August 2009 Archives


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (105 votes)
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kateQboxOwls are the arrogant scholars of the animal world. They mock humans with their little glasses and mortarboards; always flying around thinking they're smarter than us. We cannot let this continue!

Show those smug little owls what's what by playing Qbox, a word game from Qwizzly. Qbox is a neat little variation of a Jumble or a cryptogram, in which you try to decipher famous quotes from one of three historical eras. These quotes are laid out in a grid, and the letters have been scrambled within their respective columns only. Swap letters in the same column and when the correct word is formed it will lock into place.

Solve a level quickly and you'll be rewarded with a time bonus. Flashing tiles also represent bonus points, and in the later levels, columns will be locked until you unscramble a word elsewhere in the grid. Click on the smarty-pants owl for a hint if you're stuck.

QBox is quite satisfying as a coffee break game. The difficulty ramps up nicely in later levels and your progress is automatically saved, so you don't need to indulge in a word puzzle marathon if you don't want to. In a pleasant intellectual feature, after completing a level, click on the author of the quote, and you're taken to the Wikipedia article on said author. It's a perfect game for a lazy Sunday morning, and even that smarmy little owl can't spoil your fun.

Play Qbox


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAn old Flash favorite hangs in balance while a few word games keep your iPhone fingers busy this week, along with most excellent Skabooki, a game that's eaten many hours of my life away with its simple but elegant construction. That darn voodoo doll is just so cute!

levers-iphone.gifLevers - One of the first Flash games reviewed at JIG, Levers is the latest release from Vector Park's animation and programming wizard, Patrick Smith. A beautiful and mesmerizing piece of interactive art and physics simulation, Levers will calm you while it challenges you to keep everything it throws as you in delicate balance. There's no save in this initial version, though, so you'll have to solve it all in one sitting.

skabooki.jpgSkabooki - A witch doctor created a voodoo doll to protect his daughter from pain. Now, both evil and good spirits are trying to undo the magic with puzzles that keep the doll separated from the girl. Guide the voodoo doll to the goal of each stage by carefully removing sets of blocks. Superb visuals and a large variety of puzzles make for an excellent game. And for some reason, I can't help but stare at the candle melting animation at the end of each level.

wordsolitaire.jpgWord Solitaire - An intriguing mix of word construction and solitaire. Instead of playing card suits in descending order, your goal is to spell words using cards with letters on them. You can arrange individual and piles of cards as you like, provided you either spell or begin to spell words with them. For example, you can play the cards "H A" on a "T" because it could potentially spell "THAT". You can't, however, stick "Y Q" on the "T". Tyq? No. Just... no. A free Word Solitaire Lite is also available.

bookworm-iphone.jpgBookworm - It's hard to resist a good word game, isn't it? Especially when it's as well-established as Bookworm. PopCap's famous word game takes its turn at the iPhone with a great port of its PC cousin. The dictionary sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, but otherwise it's smooth spelling. And speaking of portable Bookworm games, when will we get Bookworm Adventures for the iTunes App Store, PopCap?

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (189 votes)
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DoraGuardian RockHello! I'd like a moment of your time to talk to you about Guardian Rock, and the many benefits of owning one... oh! Might want to get your door checked out there, friend. If I hadn't had my foot jammed in there, why, it might have slammed in my face! Golly!

Guardian Rock, manufactured by the fine folks at Torpedo Lab, is perfect for all your ancient temple guarding needs! Now, I know, I know. You think your temple is safe. You think all your treasure isn't going anywhere. Wrong! Let me tell you, friend, that miniature tomb raiders are an invasive species, and they can be found anywhere! Now, you can spray, sure, but that won't get rid of all of them. And I suppose, yeah, you could go through the historical preservation society and get a cease-and-desist, but that takes forever. No, what works, and what works fast, is smashing them across 48 levels of arcade-style puzzle action.

Now, you're thinking, "Gosh, I'm interested in Guardian Rock, but I bet it's too darn complicated to use!" Wrong again, friend! Guardian Rock responds to the [arrow] keys. All you do is tap the direction you want to go, and it'll zip off in a straight line until it hits something! Guardian Rock disposes of intruders by efficiently smashing into them, and then it's a simple matter of guiding it to the glowing golden exit for speedy storage. Get stuck in a bad spot? No problem! Just tap [R] and you can start your level all over again.

Now of course, Guardian Rock is pretty sturdy, and it'll smash right through any old, crumbled blocks in the temple. But you're going to want to keep it away from any, uh, ceremonial T.N.T. crates you might have lying around. Or spears! Guardian Rock isn't compatible with spears. In fact, you're probably going to find a lot of stuff lying around your ancient temple that just don't work well with Guardian Rock. Fortunately, if Guardian Rock breaks, it'll instantly reform, although you'll have to start work on the level all over again.

So, tell me, what can we do to get you outfitted with a Guardian Rock today?

Guardian RockAnalysis: Okay, so it's a sliding rock puzzle. Your rock does not level up. You won't play a mini-game where you perform a timed dance to learn a new ability from the fairy queen. Your rock does not find a belt of +2 Face Smashing. What Guardian Rock does is offer a wealth of very well designed puzzles all wrapped around one simple mechanic. The game offers extra level packs available for purchase if the 48 level "story mode" isn't sufficient for you to get your smash on, but they're not a requirement. Personally, I was more than satisfied with the amount of fiendishly clever puzzles presented free of charge.

The difficulty of Guardian Rock depends on your ability (or inclination) to think ahead. If you spend a while plotting out your path before you even touch the controls on each stage, you'll have a much easier time of it. Because you travel in a straight line until you hit something, it's easy to predict where you're going to end up. There's no penalty for restarting, so if you'd rather rely on trial-and-error, that's fine, too. Guardian Rock has all the time in the world, but those little raiders aren't going to smash themselves.

The game introduces new elements as you go along to either help or hinder you. Cannons? Bad. Ghosts? Good! What's nice is that Guardian Rock does a good job of mixing several of these things together in clever ways to make puzzles more challenging, rather than sticking to one for several levels before abandoning it. Curiously, the game also provides an option for you to purchase (yes, with money) keys that will let you skip a level if you find it too difficult. Well, okay, I guess, but why bother forking out money for a game you're not actually playing then? Yes, there were times when I was absolutely confounded by a level for so long I began questioning my own intelligence, but it just made figuring the puzzles out that much sweeter when I succeeded. Hey, I'm not stupid! High five! Whew, what a rush.

It's curious that a giant sentient rock powerful enough to render people into nothing but a puff of smoke and a numerical value can be destroyed by a wooden spear. But then if I start whining about that, I'd also have to whine about, well, the giant sentient rock. Or how ghosts can act as a wall. And I think I'd rather just enjoy the game and avoid the spears. With a retro vibe, top-notch presentation, and addictive gameplay, Guardian Rock is a whole lot of bashing fun packed into one scowly little package. So don't delay; do your part to prevent the overpopulation of tiny tomb raiders today!

Play Guardian Rock


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The Adventures of Mary Ann: Lucky Pirates

GrinnypAhoy, mateys! I be here to tell you the gruesome tale of The Adventures of Mary Ann: Lucky Pirates! It be— ahem, it is a match-3 game that combines three methods of puzzle gameplay with casino games to create an adventure of near-epic proportions. The game itself takes place along a Caribbean that exists only in tall tales and Disney movies. Your job is to help Mary Ann defeat all enemies and find all treasures until she rules the Pirate world.

adventuresofmaryann.jpgThe match-3 dynamics are the basic "swap" style of match-3 familiar to anyone who has played Bejeweled. However, in The Adventures of Mary Ann you will find this played out three ways: a simple "break the tiles" type, a "clear the path to the treasure" type, and a rousing exploration/combat mode that is the heart of the game. Each scenario has its own rewards and challenges, and you have to be able to make it through all three types to complete the game.

The first two types of match-3 games are straightforward enough, featuring special tiles that are more difficult to move or match. It is the "explore/battle" scenarios, however, that elevate the gaming experience to pure strategy. Enter an uncharted area with a particular goal: find a certain number of items or simply defeat a certain number of enemies. Uncharted means exactly that; moving across the water allows you to uncover tiles that house treasure, artifacts, extra sailors, and lots and lots of enemies that need to be fought, as well as treacherous reefs that can cause major damage. Encounter a bad guy and battle mode engages a head-to-head match-3 between yourself and the enemy, be it a pirate frigate, a ghost ship, a giant squid, or a sea monster.

adventuresofmaryann2.jpgRather than being a simple Puzzle Quest clone with "you each take a turn and the more matches you make the more damage you do" gameplay, The Adventures of Mary Ann: Lucky Pirates has created a unique strategy game by turning the tiles themselves into weapons and making them customizable. There are 21 different types of tiles (or battle pieces as the game calls them), each with its own strength and weakness. Some are more effective against live opponents (squids, octopus, sea monsters), others are more effective against pirate ships, and there are a few that are very effective against ghost ships. Other battle pieces don't inflict damage but help in other ways, such as adding to your health, your crew, or your ability to blow the other guy out of the water. But here's the catch: you can only have seven battle pieces active in a match grid, and once the battle has begun, there's no changing it. Your first decision before wandering around is to think "What type of enemy am I likely to encounter, and what pieces should I activate that will help the most in this level?"

Additionally, there are skulls in each puzzle that, if your opponent gets them to the bottom of the puzzle, can do serious damage to you. Making a combination next to one of these skulls can increase their potency (if the enemy does it) or decrease it if you can manage it. So you have to decide, should you go for a maximum hit? Try to match hearts to bring up your flagging health? Or match whatever is near the skulls to neutralize the threat before the enemy can drive them to the bottom of the grid. Add to all of this are extra weapons that you can use to attack an enemy between rounds of match-3. It is this strategic turn that turns a simple match-3 game into something approaching a game of chess.

And, if you get tired of all the match-3 wackiness, find the leisure islands and kick back and enjoy casino games such as slots, wheel of fortune, and video poker. Not to mention the keno islands that can occasionally be found in the explore/battle scenarios. Gambling in the casinos is so like the real thing you might find yourself wondering where the waitress is with your free cocktail.

adventuresofmaryann3.jpgAnalysis: Gameplay in The Adventures of Mary Ann is simple to master, especially if you are familiar with the match-3 genre. Early levels include a tutorial that will walk you through challenges and explain all the artifacts, battle pieces, power-ups, etc. that can be found. Two modes of play are available, timed and untimed, depending on your mood and abilities. Once the map starts to open up you can go in several different directions and encounter even more areas to explore. And if you get a bit tired of the match-3 madness you can skip directly to one of the casino islands (once you've found them) to relax and gamble away your hard-won booty.

Visually The Adventures of Mary Ann: Lucky Pirates is stunning. There are, however, a lot of games these days with killer graphics, so what makes this one different? The details. Details such as pirate ships that have bound, blind-folded Care Bears strapped to their prows, the shadows of carrion birds that pass across the basic match-3 games, the animated and nasty vermin in the treasure grids, the list goes on and on. All in all a ton of attention has been paid to make this game look absolutely beautiful and tickle your funny bone at the same time.

If there is any complaint, though, it is that the makers have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into Mary Ann. There are objects that can be used to help navigate the battle scene waters, power ups that can be used in the basic and treasure modes, additional weapons that can be used on opponents in-between battle match-3 rounds, and of course the battle pieces themselves. An inventory of everything available covers four full page screens, making inventory control in the later stages of the game a bit daunting. There's also not much story here, help Mary Ann defeat the pirates, the end.

The Adventures of Mary Ann: Lucky Pirates is something that will give you hours and hours of satisfying casual gameplay, with the ability to customize battles and switch between timed and un-timed modes. Have fun replaying over and over again!

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

JohnBRemakes, revivals, and retro-styled games are the stars of this edition of Weekend Download. We've got that tasty old-school gameplay philosophy, primitive pixel graphics, and a penchant for minimalism all wrapped into one.

minimabomber.gifMinima Bomber (Windows, 13MB, free) - A great little platformer with bombs and ability upgrades created by Mike Gnade of Graduate Games. The simple goal is to make it through the game's 16 levels in one piece. Use bombs to destroy bits of the landscape to carve a path through the world. Power-ups give you the ability to do things like wall jump, and enemies stop by to make your life difficult. Minima Bomber was created in a week for the Experimental Gameplay Project, so you may encounter a few glitches (bombs that fly all over the place). I thought the keyboard controls were a little awkward, but it was nothing a little gamepad key remapping couldn't fix.

tastystatic.jpgTasty Static (Mac/Win/Linux, 15.8MB, free) - A remake of the PC oldie Skyroads, Tasty Static is best described by the following text from its homepage: "...a videogame where you go really fast and jump a lot. You'll probably get really annoyed along the way too." So annoyed, in fact, the screenshot you see is of the ship exploding, a sight that will likely occupy as much of your playtime as actual racing will. Use the [arrow] keys to move left and right and increase your speed, [spacebar] to jump, and your computer's [power] button to calm your nerves after the tenth failed jump in a row. Windows users can play around with a level editor, too!

thingwith40eyes.gifThe Thing with 40 Eyes Girl (Windows, 11.2MB, free) - Practically guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, this minimalist rhythm game was created by Ron Carmel for the Experimental Gameplay Project. A highly recognizable song plays in the background (I'll let you discover that on your own) while you mind the moving squares with your cursor. When a gray square appears, wait for the next beat them slide over it. If a square has a hole in it, you have to click it. Easy. The game is highly moddable and anyone with a keyboard and an .ogg file can create their own levels.

tangostrike.gifTango Strike (Windows, 12.9MB, free) - A now-classic real-time squad tactics game that puts you in control of three operatives, each with his or her own unique abilities. Think The Lost Vikings but with C4 instead of swords and top-down pixel graphics instead of sidescrolling gameplay. Throughout your missions you'll rescue hostages, disarm bombs, infiltrate enemy territory, blow up doors and fences, and shot a lot of mindless soldiers. Some of the interface choices are less than intuitive, but the game itself requires a lot of patience, practice, and skill.

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 (39 votes)
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Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift

JohnBWhen I was a little kid, I wanted to run a graveyard when I grew up. I wanted to run this graveyard right beside my house, taking customers as they came, digging each grave by hand, planting flowers, setting out benches and lamp posts, then meandering about while the families came to visit. I also wanted to do all of this because a nagging woman living in the tropics demanded I raise a million dollars and buy her expensive presents. But hark and alas and such, none of that came true. Fortunately, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is here to fill that gap!

mrjonesgraveyard.jpgOk, so none of that stuff has anything to do with me, but it must have been Mr. Jones' dream, as that's exactly how he's spending his retirement years. After retreating to the country with his trusty canine companion, Mr. Jones realizes he's lonely. A call from his old friend Mimi cheers him up, and she invites him to join her in the Caribbean. Provided he can spruce up his own wardrobe, bring her some jewelry, buy a house, and raise a massive amount of spending cash. A "helpful" flyer suggests he run his own graveyard to make money, so Mr. Jones grabs a shovel and starts digging.

Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is a curious combination of a free-form simulation, tycoon management, and time management game. Customers drive in on the right side of the property. Meet them at the gate and see what kind of memorial they are interested in. At first, most customers want something cheap with just a few niceties on the side. Later, however, you'll get big spenders who demand perfection for their loved one's final resting place.

No matter the price, your methods will be about the same. First, dig the grave on the field. Then, grab extras the customer requested, such as flowers, lamp posts, fountains, benches, etc. Set these beside the plot, add a headstone, and when you're ready to call the family, engrave the correct name in stone. After the service has ended, you collect your cash from the departing vehicle and are back to work.

Each day ends with Mr. Jones going to bed and, if you like, depositing cash in the Mimi fund. When morning comes, customers come in and Mr. Jones is back to work. A shopkeeper stops by at the crack of dawn and offers more headstones, flowers, and miscellaneous structures for you to buy. It's a good idea to stock up on everything you can afford, as you never know what the next customer will request.

mrjonesgraveyard2.jpgAnalysis: Despite its somewhat morbid nature, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is an upbeat, humorous game. You're almost required to adopt a whimsical attitude when dealing with a sensitive topic such as death and want to keep the game appealing to a wide audience. The subject matter was handled well, however, and the game comes off as light-hearted and even cheery.

The description makes Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift sound like an ordinary time management game. Really, though, it's anything but ordinary, and sometimes it feels more like a simulation/tycoon title than anything. For starters, you have complete control over your land. Graves can be dug anywhere there's space, as near or far as you like. Also, after setting flowers and benches beside the proper graves, you can always move them to a new spot later on. Remove too many amenities, however, and zombies appear to remind you to leave the dead resting in blissful peace.

Another major departure from the time management formula is... well... time. You have as long as you like to raise the cash to reunite with Mimi in the Caribbean. Want to sleep a few days without doing anything? It's your choice. Once you take on a job, however, you have a limited amount of time to accomplish the task. Otherwise, you're free to meander and spend money as you please. In fact, once you have enough cash you can let potential clients drive away while you tend to your "gardening".

Controls are a bit awkward in Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift. The set-up is unintuitive, walking to where you need to go is cumbersome, and there are some frustrating shortcomings in the pathfinding and object collisions. When mourners attend the funeral, for example, you'd better be far away, as Mr. Jones can't pass through the people and will often get stuck if he's working near that grave. To make matters worse, when these collisions happen, everyone just stops, forcing you to remedy the situation with a panic click or two. Fortunately the game isn't on a timer, so you won't lose anything other than a bit of patience.

If you don't mind playing a game about digging graves, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is a superb blend of time management and simulation genres. Because it's so open-ended, it actually scales itself to meet your gaming needs, providing more challenge if you want it, or resting on its laurels while you soak in some casual gameplay. The visuals are well above average and there are plenty of unique items to buy. You'll unearth lots of satisfaction from this lengthy, quirky game!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (36 votes)
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GrimmrookHeat RushOn your marks! A bead of sweat trickles down the side of your head, lingering at your temple before rolling unnoticed down your jaw. The sound of your car's engine purrs all around you, smooth, relaxed, emitting that sweet low tone of a machine tuned to perfection. Get set! You grip the clutch and test the accelerator, smiling as the car responds, its purrs rumbling up to the dangerous growl of a panther coiling to pounce. You're sitting on a storm, a hurricane waiting to be let loose. Go! The growl of the engine leaps into a high pitched roar as the tires paint the asphalt burnt black. There is the merest fraction of a second as the universe encompassed by the car battles between concepts of stillness and concepts of dynamics, and then, with a lurch, you're off, barreling down the road in Heat Rush, from developers Asute and Long Animals.

For many of you, Heat Rush will be familiar, as there's no doubt this is an Out Run/Rad Racer clone. To be thorough, the lineage for this type of racer can be traced back to Pole Position and has a varied and vast history up till the present versions of Need for Speed, Project Gotham Racing, Gran Turismo, etc. Like those games from past and present, Heat Rush puts your view behind the racing machine, where you essentially remain in the center of the screen while the scenery whips by. Here, all of the steering, accelerating, and braking is handily taken care of using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys and if you need a quick turbo boost, wait until the meter at the bottom of the screen starts flashing, then mash the [space] bar or [X] key.

Heat Rush is a clone, but to its credit, it's a fun clone, capturing much of what made Out Run (its closest relative in the racing game taxonomy) a quarter gobbler back in its day. Visuals are clean and impressive with static three dimensional images racing toward you fast enough to make you believe you feel the wind whipping around your ears. Controls are tight and responsive, but also account for drifting in hard turns. Unless you have titanium dipped nerves and fresh ice in your veins, you'll probably catch yourself leaning back and forth as your tires screech towards the outer edge of the pavement on the tougher curves. Thus, Heat Rush does a magnificent job translating the feel of speed and precarious cornering into a Flash racer.

To its discredit, Heat Rush gets a few things wrong. My largest complaint is the upgrade/achievement system which greatly limits your ability to customize your vehicle. Yes, I know, the older racing games didn't have customizable cars, but it's 2009 now, and the custom shop has become a racing staple. Here any upgrades you receive are directly tied to goal-based achievements. Can't get the achievement? Forget about the upgrade. Also, the bracket style course selection is a little annoying, as selecting one branch from the beginning precludes certain tracks later on.

From turbo starts to spectacular crashes, Heat Rush successfully captures the heart of racing games of the past. Strap yourself in, pull on the leather driving gloves, and get ready to go VROOM!!

Play Heat Rush


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraSit right here, we saved you a seat! My favourite show of the week is about to begin, and the previews are the best part! Puzzles, platformers, action... its got it all! Now sit down and drink your bucket of watered down soda and pass the crate of Junior Mints. I didn't get us any popcorn. They only had real butter. Eugh!

  • Hungry ShapesHungry Shapes - Ah, hamburgers. The natural prey of triangles... Oh! Watch carefully as the lone rectangle appears, also stalking the triangle's meal! This could get messy. Maybe you should intervene. You're good at physics and balance, right? Yeah, you'll be fine. We're sure it's safe. We'll be over here, in the armed enclosure, rooting for you!
  • Mine TowerMine Tower - Minesweeper. There, your eyes are already glazing over! Fortunately, this slight new twist on an old formula is here to keep you on your toes! It may not leave you breathless with excitement, but it'll keep your brain working, and there is a small chance that if you lose a game, the planet will explode. I might be lying, but you'll never prove it!
  • EnigmataEnigmata - Space! The final frontier. An endless expanse of stars, planets, constellations, and shooters. Lots and lots of shooters. But with a lot of flash and a heaping helping of upgrades, Enigmata is here to stand out from the pack. You could defeat enemies by bashing into them, I suppose, but that would be... illogical.
  • Paper WarPaper War - The gritty true story of pencil versus... uh... little... one-eyed... things. Yes! Of course, all the grit comes from the eraser shavings, and the grinding of your teeth as you wait for each wave to end in this unique but painfully slow tower defense title. But grit nonetheless! (Grit is 60% grit, and 40% fillers and byproducts.)
  • Bomb DiggityBomb Diggity - This action platformer is exactly like the Power Puff Girls. Well... okay. It's exactly like the Power Puff Girls, but about a pink-haired girl who fights off shadow monsters while she disarms bombs strapped to civilians. Which is practically the same thing. Lalalala, nope, can't hear you!

  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (50 votes)
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DoraOrThoughtYou can file OrThought, the first title from Eketech Games, under "Things That Make You Go Hmmm". Billed as a 3D block pushing game, it lulls you into a false sense of sokoban (or Chip's Challenge) flavoured security. You settle yourself in for a nice long evening of puzzles when, alas! A moose! Clutching your top hat in terror, you look for an exit and spy it far above you, the path made treacherous by heavy blocks, ice, and bouncing balls! Will you make it? Or will you fall into the depths of... THE BIT BUCKET? Despite its flaws, OrThought is worth your time to find out.

You can play OrThought with either the [WASD] keys for movement and [QERF] to manipulate the camera, or with the [arrow] and [/*-+] keys, which serve the same functions. You want to get to the exit in each level, represented helpfully by a big E block. Every time you fail, whether it be by falling off the map or breaking beneath the mighty mass of a marauding moose, you'll have to start over from the beginning of the level. If you get stuck, you can reset the level at the top of the screen from the menu bar. OrThought does not feature an autosave function, so remember to save your game on each level and before you quit.

There is a sense here that OrThought is almost, almost, absolutely fantastic. But just because it falls shy of achieving that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. There is a staggering amount of ambition behind this game, from the wonderful complexity of some of the puzzles to the simple yet charming 3D presentation itself. There are teleportation pads, ice blocks, water, keys, robots and much more to discover, each with their own set of rules and behaviours. It makes what would otherwise be a typical sokoban puzzle into something really special.

Unfortunately, OrThought's biggest enemy is its own interface. The controls can be frustrating when you first start off, which may turn off people looking for a more laid-back experience. With no Undo feature, any mistakes you make can force you to restart the level. Considering how quickly the game begins flooding you with new elements, it's too easy to make a misstep. If you can stick with it, OrThought offers a lot of challenging puzzles and clever gameplay. As a first effort, it makes its share of mistakes, but it also does a lot of things right, and puzzle fans who give this one a chance may just find something to love.

Play OrThought

You Are Games

PsychotronicNow that the winning artwork is on display, I know that many of you would like to see the other entries in the Artists Ahoy! Challenge, so we set up a gallery with all the images we received. We've assigned the entries code names instead of the artists' names (this is how we discussed them in order to keep them anonymous), so if you are one of the artists, feel free to claim responsibility for your work.

Click here to see the gallery.

Many thanks to everyone who entered this competition. It was a very tough decision, and we had to consider our choice from several angles. Since the rules of the contest were not specific about what kind of art we were looking for, we received work that was strong in different areas. Some images were good from a graphic design standpoint, some were elaborate, some had creative interpretations of the themes, some were more polished than others. There was little agreement on the JIG team about the very best entry, and there were cogent arguments on various sides. Art is a very subjective thing.

In the end, we chose Serena's tribute to On because we felt it best represented what the game design competition was about in terms of creativity and mood, and because it just felt right on the page. Please offer your own perspective in the comments here.

Once again, thank you all so much for entering. The road from the initial theme nominations, to the first cut, to the second cut, to the graphics design, to the final contest announcement has been fun and re-invigorating for everybody here. Now the ball is in the game designers' court, and we can't wait to see what they come up with.


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (117 votes)
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DoraFrantic 2In every laundromat in every small town, sandwiched in between the detergent vending machine and the gumball machine that hasn't been refilled since your mother was born, there are three arcade games. These games are Contra, PacMan, and some sort of scrolling shooter game. While the former might be there to occupy children while parents fight over the only cart with working wheels, the latter is there to serve a sinister purpose. It is there to take the quarters of every innocent tot who wanders by, forever and ever without end. It is impossible, it is addictive, and the gleaming rows of High Score initials beckon like sirens on the ancient Tyrrhenian sea, entreating you to join them with just one... more... quarter. Polymer Rabbit brings you a new game in this fine tradition to haunt your productivity until the end of time with Frantic 2.

What? What are you... are you seriously clicking to fire? We don't have time for that! While you can set the options to allow you to manually fire every shot, the default setting is for your ship to emit a continuous stream of hot death. The basic configuration of the game has you moving with the [WASD] keys, and tapping the [space] bar to unleash a special ability when your meter is full. Your special ability is... well, come on, this is a game that features more explosions and enemy fire than a Michael Bay movie. It isn't going to rain chocolate chip cookies.

What, you want strategies now? Here's your strategy. Don't get blown up. While the enemies at first appear slowly and stay on predetermined tracks, it won't be long until breathing space becomes a fond memory. Each enemy destroyed drops coins or power-up tokens, which you'll need to collect. You'll find yourself doing a lot of fancy flying to slip under every bomb and dividing laser to get those coins, too, since you can spend them on various upgrades between levels.

Frantic 2Analysis: If you don't enjoy getting shot at, blown up, or an unreasonable amount of explosions, bullets, lasers, and particles effects, Frantic 2 is probably not going to be your new Best Friend Forever. On "easy" difficulty, the game is a bit of a bully even to veteran fans of the scrolling shooter. Then again, there's a reason the game isn't called "Let Me Stroke Your Feverish Brow And Inflate Your Tender Ego". Frantic 2 is meant to be a game for everyone who has ever complained that an arcade game was "not hard enough", usually when their boy or girlfriend was in earshot.

So it's unfortunate that the last two difficulty levels aren't as knock-down, drag-out difficult as you might hope for. While at any given moment the screen is likely to be full of enough hot laser death to cook a sumo-sized banquet, your enemies never change. Oh, there are more of them, but they never get any stronger or smarter. Most of them still go up like a Roman candle at a single hit, and they never track you down; they just sit on the screen firing until they're destroyed, or follow their set path off like a row of particularly deadly-but-dense ducklings.

But for those of us who can't get enough of explosions and think cel shading is for fancy pants, Frantic 2 is a dream come true. It is simple, it knows what it should be doing, and it does it extremely well. The screen is rarely any less than full to bursting with coins, power-ups, lasers, and explosions, and son, that's how we likes it. It's all the bells and whistles of an old fashioned arcade game without the tokens or the old man behind the prize desk asking why you're not in school. The game offers you several different ships to choose from, and while it all comes down to personal preference, I found that light-and-speedy wins over slow-and-thick any time.

If you like death, spaceships, and graphics lifted straight out of yesteryear, you're going to enjoy Frantic 2. There's no awkward backstory about an evil empire and a wronged youth out for vengeance with his plucky sidekick. Just coins, bombs, and really big bosses. This will probably be the next big summer blockbuster one day, just as soon as they can get Bruce Willis to voice the spaceship and Clint Eastwood to play the ending credits. And it will be awesome.

