Psionic's most intriguing and earnest effort yet. There appears to be a more concerted dedication to storytelling here than in Psionic's already engrossing portfolio of work. But while its plot and production values point to incredible promise, this first episode is quite short, making it feel more like a prologue than anything else. Still, if the rest of the episodes are as well built and executed as this, Being One will definitely be a series for point-and-click fans to keep their eye on.

Play Being One


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Mobile Monday

JohnBPaper, aliens, and scary things that jump out at you and go "BOO!! WAAA HAHAAA!" dominate this edition of Mobile Monday. Come to think of it, that sounds like the last family reunion I went to...

mystique1.jpgMystique. Chapter 1: Foetus - Sneaking its way to the iTunes App Store from the Android market, Mystique is a 3D horror adventure game that's really a spooky room escape game in disguise. You're trapped in a dark and filthy bathroom, complete with bathtub filled with blood, and naturally you're looking for a way to get out. Explore the room using the 3D interface and see if you can piece a few items together to fashion a way out. The game is painfully short, but it's free and it's only the first episode.

papertoss.jpgPaper Toss - My third grade teacher had a rule about throwing paper in the trash bin. You could shoot from anywhere in the room as often as you like, but if you missed, you had to pick up every piece of paper in the room. Of course, this led to some epic moments of failure where we got to mock a tosser for his terrible shooting skills. Now we have fun apps like Paper Toss, a game that simulates throwing paper in a waste bin, complete with wind direction and speed, without the annoyance of picking up paper if you happen to miss.

evacuation-iphone.gifEvacuation - Both aliens and your crewmates are trapped in your ship's cargo hold! Instead of going all Rambo and blasting them to alien bits, we're going to be a little more brainy and open/close colored doors to let the vacuum of space suck out the baddies. The first few levels are a piece of delicious waffle pie (does that food exist? it should...), but soon you'll have to do some fiddling to get the aliens out without popping your crew's skulls. Be sure to try the original Evacuation Flash game.

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThe staff of Jay is Games plays dozens upon dozens of games each week. Our goal is to bring you only the games that are worth playing, meaning most of these titles are left in the forgotten realm of Didn't Quite Make It land. This is especially true with downloadable games, as it's a bit more of a commitment to buy a game than just click on a link and play. Some games look good, play well, and are entertaining enough to be featured, but for one reason or another they just didn't make the cut. Here are a few games that are, by all rights, excellent titles to play, but for one reason or another didn't quite get their own review.

dinertowntycoon.jpgDinerTown Tycoon (Mac/Windows, 30MB, demo) - Why run a restaurant when you can run a restaurant out of business?! Flo from Diner Dash moves into the big time when the evil Grub Burger threatens to steal customers with cheap prices, cheap marketing tactics, and a mysterious Ingredient X. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it? Mmm... grubs. DinerTown Tycoon combines time management gaming with a little Lemonade Stand-style tycoon flair to create a nice casual sim that's both easy to learn but tough to master. It's a great game on all fronts, to be sure, but it's over far, far too quickly, which is why it hasn't graced the pages of JIG in the form of a full download review.

kittensanctuary.jpgKitten Sanctuary (Windows, 33MB, demo) - Wow. Those little fuzzies are cute, aren't they? Curious eyes, big smile, cute little—oh! That one even has a bow on its tail! This tile-swapping puzzle game fuses a little "village" management sim into the gameplay and covers the whole thing in an irresistibly adorable kitten exterior. On the surface you do little more than make matches with bottles of milk, fish, and a handful of other cat-related items. The items you match help you rescue new kittens and manage your sanctuary, a village of sorts where you can actually play with the cats! It's tough to resist something as AWWW-inducing as this, but in the end, we felt the game provided little more than Bejeweled with cute animals.

pahelika.jpgPahelika: Secret Legends (Windows, 73MB, demo) - An adventure/puzzle game that follows the now-familiar hidden object hybrid path. Pahelika sends you on a quest for the great artifact, a journey that will take you through six extinct civilizations, picking through their ruins like some some sort of raider. Of tombs. And ruins. A tomb/ruin raider. The set-up is a lot like Azada, which is definitely a good thing, and Pahelika features some superb scenes with artwork you'll be happy to look at. In the end, though, Pahelika didn't quite make it because the puzzles were too unpredictable and used everything from childlike logic to something we like to call "not logic".


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Rating: 4.4/5 (135 votes)
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GrimmrookMoneyseizeCheerio, my good man, pip pip! The name is MoneySeize. Sir Reginald MoneySeize II, Esq. Now see here, chap, I am a man of good name and standing, and I require a befitting legacy. I merely want to construct the world's largest tower. It is for this reason, my well-buttered scone, that I seek your help playing this... what do the little people call it... ah yes, "platformer."

