October 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.4/5 (29 votes)
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Zombie Bowl-O-Rama

MarcusZombies. Those creepy undead creatures. Ever since George Romero showed us just how nasty the undead can be, zombies have become a staple of good (and bad) horror. And they come in all shapes and sizes. The only thing as varied as the zombies are the ways in which resourceful protagonists come up with to send them back to the grave. But one of the most interesting weapons of choice has to be the bowling ball, as we see in Zombie Bowl-O-Rama.

Zombie Bowl-O-RamaOn a starry night, a mysterious meteor crashes just outside of town. It just so happens that it crashes into the local cemetery. An eerie green glowing goo comes exploding from the crash and soaks into the ground around the cemetery. And soon the slightly-decaying residents are feeling a bit more lively than usual. Their first line of attack? The local bowling alley, of course! It's then up to you, and your trusty bowling ball, to take out these creepy creepers, and pick up the spare, as well.

Zombie Bowl-O-Rama uses the same mechanics as other casual computer bowling games such as Polar Bowling. Facing down a pin-rack of zombies at the other end of the lane, set your horizontal position, your ball speed, aim, and bowl! As the ball careens down the lane, you can control it's direction with the mouse. While at first it is a convenient way of correcting a missed aim, it soon becomes a necessity as obstacles are thrown in your path that you either need to miss or recover from hitting. A well-aimed shot will hopefully result in the satisfying image of zombies flying in all directions, cursing your mad bowling skills. After bowling your spare, though, any zombies that are remaining will march forward down the lane, making way for the next rack. Hitting these guys will make them disappear. Unfortunately, they will not fly back and help you with the current ten-zombie grouping.

Adding to the fun and mayhem of this undead sports spectacle are the inclusion of power-ups that appear as gravestones. Hit them and they are added to your inventory. There are two types of power-ups: green and red. The green power-ups are ones that you can use to affect your own bowling to the positive, such as giving you ball a fiery boost, or turning the ball and the zombie to ice to make them easier to take out. The red power-ups are ones that you can use to adversely affect your computer-controlled or human opponent. These include a werewolf that sits at the side of the lane and pulls or pushes the ball into the gutter with its howl, barricades that you need to steer your ball around, or one that turns the ball into a head of cabbage, with the zombie-killing force of a head of cabbage (i.e. not a heck of a lot).

As you progress through the levels, you will move from the bowling alley to the streets of town, bowling day and night, and eventually back to the graveyard as you drive the undead hordes back to their eternal rest. As you do this, you can unlock trophies, such as bowling a 300 game, getting a strike against dancing zombies, or winning the game without using any power-ups at all (but where's the fun in that?). Or course, if the trophies aren't enough to keep you coming back, the chance to take out zombie hordes against a friend or family member will be.

Zombie Bowl-O-RamaAnalysis: Okay, let me get one thing out right now: Zombie Bowl-O-Rama is fun. A lot of fun. Really too much fun than it should be. It is the kind of game that sits unobtrusively on your computer, quietly beckoning you to play just one more round, forcing you to push aside everything else your working on to satisfy the need. It's the kind of gaming crack that makes a classic time-waster like Bejeweled or any number of solitaire variants. Whether it's the way the game controls, the fun power-ups or the fact that you're bowling down zombies, Zombie Bowl-O-Rama has an eerie undead grip that just won't let go.

The controls are very forgiving for those, like me, with absolutely no aspirations or illusions of ever being part of the Pro Bowlers' Tour. The chance to take control of the ball's path down the lane makes of a lot of fun, as you try to swerve to miss obstacles, hit power-ups, and then try to bring the ball to bear on the zombies at just the right angle to pull a strike. The manner in which you set up your shot is very intuitive, and I like the fact that the power of my bowl is not left up to a properly timed click, like so many other computer sports games. Makes it feel less random and more like I actually have control over what I am doing.

There is a nice variety of zombies you will find lumbering at the other end of the lane, from business men with mobile phones to punk-rockers with mohawks to construction workers with coffee thermoses. At the beginning of each frame, the lead zombie will do a variety of actions to taunt the bowler, yelling things like "Brains!" or doing a cut-throat motion with it's arm, while the other zombies get their own animations. Some will throw their hands in the air like they just don't care, some juggle their eye-balls, while others will slap their undead butts mockingly. While the variety of zombies and animations is nice, it would have been even better had there been more.

Graphics and sound are done quite well here. The whole idea of a 50's-style horror movie holds well throughout the game, from the menus to the background designs, even the clothes that the zombies are wearing. Graphics are in 3D, and were nice and smooth on my computer. Should you run into performance troubles, there are three detail levels that you can set the game to in order to alleviate the problems. Rocking music and nice bowling sounds round out the auditory package.

The only real criticism I can bring against the game is that the single-person game is a bit on the short side. But, even after you complete it, you will find yourself coming back to the game to play one or two rounds just for the pure fun of it. And the fact that you can play against another human also adds a ton of replay value to the game. Of course, those of you who are trophy hunters will be glad to know that there are 19 achievements to chase after in the game, as well.

Who knew that bowling a perfect game could actually save your life? Grab your bowling ball, and beat the undead hordes into submission with Zombie Bowl-O-Rama. Just make sure to bring your own shoes... who knows where those things have been?!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Zombie Bowl-O-Rama is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBLots of movies, books, TV shows and games try to scare people around Halloween. Instead of shocking you with things that jump out and go "BWAGGA BWAGGA!!!!", let's get a little more disturbing with a few adventure games that will make you question your sanity. Without further stalling for time and taking up valuable page space... Let's. Get. Scary.

heartland.jpgHeartland Deluxe (Windows, 24MB, free) - A dark adventure/room escape game with a movable, panoramic landscape. As reporter David Lawson, you are summoned to the apartment of local nutcase RJ Coombs. When you arrive, no one's there, and as any good journalist would do, you begin to snoop. Piece together clues left in the apartment with the simple point-and-click interface.

thewhitechamber.jpgThe White Chamber (Windows, 358MB, free) - Billed as a point-and-click horror game, The White Chamber features a host of puzzles and multiple endings based on how well (or how poorly) you do. While there is the requisite amount of things-bursting-out-of-things scenarios, for the most part The White Chamber is actually more disturbing than it is scream-like-a-girl scary. This isn't to say there's aren't moments of genuine fear, but The White Chamber thrives on putting you in situations that are uncomfortable and bizarre, all of which tie into the game's overarching themes. (Credit goes to Dora for that blurb!)

unbound.jpgUnbound (Windows, 29MB, free) - From the same author that created Heartland Deluxe, Unbound is an adventure game in the same style as the above (it's a sequel, actually), only this time around things are much darker and more disturbing. Dr. Nicholas Powell has gone missing in the aftermath of the mysterious Project Caterpillar. Howard Fielding, the only surviving member of the research team, is being held in an abandoned government facility and interrogated by agents. Howard has the answers they seek, but he's keeping them to himself. Something has been awakened in his subconscious, and it won't remain hidden forever...

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 (47 votes)
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Campfire Legends: The Hookman

DoraThink you know your urban legends, boils and ghouls? Think again. All Christine wants is to spend a romantic weekend alone with Patrick and her enormous 1950s bouffant. (Sweet!) She thinks she has the perfect place; her parents' old cabin, deep within the woods. What could go wrong, so far from civilization? Well, as it turns out, a little bit more than replacing the key to the front door. Where is Patrick? What's happened to the interior of the cabin? And is Christine as alone as she thinks she is? Turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and get really close to the monitor to experience this scary and stylish retelling of *grabs you by the shoulders and shrieks* Campfire Legends: The Hookman! Aiiiieeeeeeeeeeee!

Campfire Legends: The HookmanThe Hookman is more of a traditional point-and-click title than a hidden-object game. While you'll find yourself rooting through various locales to find objects, every single one you dig up has a purpose. You'll hunt down supplies to repair a radio, look for pieces of a torn-up memo, find the misses pieces you need to complete a stone puzzle... no hunting for six roses, a rubber duck, and the ace of spades for you, no sir! It's strictly logical item finding in everyday scenarios. (Well, minus a forbidding crypt or two.) While hidden-object enthusiasts may be disappointed to this no-nonsense approach to the genre, those of us who prefer logical item placement and a good story to giving our eyes a workout will embrace it with open arms.

A magnifying glass when you move over an area means you can click for a close up view, and adding an item to your inventory is as simple as clicking to pick it up. When you've assembled all the items you need, indicated by the list at the bottom of the screen, you can simply drop them from your inventory onto the puzzle you're working on to use them. While most puzzles are as simple as using the correct items in the correct order, there are a few that can test your brain's mettle. Fortunately, the fireflies you can find throughout the game not only point you towards a missing item, but can also be used to get hints on puzzles or skip them entirely.

A big part of what makes The Hookman so enjoyable is how well made it is. Not only is the voice-acting above standard, but the art here is absolutely beautiful, with detailed environments that sends prickles up your spine even as you admire them. The characters themselves, while occasionally looking a little rubbery, are actually quite expressive, and it leads to the terror and frustration on their faces being that much more palpable. Special attention is also paid to sound effects and music, which greatly enhance the atmosphere... Oh! What was that creaking sound?... I'm sure it's nothing. Hey, why don't you go explore the woods without a flashlight while I take a shower with the window open? Everything I need to know about life I learned from old '80s horror movies!

Analysis: Oh, Christine. How effortlessly you embody every bobble-headed horror heroine in ever horror movie, ever. You'll find she does a lot of questionable things simply because the story would end if she didn't. Hey, Christine! Wanna check out that strange crypt, all alone and defenseless? Sure ya do, atta girl! While more realistic, a game about a girl who stays put in a safely, brightly lit area until help arrives wouldn't be terribly exciting. The Hookman manages to succeed by evoking the sort of delightfully cheesy, spooky thrill a lot of us will be familiar with from the sleepovers and camp outs of our childhood. (And is even more delightful for those of us who grew up with a little show called Are You Afraid Of The Dark?)

Campfire Legends: The HookmanAnd when the game does decide to scare you, it can be pretty effective about it. Granted, The Hookman tends to resort to loud, startling visuals or sounds to make you jump, but it also doesn't neglect the more subtle routes either. Shadows flicker by in the background. Crows take flight suddenly overhead. Something surfaces from beneath the shallow waters of the lake shore and the monster standing RIGHT BEHIND YOU REACHES OUT AND GRABS YOUR NECK, ayieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeegh!... fine, fine, I'll stop. Sheesh.

But the biggest problem most people will probably have is the length of the game. Weighing in at around four hours for your average gamer, The Hookman is perfect for a night of creepy adventure, but probably won't last much longer. If you demand a lot of time or replay value for your buck, The Hookman may not be the game for you. And while most of us will see the ending coming a mile away, given the details of the original legend the story is loosely based upon, it still feels abrupt and a little unsatisfying after all the build-up.

Also be sure to check out the sequel to The Hookman: Campfire Legends: The Babysitter

As the first title in a planned trilogy, The Hookman sets the bar high for future Campfire Legends games and establishes the series as one to watch for fans of scary adventure games. A little bit corny, The Hookman is best enjoyed with a sense of humour and a love of old urban legends. With more love and polish put into it than other similar titles on the shelf, it's easily worth a look for anyone who can't resist a good scary story and can take a bit of cheese with a smile.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (122 votes)
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DoraGhostscape 2: The CabinHey, you! Turn that frown upside-down! Halloween isn't over yet, and what better nightcap than a point-and-click adventure from Psionic In this stylishly scary follow up to the original, Ghostscape 2: The Cabin sends you all alone, deep into the woods, investigating rumours of paranormal activity. Who is the old man who lives all alone amidst the crumbling old grave sites? And, more importantly, what is that strange shadow that seems to be following you?

The game is played by using the arrows on the screen to navigate, and clicking on objects to pick them up or interact with them. You can see what your current objectives are by clicking on your inventory icon (the large letter "I" in the right-hand corner), but for the most part you'll simply be exploring. Unlike other point-and-click titles, The Cabin doesn't offer a lot in the way of puzzle solving, instead sending you out to snap photos of paranormal activity in the area and granting you a score based on how much you discover. While you can breeze through the game fairly quickly by ignoring the strange things you'll see in the woods, your end result will be better if you take the time to snap photos at every opportunity and leave no stone (or pile of dirt) unturned.

You're not the first person to come nosing around the area, as the diaries you'll discover among the moldering ruins will tell you. Will you be luckier than others have been? Or will you feel a cold hand drop on your shoulder when the shadows fall after dark?

Ghostscape 2: The CabinAnalysis: Yes, like its predecessor, The Cabin is pretty cool, and pretty creepy. It's creepy cool! While there are several loud scares, The Cabin relies a lot more on fostering a sense of wrongness to make you uneasy. From the strange doll waiting to play with you in the cellar to the unearthly sounds you'll hear from uncomfortably close by, it's incredibly good at making you feel unsettled. The game even asks for your name in the beginning, and then continues to address you directly afterward. It's a small touch, but a nice one.

But while the moody black-and-white design does add to the atmosphere, it also adds to the frustration. Your major "quest" winds up being something akin to a scavenger hunt, and unfortunately a lot of the seemingly unrelated items can bleed into the background. The narrative is also extremely loose, so the game winds up feeling more like a hike through the woods than a cohesive story experience. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for those of us who enjoy exploration. But players looking for a solid, structured story may feel a bit frustrated.

Still, for a Halloween treat (or even just a quiet evening alone) The Cabin manages to provide a short but satisfying bit of spooky entertainment. Drawing on the sense of unease that comes from hearing similar old legends and bits of folklore, it's an excellent way to set the mood for an evening of frightening festivities. Just be careful the next time you take a picture of someone. You never know what you'll find looking back at you through the lens.

Play Ghostscape 2: The Cabin


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Rating: 4.6/5 (251 votes)
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JoshElona ShooterRecently released from indie developer Noa, Elona Shooter is a turret defense game with a fun array of RPG-influenced features. It's loosely based on the developer's "roguelike" RPG, Elona, although the similarities don't amount to much more than graphic styles and themes. It wasn't necessarily meant to be a spin-off of his original RPG; Elona Shooter is his first foray into the Flash gaming community, and it's a lot more polished than most developers' freshman efforts. Drawing inspiration from popular "castle defense" games like BowMaster Prelude, Elona Shooter adds a serious helping of Asian-influenced, tactical RPG mechanics. You not only get to defend your castle from swarms of oncoming monsters with a satisfying array of weapons and skills, you won't have to go at it alone; an entire tactical RPG-styled party of helpers comes to your aid, eventually.

Similar to the kind of group dynamic you find in games like the Sonny series, you'll assemble a party of characters as your progress through the game. Team members each have their own unique skills, which dictate the types of weapons they can use and abilities that help your entire party. For example, one team member might only be able to use small weapons like pistols and bows, but his other "Party" skills help the entire team with important things like defense or increased money and loot. Other team members might serve as heavy gunners, able to use powerful weapons like machine guns and rocket launchers, without offering as many party-wide benefits.

Elona ShooterYou'll begin by choosing your first character out of four classes; Rogue, Hunter, Sheriff and Militia. As mentioned, each class has its own unique advantages, described in the selection screen. The Hunter is the most versatile class, so if you're in doubt, go with him. The Rogue and the Hunter also start with "The Little Girl" (your first free team member), while the other two classes don't. You'll also see options for playing in "Casual" or "Hardcore" mode, which are pretty self-explanatory. Beyond these two additional gameplay modes, the "Game MODS" button offers even more ways to tweak your game experience, depending on your preference; you can choose between options that offer better weapon accuracy for less experience, smaller groups of enemies at the start of the round, and a few more. Just the fact that you're able to refine so many options before you've even started the game exemplifies a lot of the detail that's to come. Elona Shooter features an awe-inspiring amount of in-game customization, upgrades and weapons. The items and weapons probably aren't procedurally-generated, but there are a ton of them, all with varying stats and "mods" that can be attached to them. Weapon mods allow you to customize your guns even further by adding things armor-piercing ammo, anti-air defense, auto-reloading and more.

Each level takes place as a familiar "wave" of oncoming enemies, starting with cannon fodder like sheep, or chickens that chuck eggs at your castle. Most "creeps" won't damage your castle until they close the gap to your castle wall, but a few of them can fire projectiles from a distance. Use the mouse to aim your cross-hair reticule and click to fire. Most weapons, like guns, require the reticule to be centered on your enemy to hit them, while bows and crossbows can be fired from any position on the creep's horizontal plane. While there's no real physics engine to speak of, Elona Shooter does recognize simple "anatomy shots," which means you'll cause "critical hits" if you hit creeps in the head. You can switch through weapons and items by using the [1] to [5] keys (notice your inventory at the bottom of your UI) and press [Space] to reload your weapon. Scoring seven critical hits in a row will send you into a "Rampage," increasing your weapon damage and the chance for money drops, temporarily. Every kill with a particular weapon will also net you experience points, allowing you to level up your effectiveness with those weapons.

Elona ShooterThe RPG elements of Elona Shooter are mostly employed between each level, while you're "in town." Here, you'll be able to perform a variety of functions like repairing your castle's wall, spending money to upgrade a slew of features and using the "AP" (Action Points) earned between each level. On the left side of your UI, you'll see the different areas of town you can visit, like the Inn, Barracks, Shop and more. In each of these areas you can spend either money or AP to upgrade your castle, buy and sell weapons and items, equip your team with new gear and choose which skills they should specialize in. Each feature is explained with in-game tooltips, or you can hit the "Help" button for a more in-depth tutorial. While your cash mainly buys you things like castle upgrades, new team members and weapons, your AP is used for more specific features, like having "Dinner" to boost your team's experience intake in the next level, "Praying" to add more castle defense or even "Robbing" town visitors for cash. You can also use AP for practical functions like changing the Blacksmith's current weapon stock, or bringing a new "Recruit" into town if you don't like the stats on the prospective team member currently offered. It's actually a pretty complex and intricate design for such a seemingly-simple defense shooter game, which is what most players will find attractive, especially if they're not usually drawn to shooters.

Analysis: Even on "Casual" mode, Elona Shooter can be tough; especially if you're unlucky with loot drops. Since the game doesn't throw gobs of money at you left and right, you have to rely on boss drops and end-of-level loot to provide you with at least half of the weapons you'll need for you and your team. If you're having an unlucky streak with the "random number generator," you might find yourself feeling like you're trying to shoot monsters with peashooters in later levels. A few of the aforementioned game settings can help to turn the odds in your favor, but a serious dry spell in higher-level weaponry and items could leave you with no other option than to restart your game. On the other hand, there are quite a few gameplay mechanics in place to help you along the way, like hiring a temporary mercenary to assist you in tougher levels. The "death penalty" isn't too severe, either; you can continue any time you lose, but if you do, some of the game's "Medals" won't be available to you anymore.

Speaking of "Medals", they're something that any achievement-junkie will love. There are more than 30 Medals to earn by accomplishing various feats, from your typical skill-based variety to just plain humorous, like clicking on the in-game Kongregate banner. Even better, the Medals offer gameplay bonuses, like stat boosts and defensive upgrades. It's a great feature for people who don't usually care about achievements, since it offers tangible, in-game incentives. All-in-all, Elona Shooter is one of the most ambitious defense-shooters I've seen in some time. The action is solid and fulfilling, while the tactical/RPG elements offer an additional layer of strategy you don't typically find in this genre.

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraIt's Halloween Eve, and you know what that means! No hard partying for you, my friend. You need to stay inside and conserve your energies for tomorrow night, when you'll be fending over sugar-crazed moppets in seventeen dollar department store costumes, and sullen teenagers forced to look after their baby brothers. Fortunately for you, Link Dump Friday has your back with a collection of groovy and ghoulish games to get you in a seasonal sort of mood and not in any way meant to distract you while I go through your candy bowls and pick out all the good stuff. (Pssst, we like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!)

  • Haunted: The Trapped SoulHaunted: The Trapped Soul - [Warning: Not suitable for young children.] Oh look, a cabin in the woods! How quaint! Do you think an unholy demonic possession will bring the property value down? While some of the puzzles in this creepy point-and-click title are best described charitably as abstract, and the narrative may be a little odd, it still manages to send a chill up your spine thanks to some top-notch atmosphere and lovely hand-drawn artwork.
  • Halloween Sugar RushHalloween Sugar Rush - Kids these days are rebels! They have no respect for a man's lawn! So if you want to keep yours looking lush and green (your lawn that is, not your kids), you'll fling the candy from the front porch to the little tricksters before they can set a foot on your beautiful, succulent grass! Just be quick about it, since apparently these children are coated in some sort of grass-killing acid. No respect, I tell you!
  • RedEye 1031RedEye 1031 - [Warning: Violence and blood.] As if you needed another reason to be terrified of flying through the air in a giant, combustible metal tomb. There you are, minding your own business, running and jumping down the aisle like a gibbon when suddenly... kaboom! It's just you, your oxygen mask, and waves of very angry, very hungry shadow beasts. And they stopped serving dinner an hour ago! Hmmm... doesn't that guy look familiar?
  • One More CandyOne More Candy - Ohmanohmanohman. Making a little ghost cry is bad luck, worse than breaking a mirror under a ladder with a black cat! There must be some candy somewhere in this cute and quick little point-and-click game for you to give the spooky little fellow. And make it something good, too! No pennies! People who give out pennies on Halloween are haunted 24/7 and that is a fact.
  • Pumpkin RemoverPumpkin Remover - Hey there, physics puzzle fans! Don't be sad, we didn't forget you! From the creators of Red Remover (excited yet?) comes a seasonal treat of... rotten pumpkins! Yaaaaaaaay!... what? What's with the look? Hey, I'll have you know rotten pumpkins are a delicacy around these parts! And you'll eat them and you'll like it, pal!

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Rating: 4.2/5 (103 votes)
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Cover OrangeJerradRain can be a destructive force, whether it's flash floods decimating crops, acid rain ruining an entire ecosystem, or a light drizzle canceling your afternoon jog. The new physics puzzle game Cover Orange introduces us to a whole new threat: spiky ball rain, which could threaten citrus fruit everywhere.

The goal of the game is to keep your orange (or oranges) safe from malicious clouds that rain down spiked balls. To do this, you are given a number of wheels and blocks you can use to push or cover your oranges. You can also shift various elements of the environment. Each object must be dropped from the top half of the screen, so there is a fair amount of precision and timing required to get everything to land exactly where you want it to. Once you have used the objects the spike rain rolls in. If just one hits an orange, the level ends and you have to try again. Points are awarded for how quickly you can complete each level, although this is largely superfluous as you can merely devise a strategy, press the reset button, and complete it as quickly as you can.

As with most games that require you to drop objects from the top of the screen, there is a mixture of skill and luck involved here. What fails one time might work on your next try, which can lead to some frustrating moments. Fortunately, the physics are consistent and fairly predictable throughout the game, so these instances of bad luck are brought down to a minimum. Aside from that, the only other flaw in this game is with the length. With only 20 levels that never get too difficult, it can be completed in a fairly short amount of time.

What this game lacks in length, however, it makes up for in style. The animations and sound effects are all very adorable, and I'm not one to use the word "adorable" lightly. But it fits perfectly here. Even the way the oranges turn black and disintegrate upon contact with the spikes is done in a way that is extremely cute and not at all as horrifying as it sounds. Even though it's over far too quickly, Cover Orange is a cute, entertaining game to fill a lunch break or an empty afternoon.

Play Cover Orange


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CGDC7 Nov.16

Check out the Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7 announcement for details.


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Rating: 4.2/5 (78 votes)
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DoraInculcationWaking up dazed and alone in a room with a gun is bad. Finding out the windows have been bricked up and the front door is locked is worse. And finding out that you're not alone after all? Well, that's not as comforting as you might think in Inculcation, a horror game with action elements that may have you questioning your own eyes.

For the most part, Inculcation plays like a standard point-and-click adventure, letting you navigate by clicking your way around the screen to move locations, manipulate your environment, and interact with your inventory. The gun you'll find isn't just there to be used as a paperweight, and you can fight back by firing quickly at enemies whenever you find one, clicking on the screen to aim and shoot. Three shots will bring one down, but the same is true for you; luckily, there are strange syringes laying around that can help restore your health. Because everyone knows ingesting mystery pharmaceuticals when you wake up in a hostile nightmare world is the sensible thing to do, naturally.

The puzzles in Inculcation are a little odd, but not unreasonably so. With the exception of one frustrating occasion where I was required to pick a lock by treating it like a game of Operation, typical puzzle-solving abounds. Well, you know, typical in a "Seriously? Is that a stomach? Seriously?" sort of way. At least instead of being expected to think like MacGyver with an abstract collection of items, you tend to wind up doing things like finding a light bulb for a lamp, or superglue to repair an item.

