December 2009 Archives


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Rating: 4.7/5 (33 votes)
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Blueberry Garden

JohnBBlueberry Garden is a game about curiosity. It's a game about exploring your environment and playing with objects just to see what they do. The game's world, though stark in appearance, is vibrant and alive, with a thriving ecosystem of plants and creatures that interact with each other and change over time. From the moment you step foot in this garden, all you want to do is walk around and see what you can see. Too bad someone left a giant faucet running and everything's flooding with water!

blueberrygarden.gifWinner of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize in the 2009 Independent Games Festival, Erik Svedäng's Blueberry Garden is a rare gem of a game. The moment you start playing, you'll feel like you're in a world without borders. Structured like a 2D platformer, your beaked character can, at first, walk, jump, pick up objects, teleport home, and fly for a short period of time. When holding pieces of fruit in your hands, tap [enter] to eat them, granting you a new power for a brief time.

"Wait. What's this? New powers? What powers. Tell me the powers!" You might say. Well, no, dear reader, we will not tell you the powers, nor will we tell you what's going on when you stand near those big objects and are teleported back to the beginning. Want to know why? Because that's what makes Blueberry Garden so much fun. Apart from teaching the basic controls via signposts, the game leaves you to your own devices to figure out what you can do. No tutorials smacking you over the head explaining how to navigate a menu screen. Just pure and blissful exploration of a game's mechanics, something very few releases in the last few years seem to get right.

The goal of the game (other than to explore and have fun) is to plug the leaky faucet and stop the garden from filling with water. Even though there's an objective, you don't necessarily feel pressured to complete it. At least, not at first. The game's gentle structure only becomes important once you've played around in the world long enough to want something to do. After you've jumped and flown around for a bit, watched the birds, eaten a few fruits, and gotten caught in thorns, you'll feel ready to accomplish something.

blueberrygarden2.gifAnalysis: Blueberry Garden is as glorious as it is unassuming. Not many people would pay attention to a platformer with very little purpose to its gameplay, fuzzy hit detection and physics, and a world colored so flat and gray. But that's exactly why it's unique, and the lack of detail leaves room for your imagination to fill in the gaps.

If you're in this to win, you'll be saddened to know that Blueberry Garden will only take you a few hours to complete. It's not about reaching "the end", of course, but the wonder-filled journey leading up to that point. You're free to take your time playing with the fruits in the garden for as long as you like. The latest version of the game even includes a Playground mode which allows you to drop fruits and animals into a blank level to see how they interact.

Blueberry Garden is a one-of-a-kind experience and a star of the indie gaming community. It preserves some of gaming's most cherished elements — exploration, creativity, and discovery — and does so with a subtle artistic style we so rarely see in games today.

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: 4.2/5 (117 votes)
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JIG Community Riddle title

DoraRiddle me this, enigma fans! What has fantastic hair, is mysterious and alluring, and possesses great taste in gaming websites? Why, it's you, of course!... okay, so that wasn't a riddle so much as a thinly veiled attempt at flattery, but that's why you, the players, call the shots and I am but your humble word-monkey.

JIG Community Riddle screenA month ago, we asked you to create visual puzzles to be gathered together in a game to be called JIG Community Riddle and made by you! The response was amazing, and it was no small task to pick out our favourites considering the high quality from all submissions. But through a combination of arguments, voting, cleverness, and cage matches we've finally made our selection and transformed them into a free online flash game to bend your brain and tickle your temporal. So here they are, the few, the... well, actually, the many, the proud, the riddle-y inclined. A tremendous thanks to our featured riddle crafters:

Jon Pugsley, alias "The Boy Who Lived..." for riddles 1,2,3,8, and 10
Brittany Wright, alias "The Crushinator", for riddles 3 and 9, and the 6th bonus riddle
Cornbread Muffin, alias "Good and Good For Ya", for riddle 4
James McArdle, alias "Just the Facts, Ma'am", for riddle 5
AaronzDad, alias "Father Knows Best", for riddles 6 and 15
Tom Scutt, alias "The Accountant", for riddles 7, 12, and 13, as well as bonus riddles 1,3,4,8, and 9
Jackson Choi, alias "The Sphinx", for riddle 11
elemeno, alias "Too Good For The P", with riddle 14
Eldrich Gaiman, alias "Did it All for the Wookie", for riddle 16
Nick Barovic, alias "Captain Casanova", for bonuses 2 and 7
SiamJai, alias "More Awesome Than Thou", for bonus 5

All of you will be contacted shortly with information regarding what you've won. We don't want to get anyone's hopes up, but we're not saying the prize isn't a pony... okay, okay, it's probably more like a super special t-shirt for U.S. residents, or a game code. But still! Ponies are not entirely out of the... okay, okay, Jay, stop looking at me like that! *mutter* Contributors, stay vigilant for an e-mail detailing your prize!

The result of that stew of raw, unfathomable community power is finally complete and available for you to play online! So fire up that dusty old thinker of yours and have a crack at what players just like you have come up with. Think you can do better? Keep your eyes peeled for more future challenges and community contests for you to flex your sweet, sexy brain in! In the meantime, get solving!

Play JIG Community Riddle


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Rating: 4.5/5 (79 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Deal? comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (174 votes)
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DanTheArcherCivilizations Wars Whether they're behind museum glass or on a late-night TV special, from the East or the West or anything in between, let's face it: ancient empires fascinate us. They developed brilliant technologies, fostered rich cultures, and invented things like the concept of zero. The concept of zero, people. I still struggle with the concept of things like donuts. And the wars they waged! Oh, how their troops would blot the skies with clouds of arrows, and roaring fireballs would rain down to punish the unworthy. For all of you who don't remember that chapter of the textbook, the fine folk of Cave of Wonders Studios have decided to educate you with a historical, strategical free-for-all of the ages: Civilizations Wars.

Most levels consist of a rustic landscape, replete with uninhabited pieces of ancient real estate, plus an opposing army who feebly stands in your path to conquest. You're usually given a humble fort or two at the start which will generate reinforcements at a constant rate, indicated by a little number above the structure. Click on whichever outpost you'd like to deploy soldiers from, and then drag the cursor to your target and release. Half of that outpost's forces will be sent out to occupy the object of your ire. If the enemy resides within , the numbers will cancel each other out until either the building is successfully defended or your own subjects set up shop. In other words, the bigger number wins the battle, as long as stats (such as strength, defense, etc.) are equal. Mousing over many of your installments at once will result in coordinated attacks, which are often essential for overpowering a well-defended base.

There's more than just forts on every level, though; clever tacticians will make use of watchtowers to snipe at incoming foes, or crystal formations to increase your production of crystals, the mystical resource that powers spellcasting. Magic covers a wide range of uses, from natural disasters that scour the battlefield to enchantments that can protect property or defect enemies' troops to your side. All of these spells are learned via experience that is accrued at the end of every battle, which can be spent on mightier magic, garden-variety stat upgrades, or nifty passive abilities like faster magic cooldown.

The game's adventure spans many, many skirmishes, plus a few boss encounters with colossal creatures that ought to give your hard-trained military a run for their antique currency of choice. And even when you've felled the grandest of beasts, your campaign stretches on, until you'll find yourself pitted against some civilizations that you definitely don't remember from high school history. I won't give away anything else, but know that surprises are in store for the persistent general. To battle!

Civilizations WarsAnalysis: We may have seen this mechanic implemented before, but Civilizations Wars pulls it off with pizazz to spare, plus some new ideas that help keep things fresh. The sorcery adds another dimension of strategy, and with structures that DON'T keep regenerating soldiers (like towers and crystal shrines), a player has to wonder whether sending more men to protect them is necessary or not. There are also multiple playable races; though their differences are mostly cosmetic (aside from slightly shuffled stats), it's little variations like those that add a unique flavor to the game, distancing it from its predecessors.

The difficulty curve, however, could have done with some tweaking. This reviewer staunchly refused to learn a spell other than the starter fireball for the entire game, and was able to steamroll over the opposition just fine on stat upgrades alone. There's really nothing wrong with that, but one wishes that if magic was going to be one of the defining facets of the game, that it would feel a little more vital to the process. I suppose you could call my approach one style of many, but conjured tornadoes and meteor showers just seemed so frilly when I had an army that could cleanly and efficiently reduce the enemy's army to nothing.

This is also a game with a very forgiving level select, which allows you to replay battles you've already trounced for more experience in case you've come up against an insurmountable foe. At certain experience milestones, new self-handicaps are unlocked (such as no spellcasting or poor visibility), and each one adds a healthy multiplier to your experience points at the end for your trouble. This is another mechanic that throws the difficulty curve; once you've become only decently strong, you can beat the first level with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back. You can heap on as many inconveniences as you like, and then reap a gigantic experience bonus at the end. Again, this doesn't affect one's enjoyment of the game, but it doesn't give the player much incentive to replay any level for experience other than the first one with a ton of handicaps.

Still, this is a well-made strategy game with some adorable art and very appropriate, "ancient-y" sounding tunes. There's a cartoony charm in the game's world, which is usually (and understandably) absent from games that deal with historical fare. And even if it's not absolutely essential to the success of a campaign, the arsenal of spells is a ton of fun to monkey around with. So be done with your history textbook, because it's time to re-learn world history with a front-row seat.

Play Civilizations Wars


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Rating: 4.5/5 (121 votes)
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DoraRobokill 22008 saw the release of a little game called Robokill from Rock Solid Arcade. It was a top-down shooter in a sea of top-down shooters that had the distinction of being what we in "the biz" call pretty freakin' sweet. It also involved robots. Now, friends, the year is at an end, and what better way to send it out with a bang than with Robokill 2? Note that this is a demo; the first mission, comprised of four lengthy episodes, is free to play.

In the future, robot death machines are pretty simple to control. Move with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, point and shoot with your mouse. Access the map, inventory, or pause the game from tabs at the bottom of the screen, or with the [M], [I], and [P] keys, respectively. [1] and [2] or [space] and [shift] activate special items you have equipped. Move through rooms avoiding enemies, open pits, explosions, and lay waste to everything that moves. You've got four weapons slots, so you'll want to make use of the perplexing amounts of cash you'll find lying around to buy upgrades. Killing enemies also nets you experience points, and once you've gained enough, you'll gain a level, along with a boost to your damage and shields.

Dying, of course, is to be avoided, but it's not a game-breaker. You'll respawn at a nearby teleportation pad, minus a paltry sum of cash, and will receive a message indicating that enemies have retaken some of the areas you previously cleared out in your absence. But more fiendish than death is the fact that if you stop playing in the middle of an episode, the next time you pick the game up again you'll have to start all over again from the beginning of that episode. All your upgrades, inventory, and cash will be intact, but you'll need to clear out all the rooms and find all the keys again. Frustrating? Little bit. Just make sure you're ready to play an entire episode when you sit down unless you mind mowing down your foes all over again.

There are a lot of weapons to be unlocked as you progress, and there's challenge even in deciding how you want to upgrade your arsenal. While the shotgun does more damage than the blasters you're initially given, for example, it also has a much slower rate of fire. But while the blasters fire faster, the shotgun also spreads out and can suppress wider waves of incoming enemies. Oh no! Whichever will you choose? Well, why not both? Or four? Since you can carry a good deal of inventory with you, you can swap weapons in and out to adjust your strategy for any situation. Sun Tzu would be proud.

Robokill 2Analysis: So, what's changed between the original and the sequel? As it happens... not much. Area designs have gotten a lot better, and you're shooting up squishy organic creatures instead of robots, but for the most part the game looks largely identical to its esteemed predecessor. Disappointing? Maybe a little, depending how much you value aesthetics. It winds up feeling more like an expansion pack than a sequel. What does feel different is the difficulty, which seems to have been ramped up slightly. The game is much quicker to throw entire swarms of enemies at you, rooms are smaller and tighter to move around in, and traps are in abundance.

You can stand your ground dramatically going "YAAAAAH" as enemies converge on you while you hold down the trigger, but this is quickly revealed to be little more than a good way to get yourself an unfortunate case of dead. You'll have a much easier go of it if you treat each room almost as a puzzle, taking advantage of the clever layouts, with the solution being the quickest, cleanest way to kill everything inside. Admittedly, one does wonder as to why the aliens have been so thoughtful as to frequently leave explosives laying about in such a way as they trigger domino-like explosions that effortlessly lay waste to the entire area in a precise manner. But my grandmother told me not to look a gift exploding death trap in the mouth. Or... something to that effect.

For those of you with itchy trigger fingers (usually the sweaty, nervous looking ones), you'll be happy to hear that Robokill 2 also offers a plethora of rooms that require you to be quick on your feet and heavy on the bullets. Some enemies are more clever than others, and will retreat to use the environment against you. While running around the room dodging enemy fire and trying to find an opening to do some damage of your own can be exciting, however, it also quickly introduces one to a wild and unbridled hatred of pits. Sure these un-walled instant deathtraps add more challenge to the game, but running blindly off the edge of one because you were trying to avoid the dozen or more enemies swarming your position is intensely frustrating, illustrated here by italics rather than the colourful language I may or may not have used at the time.

Fans of the original will find a lot to like in Robokill 2, and newcomers with a taste for robots and top-down mayhem may well be wooed. Even if you don't decide to buy the game, the demo itself is tremendously fun and offers substantial meat for you to dig into. Robokill 2 doesn't revolutionize the top-down shooter genre; it just shows how it should be done. While it might not do much to move forward from its roots, it's still a ton of fun and is probably ready for a shining spot in any fan's collection.

Play Robokill 2


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Rating: 4.7/5 (82 votes)
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FunnyManImprobable IslandNote: You must be 18 to play Improbable Island, hence the rating-r content rating. The actual content is much more tame. It's almost pure text, and the vast majority of it safe for all ages. Still, it's probably best if you lock the kids out of the room while you play.

What is Improbable Island? It's a game in which, over the course of a single game day, you can pet some kittens, visit a kissing booth, smoke a cigarette, eat steak, be killed by Stonehenge, fight in ten cage matches to earn favor, pay your way off the Failboat with that favor, fail to be eaten by a grue, kill your past self, defeat the Undefeatable Monster, buy a chainsaw, visit an abandoned factory, die again, pay your way off the Failboat again, drink from a stream and become more charming, defeat your master in honorable combat, search five laboratories so that you can have tea with Horatio Entwhistle, win the game, and be reincarnated as a zombie so you can start it all over again. And that's a fairly ordinary way to end your first trip.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Improbable Island is a browser-based multiplayer RPG, consisting almost entirely of text. Almost all of it quite funny. Like most of the online RPG genre, you have a limited amount of stuff that you can do per game day. Unlike the standard "turns", Improbable Island gives you "stamina", which is somewhat more flexible. It starts at 100% and will immediately be adjusted up and down by various factors. Once you get started, you can increase your stamina by eating food, provided you're still hungry. There are also a number of things which will randomly adjust your stamina up or down. Further, unlike turns, stamina is not a hard-and-fast limit to the number of actions you can do. At 60%, you start to get tired, progressively becoming weaker in combat. At 20%, you're so exhausted that you can pass out and be sent to the Failboat instantly.

Oooh, new day. Hang on, I'll be right back.

Improbable IslandOkay, where was I? Ah, right, new days. There's one every four hours, for a total of six per day. Whenever one passes, your stamina and health refill, you get hungry again, and your bank account gains interest. It's okay to miss a few, though, because any turn you miss completely becomes a Chronosphere, which can be activated later to get a new day instantly. You can only carry two (unless you donate or refer people), and you start with two of them, so you should be able to play for a while before you need to wait at all.

As with any RPG, the standard loop is simple. Kill stuff to get experience and money. Trade experience for levels and money for equipment, both of which make you stronger. Go back out and kill bigger stuff to get more experience and money, and so on. When you reach level 15, you'll be able to do what you came to: kill the Improbability Drive. Wander around to each of the game's eight cities, searching its jungle's lab for the drive, until you find it. Kill the drive, and the game's over.

Well, sort of. Actually, it's not really over at all, it's just beginning. After you kill the drive, you are reincarnated as an L1 character again, but you've unlocked a little more stuff to play with, including two new races. Each time you kill the drive, you'll unlock more stuff, and it takes at least 12 Drive Kills or DKs to unlock all of it. Probably more.

Analysis: Improbable Island is a blast. It's jam-packed with references for everything from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to "Sesame Street" to its own insanity. Even if you don't find it outright funny, you will still get a smile from the sheer craziness of it all. This is Improbable Island, where running into forgotten food from your refrigerator is a fairly mundane battle.

Improbable IslandThe donation system is about what you'd expect: pay for donator points, then use the points to buy currency, extra game days, or random perks like changing the color of your name. It's easy for that kind of system to get out of hand and become unfair, but II seems to have balanced it about right. As a donor, I may get to play more, but since requisition resets every time I kill the drive, cigs are expensive, and there's no real way for me to harm other players anyway, it all works out in the end.

For those of you who may be feeling a bit stingy about paying for a web game (and face it, we've all been there), worry not! Due to circumstances beyond the author's control, Improbable Island is going non-profit for a few months. PayPal donations will be routed through internet-famous people to deserving charities (who, sadly, don't have a PayPal account to donate directly to). So far, Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics has agreed to ferry donations to Doctors Without Borders. So go ahead and donate; it's for a good cause!

Improbable Island is downright addictive. The biggest problem with it is that you can get lost in leveling your character and forget to read the descriptions. Combat is solid, if a bit excessively random, and the DK-unlocked content will keep new stuff coming for days if not weeks. Whether you want to play casually or prefer a harder challenge, II has you covered: after each DK, you get to choose the difficulty rank for the next one. And if you choose too high, never fear, because the Failboat will let you reduce your rank any time you die.

Actually, I've changed my mind. The biggest problem with Improbable Island is that it will suck your time away. I've been playing it for a week and a half straight, and gotten almost nothing done. I'm pretty sure I've dreamed about this game once or twice. But I'm not addicted, honestly! I can stop at any time! Just let me play one more turn, honest, I just need to see if anyone's applied to The Casual Followers of Jay, and then I'll stop!

C'mon, buddy, you know you want to try it. First three turns are on me.

Play Improbable Island


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Rating: 3.5/5 (118 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypThis week's escape is... well, it's very different from the type of room escapes usually featured. Very different, quite unique, and cute enough to make you go awww. It's time for Tarutaru's Room (Tartar's Room), a short but beautiful game by Lilina's Escape.

Taurtaru's RoomThe game begins as many escape games do, with a little cut scene explaining what's going on. Our little Tartar (elf tartar?) wants to go outside, but the mysterious appearance of a glowing pink and blue force field that slams him (her? it?) across the room means that exiting ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Once the cut scene is over you can begin exploring the room. Hey, there's a trash can! There's almost always a trash can in room escapes, and they're usually useful. When you click on it, though, you'll get a surprise. Rather than seeing into the can, or perhaps just acquiring what was in it, you are treated to a little cut scene where the tartar dumps out the trash can to see what is inside. That's right, for every action, whether it be picking something up, placing an object, or combining inventory items, you get a little cut scene showing the character performing the action, making Tarutaru's Room almost a little animated short film.

Navigation through the room is easily accomplished with arrows at the sides and bottom of the screen. Just click on an object to pick it up or examine it in close up. Be warned, however, there is no changing cursor, so there will be some pixel hunting involved. Fortunately, with one exception, everything you need is right out in the open. It is merely up to you to figure out what items in the space will be useful. Once an item goes into your inventory you will notice a tiny magnifying glass in the corner which allows you to pull up an item into close up to examine it further.

The artwork is simply awesome, beautifully rendered in 3D and done up mostly in earth tones. There are touches of color here and there, and very important items will often glow in beautiful pastel colors. If only there had been a musical accompaniment of some sort, then you would almost feel as if you were wandering through a Pixar feature.