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PsychotronicBattalion ArenaMy biggest complaint about Battalion: Nemesis, a slick and attractive tribute to the brilliant Advance Wars series, was the lack of multiplayer. Building a single short one-player quest on top of such a terrific combat system felt like an incomplete effort, and so it was. The full scope of Urban Squall's (Bloody Fun Day) plan for Battalion includes 3 single-player chapters and a multiplayer component. That last bit is Battalion: Arena.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played Nemesis or practically any other turn-based tactical strategy game. You control an army of little troopers and war vehicles, and face off against between 1 and 3 opponents with their own fighting forces. You take turns moving military units on a grid like little chess pieces armed with bazookas, taking advantage of terrain features like forests and mountains, and leveraging your strengths against your enemy's weaknesses. Flak cannons are good against airplanes, which dominate tanks, which can easily blow apart a flak cannon. Indirect long-range units like rocket trucks are deadly if you can protect them, but crumple like origami in close combat.

A 10-level tutorial will walk you through the basics, and then you can brave the multiplayer lobby. It is possible to play a game against AI opponents, but even the smartest of Urban Squall's artificial generals are pretty pitiful, and single skirmishes without a storyline can be unsatisfying. This is a game to be played against other people, preferably a friend making wisecracks in the chat-box. Fortunately, it's easy to set that up by assigning your match a password.

Battalion ArenaAs one of Kongregate's Premium games, Battalion: Arena restricts some features unless you purchase them with a one-time payment. While one of the benefits of a Premium ($10 US) or an Elite ($20 US) membership is the use of two particularly cool tanks, most of the pay content is the social perks. You can share maps you've created in the level editor, play a much larger selection of maps designed by others, and accumulate clothing, hairstyles, and accessories for your avatar more quickly. The free version of the game basically restricts you to the official Urban Squall battle maps, which change weekly, and just gives you a taste of the other options — although you can play on any map and use all the units if a player with an upgraded membership hosts the game.

Analysis: The best thing Battalion: Arena has going for it is the awesome War Machine, a humongous mobile weapons factory that not only has one of the strongest long-range attacks in the game, but can actually spit out smaller tanks, as well as the rest of the units in your army. These super-tanks replace the traditional factory structure for games like this (although some battle maps still use those buildings instead), and makes the typical game much more short, aggressive, and exciting. Your goal in games with the War Machine, or "Blitz Mode", is to take out the opposing War Machine(s) with limited funds for producing support units. Most blitz maps feature ore deposits that the War Machine can mine, forcing you to relocate when you're running out of resources.

Combined with the morale system, which rewards you for initiating combat and penalizes you for being passive, this is a great formula for a casual browser strategy game. Quick, brutal combat, without a lot of turtling. Battalion: Arena may even be too focused on efficiency. Most of the maps are tiny, considering the capabilities of the individual units. A Raptor jet fighter with a movement score of 7 in the middle of a 10X10 grid can attack nearly every square on the map.

What this means is that many battles are decided in the first volley of choices. The first couple of units you build, if they aren't immediately and effectively countered, can do irreparable damage. And what that means is your anonymous opponent might just drop the game and make you painstakingly smash his abandoned forces flat over the next several minutes. The 30-second timer may seem too quick while you're still learning the basics, but it's an eternity when you're waiting for it repeatedly.

While I wish that Battalion would differentiate itself from its Advance Wars roots a little more (okay, a lot more), I can't deny that it looks fantastic and delivers on the fun. It's built on a solid foundation and the presentation is second to none. If it seems like a few of the units are too similar to each other and the faster vehicles are too mobile for their environment, it's because the Battalion series is still in the shadow of a classic, holding on to design elements it doesn't need, still waiting to break out as something remarkable in its own right. It may even be too early to be charging serious money for the experience. As it stands, however, this is still a grand way to play Advance Wars on your PC, mostly for free, and get the morally questionable thrill of outwitting a fellow human being with miniature tons of steel and explosives at your command. Hooah.

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AnotherSmallFavor

GrimmrookOur favorite green-skinned favor trader is back and he's learning a potent lesson from the last time he performed A Small Favor. There are reasons why favor trading was outlawed. One is that nefarious favors such as, I don't know, assassinating high level government officials could be bad for your health, in the way that having hordes of government goons coming after you with large guns generally is. Still, when you make your living off of favor trading, there's only one way you know of to get out of this mess. You're going to have to perform Another Small Favor.

Another Small FavorIn this point-and-click adventure from Zeebarf, you find yourself in the "blindzone," a series of locales outside of the city that provided the setting for the first game. While the government may not value your skin (at least your skin still attached to your breathing body anyway), someone out there wishes to see you alive, and tells you to go see the only person that can scrub your ID card and get the government goons off your back, "Mr. Personality."

This is easier said than done. Everything involved with favor trading seems to be easier said than done. Before your name is cleared you'll have to liquidate an evil Pig Hunter, save a Kitty Captain from bug monsters, track down a parasite worm attracted to heavy drinkers, and so much more.

As in the last game, everything here is done with the mouse. Click on hot spots to talk to other characters or pick up items. Navigate from screen to screen using the red arrows that pop up, and negotiate the overworld map by clicking on the named locations as they appear. Access the menu at any time to check out your open missions, or to grab items from your inventory. Don't forget, even though you are a favor trader, you'll have to resort to government sanctioned item-based trading from time to time, so be sure to check out the local vending machines.

And with that, if you have any hopes of one day becoming a retired favor trader, you had best be on your way. Now.

Analysis: Jay Ziebarth has delighted point-and-click fans first with his Reemus series and then with his futuristic dystopia in A Small Favor. The only problem is that when you start off making excellent games, the expectations only get higher. I'm pleased to report that the Zeebarf brand continues to meet and exceed those expectations in this return to the world of favor trading.

Another Small FavorAnother Small Favor has all those attributes that have become staples in a Zeebarf game. The artistry is wonderful and has a definitive Saturday morning cartoon appeal to it. The item-based puzzles are creative and clever. Just when you think you've explored all that they could hope to offer, you are treated to yet even more bizarre combinations and uses. Finally, the story is excellently told and executed throughout the course of the game. The plot is engrossing enough to keep you wondering what happens next, but not so overbearing that it gets in the way.

Another Small Favor even shows improvements over its predecessor. It's larger for one thing, perhaps not quite as large as the latest installments of the Reemus series, but still with plenty of meat on its bones. The puzzles feel a little more organic this time around as well, integrating a little more smoothly with the playing experience.

Also, you have even more control over your unnamed avatar, if only in small amounts. The over world map allows faster navigation, the ability to run lets you now speed through scenes, and you are even granted a variety of weapons. Okay, by variety I mean two different weapons, but there is a significant difference in their uses.

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

As always, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Chief among Another Small Favor's flaws is the lack of a save function. Your first time puzzling through everything can take a while, and it's a little more than frustrating having to start from the beginning every time you put it down. Another disappointment is that there is a definite lack of puzzle solutions and alternative narrative paths. In this regard, Another Small Favor woefully under performs its predecessor.

Still, if you're a fan of Zeebarf, or if you're a fan of A Small Favor, or even if you're just a fan of great point-and-click adventure games, Another Small Favor should not be missed. Don't thank me for directing you to this game. Let's just say you owe me one.

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Weekday Escape

Grinnyp GUMP, the maker of such classics as Charisma and Boat House, has done it again! The boy with the pink hair is back! Finally, the sequel to Neptune has arrived, and now we might find out what that whole thing with the red shoe was about. Uranus picks up where Neptune left off, in that mysterious ivy-lined passage. Instead of leading you outside, it immediately traps you in yet another strange room you must escape. Explore, pick up and manipulate items, and solve a few tricky puzzles and maybe, just maybe, you will see the end of this experience. Or not.

uranus_title2.jpgNavigation through the small space is smooth and easy, accomplished with arrows on the sides of the screen. There's no built-in cursor change, so there is a tiny bit of pixel hunting, but nothing terribly egregious. The combination of mental puzzles and object puzzles flows together smoothly, making the experience feel more realistic. Well, realistic until towards the end when you acquire a companion, which looks like a giant flying... well... tentacle with an eyeball at the end, and let's leave it at that.

Overall a fun experience, but compared to the other entries in GUMP's arsenal, Uranus seems pretty lightweight. There are no magic squares involved, we never do figure out the significance of that red shoe from Neptune, the few puzzles that are there are pretty easy to figure out, and (spoiler alert!) you've still not seen the back end of that strange house. The game features a save button which is probably not needed, it's so easy. Uranus is not terribly taxing, but still an enjoyable weekday escape.

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DoraPsychotronicMetalix RPG[Warning: Metalix RPG contains non-sexual nudity, and has a long initial load time. The following review was co-written by Dora and Psychotronic.]

Deep story? Pffft. Strong characters? Who needs 'em! We are the few, the proud, the roguelike fans. All we need is the promise of randomly generated enemies, loot, and dungeon layouts to draw us e'er onward with a song in our hearts! And thanks to Point Zero, (Metalix Tower Defense), we can once again delve into a world of unlimited replayability and merciless ambushes! Huzzah!

Metalix RPG replaces the swords and sorcery of the traditional roguelike with cybernetic alternatives. The setting: a high-tech maze full of METALIX, who are silvery robots of various shapes and sizes. You'll find walking eggs, killer penguins, marauding babies, vicious sea anemones, and treacherous squid just on the first 5 levels, and they all have a glowing evil red eye and a thirst for human blood. And, luckily for you, a tendency to leave a lot of really deadly treasure lying around.

Your job is to battle, avoid, and outwit the Metalix, steal their power source and anything else that isn't nailed down or on fire, and escape the labyrinth unkilled. Naturally, the best way to accomplish this is to descend into the depths completely unprepared, naked as the day you were born, and hope that the capricious Fates will randomly supply you with useful defenses.

At least, that's the plan the first time. One of your most important items is the "escaping device", a handy panic button for times when the squidbots overwhelm you and you don't want to lose your brand new laser sword. The escaping device teleports you back to the surface, ending the story for that particular character, but leaving their equipment intact. Choose the best bits (armor, bullets, and a hand weapon are good choices) for the next character to take into Killer Robot Sushi Central, and you might just have a better chance this time. Metalix RPG is less about developing a single character, and more about assembling a potent supply cabinet for a parade of sacrificial lambs.

Metalix RPGMetalix RPG can be played entirely with the mouse. Click on a space to move there, click on an enemy to attack it, walk onto an item to pick it up. Press [space] (or click the Gun button) to fire any bullets you have equipped in the direction you're facing. You start as a level 1 character on the first floor, and gain experience points by defeating enemies. Equip weapons, armor, and ammunition as you find them using the menu at the bottom of the screen. Your inventory space is limited, so you'll soon find your pockets bulging with an assortment of bewildering goodies, trying to decide which one to toss to make room for your brand new laser sword plus one. Or putrefied food, always a favourite.

Since nothing in the game moves until you do, you can take your time and plot out your movements. While some players may lament the lack of furious, pulse-pounding action, it won't take long for you to appreciate it. Swarms of enemies can descend without warning, and being able to stop, take a breath, and look for an escape route can keep a bad situation from turning worse. Even if you do end up dying, don't give up. You can set right out again with a new naked adventurer.

About that: the nakedness here is about as explicit as a Barbie Doll, whether you choose a male or female character, and miniscule to boot, but if it really bothers you, you'll be glad to know that as soon as you find some armor you'll be wearing a classy black vinyl catsuit, just like mother would have wanted.

Metalix RPG does not have auto-save. Choose "Suspend" from the system menu to save your game in progress.

Analysis: The idea behind making a roguelike RPG is to ensure that each dungeon crawl is unique and interesting, not because of tight design or a thrilling story, but because the individual pieces of the world interact with each other creatively. Diablo is a popular modern action roguelike, and the classic (other than Rogue itself), complete with graphics made entirely from keyboard characters, is Nethack. Your first encounter with a good roguelike tends to stick with you, whether it be Azure Dreams or ADOM. It seems like an entirely new concept, and you can spend hours combing dungeon floors with the promise of potential new items just around the corner every time.

Metalix RPGMetalix RPG has a bevy of such items to discover, ranging from lights you can fire magic-wand-style at enemies, to EMP devices that shut down all the conveniently electronic enemies in the room at once. Most items come with a helpful description, and the fairly common "identification device" can help you figure out the purpose of lights and the strength of new equipment, but the shortest road to discovery is to try things out on the nearest titanium daddy long-legs. Also important, but not as common, is the "sending device", which will zap one item of your choosing back to storage for the next character to claim.

Although Metalix RPG doesn't exactly feature a real story, you'll find yourself making up your own, like the time when the robo-mouse stole Psychotronic's catsuit and teleported away and he spent 20 minutes naked, hunting it down with a rocket launcher. Or the time when Dora zapped a sea-anemone-bot with an insanity ray, causing it to massacre its friends and level up into an acid-spitting nightmare horror. Good times. Good times.

Randomly generated loot can be both a good thing, and a very frustrating thing. During our early playtesting of Metalix RPG, Dora acquired roughly enough swords before the third floor to fashion a giant hedgehog suit, while Psychotronic hadn't seen a single one after several playthroughs. By contrast, as festooned with stabbing implements as Dora was, she was also sorely in need of food and healing potions, which cropped up roughly never in the first several games. It makes the experience challenging and different each time you play, but it isn't exactly what one might call "balanced".

Does Metalix RPG hold up in the long run? Well, yes and no. While hunting down bigger and better items will sustain you for a good long while à la hedgehog suit, eventually you're going to run out of things to do. There are four missions in the game, and they're all more or less identical except for length. The game is still in development, however, so in the future you can expect to see new updates to the content (bosses!) that will make your victories taste even sweeter. As it stands, Metalix RPG is still an addictive, fun dungeon romp that should satisfy the greed-fueled hack-and-slash enthusiast in you. Just don't get too cocky. The giant walking egg is always watching.

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DanTheArcher99 Bricks: The Legend of GarryRPG elements seem to be all the rage nowadays. I'm not sure when RPGs became the genre that "all the cool kids are doing", but they, or at least their characteristic markings, have enjoyed a certain ubiquity in games of late. Match-3 games, word games… pretty much every game and their grandma is jumping on the RPG train. So it should come as little surprise that the phuzzle (physics puzzle) branch of the casual game family tree has finally followed suit with a tricky title by the name of 99 Bricks: The Legend of Garry, from Weirdbeard.

The realm of Brickonia is in dire peril, and only the vigilant Garry can save it, guided by your unseen hand and your brick-stacking aptitude. Journey from town to town, unraveling puzzles that call on you to build a tower as high, as dense, or at times, as short as you can. Your building blocks will plummet from the heavens Tetris-style; the [left] and [right] arrow keys steer your brick's descent, the [up] key (or [space]) revolves it, and the [down] key hastens its fall. [C] destroys your current block while [V] unmakes the last block that was placed, although discards and "undos" are both commodities in limited supply. Completing levels will add gold to your satchel, which can be used to purchase additional discards, undos, and other upgrades that should ease your stacking woes.

The medieval story's about as cute as a muffin baked in the shape of a kitten named Sparkles, though it seems strangely draped over the game in such a way that begs the question if it was even necessary at all. It'd be like if Pong 2 featured a hero named Paddleton the Brave, who must overcome the dark machinations of the evil Lord Paddlegore by collecting the Five Green Balls of Destiny. It certainly doesn't hinder the gameplay, but it feels odd, especially when one considers the straightforwardness of this game's predecessor. Thoughtfully, the classic mode is included and selectable from the main menu, just in case you feel the urge to stack like you've never stacked before.

The game adds new kinds of bricks to mix up the game, and downright devious puzzle levels which may require some mental yoga on your part. The puzzle levels are a welcome break from the other towns, which start to follow a sort of "Build A Wall That Is Level Number x 10 Bricks High" pattern. There's enough challenge to gnaw on in the later tower sculpting levels that they should keep you busy, though, and the game's crammed with enough charm, stacking satisfaction, and RPG elements that it ought to keep even the most casual architects entertained.

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DoraMedieval Rampage 2Once upon a time, there was a game called Medieval Rampage, an arena shooter featuring a whole lot of arrows and a whole lot of enemies lining up to be turned into pincushions. Although it was fun enough, sloppy enemy hit detection and a handful of other design issues made it more repetitive than fun to play. Enter Medieval Rampage 2, disappointingly not titled "Son of Medieval Rampage". With 25 levels of varied enemies, different play modes, a level editor, new melee weapons and spells, 170 achievements and more, it's a significant step forward in quality and design.

The point of the game is to stay alive throughout each of the 25 levels, amidst increasingly crushing waves of enemies. Armed initially only with a bow, you'll have to slay every one of them to progress, picking up the cash and items they drop to arm yourself. The farther you go, the stronger you'll get, gaining points to enhance not only your own abilities, but those of your weapons.

Controls in Medieval Rampage 2 are fairly simple, moving around with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, aiming with the mouse, and clicking on things you would like to be, you know, dead. Pressing [I] will open your inventory to let you swap equipment or sell things, while pressing [E] next to the building on each level between waves will open up the store for purchase. If you buy a new spell or melee weapon, you can switch between them by pressing the [Q] or [E] keys during battle once you've equipped them.

Analysis: It's always good to see a game series that actually evolves as it progresses, beyond slapping successively higher numbers at the end of its name. While it's still far from perfect, many of the problems from the original have been addressed, if not ironed out completely. Enemies still occasionally get in a hit even if you've moved back out of range by the end of the attack animation, for example, but it no longer happens nearly as frequently as it did. The game is fast-paced fun while it lasts, if not particularly demanding when it comes to skill. Can you hold down a mouse button? Then congratulations, you can play Medieval Rampage 2. Here's your certificate, and a target to slap on your back. Have at 'er.

Medieval Rampage 2 The shiny new locales you'll visit are neat. But the most welcome changes are the enemies themselves, who are a little bit smarter, and a whole lot more diverse. Tree monsters that leave sticky sap on the ground when they die, slowing you down. Lava creatures that can blind you temporarily with a flash of light. Rock beasts that burst apart when you destroy them, showering the field with harmful flying debris. Werewolves that die and... turn into rocks, I guess? Not all of it makes sense, but it's still a nice touch. Many ranged enemies will also now attempt to keep their distance from you instead of wading in like an enraged hippopotamus. Interestingly, the Bestiary lists this as an "ability", rather than "self preservation" or "common sense".

I would have liked to see a greater difference between each bow at your disposal, so it didn't always wind up just coming down to picking whatever packs the biggest punch. Adding in some special attacks would have gone a long way towards making the combat feel more involved. The bosses don't have enough personality to make them feel different and exciting, and nothing is ever unexpected. These creatures are supposedly the baddest in the realm; there should be more to it than having a ridiculous amount of hit points.

The inclusion of melee weapons and spells is a nice touch, especially for those of you who enjoy achievements and require a bit more variety with your combat. But at the same time, they're also mostly unnecessary. Neither the melee weapons nor the spells are effective enough to actually make you want to fork over the cash for them instead of a bow. But if you want them, buy them fast, as old items vanish to be replaced with new ones in the store after each boss stage.

There's something really enjoyable about a well made top-down shooter. Don't misunderstand; this is still a game where "strategy" means "all out endurance fest". It does, however, showcase what happens when a developer is aware of what needs to be done to grow. Medieval Rampage 2 is a great example of the genre, and addictive to boot. So strap on your bow and arrow and set out for adventure, glory, and an untimely, painful death. Or, you know, skip that part.

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GrimmrookTanaka's Friendly AdventureHas this ever happened to you? You want to throw a great party, so you invite everyone. You invite everybody that you know, and everybody that they know. You invite the guy from across the street with the really white teeth, and the girl with the shampoo commercial hair. Everyone. Then, on the day of the party, the only person who actually shows up is the weird kid from down the street with the strange skin condition(s) and chronic halitosis. Don't worry, we've all been there before, and we've gone through that post-party depression stage of playing The Cure and crying all night. But thanks to bentosmile's simple little flash game called Tanaka's Friendly Adventure, tear-filled party failures are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

We can just live vicariously through little pixelated Tanaka. You see, Tanaka is also throwing a party, and it's your job to help him invite his friends. Using the [arrow] keys or the [WASD] keys guide Tanaka from one screen to the next. In each screen you will come across a friend, who is then invited. After you've located a few friends, the game ends automatically.

Once Tanaka has invited someone, they stay invited. After each game you can click on the Party button from the main menu to see all the friends you have collected, view their stats (among which are vital attributes such as Longness, Opacity, and Wattage), and read up a little bit on their backgrounds. There are 72 party guests in total.

Tanaka's Friendly Adventure was offered first as a windows-only download where it raised a few eyebrows, but now that it's been translated into Flash, just about anyone can experience bentosmile's strange little first foray into game making.

Tanaka's Friendly AdventureAnalysis: To be fair, there's not a whole lot of gameplay in this game. Without it seeming to incorporate any rhyme or reason, you negotiate an area reminiscent of the Lost Woods from the first Legend of Zelda for a while, collect a few friends, and bam! That's it, game over, please play again.

But that's when Tanaka's Friendly Adventure starts to rope you in. Each party guest you find has its own animation, stats and description, and each description is very well written, with dashes of humor, absurdity, and a little social commentary if you are looking at it in just the right way. Indeed, Tanaka is quite deceptive in this regard, showing you something that at first seems amusing in an almost trivial way, until you come across that one guest whose flaws resonates with you.

The other area in which Tanaka's Friendly Adventure can be a little deceptive is in the gameplay. It may seem that all you do is walk around until the game declares itself over, but as you collect more and more friends it becomes clear that there is a methodology attached to their locations. You will need to engage with this puzzle aspect of the game if you hope to invite all 72 guests to your party.

Sure, Tanaka's Friendly Adventure is simple and silly, the effect finished off with big blocky pixels and a repetitive chiptune soundtrack. But what has earned bentosmile's freshman attempt so much interest is the way this very simple game unfolds into something greater and more meaningful. It holds up a mirror to society and slyly asks it to take a good long look. Before you know it, everything in Tanaka's Friendly Adventure takes on meaning, even Tanaka himself, a stylized paragon who respects authority and always tries his hardest. The success of this game is that we even begin to question the sanctity of the main character's status as archetypical hero.

Either that or we simply can't resist, you know, trying to catch 'em all.

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Game Design Competition #6

Announcing Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6!!

Wooty tooty flip bam booty! We're returning back to basics with a competition in which the emphasis is simply on casual gameplay design.

Mission
Design a game that incorporates our theme (see below). It doesn't have to be complex nor large in scope. Since you will have just 6 weeks to complete your design, simple ideas are probably the best way to go. You may use any browser-based technology platform you are comfortable with (Flash, Unity, Shockwave, Javascript, etc.). If we can embed your finished game file on our competition page, you may use that platform to design and develop your game.

CGDC6 Theme: ExploreFor the 6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition, we are asking for entries designed to incorporate this theme: EXPLORE. You are free to interpret that any way you choose; however, the extent to which your game embodies the theme is left up to the competition judges to decide. Use your imagination and be creative. We will select the best entries submitted to represent the competition just like we have done before. Impress us with your game design and production skills.

The Prizes

  • 1st place:
    • $1,000
  • Armor Games Awards:
    • $500 - to each of the top 3 Flash games for a non-exclusive license to appear at Armor Games. ($1500 total to be awarded.)
  • Audience award:
    • $500 - determined by JIG community popular vote.

See below for a list of judging criteria and additional specifications and requirements for entry.

To Enter
By submitting an entry to the competition, you grant Jayisgames.com and CasualGameplay a permanent, non-exclusive license to host your game, either individually or as part of a larger collection. We will always include credit to the original author and display a link to you or your sponsor's site, if desired.

Please use the CGDC6 Entry Form for providing us with your name, mailing address, preferred link (optional), browser-based platform used, as well as a few other details.

Once you have your game polished and ready to go, send it to: competition6@casualgameplay.com

Deadline
The deadline for entries is
Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00).

So, start the brainstorming and get ready to wow us!

Sponsors
We thank our sponsors for their kind support:
CGDC6 sponsorsArmor GamesCasual GameplayKing.com - play free online games
If you are interested in sponsoring our competition, please send inquries to: sponsors@casualgameplay.com

Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6Friends of Jayisgames: Please help spread word of this competition by Tweeting this announcement, sharing on Facebook, or by posting a note along with a link to this entry on your blog or website. Feel free to use this banner to link back to us. We need your support!! Thank you.


Judging criteria, specifications and the finer details of submitting an entry follow...


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Mobile Monday

JohnBAaaaand we're back! This edition of Mobile Monday teaches us that spiders eat bugs and spin webs, bell-bottoms are necessary to "ride grooves", and it's perfectly acceptable to swing around the city with an infinite supply of rope. Tell your parents, they'll be proud!

spider-iphone.jpgSpider: The Secret of Bryce Manor - You play a tiny little spider (not the EWW OMG GROSS kind, this one's sorta cute) crawling around a gorgeously drawn series of levels. You need to eat bugs to survive, but in order to nab them, you have to spin a web. Tap Mr. Spidey to crouch down, then swipe your finger across the screen to leap with a web trailing behind. Create a geometrical pattern and the web spins itself, trapping any bugs that happen to be there. It's a great little artsy game with enough action to give it a substantial amount of gameplay to go along with the eye candy.

electricbox-iphone.gifElectric Box - Coming off a successful run as a popular Flash-based game, Electric Box from Candystand brings its power puzzles to iPhone and iPod Touch. Puzzles that deal with getting electricity to move from one end to another. But it's the way that you do this that makes this puzzler so unique and fun. You'll use items such as boiling kettles of water, lasers, magnets, and other unusual items to complete these Rube Golberg-esque tasks. With 50 levels of fun, it's not hard to recommend, especially for such a polished puzzler.

ropenfly.gifRope'n'Fly - It's kind of embarrassing when a game this rudimentary ends up being so entertaining. I mean, aren't we supposed to be living in the mystical magical future where we eat meals from pills and play with holograms all day? Science fiction aside, Rope'n'Fly features very simple block-style visuals and a one trick physics-based gameplay mechanic. The goal is to swing from building to building for as long as you can. Touching the ground = bad, but staying airborne like Spiderman = good. Don't let its somewhat amateurish look fool you, this game will keep you hooked. A free Rope'n'Fly Lite is also available.

mevo-iphone.jpgMevo and the Grooveriders - A miniaturized version of the PC game of the same name, Mevo is a musical platformer that borrows a few tricks from the Guitar Hero/Dance Dance Revolution book of tricks. In order to keep running and jumping, you must keep time with the music by tapping arrows that correspond to the icon Mevo touches. Faster rhythms, long "tap and hold" beats and plenty more musical surprises can be had in this full-featured port. Plus, I have to admit, the music is pretty good.

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: 3.2/5 (102 votes)
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zxoPirate Golf AdventurePirates and golf, the unlikeliest pairing since chocolate syrup and trombones, feature heavily in Pirate Golf Adventure, the debut Flash game from German game maker Dennis Treder. Help Caribo the Pirate board a ship, avoid being eaten by a kraken, rescue a beautiful maiden, and find a way off a hazardous island by (what else?) hitting a golf ball into a hole.

Aim with the mouse cursor and hold down the mouse button to build up power. Release to shoot, or just keep holding the button to shoot at max power. Navigate your way through eight stylishly illustrated holes, including some unique obstacles and moving terrain. You can earn bonus points for collecting coins and taking fewer shots. The physics seem pretty loose at first, but after a couple of holes of getting used to them, they actually feel quite solid. And hey, no biggie if you over or under-shoot, since you can HIT THE BALL AGAIN IN MIDAIR!!! Zaumguh!

While we're on the topic of things that are totally unbelievable, how about that story, huh? I mean I'm all for brief cutscenes, but here you have a spunky young pirate join a ship, be attacked by a kraken, escape to an island, consult the useless captain, rescue a island native, escape her cannibal parents, visit a gigantic talking bird and fly off into the sunset, all in a couple dozen lines of dialogue! Zooming through the story means everything's as clichéd as… well, you know, that one thing people do… where they're sorta vague… about something everybody's seen before. But hey, we're talking about golfing pirates here.

The bottom line on Pirate Golf Adventure: it's cute and fun, with good level design and an almost unprecedentedly cheesy story. Kids will definitely enjoy playing it, yet the coins and achievements offer plenty of challenges for adults as well. It's a nice way to blow off 10 minutes, or even a couple of arrrrrrrrrghs!

Erm, sorry.

Play Pirate Golf Adventure


(12 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Dungeon Scroll

JohnBDungeon Scroll Gold Edition is a now-classic word game that gracefully blends a dungeon crawling RPG setting into a letter arrangement game. Much like Bookworm Adventures has done for the puzzle/RPG hybrid, Dungeon Scroll helped move word games a step out of the brainy category and into the realm of casual entertainment. You still have a meaty word-based puzzle experience on your hands, but now you have more than a high score to keep you addicted.

dungeonscroll.jpgDungeon Scroll is built around the simple idea of working your way through a series of dungeons defeating enemy after enemy. Each foe attacks you at regular intervals, slowly chipping away at your hit points. To fight back, use the letter tiles on the right side of the screen. Spell words to deal damage, the longer the word the better, and send those ruddy wraiths fleeing before your almighty powers of spelling.