Mixing a relatively sedate genre like the point-and-click with an action game is a tricky thing to pull off, not because the two types are mutually exclusive, but because people who are fans of either one tend to expect certain things out of their gaming experiences. Action gamers will find Inculcation too slow and unvaried, and point-and-click fans may be put off by reflex-required shooting sequences. What Inculcation does do right is atmosphere. A creeping sense of wrongness that tightens the muscles across your shoulders. While for the most part the game prefers to go for the loud, startling scares, it also manages to unsettle you just as often with strange sounds and imagery.

Inculcation claims to be inspired by some of the giants of the survival horror genre such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill (and, I would argue, Killer 7), and fans of those games will likely recognise a tip of the hat or two to them as they progress. On its own merits, Inculcation is a flawed but satisfying creepy treat for an evening alone, best played with the lights off and the sound turned up. Just remember to check underneath the bed and inside all the closets first. Oh, but there's probably nothing there... right?

Play Inculcation


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Rating: 4.2/5 (104 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAren't you getting tired of the constant ghosts, zombies, scare fests, etc.? Are you craving something more intellectual, something that doesn't involve shooting or blood spatter? Then why don't you try Escape from the Pumpkin Room by Tesshi-e, a calm, relaxed, simple escape the room game in which the only connection with the season are the jack-o-lanterns present in the space.

escapepumpkinroom_pumpkin.jpgThere's no prologue, no back-story, just you in a locked room. And a lovely room it is, too. Mind you, it would be nice to leave, so let's explore, shall we? As with most room escape games you must search the room for clues and objects that will help you get out. Poke around, open everything (if you can), and see how quickly you can leave and get that cup of coffee you've been craving.

Navigation is smooth and simple, with bars at the edges of the screen allowing you to wander through the room. There's no changing cursor, so there is a bit of a pixel hunt, but most objects are fairly easy to spot and they seem to have adequate clickable areas. Inventory control is a simple tool-box at the bottom of the screen with a friendly "about item" button to allow you to more closely examine anything you might happen to pick up. If the accordion music becomes too annoying, there is always the volume control or mute button at the ready. As with all of Tesshi-e's games there is no save button, but there's no real need for one.

Analysis: Occasionally it's nice just to sit back, relax, and fire up the little gray cells to solve a series of puzzles rather than fry them from constant adrenaline. Escape from the Pumpkin Room is not the most original or taxing room escape game, but it's a wonderful cure for the mid-week blahs. A nice combination of logic puzzle solving and use of found objects guarantees that you will enjoy stretching the neurons a little without ending up slamming your head on the desk in frustration.

As always with Tesshi-e's designs, the room is beautiful to behold in its own minimalist way. Colors, textures, and lighting blend together to create a warm, inviting space. Heck, the room is a place most people wouldn't mind spending time in if they weren't forcibly locked in. Freedom!

Of course, there are a few flaws. The puzzles could be more difficult, but there are some clever ones, and not every escape game can be Lights. Tesshi-e games are usually heavy on the construction, but not this one. Escape from the Pumpkin room is more "how can I use this object to accomplish what I want to do?" rather than "how many of these items can I put together to create something else entirely." Although the game itself is in Japanese, you don't need to understand the language to complete it. Important clues are either in English or are pure logic. And, of course, there's the obligatory "regular escape" and "happy coin escape" so prevalent in Tesshi-e's previous works. Note to those who wish to play: When you follow the link to the page, scroll down a bit as the game is halfway down the page. Just look for the large picture of what looks like a cafe, and you'll see the start button.

So if you're sick of ghouls and goblins, or just want to waste a little time solving puzzles, then fire up Escape from the Pumpkin Room and escape from the prevalence of Halloween-themed games.

Play Escape from the Pumpkin Room


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Rating: 3.7/5 (41 votes)
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graveshift2.gifJohnBIt's more isometric puzzle adventuring with Tangerine Pop Game's release of Grave Shift 2: The Sewers. Our courageous bearded pal finds himself in the kingdom's sewers after the first Grave Shift, and now the White Warlock is setting traps to keep his loot safe. Move through the dank environments pushing blocks, smacking enemies with a shovel, gathering keys and collecting treasures as you go, all in the name of giving King Krump extra gold.

The grid is on a slant in Grave Shift 2, so even though you use the [arrow] keys to move, they don't correspond directly to where you walk. Pressing [up], for example, moves you northeast, while [down] moves southwest, etc. Tap the [spacebar] to use your handy shovel (when you find it), and toggle the help bar with the [B] key. The controls are usually the biggest point of contention for "slanted" isometric games, but if you're having trouble wrapping your head around it, simply turn your keyboard clockwise until it feels natural.

Locked doors, blocked passageways, buttons, levers, colored gates and swarms of monsters all have to be dealt with, but you've got the tools for the job. Many objects can be pushed by nudging against them, and you can use them to trap enemies, hold buttons, or just get them out of the way to collect the shiny things behind them. Monster generators can be destroyed by sliding blocks on top of them, which comes in quite handy when you're sick of swatting giant spiders. Food and potions keep you healthy and strong, so be sure to grab them if you're in a spot of trouble.

Analysis: Grave Shift 2 captures that old-school isometric adventure feeling surprisingly well. The addition of enemies and health bars gives it a more arcade-style feel, but you don't have to be a twitch gamer to take out a slow-moving mummy with a shovel. The action and puzzle elements are balanced very well, leaving you free to shove blocks and wander the sewers looking for stuff to solve.

Apart from the "awkward for some" control scheme (which is unavoidable when you try and use a keyboard with this sort of game), the only other rough spot in Grave Shift 2 is the game's tendency to hide exits, switches, and other key items amongst the clutter. Sometimes you'll wander back and forth feeling lost as to what to do next, only to realize there was an exit you missed because it was barely noticeable. The game isn't timed or anything, so exploration is encouraged, but I'd rather see an exit but not be able to reach it than to stumble across it by accident.

Isometric games are a beloved genre for me, and Grave Shift 2 delivers exactly what I enjoy. Puzzles, exploration, and a bit (but not too much) action to keep things lively. With two worlds to explore in this one game, you'll be perfectly content to stay in the sewers for a long time.

Play Grave Shift 2: The Sewers


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Rating: 4.7/5 (145 votes)
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DoraDragon Age Journeys: The Deep RoadsIn this brand new fantasy RPG that fits right in your browser, Dragon Age Journeys: The Deep Roads sends you and your party deep beneath the earth to explore the dangerous Dwarven lands. As it turns out, exploring the realm has a lot less shaking hands with Dwarven merchants and diplomats, and a lot more weeping over the shattered remains of your comrades, and you soon find yourself alone in the strange underworld. Rather than spend the rest of your life in a fetal position in some nice, safe, dusty corner, you decide to carry out your mission and find out what was behind the attack that decimated your party.

You start out by making a character, choosing your appearance, sex, race, name, and class. The game autosaves after events and every battle, letting you resume play instantly whenever you like. But by making a free EA account (where the only information you need to provide is your e-mail), you can save anytime, and keep your achievements for special items. For the most part, the game is played with the mouse, clicking on an area to move there, or an item to pick it up.

Combat plays out in turns on a grid, with you, your allies, and your enemies attacking in turns. It's explained via a helpful tutorial that pops up when needed, but it essentially boils down to selecting your actions via the menu at the bottom, moving within the green area you can reach, and clicking on enemies to attack them. But what's interesting is that it can take such simple mechanics and still make battles feel strategic. Enemies use special abilities, place traps, and try to flank you. You can even use the terrain to your advantage, hiding behind obstacles to obscure yourself from ranged attackers. While it's still not exactly the stuff of legends, the combat system here at least manages to keep you involved in your battles, and elevate it above a mindless click-fest.

For an RPG small enough to fit in your browser, Journeys is remarkably detailed. There are treasures to find, skills to upgrade, quests to complete, and more. The gameplay tends to lean more towards dungeon-crawling combat than a text-heavy RPG, with much of your time spent trawling through caverns, but there's enough story and high adventure to bring a smile to the face of most traditional fantasy gamers. Each victory feels satisfying, every level you advance earned. You know that special feeling you get when you hack the shins off of something five times your size? Or that special glow when you finally have enough bloodied copper pennies to buy a new dagger? You'll find that in Journeys as well.

While the animation is perhaps a little rough'n'ready, leading to the sort of stiff, limb-flailing movement that puts one in mind of Kermit the Frog, the game as a whole actually looks quite good. Enemies are surprisingly detailed, magical effects look nice, and everything spouts a satisfying glurt of blood when struck in combat that makes it look like they're defending themselves with a ketchup squeezy bottle. Capping it off is a hefty orchestral soundtrack, guaranteed to make you feel like you're about to strap on your best set of pauldrons and march off to fame, gold, and certain painful demise.

Dragon Age Journeys: The Deep RoadsAnalysis: I could go into embarrassing detail about the depth of my love for RPG superstars Bioware and how I want to be Best Friends Forever with their entire writing department, but it turns out that now I can just point to Journeys as an example of why. While in essence the game is basically there to promote the upcoming console and PC RPG Dragon Age, Journeys still feels like a fleshed out game rather than an advertisement. And while no purchase is necessary to play Journeys, if you do have a copy of Dragon Age once it's released, you can actually earn items that will carry over into the retail version through completing quests and achievements.

Apart from acting as a means to whet your appetite, Journeys tells an interesting story. There's murder, betrayal, and a big, meaty helping of adventure that should satisfy your desire for mad loots and elf babes. While there's a lot of backstory here to the world that you may not be familiar with, none of it is really necessary to play and enjoy the game. Even without having read most of the Dragon Age supplemental material off the official website, I never felt as though characters were talking over my head.

But don't go thinking you can throw all your old RPGs out the window. A wise man once said, man cannot live on Flash RPGs alone, and for good reason. As fun and well made as it is, it still lacks a little in some aspects. You'll spend a lot of time tramping through long, mostly featureless corridors fighting battle after battle when all you really want is to get to the next bit of quest. It's frustrating as well that the dialogue here is as well written as in any Bioware game, but there's often not nearly enough of it. There are wide areas that are in sore need of even a non-story critical NPC to enliven them and keep them from feeling like they're just there to pad the length of time you'll spend walking around.

Journeys isn't a behemoth that's going to require days of your precious time to conquer, but it will easily offer a solid evening's enjoyment for most gamers. Longer if they seek out every item and every achievement. If you're looking for something more involved than most browser RPGs, Dragon Age Journeys easily has enough to keep you occupied, and may just leave you wanting more. Just remember that while the price of healing potions may be painful, not having any when you take a scimitar to the face hurts a lot more. Spend some time in Dragon Age. You just may be glad you did.

Play Dragon Age Journeys: The Deep Roads


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Rating: 4.8/5 (173 votes)
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Rob Allen's banner game

Have you been looking for a way to replay (or perhaps play for the first time) the banner game that Rob Allen created for us a couple years ago? When we updated the site layout moving to a larger, wider format, we temporarily lost the ability to swap stylesheets.

But now it's back! Just click the image above to switch the stylesheet over to the one that includes the banner game. Click it again to switch it back.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's RPG madness on Mobile Monday! Ok, by "madness" I mean two role playing games. That's kinda mad, though, isn't it? It's like wow, geez, why not just throw a bajillion RPGs at us.

undercroft.jpgUndercroft - A truly remarkable retro-styled first person role playing game by Rake in Grass, creator of Archibald's Adventures and Larva Mortus. Set in the requisite fantasy world, you create characters, assemble a party, and venture into the world. Rumors of a great evil are spreading in the city of Dolbrad, and as a group of adventurers, it's your job to check things out. Turn-based combat is handled well with the touch screen, as are inventory/stat management and moving about the world. With 20 hours of gameplay, half a dozen character classes to use, 750 items, 60 enemies and tons of unique environments, you really couldn't ask for more from an iPhone RPG. Oh, except for a free Undercroft Lite!

hihowareyou.jpgHi, How Are You - A 3D, cel-shaded puzzle platform game that's as quirky as its name implies. You are a little guy who happens to have been turned into a frog, and in order to reverse the curse and win back your true love, you have to work your way through over 30 levels of puzzles, traps, and enemies. Hop around the 3D world using highly-customizable controls. Touch every square you run across in order to move to the next level. Very intriguing game filled with gorgeous artwork and music. A free Hi, How Are You Lite is also available.

2minuterpg.gif2 Minute RPG - Hours upon hours of gameplay, deep plotlines and bags of loot not your thing? 2 Minute RPG does exactly what it promises: delivers just about everything you could expect from a role playing game in exactly two minutes. Slide around the overworld defeating monsters with a touch-based attack system, gather items, venture into dungeons to recover lost items, and earn as much gold and experience as you can. It's... well, it's everything you could want in two minutes' time!

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: 4.7/5 (704 votes)
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Bloons Tower Defense 4

GrinnypThere's something in human nature that makes it inherently intriguing to watch natural enemies go at each other. Cats vs. dogs, lions vs. hyenas, Hatfields vs. McCoys, monkeys vs. balloons— what, you didn't know monkeys and balloons were natural enemies? In their natural environment, wild balloons are silent, deadly killers. What does all of this mean? Well, only that NinjaKiwi's Bloons Tower Defense 4 is here at last, stepping over Bloons Tower Defense 3 and adding much more of everything we love!

bloonstowerdefense4.jpgFor those four or five readers who have never heard of bloons, here's a crash course. There is a path. The path can be long and meandering, or short and nearly straight, or a series of paths. Suddenly, from one end of the path will come balloons, those deceptively cute menaces. If the balloons make it to the end of the path, lives are lost. What's a casual gamer to do? Why, put towers along the path to combat the balloons. And by towers we mean, of course, monkeys. Well, mostly monkeys. Each balloon you pop brings in money which can be spent on different towers or upgrading the towers to make them more deadly to the evil balloons.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Each tower has its own strengths and weaknesses. Begin with the simplest form: a dart monkey. The dart monkey can shoot darts at the oncoming balloons, but only pop one at a time. However, the humble dart monkey can be upgraded to pop more balloons, to move faster, cover more area, etc. A handy feature, as the balloons coming down the pike increase in speed and complexity (zebra, camouflage, and porcelain balloons, anyone?).

Returning are familiar defenses such as the dart monkey, the tack tower, boomerang monkey, super monkey and plenty more, each with its own battery of improvements. The best new features are the water and air defenses. Place a monkey ace and watch it circle the battlefield in a figure eight pattern, continually shooting and dropping pineapple bombs. There's also a monkey buccaneer ship which can be placed in water to defend nearby areas of the path. You can even drop a banana plantation to generate extra money and, presumably, food for the troops!

bloonstowerdefense4.jpgAnalysis: NinjaKiwi has pulled out a few stops with this sequel. Graphics have improved tremendously, especially with the new monkey ace and monkey buccaneer towers. The new upgrades are fabulous, especially the fifth level upgrades. A wonderful addition is the use of military stripes to indicate how much a tower has been upgraded, eliminating the need to click on every tower to see what level it is at. Old favorites are still along for the ride, such as the super monkey's plasma vision and the ever popular flying monkey blitz attack. A lot of effort has gone into making this a fun, fantastic experience.

Taking a page from Plants vs. Zombies, NinjaKiwi has changed the dynamics of the game for the fourth installment. Towers and other defenses unlock one at a time rather than all at once. Each tower itself has four upgrade capabilities, and a super-secret, roly-poly, cutesy cuddly fifth upgrade that will only be unlocked when you achieve a certain rank in the game. And the way to achieve rank is, of course, by wiping out as many balloons as possible. Somewhere around rank 16, upper-level upgrades become really interesting, and once you achieve rank 31, "Apopalypse" mode becomes available, where bloons come at you non-stop until you run out of lives.

Play all the Bloons games:
BloonsMore BloonsEven More BloonsBloons 2Bloons 2 Xmas ExpansionBloons 2: Spring Fling
Bloons Tower DefenseBloons Tower Defense 2Bloons Tower Defense 3Bloons Tower Defense 4Bloons Tower Defense 4 ExpansionBloons Tower Defense 5

NinjaKiwi has gone further and added even more upgrades that can be purchased with mochi coins, such as upgrades that bring in more money, turn your buccaneer into a dreadnaught, turn your boomerang monkey into a two-handed thrower, etc. These upgrades are fun cheats, but are not necessary to play the game. An additional seven paths are also available for purchase as well. Bloons veterans who don't want to work their way up the ranks can also purchase rank 31 immediately. According to NinjaKiwi, a new feature will be coming soon (hopefully by mid-November) which allows you to create your own paths! Challenge your friends! Or just go bananas.

Some might complain about the mochi coins, but BTD4 can generate hours of fun without ever having to go near the purchasable content. So kick back, peel a banana, and begin the balloon popping fun!

Play Bloons Tower Defense 4


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Rating: 4.8/5 (64 votes)
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Eufloria

JohnBEufloria, formerly known as Dyson, is a real-time strategy game built around the concepts of simplicity, ambience, and gentle pacing. It plays like an evolved version of Risk or Galcon Fusion, where sheer numbers and a good strategy are all you need to dominate. Eufloria isn't about warriors battling over blood-soaked soil. It's a slow, organic game that uses plants as its inspiration, challenging you to expand a seedling empire one asteroid at a time.

eufloria.jpgIn Eufloria you are given control over creatures who live in an interstellar ecosystem. You expand their habitat by finding asteroids and sprouting Dyson trees, a plant that grows roots to the core of each asteroid and spawns seedlings. The more trees you plant, the more seedlings you have to defend your territory and wage war against the enemy.

Eufloria can be played entirely with the mouse, and ordering your seedlings around is as simple as can be. To deploy troops, click on the center of an asteroid and drag the mouse outwards. A green arrow appears that can be adjusted to send out a few or all of your seedlings. It's always nice to overwhelm your enemies with swarms of attackers, but don't leave your asteroids vulnerable, or you'll find out how frantic Eufloria can get in a pinch.

There are a handful of modes to unlock, but if you like, you can click the "unlock features" button to give them a try right away. The main game is a good place to start, though, as it gets progressively more difficult and introduces key concepts of the game at a gradual pace. Skirmish arena mode is a more battle-oriented mode that pits you against swarms of baddies bent on taking over your lone asteroid. Dark matter is the same as the story mode of the game, only now everything's dark, mysterious, and quite a bit more dangerous. There's even a slot to utilize community-made levels and mods!

eufloria2.jpgAnalysis: Instead of worrying about gathering resources, which soldier types to train, which buildings to construct, or which branch of your technology tree to research next, Eufloria makes everything simple. No tech tree. Two buildings. No resources. One kind of unit. Well, the last two aren't true in the strictest sense, but you get the picture. Eufloria is about ambience, not stat tracking, and it accomplishes this with extraordinary style.

As time passes, your Dyson trees get better at their jobs, producing units at a faster pace and releasing flowers that can grow enhanced Dyson trees that spawn better units. You can even grow enhanced defensive trees that drop laser mines. Yes, laser mines! This and a few other concepts are explained in the manual included with each download. It isn't necessary to read to understand the game, but I found the extra information came in quite handy.

Eufloria is not a "GRAAA GET YER WEAPONS MEN, WE SHALL BLOODY THE FIELDS WITH THE SEVERED HEADS OF OUR ENEMIES TONIGHT" kind of game. It's a game of careful thought, slow planning, a few snap decisions, and a lot of waiting. It's one of those titles a lot of people just won't "get", as it's not your typical gaming experience. If you leave your adrenaline-filled, twitch-gaming mind behind, Eufloria is a beautiful experience that will really grow on you.

WindowsWindows:
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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (45 votes)
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Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle

GrinnypThe Bermuda triangle. Remote, mysterious, possibly infested with aliens. The perfect spot to set a hidden object/adventure hybrid. And what a place to set the long anticipated fourth Hidden Expedition game, Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle. Yes, the Hidden Expedition Adventure Team (H.E.A.T.) is back and ready to brave the unknown! Let's follow along, shall we?

Hidden Expedition: Devil's TriangleBefore the game begins we are treated to a lovely cut scene in which one of H.E.A.T.'s best pilots suddenly crashes in the Bermuda Triangle. It is up to you, intrepid explorer of the Amazon, Everest, and the Titanic, to find her. Aboard H.E.A.T.'s new submarine (powered with an experimental power supply made of the glow beetles from Hidden Expedition: Amazon) you get underway on a mission to find the missing pilot. But before you begin you will have to find and install the amazing new power source. Easy, right?

Once you get started in the submarine, things begin to go wrong. A broken radio, electrical problems, giant ugly fish, and nasty pirates all make accomplishing the task a bit... difficult. And once the pirates steal your precious power supply you find yourself stranded on an uncharted island that is inhabited by some folks who are, well, let's say eccentric, shall we?

Gameplay is fairly simple. Once you are in a scene, sweep it with your cursor and watch closely. The cursor will change into a hand when you encounter things that can be picked up or manipulated, an eye for things that can be examined closer, and a strange blue ripple for things that may be of interest. There's a handy tutorial that will walk you through the gameplay dynamic in the beginning. There is also a journal that copies down important information you can review later. Even if you don't need the journal to remember things, check it out anyway for the funny biographies of the characters involved in the story. Each scene may include hidden object areas, tasks to complete, or puzzles to solve (sometimes all three). You will often have to travel back and forth to several areas to find all the objects needed to complete a task, making the game a true point-and-click adventure.

Hidden Expedition: Devil's TriangleSome, in fact, might take exception to the way the scenes play out. Directions are not spoon-fed to you; once you are in a scene (or series of scenes) you will have to use your ability to observe and synthesize to determine what needs to be done. Hints can occasionally be found by talking to various characters, but mostly you are on your own. This evokes the past classics of point-and-click adventure (games like Myst, or Uninvited), for those who are old enough to remember the good old days.

Hidden object scenes themselves break down into two different categories: pure HOG and find the match HOG. In the regular hidden object scenes you will usually receive the obligatory list (not always, though, some scenes are simply "find all the flowers" or things of that nature). Click on a list item to see a silhouette, or use a hint to find an object. You begin each area with a certain number of hints, but Devil's Triangle has jettisoned the "find certain objects to gain hints" dynamic in favor of a refilling hint timer. Once you use the hints you have just wait as the timer refills. Mini-games can be played through using hints to skip if the player finds them too difficult.

What is really different are the match HOG scenes. The instructions will tell you "find 12 pairs of matched objects", and the fun begins. Do the chocolate chip cookies match with a fortune cookie (they're both cookies) or do they match with the glass of milk? As the game progresses the match HOG scenes require more thought as some pairings require a bit of a mental leap. These scenes make a nice change from the standard HOG found in most adventure/hidden object hybrids.

Hidden Expedition: Devil's TriangleAnalysis: Wow. In many ways Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle was definitely worth the wait. The combination of story, art, music, sound effects, everything shows what a massive amount of work went into making the fourth in the series a fantastic experience. Voice acting has been added in to give the characters more... well, character. Fortunately, only the beginnings of conversations have the voice-overs, once you get into the multiple choice conversation it switches over to all-text, keeping those scenes from dragging down the pace.

Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle has gone a step further than the other Hidden Expedition games. While the others were either pure object finding or the same with an adventure overlay, Devil's Triangle is more of a point-and-click adventure with HOG elements. Most areas don't have any form of hidden objects at all, just pure puzzle solving.

How to even begin discussing the artwork? As with all Hidden Expedition games massive amounts of effort have gone into making each scene look wonderful. In the beginning the scenes are more sedate, but as you move on to the island and further along you will encounter areas of breathtaking beauty. Once you find Gideon's house you may slow down just to pause and say "wow" as you encounter each room or scenic vista. The hidden object scenes begin to look like high renaissance art, the mini-games and puzzles are masterpieces on their own. There is a sumptuous look to Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle that is rarely achieved in a hidden object game. Take time to enjoy the scenery.

There are, however, a few things that keep this from being the perfect game. Solving a scene without hints is one thing, but the mini-games will pop up with no directions and no info button to let the player know what is expected of them. This can lead to frustration with some of the more esoteric games. Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle is also shorter than it could have been, and ends abruptly setting up a sequel rather than gifting the player with a complete story as its predecessors did.

Flaws aside, Hidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle is a gorgeous, fun, mind-bending casual gameplay ride. Fans of the old series should not be disappointed, and folks new to the Hidden Expedition games can enjoy as well. And, of course, any old fuddy-duddies (like me) who remember the days of the classic adventure game should enjoy the nostalgia of a point-and-click done right. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find that lost pilot!

