September 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.7/5 (251 votes)
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DoraBack to the Cubeture Era 1So you say you're bored with "traditional" point-and-click adventures, and you want something different. Something a little... outside the box? Are you sure? If you can leave common sense behind for a while, then you just may be ready for Back to the Cubeture Era 1, a game from Edible Castle that takes "It can't possibly get any weirder than this" as a challenge.

Based on a series of flash cartoons, Back to the Cubeture is a shortish adventure that features our hero, Cuboy, the ultimate friend. How ultimate is he? He's so ultimate that when dastardly bad-guy type Esquire Padrino (gasp!) builds a time-warping device to destroy the world, he springs to the rescue! Only to wind up trapped back in the wild, wild west, where men are itchy and horses are square. Will Cuboy catch Padrino in time? Will he uncover the secrets of the desert? And more importantly, who's going to clean out all these spittoons?!

For the most part, Back to the Cubeture plays like a standard point-and-click, with you pointing at things on the screen, and clicking to make Cuboy move or interact with people and objects. You have access to Cuboy's inventory via the box in the upper-right corner of the screen, where you can review objectives, check out the items you've collected, or play dress up. Which, you know, we're glad to see, since dress up is sorely overlooked in most point-and-click games. If you get into a fight, you'll showdown wild west style... that is, waiting for the traffic light to flash DRAW so you can tap the [space] bar to shoot your foe before he shoots you. Draw too quickly, and you're a filthy cheater. But draw too late, and you'll have to try again, once you peel yourself off the bar.

Play all the Back to the Cubeture games:
Back to the Cubeture: Era 1Back to the Cubeture: Era 2

While Back to the Cubeture sticks to the basics as far as mechanics go for the most part, the design is definitely one in a million. Not only are the characters and the environments bright and colourful, but the audio as a whole in the game is top notch. The voice acting is well done, particularly Padrino, and the soundtrack is catchy, and as gleefully cheesy as the rest of the game. Come to us, horse friend!

Back to the Cubeture Era 1Analysis: If you've never watched the Cuboy cartoons, as I hadn't, then the Back to the Cubeture experience is more than a little disorienting at first. Not because it relies on you having a firsthand knowledge of a lengthy backstory, but because it's so ridiculous. And it's when the game is embracing that ridiculousness that it's at its best. While not every line is laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally relying on somewhat crass humour for cheap laughs, Cuboy hits more than he misses.

Of course, there are times when the game seems to overestimate its own cleverness. While the wild west stand-off idea is fun at first, having to repeat a reflex-based shoot-out over and over gets stale with the only real variation being speed. And speaking of speed, I'd like to have a word in memory of my poor, destroyed [space] bar with whomever decided button-mashing was a great idea to win a race. If that sounds like a threat, well, it's not. After all, I can hardly be expected to beat someone up right now, preoccupied as I am with my ruined index fingers from hammering the keys. While some people may not have problems with these things, for the rest of us, it's a prime example of a joke taken too far, and I hope the developers reconsider reusing these gimmicks for future installments.

But the whole game is just so joyously oddball that it's easy to get swept up in it. Its off-beat sense of humour may not appeal to everyone. But chances are that if anyone has ever accused you of being "weird" (and why are you all looking at me like that?), you'll find something to like about Back to the Cubeture.

Play Back to the Cubeture Era 1


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Rating: 3.6/5 (64 votes)
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DanTheArcher HashThe level starts. You maneuver a little to the left, a little to the right, just to get a bearing on how strong your gas jets are. Perfect. Without so much as batting an eye, you fly off the starting platform and hover through a tunnel coated in remorseless spikes, top and bottom. Weaving between mines in the air that detonate but a hair's breadth from your back, you eventually come face to face with a lightning fence that activates every few seconds. Waiting patiently for the electricity to dissipate, you know full well that a little too much gas or not quite enough will result in you becoming a permanent part of the decor. Is this "Extreme Jumpjet Fighter 4," you might ask? No, this is Hash, the latest arcade-style dodgefest from Ali Maunder's Alternative Indie Games.

Your character, the titular hash mark, moves around the levels via gas jets that are activated with the [arrow] keys. Either [Esc] or the [P] key will pause your game. Every level is populated by a number of glistening dots, which bolster your score should you collect them. Of course, as the levels progress, some of those dots will be tucked inside tight rings of mines, or in enemy-infested territory, or even within grids of those nasty, aforementioned lightning fences. Whenever you've picked up enough dots or just plain had enough, touching down on the glowing diamond in every level finishes your stay.

Analysis: The game's minimalist graphics work well, especially when coupled with the old-fashioned arcade objectives and the lively music, which sounds like an 8-bit tune being hammered out by the guy who plays "The Entertainer" in Western saloons. There's a frenzied energy that powers the whole game, from the jittery main menu to the ever-shifting background colors. It's constantly urging you to move, to react, to blast right through that next obstacle with a smile on your face. Unfortunately, blasting through that next obstacle isn't always that simple.

It's certainly modeled after arcade games of yore, which means the difficulty level is scaled accordingly. Most of the early levels aren't too tough, but just you wait until Level 18. I promise that after Level 18, though, things get easier again (for a while, anyway). There's a sharp discrepancy in challenge between the player just going for the exit in every level, and the player painstakingly trying to collect every dot. Sometimes, it just plunks the exit down, virtually in front of you, and you can either hop right on through or attempt an agonizing roller-coaster of dexterity trying to get all those dots, nestled comfortably in a jungle-gym of game-restarting spikes. So, it all boils down to how hardcore you are about getting the high scores. It might have been nice to offer some other reward for the earnest player, but if this is the kind of game that really revs your jumpjets, then the visceral satisfaction of the high score is probably all the reward you need.

Play Hash


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Rating: 3.6/5 (64 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week's feature is something we can all identify with, escape from a meeting/lecture/class room. Who hasn't wanted to get out of a meeting or lecture? Escape from the Meeting Room gives us the opportunity to flee before boredom or sleep overtakes even the most dedicated worker/student. Designed by Tesshi-e, makers of Escape from the Living Room and Escape from the Underground Space, Escape from the Meeting Room is a wonderful way to escape the humdrum office existence most of us must endure.

escapemeetingroom_title.jpgYou begin locked in a room that looks like it could serve for a meeting or a lecture (anyone else have nightmares like this?). You need to find the items and break the codes that will allow you to escape before—heaven forbid—you are forever stuck in the meeting. Navigate the room, find useful items, and get yourself out!

Tesshi-e's designs are always lovely and 3 dimensional, but this time they've gone even further. Everything is bright, glossy, and polished to a high shine. Look at the walls and see the infinite reflections from everything else in the room! If you didn't want to get out of going to the meeting/lecture so badly, you could just hang around and admire the scenery.

Gameplay is pretty smooth, but there are some kinks in the navigation. You have to be standing at the right place in the center aisle to be able to access things on the sides, so navigation can be slightly confusing at first. Bars on the sides and a handy arrow will point you in the direction you need to go. Most objects are in plain sight, so there's very little pixel hunting involved.

escapemeetingroom_alcove.jpgAnalysis: Escape from the Meeting Room is one of those fun escape games where you are in a room that you really, desperately want to escape from, unless you're one of those types that enjoys sitting and listening to someone talk for hours on end. For those who work in an office this is especially a joy, as in real life there is no escape from the dreaded meeting/lecture/training, unless you feel like faking an illness of some sort.

Although Tesshi-e designed games are usually heavy on construction, there is very little in this one. Rather than building a car out of a cell phone or repairing a toy airplane you are simply manipulating a few random objects to make them more efficient. Most of the "use of found objects" is very intuitive and easy to grasp. The code puzzles, on the other hand, are very easy. Almost too easy, in fact. Experienced gamers should blow through this one quickly.

The artwork is top-notch, beautiful, and a joy just to look at. There's a nice little jazz soundtrack, but as usual Tesshi-e has provided both a sound scale and a mute button to turn it down or to completely turn it off if it gets too annoying. There's no save button, but no real reason for one.

It's not a complicated life-or-death struggle to escape, but Escape from the Meeting Room is perfect for mid-week casual gameplay. Short enough to fit in a lunch break (or even a coffee break), escape from responsibility, escape from the everyday, and most importantly Escape from the Meeting Room!

Play Escape from the Meeting Room


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Rating: 4/5 (86 votes)
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JerradGrowboxGrowbox puts you in control of a hungry little square whose mission is to devour golden dots. Nom them all up, then move on to the next level where you get to do it again! Why? We're never told, but I like to believe that the dots are ninja dots who kidnapped the dot President, and you're a bad enough square to rescue him.

To move, simply hold down the left mouse button and the square will slide towards the pointer. You can switch to keyboard controls if you like, which is a nice feature for those of you using touch pads, but the mouse feels much more natural. Holding [shift] lets you move at slower pace, useful for navigating difficult-to-traverse passageways.

With each dot you consume, your square gets a little bit larger, preventing you from reaching certain areas of each level. There are also whole slew of pickups that will both help and hinder you on your path to total dot annihilation. Red dots take away points and make you significantly larger, circles and triangles will change your shape, and clocks make you temporarily smaller. Your score is based on how quickly you complete each level, although collecting stars or red circles will raise or lower your score, respectively. The real focus is on figuring out which order you need to collect the dots so that you don't grow too big for your proverbial britches.

Analysis: As much as I love puzzle games, they seldom love me back, and Growbox is no exception. With only 20 levels, the average person can probably finish this one over their lunch break. I won't say how long it took for me to get through the game, but if anybody took that long for lunch, they likely wouldn't have a job anymore when they came back.

Still, no matter how many tries a relatively simple level may have taken, I never felt like giving up. There was always a feeling that I almost found that elusive path that would let me get everything and move on to the next level. This was probably due to the fact that the game introduces new elements slowly. Just when you think you've got the hang of it, the rules change. Finally figured out how to get past those red balls? Well now they move! Just figured out you need to be a circle in order to pass through circle-shaped walls? Here's one shaped like triangles instead! That constant addition of new elements kept the game fresh, forcing you to think outside of the rapidly-expanding box. The difficulty curve seemed about right, with a nice blend of logic and skill. Figuring out the order in which to tackle a level was just as much of a challenge as actually navigate through.

Since the screen doesn't cover the entire level, a counter letting me know how many dots I had left to get would have been a nice addition. Growbox's real shortcoming is just that it's short. With only 20 levels, the game is over before you've finished warming up. This game seems like it was made for a level editor. The ability to create and share your own stages would have made up for the small amount you're initially provided with. This is the first we're seeing from developer Flash Tangent, so there's definitely room for improvement in future endeavors. If you're in the mood for a good puzzler, don't be afraid to let this one grow on you.

Play Growbox


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Rating: 3.3/5 (91 votes)
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JerradIron Turtle screen 1Is there anything turtles CAN'T do? They can win races. They can duck and cover. They can even become pizza-loving ninjas! And now, in Iron Turtle, the new platformer from JJ Wallace, we see that they are also capable of working their way through magma-filled factories in a timely manner. With your help, of course.

There's no story behind Iron Turtle, instead it's right down to business with places to be and atoms to collect! Move the turtle with the [arrow] keys, use [up] to jump. Your goal is to make it across 26 levels in the fastest time possible. Each level is named after one of the first 26 elements in the periodic table, and is labeled with the element's name, symbol, and a brief description. Collect the green atoms scattered along the way to remove 5 seconds from your time, but each time you die, you add 5 seconds to your total time, and must feel forever guilty about making the poor little Iron Turtle die in a violent, fiery explosion. There are 4 different levels of difficulty, although all but the hardest setting will deduct points from your final score. There is also a bonus level hidden in the game that looks like something straight out of Iron Turtle's Adventures In Wonderland, although you by no means have to find it in order to complete the game in a timely manner.

But you can't just dive in and start playing! That's not how Iron Turtle rolls! He has style! Or, he will, just as soon as you choose it. The first screen gives a brief tutorial and allows you to choose from a large variety of distinct shells for the turtle. The next screen will give you an option of three distinct background music styles: slow industrial, fast industrial, and an oddly fitting saxophone solo. The shell will stay throughout the game, but the music can be changed or disabled entirely at any point in the game. In fact, it seems to be almost encouraged, with an omnipresent button in the lower right hand corner, as well as music selection buttons throughout the levels. Moving too slow? Switch to something faster and get that iron adrenaline pumping. Or if you're going too fast and not being careful, maybe you should switch to something a little more relaxing.

Iron Turtle ScreenshotJust like other turtles have taught us in the past, slow and steady is going to win the race here. But not too slow, that's just foolish. Still, there are a lot of hazards that are going to get in your way, including falling rocks, magma pits, and pillars that seem specially designed for turtle stompin'. Move too quickly, and you'll end up getting killed by most of them before you can realize what's happening. Besides, this may be a game about speed, but you're playing as a turtle, so you can't expect for him to be too quick. Once you tell the turtle to switch directions or jump, it will take a second before he responds. This can be frustrating at first, but it actually makes you have to plan ahead, instead of relying on fast reaction times to get through. The levels are full of springs, moving platforms, and buttons that will activate or deactivate moving walls and fans that will propel you to new heights, and mastering the controls is key to using all of these to your advantage.

Analysis: Come on, how could you NOT love this game? It's about a turtle! Everybody loves turtles! Granted, it's a fairly abstract, steampunk-y turtle, but he's still a turtle! Although short in number, the levels are challenging to get through at all, much less as quickly as you can. A rarity in games that encourage speed, it actually helps to take your time and plan things out. The collectible atoms will take time off of your final score, but you have to determine if going for them is worth the time and risk involved. It's an effective system of risk management combined with skill that provides a good incentive for multiple playthroughs. Maximizing your time while minimizing your deaths required a lot of planning and careful timing that can't be mastered the first few times you play through the game. But it's not so hard that you feel like giving up; there's always a feeling that the next time you can make it through just a little faster.

A level select option would have been nice, I would have wanted to be able to practice my speed on certain levels without having to replay through the entire game. The controls were a bit awkward, also, although once you get the hang of them it's not much of a problem. But any shortcomings are overcome by the atmosphere of the game. The industrial graphics are beautiful, and naming the levels after elements is a nice touch, but the music is what really shines through. I'm generally quick to press the mute button once I've been playing a game with the same music for more than a few minutes, but with this one, I actually left it running while I wasn't even playing the game, just to have something nice to listen to. And if you get tired of one song, you can easily switch it over to something else. It doesn't feel like a background at all, but more like an integral part of gameplay. The overall result is a VERY immersive experience. Playing this game, I wanted nothing more than to see my little turtle buddy make it through to the end, no matter how many times I fell into spikes or got squishes into Iron Roadkill. Both of which happened more times than I care to share. Iron Turtle is nothing if not resilient.

A funky little gem of a platformer, Iron Turtle is sure to keep you entertained. Just don't expect to see Nick Fury at the end inviting you to join R.E.P.T.I.L.E. He's not THAT kind of Iron Turtle.

Play Iron Turtle


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Rating: 4.4/5 (74 votes)
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titaniumchef-title.jpg

GrinnypOh to be a robot with a dream. A dream of becoming more than he was, more than he is, more than he could be... a dream, dare we say, of becoming the best chef in the galaxy! Because even a lowly robot needs to feel good about himself. Needs to strive for a goal, needs to become a master of his craft, needs to point-and-click his way to become... Titanium Chef!

titaniumchef_arena.jpgDesigned by mod7 for the British Columbia Dairy Foundation (BCDF), Titanium Chef is a point-and-click adventure in four parts. You play a lowly chef-bot who, along with his best friend Moxie (a floating pink ball of fur), escapes his humdrum job and ventures out to become the best chef-bot in the galaxy. Unfortunately, the galaxy is filled with more dangers than the poor chef-bot was counting on. To understand why you need a little history lesson.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... er, anyway, a while ago, an evil ruler by the name of Rogulus swept across the galaxy with his evil troops, leaving in their wake a massive swath of destruction, fast food cartons, and puppies (apparently it can be difficult to supply evil troops with food and cuddles when one is bent on subduing the galaxy). Rogulus was the enemy of all that was good and wholesome and apparently nutritious. But due to the efforts of a few heroes, Rogulus was beaten back and peace reigned in the galaxy once more. But as our hero discovers as he makes his way from a backwater planet on his quest to become Titanium Chef, something is amiss. Evil forces are at work once again, and suspicious things are happening that evoke the dark days of Rogulus' reign.

titaniumchef_planet.jpgNo matter. The lowly chef-bot discovers hints and clues to the bigger picture while working his way towards several cooking competitions, learning about food groups, portion sizes, and balanced nutrition, all the better to help him win and eventually become the best chef-bot of them all.

Yes, as you might guess, this is indeed an educational game. Created by the BCDF as an interactive way for kids aged 10-13 to learn about nutrition, Titanium Chef is still, on its own, a beautiful, involved, informative point-and-click adventure. Each chapter has two or three segments, designed to be played in 30 to 40 minutes, the length of a single class period. Taken all together the final game will have at least six complete hours of gameplay.

Analysis: Forget the educational aspect for a moment and inspect Titanium Chef as a pure game. The graphics are beautifully rendered in 3D, the movement through the scenes easy and smooth. The chef-bot can scan items, manipulate things, talk to people, and generally interact with his environment, everything accomplished by a simple click of the mouse. An on-screen inventory keeps track of the chef-bot's increasing supply of food information cards, recipes, cooking equipment, miscellaneous items, and clues towards the unfolding story. Taken just as entertainment, Titanium Chef has to be one of the best-designed, best-looking flash games out there today. And frankly, we could all use some education when it comes to eating right.

titaniumchef_bar.jpgParts I and II of Titanium Chef are available now, with part III due on October 6, and part IV due 2 weeks after that. The game itself can be played in English or French, a nod to its Canadian origin. You can save your game at any point and come back to it later, but for the feature to work you indeed have to register at the site. Registration is quick and easy so you can quickly get to the cooking action.

Within the game (and really, the purpose of the game) are three nutrition mini-games: a sorting game (where the player sorts foods into their food groups), a menu game (where the player solves the nutritional value of meals or snacks to unlock their recipes), and the ultimate, the cooking game (where the player designs a whole meal plan, whether for a suspicious alien in a seedy bar or a judge in one of the stadium cooking competitions).

Setting aside the education aspect, this is one amazing, fun point-and-click adventure with a snarky sense of humor. Adults can enjoy it as a pure adventure, and frankly parents should encourage their kids to play as well. This is something that everyone should experience — proper, balanced nutritional information disguised as casual gameplay. And for us older folks, well, we could stand to learn a thing or too as well. So gear up, put on your chef's hat, and battle the evil forces of bad nutrition!

Special thanks to Sharlene Sobrepena of mod7 for patiently answering all our questions.

Play Titanium Chef


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Rating: 4/5 (64 votes)
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MarcusHuje TowerHuje Tower is a construction game, a member of a fairly new genre of puzzle games. If you ever owned an Erector set or Tinker Toys while growing up, these games should be right up your alley. Most construction games end up being bridge-building or tower building games. The most well-known and is no doubt the popular indie title World of Goo, and Huje Tower shares a number of similarities with it. But there are a number of differences that help Huje Tower stand on its own as a fun and challenging construction game with some puzzle elements to it.

Deep under the city, in the sewers, live millions of tiny bacteria. They spend their days swimming about in the ooze, satisfied with their lot in life. But, one day, some of the bacteria get a glimpse of the world above. The bright sun, the warm fresh air, the blue sky. Soon, all of the bacteria are longing for the world above. But how to get to the surface? The little organisms soon realize that they can organize themselves in patterns, creating towers that reach heights no bacteria had ever dreamed of. It would only be a matter of time before they would reach the sky itself!

The game starts you off building a basic tower with very basic, red-colored bacteria. They can be used to build stable structures, but they cannot be moved once they are placed in a structure, and therefore cannot be reused. They are perfect for getting the hang of proper building techniques that will be the basis of the majority of the levels you will come upon during the game. Your main goal is to build your tower high enough to reach the red goal line at the top of the playfield. If you can build a tower that is stable enough to reach above this line for 5 seconds, you will have completed the level. Levels will often have additional goals, such as waking up sleeping bacteria so that they can be used to construct your tower, or operating some sort of contraption to either release trapped bacteria or to clear the way for your tower.

You will quickly discover new types of bacteria, each with their own unique properties. The green bacteria are like the red, but can be disconnected from the structure after they have been used and reconnected to another part of the structure. Brown bacteria will connect to a single point and hang down, producing counter-weight. The yellow bacteria can latch onto certain materials creating an unbreakable bond that will withstand even the tallest tower. Black bacteria will create extremely strong structures that can withstand a great deal of pressure, and will force other objects out of the way.

There are also non-bacterial objects that you will come upon during your journey. Wheels will attach to your structure and make it mobile. The more wheels you attach in a row, the more pulling power you have. A great way to move your structure to new heights. The balloons will give your structure some added lift. Given enough of them, your structure can actually take flight. They can also be useful for keeping a particularly wobbly structure upright. Also look to the balloons to stretch your assets.

Huje TowerAnalysis: I went into Huje Tower with a strong feeling of deja vu. It bears more than a passing resemblance to World of Goo, which one would have to guess was, in part, intentional. It definitely got me to give it a second look, if even just to see if it could live up to such an impressive pedigree.

While the mechanics of the two games are much the same, the goals end up being somewhat different. In the long run, it doesn't matter how many bacteria you loose, as long as you have enough to make your tower high enough to reach that ever important red line at the top of the playfield. Of course, you're not going to get an unlimited supply, either. If you find that you've come up short, you can always restart the level. An "undo" function is sorely missing in the game.

I could tell I was influenced by World of Goo from the start of the first level. I found it frustrating that I could not detach the red bacteria from the tower after I had begun construction, like you can in Goo. Of course, I soon realized that it was one of the properties of this particular type of bacteria, and that others would come along and change up the gameplay even more. That is one of the greatest strengths of Huje Tower. The levels really play to the different abilities of the bacteria, with some levels making it obvious which types have to be used where, and others being complex enough that it really takes some serious planning to make it through the level. Some levels become less about the tower you are building and more about finding your way through the puzzle.

One of the nice things about each level is the intro. Instead of a simple sweep across the screen showing you what you are up against, the game will zoom in temporarily on points of interest in the level. Another impressive touch is the sound design. The bacteria will randomly make funny comments on their lot in life in their little bacteria voices. There is even audio feedback when you successfully place a bacteria on the tower, which is a welcome addition.

The only real complaint that I have about the game other than some odd cursor behavior when I played it on my Mac is how the playfield scrolls. I expect it to scroll when I come to the edge of the game window, and it does, but it is too sudden and too quickly. Some sort of acceleration would have been welcome, to slowly ramp up the scroll speed as you approach the edge of the screen.

While saving bacteria may not be what everyone calls fun, you won't be able to resist the call of these little guys when you start playing Huje Tower. Get to building, and reach for the stars!

Play Huje Tower


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Mobile Monday

JohnBI'm very proud to report no hobbits or halflings were harmed in the creation of this Mobile Monday. Technically, the two terms refer to the same thing, but one comes without the nutty aftertaste of lawyers. Also: no game in this week's article features halflings or hobbits.

minme.gifMinMe - Originally created for the Experimental Gameplay Project's "Bare Minimum" theme, MinMe is a short puzzle game concept created by Chaim Gingold. Your goal is to collapse tiles into the numbered squares by tapping and dragging your finger along their surface. Clear the screen and you're good to go for the next level. MinMe leaves you hanging as soon as things get interesting with only ten levels to enjoy, but it's completely free, and Gingold has promised to expand the game if enough interest in shown. Translation: get the game and we'll get more!

animalkingdom.jpgAnimal Kingdom - A strategy board game similar to chess that uses animals and a small set of creative rules. Your goal is to capture your opponent's base by moving your pieces one square at a time across the grid. Each animal has a strength rating that dictates which pieces it can capture (equal or weaker) and which pieces can capture it. Tigers can capture bulls, for example, but only elephants and lions can take on the tiger. Some pieces have special abilities as well, such as mice traveling across water and lions leaping rivers. Loads of cerebral action in this puzzler, and the AI is quite good, too. A free Animal Kingdom Lite is also available.

hidato.jpgHidato - A different kind of logic puzzle game, Hidato takes place on an oddly-shaped grid with a few number tiles scattered about. The goal is to move from the first number to the last by laying tiles in order. Each number must touch the number before and after it (e.g. 19 must bump one side/corner with both 18 and 20), and with enough thought you'll build a continuous chain so the ship can sail to the treasure. A free Hidato Lite is also available.

parachutepanic.gifParachute Panic - One of those "so simple I can't stop playing it" games with over 9,000 layers of charm slathered on top. Parachuters leap from airplanes that fly by the top of the screen. Tap each one to open his chute and use gusts of wind to direct them to boats below. Tons of tricky traps stand in your way, of course, such as birds and storms and other flying menaces. The pencil-scribble graphics and a capella music/sound effects are great! A free Parachute Panic Lite is also available.

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (174 votes)
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Spelunky

DoraYou may have already heard of Spelunky, by suspected secret superhero and game designer extraordinaire Derek Yu, either because it was briefly featured in a Weekend Download, or because you're one of the many, many (many!) people who have suggested it to us recently. Best of Casual Gameplay 2009If you've never heard of it, you should know Spelunky is a roguelike game of cave exploration. Except, hey! You got your platformer in my roguelike! Rather than taking the traditional route of turn-based combat, Spelunky is a game where you'll have to run, jump, whip, and bomb your way out of sticky situations. Oh, and did we mention it's completely free? Mmmm.

You play an unnamed little spelunker, descending into the depths of the Colossal Cave alone. Are you searching for treasure? Adventure? Or are you just trying to stay alive? Each adventure is different since Spelunky's random level generator means the cave never presents the same layout twice.

Spelunky's keyboard controls are completely customizable to your preferences by running the Config file included in the download. Or, you can play my favourite way, and use a controller. Spelunky lends itself extremely well to it, and the running and jumping feels much more smooth and natural. Although you start off with only a whip as your primary weapon, collecting all the treasure lying around will enable you to buy anything from guns to machetes from the randomly discovered stores. Or if the whip is working out for you, pick up a pair of climbing gloves, or a pitcher's mitt, or any of the other special items with unique abilities designed to make life a little easier for the intrepid explorer.