Dungeons are composed of a series of fights, each using the same set of letter tiles. You get a bonus tile after every battle, and these are what keep the game alive and fresh. Some letter tiles give bonus damage, while others are good for only one use. Health potions can be used at any time, restoring a few hit points to give you more time to build longer words. The special Oracle tile is the neatest of all, and once used it arranges your letters to form the highest scoring word possible. It's humbling to see the constructions you can make with a handful of V and X tiles!

The unique strategy Dungeon Scroll encourages is to meter out which words you use for which battles. For example, if a weak rat with a meager four hit points comes by, you wouldn't want to use that seven-letter word you constructed in your head earlier on. Instead, bat the little guy away with short words, then unleash the big guns for the massive foes.

dungeonscroll2.jpgAnalysis: Dungeon Scroll is a modern classic. It won't win any visual awards, as the game has a fairly drab color palette and doesn't bother with fancy animations. But words are ageless, and it's here where Dungeon Scroll really delivers. Something about the gradual progression of a role playing game mixed with letter tiles creates that extra drive to play.

Even though it's a hybrid, Dungeon Scroll is much more of a word game than any kind of RPG. You're crawling through a dungeon, you're fighting skeletons and bats, you even pick up treasure after battle. But none of this really matters to the game, as it would perform just fine without them. So, while the dungeon crawling aspect is a welcome addition, I really wanted it to be fleshed out a little more, adding a few more advanced concepts like experience points or equipment.

It's simple, it's to the point, it's classic, and it's inexpensive. Dungeon Scroll Gold Edition is an easy way to appease the inner wordsmith while throwing a few giant spider and snake battles in the mix. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can grab a refined, mobile port of the game from the iTunes app Store.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (20 votes)
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Autumn's Treasures: The Jade Coin

GrimmrookAs young Autumn grieves the loss of her beloved grandfather, her thoughts are filled with mourning and finality. It feels like a terrible and sad end. But in the new hidden object adventure, Autumn's Treasures: The Jade Coin, Autumn will soon learn that while gramp's journey has come to an end, her story is just beginning.

Autumn's Treasures: The Jade CoinIt all starts when the executor of her grandfather's estate hands Autumn the keys to his run-down antique store. Still mourning, our heroine isn't sure if she can or even wants to run the old shop, but a prompting visit from a kindly old lady and a few clues picked up while cleaning up grab at Autumn's curiosity. It would seem that her beloved grandfather managed to find himself in league with some less than pleasant characters.

Autumn also discovers a series of journal entries that point to the location of a jade coin, a particularly precious item that was intended to go to Autumn. Unfortunately, these clues were hidden inside artifacts that used to be in the store. This would have been a relatively short scavenger hunt if it weren't for the fact that most of the items in Gramps' Antique Shop were already auctioned off.

And with that you're off, tracking down the buyers of your grandfather's artifacts and chasing down clues to the mysterious jade coin. As you travel from one locale to the next, you'll be tasked with finding various objects you'll need to solve a barrage of puzzles and mini-games thrown your way. Most of the time, though, these objects will be in pieces, so refer to your item diagrams and don't be afraid to use the red jewel for a hint if you get particularly stuck. You'll also collect pages from your grandfather's journal which move the story along, provide general hints over which puzzles you have left to solve, and, at the end of each locale, provide a jigsaw-type puzzle to reveal your next location.

But beware, this is not a safe journey. Your quest for the jade coin will bring you across some nefarious ne'er-do-wells as well as an underground society known as the Syndicate... Oh, I'm sure they are known for baking cookies and giving excellent hugs. Of course they are.

Autumn's Treasures: The Jade CoinAnalysis: Enjoyment of Autumn's Treasures: Jade Coin hinges primarily upon one thing. As hidden object games have evolved, several types and sub-genres have come to fruition, one of those employing a twist on the object finding mechanic. Instead of finding whole items, you are tasked with finding parts of fragments of items to create a whole, as is seen in games like Flux Family Secrets. Jade Coin is just such a game. If you just don't like the fragment finding mechanic, you may not enjoy Jade Coin. If you do, Jade Coin is a lovely entry into the field.

There are quite a few things that Jade Coin performs admirably. I found myself suckered in quite nicely by the story, and the style of object finding which doesn't allow for random items helps keep you moving along at a steady clip. Further, while the writing and voice acting trends towards the melodramatic from time to time, I also couldn't help but find the main character endearing.

The object finding itself comes with both good and bad. I love that there are no random items, and the fragment finding as mentioned above is a matter of preference, one that I happen to favor. A curious thing here is that objects are not actually placed into the scene until you've unveiled the task that would have you looking for them. Thus, items that were not there a few seconds ago will appear after you solve a puzzle. In one way this can make finding objects more challenging in that you can't have previous knowledge of an item's location. On the other hand, if you have an excellent visual memory, being able to pick out which portions of a scene have changed may give you an advantage.

Autumn's Treasures: The Jade CoinWhere Jade Coin undoubtedly needs some work is in the types of objects it breaks down and has you find. Far too often are you asked to find items that are little more than a series of sticks virtually unmistakable from the other hundreds of sticks that litter any given scene. This will lead to excessive clicking, but happily there is little punishment for doing so.

I also have mixed feelings about this game and repetition. On one hand, Jade Coin deserves kudos for structuring itself so that you don't find yourself returning to the same scene over and over again throughout the course of the game. Once you've cleared a locale, it stays cleared. On the other hand, though, you find yourself getting into a rhythm that even Autumn starts joking about later on down the road.

Perhaps Jade Coin isn't Earth shattering, but it's a nicely done game in rapidly growing territory in the hidden object universe. Solid production values, steady momentum, and clever (though relatively easy) puzzles keep things moving along ever so nicely. And to top things off, I must admit that Jade Coin manages an ending that is both satisfying and opens the door for a sequel (see folks? It can be done).

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

JohnBAah, I love the smell of flat, shapeless pixels in the morning! And four-color screenshots in the afternoon. And any combination of the above at any time of the day.

bombiezombie.gifBombie Zombie (Windows, 2.8MB, free) - Take some green zombies, then put in a little guy who can jump, dive, and drop landmines. The result? Bombie Zombie, a strangely captivating retro-style arcade game from Codemonkey. Tap [z] to jump and [x] to set landmines, the goal being to take out as many of the annoying buggers as you can with each blast. Falling power-ups give you a boost. If you can manage to clear a path to them, that is. Way too much fun!

boom.gifBOOM (Windows, 2.4MB, free) - The old-school first person shooter demakes continue! A tradition made popular by the likes of QQUAK and 8-bit Killer, BOOM comes along and strips away even more technology, namely... color! Run around the Game Boy-style levels shooting foes with the [z] key and strafing with [x]. It works surprisingly well once you get used to the lack of mouse support.

brokenbrothers.jpgBroken Brothers (Windows, 11.8MB, free) - A unique type of real-time strategy game created by Michael Todd for the Experimental Gameplay Project. The tagline "Gather, Survive, Expand, Unlock" serves this minimalist game quite well, as it's stripped of most elements that make RTS games inaccessible to casual players. At the start you meet Malakai, a strange sort of being who has lost his brothers. In order to build units you need to harvest Hope that springs from wells along the side of the land. As your units gather Hope, you can build stronger fighters to defend the bug onslaught and eventually head out to save his friends. Each brother you find gives you new units to build, but be careful, as the enemy bugs get those units as well!

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: 4.7/5 (68 votes)
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Coconut Queen

JohnBAppearing out of nowhere like a crazy tropical storm, Coconut Queen has arrived and is ready to give Build-a-lot (and, heck, even Totem Tribe) a challenge for its casual sim throne. Combining the "neighborhood improvement" concept with some inventive unlockables and a subtle sense of humor, Coconut Queen provides a phenomenal gaming experience with enormous replay value.

coconutqueen.jpgThe island of Lui-Lui is home to pristine beaches, lush jungles, countless scuttling crabs, and, as of today, Liz from accounting. You see, CoCoCo (the Colorado Coconut Company) has sent Liz to check the status of its island property to see why fruit production has dwindled. When she arrives, some really strange things begin to happen, starting with the handsome gentlemen islanders crowning her as their queen!

The basic goal of Coconut Queen is to please tourists and rake in lots of cash. You do this by building cabanas, cabins and other lodgings while sprucing them up with hot tubs, palm trees, umbrellas, etc. While collecting rent from the visitors, you also have commercial income you gain from structures like buffets and markets whose revenue is based on how many tourists are staying at your resort. Appeal plays a big part in how much cash you earn, so spending time beautifying the landscape really pays off in the end.

Each chapter has a set of specific goals that must be met in order to progress. You might have to build a certain number of buildings, upgrade a few structures, bring in a set amount of money per rental day, or even destroy/sell several properties. You'll also have to contend with the occasional disaster, such as monsoons, angry monkeys, and sharks!

Once you work through an entire resort area the game really opens up. Coconut Queen features several stores that allow you to purchase new structures and unique upgrades using gems awarded to you after completing a chapter. You can also use gems to unlock new pathways on the island. Which upgrades you buy and in what order you buy them has an enormous affect on the gameplay.

coconutqueen2.jpgAnalysis: Coconut Queen has the look of a Saturday morning cartoon and the sense of humor to match. For example, the muscular worker men have a dozen or so sayings to spout each time you send them to work, including "Does this skirt make me look fat?". Each building is also given a name, some of which are quite clever!

One of the best things about Coconut Queen is that you aren't limited as to where you can build. Unlike the Build-a-lot series, Coconut Queen lets you place structures on any piece of open ground. Want to have small clusters of huts scattered around the screen? Do it! Like everything built around a central location? Awesome, go for it! This freedom not only gives it a leg up on Build-a-lot, it dramatically increases the replay value to boot. Once you complete an area you also unlock freeplay for that zone, allowing you to play and develop your resort for as long as you like without worrying about goals!

Coconut Queen does something no casual building game has bothered to do: create a plot that's unveiled as you play. Instead of the usual "you're a realtor, make things pretty", a somewhat wacky tale of megacorp versus island natives ensues, placing Liz in the middle of things and bringing you along for the ride. After each chapter, bits of story are spun via short cut scenes. Not only do you catch up on current events, you're often treated to flashbacks that fill in the story of why Liz came to the island. You also get a few tantalizing peeks into the minds of other characters, many of whom have their own endgame in mind!

I was pleasantly surprised by Coconut Queen's artwork, relaxed setting, and overall demeanor. It's a phenomenal casual sim with excellent artwork, a lively atmosphere, and a cheeky sense of humor to match. Wrap all of that around finely-tuned gameplay and you have a title that's virtually flawless!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Coconut Queen is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (97 votes)
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DanTheArcherPalindromes PlusWhat exactly is it about palindromes that has held mankind's fascination for countless generations? Do we find something pleasing about their reversible disposition, the same way we are drawn to things of symmetry? Or is it the arrangement of the letters themselves, as though their twofold message houses a greater part of the truth that all language is ostensibly made to convey? Or perhaps it hearkens back to the days of old, when mere syllables were magic, and words of power could keep wayward angels of death at bay. Well, whatever the reason is, it's time to tap into that primal wellspring of linguistic satisfaction with 8-Bit Rocket's latest project, Palindromes Plus.

You are presented with a series of letter tiles, scrambled into gibberish. Your job is to click on two tiles to swap them, hopefully coming closer to the word concealed in the jumble. Once your word has been reorganized, you'll be moved right along to the next without delay. There's a clock running to keep you nervous in increments of 10 words a level, at which point the game will tally your score and tack on any leftover time to next round's clock.

At first, most of the words will induce some eye-rolling, as you'll get "ott" and have a hint of "a small child". However, you'll be thankful that you deposited all that bonus time in the bank before long, because the words start to get pretty darn esoteric pretty darn fast. Remember, the English language isn't renowned for being particularly palindromic, which means the game starts flipping open other languages' dictionaries to find some truly heinous fare. You'll be guessing at months on Babylonian calendars, alternate spellings of kayak, and other topsy-turvy harbingers of the palindrome gods. Thankfully, you'll always know that the first and last letters have to be the same ('tis the nature of the beast), but even that trick's usefulness wears off in the higher levels.

The game is a forgiving master, and running out of time at a later level means you can restart the challenge on that level from the main menu whenever you regain your anagrammatical sensibilities. With the checkpoint system in place and overtime flowing from one level to the next, this game becomes less of a trial-and-error-fest and more of a serious puzzler, where there's not too much pressure other than your own semantic curiosity. For a word-wrangler like myself, this is a welcome change of pace in a genre that seems more and more like it wants us to sink our teeth into our nails instead of our letters.

This is a great addition to any linguophile's list of browser Favorites, even if we're not sure about the answers to those big, scary questions, or why we even enjoy these kinds of games. I've always theorized that there's an impulse, an insatiable drive to fashion order out of chaos, to piece together meaning from the fragmented nothings. But there are anthropologists to answer questions like that. I don't know about you guys, but I've got palindromes to solve.

Play Palindromes Plus


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraSorry, there aren't any games this week. We know, we know. We were depressed too. But there's just too much work to be done around here if we're going to be ready for the JIG Annual Toga Party tonight!... I mean... we're not having a party you didn't get invited to. I... I don't know why I said that. So, uh, how about helping us out with these chores? There's a list right over there, next to the barbecue supplies, the bedsheets, the balloon animals, and the black lightbulbs. Yes, I'm sure we're not having a party! Why do you keep asking me that?

  • Pyro IIPyro II - So the last person who said they took care of this apparently didn't do a good job, because here we are again with unlit torches and flammable items in our way. You brought your ricochet skills with you, right? Aw, buddy, I knew you wouldn't let us down. So get in there and light up all those torches! No fair pawning all the work off on someone else with the level editor.
  • Turn Based BattleTurn Based Battle - And now there are monsters outside. Perfect, just perfect! Well, there's nothing else for it. You're going to have to take this rolled up newspaper, go out there, and duke it out until it agrees to go away. Take your little friends with you. Maybe some healing potions. It might help if you pretended you were in every Final Fantasy game, ever. What do you mean, "It just keeps coming back"? Well, hit it harder!
  • Toss the TurtleToss the Turtle - [Warning: Cartoon violence and blood.] This turtle should have been tossed ages ago! We mean with a cannon, as far to the right as you possibly can. We can't wait another second, so we'll even pay you to do it. You could spend that cash on things like stronger cannons, weaponry, and rocket packs. Or. There's a two-for-one special to the Bahamas this week. I'm just saying!
  • Cronus XCronus X - Okay, champ, now we need you to strap yourself into this incredibly fragile spaceship and fly on up to defend our asteroid against the ever approaching armada of evil. What? This is too a job! How can you even say that? Look, you can get some power ups, you know, dodge masses of homing enemies, and we'll pipe in some really slick music. You'll be fine. Just sign this waiver.
  • FlixFlix - So if you could just walk our sentient blob of goo, that would be super awesome. It doesn't have any special needs. Just the stars it needs to eat before it will progress to another level. And the fact that if it runs out of energy it turns transparent and can't get over small hills. And its seldom-seen mouth is a nightmarish clash of eternally buzzing, needle-sharp teeth. But other than that, it's exactly like walking a dog.

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Rating: 4.3/5 (75 votes)
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DoraRockittyIn this bouncy, bizarre arcade adventure from Nitrome, the age old question is answered. Namely, if a one-eyed, rocket-propelled space cat explorer launches off a goo covered asteroid and knocks a floating cow into orbit, does it make a sound? According to Rockitty, the answer is yes. (It's a sort of "p-twang" sound, if you're curious.)

Rockitty is a special sort of cat, the sort that is green and flies about in the deepest reaches of space searching for fish. Unfortunately, this frequently leads her (at least, I'm assuming it's a her) to get separated from her stylish spaceship, and she'll need you to guide her back to it. All while keeping an eye out for space squid. And space cows. And space spikes. And space lava. And space meter maids. Fine, we made that one up. And luckily for you, because we're pretty sure that spaceship is double-parked.

The game is played simply by pointing Rockitty where you want her to go with your mouse, and clicking to send her flying, collecting fish for points along the way. If the surface she hits is anything but pink, sticky goo, she'll bounce right back off in another direction, making the game play a bit like the world's strangest pinball machine. If you happen to land in space milk, you can use your rockets to swim through it. Things like lava and spikes are harmful to Rockitty, and if you hit too many of them in a level, you'll have to restart.

With the exception of the bonus levels, there aren't any time limits within the game, so you can feel free to bounce around and explore at your leisure. Just be sure you don't spend too much time zipping from place to place or you could run out of fuel. And make sure you plan your jumps carefully, or you could wind up flying off into nothingness, a sad footnote in space cat history.

RockittyAnalysis: If there's one thing Nitrome is good at, it's being weird, and I mean that in the best possible way. Rockitty features some of their strangest designs to date, from beachball-esque space cows, to the clown-like space squid. It's the sort of unabashed silliness you remember from Saturday morning cartoons, something you'd watch while eating Fruit Loops and ignoring your parents when they told you to clean your room. Nitrome doles out the oddities over each of the game's 22 levels, which both helps keep the environments fresh and provides an incentive to keep playing. (I was hoping for space isopod, the prettiest of all space creatures. No luck.)

So in a game as bouncy and fun as Rockitty, it can be frustrating to find out that most of the game comes down to luck rather than skill. After the first ricochet, predicting where she's going to head next can be about almost impossible, and after a series of carefully timed leaps, watching Rockitty go soaring off screen and forcing a restart can be... disheartening.

Although it shares some of the same concepts behind old favourite Castle Corp, Rockitty doesn't feel quite as developed in terms of gameplay. There's a lot to see, but not a lot to do beyond gathering fish and hopefully not getting blown up. I would have liked to have seen some upgrades or more enemies to spice things up, even if it meant reusing some of the concepts to do so. Is this game begging for a space kitty throw-down with an evil rival in a sea of milk? I think it is!

But there's something simply enjoyable about Rockitty, and even if she's not as fleshed out as some previous Nitrome endeavours, bouncing around in space is ridiculously fun. One particularly clever level has you pilot a wooden space ship, and bumping space cows around is always fun. Short, silly, and lovely to look at, Rockitty is a welcome afternoon break to your day. Who knows? You may just wind up being bitten by the space travel bug. Just be sure to remember where you park your spaceship.

Play Rockitty


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Rating: 4.4/5 (99 votes)
| Comments (37) | Views (262)

GrimmrookNecronomiconCoinciding with H.P. Lovecraft's birthday today, we review Necronomicon, a single player trading card game by Games of Cthulhu. If you're astute, then you could probably assume from either the game's title or from the developer's name that this trading card game is one steeped in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.

If you know what I mean when I write Cthulhu mythos, skip this paragraph. If you don't, read on. Back in the first half of the 20th century, science fiction/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft wrote a series of stories linked together by a hierarchy of monsters and gods that predate all other religious histories. At the very top of this hierarchy sat, or perhaps more appropriately, swam, Cthulhu, a giant octopus monster sometimes with wings and humanoid limbs. These monster gods seemed forever perched just on the edge of our reality, held at bay by the thinnest barriers of time or space or comprehension. Now, in the Necronomicon, you may harness their prowess to beat your opponent into submission.

You and your computer opponent each start off with a numerical value of health, and in order to win the game you must reduce your opponent's health to zero. There are several ways to do this. The principal method is by playing any number of direct attack cards but you can also taint your opponent that will slowly erode his life away turn by turn, or you can summon a monster to come to your aid. Monsters do not instigate attacks against your opponent, but any time your opponent hits you, the monster automatically hits them in return.

Be mindful, though, as this power comes at a dire cost. You are also assigned a value for sanity and most cards you play come with a cost to your sanity. If you allow your sanity to reach zero then you will become afflicted with any one of a number of mental diseases. Xenophobia prevents you from summoning monsters while agoraphobia allows you to use only two of the cards in your hand.

So take up your cards and prepare to climb up the ranks of the mystical and the terrifying. It may only cost you your mind and your life.

Analysis: Because trading card games attract their own purists, I think it fair to point out that there are a few things that enthusiasts may find missing. For one, there is no way to play other human opponents. Also, the library of cards is not vast and you can't construct your own deck. This could lead to more luck involved than is to the liking of veterans of the genre.

necronomiconDespite these departures from the genre norm, Necronomicon provides a very well balanced and satisfying experience. Balance is achieved through the modest but suitable card library. Stronger cards tend to come with hefty costs to your sanity and the very strongest also tend to hold further risks for the caster. Meanwhile, weaker cards may be safer to play, but they will provide little respite when your opponent is hammering you for twenty points of damage a pop.

Further strengthening the gameplay is a three color system that affects your damage dealt (red), your defense (green), and finally taint (yellow—the higher your taint, the more damage you receive over time). This opens the door for so many strategic options as you must take into account both your own and your opponent's attributes before taking action. Should you hold onto the Mind Burn card until you can built up your arcane power some more? Should you cast Dispel to knock down your opponent's defense even though he still has an Invulnerable card left to play? Depending on the situation you can find yourself slowly bleeding your opponent dry or hitting him with a veritable blitzkrieg.

The opponent's AI also is fairly well done. It is challenging, and at times it might seem unfairly good, but over the long run what you have is a game that is difficult but not impossible. The one caveat to this is in the final two challenges where you may need a little help discovering the computer's weak spot.

All of this is encased in a very neat, albeit crude, aesthetic package. The lay out is simple, but the artwork on the cards is beautifully done and appropriate for the theme. The sounds, though not ubiquitous are also nearly perfect. The violin sting that precedes a match does a good job of getting the blood pumping and the gurgling noise when someone takes a big hit is visceral and gritty.

Overall, Necronomicon is an excellently executed trading card game. It is darkly beautiful, exceptionally balanced, and chock full of multiple strategies borne from a mixture of your own style and necessity. What it may lack compared to more traditional trading card games is exactly what makes it an excellent casual game that appeals to a much broader audience.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (104 votes)
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DoraNudgeAh, the balloon. Nature's squeaky toy. Bearer of helium, annoyer of younger siblings with particularly fine hair, and terrifier of cats. A bringer of much joy, and yet... oh! So fragile! They must be protected! They must be cherished! They must be hidden away across 40 levels in a puzzle game by Atomic Cicada (Minim) featuring a big blue monster! It's the logical procession of events, I tell you!!... oh, is it time for me to have a lie-down already, doctor?

Meet Nudge, Cookie Monster's beefier cousin with a perpetual frown and a soft spot for balloons. He blunders across a series of mazes, determined to push the balloons through portals to safety. Along the way he'll have to deal with blocks, mimicking barricades, and devilish bombs with minds of their own.

Your goal in each level is to get the balloon, or balloons, into the portals. They can be pushed around with your mighty blue arms... if you can get to them. While the game starts out easy enough with you maneuvering around stationary obstacles, it gets surprisingly tricky. Perhaps resenting getting pushed around, the blocks start pushing back; purple blocks will move from side to side when you do, and green blocks move up and down. What's that? You can handle mimicking blocks? Well, how about bombs that chase you and need to be kept away from both yourself and your precious balloons? What then, smart guy?! Yeah, that's what we thought. So there.

Controls are simple. Pressing the [arrow] keys moves you one space at a time around the screen, and simply moving against a movable object will push it in the direction you're facing, provided there's nothing blocking it. If you make a mistake, you can press the Undo button at the top of the screen to, well, undo your last move, or just press the Reset button next to it if you feel you've mangled the level too much to salvage. Since the bonus that can be applied to your score decreases with every step, you might want to reset anyway if you've spent too much time blundering around.

NudgeAnalysis: I admit that I am fickle when it comes to puzzle games, one minute praising their inventiveness and brain-bending prowess, and the next minute turning my nose up at their frequently simple presentation and lack of aliens to blow up with big guns. Sometimes, however, simplicity can be a good thing. Nudge takes its core gameplay and polishes it up really well. Yes, you are ultimately just trying to push a balloon through a portal, but the levels are so well designed that it doesn't get stale. Some levels don't even let you touch the balloon directly, instead forcing you to make some of the moving blocks do the work for you. The various obstacles work well together or separately, and it leaves you with a nice aftertaste of smugness whenever you figure out how to manipulate your environment. Mmmm.

The nice thing about Nudge is that while there is frequently only one way to solve a puzzle, I never felt as though the solutions were too difficult. They're challenging, sure, and require you to think a few steps ahead of every action, but never unreasonably so. Because obstacles in your environment don't move until you do, you can take your time and plot out each move. The only thing you'll be missing out on is a big score for speedy completion, but with the level select screen you can easily revisit earlier levels until you have the perfect score to lord over our heads. Yes, you are indeed "the man". "Woo", and so forth.

Forty levels is a good chunk, and they move along at a brisk pace with no really obscure solutions. The problem is that the closer you get to the end, the more familiar some levels might look. Oh, we're sorry, did you hate a particular level? Well, good news! Now you get to play it again, but bigger. Or with two balloons instead of one. It isn't enough by any stretch to make me genuinely frustrated with the game, but it is a little disappointing, since some of the levels are really clever and fun to figure out. It just seems like they ran out of ideas once or twice.

With clever sokoban-style gameplay wrapped up in a cute blue package, Nudge has all the makings of a satisfying afternoon well spent. The inclusion of a level editor means you can create and share your own mazes with friends, or make your own nightmarish constructions of mines and unreasonable corridors to frustrate your enemies. Either way, Nudge is cheerful fun for the whole family. Providing none of you have Globophobia.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (48 votes)
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scaklerArtbegottiRemember that TV show, Lost? Yeah, remember when that used to be popular? Well what if, in the first few series when that mysterious black-cloud monster was around, any time it showed up, it started spouting off numbers to its victims? I know what you're thinking, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, but let's also assume the black cloud doesn't know numbers higher than 20.

Mysterious time-traveling plotlines aside, this could be the basis for Atomic Cicada's new number puzzler, Scakler. Each level is made up of a black "cloud" of numbers. Your goal is to make all of the numbers the same, but in a Rubik's Cube-ish fashion. If there are two adjacent numbers that are equal, you can mouse over them to make some red arrows appear. Click and drag (up/down or left/right) one of these numbers to increase or decrease its value. However, doing so also adjusts the numbers on either side of the one you've selected, even if it wasn't an equal value to begin with. (If a number has both a horizontal pair and a vertical pair, two pairs of arrows will pop up, but you can only alter one direction at a time.)

To make it trickier, you're limited to dragging numbers out to positive or negative 20, meaning you've got to keep things neatly in order. Also, you have a limited number of moves to solve each level. You get unlimited "undo" and "restart" powers, but that may not help you much here. As a last word of advice, keep in mind that while zero is a very simple target number, it might not be the best to aim for on every level.

Analysis: Fear not, math-haters. The good news is that even though you're dealing with numbers, you don't need to perform any complex mathematical equations to play. Each step leads to another, so think logically, and plan your moves ahead of time. Also, fear not, math-lovers, the good news is that if you can actually pre-calculate a method for solving any given puzzle, I will personally quintuple your score for being awesome.

One strong irritation about this game is how you're limited to a certain number of moves to complete the levels. In a game where it takes a bit of experimentation to get the hang of some more complex strategies, one really shouldn't be punished for going off the beaten path. Perhaps if there were a "par" number of moves, and your bonus points were given in proportion to that, then things might feel a little more fair. But this game wants to stress planning ahead rather than trial-and-error, so be prepared for a little frustration in that sense.

If you're looking to file this game's presentation style under a particular motif, you'll likely settle on "horror film waiting to happen" or "excessively subdued and calming". The background music is low and etherial, but you may wonder why some disembodied voice is whispering every menu command back to you. Whether the game is trying to imply an ominous black cloud puzzle OF DOOM! or just a strange twisting of "relax" spelled backwards (well... "relkacs" is kinda close to "relacks") is completely up to you. I recommend giving in, and letting the black cloud whisk you away...

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

PsychotronicFirst off, we've received all the entries for the Casual Gameplay Art Competition. Big thank yous to everyone who sent in artwork. Now we need a little time to look at them, process them, think about them, compare them, print them out and wallpaper our box fort with them, etc. The official game design competition announcement is coming soon.

In the meantime, let's get back to the regular You Are Games hi-jinks. Q-Block, by Okuyama Kazuya, is an extremely nifty graphics editor that runs in your browser. It allows you to build 3D pixel art, just by sticking colorful cubes to each other one at a time.

Q-BlockThe interface is remarkably simple and intuitive. You start by editing any of the sculptures that have already been created, and then select "CLEAR ALL" if you want to start from a blank slate. Select "ATTACH" and click anywhere on the picture to add a block. Rotate your artwork in 3D space by clicking and dragging anywhere on the screen. It's just as easy to remove blocks or repaint them a different color.

You can access some slightly more sophisticated controls by selecting the "SHOW CANVAS" option. That lets you edit the piece pixel-layer by pixel-layer, copy layers from one place to another, and even extrude a single layer so it fills the whole space like a tube.

After you save your creation, you can download it as desktop wallpaper, or as a cool animated rotating GIF, or as an image with a few different customization options. Q-Block also supplies you with a link to the finished work. Now, there isn't going to be another big competition already, but if you link us to your piece of 3D pixel art in the comments here, I will personally give it an award. For example, my little friend in the screenshot there is already the winner of the "Best Rooster in a Top Hat" award, like so:

Best Rooster in a Top Hat Award: Psychotronic.