WindowsWindows:
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Miriel's Enchanted Mystery

DoraPeople need to take more care of their magical eggs these days. Leaving them in basements, bus stops, and other people's gardens is a great way to put the entire kingdom in danger, as you'll discover in the new time management title from Myth People, Miriel's Enchanted Mystery, a follow-up to Miriel the Magical Merchant. When Miriel's grandmother shows up at her shop one day with a strange egg she's found, Miriel doesn't know what to make of it. She tucks it away in her shop and goes about serving her customers, never suspecting that she's just shoved an ancient relic in behind the bags of flour and last week's apples. Adventure and magic is all very good, but Miriel has a shop to run! But she's about to discover that sometimes adventure comes looking for you, too.

Miriel's Enchanted MysteryControl is simple, clicking on screen to direct Miriel to interact with objects. Before you can serve anyone, you'll have to order items by clicking on the appropriate picture on the board by the shelf, which can only hold so many items at a time. Customers arrive along the bottom of the screen and display their order in a word balloon. Pick up their items and drop them off quickly to earn a bonus, then click on the gold they leave to collect it. Make sure you don't take too long or they'll storm out, which can hurt your chances of achieving your daily goal.

But it's not all apples and flour. As you progress, Miriel learns new spells that can help out in the shop, recipes that you can bake for more valuable products, and a host of other upgrades for your humble little shop. You can also unlock actual recipes that you can cook yourself!... which, uh... is a mildly perplexing addition that makes you think someone at the company really wanted to go to culinary school instead and is a little hung up on it. But it's a cute touch nonetheless. And, hey! Who doesn't like macaroni, anyway?

And, of course, it turns out looks do go a long way as well. Everything in Miriel's Enchanted Mystery is crisp, clean, and well drawn. Even if the animation for each sprite only consists of a few frames, it's still bright and colourful and cute as the proverbial button.

Analysis: Alright, so Miriel's story isn't the stuff of sweeping fantasy epics, and you probably shouldn't hold your breath to see Orlando Bloom playing Granny any time soon. But as fluffy and predictable as it can sometimes be, it serves to drive the game along nicely. More variation in the stores would have been appreciated, but you'll still travel all over the realm as Miriel completes quests to unlock the mystery of her egg. You'll serve different types of customers, make all sorts of new items to sell, and meet mysterious people you may or may not be able to trust. (Just like in real life retail.) Man, I wish I was magic like Miriel. The only things I ever find in my garden are weeds and stinging insects. *sigh*

Miriel's Enchanted MysteryBut while the game does feature some hidden-object scenes, the unfortunate reality is that for the most part they're really not much more as a minor nuisance. You're hunting about for pieces of the same objects nearly every time, and the only thing that ever really changes is the scenery. Buddy, if you keep ripping up that kite whenever we bring it to you and losing the pieces, we're going to start doubting the veracity of your wise and mysterious claims. While I can appreciate any attempt to shake up a genre, the object hunting here tends to fall flat and definitely isn't as fleshed out as it could have been.

The good news is that while it doesn't add anything new to the genre, as a time-management title, Miriel's Enchanted Mystery is definitely solid. The action ramps up gradually and is usually just enough to keep you on your toes without making you feel overwhelmed. If you fail to meet the requirements for a day's victory, you can just try again with no penalty. Just remember, if a customer starts to get angry, just like in real life, the best solution is to shove an entire plate full of free candy down their throats. I know that's how I solved all my problems at my old job.

If you're a fan of time management, you'll likely enjoy Miriel's Enchanted Mystery. It's not a revolutionary title, but it's a high-quality one that will satisfy fans and is light-hearted enough that kids can enjoy it, too. With enough adventure and challenge to handle a few evening's worth of play, not to mention goals and recipes to unlock, Miriel's Enchanted Mystery is a polished, tasty little tale that's easily worth a demo download.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Weekend Download

JohnBDigging games and shooting games go together like eggs and peanut butter. I'll let you sit and ponder that one for a while, then feel free to come back and play the harmonious selection of games below!

excavatorrr.gifExcavatorrr (Windows, 1.2MB, free) - One can never have too many digging games. Excavatorrr by Hempuli and Noby is a visually simple game where your goal is to find treasure by digging underground. Carry a few items with you as you maneuver through the passageways, such as bombs, ladder kits, and dynamite, to help you deal with the various obstacles packed in the dirt. You'll also have to contend with enemies, although it's usually better to avoid them whenever you can. Make it to the bottom, nab the golden idol, and truck it back to the surface to win.

gunfudeadlands.gifGunFu Deadlands (Windows, 6.7MB, free) - Think you've got what it takes to survive the wild west? Well, unless you have a time machine, you'll never know, will you?! You can, however, see if you've got what it takes to survive in a wild west-themed arcade game by Christiaan Janssen. Move with the [WASD] keys, fire with the mouse, and use bullet time to slow things down for a few seconds. Take out all of the baddies to move on to the next level. You can't go charging into gunfights in this game, as one shot sends you packing. Take it slow, watch the enemies move, and make good use of bullet time and your jumping ability.

angrygorilla.gifAngry Gorilla Machine Monsters (Windows, 2.7MB, free) - A simple shooter by Andrew Brophy with a presentation many games wish they could emulate. Move with the [arrow] keys, fire with [Z], and see how long you can stay alive. Enemies are random, so every time you play you could see something new. The gameplay is really basic, with no power-ups or other bonuses to keep you interested in playing. You'll get several great runs out of the game, though, and the audio/visual package really is something you should check out.

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: 4.3/5 (20 votes)
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romanceofrome_banner.jpg

GrinnypAh, Rome, the eternal city! The magnificent ruins, the seven hills, the street urchins stealing from the blind... well, perhaps the glory of ancient Rome wasn't all it cracked up to be. You can play Romance of Rome, however, and still get a taste of what it might be like to wander the ancient city. Presuming that the population of ancient imperial Rome spent a lot of time searching for lost and hidden objects, that is. Developed by Awem Studios, Romance of Rome is a beautiful point-and-click adventure/hidden object hybrid that takes you on a tour through the glorious city of history and myth.

romanceofrome.jpgYou play Marcus, a lowly wanderer who chances upon a lovely lady being attacked by wolves. Soon after you save her you find yourself tied to a tree, then rescued by a nice citizen by the name of Octavio. What a day. Follow Marcus as he attempts to become somebody in a city already chock-full of somebodies, finding lost objects, running errands for various citizens (some shady), solving mysteries, and attempting to find the coincidentally missing Imperial Relics. You know, as you do.

As you first enter Rome there are only a few locations hearkening back to Rome's distant past, before it became the city that it became. A map of the city shows the locations, with new places adding in as you progress through each section. Anyone who has played Awem's fantastic Cradle of Rome (a match-3 game) will recognize the dynamic. Each round builds up more locations until the ancient city sprawls in all its glory across the landscape.

Each location on the map lets you know how many objects there are to find, as well as how many puzzles there are to solve. Once you are in a location the objects you need to find appear not as a text list but as pictures of the items. Objects with a green background are things that will go into your inventory which will help you solve the many puzzles, usually in different locations. Travel back and forth between the scenes until all objects are found and you have completed the tasks requested of you. Every object found and every task completed earns you money and status as you quickly work your way up the social ladder.

romanceofrome2.jpgMarcus' climb from ragged wanderer to civic star is accomplished not only by finding items and solving puzzles but by outfitting himself by spending his hard-earned cash with the local merchants, dressing him up in the finest clothes and accoutrements available to the newly rich. Shop using the money earned (and extra coins that are hidden in each scene) to make Marcus look like the best dressed citizen of Rome, along with all the baubles and geegaws that benefit a man of his status. Because really, you aren't anyone in Rome until you own your own estate, or have your own private ship.

Analysis: What makes a game stand out from the glut of adventure/hidden object hybrids? Lots of attention to detail, not only in the gorgeous backgrounds of the locations but in the overall package: appropriate music and incidental sounds, voice acting to bring the characters to life, interesting puzzles to solve, and challenging hidden object goodness. Romance of Rome includes all of these and more. One interesting tactic is to jettison the mini-game concept all together and concentrating just on the hidden object and puzzle solving aspects of the game.

romanceofrome3.jpgAnother wonderful detail is that the hidden objects themselves are not anachronistic to the time period. Granted, you might not find all of these objects in ancient Rome (some are from other cultures), but they at least blend into the scenery and the time period. No searching for skateboards or rollerblades. This adds an immersive element lacking in many adventure/hidden object hybrids.

One of the nicest details is the attention to the continuity of the scenes. In the tavern scene you might end up having to crack an egg to solve a puzzle. When you return to the scene several levels later you will find the eggshell fragments still littering the table. This is true everywhere: bread once sliced remains sliced, cabinets and boxes once opened are still open later. Each cartoon sequence between the levels shows Marcus in his newer and ever increasing finery as he interacts with various citizens.

With seven levels, each level housing four or five separate scenes, the game is not as long as it could have been. Unfortunately, these shorter games appear to be here to stay, but what it lacks in length it makes up in quality. The hidden objects are extremely well hidden, blending so carefully with the background they can be very tricky to spot. Unfortunately, the game sometimes falls back on the tactic of reducing the object to a teensy size and placing it far in the background, making some items almost impossible to find unless you have very good eyesight. Fortunately, a refilling hint timer to helps alleviate that problem.

Romance of Rome is a fabulous, clever, immersive adventure/hidden object hybrid. The breakdown of the game into levels lends itself well to casual gameplay. Play a level at a time, or just immerse yourself and play through the whole thing in one shot. The best experience, however, is not to speed through the game but to take a leisurely stroll through ancient Rome. Slow down, relax, enjoy the sumptuous backgrounds and details, and explore the Romance of Rome!

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: 4.4/5 (150 votes)
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DanTheArcher A Dralien Day We've all heard the news, seen the depressing documentaries about endangered species being hauled off for one reason or another, but it just breaks your heart to see an alien dragon all netted up by some unscrupulous starcruiser to make a cheap space-buck. And a mommy alien dragon, no less! Thankfully, this alien dragon just happened to be sitting on a precious little alien dragon egg, and Momma Dralien didn't hatch a coward. You're in for a grand adventure, a precarious rescue operation, and all in all, something of A Dralien Day, the newest point-and-click quest from Robin Vencel of PencilKids.

Gameplay takes place across a series of scenes, each infested by dangerous foes, puzzling mechanisms, and other varied points of interest. Any and all clickable hot spots are highlighted with little white circles, drawing your attention to anything you might need to solve the situation at hand. There's also some action-packed minigames linking a couple of the scenes; they're a fun, cheesy little diversion from the puzzles, although you can skip them if you so desire (for a penalty to your final score, of course).

None of the puzzles are really super-challenging, although a link at the top of the page can whisk you to a video walkthrough should you ever become truly stuck. The glowing hot spots are appreciated, but take away a certain element of "puzzliness" from the affair. Instead of scouring the screen for that which might be of some use, the circles merely invite you to find whatever order you're supposed to click them in, and then you're onto the next challenge. This isn't a bad thing; it just means that the game is more casual fare.

The art's as cartoony as ever, and that baby Dralien has got to be one of the darn cutest extraterrestrials I've ever laid eyes on. The game still manages to maintain that PencilKids charm, of biological Rube-Goldberg machines that push an unlikely hero through the toughest odds. And let's be honest here, you can't stand the thought of that poor little guy being separated from his mom. Can you?

Play A Dralien Day


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHappy Friday, dearest reader! We hope you're full of pep, vim, vigour, and apple juice (we like apple juice), and ready to spring into your weekend! And four out of five doctors who were most certainly not given conspicuous burlap sacks with dollar signs on them for their testimonies agree; the best way to start your weekend off right is with a big heaping helping of Link Dump Friday! We've got a broad offering this week with pinball, romance, shooters, and more! So kick back, relax, and peruse the titles below, because we're here to make your Friday suck a little less! Who loves ya, baby?

  • Colour My WorldColour My World - Get ready for some good ol' fashioned d'awwww. More guided emotive journey than true-blooded point'n'click, this little game is cuddlier than a pillow case full of Persian kittens. When you're late, late, late for a very important date, you'll have to run, jump, and click your way through the landscape to your beloved, bringing a little colour to the world along the way.
  • Hell is Other PeopleHell is Other People - [Note: Requires "Unity" browser plug-in.] Despite the title, this game is not just for reclusive internet shut-ins with secret crushes on the pizza delivery crew, but for anyone looking for a slightly different shooter experience. Battle the past movements of previous players and try to stay alive long enough to leave a vicious, score-killing after image behind for someone else to stumble across so they can curse your 3-character moniker for the rest of their days.
  • Power PinballPower Pinball - It's pinball! In your browser! With dragonflies! For free! Ohhhhh emmmm geeee, you guys! Ninja Kiwi's newest title is a colourful, fun romp filled with all the lights, bells, bumpers, and power-ups you could want! And all without having to pump your quarters into it! Perhaps future updates will allow me to try to cheat by jiggling my monitor around for even more pinball realism.
  • Butterfly Fantasy 3Butterfly Fantasy 3 - The mildly mystifying spot-the-difference trilogy finally comes to a close. Will the events in the previous installments finally be explained? Hahahahaha, no, silly! But despite being a little weird, the series continues to be beautifully made and even a little touching. And besides, I'm hardly one able to accuse someone else of not making sense.
  • ObechiObechi - Who's excited?! We're excited! Because Danny Miller, creator of Boomshine is here to fill that cold, whistling void in our souls with another deceptively simple and purely addictive game of planning and reflexes. While not, perhaps, as compulsively playable as Boomshine was, Obechi is still a stylish, colourful little puzzle game that will treat you right for as long as you'll let it.

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What if?

Check out the Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7 announcement for details.


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Rating: 4.3/5 (70 votes)
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MarcusVector ConflictVector Conflict: The Siege, from Dig Your Own Grave, takes you back to the early days of arcade games, back when games like Tempest and Omega Race were the new guys on the block. With its glorious vector graphics, Vector Conflict looks like the brother of the classic tank combat game Battlezone, and plays like a cross between that and a turret defense game.

Your turret sits in the center of a battlefield, with vehicles streaming in from all directions, even from the air. Defend your position until you last ounce of shield power has been drained. Aiming is accomplished with the mouse, while [A] and [D] rotate your turret 90 degrees to the left or right, and [S] performs a quick turn. Fire you main weapon with the mouse button, or launch a missile at your target with [spacebar].

As you destroy enemies, you collect resources. These resources can be used between levels to purchase upgrades to your weapon, more missiles, shield batteries, and mining equipment to gain resources quicker during the level. You can also replenish EMP pulses and nuclear weapons with your resources, giving you constant access to these devices of destruction throughout the game.

Vector Conflict brings some of the charm of classic gaming back, while adding a touch of modern with the upgrade system. Early levels start out easy to give you a chance to get used to the idea of watching your radar and rotating to face your foe. Certain enemies can be taken out quickly and can be briefly ignored in order to take out a larger, more destructive enemy first. Smaller ground units will attack from both the ground and air in a kamikaze style, tanks will move up and shoot at you until you take them out, while air units will take runs at you with either guns or bombs. The wide variety of enemy units keeps the game interesting, and the slow introduction gives the game length.

Take control of your weapon, and start defending the planet from invaders with Vector Conflict: The Siege. The game is perfect for bite-sized sessions of 3D combat, or longer sessions of retro-styled battle. And no quarters are required!

Play Vector Conflict: The Siege


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Rating: 4/5 (58 votes)
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wordmachine.jpgzxoIs your loquaciousness of Brobdingnagian proportions? Do morphemes of prodigious extensiveness accelerate your cardiovascular thingamajig? Can you type really fast? If so, why not try Word Machine, a word construction game from Pascal Le Merrer? It took first place in the recent MochiMedia word game design contest for its simple yet addictive gameplay.

For each level, you must enter three valid words or else lose a life. Initially, you will see one letter on the screen — all three words must begin with this letter. Let's suppose that the first letter is M. Your first word could be "mom" or "matinee" or "malapropism", anything goes so longs as it is a valid word and begins with M. After you enter the first word, another letter will appear — let's say U. Now you must enter a word beginning with M and containing U somewhere within it. "Mug" or "mousse" or "mellifluous" all work. Finally a third letter appears: H. Your final word must start with M and contain both U and H, although the positions and order of the two latter letters do not matter. Thus you could enter "mush" or "matchup" or "mouthwash".

After three words, the level ends and you get to do it all over again with new letters and a slightly shorter time limit. Occasionally, you will also get a fourth letter to include with word #3. This letter is optional, but if you manage to include it in your entry (along with the other three letters as usual), you will receive one of three power-ups: extra time, level reset, or even an extra life! Later in the game, use [space] to activate your extra time power-up and [shift] to use the reset power-up and give yourself a fresh set of letters. This comes in handy when you've been dealt XGQ or some other such nonsense. Points are awarded for time and for each letter according to its rarity, so aim for the longest words you can manage and try to throw some Zs and Qs in there if you can. As you progress, the score multiplier increases but the timer shrinks, providing a nice risk vs. reward quandary when typing out long words.

Analysis: Word Machine plays a lot like Clockwords, right down to the steampunk style, which is interesting, since Clockwords was Mochi's runner-up. I guess the judges really knew what they were looking for in a word game! Though both games have a free-form format that encourages lengthy words, Word Machine gets the edge in terms of pacing. After just a handful of levels, you begin to feel the squeeze of the time limit, and if you manage to prolong a game upwards of ten minutes, you're doing pretty well. Comparatively, Clockwords' difficulty ramp seems more like a plateau that just... keeps... going...

On the other hand, Clockwords won't ever leave you out to dry with such combinations as KBQ. I mean really, what can you do with that? Kilobriquette? Kumquatberry? Stanley Kubrique? It's nice to have the lives and the do-overs, but you shouldn't have to need them to advance. Plus, you would think that both games would draw on the same dictionary, given that Dictionary.com co-sponsored the contest, but it seemed like more false negatives came up in Word Machine. In particular, many plurals do not seem to be recognized. I don't remember that happening with Clockwords, but I might just be imagining things.

So yeah, Word Machine could use a couple of tweaks, but overall it's still a solid game for any word-lover. That is to say, Word Machine accomplishes praiseworthy gratification for any discriminating linguaphile.

Play Word Machine


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Rating: 4.7/5 (334 votes)
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DoraGretel and HanselAh, childhood. Is there nothing about it that can't be twisted? Not if Gretel and Hansel, a new episodic point-and-click adventure by Mako Pudding, has anything to say about it. When she overhears their parents decide they would be better off without two additional grubby mouths to feed, it's up to Gretel and Hansel to save the day! Or, uh, Gretel anyway. Hansel is a little... thick. But who needs boys when you've got a slingshot anyway? It's more fun, and has less cooties besides! Parents be warned, this one isn't for the young'uns.

For the most part, the game is controlled like your standard point-and-click. You use your mouse to interact with objects if a thought balloon appears above Gretel's head, and once you acquire the slingshot, you can fire from your endless supply of ammo by clicking on a target, holding briefly, and then releasing. Unlike most other games in the genre, however, Gretel can be moved around the screen with either the [wasd] or [arrow] keys.

The object in this first installment of a planned three part series is for Gretel to gather shiny stones to mark a path with when their parents lead them into the woods. Don't expect much help from Hansel; he's too busy eating flies. You'll need to venture outside and hunt down some suitable rocks around the house. Just remember to steer clear of bees. And giant spiders. And rabbits. And... ahhhhhh, you'll figure it out.

Gretel and HanselAnalysis: The author states in the game's description that it was a labour of love. And frankly, I believe them. The hand-painted visuals here combined with the storybook soundtrack make for a lush experience. Although fairly simplistic looking with their smudged bobbleheads, Gretel and the rest of the cast still manage to be surprisingly expressive, and the story is more funny than tragic like the original. Despite featuring a perplexingly out of place and mildly annoying chase/avoidance sequence at the end, Gretel and Hansel is still a pretty well polished little adventure.

I do wish the adventure aspect of the game had been as tight as the rest of the design. It almost feels like the whole thing was intended originally to be an animated short, and then someone suggested they make a game out of it. While never really illogical, none of the puzzles are terribly unique either. You can find most of the ten stones you need simply by walking around behind things, and it makes the game feel a little lopsided. It's still adorable and fun to play, but it doesn't feel as fully realised as it could.

The whole game is actually fairly short, and I'd be surprised to hear it ate up more than a half hour of your time. Unless, of course, it's because you were tracking down additional death scenes like the sick little bunny you are. Yes, like any good, treasured childhood fairytale, Gretel and Hansel features unpleasant things. While most of them actually take some determination (or good old fashioned tick-headedness) to see, you can still meet an untimely (and humourous) demise if you aren't careful. There's no real penalty for death, however, and you'll just restart from the point where you entered the area.

Play both games in the Gretel and Hansel series:

If you can't laugh at bad things happening to adorable little watercolour moppets, Gretel and Hansel may not be the game for you. It takes a slightly off sense of humour to take everything that happens in the game without getting riled up. (Death by bunny, anyone?) But if you're looking for a quirky, quality treat to fill some time, Gretel will greet you with open arms and slingshot at the ready.

Play Gretel and Hansel


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Rating: 3.3/5 (111 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypYes, Halloween is just around the coroner, so we're still bringing it with the creepy games. This week's escape game is a lovely little delight called Absence. Created by Selfdefiant, creator of Kidnapped by Aliens, Absence is a fun, quick little escape from an abandoned building that may be haunted.

absence_doorway1.jpgAs the prologue informs, this so-called "haunted" building is a favorite place for you and your friend Amy to hang out. Not to go inside, mind, just hang out on the grounds. Not that you're afraid, or anything. Really. As the game begins you arrive to find Amy missing, the only clue is her lovely pink backpack dropped on the ground in front of the suddenly open building. Does that mean Amy decided to go in? Perhaps you'd better go in as well. I'm sure it's not dangerous at all...

Once you're in, of course, you find out that (1) yes, the building is indeed haunted, and (2)... well, you'll just have to find out for yourself. Let's just start exploring...

Navigation is quick and simple. Hover your cursor over a door or hallway and a hand will appear that you can click to go in that direction. Objects that can be clicked on or manipulated cause the cursor to change to a handy hand, cutting way down on the pixel hunting. If the music becomes too annoying you can turn it off in the handy menu. Items that you pick up are hidden until you click on the "items" button, keeping the on-screen clutter to a minimum.

Analysis: Absence is a bit of a departure from Selfdefiant's usual simple hand-drawn style. The backgrounds appear to be actual photographs of a real abandoned building. This gives the game a creepy realism not usually seen. In fact, after exploring the torn apart, grafiti'd, trash filled rooms you might want to take a shower, it's that realistic. The ominous music adds to the creepy factor.

But the game is not perfect. Despite its beautiful (if you like that sort of thing) look, gameplay can be rather simple. The puzzles could have used a bit of beefing up. It almost feels as if an opportunity has been missed, as so much more could have been added. Nevertheless, what is there is fun to play.

Absence is creepy, but not scary. Nothing is going to jump out at you, there's nothing in the rooms apart from lots of trash. There's a little bit of blood, but no gore. As stated before there are puzzles but they are not very difficult. Absence is the type of game that personifies casual gameplay. Fire it up while taking a few minutes away from other tasks, and just enjoy the spooky atmosphere without worrying you'll have a heart attack.

Play Absence


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Game Design Competition #6

All Casual Gameplay Design Competition #6 game entries are now available to play!!

All entries are available to play immediately on the competition page. There is a place to enter comments for each game, so please use each respective thread to leave your kind feedback and constructive criticisms for the game authors.

The competition period will span 3 weeks, and we will announce the winners of the competition at that time.

Please help us spread word about the competition and all the creative entries we have once again to share with the world. Use Twitter, use Facebook, use any means at your disposal to share the competition games with your friends and family.

Thanks to everyone for your support, and especially to our sponsors for making this competition possible: ArmorGames.com, Casual Gameplay, and King.com. Please visit them and show your support!

GO TO THE COMPETITION PAGE


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Rating: 3.4/5 (44 votes)
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juggerdome.jpgJohnBInjected with adrenaline, heavy metal, and buckets of (tiny, pixelated) gore, Juggerdome is a gritty top down arena shooter from Con Artist, creator of Crush the Castle. You are the lucky prisoner chosen to pilot the Juggernaut, a killing machine outfitted with upgradeable weaponry. During each round in the arena you must not only survive onslaughts of machines and armed prisoners, you have to entertain the crowd, too.