SpelunkyThe bad news is that if you die, you have to start all over. No, not from the beginning of the level, but from the beginning of the game. While you do get several opportunities to fund shortcuts to certain levels, it does put that much more pressure on you to go slowly and watch your step. The only way to replenish your limited health, which is damaged by enemies or falling long distances, is to rescue a maiden and cart her to the exit of the level safely, or buy a kiss from one at a shop if you should be so lucky as to stumble across one. Who said you can't buy love? Or at least a heart or two. Of course, all the hearts in the world don't matter if you fall onto a bed of spikes. Or get impaled. Or... uh, well, let's just say there's a lot of fatalities waiting out there for you.

The thing to understand about Spelunky is you're going to die. Like, a lot. And in the beginning, it can be hard not to let that frustrate you. The sheer amount of tricks, traps, beasties, and pitfalls means you'll probably spend quite a bit of time watching your death count raise in the score menu. And yet despite this, Spelunky never stops being fun. The level generator is surprisingly intelligent about creating areas that have little-to-no pitfalls that would prevent you from conquering a level. Stuck in a hole? Bomb yourself out, or climb a rope to victory!... or to a speedy death at a trap you neglected to notice. But the more you play, the more you'll learn, and soon the ultimate treasure of the Colossal Cave will be in your grasp.

While Spelunky is currently Windows only, many people report success running it on Parallels.

SpelunkyAnalysis: Spelunky winds up being one of those games where it either is your thing or it isn't. If it isn't, then all the tales in the world about robbing shopkeeps by bombing into their inventory from below or chasing down thieving monkeys in the dark won't convince you. The thing is, however, even fans of roguelikes may be taken aback by the platforming skills required to make it through the game. There's no real story to discover, and your reflexes will be put through the wringer.

But one of the things Spelunky does best is foster a sense of discovery. The tutorial will only teach you the basics of the game; how to run, jump, attack, and throw things. You'll have to find out the rest for yourself, including how to recognise traps and trigger them safely, the many uses of maidens, how to find buried treasure, and much more. While some people may seek out guides to find out all the game's tricks, dirty or otherwise, I found discovering them myself by trial-and-usually-fatal error to be incredibly fun and satisfying.

But to whet your appetite, you should know that once you finally make your way through the first few levels, whole new areas await you. Battle vampires in a subterranean jungle, or yetis in a slippery, bottomless icy cavern. Encounter giant piranha, or dig for hidden entrances to secret areas. Still not enough? How about grabbing priceless golden idols and narrowly escaping the trap, or defiling a sacrificial altar? Just don't spend too much time rooting out every last bit of treasure on a level, or you may find that the cave has even more unpleasant surprises in store for adventurers who drag their feet.

Despite being out for less than a year, Spelunky is rapidly becoming the little-game-that-could, with a new incarnation making its way to the X-Box Live Arcade in 2010, and a substantial fan base hungry for every bit of treasure and painful demise the game dishes out. While the somewhat steep difficulty may be discouraging to newcomers, those that stick with it will be rewarded with what I consider to be the most fun you'll have as a spelunker in a game, ever. Since Spelunky is free, you have nothing to lose except possibly hours of your time. Just remember, never leave your hat behind.

Thanks to Kyzak, Kasper, Nic, Kegluneq, Chris, Vanguard, John, Ed, Sockhands, Cory, Temposaur, PlasmaMan, and Purequestion for demanding, uh, suggesting this one.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Tinseltown Dreams: The 50s

GrimmrookTinseltown Dreams: The 50s is a zany match-3 puzzle game from Namco with a distinctive Hollywood flare. Here among the palm trees and over-sized sunglasses you can experience the glitz, the glam, and that most remarkable magic of all, the magic of the silver screen. Everyone wants to be a part of that business that is like no business. You know, show business. Who hasn't wanted to be the starring role in a summer blockbuster, or the eccentric director of the next Oscar Award favorite? The magic cast by the silver screen is magnetic, drawing star struck people to it, and now it has pulled you in as a producer for a little known movie studio.

Tinseltown Dreams: The 50sThe producer may not be the most glamorous of Hollywood movers and shakers, but as producer you are one of the most important. In Tinseltown Dreams you must hire the cast and crew, finding the best talent for your limited budget. You'll have to buy sets, props, and all the behind the scenes necessities and when your masterpiece is finally finished, it'll be you picking out the name that gets painted on the "coming soon" posters. In short, without you there is no movie.

None of this comes cheap. Well, okay a few things come cheap, but most of the stuff doesn't, and you're going to need some dough. That's where the match-3 comes in. In each match-3 level, there will be a number of gold panels that are cleared by matching three or more tiles over them. Each gold tile nets you the green that you'll need to get that big named star that you've been wanting for your big sci-fi flick. Keep your eyes open, though, for there are plenty of other bonuses and even some opportunities to unlock extra props to be used on set.

With your weekly budget bursting with cash earned from your match-3 ventures, and the studio owner breathing down your neck, you are ready to make some movies and turn your little known studio into the biggest lot in Hollywood. Will you be known for your big hits, or your big bombs?

Analysis: Tinseltown Dreams is built primarily around its match-3 game which is quite well done. It sports 70 levels with a plethora of board shapes and sizes. Here the action usually remains pretty fast and snappy and there are plenty of gameplay extras to keep things running at a nice quick pace. A percolating popcorn machine occasionally spits out fountains of golden popcorn kernels worth cash, while presents reveal movie themed actions that clear large portions of the board when clicked upon. There is even a big old moo-cow that pops up now and then (what this has to do with Hollywood, I have no idea, but it's a friendly moo-cow, so there's that).

Tinseltown Dreams: The 50sBut where the true innovation for Tinseltown Dreams comes in is in the movie making aspect which does a fair job of tapping into your creative juices. No, you won't be building three-hour masterpieces, but you will be designing your own set and upgrading your crew's equipment. The quality of your hired cast and crew is directly tied into how well you perform in the match-3 portions of the game, but generally you shouldn't have much problem earning enough to afford the top tiered talent on all accounts. Meanwhile, actually putting everything in place according to your own design is quite fun, and finally putting the title on the poster can be a very satisfying experience.

There are some things that could have been improved, however. For one, the lead in to the game is deceptively disappointing. I have to admit to being put off after first loading up the game and basically being told, "Hey! Go make some movies!" Granted this style of game is not exactly known for in depth story-telling, but even so I had the distinct impression I was getting rushed.

Tinseltown's other big weakness is a lack of variety in a few key areas. For one, there is no variety in the tiles for the match-3 portions of the game. Also, while there are seven different movies you will make, the available cast and crew to choose from doesn't ever really change. It is on this last point in particular where Tinseltown could have really made a difference by either having more characters, or allowing the characters involved to grow or recede in popularity and skill over time.

Tinseltown Dreams: The 50sThere are of course other minor tweaks that Namco could have done to make the movie making aspect of the game a more substantial part of the whole. More simulation properties could have made this a much more hybridized experience, and a little more attention to storytelling could have drawn one into the experience more effectively. This isn't much of an issue, though, because the product as is, flawed though it may be, is still quite fun and engaging. As stock match-3 gaming goes, Tinseltown sports the most personality in a game that I've played since Unwell Mel, and that's no amount of faint praise. The movie making aspect, meanwhile, is fun on its own, but also shows great promise for future installments should there be any.

Now, if only the for the next one they can skip straight to the 80s, or maybe just make a special edition John Hughes version. But I digress, without any further ado: Lights! Camera! Action! (I always wanted to say that!)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (31 votes)
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paradisebeach-b.jpg

GrinnypOn the surface, Paradise Beach resembles a casual building game like Coconut Queen. The gameplay, however, is more similar to the classic of the tycoon sim genre Rollercoaster Tycoon. Join Mr. Gates and his cute — and occasionally annoying — granddaughter as they develop beachfront property. Travel to six different islands and work with the pair to develop a fun beach experience, all the while helping endangered species, uncovering dinosaur skeletons, finding pirate treasure, and all the other fun things that happen to folks who create vacation beaches.

paradisebeach.jpgYou begin on the first island with a pristine beach ready for development. Mr. Gates and Emmy will walk you through an easy tutorial as the tourists begin to arrive... and begin to complain. The first complaint? Not enough sidewalks. Because it's dreadful to have to actually walk on the sand when you go to the beach. The learning curve is smooth and gradual as different complexities are added, such as structures that break down, garbage that needs to be picked up, vandals, drowning swimmers, power shortages, and the ever and constantly complaining tourists. By the end of the fifth level you will have learned the basics of developing a resort and can move on to the second island, where more developing fun awaits.

Every island has five levels, each level building on the one previous. When you begin an island all you have is a stretch of beach and some basic structures, plants, and accessories. Manage to placate enough tourists and you will get a higher beach rating, which unlocks more complex structures. Lay down sidewalks and folks will want ice cream and fruit. The minute you build the facilities, however, the tourists will then complain about the long lines to get said ice cream and fruit, not to mention they will immediately begin littering your formerly pristine beach. Place garbage cans, more structures, and begin hiring employees to keep buildings repaired, keep the beaches clean, keep the tourists from drowning, and keep the vandals from wreaking havoc. One of the best parts of play? Beating up on the vandals until they leave the park.

Tourists will also complain about the lack of more advanced facilities such as swimming pools (because who wants to actually swim in the ocean when they go to the beach?), spas, clothing stores, and theaters, as well as complaining about the lack of shade trees (because who wants to sunbathe in the actual sun?) and other greenery. Tourists are also forgetful, and will constantly be losing things they want you to help them find: sunglasses, towels, purses, wallets, passports, cell phones, and swimming trunks. (Swimming trunks? How did they lose their swimming trunks? Never mind...)

paradisebeach2.jpgDevelopment itself is a breeze. Tabbed menus at the bottom of the screen organize facilities, accessories, plants, and employees. Other nice features include buttons that show coverage grids of your various employees, as well as grids that highlight greenery areas (showing where more is needed) and garbage areas (highlighting where the trash is piling up). Simply click on an item (if you have the money to build it) and click on the area you wish to place it. Items such as sidewalks and plants can be dragged to create large areas without constant clicking. Employee coverage areas are controlled by little flags that can be moved and dragged around as needed to move the areas under their influence.

Although each level in an island builds on the one before it, each can be played separately, making Paradise Beach perfect for fun, breezy, casual gameplay. After each island is completed it unlocks a "sandbox" mode, where you can go in and develop each area as you please. Completing all 30 levels of the timed mode unlocks a special 31st level that takes place on the pirate island and which involves making a lot of tourist pirate ghosts happy.

Analysis: Major effort has gone into making Paradise Beach not only fun to play but also a joy just to look at. The beach scenery is so realistic you can almost feel the sand in your toes. Your little animated tourists come in all shapes and sizes, and wander around actually using the facilities built for them. Watching all the action can become so engrossing it is easy to forget that there are actual goals and a ticking clock. The music is light and breezy and matches the scenery perfectly.

paradisebeach3.jpgThe real pleasure here, though, is the gameplay itself. The learning curve is perfect, not so slow as to be boring or too quick, piling on information faster than you can absorb it. As Goldilocks would say, they got it just right. At the end of the last level of each island the player has the option to move on or continue developing the current island, affording the chance to sit back, relax, and just enjoy watching the action.

It is obvious the developers were aiming for whimsical, but some of the dialogue between Mr. Gates and Emmy can be a little... annoying. Nevertheless, Mr. Gates has lots of sage advice for a novice beach developer, much of it dispensed at the loading screen between levels. Despite the sometimes annoying Emmy, Paradise Beach is a light-hearted, amusing romp of a tycoon management sim, managing to be simultaneously challenging and relaxing. Pull up a lounge chair, grab a drink from the tiki bar, and start building!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBThree truly heavy-hitting games on this edition of Weekend Download, two of them weighing in as unofficial sequels to commercially released games. Don't let that keep you from trying Journey to the Center of the Earth, however, as it packs even more punch than the name brands!

journeytothecenter.gifJourney to the Center of the Earth (Windows, 12.8MB, free) - Your surprise addiction for the weekend, this unassuming little game is all about hunting for treasure on a tiny map. Your tools include an unlimited supply of bombs along with the ability to both run and jump. You have a map that shows hints for all 40 pieces of treasure, but getting to the locations and making the boxes appear is the real puzzle. The website and game are in Japanese, but there's no text or speech to worry about, so click the yellow button and download away!

asciiportal.gifASCIIpOrtal (Mac/Win/Linux, ~9MB, free) - You've played the game that spawned Portal, Narbacular Drop. You've played the Flash version of Portal. Heck, maybe you've even played the real Portal. Now, friends, it's time for ASCIIpOrtal. This 2D reimagining once again puts the familiar portal gun in your hands, granting you the ability to pass from one to the other to reach previously inaccessible areas. Use it to do the seemingly impossible, such as move through small areas, gain access to high ledges, and slingshot yourself across wide expanses by transferring downward momentum. The controls and mechanics are a bit odd to get used to, but if you press onward, you'll find a surprisingly rewarding puzzle platform game.

gianasreturn.gifGIana's Return (Windows, 7.1MB, free) - Real old-school gamers will recall the Commodore 64 platformer made in the image of Super Mario Bros. titled The Great Giana Sisters. This faithfully-done fan sequel preserves everything you would want from the original and provides better visuals and completely new levels to play. No gimmicks here, just tricky jumps, enemies to stomp, bricks to bust, and a power-up or two to help you along the way.

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 (81 votes)
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Gemini Lost

JohnBGemini Lost is a casual village simulation that works to bridge the gap between titles like Virtual Villagers and Sprouts Adventure. During an eclipse, a group of people stumble onto an ancient relic with twelve zodiac symbols on its face. Upon touching one of the tiles, they were transported to a strange new world. Now, the twelve symbols are scattered throughout the land, and it's your job to manage the small tribe so they can assemble the pieces and return home!

geminilost.jpgJust like any casual sim title, you'll need to manage each villager and set him or her to work harvesting materials, building structures, researching scientific advancements, and so on. This not only maintains your tribe, it allows them to grow both in number and in intellect, opening up new paths for you to explore and allowing you to develop the tools needed to retrieve the zodiac tiles.

First on the list: food. Everybody's gotta eat, right? Since there doesn't seem to be a McDonald's in sight (if you can call that food), you'll need to work the garden. Drag and drop villagers onto locations and they'll automatically start working. Each character has a favorite activity (building, farming, science, etc.), and they'll be thrilled if you assign them a task they already enjoy. So thrilled, in fact, they'll work faster, which is a huge bonus when your population is low and resources spread thin.

After your food supply is secure, it's time to harvest wood and stone, both useful for building structures. The science hut and chapel, used for researching new technology and marrying couples (first comes love, then marriage, then a population-expanding baby carriage!) respectively, also need to be completed.

Once the basics are taken care of, Gemini Lost opens up its world for you to explore. Look around the map for anything that looks slightly out of place. Then, drop a villager there and see what you need to research in order to solve the mystery. Scientific advancements will eventually allow you to build more things, accomplish bigger tasks, research complex tools, and even mix potions that have a variety of game-altering effects.

geminilost2.jpgAnalysis: Gemini Lost is one part village sim, two parts exploration. It takes some of my favorite aspects from Virtual Villagers and Sprouts Adventure and creates a game that's both relaxing and intriguing at the same time. Want to see what the deal with that rock island is? Try building a raft. Those bees looking interesting? Drop someone there, see what's going on. Your only real limitation is time, as you often have to wait for certain technologies to become available before accessing a new area. Otherwise, the land is yours to roam.

Gemini Lost has a number of player-friendly features that take some of the work out of playing. For starters, the game takes place in real-time, meaning your villagers are hard at work even while you're away. Each time you quit the game, a small menu pops up asking what speed you want things to continue while you're gone. If you aren't planning to play for a few days, set things to "slow" so you don't come back to a village of skeletons.

Navigating through your villagers is a bit tedious, as the only method of quick selection involves scrolling through a list of people one by one. Fortunately, these people tend to take care of themselves and stay pretty busy, so you won't have to do too much babysitting to make sure work gets done.

A pleasantly stunning entry into the casual simulation genre, Gemini Lost is the most player-friendly village management game around.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Gemini Lost is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish Games

Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou're one of those people, aren't you? A nitpicker. No, no, don't try to deny it. We can just tell these things. There's something about you, a certain je ne sais quoi that says, "I like to scrutinize two similar images and pick out tiny little differences between the two until my eyes give out from strain!" It's been a burden to you, hasn't it? Well, be burdened no longer, gentle reader, for there is a place in the wide world of casual gameplay for you, too! So sit back, relax, and prepare to scrute some images! The fate of the world is in your hands!... well, not really. But if you want to pretend it is, we won't tell anyone.

  • Headspin Space RaceHeadspin Space Race - Starting things off on a gentle note, Space Race features high production values in return for a rather non-existent difficulty curve. Your task here is to set the pop-up book images to mirror each other as they tell a tale of... well... I don't want to spoil it for you, but there may be some sort of race going on, that may or may not be related to space!
  • Isis: Challenge EditionIsis (Challenge Edition) - This rather moody little gem features wispy artwork straight out of something by the Brother's Grimm. Created to promote a new book, it claims to tell the tale of a young woman who'll do anything to bring a certain someone dear to her back from the dead. We all know how well that always works out. Lovely to look at, Isis unfortunately doesn't manage to spin much of that cryptic narrative within the game itself.
  • Butterfly FantasyButterfly Fantasy - Man, look at that guy. He is so depressed. Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that his mouth is sewn shut and he's being held prisoner by some sort of race of goop monsters? Butterfly Fantasy doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but darned if it isn't pretty. Weird. Um. Pretty weird. But also just pretty!
  • Clouds 2Clouds 2 - There's something vaguely unsettling about the presentation here, from the shadowy photographic people to the ever-so-slightly off-key music. Unfortunately for those of you expecting a dark tale of fantasy gone wrong in the sky, Clouds 2 is as airy and harmless as you can get without dispensing kittens from the monitor every time you get a difference right.
  • Ghost's RevengeGhost's Revenge - What do you do when you find yourself newly dead and Whoopi Goldberg is unavailable? Why, you tag along with your murderer and exact some crazy forest revenge, that's what! Possibly the most difficult of the lot, Ghost's Revenge also has the most coherent story and some simple, lovely artwork. Now I am completely prepared for the afterlife! Just as soon as I figure out which one of these pixels is a slightly different shade than the other... hmmm.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome to your Friday, dear reader! To help you get ready for that cherished weekend (ohboyohboyohboy!) we have prepared for you a fine and varied selection of games, delicately simmered in the juices of the internet. Uh... that... actually doesn't sound that appetizing, does it? Hmm. Well, how about a fine stew of superheroes, logic puzzles, and hidden objects? Guaranteed to have all the imaginary vitamins and minerals to get you through the day!

  • CanufitCanufit - Finally, a game for everyone who has ever packed a suitcase by cramming everything in willy-nilly, and then voided the warranty by using the awesome power of their buttocks to force it closed! Move and rotate letters within the images until they fit neatly within the borders. Or, you know, haphazardly in an awkward way nature never intended. Whatever gets the job done.
  • Mushroom MadnessMushroom Madness - Not, in fact, a propaganda film, but a tale of the eternal struggle of man versus hedgehog!... well, okay, it's not that either. Not really, anyway. Use your flyswatter and other, ahem, heavy weaponry to protect your precious mushrooms and buy upgrades. You won't find these methods at Home Depot, but I might shop there more often if you could.
  • Armored AshuraArmored Ashura - Monsters! Boss fights! Magical transformations! Power armor! Yeeeeeeeeaaaah! We can't really tell you what this side-scrolling laser feast is about because we're all too busy air-guitaring and pretending we're in an eighties anime series with giant robots and four frames of animation. Ahhh, childhood memories.
  • Hotel SuburaHotel Subura - Feeling down? If we've learned anything from John Cusak and Jack Nicholson, it's that a prolonged stay in an ominous hotel with a tragic past makes everything better! So why not spend some time, alone, in this ominous little hidden object game that absolutely does not feature a sinister secret? Seriously, it's totally fine! We can have your CDs if you don't come back, right?
  • Feeling FancyFeeling Fancy - Well, are you? You aren't? Well that's a shame. Fortunately, it's nothing that flinging yourself around through the mazes of clouds gathering sparkles and star juice won't fix. No, don't ask how. Shhh, no questions. Just watch the jaw-dropping opening sequence and pass the popcorn.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (152 votes)
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DoraClockwordsHelp! The laboratory is under attack, and mechanical spiders have arrived to carry off the blueprints! What do you mean I'm not making sense? You're not making sense! How do you expect to use your vocabulary to power this canon to fend them all off if you keep spouting gibberish like, "There's no such thing as clockwork spiders", and "What are you doing in my house?" Your weapon of choice is language in this odd little typing-defense hybrid from Gabob called Clockwords. So stop gaping and start yapping, since this is one time when having nothing to say is dangerous instead of just painfully awkward.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009That's right. Having recently acquired a machine that runs on language, you'll have to rely on your brain as you think up words to use as ammunition. Type a word, any word, and hit [enter], and the cannon on screen will fire the letters in it one by one at the approaching arachnids, dealing damage according to the letters you used. You can aim the cannon manually with the mouse, or let it fire at the closest enemy. Don't hesitate, since you can type in word after word, before the last one has been used up, to build up a warm, wordy welcome for the thieves. In tanks on the screen you'll find special letters that, if included in your word, will deal a damage bonus. Use them all, and you'll unlock additional letters that can further strengthen your arsenal. But watch out, since if the spiders make it to the bottom of the screen and steal all your secrets, your future as the brightest inventor in London will be cut short.

Between levels (of which there are many) you can pay a visit to the boiler room, where you can add any new letters you discover to your bonus tanks, or transmute the ones you have using your formulas to uncover new, deadly combinations. While the game offers you special letters than can be purchased with Mochi Coins, they are by no means necessary to finish the game. Nor should you feel handicapped without them, since you can actually create them on your own by transmuting two high-level letters together. Finally, a use for all the mysterious, glowing green liquid I have lying around the house!

ClockwordsAnalysis: The problem here is that the difficulty level can't really stand alongside the strong design, and some players may not find it much of a challenge. You probably won't have much trouble staying ahead of the swarms if you keep your words fairly long and frequent. Since the letters in the tanks only grant additional bonuses and aren't actually a requirement, you can reduce your attackers to quivering bits of springs and sprockets just by rapping out whatever pops into your head. (Of course, feeling smug if you manage to use all eight random letters in a word is perfectly acceptable.) Reusing words in a level will reduce the damage they deal, but with so few restrictions this is rarely a problem.

Since you're essentially free as a bird here, you'll be happy to know that Clockwords actually possesses a very capable vocabulary. Every word I dropped in from the mundane ("pants") to the lengthy ("lugubrious") was accepted, which leaves you free to abandon yourself to stream-of-consciousness style casual gameplay rather than plotting out your every move. In fact, if you're a fine, sterling example of northern breeding like yours truly (that is to say, Canadian or from across the pond) you'll also be happy to know that Clockwords doesn't discriminate against that extra "u" and accepts "neighbours" as readily as "neighbors".

While the relatively sedate pace and difficulty could wind up leaving you feel as though you're competing against yourself for a high score rather than the clock, there's something addictive about Clockwords that will appeal not only to those of us who got beaten up after school for reminding the teacher about a homework assignment, but anyone who simply appreciates a good design. So what are you waiting for? Free your mind! Your fellow word nerd salutes you.

Play Clockwords


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Rating: 4.8/5 (105 votes)
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You Are Games

JayYou Are Games returns with a musical challenge this week. Introducing Nudge, a simple to use musical composition webtoy that gives everyone the ability to create pleasant sounding melodies. And we want to hear what you can do with it.


We're not talking full length symphonies here. Nudge creates only short pieces consisting of 16 steps each (about 4 beats). The palette of 8 sounds available range from drums and bass to organs and harps. Just click on one of the sound matrices along the right side to select an instrument. Then click (and drag if you wish) anywhere to add notes. It's just that easy.

For each instrument you can also change the volume, panning left or right, and you can even turn the instrument off completely. This is particularly useful for when you want to make fine tuning adjustments to your composition as it can get somewhat distracting working on one instrument if you have all the others going at the same time.

A tempo control allows you to change the tempo of the entire composition. The default is 120 (beats per minute), and the range is 60 to 180.

When you are finished and satisfied with your composition, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the get + share button in the top right of the Nudge widget
  2. Click on the chain link you see on the left
  3. Click copy to copy a link to your piece
  4. Then paste it into your comment here on this review page along with a description or something that inspired you about it.

Also, please comment on the pieces of others, and if there is a consensus about a clear winner (or two), we may even offer up a prize.

I have included a sample composition that Dr. Mikey created as an example only. Please don't use it to begin your own. Start off with a blank canvas by going to the Nudge site.

Let loose your inner musician!

Play iNudge


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Rating: 4.4/5 (54 votes)
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Jerradsmokescreen screenshotIf you have ever used the Internet (and if you're reading this, there's at least a 70% chance that you have), then you'll probably be familiar with the core components of Smokescreen, a new alternate reality game (ARG) from entertainment company Six To Start. Social networking, blogging, and chat lingo are all part of this game that takes on the task of warning players about the dangers of the Internet in a way that makes you feel like you're experiencing them first-hand.

The game is played through simulated websites, instant messengers, and mini-games in the form of social network applications. It's fairly straightforward with what you're expected to do, but there is also a hint button to give you a little nudge in the right direction if you get lost. Sound is required for this one also, but the game will warn you before you even get started, and so you don't get too far into things and then get stuck.

The game itself is laid out into different missions, and that's where things get interesting. Every few days a new mission is made available. Right now there are only six (To Start!), but they'll be rolling out new missions over the next 4 weeks or so. The missions can be played in any order, and once you have completed them, you can go back in and start them from various checkpoints. Registration for the site is not required, but it is necessary if you want to save your various achievements. Sadly, I did not realize this right away, so my high score in the Rumour Mill game is now lost forever. That is one thing this game didn't warn me about: always take screenshots or it didn't happen.