Award titles will be created as needed. Now is an opportunity to bring that giant flaming monkey design you've been carrying around in your imagination out into the world. Or whatever. Go nuts. Awards for everyone!

Play Q-Block

[Warning: Q-Block is a community art program on the internet, which means you will probably run into some objectionable material while browsing other artist's creations.]


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Rating: 4.2/5 (119 votes)
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JoshColonyOne of the first things I learned in Journalism school was to never analogize my subject matter with recipe ingredients. But sometimes I just can't help it, especially when a game like Colony comes along, begging to be described as "two parts real-time strategy, one part tactical action and a just a dash of tower defense." It's the latest release from Jakrin "Krin" Juangbhanich, the developer behind the ridiculously successful Sonny and Sonny 2. You could call Colony a real-time strategy game, although you'd be selling it short. It's unique in the sense that it draws inspiration from several tried-and-true genres; featuring multi-faceted gameplay that feels familiar, even if doesn't appear so.

As evidenced by Krin's self-professed love of StarCraft, the game is rooted in the sci-fi/alien-horror RTS genre. The plot isn't incredibly thick — there are three different army factions you can choose to play with: Capitalists, Communists and Fascists. Each army has its own story arc in campaign mode, and they each have an inherent bonus (for example, Capitalists produce resources faster — army bonuses are explained when you start a campaign). You're given a hefty array of units to work with; each providing its own strengths and weaknesses. Soldiers serve as your basic cannon-fodder "starter" unit, although you won't have to wait very long to begin using heavier units like tanks, helicopters and even medics.

ColonySimilar to side-scrolling tactical games, you begin each round at one end of a horizontal map, with your enemy situated on the opposing side. The goal itself isn't too complex; just turn the enemy's base into a smoking crater. Accomplishing that goal, on the other hand, will require a bit of strategy and skill. You'll notice your base consists of individual squares, forming a grid. You'll always have a "Central Base" pre-built in the middle of your grid, which serves as your entire base's "hit points" or "life." The Central Base also comes equipped with a defense turret, providing a bit of cover when you're under attack. The remaining squares are called "Ground Zero," signifying that you can build on them.

Here's the catch, though: Colony is a multiplayer-based game, even when you're playing a single-player campaign. The base belongs to both you and the AI, which serves as your ally. Even in single-player mode, you work with the AI to destroy the enemy base, while the enemy does the same. You can even communicate with the AI, which serves as an entire gameplay aspect on its own! In his official blog announcement, Krin wrote that the allies have their own unique "personalities" that dictate things like aggressiveness and combat tactics. "You can talk to them via the chat, and ask them what they are going to build, or what you think they should do," he says. "They will let you know what the biggest threat from the enemy is, and if they are about to form an attack group. You can even ask them personal questions like their name and age."

ColonyYour grid is divided into eight squares (not including the central base), which is divided equally between you and your AI ally. You each have four plots to build structures on; this is the primary RTS game mechanic, and you'll find it amazingly intuitive if you have any experience at all with the RTS genre. If you don't, you'll still find the learning curve to be relatively smooth; construct buildings with resources, then produce your army with your buildings. There are three resources used in Colony: money, manpower and energy. There's also a special fourth resource that represents morale, which builds as your army takes more ground on the battlefield. Don't worry; the tutorial in the "Quick Play" mode offers adequate instruction, as do the in-game hints and advice offered by your ally.

The interface is simple and easy-to-use; you can point-and-click through the entire game if you like (with the exception of typing to communicate with your AI or real-world ally). Click and drag to highlight a group of units, and issue commands by clicking the action buttons below. If you're a fan of hotkeys, just use [A] and [D] to scroll from left to right across the battlefield. Use the helpful "Rally" command by hitting [X], which forces your units to wait outside your base after they've been produced. You'll also be able to use additional number and letter hotkeys as they relate to the interface layout, as explained in-game.

Analysis: When it comes to hybrid gameplay, not every developer is able to pull it off. In Colony, Krin was able to successfully create a working synergy between several different mechanics, while avoiding common pitfalls like an obtrusive interface or overly-complex micro-managing. Fun units like snipers, helicopters and mech-walkers offer diverse enough ways to defeat your opponent, without feeling overwhelmed by choices. The same is true of the construction system; it doesn't take two hours of gameplay just to learn the dynamics between resources and building functions. Colony's graphics and sound are nothing less than you'd expect from the developer and publisher team that brought you the Sonny series, and it seems to be optimized well enough to run smoothly on older hardware.

The online multiplayer mode will probably be the most under-appreciated aspect of Colony (initially, at least). I hope I'm wrong, because live multiplayer adds a new dimension to the game, and it's executed pretty smoothly via Jiggmin.com's Blossom Server. Up to four people can play per game; two on each team, sharing the base, just as you share it with the AI in single-player mode.

RTS vets might find themselves breezing through the campaign mode a bit quicker than expected, but there are various difficulty settings available in the "Quick Play" mode (you can also switch between armies). Aside from the lukewarm single-player mode—which might have been enhanced by non-linear gameplay and more upgradeable customization—most players won't find too many faults in Colony. It's a novel spin on the casual RTS paradigm; just as solid as it is accessible.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (85 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThere are many things people try to escape from. Boredom. Work. Prison. Responsibilities. Meetings. In-Laws. It's not often, though, that you'll find yourself attempting to escape from an industrial hole in the ground. Unless you weren't watching where you were walking, that is. Welcome to Escape from the Underground Space!

Created by Tesshi-e, maker of Escape from the Living Room... No, wait! Don't run away! It's different, promise! At any rate, created by Tesshi-e, maker of Escape from the Living Room, Escape from the Underground Space is a light, fun escape that leans heavily on the uses of found objects rather than puzzle solving, although there are a few puzzles as well.

undergroundescape_pic2.jpgYou start in a bare (well, nearly bare) underground space. Despite the barren appearance there are lots of things to find and manipulate. Already figured your way out? Found the "quickie" escape? (Yes, there is one.) Go back and see if you can discover another way.

It soon becomes clear that, despite a few nice decorative touches, you are not in a living space. Can you get the door open? No. Can you get to the concrete catwalk above? That depends on how good you are at combining objects and reasoning. For those who enjoy "how can I use this object" scenarios then this is the game for you.

Analysis: Once again Tesshi-e has created a lovely 3D background to wander in. Lighting effects are sharp and clear enough to make you feel the heat. Navigation is smooth and easy, with bars appearing along the top, bottom, and sides of the screen to help move you around. The pixel hunting, one of the major complaints of Escape from the Living Room, has been done away with. It is much easier to find hot-spots and manipulate items this time around. Yes, there is some item construction, but it is very intuitive and flows along with the storyline of the escape. No cars made from cell phones here!

There are a few minor problems. Some of the hot-spots are very close to the navigation bars, making it easy to accidently move away when you meant to pick something up. The music is a nice light jazzy number, but if you are in the game for longer than five minutes you might be grateful for the provided mute button.

Inventory control is simple and functional, with items handily displayed on-screen and an "about item" button to bring any one of them into close-up. The escape itself, even the longest scenario, is pretty simple. A little more complexity might have been nice. A save game feature would also have been welcome.

Each time around, though, Tesshi-e's designs are getting better and better. This one features three different ways to escape and four different endings (at least that I found). Perhaps it's not the best or most complicated escape game out there, but it can be a quick, easy, entertaining diversion in the middle of the week. Escape from the Underground Space is a fun way to kill some time, be it on a coffee break or just taking 10-15 minutes away from whatever you're doing. Take a break, and enjoy the escape!

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[Note: Though Escape From The Underground Space is not completely translated, but it is playable without any knowledge of the language. While item descriptions and most messages are in Japanese, the puzzles are in English.]


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (149 votes)
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PsychotronicFig. 8Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage. I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for avoiding the solid black lines of architectural blueprints as they whiz by at unsafe speeds while you struggle to stay upright on your bicycle built for DEATH.

I love that old tune. So romantic. Fig. 8, the new title from Greg Wohlwend and Intuition Games, is a keyboard avoider, a game where you steer a bicycle across an overhead view of a great white plane full of diagrams and figures. Steer your bike with the [arrow] keys; the [right] key turns you clockwise, the [left] key turns you counter-clockwise, [up] speeds you up, and [down] slows you down. The [shift] key keeps your turn radius to a gradual curve. Black lines, even those that are part of numbers and letters, will topple your tender vehicle with a single touch. So get used to the controls with all due haste.

The background, a lovingly stylized field of strong lines and italic script that may remind you of the weather diagram motif from Effing Hail, scrolls along without any input from you. All you control is the position of your fragile bicycle on the screen. At first, this is no great tragedy, since the diagrams are small and the white spaces vast, but before the third checkpoint you'll be groaning for mercy, as mammoth illustrations of shrubs and fences sweep across the screen like a plague from the god of technical drawing.

If you somehow master the survival aspect of the game, consider mastering the scoring mechanic. The bicycle's rear wheel follows the front realistically, and both wheels leave a clear track behind. Your score increases automatically, but if you can keep the two wheel tracks together by avoiding sharp turns (and holding the [shift] key), a score multiplier begins to count up. If the tracks separate, the multiplier starts again from zero. Theoretically, you could complete the entire game without breaking that combo. But I know a certain hail of shrubs that doesn't like your chances.

Fig. 8 is presented so lyrically, I almost wish it weren't such a hardcore dodge-fest. I'd like to be able to explore this world of flattened houses and tripwire numbers freely. The summery background music would be suitable for such a game, rather than this arcade-style auto-scrolling arena of pain. What you have is a beautiful but fragile experience, a prolonged moment of zen that can be interrupted with a single wrong move. That's poignant as a message, but as a game, frustrating. Especially with the checkpoints placed so far apart. You'll have to nearly memorize some sections to survive, and not every player wants to do that.

What Fig. 8 has going for it, other than smooth controls and an intimidatingly perfect title, is uniqueness. As with their other games, Intuition Games has built Fig. 8 from a single strange core and never compromised the original vision. Although I can imagine it as a more peaceful game, and therefore one with more casual appeal, I never would have imagined it existing at all before I saw it. Just like The Great Red Herring Chase, Fig. 8 may not be the most comforting game around, but it shouldn't be missed.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (130 votes)
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DoraMax DamageMax Damage, the new game of physics puzzle destruction from irRegular Games, is familiar territory for anyone who has ever worked in a toy store. You may have seen our like cleaning up after a gleefully rampaging toddler, wondering grimly where the parents are and what that crashing sound over in aisle three was. At least in those cases, the casualties are limited to trampled Pikachu and previously immaculate displays of movie tie-in action figures that you spent two hours arranging just so. Here the destruction is a bit more ambitious. Like, plasma television ambitious. With a cannon. Yeah, kids aren't as cute when they come armed, are they?

The object of the game is to cause enough damage to pass each of the 49 levels, represented by the value of the items you're destroying. Don't feel too bad about it, because, honestly? If you're going to arrange all your valuables in precarious stacks atop shelves, you don't get to be surprised when some kid comes along and starts wreaking havoc. You're just asking for it then. Use the mouse to aim your cannon, and click to fire. Hold the cursor close to the cannon for weaker shots, and farther away for more powerful blasts. As the game progresses, you'll wind up using different types of ammunition. Just choose your shots wisely, since you only have a certain amount per level.

If Max Damage seems familiar, it's probably because it has its roots in games like Bloons, Ragdoll Cannon, and even Fragger. It's not the most original duck in the pond, but it is surprisingly fun. The items in each stage are cleverly positioned so you have to think about where you place each shot instead of firing blind. There's no penalty for restarting a level, which is good because chances are you'll be doing so a lot; it's difficult to calculate how much damage your shots are going to do, and you often just have to cross your fingers and hope everything is going to fall the way you want it to.

While we here at Jay is Games don't condone massive destruction of property and advise you to get your parents' permission before purchasing any sort of cannon, Max Damage is still good fun for anyone who enjoyed setting up elaborate Lego cities as a child, and then pretending to be Godzilla as you rampaged through them. Go ahead. Indulge your inner tantrum-tosser.

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Rating: 3/5 (84 votes)
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PsychotronicMechanismEvery gaming sub-genre has to grow up and develop angst some day, and for a lot of them, that means they go steampunk. Mechanism is like the brooding android teenager of the Splitter family, all full of rusty gears and melancholy. Even your cursor blade is some sort of clockwork pistol scalpel. After you're done solving over 40 physics puzzles, you can probably use it to hunt robotic tarantulas.

The goal is the same as in Splitter: get the circular object (in this case, a super-charming decrepit watch face) to the mystical portal to exit the level. You can't move anything directly, but you can slice up the environment pretty good with your pistol scalpel, either by reshaping blocks or by severing glowing bands of force (ropes).

The new trick is the gravity pickup, which sends everything hurtling toward the ceiling. It's a pretty good twist as twists go, but it does tend to hammer all your pre-planning to mush. Often better to just hack away, see what happens, and try again.

There are two difficulty paths, labeled "Easy" and "Hard" in the tutorial screens, but that must be a translation error from "Hard" and "You must be joking." It's a daring choice by the developer, to make the pre-requisite for completing the Red Path clairvoyance. That's a niche hardcore market, right there. My advice: take the Blue Path, Neo. Oh wait, that's cyberpunk.

To sum up: this isn't really groundbreaking at all, but if you're a fan of Splitter or Ice Breaker and you want some more levels, possibly a bunch of really obtuse and particular ones, here they are. They are here. In this game. Enjoy. Or you can wait for goth-punk Splitter or post-apocalyptic Splitter, which are bound to happen eventually.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (446 votes)
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DoraFinding My HeartWe've all been there. Someone has been mad at us, and we're not sure what we did. (Or rather, which of the things we did that they know about.) Finding My Heart, by Small Is Beautiful Interactive, is a short and sweet little point-and-click game about just such a situation. After one too many gaming sessions in front of the television, oblivious to her feelings, our hero's girlfriend has finally had enough and kicks him out of the house. What follows is a short adventure that has you trying to figure out a way back inside, by figuring out where he went wrong in the first place, and what to do about it.

As befits a point-and-click game, you navigate by pointing and clicking where you want to go, and on people or objects you want to interact with. Clicking on a person will bring up your available actions... but only the ones you've learned. Because instead of picking up random items and trying to turn them into the magical MacGuffin as is usually par for the course in point-and-click games, you're picking up new ways of communicating instead. One person might advise you to lend someone your ear, and doing so may open up other ways of expressing yourself.

It may sound strange, and actually, it is. But it's also a clever way to shake up the point-and-click formula. Finding My Heart is short and easy enough that anyone can pick up and play it, since there are only a handful of screens to search on. There are no real penalties for trying the wrong interaction on someone, so you can cycle through them until you've puzzled out the right order. Oh, and the coins you can discover along the way? Hold on to them until the credits have rolled, and you can use them to "purchase" some neat little making-of features from the game.

Analysis: Okay, so the message is more than a little cookie-cutter direct, sweet and neatly stamped out. Perhaps it would go down a bit smoother if the characters had a little more personality behind them other than their assigned plot-purpose stereotypes. MEN, how about that baseball cap and those video games, eh? Eh?? And LADIEZ, we're always with the emotions and the housework, amirite? Of course not. People are more complex than that. (We're also all about the tupperware.) And of course video games are not the root of all discord, unless we're talking about something put out by a movie franchise.

Finding My HeartFinding My Heart isn't unique because it's trying to impart a message, since most games these days make at least a token effort to do so. (Probably as a result of us darn women again, amirite?) It's unique because of the way it's presented. Presenting your inventory in a point-and-click game as an arsenal of interactions and concepts rather than a bunch of random items is surprisingly refreshing, if a little idealistic. (Why isn't the message compromise instead of sacrifice, for example?) If the game were presented in the usual way, you might end up simply presenting flowers and chocolates to the offended party, which might have the same effect in "Game World", but not the same message.

But it isn't just the interaction that charms me, it's the presentation as a whole. Finding My Heart, with it's big cartoony graphics, is silly and endearing in the same way old cartoons are. I like the way the various character you meet express themselves in pictures rather than words, letting you piece together their stories by what you see rather than what you hear. I just wish I could say as many charitable things about the voicing for the characters, which was cute at first, but repetitive enough to have me fumbling for the mute button after five minutes.

Is the game going to change the way you look at life? Probably not. Is it going to open up a whole world of romantic possibilities for you? Doubt it. But even if it's a little hackneyed in its message, Finding My Heart is still refreshingly sweet and earnest. It's just the right size to fit into a coffee break, and it shows you can still be original even when the genre has been around since the dawn of time. Give it a try. Just don't forget to give the one you love a big, sloppy kiss every once in a while. Tongues optional, but heartily endorsed.

Play Finding My Heart


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (48 votes)
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Mobile Monday

JohnBOur 3rd Casual Gameplay Design Competition received a ton of great submissions from a number of talented game designers. Taking first place in that competition was Wouter Visser's Gimme Friction Baby, a strikingly simple arcade-style game of skill involving a moving turret and expanding orbs. Now, just over two years later, bitforge has come and updated the game for iPhone and iPod Touch users. ORBITAL is the new incarnation of Gimme Friction Baby, adding some slick visuals, tweaking the physics just a bit, and adding a new gameplay mode along with multiplayer support!

orbital-iphone.jpgExplaining ORBITAL takes some of the spark out of the experience, but I'll be nice and give you a quick rundown. The basic idea is you have a turret at the bottom of the screen that's constantly swaying from left to right. Tap the screen and the turret fires, sending a ricocheting orb out onto the play field. The ball has only a little inertia, and when it comes to rest, it expands until it touches a wall or another orb. The inflated object is stamped with the number three and your turret begins swaying once again.

Tap the screen again to send another ball flying. Try to aim your shots to bounce off existing orbs while keeping it above the (sudden) "death line" just above the turret. Whenever contact happens between orbs, the counter decreases by one. The shot you just fired then expands to fill its space, and you're ready to fire another shot. The goal is to eliminate as many orbs as you can. You get one point for each cleared orb, and the game ends instantly once you touch the death line.

The key strategy in ORBITAL is making efficient moves. It takes three hits to eliminate an orb, but each shot creates a new orb to eliminate. You can see how the odds are stacked against you! This forces you to adopt a different kind of strategy with each shot you let loose. Smaller orbs take up less space but are much more difficult to hit. Large orbs are easy to hit, but good luck fitting anything else on the screen.

Every game begins the same, and yet every game is different. That's amazing replay value.

Analysis: When you're starting with a concept as solid as Gimme Friction Baby, you know you're going to have an awesome final product on your hands. Bitforge handled Wouter's original game very well, keeping almost everything intact while adding better visuals, tweaking the physics a bit, and introducing multiplayer and a new mode of play. The core idea is the same, but even if you mastered Gimme Friction Baby, ORBITAL is a new horse to break in.

First and foremost on my comparison list: ORBITAL plays faster than Gimme Friction Baby. Much faster, at times, as shots travel with more force and ricochet with less oomph. This lends a decidedly stronger arcade feel to the game and drains some of the thoughtful strategy away. I kind of miss the carefully metered pace of the original, but this arcade style is much better suited to the mobile platform.

orbital-iphone2.jpgTwo modes of play are available for the solo player: gravity and pure. Pure is essentially Gimme Friction Baby with the above mentioned tweaks to the physics. Gravity, however, is a different show where the orbs have a weak gravitational pull on shots you fire. This is useful for shimmying between objects to take out tough-to-reach orbs, but it tends to keep things closely-packed, creating more numerous small orbs to deal with, which can be tough.

Multiplayer is a blast, and if you have anyone nearby who can play, I highly recommend it. Play either gravity or pure mode against your friend and you end up with a shuffleboard-style experience where both players fight to clear orbs and block their opponent on the same field. Player one starts with a shot, then the screen shifts upward (or rotates, depending on the orientation you have selected) and player two takes his or her turn. Orbs persist across turns, and whoever clears an orb gets the point. This kind of multiplayer game is the best kind, as it's not really player vs. game vs. player, it's player vs. player with the game acting as a mediator.

ORBITAL has that "just one more round" appeal to it, beckoning you to keep popping orbs until someone snatches the iPhone out of your hands. Of course, if that happens, you can always start up a two player game, which is a win-win situation! ORBITAL is a game of skill, it's a game of strategy, it's a game of reflexes, and it's a game you will keep front and center of your iPhone for weeks on end.

JayJay - I've seen Gimme Friction Baby clones come along, but none of them have captured the soul of the original while creating something entirely new as bitforge has done here.

Pure mode remains true to the elegant simplicity of the original, while adding some very rewarding particle effects for eye candy. And, as John mentioned, the physics have been tweaked ever so slightly. Yes, the shots you fire are at a faster velocity, but they slow down faster as well. The net result is a projectile distance almost exactly what you would expect from the original, but with a shorter duration. This speeds up the game slightly, which will be welcome to those who complained that Gimme Friction Baby was too slow.

Gravity mode is just awesome. It takes the core gameplay of Pure then adds gravitational forces on the orbs. The end result is a game that expands on and improves Gimme Friction Baby in a way I've never seen before. Higher scores are now possible as are unbelievable shots that arc around hulking orbs in ways that will thrill and excite your inner child. Now if only bitforge would support replays (and sharing them, too!) of amazing shots (or entire games) this little app would be unstoppable.

But they didn't stop there(!) Have you ever played multiplayer Gimme Friction Baby? Of course you haven't, but now you can! Sure, you'll have to play against someone using the same iPhone, but here's hoping bitforge takes this feature online. I can't wait to play against some of my friends over the Internet.

Very rarely does a game come along that just grabs a hold and excites my inner child. ORBITAL is that rare find, and I just can't say enough good things about it. Thank you, bitforge, for this wonderful implementation of one of my very favorite casual games. And thank you also for honoring the designer of the original, Wouter Visser. Wherever he may be.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (27 votes)
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I-fluid

ArtbegottiWater, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink! Actually, that couldn't be any more inaccurate here. In I-Fluid by Exkee, you are a drop of water, and your task is to navigate an intricate 3D world of a kitchenette that seems to be rather devoid of water. With the outward appearance of a platformer but the heart of a phuzzler, I-Fluid boasts an incredibly realistic atmosphere and a solid set of challenges to go with it.

I-fluidTo move your drop around, use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move in the cardinal directions, while using the mouse to adjust the camera angle. In later levels, you gain the ability to jump and double-jump ([left click]), stick to objects and climb up walls ([right click]), and even embody certain objects and control them (hold both mouse buttons). Gaining these new skills not only lets you beat each new level that comes along, but also lets you access previously-unreachable levels in the level select screen.

In some cases, your goal is to reach the end of the level and tag a special flag. Other levels have specific requirements, like knocking nuts off of their perches, rolling all of the tomatoes into fondue dishes, or knocking over a tower of sushi. Once you've completed the Mission mode for a level, you can then go back and try the Petals mode, in which you must find five flower petals scattered across the level, or go for the Time Attack mode, where you have a tight time limit to accomplish a certain task.

I-nalysis: (See what I did there?) If you're looking for a unique platformer bursting at the seams with realistic graphics and fast-paced precision gameplay, you can't go wrong with I-Fluid. It might lack a compelling plot, but there's plenty of draw to this game. You might be asking yourself, why water? Why not play as a really tiny man crawling his way around these huge objects trying to reach the end of the level? That could work, but you really miss out on feeling really, really small. Playing as a little man in a big world means you're just a smaller you, but playing as a single drop of water, barely anything unless in a cup with thousands of other drops to drink, or just a single unit of rain in a storm of billions, that's being small. The truest sense of being tiny hits home in a level where getting to the end means you depend on the light of a firefly to guide your way.

worldmosaics2a.jpgThe premise is compelling, the gameplay itself nothing less than interesting, but in such a gorgeous world, there are some drawbacks which could effect how you feel about the game. First, the controls can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Depending on your size and the slope/material of the surface you're traveling along, you could rush along at ridiculous speeds or practically crawl through the level. Using both the mouse and the keys to control your direction can feel slightly awkward, but then again, this comment is coming from someone who's played too much Team Fortress 2 and is used to a slightly different control scheme for a similar perspective. And speaking of perspective, the camera often has some strange behavior, such as zooming in or out at awkward times and sticking inside solid objects.

The other major drawback is an uncomfortably familiar one when it comes to platformers like these. The hit detection in I-Fluid can instantaneously disappear in certain cases, then reappear in a similarly haphazard fashion, but by this point, you've already found yourself trapped somewhere that you don't want to be. The most frequent offender of this offense is the potholders made of slats of stone. It's very easy to fall down in between the slats and get stuck, forcing you to restart the level.

While I'm here, I'd like to point out something about cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. In level 13, you'll encounter the thirsty little buggers who will chase you around and try to drink you. (Again, another example of feeling what it's like to be small.) They will mull around in a fairly rigid pattern until you come within a certain range and they begin to give chase. But when they do give chase, they are relentless, and are suddenly much more agile than before. They can also change the landscape you're playing on, unintentionally making levels impassible. Not exactly fair!

Cockroaches aren't the only thing that can trap you in a level, which is frustrating, to be sure, but it also speaks to the credit of the intricacy of the objects and how well they were designed. Rather than blocky objects that create odd sculptures when they fall, muffin tins fit nicely into one another, tomatoes and potatoes roll like the imperfect spheres that they are, and falling sugar cubes become a visual (although deadly) delight. A lot of work went into making the physics of this game feel as realistic as possible, and if you're willing to forgive the occasional hit-detection error, this game is thrilling in ways that other physics games can't compare to.

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Yumsters! 2

MarcusWierd, colorful little worm-like creatures with a hunger for colorful fruit and a penchant for musical instruments. Sounds like the formula for the latest pre-school PBS sensation. Instead, we're talking about a fun, quirky little puzzler called Yumsters! 2.

Yumsters! 2The goal in Yumsters! 2 is to eat fruit. Lots of fruit. Your yumsters are perpetually hungry, and the only way to satisfy them is to keep them eating fruit. You have to be careful, though, as they'll only eat fruit that is the same color as they are. Red yumsters will only eat strawberries, yellow yumsters won't eat anything but pears, purple yumsters only like the grapes, etc. Drag each yumster from its hole to the fruit and it'll eat until it's gone. The further you can stretch your yumsters to their food, the more points you'll receive. If you can get them to eat multiple pieces in a row, you'll receive a bonus. Another bonus awaits if you can get all of your on-screen yumsters eating at once.

You need to be careful when stretching your yumsters around the screen eating fruit. If you pull them to a piece of fruit that doesn't match color, they will snap back into their hole and will stay there for a few precious seconds before letting you pull them back out. Similarly, if you cross two worms while they are eating, they will both snap back into their holes, leaving their fruit uneaten on the screen. If you need to get a better angle on the fruit, or if you need to get around an obstacle that has been placed in your path, you can move the yumsters from one hole to another.

Of course, you're not just there to feed the little guys. If you notice at the top of the screen, you'll see a line of fruit marching slowly from left to right. This is the task bar, and it shows what fruit must be eaten. If you eat the number of fruit before it reaches the end of the bar, you receive coins as a reward. Should fruit reach the end of the bar, it will drop on to the field and you will receive no reward for eating it. It will also take up a space that is needed for fruit that completes tasks.

In addition to fruit and obstacles, bonuses will occasionally appear on the playfield, such as a rain bonus that will defrost fruit that has frozen from sitting out in the open for too long. Another bonus will stop the task list from moving for a short time. You will also be joined by specialized yumsters who have unique talents, like the sergeant yumster that speeds up the eating of all yumsters on the screen while it's not hungry. Or the demolition yumster that blasts fruit in the area after eating a piece.

At the end of each world, you will be awarded an instrument from the land the world was based on. The quality of the instrument depends on the amount of coins you were able to collect during the previous rounds. Once you've collected your instrument, you need to test it. This launches into a Guitar Hero-esque music game, where you have to click the targets in time to the music. Once you complete this last task, you move onto the next world and the next bunch of fruit to eat. Yum!

Yumsters! 2Analysis: Having never played the first Yumsters game, this formula was refreshingly new to me. The mechanics of the game are super simple and would be appropriate for youngsters as well as us oldsters who love a good casual gameplay experience. Pull to fruit, eat fruit, switch holes, repeat. It's easy enough to finish the early levels like this, but there's so much more to this game.

Once I got the hang of how the little worms could twist and turn around to reach pieces of fruit that weren't necessarily in line with each other, I began to see where the real strategy in this title was. If you want the big points and the super bonuses, you need to plan where you're yumsters are going to do the most good at any particular time. Sometimes you'll have to sacrifice a good combo to get your yumsters around an obstacle in the course. Other times you'll want to position your worms to chow down quickly on a super-sized piece of fruit on the board. Make sure you don't forget about grabbing bonuses on the board and using your bonus worm powers, as well. If you can balance all of these elements, you'll be successful.