Use the [WASD] keys to move the Juggernaut around the arena and the mouse to aim your shots. Two weapons can be equipped simultaneously, controlled with the [spacebar] and mouse buttons, but you have to keep an eye on their respective heat bars, otherwise they won't fire. A non-firing gun is about as useful as a spoon in the arena.

Levels are divided into weekly shows, as if this were a serialized bout in the good ole Flavian Amphitheatre. Each show has a challenge you must complete in order to move on to the next. Seeing as how your alternative is, well, a gory death, staying alive sounds pretty darn good. Sometimes you have to kill a certain number of enemies or stay alive a given amount of time, while other goals are more creative and task you with sitting on control points for a certain amount of time.

After each show, take the cash you earned and upgrade your Jugger as you see fit. New weapons are always nice, as are helpful pieces of gear that make your machine tougher, faster, and more resilient to various kinds of attacks. Depending on your playing style, spend your cash however you like. Just make sure you get the Burninator. That thing rocks.

The chief drawback in Juggerdome is its control scheme. Two weapon slots means two separate keys for firing. One is comfortably tied to the mouse, easy since you're already aiming with it, but the other one is bound to the [spacebar]. It's pretty cumbersome getting used to the awkward controls, as most of the time you'll be moving in one direction, firing in another, and trying to use the [spacebar] to access that secondary weapon for more firepower. Once you play a few matches and can upgrade your weapons, secondary fire becomes much less of an issue, as it's a simple matter to equip a "use sparingly" weapon here and save the big guns for the mouse button.

Despite its awkward control scheme, Juggerdome delivers a solid arena shooting experience. Hope you don't have anything against squishing innocent pixelated humans.

Play Juggerdome


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Rating: 4.6/5 (168 votes)
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DoraTrap MasterTrap Master, from Berzerk Studio, is a thoughtful, melancholic tale about love, acceptance, and finding one's place in the world through building an underground dungeon, populating it with any number of exceedingly unpleasant traps, and trampling all over the squishy remains of anyone who dares trespass. You know, just like that one episode of Sesame Street? A side-scrolling monstrous game of fast-paced destroy-all-challengers action, Trap Master tosses in some defense elements and a twisted sense of design to appeal to the monster in you. Groovy, baby.

Playing as either César or Maurice, the only two characters initially available, you're tasked with defending your dungeon's doom chest from those who would destroy it. (Presumably because any chest with teeth and two heads is probably not looking to make friends with the local populace.) You do so not only by purchasing various traps and obstacles to be placed throughout the dungeon, but by controlling your monster du jour and devouring/blasting/dissolving enemies for points and cash.

Enemies appear in waves from any of the dungeon's multiple entrances. (Maybe you should have picked a less accessible lair?) Using either the [arrow] or [wasd] keys, guide your monster around the screen, and use the cursor to aim, then click the mouse to fire. If you're close enough to a small enemy, you can devour them whole by clicking on them. Of course, you can't be everywhere at once, and so you'll want to make use of the shop between waves to purchase the various items that become available throughout the game.

Wrapping it all up is a warped sense of style that looks like something from MTV's early days, complete with heavy metal soundtrack. All it needs is to be interspersed with scenes of Beavis and Butthead headbanging on the couch. While some greater variation and detail to the enemies would have been nice, Trap Master still manages to stand out and proves what I've been saying for years; you can solve any problem with an acid bath. Especially door-to-door solicitors.

Trap MasterAnalysis: But is Trap Master as fun to play as it is to look at? For the most part, yes. While not tactically very deep or what one might term "thought provoking" (unless that thought is RAWR SMASH PUNY INVADERS), Trap Master is a fast-paced, quirky way to while away a few hours. The idea of combining a side-scroller with a defense game is an odd one, but here it works. Trap Master isn't trying to be an intensely strategical title, so players looking for a slow, complex session should look elsewhere.

There are some limitations to Trap Master that keep it from becoming just another button-mashing gore-fest. Initially, you only have a certain number of slots available for each type of defense, traps or obstacles ("devices"), and each can only be placed in particular areas in your dungeon. While obstacles can be used up or destroyed, traps can be upgraded to increase their damage and overall nastiness. You can even upgrade your monster or your doom chest to unlock new and devastating attacks.

But the slow pace at which new items and trap slots are doled out may turn off those of us who are into more instant gratification. The boss battles, which tell a loose sort of story, only occur every ten waves, a shame considering they inject a lot more personality and interest into the game. Make no mistake, Trap Master is a ton of fun. But some more tweaking and a wider scope of enemies and customisation would have made it truly great.

Still, there's something about Trap Master that's appealing beyond its funky aesthetic. Sometimes all you really want is something fun and different to drop yourself into, and the game fills that niche nicely. It does make use of Gamer Safe, although using it isn't necessary to complete the game, and there are still enough challenges and achievements loitering around to keep the enterprising monster busy for a good while. If you've got fast fingers, a twisted sense of humour, and don't think you get nearly enough bone-crunching action in a day, Trap Master will be a friend to you.

Play Trap Master


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Mobile Monday

JohnBOh, oh this is just... it's great! I mean, it's just astounding! Such a collection of awesome games! I mean, I just... I'm enthralled here! I can't believe they can actually co-exist in one article! Isn't there some rule against that in, I dunno, physics or something? Too much awesome in one space can't be good for... uh... something in the universe. Right?

hookchamp.jpgHook Champ - Video game characters love grappling hooks, and we love to help them swing around with them. Hook Champ is all about swinging through a series of caves as quickly as you can, nabbing coins and dealing with a variety of obstacles along the way. After completing a stage, visit the shop to purchase new items and upgrade existing equipment, then head back and do some more grappling! What adventures won't do for treasure!

boxhead-iphone.jpgBoxhead - The Zombie Wars - Yes, it's the Boxhead you are hoping it will be, the one by Sean T. Cooper. Yes, you're still trying to stay alive as long as possible against an onslaught of various zombie and zombie-related foes. Yes, you still unlock cool weapons, both offensive and defensive. Yes, it's just as awesome on iPhone as it is in Flash. No, I will not do your homework for you while you sit and play Boxhead.

gomi.gifGomi - From the creator of Trace comes a game that combines the likes of Rolando, Katamari Damacy, and something strange and wonderful I'm not quite sure of. Roll around gravity-independent masses of land, gathering increasingly large objects to clean the gunk off and make the place beautiful once again. Complete the goals for each level and open up new places to explore. You can even unlock mini-games and character customizations! It's all much more exciting when you actually play, as this is one of those sugar-cheery titles you have to play to believe. The free Gomi Lite is also available.

soosiz.gifSoosiz - Soo-what now? Soosiz. A curiously curious platformer with a penchant for messing with gravity and direction. Perform the usual platform game abilities such as stomping on enemies' heads, but if you leap towards a piece of platform above your head, you'll find everything rotating to match the new orientation. Just the right amount of familiarity and creativity in this overlooked 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.


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (78 votes)
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Grappling Hook

JerradOn the list of things that are more useful in video games than they are in the real world, grappling hooks are certainly near the top. Acquiring a grappling hook in the real world is positively thrilling, until you start thinking of ways you can actually (and legally) use it. Fortunately, the aptly-titled Grappling Hook isn't grounded in reality. The puzzle platformer from SpeedRunGames is filled with 22 levels of quick-thinking grappling goodness that is sure to keep you zooming around for hours.

grapplinghook.jpgPlayed in the first person, the goal in Grappling Hook is to get through the challenges that have been set by a malicious computer. In the first few levels, this is accomplished by moving around with the [arrow] or [WASD] keys and jumping with the [spacebar]. The diamond-shaped access codes scattered around the level must be collected in order to advance, and there are plenty of checkpoints located throughout the level to save your progress.

Once you've finished a few levels and gotten the hang of the game, you are given the titular grappling hook and things start to get crazy. You can click and hold the mouse button to latch on to green surfaces in order to reaches places that can't be accessed with simple running and jumping. Speed is the name of the game here, as there are electrified blocks, moving walls, and laser turrets all waiting to end your life. And get used to dying from all of these, as it will happen. A lot. Fortunately, you never run out of lives, and save points are frequent enough that you won't have to overcome the same obstacles too many times.

Analysis: There's a lot to love in this fast-paced platformer. Beyond the fact that it's all about grappling onto stuff, of course. The puzzles seamlessly combine timing, quick thinking and dexterity, making it impossible to finish the game without mastering all aspects of gameplay. The developers have done a great job of throwing out new challenges, with something new coming at you at all times.

grapplinghook2.jpgAs mentioned previously, you're being ordered around by a maniacal computer, which doesn't have a huge presence in the game, but adds a nice bit of personality with its clever dialogue. What's that? Sounds like another first person puzzle adventure game you've heard of? Grappling Hook plays and feels somewhat like Portal in many respects, but don't let that color your experience too much. Grappling and portal opening are two totally different sports.

One thing Grappling Hook could really use is some sort of directional indicator pointing you to the closest access code. They aren't usually too hidden, but a few times I reached the end of a level only to realize I had missed something and was forced to start all over.

For you completionists out there, Grappling Hook provides plenty of challenges and achievements that can be earned as you progress. Once you've completed a level, you can go back and try to beat the challenge time, which is usually low enough to keep you working on it for a while. There is a particularly nice feature where you can provide your Twitter login information to have all of your achievements automatically posted, although this is purely optional. Whether you want to share your accomplishments with the world or not, there are plenty of challenges to keep you busy long after you've finished the main portion of the game.

All in all, the game does a wonderful job with the first-person point of view and creates a surprisingly immersive environment. Pair that with smart puzzles and plenty of fast action and you'll stay grappling for a very long time!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (805 votes)
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Machinarium

JohnBFrom Amanita Design, creator of the famously brilliant Samorost series, comes Machinarium, a game so well-conceived and implemented it can confidently launch as one of the best point-and-click adventures of all time. Machinarium is nothing short of a playable piece of art. Similar to Samorost in style and gameplay, Best of Casual Gameplay 2009you play a lone robot thrown out of the city working his way through desolate mechanical slums. Solve puzzles, find and combine items, and encounter loads of creative characters in your quest. Machinarium is one of those rare games you can't praise enough.

Get your cursor ready, you'll need it for this game! Everything is handled with the mouse in Machinarium, all you need to do is click on objects and the robot does the rest. You have to be next to the hotspots in order to use them, so when your cursor turns into a moving pair of feet, click and our hero will waddle in that direction. You also have the ability to change height, a skill you'll need to reach some out-of-the-way objects later on.

machinarium.jpgYou can't die in Machinarium, so feel free to explore all you like. If the robot can't do something, he'll shake his head "no" when you click. And, yes, it's really cute when he does so. Sometimes he'll even give you a clue in the form of a thought bubble if you try and do something that isn't (yet) possible. Little bonus touches like this are what give Machinarium such personality, and they help push along the gameplay, too.

An hour or two into the game, Machinarium suddenly opens up and presents a less linear world for you to explore. The first handful of puzzles take place one after another, each leading organically to the next. At a certain point, however, you find yourself standing in a central hub with things to do in every direction. From here on, Machinarium is more like a traditional adventure game and less like a point-and-click puzzler.

Analysis: It's obvious everyone at Amanita Designs poured their heart and soul into this game. The proof is in the music, the artwork, the puzzles, the gameplay, the interface, the story, the pacing, the animations, the character desi— you get the picture. A fine example of how the studio went well above the norm is the in-game hint system. machinarium2.jpgIf you're heroically stuck on a puzzle and just can't figure out how to solve it, move the cursor to the top right corner of the screen. Click the TV icon and you'll be thrown into a mini-game. Using the controls on the right side of the monitor, you move a flying key up and down in a side-scrolling world. Fire your weapon to take out enemies, avoid the walls, and make it to the lock at the end of the stage. Key + lock = comic-style sketch of how to solve the level, step by step. The only reason I can think of why Amanita did that was because it's awesome.

Each area is packed with visual detail, from intricate backgrounds to fluidly animated characters. Machinarium's world is not a still piece of scenery, it's a living, moving environment loaded with personality. There's so much to look at it can be difficult to know where to start. Somehow, though, you always catch wind of a puzzle on the screen and can manage to discover what needs to be done.

Hotspots in Machinarium, as in any point-and-click game, can be a sore point of discussion. A fine balance has to be found between cleverly hiding the next move and turning the game into a pixel hunt. Machinarium finds that balance well, though there are a few moments when you narrow your eyes because you clicked near the right place, not on it. Proximity determines which objects you can interact with, leading to a fair amount of walking back and forth, moving the cursor around to see what's there. It's all about experimenting and trial-and-error, but because the game world is so full, your curiosity is always tickled, no matter what you end up doing.

As far as length and difficulty are concerned, Machinarium (unsurprisingly) gets them just right. You rarely need the "one hint per puzzle" thought balloon, and even if you resort to the lock and key mini-game you'll slap your forehead when you see the solution. Give each puzzle your best shot before resorting to a walkthrough, as it's especially rewarding to figure out the solutions on your own. Expect a good six hours from Machinarium, more or less depending on your skill.

Machinarium is a magnificent game, and that's all I really need to say. You'll be hooked the moment you see the robot store an item in his belly.

WindowsWindows:
Play the Flash demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Play the Flash demo
Get the full version

LinuxLinux:
Play the Flash demo
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  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (31 votes)
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Reincarnations: Awakening

MarcusReincarnation: one of the great mysteries of our time. Are such things as past lives reality, or are they the stuff of legend? When Jane, a professional copywriter, gets the chance to make a break from her usual pallet of fashion reviews and make-up tips, she jumps at it. The article, a serious look at reincarnation, has almost everything that a good article needs: facts, testimonials, theories. It's only missing one thing: a personal perspective from the writer. Reincarnations: Awakening follows Jane as she attempts to gain that perspective.

Reincarnations: AwakeningA mysterious CD soon makes its way to Jane, advertising the services of a Dr. Herzle. At the urging of a friend, Jane sets up an appointment with the doctor. In his office under hypnosis, she navigates her subconscious and begins to experience past lives. In each of these lives, Jane experiences a former self at a critical point in their own life, where a decision either one way or another will have a profound impact. It is up to Jane to help her past selves through the tasks that are required by the decisions to be made. If she can complete the tasks and solve the puzzles, she will be able to move on to the next past life and eventually gain a greater understanding of not only her past lives, but reincarnation itself.

Reincarnations: Awakening is an absolutely gorgeous hidden-object game from Vogat Interactive, the same developers that brought us the match-3 game Cindy's Travels: Flooded Kingdom. As you help Jane through her past lives, you will encounter a variety of hidden-object scenes. They are, for the most part, very straight forward. Objects listed in yellow cannot be located without first performing some sort of action, such as opening a drawer, or swinging a hanging lamp out of the way. A sparkling area of the scene shows something that must be looked at or activated in order to progress. If you can't remember what you're supposed to be doing, a list of tasks is always available. Of course, if you get well and truly stuck, you can always click on the "hint" button, and a circle will appear over the area where one of the objects is located.

In and around the various hidden-object scenes, you will also encounter a number of puzzles. Some of them are very simple, such as a memory game to open a locked door, or a jigsaw puzzle to reconstruct a map. Others are more difficult, such as a string puzzle to open flowering buds, or using differing lengths of fuse to properly time an explosion. To help in solving these puzzles, look in Jane's diary. The solutions will be laid out for you. If you are absolutely stuck and just cannot solve the puzzle, after a certain length of time you will be able to click the "solve" button, and be able to go on to the next part of the game.

Analysis: Reincarnations: Awakening has the look and feel of a top-notch hidden-object title. The graphic design is beautiful, the gameplay is excellent, and the story, while a bit hokey, is at least well thought out.

Reincarnations: AwakeningThe painted style of the scenes in Reincarnations: Awakening is at once realistic and mystical, as brush strokes meet details in scenes that are a wonder to behold. The design of the hidden-object scenes are detailed enough to never make it a pixel-hunt when looking for objects from the laundry list. And objects, for the most part, look like you would expect them too, although it's jarring to encounter out-of-place items (a lizard in a ladies changing room, a dollar bill in a Parisian street market) shoved in scenes where they do not belong.

The puzzles that you run into throughout the game are also well implemented. Most of the time, the operation of the puzzle is obvious. And, if not, a quick glance at the help button will give you a quick run-down on how things are supposed to work. You can either try to solve it yourself, look at Jane's diary and try to reach the solution that way, or wait until the "solve" button becomes active to skip the puzzle. Either way, if you are stumped, you won't have to wait too long.

The soundtrack for Reincarnations: Awakening is also quite beautiful, and a joy to listen to. There are different styles based on where you are and what you are doing at the time, but for the most part, it is a lovely understated flow of melody below the activity on screen. Never too loud or raucous to detract from what you are doing. Just enough to underscore the feeling at the time, and help to draw you further into the story of the game.

While we could leave it at this, there are a few flaws that keep the game from being a truly awesome experience. Firstly, the puzzles, while numerous and varied, are not exactly difficult. Most can be solved by simple trial-and-error, and a couple seem to have no logical solution at all, requiring you to use random choices in an attempt to solve them. You never get a sense of urgency to solve them, either, knowing that if you simply wait a few minutes, you will be able to skip the puzzle with no penalty. It makes the puzzles seem less of a requirement for finishing the game, and more of a momentary nuisance.

While the story is well done and does a good job of drawing you into the game, the voice acting is truly horrid. If I had to listen to Dr. Herzle's voice in order to be hypnotized, I'd remain wide awake. There is absolutely nothing soothing about that voice. The other voices of the game come off as wooden, quite often seemingly unaware of the emotion they are supposed to be portraying at that moment. I think this game would have done better to leave them out and have the player stick with subtitles and conversation balloons.

When it comes right down to it, Reincarnations: Awakening is a fun, if not completely fulfilling experience. While it will probably be no spiritual awakening for anyone, there is enough to like about the game to make it worth checking out. Who knows, maybe you'll have your own past-life experience while helping Jane through her's?

WindowsWindows:
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  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (23 votes)
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Weekend Download

JohnBDo you like your hidden object games with a little less fluff and a lot more, well, hidden objects? Little Things is the answer. Sitting pretty next to Pure Hidden, Little Things is a hidden object game that doesn't fool around. All you do is find items, from sheep to elephants to ping pong paddles, by running a magnifying glass along a field of tiny pictures. It's a visually impressive game that delivers exactly what the title promises: lots and lots of tiny little things.

littlethings.gifThe premise of Little Things couldn't be any more straightforward. Each level starts out as a picture. That picture is then turned into a collection of small objects. Your cursor becomes a magnifying glass and you set out to find a small number of items listed in the corner of the screen. When the object is in your sights, click it, smile triumphantly, and move on to the next item on the list!

Completing stages within a certain amount of time earns you puzzle pieces that unlock new pictures to complete. You'll need to solve a short four-piece picture jigsaw-style mini-game before earning the new levels. You can also earn badges that function as achievements of sorts, little trophies awarded when you perform certain activities or reach a milestone.

If you're having problems finding an item, the in-game hint system automatically kicks in after some time without activity. If the spotlight still doesn't help, it gradually narrows itself until you can't help but find what you're looking for. If you don't like having the hints on a timer, turn them off in the options menu. You can always click the hint button if you're stuck, allowing you to be stubborn and find that last teacup all by yourself if you so desire!

littlethings2.gifAnalysis: Like its style-related cousin Pure Hidden, Little Things doesn't fool around with intricate scenery, contrived storylines, or other gameplay gimmicks. It's an object finding game that does an excellent job at hiding objects and letting you find them.

It's hard to overlook the spectacular audio/visual package in this game. Sure, it may not be varied or have required teams of artists years to create, but the music is nice and soothing while the graphics exude a sleek, polished feel. They set a brilliant mood for the game and are easily one of the strongest parts of the whole presentation.

Get Little Things for your iPad!

If Little Things has any drawback, it's that it can be a little too narrow in its focus. Some stages feature a laundry list of items, others task you to find several of a single item, and, really, that's it. New images appear every time you collect a number of puzzle pieces, and leaving the game and coming back offers up different pictures for you to complete, but the gameplay doesn't change. For this reason, Little Things is best left as a coffee break-style game where you play for a few minutes and then go about your day.

Simple, relaxing, rewarding, and beautifully designed in every respect, Little Things is a reminder that casual games don't have to get more complex in order to stay entertaining.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
Not available.
Try Boot Camp or Parallels or CrossOver Games.


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Weekend Download

JohnBA handful of tiny, quirky, off-beat kinda games to enjoy this weekend. Want to step on spikes, die, then come back to life? Gotcha covered. Want to blow things up then run for your life? Check. Want to toss your hat? We're so into that, too.

youcantpossibly.gifYou Can't Possibly Expect Me To Do That (Windows, 1.8MB, free) - Yes, I can! You Can't Possibly Expect Me To Do That (or YCPEMTDT for kinda-short) is a platform puzzle game that's all about dying, healing, mid-air double jumping, and probably dying again. To reach the star in each stage, you have to smash into spikes and other obstacles to kill yourself. While "dead", you fly through walls, allowing you to maneuver to impossible areas and collect health packs which bring you back to life. Some of these stages are absolutely crazy, and you'll have a great time figuring out what to do.

mrsplode.gifMr. Splode and the Fireworks Factory (Windows, <1MB, free) - A short, experimental platform/puzzle game created by Lexaloffle for a previous Ludum Dare competition. Scoot over to the flammable boxes, toss a match, then step back as a chain reaction of fireworks fills the room. Avoid firecrackers and stay safe until they all disappear and you'll move on to the next level!

hatman.gifHatman (Windows, 2.7MB, free) - A tiny (in many ways) platformer with one interesting gimmick: you have a hat to throw. The hat flies out and comes back, allowing you to jump or avoid it for some boomerang-style attacks. You can also clear blocks and modify its trajectory somewhat with the [arrow] keys. Oh, and the first boss? Awesome.

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 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (75 votes)
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Avenue Flo

kateWe've followed Flo and her friends from the diner to the farm, through the perils of opening your own valet business, and into the fast-paced world of fashion. Now Flo and PlayFirst are entering new territory in the first adventure game from the Dash franchise, Avenue Flo!

avenueflo.jpgAvenue Flo features everyone's favorite waitress as she tries to help her fellow business owners salvage what could be the biggest wedding Diner Town has ever seen. Tony and Vicky are finally getting married! Maybe. Quinn of Wedding Dash fame is at her wit's end. The rings are missing, the cake has gone bad and all of the butterflies have flown away. Flo quickly springs into action and hits the streets of Diner Town in search of answers.

First on Flo's handy to-do list? Track down all 99 escaped butterflies. Luckily, the neighborhoods you'll need to explore are covered with the colorful little scamps. Unluckily, that's the easy part. That list is getting longer by the second, and in order to get this wedding back on track, Flo will need to stay sharp and put her detective skills to the test.

Simply point-and-click to send Flo in the right direction or to interact with some familiar faces. The controls and the gameplay couldn't be more intuitive, and the smooth interface ensures that you won't waste time figuring out what to do next. If you get stuck, check the map or that helpful list for assistance.

While there is a small hidden object element to the game, the majority of play is given over to puzzles, which are quite well done. The plot is geared towards the most general of casual gameplay fans, but, in a surprising and welcome choice, PlayFirst wisely stays away from the expected staples of the casual genre, such as match-3. Logic squares, spatial reasoning and pattern recognition are the order of the day here.

avenueflo2.jpgAnalysis: Avenue Flo is a refreshing entry in the adventure game genre. The humorous and quirky aesthetics established in the myriad of Dash sequels and spin-offs serve the franchise well. The graphics are bright and crisp, although the sound effects aren't quite as good as the art. Flo is, as always, as cute as a button in her well-worn apron and sneakers, and it's a pleasure to see her away from the world of time management. In addition, she actually speaks (and sings) here for the first time, and the voice acting is above average. Experienced gamers may find that there's too much hand-holding and not enough free play, but the overall quality of the game is substantial enough that the linear plot and direction can be overlooked.

This being said, when the game hits a wrong note, it's very disappointing. A rhythm puzzle has Flo teaching an aerobics class, which normally would be opportunity for extreme cuteness or at least a good laugh. Unfortunately, the execution of said puzzle is sub-par, especially in comparison with the rest of what the game has to offer. First of all, and this may just be my personal bias, I dislike playing these kind of puzzles with the mouse. I find keyboard controls much more precise. Issue the Second: For an aerobics class, one would expect Flo to take it on down to funkytown, musically speaking. Nope. There's music playing, but the songs don't match up to the puzzle cues. This means there's no audio guidance. For a rhythm game. Which is just lazy, especially when the game has a jaunty original theme song.