Simply use the [arrow] keys to make me crouch or move left and right. If I should have to jump, you'll need to hit the [S] key or the [space] bar. I know, my crispy little chocolate chip cookie, I know. An aristocrat such as myself shouldn't need to hop about from platform to platform dodging lethal beast and whirring saw blade like some lowly plumber. But though my coffers may be deep and considerable, even one such as I lacks the necessary 1000 coins of gold to construct the world's largest tower.

Scattered about the construction site are scads of doors leading to rooms holding treasure troves of gold coinage. I beseech you to employ your cat-like reflexes and razor sharp precision, my underdone chicken and pork dumpling, for though these rooms are filled with gold, they are also filled with more ways to die than I have secret Swiss bank accounts. And let's face it, my little folkloric eater of goats, I'm simply too well bred and important to die.

Analysis: Ahem. Hold on a moment, I need to rinse the taste of silver spoon out of my mouth. Ah, better. What to say about MoneySeize? Ah. Right. It's ridiculously hard. We're talking Meat Boy better watch out, because MoneySeize is bringing the A-game when it comes to testing the boundaries between really hard platformer and impossible platformer.

In truth, MoneySeize doesn't classify as impossible, though it can definitely feel like it much of the time. This is by Matt Thorson, author of An Untitled Story and the Jumper series, just to give you an idea of the pain to come. Even the very first set of levels serves up nice and meaty platforming challenges. Throw in the facts that in order to win, you have to get every single one of the coins in the game, and that everything is a one hit kill, and it is clear that this is designed specifically for the platformer adept.

MoneySeizeStill, just being hard doesn't make a game good in the same way that sauce just being hot doesn't make it good hot sauce. Thankfully MoneySeize comes with lots of delicious flavor to go with the awesome heat. You are a fan of delicious flavor, right?

Retrogamers will no doubt love the big blocky pixels and delightful chiptune soundtrack. The vintage charm exuded by Moneyseize is so strong you may find yourself reaching for a cartridge to blow into. But fear not, the charm doesn't stop at the sights and sounds.

Any serious platformer needs a serious control scheme, and there is little to fault in MoneySeize. Some may not be thrilled with using the [space] bar to jump, but beyond that the controls definitely get the job done. Fast and loose, they still remain precise to the pixel.

Also, you can't talk platformer without discussing level design, and in MoneySeize, the level design just gets downright evil (in a good way). Thankfully, no single level is very long. In fact, they all cram themselves into a single screen, which means that you won't have to live with the frustration of making it so far just to die and have to start all over again from some arbitrary checkpoint. On the other hand, unless you are a freak of nature, you are going to die... a lot. The game design makes up for this, though, by giving you 40 levels (plus bonus levels) to play through. Bordering on a rage-quit on one level? No problem, just move on to a different level for a while. In the end, though, all the levels are fiendishly designed to push your platforming skills to their utmost limits.

Interestingly, MoneySeize also manages to be accessible to the less awe-inspiring platform gamer. This is a result of the fact that you can squirrel away your coin collection in bite size chunks. The game automatically saves your progress every time you exit a level, so you are quite free to pop through a door, grab one or two coins, and head out. You may need to be superhuman to collect all the coins of a level in one go, but we mere mortals are capable of nibbling away at it over time.

Overall, MoneySeize is great fun for fans of very challenging platformers. At the same time, its high degree of difficulty doesn't undercut its inherent charm and addictive qualities.

Play MoneySeize

Thanks for sending this one in, Gryphon! Cheers!


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Deadly Sin

JohnBGame creation software has made it possible for developers to construct games without a vast team of coders working behind the scenes. Role playing games have benefited from this in a big way, and several near-commercial-quality titles have emerged over the last few years. Deadly Sin is one such game, and its combination of retro stylings and modern gameplay mechanics make it palatable to old-school fans and 21st century players alike. Instead of reinventing the RPG, Deadly Sin chooses the path of flattering imitation. With great art direction, a superb soundtrack, a deep skill tree to explore and the ability to turn off random battles, Deadly Sin hits that soft spot deep inside that's longing for a good RPG to enjoy.

deadlysin3.jpgDeadly Sin puts you in the shoes of Lorelai, a young girl who wakes to find her mentor, Winchester, has gone, leaving only a note that instructs her to take a sealed envelope to a man in a nearby town. Without hesitation Lorelai heads out the door, embarking upon an adventure that will uncover surprising secrets about her own past and the future of the world alike.