The graphics for Yumsters! 2 are cute and colorful, exactly appropriate for the style of game that developers Kranx (creator of the wonderfully refreshing music-based puzzle game Musaic Box) seem to be going for here. As I said at the top of the review, the Yumsters have the makings of a preschool television hit. You'd be forgiven for surfing the channels trying to find these guys on PBS or Disney in the morning. The color matching of this game makes it an excellent choice for younger players. The one thing that I was disappointed to see missing was a color-blind version, something that has been appearing in many color-based games as of late.

Sound and music in this game are both done well. In particular, the background music for the levels is nicely handled, with a soundtrack that changes in intensity and tempo as things change during gameplay. It really adds to the enjoyment of and immersion in the game when the music gets excited along with the player! The songs at the end of each world that must be completed are based on themes that you will hear during the game, so they have a chance to become familiar before you have to match them at the end.

Yumsters! 2 has a lot going for it. The gameplay is spot-on and the graphics and sounds are well done. It is challenging enough to keep veteran players involved, but simple enough for new and young players to pick up and still have fun with. So, feed a Yumster today, won't you?

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grandpacandyfactory

GrinnypOh no! The famous Willmore Candy Factory is on its last legs! Orders are being delayed, the pipes in the Chocomat are out of alignment, the furnace has broken down, and there are bits of metal getting into the candies. What's a recently graduated college gal to do? Why, save Grandpa's Candy Factory, of course!

grandpacandyfactory.jpgGrandpa's Candy Factory is a hexagon grid drag-style (or chain-style) match-3 game laced with mini-games of all sorts. After the lengthy prologue about the life of Cathy Willmore — the protagonist — (thankfully skippable) you can get down to the guts of the game. Cathy must help Grandpa Willmore and the plant manager Berthold rescue the ailing factory, whether that means working the shifts to cover recently laid-off employees or fixing the broken machinery. The factory is divided into seven buildings representing a full day's work, each building housing three match-3 scenes, followed by a wicked pipe puzzle, three more match-3 scenes, and topped off with a hidden object game. Lots of stuff crammed into one small (but gorgeous) package.

The heart of the game is the match-3 puzzles. Starting out slow, you must ship certain numbers of product (candies, fruits, jellies, cakes, etc.) by dragging three or more of an object inside a hexagon grid. However, it's never that simple, is it? As the scenes progress more and more obstacles leap into the fray. There are some items that are blocking the scene and need to be processed — they can be used as a "wild card" in a match and you must make three matches over them before they will drop out of the way. Then the furnace breaks down, and some items are iced over, requiring two matches to remove.

Oh, and then, the sabotage begins.. Yes, the candy factory is in trouble after all. Random bits of stuff you don't want to find in your treats begin to appear: ball bearings, screws, pine cones, they all have to be removed from the grid by making matches until they drop off. Dialogue scenes (which can also be fast-forwarded or skipped altogether) show up between some of the stages, moving the story of the mysterious saboteur along quite nicely. Various power ups appear, filling up more quickly the longer the chains you can manage to make. Later in the game Easter eggs begin showing up, allowing another wild card into the mix which also bestow random power ups when broken. Play in timed mode for wickedly frantic fun or in relaxed mode for easy, casual gameplay.

grandpacandyfactory3.jpgOh yes, then there's the Chocomat machine. Basically a pipe puzzle, the Chocomat's pipes are out of alignment. Get them straightened out quick, because the chocolate is starting to flow. Starting slowly with one or two pipes, the Chocomat pipe puzzles quickly become wickedly difficult, having to solve two or three simultaneous pipes as chocolate slowly begins to flow through the system. Move too slowly, miss a connection, and chocolate will spray everywhere, forcing you to start over. For folks who don't like pipe puzzles there's a handy skip feature, allowing you to get back to the candy assembling goodness.

Rounding out the end of each factory shift is a hidden object puzzle. Find lists of items to help your Grandpa pack for his trip; find the recipes which have gone missing; find clues to the saboteur; etc. Click on each item on the list to see a silhouette of the object to help you find it.

Analysis: A lot of work has gone into making Grandpa's Chocolate Factory look stunning. The characters are rendered in a 3D Pixar-style, making the game looks as if it should have been a feature movie. Ingredients in the match-3 sections are bright, beautiful, and so realistic they make you want to lick the screen (or at least stop for a candy break). With the addition of the elements that need to be processed, the Easter eggs, and the random bits of non-goodness the timed mode can be fast and furious in the latter rounds, necessitating an eagle eye on the refilling timer. The factory scenes themselves look like they could have come straight out of Willy Wonka. Bouncy, cute music and wonderful sound effects round out the gaming experience. Enjoy the sounds of grinding spices, exploding ingredients, cracking ice, and squawking chickens (the Easter eggs).

grandpacandyfactory2.jpgThe match-3 scenes are easy to master, a quick tutorial takes you through the basics and shows up occasionally when a new item or power-up becomes available. In addition to the common battery of items, Grandpa's Candy Factory introduces an inventive tool — the robot arm. Use the arm to help pick out foreign bits from the machinery. Navigation between the scenes is accomplished by a simple mechanic — two circles, one filled with a red X (for no) or a green check mark (for yes) allow you to proceed.

With everything pieced together so well, any flaw in Grandpa's Candy Factory naturally stands out like a sore thumb. In the hidden object scenes, items are tucked away in the shadows or stashed behind other objects, making them invisible to the naked eye. Other than using the silhouette feature, there's no way to get a hint where the next object is, making these scenes an exercise in frustration. Fortunately there's a skip button built in to all hidden object levels, so don't be afraid to use it.

Grandpa's Chocolate Factory is packed with loads of ooey, gooey fun, wrapped up in a completely edible chocolate bow. The visuals and sound effects almost have a taste of their own! The game is a bit on the short side, but the variety of games and amount of eye candy (heh, a pun!) make it a trip well worth taking!

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Weekend Download

JohnBJust like milk, cereal and toast make for a delicious breakfast, a math-based shooter, a retro platformer and an emo arcade game make for a scrumptious Weekend Download. Seriously, try it with butter or ghee!

jirosum.gifJiroSum (Windows, 4.4MB, free) - A one level prototype that showcases a rather brilliant concept for a shooter. Enemies have a numerical value displayed on their face. You can absorb enemies into your spinning plus sign and shoot the sum back at other enemies. The shot travels as a negative number, destroying as many enemies as the value totals. For example, fire off a 3 shot and you can take out three 1 enemies, a 2 enemy and a 1 enemy, or a 3 enemy. Leftover values come back to haunt you, however, so try and time your shots to dissipate with a perfect zero sum. An entry in the latest TIGSource competition.

towerofheaven.gifTower of Heaven (Windows, 7.8MB, free) - I heart the original Game Boy system. A color palette of green, only the most rudimentary sounds available, and games that made up for being technically simple by pouring on the creativity. Tower of Heaven is a short platform game by Askiisoft that would have been at home on that old system. The goal is to make it to the top of the tower by climbing your way through each room. A disembodied voice taunts you as you go, which adds a light air of mystery to the punishing game.

why.jpgWhy (Windows, 43.7MB, free) - A moody arcade game by Mike Inel, Why is all about black and white circles. Move the mouse over a black circle to turn it white. Click a circle to remove it. After a few seconds the circles shrink and another layer appears seeded with its own black circles. The goal is to have as many white circles as possible when the game ends. The real reward, though, are the game's ten endings, some of which you can interact with using the mouse.

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (46 votes)
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buildalot4

grinnypWho knew that something as boring as real estate management would make a good time management game? Hipsoft, the creators of the wildly successful Build-a-Lot series, did, and boy were they right! The latest installment in the series, Build-a-Lot 4: Power Source, has arrived, bringing with it the same balanced and challenging gameplay with a brand new theme: energy efficiency.

buildalot4a.jpgAll of the Build-a-lot games are built on the same premise: to develop a neighborhood with homes, shops, services, etc. while keeping an eye on resources like time, labor, building materials, and money. This makes for an entertaining and occasionally frantic time management game, attempting to meet all the needs of the community within a certain timeframe. Build-a-Lot 4 continues the same idea but adds something new and timely — dealing with the crumbling infrastructure of an aging and near-capacity power grid.

Gameplay in Build-a-Lot 4 is easy: you receive instructions from a mayor (or other source) in what the community needs. Simply click on a colored empty lot, select a structure, make sure you have the resources, and build. It is up to you to figure out how to provide those needs within a certain time-limit and budget. Should you concentrate on infrastructure first? Or build homes to increase your income? The permutations multiply with each level you move up as the demands from the communities become increasingly complex. Each community is a small, self-contained challenge which is kept track of in your handy-dandy day-planner (recycled from the "passport" of Build-a-Lot 3). Play one small campaign at a time or spend hours plowing through the multiple and escalating challenges.

In Build-a-Lot 4, the first and most important thing you need to track is available energy. Before you build a single thing you must assess the available power structure and add to it if necessary. This adds a layer of complication to the basic Build-a-Lot dynamic due to the fact that if you add a house or business without taking into account power needs, the entire neighborhood will black out. And since you cannot collect rent or money from businesses during a blackout, you need to fix the situation, fast!

Modern, so-called "clean" energy facilities are available to build, but watch out, like all complicated technology they can break down, causing wide-spread blackouts. Houses can be improved with up to three levels of energy efficiency, reducing the strain on the grid. The bigger the structure, the more drain on your power plants. Wind farms produce the least amount of energy but have the smallest negative footprint. Nuclear plants will produce the most energy, but have a correspondingly massive negative impact on the community. Who wants to live next to Three Mile Island?

buildalot4b.jpgAnalysis: HipSoft has wisely kept the same basic game structure as the first three games of the series. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! As always new houses, facilities, and shops have been added for variety. There's no appreciable difference in the backgrounds from the third in the series (perhaps the walking paths are an exception) but no matter. The core of the game is to develop, develop, develop. Also retained from the previous game are the weather patterns, which still affect gameplay. Rain slows down outdoor construction, such as building or painting, and if it rains a lot in your community, perhaps a solar power plant is not the way to go.

A few layers of complexity have been stripped from the series' ongoing formula, dropping some aspects introduced by Build-a-Lot 3 and leaving more basic dynamic from the first two games. This allows the complexity added by the challenges of the power grid to fit snugly in the game without destroying the casual gameplay we love so dearly. And what complexity it is! A new occupation has been added to the workforce: the energy technician. Only technicians can repair power plants, make homes energy efficient, or supercharge a plant. They need their own support structure — a Tech Center — for training. Now instead of managing one labor force (construction workers) you are managing two. Twice the fun! In a Union-approved sort of way, of course.

Build-a-Lot 4 is, like the previous games, is divided into a Main Campaign (with the tutorial blessedly broken out as a separate, skippable unit) and a Casual Campaign, with two new ones added: a Challenge and an Expert Campaign, definitely for folks who have first mastered the basic levels. Although you are on a deadline, the pacing is such that this is one of the more relaxed time-management games, at least in the early levels. Casual gameplay at it's finest.

All in all, Build-a-Lot 4 is a fast-paced, entertaining time management game. Never mind the collapsed real estate market, get out there and build!

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.

Build-a-lot 4 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Rating: 4.3/5 (281 votes)
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DoraLittle Red Riding HoodOnce upon a post-apocalyptic future, there lived a girl named Little Red Riding Hood. One day, her mother told her to take a bucket of supplies to her grandmother, who lived far away in an abandoned submarine. Unfortunately, wolves were said to lurk on the ruined road and... What? Why are you looking at me like that? That is most certainly how the story goes! At least, it is in this clever new spot-the-difference game, where your childhood fairytale takes a detour down to unfamiliar territory.

As the story goes on, you're presented with various scenes and must find the differences between two seemingly identical pictures by clicking on one when you find it. There are five in each scene, so make sure you look closely. Every wrong click detracts from your score, while finishing a scene quickly grants you a bonus based on your time. The whole game is rather short, and veteran difference hunters may not find it much of a challenge, but the whole experience is so utterly weird and charming that it's hard not to like it.

Little Red Riding Hood does a lot of things right. The differences are challenging but not minuscule, and it offers a clever hint system. Your hint meter gradually fills up from small to big, letting you choose whether you want a small visual nudge, or HEY, YOU WITH THE EYES. The art here is absolutely gorgeous, and the setting gives the familiar tale a bit of character. It doesn't really change the story itself or shake up the established formula, but then again, it isn't trying to. If you're looking for an off-beat bedtime story, or just something to fill your coffee break with, Little Red Riding Hood won't disappoint.

Play Little Red Riding Hood: A Post Apocalyptic Adventure


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraEverybody loves combinations. Would you rather eat a peanut butter sandwich? Or would you rather put some jelly on that baby and really go to town? Mmmm. Mmmm. Yeah, you're diggin' it. We can tell. Everything is better with a partner, and so this week at Jay is Games we've brought you only the finest in unholy unions represented here for you in glorious gaming format. Because we couldn't figure out a way to actually send you a fantastical conglomeration of penguin-ninja-UFO that wouldn't result in having to explain ourselves to the proper authorities. Which reminds me. If anyone asks, we were at your place last night, okay? No, no reason.

  • Must Pop WordsMust Pop Words - Bart Bonte and word puzzles. Hmm, maybe not that unusual. How about... with a penguin?! Are your minds sufficiently blown now? We hope not, because you've got to type words out of the falling balloons before they reach the top of the screen and something unpleasant happens! Like maybe JIG gets taken over by a flock of angry penguin. Probably not. But maybe.
  • NinjufoNinjufo - Holy unlikely plot device, JIG Fans! He was just your ordinary ninja, until the bite of a radioactive UFO turned him into your friendly neighbourhood... Ninjufo! But with great shurikens, there must also come stealth gameplay, and so Ninjufo will need to infiltrate the evil alien base and make off with fifty cases of secret evidence. It is nature's way.
  • Dig DroidDig Droid - Robots and manual labor may not seem unusual... until you remember that robots are typically intent on being our iron-fisted overlords! No, Jay, let go! I won't be silenced any longer! They have to help stop the menace! They have to keep this little droid busy digging a path through Mars in this puzzle game or he'll enslave us all!
  • KinpiraKinpira - ... what? You think there's something suspicious about this little Mario-esque game about tiny samurai children and massive property damage, don't you? There certainly aren't any subliminal messages hidden in the sinisterly catchy music, if that's what you're implying!!... oh, you weren't implying that? Uh, nevermind. No, relax, enjoy the game. (JIGISTHEBESTLOVEJIGJIGJIG)
  • Semantic WarsSemantic Wars - There is nothing strange about combining Hangman with medieval warfare. No, don't try to change my mind. Guessing themed words to earn money to deploy troops and losing money when you miss a letter? That's how they do it in the real world, my friend! Sheesh, crack a newspaper sometime. No, not that one, this one I just printed up. Yeah, all the facts in there are straight. Especially the one about the new cotton candy tax.

  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (170 votes)
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DoraCube ColossusFor a lot of us, shooters are the equivalent of primal scream therapy. We zip around a screen, raining lasers upon our foes, collecting coins and power-ups until we emerge hours later feeling tired but oddly satisfied. As popular as these games are, it takes a lot for one to stand out from the pack and shine. One example is Lucidrine's Cube Colossus, a fast-paced and challenging shooter that offers multiple upgrades, ships, achievements, and more for newcomers and veterans alike.

While searching for new planets to colonize, one scout, Millie, reports to have found a potentially livable planet, shortly before losing contact. The signal leads her twin sister Rua, to an unknown enormous cube-shaped construction that traps both herself and her co-pilot Cedric within, quickly cutting them off from the other search party. Still, it shouldn't be much of a problem. After all, Millie wants to be found... doesn't she? There's no time to stop and think, as it turns out that the cube isn't empty. And its occupants aren't friendly.

Cube Colossus controls primarily with the mouse, moving with your cursor around the screen and firing when you hold down the left mouse button. But keep an eye on the blue energy bar at the bottom of the screen. Fire for too long, and your weapons could overload. Next to the energy bar is your red shield indicator, which decreases each time you're hit. If it runs out, well... it isn't the signal for the enemies to stop pounding on you and start singing Happy Birthday. Throughout the level, your overdrive meter is also steadily increasing, and when the yellow bar is full, you can tap the [space] bar to unleash your ship's special ability. Enormous waves of lasers not your thing? Then hop into another ship that can slow down time.

Differing from other shooters, you'll automatically lock on to one enemy and wherever you move, your ship will target it. The [WASD] keys are for fine-tuning, with [W] switching your target to the closest enemy, and [D] and [A] adjusting your aim clockwise and counter-clockwise. While the keyboard controls can take some getting used to, you'll be glad to have them when you start running across enemies faster than you are.

Cube ColossusNot only can you upgrade your shields, attack power, and energy reserves between battles if you have the cash, but as you go along, Rua gains proficiency with whatever weapon you have equipped. The more you use a weapon, the more damage you'll wind up doing with it. If you decide to try something different later on in the game, you can always go back and replay earlier stages with it to level up and earn more gold.

The deeper you go into the Cube, the thicker the action gets. Enemies get faster, sneakier, and stronger, and the boss battles for each chapter are satisfyingly ferocious. Fortunately for you, you'll gain access to different ships as you go along, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. You want action? We got your action.

What, you want strategy, too? Don't get blown up. There's your strategy.

Analysis: Cube Colossus has been through a long development process, and it shows. Not only does it look and sound like the best arcade goodness you could hope for, it plays extremely well. The 20 levels, not counting the special unlockable stages, manage to strike a nice difficulty curve. This isn't to say you'll be ready to breeze through the game's climactic final battle when you reach it. It just means that you'll find it refreshingly challenging instead of impossible. It also keeps track of the damage you do before you're hit, and rewards you accordingly each time.

Cube Colossus isn't here to hold your hand and lead you down the steps into the shallow end of the pool, making sure your floaties are on. It simply hurls you bodily into the deep end and goes on about its business while you flail around, flexing for a crowd of admiring onlookers while you sink or swim. The targeting system takes a little getting used to for those of us used to simply jamming on the buttons, but since death carries no penalty, it's only ever a minor setback. You'll keep all the gold you earned, be able to tweak your weapons accordingly, and then leap back into the fray.

As much as I love shooters, my limited attention span tends to see me losing interest halfway through after the novelty of upgrading wears off. While the story is a little bit old-school anime and has a few typos, it still works surprisingly well to drive you to keep playing. The downside is only the bare bones of the story are actually revealed during the gameplay, and the rest you'll have to read in the Archives once it's unlocked. As a result, it winds up feeling hasty and disjointed. I would have liked to have seen the story revealed naturally over the course of the game, instead of having to rely on a bunch of supplemental material afterward to fill in the gaps.

A shooter is a fun game when it's done well, and Cube Colossus is more than just done well. Despite a story that's a little awkward, the gameplay is never anything less than fierce, and you can spend a long time chasing every upgrade, achievement, and unlockable in the game. If you thought the final boss was tough, wait until you butt heads with one of the special bosses. While the amount of skill in the game primarily boils down to how quickly you can move the mouse without your wrist snapping off, the experience as a whole is riotously fun and definitely worth an hour or more of your time. I'd like to make a joke about the experience being colossal, but, well, puns are frowned on around here. I'm not sure I'm ready for another stint in the "Bad Reviewer Box". So just do yourself a favor and check the game out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Play Cube Colossus


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You Are Games

PsychotronicThe story thus far: Three weeks ago, we asked you to name some themes you'd like to see for the next game design competition. Two weeks ago, we had a poll to narrow down the giant, giant list of ideas you came up with. And finally, last week, we had a final face-off between the top 12 favorites. Thank you, thank you, everybody who voted. We had an even better turnout than the previous poll, and let me tell you, it was a hot contest. The top two favorites were separated by a mere 3 votes. The three leading themes, in random order, are:

  • Breaking the 4th Wall
  • Explore
  • Failure

And without further ado, the theme for Casual Gameplay Design Competition 6 is... hold on, something's missing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I know there's something... let's see. We got the suggestions. We ran the poll. We ran another poll. We sacrificed a chicken. We tallied the votes. I'm making the announcement. I'm typing it out in plain, dry boring text... that's it! Graphics! We can't announce a competition without graphics! We'll need to have a...

Casual Gameplay Art Design Competition!

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 make artwork for CGDC6. We need three images. First, a logo. Second, a banner with that logo on it. Third, a theme image. You can take a look at the previous competition announcements for inspiration, but the new logo doesn't have to be anything like what we've used before.

  • The logo contains the words "Casual Gameplay Design Competition 6". It should be no greater than 480 pixels wide and 200 pixels tall.
  • The banner (which can be just the logo with a background) is 494 pixels wide, and between 300 and 450 pixels tall.
  • The theme image has the name of the theme in it. It should be a square, 288 pixels wide and 288 pixels tall.
  • If we use your graphics for our next competition, you will win $300 for your efforts! You must be at least 13 years of age to enter, void where prohibited.

Entry LinkPlease attach your entries to an email, and send it to the address on the right. The deadline is Wednesday evening, the 19th of August, at midnight Eastern Standard Time. Be sure to include all 3 image elements listed above.

You can choose any of the three winners for the theme image, or enter something for all three. In fact, you can turn in as many entries as you like. If we like your artwork, even if we don't choose your work for this event, we may ask you to make something for us in the future. If we get some graphics that really blow us away, it might very well affect which of the top three themes we use for the competition. Because the votes in this last poll were so very close, that's not locked in stone yet. All three are worthy contenders.

Again, thank you everybody for participating in this little adventure so far. We're really looking forward to seeing what the artists among you come up with.


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (270 votes)
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SilentConversation

PsychotronicIn a platform game, you mostly look at the ground. You had better — it holds you up. In its absence, you tend to fall. Even so, many games are shy about the tiles and slopes that hold back the siege of gravity, leaving them plain and putting all the graphical holler and pep into the enemy characters. Bad guys have the advantage of movement and life, after all. One expects them to sparkle.

But the ground is the real star, and Silent Conversation, the new game from The Majesty of Colors creator Gregory Weir, acknowledges that fact in an unconventional way. The platforms are literally literature, made of words taken from poems and stories in the public domain. One of the first levels, for instance, has you actually walking across the descriptions of sandstorms and ancient tombs in H. P. Lovecraft's The Nameless City, with the phrase "sands of uncounted ages" filling in the body of the dunes underfoot.

Silent ConversationYour goal, as a solipsistic walking letter "I", is to touch as many words in the text as you can, highlighting them one at a time. Press the [left] key and [right] key to walk, and any other key to jump. [Esc] gets you back to the main menu.

You earn a grade for each level, with an A+ only awarded for 100% completion. Some words are colored red, meaning they are "powerful" and have the ability to fire fading ghosts of letters at you. If you fail to dodge them, you'll lose some of your recent progress and possibly a grade ranking. The same penalty applies to falling off the bottom of the screen.

Some levels, like the haiku by Matsuo Bashou, are extremely short, while others (The Nameless City appears unabridged but split into three sections) can take over ten minutes of running and jumping. Once you complete a story or poem with an A+, you unlock a speed challenge for that level.

Analysis: The title comes from "What is reading, but silent conversation?", a quotation from Walter Savage Landor which neatly sums up the idea that writing is not just performance, but two-way contact. In this case, the author provides the words as your footing, and you respond by touching each of them. Silent Conversation invites you to read attentively, savoring every word.

If the game were just about walking around on text, it would be nothing but an interesting experiment. The real treat is in all the embellishments. A dozen copies of the phrase "a storm of sand" fly by on the wind. A description of a glass table appears in actual table-shape. A difficult gap is in exactly the spot where the words would naturally pause for breath. It's more like an interpretive reading than a game, a reminder that words are meant to be voiced. Weir just speaks in the language of game design.

Silent ConversationAs a platform game, Silent Conversation is basic to a fault. Your lonely "I" walks and jumps with barely any debt to physics or interactions of any kind. It even does that weird thing where you can curve around the lip of a ceiling because hitting it on the way up didn't stop your momentum. Simplifying the gameplay mechanics this much may keep focus on the strength of the writing, but since walking and jumping is all you do, it could have had more depth to it.

The penalty for getting hit or falling seems misplaced here, a regular at the hardcore platforming mosh scene that doesn't know why it's been invited to a wine-tasting. The period of flashing invulnerability, the tedious backtracking to re-highlight the penalty words — it's all awkward.

In fact, I don't see the need to have threats in a game like this. It's fascinating just sliding along, lighting up words, watching the ground, reading with significance, anticipating the next visual flourish. Which words does Weir consider "powerful"? When will the prose take representational form, like the table, and when will it follow the pure abstract rhythm of the sentences? What happens next? Even if you've already read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to death, you've never read it like this.

There could have been even more visual interpretation of the texts. This is just a taste of the possibilities, executed nice and subtle and fairly safe. Once you've seen all the surprises, it's a bit of a chore to replay levels, especially if you can read faster than you can walk across the words. But Silent Conversation still feels new and exciting, and it did something to me no other game ever has. It inspired me to put the computer to sleep and pick up a book, comfortably, as though games and literature were part of the same world.

Play Silent Conversation


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (157 votes)
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Weekday Escape

JessIn this uncertain and often chaotic world, the temptation to hide, to lie low in a secret shelter away from dangers both real and imagined, can be awfully strong. Doesn't it sound nice? A place all your own, a safe room with layer upon layer of protection between you and the outside. A haven. What happens, however, when your refuge becomes your prison? Boxed Inn: Panic Room, the first escape game from wonderfully promising American designer and Flash author Samgine, explores that troubling scenario.

BoxedInnBoxed Inn: Panic Room is, in many ways, a really superlative escape game. Lengthy, clever and involved, you'll have to use all of the room's many resources (often in the form of modern technology) to escape. Along with the usual "use object A with code B to solve puzzle C" room escape fare, the game serves in part to showcase some of the types of puzzles (both classic and original) that fill Samgine's website; one in particular, a puzzle called PaintBox that involves manipulating the colors of boxes using various buttons, is especially interesting. While on the whole the game's puzzles are great, there are, unfortunately, a few instances of questionable leaps of "logic" being needed to progress. One puzzle in particular I found nearly inexplicable, but finally was able to crack with a bit of trial-and-error. Also, being able to hear the game is nice but not vital. At one point you'll need to program a remote, and hearing the "beep" of the buttons will help you do so; however, as long as you follow the directions carefully, you should be fine.

The graphics go beyond mere excellence; they are literally photo-realistic. This gives the game an added edge of realism, making it all the more immersive and entertaining. The interface is mainly user-friendly (No pixel-hunting! Automatic save feature!), though the inventory system can be initially confusing. Clicking a collected item will bring up a larger picture of it, allowing you to manipulate the object and sometimes discover new information or clues; it is not, however, necessary to click on an item in order to use it within the room itself. For example, at some point during the game you will collect a CD. Clicking on the disk drive of the room's laptop will automatically place the CD in the drive, without you needing to select it from the inventory. It's a little perplexing, and I'm not sure why the game's developers chose to configure the interface in this way, but once you get the hang of the system it ceases to be an inconvenience.

Boxed Inn: Panic Room is an enormously impressive escape game, particularly considering that it is Samgine's first venture into the genre. While the game does have room for improvement, particularly in regards to the inventory interface and handful of imperfectly logical moments, it bodes extremely well for the developer's future creations. Hopefully this is just the first in a very long line of games to come! Enjoy.

Play Boxed Inn: Panic Room


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (126 votes)
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DanTheArcherGOBTRONGiant monsters have always had a long and illustrious history of unusual powers, as well as the disproportionately sized cities for sake of employing them. Godzilla could exhale blasts of destructive atomic energy that could obliterate matter down to the last atom. Gamera was notorious for his fire-breathing and plasma-spewing propensities, and Mothra possessed formidable psychic abilities because she was...a, um....well, the superscience was always murky on that one. But have you ever before seen a colossal creature so mighty that they could fell entire civilizations solely with the power of their snot? Say hello to the newest megaton monstrosity in town, a nauseating giant by the name of GOBTRON, brought to you by the good people of Juicy Beast.

In an era-spanning adventure, you'll guide the bizarrely adorable GOBTRON through epoch after epoch of pesky Earthlings who believe that the planet isn't big enough for the both of you. The trustiest weapon in your arsenal is a gob of mucus, swaying from your pink, furry nostril. Click on the snot to grab it, pull it back to ready your strike, and then release to fling the sticky missile in the opposite direction of your pull. A direct hit will bring the humans right into your schnozz, where they're converted into DNA points for upgrades. Of course, as the age of man winds down its troubled and snotty path, your foes will evolve even more formidable technologies and stratagems for vanquishing their sworn enemy, and you'll have no choice but to respond with a slew of more and more repugnant abilities. ("Booger shot" springs to mind.) In the end, who will emerge victorious? Only time and about 200 pounds of alien phlegm will tell.