This, though, is only a slight flaw in an otherwise polished game. One of Flo's chores is to finish the beading on the wedding dress. You're given the pattern and are able to see the order the beads will appear in. To complete the design, the beads must be sewn in one continuous line, so you need to plan several steps ahead to succeed. While the mechanics of the puzzle are simple, the presentation and difficulty involved are not, and the game manages to stand out among the plethora of adventure and hidden object games currently available. Avenue Flo is a welcome addition to the DinerTown series!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4/5 (122 votes)
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graveyardshift.jpgJohnBNitrome's latest release, Graveyard Shift, is a first person rail shooter reminiscent of classic arcade games like Time Crisis. You know, those stand-up cabinets with attached guns where you had to shoot off the screen to reload. Instead of plastic pistols, you're armed with your mouse, and instead of taking out bad guys, you're disposing of zombies, killer bugs, poisonous plants, and other Halloween-approved foes.

As the landscape slowly scrolls by, zombies pop out of the ground and roam the platforms. Move your mouse and aim the crosshair to send baddies packing. Sometimes an enemy will lob a projectile at you. Hold the [spacebar] to activate your shield and move it around with the mouse to block the incoming fire. Your shield weakens with each hit, though, so be sure to pick up refills every time you see them.

Fortunately, Graveyard Shift isn't as simple as aiming a pistol at passing zombies. Sometimes a helpless maiden will stroll onto the screen, changing your immediate objective from "shoot everything that moves" to "clear a path for the lady". You'll also nab a few power-ups, such as health crates and a gestural-based sword weapon (which, I admit, is very, very cool). And grenades. Can't forget the grenades!

Even for a short browser game, Graveyard Shift packs a lot of variety. Plenty of unique enemies to dispose of, including foes who are only vulnerable for a short amount of time, lots of weapons to use, and a few areas where you can interact with the environment. Graveyard Shift is a great trip into classic first person shooting territory!

Play Graveyard Shift


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome to your Friday, dearly beloved readers! How was your week? How's great aunt Marge doing? Did you ever figure out how to get those ketchup stains out of your new jeans? (Sorry about that, by the way.) Somewhere, birds are singing, bees are buzzing, and children are laughing. But here it's time for strategy, super bosses, and birdies, oh my! That must mean it's time for Link Dump Friday!

  • Atomic Super BossAtomic Super Boss - Despite sounding like somebody's garage-bound indie band, Atomic Super Boss is actually an itty-bitty pixel battle with lasers, ships, and high-octane ACTION. Stay shooting, stay alive, stay on the top of the high score list for approximately twenty seconds before three other people beat you so soundly just looking at the game's title brings tears to your eyes. No, I'm not bitter.
  • Must Eat BirdsMust Eat Birds - Must... eat... BIRDS. No, don't try to resist. You really must. The Nomster won't rest until he's nomed them all! The Flash version of the weird iPhone app has arrived for your hot little fingers. Note: may not be for fans of cartoonish birds, or people who really, really hate LOLcats. You can has noms, k? Hey, look ma! We're in a clique on the internets!
  • EridaniEridani - Space! Strategy! Mining! Explosions! Woo! Eridani has it all, baby. Build your colonies, not for the purpose of research and settlement, but for amassing an army to demolish anyone else foolish enough to think there's enough room in the universe for the two of you. I guess you couldn't just BUY the planet. After all, why obtain peaceably what you can steal in a malestrom of fire and bloodshed that the universe will remember in horror for centuries to come?
  • Banana Dash World 4Banana Dash World 4 - Who likes monkeys? Not me. Insufferable, grinning little poo-flingers, always after my bananas, no matter how carefully I hide them in the ocean, only accessible by Dolphin Olympics-style gameplay. How does a monkey get a submarine anyway? Maybe... maybe it's best not to ask.
  • Maus TrapMaus Trap - While for some of us this title may briefly conjure up fond memories of exceedingly expensive board games we begged our parents for endlessly and then promptly abandoned after playing half a game, this particular title is actually a game of skill and avoidance. If only it were a board game. Then you wouldn't feel bad about hurling it against the wall when you lose.

  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (595 votes)
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JerradSubmachine 6: The EdgeFans of the Submachine series, your time has come at last. After more than a year and a half, Mateusz Skutnik is back with Submachine 6: The Edge, an all-new installment in the enormously popular Submachine series of escape/adventure games.

As with previous games in the series, Submachine 6: The Edge is a point-and-click adventure set inside of a series of submerged machines, or Submachines. Like any good escape game, the goal is to find your way out of the area that you're stuck in. All navigation is done with the mouse, and any inventory items you pick up on the way are displayed at the bottom of your screen. You won't need any sort of special knowledge to get through, just determination and a head for solving puzzles.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009With the number of escape and adventure games out there, it takes more than just clever puzzles and pretty graphics to make a game really stand out. With a story that has already spanned 5 previous games, simply trying to find your way out as quickly as possible would result in missing what makes the Submachine series so great. With hidden areas and notes left behind from previous explorers, the game is filled with a personality that makes it stand out as much more than just a simple escape game. In this newest installation, we get treated to more of the story and mood that made all of the previous games so compelling to play.

submachine 6: the edge.jpgAnalysis: Fans of the series will find little fault in the newest addition to the already iconic series. The graphics and sounds are perfect for creating the ominous atmosphere present in all of the earlier games. The puzzles are fair enough that they're not completely unsolvable, although they do provide enough of a challenge to keep you busy for a while. As always with Mr. Skutnik's work, it's the small details that make the game so enthralling. From the sound effect to the way the landscape reacts to your actions, every aspect of the game perfectly captures the environment, turning what could have been a basic point-and-click escape game into a fully immersive experience. It's worth noting for newcomers to the series that this game picks up right where the previous installment left off, so while it is not necessary to have played the earlier games in the series, you may want to do so in order to understand everything that is happening.

While getting lost in the machine is part of the fun, it may be wise to make a map as you go. This is by no means a small game, and it's easy to lose track of where you've come from and where you're going if you don't pay attention. Aside from that minor quibble, there's really not much else to fault in such a wonderful game. Fans of the series will find more of what they already love, while readers who are new to Submachine should have no problem getting hooked like the rest of us.

For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the newest installment in the legendary series, what are you waiting for?

Play Submachine 6: The Edge

We've been here covering the entire Submachine series since the very beginning with reviews and walkthroughs for all of them...

Outside the main storyline, and yet still another great Submachine, is a game created for the band Future Loop Foundation:


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asylum626.jpgkateNever mind those adorable little tykes dressed like puppies or pumpkins. Forget cartoon ghosts or happily grinning scarecrows. If you like your horror visceral and bloody, we've got the game for you. Point-and-click adventure game Asylum 626, the follow-up to Hotel 626, is now accepting patients.

We begin with a warning: This game is not for the faint of heart or those under 18. Or my grandmother. Even this review, therefore, may also not be suitable for some. Asylum 626 has a plot yanked straight from an R-rated horror movie, complete with the requisite blood, screaming and slashing inherent to the current scary movie style. Even better (or worse, depending on your point of view), the game uses video clips and fabulously realistic sound effects to create a haunting atmosphere.

You awake to find yourself in some sort of operating room, strapped to a gurney with creepy doctors lurking over you. One picks up a handsaw and slowly starts towards you. Then the horror truly begins, as repressed memories start flooding back and the true nature of the asylum comes to light.

At the start-up screen, you're asked to allow the game access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. This is not mandatory and will not impede your ability to enjoy the game. However, if you do choose to provide your account information, some innovative features are activated and the experience takes on a more personal feel. While third-party access is a controversial subject here on JIG, I have to admit that Asylum 626 uses these connections to their full advantage. The Facebook information is especially well-used.

As the game proceeds, more interactive features become available. You have the option to include your e-mail address, phone number, web camera and microphone in the mix. Again, though, the only mandatory entry is your date of birth due to graphic violence. Even then, entering a month and year while omitting a date seems to work just fine.

Halloween approaches, and a glut of horror games will be upon us shortly. If you want something really scary, check yourself in to Asylum 626.

Update: Doritos has taken both this and Hotel 626 offline and they are no longer available to play, unfortunately. Previously tagged as: advergame, browser, flash, free, game, halloween, horror, macwinlinux, pointandclick, rating-r


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Rating: 4.5/5 (104 votes)
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GrimmrookIntruderBrrrriiing! The sound of the phone cuts in sharp and intrusive over the persistent patter of the rain pelting the roof and the occasional angry growl of thunder rolling through the night. For a moment it's possible that the phone will go unanswered. Nights like these are perfect for turning off the lights, curling up in some blankets and watching a scary movie. They are not for listening to your mom ramble on about how you never call, or the rapid-fire pitch of a telemarketer. It is only the threat of more ringing that keeps the call from being relegated to the answering machine.

The voice on the other end is panicked. It's Sarah, barely able to get out the words between terrified gasps. Someone broke into their house. Someone armed. The power's out and she and Scott are hiding, but she doesn't know how long before they are discovered. You're the only person she trusts to come and save them from the Intruder.

Now the fate of your friends rests squarely on your shoulders, in this short and scary point-and-click adventure. Using your mouse, navigate your way into and throughout the darkened home. Keep your eyes peeled for anything that can be used to defend yourself and try to get to your friends before the intruder does.

As you work to save your friends, don't forget that the intruder is not likely to look kindly upon your presence either. Keep quiet and don't alert him, or he'll come after you, bringing up a "Think Fast" scenario in which you'll have mere seconds to make a decision that could save your life, or end it. You won't be much help to your friends if you wind up dead, will you?

Analysis: Intruder might be relatively old in the world of online gaming (okay, maybe it's the casual gameplay equivalent of a senior citizen), but it still stands as an example of good horror done right in Flash. There is no shortage of horror games available on the internet, but Intruder remains in the small company of those that are actually scary.

Intruder

The success that Intruder enjoys on the horror front stems directly from the care it takes to establish a nearly perfect atmosphere. Most of the game takes place in grainy black and white with a few colors sparingly added at key moments. Deep, dark shadows that could be hiding anything dominate the game. Occasionally a burst of lightning will rip through the atmosphere, sending some shadows dancing malevolently against the walls while painting everything else in split seconds of glaring white. This gives you precious few moments to spy out lurking dangers before they are again concealed by the darkness.

For the most part, Intruder is a fairly conventional point-and-click game. But one innovation, the "Think Fast" sequences, is a brilliant device that heightens the suspense even more. It forces you to make quick decisions under duress, and does a fairly good job at simulating the kind of stresses you might feel in a real life situation.

There are only a handful of puzzles, not too difficult to get through, and there are only a few items to pick up during this short game. You have three life hearts, which means that you can make several bad decisions before your game is over. That will be a relief for those who aren't adept at this style of game, but may make things a little too easy for those who are. Also, due to the grainy black and white quality of the background, there may be some hotspot hunting in your future, which is rarely a good thing. Intruder manages to compensate for that in two ways. First, there is passive text at the top of the screen that automatically changes whenever you hover the cursor over anything of interest. Usually if you've done everything you can in a room, the room's base text will say something to that effect. Also, the game has a built-in strategy guide that gives helpful hints from room to room. In short, Intruder doesn't have many challenges, and jumps through hoops to help the player overcome the ones that do exist.

It should also be mentioned that the plot is not exactly air tight. It strikes me as a little strange that you are the person the captives trust to save them. Call me crazy, but there are people who get paid to take care of things like that. What are they called? You know the ones that wear the blue uniform? Oh, right, the police! Further, the intruder's motivation is hinted at, but never fully explored. This is a small disappointment, but an ultimately forgivable one. A good horror story doesn't need to be void of plot holes, it just needs to have enough of a plot to get the audience to the scene of the scares, which Intruder does.

For its modest ten to fifteen minutes of gameplay, Intruder manages to cram in scares of both the subtly eerie, and jump and scream varieties. So you know what to do by now. Turn off the lights, crank up the volume, and prepare to share a pitch black house with a murderer.

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robinthearcher.gifJohnBRobin the Archer in Pixeland is a platform adventure, from Flash developer Francisco Ferreres, that's all about Robin, a cute little character made out of chunky pixels who's really good with the bow. Each level is filled with coins, enemies, breakable blocks, and a whole mess of tricky jumps to navigate. Work your way through over a dozen stages, stopping between levels to upgrade your abilities.

The goal of each stage is to find and destroy enemy spawn points and then exterminate every monster in the level. Along the way you'll come across a single star item along with a slew of coins. Grab everything you can, it all comes in handy later! Gameplay is pretty straightforward, with movement tied to the [WASD] keys and shooting/jumping to [J] and [K] respectively. You can aim and fire in any direction, which comes in quite handy when flying enemies come your way.

At the level select screen you have the option to visit the in-game store. Here, spend your hard-collected coins on ability upgrades, scoring a higher jump, a stronger weapon, or more health, whichever you need most to suit your playing style. Many stars and coins can only be collected after you give your jumping skill a boost, so don't let that one lag too far behind!

For the most part, Robin the Archer in Pixeland plays smoothly, but I had some difficulty getting used to the "inverted" jump and shoot keys. Is it just me, or shouldn't "jump" be under my primary finger? Also, character tracking is a little too accurate, as the screen is always right on top of Robin as you run through the stages. This can lead to a few bumpy spots when you're navigating tight passageways or moving up and down at a rapid pace.

Other than a few minor technical bumps, Robin the Archer in Pixeland is a thoroughly enjoyable platform game. Shoot some arrows, collect some coins, upgrade some abilities, and have yourself a good time!

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Rating: 4.6/5 (148 votes)
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MarcusQuest for R2D2In October of last year, George Lucas and Cartoon Network introduced us to a new chapter in the Star Wars universe. An epic tale taking place between Episodes II and III, that deals with the fabled Clone Wars. The series has been a ratings success for the network, and is now an established part of the Star Wars universe. So it should be only natural to bring it into one of the most successful spin-off franchises in Star Wars history: LEGO Star Wars. And that's where LEGO Star Wars: The Quest for R2D2 comes in.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, LEGO Star Wars is a 3D action adventure series that takes the familiar characters, vehicles, and locations of the Star Wars universe, and reimagines them using the building blocks of our youth (assuming, unlike me, you ever grew out of them!). Easy to pick up, fun to play, hard to put down, the games have become a success on every platform they were released. Web developer Three Melons has harnessed the power of the Unity 3D engine to bring the LEGO Star Wars experience to the web browser, and has done a bang-up job of it!

In The Quest for R2D2, the titular astromech droid is lost and transmitting a distress signal in the hopes that his master, Anakin Skywalker, will find him again. Unknown to the little droid, the signal he is broadcasting also contains the location of blueprints to a new starship with the power to turn the tide of the war. It doesn't take long for the Sith to get wind of this, and a race ensues to locate R2 and the plans.

The player has the chance to choose to play the game as either Anakin Skywalker for the Republic, or as the Jedi assassin Asajj Ventress. Just as their ultimate goals are different, their paths through the game also differ. As Anakin, you go through the level from left to right, and you face the forces of the Trade Federation. But, play the level as Asajj, and you will start where Anakin's level ends, going from right to left. And instead of the droids of the Trade Federation armies, you face the Republic's clone troopers.

The weapon of choice for both Anakin and Asajj is the venerable light saber. Anakin wields a single blue blade, while Asajj takes on the Republic clone troopers with dual red blades, just like her master, Count Dooku. Tapping the [X] key will send your character through several pre-programmed moves in an attempt to take out whatever is in your path. Along with slicing and dicing, they will also block most laser fire and reflect it back towards the shooter. This is an effective, if slow way of taking out enemies that are too distant or difficult to attack directly. Holding down the [Z] and [X] keys will allow you to charge and release a Force attack. At first, this attack merely stuns and throws your enemies back. But, after increasing the ability (see below) it becomes a truly effective attack.

There are 15 levels to work your way through during the game. The locations range from the inside of ships from both the Republic and Trade Federations' fleet to various planets under both Republic and Sith control. As you make your way through the levels, you will encounter red and yellow crystals. Collect as many as you can in each level to increase your score at the end. You will also occasionally find silver LEGO bricks. These bricks will allow you to increase your stats between levels, much like the character stats in an RPG. Sign up for a LEGO.com account (which is free) and your progress through the levels, as well as your character stats, will be saved for you.

Quest for R2D2Analysis: Games using the Unity 3D engine have been helping to bring the console-style gaming experience into the browser for a while now. LEGO Star Wars: The Quest for R2D2 sets a new standard for browser-based gaming. This game is truly download-quality, and I could see paying money for such a game. How fortunate it is for us that it has been released for free!

The game plays great. Motions are fluid, and the controls are very responsive. Walk into battles, light sabers swinging, and take out the baddies. It all happens so fluidly and naturally that you can simply enjoy playing the game without having to worry about accidentally facing the wrong direction or making the wrong move and getting taken out by a stray laser bolt. Like other games in the LEGO Star Wars series, the hard-core gamer will probably breeze right thought without breaking a sweat. It is directed at younger gamers and the casual gamer, as well as fans of the franchises involved.

It's the graphic presentation that is truly astounding here, though. The game plays in 2.5D, but all of the graphics are rendered in full 3D. And they look excellent. The character models for your Jedi avatars as well as the enemies you face are sufficiently complex to look indistinguishable from their real-world toy counterparts. Surfaces are detailed, so as not to look simply like a mush of pixels. The one complaint that I do have is about the design of the background objects. In previous games in the series, these objects have always had the appearance of being built with LEGO bricks. This really gave the feeling of being in a LEGO version of the Star Wars universe. Here, even though you see random LEGO bricks fall away when you destroy something in the background, it is obvious that the objects are not built with LEGO bricks. A minor quibble, but it does detract some from the experience.

The sound here is excellent. All sound effects have been pulled directly from the Lucasfilm sound archives, with authentic laser blasts and the familiar hum of the light sabers as they cut through the air. The music is the same as in the television series, with Kevin Kiner's brilliant militaristic-take on the original John Williams material. The only thing missing from the presentation are the newsreel-style opening montages from the series.

Forget what you think you know about browser-based games and give LEGO Star Wars: The Quest for R2D2 a try. It won't be long before you get sucked into a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away, where plastic bricks vied for control of the universe.

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Rating: 3.2/5 (57 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAh, with Halloween fast approaching it's time to turn to escape games with a more atmospheric nature. How about a game set in an eerily empty hospital? How about one with mysterious strangers and deadly zombies? How about Endless Anesthesia?

endlessanesthesia.jpgDeveloped by Game2p, Endless Anesthesia is the perfect escape game for this spooky season. Be warned now, there's lots of blood and destruction, and nasty creatures that would like to eat your face. However, if you feel you are up to the challenge, then, well, let's begin.

After a lovely series of pencil drawings that explain... eh, not so much, but they certainly set the atmosphere for what is to come. When the opening scenes end you awake on an operating table in a hospital that is suddenly devoid of patients, health care workers, janitorial staff... basically, everyone is gone. At least, almost everyone. Explore the room and the floor you are on, get the elevator working, meet a mysterious guy who will give you a gun and a fighting chance, then explore some more. Can you get out before the things get you?

Navigation through the game can be a little tricky in spots. When you are in a room there are bars and arrows at the edge of the screen allowing you to turn right, left, go back, etc. It is in the hallways, however, when things can get a little confusing. When you leave a room and enter a hallway you will always be at the head of the hallway, no matter what room you enter and leave you will always be at the head of the hallway. Once you realize that it is easier to remember which door leads to which room.

endlessanesthesia_car.jpgInventory control is simple and intuitive. Simply grab an item from the inventory bar at the top of the screen (remember to hold down the mouse button) and use the item where needed. There are hotkeys for the flashlight and the gun, putting them in your hands quickly when necessary (and it will be necessary). There is a handy cursor change to a hand when you hover over objects that can be manipulated or taken, reducing much of the pixel hunting.

Analysis: Yes, the plot is a familiar one. Think 28 Days Later or any other recent zombie movie. Despite that, Endless Anesthesia is quite a fun challenge. Be warned, however, there is some shoot'em'up involved. You can die in the game if you're not careful, so be careful. Oh, and avoid the third floor until you are armed.

The artwork in Endless Anesthesia is not, perhaps, the sharpest or most detailed. Especially in the floor you first wake up in there is what seems like an endless sea of white, black, and gray, with only small touches of color (mostly from, well, blood). When you meet up with the mysterious stranger, however, and begin to find your way to other floors, more color seeps in. The game itself is a curious combination of pencil drawings, basic black and white, and even some touches of almost anime-like color cut scenes. The odd jumble only adds to the atmosphere of the game, enhancing the creepiness and paranoia. Eerie music and spooky incidental sounds only add to the experience. However, a mute button and the ability to save would have been a nice feature.

It almost feels like an opportunity was wasted here in not adding more detail. Although there are three floors to explore, some rooms seem to have no function other than as a dead end. More puzzles and more challenge would have made the game even better. Still, Endless Anesthesia is fun, atmospheric casual gameplay. Arm yourself, take a deep breath, and get ready to escape!

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Rating: 4.7/5 (110 votes)
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JerradNationStatesWe've been in charge of running a country during a national crisis in Pandemic: American Swine Flu. We've led the nation to world conquest in Mastermind: World Conqueror. But have you ever wondered what goes on during the downtime? In-between the diseases and the hostile takeovers, everyday decisions still need to be made. NationStates is a massively multiplayer online game by author Max Barry that puts you in charge of your own fledgling nation to create and shape how you see fit.

To get started on your path to becoming an imaginary superpower, you'll need to create your nation. You will be prompted to customize different aspects, such as your flag, history, and national animal. These options are superficial only, but the next page will asks you for your opinions concerning various political, social, and economic issues. These will determine the initial status of your nation, although it will change shortly after you start playing.

Changes to your nation come about through issues presented to you every day. You'll be presented with a problem with several options, and whichever one you choose will become national law. You will initially receive one issue per day, but you can bump that up to two in the account settings. As you make choices the various aspects of your country will change and the type of government you run will shift, going anywhere from "anarchy" to "psychotic dictatorship". There are probably some other, reasonable options in between, but I never discovered them. Where would the fun be in that?

You can choose to stay small, influencing just your country, or you can step up to the next level and join with other nations in a group known as a region, where you can make deals or compete for power. You can also join the World Assembly, a thinly-veiled version of the United Nations, to write or vote on resolutions that will affect all participating nations. The forums have as much discussion on current events (in-game and otherwise) as any real-world political site you may find, so if you're up for a good debate, you'll always be able to find one.

nationstates2.gifAnalysis: The real beauty in this game is that it's accessible on so many levels. If you want to be part of the multiplayer aspect, you can join an existing region or create your own. If you'd rather keep to yourself and watch the outcome of the choices you make, that's an option too. Since there is no way to "win", per se, there's freedom in how you run your internal affairs, as well. You can make decisions that reflect your own political views and see which direction that takes the country, or you can be like me and see how difficult you can make life for your citizens. They would probably recommend the former, if I allowed them freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, with a maximum of two issues per day, if you're not participating in world affairs, gameplay will be over fairly quickly. Your decisions can be made in minutes, then you won't have much to do until the next time you log in. That's not to say that the game is any less fun that way; on the contrary, it's very satisfying being able to decide the fate of a nation while having your morning coffee, then be free to go on with the rest of your day. But for people who crave more, the single-player experience might not provide the hours of entertainment you may be looking for. And yes, in my country, it is legal to end your sentences in prepositions.

The philosophical implications of NationStates are staggering. Although they are often humorous and exaggerated, the issues that are addressed are usually real concerns for governments all over the world. The decisions you make may seem like a good idea at the time, but there could be consequences that you never expected. More than once I have made a choice that seemed reasonable, only to rethink my position when I saw the results. I now realize that I am perhaps not the best option to rule the world, after all. Not yet, anyway. Let me play around with NationStates a little more, then we'll see.

It's worth noting that this game is inspired by the novel Jennifer Government by Max Barry. In that sense, it could almost be considered an advergame, as it was created by the author in order to tie in with his book. Still, it doesn't feel like it's trying to promote anything. There are links to the Mr. Barry's website throughout the game, but there is never any real effort to sell you anything. It comes across as more of a companion to the novel. Of course, this could be a marketing scheme on the author's part to make me feel like buying the book was my idea, but if it is, it worked. I will receive my copy in 3-5 business days. Touché, Mr. Barry!

If you're interested in politics and what makes a country run, or if you just want to oppress the lower class, NationStates is right up your alley.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (192 votes)
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picma.jpgGrinnypHello, my name is GrinnyP and I am a picross fanatic. It has been over 20 years since I first fell in love with a puzzle in a magazine, Paint by Numbers. Ever since then, whether in paper or computer format, on-line or download, that particular puzzle has always been a favorite. Call it picross or nonograms (or one of 20 million other names) I can never get enough. That is why I am so excited over the newest Flash version of my favorite puzzle, Picma. Designed by Moonberry Studios, Picma takes picross to dizzying new heights, and satisfies the never-ending craving familiar to picross fanatics.