Role playing games are defined by a number of elements, especially combat, storyline, and how characters evolve over the course of the game. Deadly Sin scores a hit in each of these categories. Combat is turn-based and takes place in a separate screen from the main game. Battles are random, but don't let that turn you away. Deadly Sin features special monster nodes in each level, crystals that, when activated, turn off random battles. Hooray! This sets the perfect atmosphere for exploration without sacrificing level-building, something most RPGs struggle to achieve. Whenever you enter a new area you'll battle a handful of creatures, find and activate the monster node, then creep through every tunnel on the level looking for hidden treasure.

The skill tree is another excellent addition to the game, adding a lot of depth and customization to your characters. Instead of simply gaining levels and earning new abilities at set intervals, each of the five characters has unique abilities you can spend skill points to unlock. Lorelai, for example, is a master of the bow, and from the beginning you can choose to focus on fire, ice or lightning elemental attacks, increase your overall strength, or put a little attention on a healing spell or two. Individual skills level up as well as open paths to new abilities, so look around the tree before you start spending points and see where you want your character to go.

deadlysin2.jpgThe storyline in Deadly Sin begins with the mundane but ends with a grandiose tale. Predictably so, but not as cliché as one would suspect, although you won't be surprised to see the main character asleep when the game begins. That one's been done a few times before. There's no shortage of interesting events and characters to run across, but don't expect plot revelations at every corner.

Analysis: RPGs are probably the least casual game genre around. Not only do they feature dozens of hours of gameplay, but you have to spend an afternoon playing just to get to the interesting bits, and there's very little instant gratification to keep you in the game. Deadly Sin takes a stride in the casual direction and cuts out a lot of fluff from the beginning of the game. No pages of text to read, cutscenes to ignore, pointless dialogue to skip over, or fetch quests to ease you into the gameplay. Instead, you're dropped right into the game to fend for yourself, and within half an hour your party expands and you have a few skills to play around with. The story and characters continue to develop as the game goes by, of course, but the little boost of speed early on helps to get you hooked.

I really fell in love with Deadly Sin's artwork. Everything is a treat to look at, from the crisp menu screens to the smooth, shadowed tiles populating the towns and dungeons. The enemy art and backgrounds in battle scenes are also gorgeous, even though the animations during combat are a bit jumpy.

deadlysin.gifBattle is a big part of any role playing game, and unfortunately I feel it's a bit of a weak spot for Deadly Sin. It's a jarring transition to go from smooth overworld action to the stilted animations found in combat. Selecting actions to perform and enemies to attack feels a bit sluggish, and instead of using an arrow to denote targets, Deadly Sin flashes sprites for a brief instant. It isn't as eye-friendly as a big pointer. Combat is still enjoyable, however, especially once you get a bigger party with a full set of skills.

Deadly Sin claims around 30 hours of gameplay, which may be a bit on the generous side for experienced players. The game rewards you for poking around and exploring caves and alternate passageways, so don't be too hasty to get to the end. In fact, the branching style of level construction was one of the high points of my experience. I love games that hide things in dark corners, jars, pots, and secret passageways. Deadly Sin doesn't go to extreme lengths, but there are plenty of treasure chests to kick open and hidden paths to sniff out.

Retro RPG fans and newcomers alike will have a great time exploring the game's environments and building each character's abilities one limb at a time. Deadly Sin doesn't try to innovate beyond the genre's set standards, but it does exactly what it set out to accomplish quite well.

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

JohnBPainfully difficult retro gaming time!!! Three platform games on this edition of Weekend Download, each one doing its part to remind you just how bad you are at playing games. Until you play the same part a dozen times, then you're awesomely talented!

holdover.gifHoldover (Windows, 700KB, free) - From Japanese studio Foxeye, Holdover features a Metroidvania-esque design and a punishing level of difficulty. You play Marie, a young girl with a seemingly an incurable disease. A treatment is developed, but it's so slow, she'll die before it works. So, Marie is cryogenically frozen until the day she will be healed. She wakes early to find the lab void of life and mysterious messages scattered throughout the rooms. Instead of gaining new weapons at every turn, Holdover is about increasing Marie's strength so she can hold her breath for longer underwater. Simple, but effective, and the result is a game that's so retro I couldn't stop playing it, despite its cheap deaths. The English translation can be tough to understand at times, and some of the cutscenes are risque, so you might want to wait until the kids are in bed before trying this one. Cheers to D for sending this one in!

ninjarobot.gifNinja Robot Winning Gameshow (Windows, 20MB, free) - Oh, hey, look! It's a robot and a ninja... combined! There's something you wouldn't want to come across in a dark futuristic backalley set in medieval Japan. Ninja Robot Winning Gameshow is another rough platformer that demands precise movement on your behalf. Shift your character's gravity by nudging an adjacent wall, a move that's key in avoiding the spikes and making it to the exit. Expect to die many, many times. At least the game entertains you with ninja robot wisdom when you take a hit. There's even a commercial break!

grayandgreen.gifGray & Green (Windows, 5MB, free) - A charming puzzle platformer starring Mubly, a blobbly little character who is trying to add color to the world after a wizard turned everything gray. Collect a red potion, for example, to activate red things in the stage, many of which are purely decorative, but some are necessary to solve the level. Once you nab all the potions the world is restored and you can hit the exit door for another stage!