Analysis: Smokescreen is quite an unusual game and therefore won't appeal to everyone. The gameplay is fairly straightforward and not particularly challenging, and if you're like me, you'll wish these characters really existed just so you could correct their spelling and grammar. There is also some infrequent mild language on the site, hence the yellow rating. Still, it's hard to find too much fault with a game in which the goal is to educate people, especially when it manages to do so in such an engrossing way. Through all the different messages and recordings, you really start to get into your character. Any game that makes me feel like a character on Degrassi is worth a shot. It is quite evident that a lot of heart and soul went into making this game, and according to the developer's website it took over 2 years and 50 people to make this happen. That commitment shines through in the small details, like the extra lessons to go along with each mission. Those of you with kids will definitely want to consider sharing this one with them. Just make sure to get them a dictionary, too. Illiteracy is no laughing matter.

Play Smokescreen


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (39 votes)
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KeroKero_CakePirate.jpgCake Pirate is a tower defense game in the style of Mushroom Revolution, where you add elements to your towers to make different power-up combinations, except this game has cake and pirates!

As you might expect, monsters travel along predetermined paths and you build towers along the sides to stop them. Your towers in this game are cakes, and you add extra ingredients like sugar, or peppermint to them that add various effects to them. Adding multiple ingredients will create recipes that give your cakes special bonuses, such as helping out other towers, shooting five targets at once, or even shooting bees. Yes, you can make a cake that shoots bees.

The twist here is that your lives are also cakes, and you can sell those cakes for money to upgrade your cake towers. Since you produce cakes throughout the level you will need to strike a balance between lives and cash. The concept is fairly straightforward but it does add an element of strategy to the game. In addition to lives and cash, skill points can be earned that you can use to help you out during the levels similar to Gemcraft.

Analysis: This is a pretty standard tower defense game, but that doesn't mean it should go overlooked. The visuals are great, the cakes look good enough to eat, and the interface is simple and clean. The music is excellent at setting a light and airy mood, I found it hard to get past the title screen just because I loved the song so much. The ability to sell your lives for cash is a welcome strategic addition. The enemies are a little bland here, though. You've got your basic ground (or sea in this case), and air monsters that don't really vary much. The game is also fairly difficult, but there is a free practice mode where you can hone your skills and get used to the different tower types.

But this is a game about cake and pirates! And it has a cake that shoots bees!!

Play Cake Pirate


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (111 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypSome room escape games are a nail-biting roller-coaster ride of nerves and terror. Some are quiet exercises in mounting paranoia. Occasionally, however, you run across an escape game that is calm, quiet, almost Zen-like, with an ending that is even more relaxing. Strawberry Cafe Escape by Strawberry Cafe is one of the latter, a light, frothy, relaxed escape from the mid-week blues.

strawberrycafe_bar.jpgCafe escapes always seem to be a bit of a contradiction. After all, escaping from locked rooms, underground spaces, creepy hospitals, unknown space stations, etc. is probably a good idea, but who wants to escape from a cafe when you can sit down and enjoy a nice beverage? Regardless, you will eventually need to leave the Strawberry Cafe. What makes the game so fun is the reward at the end, when you do indeed get to enjoy that tasty drink. What beverage you end up with depends entirely on the method you use to escape.

You begin in the eponymous cafe, cutely done up in shades of pink and red to match the title theme. Enjoy the lusciously rendered 3D scenery as you cruise towards completion. Navigation throughout the small space is accomplished by matching red arrows at the edge of the screens. Inventory control (for the few things you will find) is simple and intuitive. There's very little pixel hunting involved, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the game. Strawberry Cafe has not added a save button, but none is really needed as this is not a difficult escape by any means. A mute button is unnecessary as there's no background music, although there are sound effects when items are picked up/manipulated.

Analysis: Not the toughest game out there, Strawberry Cafe Escape is still a nice refresher for those who enjoy the challenge of a room escape. It's not all strawberries and cream, of course. The game would have benefited from some sort of musical accompaniment; perhaps a nice piano piece or some light jazz. The challenge of escaping could have been beefed up a little more as well. Although the game itself is the English version, the translation from the Japanese is a little rough in places.

Why play then? Sometimes it's nice to kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery (and the truly casual gameplay). The puzzles themselves are tricky without being difficult, adding to the relaxation factor. While there is only one way out, there are three different endings based on your methodology. Having trouble getting over the mid-week hump? Then sit down, relax, pour a drink, and spend a little time escaping the cafe.

Play Strawberry Cafe Escape

Update: The English version appears to have been taken down or is currently unavailable. The review links have been changed to point to the Japanese version. If the English version turns up again, please let us know and I'll switch the links back again.


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Rating: 4.6/5 (159 votes)
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GrimmrookDead Frontier: OutbreakFor many of us, Choose Your Own Adventure books ("gamebook") hold a special place in the muddled mess of nostalgia and memory that was once our childhood. Countless lazy Sunday afternoons, unending car rides on family vacations, and late nights spent with the sheets pulled over our heads and flashlights illuminating the yellowing pages were the backdrops to these adventures. The world of the familiar would slowly melt away as we picked our way through ancient tombs, crept through alien spaceships, or explored foreboding castles. And then, as so many other aspects of our childhood, they faded away like ghosts, transforming from late night nail-biting adventures into little more than fond vague memories. With Dead Frontier: Outbreak, creator Neil Yates resurrects the gamebook and updates it for a more adult (and less squeamish) audience.

Outbreak follows an unnamed cubicle slave just grinding his way through another day at work, the worst possible future he could imagine being some inconsiderate co-worker failing to refill the coffee pot. Indeed, his humdrum life is so unprepared for what is about to happen that when the scream comes, he at first thinks it's someone over reacting to a spider or something. This blissfully ignorant world view doesn't survive much longer before it is shattered by the dark reality of what has happened; a virus is rampaging its way through the populace, turning all who become infected into mindless, deadly, zombies.

As the horror of the moment sets in, our anonymous protagonist can think only of his wife and hopefully getting to her before she too falls victim to the rapidly spreading epidemic. This is where you come in. At just about every turning point in the narrative, you will be required to decide between several actions the protagonist can take. Choose wisely, and the hero lives at least for a few more moments until the next life and death decision comes along. Choose poorly, and you're either zombie, or zombie food, I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter which.

You won't be needing lightning fast reflexes for this zombie romp, though. Nor will you have to pick out ammo from unlikely places or practice sniper like aim. None of these skills will be tested. What will be tested is your imagination and your judgment. If you've nerves of steel, get going. Actually, you better get going anyway, lest you join the ranks of the living dead.

Dead Frontier: OutbreakAnalysis: First it should be mentioned that Outbreak isn't for everyone. For one, it's text based so there's all kinds of reading and not a lot of physical action to be carried out on your part. Also, Outbreak can get pretty gory and is not for the squeamish.

For those who aren't put off by the gore and don't mind a game that is mostly reading, Dead Frontier: Outbreak has an awful lot to offer. In some ways, Outbreak is somewhat like Interactive Fiction, the strength of the writing combining with the strength of your imagination to create your own private landscape of fantasy. Unlike Interactive Fiction, though, all of your options are multiple choice and merely a mouse click away. Thus, like Llama Adventure, Outbreak can be viewed as Interactive Fiction for those who just never really quite developed the knack for it.

Hardcore IF enthusiasts, as a result, may crave a level of immersion that is deeper than Outbreak provides. If this is the case, it isn't for a lack of trying on Outbreak's part. Aside from the writing (which I'll get to in a bit), Outbreak seeks to suck you in with plenty of ambient goodies. Your ears are treated to a suitably eerie musical track, whilst your eyes are allowed to wonder over various settings rendered in monochromatic hues that pulse subtly in the background. You're afforded this chance to take in the scenery by the voice acting that actually reads the text for you. Largely, this voice acting is okay, we've definitely heard worse, but it just feels a tad shy of being just right. This is excusable at least in part because zombie stories are rarely seen of as high art, and some flaws are not only allowed but expected.

No, the great sin with the sounds, both the music and the voice acting, is that you can't turn them off. You can click the screen to cut off the voice-over and bring up the entirety of the text immediately, but if the voice is getting on your nerves, there's no way to mute it. The music, which is well chosen, does get repetitive, but the only way you're getting rid of that is to turn down or mute your computer's volume.

This is fine because even though some thought and work was put into the amenities, what really shines in Outbreak is the story and your role in it. The lead in is pretty standard fare for your contemporary zombie plot, complete with apocalyptic viral scenarios, but Yates overcomes the near cliche open by focusing on immersion. What strikes me as remarkable is the believability not of the situation, but of the reactions to the situation. In the beginning, our hero rightly doesn't even register what's happening, and he never turns into some sort of Bruce Campbell clone, loading up on heavy weapons and going from white collared wage slave to awesome slayer of the undead.

Instead, your decisions remain sane, and often times quite tricky. You get some easy ones tossed at you here and there, but part of what really sucks you in is that so many of the options available to you are viable and during a real zombie outbreak, should one ever actually happen (hey, it could happen), you could see yourself confronted with similar dilemmas. Do you risk the few seconds and possible exposure it would take to snatch the gun on the floor, or do you make a break for the exit unarmed before the zombies notice you? As you try to drive away do you take the bulky but versatile SUV, or instead opt for the exposed but nimble motorcycle?

Should we see more installments like this, there are some improvements that would not hurt. Beyond having the option to turn the music and voice acting off, it would be much appreciated if the author was a little more lenient with the checkpoint system. Should you die (and let's face it, you probably will at least a few times), you thankfully don't have to start from the beginning, but you do have to go back to the last checkpoint. Some of the sections between checkpoints can be kind of long, though, and it can be more than a little irritating having to start over after a certain amount of progress. This is, it should be said, still an improvement over the original build where no checkpoints were offered at all. Also, getting back to the point where you died shouldn't take too long as you can click to speed up the text. Also, there are some grammar errors that may jump out at you here and there. For the most part, though, the voice over does a decent job of correcting for them.

Dead Frontier: Outbreak is definitely an interesting entry that veers off the beaten path. We may not have played anything like it since we were checking out books from our grade school library, but this is a good thing. Yates manages to deliver quite a bit of thrills and chills in a package that is unique and enjoyable, but still just short enough to where it doesn't monopolize a great deal of your time. So brush up on your zombie survival skills and try not to end up on the menu, if you can.

Play Dead Frontier: Outbreak


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (64 votes)
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zxoMax ConnectSo katydid, you seek the true path to enlightenment? You wish to become one with the universe, to pulse with pure energy as you gaze fondly upon all creation?

Hmmm, tricky. But come. I see great desire aflame in your heart. The path seeks the seeker as the seeker seeks the path in this simple, unique puzzle game. I will teach you what I can. But first, see those orbs? They are called connectors, and they were put in place by the great guru, Veewen of Malaysia, as part of something called Max Connect. As you can see, they have been rendered unto disharmony by the ever-present chaos that permeates this world. If you could be so kind as to realign them for me, I would be so grateful! Yes, simply click and drag your mouse to rotate the connectors, and try to get them all pointed in loops so that the beams all point back to the beginning. Don't leave any connectors out of the circle! If you need to do some fine-tuning, I think you'll find the [left] and [right] arrow keys serve quite nicely. Click the yellow orb to unbind the beam. Yes, just like that! You keep working on those while this old man rambles on:

Analysis: As puzzlers go, Max Connect is a nice break from the recent glut of physics puzzles we've had. The only physics at play here is angles and reflections. Starting from this very simple concept, Veewen extracts a surprisingly varied set of solid levels. There are a few twists, such as rock connectors, but no goofy mechanisms simply for the sake of complicating the game. Each of the elements feels quite natural and reinforces the simplicity of the game rather than detracting from it.

Now, please don't mistake simplicity for lack of difficulty. After the first few levels, the difficulty ramps up rather quickly and stays high until the end. The difficultly can arise from one of two sources: deducing the right connections or fiddling about to get the angles just right. The latter type can be pretty frustrating for those who don't care for trial-and-error, especially since the beam can take a while to run its course. Fortunately, there's not too many of these, and since you can play any of three levels at a time, you're not held back from enjoying the rest of the game simply because you can't find just the right combination of angles. The soothing zen music also helps to mitigate frustration.

Ah, so you've completed all 25 levels? Delightful! I think you'll find your trials and experiences with Max Connections are all the training you'll ever need in your search for divinity. Always remember, the end is just the beginning.

Play Max Connect


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (132 votes)
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DoraCrush the Castle: Players PackThere's something satisfying on a primal level about rampaging through a playground, kicking over the painstakingly built castles of sand and blocks while their toddler creators shriek in the background, their impotent fury the perfect orchestral accompaniment to your mastery over the destruction. Of course, once you get to be a certain age, people tend to frown on such activities. So we turn to games like Joey Betz's Crush the Castle to fill the void with good ol' fashioned physics warfare. And what better way to revel in your uncontested might than by partaking in Crush the Castle: Players Pack, a collection of new maps awaiting your siege skills made by players hungry for destruction, just like you.

That's right, gentle reader. The Players Pack is made for fans, by fans. While some of them have presented us with straight-forward levels, there are still a surprising number of castles which more closely resemble lovingly made Goldberg machines, brought down by a chain reaction from a single precise hit. Of course, how clever you actually find these castles depends largely on whether or not you have a case of I-Could-Do-Better-Itis. Well, the good news is the level editor is still there, so you can easily show your friends (and us!) what you can do.

The physics here are still decent, but a little shaky. One wonders where all these soldiers are trained that they can be destroyed simply by brushing up against the side of their own fortifications. At one point, one of them shrieked in agony and died a bloody mess after he teetered into the walls ever so slightly. I don't know, it does make the job easier, but it also makes me wonder if maybe their castles would be better defended if they'd stop hiring people made out of spun glass and childrens' wishes.

If you're a fan of the original, you'll probably enjoy the Players Pack as an extension of the gameplay, but you may be disappointed by the lack of any real major additions to the game. If some new ammunition and medals to earn is enough for you, then fire away. The Players Pack may not bring anything revolutionary to an already well-loved game, but it does provide a lot of enjoyment and showcases just what people are capable of building if you give them some wood, some stones, and promise to smash it to bits when they're done. That's the best kind of teamwork. Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

Play Crush the Castle: Players Pack


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6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition

Another quick reminder that there are now just 2 weeks left to finish up a browser game that incorporates the theme "EXPLORE". You may use any browser-based platform (Flash, Shockwave, Java, Unity, etc) as long as we can embed the entire game on our competition page. See the official competition announcement for details.

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.

Sponsors
We thank our sponsors for their kind support:
CGDC6 sponsorsArmor GamesCasual GameplayKing.com - play free online games

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.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the official competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (166 votes)
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Grinnypabubathealien_parachute.gifWhen we send men and women into space, we go to great pains to make sure that they are highly trained, physically fit, and the best of the best. Many have multiple degrees, doctorates and pilots licenses, and they endure a long, rigorous training regimen that will ensure if ever they end up stranded somewhere their survival skills will be up to the task. It's a pity that aliens from far off galaxies don't see it the same way. Otherwise, we wouldn't have Abuba the Alien, a basic point-and-click adventure created by Robin Vencel of Pencilkids.

Abuba is most definitely not ready to survive in the hostile environment that is suburbia. Cold, hungry, tired, and scared after crash landing Abuba just wants to phone... er, just wants to go home. It is up to you, intrepid gamer, to help him (her? it?) find food, warmth, and a way to call the folks to come get Abuba, who speaks and acts like a 4 year old.

Escort Abuba through the neighborhood and help him (her? it?) take care of basic needs and eventually phone...er, go home. Any resemblance to another cute lost alien is, surely, entirely coincidental. Unfortunately the road home is never easy, so it will be necessary to find and use a lot of objects (and break a ton of laws), as well as participate in some mild animal cruelty to set Abuba on his path.

Gameplay is simple and straightforward. The cursor changes to a hand when hovered over usable objects, so pixel hunting is at a minimum. Pick up and combine objects to accomplish the goal of the screen, whether to feed the little alien or find another piece of his (hers? its?) complicated communication gadget so Abuba can go home.

abubathealien_dog.jpgAnalysis: Rendered in a very Saturday morning cartoon-like style, Abuba the Alien is none-the-less a fun little time waster. The artwork is vividly done in shades of dark blue (it is, after all, a dark and stormy night). Cute little animations, twinkling stars, unobtrusive music, and other sound effects show that although it may be geared for kids, Abuba the Alien is still a well thought out, well put together little adventure, albeit an easy one. Most experienced gamers will blow through this thing in about 10 minutes or less.

There are some minor quibbles. Abuba can get a little annoying after a while. Some of the actions involved in getting Abuba home are overly complicated or defy logic altogether. There is also a lot of law-breaking involved, mostly destruction of personal property. Since the game appears to be targeted toward a younger audience, is this the sort of message we want to be sending? Oh well, at least Abuba is polite. Manners are important, kids! Especially when committing property crimes. When playing you run the risk of an ad popping up halfway through the game as well.

Still, despite the problems, Abuba the Alien is a cute, fun way to chase away the Monday morning blahs. Forget the coffee, take a casual gameplay break and help get Abuba home! Abuba say thank you. And so do we.

Play Abuba the Alien


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Mobile Monday

JohnBUnify went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Then Harbor Master saw it and was all "Nuh-UH" and pushed it back down. Covered in dirt but not dismayed, Unify called his pal Mr.AahH who suggested they go to the water fountain instead. They did, and they saw Squareball on the way there, and everybody lived happily ever after.

unify.gifUnify - A brilliantly simple puzzle game that's a truly unique experience. Unify plays like a game of color-based Tetris that takes place on two sides of the screen at once. Use your left thumb to slide and rotate blocks on the left side, the right thumb for the right side. Bring blocks together at the center of the screen and make them vanish by nudging four like-colored squares together. Set up chain reactions for bonus points, and try to survive all 40 levels of intense brain integration. You won't believe how captivating this simple concept turns out to be!

mraahh.jpgMr.AahH!! - Less of a puzzle game and more of an arcade game, Mr. AahH!! is a little guy who apparently has the ability to attach ropes to invisible points in the sky. He uses this ability to swing from ledge to progressively smaller ledge. How and when he lands, though, is up to you. Tap the screen to cause Mr. AahH!! to let go of his precious rope, adjusting for variable wind/gravity and timing it so he lands on each platform's center. Keep going as long as you possibly can, and when you die, play it again, because you can't get enough of this game's cool neo-retro attitude! A free Mr.AahH!! Lite is also available.

crushthecastle.jpgCrush the Castle - Another popular Flash game makes the transition to the iPhone App Store. Take control of a trebuchet to fling 8 types of ammo at enemy castles and take no survivors! Just tap once to start the trebuchet swinging, tap again to let it fly. Earn medals for crushing castles using a minimum of ammo. Featuring a simple, effective control scheme, 50 unique levels, and even a level editor, too. A free Crush the Castle Lite is also available.

harbormaster.jpgHarbor Master - Ep5: Monster Cove - Dig the stressful underpinning of the airplane-centric Flight Control? You'll love Harbor Master. Direct ships to port by tapping and dragging a path along the sea. Once a ship docks, let it unload its cargo then set it back into the wild blue. Things get really interesting when multiple boats are on the screen, ranging from zippy little things to massive tankers who take their sweet time moving through the water. Keep the ships at a safe distance to avoid level-ending crashes. Harbor Master also packs six maps, each with its own unique hazards such as cyclones, monsters, and pirates! A free Harbor Master Lite is also available.

squareball.gifSquareball - If Pong were a sidescrolling platformer, it would be Squareball. This unforgiving action game features a square ball (take that, physics!) that bounces from the top of the screen to the bottom. Swipe your finger across the screen to scroll left and right, making sure the ball doesn't fall beyond the walls. Collect colored rectangles for points, and try your very best not to scream when you lose. And lose you will. Over and over 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.


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (97 votes)
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Shadez II: Battle for Earth

MarcusA number of genres are heavily represented in the browser-based gaming realm. Physics games are everywhere, puzzles are a dime a dozen, and you can't toss a mushroom without hitting a platformer. But one genre that has been somewhat neglected is the real-time strategy game, a void Shadez II: Battle for Earth aims to fill. Those familiar with the RTS genre may not recognize Shadez II for what it is at first, but once you do, you'll find yourself looking at it from an entirely different angle.

Shadez II: Battle for EarthYou are in control of a mercenary force of military units with one goal: eliminate the enemy presence on planet Earth and save every man, woman, child, and bunny rabbit. The enemy is a race of machines that seems to have no other goal but their own survival by means of eradicating all life on Earth. They have ravaged the planet, and for whatever reason, the governments of Earth have entrusted you with the only means to defeat them. No pressure.

The military power at your fingers is varied and impressive. You have access to a number of ground units, including infantry with guns and rocket launchers, and covert ops specialists that can go behind enemy lines and plant C4 on structures to take them down. Light and heavy tanks are also at your disposal, along with APCs and mobile missile launchers that provide armored support. In the air, you'll control Apache gunships, Blackhawks, and Chinook transports as well as Tomahawk and Patriot missile strikes, battleship bombardments, and more. You can also call in a "Broken Arrow" which basically gives you every strike at once in one area, for those times when things get really desperate.

Of course, none of this can happen without resources. The main resource you'll collect is ore, represented by yellow deposits above the ground. It allows you to build units and call in strikes, but electrical power keeps things running. You have to generate this for yourself by building power plants. The more buildings you have in your base, the more electricity you need, and the more power plants will be required to supply this electricity. You start out with the basic power plant, which provides enough electricity for simple base operations. Once you start building tanks and helicopters, you'll need to start constructing nuclear power plants to supply the electricity demands. Keep an eye on your power meter, because if you go over, everything in your base shuts down.

This all sounds very familiar, and anyone who has played Command and Conquer will find it extremely easy to grasp. That is, until you realize that the game is presented in a 2D side view instead of the usual over-the-head map view. Kinda changes things a bit, doesn't it? While in many ways the side-view simplifies the gameplay, it also gives it a new perspective. Many of the strategies that are employed in other RTS games may not work, or may have to be adapted to the new style of gameplay. Also, units cannot block each other; if two units meet, they simply pass around the other, exchanging fire the whole time.

Shadez II: Battle for EarthAnalysis: Shadez II is an excellent example of what can be done to add interest to an established genre. By putting all of the action on a 2D plane, it changes the way you approach the game. Many of the same strategies will work, like creating an overwhelming force to obliterate the enemy, but others, such as the classic "divide and conquer" are not easy to pull off, if even possible. Sean has come up with a number of interesting and unique terrain and unit placement scenarios which help to capitalize on the 2D nature. Impassible ravines, bases surrounded by enemy units, and civilians that must be rescued from the other side of mountain ranges are just some of the scenarios you will face during the game.

As you progress through the campaign missions, you slowly unlock units that can be used in future missions, skirmish missions, or should you decide to go back to a previous mission you have already played. These units can be upgraded using experience points that you collect after successfully completing a mission. There are six levels for each unit, and each level slowly increases that unit's effectiveness. Once you hit some of the later campaign missions, and especially the skirmish missions, you will be in need of units that have been significantly upgraded.

One important fact you need to know before jumping into Shadez II: it's not free. That is, not entirely. You have access to several campaign missions and a couple of the skirmish missions right from the start. If you want access to the full game, however, you need to purchase MochiCoins.

Along with purchasing campaign and skirmish missions, you can also purchase Expert Mode. Expert Mode unlocks all units and upgrades them to level six and gives you access to advanced configuration of the skirmish missions, allowing you to tweak enemy AI, the types of units it has access to, etc. This makes pretty much all of the campaign missions a cakewalk, so if you want to preserve more of the challenge for the campaign, hold off on Expert Mode until you're finished, or at least until you get absolutely stuck. Once you activate the Expert Mode, you cannot deactivate it.

Aside from the fact that the Expert Mode makes the campaign too easy, the other complaint that I have about the game is the way in which you have to scroll the screen. In your standard RTS, moving the mouse to the edge of the screen scrolls the game field in that direction. With Shadez II, you have to use the arrow keys. It's really not that cumbersome once you get used to it, but I found myself constantly moving my mouse to the sides in an attempt to scroll before realizing, once again, that I need to use the arrow keys.

Sean Cooper put a lot of work into Shadez II, and it shows. The production values are very high, almost to the point that the game could pass as a downloadable title. The unit silhouettes are detailed, well animated, and move smoothly. Explosions are nice and explodey, with debris flying everywhere. The sound is top-notch, with excellent background music and event sounds that mimic those from the original Command & Conquer games.

If you are looking for a break from the standard RTS fare, or just want to play through a really well-made game, then look no further than Shadez II: Battle for Earth. There is enough strategy, explosions, and alien killing machines to keep most RTS fans busy for some time.

Play Shadez II: Battle for Earth


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Rating: 4.6/5 (49 votes)
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My Kingdom for the Princess

JohnBMy Kingdom for the Princess is a casual resource management/building game from Nevosoft. Mixing elements from simulation titles as well as borrowing from the time management genre, the game puts a big casual gameplay hat over itself and delivers a deceptively linear resource management experience with a surprising amount of strategy. Don't let the fairy tale setting and simple premise fool you, My Kingdom for the Princess is not a simple kids' game.

mykingdomfortheprincess.jpgWhile Princess Helen was visiting her uncle, King Sigmund, a monstrous tornado rocked the land, destroying all but his castle and waking the cruel dragon Firemouth. To make matters worse, Helen's father was struck by lightning and now hangs on to his life by a thin strand. The Princess must get back to her kingdom, but with the roads and villages destroyed, it's nearly impossible to travel. Enter you, young knight, tasked with escorting the princess across the land, repairing the kingdom as you go. And King Sigmund has promised you a castle of your own if you're successful. It's a fairy tale beginning that depends upon you for the fairy tale end.

My Kingdom for the Princess uses a simple resource loop to ensure the game stays dynamic. As their name suggests, workers do all the work, dashing across the cobblestone paths at the slightest click from your mouse. They can remove obstructions from the path, gather resources, and make repairs. Some of these jobs require wood, and workers always need food to do their duty. Later, you'll have a third resource to think about: gold. Making sure you have enough of each, especially early in each level, is the key to survival.

Resources can be gathered by picking up random drops from around the map or by constructing specific buildings that bestow resources every turn. Sawmills, for example, give one wood every game minute, while farms do the same for food. Upgrading your cabin allows you to utilize additional workers, an invaluable resource that lets you do multiple tasks as the same time. Which building you spend your precious wood constructing first is all part of the strategy.