GOBTRONThe presentation is where this game truly shines. From the dopey smile plastered on GOBTRON'S face during every level, to the sickening snap of the snot, there's just so much attention paid to how this thing was wrapped. The music changes from one chapter of humanity to the next, often with appropriate selections, like jungle drums for the Stone Age or more military-style fare for the contemporary age. And then there's the sense of humor, which is so omnipresent that it's basically (and literally) dripping out of the game's nose. There's a tongue-in-cheek sanctimoniousness about it all ("Sound the horn! We must build structures to bring down this beast!"), and the hilarity of it all multiplies exponentially when coupled with the subject matter.

There's not a lot to learn to the gameplay, but what's there works surprisingly well. New tricks that GOBTRON acquires over the course of the game keep things fresh, although the lynchpin of your defense will always remain in your snotsling, which doesn't really change over time. By the endgame, you may find yourself wishing that the creators had devised some kind of keyboard scheme to manage all your auxiliary weapons. Having to aim and activate every single one of GOBTRON'S expulsions with your mouse (with one exception) requires a level of manual agility that touchpadders may find nigh impossible.

However, don't let that scare you away from one of the most original, accessible, and effortlessly hysterical gaming experiences of our time. So move over Godzilla, because unless we see some atomic snot action in the next remake, I know who my money's on.

Play GOBTRON

Thanks for sending this in, Ajay and Brian!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (120 votes)
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SonicLoverHans HansAs familiar as you may be with Norse mythology, there's one parable you've probably never heard of. Fortunately, it is retold in Hans Hans the Biking Viking: Leaving Loki's Lockup.

As the legend goes, a courier named Hans Hans (and his sentient wooden bicycle, Sykkle) traveled to Loki's castle to deliver an important package to Thor. However, Loki tricked him and deposited him in his dungeon, an elaborate eleven-level maze full of tricks and traps.

Hans made full use of his ability to move around with the [left] and [right] arrow keys, jump across gaps and onto platforms ([space] bar), and pedal to activate conveyor-belt contraptions ([space] bar again). He wasn't alone, either; he later joined up with Freya, the goddess of love, war, and things that grow. She could fire arrows at phantoms and crystal switches, as well as make potted plants grow into thick vine bridges. Thor had massive muscles and could push and pull heavy blocks, as well as punch statues and other obstacles. And they later teamed up with a fourth character... and you can find out for yourself who that is. (You can switch control between the various characters with the [ctrl] key.)

Analysis: There are multiple reasons why I loved this game, which happens to be based on an upcoming Nickelodeon cartoon (You can watch a few webisodes and play mini-games at the show's website). Let's start with the more topical reasons and work away.

One: it motivates you to stick to it till the very end. Although the game has an autosave feature, I beat it happily in one sitting. There is also one hidden Rune to collect per level, and if you've got them all by the end of the game, you get an extra little bonus.

Two: the puzzles are very innovative. The same series of tricks makes up puzzles in many different ways plus several levels have unique obstacles. It's obvious that this game's levels were constructed by an expert in the trade. The only hitch is that none of them are particularly difficult.

Three: it's in the subgenre of The Lost Vikings-style puzzlers, which I always adore. Something about the concept of multiple characters with different abilities working together towards a common goal just steals my heart.

And four: it's based on an upcoming cartoon I've never heard of before. Sounds counter-intuitive? Perhaps, but I learned about the cartoon in question through this game, picking up quite a lot. I had Hans pegged as the cartoon's "mandatory stupid character" until I met Thor, and I can definitely picture some of the other situations these characters must get into.

Everyone's cartoon personalities are so well carved: Hans's unshakable devotion for package delivery, Freya's boldness and obvious irritation with her less competent allies, Thor's unending desire for sandwiches, and Loki's evil scheming with a dash of incompetence are all easy to pick up. I've gotta watch this cartoon once it's on air.

Play Hans Hans the Biking Viking: Leaving Loki's Lockup

Thanks for submitting this game, Tina, Kris, Iwa, and Fred!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (263 votes)
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DoraCycloManiacsHow come nobody bikes on the moon anymore? Back in the day, you used to see people riding bikes on the moon all the time, you know, just free-wheelin' it in space. Somersaulting over outcrops and popping wheelies over crates and generally just being awesome, until they decided to head back to the fire pits to jump over those. Mmm, those were the days. Makes a person all nostalgic for a better time, a bike-ier time. Sort of makes a person want to race across 26 tracks on 6 different worlds with 20 different unlockable characters, doesn't it? Well, then, I guess you'd best start playing CycloManiacs, the newest game of racing mayhem from robotJAM and LongAnimals.

The controls are easy to learn but hard to master, with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to control the bike, and tapping [X] or [space] to bunny hop when you can. If you get launched into the air, you can hold down the directional keys to somersault. Perform tricks in mid-air or pop wheelies to build up your stunt bar, which, when strong enough, can temporarily unlock a huge boost to your speed. Just make sure you're facing up before you hit the ground. Crashing in CycloManiacs will set you back to the last checkpoint you passed, represented here by a checkered flag. It may not sound like much given how frequent checkpoints appear, but even seconds here can set you back to last place when the other bicyclists are hot on your pedals.

You'll initially only have access to a single track, but completing certain challenges on it will unlock even more. Each track you unlock comes with a new set of challenges, and range from the modest, such as finishing a track in a certain amount of time, to the insane, like getting fifteen total seconds riding a rear-wheelie on a mostly uphill course. These tricks get easier, however, as winning races and completing challenges earns you money you can use to upgrade your bike's various aspects. Since these upgrades are applied to all characters, you can swap back and forth between your favourites without missing a beat.

CycloManiacsAnalysis: The length of your love affair with CycloManiacs will largely depend on how patient you are with feeling out the fiddly controls. I found myself having to repeatedly tap the [left] and [right] keys to maintain my balance both in air and on the ground. It eventually became like second nature, just something I compensated for automatically, but it can still be frustrating to people just expecting to leap right into things. The physics still seem a little off, even after you get used to the controls. Why your bike behaves like you're trying to ride it over a wildly undulating bowl of Jell-O is beyond me. There's also the fact that your opponents aren't subject to the same set-backs you are, and aren't penalized for their crashes.

But once you've found your rhythm, you will discover that the game is just like riding a bike. (Yes, I know I'm witty.) The controls will feel more and more natural to you the longer you play, and you'll be able to worry less about face-planting and more about pulling off eight consecutive somersaults. While the tricks you can perform are limited, the variances in tracks and terrain add a new level of skill each time, and keep it from feeling stale.

Surprisingly, for me, at least, CycloManiacs' let-down wasn't the hard-to-master control scheme. It was the lack of a multiplayer function. With such a huge cast of characters, the game is practically begging for it. This is the type of game you can easily lose hours at a time in, and it would be so much better if you were competing against a friend for high scores and fast times. Pulling off a complicated series of spins and wheelies by a hair isn't nearly as satisfying as it would be if I were rubbing it in a dear friend's face. We can only hope that they have plans for it somewhere down the road, since it seems like the next logical course.

While it may take some practice and patience to perfect, CycloManiacs is still a surprisingly fun little racing game with loads of personality. The sheer mass of achievements available and the "skillz" required to unlock them will keep completionists busy for a long time. The rest of us will just revel in being six years old all over again, barelling down a hill at top speed and shrieking our joy into the wind. Until we skid facefirst across the pavement and want our mothers. But until then? Ride the wind, baby. Ride the wind.

Play CycloManiacs


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (159 votes)
| Comments (43) | Views (1,100)

GrinnypBeing One TwoPanting and shaking as you finish your fight with the mechanoid, you lurch towards the exit. Another set of blast doors? No problem. You've found a handy multi-tool and within minutes the door is open. You stagger up the stairs in relief. The exit is in sight! The exit is closer! The exit is...oh, crap.

Thus starts Being One: Episode 2 - Bloodbath by Psionic. You still haven't made it out of the lab, merely to a higher level where the scientists at least haven't been experimenting on aliens. Instead they've been experimenting on... but that would be telling. As in Episode 1, you are trying to determine an exit strategy, while along the way discovering exactly what type of "research" has been conducted in this hellish place. By the way, where have all the researchers gone?

Where Episode 1 was an exercise in quiet paranoia, Being One: Episode 2 is a jittery, nerve-ridden roller coaster ride. What's that noise? Is there... something in the vents? Eschewing the almost soothing (yet creepy) green tones of the first episode, you will find yourself bathed in red: red lights, red decor, and a lot of some mysterious wet, sticky substance all over the walls, floors, ceilings — you get the picture. Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.

The Being One games are an eclectic mix of point-and-click adventure, hidden object, room escape, and a little shoot'em'up thrown in for good measure. The puzzles themselves are not terribly difficult. The emphasis is on the spooky atmosphere and continually unfolding story of this strange facility. As in a basic point-and-click, you use your mouse to pick up and manipulate items. Bright yellow directional arrows make for very smooth navigation within the facility. The music and sound effects are suitably creepy and heighten your experience. And enjoy the animations — when you're not leaping out of your chair in terror.

Deeper, darker, and lots more bloodridden (thus living up to its title?), with Episode 2 the plot sickens. Once again, though, the experience is entirely too short. Will all the episodes eventually be strung together to make a cohesive narrative? Will the next episode be longer and more involved? Will you ever get out of this creepy lab? Only Psionic knows and he's not telling...

Play Being One: Episode 2 - Bloodbath

Thanks for sending this one in, Luke! Cheers!


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (113 votes)
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zxoBOXGAMERemember when your parents wanted you to perform totally unreasonable demands (like keeping quiet in the car or cleaning your room), so they tried to trick you into thinking it would be fun by calling it a game? I'm sure I'm not the only one who ever played "The Quiet Game" or "The Pick Up Toys Game" or "The See How Many Blades of Grass You Can Cut With Your Teeth Game".

Anyway, let me assure you right now: BOXGAME does not in any way involve heavy lifting. I know it sounds like a trick your buddy might pull on you when they are moving and want your help, but it's nothing of the sort.

No, the source of Boxgame's name is obvious once you realize that it's basically a platformer wrapped around a box (or several). Use the [arrow] keys to guide your nameless, faceless hero to the exit, grabbing a key along the way if you need it. When you reach the edge of a face, the level rotates, bringing the new face to the front. What makes Boxgame tricky is the fact that gravity is always down. This would, of course, be perfectly normal for a 2D platformer, but makes all the difference in 3D. Now, the gravity on any given face can be different, depending on just how you got there. Don't quite understand? Load up level 9 and jump towards the corner for a quick demonstration.

BOXGAMEThis gravitational oddity bears some resemblance to games like Shift, where you can rotate the entire screen. The effect is a bit more subtle in Boxgame, and slightly harder to grasp, but gamemaker Sophie Houlden (who incidentally made Linear RPG) makes it easy, with a gentle difficulty curve to get you used to all this rotating business. The first three levels are basically tutorials, but then things start to get tricky. Elements like spikes, color-specific platforms, and arrows that redefine gravity are gradually introduced, and the levels grow larger and more complex. To help you get your bearings on the later levels, you can zoom out by holding down [space] and rotate the view with the [arrow] keys. As of the time of writing there are 15 levels, but more are being added, so check back often!

Analysis: Clearly, the meaty goodness of Boxgame lies in its unique concept and level design. Houlden makes good use of a few simple devices to strike a good balance between puzzle-solving and platforming skill, both of which are needed in heavy doses in the later levels. Most levels also use space in a quite elegant way, with very little excess. The visual and audio aspects of the game are only as sophisticated as they need to be, and no more.

Boxgame also excels at an often underappreciated aspect of games: usability. Entering the options page provides you with a palette of customizable controls, including colors to suit any type of colorblindness, adjustable mouse sensitivity, and 5 quality levels. In addition, there are multiple ways to rotate the level for a better view (holding [shift] or [space] and using the [arrow] keys, or just dragging the mouse), a choice between constant or sudden camera rotation (press [tab]), and the option to walk instead of run (hold [S]). The only area with less than stellar usability is the level menu navigation — it's sometimes hard to select a level with the constant shifting around.

But nobody plays games just because they're usable. They play them because they're fun! And no matter how you look at it, Boxgame is fun to play. Don't forget your teddy bear!

Play BOXGAME


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Mobile Monday

JohnBSo many games, so few breaks during the day to find an excuse to play them! The iTunes App Store is heating up with some of the best game offerings its ever had. First I Dig It stole my heart, now Space Invaders and Dungeon Scroll threaten to do the same!

spaceinvadersinfinity.gifSpace Invaders: Infinity Gene - The great-grand daddy of all shooters has evolved and come to the iPhone. Space Invaders: Infinity Gene is the original game taken to the next level. And then given a nitro boost. Starting from the classic shooter and slowly adding abilities, weapons, and options, the game truly evolves as you play. Movement is handled by tapping and sliding anywhere on the touch screen, allowing you to move your ship without obscuring it with your finger. The levels play out like a tripped out version of Galaga, and the action is fast and furious. This is Space Invaders for today's generation.

dungeonscroll-iphone.jpgDungeon Scroll Gold Edition - One of independent gaming's favorite word games makes its way from a downloadable Windows game to the iTunes App Store. And perfectly intact, I might add. Venture deep into a dungeon encountering monster after monster, each one chipping away at your hit points as time ticks by. Instead of pulling out swords and maces, however, you spell words using a group of letters that only changes after several battles. The bigger the word, the more damage you do. Dungeon Scroll encourages a curious strategy where you hold back on impressive words until you have a tough enemy to defeat. Save the three letter words for the bats and rats!

minigore.jpgMinigore - Like the name implies, this "dual stick" isometric shooter is packed with gore—wait, no it isn't! It's all cute and cartooney and stuff with blocky-headed characters and colorful bushes! The game plays much like iDracula where your left thumb moves your character while your right controls which direction you shoot. Mow down the progressively stronger packs of enemies and stay alive as long as you can.

dropsum-iphone.jpgDropSum - The downloadable game turned Flash game has now turned into an iPhone game. DropSum is a puzzle title that, at first, might remind you of Tetris or Drop7. Slide numbered orbs from above into the grid below. Any time a vertical or horizontal group adds up to nine you score points and those orbs change color. Shift them from blue to yellow and red by making more groups of nine and they'll finally explode, allowing more orbs to take their place. The chain reaction possibilities are enormous! A free DropSum Lite is also available.

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


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (86 votes)
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DoraRosemaryIt's just a photograph, found tucked away in her parent's attic, but for one girl it raises questions and memories she's forgotten. Once upon a time she was a little girl whose best friend was a little boy. But her parents have always insisted he never existed. So why does she have a picture of him, then? It prompts her to revisit the town she grew up in and untangle her memories in this short but sweet point-and-click adventure from Gambit about childhood, friendship, and loss with Rosemary.

Rosemary experiences the world around her not only through your typical point-and-click interactions, but through her senses as well. The bottom of the screen has a list of interactions that greatly expands her environment. Click on "smell", then on the sky, and she might tell you she smells rain coming. Click on "listen", then on a nearby window, and she might recall a happier time when she and he friend used to call out to one another.

But you're not just exploring Rosemary's present-day. Clicking on the tree icon in the menu at the bottom of the screen will shift her back into the richly painted realm of her memories, where all the interactions are different. You can do this at any time, and it's often the best way to proceed. Present-day may be gloomy and empty, but Rosemary's memories contain old friends she can talk to and provide more pieces to her puzzle.

The puzzles in the game are extremely simple, and while one involves making an obvious combination of the few objects you'll pick up, most of the others are about Rosemary's photo album. If you click on the icon, you'll open it up and be presented with two pages for each puzzle. One page will have a short description where important words are left out, and the opposite will have space for photographs that will fill in the appropriate word from Rosemary's memory. Since you typically only receive one or two memories at a time to work with, these can usually be solved with minimum fuss by swapping pictures around if the combination doesn't work.

The point-and-click formula is a well documented one, familiar enough as to be considered tradition. I'm not berating the genre, since Lord knows it has the warmest little niche possible in my nerd-heart, right between rail-shooters and movies by Bruce Campbell. But it is an old one, and it's refreshing to see a game trying a different approach to it. Experiencing the world through Rosemary's senses rather than just your standard "touch/pick up" and "look" makes for a much more immersive experience. You find out much more about her and the world around her if you take the time to explore rather than just click through on all the obvious places.

RosemaryAnalysis: When people remember their childhood, many of them remember the good rather than the bad. I know I'd rather remember my grandmother's banana bread than the arguments I had with friends, or the time I fell out of the tree in our backyard. The difference between the lonely, forgotten present day and Rosemary's memories, which are painted in rich, warm tones of orange and gold, is exceptionally striking, and is one of the best examples at creating atmosphere I've seen in a long time. Even the oddly melancholic little soundtrack changes, becoming warm and inviting.

The only real disappointment I had with Rosemary is how short it is. You can expect to finish it in under a half hour, longer if you're insatiably nosy and exhaust every option on every object. If such a short playtime is what's kept the production values on this game so high, then perhaps it's a good thing. But at the same time, it makes the ending much more startling because of how abrupt it is. While there is some foreshadowing, there isn't nearly enough to take the sting out of it. Even though you may see it coming, it's still a bit of a shock.

Oh, but it's lovely while it lasts, with its storybook artwork full of rich amber hues and the subtle sound effects that blend with the music to create a touchable environment. So much effort and cleverness has been put into this one, that if it were longer it would easily become a classic instead of just an afternoon treat. The team behind it is immensely talented, and I have no doubt at all that all of them are going to go far. There's a love and sensitivity in Rosemary's whole design that speaks well for any future projects that they may undertake, whether together or apart. And yes I know I'm talking about them like they're Power Rangers about to combine, and I don't care, because that is how much I love Rosemary.

I spent a while trying to decide what content rating to give this one solely because of the ending. Most children may not even bat an eye, but I would recommend that if your child is under the age of ten, you give this one a play yourself before turning them loose on it. Rosemary is a sweet, nostalgic little story tempered by sadness, and some tots may not be ready for it just yet.

In a lot of ways, Rosemary is remarkable, and not just "for a freeware game", but for a game, period. Short and bittersweet, it offers a solid story experience that promises great things to come from it's creators. And maybe, just maybe it will break your heart a little.

WindowsWindows:
Download the full, free game.

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (32 votes)
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Return to Mysterious Island 2

GrimmrookIn Kheops' new adventure, Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina's Fate, you reprise the role of the resilient young castaway, Mina, and her adorable primate pal, Jep. When last we left the duo, we thought we had made our way safely off of Nemo's island, destined to live a luxurious life filled with all of the conveniences that civilization provides. Looking back, it seems as though we were more than a little naive.

Return to Mysterious Island 2After a bizarre incident puts a sudden and violent halt to our exodus, we are, once again stranded on this booby-trapped isle. Welcome back to square one. Now you'll have to continue exploring this mysterious island in the hopes of finding another way home. Luckily you have Jep to help you out with your pointing and clicking endeavors as he proves to be quite useful. In fact, not to ruin any surprises, but without this plucky monkey this adventure might not even get off the ground.

As in most adventure games, the bulk of the gameplay involves collecting items and clues that help you understand how to use those items. You navigate along predetermined paths, moving from one hotspot to the next where you are afforded full global movement to take in your surroundings. Your cursor quite handily changes automatically to any of a number of icons when specific actions are necessary. Right-clicking brings up your inventory, and using items on other items in your inventory brings up a combination interface that allows you to assemble and disassemble basic items to get more complex items.

Where Mysterious Island 2 makes a huge left turn in gameplay is in the ability to fully utilize Jep as a separate character (compared to the original where Jep was used more like an item). In fact, you'll spend the beginning of the game playing as Jep. Mina's adopted simian may not be able to use certain items or combine items, but he can easily get to a lot of places Mina can't, and his ability to interact with the island's wildlife is unmatched.

So come, let's explore this island once more, foraging for food and surviving on the sharpness of our wits until someone else comes to rescue us. I'm positive the island won't do anything crazy, like, maybe explode in a fireball of doom whilst we wait... Nah. Can't happen.

Return to Mysterious Island 2Analysis: I'm quickly developing a great deal of respect for the way developer Kheops builds its games. While one would expect there to be no shortage of similarities between Mysterious Island 2 and its predecessor, I've also found that putting plot and mood aside, this game is quite similar in many ways to Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon.

One of the ways in which Mysterious Island 2 is similar to Path of the Dragon is they are both considerably difficult games, even if for different reasons. What makes Mysterious Island 2 such a great challenge is in how decidedly non-linear it is. As you pick your way through the island, you will come across tons of items, often with multiple uses, few indicators on what you should do next. Puzzles can be approached from numerous angles, making creativity a prime commodity for those hoping to see their way to the end. In fact, it's worth noting that creativity is actually given something of a point score in this game.

The open-ended quality of Mysterious Island 2 not only impacts the game's difficulty but also its feel as well. Your explorations, and not, necessarily, predetermined plot points, govern your physical and plot-based progress through the game. The side effect of this is that it really helps to provide the feel of being stranded on a deserted island. That you don't spend most of your time reading or talking to other characters speaks directly to the isolation of your situation. This combines with the organic nature of many of the puzzles to fully sell the idea that you are alone with your pet monkey on an island.

The sights and sounds finish off the effect. Mysterious Island 2 takes a minimalist approach to music, usually letting the roar of the ocean and the song of birds replace a composed soundtrack. Sure, there's a dramatic sting here and there, an ambient melody on occasion, but for the most part Mysterious Island 2 lets nature do what nature does. Meanwhile, the game looks great, capturing the beauty of an isolated island. The only problem here is the same problem many have in emulating nature: repetition. I'm not trying to say that once you've seen one beautifully rendered tree, you've seen them all. But, well, once you've seen one beautifully rendered tree, you really have seen them all.

Return to Mysterious Island 2One of my favorite selling points of Mysterious Island 2 is the relationship on display between Mina and Jep. You'll get to see these two interacting quite a bit, and what really strikes me is how honest the chemistry feels. I couldn't help but feel a certain amount of affection each time Mina playfully calls Jep a scoundrel, or the way Jep dances eagerly at the prospect of another hug (fine, I admit it, I make sure they hug every time before I send Jep out on a mission on his lonesome). There is otherwise so little character interaction in the game, it seems altogether fitting that the one regular interaction is beautifully executed.

I still find Kheops' inventory system to be clumsy. Why do all the items I pick up have to go into that one special window? And why can't I just put items directly into the combine tray instead of using them on each other first. Further, on top of the high difficulty, the lack of direction may not be welcome too less experienced adventure gamers.

Outside of these few complaints, however, I find there is little to fault in Mysterious Island 2. Rarely do point-and-click adventure games succeed so well in immersing their audience into the exact setting and feel of the game. Indeed, Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina's Fate has gone a long way to make being lost a very good time.

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: Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina's Fate is a large file download, and, as such, our partners do not offer a demo. You can, however, download the demo from the game's official website.


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (33 votes)
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Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery

Grinnyp"The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock." If you've ever read The Lottery, or one of its numerous clones, you should be familiar with the rise of the hairs on the back of your neck, the creeping sense of fear. Welcome to Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery, a game that manages to convey that overwhelming sense of dread so well you may find yourself glancing over your shoulder in paranoia as you play.

strangecasestarot.jpg"It was a dark and stormy night..." Okay, enough of that. Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery is a new hidden object/adventure/mystery hybrid by Sulus Games. You play FBI agent Claire Ellery assigned to a case in a fishing village so small it can't be found by GPS, which should be your first hint that something's rotten. You've been called out on the case of three girls who have been kidnapped. The local police are uncooperative, and a mysterious stranger keeps leaving you odd clues on tarot cards scattered around the place. What's an FBI agent to do?

At first Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery seems to be a pretty generic story: basic kidnapping, uncooperative local authorities, dark and spooky small town, etc. Then the mayor and doctor start acting suspiciously and it goes downhill from there. Like all hidden object games, there will be lots of items to find. Unlike most hidden object games, many of the items are actually useful in your search for the culprit!

Tarot cards you find will either give a written list, a group of silhouettes, or an object (or objects) of which pieces need to be found. It's a lovely way to integrate the hidden object lists into the game without breaking stride. Some scenes will include all three types of tarot and you can work back and forth between the cards or concentrate on just one. Some items go into your inventory and will become useful later. Navigation is either by moving within the scene (indicated by an arrow mouse change) or through handy Polaroid photos that accumulate in the case file. Just click on a pic to return to that area.

strangecasestarot2.jpgAnalysis: There are many, many hidden object/adventure/mystery hybrids out there. What makes Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery any different? The story. The artwork. The mini-games. Oh, and how all three are seamlessly integrated.

Although the basic plot has been done many times before, as you work through the narrative it begins to dawn on you that there is indeed more going on than the game tells you. This happens gradually, in the tradition of the best horror/mystery stories. The art for the dialogue scenes has a lovely washed hand-painted feel, while the HOG scenes are bright, clear, 3D and photorealistic. Surprisingly the two styles work well together, each heightening the mood of the story. The mini-games lean heavily towards logic and puzzle solving rather than just being iterations of games you've seen before. There's at least one mini-game/puzzle that could have been lifted directly from a room escape game.

Hidden object scenes themselves are a pleasant surprise. Each view is bright and clear, with very little clutter. No burying objects ten deep in a room and trying to find something in the resultant mess. A refilling hint timer is always welcome, as is a skip function for the mini-games. There's also a handy mute feature in the options if the atmospheric music and sound effects become annoying. Handy cursor changes round out the playability of the game. A magnifying glass will let you know when something needs to be investigated further, a rotating gear will indicate something that needs to be manipulated, and an arrow points the way to other areas to explore.

strangecasestarot3.jpgUnfortunately there are a few minor problems that can detract from gameplay. The "click area" when picking up items in the hidden object scenes is so tight that the point of the mouse cursor needs to be directly on an object. Multiple incorrect clicks will result in a spinning cursor, forcing you to slow down, and this can happen quite often even while trying to pick up the correct item. Broadening the click area would have been a good idea. The story itself, while fantastic, is way too short. You will leave the game wanting so much more.

Seamless integration, though, is what makes Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery stand out from the pack. From the dialogue scenes to the hidden object scenes to the mini-games, everything flows so easily that you might find yourself several moves into a mini-game before you realize what has happened, leaving you to enjoy the deepening sense of paranoia. Are the cops in on it? The Mayor? Everyone? Play Strange Cases: The Tarot Card Mystery to find out.

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

JohnBNormally, I'm not much of a shmup fan. Three of the four games featured below, however, happen to be shooters. And I happen to have enjoyed them. Which is neat! Sure, they're decidedly less "serious" than most games in the genre, but still, you shoot stuff, so that counts, right?

littlebee.gifLittle Bee (Mac/Windows, 3.5MB, free) - Little Bee would like to fly to the beehive and collect as much pollen as possible on the way. Using the [arrow] keys to move, simply avoid the obstacles while nabbing bits of pollen from the tops of flowers. Your goal is to collect 50, and if you get hit, you have to start all over again. This cute little game was programmed by Simon Czentnár with music co-creted by Nicklas Nygren (Nifflas) and Kevin MacLeod.

skulldaddy.jpgSkull Daddy (Windows, 13.8MB, free) - A preview build of Christopher Mathes' physics-based puzzle game. Similar to Eets in design, you are given a number of tools to put in place while the action is on hold. Once you build a path to the goal, click the skull and it starts rolling, hopefully along the safe and sturdy road you so carefully constructed. Just ten levels are available right now, with only a few materials with which to build, but the game shows a lot of promise!

Attack of the Deadly Mutant FishiesAttack of the Deadly Mutant Fishies (Windows, 4.1MB, free) - A visually simple boss-based shooting game of a very different sort. Instead of manning a high-powered flight vehicle with guns and missiles ready to destroy enemy ships, you're a mermaid who sings to fish. Take on ten bosses with nothing more than your lilting vocals and a few hit points.

Carpe UniversumCarpe Universum (Windows, 18MB, free) - A shooter by Wyrdysm Games built around aggressive gameplay as opposed to fleeing from every bullet you see. In addition to half a dozen or so types of weapon attacks, your ship has the ability to roll to the side to dodge attacks as well as charge forward to damage your foes. As if this weren't unique enough, enemies spawn in time with the music, so when the background beat kicks up, you'll have to start paying more attention.

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (602 votes)
| Comments (254) | Views (3,009)

PsychotronicThis Is The Only LevelObserve this failure of an elephant. Its very existence is an affront to the genuine article, the traditional lumbering, majestic, intelligent, gentle beast of the plains. This elephant is tiny. It is blue. The only verb it knows is "totter". Totter totter totter, like it's about to tip over from its sheer drunken lack of elephantine characteristics. Oh, and "jump". The elephant, the elephant, it leaps like a freaking tree frog. What a failure of an elephant.

Even worse, this elephant has forgotten every level of this new platform game from John Cooney (Achievement Unlocked) but the first. An animal known for its memory can't remember anything about the game it's starring in but a single configuration of blocks and spikes. This is it. This is the Only Level. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009It's not even a very interesting level: just hit the switch, which opens the door, which unblocks the exit. That's all this tragic failure of an elephant could come up with.