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!


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Rating: 4/5 (49 votes)
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kuros-b.jpg

GrimmrookSandlot Games is known more for its strategy games than anything else, what with titles like Tradewinds and Westward to its name. Now the studio is bludgeoning its way onto the hidden object game scene with Kuros, a beautiful and unique object finding adventure that will remind you in more than one way of the Dream Chronicles series.

KurosYou wake up in a strange magical world knowing not who nor where you are. Upon exploring this mystical place, the holes in your memory are filled in one bit at a time by the eccentric host of characters you meet. Your name is Katya, and the world you are exploring is none other than Kuros, a realm kept in balance by glyph stones that keep the elements in harmony.

You soon learn that all is not well and this is far from paradise. Someone has thrown the elements out of balance and launched an offensive against those who have sworn to protect the glyph stones. Now the inhabitants of Kuros turn to you to help them restore order and track down the culprit that threatens the fate of their world.

You'll find that your time on Kuros will be very busy indeed. In order to explore more of the world, you'll have to search the various scenes for cleverly hidden map fragments. Once all the fragments for a given area have been discovered, piece them together and open up new areas. You'll also put your object finding skills to the test to solve puzzles, many of which open up even more puzzles! As if this wasn't enough, keep your mind on restoring the glyph stones, a task that will require the use of your magic wand and your ability to carve the sacred glyphs you'll find all over the place.

Analysis: It's clear that Sandlot Games wanted to make sure its first venture in the world of hidden object games was a strong one. Indeed, Kuros roars out of the gate determined to prove it is anything but a conventional object finder.

There are no lists of random objects in Kuros, everything you hunt for plays a strong part in the game. Finding map fragments is perhaps the most conventional object seeking task. Outside of that, you'll find some of your item hunts will loosely resemble those in Totem Tribe. That is to say, you'll often be sent to track down numbers of like items across a broad area (or, in this case, across multiple scenes, sometimes spanning the entirety of Kuros itself).

In other instances, object seeking resembles gameplay found in Flux Family Secrets. Hotspots which are ultimately part of puzzles will summon blacked out images of items you'll have to find in the immediate scene. Once these items are found and put in their correct slot you can proceed with the puzzle. By getting creative and mixing up the hidden object mechanic, Kuros keeps the core of its gameplay fresh and engaging even if conventional object finding may have grown a little old with you.

KurosBacking up the item hunts is a strong supporting cast of puzzles. From lining up paths of piping to punching your way through Guitar Hero-esque organ playing, these puzzles may not be exactly the most original we've seen, but they are exceptionally well-executed. These stand-alone puzzles are further bolstered by a very light item-based puzzle element. In both cases, most of the challenges you will be tasked with are not all that difficult and serve as a nice way of changing the pace as opposed to acting as nigh-impassable obstacles.

Rounding out what makes Kuros work so well is the cast itself, or, more accurately, the storytelling dynamic. The plot behind Kuros is rich and hints at unplumbed depths waiting to be discovered. This mystical planet brims with life thanks to the eccentric characters you'll meet, from the nearly-blind Farseer to the catastrophically clumsy Librarian. Each character (with perhaps one or two exceptions) is brilliantly voiced. The voice of Katya deserves special mention here. Her lines may test the boundaries of believability with the way the shocking is dealt with nonchalance. But the voice somehow manages to sell it with a near-perfect blend of awe and cynicism. While we don't spend too much time with the characters in this story, it's hard to walk away from Kuros without the feeling that new friendships have been forged.

Yes, Kuros inherits its personality from its inhabitants, but it has a physical beauty all its own. From a kindly forest setting that promises the beginnings of fairy tales to chilling windswept snow-capped peaks, the look of Kuros is surreal enough to be fantasy, but real enough to take your imagination on an amazing ride.

While overworld navigation is easy enough, navigating whilst in a scene can be a pain. The hotspots that let you leave any one given setting are often unintuitive, bizarre, or far too obtrusive, taking up most of the main playing field. Another annoyance is the fact that you'll have to manually enter every item you pick up into your inventory. This may seem small, but when you are searching for objects over the span of several settings this can be a rather trying hindrance. Kuros would have also been helped by a slightly more generous hint system. The irony of the matter is that you must find special items to gain hints, and these are some of the most fiendishly hidden objects in the game. This strikes me as counter-intuitive because if you are having a hard time finding one of the objects you need, chances are you'll have a harder time finding one of the items needed to help you find it.