Taurtaru's RoomAnalysis: Why is it called Tarutaru's room? Well, prepare yourself for an ethnographic explanation. No wait, don't run away! Seriously, in Japanese words are comprised of syllables, so a word like Tartar — which refers to certain ethnic Mongolians (actually more properly called Tatars) — is spelled out in syllables, ta-ru-ta-ru. Why does the little Tartar (or Tatar, or Mongolian) have pointed ears? Um, you're on your own with that one.

The use of cut scenes showing every action taken makes Tarutaru's Room a very unique room escape experience. The game itself, stripped of all the showy elements, is pretty simple. There are some leaps of logic (or illogic) to be had, but most folks should make it through relatively easily.

This is a Japanese game, although you don't need to be able to read Japanese to make it through. In fact, with the exception of a book clue, there's no text at all in this game, and no number puzzles either. Tarutaru's room is entirely use of found objects. There is at least one color-based puzzle, which could make it difficult for some players.

Just because it's simple doesn't make Tarutaru's Room any less an enjoyable game to play. The cut scenes definitely slow down gameplay, but really add to the delightful experience. So brace yourself for an overload of cute and enjoy the fun of helping a little Tartar elf escape from Tarutaru's Room!

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Way Too Casual

JohnBOh ho ho, we are so back with more casual gameplay in podcast form! Just in time to wave goodbye to the holiday season, Joe from FlashGameLicense along with Jay, Dora and John from JIG managed to get Eli Piilonen, creator of The Company of Myself, to sit down and be subjected to questions of all kinds. We get serious with the games this episode, so you don't want to miss the shouting matches, dirty glares, roundhouse kicks, and thoughtful gifts of chocolates and cheeses exchanged between us.

At the end of the podcast, we send out a call to you, listener, asking for feedback on our next discussion topic: usability. What are some common usability issues that crop up when you're playing browser games? Interface clunky and slow? Tired of movement wired to the WASD keys? It's a chance to let your voice be heard! Send us a Skype voicemail or e-mail!

Leave me voicemail
E-mail: waytoocasual@gmail.com

Check out the show details after the break, and keep up with the latest podcast happenings on the official Way Too Casual website!

Way Too Casual podcastDownload Way Too Casual #003
"The Company of Eli" (MP3, 51.5MB, 52:10)
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Rating: 4.6/5 (247 votes)
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Grinnypcolour my fate screenshotYes, Christmas has come and gone, and yet we are gifted with a little reminder of what the season was all about, courtesy of a poignant point-and-click adventure. Colour My Fate is the sequel to a charming series of adventures, Colour My Heart, Colour My World, and Colour My Dreams. Created by Silver Stitch, with haunting music by Coin, we dive once again into a world without color (or colour, as the title indicates).

The world of the Colour My series is a cold, bleak place; monotone, full of sharp edges and no human contact. Our nameless hero is once again on a quest to bring color to the world as he travels to complete his mission. And yes, surprisingly, there is an actual mission this time, rather than the ambiguous explorations of the first three games.

Navigation through the world is accomplished either by the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, depending on your preference, and things are again manipulated by the mouse. Sparkles indicate areas of interest, but this time around there are different colored sparkles, and you cannot use them until you have found or embraced that particular color in your heart. Black sparkles can still be manipulated whenever you find them. Some sparkles merely add color to the monochromatic landscape, others manipulate pieces of scenery allowing you to explore further.

colourmyfate_screenshot2.jpgAnalysis: Considering its predecessors, there is a surprising lack of schadenfreude in Colour My Fate. Whereas the first three games were more of an experience, here we're looking at a surprising amount of pure gameplay, with very little analysis or angst. There's still a little frisson of delight when you pull a switch and add color to the world, but as the color this time around is mostly composed of Christmas decorations, it can begin to feel a little...well, cheesy.

Purely from the gameplay aspect, this is the smoothest of the Colour titles. The choice of either the [WASD] or [arrow] keys makes the game more accessible to both right and left handed players. And for a series that usually eschewed gameplay for profundity, there's a surprising amount of gameplay to be had. In fact, with less puzzles and more pure exploration, Colour My Fate has wandered into almost pure platformer territory.

Those who play these games for the profound message may be a little disappointed with this fourth installment of the Colour series. Colour My Fate does indeed have a message, but a rather lighthearted one (at least, in comparison to the other three). The world is still bleak, but perhaps love has mellowed our little hero a bit. There is still fun to be had in this strange little world, and the visuals and music will still haunt the player long after the game is done. And, perhaps, you might find the true meaning of Christmas within.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (74 votes)
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Pill CannonJohnBEverybody in town is depressed, but you've got the cure! In the arcade game Pill Cannon, you are a robot with just one arm, and it's your job to feed pills to the sad people, firing them at their little pods as soon as they show signs of growing morose. The faster and more accurately you work, the better your score!

Each level is stocked with a few windows and a couple of solid objects and walls to create a nice environment for ricocheting. When people first step into their pods, they'll be green and content. After a few seconds they get sad, at which time you can feed them their happy pills to send them back to the land of the lovely. If you don't get the medicine to the people in time, they turn red and leap from the window straight to the ground. Nobody wants that, especially not one-armed robots.

Pill Cannon's main game will probably be a bit too easy for most, as it's pretty much just straight cannon work. Once you figure out where to lob pills to hit the people, it's a simple matter of moving the mouse to a certain spot and clicking the mouse button at the right time. Some special characters make appearances, such as the blue people that slow your pills down or bigger people that require a few pills to sedate, but it never becomes a focus of the game, more like a side bonus to look forward to. If you want a challenge, try Survival Mode from the main menu.

Analysis: Pill Cannon manages to take a rather morose topic and turn it into a light-hearted arcade game. The subject matter is handled well, in that it's not really a part of the experience at all, and Pill Cannon avoids the soured fields of "that's not something you can poke fun at" territory. It's like Whack-a-Mole in a number of ways. Does anyone ever worry about hitting the moles, or do you just play the game and grin like a little kid?

The visuals are clean, polished and smart, exactly the kind of thing we like to see in a browser game. The sound effects are trimmed to a minimum, which is absolutely perfect for a game of this nature. Pill Cannon doesn't throw anything at you that doesn't need to be there, not in its presentation or its gameplay.

Its streamlined simplicity is also a slight drawback, as Pill Cannon doesn't give you many reasons to come back for more. The main game has 25 levels which you'll charge through in less than half an hour, and Survival Mode is seven stages of endless pill firing. The points system isn't too demanding or competitive, so unless you want to be a dedicated lobber of pills, your first half hour with this game will probably be your last. But it's a good half hour, to be sure.

Pill Cannon is a sweet and simple arcade game of careful aim and ricocheting physics, perfect for a short afternoon diversion.

Play Pill Cannon


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (95 votes)
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AlexeiCluster LanderCluster Lander is a new game from Candystand, part space exploration and part racing game. You have been sent on a voyage to explore a series of "clusters," which are a little like asteroids, and your mission is to explore and retrieve the coordinates that will allow you to continue traveling through space. Each cluster is an obstacle course that you must navigate using your cleverly designed exploration vehicle.

The central element of gameplay is the way your vehicle actually works. The basic controls are simple: Press an [arrow] key, and the opposite thruster fires. The ship has a basic stabilization system that keeps it upright and relatively easy to pilot, but crashing into things or getting hit by enemy fire can destabilize you, which makes it much harder to pilot your ship. Sometimes, though, you'll want to break your own stabilizer on purpose, so that you can orient the ship differently, fit through small cracks, or fire at otherwise unreachable enemies. A skilled pilot can take advantage of the increased flexibility of the ship when it's destabilized, but learning to reestablish your stabilizer is a useful skill in itself. The controls are very responsive, which is great in a game that relies so much on precise maneuvering.

As you wander through clusters, you'll encounter lasers, locks, turrets, and other objects that will stymie your progress, as well as fuel, health, and bomb power-ups that will let you keep fighting. Tap [S] or [shift] to drop a bomb, and [A] or [ctrl] to change weapons. Since the game records your movements as you fly, you have the option of racing against a "ghost" when you try a level again, which will allow you to garner medals by flying faster than your opponent. Playing the ghost mode has a second advantage if you're getting stuck on levels, because it gives you a guide in case you get lost.

Cluster LanderAnalysis: Cluster Lander has a great premise, with tight controls, and a ton of replay value. Getting to go through the levels again for better and better times will keep medal fanatics busy, but you can always enjoy poking through clusters trying to find another weapons cache even if you're not trying to beat any specific time. In fact, you might want to take your time; piloting the lander definitely takes some getting used to, and you'll want to get a feel for what's going to send your trusty ship rocketing into the nearest wall before you stomp on the gas.

The levels are expansive and really give you a great feeling of exploring the clusters. As a bonus, hidden caches of weapons, armor, and fuel are scattered around the level, which really gives you that thrill of discovery when you find them at the right time. There are also additional clusters available for purchase if you so desire, but the original free game should be enough to keep you busy, and doesn't require any form of payment to do so.

If the game has a flaw, it's that it's almost too straightforward. Not to say that the game is simple, since the difficulty curve ramps pretty steadily, but it would have been nice to have, for example, an upgrade path to make your lander stronger, faster, or more dangerous. Since the lander never upgrades, the final levels can feel a lot like the early levels. The combat also takes a while to get used to, since you are generally dropping bombs from above your enemies and have to take momentum into account when you're launching them. These are pretty minor issues, though, when the rest of the game nails the exploration genre so dead on.

If you've always wanted to see what lies beyond the big blue yonder, and pilot an extremely fragile spacecraft through dangerous terrain, then Cluster Lander is the game for you, provided your reflexes (and your patience) are up to the task.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBHugely, hugely, hugely addictive games on this edition of Mobile Monday, apps we just couldn't keep our smudging little fingers off of for very long. Each should be familiar to anyone who follows the casual/indie gaming scene, but their transition to the mobile platform introduces new controls as well as our favorite hook: complete portability!

stairdismount.jpgStair Dismount - Developed by Secret Exit, the studio behind Zen Bound and SPiN, Stair Dismount is exactly what the title promises. Your goal is to nudge a ragdoll character down the stairs, causing as much virtual damage as you can. Choose which part of the doll to push, select the force you want to use, and watch the professional stair dismounter do his thing. It's a lot of fun to tweak your tosses for maximum points, and there are a good handful of stair designs to test your luck on. You can also grab the original free downloadable version for Mac, Windows and Linux.

vectortd-iphone.gifVectorTD - Ever heard of a little tower defense game called Vector TD? Of course you have, you crafty casual gamer you. David Scott's stylish strategy game has been packed into the iPhone for on-the-go creep destruction. Wave after wave of vectoids come pouring through the gates, slowly making their way around the maze and to the exit. It's your job to place towers along the path to take the baddies out as efficiently as possible. Spend your cash to plop a dozen types of buildings, each with its own strength and style of attack. Check out our review of the original browser version of Vector TD along with Vector TD 2 for loads more information. Apart from rather tiny on-screen buttons, this one plays like a charm on the touch screen.

spiderhornetsmash.jpgSpider: Hornet Smash - Created to promote Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor (a wholly original and engaging game, if you have yet to try it), Hornet Smash uses the same spider physics (did I really just write that?) as Bryce Manor, only instead of sending you on an exploratory adventure, now you're hunting down hornets. Leap across pint-sized stages to tackle the stinging bullies as you compete for points on an online leaderboard. Spinning a complex web isn't quite as useful in this arcade game as it is in Bryce Manor, but you'll have a good time streaming across levels and taking down bugs all the same.

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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Pirate Princess

DoraWhen her stepmother (and it is always the stepmother, isn't it?) threatens to send her away to a finishing school, Lucy does what any girl would do: she runs away on the first ship sailing from port in an effort to find her father. She winds up getting embroiled in a conspiracy involving the most powerful trading company in the world. Will Lucy ever find her father and be able to afford a shirt that covers her belly? Find out in Pirate Princess from Moonpod (creator of Mr. Robot), a word game mixed with a puzzle title set on adventure through ye olde high seas.

Pirate PrincessThe bulk of Pirate Princess relies heavily on a Bookworm Adventures approach to gameplay, using letter tiles to spell words that damage an enemy. Yes, pirates are a literate lot who, in-between swilling grog and being swarthy, do battle by spelling words. Longer words do more damage and certain "pirate" words such as "sea" or "guts" do more damage and charge your cannons. Battles aren't turn-based, so spell as fast as you can to sink your opponent before they sink you.

The more enemies you battle, the more your reputation will rise, and Lucy's rank will eventually increase, allowing you to distribute points to increase stat scores and unlock new abilities. These battle skills range from increasing your attack to locking an opponent's word tiles in place. Just stay on your toes, since some abilities affect both you and your opponent. As you progress through the story you'll earn new, stronger types of ships to sail in. You'll also find exciting new ports with shipyards to repair your craft and marketplaces to purchase special items used in battle.

Analysis: I really enjoyed Pirate Princess, despite the limitations imposed by its gameplay. An unfortunate trend developing in games these days is the neglect of the story itself, leaving the finished product to limp along on the strength of its gimmicks. Pirate Princess instead offers up a complete experience with a genuinely interesting story that drives you to want to see its completion. The gameplay is simple enough that anyone can pick it up, and mechanics such as the "pirate words" help to keep you thinking instead of blindly firing off words like "stop" and "hugs" during battle just to shoot as fast as you can, ultimately dealing less damage.

Pirate PrincessOf course, as to whether or not your definition of "pirate word" will jive with the game's, well, your mileage may vary. "Water", for example, is a pirate word, but "waters" is not. "Sail" is also one, but not "sailed". I realise sitting down and making a flow chart of what is and isn't "pirate-y" enough would be ridiculous and mostly impossible, but as it stands, the mechanism here doesn't always feel like an integral part of gameplay you can depend on. Once you do learn what words will shiver the game's timbers, of course, you'll be thankful for when you do have them pop up on screen.

Easily the game's biggest strength is its well-written (though not exactly groundbreaking) story. It has to be at least interesting, since five minutes into the game you've essentially seen all the gameplay mechanics Pirate Princess has to offer. Sailing back and forth across the same map fighting the same people in the same way gets a little... same-y. It helps that real thought has been put into the reason why you should be sailing to and fro. What starts out as a simple story about a girl running away from home winds up a tale of blackmail and deceit on the high seas.

The biggest problem I had was with the action buttons being placed too close together. While you're hurriedly trying to out-spell your opponent, it's too easy to miss by a few degrees and accidentally shuffle the entire board, including whatever valuable word you might have been about to fire. Likewise, accidentally hitting the retreat button instead of shuffling, which is doubly frustrating since it costs you gold and reputation, and is instantaneous with no option to confirm. No wonder pirates are always so foul-tempered.

While Pirate Princess doesn't feel quite as fleshed out as it could have been, it's still a very enjoyable high seas adventure. As a bonus it also features the most annoying parrot known to man. If you're hungry for a way to destroy your foes with the crushing power of your vocabulary while sailing around in a fancy hat, Pirate Princess will satisfy. Lubbers of land and fans of pants that lace all the way up your thighs need not apply.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (204 votes)
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DoraTransformHey there, new friend! Day got you down? Not anymore! It's Eyezmaze to the rescue with another bit of weird and wonderful point-and-click puzzle goodness in Transform! That's right, it's everyone's favourite game where you have to push... buttons on a... weird... gazelle... thingy! Yes, it's even better than that other game with the other, uh... gazelle thingy! No, not that one. The other one!

The clock is ticking and your antlered companion is being menaced by a lion! Clearly you must take action by figuring out the correct sequence of places to press and pull on your strangely morph-able friend to make it turn into... well, you'll see! Just point and click anywhere you see a red circle pop up when you move your cursor over an area. Sneaky, tricksy gazelle! Sort of makes you wonder what other animals aren't really endangered and are just transformed too, doesn't it? Why, the world could be filled with dodos masquerading as juniper bushes right this second!

While not as queerly heartwarming as the Grow series could be, Transform is still just as enjoyable. Don't expect it to make a lot of sense, and you'll do fine. A big part of the joy you get from any Eyezmaze game is discovering what effect your actions have, and Transform is no exception. Seeing the strange transformation take place as you pull tails and push noses is oddly satisfying, even if it's likely going to take you a lot of trial and error. So what are you waiting for? Give it a play! Guaranteed to be the best time you'll spend with a frozen lion and a gazelle with Autobot capabilities this year!

Play Transform

Special thanks to Sphax and Kelsey for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.5/5 (35 votes)
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Jojo's Fashion Show: World Tour

DoraScissors at the ready, ladies and gentlemen. Your favourite fashion designer is back with JoJo's Fashion Show: World Tour, the latest in the style-swapping time management series, this time developed by iWin. This time around, JoJo's daughter, Ros, has finally struck off to pursue her own career, leaving JoJo in need of a new assistant. After some rather unqualified applicants, she settles on Hayley, a young and talented designer hungry for success of her own. But is Hayley really as sweet and devoted to JoJo as she seems? How far is she willing to go to get to the top? And will you care? Probably not, since it's hard to get very riled up about a story that plays out with three pieces of dialogue or less in between stages. But you don't come to JoJo for life-changing drama, and what she lacks in story depth she more than makes up with the fast-paced fashion matching you've come to enjoy, now in brand new locations. And yes, it's faaaaabulous. Mostly.

Jojo's Fashion Show 3As JoJo travels around the world, it's your job to assemble the styles she needs on each stage, picking out appropriate pieces for your models before the time runs out. Above each model's head is a tag displaying the style they're to be dressed for, and clicking on it will bring up a list of qualifiers that will help you pick and choose from the clothing items at the bottom of the screen. Dress your models as closely to the style rules as possible to rack up the points, and get at least a three star ranking to continue.

Along with the styles you're familiar with, World Tour appropriately enough introduces fashions from all over the world. Urban Rasta, Amsterdam Street, Royal Casual... all of them are appropriate for the regions you'll unlock them in, and they add some much needed variety to the lineup. The ability to create your own pieces before each show is also surprisingly well done. You can choose from multiple clothing styles, patterns, colours, and more to help score big on the runway.

The updated look of the game winds up being a mixed bag of hits and misses. It's not simply a matter of change being bad, since the new, bigger, more detailed pieces of clothing are welcome. However, the character design feels a little unbalanced, placing the stylised appearance of the main characters alongside the uber realistic (and a little frightening) models. JoJo's new assistant, Hayley, is also rather spectacularly unlikeable, mainly due to the snotty tone of voice used for all her commentary. Admittedly, this is mostly on purpose for the story, but it doesn't help you from gritting your teeth whenever she opens her mouth while you're running late on the catwalk.

Jojo's Fashion Show 3Analysis: Somewhere inside me, possibly buried beneath a pair of frayed blue-jeans and several mis-matched sets of scuffed sneakers, there's a fashionista shrieking to get out. Which is not, of course, to say that I create anything that anyone would actually wear in the JoJo series. Something about stringing together competent outfits that don't actually make your eyes bleed in the series' trademark bright, beautiful style is just very satisfying.

This hasn't changed with the third installment. JoJo's playing it safe by changing only her aesthetics, and in fact, even the photo shoot levels, which were introduced with the second game, have gone the way of the dodo. You're shackled to the runway for the duration. Since this gameplay is precisely what appeals to most fans to begin with, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave World Tour feeling a bit like it should have been an expansion rather than it's own game.

In fact the biggest "problem" with the game might not even be a problem at all, depending on your point of view. It's just far too easy now to get a five star show without even trying. Slapping together an outfit that gets the highest rating just because it matches the bare-bones criteria of the style doesn't feel satisfying. And while the clothes do look better there's also less of them. Fewer pre-made pieces for each style means it's a cinch to make "signature outfits" previous titles in the series had you crossing your fingers for.