Playing picross is simple, in theory. You are given a grid with numbers along the outside which indicate how many squares in the grid are filled in. For instance, if you see the series 3, 5, 2 you know that within that line there is a block of 3 squares, a block of 5 squares, and a block of 2 squares filled in with at least one space in-between. Pretty simple if you are working in a 15 x 15 grid, not so simple if you are working in a larger grid. Still, picking up the basic strategy is easy for those who have never played the game. But be warned, you might end up swelling the ranks of those of us who jones for more.

Picma has gone the extra mile and included multi-color puzzles along with regular single color picross. These are much trickier, as there is not always space between the color blocks, so regular picross solving strategies must be modified to solve these little beauties. For those who have mastered picross, this is a fun new challenge, requiring even more mental gymnastics.

Even better, Picma features a "create your own" puzzle section, where you can create anything from simple 5 x 5 puzzles up to monster 50 x 50 brain teasers, either single color or multiple. The site does have registration, but you can play the five levels and 120 puzzles without even bothering, if you don't want to. Creating puzzles allows you to access even more puzzles, if registration is your thing.

Analysis: Great pains have been made to make Picma a joy to look at as well as a joy to play. The interface is top-notch, with the ability to use the on-screen icon controls or hot keys. The look of the game is stunning; grids appear on yellowed paper, sitting on a wooden table top, appearing to be a page of a book or magazine. For those of us from the age of dinosaurs, this is a thrilling call-back to the days before computer picross, when all you had was a pencil, a magazine, and your wits.

As far as challenge and number of puzzles are concerned, Picma's got you covered, even if you're a picross expert. There are five levels, from Apprentice (easy grids, mostly 5 x 5) to Grand Master (from 25 x 25 grids to 50 x 50 grids), each with 24 puzzles. A timer lets you know how fast you've managed to solve each grid, and selection of a puzzle lets you know the average time players have taken to complete it. Not that picross needs to be timed to be enjoyed.

The backgrounds, the music, the controls, all add up to an amazing, gorgeous picross experience, one of the best to be had whether online or downloaded. Picma lends itself well to the casual gameplay experience, being something you can do on a coffee break or when you have a few free minutes to solve a puzzle or two. Head to the site and solve one or two puzzles, or settle in for a marathon and solve until your eyes bleed, it is up to you. But definitely play Picma and enjoy the experience!

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Rating: 3.8/5 (87 votes)
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MarcusSpectro DestroyerAt first glance, Spectro Destroyer, by Lorenzo Nuvoletta of LorenzGames, could be one of any number of platform shooters. Run and gun through the levels, taking out alien scum and robotic sentries trying to halt your progress. Then you realize there's more to this than shooting everything in sight. It's more like line-of-sight. In fact, Spectro Destroyer is just the opposite of the "shoot first, ask questions later" side-scrollers like Metal Slug and Abuse. Instead, it's an amalgam of a platform shooter and a physics puzzle. And that, my friends, is a lot of fun.

You play the intrepid space explorer, ray gun in hand to protect yourself from whatever might be lurking out there in the unexplored depths. As you enter each level of the game, you'll be presented with the challenge. Across the level will be scattered any number of alien baddies, from slugs that look upon you with evil intent, to mechanical menaces shooting at anything that gets in their path. You'll notice that for the most part, these threats sit in places around the room that cannot be safely reached by you and your weapon directly. And, even if you can, you will not be able to destroy them. This is where physics, and some simple color-matching come in to play.

Placed at various locations around each level will be a number of reflective, colored surfaces. These are what you will utilize to blast the baddies. Firing at one of these surfaces will change your shot to the color of the surface, and reflect it in the proper direction. Lining your shots up precisely will allow you to hit targets around corners, far above you, and behind barriers.

Eventually you will have to use shots reflecting off of more than one mirror to bring down your opponents. You'll notice that as your shot reflects off of the different mirrored surfaces it changes colors to match. The order in which you reflect your shots is very important. If you hit the orange mirror before the shot hits the green enemy, you're sunk. But if it reflects to the green mirror first, then you'll score. Be careful when dealing with multiple reflective surfaces, though. If you manage to reflect the shot back on yourself, it's curtains for you, no matter what color the bolt is.

The score for each level is based on the number of shots that you use to take all the baddies out, and the number of times you bite the dust. Points for completing the level are taken away for each shot used, and for each life used. The less used of each, the more points awarded. Collecting the gold stars in many of the rooms will award you ten extra points, so be on the lookout for those.

Spectro DestroyerAnalysis: Though the premise for Spectro Destroyer seems simple, the execution is quite challenging, especially in later levels. Even if you can see angles of reflection like lines on a roadway, some levels require some pretty fancy shooting to get everything just right. You would be inclined to simply shoot, adjust, shoot, adjust again until you hit the target, but if you do that too much, you end up with level scores in the single digits. While some will ignore their score and simply try to complete all the levels, that defeats the spirit of the game.

Even though it's a bit short on pack-in levels, the virtual shelf life is greatly extended by the inclusion of a level editor and community-created stages. Here you are given access to all of the mirrors, baddies, walls, moving platforms, and other obstacles that are in the regular game levels. Design your level, give it a test to make sure everything is to your liking, and upload it to the game server. When you go to play a level, you can choose your own custom levels, or levels designed by others playing the game. There is even a rating system to ensure that the best levels rise to the top of the bin.

Physics game fans are a pretty hard-core bunch compared to other casual gamers. The physics need to be spot-on or the gaming experience falls flat for us. If things don't happen the same way each time we try something, we'll call shenanigans faster than you can balance a cube. The physics in Spectro Destroyer are so close to perfection. I want to love it, but there's just a tiny bit of trickery going on. Your standard angles of reflection are spot on, and I've not had them steer me wrong yet. Where the physics game gets dicey is at the edge of the flat mirrors. I don't know why, but moving back and forth along the edge of the mirror doesn't produce consistent results. Granted, this is not often part of the solution to the level, and when it is, it can generally get close enough to produce the desired effect. But for those of us that love to experiment, it can get annoying.

My only other critique of an otherwise excellent game is the lack of any sort of story. We're given a character to move through these levels, and bad guys to shoot at. But, like the complaint of any good method actor, what's my motivation? Was I trapped by the evil alien scum? Am I breaking out of some intergalactic prison? A story, even a simple one, to stitch the game together would not go amiss.

Whether you accept the challenge of the built-in levels, or try to take on other players' challenges, you're sure to have fun with this physics shooter. Get your protractor out and take aim at the challenge of Spectro Destroyer.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (189 votes)
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icycle.jpgzxoGather 'round, children, and let me tell you the story of a naked man and his bicycle. Some very bad people put this man to sleep for a long time. A very long time. When he woke up, the whole earth was frozen, and he thought he must be the only human left alive on the whole planet. But wait! What's that over there? Why it's a bubble, frozen in midair! Someone else must have survived! He'd better try to find them. But how does one navigate a world frozen solid by an apocalyptic catastrophe? On a squeaky bicycle, of course!

This is the premise of Icycle, the hauntingly gorgeous platformer from UK animator-turned-gamemaker Reece Millidge. Use the [arrow] keys to accelerate and brake with the bicycle (there's no going backwards) and [up] to jump. Pedal your way across eight treacherous landscapes, following the trail of frozen bubbles in hopes of catching up to your quarry. Be sure to avoid all the sharp things, and mind the bottomless pits from which escape the wind's mighty howl! Nab as many bubbles as you can for a better score at the end.

Each level consists of several screens, which must all be navigated flawlessly, or else it's back to the beginning of the level. You wouldn't think there would be a lot of variety in the way of frozen wasteland tableaux, but Millidge puts his immense animation talents to work, supplying themes for all eight levels. You'll find yourself carving up chilly caves, flying through frozen forests, wending your way among wintry war zones, and maneuvering through moribund metropolises.

Although many of the landscapes look ready to be leaped and bounded across, you'll end up an irritated gamer if you adopt a blitzkrieg strategy. The planet may be frozen, but it certainly is not dead! Be prepared for falling rocks, floors that crumble beneath your wheels, gigantic growing ice crystals and other unpleasant surprises. Icycle should be viewed first as a platformer, but also as a light exercise in memory ‒ something along the lines of an unfair platformer, but thankfully much milder. You might suffer a few unavoidable deaths, but with careful observation you can learn to make them, um, un-unavoidable.

icycle2.jpgAnalysis: Many of you may recognize Icycle from when we featured it on Link Dump Friday. The response from the JIG community was so overwhelmingly positive that we knew we had overlooked a gem. What's more, a couple of the complaints made have been addressed: Millidge has added checkpoints to the last three levels to mitigate the difficulty, and there is now a self-destruct button in case you get stuck somewhere.

By far, the most captivating part of Icycle is the atmosphere. The premise alone was a good start; a naked guy riding a bicycle on ice? Gold. But on top of the story lies the stunning layered artwork of Millidge. It's so great, I'm happy to ignore the fact that sometimes it's hard to tell what's solid ground and what's just foreground art. Millidge clearly is one of those gifted people that not only have an impeccable eye for color, but the artistic skills to turn the palettes into a full-blown landscape.

Need more? How about all the little touches. The subtle clues of a world passed by. The howling wind. The awkward frozen pose after a crash. The forlorn calls at the beginning of each level. The fading screams as the rider falls into oblivion. The way each screen zooms in or out to accommodate the terrain. The fading iridescence of the bubbles as they freeze.

I could go on, but the point is that Millidge knows his craft down to the smallest detail, and Icycle is all the better for it. That's not to say there's no room for improvement; the controls could be better while you're riding an updraft, for example, and the physics of riding up and down hills is a bit off. Nonetheless, I have a feeling you'll be too busy enjoying the Icycle experience to notice these minor flaws.

Play Icycle


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Mobile Monday

JohnBBit of an old-school throwback on this edition of Mobile Monday, showcasing the classic Wolfenstein franchise working in a new genre that's based on that genre the way it was back when Wolfenstein wasn't so classic. Did that make sense? Sure it did! Now go play Wolfenstein RPG!

wolfensteinrpg.jpgWolfenstein RPG - All the trappings of a first person role playing game set in the Wolfenstein universe! You play Sergeant B.J. Blazkowicz, leader of an elite U.S. fighting unit here to save the world from the grip of the evil Axis Army that dwells in Castle Wolfenstein. Defeat countless enemies in turn-based combat using a variety of equippable weapons, inventory items and temporary stat boosters. Then beat up a chicken to restore your health. It may sound odd at first, but the resulting game is an excellent RPG experience.

melongolf.jpgMelon Golf - The fruity taste of melons, now in a physics-based golf game form! Pull back on the melon by dragging anywhere on the touch screen, choose your angle carefully and release. After the melon ball comes to rest, take your next shot, and try to stay under par! The level design is dynamic and interesting, and the creativity you'll see in the environments is superb. I loved slinging the melon to the moon!

aera.jpgAera - Most 3D games on the iPhone have been, at best, difficult to control. The casual flight sim Aera takes a step in the right direction by changing the action to a 2.5D plane and leaving the directional controls to the accelerometer. Tilt to adjust your angle of flight, boost and change speed by using on-screen controls, then try and perform loops and other tricks while completing aerobatic, dogfight, and race missions in the sky. Easily one of the best (and best-looking) flight sim apps on the iPhone.

canabalt-iphone.gifCanabalt - Did you enjoy the browser version of Canabalt? That's a trick question, of course you did! Now it's available on the iTunes App Store for rooftop robot fleeing on-the-go. See how far you can run without smashing into a building or tripping over obstacles littered across the ground. Tap the touch screen to jump, timing your leaps to be ready for the next round of obstacles.

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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ageoforacles_banner.jpg

GrinnypEver have a strange dream where you were actually a playing card? Then a peacock was talking to you? And so were other cards? No, this is not Alice in Wonderland. Welcome to Age of Oracles: Tara's Journey, a calm and relaxing adventure/hidden object game hybrid.

ageoforacles.jpgDesigned by Jolly Bear Games, Age of Oracles takes you, as Tara, on a journey through the major arcana of the Tarot. Meet the Emperor, the hanged man, and many other colorful characters as you wind your way through a fairy tale countryside gaining wisdom along the way, all with the help of your guide. When you come to the end of your journey will you have gained anything? That's up to you to decide.

You begin in a castle courtyard when the aforementioned peacock brings you to life from a card. Suddenly you are on a quest that involves a lot of mini-games, hidden object scenes, adventure scenes, and a fun rarity in this genre, reverse hidden object scenes. Each chapter on your journey will follow a similar pattern: meet the embodiment of a major tarot arcana, complete a reverse hidden object scene, complete two regular HOG scenes, solve the puzzle given to you by the character, and then complete one of three mini-games.

Age of Oracles: Tara's Journey has gone to great lengths to make gameplay enjoyable. The artwork is beautiful, bright, and very much like wandering through a fairy-tale. The music has renaissance overtones, and perfectly complements the calm gameplay. The mini-games have all been done before, but rarely this beautifully. The three major mini-games that are played between each level are a perfect example: gorgeous tarot cards of the minor arcana set against a beautiful red background. Lovely to look at.

ageoforacles2.jpgAnalysis: Yes, yet another adventure/HOG hybrid has joined the ranks. Instead of going the route many have gone: action, adventure, mystery, spookiness, etc., Age of Oracles: Tara's Journey takes a different tack, an almost Zen-like calm. Between the art, the music, the incidental sounds, and the soothing dialogue this is the type of casual gameplay that relaxes nerves rather than jangles them. It is, in fact, much more fun to play in small chunks, a chapter at a time, rather than rushing through the experience. It is also nice to see the "reverse" variation on HOG, something you don't see all that often.

Hints are on a refilling timer, and it refills fast! Other than a red 'X' showing up, there are no apparent penalties for incorrect clicks in the HOG sections. Hints can be used in adventure/puzzle scenes as well as both regular and reverse hidden object sections. This makes gameplay quite simple and, occasionally, a bit too simple.

The three major mini-games played between the chapters get more complex as you get further into the game, but it can still get a bit repetitive. And of course, the subject matter can be a bit tricky, as some folks think that the tarot is... well, perhaps evil is too strong a word, but there are some who might find a game based on a superstitious fortune-telling device to be a bit distasteful.

Why are you wandering through the major arcana? Why a talking peacock? What does it all mean? Not all of these questions are answered. Instead, you are gifted with a peaceful, enjoyable wander through a fairy-tale landscape, picking up little gems of wisdom along the way. Is it worth playing? If you like hidden object titles and are not looking for a pulse-pounding experience, absolutely!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.9/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (20 votes)
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Gridrunner Revolution

AdamBRemember 2002? Back when the Mars Odyssey space probe began mapping the surface of Mars. When Antonio Meucci was officially recognized as the first inventor of the telephone. Eclipsing these events by sheer level of awesomeness and benefit to humankind, 2002 will be remembered for Jeff Minters originally releasing gridrunner++ for PC. What a world we lived in. Flash forward seven glorious years to 2009 and Minters' Llamasoft has just released Gridrunner Revolution. Despite having little, if anything, to do with grids or running, it does have plenty to do with sheep and curry. Oh yes.

gridrunnerrevolution.jpgYou play an unnamed little spaceman, alone and braving the neon, explosion filled depths of space. Suddenly, enemy ships approach. Do they want your ship? Your knowledge? A key piece of technology you have? Nobody knows. All that we can be sure of is if you blow enough of them up, space sheep wander on to the screen — and you can collect them.

The controls for Gridrunner Revolution are customizable, which is handy given the amount of buttons needed to keep track of. Of course, using the mouse eliminates most of the additional keystrokes needed, as the mouse (with scroll key) can be used to aim, move, rotate and switch ships on its own — hybrid keyboard/mouse controls are also an option, which means you can blast, explode, doge, duck, weave and collect flying sheep and space cows all within your comfort zone, which makes life a lot easier for our heroic space man (or woman).

The good news is, should you meet an unfortunate demise, you have several spare ships that can be utilized to take up the good fight where you left off. What's even better is that, temporarily, your now-lifeless ship becomes a projectile weapon all of its own, with an ability to destroy enemies before it exits the screen. Should you be able to maneuver the careening ship to a wandering sheep, your life is instantly rejuvenated and the battle continues unheeded. Whoever said death is the end, and reincarnation is a load of hogwash, clearly never collected a space sheep wile playing in Vindaloo difficulty. Because, my friends, this is proof positive that miracles do happen.

The interesting thing about the game is the number of ways you can be killed. Mostly this involves getting hit with an enemy bullet or colliding with an enemy ship. But no, this is not all. Firstly, suns and black holes appear which have the power to curve your bullets. Shooting around corners is one advantage of this — entering loads of ammunition into an orbit around the astronomical figure will increase your score multiplier and cause everything to glow like crazy. Eventually the sun or black hole gets tired of the affair and decides to shoot back at you. Meanwhile dead enemies drop flowers which explode if you fail to collect a sheep, but the unexploded flowers can be fed into black holes. Somehow, this all makes sense when you're playing it.

gridrunnerrevolution2.jpgAnalysis: First and foremost, this game is exceptionally visual, featuring many blinking and unpredictable neon patterns against a black backdrop and is not recommended for people with photosensitive epilepsy or any other similar condition. On the other hand, its exactly what we've come to expect from the modern era of shooters, meaning fans of the genre will enjoy this, while people who already dislike the genre probably won't be swayed just because this game occasionally gives you multipliers in the several hundreds of times range and the extra lives are giant space cows which fill the whole screen. Their loss.

In addition to the main version of the gameplay style, there are two versions of the game based on their 1982 models which, naturally, have a very retro feel to them (and contain the actual part of the game where the word 'grid' in the title is relevant). So if you're into that sort of thing, or just want to see how far the game has come, those are here for you. There is a "Thrusty" version of the game where ordinary movement has been disabled and motion is now carried out through a sling-shot effect, meaning you choose a location, click there and the ship will head in that direction until you move the mouse's location. Finally there is endurance, which is the original game except you only have one ship, though through "sheepie save" you can continue after death.

In addition to all of the above, (but wait, there's more!) the game includes four difficulty modes — all named after different levels of curry spice. The easiest is Korma, followed by Madras, Vindaloo and the most difficult, Phaal. Throw in a jukebox feature (listen to any of the music without distraction) and you've really got a well rounded, very intense and fully featured gaming experience here. If you're into this sort of thing, then what are you waiting for? If you're not, chances are the exceptionally stunning visuals may just put you off in the first place. Those who stick with it will be rewarded with one of the best experiences to hit the genre in recent times. And whoever you are, please remember, if you see a floating space sheep, be sure to never, ever, let it escape.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (30 votes)
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Aztec Tribe

JohnBAztec Tribe from Merry Pen Games is a casual combination of Farm Frenzy and Build-a-lot. Between building and upgrading gardens, mines and houses and managing a slew of resources, you'll help an adventuresome tribe establish a new home in a faraway land. It's a rewarding and relaxing game that delivers extra challenge only when you want it.

aztectribe.jpgMany years ago, a peaceful tribe of natives lived in the mountains. Enemies surrounded their village on all sides, forcing them to scout out and find a new home. Soon their scouts discovered a fertile valley, a land waiting to be their new home. It's your job to help the Aztecs settle this foreign land by building settlements one by one. With each plot of land you shape, more buildings and upgrades become available, allowing you to create a thriving civilization that's both efficient and luxurious!

Everything in Aztec Tribe is centered around resources, whether they be physical items such as food, gold and wood or allocating workers where they're needed most. Early stages begin with the same pattern: set-up a wigwam, the central hub where workers stay, then build a garden to produce food, a mine to create gold, a sawmill to chop wood, etc. Resources are created at these buildings but must be manually gathered to go into your queue, giving your cursor something to do while you wait for things to happen. Later you'll be able to create units that gather resources on their own.

Buildings can be upgraded (provided you have the resources) by clicking on the star icon in the menu screen. Each building must also have a worker present before it can operate, another task accomplished using the menu. It's ok to leave houses empty, but mills, farms and mines need someone to keep them running.

One of the more interesting aspects of Aztec Tribe is the option to play "just to win" or play to master the game. Each level has a set of goals you must meet in order to progress. Once you finish those, you're given the option to move on to the next level or to continue and work for a silver medal. Choose the latter and new, more difficult goals will appear. Once those are finished you can even choose to earn a gold ranking!

aztectribe2.jpgAnalysis: Aztec Tribe presents a unique mixture of player choices and player boundaries. Each building you construct must be placed in one of the set locations, restricting how many of each you can have on the level. This prevents you from becoming a super resource tycoon, but it also encourages you to branch out and use a variety of buildings. The goals in each level leave little room for creativity, but fortunately there's also little room for failure.

Aztec Tribe isn't a difficult game, as there are very few opportunities for failure. Everything goes pretty much as you would like it to with almost no interruption. It also takes an hour or so before the real game kicks in, making this one a slow-starter. Don't rush into Aztec Tribe expecting a mega management game of challenge. Instead, step in and be ready for a pleasant simulation where you can whack turkeys with sticks and gather resources with your cursor.

With around three dozen levels, Aztec Tribe is a good length for this kind of game. New buildings are doled out slowly, with the bulk of the exciting content coming in the latter half of the game. Even though there's no time limit, things get hectic later on with nefarious critters roaming onto the scene, buildings needing repairs, and resources begging to be gathered across your village.

Casual to its Mesoamerican core, Aztec Tribe is nothing but pure resource managing entertainment.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's a platforming fest on this edition of Weekend Download! We've traveled to the far away land of Platformia to find awesome run-and-jump-and-shoot games for you to play. Our expedition resulted in a backpack full of treasures, the best of which are below!

adventureapes.gifAdventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery (Windows, 5MB, free) - A well-oiled platform adventure game that will remind you a bit of Metroid and maybe a bit of Jazz Jackrabbit, too. Explore an ancient temple and unlock treasure chests to nab gold, gems, and very useful items. A lot of twisty passageways and tall chasms dotted with precarious perches, so your platforming and exploration skills will definitely come into play. The pixel art is also phenomenal.

starguard.gifStar Guard (Mac/Windows, 1.8MB, free) - What it lacks in visual complexity, Star Guard more than makes up for with balanced and entertaining gameplay. You are a spaceguy on a mission to defeat a wizard. Armed with a gun and... uh.. the ability to jump, you must carve your way through nine levels of traps, enemies, and more traps. Checkpoints make things less frustrating, and infinite lives make it a fairly easy game, but it's one of those you'll feel compelled to beat once you start playing.

raimondex.jpgRaimond EX (Windows, 5.7MB, free) - A dark and somewhat macabre platform game where you're searching for way to cure your dying brother. Explore the underworld as you pick up and eat fast food, steal TVs, and engage in illegal organ trafficking! Be sure to read the controls on the download page, they come in quite handy. Created for the GameJolt Axiom contest, so you may encounter a glitch or two.

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 (24 votes)
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The Jolly Gang's Spooky Adventure

JohnBThe Jolly Gang's Spooky Adventure is a point-and-click adventure game that doesn't take place in a near-fantasy world, a scary haunted mansion, or a series of dream worlds connected by a magical portal. It also doesn't involve anyone's family member heading off to investigate a long-lost artifact. It does contain cheesy visuals and a bit of an adult sense of humor, making it one of the few casual games to target an older crowd. Think of it as a casual version of Ben There, Dan That! mixed with your favorite browser-based room escape game.

thejollygangsspooky.jpgIt all starts with a job. A job working for a tabloid, to be more precise, where you're sent on a quest to photograph a ghost haunting a psychic's house. A few locked boxes, a difficult secretary and a disgusting herbal potion later, you receive your first paycheck and head off to celebrate. The party has barely begun when you receive a call from your boss sending you out to investigate another spooky incident. But, hey, if one photo can fund a party, think what kind of a party several photos can throw!

Get your mouse hand ready, as it's all you'll need in this game. Each room is stocked with a number of items and puzzles that must be solved before you can move on. A handy "objectives" space on the menu tells you what needs to be done next, while an optional items list at the top of the screen helps you stock your inventory with the right things. Solving puzzles is a lot like a room escape game and involves unlocking cabinets, digging through trash cans, finding combinations to unlock a safe, and the occasional mini-game or two.