The last problem plaguing Kuros is somewhat bittersweet: it's just too short. And while Kuros has its flaws, even with those taken into account it's clear that Sandlot came up with something pretty special here. As I neared the end I did so with a slight twinge of sadness. I was just getting started. Hidden object veterans should power through this title in an afternoon, but you'll wish you had at least twice that time.

Kuros has what some may call rookie mistakes, but the ingenuity and craftsmanship that went into making this game shine amazingly bright. In the end it's sad to leave Kuros behind for the mundane world, but we do so with great hope that we'll have the opportunity to return soon (and hopefully for a little longer next 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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Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou know, I think I'm old enough now to have a "day". As in, "Back in my day, we never had games about toast, or nailing jelly to a wall. And jigsaw puzzles actually made sense!" But then I remember that my "day" was actually pretty boring and consisted of really big hair, Lawn Darts, and music videos by Paula Abdul. So instead, let's enjoy this day, and this week's Link Dump Friday!

  • Pixa FixaPixa Fixa - Yoy may not think you're all that old, but Pixa Fixa is here to show you just how terrible your memory is. Recreate coloured pixel images using the highest of high-tech cannons on a grid! And then when your self confidence has been well and truly shattered, we can go hang out together on a porch somewhere in rocking chairs, talk about Pac Man, and yell at kids to stay off our lawn. It'll be keen!
  • SummertimeSummertime - Easy jigsaw puzzles are for suckers. The only time a puzzle is really good is when it has you staring at a computer screen with such intensity that those around you can hear the gears in your head shrieking away like a rusty buzzsaw. Drag and drop the appropriate images together, and then use your enormous brain to solve the energy crisis and trasmute lead into gold, because you're clearly some sort of mutant superbeing if you can finish this one. No, I'm not bitter!
  • Toast of WarToast of War - It's difficult to put into words just how awesome this joyously quirky little platform adventure about an intrepid slice of toast is. It helps if you realise that if Toast of War was a person, he would wear a leather jacket, jump over sharks, and get all the ladies. Or we could just say "Boss fight with a chainsaw", and that would tell you all you needed to know.
  • The Rather Difficult GameThe Rather Difficult Game - Old people have the best sayings, mainly because they never make any sense. This way, the next time one tells you something is "as difficult as herding kittens" or "nailing jelly to a wall", you can tell them you've already done it and bask in your sense of superiority. At least until they lecture you about respecting your elders and remind you that you haven't really herded kittens until you've done it uphill. In a snowstorm. In space. With fireants in your shoes. Yeah.
  • Fat SliceFat Slice - Finally, a game Sweeney Todd would enjoy! Use your mouse to slash every spare bit you can off a series of increasingly complex shapes. Which is easier said than done since some inconsiderate person filled them with bouncing balls you have to avoid. May or may not make you want to throw your keyboard out a window. (Hint: Probably will.)

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GrinnypEscape from the Living RoomWhat is it with the Japanese? Every time I turn around they've locked me in a room. At least this one is furnished with a nice comfy couch. Oh look! A widescreen TV and a selection of DVDs. Great! Now, where's the remote...?

Escape From the Living Room, a new game by Japanese designer Tesshi-e, is a solid, entertaining room escape game. Simply point and click your way through an uncluttered yet beautifully rendered living room, packed with challenges.

There is no back story here, no note from a mad doctor, no urgent ticking clock. Just you and a comfortable living room. Bars at the edges of the screen make finding your way around quick and easy. A few important objects are rather small, but even my tired old eyes could spot them. While navigating through the room is itself relatively simple, solving some of the puzzles, especially the end solution, will take a bit of ingenuity. This is basic escape-the-room stuff; but what a lot of stuff! What in the world is that three-headed rotating totem for? That's for Tesshi-e to know and you to find out.

You'll spend most of your time in Escape From the Living Room collecting and using objects as you work towards the final solution. Not to say that there aren't any puzzles. There are indeed some tricky brain-teasers, but the answers to the more practical "How do I use that?" questions are what keep the game fun.

The puzzles themselves are logical and flow easily from one to another. The photorealistic backgrounds make you want to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Despite minimal decoration, the lush textures beg to be touched. The music... well, thankfully Tesshi-e has included a mute button.

My only quibble is the sometimes frustrating way the game handles your inventory. The problems begin after you select an acquired object, then hit the "about item" button for a close-up. Some items need to be opened, turned, and manipulated, and finding the "sweet spot" that will allow you to do this can be tricky, with no visual cues.