World Tour doesn't change much in JoJo's tried-and-tested formula, but is that such a bad thing? The core gameplay has never been a problem with those for whom it appealed to, and while the new look was mostly unnecessary, it does help keep things fresh along with the new styles. If you don't like JoJo and her particular brand of fashion-oriented gameplay by now, World Tour probably won't make a convert out of you. But if you're already a fan, the third in the series is a welcome addition that will keep you busy. Just be prepared for the oddly pleading eyes of the wooden-postured models to follow you into your nightmares.

WindowsWindows:
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Get the full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Get the full version


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Rating: 4.2/5 (29 votes)
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Natalie Brooks: Mystery at Hillcrest High

GrinnypNatalie Brooks fans rejoice! Our heroine is back, and she's... in high school? Well, not really, although she does spend some time there. Natalie Brooks: Mystery at Hillcrest High — the third in the popular hidden object/adventure hybrid series — is back and better than ever. Alawar Games has brought Natalie back home to the town where she grew up with an adventure that starts with a letter from an old-school chum and ends in a wild hot air balloon chase. In between is action, adventure, mini-games, loads of puzzles, and yes, some hidden object goodness as well.

Natalie BrooksAfter a brief cut-scene involving the aforementioned balloon and a cliff-hanger, our story begins as Natalie picks up the mail. Much to her surprise she finds a letter from an old friend, Chad. Soon she will discover the hidden message inside the letter, and the race is on, a rollicking action/adventure featuring mayhem, treachery, kidnapping, robbery, and lots of things that go boom. But first she must track down Chad. And then his friend Kitty. And then figure out why Chad was kidnapped. And then figure out what the Black Cat gang is up to. And then... well, you get the picture.

With this, the third in the series (Secrets of Treasure House and The Treasures of the Lost Kingdom) Natalie Brooks has made the leap into true point-and-click adventure. Hover your mouse cursor everywhere and watch for it to change to denote areas that are of interest or things that can be picked up or manipulated. Pretty soon you will be unlocking doors, breaking windows, uncovering hidden passages, etc. that lead to different areas. The player will wander back and forth between the areas (sometimes several) finding inventory items, solving puzzles, playing mini-games and mini-puzzles, and occasionally wandering into a hidden object scene or two. Eventually everything will be solved and you can move on to the next location and next chapter of the story.

Natalie BrooksAs you continue through a chapter you will uncover more and more things to accomplish. Fortunately there's a handy "goals" scroll being kept so you can keep track of everything that is necessary to get through the area. A scrolling inventory also helps keep track of what you have and what you have left to do. And of course there's Natalie herself, giving you hints and letting you know when you've done something wrong.

The quality and difficulty of the mini-games and puzzles ranges from simple to mind-boggling. There is a nice mix of old and new to be had, as well as some mini-games that are pure arcade-style fun requiring nothing more than speed and dexterity. Although the characters and cut-scenes continue in the cartoony, hand drawn style the series is famous for, the adventure scenes have moved to the three dimensional and photo-real. This makes the wider variety of games and puzzles possible, as well as adding another dimension (ha!) in the handling of certain objects, such as a 3D teddy bear bomb that you must rotate and manipulate as you disarm it. The game has a handy refilling hint feature, as well as the ability to skip the mini-games and mini-puzzles.

Analysis: Natalie Brooks: Mystery at Hillcrest High makes the leap to true point-and-click adventure hybrid without losing the wit and humor that made the games so fun to begin with. The art, while certainly not going to give Dire Grove a run for its money, is still refreshing and adds to the gameplay experience. In certain areas lighting, weather, and other factors enhance the look-and-feel of the game. A lively soundtrack and sound effects serve to round out the experience.

Are there drawbacks? Yes, a few. Some of the arcade style games are a bit jerky or difficult, but they can easily be skipped. The art is nice, but there is better out there. A hint feature for some of the more difficult mini-puzzles would have been nice, as well. On the plus side the game is longer than most, especially if you don't skip the mini-games. You can look forward to several hours of challenging casual gameplay with Natalie. In these days of ever shrinking gameplay and ever more simple mini-puzzles, Natalie Brooks is a breath of fresh air.

Natalie Brooks: Mystery at Hillcrest High is fun, casual gameplay at its best. With this game Alawar shows its determination to go toe-to-toe with the big guns of the hybrid field, Mystery Case Files and Hidden Expedition. The narrative structure is delightful, the games and puzzles fun, and the action cut-scenes thrilling. Quirky, charming, exciting, and just plain fun, give Natalie Brooks a try! Even if it does mean going back to high school, however briefly.

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

JohnBIf games weren't challenging, we wouldn't bother with them, right? Games create a set of rules that cause certain actions to be difficult, then you, the player, must try to perform those actions. It's a narrow definition, to be sure, but challenge on any level is something that sits at the core of gaming. Each of the games below throws challenges at you in a different way, whether it's via enemies, puzzles, restrictive physics, or a combination of all three. Sometimes you have to form a strategy, but sometimes it's about fighting with the game itself to make it all work. Either way, it's fun.

shards.jpgShards (Windows, 17.4MB, free) - An excellent experimental platform game where you move through levels by gaining momentum via rolling and jumping. It's much more challenging than that description sounds, as sometimes the simplest-looking jump requires you to backtrack and gain considerable speed before attempting it. The creator, Jeroen Stout (Bodilies), considers this a prototype, so don't be surprised if you encounter a few rough edges here and there.

hydorah.gifHydorah (Windows, 18MB, teaser) - A free "demo" for a work-in-progress shmup, Hydorah is old-school in every way. Fight against hordes of aliens through a series of short, intense levels, using primary and secondary weapons you can unlock and select as you progress. There's just one difficulty level, and it's cranked up so high you'll have a rough time even in the first stage. When it comes to retro challenge, this game does not fool around. It's so serious, it warns you before you even get to the title screen. Yeah. If this were an arcade machine, you might as well hand over your roll of quarters up front. Created by the author of 8-bit Killer.

battleoftiles.gifBattle of Tiles (Windows, 18.5MB, demo) - A casual war strategy game at its core (but with liberal sprinklings of RPG elements), Battle of Tiles pushes simplicity to the forefront and delivers a captivating turn-based tactics experience that only gets better as you play. You control a party of knights, archers, mages and priests, each represented by a single tile. Advance through wave after wave of enemy tiles while you arrange your fighters in the best possible formation. Level-up units, swap them with weaker soldiers, bribe enemy units to join your side, and amass a glorious army that can be as many as 70 strong. Bosses are a particular high point in the game, requiring a delightful mix of puzzle solving and strategizing to conquer. It's impressive that a game manages to take tactical combat and strip it to its essentials without losing the fun, but Battle of Tiles has done it well.

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


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Rating: 4.4/5 (50 votes)
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Virtual City

GrinnypMany time management/casual simulation games, such as the Build-a-Lot series or Be Rich!, challenge the player in different ways, whether it be building or development, services or power. Now, along comes a new player in the field, Virtual City. Created by G5 Entertainment, Virtual City gives us a new and different take on city development: transportation.

Virtual CityWhereas Build-a-Lot focuses on building, and Be Rich! focuses on development and wealth accumulation, Virtual City takes an entirely different route. The player owns not a real estate company or development company but a trucking company. It is up to the player to develop supply chains, garbage hauling, and people transportation as the underpinning to development (or redevelopment) of various levels. You will end up constructing buildings, but your money comes in solely from moving raw materials, manufactured goods, people, and garbage. Whatever you do, don't forget the garbage.

A handy tutorial will walk you through the first few scenarios. Something simple, like, for instance, the shopping mall needs a supply of pies. However, even something as easy as that takes some thought and planning. Wheat needs to be transported to a mill, then the flour needs to be transported to a bakery. The bakery can't make anything without milk, though, so you'll need a third truck delivering milk from a dairy farm. Then, once pies are being made, you'll need yet another truck to transport them to the mall. And while all this is going on, businesses are generating garbage, necessitating the purchase of dumpsters to haul it away. And a recycling plant to handle it. And... well, you get the picture. Each scene has a certain amount of time in which to accomplish all goals to achieve expert status. If you go past that time, the game will continue until you complete all of the stated goals. You can, of course, go back and try again if you want to nab expert in every scenario.

You start small with a few buildings available, but eventually you will tackle much larger projects such as train stations, marinas, and even a space shuttle launch center. Beginning trucks can only haul so much (usually one unit of a material or good) but can be upgraded to larger and more efficient sizes. And everything you do has a measurable environmental impact, as well as a happiness impact on the citizens of your little virtual city. Early on, towns will be small and will fit easily into a screen. Later, as you tackle bigger and bigger projects, the map expands. Move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll around, or right click and drag the ground.

Virtual CityVirtual City consists of 50 separate challenges spread across five states, each with their own "flavor" due to the location and climate. California, especially, is a challenge as nearly every town has just survived some sort of natural disaster and needs cleanup and re-establishment of services. Complete a town or two and unlock the sandbox mode for that state, a fun separate challenge where you start with a set amount of money and a vast open space to develop as you please. No timers, no goals, just fun.

Analysis: Despite the resemblance to established time management/casual sim games, Virtual City stands on its own merits. The gameplay is thoroughly absorbing and quite fun as you watch the dance of your little trucks to and fro in the city streets. By shifting the focus to transportation needs, Virtual City has opened up a new way of seeing the world and a whole new skillset that needs to be learned.

Visually, Virtual City is fantastically appealing. Bright, vivid, and minutely detailed, you can spend a lot of time just enjoying the scenery and forget that there are actual goals to meet. Lively music and sound effects are the perfect accompaniment as you get lost in each town's transportation needs. Each state features not only appropriate background scenery, but also accompanying weather systems and other unique problems to the regions. Definitely watch out for the California rounds!

With loads of scenarios to work through, trophies to be won, and the sandbox modes for each state, Virtual City offers hours and hours of fantastic casual gameplay. Fun to play in small chunks or while away the time in immersive gameplay. Not a clone or a knock-off, but a virtual experience all its own, Virtual City is a fantastic wild ride. Just, really, don't forget the garbage. You won't like what happens if you do.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Virtual City is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Rating: 4.2/5 (117 votes)
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Grinnypfirstlove_podium.jpgWhat happens when two of the best known names in the room escape business team up? You get a charming little piece like First Love, is what. Created by Bianco-Bianco (Dr. Ichie, Mystery House in Japan) and Robamimi (Who Am I? Remake, The Wedding Anniversary) First Love is not your ordinary escape. Call it a holiday gift to you.

To begin with, you are not attempting to escape anything. You are, in fact, attempting a walk down memory lane, to a decade ago when you and your first love parted. The action takes place in a lovely little chapel, the last place you two met, and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find the picture you both drew on that fateful day. Will you find the picture? Will your first love meet you as promised? You'll have to play to find out.

Navigation through the space can be a little tricky at first. Turning left and right is simple, bars will appear at the sides of the screen. However, you are walking through a narrow chapel, so in order to see some things to your right or left, you will first have to move forward. Luckily, pixel hunting will be at a minimum thanks to the nice changing cursor, which indicates areas that can be clicked. There's no construction or combining of objects to be had here, just puzzles and mind games. And memories...

The backgrounds are of the beautiful quality you would expect from Bianco-Bianco and Robamimi. From the charming little chapel all done up for Christmas, to the warm glow of the basement everything is a treat for the eyes. Accompanying your quest is a peaceful little tune, which can be handily muted if it becomes annoying. There's even a save button if you wish to stop and come back later.

Analysis: First Love is a nice combination of Robamimi's sentiment and Bianco-Bianco's quirkiness. This is not a tense nail-biter, nor a pure cold logic puzzle. Instead, it is a warm and fuzzy nostalgia trip that is perfect for a short break from the holiday madness.

No, it's not the hardest room escape out there. Nor the cutest, nor the quirkiest. First Love has its own quiet charm, it's calm and soothing, and it has just enough difficulty to make it a challenge. The only quarrel you might have is that one of the main puzzles is color-based, making it rather inaccessible for those with color-blindness.

Now that the holiday is finally here, and you've stuffed yourself silly and are tired of family fighting and football, take a 15 minute break from the day and enjoy some casual gameplay. Remember, it's sometimes fun not to escape from something, but to escape to something. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Play First Love


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Link Dump Holiday

DoraWhether or not this Friday is a special holiday for you, or just a day like any other, we hope you have a great day. May all your games purchased by well-meaning but oblivious relatives be for consoles you actually own. May your scores always stay at the top of the leaderboard, rather than vanishing after three minutes. May your point-and-click puzzles always be logical, although they probably never will. May people make more Hanukkah and Kwanzaa games next year so I don't have to frantically scour the web for something to feature. And most of all, may your coming year be filled with fun, happiness, health, tolerance, and awesomeness. Merry Friday, everyone. Now get out of my way and let me at those presents!

  • Infectonator Christmas EditionInfectonator Christmas Edition - [Parental Warning: Violence and Language] Jingle bells, civilian yells, zombie's got his leg! Oh what fun it is to give Santa a taste for flesh this day... hey!... what, you don't know the words? In the case of the Christmas Edition, for Infectonator it's essentially second verse, same as the first, only with festive hats and 8-Bit holiday music. Reminds me of some nightmares I've had after too much egg nog.
  • Civiballs X-Mas LevelsCiviballs X-Mas Levels - It's just 20 levels long, but the holiday edition of Civiballs is so darned festive you might just see sugarplums and candy canes every time you close your eyes. Which might be pleasant, if not for the fact that sugarplums are nasty. Why not fruitcake? Everyone loves fruitcake. You're probably familiar with the gameplay, but don't let that stop you from enjoying this cheerful little physics puzzle.
  • Icebreaker: The GatheringIcebreaker: The Gathering - This holiday season, show someone you care. Give them a surly, smelly, wet viking you cut out of a block of ice. The next set of levels in Nitrome's weekly release scheme for this latest installment in a favourite series is now available to play!
  • Save the Bunny: X-Mas EditionSave the Bunny: X-Mas Edition - The bunnies are back, and this time they're in all sorts of seasonal peril! You know, I'm starting to get fed up with these rabbits. Why can't they just stay saved? I'm beginning to think Mother Nature has it in for them, but if you really wanted to, I guess you could point-and-click their way to freedom. Again. Stupid wabbits.
  • Santa HairSanta Hair - I don't make the rules. Look. What part of "topiary mallet" doesn't make sense to you? This isn't rocket science, people. Next you'll be telling me beating up a block man to take his tape is crazy. No, no, no more questions, Santa's in his hammock and you're going to wake him up. Just trust me, it'll all make sense in the end. [Note: May not, in fact, make sense.]
  • Mezzo Special EditionMezzo Special Edition - He's been in your computer, and now he's in your browser. If you think 100 levels of block-swapping puzzle-penguin action is the only thing that could make your Friday complete, well... you're weird, kid. But here you go anyway.
  • Santa Rockstar 2Santa Rockstar 2 - It's all the not-really-playing-the-guitar guitar-playing action you can handle, right in your browser with a holiday theme! Features multiple difficulties, two different ways to play, and some old bearded guy rockin' out. Sounds like a recipe for success to me! Jack Black would approve. Note: May make lower end computers weep.
  • Chompy's Winter RescueChompy's Winter Rescue - There's something oddly hypnotic about the relaxed gameplay taking place here as you work to save critters frozen in ice. Maybe it's the smooth-paced action. Maybe it's the snake charmer music. Maybe it's the undulating giant, chomping plant. Wh... what's that, Chompy? You... you want me to buy all your undoubtably forthcoming and adorable merchandise?
  • Snow DaySnow Day - The gameplay is about as simple as you can get, but it's also simply adorable. Throw ice at the clouds floating by overhead to make sure it's cold enough that the school stays closed. Sorry, no epic boss battles or explosions, just a kid, a snow ball... and deranged mutant killer monster snow goons!!... no, no... wait... that was just a cloud. Honest mistake. Carry on.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (102 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Deal? comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (64 votes)
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GrinnypEscape of Santa Claus 3It's Christmas Eve, and what you probably need most is something quiet, almost Zen-like, to sooth the holiday nerves. So here's a special Christmas Present, another in a recent spate of excellent Holiday themed escape games, Escape of Santa Claus 3 by Tesshi-e. Welcome to another escape from the everyday!

Now here's a classic room escape scenario: You appear to be Santa Claus, trapped in a lovely, warm A-Frame cottage trying to make your way out. It's tempting to just relax in the rocking chair, but there's escaping to be done, so try to avoid the temptation. Wander around the cozy, inviting space and investigate every nook and cranny, there's bound to be a way out. Somehow. Or two ways out, as the case may be.

Navigation through the small space is accomplished with bars at the sides and bottoms of the screen. Unfortunately there's no changing cursor, so be prepared for some pixel hunting. And yes, there is a small bit of construction, very logical, that needs to be done in order to escape to your sleigh. Hey, it's Christmas time, so you should already be used to a bit of assembly. Inventory control is accomplished with an "about item" button that can be used to look at things you've picked up in close up. Play with everything you acquire, it could be important.

As always with Tesshi-e games, the environment is three dimensional and beautiful to look at. This time around the space is very warm and cozy, unlike the usually chilly and sterile spaces that characterize Tesshi-e's work. There's a cute little tune playing in the background, and a handy mute button when it all becomes a bit too much.

Analysis: Tesshi-e games are often a bit controversial; some folks like them, some folks don't, mostly due to the ever present construction aspects and the calm sterility. However, Tesshi-e always gives us a very polished, nicely presented room escape. As usual there is a happy coin escape, but quite nicely at the end there are also three Christmas presents to choose from as a special virtual gift.

Anyone who's played a few of these games will recognize some recycling of puzzles, especially the picture with the clickable corners. Luckily, Tesshi-e has managed to put a new twist on this old chestnut, making it not as easy as it first appears. None of the puzzles are terribly tricky, but this is a fun, calm, quiet room escape perfect for the holiday season. What are you waiting for? You have presents to deliver!

Play Escape of Santa Claus 3


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Rating: 3.5/5 (71 votes)
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DoraHeldaIn Helda, the new point-and-click adventure from Sefoil, poachers have stolen a group of rare blue seals, and it's up to you to rescue them. Move your cursor over the screen; if the icon changes to a hand, you can interact with something. Click your way through the beautifully detailed environments to find out what you need to trigger to proceed. It's a feast for your eyes and ears as you search for a way to bring the seals back home, where they can get back to important seal things. Like waiting for someone to put captions over their adorable little heads.

There's a lot about Helda's soft, mixed-media visuals that put one in mind of Samorost, which looks to have lent some inspiration, but that's hardly a bad thing. The game is lovely to look at, with a melancholy soundtrack that perfectly suits the mood. Clearly a lot of love has gone into this game and it shows. It's a very relaxing experience, and the storybook visuals and lack of text means it's perfect for the young and old, provided your young don't have an unhealthy fear of unnaturally hued sea mammals. Personally, I've learned to be suspicious of cute things that emit little hearts from their heads whenever I get too near.

The main problem here lies in abstract logic, even for a point-and-click title. Much of your time will be spent scouring the screen with your cursor, watching for it to change and show where you can interact. Once you've found all those magic spots, it becomes a matter of trial-and-error, as you figure out the order you're supposed to click on things. Some of them make sense, but some of them don't, and you may find yourself having to resort to the walkthrough link below the game itself.

Helda is only eight stages long, and probably won't pose much of a challenge beyond its trial-and-error approach to puzzle solving. It might be just what you need to unwind. The moral of the story is, of course, that poaching is bad, and if you do it, people in robes are going to come after you. If that isn't enough to make you lie awake at night and keep you on the straight and narrow, I don't know what is.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (28 votes)
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zxoMindfields 3Not-so-hot off the heels of the first two installments of Mindfields comes Mindfields 3, the latest in the tile-based puzzler series. The folks at Gamesheep and WitchHut are back, bringing joy to puzzle lovers everywhere!