At the bottom of the screen you'll notice a meter that fills up as time goes by. This is your bonus meter, a neat little device that allows you to unleash a special power when it's charged. These bonuses include a temporary new worker, faster worker movements, bonus resources, and much more. It's an excellent addition to the game that lends a more arcadey feel to the experience.

Each level has a small set of goals displayed at the top of the screen. As with most resource management/building games, these tend to be fairly simple. Most of the time you'll naturally accomplish them as you move around the map and explore every turn in the road. If you complete the level before the sun sets (shown by the meter in the top left of the screen), your future castle will get an upgrade. It pays to be prompt!

mykingdomfortheprincess2.jpgAnalysis: My Kingdom for the Princess is dangerous. Dangerous because it's got that "just one more level" quality of addictiveness. Each stage is slightly more complex than the last, introducing new buildings or branching paths on the map, forcing you to adapt your strategy just a bit. Collecting resources and continuing your march across the map is all part of the hook!

Your first (and most important) decision in each level is to decide which order to do your tasks in and which path to clear first. Often you'll have the choice of building several structures which may or may not be one of your tasks for the stage. Take a look at the map before you start clicking, see where the easy resource deposits are and work towards them first. Amassing a pool of wood and food early on will be your ticket to victory.

The only shortcoming in this game is slight and involves the interface. One crucial component in any time management game is the ability to chain actions together by forming a queue. My Kingdom for the Princess doesn't emphasize the time limit so much, but waiting for a worker to clear some branches so you can click on the item behind it seems like a waste of time.

My Kingdom for the Princess gets the casual side of building/resource management games right. What looks like a straightforward design actually opens up a wide variety of strategies. Between that and the game's charming visuals/setting, you'll have a hard time putting this one down.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
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  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (35 votes)
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Women's Murder Club: Twice in a Blue Moon

MarcusThere's a killer on the loose on the streets of San Francisco. A cryptic message leads Detective Lindsey Boxer to a deserted alley, and the body of a young woman. But, when it appears the murder is more than just a random killing, she decides that it's time to involve a very special group of friends.

Women's Murder Club: Twice in a Blue MoonIn Women's Murder Club: Twice in a Blue Moon, you play all four members of the titular group of friends from the books of acclaimed crime novelist James Patterson. Lindsey Boxer is a detective with the San Francisco police force, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Cindy Thomas is a reporter on the crime beat, and Jill Bernhadt is the District Attorney. Each of these characters' skill-sets will come in handy as you make your way through this series of bizarre murders.

Twice in a Blue Moon is primarily a hidden object game. You'll start out most of the investigations in the office of either Lindsey Boxer or Cindy Thomas gathering items in order to proceed with the investigation. Some of the items make sense, like getting your badge, or an envelope that has a clue to the killer's where-abouts. The purpose of other items is not so clear, like why you would need multiple baseball bats, or a bunch of stars. But, in general, the hidden object sections are relevant enough to keep you involved in the game. Some even involve additional puzzles, like collecting all of the CDs to a collection, and then having to place them in the CD holder correctly, or using the letters on tokens you've collected to solve a bar game.

There are other ways in which you will interact with the game, as well. A number of times throughout the game you will have to plug words and names into computer databases in order to lookup information relevant to the case on which you are working. This has become easier than the previous games in the series, in that the words or names that you need to lookup are written on a post-it note at the bottom of the computer monitor, instead of having to search for them. The information is generally easy to find in the database, as well. You either get the information you are looking for, or you get nothing. No red herrings or false information to have to sift through.

As you progress through the game, you will also come upon other types of puzzles besides the standard hidden object fare. In one, you'll have to follow an archivist through the correct series of doors in order to make it down to the San Francisco public archives in the basement of the library. In another, you'll have to place wooden pieces into the correct holes in a puzzle box in order to open it. And during the finale of the game, you'll have to travel blindly through a basement maze in order to capture the killer.

Women's Murder Club: Twice in a Blue MoonAnalysis: I played the first game in this series, Death in Scarlet, over a year ago, and it was one of those rare games that has stuck with me this whole time. The second game in the series, A Darker Shade of Grey, was a no-brainer for me to pick up when it came out, and I was not disappointed. So I come to Twice in a Blue Moon with high expectations.

The story, penned by Patterson himself, is well written, if a bit cliche. But, this is crime drama we're talking about here, so there are just some things that you're not going to be able to get away from. We've seen the copycat Jack the Ripper or Boston Strangler done before, but the way that Patterson weaves the cliches into the story is nicely done, and the ending is not completely telegraphed to you in the first chapter. Exposition is done with the use of comic panes in-between investigations. While I would have loved to see more of the voice acting and animation seen in the intro to the game, the comics are well-drawn and understandable.

As I mentioned earlier, the hidden object sections do a good job of staying on-task and not asking you to find an excessive amount of completely random items, although they do stretch the definition of "relevant" quite a bit. The best are probably the ones where you are cleaning up a room, either prior to investigating it, or in order to compete a task at one of the offices, because the objects can be more random and still fit with the story. You will run into the odd butterfly and lizard, but it doesn't get too crazy. A good tip to keep in mind: be sure to look for objects in the pictures on the walls of the rooms. Often the object you are looking for is actually depicted in the picture, as opposed to being a physical object in the room. Also be aware of patterns on rugs and on walls. These are often hiding places for simple objects like stars and letters.

One problem that I have had, and continue to have with this series is that the sections involving Claire Washburn's medical examiner's lab seem tacked on to the rest of the story. The quick stops to the lab to arrange bottles and discover the chemical makeup of a particular substance seems like something that could have just as easily been handled in text as opposed to such a brief game section. I would love to see it expanded in future installments to make it seem like a fuller part of the game.

This is really turning out to be an excellent series of mystery hidden-object games, right up there with the classics like Mystery Case Files. If murder by moonlight is your thing, then check out Women's Murder Club: Twice in a Blue Moon, as see if you have what it takes to catch a killer.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Women's Murder Club 3 is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBWhen wacky games and serious, heartfelt games coexist, one never knows what could happen. This edition of Weekend Download pairs the decidedly quiet, thoughtful non-game Do You Remember My Lullaby? with two loud, zany platform action games. Why? Because we can!

rememberlullabyDo You Remember My Lullaby? (Windows, 15MB, free) - From Kan [Reives] Gao, author of the haunting The Mirror Lied, comes a game that's not a game at all, even though it looks like your typical 16-bit-era RPG. Do You Remember My Lullaby? is a non-interactive short story following one woman's day during the Christmas season. It tells quite an emotional tale and does so with little more than a few sprites and a few sound effects. There's barely any dialogue to read, so just sit back and soak up the somber atmosphere. Afterwards, follow a few clues found in the forum to unlock a bonus.

fallover.gifFallOver! (Windows, 2.2MB, free) - An older platformer from Hempuli, this one has a nice little twist. Instead of running into spikes or flames or enemies to die, our bemonocled hero simply falls over. Yup, falling on your face (or back!) is your chief obstacle in this game, and everything from nudging a ledge to stones on the ground can cause you to topple.

duckfight.gifDuck Fight (Windows, <1MB, free) There is a duck. You are some guy. Jump on the duck when it walks by. Avoid the duck when it is invincible. Repeat. Look at the tree. But wait, there's more! Duck Fight comes with not one but two games cleverly packaged together in one computer software file! It's the cutting-edge of technology. And ducks!

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 (94 votes)
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Zuma's Revenge

GrinnypThere's a fine line to walk when trying to create a sequel to a game as classic and well known as Zuma. You need to retain all the elements of the first game that made it such a classic, while adding enough newness to make people want to buy the sequel. Keep the game accessible enough that first time players can enjoy it, while ratcheting up the difficulty for veteran players looking for new challenges. Fortunately, Popcap has definitely walked that line well while creating Zuma's Revenge and produced yet another winner.

zumasrevenge.jpgAt its heart, Zuma's Revenge is a marble popper (or pebble shooter, whatever you want to call it) game. Fire similar colored marbles at long chains to eliminate them before they reach your skull base and kill you. Simple. Popcap, who has already created several classics in the realm of casual gameplay (and seriously, when is the sequel to Plants vs. Zombies coming out?), did not rest on their laurels when creating Zuma's Revenge. Rather than creating a complete retread of Zuma they have ramped up everything, graphics, music, gameplay, without losing the essence of what made the original game such an addictive joy.

To start, there is actually a hint of a story, mostly given in small snippets during the load screen and in conversations before and during the boss fights. (Yes, boss fights. More on that later.) Once again you are a mighty frog, frantically attempting to survive the hostile attention of several natives (shaman? tikis? what are these guys?) after landing on an island that is anything but welcoming to the average frog. The main Adventure mode progresses to different parts of the island, each with its own unique layout and challenges. In addition to the classic "sit in the middle of the screen and spin around" dynamic of Zuma, Popcap has added the occasional level where the gameplay switches to a bottom slider, or a screen where you, the heroic frog, can hop to different lily pads for a better shot. The game retains the drums, shouts, and other sound effects of classic Zuma while adding new effects and music. All the old power-ups are still there along with a host of new ones to round out gameplay.

zumasrevenge2.jpgGraphically, Zuma's Revenge is a treat. All of the locations are lusher, greener, more realistic, with paths that curve and meander without the sharp edges of Zuma. Beautiful whether played in regular or high-def, the artwork — which retains its Pacific island flair — would be worth lingering on, if you weren't so busy trying to get rid of those darned marbles. Each area of the island has its own distinctive look, from the lonely village to the volcano. There's even a whole section that takes place underwater, with attendant waves and bubbles to enhance the experience.

The meat of the game is the Adventure mode, broken down in the sections of the island, each with its own scenery, gameplay, and boss taunting you as you move towards the end of the section. Halfway through each section you will hit a milestone, denoted by a cheesy tourist postcard, which will allow you to start from there (rather than the beginning) if you lose all of your little froggie lives.

At the end, of course, is the boss fight, a simultaneous marble popping, trash talking, shoot 'em up experience as you fight to clear the marbles and take down the boss (and later, the boss' henchmen as well). Each boss has his own personality and powers, clearly stating his annoyance with you whilst attempting to commit frogicide. You will encounter bosses who control insects, bosses who throw lava, bosses who quote Simon and Garfunkel, and bosses who will let you know that they are extremely irritable. The final boss fight is one of such epic proportions your mouse hand might be numb before it is all over. Once you make it through adventure mode alive you will unlock other, more challenging areas, such as the timed challenge mode (encompassing 70 levels, from easy to insane), Heroic Frog mode (replaying a dventure mode with more difficulty), and eventually Iron Frog mode (a gauntlet type of mode that...well, perhaps you'd better find that one out on your own).

zumasrevenge3.jpgAnalysis: From the additional humor, the ramped up graphics, the improved gameplay, there is literally nothing to complain about in Zuma's Revenge. The "spinning" of the little froggie hero is smoother and less "jerky" than the original, making gameplay easier. A convenient "aiming cursor" has been added, allowing for easier shots. The aiming cursor can also be turned off in the options menu for experts who disdain the help. You can also adjust the screen size in the options menu, the music, the sound effects, everything. Popcap has even gone so far as to add a "color blind" mode which will allow those with red/green color blindness to enjoy the marble popping madness. The slight amount of story given is the perfect balance, enough to enhance the humor of the game without bogging it down in details.

With Zuma's Revenge Popcap has hit a homerun. As with the original, you could waste hours and hours playing this game with no end in sight. Humorous, beautiful, addicting, Zuma's revenge includes everything the casual gamer could desire, with 50% more boss fights!

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: 3.8/5 (62 votes)
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DoraMagnetiZRYou may think magnets are a great way to stick your to-do list on your monitor, or spruce up your tower with cute little butterflies and smilies. That way lies heartache and empty wallets. My friend, magnets and your computer share a love that can never be. A Romeo and Juliet that ends in the stink of burning circuitry rather than poison. Of course, one exception to the rule is MagnetiZR, from Insane Angel Studios, a twisting, pulsing puzzle game where getting warped is a good thing.

The goal here is to guide your magnetic "ink", fired from a cannon, through each target on a stage. Tap [space] to fire, and click the big red CANCEL button if you get stuck in a loop. By watching the path of your ink and how it reacts to certain types of magnets, you can figure out how to place them to get it where you want. Drag and drop magnets on to the play field to affect the course your ink will take once it's been shot. Certain magnets will affect the ink in certain ways, whether it be by repulsing it, making it go in a certain direction, and more. Got it? Good. Because just as you start to get comfortable, MagnetiZR introduces different colours of ink and magnets to keep things interesting and your hair freshly pulled out.

You might think nothing could be simpler than getting from point A to point B, but MagnetiZR could wind up proving you wrong. Stuck? You can skip three levels throughout the game by selecting "skip" from the top of the screen. Achievements are awarded for finishing levels under certain conditions, such as using a certain number of magnets, or finishing within a time limit, and are a perfect way to put your brain where your mouth is. No, don't actually put it in your mouth, dear. You don't know where it's been.

MagnetiZRAnalysis: Maybe my brain has been softened into goosh by puzzle games where the hardest element is figuring out that a red key fits a red door, but there were times when a new level would load in MagnetiZR and I would literally sit back and say, "How the heck am I supposed to do that?" Okay, so maybe the language I used was a little more colourful, but the sentiment was the same. MagnetiZR is a brain bender at times because there is frequently very little guidance. It hands you the tools, and sits back to let you pound away at the square hole with the round block until you have an epiphany.

Or, you know, trial and error, which is what most players will rely on. Being one of those people who thinks an instruction manual is provided to help level uneven coffee tables, I find that the quickest way to success was to arrange magnets in random patterns until I found what worked. Obviously this isn't going to be the case for everyone, since it is possible (though occasionally shaky) to sit back and plot out every twist and precise turn you need to make. But the ability to push and pull things around as you please means the game is accessible to just about anyone, as long as you're patient.

But when you start to get frustrated, MagnetiZR's too-cool-for-school aesthetic is there to mellow you out. The music throbs hypnotically, colours flow and shift, and even the pulse of the magnets seem to say, "What are you getting so upset for? Just chill, man, it's alllll good." Past attempts leave behind faint trails that help you plot out where you went wrong, or just paint strange designs on the play field. The downside is there are times when it feels like the aesthetic is being showcased over the game itself. Yes, the light show is pretty, but it would be nice if the gameplay stayed as fresh throughout.

Stylish and sharp, MagnetiZR is a challenging and surprisingly elaborate offering that requires more thought than your average puzzle game. While the amount of fiddling and tweaking required to win some levels may turn some players off, the game is more than worth a look for its clever idea and eye-catching design. Or if you think you're not as frustrated as you could be today, MagnetiZR has got you covered.

Play MagnetiZR


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraGreetings, traveller. Your coming was foretold since ancient times, when the great turtle carried the universe upon her back, and closed her eyes to dream of the Chosen One. He (or She) who would rise up above the shackles of the dreary work week and play some totally awesome games about zombies, dragons, and robots! No, really, it says that. Well, I don't know where, in an ancient forbidden tome of prophecies! No you can't see, it's forbidden for a reason! Just take our word for it and play these games. Oh! And, uh, the forbidden tome also says it was foretold that you would buy us all milkshakes. So, um, chop chop!

  • Zombie FarmZombie Farm - People think farming zombies is easy. Well, let us tell you, it's not! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to cultivate a proper crop of the undead? How noisy all that moaning and groaning from the fields gets at night? Not to mention all the protective head gear you go through at harvest time? Sort of makes a person want to unleash a zombie epidemic upon an unsuspecting world. Not that we would ever do that. Again.
  • SkyfyreSkyfyre - Commute got you down? Then start your day off right atop a laser-spewing dragon! Impress your friends! Make your boss say, "Wow!" Attract waves of enemies that need to be blasted side-scroller style so you can gather your gold and upgrade your skills! All the kids are doin' it!
  • BloatBloat - Bloat is a game that will change your life. Bloat is a game that will touch you, deeply and profoundly. Bloat is a game that will usher in a new era of peace and love. Or it could just be an adorable little puzzler about cute little beasts with stampy, stampy feet who try to eat each other. Which is just as good, really. Heeeeee, lookit its stampy widdle feet!
  • Hover Bot Arena 2Hover Bot Arena 2 - Finally, a game that appeals to the robot-buildin', enemy-blastin', bot-upgradin' machine in all of us! You know, I hear this is how that Mythbuster with the walrus 'stache got started. So get started on your irresponsible death machine today! It probably won't net you a television show, but darned if it won't be therapeutic.
  • Teddy Goes SwimmingTeddy Goes Swimming - Hmmm. This is pretty suspicious. What does a teddy bear want with gold coins and treasure chests? And since when can they scuba dive without getting all manky smelling? No, no, this doesn't add up at all! Sure nothing appears to be overtly sinister about this simple little side-scroller, but when the teddy bear regime is strong enough and rich enough to strike, I want you to remember that I totally called it.

  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (166 votes)
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Reader ReviewTime KufcThe following is a reader-submitted review by Ted:

Time Kufc is the latest platform puzzle game from Edmund McMillen, whose previous works (Meatboy and Spewer) made us rethink the way we view 2D platformers. Meatboy focused on pixel-perfect wall jumping around obstacles. Spewer presented a character that propelled itself between platforms and over spikes by projectile vomiting. What does Time Kufc bring to the originality table? Multi-dimensional planes.

Time Kufc starts out simple enough. Jump with the [D] key to get to the gate. Then you are introduced to the plane. By pressing the [A] key you can switch planes and alter what is visible on the screen. Sometimes you can see the other planes while you are occupying the current one, but you can't see what overlaps between planes. This creates an interesting dynamic that involves a lot of guessing with your jumps, especially when he throws in movable blocks, which can be picked up by pressing the [S] key.

As with the rest of his games, McMillan includes a level editor with which you can easily access hundreds of user-generated levels ranging from not so interesting to awesome and easy to the most difficult thing you have ever attempted in your life. Seriously. The original Mega Man doesn't hold a candle to many of the hardest levels. Also implemented is the Newgrounds' medal system that keeps you coming back for more as well.

Analysis: The difficulty curve is moderate, and for a good part of the game you are interacting with only two planes at a time. Then the difficulty spikes suddenly, which may scare off some players. You will learn to quickly memorize and navigate five planes with trigger switches that flip the current plane (creating the mirror image), as well as switches that rotate all planes at once. And once you find yourself using movable blocks from one plane to break down walls in another, be prepared to spend a lot of time thinking about a single level.

Time Kufc makes up for the sudden difficulty spike by letting you skip two levels throughout the game by "sleeping". The story is minimal ("I'm the future you. If you want to live, get in the box."), but your future you keeps you entertained by talking to you from the sidelines as you are completing each challenge. The music gets annoying after a while, but you can turn that off in-game. Unfortunately, however, you cannot turn off the annoying voices during the cut-scenes.

While not the team's best work, it is definitely a fantastic Flash game that deserves to be given a chance. C'mon. Just get in the box.

GrimmrookEd McMillen has earned a dual reputation for being both a creator of excellent games, and for being somewhat of a bad boy in the indie game world. Time Kufc does an excellent job of reinforcing both images, providing a solid platform based puzzler as well as some controversy as evidenced in our very own comments section below.

At its heart, Time Kufc is more puzzler than platformer with the primary challenges coming from figuring out how to navigate the increasingly complex rooms as opposed to actually doing it (don't get me wrong, your dexterity will be put to the test here and there, just perhaps not as much as your mental dexterity). This is easily Time's strongest point as McMillen And partner William Good did a remarkable job coming up with an innovative gameplay mechanic and then using that mechanic to explore a broad spectrum of creativity in level design. The actuation of the muli-plane concept is beautifully done creating an effect that is not unlike weaving together loose individual strands into a single, strong, braid. Preserving this effect wonderfully is a control scheme that is tight and responsive.

Unfortunately Time Kufc suffers from a heavy dose of feeling like it's been done before. There are so many aspects involved here that are familiar to other games that the deja vu is liable to be vertigo-inducing unless you are a newcomer to independent games. The floating head off to the right of the screen that continually spouts strange non-sequiturs is a fairly common convention seen in big name productions such as Metal Gear Solid 2 as well as obscure abstract indie titles such as Cactus's Mondo games or Falling Forever. It also brings to mind the darkly humorous voice in the Shift series. The similarities to Shift don't stop with the abstract voice, though, and continue on into certain aspects of presentation (ie. simplified dual-chromatic presentation), and gameplay (for instance the gravity changing switches).

But even where Time Kufc borrows off of other games to some degree, we find a happy conclusion to be made. These conventions aren't really conventions at all. From telling a story in a non-conventional fashion to challenging the boundaries and physics of the in-game world, Time Kufc stands as another game that explores both internally and externally the traditional standards of video games. If testing and breaking the norm is to become the norm, well, that's a good problem to have. In the meantime, Steve is getting impatient so I better get back to it.

Play Time Kufc


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (124 votes)
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Grinnypbeingone3_corridor.jpgConfused about your place in life? Worried about the future? Ever wonder, what does it all mean? These are questions we might ask ourselves every day as we stumble through our drab, dreary lives. As day to day troubles pile up, we might also think, hey, it could be worse. At least we're not waking up in a mysterious lab, having to witness disgusting experiments on aliens, fighting robots and creepy vampires, and puzzling our way through yet more locked doors and discovering even more questions with no answers. Unless, of course, you're the mysterious hero from Being One: Episode 3 - Dark Matter, in which case your thoughts will be more like: "OH NO! I'm still not out of this lab?????"

Yes, Being One: Episode 3 - Dark Matter picks up right where we left off in the Being One series, still trudging through a research facility that is beginning to resemble the Pentagon in size and complexity. (Ever been in the Pentagon? Definitely don't try it without an escort. Seriously, you'll get very lost, if they don't shoot you first. Actually a lot like Being One...) Psionic brings us another chapter in the ongoing saga of a day in the life of some poor schmuck who cannot seem to escape an infernal research lab infested with lots and lots of hostile life forms that have been tortured...ahem, "humanely researched" into insanity. Fortunately, this time around, everyone appears to be off on a smoke break, leaving the place eerily empty.

Surprisingly slight even for a story being doled out in bite-sized chunks, Being One: Episode 3 is short on crazed research subjects this time around. As with the other Being One games this is a mish-mash of point-and-click adventure, hidden object, and room escape. The emphasis here is on learning more of the back story while trying to logic your way past door locks, broken machinery, and surprisingly non-password protected computers. Hey, at least no collecting blood vials this time around!

Not, perhaps, as meaty as the other installments, Episode 3 feels more like a short breather in-between sprints. A time to think rather than act. A time to reflect and perhaps begin remembering exactly who you are and why you are in this facility, while attempting to get the heck outta Dodge. An intermission, if you will, between the insanity that was 1 and 2, and whatever lies ahead in Episode 4.

Still, Episode 3 has much of what we've come to expect from the Being One games. More door locks to figure out? Check. More machinery to fiddle with, hoping to not blow up the place? Check. Annoying cell phone still telling you what to do? Check. Yet another really ticked off creature from beyond ready to rip you to shreds? Uh, why in the world did we leave that lovely, peaceful green vat again?

Play Being One: Episode 3 - Dark Matter


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Rating: 3.3/5 (54 votes)
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DanTheArcher Springen If I ever had to live out a game genre in real life, you can bet your bottom, middle, and top dollars simultaneously I wouldn't pick the physics puzzle (or the phuzzle, as it's known in these here parts). I'd get sick of being tossed about like a hyperkinetic skipping stone, and being subjected to all sorts of conditional gravities, and then there would be the constant resetting of time and space to approximately 30 seconds prior every time a single molecule dropped a little too far to the left. Not that I'd be tremendously happy dismantling screwdrivers for keys in a room escape game, but... I suppose beggars can't be choosers. Unfortunately for the bouncing red balls of Springen, the latest phuzzle on the block from Pier-Jean Lizotte, they're going to get every treatment on the list, including a couple new ones completely free of charge.

Every level starts with a number of red balls rotating around a starting ring, your starting point and where the balls return should you reset the level (with the [R] key). The goal is to get every red ball on the black ring, or at least as many as you need to progress to the next level. To do so, you'll need to click on a ball on the starting hoop, and then move your cursor accordingly to account for direction and intensity. Let go of the mouse button to release, and then it's all up to the simulated forces of nature. Until you start finding those items that allow you to click on and re-fire a ball, in midair. Then there's bumpers, and teleporters, and gravity changers, and even remorseless ball-popping spikes. See, now you feel bad for the red balls too.

Springen is not a challenge for the faint of brain; while there's a well-sized chunk of straightforward levels, there's a few dastardly rogues in there that ought to give you a run for your money. There's also a little bit of practice and skill involved, as the farther you have to lob those red globes, the less accurate you become and the more gravity becomes a fickle master. The balls are heavier than they look, and when you add a wealth of bumpers, gravity wells, and other gizmos between you and the ending hoop, some of the puzzles test your luck as opposed to your intellect.

Thankfully, the majority of the puzzles require crafty feats of ball-flinging, and you'll have to learn to use some of those obstacles to your advantage if you hope to make it through all 30 levels of phuzzling goodness. Maybe the red balls actually have a good deal, here in a physics puzzle; you're springing them out of the room for them, and they don't even need to touch a single screwdriver.

Play Springen


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DoraNebulaDo you remember that one episode of Star Trek? You know, the one where Bones was trying to help a baby star become a red giant by painting lines of stars for it to follow around hazards? And Spock kept saying how illogical it was, and Kirk was all like, "Shut up, man, I'm trying to concentrate, these aliens keep getting in my way"? And then Uhura was all, "Yeah, it's like Nitrome wants this to be way hard or something"? And Scotty was all like, "I cannae do it"? If you said "Yes", well, you're a dirty rotten liar, because that never happened. (And it won't until J.J. Abrams starts returning my calls!) But the good news is you can pretend it did with Nebula, an arcade-style game of skill, reflexes, and lots and lots of patience.

You guide your young star along the path to greatness and red giant-hood by clicking and drawing lines of stars for it to follow. You need to collect the keys in each level to proceed, which is easier said than done since bombs, aliens, dark matter, and other hazards lie in wait. All, of course, rendered in Nitrome's signature lovely style. The areas are rich and vibrant, the enemies cheerfully cartoonish and varied. It's just too bad stopping to smell the roses is a good way to wind up getting blown to bits. While your intrepid star can withstand two hits, a third will mark the sad end to its journey. Well, until you restart the level anyway.