It can't remember what color the level is. That's different every time you play. It can't remember what the controls are. You might try the [left] arrow to totter left, the [right] arrow to totter right, and the [up] arrow to freaking jump, but don't count on that working all the time. Señor Failephant might switch things up on you.

This elephant doesn't even have a purpose. At least the doomed businessman in Karoshi, which features a similar kind of outside-the-box puzzle solving, has suicide on his mind. All the elephant wants is to go through the next pipe. What elephant travels by pipe? Why don't you just hop on a dinosaur and eat some mushrooms, you failure? Fail! You fail as an elephant!

Play This is the Only Level

Thanks to Patrick, Focus, Salmon, and Arikiko for sending this one in!


(13 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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The Lost Inca Prophecy

GrinnypThe Lost Inca Prophecy, from Seppia Interactive, blends match-3 gameplay with the look and feel of a hidden object/adventure hybrid. You play as Acua, a young Spanish woman living around the time of Columbus. One day a book in your beloved library speaks to you, giving you a prophecy about the doom of the Inca Empire. The next thing you know you are on your way to the New World with your friend Juan de Salcedo — a brave conquistador — as your only companion. Can the two of you find and restore the Inca temples to prevent the prophecy from coming true?

lostincaprophecy.jpgDespite the opening prologue and an opening hidden object sequence, this is not an adventure hybrid game. The meat of The Lost Inca Prophecy is match-3 — 96 screens of it, to be precise. Each is a standard grid with objects, some squares of which are covered by "tiles". Break the tiles by creating matches on top of them to clear the grid. When this is done, a piece of an object will appear at the top of the grid. You must now create matches below so it can follow a path to the bottom. Once complete, you earn the piece and are off to the next grid. Collect enough pieces to complete four objects and another hidden object scene begins!

The story itself is broken into four chapters, each covering a different temple. Every chapter contains 24 match-3 scenes and four hidden object scenes, with the HOG scenes coming at the beginning, end, and regular intervals throughout the chapter. Apu, a talkative Inca Thunder god mask, provides helpful commentary when encountering new obstacles or power-ups, and the whole thing is interspersed with tidbits of Inca culture between match-3 games.

What distinguishes The Lost Inca Prophecy from the admittedly enormous pack of Bejeweled clones can be encapsulated in one word: customizability (which, depending on which dictionary you consult, isn't really a word). Find the whole square grid thing too easy? You can switch to a hexagon-shaped grid mode which ups the difficulty. Tired of basic "swap" style match-3? There is a chain mode where you can make matches by dragging a chain across a series of objects, a la Cradle of Persia. Or you can switch to group mode, where you click on massed groups of three or more, similar to Collapse. You can switch back and forth between each match-3 scene, creating a huge variety of scenarios where you can challenge yourself or breeze through the level as you like.

lostincaprophecy2.jpgAnalysis: The Lost Inca Prophecy presents players with an unusual set-up: hidden object scenes dotted across a matching puzzle landscape. It's kind of odd, if you think about it, as the only thing the two genres really have in common is they are widely appreciated by casual gamers. But Seppia Interactive stitches the two pieces together with style, and you find yourself flowing along with the game's pace with a natural kind of ease.

As for the match-3 elements, they are done exceedingly well. Each scene comes with an increasing number of power-ups you can earn, such as a hammer that will break one square, a bomb to break several squares, etc. As each level progresses the shapes of the grids become more and more complex, making completion trickier, even with more powerful power-ups. There are no timers to worry about, though, allowing a more relaxed, casual approach to gameplay.

Backgrounds throughout the game are beautiful, vivid, and almost fairy-tale like, with a strong emphasis on pre-Columbian design. The objects in the match-3 grids are all iconic to the Inca culture: corn, pots, pottery frogs, etc., and the temples resemble actual Inca temples that can be found in Peru today.

Some might be a little uneasy with the basic storyline: a Spanish woman and a Conquistador rushing to save the Inca culture while his co-workers are busily destroying it. However, history is history and what has happened, happened. The game itself tries to stick pretty close to what is known of Inca culture and history, although it does begin to get a little "Chariot of the Gods" fantastical towards the end.

Nevertheless, the ability to customize the match-3 segments allow for replaying over and over, trying out different combinations or repeating favorites. Hours and hours of fun to be had!

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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JayJayisgames logoA quick update to highlight a few things we have been working on to improve your experience here at JIG (just in case you're a new visitor or one that doesn't poke around the site very much)...

CGDC #6! Yes, we are hard at work to bring you the next iteration of our popular series of Casual Gameplay Design Competitions. If you haven't already participated by helping us choose a theme for it, then please choose your favorite from the 12 finalists. Deadline is Sunday, August 9th. We have some exciting ideas up our sleeves for this competition, which will make it our most 'creative' competition yet! ;) So please help us spread the word about it!


JIG on Facebook! If you have a Facebook account (and who doesn't these days?!) then please become a fan on Facebook and help us to spread the word about all the awesome games reviewed and recommended here. If you're already a fan, you can help us by participating on our Facebook page. Please leave a comment or indicate you like something when we post it there. We will be featuring reviews and special offers there that you can't get anywhere else.


Tags! (located in the site navigation menu): We have been working hard to improve the tag pages, which are listings of all the games on the site that have been assigned a given tag. The URL format for our tag listings is as follows:

  • jayisgames.com/tag/tag-name
    Replace tag-name with any valid tag used on JIG.

You may enter the URL for your desired tag-name directly in the address bar of your browser, or just click on any of the tags in a game review header to be taken to the listing of all games assigned that tag. From there you can sort the listing reverse chronologically (default, newest first), or by rating. Sorting by rating now allows you to see at a glance a listing of the best rated Eyezmaze games, for example. The URL format for tag listings by rating is as follows:

  • jayisgames.com/tag/tag-name/rating
    Replace tag-name with any valid tag used on JIG.

There is a page for every tag used on the site, now almost 2,000 of them(!) For a listing of all the tags in use, listed alphabetically, click on "Tags" in the navigation menu just below the site banner. We have also included a submenu off the Tags menu that provides shortcuts to some of the main game genres we cover at JIG. (Adventure, Room Escape, Puzzle, etc.)

Use the tag listings to help find games you may have never seen before, since we have been around highlighting the best games on the Web for over 5 years now! There are lots of great games in our archives.


Walkthroughs! (located in the site navigation menu): We also added a new Walkthroughs section to the navigation menu, which highlights some of our most popular game walkthroughs. Click on "Walkthroughs" to be taken to a listing of all the walkthroughs we have currently on the site. From there you can view the listing reverse chronologically (default, newest first), or alphabetically. Since our walkthroughs now have their own section, we have removed the listing of all the site walkthroughs from the left sidebar (for signed-in members only).


Hot Games! (located in submenu of "All Games" in the site navigation menu): You can now view a listing of the 100 most popular games on JIG. Popularity is based on the amount of attention a game is receiving, not based on rating, and the listing is updated every hour. It's a great way to check out where the JIG community is spending its time right now!


Best Games! (located in submenu of "All Games" in the site navigation menu): We have expanded this very popular page to include the top 500 higest rated games on JIG. This list contains so many excellent games, you are sure to find something worthy of your time that you have never played before. If you're looking for something special, or you don't like the latest game up for review, do check it out.


We have much more coming in the weeks and months ahead, so keep coming back and checking us out. And if you appreciate us for all that we do here at JIG, please consider adding a link to us on your website if you don't already have one, and please tell your family and friends about us. Thank you for your support! We couldn't do what we do without you.

And if you just like to kill time during your coffee break, we love having you around! Keep up the good work!! :D


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Rating: 4.1/5 (78 votes)
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GrimmrookCrunchball 3000The packed in seats of the auditorium fall into a silence of anticipation. The players poise themselves on the playing field, each one covered head to toe in enough gear to protect them through a moderate sized nuclear explosion. They each wait for the moment in their own way, some praying, some bouncing lightly back and forth, some forcing down the urge to vomit. Seconds stretch out to eternity as the two opposing teams face each other, coiling like snakes ready to strike, waiting for that perfect moment. Time does funny things, and one could almost believe that everyone in the arena will be stuck, frozen, doomed to wait forever. Then the ball bursts forth with an explosion in the center of the field and the silence transforms into a cacophony of crunches and thunderous cheers. It's time to play Crunchball 3000.

Crunchball 3000 is, as you may have guessed, a sports game. The twist, though, is that this is a fictional sport played in the distant future. Even though the setting is more science fiction than reality, most players should find at least a few familiar things, due to the fact that Crunchball is patterned after the very real and contemporary sports of hockey and soccer.

In general, you have two teams of ten pitted against each other, with one ball between them. You score points by driving the ball into the opposing team's goal by any means necessary. Throw it in, run it in, you can even manage to get tackled and let the ball fumble in all on its own. You'll use the [WASD] keys to run your currently highlighted player, the [G] key to tackle or to throw the ball if you have it, the [H] key to pass the ball or to change players on defense, and the [J] key to cycle through the formations for your players.

Once the game ends, it's time to take off the pads and put on your coach's hat. In between games you'll have to direct practice, buy new gear, and even trade players at the end of the season. If you're smart, you'll keep a close eye on your stats and those of your opponents, because how well you prepare off the field is just as important as what happens on the field.

Analysis: Good sports games in Flash can be hard to find, which is probably one of the reasons we haven't featured many in the past. It can be even worse if you're trying to find casual sports games. You're talking about cramming in all the statistical data, the physics, the gameplay, and then squeezing it all into an experience that can be enjoyed in ten or so minutes. It's a tall order, but one that Crunchball 3000 fills with ease.

Crunchball 3000Crunchball's success is largely due to the fact that the fictional sport is a streamlined rendition of several real ones. Hockey, basketball, and soccer are the ancestors of this futuristic blood sport, but by omitting most of the rules, not only was the game easier to produce, I'm sure, but it's easier for the casual player to pick up and enjoy. It is at once new and exciting, but familiar enough to not throw people off.

Don't mistake streamlining for a lack of depth, though. With three tiers, thirty-two teams, and well over three hundred players, Crunchball has enough raw data and stats to satisfy even the guy at work who knows which player hit what home run in a World Series that took place decades ago. On top of that there's quite a bit of customization available to you, right up to the color of jersey your team gets to wear.

The goodies for sports fans don't end there. Not by a long shot. At the end of each season, you can trade players. Is your line up not holding up well against other teams? Pick up a better player. Are you short of cash? Sell one of your high dollar players to restock the coffers. You even get a decent amount of control over how you choose to improve your team from week to week by selecting which attributes you wish to work on, buying new gear, or even partaking in less than legal performance enhancers.

I know. At this point you must be thinking that this game doesn't sound very casual at all. That's where you would be wrong. Even with all this depth, each actual game only lasts for a minute and a half. Further, there are single games and multiplayer games that don't require the full time investment of career mode.

And when you clear away the stats, the trades, the different tiers, etc. what you have is a game that is still tons of fun. Sure, when you're just starting out it may feel a little sluggish, but you just haven't built up your players yet. Train and buy gear wisely, and eventually your team will be speeding up and down the arena and throwing some bone crunching tackles.

I would say Crunchball's one weakness as a sports game is that there isn't much depth in developing and adapting strategies. Sure, there are a ton of formations, but I found that as I progressed from the lowly third tier to the first, I only needed to employ one strategy to rack up an impressive lifetime record. Now this means that I'm either the greatest Crunchball player of all time, or the challenge and adaptability of your opponents could have been tweaked upwards a touch.

If you're a big fan of sports games and have been dying for something to play at work on break, this is it. Even if you aren't really that into sports games, Crunchball 3000 boasts quite a bit of accessibility. So gear up, warm up, stretch out, and pay no mind to the 6'4", 320 lb behemoth giving you the evil eye. Scars build character and you ain't got time to be scared. Are you ready for some Crunchball?

Play Crunchball 3000


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraNot too long ago, in a kingdom not too far away, there was a great and noble king named Casual Gameplay. Casual Gameplay was a benevolent ruler who only wished that his subjects, that is to say, you lot, would have a wondrous existence full of kittens, garlic bread sticks, warm woolly socks, and really, really fun games, which, as everyone knows, are all one needs to live a happy life. And so King Casual Gameplay created a plethora of genres that endure even today...

  • NinjaNinja - From the noble house of Side-Scroller comes a tale of ninja, shuriken, ninja, smoke bombs, ninja, and ridiculous sword spinning combos in 2-D arcade beat-'em-up fashion. Note: may not actually contain your daily recommended serving of ninja. Consult a specialist for supplements.
  • RegrowthRegrowth - The Point-and-Click is a familiar legacy indeed, here coupled with familiar ally "ambiguous morality tale". No, wait. There is a lesson here. "Whatever you do, don't leave your bugs wandering around, or a sentient seed will come along and grow a carnivorous flower to eat them, and then totally solve your musical mushroom puzzles that you were going to do anyway after you figured out how to make cat food". I think that one is in Aesop somewhere.
  • Hop the GapHop the Gap - Ah, the Platformer! Solid, dependable, full of saw blades, ridiculously precise jumps, lollipops, and, most importantly, cowsies. Use your mouse to click your way across the gaps and hazards in this deceptively cheery little game. Warning: may cause bovine resentment.
  • The CompetitorThe Competitor - The Shooter is the sweet, shy, popular genre at school, and here we see what happens when it hangs out with bad-boy genre, Defense, and Joey Betz. Play for the bad guys in this Space-Invader-esque shooter as you draw your troops in formation to take on a lone fighter.
  • Vogon TrainingVogon Training - Bet you didn't know the Arcade genre was such a fantastic way to experience the thrill of bureaucracy, did you? Well, stop enjoying it! There are forms that need stamping and planets that need destroying and much-loved legacies that need gutting! Be a good little Vogon drone and fill out these forms so we can get you started on your training in a calm, orderly fashion. Until you deploy a poetry bomb, that is...

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Rating: 4.5/5 (164 votes)
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kateGravitee 2Gravitee 2 is space golf! In space! Somehow your ball ended up out in the farthest regions of the galaxy and you have no choice but to play through. This new physics/sports game from FunkyPear lets you sling your ball out into the cosmos, whipping around planets and barreling through hoops.

Your mouse controls everything. Just click on the ball and drag to shoot, adjusting for angle and power. Depending on the level's goal, you'll need to send the ball through a series of hoops in the correct order or make a shot through a single gate while trying to beat par. Other levels may have you collecting little green balls, conveniently called pick-ups. Then there's the aptly titled Points stage, which is a hodgepodge of hoops, pick-ups, and planets, with the goal being to accumulate as many points as possible.

Gravitee 2Twist! The game uses Newtonian physics, meaning that the planets that you thought were merely decoration actually have a gravity field that pulls your poor ball all willy-nilly through the universe. Well, not really willy-nilly. Physics is a science, after all, so all of that curving and swooping is precise and reasonable.

Gravitational pull can either help or hinder you, depending on where you need the ball to end up. Instead of sand traps and water hazards, space is littered with suns that will destroy your ball if you get too close and wormholes for warping from one side of the screen to the other. A neat little feature is the preview line, which shows the anticipated path of the ball. With every achievement you unlock, the line gets longer, making shots easier to plan even as the levels get more difficult.

Analysis: Much like Warpshot, Gravitee 2 makes good use of arcs and wormholes and angles and gravity and many other scientific terms. If you miss a planet's gravitational pull, the ball goes whizzing out into space, never to return. (Don't worry. You get to try again with another ball.) Get the shot just right and the ball curves neatly around the planet and gently through the hoop. For levels with multiple planets, precise angle and power can set off a series of swooping figure eights, slinging your ball around and over and around again.

The basic physics of the game makes it a pleasure to play, but the varying levels of difficulty and challenging requirements refine it into an addicting little space gem. Also, the graphics are bright and shiny like candy. However, gravity is tricky and devious, requiring a steady hand and nerves of steel to conquer. The mouse controls may be a bit too imprecise by nature, making you want to bend your virtual golf club over your knee. And just wait till you unlock Platinum Mode, where you don't even get to see the preview line.

With 90 achievements, 4 different medals to earn per level, rewards to unlock, and a well-crafted level editor, you'll want to put your space pants on, grab your space mouse, fire up your space computer, and spend some serious time playing space golf.

Play Gravitee 2


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Rating: 4.1/5 (79 votes)
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GrimmrookDrop Sum ver. 2We all like the math, right? Of course we do. Who could possibly forget the intoxicating aroma of graphing calculators, slide rules, complex algorithms... What? We don't all love math? Since when? Why wasn't I informed? Bah, no matter. Once you've spent a little quality time with the math-based block-dropping puzzle game DropSum v2.0, all of you math haters will be changing your tune.

This iteration is not so much a sequel as it is a major upgrade to the first DropSum. Just like the original, you drop numbers into a grid with the goal of linking together chains that add up to 9. As you make more and more successful chains, the individual numbers involved will change color from gray to blue to yellow to red. Finally they die, leaving an opening that can be filled in by other numbers, and giving you some breathing room. Fill the grid, and you're history.

DropSum version 2 has gotten itself a shiny new facelift, with cleaner graphics and a slightly less annoying soundtrack. It also awards you exploding tiles if you manage to clear ten red numbers in one move. But the biggest upgrade is the ability to rotate the entire board 90 degrees with the [left] and [right] arrow keys Knightfall style.

This last innovation makes a world of difference. In the original DropSum, numbers on the bottom row would turn essentially dead as it became less possible to make combinations that would reach them. Rotation largely fixes this problem, allowing you access to areas of the playing field that would have grown stagnant before. This innovation also makes the game considerably easier, which could be good if you're not looking to test your brain too much, but might be a big negative if you're looking for a big challenge.

Thus, in many ways this DropSum is what the original DropSum wanted to be when it grew up. It'll also give you a reason to once again cheer that most cherished of subjects, math.

Play Drop Sum v2.0

You Are Games

PsychotronicOkay, let's wrap this up. Last week, we asked you to vote for your favorite Casual Gameplay Design Competition themes from a very long list. Over 3000 of you showed up to play, which is just awesome. I hope I get this kind of participation next week on You Are Games when I ask you all to help me move some furniture.

Anyway, we took the top vote-getters and applied a couple of carefully considered editorial vetoes. For instance, while Giant Flaming Monkeys did make a strong showing, we can't use it as a theme for our competition because of... the World Court Giant Flaming Monkey... Protection Act of 1997... or something. It's not in, is what we're saying. We also cut a couple of suggestions that were just too similar to each other, so as not to split the vote between them. What remains are the top 12 themes, suggested by you, and voted to the top by even more of you. It's time to make a final decision:

Vote for your favorite!

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 once again vote for your favorite theme of the next Casual Gameplay Design Competition. Choose one theme from the list of 12 finalists. The poll will close on Sunday evening at midnight, August 9th. Big thank yous to everyone who voted last week!

Take the Casual Gameplay Design Competition Theme Finalist Poll.


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Rating: 3.4/5 (144 votes)
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zxoPixel Grower screenshotThe phrase "game as art" gets tossed around whenever there's a work that strays from the notion that a game is something to be completed. This term is usually applied to games with unusually interactive environments and breathtaking artwork, or games that attempt to deliver a message or toy with your emotions. In both of these cases, the gameplay itself is de-emphasized. What doesn't get mentioned often are games where the gameplay is the art, the thing of beauty. These games are often misunderstood, classified as boring by those who like a game to have such devices as characters and a story. They are simple by necessity, for the subtleties of gameplay are easily obscured by flash and sparkle. Yet for those who have the patience to explore the space carved out by the constructs around which the game is built, they can be a thing of true beauty, not unlike the beauty found within fractals and Fibonacci sequences.

Consider Pixel Grower, by Joey Betz. Visually, it's appealing, but not awe-inspiringly so. Likewise, the gameplay also appears simple, at least initially. Your mouse controls the paddle with which you must collect as many falling pixels as possible. Much like certain elements in falling sand games, the pixels stick to your paddle wherever they strike it, so before you know it, you're wielding a Christmas tree rather than a simple paddle. Your goal is quite simple: catch as many pixels as possible before your health meter runs out from letting too many pass you by. Whenever your pixel stack reaches the white line, the game zooms out and passes on to the next stage.

So where's the art? Well, let's take a step back and ask ourselves: just what is art? I think most people can agree that all art (good or bad, classic or just plain weird) shares the following two traits: 1) it was conceived as something to be displayed to, played for, or otherwise experienced by others; 2) it elicits from its experiencer some sort of mental or emotional response, whether it be awe, disgust, sadness, or simply: "huh."

With that in mind, we might begin to see how the gameplay in Pixel Grower might be considered artful. As you first begin to play, the game seems pretty straightforward: catch all the pixels, right? But after dying earlier than you think you ought to, it starts to dawn on you that how you catch the pixels is also extremely important. Slowly, you adjust not only your strategy, but the mental state with which you approach the simple task of catching. Like the morphing growth of the pixelated paddle, your impression of the game writhes and shifts, with no two people experiencing the same tactical mental progression. Little by little, you hack away the detritus of sub-optimal strategy, uncovering the gem that lies within.

Of course, like all art, games such as Pixel Grower do not appeal to everyone, as evidenced by the mixed comment response to one of the shining examples of gameplay-as-art. It certainly requires you to put on your abstract glasses to really appreciate it. But for those whose boat is floated by an artfully crafted piece of gameplay, Pixel Grower awaits your discerning fancy.

Play Pixel Grower


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Rating: 4.4/5 (278 votes)
| Comments (76) | Views (473)

Weekday Escape

JessSolitude, the new point-and-click adventure/escape game from Japanese designer 58 Works, begins with a brief animation of a plane, one wing trailing smoke, plummeting from the sky into the ocean. A young man pulls himself out of the water and collapses onto a beach, exhausted by the ordeal—little does he know that his trials have barely begun. Playing as the sole survivor of the accident, can you solve puzzles, collect objects and unlock the secrets of this mysterious island? Most important of all, will you find a way to escape your paradisal prison?

SolitudeSolitude is, at its core, a game of exploration. The game's puzzles are essentially pragmatic and realistic, mainly of the "collect item A to resolve obstacle B" variety (I simplify, but you understand what I mean). While the setting may be a bit fantastical, the ways in which you must use objects and manipulate the environment are completely reasonable, given the protagonist's situation. This means that Solitude is (hooray!) refreshingly logical. Every action makes sense, every solution is comprehensible. At the same time, those looking for raw intellectual challenge may not be entirely satisfied; while I would definitely not call the game easy, it isn't close to the most mentally taxing game you'll find in the genre.

Solitude's neat, colorful and professional-looking graphics create a very pleasant environment, one that is a pleasure to view and interact with. The interface is clean and user-friendly, and will be familiar to anyone accustomed to playing escape games. There's no pixel-hunting, per se (that is, no painstaking searches to find barely existent hotspots), but a number of important items are either hiding in plain sight or concealed in the environment, so make sure to run your cursor over everything in each scene. It's a little bit disappointing that Solitude does not contain a save feature; in my opinion, such an absence is inexcusable, particularly in a game created by such an excellent designer. Still, as Solitude is based more upon finding and then using items rather than solving complex puzzles, half-finishing and then restarting the game shouldn't cost you too much time.

All in all, Solitude is another superlative, highly entertaining effort from a consistently excellent designer. So, slip away from your busy week to bask for a little while in tropical isolation—while you may be trying to escape, you may be sorry to leave! Enjoy.

Play Solitude


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Rating: 4/5 (117 votes)
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DoraThe Next FloorTower defense is another antediluvian of the casual gameplay genres. It's surprisingly hard to bring something other than new window dressing to such a simple concept, since overdoing it leads to Frankenstein's monster; uncooperative, clumsy, trapped inside flaming windmills. The Next Floor, from John Cooney (Rabbit Wants Cake, I Love Traffic), neatly avoids the lurching horror by keeping the concept nice and simple and the action fast and furious.

The Next Floor puts you in the shadowy shoes of.... someone who is in an elevator... somewhere, and desperately defending it against... something that wants to... do... stuff to it? Look, if you want something deep and meaningful, you're in the wrong bloodstained, bullet-ridden corridor. The rest of us are content enough with knowing that the elevators are ours and something else wants them.

Actually, here you're defending the elevator shaft, since the various elevators you can purchase all have their own hit points. When enemies reach you, they'll begin attacking whatever is in front of them. If it's an elevator, and the hit points reach zero, the elevator will fall. Make sure you're not in one when this happens! If it's the elevator shaft, the mammoth life bar at the top of the screen will slowly deplete until nothing remains and you lose the game, forcing a restart.

The interesting mechanic here is the ability to purchase new elevators and switch between them by clicking on one and dragging it over another so they swap position. Since you can arm your elevators however you like with various upgrades, you can fill one with rocket launchers, the other with machine guns, and swap them around as needed. You can also join the fray yourself, by moving left or right with the [A] and [D] keys, and holding down the left mouse button to fire.

Analysis: The game only has one difficulty setting, which isn't actually challenging until late in the game. Even if you're swarmed during a level and barely manage to squeak out a victory with a fraction of health left, the damage to all elevators and the elevator shaft itself is completely repaired between levels. Unfortunately, if you do lose, you have to start the entire game over again.

At only fifteen levels, The Next Floor is fairly short, but it's this tight little package that makes the whole thing such breezy fun to play. Once the cash starts rolling in, you'll find you have more than enough to customize your weaponry to take on even the increasingly dense swarms. The action starts to get particularly heavy in the last half-dozen levels, where multiple types of creeps will appear on the same floor. Large enemies can shield smaller ones from harm, which can make things more than a little hairy when they've all swarmed up to your feet at once.

Funnily enough, the one thing I really felt the game missed out on was using actual elevator music in a game that takes place within elevators. I was really hoping for some bouncy little muzak rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema" played on a synthesizer to make the game feel more cheeky than gritty. As it stands, The Next Floor is a fast-paced, exuberant little title that will easy eat up a coffee break or two without breaking a sweat.

Play The Next Floor


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Rating: 4.1/5 (158 votes)
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JayPurouty mini-gameOn of Eyezmaze just released a mini-game 'hidden' within his Hatch Today series of illustrations. Purouty is the 28th illustration to appear in Hatch Today, and included with it is a mysterious "More" button. When clicked, you're treated to a unique puzzle game to solve in On's distinct and charming, delightful style.

If you enjoy the thrill of discovery and would rather figure it out for yourself, then don't read any further. If you get stuck, come back and learn how to play below.

When the game begins, a ring of colored creatures is revealed below the surface. Click on a creature to connect (or disconnect) its nose to (or from) the pool in the center. The characters at the top of the screen will think of colors. Every couple of seconds, the game checks to see if the colors of the creatures you have connected match the same colors being thought of above. If you're right, the bar at the bottom increases. If wrong, it decreases. It gets harder as more characters appear on top and start thinking of multiple colors. Also, you have to make sure all the creature noses are disconnected if nobody is thinking of a color.

Play Purouty

Cheers to pokemega32 for sending this one in! =)


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Rating: 4.4/5 (152 votes)
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PsychotronicDeep Chalk ThreeFirst things first: if you have headphones, plug them in. If you have a good speaker system attached to your computer, turn it on. Along with Auditorium, the first two Deep Chalk phases, and a very small number of other Flash games, Deep Chalk: Third Phase takes as much care with the sound as it does with the visuals. If you rely on your laptop speakers, you'll miss out on all the subtle whistles and buzzes in the background, the strange wobbling chatter when flowers grow... just all the depth and bass in the Boards of Canada samples that designer Zack Livestone uses for the backdrop in this abstract point-and-click adventure.

Of course, Deep Chalk is worth playing even with an inferior sound system. This is the most logical and straightforward chapter in a traditionally baffling series of games. You once again accompany a floating crystal through a world of photographic landscapes and chalked-in plantlife, coaxing various bits and tibbles into place in order to solve puzzles. Some objects need to be pushed, some clicked, some nudged. It's all very gentle.

The difference this time is that the crystal takes care of itself; once you clear the way, it wafts along with a grateful wobble (or maybe that's my imagination) and you can concentrate on breathing the next problem into order. There is also a focused left-to-right movement on each screen that makes it much easier to understand where the goal is. Small changes, but they mature the series. They help to define the player's role as a companion; not a baby-sitter.

A less welcome new feature is the custom cursor. In a game about smooth, subtle interactions, it's sad to have my pointer stuttering like a lifelong wallflower. I need a cursor that strokes with confidence, and the very nature of custom cursors in Flash means that every player won't get to have that.

With Phase Three, Zack Livetone gives us just as much reason to be excited about his new releases as we have for any of the other big point-and-click names. The Deep Chalk games have the look of the Ten Gnomes series, the gameplay of Samorost, and the music of Boards of Canada, but bring them together, and you have a delicate, almost mystical space to play in. Yes, in the end it's just a short string of puzzles with abstract graphics, but turn up your speakers.

Play Deep Chalk: Third Phase

Play the entire Deep Chalk series...