As enduring as government corruption and pepperoni on pizza, nothing about the gameplay has changed. But for those for whom two-and-a-half years is ancient history, here's a refresher. All of the tanks on a level would like to get to the transporter. Unfortunately, all of the tanks on a level are also incredibly stupid on their own, and will keep on chugging in one direction until they're told to stop. Your job is to place tiles that tell them exactly where to go and what to do. Not only must the tanks navigate the terrain, but they'll have to open gates and destroy mines and lasers, too. Luckily, there are tiles which tell the tanks both to teleport and shoot. You're usually just provided with the bare minimum of tiles necessary to complete each level, so some ingenuity will be required to get the most out of each and every one.

The most obvious improvement to the latest in the series is the spiffy new graphics. Going back to the originals, I had to cringe at the bulgy tanks and clashing palettes. I was a little disappointed to find that Mindfields 3 doesn't add any new puzzle elements to the mix. (I'm also disappointed that there still does not seem to be any actual mind agriculture taking place, but I'll shelve that complaint for the time being.) Despite the lack of novelty, I found myself just as taken as when I played the first two games. While none of the puzzles are mind-knottingly difficult, each has its own unique challenge to be overcome, and there are enough bafflers to provide a healthy challenge for most people.

Unfortunately, I found that the trickiest puzzles were neither saved for the end nor spread out nicely across the whole level set, meaning that if you graphed out the difficulty ramp, it would look something like a cardiograph. This could be a little off-putting to some who might give up early, not realizing that they've been working on the hardest level of the entire game. But ultimately, Mindfields 3 provides a solid, if familiar gaming experience sure to quell your puzzle cravings. If the original 25 levels just doesn't satisfy you, check out the hundreds of custom levels from players like yourself, or sign up for a free Gamesheep account to make your own.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (349 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAs a special present, because you have been very good this year, Neutral has released another "new easy Christmas escape game", Christmas Escape 3. This is the 3rd consecutive year of holiday escapes, and it is Neutral easy, which means that you will probably only end up slightly confused from banging your head against the nearest flat surface.

christmasescape3_snowman.jpgTo begin with, this is almost an escape game in reverse. You begin the game in a snowy field at night. Usually you are trying to escape to the outside, but in this case, you are trying to find a way in. Or at least, out of the cold. Navigation through this cute world is accomplished by arrows at the sides and the bottom of the screen to turn left, right, or go backwards. Forward movement is accomplished by either clicking in the direction you want to go, or hovering your cursor over the path until an arrow shows up. However, you can—and indeed should—wander from the path if you ever hope to make it inside before you start losing toes to frostbite.

Christmas Escape 3 is a fun blend of puzzle solving and use of found objects. There's a handy changing cursor to let you know when you've reached something you can take, move, or manipulate in some fashion. Despite the changing cursor there is still a little pixel hunting, but nothing too egregious. Just remember to grab everything you can, because chances are you will need it.

As with their other Christmas Escapes, Neutral has gone with a cute, flat, cartoony style for Christmas Escape 3. There's no accompanying music, but plenty of cute little incidental sounds to add to the experience. And what an experience this is. There's no save button, but unlike Neutral's regular escapes you should be able to finish this one in one sitting. And yes, this is a Japanese game, but this link will take you to the English version, so no worries.

Analysis: Normally Neutral's room escapes are dense, tangled, and complicated to get through. Their Christmas Escapes, on the other hand, are light, fun, and (relatively) easy in comparison. Christmas Escape 3 continues the tradition as you encounter chirping chicks, a mercenary kitty cat, and oh, yeah, how good are you at ice fishing? The whole thing hangs together beautifully and the ending is, well, as cute as a button. The perfect present for the holiday season.

So get ready, escape fans. Our gift to you, perfect casual gameplay with a holiday theme, starts here. Put on a hat and gloves, lace up your snow boots, and get ready for some weekday escape.

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Play Christmas Escape 2

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Rating: 4.3/5 (70 votes)
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MikePotion Panic 2What do you do when hordes of archetypal fantasy antagonists endeavor to invade your alchemical laboratory and sanctum sanctorum? If you're anything like the hero of Ninja Kiwi's Potion Panic 2, you don your leather work apron and funny lit-candle hat and start mixing together primary-colored liquids into powerful offensive weaponry. The sequel to 2007's Potion Panic, Potion Panic 2 is a defense game with a fun emphasis on experimentation.

To begin staving the assault on your domain, you must first mix different combinations of red, yellow, and blue ingredients to make your defensive concoctions. The tutorial that begins on your first play through will introduce one color at a time, but after that all colors are always available. Clicking the plus buttons near your alchemical storage tanks will add one unit of the color you desire, and each potion can have up to five units worth of ingredients, with more powerful and costly potions requiring more. You can mix a potion randomly with the random "dice" button or use the on-screen plus and minus buttons to experiment. You can also save up to four potion mixtures, which manifest as additional buttons on screen, and which are essential to quickly recalling useful elements of your arsenal.

Attacking is a simple matter of holding the mouse button, dragging to aim, and releasing to deliver your deadly payload unto your innumerable foes. You earn cash by defeating your boney and scaly enemies; the more of whom fall to a single attack, the more cash you make. Between waves, a "shop" screen allows you to purchase color refills, upgrade the quality and potency of your potions, and repair and upgrade your defenses. You can also buy refills and upgrades during waves, and can easily buy refills in the midst of repelling the enemy onslaught with minimal distraction. Once enemy units breach your defenses, the game is over, so keep on mixing and firing!

Analysis: Potion Panic 2 improves on its predecessor in almost every way while maintaining what was fun and novel. A handy dotted arc indicating the path of your alchemical projectiles makes aiming much easier, and there is no longer a reload timer to slow down gameplay. The crude, though somewhat-charming, artwork of the original is replaced with more polished graphics, and while the animations are a little rough, they have a Saturday-morning-cartoon vibe that reminds me of The Curse of Monkey Island. The soundtrack is serviceable in setting the light, fantasy mood, and the sound effects usefully indicate the types of potions you launch and the types of creatures that are approaching, particularly useful to alert you to when the fast-charging minotaur attacks.

Experimenting with potions remains the heart of the game. There are four types of potions: rocky or shrapnelly solids, sticky or corrosive liquids, noxious gasses, and burny, burny fire. The tutorial gives some idea of how combining colors yields different varieties of these four types, but the joy of the game is in experimenting with combinations and discovering what eldritch mixtures they yield. There are a number of possible strategies to deploy, and your particular strategy will vary depending on the potions you discover.

One major change in the game affects how ingredients are mixed. In the original, dragging pull-chains adjusted how much of each color your potion used on a scale of one to a hundred. Now you add and subtract up to five units of color to create your arcane concoctions. I am of two minds on this new system. The old way made it easier to adjust your mixtures on the fly, while the new way makes it much easier to make new potions and to keep track of how the different colors interact. Given that the potion-saving feature is also much-improved, making minute adjustments less necessary, I consider the new system an improvement overall.

The upgrade system is also now much more intuitive and better integrated into the game experience. Unfortunately, the upgrade menu highlights what for some will be a major sticking point against playing the game. The "Premium" shop allows the user to buy, with real currency, various upgrades that are not available in the free, core game, using "Mochi-coins" purchased via the Mochi-ad network. To me, most of these upgrades seem like nice but unnecessary enhancements to the core experience. The major exception is the "Guardian Angel" upgrade, which allows users to continue a wave after losing. In other words, you must purchase the ability to continue in-game. This is particularly bad because the final wave 30 boss requires a bit of clever experimenting with different potions to defeat. By the time you figure out what to do you may have already lost, and without paying up you have to restart from wave one.

I have no problem with buying in-game content, so long as purchaseables are not necessary to winning the game. I believe Potion Panic 2 skirts the line of what is acceptable. It's too bad, because it's otherwise a great improvement over an excellent concept. I still recommend trying it, as it is still possible and worthwhile to play for free.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (126 votes)
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Mikenitrome-avalanche-screen1.gif'Tis the season for festive, holiday-themed casual games! Sure as snowfall, Nitrome brings us another seasonal, wintry browser offering. Avalanche casts the player as a sled-bound penguin who is just trying to get home to his brood in the face of a relentlessly adversarial natural disaster. A running game reminiscent of Dino Run and Canabalt, Avalanche will test your agility and reaction as you pilot your little Antarctic hero to safety.

The [right] arrow key propels your penguin forward, while [left] slows him down. The titular avalanche is in constant pursuit from the left side of the screen, and you can only move away from it, for it is not your friend. You can jump with the [up] arrow, and holding or double-tapping [up] will execute a tricky double-jump. Use these tools to avoid obstacles, exploit useful features like rocket sleds and ski lifts, and navigate treacherous terrain as you escape the great white onslaught.

Analysis: Leave it to Nitrome to find the cute and cuddly side of ecological catastrophe. The comparisons between Dino Run and Canabalt are obvious to those who have played them, but those games manage to inspire an amount of panicky dread. Avalanche distinguishes itself with adorable little cartoony graphical details in the signature Nitrome style, from the frightful, eye-popping look on the penguin's face when the avalanche gets too close, to the expressions on your fellow fauna's faces as they roll haplessly by in the snowballs that entrapped them, to the cheerful aspect of your welcoming penguin family morphing into alarm as snowy doom engulfs them at the end of the level. It's less apocalyptic and more like a slightly twisted Saturday morning cartoon, and Nitrome deserves kudos for taking an existing formula and giving it a personal twist.

While cute, Avalanche still manages to create a sense of tension as you race away from your frozen foe. The level design earns most of the credit for this. I especially like the levels that are designed so that the avalanche roars right behind you just before an opportunity for escape presents itself. Several levels rely on a degree of timing and anticipation that benefits from a certain amount of course memorization and repeated plays through. These levels in particular would benefit from a checkpoint system, a feature which Avalanche sadly lacks.

Dave Cowen continues to impress with his soundtrack work at Nitrome. His music for Avalanche perfectly fits the mood of the game: tense and energetic but cute, with a glistening icy sheen. Sound effects are somewhat less impressive; most are adequate, but the sound your penguin makes when he double-jumps is particularly grating.

Avalanche also features a Survival mode, in which the setting is an infinite, randomly generated mountain course, as opposed to the pregenerated levels of Adventure mode. Like Canabalt, the goal here is to abjure your inevitable doom for as long as possible. I found the generated elements to be a little repetitive, and not as seamless as those found in Dino Run or Canabalt. Still, it offers a nice break from the level-based play of Adventure mode and adds to the replay value of the game.

Avalanche is a great example of Nitrome's telltale style and gameplay. It captures many of the features that made Dino Run and Canabalt great and presents them in its own unique way. It is a fine example in company with its worthy forebears.

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Rating: 4.2/5 (67 votes)
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Roly-Poly MonstersJames FrancisWhen faced with a menace of ghouls, goblins and other creeps, there is only one thing to do. Yes, we need to bomb them. Johnny K and his team return with another chapter in their "kill the evil smileys" series, Roly-Poly Monsters. Armed with a Halloween theme and the best graphics the series has seen yet (note that it is slightly grotesque with animated blood splatters and grisly monsters), this might be the most polished and yet most controversial entry to Roly-Poly-dom.

Not to be confused with Nitrome's Roly Poly, where you rotate a level to help a critter through a maze, this Roly-Poly is all about destruction. In the original game you shot cannonballs at little smiley-inspired monsters, timing the explosions and trying to use the most conservative number of bombs to do the job. The sequel followed the same idea but included good guys that cost you a penalty in points if you hit them. Then Roly-Poly Eliminator changed the game plan: instead of shooting bombs, you had to remove blocks from the level in the right sequence and timing in order to kill all the round smileys.

In a way Roly-Poly Monsters is a mixture of everything that came before it. Ghouls and worse are roaming the neighborhood, and you have to destroy them. The bombs are back, but instead of using a cannon you drop them from the top. This combines the subtle timing mechanics of both Eliminator and Cannon: bombs have to be dropped in the right sequence and at the right pace, because you have a limited supply. At the start this is fairly simple, but soon you have to suss out the nuances of a level, knowing exactly when to drop a bomb for the perfect killing spree. With the right chain reaction, those monsters quickly return to the bloody pulp of myths.

Analysis: Roly-Poly Monsters is remarkably different from the series, not only with its gameplay style but also in how it looks and sounds. The music is very catchy, despite the same cheery track constantly looping. The little characters are far more animated than previously seen, reacting to bombs near them in unique ways. Sometimes they just do stuff while loitering, such as the vampire who changes to a little round bat from time to time. It is also considerably more macabre, thanks to cartoon graphics showing people hanging from trees, not to mention the Rolys that explode with a splatter of blood. The game is not outright gory, but it has its moments. Visually it is a huge leap from the previous games, but that new look and feel comes at a price...

Roly-Poly MonstersThe ante is raised every level. The most common method is to use props like chains holding bombs or monsters, rolling stones that can shunt characters, moving platforms that require timing for hit-or-miss moments and more. Timing is another such trick — some levels let you drop bombs at your leisure, only worrying about the timer reducing your score, while other levels require you to release them at a specific pace. It might be to time the drop of a monster or bomb, or it could be to catch a platform at a specific moment. RPM's levels tend to vary a lot, though the overall complexity never really takes a leap up. That said, it is not frustrating and quite engaging.

It's not clear if the physics engine was upgraded between Roly-Poly Monsters and previous games, but there are some lag issues on lower-end machines. Turning off the sound helps smooth things out, but RPM is definitely demanding in its fidelity, causing a marked slow-down if you are low on system resources (or simply have an inadequate rig). Given how accurate the game wants you to be in both speed and drop precision, this can become a frustrating issue. A clear browser with few additional windows open gave no real issues, but you probably won't sneak this one into a power-surfing session.

Another problem lies in the level design. You get point bonuses for every bomb you do not use, but often a level has a very specific sequence that ensures success. The margin for error is very small and sometimes the physics engine works against you. Characters simply might not roll in the right direction. Obstacles might not slump correctly. In one case the perfect sequence went asunder as two colliding characters managed to roll out of a bomb's blast radius, forcing a level reset, yet the next time using the same sequence the level cleared perfectly. This might be due to the lag or it's just a small random charm in the design. But know that sometimes things just won't go the way you want. No level is so spiteful that you couldn't move on, but in some cases luck seems to have a lot to do with getting a good score.

Still, Roly-Poly Monsters deserves a lot of patience for two reasons: it looks good and it is a clear evolution in the series. Johnny K and his team could just have made a prettier version of Ragdoll Cannon or Eliminator, but instead they mixed the two up and added what counts as far more than just a coat of paint. There are some optimization issues and the next upgrade ought to be a serious revamp of the physics code, but if your browser doesn't get the stutters and you have the patience for trial-and-error, give it a try.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (605 votes)
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DoraEvery Day The Same DreamMade by Paolo Pedercini of Molle Industria, Every Day the Same Dream is a short, bleak little tale about a day in a man's life. Or, rather, every day, since they're all the same, and nothing he can ever do will change that. Or will it?

Gameplay is simple, using the left and right [arrow] keys for movement, and the [space] key to interact with people and items when their name pops up at the bottom of the screen. The goal is to get through the day. A day like any, every other day. Your path appears to be predefined; get up, get dressed, say goodbye to your emotionally oblivious wife, and go to your cubicle at work. Wash, rinse, repeat. And yet, if you break out of routine any way you can, whether it be simply by going left instead of right or taking more drastic steps, you'll find that there are ways you can experience his small world differently. You'll have to play through the day multiple times to see all the content, but it still probably won't take you very long at all.

As stark and unsettling as the game is, it isn't without moments that are almost beautiful. Oddly enough, what I found to be most affecting was an interaction with, of all things, a cow. A simple gesture, and yet it's one of the only real moments of connection the unnamed man has in the entire story. The protagonist has no face, no personality, and yet there's something about his situation that makes him instantly identifiable, someone to feel sympathy for. I almost felt a sense of desperation the longer I played as I tried to find something, anything, that would change his life for the better... or even at all. Yeah, it's real cheerful. You might want to have the Nickelodeon channel fired up and ready for some fast comfort after this one.

I do a lot of writing, but it's not often that I feel as though I have to write something, and it's even rarer that a game makes me feel something beyond a few moments of simple enjoyment. Every Day the Same Dream did both. It's not joyful, and it's not for everyone, despite what may be the slickest soundtrack around. I could be wrong about all my new found thoughtful introspection, and it could simply be a cynical and grim window into another life. Whether you enjoy it as a finely crafted piece of interactive art, or find that it makes you think, Every Day the Same Dream shouldn't be dismissed for its simple presentation, and is definitely worth a look.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (181 votes)
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dismantlementmouse.jpgGrinnypIt's dismantling time yet again! Gam.ebb.jp is back with another "take this apart cuz you've got a screwdriver" game, and now it's personal! Well, it's a mouse, at any rate. A computer mouse, that is, not, you know, a live one. Although that might be interesting... nevermind. Yes, the third installment of the dismantlement series of point-and-click puzzles is here with Dismantlement: Mouse, just in time to brighten your day. Now with 50% fewer explosions! Maybe.

Once again you have nothing but your trusty screwdriver as a tool. Simply click to remove screws and click on other things to see what happens. There's a handy button at the top that allows you to move from the front to the back of the mouse as well as from close-up views to normal view. Everything is in plain sight, so there is very little pixel hunting to be had. Figuring out the rest is up to you.

Unlike Dismantlement: Tea Canister, this game features something that most of us have done at one time or another. Who hasn't had to open up a mouse before? Well, maybe if you missed the golden age of trackball-driven mice, but everyone else will be familiar with pulling that fuzzy gunk off the contacts inside. You may not recall your mouse having so many locked and inaccessible areas, though. Or bombs.

This Dismantlement is a throwback to the first game in the series, Dismantlement: Radio, in both gameplay and execution. Eschewing the various reflex-based puzzles of Tea Canister, Mouse moves back into the realm of logic. No music puzzles, no arcade-style antics, and only one puzzle that is slightly based on color guarantee that fans of the series will have a blast. No pun intended.

Analysis: What a perfect Christmas present! For those who enjoy this sort of thing, Dismantlement: Mouse is the perfect way to whittle away a few minutes. There's still a bomb, of course, but much less stress involved as you only encounter the timer at the last puzzle. A perfect way to take a break from the everyday. Gam.ebb.jp certainly has a thing about putting bombs into electronics. Perhaps it would be wise to never purchase appliances from them...