Qibbles aside, Escape From the Living Room makes for a fun, quick escape. Or you could just kick back on that inviting couch, relax, and watch some DVDs...

Play Escape from the Living Room


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Rating: 4.2/5 (92 votes)
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Rabbit Wants CakeArtbegottiJohn Cooney (Achievement Unlocked, Ball Revamped) now provides us with this important news bulletin: Rabbit Wants Cake. Okay, so maybe it's not news. In fact, who doesn't want cake? Maybe as you play through this time-tweaking platformer, you might want to envision yourself in place of the cute little rabbit. There you go, now you're set to chase after some fine cake.

But what's this? A remote-control antenna sticking out of your back? Well, no worries. Your goal is to program in a series of commands that lead you to the cake while dodging all of the spikes and furry monsters in your way. To do this, click the "Record" button near the top, then use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to lay down your motions (they'll appear as colored lines in the timeline at the top). When you're satisfied with your commands, stop the recording and hit the "Playback" button to see what you've done.

If you make it to the cake, hooray, you've got cake! If you don't, aww. But there's still hope! If you elected to play the Normal mode, you can edit your colored bars of actions just like a movie by adjusting their length or position (but not by splitting or creating new bars), and play it again to see if your new commands work out a bit better. If you chose the expert mode, you're only allowed to re-record your commands, so get ready for some heavy memorizing and precision timing.

After 25 levels of careful planning, timing, and noshing, you'll have a new appreciation for cake. You will also learn why you should never give a rabbit a remote control to give you commands. The cake is not for you; the cake is for the rabbit. Let the rabbit have the cake. He'll be very nice to you.

Play Rabbit Wants Cake


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Rating: 4.6/5 (216 votes)
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DoraFraggerFootball? No thanks. Soccer? Yawn! Baseball? So last year! These days, the great outdoors looks a lot more like the boring outdoors. It's about time someone invented a new sport for the kids to play. Something gentle, yet awesome. From Harold Brenes comes the next great outdoor pastime in Fragger, a sweet little puzzle game on a physics engine. With grenades. It's every bit as wholesome and appealing as golf, except you'll actually enjoy yourself, instead of just pretending to.

We're not entirely sure what's going on here, since no story whatsoever makes an appearance. The dopey grin the target wears sort of puts one in mind of the Beagle Boys, so let's just pretend you're trying to keep them from breaking into Scrooge McDuck's moneybin. With extreme force. Each stage consists of a certain number of these no-doubt dastardly baddies, and you need to get rid of all of them to proceed. You have a certain amount of grenades per level, and you can keep track of how many you have left in the upper left of the screen. Run out, and you'll be forced to restart.

Few things can compare to the simple joy of tossing grenades around on a bright summer day, and Fragger makes it easy for you to get into the swing of things by controlling everything with the click of your mouse. Move your cursor up and down to adjust the pitch, and toward or away from yourself to choose the force behind your throw. Once you click the left mouse button, your bow-legged on-screen counterpart will toss his grenade. Grenades only explode after they stop moving, not when they hit something, so you'll want them to land as close to your target as possible. If it looks like it's going to miss, you can tap the [space] bar to instantly make it vanish, but you'll still be minus one grenade. In a pinch, you can also "destroy" enemies by knocking them off screen.

As the levels go on, Fragger keeps things fresh by introducing new items onto the field at a decent rate. You probably won't be surprised by the exploding crates, since they're contractually required to be in every game with the slightest military theme, ever. But some items, like the timed exploding boxes that zip off in a specific direction when hit, are a pleasant surprise. It's just enough to keep you on your toes and thinking.

FraggerAnalysis: Early on the "puzzle" aspect of the game is mostly limited to figuring out just how much force and angle you need to put behind a grenade to tuck it between a goon and a wall on an odd platform. Later, the game surprised me by offering up several stages that resembled Rube Goldberg machines, replete with platforms, tunnels, and walls that had to be approached in a certain order. I honestly wish there had been more of them. Tossing a grenade in the opposite direction of a goon and watching it set off a bizarre chain reaction that still eventually wins the stage is intensely satisfying. The downside is these stages also depend on everything falling just so, and there were times when I had to restart an entire level because a fall of blocks landed at an odd angle and blocked off the area they were supposed to clear.

Still, as big and fun as it is, Fragger is actually never really that difficult. You may have a finite number of grenades, but you can restart a level over and over without any penalty. Just sit back and toss away until you find something that works; this is generally an acceptable strategy for all but the most finicky of stages, which sort of takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. Since the only moves to master here are "throw explodey thing" and "make guy go boom", there's not a lot of necessity to improve your skills. If you hit someone in the head, they'll just topple over like cardboard cutouts, so you never have to deal with the added challenge of a moving target.