The problem here lies in an overly finicky control scheme. Or maybe it's just that our adorably goggle-eyed little star has the attention span of a fly and everything is so brightly coloured. In any case, guiding it safely around obstacles is less fluid tracery and more herky-jerky. It's really a shame that you don't get much time to enjoy your surroundings, lovely as they are, since staying ahead of the star and making sure it doesn't blow itself up can wind up taking all of your attention. Which is a shame because there are some really interesting things going on in some levels that I would have liked to experiment with more. Setting off massive chain reactions of explosions is fun, and the fact that some obstacles require you (yes, you!) to intervene is clever, if tricky.

At thirty levels, Nebula offers plenty of time to refine your star-rearing skills, especially for those of you who are quicker on the draw than yours truly. (Maybe a lifetime of having to fend off feral moose in the Canadian wilderness has left me jittery and ill-suited to games likes this?) Although the most relaxing game in town, Nebula still entertains, challenges, and features a hero so adorable I'd like to squeeze it to pieces, if not for the fact that I prefer my face un-melted.

Play Nebula


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JohnBmakeitgood.gifMake It Good is a dark, noir-esque detective mystery (interactive fiction) from Fail-Safe author Jon Ingold. You are cast in the role of a down-on-his-luck detective struggling to solve a murder case or risk losing his job. Moving about a complete, living world, you'll turn over every potted plant, scrutinize every room, and question every character as you attempt to stitch together shards of information to discover just what happened.

The story begins sitting in your car just outside a typical suburban dwelling. Thoughts of losing your job float through your head, while a nearby bottle of whiskey quietly beckons your attention. Jack Draginam, husband, accountant, guy who actually employs a maid, has been murdered. No leads, just a bloody body and a lot of suspicious people. It's time to untangle this mess and get some answers.

It doesn't take long for you to realize Make It Good is much more than finding clues and putting them in the right order. It's about picking up on subtle hints, whether they be nervous looks from non-player characters, noises in the background, or curious placements of furniture in the room, then following that lead and prying more information out of it. Each clue-strand offers a number of new leads you could pursue, creating this beautifully organic structure that doesn't feel like solving a linear puzzle, it feels like exploring a story from the inside out.

As far as playing the game goes, most of the commands you'll use will be familiar to anyone who has played interactive fiction before. Moving around the environment involves simple N, E, S, W commands, manipulating objects is straightforward, and asking people questions is a breeze. The real game is in the subtext, as nothing you do shows an obvious next step to take. Because of this, Make It Good can be a brutally difficult game to play, so make sure you're ready to get involved before you click that link.

Analysis: Make It Good is a superb piece of interactive fiction on many levels. It manages to create a world that seems so alive, so independent of you, the player, that if you never bothered to play, no one would seem to mind. Each non-player character moves about the house on their own, has their own motives, their own knowledge of the situation. Prying information out of them requires asking the right questions and picking up on nuances in their demeanor, a task that's much more difficult than realizing you have to use the RED KEY in the RED DOOR.

Finding clues can be tricky, but figuring out what to make of the information is even more of a riddle. You'll come across more than your fair share of cryptic notes, discarded letters, mysteriously sealed cabinets/boxes, etc. But are they just a part of the game world, or is there something more there? Is it really that suspicious someone would have dirty laundry on their floor? You'll sometimes drive yourself mad wondering about the scraps of information Make It Good feeds you. But each step forward in the story feels like an epic leap ahead. A leap you earned!

From the technical side of things, programming a game that's so open-ended requires a lot of planning/forethought, a lot of testing, and a near-infinite amount of patience. The fact that the game was pulled off at all is a feat unto itself, but that it's so incredibly well-written, intriguing, and absorbing is quite impressive. The murky, gritty feeling the writing style imparts sets a brilliant mood for the game. You can almost see the muted colors, feel the stale atmosphere and taste the tension in the air.

Make It Good is one of those games you don't play, you let it absorb you. It requires you to think outside of gaming convention and react naturally to each situation. You'll probably have a difficult time solving the mystery, starting from scratch more than once and feeling lost at almost every turn. You'll enjoy every moment of intrigue, however, and the drive to see the story through to the end never waivers.

Play Make It Good

If you would rather download the game, grab the file at the Interactive Fiction database followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.


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Weekday Escape

GrinnypMuseums and Art Galleries are some of the best places in the world. Stuffed to the gills with the fruits of artistic creation, they are places of wonder and whimsy. The greatest expressions of civilization can be found there, with Monet rubbing cheeks with Picasso, Renaissance art sharing space with Ancient Egypt, and monkey head statues that make you dizzy...

Escape from Blender Art GalleryWelcome to Escape from Blender Art Gallery, a simple room escape game that manages to convey the entire depth and breadth of the surrealistic movement in one small package. Created by Bianco Bianco, authors of the Dr. Ichi series and Magical Sphere Escape, Escape from Blender Art Gallery almost completely jettisons any kind of internal logic and just presents the player with strange, surreal puzzles to solve.

So the story begins after the aforementioned monkey makes you dizzy enough to miss the closing of the gallery. Oh no, you're locked in! Confined to a single room in the gallery (or else it's a very small gallery) you must find objects and solve puzzles to make your way out. Why did the monkey make you dizzy? Why didn't security notice you lying there? Why is this gallery decorated so strangely? All questions that have no answers.

At first you'll notice that the gallery itself is quite a departure from Bianco Bianco's usual clean, minimal designs. From the patterned and textured carpeting (that itself belongs in a 70s rec room) to each wall having a different color and pattern, the room seems designed to disorient and confuse. Navigation is extremely simple, accomplished by directional bars at the edge of the screen. Although there are sound effects when you pick up or manipulate objects, there is nothing but eerie silence to accompany your quest to get the heck out. Is this real? Is this a bad dream? You decide.

Inventory control is straightforward. Objects go into an inventory at the right of the screen, double click on an object to examine it close up. Most objects are single-use, making the game even simpler. There's no save button or mute button, but they're not really needed.

Analysis: There's usually not a lot of logic involved in room escape games, unless, perhaps, you are the main character in one of the "Saw" movies. It's nice to see a game that basically ignores story, background, motivation, etc. You got dizzy, you're locked in, you need to get out. The puzzles you need to solve also jettison most of the logic of room escape. Eye lasers? Really? Fun, challenging, simple, Escape from Blender Art Gallery is the perfect antidote to the mid-week blahs.

Although most experienced gamers could blow through this in 10 minutes or less, slow down, take your time. Enjoy the headache-inducing clash of carpeting and wall patterns, contemplate the meaning of the displays, or just gaze at the monkey head and wonder, is that post modern or post-post-modern? Dali or Dada? Stay in the game too long and you will half expect dripping clocks to appear across a landscape. Perfect for casual gameplay, Escape from Blender Art Gallery is a fun break from whatever you are doing. Just remember afterwords, it was only a dream.

Play Escape from Blender Art Gallery


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DoraAlice is DeadChildhood is overrated. I mean, who needs treasured memories? And who says children's stories have to be inviolate? If you prefer Disney to Hans Christian Andersen when it comes to fairy tales, this off-kilter point-and-click set in a Wonderland that has seen better days may not be for you. The rest of us, twisted little deviants that we are, can settle in for a story straight out of the darkest, least-visited corner of the library. It's okay, you're in good company. We're all mad here.

Chapter One of Alice is Dead is one part mystery, one part escape game, and a big heaping helping of wrongness. You find yourself in a locked room with a locked trunk, and your fellow captive isn't exactly in a talkative mood. How did you get here? Who are you? How can you get out? More importantly... doesn't that blue dress look a little familiar?

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Some of the puzzles may require a bit of abstract thinking to get around. An early incarnation of the game I had the good fortune to play featured a hint system that unfortunately doesn't appear to have made the cut. Instead, you're given access to a walkthrough from the play window. You'll have an easier go of it if you "go native" and try to approach things from Wonderland's own strange perspective. Here, let us help you get into the right mindset. TEA! TALKING FLOWERS! UN-BIRTHDAY PARTIES! How's that? No good? Then try combining the different items you come across. There isn't a lot of trekking back and forth to be had, so trying different things usually nets you a solution sooner rather than later.

The downside is that the game is actually fairly short, but the experience is still a quality one. What the game has in spades (or hearts, if you're playing from a royal deck) is atmosphere. There are no scares or loud surprises, but Alice is Dead can send shivers up your spine from the first few screens. The artwork and setting manage to make the otherwise innocuous soundtrack more than a little unsettling.

More Brothers Grimm than Lewis Carroll, Alice is Dead is a short but sinister little noir-ish tale that will entertain even if the plot twist at the end is a little predictable. Play it on a coffee break, or play it with the lights down low and the sound turned up. You didn't need those sweet dreams anyway, did you?

Play Alice is Dead: Chapter One

Play all 3 games in the Alice is Dead series:


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DanTheArcher Jungle Magic It's funny; I remember being a wee lad with a clunky PC who just installed the Shockwave player on his computer, because the pop-up prompt told me to and shockwaves are generally cool phenomena, and I'd use it to play quaint little time-wasters. Notable among those games were the progenitors of the match-3 family, a lineage that's seen some serious sprouting the past few years. Why, I remember when all the games had you do was match 3 like-mannered objects, and that was all there was to it! None of these bonuses, or power-ups, or other shiny doodads all you kids are so used to nowadays in developers' attempts to distinguish their sample from the pack. And I mean, combo multipliers are one thing, but sorcery? You whippersnappers are a tough crowd to impress. Say hello to Jungle Magic, the newest addition to the match-3 family tree.

The objective is familiar to those acquainted with the genre; click on one piece to select, and then click on an adjacent piece to swap their respective locations. Should the swap result in an unbroken chain of three similarly colored tiles, the pieces will vanish, your score will rise, and new pieces will rain in from the top. The twist on this one comes in the form of a golden talisman, which has been splintered apart into sparkling fragments in every level. You'll have to clear out all the colorful detritus keeping a fragment from reaching the bottom of the play screen in order to collect it; once you've pocketed all of the talisman parts (within the time limit, of course), you're off to the next level, where even more matching action awaits. But that's not the whole story, of course. This isn't "Jungle Sorting", it's Jungle Magic, so it's magic you'll get.

As levels progress, you'll gain access to a host of mystical powers, each one assigned to a different color. By creating two consecutive matches of the same color, you'll trigger a spell, whose effect depends on the pieces' hue. Let's say you make two matches in a row with gray tiles, right? Gray is the color of wind, so somewhere on the board, a whistling bullet of air pressure obliterates a piece directly below a golden fragment. Doesn't sound too chaotic, but remember, once the levels start going, you're going to learn magic for just about EVERY kind of color, and before you know it, pieces will be exploding in squalls of wind and flame, and lightning bolts will scurry through your tiles with the mercy of a storm.

Watching all the spell effects go off is a blast, which is handy, since you'll need to be making clever use of your magic by an early point in the game in order to survive. Since only two consecutive matches of a single color are required to trigger a spell, though, you're never too far away from that bonus time, which can make some of the levels a little on the easy side as long as you keep an eye on those yellows. Another problem is when your magic arcs out of control (every jungle shaman's worst nightmare), and the combo chains start endlessly reproducing. Most of the time, this is okay (and rather spectacular to watch), but occasionally, the self-chaining will step on the toes of a vital match you were about to make. This isn't so frequent as to hinder the fun factor, however, and to be honest, every sorcerer knows that's what they signed up for when leashing their will to the forces of the cosmos. Comes with the territory.

At its core, though, there's a robust match-3, with nice graphics and some nifty mechanics. There's a lot of fun to be had in devising strategies where different spells play off of each other, especially once your different colors start "leveling up." (Green becomes a multi-pronged juggernaut of raw elemental destruction.) There's never been a better, more magical time to become a matcher.

Play Jungle Magic


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zxoStation 38"Space," Douglas Adams famously wrote, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is." So when you receive a distress call from Station 38 in deep space, well, you've just gotta answer it! Yours might be the only ship for light-years around, so although it seems ill-equipped to handle the treacherous journey into the twisted bowels of the space station, it's your duty to make that very journey.

Pat Kemp's Station 38 puts you at the helm of a lander-type spacecraft, thrusting and sputtering its way through 38 levels in response to an SOS from deep within. Of course, landers aren't designed to careen willy-nilly through tight passageways, so you'll need to proceed with the caution of a 5-year-old heading off to school for the first time. Drag the mouse to set an initial trajectory, then release to launch the ship. Launching depletes your blue fuel gauge in proportion to the magnitude of your thrust. You may re-launch while in midair as often as you like until you run out of fuel. Luckily, landing your ship fully recharges your fuel for another leap.

The red gauge indicates the health of your craft, and unlike the fuel, your health can only go down. As mentioned before, landers are fragile things, and I think this one in particular is made out of porcelain and toothpicks. Smashing into any wall from any direction depletes your health, and how can you expect to offer assistance to those in distress when your own ship is just barely hobbling by? Best just to move slowly and safely from platform to platform if you want to be a hero ‒ little bumps don't cause any damage.

Every 10 levels, a new type of terrain is introduced. Pink plasma causes extra damage if you hit it; green rubber may be struck at any velocity without causing damage, but ricochets your lander away with a greater velocity; blue magnets grab your ship when you touch them, allowing your fuel to recharge without having to land on a horizontal surface.

Station 38Analysis: We've seen a couple of very nice games recently that have been built using Flixel, and Station 38 continues this trend. Like the others, the pixelated artwork draws you in immediately, and the first few levels serve as a nice, safe playground for you to practice launching, and more importantly, stopping. From there the levels ramp up to a pleasant difficulty ‒ hard enough to keep you engaged, but never really crossing into rage-quit territory

The levels themselves are smartly designed, taking full advantage of both the merry volatility of the fuel gauge and the solemn finitude of your craft's health, with the best levels pushing both to their limits. Often this is achieved through clever use of the special terrains. At first, it might seem that having terrain that never causes damage (bouncy green), or lets you recharge your fuel without truly landing (blue magnets) would make levels easier to complete, but more often than not they hinder rather than help. For example, the flip side of the green bouncy terrain is that you gain velocity, and since you always have to land at least once, you have to use your skills to slow your momentum in order to minimize damage to your craft.

What really sets Station 38 apart from other lander games is the nature of the fuel gauge. It elegantly imposes enough constraint that some forethought is necessary ‒ you might be able to simply wing your ship across a large gap, but such a move is pointless if it doesn't leave you with enough fuel to slow down when you've reached your target. At the same time, the game still provides plenty of leeway by letting you take as many jumps as you need, so you're not totally out of luck if your first jump wasn't quite what you planned it to be.

So what are you waiting for? Someone in Station 38 needs your help, and you'll never guess who it is!

Play Station 38


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DoraTortuga 3You've done it! You've escaped your cell, escaped the pirate ship and now... glory and riches! Wait. Did we say, "glory and riches"? Because we meant to say "escape some more". When it comes to the Tortuga series, we tend to get the two confused. In Tortuga 3, stay one step ahead of your would-be captors as you try to lose yourself in the surrounding port. If only the pirate's natural enemy, the ninja, were around to lend a helping hand!

Unlike the previous two games, Tortuga 3 feels more like a classic point-and-click adventure than an escape game. You'll visit more locations, stock up on a plethora of seemingly unrelated items and booty, and discover that the way to a rat's heart is through its stomach. It's more substantial than the rest of the series, and feels more ambitious, too. There's a lot to see, and a lot more places to explore.

Tortuga 3's biggest problem isn't with a lack of vitamin C, however. The game is, unfortunately, a little unintuitive and sometimes winds up feeling more like a scavenger hunt than an adventure game. You'll do a lot of trekking back and forth, and trial-and-error ends up being the flavour of the day. It's not that anything here is particularly brain-bending, there just isn't a lot of direction. Then again, pirates were never really known for being nursemaids.

But the third installment in the series is still more than welcome. With a sprawling map to explore, bright, cartoonish artwork, and more than a little treasure, Tortuga 3 is a swash-buckling good time. At least, we think it is. Do we have swashes? Are they buckled? What is a swash, anyway? *sigh* We're terrible pirates, aren't we?

Play Tortuga 3


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PsychotronicCopyCatA lot of games cast you as a criminal. It's fun to flirt with the dark side, flaunting the rules, casting off the ethical concerns that imprison the weak and cowardly. You've been a sociopathic getaway driver in The Heist 2. A genocidal space squid in Parasite. A turtle mass murderer in Super Mario Bros. A megalomaniac in Mastermind: World Conqueror. Now. Prepare yourself to step into the nefarious shoes of a truly abominable villain: an art forger. DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUHNNN.

Armed with a bundle of stencils and an infinite amount of paint, your job in Mofongo Studios' new puzzle game Copy Cat: A Painter's Puzzle is to duplicate 30 colorful abstract paintings, and then, presumably, sell the forgeries on the black market and move to Bermuda. The original painting sits on the right, your blank canvas on the left. Your method, as the wasteful scofflaw that you are, is to cover up the bits you don't want to paint, and then throw a whole bucket of paint at the canvas. Don't worry, you probably spread plastic on the floor of your studio beforehand.

A progress bar at the top of the screen tells you what percentage of your forgery is accurate. Your goal is to push that number past the target mark, which varies depending on how finicky the current level is. Just use the mouse to drag as many stencils as you like from the menu at right onto your canvas, then click on the paint to glop it on. Stencils you don't need any more can go in the trash can.

CopyCatYour first few forgeries will be simple collections of shapes, but by the end, you'll be dealing with deeply worrying art-tangles of half-shapes hidden behind other half-shapes. You only have access to the three primary colors of paint (plus white, which overrides any other color), but you'll learn to mix them together to produce orange, green, and... er... fuchsia. Combining all three primaries produces black. Here's where it gets strange: if you already have a secondary color, like orange, and you add one of its primary colors, like red, that part of the painting will turn back to red. Because you are using special, technologically advanced forgery paint.

Nearly as spiffy as your high-tech paint is the level editor, which lets you make tricky puzzles to stump your friends or, if you are very diabolical, pretty pictures that will really stump your friends. There's nothing like staring in defeated befuddlement at a cute little bunny to take an arrogant comrade down a peg.

Analysis: It may have a hifalutin theme and martini lounge background music, but Copy Cat gives you everything you want in a down-to-earth visual brainteaser. The little internal scream of disbelief when you see a complicated new level. The warm fuzzy prickle on the back of your neck when you finally put that impossible-looking kerfuffle in order.

Get it on your mobile device: Copy Cat for iOS

Unlike in many puzzle games, however, these solutions are not an exact science (because they're an art, natch). There is no reasonable way to put a stencil precisely where you need it, not without a lot of squinting and mouse fidgeting, so you have to settle for a picture that resembles the target without matching it exactly. The target percentage gives you some leeway, but it can actually work against you. Sometimes you'll get close to the solution without actually solving it, and the game will decide you're close enough and just end the level, leaving you to stare at your imperfect forgery like the sad little hack that you are. It's enough to give perfectionists fingernail scars in their palms.

Another issue is, ironically, the composition of the screen. You have to drag the stencils from the right side of the screen to the left side, past a trash can with a huge collision detection box. Expect to lose a few stencils to that hungry bin before you get used to dodging it.

What makes those nitpicks inconsequential, and in fact makes Copy Cat one of the most enjoyable Flash puzzlers around, is the pure ingenuity of the concept. Over the course of the entire game, I never did quite master the mental switcheroo needed to reverse engineer a painting in my head. Hitting a workable solution on the first shot requires a surprisingly intense level of concentration, although the solutions are always logical, and the difficulty level always stays in the realm of casual.

The other reward is in simply producing attractive pictures. Not every painting in the game is something you'd hang on your wall, but many have a simple, playful appeal that makes you want to reproduce them faithfully. It keeps your attention long past the point where you're learning new solving techniques.

It's a rare game that combines brains and beauty in such a unique and accessible way. I can recommend Copy Cat wholeheartedly, despite the minor interface clumsiness. After all, nobody ever said a life of crime would be easy.

Play Copy Cat: A Painter's Puzzle


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Mobile Monday

JohnBJust about every imaginable genre of video game has appeared on the iTunes App Store, from first person shooters to hidden object games and beyond. The kind of game I feel performs best on the system, though, are simple puzzle games, the kind you can pick up, play for a few minutes, then try it again later in the day. Want examples? I hereby order you to scroll down a bit!

memovator.jpgMemovator - Have a tough time remembering your friend's phone number? Memovator may not be the game for you. Then again, maybe it is, as this is probably the best-looking and most entertaining way to flex your memory I've seen in years. People hop on an elevator as it climbs up and down the building. As they step on, a bubble appears over their head showing which floor they need to get off. Simply tap the screen when you arrive on that floor. But wait! Every time the elevator stops, at least one new passenger arrives, each with his or her own destination. As if that weren't enough, the different modes of play provide a near-impossible challenge with Roman numerals, Chinese numerals, animals, Japanese heraldic symbols, and units of time replacing Arabic numbers. A simple but well-executed game that's got great art direction to match its engaging gameplay.

copycat-iphone.jpgCopy Cat: A Painter's Puzzle - It's time to throw some paint around! With the intention of perfectly replicating sometimes complex images, of course. This brand new puzzle game challenges you to duplicate colorful abstract paintings using a series of stencils and globs of colored paint. To copy an image, place stencils over the areas you do not want to color, then wash the canvas with paint. You might have to move the shapes around, paint more than one time, and even mix colors to produce more complex shades. The closer your copy is to the original, the more awesome you are.

alphabetic.gifAlphabetic - A seek-and-find game that's more like Where's Waldo than Mystery Case Files. Go through the alphabet, finding each letter in order. The problem is those colorful little guys like to spin, scroll, bounce, roll, layer and skirt the edges of the screen. It's almost like they don't want to be found. Preposterous! An excellent game of searching with a good handful of modes and challenges to test your skills. If you ever played the "Where's Luigi?" game on Super Mario 64 DS, you know just what to expect. A free Alphabetic Lite is also available.

greenfingers.jpgGreen Fingers - Got a green thumb? Hope the rest of your digits are green, too. Green Fingers is a swapping-style puzzle game where various gardening-related icons float from the top of the screen. Your job is to move the pots below so the correct icon falls into the pot. If a water droplet floats down, for example, you'll want to slide the pot with a water droplet on the front. If you fail, you lose and have to start all over again, which is a harsh punishment for an otherwise excellent casual puzzle game.

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


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Officially HaphazardProtonautWhenever I see a game described as a platformer, I instantly dislike it. To me, platformers mean pixel-perfect jumps and races against the clock. However, if you call Protonaut a platformer I will be forced to change my mind, because I love it.

Created by Andy Moore and Greg Wohlwend, Protonaut is best described as a platform physics puzzler: a platformer covered in a velvety layer of physics, served with a generous dosage of puzzler. It is like Armadillo Run, except you are the armadillo. Or perhaps it more resembles N, but with dynamic, physics-driven levels. You could even argue it is a bit like Fantastic Contraption—if you added a small man inside each design. Or maybe even resembling The Tall Stump with its projectile shooting, platform jumping, puzzle solving fun. However, none of these crossovers quite adequately describe Protonaut.

The premise of the game is fairly simple: you are a small character (presumably the Protonaut), tasked with collecting all of the gaseous elements in each level. To do this, you have the standard techniques of running ([left] and [right] arrow keys), jumping (the [Z] key), as well as firing a small projectile (the [X] key, with the [up] and [down] arrow keys to aim). Also in your arsenal are the wall-jump and the wall-hop, which allow you to explore places that would otherwise be out of reach. With these 5 meager techniques, you will soon be gathering Oxygens, shooting down Nitrogens, and jumping up for Hydrogens.

Interestingly, there are no enemies in Protonaut. To die, you must either fall off an edge, be crushed, or run into the unstable Nitrogen atom. As a consequence of this enemy-less terrain, the level design relies on exploration and puzzles to force you to think. Sometimes the levels are easy 'collect the elements in the right order' type of puzzles, while others will lead you on flights that will take you where no other Protonaut has gone before.*
(*In reality, such flights may actually take you to places where other Protonauts have already been.)

ProtonautAnalysis: The gameplay of Protonaut is made of solid fun. There are few pixel-perfect jumps, but most levels rely on your creativity to make it through the game. What has truly surprised me, though, is the diversity within the levels. I was not expecting anything different from the normal fare of platformers, but because the levels are dynamic, the challenges are extremely varied. While one level has you running away from an Indiana Jones style boulder, another level flings you from a catapult. This variety, above all else, has had me hooked on this game for a quite a while.

Another place where Protonaut truly shines is in its execution. The game looks and feels polished, thanks to the surprisingly catchy music and Wohlwend's stunningly beautiful Soviet-inspired art. As you jump around, for example, small specs float by, simulating the feeling of looking through a microscope. Another great addition to the game is the ability to save replays. Much like Fantastic Contraption or Incredibots, once you make an account, you can save your replays and send them to your friends (and post them here in the comments!). Although such a feature would usually be useless in a platformer, the addition of physics-driven dynamic levels allow for some really interesting stunts.

If you find the game as thoroughly engaging as I did, you can spend ten dollars and get a variety of extras. First, you will get the ability to play other players' levels. Similarly, you can save levels that you have made from the game's fully featured level-editor, complete with permission controls on who can edit and play each level you create. There is also a level browser, which lets you browse other user's levels in a variety of ways (by rating, date, or Moore's own algorithm) to determine levels that you haven't yet played. As there are no ads on the site, these extras seem to be the primary way to support the two creators.

In conclusion, why are you still reading this review? There are elements to collect and Nitrogens to explode—get going!

Play Protonaut


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Rating: 4.5/5 (36 votes)
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Exmortis 3

DoraIn 2004, Exmortis took your hand and lead you deep into the woods. In 2006, the sequel, Exmortis 2, showed you mankind's darkest hour... a fate you may have had a hand in. Finally, in 2009, you're given a chance to take your revenge, provided you can live long enough to see it out. From horror maestro Ben Leffler and 3RDsense comes Exmortis 3, a ghoulish point-and-click adventure meant to be played with the lights turned out and the sound turned up.