The only complaint this time around is that the fun is over too soon. There's really not that much inside a mouse, so there's only so much puzzle you can cram into such a small space. But still, Dismantlement: Mouse is casual gameplay at its finest. Fun, logical, and it appeals to that little part in all of us that revels in breaking something down to its basic components.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBThis week's Mobile Monday fell off the wacky train! Fortunately it hit a pack of wacky grass which cushioned its fall, but the train kept going to Wacky Town all the same. Now Mobile Monday has to hitchhike. The bus from Wackyville should come by soon, Tomena Sanner is driving today.

vortex.jpgVortex - A building-based puzzle game that I guarantee will receive fewer accolades than it deserves. Vortex is all about steering a rocket back to Earth by using gravity and path-altering tools. Use black holes to draw the craft in, repel holes to push it away, an assortment of walls to ricochet it around, and arrow pads to change its speed. Wormholes, laser gates and other obstacles will get in your way, but you're a crafty puzzle gamer, I can tell, so I'm sure you'll be fine. Over 50 levels are yours to complete, ranging from beginner's difficulty to the enticingly named "insane", and you can also download new level packs along with user created stages. Oh, and there's a level editor, too, which is as easy to use as the game is to play.

tomenasanner.gifTomena Sanner - Businessman Hitoshi Susumu is in a rush. He's so behind schedule, he won't even stop running to deal with obstacles in his way. What's a suit-wearing guy to do? Might I suggest a dropkick to a T-Rex's face? Dashing past old women, giant candy canes, samurai, cowboys, and more, Mr. Susumu must get to the goal as fast as he can for the ultimate 2D dance party. Simply tap the screen just before you encounter an obstacle to overcome it. The more precise you are, the better your score. A good handful of levels and an excellent variety of things to see make this one easy to come back to and play over and over again.

bitflip.jpgbitFLIP - One of the more intricate and complex matching-style puzzle games on the iPhone market, bitFLIP takes tile swapping to a whole new level. Match three or more pieces to make them disappear, nothing new there, but to make those matches you have a dual-slotted mechanism that can fit both vertically and horizontally-oriented pairs. Not only that, but every tile has a reverse side, meaning you can flip, swap, rotate and spin things in an impressive number of ways. Highly engaging, very fun to get into, and the music really seals the deal on this superb little puzzler. Oh, and did I mention there's multiplayer? There's multiplayer.

undeadattack.jpgUndead Attack! Pinball - I admit it. I have a soft spot for iPhone pinball games. The few that have been released are well-made, and the touch screen interface somehow brings back a bit more of that classic pinball machine feeling. Even though I never liked pinball that much. Undead Attack is pinball-lite with... well, with zombies. The icky undead spawn and work their way towards the bottom of the screen. Hit them with the ball to un-undead them. Even though the boards aren't all that interesting, the addition of enemies to contend with adds a new kind of interaction, making the power-ups and level events even more exciting! The free Undead Attack! Pinball Lite is also available.

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (61 votes)
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Mishap: An Accidental Haunting

DoraWhat would you do if the house of your dreams was haunted? And not just by some paltry poltergeist, but an entire infestation of unearthly manifestations? Well, if Bill Murray is unavailable, your next best bet is probably Hobblepop, Best of Casual Gameplay 2009the tiny man who shows up at your front door with a lot of strange equipment and seems suspiciously knowledgeable about the whole ordeal. Mishap: An Accidental Haunting, from Namco, is a ghostly hidden object romp through one unbelievable house. With eight chapters, 32 hidden object scenes, riddles, mini-games, and a host of unfortunate spirits, the game is as fun as it is gorgeous, which is saying quite a lot.

The ghosts, as Hobblepop explains, have left a lot of spectral energy about the house, so you'll need to seek out items they've interacted with to draw them out. Discovery Channel would have you believe this is done with forty minutes of two grown men stumbling around in the dark yelling, Mishap: An Accidental Haunting"Did you hear/see/smell that?!" (Spoiler: NO.) In reality, everyone knows the best way to make contact with the restless dead is by going through a list of items cunningly placed throughout the environment. That rubber chicken over there? Oh yeah, the ghost totally imbued that with spectral... whatever. Pick that baby up. Don't worry, it's not all junk; Hobblepop will use many of the items you find to build weird and wonderful machines to help you solve the chapter. If your cursor changes to a door, that means you can click on that place to move to a different area.

In each chapter, you'll uncover information that will tell you more about the spirit you're dealing with, but you'll also need to solve a riddle before you can reach them. Each time you finally coax the main spirit of a chapter out of hiding, you'll have to play a different mini-game to help put the ghost to rest. If you find a particular mini-game too difficult, or if you just don't want to play, you can hit "Skip Game" after the first round and move right to the next chapter.

Mishap: An Accidental HauntingSince you spend so much of your time crawling through hidden object scenes, it's a relief to find that they're so well done. Rendered in delightfully twisted environments, objects are carefully and sneakily placed and do a fantastic job of fitting in. While Namco does a good job of hiding things in plain sight, it's often the environments themselves that work against you. Since the house is so charged with ghostly energy, in any given scene you'll find ordinary objects warped and twisted, and their strange movements do a lot to distract you. You may find yourself reaching for the hint button once it's recharged, but be careful... too many mis-clicks and you could get an unpleasant surprise.

In addition to your star specter, each chapter also features five more ghosts you can track down using Hobblepop's device and playing a game of hot-or-cold. They don't impact the story, but most of them have an interesting story to tell. While exaggerated and deliberately ridiculous in their design, some of the central storyline ghosts are a little, uh, ghoulish, and might upset some younger children.

Analysis: There is a story at work behind Mishap beyond "here there be ghosts", and your quest to get rid of them. As you progress you'll find a mysterious diary that will begin to provide insight into just why all these seemingly unrelated ghosts have taken up residence in the same place. Most of you will probably figure out the Big Twist™ a few chapters in, but who cares? All the characters are so wonderfully bizarre that you'll want to keep playing just to see the next one. It's like Thirteen Ghosts, but without the guy from Scooby-Doo, and the need to hide behind a pillow. I was delighted virtually every minute I spent with it, and there aren't many games I can say that about.

While some of the character models look a little stiff and unpolished, Mishap on the whole presents an absolute feast for your eyes. Environments are absolutely stunning. A particular favourite of mine was the foyer, with its jaw-droppingly beautiful grand organ. The soundtrack is also pretty easy on the ears, with catchy tracks that fit each locale perfectly. And while it also features what might be the worst fake French accent I've heard all year, the voice acting is on the whole well done.

Mishap: An Accidental HauntingI have to say, I really appreciated the attempt to break up the gameplay by introducing the various mini-games at the end of each chapter, but it doesn't always work, and some are definitely more enjoyable than others. One, for example, involves recreating a complicated recipe by working from a list of instructions with a machine that looks like it would probably prefer to be tenderizing your face. It's weird, and it's mostly fun, and it's a bit of a let down that the others are just sort of... eh? Most of them are concepts that aren't quite as well fleshed out as they could have been, and feel a bit awkward in their execution, or simply fall back on being reflex tests. And, brace yourself; Mishap does feature one mini-game firmly entrenched in the defense genre, but the good news is if that makes your lip curl, you can always skip it.

If you're a fan of hidden object games, Mishap: An Accidental Haunting should be a no-brainer buy for you. You can expect to sink at least several hours into it, depending on how finely trained your ocular orbs are. Mishap throws all pretensions of seriousness out the window and gets straight to the ridiculousness, and the result is a very satisfying experience. If you're looking for a cerebral, thoughtful game to challenge your intellect, this one might not be for you. But if you're looking for a fun, funky good time, the sort that involves dancing around in your bathrobe, then Mishap: An Accidental Haunting won't disappoint.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.4/5
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Rating: 4.4/5 (53 votes)
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Artist Colony

GrinnypOnce upon a time, two young artists started a colony, a place where fellow artists could come, train, and release their creative potential. It was all going well until one day a lovely lady sculptor showed up, capturing the hearts of both friends. One won her hand in marriage, but the other could not forget. Eventually this love triangle resulted in a rift between the two friends and the colony burning to the ground. Thus begins the backstory to Artist Colony, the new casual simulation and time management game designed by Nikitova.

artistcolony_stage.jpgGameplay will be familiar to those who have played other casual sims such as Virtual Villagers or My Tribe. Just drag your characters to the spots where they need to work and they do all the heavy lifting themselves. After clearing a bit of rubble from the entrance, characters can then enter studios to train in their field of art. Each person has a primary and a secondary art talent, both of which are trainable. Once they reach a certain level they can begin to create masterpieces, which will be needed tomake money to upgrade studios and other structures in the colony.

But artists cannot just train and create, they have to eat and sleep, too! Drag hungry or tired people to the correct buildings to keep them healthy. You also must perform maintenance around the colony, pulling weeds or shoveling snow as the seasons change. On top of all that, artists also need inspiration, a feat accomplished by beautifying the grounds with fountains, murals, and other inspirational flourishes. One fun dynamic is when an artist begins to "think" of someone. Place them near that someone and they will either fall in love (inspiring them to create a work of art about love) or they will experience heartbreak (inspiring a work of art dedicated to the downside of love). This will not, however, result in children. Instead, to swell your population you must beautify and upgrade the colony to attract more artists.

artistcolony_map.jpgAt first when one of your little artists creates a masterpiece it will sit at the creation point, awaiting a buyer to wander in and see if they like it. Later you can rebuild the gallery to hold up to 40 masterpieces at once, allowing more money to pour in. In the beginning, each studio can only train one artist up to a certain level, so the money is desperately needed for upgrades to accommodate more students and higher levels, especially when other artists arrive to swell the colony population. Certain restoration projects and upgrades also require not only money but artists of a certain level, so don't neglect the training.

A menu on the left allows you to keep track of all of your residents, with buttons that can show who is hungry, who is tired, who is inspired, and who is in love. Click on one of your little characters and you will get a menu showing their primary and secondary talents, how many levels they have achieved, who they are thinking of, and their inspiration and energy levels. There's a handy "events" menu at the top, notifying you if something is taking place. Click on the envelope and the game will whisk you to the location to see what is going on. There's also a nice overview map to see the colony in its entirety, allowing you to jump from place to place without all the scrolling.

Analysis: At first glance, Artist Colony resembles one of the giants of the casual sim field, Virtual Villagers. As you dig deeper into the experience, you will find the game goes its own way and creates a lovely, fun virtual world of art and performance. One charming aspect is the gallery where you can check out all the fabulous photographs, paintings and sculptures created by your little people, or simply watch them on the restored stage as they perform musical numbers or interpretive dance in the dance studio.

artistcolony_musicstudio.jpgThe artwork in Artist Colony is a delight. Your little folks are very unique in appearance, and not just in clothing. Hair color, facial adornment, and even posture help you distinguish one from another. The backgrounds of the colony are stunning, especially when you open up new parts of the map to show the mountain mural or the peaceful fishing pier. Drop an artist on a building and you get a lovely cut-away view of the inside as they go about their business. Each studio looks better and better after upgrades, adding to the delight of the gameplay. There's also some lovely, sprightly music to enjoy as you play. When one of your musicians gets on stage to perform, the music changes and you will actually hear their new composition.

The best part of the game is the ever-developing story, both in the present and the past, as new pieces of the colony are unearthed or upgraded. After certain benchmarks are met you will be entertained with more details about the disaster of the past, or the angst of the present. Eventually you will learn the whole story of the love triangle but you can continue playing as long as you wish, trying to reach certain benchmarks or just enjoying the lives and creations of your little artists.

There are a few downsides. The biggest one is that you can only play one game at a time. Thus, if you want to start a new game, you will be forced to discard the old one. This can be annoying to those who might wish to run simultaneous games. Also, the pacing is a bit slow, especially at the beginning. Fortunately, there is a "fast forward" button that can make things move at double speed if you don't want to sit around waiting for something to happen. The game does not run while it is turned off, so be prepared to spend some time in your (hopefully) thriving colony.

Despite a few minor annoyances, Artist Colony is fascinating, absorbing casual gameplay. For those who love casual sims this is the game for you. Just be warned, it is very addictive. You can while away hours as you manipulate your little people to and fro, searching for hidden pieces of the past or creating masterpieces for the present. It's time to dress in all black, slap on a beret, and get ready to create some art!

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

JohnBEver wonder what happens to the games we feature on Weekend Download? Think the respective developers just take a nap and start on something new? Oh ho HO! You would be wrong! Two of this week's games are updates of titles we featured in the past, proving once and for all (insert significant philosophical observation here).

magicplanetsnack.gifMagic Planet Snack (Windows, 8.7MB, free) - You're a wizard, but you're obviously not a very good one. You see, instead of doing cool stuff like casting a fire spell to cook some muffins, you turned yourself into a worm. Now you must travel through space avoiding lava and trolls and devouring blocks, orbs, and rival wizards with your endless appetite. Use the [arrow] keys to swim through blocks, nomming as you go, and gather enough orbs to turn on your hyper power and transform everything into desserts!

exclamation.gif! (Windows, 9.7MB, free) - Ben Chandler is at it again with another bite-sized adventure game. This one is put together in a rather whimsical way, not only because the story and music are zany, but because the game takes place in six locations, each displayed on the screen at once. Didn't see that one coming, did ya? You play a robot investigating Count Can't's theft of the town exclamation mark. Didn't see that coming either, right? Anyway, go play, it's fun! Also check out some of Ben's other adventure games: Featherweight, Awakener, Heed, and Annie Android.

christmastale.gifDawn's Light: A Christmas Tale (Windows, 56.5MB, free) - This tasty little morsel from John Wizard features characters and callbacks from the creator's full-fledged RPG, Dawn's Light. Now, though, the fourth wall is put on shaky territory as John Wizard appears in the game! It's for noble reasons, of course: to save Christmas! John Naught has stolen all the presents from under the tree, and in order to get them back, John Wizard enlists the help of characters from Dawn's Light. They can't just go out and find the presents, though. They need some sidequests to keep things interesting! A cute and entertaining diversion perfect for a near-holiday afternoon.

sumotoridreams2.jpgSumotori Dreams - (Windows, 1MB, demo) - Originally featured back in 2007 (on the fourth Weekend Download EVAR), this unassuming title pits two ragdoll sumo wrestlers against each other in a small arena. Shove your way to a hilarious victory as you stumble around trying to gain the upper hand. This update isn't free, unfortunately, but if you're willing to part with $4, you'll get new arenas, more fighters, and approximately one thousand times the laughs as before. Seriously, this game is funny to watch. Sumotori Dreams is one of indie gaming's darling little giggle machines. Also: the demo has a frustrating time-bomb on it. Please don't hit things when it runs out.

gunfudeadlands.gifGunFu Deadlands 1.0 (Mac/Windows/Linux, 8MB, free) - First featured just a few months ago, GunFu Deadlands is a wild west-themed arcade game that's all about taking out the bad guys. Move with the [WASD] keys, fire with the mouse, and use bullet time to slow things down for a few seconds. GunFu has received a small but significant update addressing some of the concerns players expressed when the original was released. Enemy AI has improved, so the bad guys will try to avoid your shots as best they can, and collision detection is more accurate. There are also new levels, new buildings, and a slightly decreased level of difficulty.

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 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (20 votes)
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samanthaswiftatlantis-b.jpg

GrinnypSamantha Swift is back, and once again she's traveling the world in search of mysterious items, hidden object/adventure style! Welcome to the third installment in the successful hybrid series, Samantha Swift: Mystery from Atlantis!

samanthaswiftmystery.jpgYou begin in Alaska, searching for a native totem that is apparently more than it seems. As soon as you find the artifact it's taken by someone from the military, leaving you to wonder what's so special about that little thing. The answers will come as the game progresses, but the first thing Samantha and her trusty team discover at the Museum of Secrets Lost is that they need to find the pieces for a legendary item, the Harmonic Senses of Atlantis, to combat whatever threat the totem possesses. And it possesses a lot of threat...

Hidden in the totem is a meteorite, and inside the meteorite is a strange bacterium. The effects of the bacteria are two-fold: they make a person look much younger while simultaneously rotting them from the inside and making them susceptible to suggestion. An evil businessman (is there any other kind?) plans to exploit this to the fullest, creating the "Dorian Gray" skin creme (nice Oscar Wilde reference there) that will, naturally, be wildly popular in today's youth-obsessed culture. The plan is to get enough people hooked on the creme and then start the mind control via TV and the internet. Once they have enough of the bacteria, production can begin. Unless Samantha can stop them, of course.

Gameplay is familiar to anyone who's played a hidden object game before. You begin each scene with a list of objects that need to be found, some of which are for your expedition, some of which go in your toolkit for later, and some of which will end up in your museum. Yellow text denotes "clues" for that object, so you might see "monkey treats" and will need to figure out that it means "bananas". Once you exhaust the first list a second one will appear, this one loaded with objects that are completely hidden from sight and can only be found by using items in your toolkit or solving puzzles in the scene.

samanthaswiftmystery2.jpgOf course, Samantha does have some help along the way. A limited hint system points items out, and Samantha's trusty scanner will show the outline of any object in your list. Also hanging around is your trusty PDA which carries information about each scene and enables Samantha to talk to her team back at the museum. Along with everything else there are two birds (swifts, of course) hidden in every scene. Find enough of the swifts to unlock a special bonus mode that allows you to revisit several of the hidden object scenes to compete against the clock to see how fast you can find random lists of items.

Analysis: How does Samantha Swift: Mystery from Atlantis stack up against its predecessors? Well, that's a tricky question, as the underlying structure of the gameplay has completely changed from the first and second games. Previous installments were more point-and-click adventures, wandering back and forth from scene to scene to complete an area. Mystery from Atlantis, on the other hand, has jettisoned the moving about and created a game that is much more of a classic hidden object with adventure elements. The emphasis is now on item finding, not adventuring. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

In order to bolster the hidden object elements, timed and untimed gameplay modes have both been added, the former obviously providing more challenge than the relaxed timerless experience. Finding items is, naturally, more difficult as well, evidenced by the tricky yellow hints present in your list. Putting the blue "really well-hidden" items at the end of the scene was a nice touch, allowing you to fill your inventory with tools before you start the real hunt.

If you're after gorgeous hidden object gameplay with a slight adventure flavor, Samantha Swift: Mystery from Atlantis is sure to scratch that itch. Fans of the series will probably feel a pinch of sadness to see the adventure flavor so diluted in the third installment, but regardless of the shift, a superb casual game sits right below the surface.

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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Link Dump Fridays

DoraPleasant tidings, new friend! We hope this Friday finds you well and in fine gaming shape, because we have physics and puzzles and more for you. If you reside in a land of ice and snow this season, we hope you've considered the importance of keeping your hands safe. After all, if your fingers freeze and fall off, who's going to play all these games?! That guy? That guy stinks! So always remember to wear gloves, and drink lots of warm fluids. And don't forget your snow boots! Look both ways before crossing the street, wash behind your ears, and eat your vegetables each day. And you never call. Would it kill you to call? We worry, you know.

  • InfectonatorSteady the Yeti - Ah, the yeti. Nature's answer to Brian Boitano. Oh, didn't you know? The yeti are excellent skaters! Of course, it's mostly by accident. Help guide this frozen yeti to warm salvation by guiding him across the ice, Bloxorz style. Personally, I think if a creature is unable to function without assistance in its own environment, nature is probably trying to tell it something.
  • BlosicsBlosics - Also known as "Wheeeeeeeee!", Blosics is a simple but glorious game where you try to knock down various structures by flinging balls at them. Click and hold within the green circle to begin growing your missile, and move the mouse to choose the angle. Release! It's like therapy against every midway carnival game that ever took your money, only these blocks aren't super-glued to the floor and you don't have to endure the taunts of your friends.
  • ArcuzArcuz - Hey there, internets! Who here likes... action/RPG titles with adorable sprite graphics? Good, good... how about tow-headed youths who are humanity's last hope? Awesome! Now... who here likes... grinding? No? Well, too bad, suckers! Hahahaha! Your hate only makes me stronger.
  • Platonic Archetypes of DicePlatonic Archetypes of Dice - We love you, unknown internet surfer. Never, ever leave us! And to make sure you don't, here's an inexplicably addictive dice game that plays like rock-paper-scissors and a casino had a baby, and then let it grow up watching too much Pokemon. And also never moved out of the 1990's, when the original Game Boy reigned supreme. It's weird, but also kind of wonderful. And while you sink your time into it, we'll smile unsteadily, stroke your hair with a trembling hand, and think about how we'll never, ever let you go. Remember, it's not really love unless you are severely creeping someone out.
  • run.don't.stoprun.don't.stop - Explanation? Explanations are for suckas, friend. Everything you need to know about this bizarre little game is right there in the title. Collect cash, power ups, and fly through the sky like some glorious space eagle. If it doesn't make sense, then you know you're playing it properly. While there's not much of a point to it, it captures a sort of free-wheeling glee factor that make it worth a look.