Analysis: When playing The Jolly Gang's Spooky Adventure, you can't help but think of Ben There, Dan That! and its sequel Time Gentlemen, Please!. The games share a similar flavoring of humor, a purposefully sloppy-looking cartoon-like visual style, and irreverent situations around every corner. Jolly Gang is very much a casual game, though, so expect a shorter experience with much easier puzzles to solve. It also doesn't push the humor button quite so far.

Games like The Jolly Gang's Spooky Adventure have a tendency to polarize gamers. In other words, you'll either run away screaming or absolutely love it. Some will enjoy the exaggerated visual style, odd sense of humor and simpler puzzles. Others won't see beyond five minutes into the demo. Here's a protip from your ole game-reviewing pal: turn the voice volume all the way down, otherwise you'll be "treated" to the constant babbling of what sounds like Gilbert Gottfried with a lungful of helium screaming from inside a tin can. The game plays so much better with quiet text reading in your head.

It's easier and shorter than most adventure games, but you'll enjoy every minute and hate when the game is over. Take a break from the usual casual adventure game and enjoy something very, very different.

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 (127 votes)
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Grinnypbeingone4.jpgEscaped vat? Check. Fought vampires? Check. Found out that you're a supernatural phenomenon? Check. Okay, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, burned it, scattered the ashes. Can we please leave the lab now? Pretty please? Finally, we can play Being One: Episode 4 - Moonrise and escape!

Designed by Psionic, the Being One games have been an adrenaline driven, pulse-pounding, point-and-click adventure from beginning to end. From Episode One where you woke up in the mysterious vat to the penultimate episode where you discovered what the lab was all about, it's been a wild, fun, blood-soaked ride. Now, the ride is over.

You pick up in Episode 4 where you left off, at the open air elevator where you last defeated the dark matter monster. Now you must continue on your journey to escape, mysteriously without the little cell phone who has been keeping you company since Episode 1.

Navigation is smooth and easy, click on a yellow arrow to go in whatever direction takes your fancy, providing, of course, that there is a yellow arrow pointing the way. Hover your mouse over objects to see descriptions, simply click on an object to pick it up. And don't forget your inventory, which still has the multi-tool and gun from the previous episode. You're going to need the gun. Seriously. There are door locks to solve, machinery that needs to be set, and objects that need to be collected and assembled. Find your way to the flight deck and hey, if you're really good, you might even be able to get off this hunk of rock before it pulls itself apart.

As with all of the Being One games there appears to be a color theme going on. In this case, it's the deep blue/black of space. Yes, the lab is on an asteroid, and there's only one way off. Hope you can find it. Being One: Episode 4 plays more in line with Episode 2. That means lots of blood, gore, and killing. Definitely not for young children or those who faint at the sight of blood. The fear factor has also returned with lots of strange noises, ominous ground shaking, creepy crawlies, and lots and lots of really insane graffiti.

Although nominally a point-and-click adventure story, the Being One franchise includes elements of hidden object games, room escape games, and a little shoot'em'up for variety. Being One: Episode 4 is more of the same. Navigate your way through hidden (and collapsing) tunnels, solve your way past locked doors, and ultimately see what it was all about.

Taken separately, each chapter of Being One has been a little gem of casual gameplay, combining all of the above elements into an interesting, mysterious, serialized tale. Now that tale has come to an end. Was it worth the journey? That is up to the player to decide.

Play Being One: Episode 4 - Moonrise


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraGreetings from the future, beloved Jiggernauts! That's right... this week's heart-pounding episode of Link Dump Friday comes from an unspecified point many years from now! And let us tell you, friend, the future is sweeeeeet. There are giant moths, giant robots, giant explosions... basically, the future is just like today, only bigger and more extreme. Also, everyone gets a metallic aqua jumpsuit that is both flattering and functional! How are we broadcasting from the future, you ask? Well, we could tell you, but your brain would explode. So just trust us and play these games instead! After all, have we ever lied to you? (Lately?)

  • Butterfly Fantasy 2Butterfly Fantasy 2 - In the future, everyone has "gone green" with the advent of the domesticated giant moth. Now, while riding around on the back of a giant, fat, wriggling bug-body may not sound appealing, it's actually the only way to avoid getting kidnapped by goo beasts. Sound familiar?
  • Valkyrie BattlefieldValkyrie Battlefield - Pip-pip, old bean! In the future, real gentlemen and ladies of well breeding know the proper, dignified way to settle disputes is by battling giant, customizable mechs, arena-style! Just make sure to keep one hand on your monocle and the other on your missiles! Cheerio, balderdash, penny-farthing, and also wot-wot!
  • Demolition City 2Demolition City 2 - In the future, safety is not important! Expanding on an old idea, all buildings are now no longer carefully disassembled, but utterly obliterated with piles of unsafe explosives! Which, you know, would be awesome if the laws of physics were a bit more forgiving. Or predictable. Or natural.
  • EscraftEscraft - In the future, we are all very busy doing important future things! So we like our escape games to be exceedingly short, and preferably vaguely nightmarish as well! Hmmm... everything seems to be in order here! Carry on, creepy belly monster.
  • Take Something LiterallyTake Something Literally - In the future, we are all magnificently intellectual. (Yes, even me.) And so we prefer brainy pursuits, with puzzles and riddles we can feel annoyingly superior over. We buff our elegant nails on our waistcoats while solving such things and practice our condescending laughs. Mmmho-ho-ho-ho! That's right. In the future, everyone is annoying. But then, you probably already suspected that, didn't you?

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (54 votes)
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PatrickEvidence of Everything ExplodingAfter a long, southern-hemisphere winter hibernation, Aussie Auteur Jason Nelson hits us with another simple movement game chock full of crazy texts and post-modern level design shenanigans.

Evidence of Everything Exploding lays its proof like this: you control an arrow, everything is exploding as you move around, therefore... I mean cOme oN, it should be obvious. Your goal is to get to the "Reach This!" thingey in every level. To pull this off you have to brave things that kill you on collision, along with switches that open doors. Jason understands that these objects are the Lions, Tigers and Bears of 98% of all games ever made, and he tears apart your expectations in a delightfully zany manner, then freezes them in a block of Fosters and lets you draw your own conclusions about the future you'll experience after your mind is cryogenically de-frozen.

Controls are simple, the [arrow] keys move you about. That's it. Then you collide with things, some things are baaaad, some things are GOOD, some things explode and then provide evidence. There are also buttons that will appear that can be clicked with the mouse and trigger effects laid over the screen, such as bees buzzing around or airplanes colliding. The game itself is dead simple, as usual with Nelson's work it's all about the content.

Analysis: Jason teaches new media in a university, a job that involves interacting with 18-22s on subjects such as deconstructionism, semiotics, what significance certain video games might have, ect. It also means you get to mess around and do whatever you want, and hence we get a consistently inconsistent set of "art games" from him. I think Evidence is the best one yet, not the least reason being that it's the most playable. The control scheme is so simple (gravity is taken out of the equation and there's no shooting) that you can directly poke around with the text. The texts here are typically enthusiastic in their dance between being meaningful and pointless, a post-modern signature, but I found them particularly entertaining, especially the bits about feces being a pre-historic super food and the Spanish Flu being a powerful alternative fuel. It's also interesting to get to read actual documents written by Bill Gates and others, and last but not least, the 1984 patent for the Pizza Box. I wish I/he/they were kidding, but someone actually tried to patent the pizza box. I wrote a patent back in 2008 for a financial process involving renewable energy, and I realized it was unpatentable, apparently, that shouldn't have stopped me, and I do agree with Jason that the law is confused about intellectual property. In either case, thanks for releasing this game for free Jason, though I think trying to charge people for it would have been way more ironic.

Are you ready to accept that things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and that doors can be opened by colliding with boxes? If so, prepare yourself for this mind boggling, stunningly austere experience.

Play Evidence of Everything Exploding


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Rating: 4.3/5 (109 votes)
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Legend of the Golden MaskGrinnypAh, the jungles of South America, hot, steamy, lush, and mysterious. A perfect setting for an adventure/hidden object expedition to find a lost artifact! But what if you don't want to go through the trouble of downloading one of the many hybrid titles out there? Just click and check out Legend of the Golden Mask by Candystand, of course!

As the first scene opens you will get the complete story of the (tense-looking) unnamed female protagonist. Her grandfather went missing on an expedition and it falls to her and her mother to clean out the old guy's house. While sifting through the massive piles of extraneous objects, however, you find pieces of the grandfather's journal and learn about the legend that led to his disappearance. Let the adventure begin!

Gameplay begins with a standard hidden object search. Lists of objects to find will show up, along with extras to locate such as gold cubes, pieces of a journal, hint objects, etc. Once you've cleared the scene of one list, an optional second (and harder) list will pop up, giving you an opportunity to search for more objects and increase your score.

What is really refreshing about Legend of the Golden Mask is that Candystand has invested all of the production values of a downloadable game into something that can be played for free in a browser. The artwork is glorious, bright, and near photorealistic. The music is a nice mix of South American rhythms, featuring some rather haunting flute work. The story, although short, is a complete one, with a beginning, middle, and resolution. Gaming can commence in a timed mode (for experienced HOG fans) and a non-timed mode for relaxed, casual gameplay.

Legend of the Golden MaskAnalysis: Legend of the Golden Mask has everything that you might find in a pay/download adventure/hidden object hybrid. Lots of hidden objects (of course), mini-games and puzzles, a storyline that takes you to exotic places, appropriate music, etc. What makes the game special is that it is not just a "play one chapter free" type of enticement to buy the game, but a whole game in and of itself!

Cluttered rooms and objects stashed behind other objects can be slightly irritating in any hidden object game, but in a smaller Flash browser screen, it can be downright painful. Legend of the Golden Mask unfortunately falls victim to this common problem, so the next time you visit your optometrist, tell him you need the special hidden object game lenses. The game is also a bit stingy with the hints, as you can only earn three per level and they don't roll over from scene to scene.

Other than size and hint issues, there is not much to complain about. The mini-games and puzzles are ones that have been used many times before in HOG titles, but it is still a pleasant surprise to find such a variety in a Flash game. Jigsaw-type puzzles, hidden match puzzles, find the differences, even a gear puzzle show up to make the gaming experience feel like the real, full-sized downloadable thing. Another wonderful feature is high replay value. Each time you start the game, the list of objects to find is different, as are puzzle solutions!

While not as long as a full-sized downloadable game, Legend of the Golden Mask is a complete adventure, a perfect way to while away an afternoon, or a coffee break. Ultimately a fun, casual gameplay experience can be had by all.

Play Legend of the Golden Mask


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Rating: 3.7/5 (49 votes)
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You Are Games

JerradThis week's You Are Games challenge leverages the awesome and unique opportunity being offered by Inexile Entertainment with its new Prius-branded version of a fan favorite here at JIG!

fantasticcontraptionprius.jpgFans of physics puzzles and fuel efficiency, your time has come at last! Fantastic Contraption is back with Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition, sporting a new look, new levels, and a chance to win $1,000!

For those of you who don't remember, the original Fantastic Contraption was all about using limited building tools to create a device that would move your object from point A to point B. Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition keeps the same basic premise but with a few new features. Along with the environmentally friendly theme, you now have an efficiency meter which slowly runs out as you add parts and move your device. How can you keep it charged? With solar panels, of course! Solar panels are placed like rods and connect wheels to each other. Your contraption needs a few of them in order to keep running, as making it to the goal isn't your only objective in this Fantastic Contraption. You also need to do it efficiently.

Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition includes a free level editor which can be used for fun or to design your own challenges to enter into the competition. Once you've built a level to your liking, press the "submit" button and you will automatically be entered into the contest. User-created levels will be judged on creativity, fun, innovation, and how appropriate they are to the theme of the game. The top ten submissions win $1,000 each and a spot in a user-created level pack that will be released once the competition is over. The contest ends November 1, so if you want to enter, it's time to get building!

Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition has also received a considerable cosmetic update, which is a welcome addition to just about any game. You'll also find several new levels to puzzle your way through. Whether you're looking for a little more Fantastic Contraption to enjoy, or want your chance at winning a snazzy contest, Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition will give you your fix.

Play Fantastic Contraption Prius Edition

Please note: The above referenced contest is being offered by Inxile Entertainment through Kongregate, and Jayisgames is not connected with the contest in any way.


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Rating: 4.4/5 (156 votes)
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cavechaos.jpgJohnBEver been trapped in a cave, unable to move because bats kept removing everything from behind you and have yet to assemble the ground in front of you? Yeah, me too. This is exactly your situation in Cave Chaos, a new release from Nitrome. A "jump and run and avoid" kind of game (similar to Canabalt in some ways), your goal is to make it through each level of the cave without falling into the dark abyss below. Problem is, you're on the bats' schedule, here, and the ground only exists in the narrow window between when they build it and when they carry it away!

Use the [arrow] keys to move and jump, your only consistent actions throughout the game. As the bats drop off barrels, boxes, solid ground, boulders and other obstacles, simply maneuver yourself to the best possible position, nudging things to the side and charging your way forward. Well, charge in a cautious, conservative kind of way. Cave Chaos isn't necessarily a fast-paced game.

A few levels in you'll start to encounter enemies, many of which bug you in fantastic new ways! You'll also run into fun (read: not fun) new and inconveniently-timed obstacles, such as piles of rocks or a massive rolling boulder. Stupid bats. Fortunately, power-ups also appear (if you can grab them) that give you new abilities such as the double jump.

If you've got a few minutes to kill and can handle a few light tests on your reflexes, Cave Chaos is a great time waster!

Play Cave Chaos


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Rating: 3.8/5 (73 votes)
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Weekday Escape

SonicLoverYou could say I'm the raccoon of the JIG staff. Whereas everyone else spends their time with the new games that come out, I scour the garbage cans and dumpsters for the old but good games that missed their time in the spotlight for whatever reason. This time around I scavenged up a pair of small but entertaining room escape packages from a Japanese developer called No1Game. Don't worry, the games are fully translated.

Emergency ExitThe first, Emergency Exit Sign, tells the story of a Japanese all-night worker who just about lives at his office, which becomes a problem when a monster traps him inside. Apparently there's a huge demand for room escape games, and he's just supplying it where it's demanded. Needless to say you've got to help our hapless workaholic drive the monster away by exploiting its one weakness: emergency exit signs.

Game in Game in GameThe second, Game in Game in Game, shows us a rather obsessed escape fanatic who plays a room escape game every day before bed, only to wake up one morning trapped in one. He spends some time reading about his own game on the forums of a website with the ultimate goal of getting out of his own room.

Analysis: Neither Emergency Exit Sign nor Game in Game in Game are particularly remarkable in any category but one, the exception being humor. Both games go out of their way to point out the illogicalities that pop up in room escape games everywhere. (Of course you can't just take some paper out of the copier and put it in the printer; what made you think you could?) Parody has always been one of my favorite varieties of humor, so these games touch my heart.

Aside from the humor factor, both games are fairly standard. The puzzles are logical but creative and match the games' respective themes, there's no pixel-hunting (I'll bet some of you are still complaining about that screwdriver from Purism), and the games themselves are relatively short but enjoyable while they last.

One word of warning: you'll need a bit of knowledge of geography to solve one puzzle in Emergency Exit Sign. Bring up Google if you have to; the monster won't notice.

Play Emergency Exit Sign

Play Game in Game in Game


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Rating: 3.9/5 (56 votes)
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Jerradbloktonik screenshotSomeone owes me an apology. Specifically, that someone is the person in charge at Robotube Games, developer of the new colored block-matching game Bloktonik. It's entirely his fault that I haven't gotten anything done in a week. My lawn looks like a jungle, my new Swedish furniture has yet to be assembled, and something in my kitchen is starting to smell. But it's not my fault, I'm this close to beating my high score. Just a few more tries and then I'll be ready to rejoin civilization. Probably.

It's a tried-and-true formula: match a certain number of the same colored blocks, 4 in this case, to clear them from the board for points. As you progress you have to deal with more and more colors, going as long as you can until you run out of space on the board. With Bloktonik, the difference is that blocks don't just fall from the top; they come from all sides. They will continue moving towards the opposite wall from which they started, and your goal is to bring them to rest against other blocks, matching 4 of the same color to remove them entirely. The game will continue this way until you run out of room for the blocks, at which point it's game over.

The game is controlled entirely with the [arrow] keys, navigating the block perpendicular to the wall from which it came. Scoring is done through matching blocks of the same color, with larger combos being worth more. Once a group of blocks is cleared, anything that was anchored to it will go flying in the direction that the last block was headed. If these freed blocks don't touch anything else, they'll just fly off the screen with no penalty. However, if a block that you're controlling manages to make it all the way across to the opposite wall, you will be penalized with a block with a particularly menacing-looking skull on it. These skull blocks can only be removed with a rainbow-colored block, which is your reward for reaching 5,000 points and a new level. There are also a number of secret blocks and combos to discover, but it's better not to go into the specifics of those; half of the fun is in finding new ways to maximize your score.

bloktonik2.jpgAnalysis: I wasn't lying when I said that this game is addictive. We've seen matching games done in any number of ways, but Bloktonik manages to implement a lot of innovative new features that can keep you playing for hours. Every time I thought I had the game figured out, I would find a new combo, and then I would spend the next 2 hours trying to figure out just what I had done to cause it in the first place. The instructions page gives a clear (not to mention highly entertaining) picture of how to play, but the specifics are left up to you to figure out.

The graphics are nice and shiny, with some quirky details that don't contribute much to gameplay, but add a nice atmosphere. The music did start to grate my nerves after 5 or so hours of playing, but it's easily silenced at any point in the game. The only real drawback here is that not everything is really complete. The game itself is finished, but there are some dead links on the website, and the high score list has yet to be implemented. I'd really like to be able to show off my high scores, unless they're not as impressive as I'm hoping, in which case it would be nice to have something to aim for. But with versions being developed for mobile platforms and WiiWare, everything will hopefully be finished sooner rather than later.

A new twist on an old classic, Bloktonik is a great way to waste an afternoon. Or several, depending on how willing you are to are to avoid the real world.

Play Bloktonik.


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Rating: 3.2/5 (65 votes)
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Grinnypcuber_level.jpgDesigned by Dmitry Sovetov, Cuber is a short but cute and enjoyable physics puzzle that will test your construction skills to the limit.

All you must do is keep the smiling little green ball from falling off the screen. To do this, construct something from the available materials and then let the little ball drop. You are limited only by your imagination and your budget. Yes, just like in the real world, you have a budget, and each of the available building materials (blocks, plates, and iron bars to hold them all together) has a particular cost. And similarly, each material, especially the iron bar, has a certain amount of weight it can take before breaking. So build wisely.

As the levels progress, the difficulty grows exponentially. Soon it will not be enough to keep the happy little ball from falling to its death. Red zones appear in some levels that the ball should never touch. Green zones pop up where the ball has to end up to complete the level. And the real fun begins when the green zones appear above your little smiley face and you need to have a good grasp of levers and pulleys to move the little guy upwards against gravity.

With a lovely, zen-like music playing in the background, Cuber is an almost meditative experience. However, if it begins to bother you, Cuber has thoughtfully supplied a mute button. Is it fun to play? Most definitely. Is it frustrating? It can be, and extremely so. When you begin to construct some intricate, towering machine and think, yeah, it's perfect, only to watch it shatter under the weight, well, that can be a little annoying. And some of the very highest levels require a lot of imagination and ability to predict movement and stress loads, balance and strength. Still, Cuber is a great example of casual gameplay. If you walk away you can pick up at the level you left off without having to work your way back up. A handy feature if you want to play in extremely small blocks of time, or if you want to walk away before frustration drives you mad.

So sit back, relax, fire up Cuber and see how good you really are at physics. And fun.

Play Cuber


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Rating: 4/5 (83 votes)
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DanTheArcherThe Tickler screenshotI don't have the foggiest idea of what the distant, hovercar-laden future holds, but if video games and science fiction have taught me anything, I sure don't want to be a part of it. There's unsavory aliens bent on human annihilation, colonizations of planets not fit for even the hardiest cockroaches to survive, and THEN there's the robots. Robots who question their existential place in the universe, robots who go off and form their own splinter governments of mechanical efficiency, and the good ol' uncomplicated ones who just go completely haywire and start frying people with eye lasers. The Tickler is a robot who falls into one of those three categories, in the latest action arena game from Revzin Ideaworks, and I'll give you a hint: he's really not that big on existentialism.

Following a short cut scene that sets up your homicidal killbot's back story, you're deposited right into the thick of the action. Controls are simple: the Tickler follows your cursor to move around, and clicking the mouse activates his retractable arms. Holding down the mouse button will keep his arms extended, and any enemy ensnared in his claws will be continually, er, "tickled" until they're no more. Destroyed foes yield cash that can be spent on handy Tickler renovations between levels, ranging from your standard-issue damage/armor/speed upgrades to peripheral weapons like projectile buzzsaws, lightning projectors, and of course the eye lasers no good killbot should be caught without.

23 levels of robo-tickling excitement await you, and while most of them don't provide too robust a challenge, there's the occasional bad apple that might elicit more than a couple of replays. Thankfully, the game graciously lets you hang onto whatever money you managed to score up until your demise, so you've got the chance to salvage some upgrades to get you out of your rut. There's also the "Zombie Mash," a survival mode where you see how many waves of the undead your souped-up Tickler can endure.

This is one of those games where you'll probably know in the first 10 seconds of playing whether or not the Tickler is your kind of heartless killing machine. There isn't a ton of depth to the experience, but there's a heaping helping of cartoony zaniness, and the rockin' soundtrack certainly adds an element of "extreme" to the marauding. The controls are easy, the gameplay is straightforward, and the humans look ripe for the robot definition of the word "tickling".

Play The Tickler


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Rating: 4.5/5 (154 votes)
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Finwick

zxo"Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night, nor plasma beams, nor giant spinning saw blades, nor weird, vicious, mutant dog-like things with spikes growing out of their back, stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Hmmm, that doesn't seem right. But it must be, at least if you're Finwick, the scrappy young title character from Jackson Lewis's gorgeous new game. If the character and the tight level design seem familiar to you, it's because Lewis is the supersecret mastermind behind Platform, the serial puzzle-platforming adventure that captured the hearts of so many in 2007. In fact, Finwick is billed as a sequel to Platform, though the phrase "spiritual successor" might be more appropriate in this case.

FinwickYou see, Finwick's not trapped in an alien warehouse with no idea how he got there. He's just making his very first delivery for the Royal Mail. Nothing weird or creepy about that, right? Of course not! At least that's what he thinks until he starts coming across mutant fish, vicious dackpaws, and creeped-out forest denizens. The further into the forest he ventures, the stranger things become!

Controls are pretty typical of platformers: [left] arrow and [right] arrow to move, [space] to jump, [up] arrow to climb ladders and [down] arrow to activate switches. Use [Z] to switch between characters once Finwick's friend/love interest Pentella joins him on the adventure. If you don't like the key assignments, you can customize them using the Options menu ‒ always a plus for games requiring precision movements.

Fans of Platform will be excited to hear that the full version of Fenwick offers 79 levels of platforming nirvana. Yes, that's right, I said full version, meaning that to access all 79 levels, you'll have to fork over $5.99. Luckily, the first 25 levels are totally free ‒ no registration, no gimmicks, no nothin'. There's a couple of training missions that I wish were skippable, followed by about a dozen single-character platforming challenges. After that, Pentella enters and the rest of the game requires the use of both characters. Although the bulk of the game is only available to those who pay, the 25 free levels are well worth playing on their own.

FinwickAnalysis: Instead of simply making Platform 2, Lewis took the time to really craft a distinct, polished product. The levels are smoothly tied together by the carefully crafted (if a bit formulaic) story, with characters whose differences go beyond the color of their shirts. The dialogue seems a bit choppy at times, but the controls are smooth as butter ‒ a welcome upgrade from the slippery, unresponsive controls that plagued Platform. Shadows, textures, and a pleasing palette make the artwork appear as if it was painted right onto your screen. Not a pixel seems out of place anywhere.

The level design continues to uphold the high standard set in Platform, although the difficulty seems just a tad lighter (perhaps that's simply an effect of the better controls). For better or worse, the jetpack is nonexistent in Finwick, although there are plenty of other twists to knock your noggin. Along the way, you'll see tributes to classic video games like Donkey Kong and the Indiana Jones style mine car games.

The free levels end at just the right time to tempt you into purchasing the full game: the story is moving along nicely and the levels have just gotten into their full swing of awesomeness. You'll know by the time you get there whether or not you'll want to continue into the full game. All I can say is that if you do pay for the full game, you will not be disappointed. The full game lives up both to the promise of the first levels and the legacy of Platform.