Taking place where the previous game left off, the story has you playing Mr Hannay once more, a man with a bone to pick with the Exmortis and their ancient lord, Vlaew. He's a little more well-equipped this time around, finding himself able to wield strange new powers such as telekinesis and teleportation and a few others you'll discover. But watch your step. The path ahead is littered with traps and other dangers that could bring your quest to an untimely end. The game autosaves for you fairly frequently, but making use of the multiple save slots available from the options menu is advised.

Exmortis 3Along with the time-honoured tradition of finding items and trying to combine them with other items (optional steps: consult walkthrough, call shenanigans on solution, throw tantrum), Exmortis 3 also features a fair amount of puzzles to solve. Some of them feel natural, such as re-wiring an electrical panel, but some of them are a little odd, such as playing a memory game with a traffic light. You heard me. If you get stuck, you can consult the full walkthrough located under the options in the menu, but doing so will penalize your final score slightly.

This is perhaps an odd thing to say about a game that features a bloody demon in a cowboy hat as its poster boy, but Exmortis 3 is very pretty. Lighting plays a big part, and not just in terms of providing darkened corners for unpleasantness to lurk in. Skies paint the landscape in tones of burnt copper and rusted rose, heavy clouds hanging overhead. You really do feel like you're in a ruined world, and the fleeting shadows and flickering lights of the lonely corridors will have you glancing over your shoulder.

Analysis: So it's been almost three years since the sequel, and you may be wondering how the game has held up, especially after its creator was picked up by Australian company 3RDsense. While the most obvious change is the addition of a price tag and a sleek new interface, but what else? The good news is, not much. Depending on whether or not you thought the originals were shining gems, the good news is also the bad news.

Some of Exmortis 3's problems aren't exactly exclusive to the title, but are rather familiar issues with the point-and-click game genre as a whole. You have situations that need to be resolved by The One Thing in a different location, when there are three objects in the room with you that would serve the same function. You may have to backtrack to meticulously hunt through scenes to find items that blend in a little too well with their surroundings.

Exmortis 3The other good news is that the trademark Exmortis gore and spookiness are back in full force, despite being somewhat more subdued than previous titles. Well, if you consider "subdued" as translating to "less things jump out at you while the soundtrack goes screeeeeeeeee!" A lot of work has been put into establishing atmosphere that builds up and has you tensing at every fleeting shadow, every unopened door, not only with visuals, but with sound as well. Distant footsteps. The hushed whisper of the wind. The stealthy creak of a floorboard overhead.

I needed a refresher course on the story myself, but found the over-long backstory available from the main menu more confusing than helpful and wound up replaying the originals instead. Most conversations offer you the option to skip through them, and a lot of the reading is optional, but shouldn't the story serve to enhance the gameplay rather than feel like it's been awkwardly spoon-fed to the player? The game absolutely shines when it lets up on the text-heavy scenes. A little less big ancient demons and prophecies, and a little more creepy little girls in dark hallways, please.

While there's no denying Exmortis 3 looks good, sounds good, and has had a lot of love put into it, is a pretty package enough bang for your buck? If you're expecting a lengthy epic in return for your cash, you may be disappointed. While still considerably lengthier than the first two installments, Exmortis 3 still may take only a few hours to play for veterans of the genre. A very polished few hours, to be sure, but whether or not you find it worth the cost depends on how much you value quality over quantity, and whether or not the limited replayability is a potential killer.

In the end, fans of the series will find a lot to like about this third installment, and little to be disappointed by. I encourage you to give the first two games a try if you've never played the series before, and then try the demo for this latest before you make your decision. Exmortis 3 is a worthy successor despite its flaws, and may just wind up making you think twice about dismissing the things that go bump in the night.

Be sure to play the free Flash demo. Just click "Play Online Demo" on the right side of the screen!

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Zamby and the Mystical Crystals

JohnBZamby and the Mystical Crystals is a top-down puzzle adventure game with a lot of retro charm. Similar to the Wonderland Adventures series and Professor Fizzwizzle in concept, its simple visuals hide a box-pushing puzzle game with a surprising amount of challenge and content. It also takes itself serious as a casual game, offering a full, move-by-move undo option along with hints and full solutions for every level. It's old-school gaming without the old-school headaches!

zamby2.gifZamby is on a quest. A quest for mystical crystals, in case you were wondering. In order to nab them all, he'll have to work his way through 150 levels packed with traps, obstacles, enemies, and puzzles. Using either the mouse or [arrow] keys to move, learning your way around each level is a simple matter. Best of all, there are no mistakes in Zamby, as even if you make a wrong move and think you're stuck, a simple tap of the [U] key will undo your last move, allowing you to fix whatever blunder you created. Undo is unlimited, so rewind as long as you like!

Working your way across the world map, you'll visit a number of locations, each with different environmental hazards and obstacles to deal with. Pushing crates will be your main activity, maneuvering them to block dangerous enemies, create bridges across water, or just getting them out of the way so you can walk. However, add something like ice to the mix, and pushing a crate can slide it across the screen, forcing you to rethink how you handle the situation.

In addition to the main set of levels, you'll also find easy, kid-centric puzzles available from the main menu, perfect for the little tyke who wants to give Zamby a hand. Secret levels are also unlocked as you play, offering a little extra challenge when you're in the mood.

zamby.gifAnalysis: Gameplay in Zamby and the Mystical Crystals isn't anything radically new to the casual gaming world. We've all pushed boxes, we've all gathered crystals, and we've all dealt with wizards and bombs before. The game is put together so pleasantly well, however, the experience is nothing but pure, uninterrupted fun.

Where Zamby really shines is its solution and undo systems. While they may seem like a lazy gamer's way out of solving puzzles, what they really accomplish is something much more profound. Have you ever played a game, gotten frustrated, then quit? Ever been angry at a seemingly impossible puzzle? Made a stupid mistake and had to restart an entire level? We've all experienced that a time or two, but the good news is Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is free from all of that. I was never irritated at the game, not once, and that pleasant feeling is something we all look for in the casual games we play.

Zamby's puzzles are challenging, of course, but when things get a bit too rough, just started the in-game solution video, wait for it to catch up to your current predicament, then continue from there. It's such a liberating feeling to be able to make a mistake and immediately undo it. Zamby is nothing but progress and puzzle solving, there's never a setback, and the game is as easy or as challenging as you like.

Rounding out its full complement of levels, Zamby includes an easy-to-use level editor that's a blast to play around with. There are even a few map packs you can download that contain bonus levels!

Simple, challenging, and completely free from frustrating gameplay setbacks, Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is exactly what a casual game should be!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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Rating: 4.5/5 (27 votes)
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Be Richer!

GrinnypBe Richer! is here! Hot on the heels of the latest Build-a-lot release comes the sequel to Divo Games' Be Rich! and boy does it take real estate management to a new level.

Be Richer!, like its predecessor, is a mix of tycoon management, time management, and a casual sim. The emphasis in both Be Rich! games is on pure profit, stripping away a lot of extraneous tasks such as materials handling and labor management. Be Richer! moves itself further away from the Build-a-lot series (which it obviously emulates) by placing even more emphasis on property management, edging even closer to a sim game. Welcome to the newest feature of the series: complaining tenants and rent strikes!

bericher.jpgThe basic premise is simple: arrive in a neighborhood and meet a few improvement goals. Start by picking a helper who will pop up from time to time to give advice as you progress. This time around you are working in the outer boroughs of and eventually within the fictional city of Richmond. The levels start out with simple goals such as building a few small houses or businesses as directed by the mayor or other official. The grid is pretty flexible, you can build onto any empty space so long as it is large enough for the building footprint. Be Richer! has upped the stakes on its predecessor by adding empty lots for sale and overgrown lots which can be bulldozed to make room for more buildings. Purchase empty lots as soon as possible, as a competitor can come in and build, forcing you to pay more for a completed structure if you need room to complete your goals.

Building, upgrading, and all other tasks are as simple as clicking your mouse. Use the easy-to-access menu at the bottom of the screen to choose residential or commercial buildings, or add decorative features to boost appeal and rent. Start with a basic headquarters that can accommodate up to five construction teams and upgrade as necessary within each scenario. Don't like the road layout? Feel free to demolish and rebuild to suit your plans, but don't forget that road access is critical to construction. If your building site is not accessible by road then nothing will be constructed. Go wild and build the neighborhood of your dreams! But don't forget the goals.

bericher2.jpgBe Richer! has added several fun new scenarios that increase the depth and difficulty of gameplay. Gone are the repair shops, so be prepared to do a lot of maintenance. The constantly-upgrading company headquarters has been replaced with an actual management team. Each manager has a different salary and can help productivity in a different way, but be warned: there are a limited number of management slots. Choose a team that can help smooth the way and make changes as the game progresses and you need to emphasize a different area of expertise. As in real life, the roads will now deteriorate, forcing you to keep an eye out as the worsening conditions will slow down your construction vehicles. Adding even more verisimilitude are the rent strikes: tenants will not be happy if they do not have access to commercial properties. In addition to everything else you must make sure that all residential structures are within the radius of some shop or other commercial enterprise. Ah, consumerism at its finest!

Analysis: Once again Divo Games has knocked it out of the park. Gameplay is deeper, richer, and more satisfying as Be Richer! moves further away from the Build-a-lot series that inspired it. The addition of the management team, the road system, the rent strikes, and other fun surprises push Be Rich! closer towards reality (or towards the old Sim City games).

bericher3.jpgAs with any sequel, Be Richer! has ramped up gameplay by adding new housing types, new commercial businesses, and new decorative features. Divo has taken the time to make the game look even better in all the small details. People and cars still wander the streets, but look closely. Traffic signs, traffic lights, billboards, push-cart businesses, bus stops, subway stations, all sorts of real-life elements have been added to make Be Richer! a more pleasant treat for the eyes. New sound effects for the businesses will startle a laugh from the player ("You look fabulous!" when an event is going on in the beauty salon). In addition enjoy helicopters randomly flying by overhead, presumably rushing to give a traffic report.

Starting in the outer suburbs and working your way inward towards the city proper, gameplay starts out slow and moves towards frantic so gradually you'll hardly notice. 40 screens of career mode (with goals and time limits) and six screens of "sandbox" or casual gameplay round out the experience. Each section is a self-contained unit, dividing the gameplay into bite-size chunks of yummy real estate goodness. Play a few neighborhoods at a time or rush to rebuild the entire city; the decision is in the hands of the gamer.

From building neighborhoods to buying movie-star houses, from constructing railway stations to buying a lion for the zoo, Be Richer! is even more engaging than the original. Perfect for casual gameplay, beautiful, addictive, and just downright fun, Be Richer! once again delivers (as do the new pizza parlors)!

WindowsWindows:
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Weekend Download

JohnBThis edition of Weekend Download happens to be Weekend Download number 101! That means we've featured roughly 400 games since February 2007! Exclamation mark! To celebrate, today's article features five free games, enough to keep you busy for hours on end. It also features an extra amount of love, but if you've been following WD since the beginning, you knew that already, didn't you? AWWWW!!!!

paulmoose.gifPaul Moose In Space World (Windows, 18.8MB, free) - A short adventure game with visuals created using pencil and crayon drawings on paper! Add a little programming, some dialogue, a little music and a few puzzles and you've got yourself a game! Paul Moose has been searching for aliens for five years sitting in his lonely little space cabin. One day something happens, though, and now it's time to head to the main deck to see what's there! The game has a few glitches here and there, but nothing that will spoil your enjoyment of this creative title.

solarplexus.gifSolar Plexus (Windows, 11.9MB, free) - An unfinished (and considered abandoned) project by Noitu Love creator Konjak. Solar Plexus is a gorgeous platformer with ledge grabbing, lots of shooting, and mouse-driven, block-based puzzles. There are only nine levels to play, but as with Konjak's other abandoned project, Ivory Springs, you'll be glad you played it.

electriczombies.gifOnslaught of the Electric Zombies (Windows, 1.6MB, free) - A puzzle game that resembles Minesweeper on the surface, but if you think about it, it's really a super-simplified roguelike RPG. Move through the grid uncovering tiles with the [arrow] keys or your mouse. Most squares are harmless and net you a few points, but soon you'll find numbered "danger" tiles that point to monsters nearby. Fighting monsters takes away some of your energy but earns you points, so, unlike stepping on a mine, you kind of want to uncover these baddies. You'll also find items and random events that can help or hurt your situation. A unique idea that's showing a lot of promise in this still-in-development title.

rockwarrior.jpgRock Warrior (Windows, 2.3MB, free) - A Ludum Dare 15 entry that's all about digging and harvesting gold. Navigate your blob-like ship with the [arrow] keys, digging into the liquid-like soil by gently nudging against it. Gather all the gold to win, but avoid that nasty seeping lava. It's bad. Not quite as addictive as I Dig It, but it still calls you back for more.

cavebounce.gifCave Bounce (Windows, 1.9MB, free) - Another entry in Ludum Dare 15, Cave Bounce is a simple action game with a fun premise. Your only goal is to collect coins and move to the next screen, but in order to get them all, you must toggle between two depths, allowing you to bounce on platforms that were formerly in the background. Tap the [z] key to switch the third axis, and keep in mind you can do this even while flying through the air!

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (76 votes)
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Farm Frenzy 3

JohnBThe series that made farming less of a "wake up at the crack of dawn, work 'til nightfall" chore and more of a "yay let's farm woo hoo!" form of entertainment is back! Farm Frenzy 3 doesn't mess with the proven formula from the first games, but it does bring a lot of variety into the series by moving you across five locations around the globe. Watch penguins eat fish in the arctic and fend off lions in Africa, all while harvesting eggs and turning them into a succession of better, more profitable products. And, as always, watch out for predators falling from the sky!

farmfrenzy3a.jpgFarm Frenzy 3 returns to the more rudimentary gameplay found in the first two games in the series, leaving the complicated recipes from Farm Frenzy: Pizza Party behind. The basic premise remains the same, though, which is good news for everyone. You begin with a small patch of dirt and a few egg-laying birds. Click the ground to plant grass, wait for the birds to eat, then gather the eggs and store them in your warehouse. When the warehouse gets full, click on your truck to load it up and send it to town, selling your goods for cash!

After a few levels, Farm Frenzy 3 introduces what it's most famous for: refinement buildings. Why sell an egg when you can turn it into egg powder and sell it for a higher profit? Why sell egg powder when you can turn it into cookies which go for even more? Refinement buildings are where the fun is at, and using them efficiently is the key to mastering any Farm Frenzy game.

Farm Frenzy isn't just about amassing piles of cash, though. Each level has a few set goals you must meet in order to proceed. Sometimes you'll need to own a number of animals or gather enough of certain products. Buildings can also be upgraded to convert more products at a faster rate, allowing you to meet those quotas with ease. Visit the shop before each level to purchase the buildings and upgrades you'll need for each stage.

farmfrenzy3b.jpgAnalysis: Farm Frenzy 3 brings a few welcome changes to the ongoing series, the most appreciated of which is getting rid of the recipes from Pizza Party. The return to the original Farm Frenzy setup was a great move, allowing Alawar to pack several new ideas into this iteration, including an incubator building that turns eggs into new animals and a fitting room that dresses predators so they sell for more cash!

The visuals in Farm Frenzy 3 are also a step up from previous games. The cute looping building animations are still as hypnotic as ever, but now even the animals are rendered in 3D, producing a rich palette of visuals. Most games that move from 2D art to 3D renderings lose some of their charm, but Farm Frenzy managed to keep most of that intact. It's the same level of goofiness, only now with pretty shading and shadows.

The 3D rendering brings an unfortunate side effect not present in other Farm Frenzy titles: slowdown. This happens quite often when nefarious animals drop from the sky or you have a dozen birds wandering in the grass. Early in the game, even, every time a lion dropped, the game sputters for a second. It was actually quite helpful and allowed me to cage the beats before they ruined my day, but slowdown shouldn't be a problem in a still-screen casual game of this nature.

Farm Frenzy 3 proves you can add variety to a game without increasing complexity. It's also a great example of returning to a series' roots without producing a carbon copy of the original game. Expect more variety from Farm Frenzy 3, all without losing that kernel of simplicity that makes the series unstoppably addictive.

WindowsWindows:
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Link Dump Fridays

ArtbegottiHere at Casual Gameplay, all of the games we review go through a rigorous testing process, where we measure the games' densities, spray them with high-powered water hoses, send them to Peoria to see if they fly, and squeeze them through a sieve made of the finest Corinthian leather. Some games stand out from among the crowd (especially during the three-legged race), some fall short.

Then there are the few odd games that go outside the box and bring us gameplay elements we've never seen before, or are presented in ways that stun us... but they're unfortunately too short to justify a full article for. But rather than discarding these rare gems, we've collected them in a safe place, and threaded them together to form a beautiful necklace (with some elbow macaroni thrown in to fill in the gaps). Welcome to Link Dump Friday: Bite-Size Edition, a platter of delicious finger foods for you to sample from. Bon appetit!

  • PerspectitePerspectite - If you're a round, orange alien with a curly tuft of hair, you're probably finding life on earth a bit odd and exhausting, especially lawnmowers and dogs. Need to get away? Since you can't move by yourself, use the [arrow] keys to move the camera and find the sweet spots that let you interact with your environment.
  • ViewpointsViewpoints - [Warning: Contains adult situations and strong language.] Speaking of changing perspectives, how do you see the world around you? You're riding in a convertible with the wind blowing through your hair, but everything you see takes on a new meaning whenever you look at them. Click around the scene to shift your gaze upon different objects, and watch the ever-changing story unfold.
  • Pixeloids4kPixeloids4k - We all know it's impossible to herd cats and nail Jello to a wall, but what about herding Jello? Move the fluid solid (or is it a solid fluid?) into the dotted regions by clicking the mouse to send shockwaves of energy. Wrangle up 95% and hold it there for five seconds to pass, but keep your eyes on the clock!
  • TwitchTwitch - An experimental game designed for use with Google Chrome (although we've found it works with other browsers as well), Twitch requires only the click of your mouse to play. Pass the ball from window to window to advance. The location and speed of your cursor mean nothing, all this game takes is quick reflexes to beat. (And possibly a fast video card, since you'll be flooded with a number of pixel effects when more windows start opening.)
  • CutCopyPasteGnomeCutCopyPasteGnome - Finally, before we close out this article, we need to do some editing. Help the Lemming-like gnome get to the door by right-clicking to cut, copy, and paste various elements of the scene to create a path. Fair warning though, you may have a bit of trouble picking up on moving objects, and expect some tremendous hit-detection errors.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHowdy friend! We'd like to thank you for taking the time to come on down and visit us here at Crazy Jay's Link Dump Friday extrrrrrrrrrrravaganza!... what? You're only here to use the bathroom? Look, pal, you're underestimating just how complete your life would be with one of these things!... possibly. No, forget about the stupid bathroom, okay? Let me take you on a guided tour of some of our great deals, you won't regret it! Just... sign this waiver?

  • Cave of WondersCave of Wonders - Friend, we can tell you're one smart customer. That's why we're offering you this exclusive vacation package to the fabulous Cave of Wonders! Guaranteed to be mostly angry giant free! Probably. Act now and we'll throw in this one-of-a-kind wooden sword and a double jump ability, just in case of a climactic titan battle!
  • My Pet ProtectorMy Pet Protector - Speaking of things that don't pee on the floor (well, I'm sure you were thinking of that, right?), we're going to offer you a special deal, today only! Your very own surly RPG antagonist, to raise into either hero of the realm or (more likely) unknown schlub! No, don't try to comb his hair. He hates that, and you'll only break the comb in his unnaturally coloured, spiky hair. Sure you might have to grind your fingers to the bone for him, but it'll all be worth it when he rewards you with cold indifference!
  • Expedition AfricaExpedition Africa - I hope you don't mind me saying, friend, but you're pretty rugged looking! C'mon, give us a flex! Grrrrr! Yeah, you'd be perfectly suited for one of our African safaris! Well, okay, maybe it's not a safari so much as it is an Oregon Trail-inspired exercise in angry animals, diseases, and bad luck, but hey! You can take it! Lemme sign you up. Just fill in this bit about your next-of-kin... oh, no reason, the lawyers make us do it.
  • Diepix ArenaDiepix Arena - Okay okay okay! Chill out, pal, the bathroom is right through this door!... on the other side of this barely used arena shooter full of hardcore pixel-whippin' blasting action that the other gaming sites don't want you to know about! Upgrades, coins, boss fights! All yours for the low, low price of... of.... buddy?... hey, where'd you go?... too much?

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (116 votes)
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deep.jpgJohnBCombining the visual presence of flOw with a few casual real-time strategy and shooting elements, Deep is an intriguing hybrid game that's friendly to a variety of playing styles. You control a single cell-like critter who can move and shoot in any direction, but you're also in charge of a thriving colony of warriors who want nothing more than to eliminate the enemy. Play it like a shooter, play it like a strategy game, or play it like a little bit of both. Either way, it's an interesting dive under the sea.

Your goal in Deep is simple: make all the enemy base belong to you (see what I did there?). Bases are amoeba-like critters with a single dot of color in their center denoting which team owns them: purple for you, red for not you. Bases periodically spawn allies and are fitted with cannons at the end of each tentacle. Take out the cannons and a base is yours, but be careful, as those red guys are out to nab your bases and will do so with vigor.

Swim around with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys and fire with the mouse. Whenever you defeat an enemy, tiny "stars" will appear that refill your health. And trust me, you'll need the boost, as both ally and enemy fire looks identical, and when you're in a swarm, it's tough to know where to dodge.

While floating around and shooting stuff could be fun in its own right, Deep adds a layer of tactical strategy with one simple command: tap the [spacebar] to summon free-floating troops to follow your lead. Take the soldiers to an enemy base to make quick work of its cannons and claim it as your own. Doing so leaves your other territories vulnerable, though, so it's a bit of a trade-off. Most of the time I went out on solo strike missions to take over enemy bases, then swam around defending it from attack until a few of my own warriors spawned. What can I say, I have a bit of a hero complex.

Each of the game's 15 stages takes place deeper and deeper in the ocean, sending you down to face bigger, more difficult foes. The levels aren't all that different from one another, and even though the enemies get tougher, so do you and your allies. After each level you get to spend points upgrading your main craft, adding buffed health, stronger weapons, faster reload times, etc.

What makes Deep so interesting is its reliance upon a combination of shooting skills, strategic planning, and plain old luck to win. The levels could use some more variety, and it would be nice if you could tell enemy and allied fire apart, but otherwise, it's a great experience that doesn't require you to be a shmup expert or a real-time strategy fan to enjoy.

Play Deep


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Rating: 3.8/5 (174 votes)
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DoraThe Wizard's NotebookWhen you first play The Wizard's Notebook, you're going to be a little nervous. We don't blame you. I mean, that title! We're not wizards! And you know what happened to Mickey Mouse when he messed around with the forces of magic! But then you realise that by harnessing the tremendous power of your brain, and your keyboard, you can be a wizard, too! All it takes is a little thought in this cute and clever little puzzle platform and you've got magic at your fingertips.

Your goal is to reach the lovely star at the end of each level. I mean, look at it! It's so... 2D! Who wouldn't want it? But to get there, you'll have to make use of your keyboard... excuse us, your magic keyboard. Similar to Scribblenauts for the DS, you can type in the yellow sections of the play area, and by typing different words in the appropriate spaces, you can conjure up different things to help reach your goal. "Platform", for example, will give you a surface to walk upon, while "water" will really float your boat... literally! Use the [arrow] keys to run and jump about the area and reach your goal.

Each level is a puzzle that you'll need to solve to reach your goal. Clues can be found in the level's title, or in thinking outside the box. Despite it's simple presentation, the first time you make a cat appear out of nowhere to menace as saucy mouse, The Wizard's Notebook will charm you.

Unfortunately, as it sprints for a picture-perfect finish, The Wizard's Notebook trips itself up in some places. The problem with a game where you conjure things by writing their names is that not everyone has the same vocabulary. Some words that are perfectly suited for the purpose at hand don't work because they weren't included in the game's dictionary. Another problem is intermittent but fierce lag, and typing too quickly can cause the game to miss letters. You also can't save your progress, so if you're not in it for the long haul, you'll have to restart the next time you come back to it.

Despite some issues, The Wizard's Notebook is a clever little gem that will titillate anyone who has ever wanted to make cheese appear out of thin air. Admittedly, the hero doesn't look much like a wizard. He doesn't even have a magnificent white beard! But, you know, this does remind us an awful lot of old-school Batman... pow! Blam! Zammo!... ohhhhhh my gosh you guys! You know what this means, don't you? Adam West is a wizard! And with the Wizard's Notebook, you can be one, too!

Play The Wizard's Notebook


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Rating: 3.8/5 (80 votes)
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DoraMechanaughtRobots! Evil, cold-hearted, emotionless tyrants who want nothing better than to rip up your flower beds and replace them with oil refineries! But what happens when they've lived out their usefulness? Do they retire to some silicon Valhalla? Not if you're a Mechanaught! In this action platform game featuring hardcore robot disobedience, avoid the scrap heap as you fight your way out of a line to be decommissioned and seek out those who would have you destroyed.

The nice thing about Mechanaught is that the controls are fully customizable via the options menu on the main key. Actions can be reassigned to whatever key you wish if the standard [WASD] controls don't do it for you. Maybe it's yet another attempt to recreate the simulation of being a robot, fully in control of one's own abilities and able to rewire your own circuitry. Or maybe it's just a pleasant attempt to make the game accessible to almost everyone.

However you customise your game, the basic premise stays the same. Progress through stages by making your way to the glowing platforms at the end of each one. Avoid or destroy enemies and security systems by picking up various types of weapons and ammunition. Keep your eyes peeled for switches to raise platforms, and for special monitors to save your progress. Also tucked sparingly throughout the levels are health and additional lives you'll need to gather if you want to see the end.

Just remember that no matter what those mean ol' monitors say about you, we think you're keen.

MechanaughtAnalysis: Usually when we talk about something having a retro style, we're generally referring to NES-era visuals. Mechanaught actually goes a step farther in that it would not have looked out of place on that great Methuselah of gaming systems, the Atari. The colour-shifting background is a bit perplexing, but the simple black design for everything works well and doesn't get in the way of playing the game itself.