  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (66 votes)
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followingfootsteps.gifzxoFollowing Footsteps is a unique and oddly charming game created by Ming-Yee Iu for our recent Casual Game Design Competition 6. While the game didn't win any prizes, it set itself apart through its creative take on the "explore" theme and innovative gameplay.

You play the part of an intrepid explorer ‒ or rather, you play the part of a weaselly scavenger following in the footsteps of an intrepid explorer, hoping to get your grubby mitts on the gold he lost over a century ago. Armed with the explorer's diary and a map of the area, you must track his progress across a wilderness of woods, rivers, lakes and swamps in search of the lost treasure. You start in the city of Compton; use the [arrow] keys or click on the on-screen arrows to move. When you think you're near a site where Emerson might have camped, click your character or press [enter] to explore that square. Use the map and the diary to help you pinpoint the location. Once you've found a campsite, the next diary entry will give you clues to the next location. Keep on exploring in this fashion until you've found the missing loot! If you get lost, head to any city and visit the library for a hint.

Analysis: Following Footsteps looks and feels like a prototype for a great game. I don't say this to criticize Ming, quite the opposite, actually, because when you get right down to it, the underlying mechanic is not only rock-solid, it's at least two steps away from any other casual game I've seen. People dig the idea. You can tell by the feedback that they care. At least half of the game's comments on the competition page read something like "Great idea, but here's how it could be better". Games based on mediocre concepts just don't get that kind of feedback.

What makes it so appealing? It speaks to the explorer in us, the part of us that's saddened just a little when the entire world is revealed in a game like Civilization. We like to climb mountains and ford rivers and track through forests, and Following Footsteps lets us do just those things.

Unfortunately, the illusion suffers a bit since terrain has no effect on the way you can move across it. Look everyone, I'm walking on water! Making the terrain interactive with the exploring character would go a long way towards turning this game into a real adventure. Incorporate some of the same challenges you might run into if you were actually out in the wild ‒ storms, fords, boats, bears, carrying supplies, wagons, oxen... OK, I stole those last two from Oregon Trail, but you get the idea.

So, cheers to Ming for creating Following Footsteps with its innovative core gameplay mechanism. We hope to see a more fleshed-out version in the future, hopefully incorporating some of the great ideas suggested by fellow JIGsters.

Play Following Footsteps


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 4.9/5 (273 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Tetricide comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (91 votes)
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AlexeiTetraformA single crystalline planetoid floats in the depths of space. It is surrounded by malevolent forces, twisted creations of metal ready to unleash electric death on the beleaguered people of that tiny world, and the only thing that can stop them is the power of rubber-bands and gravity.

Tetraform, the new game from Tyler Glaiel and Greg Wohlwend, casts you in the role of planetary defender, and combines space combat, yo-yo physics, and elements of the Grow games to do it. In the center of your screen is your pretty polyhedral world. Waves of enemies come in from the sides of the screen, all prepared to crash into your fragile little planet. The only way to stop them is to click on two of them, causing them to become irresistibly attracted to one another, resulting in their eventual spectacular collision. These collisions net you points and also rain resources down on your little planet.

As the game progresses, you'll deal with larger and smaller ships, each of which have their own specific gravity or abilities, including being able to shoot missiles or phase into two identical copies, only one of which is real. You'll also learn to turn enemies' weapons against them, and snare multiple enemies into collisions that cause larger explosions and net more points. Sometimes when waves end, you'll have a chance to pick up health power-ups, as well as procure some power-ups that appear as structural additions to your planet, but be careful, as waves will start quickly one after another, so be speedy about getting your goodies.

TetraformAnalysis: Tetraform's biggest asset is definitely its clever gameplay. The attraction/gravity mechanic, while reminiscent of a couple of other games, feels exciting and well thought-out, and having to plan which ships to crash into one another manages to be both strategically satisfying and explosively fun. The game suffers, however, from the lack of a tutorial, as there are mechanics and ideas that don't seem well explained. What, for example, are the plates of dirt and grass that appear on your planet? The game is called Tetraform, which seems to indicate that terraforming the planet is some kind of goal, but it's never clear how you're supposed to reach it, or whether making grass grow on your planet is part of that goal.

That being said, the rest of the game is really smoothly executed. A variety of enemy types force you to constantly reconsider your strategy, and while the difficulty of the first couple of waves is pretty reasonable, the game quickly gets hectic when smaller crafts zip around your planet like water circling a drain. Learning how to send larger ships careening into swathes of smaller ships is one of the great moments of the game, and even figuring out how to use your power-ups can be fun, if a little baffling. The thing that originally looked like some kind of sun/solar power collector turned out to be a morning-star to run ships into, and you can click twice on the radioactive scaffolding to destroy everything on screen, which is crucial when things start getting really frantic.

If anything, the difficulty ramps a little too fast, but fortunately you can always simply continue the game any time you die (though your score gets reset,) so you'll even be able to pass the (long, fun) boss-fight with a little bit of patience.

In general, this is an exciting game with an inventive and well-executed mechanic. The simplicity of the gameplay means that the lack of tutorial isn't too much of a problem, and the music is really catchy. Take it out for a spin!

Play Tetraform


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (109 votes)
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JerradBig Pixel RacingEver wished that someone would combine the free-roaming, street-racing style of Grand Theft Auto with the vehicular sabotage of Mario Kart? And then throw in a little bit of Nintendogs just for good measure? Of course you have, who hasn't?! Fortunately, the good people at Big Pixel Studios have stepped up and made our dreams into reality with Big Pixel Racing.

Upon starting the game, you'll be informed that you need to save your brother from crime boss Big Dog, who is an actual dog in this case. You can drive around town with the [arrow] keys, looking for available races to win cash. Each race has 3 difficulty levels, followed by a duel with Big Dog himself. Your opponents will get harder to beat with each level of difficulty, but of course, nobody said you have to fight fair. Scattered around the race tracks are yellow and red boxes that will contain either weapons that can be deployed with [X] or additional speed boosts for your car that can be activated with the [Z] button.. Use these strategically to come in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, and you'll unlock the next difficulty level, where you'll have to complete more laps and deal with smarter and faster opponents. The game also auto-saves after each race, so you can come back and pick up where you left off at any time.

In between the races, you can drive around town freely, although there is little to do aside from visiting upgrade shops. The shops can be used to change your car's color or purchase some bizarre items that will improve your performance. And I mean seriously bizarre. Sushi increases your boost time? Fuzzy dice improves your speed? Sure they do, in Dog City! It may not make a lot of sense, but if you were expecting realism in a game about street-racing dogs, then you were just asking to have your heart broken.

Big Pixel RacingAnalysis: The graphics are the first thing you notice about this game, and they're what really make it great. I'm a sucker for retro-styled pixel art, especially when they manage to make it look like a lot of puppies are driving around in Micro Machines. It would have been nice to see the upgrades as they were added onto the vehicle, but I can understand how that would have been difficult, given the blocky nature of the game. The soundtrack is especially notable and well-done; this is one of the few games where I wasn't tempted to hit the mute button and enjoy the sounds of my inner thoughts instead.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws that keep this game from being perfect. Controls are a little loose at the beginning, and although this is part of the upgrade system, it can be frustrating when you're just starting the game. The real problem with gameplay, though, is when your opponents use their weapons to cause you to spin out uncontrollably. Getting turned completely around and having to straighten yourself would be bad enough on its own, but it's made worse by the fact that this NEVER happens to your opponents. And if you manage to get thrown out of the boundaries of the tracks, it will take so long to get back that you can forget about winning that race. And although I didn't experience it, some people have complained of the game freezing and not letting them continue. But the game is so charming and has so much potential to be great, that it would be a shame to not at least give it a chance.

Glitches aside, Big Pixel Racing is an excellent attempt at a fun, quirky, browser-based racing game. Now get out there and save your brother!

Play Big Pixel Racing


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (54 votes)
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JerradPool SharksWe here at Jay Is Games like to bring you the best games that the Web has to offer, regardless of genre. Pool Sharks, the new billiards game from Silent Bay Studios, is not just another pool game. With different modes, slick visuals, and the option to bedazzle other players with complex trick shots, Pool Sharks is one pretty piece of work.

Pool Sharks is actually several different games in one; there are three different ways to play against the machine or a friend, as well as a high score mode and trick shot editor. You'll also have options regarding the venue you're playing in and the color of the pool table, as well as whether you prefer a traditional top down view, or the more realistic 3D view. Get everything looking like you want it, and you're ready to play. Whatever type of game you choose, the basic controls are the same. The pool stick can be rotated with the [arrow] keys, or by clicking and dragging the mouse. To shoot, you'll need to either click and hold the mouse or hold down [space], releasing once you've reached the desired power for the shot. There are also options in the bar at the bottom to change the angle of the shot, as well as what part of the cue ball you're hitting. Although the basic rules of each game can be viewed from the menu, you will need some knowledge of the basic rules of pool to be able to be really competitive. Or you can skip the rules altogether and just go straight to making trick shots.

Once you enter trick shot mode, you're free to edit the table however you see fit. Everything is set up for a standard game of 8-ball, but all of the balls can be moved anywhere you like. There are also a number of sticks and triangles that can be placed to set up some fairly amazing shots. Once you've got your shot exactly how you want it, you can record it and share it with other players. If you're having trouble coming up with your own shot, you can browse and rate shots that others have made. There's also a high score mode that will let you try to sink as many consecutive shots as you can, and all of the regular modes support two players, so you can go at this one alone or as part of the community for that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Pool SharksAnalysis: In a genre that's inspired countless games, Pool Sharks is setting the standard for what a billiards game should be. The graphics are gorgeous, and the customizable options are a nice touch. Sounds are pretty much what you would expect from a pool game, with some additional ambient noise that fits the venue you're playing in. As for gameplay itself, the ball physics are right on, and there are plenty of different ways to play, so you'll never get bored.

There are a few problems, specifically with positioning of the cue. Depending on the layout of the table, the cue may be placed at different angles, to realistically portray the shot. The problem with that is, if you're not keeping an eye out for it, you can end up grabbing the cue and making the shot when you were just trying to rotate around the cue ball. The cursor changes when it's on the stick, so it's an easy problem to avoid if you're paying attention, and using the keyboard controls rather than the mouse will negate the issue altogether. I also had a minor issue with the game only having one level of difficulty; it would have been nice to start off with an easy opponent and then work my way up to the real sharks.

But those minor issues are more than made up for with the addition of the trick shot editor. In real pool, the best trick I can do is pretending that a shot I made was done intentionally. In Pool Sharks, however, I was able to make some shots that would have impressed even the most seasoned pool player. It takes some time playing with angles and prop positioning to get everything right, but once you've got the basics figured out, you're free to go nuts. Viewing shots others have saved can provide good inspiration, and saving your own is a great way to show off. And we all love to show off.

Despite the number of billiards games out there, Pool Sharks stands out in every respect as one of the best. Dismiss it because of its genre and you'll be missing a very well put together title. So what are you waiting for? Rack 'em up!

Play Pool Sharks


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (123 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypAs the holidays draw closer everything seems to get more frantic, doesn't it? No worries, we have you covered. Yes, this week's escape is another surreal jaunt that will take your mind off your troubles. Welcome to A Cold Escape by Cogito Ergo Sum, a Japanese room escape game that will help you escape from reality (for a while, at least).

coldescape_bed.gifThis week's offering, like last week is not so much an escape from a room as an escape to an altered state (or at least an escape from being sick). This is the adventure of a cat and dog whose master has fallen ill, or, as the opening movie hilariously states, "Master is a cold!" Follow the adventures of the intrepid pets as they attempt to make master feel better. And what super pets they are! No, really, they have super powers. Or, at least, powers. So let's get started. Or, "Let's nursing!" Seriously, you have to watch the opening movie before you start. That alone will make your day.

Navigation through this two room apartment is simple and accomplished with arrows that appear at the sides or bottom of the screen. Pick up items to go into your on-screen inventory. There's no changing cursor, so be prepared for a bit of pixel hunting, but nothing too terrible. Simply double-click on an inventory item for a close up when needed. There is a nice mix of puzzle solving and use of found objects here, as well as a test of your ability to follow directions. Just remember, advice given in a cute escape game is not, perhaps, the best way to treat an illness in real life. Just saying.

The art is a cute, flat cartoony style in muted colors, and there's even a pleasant little tune playing in the background. Well, pleasant for a little while, at least. Fortunately there's a handy mute button when the music crosses over into "creating an axe murderer" mode (after about 2 minutes).

Analysis: Another surreal adventure into some rather strange territory, but frankly couldn't we all use something to make us smile right now? This is cute casual gameplay and something that is guaranteed to leach away the stress of dealing with, well everything that is going on at this time of year. The translation into English is a bit... shaky, but that only adds to the giggle factor.

Despite all the silliness, there's lots of real escaping fun to be had. A nice mix of puzzle solving and use of found objects; with the need for the animals' own special abilities thrown in for good measure makes for wonderful gaming experience. There are even two endings to be found in this little gem. Marvel at the leaping dog and the punching cat, just remember to use them well while you are playing nurse. Get ready to experience some light, silly fun and play A Cold Escape.

Play A Cold Escape


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (74 votes)
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DoraShape Shape!What is it with squares, all gettin' trapped in deadly mazes and whatnot? You'll never see a triangle in such a pickle, tell you that much. Or a circle. They're too well rounded. But, well, I never could turn my back on a shape in need, and so I'm going to have to ask you to lend a hand in Shape Shape, a physics game of avoidance designed to test your skills and your patience. Also possibly your ability to invent new and colourful ways to express your displeasure with spike pits.

The aim is to guide your square to the exit in each level with your cursor. Clicking near him will generate a pulse that pushes him away, so you'll need to balance speed with dexterity as you try to maneuver him through mazes filled with all manner of unpleasantness. Each level has awards presented for collecting all the stars, staying away from the wall, not battering your square around, beating the par time, or just completing the stage without dying. So while a bull-in-a-china-shop approach may work simply to get you through the game, you're going to need patience and a light touch to achieve total domination. Or just the warm feeling of a job well done. Whichever. Of course, when it comes to Shape Shape, some of us stink stink more than others, so it's nice to be able to see the end of the game, even if you can't be bothered to get through a level without smashing your square against every surface you can find.

Especially considering how tricky the later levels can get. The simple, cheerful design takes a lot of the sting out of your occasional failure, however. Watch out for the different expressions your square flashes you depending on how well you're doing... or how close you nudge it towards those spikes. Hey, square. Don't look at me like that. You brought this on yourself when you decided to enter the maze of spikes, death, and unreasonable time constraints.

While the ultra-finicky fine-tuned reflexes required to get all the awards for each level might turn some people off, Shape Shape is still a great little game that fits neatly into your coffee break, right next to the report you should be working on and your strawberry danish. Spending five dollars will net you the "full version", which gives you access to an editor to create your own levels of despair and play those created by other people, but the free levels offered are still a fun and challenging experience, if a little on the short side.

Play Shape Shape!

Cheers to Zbeeblebrox for the sending this one in!


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (175 votes)
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joyegenesis.jpgAndrogynous teenagers with gravity-defying hair wandering a mysterious world armed only with cranky comebacks and improbably large weapons? Yes, everything you either love or hate about Japanese RPGs is waiting for you in a convenient Flash package in Ge.ne.sis, a turn-based tactical RPG by An Lieu.

You begin as Neraine, a short-tempered Singaporean girl who provides the lion's share of the crankiness for the game, but you'll soon add more members to your party. Movement and interaction with the world is done through [WASD] or [arrow] keys, with the mouse used to cycle through dialogue and to allocate points when your characters level up. In battle, everything is done with the mouse, and you'll be spending a fair amount of time on these tactics-styled battle screens. In a semi-top down view, you direct your characters to move, attack, and use abilities, keeping an eye on the energy pool, since that's what you need to use the most powerful abilities (with some characters, any ability at all).

Ge.ne.sis has a good difficulty curve, not throwing everything at you at once, but introducing different elements steadily. Before the long you have an array of different options and strategies to try in battle. The game shines when it allows you to indulge your inner Machiavelli—Do you try to keep all your guys alive and slowly wear the other side down? Do you send some people out in a suicidal blaze of glory? Will you keep your tarots (the game's version of summons) on the field as fighters, or soulburst them for other advantages? As the game continues, you increasingly come up against bosses where only one approach will work. Since the game also keeps you on rails for the plot, this can leave you feeling a bit hemmed-in.

Japanese-style RPGs sink or swim on the strength of their stories. The script here is fun, if a little stilted and awkward in syntax in places. Nothing a JRPG fan isn't used to. If you can manage to suspend your disbelief enough to deal with not only the impossible, but also the improbable (an English boy named Gelyan? GELYAN?), then Ge.ne.sis provides the requisite world-shaking mystery involving your plucky adventurers and a few side quests along the way.

genesis2.jpgAnalysis: The artwork in Ge.ne.sis is bright, colorful, and detailed, and the flatness seems to give the world the appearance of paper puppets in a toy theater. The music provides the proper mood, whether whimsical exploration, the heat of battle, or dramatic revelations, but the tunes can get a bit repetitive, and unfortunately there aren't separate controls for music and sound effects.

A word of advice to save you some of my pain: always try to go back to the last save point you used between battles. There are several places where you cannot save for a few battles, and if you get drawn into another fight and then are called away from your game, you can lose a lot of progress. Missing a save point, therefore, can mean that you lose four or five battles worth of progress if, say, your browser crashes or you have to get up and make yourself a sandwich.

This brings up an interesting point: why do game developers still cling to save points? In casual games in particular, the ability to pick up and put down a game at a moment's notice is a high point of appeal, especially for people who might be gaming during a break. Also, Ge.ne.sis only allows three slots to save. Now really, why don't you leave it up to me to decide how much of the cache on my machine I'm willing to devote to save files? Particularly in a game like this, where you may decide later that you want to try a totally different distribution of attribute points, having only three slots is really not enough.

Despite its few technical hiccups, Ge.ne.sis is a great looking and smooth playing browser-based strategy RPG. Save often, admire the scenery, and pretend everyone on your block has a name like Gelyan and you'll do just fine! And if you're in the mood for a little help, be sure to take advantage of the excellent strategy guide.

Play Ge.ne.sis


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Rating: 4.7/5 (150 votes)
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Mikeicebreakerthegathering-screen1.gifThe clans of the Norse-themed world of Nitrome's popular Ice Breaker series are gathering, but they need your help to release their Viking warriors from their icy, impossible, Goldbergian prisons! Ice Breaker: The Gathering is not only a new entry in Nitrome's Nordic physics-puzzle franchise, but also Nitrome's first foray into episodic gaming. The "clans" in question represent collections of eight levels, and starting this week with the Elder Clan, a new clan will be unlocked every week until shortly into the new year.

Fans of the series will be familiar with the mouse-based, click-and-drag "slicing" mechanic, which is used to release itty-bitty Norsemen from their icy sepulchres, cut loose various contraptions from their hempen bindings, and otherwise interact with the game world. The goal as always is to return the prodigal Vikings to their Head Jarl's longboat, where there will be much celebration at their return. Somewhat paradoxically, there does not seem to be much ice breaking in this installment of Ice Breaker, as Nitrome endeavors to increase the sorts of puzzles they can create by introducing new puzzle elements. The Elder Clan in particular makes heavy use of bombs, which can destroy ice, stone, and wood (and Viking!) alike, and which are detonated with the same slicing mechanic used in the rest of the game.