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Rating: 3.3/5 (102 votes)
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GrimmrookRoll Roll PirateAfter a lucrative time spent looting, pillaging, and in general terrorizing the seven seas, Roll Pirate points his ship homeward bound with enough treasure to make a king jealous. All is well until an unfortunate fire breaks out in the powder room and the resulting explosion scatters Roll Pirate's treasure across the surrounding islands. In Roll Roll Pirate, an interesting new action game from Devilish Games, you help Roll Pirate get his treasure back safe and sound.

To win back the pirate's booty, you'll have to travel to each of the surrounding islands, guide Roll Pirate to the loot, and see him safely back to the raft so he can move on to the next island. [Kyle, do the pirate voice. -Ed.] No. This is easier said than done, though, for the islands are filled with treacherously winding paths that are laden with perilous traps.

Control Roll Pirate using the [arrow] keys. [Up] and [down] move Roll Pirate away or towards you, while [left] and [right] move him in their respective directions, matching the curvature of the island. Alternatively, you can think of [left] and [right] as rotating the entire playing field while Roll remains still. [Seriously. Do the pirate voice. -Ed.] I don't want to. I did it last month. Anyway, the controls sound more complex than they really are. It shouldn't take you too long to acclimate yourself.

Roll Roll Pirate is innovative, with unique gameplay that is reminiscent of, but thankfully simpler and more intuitive than, Monkeyball and similar games. Smooth animation and solid visuals, combined with the gameplay, go a long way to boost Roll Roll Pirate's appeal. Unfortunately, the total package is not without flaw. The level design seems... [Yarrrrg, me matey! -Ed.] ...trying to be a professional here, man... the level design seems counterintuitive to the speed, momentum, and feel of Roll Pirate, and the camera angles you have to deal with can sometimes get in the way. One gets the feeling that Roll Roll Pirate should be a far more dynamic game, and much of the time it feels like you're playing with most of your potential on a short leash. But... [Look, do the pirate voice or we publish your Ibiza vacation photos. -Ed.] You wouldn't. [You heard me. -Ed.] Ugh. Fine.

Yarrrrg! But overall Roll Roll Pirate be a mighty good time for seadogs and lubbers alike! Yarrrg! Booty. Rum. Yarrg.

[Now, put on this eyepatch. -Ed.]

Play Roll Roll Pirate

Thanks for sending this one in, David!


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Rating: 3.3/5 (70 votes)
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DoraMagnetiBallBad physics puzzles are easy to find, and enough of you have probably been burned by them to warrant an Oprah special. We could sit on the couch and haltingly tell her about poor collision detection and ill-conceived level design, biting our lips and looking away when she asks us how that made us feel. And then we could talk about how games like MagnetiBall are teaching us to trust again. And then Oprah would tell everyone to look under their seat, and there would be a new car and somebody's autobiography.

In MagnetiBall, you control a small, round ball over the course of 60 levels, where the objective is to get it into the checkered finish line by any means necessary.

... is... is that a cattle prod?! Put that away! I don't even want to know where you got that or why it has its own tasseled carrying case. No, here "any means necessary" means utilizing the ball's unique magnetic properties by clicking on gears. When you do, the ball will zip in the direction of the gear and stay there for as long as you hold down the mouse button. Releasing the button causes your ball to drop or stop moving. While this is a simple mechanic, it opens the door for some surprising fancy moves as you learn how to zip yourself around obstacles, Spider-Man style.

As the game wears on and the level design becomes more and more elaborate, the game allows you to rotate the screen by tapping the [left] and [right] arrow keys, which will cause the ball to drop in the new direction. You'll occasionally only be able to rotate in one direction or not at all, so don't get too reliant on flipping the playfield.

Despite the title of the game, which implies the ball you're controlling is some sort of, y'know, metal that can be attracted by magnets, the farther you get, the quicker you'll come to the realisation that what you actually have here is some sort of hyper-magnetic soap bubble. Yes, we were surprised too. But there's no other explanation for the way it bursts upon contact with the spikes that start cropping up in later levels, making the game a whole lot trickier. No more flopping around like a fish out of water for you, dear reader. Not that you would, of course.

MagnetiBallAnalysis: It seems you can't swing a stick these days without hitting a physics puzzle. And aside from seriously impeding one's stick-swinging day-to-day activities, this also means we're expecting more and more from them, and are less willing to overlook problems. By keeping its presentation so simple and slick, MagnetiBall is able to focus much more on gameplay than relying on flash and bling to keep us hooked. This is not to say that MagnetiBall is some burly, romance novel hero of a game, here to sweep you off your feet and croon sweet nothings into your ear while you sail away into the sunset. It isn't perfect, but it is a remarkably tight and well-made little package. There are only really two moves to master, but the level design is sharp enough that the approach to each one rarely feels stale or unfair.

For me at least, the real star of the game is the levels themselves. It would have been easy to just make a series of punishing mazes, but MagnetiBall treats you right, with some really clever design. Each one presents its own challenge, so that you really feel as though you've accomplished something when you finish it.

There are some levels that feature no magnets for poor MagnetiBall to use, and require you to get to the finish by sheer luck alone. Or at least, the way the ball behaves as though it's falling through pudding is odd and frustrating enough on these levels to feel like all you can do is cross your fingers as you flip the screen about. I wish the ball behaved more like it were made of metal so it would have been easier to predict where it would fall.

The game informs you of the top time for each level when you complete it. In a way, this is actually a good thing. There were times that I was frustrated after having spent too long fiddling on a level, and oddly enough the realisation that it was indeed possible to finish it in a tiny time frame was comforting. It meant that there was a rhyme and reason to it all, and all I had to do was figure it out. You can win levels by thrashing about like a lunatic on, but it's so much more satisfying when you don't.

And when I did figure out that sneaky little solution? Oh, you can bet I wore my Smug Hat that day. The downside is that the farther you go, the solution is less frequently "Ooohhh, your brain is so strong" and moreso "HEYQUICKCLICKHERESLOWPOKE". But MagnetiBall is still a stellar example of how you don't have to be complex to be fun. Deceptively simple, definitely challenging, it's more than deserving of your time.

Play MagnetiBall

Thanks for sending this one in, Accent!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWe have three very strong iPhone games to showcase this week, and as you can see, I sort of went overboard describing one. :-) Some developers have really settled into this interesting new gaming platform, and each game below flaunts that in its own unique way.

idigit.jpgI Dig It - So you have this digger, you see, a machine pieced together by a poor farmer when the soil refused to grow crops. The new plan is to dig beneath the ground, haul treasures to the surface and selling them for cash to pay back the bank. You'd be surprised how many expensive cola cans, colored gems, fossils, ores and other items (collectively called diggins) are nestled in the warm brown earth. Drilling downwards and to either side, carve tunnels from the dirt and gather as many shinies as you can. When your cargo hold is full, bring them back to the top and cash them in. Money you earn can be used to upgrade your digger's drill, fuel tank, hull strength, cooling system, etc., each allowing you to dive a little deeper and gather more expensive treasures. It's a simple design concept not unlike Motherload, but developer InMotion has put together something truly addictive. Half a dozen game modes add a ton of replayability, beautiful visuals keep your eyes riveted to the screen, simple controls allow you to jump right into the action, and a progressively interesting mechanism of upgrades/discoveries ensures you won't stop playing any time soon. I Dig It has captivated me like no other iPhone game has. A free I Dig It Lite is also available.

towermadness.jpgTowerMadness - One of the more impressive tower defense titles for iPhone, this little game boasts 3D visuals that allow you to scale as you see fit, loads of unlockable towers and maps, downloadable add-ons, and, well, sheep! Defend the sheep from landing aliens by building towers along the field. Each unit has a different ability, and each alien a different strength, so try and keep a good variety of buildings on hand to take care of whatever struts your way. Defeated aliens earn you cash that can be used to upgrade existing towers or buy new ones.

drawrace.jpgDrawRace - Racing is cool, but drawing things with your finger is also cool. How can I reconcile my two passions without causing massive scheduling conflicts?! Oh, I see, Draw Race. Yeah, that was obvious. Before each race, it's your job to draw your vehicle's path through the single-screen top-down track. Draw faster to increase your speed, slower to take it easy, and keep in mind your car is subject to sliding physics and will skid off its intended path if the curve is too tight and the speed is too great. Plenty of tracks and a lovable art style kept me coming back to this one again and again.

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


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The Blackwell Convergence

DoraI'm fairly certain that one day archaeologists will uncover primitive point-and-click adventures made by the Egyptians out of brass, papyrus, and scarabs. (Everything is better with scarabs.) It's an old genre, and you either love it or you hate it. It's probably one of the easiest games to make, but it's also one of the hardest to make well, so it's understandable that it's gotten a bit of a bad rep. But every once in a while a series comes along that shows the others how it's done and rewards your loyalty with something special. In this case, it's mysticism, mystery, and mediums in The Blackwell Convergence from Wadjet Eye Games.

The Blackwell ConvergenceRosangela Blackwell is a writer. Or, at least, she would be if publishers would stop rejecting her work. And the ghosts of New York would leave her alone. Because Rosa, as it turns out, is a much better medium than a writer, and together with her begrudgingly helpful spirit guide, Joey Mallone, she's started to investigate bigger and bigger cases. Fortunately for her career, New York has no shortage of drama, and it isn't long before Rosa senses a connection in a string of seemingly unrelated murders. Unfortunately for her, she might not be ready to find out what that connection is.

Although technically the third in a series of games centered around the Blackwell family, The Blackwell Convergence does a decent job of providing you with enough background information on the two main characters that you can play it without having played the others. Rosa, as mentioned, is a medium, and can see and speak with ghosts. Joey is Rosa's spirit guide, and can do most of the standard ghostly things you would expect, including passing through doors. You can swap between them at any time by clicking on the initials that appear at the top of the screen when you move your cursor close to it.

The game plays like any point-and-click adventure. If an object can be interacted with, the name of it will appear when you move the cursor over it. Left-clicking on an item, person, or place will cause your character to move to it and interact, if possible. Right-clicking examines an object or person and tells you more about it. Throughout the game Rosa will discover various clues she'll jot down in her notebook. You can refer to this in conversation to find out more information on a specific topic, which in turn helps open up new locations and scenarios.

There's actually not a tremendous amount of puzzle solving to be had, and most of them boil down to going to the right places and talking to the right people, aside from a few easy item puzzles. The emphasis here is on story, which The Blackwell Convergence carries off with aplomb. Once you've explored an area as Rosa, investigate as Joey, who has a drastically different opinion on nearly everything. The dialogue is snappy, the characters interesting, and the atmosphere top notch.

Let's get one thing straight. This game is so pretty I want to stand under its balcony in the rain, holding John Cusak's stereo over my head blaring '80's rock ballads until it agrees to go to the school dance with me. I've always been a fan of pixel art, and Blackwell Convergence swings for the fences with it here. The attention to detail and depth of colour in not only the characters themselves but every scene is absolutely amazing. It's also pretty easy on the ears too, with a wonderful soundtrack and voice acting. (And if you don't think the voice acting is wonderful, or just prefer your adventures silent, you can turn it off in the options.)

The Blackwell ConvergenceAnalysis: Admit it. You heard "point-and-click" and that vein in your forehead ticked a little. The Blackwell Convergence does fairly well on the items front by keeping your inventory uncluttered until you actually need the item you pick up. Where it does falter, however, is Rosa's notebook. Early on she expresses concern over its safety. Halfway through the game I wanted to set it on fire. A big chunk of advancing the plot is achieved through discussing the contents of Rosa's notebook with people, which can be frustrating when that ultimately boils down to choosing the same dialogue option over and over in conversation until it seems to have exhausted itself, and then repeating it again with someone else.

What's clever are the various mechanics inside the game that inject a little variety into the genre. Rosa's computer will become very important to you as you use it to check e-mail, search for addresses, and "Oogle" for information. Joey can be used to eavesdrop on people or to disrupt certain bits of technology. Or keep vicious animals occupied with his tie. While you're still ultimately doing a lot of walking back and forth, the game is adept and injecting enough new concepts into the old point-and-click formula that it doesn't feel stale.

Part of what makes Blackwell Convergence such a pleasure to play is its stellar cast. All of them are interesting and distinct, but for me, at least, it's Rosa herself who really stands out. Game heroines are a tricky bunch, and are frequently either portrayed as insufferably perfect hard-cases, or fragile, "adorably" shy and pure do-gooders. Rosa, by contrast, is refreshingly... well, normal. She's a little bit awkward, doesn't have a comeback for every situation, tells a few corny jokes, but is gutsy and dependable when she needs to be. She's just a regular chick who happens to hang out with condescending dead guys, and by keeping her qualities mortal like the rest of us, Wadjet Eye has given us a heroine we can relate to.

So what's the downside to all this shining praise? Well, the game is short. Like, "Where the heck did my afternoon go?" short. Time really does fly when you're having fun, and I emerged from The Blackwell Convergence a little bewildered to discover I should have started supper several hours ago. I wanted more, not because I felt the story was lacking, but because it had done so well. It has a story to tell, and does so. There was a nearly two year delay between the last game in the series and this newest, and had the game been any longer, I suspect we'd still be waiting on it.

Is it fun? Oh yes. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. With a strong story and some of the highest standards I've seen in a point-and-click adventure, the Blackwell Convergence is a rare treat. It may be short, but Wadjet Eye Games doesn't scrimp when it comes to quality, and will leave you eagerly awaiting the next story in the series. Give the demo a try and decide for yourself. Any game where the creators thank coffee in the end credits is a game I hold dear to my heart. It's nice to have developers who understand you.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (29 votes)
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Burger Shop 2

MarcusIn the fast food industry today, it seems everyone wants more, more, more! Customers who were once content with a shop that just served burgers and sandwiches now want everything from breakfast food to roasted chicken to pasta. When your burger shop empire comes tumbling to the ground for no apparent reason, it's up to you and an alien-looking food device to build a new empire to serve the populace what they want: massive varieties of food!

Burger Shop 2In Burger Shop 2, you are once again tasked with combining ingredients coming from an ever-producing food machine to serve the constant stream of customers coming into the restaurant. In addition to the burgers and sandwiches that you dealt with in the first game, you will also be responsible to serve a number of breakfast and dinner items, such as bacon and eggs, waffles, roasted chicken, and meatloaf. In addition to rebuilding a successful restaurant empire, you will also be trying to figure out exactly what happened to you and the burger shops you originally built.

You start off simple, getting the hang of building the orders by combining different food items for breakfast off the conveyor belt coming out of the oddly familiar-looking BurgerTron 2000. Simple bacon and eggs orders for patient customers help you understand the mechanics of building your orders in time. Soon you are introduced to the first change: breakfast to lunch. Back to the basics of the original game, building burgers, and serving sodas. For the dinner service, you'll have to roast the chicken pieces in the oven before you can serve them to the customers.

The customers that you will be serving are as diverse as the food that you'll serve. You start off with the rather mundane, everyday restaurant goers, with standard patience and basic orders. But, as you continue, you will run into patrons that are more difficult to please. Some will be impatient, requiring you to take care of them sooner. Others, like the circus clown, will request food items that are a bit off-the-wall, making the orders more difficult to fulfill. Still others will require special attention, like the lady with the dog in her purse. Feed the dog a dog biscuit to calm it down and help the lady wait longer for her order.

In-between rounds, you'll have to opportunity to upgrade your shop with new equipment and menu items. Add a fry machine to serve crisp, hot fries with your burgers. An ice cream machine will let you serve a chilled dessert to your customers. With the addition of a shake machine, you can turn that ice cream into smooth, rich shakes. There are over 100 different recipes that you'll deal with throughout 120 levels, and as the game progresses, the recipes get more complex. You'll also find yourself rebuilding different restaurants along the way, each with a different theme, from a circus shop to an old-west saloon to a sea-side shanty. Once complete, you will again have reclaimed your Burger Shop empire, and along the way hopefully you'll find the secret to what happened to you.

Burger Shop 2Analysis: GoBit Games has come up with a real winner in the Burger Shop series. While on the surface, it seems like just another time-management game, there are a number of factors that make Burger Shop, and in turn its sequel, a cut above the rest.

I like the fact that you are not controlling a person trying to do all of the tasks in the shop. Your speed is limited only by how fast you can click on the next item that you need. Most games have you controlling a shop owner/worker that is doing the tasks as you click around the screen. You are forced to wait for the person to walk over to the next station and complete the process before they can go on to the next thing. But, in Burger Shop 2, there is no person to control. You simply have your mouse cursor. No waiting for anyone to move between stations. The click-areas are nice and large, as well, decreasing the chance that you will miss where you need to click.

The overall speed and complexity of the later levels is extremely challenging. The large variety of potential orders paired with the number of simultaneous customers and their varying wait times can make the tasks seem nearly impossible. Only the best time-management players will be able to make it through the game unscathed. And, once you do, there are expert versions of all of the levels waiting to bring you to your knees with their insane difficulty level.

Graphics are well done. The designs of all of the different devices that the BurgerTron2000 comes up with are unique, and almost photo-realistic. The designs themselves are also varied. They look like they would actually do the types of activities they are purported to do in the game. It really helps to keep you involved.

With 120 standard and expert levels, over 100 food items, and over 100 different achievement trophies to collect, Burger Shop 2 will keep you busy for a very long time. Will you be able to rebuild the empire, and solve the mystery of what happened to you and your original burger shops? Just make sure that you take a break for some real food occasionally!

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 (21 votes)
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World Mosaics 2

JohnBPicross has returned in World Mosaics 2, a brand new puzzle game from Fugazo. Fans of picross (also known as nonograms, paint by numbers, picture crosswords, etc.) will appreciate World Mosaic's straightforward interface and attractive visual design, while everyone else will get a great introduction to the world of picross. Plenty of puzzles, both easy and difficult, and a little story thrown in for good measure make World Mosaics 2 a great choice for all types of puzzle fans.

worldmosaics2a.jpgFor the uninitiated, picross puzzles are logic puzzles where you fill in squares on a grid to form a picture. Numbers line the top and left sides of the grid, each indicating a number of blocks to fill. What they don't tell you, however, is how many empty spaces there are. For example, if a row says "2 3 1", you know there are two blocks that need to be filled in, followed by at least once space, followed by three more filled blocks, followed by a single filled square. By using logic you can gradually narrow down the possibilities until each segment is a certainty.

World Mosaics 2 puts a bit of a story-style spin on picross and picks up where the original World Mosaics left off. A strange hourglass artifact has thrown you back in time, leaving you stranded in a prehistoric world and shattering itself in the process. You stumble upon a diary entry from an old friend along with a bag of Time Tiles. Using these tiles you must solve "mosaic" puzzles (picross!) to help repair the hourglass and get yourself back home.

Picross is a pen and paper game, so making the leap to your computer screen can leave players scratching their heads. Interface is of monumental importance here, and I'm pleased to say World Mosaics 2 gets it right. To fill in a square, simply left click it. To mark a space as empty, right click it. To fill entire rows, simply click and drag the mouse. The game confines your drawing to that row or column, so don't worry about your cursor slipping, you'll be fine. To cancel a move, press the mouse button you aren't currently holding. Pretty simple stuff, but that's exactly what picross needs!

worldmosaics2b.jpgAnalysis: I'm a bit of a picross fan, and by "bit" I mean OMGPICROSS!!!! Naturally this makes me a huge critic of the picross games out there. World Mosaics 2 falls squarely under the "yes" category, largely due to its attractive design and unobtrusive interface. It's easy to switch between filling and x-ing squares, and drawing long lines is a snap. The game only allows you to make a few mistakes each level, and mistakes include marking blocks that shouldn't be filled as well as x-ing squares that must be colored in. The latter is unusual in the picross realm, but it's not entirely unwelcome, as doing these puzzles is all about precision, not guesswork.

The story is one element that's entirely unnecessary in World Mosaics 2. I mean... who needs an excuse to play picross? Fugazo did a good job integrating it with the rest of the game in the form of diary entries after you complete each puzzle. At first I just clicked past, not bothering to read the paragraphs because I wanted to keep picrossing. Once I read a few, however, I realized they add a lot to the game. Most entries are quirky observations about the world from the time-stranded traveler's point of view, and any casual game that references Monty Python is ok in my book.

One thing you won't find too much of in World Mosaics 2 is challenge. There are around 200 puzzles to complete, and to be honest, they're all fairly straightforward. It takes some time to work through the early puzzles in order to get to the meat of the game. And when you get there, you won't have much to chew on. It was a bit of a disappointment for me, but like I said, I've been a picross fan for years, so only the more challenging puzzles will please me. World Mosaics 2 was designed for your average casual picross fan.

World Mosaics 2 is picross, plain and simple. No mini-games, no awkward gimmicks. If you like logic puzzles and don't mind a small dose of witty commentary, this game's for you!

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

JohnBIt's TOJam time! The Toronto Independent Game Jam #4 was held May 1-3, with participating teams producing 37 games! Below are just a few of our favorites. Be sure to check out the TOJam 2009 games page for other unique titles!

spiritguide.jpgSpirit Guide (Windows, 17.2MB, free) - A wonderful 3D platform adventure by Michael Todd, Spirit Guide gives you a jetpack and standard first person shooter controls and sends you on a few simple missions. Collecting gems and bringing them to a character is pretty standard, but how about finding a physical manifestation of "hope" and returning that to someone? There are only three levels, making it a very short experience, but the environments look great, movement is fluid and sensible, and the artwork nothing short of superb.

alpinist.gifAlpinist (Windows, 1.4MB, free) - A short platform adventure game by Superbrothers that reminds me of Knytt Stories or Seiklus combined with a little Out of this World/Another World. Explore the snowy summits of the Alpine mountains with the [arrow] keys, holding [shift] to build running/long jumping momentum and tapping [ctrl] to leap. You are very much limited in how you move (hence the Another World reference), but that limitation is what sets the pace and allows you to drink the game in. The artwork and atmosphere are beyond stunning, and even without sound, you'll experience a great deal of immersion. It's painfully short, however, and after less than three minutes, you'll be done. More is in the works, however! Another build of the game is available at Artsy Games Incubator.

category5.gifCategory 5 (Windows, 21.6MB, free) - Katamari Damacy meets a hurricane. Seriously, that's the premise behind this quirky little arcade game by Team AnyKey. The hurricane spins slowly at first and can pick up small rocks laying around the field. Spin the mouse, however, and it gets some oomph, allowing you to pick up larger objects without losing speed. Gather items from smallest to largest until you're blowing through the whole screen, devouring everything in your path.

theascent.gifThe Ascent (Windows, 7.8MB, free) - A "keep climbing up" platformer from Team Jimmy with excellent pixel art and a thoughtful storyline. You begin by leaving the attic that specifically says "do not go out". So much for that! Climbing the tree is a precise exercise of avoidance and careful jumps, and if you get hit, you have to start over at the ground.

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 (338 votes)
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SonicLoverTower CoreAs Bermuda Triangle Escape begins, you find yourself behind the wheel of a white yacht. Your mission is to investigate a crashed airplane in the Bermuda Triangle and figure out why it crashed. You take a moment to gather your diving gear and review your captain's log, when suddenly and for no apparent reason your vessel goes nuts and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Before you floats a mysterious and gigantic sphere, probably of alien origin (and possibly inspired by the previously reviewed "Core" games).

Well, at least that's one less problem you have to solve, but it brings up another: how are you going to get back home to New Providence?

It's not hard to deduce that Bermuda Triangle Escape is the new point-and-click adventure from Mateusz Skutnik's studio. The smooth inventory system, the method of navigating forwards and back by clicking in appropriate locations, the environmental components that are fun to play with despite their lack of function, the puzzles rooted in logic and experimentation. These are all hallmarks of a Pastel Games production. What surprised me was that the game's story and art are by Barbara Jarosik, the lead designer and artist for the much daintier Escape Artist and Charger Escape.

There are a few problems with the game, including a somewhat abrupt ending. The quality of the puzzles fluctuates between hitting the sweet spot of difficulty and being either a little too obvious or a little too obscure. The second cube puzzle, case in point, requires some trial and error before any clues are to be found.

But pushing that aside, Bermuda Triangle Escape is an excellent game if I've ever seen one, with attractive artwork and a compelling story. It will easily eat up a good fifteen minutes of your time.

Play Bermuda Triangle Escape


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (109 votes)
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DanTheArcherSevenWhen baking a platformer, there are certain ingredients an enterprising game chef has to include, or else the dough just isn't gonna rise. A world in upheaval is a good place to start, promptly followed by one cup of levels. But make sure to sprinkle in a dash of collectibles into those stages, and you simply must add at least a quart of puzzles for flavor. Now any game chef worth their salt knows that stashed away in every kitchen, in the darkest corner of the darkest cabinet, lies a green bottle, marked by a label that reads "XXX: Yoose At Yur Own Rizzk" with a picture of a freakish smiley face, flashing a lunatic grin of pointed teeth. It's daring you to uncork it, to pour in even the slightest dollop, just to see what happens. Of course, most gourmets aren't going to ever take it out of the cupboard, because it's got X's on the label and they told you not to use it in culinary school, and let's be honest, the thing's kind of scary.

Now imagine that one team of chefs went right for that bottle the minute they walked into the kitchen, sniffed it gingerly as they popped it open, and then proceeded to pour in every last drop. What came out of the oven was Seven, the latest offering from Makibishi Inc.

You're dropped unceremoniously into a world gone absolutely loony. As it turns out, stars are the cogs by which time ticks in this universe, and as fate would have it (as it often does), those stars have been scattered to the ends of the earth. Your avatar, a fearless yellow blockhead, must gather up the missing stars in hopes of setting things right in the world again, or at least as right as things get in that place. Which isn't very right at all.

The arrow keys will navigate your plucky little hero, including the up arrow for jumps. [C] changes the camera perspective by some degrees, and the [H] key provides help via pictorial clues that look like they were scrawled on a bathroom wall. Even those controls are subject to change from level to level, as gravity is reversed, or removed, or taken to Kalamazoo. Your quest will send you careening into the strangest delusions you can imagine, including a couple that you actually can't.

Describing the in-stage objectives is like reading a seven-year-old's bucket list. "And I wanna ride in a hot-air balloon, and slay a dragon, and... and... and I wanna go into space, because space is awesome! Yeah!" The goal in every level is the same, however: procure the star, and you come one step closer to... something. Occasionally, what exactly you're supposed to do to get that star is a little murky, but remember, there's always the [H] key to help you out. If you're truly in a pickle, the levels can be played in any order (with a single exception), so take a break from the dragon to go spelunking, or spacefaring, or wherever else the green bottle takes you.

Analysis: The first thing anyone will notice about this game is the absolute insanity of it all. It's not a malevolent madness, and it's not very frightening either; more of a trickster spirit's irreverence, where you can almost hear the game's tittering laughter every time you misinterpret a puzzle or lose a level yet again. Fortunately, there's no real penalty for death, which is good, because that's something you're going to be doing a lot of.

SevenThere's a bit of clumsiness to the platforming, which doesn't seem to be that much of an issue until you arrive at the levels that hinge so sharply on the acrobatics. Your character doesn't always jump when he's supposed to, resulting in that infamous "I SWEAR I hit jump before I walked off that ledge" phenomenon. Also, jumping into a wall will sometimes result in a brief stickiness that half the time can yield a second jump, and half the time won't. Again, these complaints are for the most part insignificant until you hit the platforming-heavy levels, so they shouldn't haunt you for most of the game.

The game wears the trappings of a bigger platformer than it is, like the hooligan trying to get into the R-rated move with a glasses-and-mustache combo. While there's a lengthy intro cutscene and a lively stage select screen, the game feels a bit short once you're done with it. Some of the stages may take you less than a minute to navigate, while others (I'm looking at you, Stage 6) might keep you busy for a while. It all depends on how soon things click, how adroit your fingers are, and how often you make use of the [H] key.

With all that said, the game is wildly entertaining, in the same sort of way that you play with your action figures every once in a while when no one's in the room. (Or is that just me? Man, this is awkward...) It appeals to the inner child in all of us, and not just ANY inner child, I'm talking about the off-the-walls critter who dreamed of becoming either a superhero or a movie star, depending on when the radioactive spider bite happened.

Where does the appeal come from? For one, the art is fantastic, and refined palates will detect aftertastes of the green bottle in more than one place (the moon in Stage 2, for instance). The music and sound might be irritating to some, but I found them just as amusing as the rest of the package. And when it's all said and done, no matter how many times you fall in battle, that indomitable gamer zeal of "Okay, I'm gonna get it this time" spurs you on. Is it because we want to see the end cutscene? (And there IS one.) Do we need to get all the stars to prove something to ourselves, after we didn't get all 120 in Super Mario 64?

If I had to guess, it's the green bottle at work again. It's the whirlwind of delirium that, once it swirls about you, doesn't deposit you back on the ground until you close your browser window. There's something random, and hilarious, and just downright fun about it, and you'll constantly want to see what oddity awaits you around the next corner. Which, in a sense, is really another ingredient that all platformers are supposed to have, but don't always.

So here's hoping that Seven inspires other designers to add just a little bit of the green stuff. I mean, I wouldn't want them to throw the entire bottle in. I hear that's dangerous.

Play Seven

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