Although the platforming here is going to be very basic to most of us, Mechanaught stands out both in design and mood. As you progress, the large monitors mounted to the walls begin to get increasingly irritated at your inability to lie down and give up. "Stop now and you will be dismantled painlessly!" they cry. Maybe you'd be a little more inclined to believe them if you didn't have to gun down quite so many mindless members of your extended manufactured family.

My biggest gripe with Mechanaught is actually the implementation of lives. I thought we'd covered this was an unnecessary and annoying idea for a browser game. I sent out flyers and everything. This is a flash game, not an arcade hall with a sticky floor. You're not going to get quarters out of me, just an enraged baboon-like hooting. If you run out of lives, that's it. Game over. You can go back to your most recent save, but it's still frustrating. Maybe some people will like the added difficulty, but the rest of us are going to be annoyed that dying carries such a stiff penalty instead of simply popping you back to the beginning of a stage. Maybe if health kits were a more frequent find, it wouldn't be as much of an issue.

All in all, however, Mechanaught is still a fun, odd robot romp. It's also educational! If you ever find yourself having to dispose of large quantities of deadly war machines, do yourself a favour and make sure you disarm them first. That seems like basic robot safety protocol, but, well, apparently some people need reminding.

Play Mechanaught


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Rating: 3/5 (54 votes)
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DoraPara CuteTeddy wants to propose to his girlfriend, and she has no use for diamonds. What's a bear to do about it? Why, collect hearts to show her how much he cares! It'll be a grizzly affair! Muahahaha!... oh, wait? What's this called again? Para Cute? Hmmm. Sounds like we won't be needing that pun and maniacal laughter after all. Or the alibi. *sigh* I guess playing an adorable game of avoidance is okay, too.

Para Cute, from Donut Games has you guide your intrepid teddy through a series of caverns using his parachute. Teddy follows your cursor, so make sure you lead the way around the rocks and point him towards the hearts along the way. Small ones are worth less than the large ones, but the large hearts are often trickier to get to. If you happen to venture too close to the rocks, teddy's parachute will burst and your reflexes will be tested as he plummets through the twists and turns. Aim for the pillow at the end of the level for a safe landing, or teddy's dreams will be crushed and the game will end. You don't want to be responsible for destroying a teddy bear's dreams, do you? That's worse than making a kitten cry!

At only six levels, you can probably complete Para Cute in, well, the amount of time it takes to eat a donut. But with sweet, sharp graphics and simple to master casual gameplay, it's surprisingly addictive. Later levels feature warp holes that will spit you out in different locations, letting you collect even more hearts or just plot a different course. Adding in power ups or different obstacles would have served to spice up the game, but as it stands, Para Cute is a fun little game for all ages. Shoot for the high score and bring two love-bears together! Just don't forget to give your special teddy a squeeze every once in a while.

Play Para Cute


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Rating: 3.5/5 (79 votes)
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Weekday Escape

FunnyManIn a way, you could say that Myst was the original escape game. It had all of the major features we've come to expect: items hidden in bizarre locations, puzzles that seem completely opaque until you stumble upon the solution, and above all, no way to leave until you solve every single puzzle.

Magical Sphere EscapeMyst also had two things that are often missing in escape games: Stunning graphics and a storyline that made all the puzzles fit. Vital clues were often hidden amongst story elements in books or drawings, and if you managed to figure them out yourself, solving the puzzles was very rewarding.

Keep that mindset at hand, because you'll need it for this game. Bianco-Bianco's Magical Sphere Escape has a central puzzle and story that, with some major polishing, would have fit perfectly in the original Myst.

The story of Magical Sphere Escape revolves around God's imprisonment of Enchaki in the Patio of Genesis, a sort of inverted version of the exile from the Garden of Eden. The story is told in the descriptions of items, people, and places, and gradually reading it as you encounter each element really adds to the experience.

Unfortunately, the story (and its hints) didn't make it into the game itself, so you'll need to open this page in another window and switch between them as you play. Without it, you'll be lost, as we at JIG discovered the hard way. (One reviewer said she was "completely baffled within three seconds of playing.")

Even more unfortunately, the story's English translation is quite rough, including one item that has the wrong description entirely. JIG to the rescue! Open up the spoilers for a more polished translation:

Worlds

Patio of Genesis
The main world of the game. As one of Enchaki's descendants, God has sent you here to take Enchaki's place and atone for your ancestor's sins. Can you solve the mystery and redeem your people?

The World of the Desert
God made this world as part of Enchaki's prison. The blistering sun punishes all who fall beneath its gaze.

The World of Wind and Sea
God forced Poseidon to make this part of Enchaki's prison, even though Poseidon was in Enchaki's debt.

Hell
Those who fall from the Patio of Genesis land in Hell, God's final trap for Enchaki. None have ever escaped from Hell.

Doors

The Door of Eden
In the ancient past, Enchaki tried to open the Door of Eden without permission, and so angered God. In response, God locked the door and sealed Enchaki in the Patio of Genesis. The people of Enchana, Enchaki's descendants, have been exiled from paradise ever since.

The Door of Silence
This door leads to the World of the Desert. A golem protects the way back, and will only allow those who are silent to take what they find in the desert.

The Door of Unrest
This door leads to the World of Wind and Sea. Poseidon himself protects the way back, and will only open out of gratitude to Enchaki.

Eye of the Fool
This door lies hidden between the Door of Silence and the Door of Unrest, and it is one of the mysteries God created for Enchaki. Only those who have made an offering to all three doors may pass this one freely.

Landmarks in the Patio of Genesis

Bed of Strength
One of God's mysteries, this broken hammer represents the strength that God took from Enchaki.

Healing Waterside
Poseidon created this tank of healing water, against God's wishes, to help repay the debt he owed Enchaki. The water is fresh, to keep God from noticing Poseidon's work.

Altar of Seal
This altar holds the seal that God placed on the Patio of Genesis to trap Enchaki. It must be broken before you can return to the blue planet, your home.

Items

Stick of Enchaki
Long before he was trapped, timid and foolish Enchaki used this stick to save Poseidon's life, putting Poseidon in his debt. Poseidon enchanted the stick with sea magic, but it has since been soaked with fresh water to hide it from God.

Goblin's Sand Plate
The goblins who live in Hell eat their favorite food, sand, off of woven plates like this. This one appears to be the real thing, made in Hell.

Glass of the Goddess
As part of his ongoing debt to Enchaki, Poseidon taught glassmaking to the people of Enchana. When God learned of this, he confiscated the Glass of the Goddess, one of Poseidon's artifacts, as punishment for Poseidon's actions.

Cloth of Orihalf
This mysterious bag is made of orihalf, made from a byproduct of producing orichalcum. It is said that orihalf is so finely woven, it can hold the elements themselves.

Hammer of Strength
This hammer, made of orichalcum, is material proof of the strength that God took from Enchaki.

Scoop of Silence
This scoop is given only to those who have become people of the desert. It proves that you have learned silence.

Base Material of the Sphere
This sphere of lapis (a semi-precious blue stone) is the base material for a magical sphere. It must be given the powers of wind and flame before it is complete.

Other

Blue planet
This unnamed planet is similar to Earth, but has only primitive civilization.

Enchaki
A legendary hero of the blue planet, said to have had incredible powers. It is also said that he was a foolish person who twice defied God.

People of Enchana
These carefree people of the sea live on the blue planet. Legend has it that they are the descendents of Enchaki.

Dolphin
A dolphin was the first friend Enchaki made after being cut off from the blue planet. Being people of the sea, the people of Enchana worship dolphins. It is said that they are messengers of Poseidon.


Got all that? Good. Despite its flaws, Magical Sphere Escape is one of the best escape games I have played. There are a couple places where you'll need your Veteran Escaper Sense™ to find a clue or item, but the major puzzles are astonishingly logical. Playing Magical Sphere Escape evokes that Myst-like sensation of not just solving puzzles, but solving history.

But don't just take my word for it; experience it yourself!

Play Magical Sphere Escape


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Rating: 4.1/5 (229 votes)
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kateHigherThese days all of the cool kids want to fly to the right. They're buying fancy upgrades and using their slingshots and catapults to launch themselves, gathering treasure and defeating enemies as they sail rightward, mocking the rest of us as they go. Do not fear! Developer Arcadebra has said "No! We shall no longer fly to the right. We shall fly as gravity intends us to, and the flying direction shall be UP! Straight up. Into the sky." To illustrate the seriousness of their convictions, they have released Higher!, a flying game that defies those who would force us to the right. Well, it's more of a floating game. But you do float straight up.

The incredibly simple goal of Higher! is to get, well, higher. An unassuming little house sits on the ground patiently, surrounded by a picket fence, next to some picturesque trees. Suddenly a balloon floats by and gets caught on the roof, pulling the house skyward, freeing it of its mundane existence. This pleases the house greatly, and when another passing balloon gets caught on the roof, an adventure is born.

Sail into the wild blue yonder with the help of these friendly balloons. Mouse over a balloon and it will happily join your journey, elevating your tiny dwelling to greater heights. Use either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to steer the house through the ether, avoiding the evil bombs that can burst your brave little balloons and send your home plummeting towards terra firma, along with your hopes and dreams. Click and drag those nasty bombs into each other, making them explode, and you're rewarded with coins. Mouse over these metaphorical pennies from heaven to collect them, and we've come full-circle, control scheme-wise.

Your coinage can be used to purchase upgrades for your tiny cottage and its lofty quest. Press [P] or [space] to pause the game and access the menu system where the upgrades can be found. Increase the number of explosions it takes to pop your balloons or increase the money you get from bombs, among others. Unlock various achievements by reaching certain heights or detonating enough bombs, and win even more money. Each balloon you collect fills the Surprise Meter. When this bar of whimsy is filled, you get a surprise. Surprise!

Analysis: We'll address this point right away, because I know what you're thinking, but Higher! is in no way related to any feature film you may have seen recently. An "inspired by" acknowledgment might have been nice, but that could open up an enormous can of copyright lawyers disguised as worms. Let's never speak of that again.

Unlike those fancy newfangled fly-by-night (to-the-right) games, Higher! is refreshingly simple, from the blue and white palette to the soothing music to the gameplay itself. It only gets complex when you need to use both the keyboard and the mouse to navigate, but if you're quick enough with the mouse, you can let your house sail along happily without a lot of keyboard use.

In similar games, you generally get one attempt to fly or sail or slide as far as you can, and access to upgrades is restricted to the end of the level only. Higher! lets you pause the game at any time and open the upgrades menu. Your purchase is immediately applied, without having to literally restart from ground zero. Get it? Because the house is actually on the ground at the beginning? So that's ground zero, see, and then... oh nevermind. Anyway, your progress is automatically saved through some sort of Intrawebs wizardry, so there's no need to fret about what happens to your very brave house and its balloon friends while you're away.

With respectful apologies to those who detest both alliteration and terrible puns, Higher! is smooth soothing sailing all the way.

Play Higher!


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Rating: 4.7/5 (257 votes)
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JayAlchemiaAlchemia is an absolutely gorgeous new animated point-and-click adventure from Springtail Studio (Tomas K. and Julian Winter). You might remember Tomas' previous work with the Haluz series.

In Alchemia, you play a little hero (the same one from Haluz) after he shoots from the sky a bizarre looking creature. He sets off on an adventure to figure out what happened and to help his unfortunate new companion. Brilliant and imaginative puzzles, illustrations and music abound, and some puzzles will require lateral thinking and problem solving rather than just simply clicking in the right areas and in the correct sequence. An inventory is used for only a very few items, and you will have to drag an item from the inventory to where it belongs in the scene to progress.

Analysis: One cannot help but compare the work here to Samorost, with its surrealistic landscapes of photorealistic images and art as well as even some of the animations and techniques with which some of the scenes are reused. And yet even with all the similarities, there is enough here to appreciate on its own merits. One area that I feel Alchemia falls short in is with the story telling. Most of the dialog presented is banal and unnecessary. I would prefer to leave it up to my own wild imagination as to what is being said instead. Perhaps an option to turn on the dialog only as a 'hint system' would be a nice compromise.

An extended version is promised, although not expected to be free. If there's to be even more gorgeous artwork, illustrations and music, mixed with several new and original puzzles like this first part, then I can't wait!

Play Alchemia


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Rating: 3.3/5 (76 votes)
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MarcusOn The EdgeOn The Edge is a new puzzle game from developer YZI Games. The concept is extremely simple: using the [arrow] keys, move your little red block from the starting point to the red ending point, all the while removing the white tiles behind you. Of course, since the white tiles are disappearing behind you, you can't go back on your path to catch other tiles. Doing so will result in a quick trip into outer space and a resetting of the level. The majority of the levels also contain black tiles. These tiles when rolled across once turn white, requiring a second pass to remove.

The levels themselves start out fairly easy, making the path to success pretty obvious and able to achieve within the first try or so. But soon the puzzles become quite complex, with large areas of white tiles and a few black tiles scattered about in order to make things interesting, or twisting paths of white tiles with holes and black tiles strategically placed on the way. A counter at the top of the screen counts down the number of tiles left to remove. That little red tile never looked so far away.

Similar in concept to Kyle Gray's Flip Out, as well as to Aqui Griffin's enQbate, an entry to our "GROW" themed competition in 2007. A couple months later, Damien Clarke's Bloxorz brought the puzzle game into the 3rd dimension and added the rolling box. The presentation here is very similar. With 30 levels to roll through, On The Edge will keep you scratching your noggin for a while. Roll on!

Play On The Edge

(Big thanks to Kero and Stacy G for the prior art research on this!)


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6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition

Just a quick reminder that there are 4 weeks left to design and develop a browser game that incorporates the theme "EXPLORE". You may use any browser-based platform (Flash, Shockwave, Java, Unity, etc) as long as we can embed the entire game on our competition page. See the official competition announcement for details.

We are also pleased to announce that we have added more prizes:
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.

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.

Note: Comments are disabled for this entry. Please continue to use the official competition announcement page for posting questions and comments. Cheers!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBMassive puzzle game overload! Gah, it hurts us, precious! From the unique and original Ynth to the physics-oriented Enigmo 2, there's something for every brainy gamer to enjoy. Unless you're really bitter and grumpy, in which case, I suggest eating an ice cream sandwich. No one can be grumpy while eating an ice cream sandwich.

ynth.gifYnth - One of the freshest and most unique puzzle games I have seen yet on the iTunes App Store, this little title is somewhat incompletely described as a "jump and turn action puzzle game". You play a tiny bug trying to make it across pools of goop. By stepping into rectangular contraptions and pressing against their walls, you can rotate them to move towards the exit. Spikey things drop from the sky and like to roll around in your boxes, and sometimes you have to move back and forth to position yourself where you need to go. Text descriptions won't do it justice, but if you own an iPod Touch or iPhone, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try. A free Ynth Lite is also available.

geared.gifGeared - If it has gears, I'll play it, and fortunately for Geared, it happens to be a great little puzzle game to boot. Drag and drop five sizes of gears onto the screen and arrange them so they connect the moving yellow gear and rotate all blue gears. It isn't as easy as it sounds (it never is!), and some of the later levels will have you scratching your head and nudging gears over pixel by pixel. A free Geared Lite is also available.

enigmo2-iphone.jpgEnigmo 2 - The spectacular physics puzzle game Enigmo finally has a sequel, and this one really goes all-out to one-up its predecessor. Fully 3D with a rotatable, scalable, pannable view, your goal is to move water droplets (or other materials such as lasers) from its dispenser to the target. Using a variety of contraptions (including a few new ones like the teleporter and gravity inverter), place objects on the screen, rotate and adjust as necessary, and refine your Rube Goldberg-esque machination on-the-fly.

iescaper.jpgiEscaper - Room escape games are slowly making their way to the iPhone (see the Mystique chapters for more), and to be honest, I don't see why the App Store isn't flooded with them. The big touch screen is ideal for exploration and item management, and iEscaper makes good use of the technology to bring a short but satisfying point-and-click adventure to the palms of your hands.

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (87 votes)
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Osmos

MarcusHave you ever had one of those dreams where you are floating around in space, slowly grasping at random objects as they pass by, with no real direction? It should be frightening, but instead you feel a level of calm serenity that you've never felt before. Okay, maybe that's just me, but it is not unlike the feeling that you get when you play Osmos, the award-winning game from new indie developers Hemisphere Games. If you're looking for something to keep you totally enthralled on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or a calming experience after a long day at the office, the ambient joy that is Osmos is just what the doctor ordered.

osmos.jpgThe main goal in Osmos is simple: you, an amoeba-esque organism known as a "mote," must absorb smaller motes to become bigger. As your size increases, you are able to absorb more and more motes until you are the largest one in the area. This seems like a simple objective, and at its core it is. But, in order to propel yourself around to capture motes, you must expel a part of your own mass, which in turn decreases your size. The faster you want to go, the more mass you must expel. Not only that, other competing motes can in turn capture the mass that you have expelled to increase their own mass. For all of its slow-paced, fluid joy, Osmos does require more than a bit of thought and strategy to be a success.

As you proceed through the levels of the game, you will run into different objectives. Many require you to capture a particular mote. Some motes are intelligent and will run away from you, or absorb other motes in an attempt to become bigger than you, thus making their capture much more difficult. Others will repel motes. Unencumbered by other motes as it repels everything in its path, it becomes a very quick target to capture, requiring you to balance your need for speed with the minimum size still required to capture it. Still others will attract nearby motes. It will be in your best interest to capture these motes as quickly as possible, before they become too big to absorb.

The orbital levels really show off the mathematical prowess of the game. The entire gamefield slowly orbits around a super organism. You must keep your vectors in check as you create a stable orbit, all the while trying to gobble up motes that come into and out of your path. Get too close to the super organism, and it's curtains for you as you are quickly absorbed by the giant sun-like creature. An option to display your orbit helps ensure that you are on the right course as you steer yourself towards the next unsuspecting mote.

Later levels are definitely more complex and not necessarily quite as relaxing as the early levels, although it all comes together with a stunning ambient electronic soundtrack that makes even the most frantic of games a soothing breeze on the wind. If you find yourself getting bored with the 47 levels included, you can always go back to any of the levels and play a completely random version. What's not to love?

osmos2.jpgAnalysis: Osmos is one of those games that comes along once in a blue moon and makes you realize that there are still developers out there that care about the game experience, not just what particular genre or brand they can cash in on. Hemisphere Games have developed a game that not only evokes the best of what it means to be quiet and tranquil, but they have crafted a game that has a great deal of replayability and keeps you coming back for more.

The ultra silky-smooth graphics are a big part of the overall feeling of the game. There is nothing clunky or choppy about the animations, and the motes move smooth and free across the screen. Absorbing motes happens just as you might think it would, with mass transferring from one to the other in a balloon-sort of fashion, as the absorbing mote puffs up. Even when you zoom out on a level such as the orbital levels, with hundreds of motes all in motion, the game remains totally playable and suffers nary a skip.

The smooth, buttery graphics are complimented by some of the best ambient electronica I have heard in some time. Names that will be familiar to those who are fans of the genre have contributed to the soundtrack, including Loscil and Biosphere. Sometimes compilation soundtracks can sound disjointed and tossed together, but the soundtrack for Osmos fits as seamlessly as the motes themselves. It is really a large part of what makes the game so soothing to play. Turn the music off, and it's still a great game, but you'll find it may become a bit repetitive. But add in the soundtrack, and it turns into more than just a game. It becomes an experience. I don't think I've ever felt quite as strong about the experience of playing a game as I do about Osmos. It is that different.

I believe I've run out of adjectives to describe this game. From start to end, it is a fluid mass of gaming goodness. Even the level selection screen smoothly flows into the game experience. There is nothing aggravating about Osmos. I never found myself becoming annoyed with the game, even when I would get stuck on a level. I would just pour myself back into the game and try again. It was all very zen. Certainly worth the ten spot that Hemisphere is asking for it. I can say nothing better than go, go now and purchase this game. I think you'll find that Osmos is truly unlike any gaming experience you've ever had.

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: 4.5/5 (51 votes)
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Nancy Drew Dossier: Resorting to Danger

GrimmrookPoor Nancy. One would think that after solving the mysterious accidents in Nancy Drew Dossier: Lights, Camera, Curses!, she would have easily earned herself a little break. But our plucky investigator gets no such respite and is already working on another case. This would be bad enough on its own, but having her next case take place in an ultra fancy spa/resort for the social elite where she is teased with the finest luxuries around, well, that's just beyond the pale. Having to pretend to be one of the serving staff, we like to call that salt, lemon juice, and battery acid in the wound.

nancydrewresorting.jpgYet in Nancy Drew Dossier: Resorting To Danger, our Miss Drew takes it all in stride. Okay, maybe she's a little put off by some of the comments that get tossed her way, but she shrugs them off like a trooper and gets down to the business at hand. And what is the business at hand? Well, this high end relaxation spot for the wealthy has fallen victim to a series of almost-harmless bombings. Yes, bombings, and because the Rodondo's manager is more afraid of bad publicity than he is of, you know, explosions, he's hired Nancy to take on the case as opposed to calling in the cops. If she could just use the phrase "construction accident" in lieu of "explosion" that would be just fabulous.

You take control of Nancy in this hidden object adventure and your responsibilities are twofold. Obviously you need to get to the bottom of the bombings. You'll look for clues, solve puzzles, play mini-games, and talk to people to get information out of them. Oh, and you might just be required to actually disarm a bomb or two every now and then, no big deal. But, remember, you're trying to solve this problem on the QT, so to speak, so you can't let the upper-crust guests find out that you're a detective. Thus, while you are tracking down a mad bomber, you'll also be spending quite a bit of your time giving facials, fetching beloved pets, etc.

The core gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Nancy Drew Dossier game. For each setting you'll be asked to achieve one or more goals and to do this you will have to find and match up pairs of objects in the background. You won't have any item lists to contend with, or random items that have nothing to do with anything. Also, pay close attention to the clues you receive as you will often be quizzed on them during later conversations.

So, if you're ready to once again don the guise of Nancy Drew, could you please report to the reception? There are some... um... towels that need folding. Yeah, that's the ticket.

nancydrewresorting2.jpgAnalaysis: With only two installments thus far, the Nancy Drew Dossier series is proving to be quite strong indeed. The key to its success is finding a perfect balance between the often hybridized point-and-click adventure and hidden object genres. What results is a game that provides a faster, more casual experience found in most adventures, while at the same time giving you a HOG with a bit more depth and purpose than usual.

In fact, Resorting to Danger manages to improve upon an already stellar formula, though only in subtle ways. Perhaps most notable is the fact that this time puzzles and mini-games are better integrated with the ongoing story. The bonus game from the first Dossier has been axed in favor of a different bonus game that is a direct part of the storyline. Also, small changes and adjustments to the interface allow for modest improvements in interacting with your environment.

Another thing I can't help but appreciate is the variety and quality of puzzles and mini-games, none of which seem to have been brought over from Curses. Of particular note here is the facial puzzle which is remarkably similar to Bart Bonte's Factory Balls.

The artwork, as one should expect, is superb. On top of that, the cut scenes have a more dynamic feel to them, most likely from an increase in the amount of animation. Unfortunately, Danger falls victim to its setting, and in this regard comes up a little short compared to its predecessor. Compared to a movie set/theme park, a spa/resort is nowhere near as intriguing and it shows. This is not to say that the backdrops don't look good, mind you, they just aren't as exciting.

Don't let that scare you off, though, as that's just about the only weakness Danger has. Given that for a resort there are still some pretty interesting rooms to comb through, this isn't much of a weakness at all. Beyond that, Resorting to Danger is most definitely a credit to the series. Excellent side games combine with that unique Nancy Drew brand of object finding to create yet another gaming experience that is tough to put down.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (160 votes)
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Drawn: The Painted Tower

JohnBMuch like the Dream Chronicles series or the more recent Princess Isabella: A Witch's Curse, the new casual adventure game Drawn: The Painted Tower drops you in a gorgeously drawn world filled with items to find and puzzles to solve. The story and artwork wrap the game in a brilliantly mysterious package, delivering a feast for your senses as you devour the simple (but tasty!) gameplay.

drawnpaintedtower.jpgA shadow has fallen over the dark kingdom, but a legend tells of a girl who will restore the light. She lives out her dreams within the walls of the Painted Tower, drawing the world as she sees it and creating sketches and paintings with magical abilities. Imprisoned at the top of the tower, it's your job to work your way through the dark halls and set her free.

It's easy to spot the hidden object influence in a title like this, but once you start the adventure, you'll realize it's all about the story, the puzzles, and the breathtaking scenery. Each scene features a few clickable hotspots that contain mini-games, puzzles, or objects to collect. Quite often you'll come across pieces of things, such as scraps of cloth, shards of glass, etc., that need to be gathered in your inventory and assembled somewhere nearby.

Your objective is listed on the left side of the screen, but finding the right items to complete that objective may involve a little travel. A hint system is available, and it recharges a few minutes after each use, so if you're stuck, give it a click to see if it can nudge you in the right direction.

Weaving through the tower may seem like a drab affair, but thanks to the girl's vivid imagination, you'll visit a stunning variety of locations. It's a reward in itself just to see the inside of a new painting. The very first chapter takes place in a warm meadow, and the minute the screen loads, you'll be floored by the visual detail. When I saw a fully animated grasshopper crawl through the brush, I wanted to sit and stare at the scene rather than play the game.

drawnpaintedtower2.jpgAnalysis: The biggest standout feature of Drawn: The Painted Tower is, well, everything you see and hear, from the artwork to the voice acting and even the music. The game comes to life on your screen, filling your eyes with beautifully illustrated locations that burst with vibrant (or murky, depending on the setting) colors. It's like wandering around in a slightly grim fairy tale. Appropriate given the game's plot.

The gameplay itself isn't anything new, per se, though I appreciate how easy it is to find, combine, and use items without fumbling with the interface. The usual battery of mini-games are strewn about the world, popping up in the form of jigsaw puzzles and the like when you've found all the pieces of a riddle. While the games are well-integrated into the environment, they aren't anything special, and sometimes I wished they were left out altogether. After a few seconds fiddling with each puzzle a skip button appears, so if you aren't having a good time with the mini-game, feel free to forget about it!