Analysis: Despite these newer elements supplanting the marquee mechanic of the game, the puzzles are still quite fun and rewarding, and largely require a fair bit of thinking without being too taxing. The bite-sized portions of the installments mean that they can be played guilt-free during any break in the workday, though some may crave more. With a new clan every week, however, those with larger appetites will not have long to wait. Also, Nitrome has introduced a new feature which allows players who restart a difficult level three times to bypass that level and unlock the next. Players have to wait a full day before the new level unlocks, so there is still incentive to complete these stumpers on your own, but it is another way to feed your Ice Breaker fix, should you ever get stuck.

Ice Breaker: The Gathering provides short but succulent tidbits of new Ice Breaker levels for fans of the series. It will be interesting to see how Nitrome's experiment in episodic gaming develops, and if we will see other episodic games from them in the future.

Play Ice Breaker: The Gathering


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Mobile Monday

JohnBEver wonder what it would be like if we lived underwater? Like, if it were normal that everything was surrounded by water and we could breathe with gills and stuff. I'm thinking ice cream would be an entirely different concept on that wet world...

beatit.gifBeat It! - One of the best rhythm games on the iTunes App Store, Beat It! skips all the guitar-related design theories and goes straight to the core of the music itself. Listen to a short, (relatively) simple piece of music for a few seconds, then re-create the tune by filling in squares on a grid of instruments. It's easy to pick up and play, but mastering it requires a little effort (and a pair of headphones). Handy power-ups and beautiful pixel art are the icing on the cake!

tipoli.jpgTipoli - A dreamy sort of physics platformer with great one-button controls. Periwinkle is bouncy. Mint is sticky. Periwinkle and Mint are bound together. With the tap of a finger, you can instantly swap their positions, moving forward by switching them at key moments to harvest momentum. Now, get them to the lovely heart at the end of each stage! A wonderfully crafted reflex-based game that's instantly familiar to any casual gamer but presents a fresh new presentation for extra enjoyment. JIG readers might remember this one originally appearing as a Mac/Windows game originally titled The Illusory Persistence of LOVE.

decades.jpgDecades - One part isometric match-3, one part word game (in a 'guess the word from the letters' Wheel of Fortune kind of way), Decades pulls a lot of interesting ideas together to create a surprisingly fluid puzzle experience. Blocks fall from the top of the screen to a single row on the floor. Rotate them as you see fit, and when they touch ground, they slide to the far side of the screen. Match three like colors together (keeping in mind the blocks stack on top of each other) to make them disappear. Some blocks have letters on them that help complete a word or phrase at the top of the screen, and there are a few item-type blocks that produce interesting effects when matched. The game takes places in ten different decades, each with its own backdrop and themed items, which adds a nice level of visual variety to an already interesting concept.

endlooptritowers.jpgArcade Solitaire: TriTowers - One of the smoothest implementations of TriTowers on the App Store, this one not only looks great, it plays well and has some unlockables to boot! You know the drill: clear all cards in the three stacks by pulling face-up cards into the deck that are one higher or one lower than your hand. Unlock new skins to give the game a new look, and try out survival mode to see how long you can last.

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (74 votes)
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Saira

DoraWhat would you do if you were the last person left? Not just on Earth... but anywhere? Saira, the heroine of the latest game by Nifflas (Nicklas Nygren), finds herself in just that situation, when she rushes home during an emergency to discover all of mankind has vanished in the short time it took her to get there. Where has everyone gone? Why was Saira spared? If you want to find out, you'll have to play. Featuring fourteen distinct planets to explore, an original soundtrack, and six unique endings, Saira is a puzzle platformer with non-linear gameplay and a whole universe for you to explore.

SairaSaira's job as a photographer of frequently dangerous places and creatures means she's kept herself in pretty good shape, so she does an admirable impression of Lara Croft as she runs and leaps, scaling most walls with remarkable agility. Saira controls with the [arrow] keys for movement, and the [S] key to jump, leaving [A] to take pictures and [D] to interact with objects or open her ever-present PDA. While the movement keys are fixed, you can change the keys the other actions are mapped to by running the settings executable before you start the game.

Saira's most important tool is her PDA, which you'll come to rely on a great deal. A particularly handy function allows you to photograph your surroundings, which not only reveals which creatures are dangerous, but lets you take a visual record of, say, an important clue or code. That's right, no more scribbling passwords down on the back of your hand because you can't be bothered to look for paper. It's a nice touch that helps eliminate what would otherwise be a lot of annoying back-tracking. You can also make use of her PDA to teleport back to her ship, or to your last activated checkpoint, which is also where you'll respawn if you meet an untimely demise.

For the most part, your time is spent exploring, which you're probably familiar with if you're a fan of Nifflas's games. The puzzles usually attempt to engage your brain (you know, the squishy grey thing between your ears?), but there are a few reflex-based platforming trials that may test your patience. Hands up, everyone who likes timed platforming sequences! While a little bit of challenge is good, here it winds up feeling out of place compared to the laid-back, exploration-based play style of the rest of the game.

Nifflas has managed to create not just one lovely world, but an entire universe full of them. Of course, if you fell in love with the "just stepped off the NES runway" look of his previous titles, Saira's softly painted visuals are going to take some getting used to. Rather than pixel art, Saira, for the most part, tends to look like the sort of rich, watercolour paintings Bob Ross was so fond of, despite actually being partially composed of photography. The backgrounds are beautiful, full of soft colours and subtle animation, and every world has its own distinct look. But as far as you'll go in your journeys, and as many fantastic sights as you'll see, there's an air of loneliness that can never quite be shaken. After all, an important part of discovery and wonder is being able to share them both with someone, and that gives Saira's quest a particular sense of poignancy.

Saira features a rather meaty demo that should be more than sufficient for you to decide whether or not you want to part with your precious dollars. The full version can be had for $17.00, and if you're a charitable sort, an additional $2.00 will net you an extra license, good for an impromptu gift, or as a reason to make two of your friends duel to the death for it. As if you needed a reason.

SairaAnalysis: "Okay, alright, I get it. The game is pretty, you're sentimental, blah-de-blah-de-blah. But, Dora," you say, "what about the gameplay?" Well (I reply), for the most part, Saira plays pretty smoothly, with bits of the story being revealed to you as you go. The levels are big, but not so big that you'll find yourself getting lost, and leaping from place to place is pretty exhilarating. (Saira has some tough ankles to take those long falls, let me tell you.) Unfortunately, the controls occasionally feel a little stiff, especially when you're trying to steer Saira through the air or leap off a wall. It almost feels like the whole thing would have been much more responsive built around a controller with a joystick. As it is, get used to overshooting your targets until you get a fair amount of practice in.

I also wish the story had been integrated a bit more closely with the game itself. As it is, you can go a long time without seeing any story advancement at all. Which is fine if you're just taking in the scenery, but it does keep the player from really building a bond with Saira herself. Beyond the natural empathy you feel for anyone so desperately alone, there's no real connection there, and it keeps the experience from being quite as emotionally involving as it might otherwise be.

Inevitably, Saira is going to be compared to beloved predecessors, most notably Knytt and Knytt Stories, which are probably going to remain the great titans of the platformer-exploration super genre for some time, crushing all would-be competitors. Is Saira better? Well, what kind of question is that, anyway? It's certainly not a let down. Rather than feeling like a console title, Saira's free-form gameplay and fluid leaps tend to give the whole experience a much more organic feel. Taken as a title in its own right, Saira is an enjoyable game that at the very least deserves a chance to win you over.

Were it not for a few frustrating jumping sequences, I might almost be tempted to call Saira "a platformer for people who hate platformers". As it is, I'll call it, "a game for people who enjoy beautiful things". It's not perfect, but with the exception of pineapple pizza, few things are. What it is is a very ambitious and remarkable feat, with a lot to keep you busy and maybe even take your breath away. It's a big universe. Now get out there and find your place in it.

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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Hidden in Time: Mirror Mirror

joyeDoesn't it always happen this way? You discover your ancestor had an ancient castle, only the thing is going to be sold in nine days. It's downright discouraging!

Fortunately, in Hidden in Time: Mirror Mirror, you've been given the nine days to go through the castle. Maybe you can find something that proves this castle is yours? Although it's hard to see why you'd want it—the place is riddled with the kinds of objects that only exist in hidden object games, and the objects in Mirror Mirror can be weird even for the genre. Who has a rocking bear? Not a rocking horse. A rocking bear. Apparently, the eccentric Fairwiches do.

Hidden in Time: Mirror Mirror screen 1The Fairwiches also have a family curse. The story goes that the Duke and Duchess were approached by a gypsy with a magic mirror which she said would reveal the right man for their daughter Marion, but that if the Duke disobeyed, a terrible curse would fall upon them. The Duke agreed to this. When the Duke looked into the mirror, the mirror told him that happiness would be brought to all if Marion married the maid's son, Jack. Forgetting all that "horrible curse death decay mayhem ill-fitting shoes" stuff, the Duke refused to condone the match—and the story will soon reveal that the Duke "died face down in his salad". What a way to go.

Aside from the hidden object finding scenes which make up the bulk of the gameplay, Mirror Mirror includes three mini-games which repeat between levels: a spot-the-difference scene, a game where you have to rotate mirrors to reflect light at a target, and a rotation puzzle where you have to turn pieces of a painting in order to reveal the next message. The latter two puzzles can get repetitive rather quickly, but the spot-the-difference sections may be the most fun part of the game. The two scenes are mirrored, so you can use the cross-eyed trick to solve them, and the art in these sections may be the finest in the game.

Feel free to use hints the second you get stuck because the game practically throws them at you. Every mirrored scene contains three hint tokens to find, and you get a hint token for completing the other two mini-games as well, plus when you move to the next level your hints are refilled.

Hidden in Time: Mirror Mirror screen 2Analysis: As the quote indicates, Mirror Mirror has a definite yet understated sense of humor about itself. If you click on certain objects such as horses or dogs that aren't on your hidden object list, they might bark, squeal, neigh, or make other noises. Lots of these games try too hard to be funny and fail, so it's nice to see a game that understands that over-the-top puns are not the key to laughter.

On the other hand, humor deflates tension, and the tension in this game never really gets high enough to warrant deflating. Although the atmospheric music is subtly spooky and never gets repetitive, even if you play the entire game in two sessions like I did, you never really have a sense that you are in danger or that what you're investigating might have a scary or unhappy end. In fact the whole experience is rather relaxing.

In fact the biggest way I can think to improve this game would be to ratchet up the humor even more. Mirror Mirror comes right up to the fourth wall at times; it would have been nice to see it smash it, maybe by lamp-shading some of the tropes of hidden object games that we all accept but that are rather ridiculous in themselves. For example, the scariest thing in many horror-ish hidden object games isn't the music, the flitting ghosts at the edge of the screen, or the threat of imminent death—it's that the same inanimate objects seem to be following you around, and that rooms are never the same as you left them. Is that giraffe statue following me? Eek! I'm sure that mantelpiece did not have a tropical fish on it before!

Hidden in Time: Mirror Mirror won't keep you on the edge of your seat, but it is a fun romp through hidden object land that would be perfect for those times when you just want a little relaxing amusement.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove

Historic Dire Grove, although closed for the season, is now open to the public for only $6.99 or a Big Fish Game Club credit. The game lives up to the quality expectations of the Mystery Case Files series, and fans of hidden object and adventure games won't likely be disappointed.

Download the demo

Read our Dire Grove Review

Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove Walkthrough


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Weekend Download

JohnBI'm a sucker for cute, quirky games. Throw a few chunky pixels in my direction, slap on a coat of "retro, yet new" gameplay on the top, and you've got my attention. All three games this weekend have that quirky old-school charm, and all three were thoroughly played/nommed by yours truly!

lily.gifLily (Windows, 1.6MB, free) - Hey, look, it's a shmup normal-reflexed non-shmup fans can play! Two hippies in the near future want to end all war, so they invented bullets that turn things into flowers. Work your way through side-scrolling levels, transforming planes and tanks into harmless flora. Much slower-paced than most shooters out there, and there aren't nearly as many things moving on the screen at once. That's not to say there's no challenge, just that you'll actually be able to comprehend and enjoy the game from the start.

kaiserkitty.gifKaiser Kitty (Windows, 1MB, free) - Why jump when you can change gravity itself? A puzzle platformer based around the concept of switching which side is "down" with the press of a button. Use the [arrow] keys to move and the [WASD] keys to change which wall the kitty stands on. Move from wall to wall, working your way through each stage collecting the glowing orbs to unlock each exit. Much more difficult than it sounds in writing, but just as satisfying, too. Direct download.

wewantyou.gifWe Want YOU (Windows, 41MB, free) - Falling through enemy territory, you play the role of a "war hero" who simply works his way down the level, finding weapons and killing bad guys as you see fit. Use the [X] key to fire, [Z] to jump, and switch weapons with [A]. If you get caught in a pit (which can happen in a procedurally-generated game such as this one), set some C4 with the [C] key. It's a slightly satirical game with a lot of wartime press blurbs slapped on the screen at set intervals. Good fun for several runs in a row!

Note: All games have been confirmed to run under 32-bit 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: 4.8/5 (70 votes)
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Planet M.U.L.E.

DoraHow people found the time back in 1983 to create a game between fending off dinosaurs and foraging for fruits and berries I'll never know, but the game of M.U.L.E. not only wound up being very good, it also wound up being a very influential multiplayer video game. M.U.L.E. is a turn-based strategy game of economics where 4 players compete to colonize an alien world for profit and the good of all human-and-alien-kind. Of course, these days, very few people still possess Atari 400/800 systems, let alone enough people willing to be seen with them to play a game on it. Planet M.U.L.E.Luckily, thanks to the dedication of Turborilla and Blue Systems, a great gift has been bestowed upon us in the form of Planet M.U.L.E., a free and faithful remake of the original classic, eager to show you the wonders of crystite and the hazards of cat-lizards. Ain't space grand?

The premise of the game is thus; you and three other players are dropped onto the alien world of Irata to begin building a colony. But not with teamwork. Oh no. It's not only a race against the clock, but a battle for land and resources against your fellow gamers. The M.U.L.E. is, incidentally, a Multiple Use Labor Element, and you'll come to rely on them almost as much as you could wind up hating them. M.U.L.E.s are needed to build the facilities you'll use to grow or mine the resources to use and to sell, and they can occasionally turn on you. As will, you'll find, the economy; the prices your resources fetch change each round, according to supply and demand. If you find yourself short on essential resources, your means of production may be hampered or the duration of your next turn may be reduced. And if you don't sell enough smithore back to the store, for example, there may not be enough to make new M.U.L.E.s for you to work with.

Planet M.U.L.E.While the basic Planet M.U.L.E. gameplay and controls are very simple to grasp, relying on the [arrow] keys for movement and the [space] bar to perform actions, the game itself is quickly revealed to be surprisingly tricky to win. At the beginning of the game, each player is given a single plot of land to work with, and a limited amount of time to work each round. At the end of each round, you'll get a chance to sell off what you've managed to make, but this, too, proves difficult. Do you sell off all your crystite now? Or do you hold on to it for another round, risking theft or other downfall, and hope that the price is better next time? And what about food and energy? Are you making enough to keep your fledgling colony up and running, or are you going to have to resort to buying supplies from other players and hope they don't gouge you too badly over it?

Although M.U.L.E. is intended to be a multiplayer game, if you're ashamed of your smithore capabilities, or just think other people are weird, you can start a "training" game and fill the remaining player slots with computer A.I. However, M.U.L.E. is at its best when shared with friends (or rivals) who can rejoice in the discovery of a rich deposit of crystite, and hoot at your misfortune when a meteorite destroys your mining facility. Since a full game will take around an hour-and-a-half to complete, you may as well spend it with people you like instead of cold, unfeeling circuitry. Although, hey. If you can describe your friends that way, who are we to judge?

If you can't find enough people to play a game with you, the official website offers a forum for players to meet and make arrangements to get together and play. Don't be shy. Even if you've never met your competitors before, we think you'll find space pirates to be an excellent source of bonding. Yes, you'll need to create an account to play, but the process is swift, painless, and non-invasive. If, of course, the idea of turning your tender, nubile e-mail address over the the wilds of the internets is an unsavory one, you're out of luck. Don't worry, we'll be sure to have extra fun for you, friend.

Original M.U.L.E. box artAnalysis: I'm not usually a big fan of remakes. Either they wind up completely missing the point of the original title, or they're so faithful I find myself wondering, "Well, okay, why don't I just play the original instead then? What's the point?" While the point here is obviously "You can't play the original, Dora. DUH.", Planet M.U.L.E. is a success not only because it captures the spirit of the original, but because it looks and plays so well.

If you don't make good use of your time and cash early on, it can be difficult to catch up to other players later in the game. Since turns are so short, you can find yourself doing a lot of sitting around, watching other players take their turns. The game actually does a fairly good job of injecting new events and balancing the market so that the game keeps feeling competitive rather than routine. Racing to outbid your fellow players for a new plot of land, or to claim one known to be rich in crystite, is not only fun, it's a good way to make new enemies. Hurray!

At the time of this writing, M.U.L.E. has only been released for about a week, and the initial offering is a little buggy. The servers occasionally lag, connections can be unstable, and the game can hang from time to time on the shop or auction screens. Players having trouble connecting to each other to play should have a look at this section on troubleshooting, especially if they're behind a router. However, the team behind Planet M.U.L.E. has already shown themselves to be extremely dedicated to polishing it, as though reviving a decades-old game wasn't proof enough, and are hard at work already on a patch to solve the problems.

Easy to pick up but difficult to master, M.U.L.E. winds up being a very rewarding experience for players with the patience to put their time into it. Best played with friends and a healthy competitive spirit, it's a faithful remake of an old classic that just may become a new one. Just make sure you have your evening free before you start, and always remember to keep one eye out for the Mountain Wampus.

Update: Version 1.1 is now available. It addresses many bugs and complaints found with the initial version.

WindowsWindows:
Download the free full version

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the free full version

LinuxLinux:
Download the free full version


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darkhillsofcherai-b.jpg

GrinnypTraveling to exotic locales is all well and good, but, well, frankly it can be expensive, annoying, and these days, downright dangerous. One thing adventure/hidden object hybrids do very well is transport the player to far off places, some that they'd probably never get to see in real life. The Dark Hills of Cherai is no exception. Created by ChaYoWo Games, The Dark Hills of Cherai take the player to the mysterious jungles of southern India in search of a cursed treasure.

darkhillsofcherai.jpgOur tale begins as four young cousins visit their grandmother in the village of Cherai. She delights them with stories of a local treasure-hunter, Wyatt, who recently found something but succumbed to the accompanying curse. The children thrill to the story of the former King of Cherai and his treacherous court magician. The children go to sleep, visions of treasure, dark sorcery, and murder ringing in their heads. While it is still dark, the oldest, Tara, awakes to find young Arjun missing. Knowing that he has probably gone to find the treasure, she sets off on a quest to track him down before trouble can find him. Too bad that it's too late.

Yes, this sounds like the opening of a thousand other adventure/HOG hybrids. However, once Tara reaches the snake temple and can go no further The Dark Hills of Cherai hits with a rarely used game dynamic: multiple playable characters. As Tara contemplates what to do, another cousin, Rahul, wakes up to find them missing, and sets off on his own quest to find the missing relatives. Eventually, the last cousin at home will also set off (with Grandma in tow) in yet a third direction. Each child will find pieces of the puzzle, but it is only when they combine their efforts that they will manage to find the missing treasure, cousin Arjun, and the evil magician who has kidnapped him.