I'm not sure I can say enough good things about it, so I'll just leave it at this: In Finwick, Jackson Lewis has once again crafted a brilliant gem of a platformer.

Play Finwick


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Mobile Monday

JohnBRecognize any of the titles in this week's article? Two of the games below are follow-ups to existing iPhone releases, starting their own little series on the mobile platform. And the other two games? Well, one has bombs, the other numbers. That's neat in its own way, right?

galconlabs.jpgGalcon Labs - Galcon's Risk-inspired galaxy-conquering gameplay is back, now with more modes and multiplayer! Overwhelm your opponent by sending troops from your planets with a single tap to the touch screen. Take over planets and they begin producing troops for you to use, but be careful, as the enemy has ships of its own. New modes include Billiards with moving planets, Stealth with invisible ships, Assassin with assigned targets, and Crash with solid ships, allowing you to intercept enemy forces before they even reach their target!

geodefenseswarm.jpggeoDefense Swarm - Everything you loved about the original geoDefense — fantastic visuals, well-thought-out gameplay, delicious tower defense structure — now with an open-ended design. Instead of taking out waves of creeps ambulating along set paths, you have a wide open field to use, allowing you to trap the baddies in your own maze of destruction. It's every bit as breathtaking as geoDefense, and if you're a fan of the more open-ended tower defense game, this is the one to try.

iblastmoki.jpgiBlast Moki - Somewhere along the line, bombs became a video game staple, appearing in just about every genre and having a wide variety of effects. iBlast Moki is a physics-based puzzle game that uses bombs to move those cute lil blobby critters around the screen, knocking blocks over and navigating difficult terrain in the process. After several levels, you get even more gadgets to play around with, such as ropes, balloons, and wheels. It sounds rather ho-hum on the surface, but touch-perfect controls and boatloads of personality and visual charm make it a clear winner.

countdown.gifCountdown - Did you get a kick out of Drop7 or DropSum? Countdown, formerly known as DownToZero, slides alongside those giants with one unique difference: it's speed-based. Single, numbered blocks fall from the sky and pile on the bottom of the screen. Touch and drag to combine sets, subtracting the numbers in the order you touched them. If they count down to zero, they vanish. Work as fast as you can, combining larger groups of blocks as the numbers get higher over time.

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: 4.7/5 (48 votes)
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RunMan: Race Around the World

JohnBRunMan: Race Around the World, by Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson, is a full-fledged follow-up to the RunMan series of speed-centric platform games. You control the titular RunMan who's really, really good at running. He's so good, in fact, he's entered a race to run around the world. Too bad everybody else quit when he showed up. RunMan is also an HonorableMan, however, and before he'll accept the winner's crown, he's going to earn it by running around the world on his own two little yellow feet.

RunMan: Race Around the WorldRunMan is all about one thing: speed. If you slow down, you're doing it wrong. To get RunMan going, simply hold down the [right] arrow key. As the landscape slides by in a blur, tap [X] to leap over obstacles and avoid enemies. You also have a nifty Zoom command that gives you extra speed along with the ability to smash enemies and bounce off walls, both useful for keeping your momentum going and performing some neat tricks in the process.

RunMan is also about another thing: points. To get more points, you need to be both fast and thorough. While dashing across the varied countrysides, you'll see enemies and balloons, both of which are begging to be smashed. Popped balloons and felled enemies figure into your score, as does how fast you completed each stage. Sure, you can dash through each level and ignore everything you see, but you're also rewarded for going back and playing through stages. You can even race against your own ghost!

Levels are tied together by a world map that eventually leads you to an epic boss stage. Instead of locking horns with a huge baddie, you're running away from one. The same principals you mastered in the other stages still apply, only now one thing has changed: you can die. In other stages, whenever RunMan smacks into an enemy, you simply lose some speed and maybe a few points. Falling into chasms isn't a problem, either, as you simply hop back up and keep on your merry, running way. If you touch a boss, on the other hand, it's back to the start of the stage. Fear not, though, as you can retry as many times as you have the patience to do so!

RunMan: Race Around the WorldAnalysis: RunMan: Race Around the World was designed for the casual player. No deaths, infinite lives, and progressing to the next stage is a simple matter of dashing through a stage. Most of the levels don't present much of a challenge, either. That is, unless you want one. Sprinting through the entire game isn't all RunMan has to offer. Sprinting through the entire game while popping balloons and exploring stages, is.

There's a decent amount of content to enjoy in RunMan, including over 35 levels spread across six unique zones. You can even unlock hidden characters ("and probably some other stuff", the website teases) by collecting medals throughout the stages. Grabbing those medals is good incentive to go back and play levels more than once.

Old school gamers will immediately tie RunMan's gameplay to a favorite franchise from two decades ago: Sonic the Hedgehog. That little bit of nostalgia will induce more than a few "OMGTHISISFUN" moments, especially when you run into neat new things like the hanglider!

RunMan: Race Around the World is one of those rare games that dispenses the kind of fun video games were meant to. Enjoy it for its simplicity, enjoy it for its wackiness, enjoy it for the smiling mountains and bluegrass soundtrack. Or just enjoy the heck out of it because it's there!

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

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


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Rating: 4.2/5 (34 votes)
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Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box

DoraSo it's October, that most magical of months, where a young gamer's thoughts turn to vampires and murder, hidden objects and point-and-clicks. No use denying it, we have statistics here that most certainly were not made up. Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box fulfills all of the above requirements, as it starts off a new series. You receive a frantic phone call late one night from your grandfather, panicked, ranting about a woman... a woman he says he shot. But that's crazy! He'd never actually hurt anyone... would he? You'll soon discover that the past has come back to haunt your family, and will find yourself investigating a strange ship at sea. Where has the crew of the Pandora gone? And more importantly, what's in those crates?

Vampire Saga: Pandora's BoxYou'll explore the game by navigating with your mouse. A magnifying glass icon when you move it over an area means you can click for a closer look, and a winking light means you can interact with something. Move the cursor towards the bottom of the screen to bring up your inventory, and you can click on an item, then on a place on the screen to use it. Most importantly, you'll be watching for areas that shine with a strange, rippling purple light; clicking on one of those will activate a hidden-object search.

For the most part, the hidden object scenes are done well. Something of a relief, since you'll be seeing most of them more than once. Items blend in well, though not unfairly, and there were only one instance of what felt like a case of "lost in translation", where a "dolly" turning out to be a pile of rolled up towels. If you say so, Vampire Saga. Then again, this is the late eighteenth century, so one can always assume children back then were forced to make do with whatever was available. Don't imagine Mattel was around then.

If you're looking for a brain teaser, Pandora's Box probably isn't for you, since most of the puzzles are simply based around using items in the right places. And, happily, they're pretty logical, if some are made a little more complicated than they need necessarily be. If you're stuck, you can click on the hint button in the lower right when the time has refilled, and your inventory will glow to show you which item you should be using.

Fortunately, most of the game is lovely to look at. A lot of effort has gone into painting the often gloomy environs, from the way dust motes dance in a beam of light, to the shadows cast by a flickering light. It's an odd blend of hand-drawn art and computer rendered visuals, but for the most part it works. Well, all except for the people, who make you wish they'd gone with more of the actual art instead of stiff-looking rendered models with thousand-yard stares.

Vampire Saga: Pandora's BoxAnalysis: Okay, so vampires don't exactly strike terror into anyone's heart anymore. You can point a lot of fingers to assign blame, but whatever the source the fact remains that these days vampires are more typically revered as icons of tragic romance than, oh, say, monstrous creatures of the night more interested in blood and fear than poetry. As it happens, Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box winds up sort of straddling the middle ground, decidedly more Bram Stoker than Anne Rice, although admittedly a little more ham-handed in the execution of dialogue than either.

For the first half of the game, that story is told at a decent pace through your grandfather's memories. In the beginning, the game does a very good job at establishing atmosphere, both with moody visuals and, in particular, audio; the sound of distant footsteps, the soft creaking of a ship, faint whispers you can't... quite... make out. There are some genuinely eerie scenes, and it goes to great lengths to foster a sense of dread as you investigate your surroundings.

So it's a bit unfortunate that the latter half of Pandora's Box feels like it's been padded for length by too much back-and-forth. Why should you have to hunt down six individual bullets instead of simply finding a handful of them in a single scene? Sure it would have been "easier", but it also would have been less tedious. It breaks up the narrative when all you want to do is find out what happens next.

While hidden-object enthusiasts may find it a little short, around the four-to-five hour mark, Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box sets the stage for an interesting new series judging by the cliff hanger it ends on. If vampires are sacred ground and serious business to you, Pandora's Box may not be your cuppa. But for those of us who know the bloodthirsty undead are best enjoyed with a big heaping helping of cheese, Pandora's Box is an easy but enjoyable game to help kickstart the holiday season. Who needs pumpkins and black cats to feel festive when you've got fangs and murder at sea?

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (37 votes)
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World of Zellians: Kingdom Builder

JohnBWorld of Zellians: Kingdom Builder is a simulation and city building game along the lines of My Kingdom for the Princess and Build-a-lot. Set in a moderately whimsical fantasy realm, your job is to repair a broken kingdom by mending roads, setting up farms, and getting each area's economy up and running again. It's a colorful, light-hearted and straightforward game you can jump right into and start enjoying.

worldofzellians.jpgThe game begins with Zorm, the famous city planner and your new mentor, promising to let you meet the queen if you can patch up a few roads and villages to make the travel easier. Soon you'll find yourself moving around the countryside repairing kingdoms for distressed rulers in all sorts of climates, ranging from green meadows to snowy fields, the desert, and more!

Your goals for each level vary but usually involve constructing a certain number of buildings and raising the population (or your income) to a pre-defined level. Your first task in each stage is to connect the buildings to the road and make sure the road leads to the fountain. Without a connection to those vital lifelines, your city will not function. Roads are free and you can build them anywhere you like, but usually its best to keep buildings on a tight grid, as space quickly becomes a valuable commodity.

The menu at the bottom of the screen contains everything you can build, ranging from "social" structures such as houses to production-based buildings (pig farms and orchards), shops (grocery stores) and more. Each unit has a cost in resources along with a prerequisite or two. You can't have a juice stand without an orchard, for example, and ice cream parlors require both an orchard and a dairy farm. As you move from kingdom to kingdom, the number of buildings you have access to increases.

Dealing with prerequisites is where the bulk of the challenge comes in with World of Zellians. Gold and materials, the only traditional resources you have to worry about, are automatically gathered each turn by buildings from the production and shop tabs. As long as you have a few mills or ranches it's a simple matter of waiting for your cash to build up before you lay down all the buildings you need.

worldofzellians2.jpgAnalysis: It's easy to overlook a game like World of Zellians: Kingdom Builder. Landing in a field scattered with clones, the game doesn't do too much to set itself apart from the pack. Instead of innovating in one area or another, World of Zellians scales back the complexity, offering up its own version of Build-a-lot with cartoonish visuals and a decidedly more casual slant to the gameplay. Instead of worrying about making rent, all you have to do is manage a few building prerequisites and you're good to go.

The game's straightforward nature can either be the its biggest selling point or the number one reason to stay away. World of Zellians doesn't offer much of a challenge, even for the most casual of casual gamers. A tutorial holds your hand for several levels, making sure you do everything just right, and after that there's no real risk of losing. Your resources constantly regenerate, there's no time limit, and you can destroy buildings and recover spent resources. Apart from the occasional natural disaster, very little happens to cause problems in your village.

Gameplay aside, World of Zellians has a remarkably compelling visual presentation. Watch the villagers mill about the town or flowers blossom at the apple orchard. There's a surprising amount of charm and detail lurking in this game. With no pressure to compete, you'll certainly have time to stop and check things out.

If you're looking for a challenging building sim where your choices deeply impact gameplay, stick with Build-a-lot. If you want something a little more casual with a lot of eye candy, World of Zellians is most certainly your game.

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Weekend Download

JohnBWhy do bees have sticky hair? Because they use honey combs. Why do Weekend Downloads have a bunch of games? Because spending your weekend reading about and subsequently sorting pieces of lint isn't nearly as fun.

glumbuster.gifGlumbuster (Windows, 12.9MB, free) - A quiet, artistic kind of game with a mysterious storyline and equally entrapping gameplay. Without spoiling too much, your goal in each screen is to shoot enemies with the [left] mouse button, then trap them in an energy triangle by clicking the [right] mouse button for the three points. A gate opens, you enter. But is that all there is?

jed.gifJed (Windows/Linux, 10.2MB, free) - A retro-styled platform game with chunky pixel graphics and a nice flipping twist. No, seriously, the twist is that you flip the foreground and background in order to proceed. Each level had a curiously active shaded background that can be "turned on" by hitting the yin-yang looking switches, toggling the back to the front and vice versa. Use this to your advantage as you jump and jetpacky through ten levels searching for 50 lost baby robots.

awakener.gifAwakener (Windows, 5.8MB, free) - A short adventure game by Ben Chandler, creator of Annie Android. You play as Fadi, a young boy who fancies himself an adventurer, helping his aunt just outside of her tavern. Everything takes place in this one area and you'll spend most of your time talking to characters and making use of the items they offer up. Short, simple and sweet.

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (49 votes)
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puppetshowmystery-b.jpg

GrinnypAh autumn, a lovely season. The chill breezes, the scratching of bare branches against a window, the rustle of dried leaves, those long mysterious shadows lurking in every corner... Hmm. Halloween aside, autumn seems pretty spooky on its own, doesn't it? PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville has arrived just in time to help you celebrate the season, as well as the aforementioned holiday. A creepy hidden object/adventure hybrid brought to you by ERS and G-studio, PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville is guaranteed to bring spookiness even to the brightest, warmest household.

puppetshowmystery.jpgThe adventure begins as a nameless detective arrives in Joyville, a derelict town counting the days until it becomes a ghost town. Greeted by the scary-looking hotel proprietor and his lovely daughter, our nameless detective soon learns that something is amiss. The owner's grandson has been missing for two days, the latest in a long string of disappearances that have baffled the police and guaranteed that no one in town will venture out after dark. It is up to you, intrepid casual gamer that you are, to solve the mystery and rescue the grandson before... well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? Wander the town, break into buildings, find lots of hidden objects, and figure out who is behind the mystery of Joyville.

Navigation through the world of PuppetShow is smooth and easy. Hidden object scenes are identified by multiple sparkles, other areas of interest by single sparkles. The beautiful tool-like cursor changes to a spyglass when hovered over things to examine; a grabbing hand when hovered over things that can be picked up; and a spinning globe when hovered over locations you can travel to. Like other HOG/adventure hybrids (Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhurst and Princess Isabella: A Witch's Curse come to mind) you can travel around various locations searching for items to use and clues as to what has gone so terribly wrong in this once nice town.

Hidden object scenes are cluttered, but not nearly to the level some games take them. Each yields one or more useful items that can be used later on, making them feel less tacked-on than similar hybrid titles. As always, the addition of a refilling hint-timer is a plus. The mini-puzzles are, sadly, a bit of "more of the same", nothing new or unique, but nonetheless fun to look at and play. A nice feature is the ability to skip the mini-puzzles after a certain period of time. While the credits roll an epilogue in pictures flashes by, giving closure to what is, after all, a rather creepy experience.

Analysis: Ever since the release of Return to Ravenhurst, many, many, many HOG/adventure hybrids have attempted to copy the formula. With such a glut out there, it can be difficult finding the gems that are worth the time and money to play. PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville is one that is worth the effort.

puppetshowmystery2.jpgThe devil is in the details, they say. And it's the details that make PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville stand out from the pack. Set in what looks like Victorian times, no effort has been spared to recreate the fashions, styles, decorations, architecture, and furnishings of the era. Every location is a joy to look at, whether the lobby of a hotel that has seen better days or a child's bedroom gone horribly wrong, just pause to soak in the beauty and the sharp, clear scenery. This attention to detail extends even to the cursor and the design of the menus. Look closely at the menu pull-up screens to appreciate the glistening porcelain detailing, marvel as you open the toolbox and receive a beautiful, unfolding ivory fan instead of a functional bottom of the screen inventory. This is the mark of a quality game, where nothing has been overlooked in creating the mood and tone of the story.

The music of PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville only enhances the experience. Even more attention has been paid to incidental sounds that can be heard under the music: the drip, drip, drip over the Puppet Master's grave; the rustling of the leaves; the creaky noises of a house settling in the cold night. All add to the experience without being obtrusive. Rounding out the stunning artwork and appropriate music are the little animations that add to the scare factor: rats scurry in and out of the picture, dolls suddenly blink their eyes, gargoyles appear to be more than just stone statues...it all adds up to one spooky, fun experience.

The game itself is, unfortunately, on the short side. More time and more scenes in the town would have been a welcome addition, as well as more rooms in the hotel to explore. The mini-games, as stated before, are not very original. Still, despite these minor problems PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville is definitely worth a second look.

Has it been done before? Yes. Has it been done this well? Rarely. For those who enjoy hybrid hidden object/adventure games PuppetShow: Mystery of Joyville is casual gameplay done right. It is worth noting that due to the subject matter (kidnapped child) and some of the later scenes (there is a bit of blood and nastiness) this is perhaps not a game for the very young. Small children might be a little freaked out. However, if you want to kick off the Halloween season right, then sit back, relax, and make your way through Joyville before evil completely envelops the town. Just one word of advice: you might want to play with the lights on.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition

Just a quick competition update to announce that due to some technical issues with getting the new competition page ready, we are extending the deadline by 2 weeks. We don't want to delay getting the entries up once the deadline has passed, and so we are extending the deadline to give us a little more time to prepare for it.

So, you still have a little more than 2 weeks left to finish up a browser game that incorporates the theme "EXPLORE".

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

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

See the official competition announcement for all competition details about entering.

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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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHello, sunshines! Welcome to your Link Dump Friday! We've missed you ever so. And today is a very special day, because it is the day after the first day of October, and you know what that means! It's 29-Days-Until-Halloween-Mas! Have you decided what you're going to be on this most cherished upcoming night of candy banditry? Well, allow us, your humble servants here at Jay Is Games, to help you decide!

  • Hey Wizard! Quest for the Magic MojoHey Wizard! Quest for the Magic Mojo - So we were cleaning out the closet and we found this old pointy hat, and we were thinking maybe you could go as a titan of the arcane forces! You know, you could have an awesome sense of style, new spells, a really quirky sense of humour, and a luxurious beard! But, you know, we hear wizards don't jump, and they have really bad hit detection, and they always have to chase after their hats if they don't want to die. But hey, at least you'll look cool, and probably get the most pity candy!
  • IcycleIcycle - [Warning: Features cartoon nudity.] Well, hey! We've got this tiny bike here! That gives us an idea. Why don't you pretend to be a naked man traversing frozen terrain by memory? No, come on, it's a fantastic idea! You can visit gorgeous locales, and catch soap bubbles! If it sounds both bizarre and addictive, and the sort of thing that would be suggested by roughly a dozen people within the last week, that's because it is!
  • When Penguins Attack - TDWhen Penguins Attack - TD - Okay, okay. How about you dress as a penguin? Oh, but then I suppose you have to worry about people building defensive towers on open ground to keep you from reaching them. No, it's not your fault. These other penguins have been giving everyone a bad name, you know, with their tanks and air forces and path-finding A.I. and appearing in tower defense games. Nobody is willing to given penguins a chance anymore!
  • LintLint - Or, look, you could dress up as a... as a... hm. You know, we're not actually sure what this is. But it's bouncy! And cute! And it is a short little platformer that features deadly traps! Yes, this is a very traditional costume, you can ask your parents. We're sure they went as... uh... jumpy... little... grey... thingies when they were your age. Uh... huh.
  • Headspin: Card QuestHead Spin: Card Quest - Tricky customer, eh? Well how about you go as an adventure-puzzle-spot-the-difference game? Yeah, we were surprised too. It doesn't sound like it would work, but it actually does! Sort of. I mean, sure you'll be a little repetitive after a while, and yes you won't have much replay value, but darned if you won't be interesting and fun while you last!

  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (94 votes)
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Grinnypgleanofglob_title.jpgA collaboration between game developer, Ricky Haggett, and artist, Daniel Baker, The Glean of Glob was initially created as an interactive art installation. And though this Web edition might be called an experimental point-and-click, the term 'game as art' is definitely at play here.

It is difficult to describe the gameplay of The Glean of Glob. This is a surrealist dream, or perhaps a nightmare. There are no instructions, the player must figure out what to do while interacting with the characters on the screen. Everything can be accomplished by a click of the mouse, but after that, well, perhaps you'd better see for yourself. If you are looking for a linear experience, starting at A and progressing neatly to Z, this is not the place for you. But if you are up to the challenge, and would like to experience thought-provoking artwork, then dive into the world of The Glean of Glob.

gleanofglob.jpgAnalysis: Add this to the category of games that push the envelope of what a game can be. Waker also comes to mind, a combination of game, education, and surrealistic art that becomes more than the sum of its parts. The Glean of Glob smashes past that, dropping linear structure altogether. Not quite a game, not quite a narrative, there is a story there nonetheless. The artist obviously chose to create something more like an experience. And it is an interesting experience at that.

You might even hesitate to call The Glean of Glob a game. Granted, it has the elements of a game. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there are goals within each scene that must be performed. However, interacting is more like flying through a Magritte painting while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon (while, perhaps, suffering a psychotic break). What, in the end, does it mean? Like all art, it is subjective, and subject to the interpretation of the individual.

So if you are in the mood for something casual, then sit back, fire up the Glean of Glob, and live the experience. Perhaps your mind will wander paths it has never wandered before.

Play The Glean of Glob


  • Currently 3.3/5
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Rating: 3.3/5 (41 votes)
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DoraMagnetsIs Bill Nye designing games these days? Because Magnets, the newest, sleekest physics puzzle on the block, seems like his doing. Guiding a projectile, either positive or negative, around Legos, pencils, and other desktop debris by placing different sizes and types of magnets around to manipulate the path? You can't fool us! You can't make us learn! Nnngh... oh no, it's happening already! Brain... absorbing coordinates! Plotting... trajectories! Noooo, our cherished ignorance! How will we memorize pop culture quotes with all that stupid knowledge in our brains?!

The good news is, Magnets, from Candystand, is hardly as dull as your average classroom lesson. Similar to recent feature MagnetiZR, Magnets is considerably less flashy but a good deal more tricky. At the bottom of the screen lies a menu that grants you access to different magnets. Big, small, positive, negative, and even types able to polarity at a click. Once you've arranged your magnets by clicking and dragging them where you want them, click "Start" or hit [space] to fire. Pay close attention to the way different magnet types and sizes affect the speed and direction of your projectile, and you'll find your way to the target in no time.

The tricky bit? Each magnet placed and every adjustment you make to it after deducts a certain amount from your score. The more magnets you place, and the longer you fiddle with them, the more your score will fall. It becomes a test of getting to the target with your score as intact as you can manage, and if you find yourself stymied and unwilling to break away from the computer screen until you finish it, you can always use your sweet, frustrated tears as nourishment. Fortunately, you can "sell" a magnet back by dragging it back over the menu and releasing it.

Easily one of the things that makes Magnets stand out the most, however, is the design. Clean, uncluttered, sharp and simple, it's easy on the eyes and ears. But as tightly designed as Magnets is, there are a few sticking points. It can be difficult to place magnets as close to the bottom of the screen as you might like, since moving too close to it triggers the buy menu. And why do the hints you can purchase with your score early on simply vanish later in the game instead of simply becoming more and more expensive?

MagnetsAnalysis: While I'm sure the creators have plotted out a careful solution to each level, full of magnets placed just so for the least cost and most efficient of movements, you're able to win with much less finesse. Stitching together a Frankenstein's playfield of magnets stapled helter-skelter about to produce a functional yet ugly and inefficient path works just as well.

But while it's possible to pass all the levels with haphazard placement, your score will suffer for it. And it's not quite as satisfying as looking at the path in front of you, feeling something click in your head, and realising you can solve the puzzle with three pieces instead of seven. Sure you've got ten or more magnets available to use, but the real challenge is figuring out how few of them you actually need. And once the hints vanish in later levels, you'll have to spend some time really plotting out your courses to get the best results.

The physics/puzzle super-genre is getting quite the workout these days, and it's getting harder and harder to stand out. Happily, Magnets manages to succeed by refining the base concept and wrapping it up in one sleek, shiny little package for you. While we're not talking breathless excitement here (oooohhhh boy, it went around the pencil!), Mangets may not take any risks, but is a very fine brain teaser indeed, and a perfectionists' worst nightmare. Is that the best score you can come up with? Are you sure?

Play Magnets

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