Beautiful presentation on every front, smooth gameplay, and an intriguing story that unfolds as you play. Drawn: The Painted Tower is a bit short, but the ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel. It may not reinvent the casual adventure game, but Drawn: The Painted Tower is definitely one of the shining stars of the genre.

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's a weekend of Ludum Dare! The solo game development competition sends people on a quest to create a game from scratch in 48 hours based on a theme. The results are always interesting, though don't expect a long and polished product from two days of work. The theme for the most recent Ludum Dare competition was "caverns", and voting for the finalists is open for another week!

beacon.gifBeacon (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - A quiet little platformer with excellent visuals and an even better premise. When a game can invoke a strong emotion, it's done its job. Beacon is one such game. Alone in a darkened cave, a beacon of light suddenly floats down from above. Your only companion as you walk and jump around the cave, you find yourself oddly attached to its presence. You won't mind waiting for it to catch up, and if it has to take a different path than you, you get just a little bit frightened.

brokencaverobot.gifBroken Cave Robot (Windows, 12MB, free) - You have fallen into a cave. Maybe the fall erased your memory? Maybe you're a newborn. All you know is your batteries are running low and you have five minutes to get out of here alive. Explore the darkened cave and find a number of power-ups (wall climb, high jump boots, bigger flashlight, etc.) in this excellent minimalistic sidescrolling adventure by Matt Thorson. Great music, a surprisingly intriguing environment, but I'm not a big fan of the pressure to explore with such a restricted time limit.

nicecave.jpgNICE CAVE! (Mac/Windows, 5MB, free) - A beautifully colored 3D cave exploration game with locked gates, keys, and penguins! Look around the world using the mouse (side-to-side only, sorry!) and walk using the [WASD] keys. Touch keys to pick them up, and if you have the right key on your person, gates are opened automatically. You can play the game online using the Unity plugin, but the download is a much smoother experience.

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 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (31 votes)
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Cake Mania: Main Street

JohnBThe Cake Mania series is one of the most widely-recognized names in casual gaming. Three main installments have hit PC and Mac platforms over the last few years, and you can even find Cake Mania on mobile phones! Now, with the release of Cake Mania: Main Street, the series veers into a slightly new direction, providing more varied gameplay and a host of new and interesting challenges. It's not just cake anymore, as now you'll be slinging sushi and building burgers in order to raise money to revive Jill's home town!

cakemaniamainstreet2.jpgAfter traveling through time to bake cakes for dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians, and Merlin in Cake Mania 3, Jill has returned to her home town of Bakersfield. Main Street isn't what it used to be, however, as little more than crickets inhabit the buildings that once were bustling shops. The new mega mall is to blame, and Jill wants to fight back the only way she knows how: by baking cakes.

This time around, plopping red icing on heart-shaped desserts is only a small part of the experience. In a unique twist from the norm, you find yourself managing not one shop but four, collecting profits to help buy improvements and attractions for Bakersfield's Main Street. Jill's pals are along for the ride, including her husband Jack who runs the Burger Barn, Risha who manages a flower boutique, and Tiny in charge of Sumo Sushi.

Starting with Jill's bakery, you'll engage in the same sort of activities previous Cake Mania games dealt with. Customers come in, order a cake shape with colored icing and maybe a few extras, then you get to work, building their order as quickly as you can. Gameplay starts a little slow, but after a few levels you earn enough cash to buy a few upgrades to make things run faster and make more money.

You could also use that cash to open another shop, the first of which is Burger Barn. Creating burgers is a much different affair than cakes. The entire layout is mouse-driven as you click and drop ingredients onto trays right before the customers' eyes. After you earn cash you can unlock new and more complex recipes, many of which you couldn't pay me to try at home. Once the money piles up, you'll be able to buy and open both the flower and sushi shops, each featuring remixes on the bakery and burger joint's gameplay, respectively.

Every shop has a hefty set of levels to complete, each getting progressively more difficult. Once unlocked, you can jump back and forth between stores as you please, spending money on upgrades from a collective cash pool, or buying attractions to help spruce up the main part of town.

cakemaniamainstreet.jpgAnalysis: I was thrilled to see Cake Mania pull itself out of the cake business and branch out into other goods and styles of preparation. The original gameplay is still charmingly alluring, but being able to hop back and forth between sushi shop, flower boutique and burger joint does wonders for longevity. Plus, it's like you get four games rolled into one, which, hey, who wouldn't like that?

The variety of customers you'll deal with has always been a high point in the Cake Mania series, and this installment is no different. Character crossovers were great. Seeing people from cutscenes appear in your store adds a new dimension to the game, and watching vampires, cupids and aliens interact with each other and the stores adds a quirky layer of fun. I was also surprised to see Jill herself visiting me when I was slinging burgers!

Even though you run four separate businesses, the latter two are just remixes of the former, which was a bit of a disappointment. There are gameplay shifts, of course, but I was more disheartened by having to start over with the slower, less complex levels in a new building when I was ready for more of a challenge. Being able to play any store at any time was a big help, but more variety would have been — ahem — icing on the cake.

It's the most unique Cake Mania title to date in terms of gameplay, with over 100 levels, four shops to manage, and a nice, campy sense of humor. Cake Mania: Main Street builds on the series' foundations well, and while it may not be a radical departure from the norm, there's plenty to enjoy in this game.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (157 votes)
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zxoCiviballs 2 screenshotIt seems as if game developers are taking a cue from Hollywood, glutting the summer blockbuster season with sequels. Arriving just in the nick of time is Civiballs 2, the successor to one of the better physics puzzles on the Web. Unlike most movie sequels though, this second installment packs just as much oomph as the original.

Yes, that's right, Civiballs 2 is a phuzzle, heavy on the uzzle. All you need is your mouse and your wits: click the chains to cut them, releasing their cargo to the cruel but ultimately predictable whims of physics. If all the colored balls fall into urns of the same color, then you did it right The key is finding the correct order in which the chains must be cut, though timing also puts in a strong supporting role.

There's three new sets of levels to master, each based on a different ancient civilization: the Romans, the Vikings and the Incas. Each of the three tracks has its graphical theme and its own pretty steep difficulty ramp. You may want to play the original first to help you get the hang of things. You'll find a few things in Civiballs 2 that weren't in the original, such as balloons, fountains, and replicas of famous statues. These new items are good for a little variety, but don't mess with the overall feel of the game, and they don't seem the least bit gimmicky. It's sometimes nice to see a sequel that maintains and continues the things that made the original work so well without resorting to silly things. Of course, there is also the danger of leaning too far in the other direction, where the sequel is nothing but a rehash of the original, but again Civiballs 2 avoids this pitfall with its uniquely designed levels.

You could certainly say that Civiballs 2 is nothing but more levels, but considering that it offers as many new levels as in the original game without a drop (and perhaps even an increase) in quality, it stands on its own just as well as its predecessor.

Play Civiballs 2


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWe here at Jay is Games know you're a deep person with deep thoughts. We also suspect you secretly have to stifle your giggles each time someone trips on a banana peel. But that's okay! We can't be serious intellectuals all the time or we'd wear our brains out. So here's a selection of some of the silliest and the most thoughtful games around. Go ahead. Solve some physics puzzles, and then set your head on fire for a while. We won't tell. You're cool with us.

  • Time DonkeyTime Donkey - [Note: Click "Maybe later, play web version" below the price to play once the game has loaded.] Crikey! It's the rare South American time donkey! What a beaut! Whoooaaaa, lookit the little blighter, trackin' down tacos, launchin' off pads... oh! Watch as he reverses time to make additional copies of 'imself! Clever li'l fella. 'Course, he has to watch out for his natural predators... Poor Camera Mobility and Clunky Controls. Life in the taco fields is brutal, folks.
  • Ergon/LogosErgon/Logos - This is... uh. Hm. This.... iiiissss.... hold on, hold on. I don't think I'm dressed for this. *puts on beret, holds pinky in air* Ah. Much better. Another entry into EGP's "Minimalist" theme for the month of August, this is either an extremely abstract interpretation of narrative-as-gameplay, or a fever dream from Hunter S Thompson following a bout with indigestion. One is as likely as the other.
  • DadgameDadgame - Have you ever wanted to light your head on fire? How about fend off helicopters with an enormous neon letter? Or maybe regurgitate a sword? If you thought, "Why would I ever want to light my head on fire?" this probably isn't the game for you. Smash, bash, and ROCK your way to maximum destruction and achievements. Warning: contains massive property damage and unrepentant silliness.
  • Saunavihta YetisSaunavihta Yetis - If you played the original Saunavihta and found yourself thinking, "This doesn't have enough yetis. It could be yeti-er." Rejoice! Featuring the same queerly unsettling design and the familiar physics puzzle action you know and love, but now with 60% more abominable death. Huzzah!
  • RunRun - What does this rotund little alien run from? Or is he running towards something? Well, he's not going to be running for very long if you don't help him navigate all the pitfalls in this addictive little test of reflexes. Run, jump, and rotate the walls across multiple levels. Or you can make your own levels to help him realize his destiny. Godspeed, little grey dude! Godspeed. *sniff!*

  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (105 votes)
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DoraCavernsThere is an entire world beneath our feet. The planet teems with life, some too small to ever be seen... or too reclusive. In Caverns, you can give Mother Nature a helping hand as you shape the terrain of an underground cave to discover 12* different species. More virtual sandbox than game, Caverns is still an exceptionally clever little piece of design whose creativity makes up for limited interaction.

The game is controlled with the mouse, clicking to paint blocks of terrain types. You can change terrains by clicking on different ones in the control panel at the bottom of the screen, or by tapping [C] to cycle through them all. Finding out the right conditions for each creature can be a little tricky. The little tar creature will spring forth from the ground on their own, for example, while the blue water creatures need to fall like water droplets. The cavern you start out in can be manipulated and carved out to make the grungy, dark, critter-ridden underground lair of your dreams. Do you think it would help if you Feng Shui-d the lava? We think Martha Stewart would approve.

Caverns was made in ten hours for a Ludum Dare theme, and as such is pretty basic. You're limited in what you can do, and if you're hoping to build an adorable teeming ecosystem of marketable little creatures you can hug and love and call George, you might be disappointed. You can't interact with the creatures directly. But for its presentation it's still big on charm and it's surprisingly fun to work with. Coming across the correct environment to get all the creatures happily coexisting is a challenge, to say the least. Oh little tar creature, why did you kill the tree creature? The tree creature that wasn't hurting you? The tree creature that took me forever to figure out how to grow?! Why can't you be more like little purple blob creature?

While it may be short, Caverns is still surprisingly inventive and worth a look if you're into experimental design. Fans of virtual pet-ish webtoys will also find a lot to like here. After all, who can say they've never wanted their very own cuddly, painful little critter made of burning lava to call their own? Liars, that's who!

Play Caverns

*Update: Now with more species! (Version 0.85)


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (65 votes)
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MarcusSilver MazeThere are a few things in life that I just can't get enough of. Meat pizza, dark chocolate, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Harry Potter just to name a few. In the gaming realm, Tower Defense is one genre I can't get enough of and I've played quite a few, some good, some bad. Silver Maze is one that I can safely place in the "good" category. While it may seem on the surface a simple TD entry, the complexities soon make themselves evident.

Silver Maze starts out life as a tower defense game with but four towers to choose from. The gun tower is your standard single-shot gun. The minigun tower shoots bursts of bullets, but must cool down in-between firings. Canon towers don't deal much damage, but they deal it over multiple units. Finally, the laser tower has the largest range of all the weapons, while dealing about the same damage as the gun tower. Tower placement is critical to success.

Where the weapons seem to lack in variety, the creatures make up for it. Nine different enemy units will come slowly crawling your way during the levels of the game. Things start off simple with basic enemies that don't have any special abilities and standard hit points (HP). Soon you will be faced with a variety of different enemies. Some will come in large groups of small creatures. Others will come as behemoth single entities that will take the combined forces of all of your towers to eventually take out. If it seems that these enemies might become too much for your towers to take on, you'd be right.

Luckily, Silver Maze includes an extensive upgrade system. Besides the standard tower upgrades that increase throughout the game, there are a number of special upgrades that can be done to each tower. One of four enchantments can be placed on a tower, with different effects. Ice will temporarily slow enemies down each time they are hit with the enchanted weapon. Lightning will add an area effect to any weapon it is placed on. Fire will set enemies ablaze, doing further damage after they have been initially hit with the enchanted weapon. The shadow enchantment makes enemies explode when they expire, causing damage to surrounding enemy units.

The most unique of the upgrades is the combine. This unique ability allows you to combine the abilities of two towers to make a different, much more powerful tower. At first, you are only allowed to combine a tower with another of the same type. This creates a super-powered version of the tower, but keeps the abilities the same. Later in the game, you will be able to combine towers of different types, creating a tower that combines the abilities of each tower into a new type of tower. The results can be absolutely devastating, and they'll need to be, because the enemy keeps marching on.

Silver MazeAnalysis: What points Silver Maze may loose in graphic prowess, it gains back two-fold in strategy and planning. The designs for the weapons are very simple, but the animation is smooth and detailed. The enemies are simple circles with a variety of animated markings that, along with their size, help to identify each enemy type. Each level is, as the title suggests, silver in appearance, with a variety of path placements, from simple snaking paths to paths that cross over themselves multiple times. While there is often an "optimal" solution for each level, there is enough room for experimentation and planning to make later levels good for coming back to and trying again.

The presentation of the game ramps up the difficulty nice and slowly, introducing gameplay elements one by one over the course of a number of levels. Instead of bombarding the player with all the features of the game at once, this gives the player a chance to get used to each feature as it is introduced. It also means that you will have to survive quite a long time to achieve some of the cooler features of the game as they are slowly unlocked. It definitely keeps you playing. And, if you want more time to experiment with any of the game features that you have unlocked, you can always play in a sandbox mode. This is a large, twisting maze of a level in which you are given an excessive amount of money to spend on weapons, and can launch waves of different enemies at the push of a button. It's a great way to test strategies for certain weapons or in taking out certain types of enemies. It's also fun to load the level up with guns and see what happens!

Sound effects consist of your standard booms and bangs, and are okay, but could have been much bigger and bombastic. The music on the other hand is very well done, and suits the game style perfectly. I never once felt the need to turn it off and listen to iTunes, as in so many other games. It could easily stand on its own as a video game soundtrack meant for listening outside the game. It's that good.

Taking a few cues from other TD games such as Gemcraft, Silver Maze contains the perfect system for beginners while being challenging enough for expert TD gamers. While it's not the flashiest game on the block, its tower upgrade system more than makes up for it, and brings it to another level of awesomeness. Definitely give this one a try.

Play Silver Maze


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (44 votes)
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GrimmrookRaider Episode: 2In Pseudolonewolf's challenging platform game, Raider: Episode 1, we followed the adventures of Arkus Zei, a lone space pirate who decided to chase a legend of a ghost starship filled to the atmosphere scrubbers with treasure. For those tenacious enough to have seen the first episode to the end, you'll know that the greatest prize buried within that ship's hull wasn't made of gold, silver, or indeed any other precious metal (if you haven't played Episode 1, now would be a wonderful time to stop reading this, and go play it).

Now, in Raider: Episode 2, Zei finds himself grudgingly following the instructions of his new human traveling companion. She promises him a great treasure beyond even his money riddled imagination, but in order to collect, they'll have to travel to several different dangerous locales. First on the list is a strange jungle planet with creeping vines twisting their way around stone columns erected by civilizations long past. Oh, yeah, and spikes and monsters. It just wouldn't be a Raider game without spikes and monsters, would it?

Controls of Arkus are widely customizable but generally you use the [arrow] keys to move, [A] jumps, [S] slashes your sword, and [D] allows you to shoot your gun. For a more in depth explanation of the controls, there is now a tutorial provided where you are given an arena to acclimate yourself to the control scheme without having to worry about dying.

Episode 2 bares those trademarks established in the first Raider. Graphics are beautifully retro, with the colorful jungle backdrop proving to be a refreshing change from the rather bland backdrop of Episode 1. Meanwhile the music is just perfect, the jungle beat working magnificently to create a feeling that is simultaneously encouraging and threatening. All of this sets the stage for a platformer that is vicious. Indeed, with as difficult as the first Raider was, this one may be even more challenging. For those of us that revel in ridiculously hard platformers, this is a good thing.

Play Raider: Episode 2


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (184 votes)
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DanTheArcherWakerSome people believe dreams are memories collected over the day's time, assembled into a sort of psychic collage that defies description. Others believe that they are prophecies, glimpses of fates not yet transpired in a time when our minds are free to sail to such distant shores. We can attempt to understand them with REM and our so-called science, but when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of us have absolutely no idea what dreams are. We submit to them come bedtime, we perform on their strange stage, and then we awaken in the morning, unmarked but not always unscathed. Sometimes the process is not quite as simple, however, and many times has a dreamer lost sight of the path to morning. What becomes of these people, and where do they wander? This is the realm of the Waker, the star of Poof Games' latest concoction.

You control a mystical, catlike quadruped whose sole purpose is to repair the roads by which drifting dreamers can return to the world of day. This requires collecting wisps, sprinkled across a series of elaborate dreamscapes. You'll use the arrow keys to traverse these worlds, including [up] (or [space]) for all your jumping needs. [D] is an all-purpose interaction key, perfect for picking up or dropping objects as well as flipping switches. [S] prompts your Waker to sprint at breakneck speed, which becomes necessary to solve some of the later puzzles. And the puzzles are plentiful.

Nestled in the levels are enchanted orbs, which will conjure a platform for however long you keep the orb in your paws. Now, what shape that platform takes depends on variables keyed to the specific kind of orb. For example, one brand of globe might alter the platform's slope based on how fast you're running at the time, while another could change with your position within the level itself. Then there's black spheres of nightmare that can warp you back to the start with a touch, self-made prisons of summoned platforms...no one said the life of a Waker was easy.

Analysis: Waker is a project born from GAMBIT, Singapore-MIT's game design lab, and the multidisciplinary input shows. The art and animation invoke the phantasmal in such a way that it's not hard to believe that this idea could have been hauled from the same place dreams come from. Little touches breathe life into the Waker and the world, like the blinking of one eye at a time should you let the creature sit still for a few moments. The music is softly whimsical, the same way a child's dream should be.

WakerWhile the writing sets up the game quite marvelously, what with the Wakers and the Dreamtime and associated fantasies, the story starts to fade as the game progresses, being delivered to the player in short injections between one world and the next. It's a tad disappointing to have the developers weave all this vibrant lore about what happens when the lights go out, only to have it squeezed into the cracks. It would have been nicer to see the story dovetail with the gameplay more smoothly, but there's still a lot more creativity at work here than your average puzzle game.

The platforming can be as tidy or as troublesome as you'd like; it really boils down to the way you sculpt it. If you can manage to get all your orb-empowered platforms to only have steps at right angles and swerve perfectly through every obstacle, than the platforming ought to be a walk in the park, with dreams for trees. More often than not, however, your platforms will not be works of aesthetic splendor. They'll probably be bumpy, or spiky, or look like a dying man's ECG. And it's in these cases where you run afoul of some wonky physics; you might not be able to jump as high as usual, or perhaps even not at all. Usually, these situations involve such gnarled platforms that you can understand why you can't scurry up that 88-degree slope, but just remember that the cleaner your platforms, the better.

The challenges are all puzzles in the purest sense of the word: they encourage experimentation on the player's part, they may require some unorthodox thinking, and there will be more than one instance of you face-palming as an elusive solution suddenly dawns on you. While the game might be short for those who attack it head-on, it's certainly a trip worth taking, and the dazzling visuals coupled with the imaginative tale of the Wakers marks this game as one of the most innovative puzzlers to date. Now don't let me keep you, for there's already a child lost in the slumber, hoping for someone, anyone to show them the way home.

Well? The Waker is waiting.

Play Waker


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (78 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAh, working overtime! The best time to get things done and make a little extra cash. No co-workers, no distractions, no mysterious ghosts... well, perhaps a bit of the latter. Welcome to U-Sensor, the new game from HILG (G-Sensor). And welcome to the office building where people mysteriously die after 11 pm. It's only 10 pm, though, so no worries, right?

usensor_flower.jpgThe game begins with you, poor overworked office schlub that you are, heading home after a very long day. Unfortunately, something immediately goes wrong with the elevator and you are now trapped in a creepy, unoccupied office building. Still, it should be easy to find a way out, or so you'd think. Even though you can no longer use the elevator to reach the first floor, there must be some other way out, say an emergency fire exit. Hey! This building isn't up to code! No problemo, I'm sure there's another solution.

Actually, there are three ways out of the building, although one of them involves you being horizontal (and deceased). Travel between floors (at least, the ones you can get to) and try to figure out how to get home before the spouse gets really upset. Pick up items, solve puzzles, and I'm sure you'll be having a late dinner in no time at all.

Navigation through the scenes is easily accomplished by arrows that appear when you move your cursor to the edge of the screen, and if you know how to work an elevator. There are no cursor changes when you pass over objects, however, so there is a minor bit of pixel hunting involved.

The game is in Japanese, but there is a handy button that can change it to English. Just be sure to change that button to English before you start the game, or you might not catch some helpful information in the prologue. The translation itself is a little rocky, but understandable. There's also a Hint button (although not entirely helpful) and a Save button if you want to take a break. A mute button would have been a nice addition.

Analysis: The puzzles themselves are relatively simple, although they take some leaps of logic. The end solution, while culturally interesting, also takes a bit of trial-and-error to make work. Some sort of hint or guide for that final solution would have made this a better game. The graphics are pretty but sparse, but this is an office building after all. The inventory system is easy to use as well. Just setting the game in an empty office building after hours creates a suitably creepy atmosphere.

What prevents this from becoming a great game are the leaps required for some of the puzzle solutions. Although some of the puzzles are easy some might have you scratching your head and going "huh?" That aside, U-Sensor is still a fun, engaging escape game, short enough for casual gameplay yet complex enough (three different ways out) to have fun playing more than once. Escape the doldrums of office work by escaping the office!

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Rating: 4.7/5 (288 votes)
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GrimmrookVox Populi, Vox Dei (A Werewolf Thriller)Warning: This game is extremely violent. If lots of blood, even pixelated blood, is not your thing, you may want to move on to one of our rating-g or rating-y games.

You tell yourself you don't care about her anymore. She broke your heart and to forget the pain you throw yourself into your ninja training, pushing your muscles further than any human should rightly expect of their body. You tell yourself it doesn't matter, and for a while you think you might believe yourself. It's not until your friend informs you that she's been kidnapped by the ruling species, werewolves, that you come to understand that it's all a lie. You still love her enough to rip through every single werewolf keeping you from her, or die trying. Enter the dark world of Vox Populi, Vox Dei (A Werewolf Thriller), a platformer from Pablo Weremczuk.

As the blue ninja you navigate your way through this strange white-washed world using your [arrow] keys and [space] bar to run, jump, and crouch. The [ctrl] key allows you to turn on your Predator-esque personal cloaking device that makes you invisible to patrolling werewolves. Employ extreme caution, though, for your cloaking device is easily disrupted and if the werewolves spot you, the guns in their chest give them a distinct advantage over you.

This isn't to say you can't fight back. By jumping from a crouching position, you hurl yourself at the enemy and by repeatedly pressing the [space] bar after connecting, you quite literally maul any werewolf unlucky enough to have found itself in your sights. Again, you'll need to be careful here as defeating an enemy takes some time during which you are completely vulnerable to any other werewolves that happen upon the way.

From the simple, iconic, neo-noir graphics to the smooth but challenging gameplay, Vox is a definite treat, especially if you like platformers. This is at once an action platformer and a puzzle platformer, testing both your reflexes and your problem solving abilities. What makes it even better is that you get all this with an excellent story that impacts directly with the gameplay about halfway through.

The biggest and perhaps only weakness that Vox entertains is that it is simply too short which comes with its own stock set of disappointments. We want to explore the character's abilities more, and we want to see more variety in level design. Like any good game that is too short, it leaves us wanting more, more, more. Happily we are left with those tortuously teasing words that will keep us hungering for another installment, "To Be Continued..."

Play Vox Populi, Vox Dei (A Werewolf Thriller)


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Rating: 4.6/5 (349 votes)
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Doracanabalt.gifYou can't hear your heartbeat, but you can feel it pounding in your temples. You can't hear the slap of your feet against the rooftop, but you can feel the building shudder beneath you. All that fills your ears is the thunder of the mechanical monstrosities moving through the city at your back with cold precision. Maybe you're not important enough for them to notice, but you don't dare stop to find out. All you can do is keep running for as long as your legs will carry you. Or until something stops you permanently. Is it a nightmare? Or is it Canabalt from Adam Atomic?

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Created for Experimental Gameplay Project's 2009 August theme of "Minimal", Canabalt is a brief but addictive little action game. How brief? Well, that depends on you. You play a frantic man fleeing the destruction of his city by giant robots. You control him as he hurdles across buildings, leaps over gaps and obstacles, and tries to stay one step ahead of the mayhem. This, of course, would be much easier if people would stop leaving office chairs in his path. And dropping bombs. And destroying buildings beneath him. His reward? High score, baby!

Canabalt handles everything except jumping for you, and all you need to do is tap [X] or [C] at the right moment to cause our hero to vault over obstacles. The game is randomised to a certain extent, so there's no point in plotting out your course. No, you're going to have to deal with things as they come, and timing will play a big part in it. Jump too soon, and you may plummet off a building. Jump too late, and you may miss that plate glass window you were trying to smash through, Bruce Willis style. And you'll keep doing it until you miss. All you're aiming for here is a high score, represented by how far you run.

But Canabalt is so well presented that it's easy to keep coming back to it. There's so much going on around you that you'll want to stop and smell the roses, but there's that whole "rampaging robot" thing to worry about. So you keep moving, trying not to get distracted by how wonderfully detailed the environment is. Birds take indignant flight at your passage, and giant robots duke it out in the background. It's all very lovely and full of poignant subtext. And awesomeness. Canabalt is a prime example of a simple idea executed extremely well. It's not going to consume your day, but makes for an addictive addition to your coffee breaks.

Just remember, real life is not like a flash game. In the event of robot rampage, please proceed in a calm, orderly fashion to the nearest exit. Because that'll give me time to beat all of you suckers out the door first.

Play Canabalt

Thanks to Jeff for sending this one in! :)

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