With a bright, cartoony design and smooth interface that makes playing a breeze, Fragger is a winner, but not quite a classic. But for an afternoon of exploding fun, you'll be hard pressed to beat it at its own game. Just remember to duck and cover!

Play Fragger


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Rating: 4/5 (146 votes)
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PsychotronicPushPush, by Ian Snyder (Valo, Captain Dan vs Zombie Plan), is a retro-looking new platform game with a twist. Actually, not just a twist, but a full-fledged indian burn. Oh, the controls are simple enough — use the [arrow] keys or [WASD] to run and jump on platforms, hold the jump key to stick to ceilings with your flat sticky head, click on the screen with your mouse cursor to warp the very molecules of space around a powerful force anomaly. But the twist is that you can... oh wait, that was it. The physics-warping anomaly thing IS the twist. And it changes everything.

Your goal on each level is to get your heroic cubey-leggy-thing to the sun. Like practically every pre-16-bit platform game, the levels in Push are made of tiles, locked at first into the traditional grid where tiles live out their blocky lives. When you hold the mouse button, though, a circle expands from the cursor, forcing the tiles to the perimeter and thus creating new gaps and platforms. Everything can be subverted and bullied — blocks, hazards, even the sunny goal that ends the level. Only brick tiles are immune, and many levels use those immutable bricks as a welcome source of structure and sanity, so you can't just splatter the landscape all over tarnation like a whimsical demigod.

Another nod to sanity is the fact that tiles will creep back home after they leave your (literal) sphere of influence. The chaos is limited to a small area, where your keyboard hand and mouse hand work in tandem to succeed. I can even imagine playing this with two players, one on movement and the other on Reality Shred. Just be prepared to die a lot.

Analysis: Actually, be prepared to die anyway. The controls in this game are super-touchy, and because the collision detection is trying to cope with the constant pressure of strange events, it can feel glitchy at times. Make friends with the little comic-book-bubble Squish that appears when homecoming tiles trap your hero, because you'll be seeing a lot of it. And learn to enjoy falling into the void.

So, the concept for this is flat-out brilliant, and the presentation comes right from the center of the current indie games ideal. Large-pixelled charm and subtle emotional tones, with a killer soundtrack if you're into melancholy electronic whooping (which I am). The biggest problem is in the level design. Like all the games at BonusLevel, Push rests on a foundation of user-created levels, and that means even the offical levelset is repetitive and often too hard. The gradual introduction of challenges that would come with a tuned Story or Adventure Mode is a gaping hole in the center of this game about gaping holes.

I would love to see the level progression match up with the game design, but Push is exciting and inventive enough that everybody should at least peek at it. The first time you click the mouse, it will expand your mind.

Play Push

You can also Play Push at the Casual Collective who sponsored the game.You can play a whole different set of user-created levels there!


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Rating: 4.6/5 (358 votes)
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DoraThe Several Journeys of Reemus Chapter 3The cry goes out across the land for a hero! Someone stalwart! Someone true! Someone with a really awesome 'stache, and some... little... purple dude, we guess! That's right, true believers, the only one who can save us now is none other than the devastatingly handsome Reemus! And thanks to the combined talents of Jay Ziebarth and his team, Reemus is back for the third chapter in his several journeys: Know Thy Enemy. Will Reemus ever become a hero? Will Liam ever get his own matching vest? Why don't more people have gelatin pools in their underground lairs? These, and many other questions, will not be answered in this installment! Luckily, it's just as slyly fun as the rest.

Things get even stickier in The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 3, as Reemus and Liam race to deliver an important message to the castle. Or, um, not race, exactly, since Reemus's trademark unimpressed stare and casual lope is still firmly in place. Click on objects on the screen to interact or move the two would-be heroes around. You can play as either Reemus or Liam, and clicking on the appropriate icon in the upper left corner will swap who you have control over. As you progress, you'll find you need to do that quite a bit. Reemus is stronger, while Liam is smaller and more agile, so neither is suited to every task.

This time around, after an initial puzzle that looks pretty familiar, you're presented with a problem that has our heroes split on how to handle it. Depending on which solution you go after, you'll be faced with a different set of puzzles, and a different ending. It adds a nice chunk of replay value to a game that would otherwise be pretty short.

The Several Journeys of Reemus Chapter 3Analysis: Part of what makes Reemus so enjoyable is the bizarre world in which he lives. The strange plants and animals there are as weird as they are wonderful, and there's always a certain amount of anticipation involved in each new installment, as you discover just what Zeebarf has dreamt up this time. Somewhere, Tim Burton looks up at the vast inky bowl of fathomless night sky, and senses he has a kindred spirit.

Considering that their realm is so far removed from our own, the puzzles in this latest chapter are surprisingly logical. All it takes is some clicking around to figure out how each strange beast or item reacts, and the pieces typically fall into place with little prodding. They make their own queer sort of sense once you stop trying to apply silly things like "the laws of nature" to them. Oh, of course you can lead the bees around like little balloons! Why wouldn't you? It's all so obvious!

Even with two paths to explore, however, Chapter 3 is pretty short. The areas are so small and well designed that you won't spend a lot of time aimlessly clicking about, searching in vain for whatever magical MacGuffin could be hidden behind a pixel. The ending will leave you wanting more, but in a good way. After all, the greatest compliment a chef can get is the sound of someone scraping for the last bits at the bottom of a bowl. If you're looking for an hour or so of Zeebarf's signature sense of humour and a good deal of questing, then look no further. Reemus is here, and he polished his paunch just for you!

Play The Several Journeys of Reemus: Chapter 3


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Rating: 4.2/5 (205 votes)
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Weekday Escape

Grinnyp[Note: This game has been completely redesigned. Read about and play the updated version here.] I am very fond of classic adventure games. The games in which you wake up in a strange place with no idea where to go or what to do. No intro, no handy tutorial, no friendly ghosts, no bloodthirsty zombies, just a lot of questions that need answers. The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1, by first time designer William Buchanan, will take you back to the days when the first thing you have to figure out is "What the heck am I doing here?" Cue mysterious music...

thefreewillcycle1-title2.jpgYou awake in a room. Could be in a spaceship, could be in a space station, could be just a strange building in East Podunk, Michigan. There's no way of knowing, because all you can see out of the windows are pretty, pretty moving lights. You notice that the ominously pulsating glow has breached the room next to the one you started in. Should you walk into the light? On second thought, not a good idea. Perhaps you should explore a little more...

A JIG exclusive, The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 is in essence a simple point-and-click escape game. The cursor turns into an arrow to let you know where you can go, or it turns into a hand when you encounter something you can touch, move, or take. Finding your way around is fairly easy; figuring out what needs to be done? Not so much. Take your time, look around, pry into other people's private e-mail, and slowly a pattern emerges. How good are you at reproducing lab experiments and repairing potentially radioactive machinery? You're about to find out.

thefreewillcycle1-3.jpgThe first part of a planned trilogy, The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1 is reminiscent of the genre classic, Myst. You will have to examine everything, take anything that's not nailed down, and go everywhere. As you explore the story unfolds, giving, in a few short clues, a vivid account of what may have happened and the personalities of the people involved. Who, by the way, are mysteriously missing...

Analysis: It is amazing what can be packed into such a compact game. Considering that it contains only a handful of rooms and a corridor, there is a world of information to be gleaned. As you read the e-mails the story takes shape, and you get a glimpse into what the facility must have been like before the...incident. Gameplay is smooth and simple with the cursor letting you know when you've encountered something important. The puzzles range from easy (guessing the computer passwords) to extremely complex (...but that's a spoiler for the end of the game).

thefreewillcycle1-2.jpgThe graphics are stunning and uncluttered, allowing you to both enjoy the beauty of the design and easily identify the important hotspots. Rendered in 3D, with colors and textures galore, the game invites you to take the time to look around and enjoy. The background music is simultaneously eerie and unobtrusive, enhancing your claustrophobia and paranoia as you wander around trying to figure out what went on. One tip: don't play on mute. There are a few audio cues you might miss if the sound is turned off.

A minor quibble is that the environment seems a bit too sterile. Any kind of working facility would certainly have a little more clutter (have you ever worked with engineers?). Also, the solution to the largest of the puzzles requires a bit of lateral thinking. The clues are all there, but your ability to synthesize will be key. Also, for the sequel I'd like to see Buchanan add in a save feature and a mute button, two elements that are welcome in any game.

This game has been completely redesigned. Play The Freewill Cycle Volume 1: Redux Edition instead.

All in all this is a dramatic, eye-catching experience; the game is immersive enough to lose yourself in while being short enough for casual gameplay. I am most amazed that this is a first effort by the designer, who taught himself both Flash and 3D Studio Max as he went along. If the trial effort is this good, I can't wait for part two.

Oh how I have longed for this day! A game with the complexity of Myst boiled down into a bite sized chunk. An amuse-bouche of a game, if you will. This lovely little taste left me hungry for more!

Play The Freewill Cycle: Volume 1

Update: A new version has been uploaded that should address the issues with the inventory items that some people were having.

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