Gameplay is simple and is accomplished with the click of a mouse. The cursor will change to arrows and text indicating a location or simply "path ahead" to let the player know which way they can go. As the player enters the scene a list of hidden objects will appear that need to be found before you can continue. Some objects will go into the inventory for use either within that area or later in the game. Showers of sparks denote areas that require some action or which involve mini-games. And there are a lot of mini-games to be had. Gamers can clear the scene and receive a "magic herb" or can move along without completion, but you will have to come back eventually to find everything there is to find. There is a hint system for the hidden object scenes, with a timer that refills slowly and a skip button for the puzzles, also with a slow filling timer. You can play in easy, untimed mode for relaxed casual gameplay, or a timed "advanced" mode that can be more difficult. The easy mode includes a friendly ghost who will give you hints and help you along the way.

darkhillsofcherai2.jpgOne of the coolest aspects of The Dark Hills of Cherai is the different playable characters. Each child is finding useful objects, not perhaps useful for them but for the other children. This necessitates all the characters finding the "meeting place", a point central to each of their journeys, where they cannot see each other but can swap objects blindly on a rotating merry-go-round. However, each character has to find the meeting place, which can be tricky. Once the characters have the items they need they can go back and proceed along their own journeys. Switching between the children is simple, bars at the top indicate the cousins so just click on the bar and you are ready to go. Play one child for a while or switch rapidly back and forth between them, it is up to you. Eventually everyone will meet up in time to challenge the evil magician and rescue poor Arjun.

Analysis: What sets The Dark Hills of Cherai apart from the multitude of adventure/HOG hybrids? First is the location. Created by ChaYoWo Games, an Indian company, the game authentically recreates the lush landscape of southern India. Little touches everywhere add to the illusion, from the water buffalo grazing in the front yard to the elephant hanging around by the kitchen door, and the multitude of other local fauna scampering across the screen whenever you reach a new location.

The background artwork is magical, so realistic you can see the grain in the wood and the veins in the leaves. Each journey is also appropriately lit: Tara wakes before dawn, so most of her scenes are dark and gloomy; Rahul awakes at daybreak, and you can witness the light of early morning in his quest; Maya and grandma set off when the sun is high in the sky, and their scenes are bright and washed with light. The little animations in each scene add to the feel of really being there, without the actual heat, humidity, and bugs. Rounding out the experience are lovely incidental sounds and music which capture the mood and the place.

darkhillsofcherai3.jpgThe hidden object scenes are done beautifully. Rather than go for the "pile 300 objects in a small space and make you find the objects", The Dark Hills of Cherai opts for the more subtle placing of objects so carefully that they are swallowed by the stunning backgrounds. Warning, though, you will encounter more than one scene with a lot of wildlife. Hope you can tell a myna from a blue kingfisher, a crow from a lovebird. There are also a few "Britishisms" in the lists, calling a wrench a spanner or glasses spectacles.

The best part about The Dark Hills of Cherai are the mini-games. There's nothing terribly new there, but there are a plethora of games to satisfy the adventurer. Nearly every scene includes at least one puzzle, and there are a lot of scenes in this game. From pipe puzzles to sliders, from tile swaps to jumping peg puzzles, from untangle puzzles to the classic Towers of Saigon, ChaYoWo has thrown everything into this game but the kitchen sink. There's even an avoider maze puzzle late in the game which can be exceedingly tricky.

Some of the objects are, well, a little too well hidden, making them almost impossible to find without hints. Several of the mini-games are color-based puzzles, making them difficult if not impossible for those with color-blindness. And the helpful hint system is sometimes a little too helpful, even in "advanced" mode. The game's habit of letting you know precisely which child needs the item you just found can be annoying to experienced gamers who would like to figure that bit out for themselves. Taking each of the children to the "meeting place" means a lot of backtracking, although once they leave you can use the handy map feature to skip them back to their previous positions.

Minor flaws aside, The Dark Hills of Cherai is beautiful, fun casual gameplay. Fantastically, it bucks the latest trend of the ever shrinking game time and will keep players busy for hours. This is not a game to speed through. Take your time, explore, and experience the wonders of India without ever leaving your home.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 3.7/5 (229 votes)
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DoraStarlightI wish I may, I wish I might... how long has it been since you wished upon a star? Moreover, how long has it been since you simply looked up? People spend a lot of time staring at their feet as they go about their lives, but Starlight, a new puzzle game from Kostiantyn Stankevych, may just have you looking skyward more often.

The game is played entirely with a mouse, which should be good news for those of you with trackpads. As you move the cursor, the stars in the sky shift position and move to follow it, gradually bringing the picture hidden into shape. It's a matter of slowly moving your cursor around the screen until the image snaps into focus. Think of it like a Magic Eye book, but without all the headaches and "Oh, yeah, I totally see it" lies to your friends. We know you've done it.

Because the controls are so simple, Starlight is easy enough for nearly anyone to pick up and play. The game offers three modes for you to play, two of which are on timers, but arguably one of the best ways to enjoy the game is to simply take your time and ignore your score. Who needs points when the sky's the limit?

StarlightAnalysis: It's not often that I'm delighted by something. Well, okay, yeah, it is me we're talking about, and admittedly twitching bits of string or shiny balls of foil have a way of capturing my attention. But it's not often that I'm genuinely surprised by a game, and Starlight did just that. Maybe I've been subjected to too many samey shooters, too many painful point-and-clicks. But when that teddy-bear popped into focus? I admit it, I squealed a little. What's wonderful about Starlight is how drastically different it is from most of the other games coming out these days.

You remember that one special Sir David Attenborough did on the electronics aisle? Me either. Which is why it can be a little disappointing to be marveling at how beautiful everything is, and to start to reflect on the wonder of nature, and then suddenly be presented with... a cellphone or television set. On the one hand, I understand; you need objects that are instantly identifiable with fairly simple shapes and clean lines to make the game work. On the other hand... well, it hardly ruins the game, but it's a bit of a misstep in an otherwise silky smooth presentation, and I wish the theme had been a bit more cohesive.

But, oh, what a presentation it is. I can forgive the occasional pop culture icon when a game is as delightful as this one. The soft music, the luminescent colours... The game has a total of 64 levels, which sounds like a lot, but you'll likely sail through them. The difficulty scale is pretty much non-existent, which may be a disappointment to people looking for a challenge, but if you're just looking for something to unwind with at the end of the day, then look no further.

Simple and charming, Starlight is a welcome change from anything else available right now. While it may not offer much depth or difficulty, it's undeniably beautiful, and I would love to see the original idea expanded upon in the future with a little more challenge. But as it stands? For those of us who could use a touch of wonder in our days, Starlight is a nice respite.

Play Starlight


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Way Too Casual

JohnBAfter a miniature holiday-induced delay, Way Too Casual has returned with more splendid casual gaming splendidness! For our second episode, Joe, Jay and John have summoned a guest speaker: Chris from GamerSafe.com. Why? Because we have a very serious topic to discuss, something that makes gamers near and far shudder with fear: microtransactions. That heavy topic along with a full arsenal of game reviews can be yours with one simple click!

At the end of every episode, we take some time to interact with our listeners. If you've got a question, comment, anectode or anything else to share, send us a Skype voice mail or drop us a good old fashioned e-mail. We love hearing from everyone!

Leave me voicemail
E-mail: waytoocasual@gmail.com

Check out the show details after the break, and keep up with the latest podcast happenings on the official Way Too Casual website!

Way Too Casual podcastDownload Way Too Casual #002
"All microtransactioned out!"
(MP3, 64.5MB, 70:28)
Subscribe via iTunes


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraPost-autumnal greetings, cherished visitor! It's that time again where we bestow upon you that which you need to make your Friday complete... ants, foxes, and the undead!... what, you were expecting games or something? Pssh! Like we're here for your amusement! Listen here, buddy, you'll take this hodge-podge of unrelated beasts and you'll like it!

  • InfectonatorInfectonator - You've got sixty seconds to save the world! Wait, no, that's not right, hang on a tick... you've got sixty seconds to bring death and ruin upon an unsuspecting populace with a horde of slavering undead! While the whole experience is over too soon (keep your eyes painfully peeled for the upcoming World Domination Edition), there's something perversely charming about this quick game of zombie upgrades and strategy. Plus, I'm pretty sure "Infectonator" is a super villain identity waiting to happen, so act fast, aspiring baddies!
  • Fox and RollFox and Roll - Forget hounds. Hounds are so last season. These days, all the cool foxes are hanging out with rolling smiley faces in physics puzzles. Awwwww yeah. While the gameplay is probably going to be pretty familiar, it's still a fun and cute way to get your physics fix to prep you for your weekend. Physics Malnutrition is a growing problem, you know.
  • The Ant ExplorerThe Ant Explorer - Lengthy point-n-clicks got you down? Then fret not, my short attention span'd comrade! Despite featuring non-human ant logic (obviously) for its puzzles, this is a game most of you will probably sprint right through, taking in the slick artwork along the way. Not us, though. We hate ants. They keep eating all the breakfast bagels in the breakroom. At least, that's what the night shift keeps telling us is happening. Hmmm.
  • Zoo EscapeZoo Escape - Look at that cow. I mean, like, look at it. Eeeeeesh. Is it any wonder he and his friends need help reaching the exit in this physic-sy puzzle-sy game? The pet rocks we used to make in kindergarten with plastic googly eyes had the same expression, and let me tell you they weren't great thinkers either.
  • Pac Vs AlienPac Vs Alien - More a series of mini-games than any one title, and most of them requiring some level of timing and reflexes. Guaranteed to have at least one scenario designed to make you want to bite your keyboard in half! Still, it's cute, it's fast, it's different, and the soundtrack deserves some sort of award for being... special. I have people tell me the same thing about myself all the time, incidentally.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (146 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Tetricide comic

Introducing the first of a new weekly series at JIG, a custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis.


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Rating: 4.5/5 (272 votes)
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DoraTwisted Fairytales: GoldilocksThere was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was... well, you know the rest, I'm sure. What does that old rhyme have to do with the familiar story we're about to embark on? Well, Twisted Fairytale: Goldilocks, a new spot-the-difference title, isn't what you might be expecting. Sure, you might recognise the titular adorable blonde moppet. But is our damsel in as much distress as she appears to be? Blending lush watercolour artwork with a dark sense of humour, this is one cute-but-off fairytale where you might want to put the kids to bed before you start in on it.

Gameplay is simple as pie. You're presented with two pictures that appear identical at first glance, but closer inspection will reveal small differences between the two. Click on a difference when you find one, and discover all irregularities in a scene to move on to the next. Depending on how quickly you found them, and how few mis-clicks you had, your score will increase as you go along. Can't find anything different between the two pictures? Goldilocks has your back with a hint system that comes in three flavours, small, medium, or large, and replenishes over time and with successful clicks.

Goldilocks consists of fifteen screens total to click through, or thirteen if you "opt out" of the story at a certain point. For the most part, the differences here are very well done, if a little on the easy side. No hunting for an ecru coloured pixel for you, my friend. While some of the differences come down to the stroke of a brush or a colour swap, you'll learn to spy strange little creatures lurking around, and here is where the artwork by Angi Pauly and Ecky Oesjady really shines. Rendered in gorgeous storybook style with muted colours, Goldilocks has some weird and adorable character design that looks like a fever dream after a night of Tim Burton, Maurice Sendak, and caffeinated drinks. Mix in a mellow, sly soundtrack and the whole thing is a quirky, tasty little treat for those of us who are a little, uh, special.

Less of a treasured childhood tale learned at a grandparent's knee and more of what you might get if you were inclined to go looking for your fairytales out of suspicious dingy white vans in deserted alleyways, Goldilocks somehow still manages to be a charmer despite a distinctively skewed presentation. Make no mistake, despite the Grimm subject matter (oh-ho-ho), Goldilocks has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and will probably make you grin. Despite its short length and relative ease, it's just so well put together that it deserves a look. Despite the rating I've given it, the gore here is actually pretty tasteful (yeah, you heard me), but you still might want to keep the kidlets away and safely oblivious to what happens to mean ol' bears.

Play Twisted Fairytales: Goldilocks


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Rating: 3.9/5 (218 votes)
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joyejoye_obey_screen1.jpgWhat happens when jmtb02's series of elephant games and his four second series love each other very, very much? The adorable neon-colored baby Obey the Game, and you can really see the family resemblance. Awww, he's got his dad's plucky elephant protagonist and his mom's rapid-fire gameplay! And who has the chubbiest little cheeks? You do! You do!

Use the [WASD] or [arrow] keys to control your elephantine avatar through a number of quick mini-games, some of which hearken back to earlier elephant games. You may receive the instruction to save your girl, to climb some stairs, or even to kill yourself.

But not so fast. Sometimes the game will flash the text "DISOBEY" at you just after a level begins. When it does that, you've gotta do the opposite of what you'd normally do. Reject your girl, eschew the stairs, and cling to your will to live, for example.

Once you get the hang of that, you can unlock four more modes, including a blind mode where the screen goes dark just after starting, and a reverse mode where you must obey when it says disobey. Human sacrifice, elephants and spikes living together, mass hysteria!

Analysis: Obey the Game has the same kind of clinky arcade sounds and high energy techno soundtrack as its predecessors, which perfectly suits the flat, prismatic graphics. It's a world that, frankly, feels fun to mess around in.

A design flaw in the game, however, is that it doesn't really need you to mess around in it. I started a game and played to level 40, then let the game continue by itself. The game went all the way to level 253 before the elephant ran out of lives.

As the game keeps speeding up, in fact, fewer and fewer minigames become winnable if the wrong category of obey or disobey is ordered. The fan level, for example—by I think about level 90, it is literally impossible not to get sucked into the fan. Even if you are holding down on the right arrow key as the level comes up, you will still get sucked into the fan. So if that level comes up on "OBEY", you cannot win, and if it comes up on "DISOBEY", you cannot lose.

Another downside is the lack of mute and pause once you are in a game. There is a pause of a kind in the "coffee break" levels, where the music switches to a soothing elevator music, and you can't lose—except in reverse mode, where it's an automatic loss.

Microgame collections like this one tend to encourage the player to mash buttons, any buttons, so Obey the Game really innovates in the way that it requires the player to take a moment and wait for further instructions. The temptation to hit keys the moment the game changes is often the player's worst enemy.

Update: jmtb02 has updated the game to add mute and pause, and also changed it to a life gain every 3 levels passed in a row instead of every level passed. This does mitigate the problem of the game playing itself, but it doesn't change the fact that at higher levels a lot of the games are either unwinnable or unloseable depending on the luck of "obey" or "disobey". However, luck is a significant factor in the minigame genre anyway.

Don't play Obey the Game. DISOBEY!

Play Obey the Game


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Rating: 3.6/5 (158 votes)
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AlexeiThe Black ForestHave you ever found yourself wandering, lost and alone in a dark maze? If you have, you should probably consider buying a cell-phone. But if you haven't and you want to, then you should play Finding Friends by Pixelate, the first entry in a series of games called The Black Forest.

The title is pretty apt. You start the game wandering around in the darkness, a little black square (with cute little white eyes) against a black background, in a maze with black walls. You only know where the walls are by bumping into them. Eventually, though, you find a friend: a little pink square that follows you along and paints the ground behind itself, letting you see where you've been. It's with the help of the friends that you'll be able to find your way to the exit of the maze, because they'll be painting your path so that you don't double back.

The game is effective because it manages to, in a couple of deft and simple strokes, give you a pretty powerful emotional experience. The early part of the game, where you're alone and pretty much navigating blindly, is frustrating and lonely. As soon as you touch your first friend, though, you add both color and music to your experience, and with each friend you touch, you get another gorgeous layer to the music and another helpful little buddy illuminating your path. You can find the end without finding all the friends, but by the time you're there, you'll feel so bad about leaving the little guys in the dark that you'll go off to save them anyway. As a bonus, while the last friend you touched follows you faithfully, the other friends roam around their areas at random, with the benefit that sometimes they illuminate paths you hadn't seen before. After all, isn't that what friends are for?

Play Finding Friends


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Rating: 3.9/5 (136 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypChristmas is a stressful time. The dread of family get-togethers, the apprehension that you won't be able to find the one perfect present, the fear that you won't be able to afford any presents (thanks economy), the horrible crowds at every shopping center, the whining children ("I want that one!"), the snarled traffic, those bell-ringing Santas blocking you wherever you go. Don't you just wish sometimes that it would all just go away? Okay, calm down, take a deep breath, we have a solution. Sit down and spend five minutes with Beard of Santa, a cute, surreal little room escape by Minoto.

beardofsanta_screenshot.gifWell, technically this isn't a room escape. Or any kind of escape, really. Except, perhaps, an escape from all the stress of the Holiday season, or from reality itself. Taking place in the most surreal house ever, where you turn from the living room to get to the garden, and from the garden to get to the kitchen, Beard of Santa is a quest. A quest to take revenge on the jolly fat elf who is making your life so miserable right now. Or maybe a quest to help him, who can tell?

Navigate through this topsy turvy space with the help of large arrows at the top sides of the screen. Click on everything to see what you can pick up. Click on an item in your inventory then click on the blue bar with a question mark to discover what exactly that item is. And please, you absolutely must use the "about item" question mark to examine everything you pick up. Trust me, you need to. Who knew Santa was that heavy? There's no changing cursor, but everything that you can pick up or use is pretty obvious on the screen.

Done up in Minoto's usual cutesy style, Beard of Santa looks lovely in its hand drawn, washed out pastel style. Thrill to the kitty gymnastics, marvel at Santa's other talent, and just enjoy yourself immensely for the five minutes or so that this little gem will take to complete.

Analysis: Where to even begin? Salvador Dali would have adored this game, it is that bizarre. Breezy, fun, cute casual gameplay at its finest. Okay, this is not the most difficult room escape ever featured here in Weekday Escape. Sometimes you just need a little something to brighten your day, don't you? Beard of Santa is guaranteed to do that. The end goal is a bit obscure, but hey, who needs logic all the time?

The only thing that would have made this experience better would be a bouncy holiday tune playing in the background as you watch in amazement some of the things this game does. Is it difficult or challenging? No. What Beard of Santa is, though, is the perfect mid-week pick-me-up, especially at this time of year. Fire up this little gem and learn what you've always suspected: cats are good gymnasts, raccoons are helpful gardeners, composting is good for the environment, and Santa really does suck sometimes, doesn't he?

Play Beard of Santa


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Rating: 3.8/5 (120 votes)
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JerradCold StorageCold Storage is a game about a yeti trapped in what appears to be some sort of frozen larder for an enormous beast. Eager to escape the gruesome fate that has befallen others of his kind, he must use conveniently placed bars and poles to spin and launch himself, with an arcade-y display of timing and reflexes, through sixteen levels to the exit.

The yeti can be controlled both on the ground and in the air with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys. Once you hit a pole, you'll immediately latch on and start swinging. Press the [up] key at just the right moment and you'll launch high into the air, hopefully enough to reach the next pole. Of course, this being a Nitrome game, it's not going to be that easy. There are obstacles and enemies blocking your way, and frozen creatures to save should you feel particularly benevolent (or just want a high score). Fortunately, to overcome these hurdles, you're given a variety of poles that will affect you in different ways. Some poles are slippery, meaning you'll slide off if you don't hurry; others will give you a boost that will let you kill the bad guys and break certain rocks on your way up. Make it to the top and you'll have the chance to try again, through 16 levels of ascending difficulty.

Analysis: With Cold Storage, Nitrome has managed to live up to all expectations, both in presentation and playability. The graphics are exactly what we've come to expect from Nitrome, and the gameplay is as smooth as it is engaging. The timing and reflexes needed for this will be a discouragement for some, but there's no time limit, so even if you fall back to the bottom there's no penalty for having to start over again. And fall you will! Many, many times. But of course you have to expect that; nobody ever accused yetis of being excessively acrobatic.

Although the game is a bit short at only 16 levels, this is made up for by the sheer length of each level. The downside to that, of course, is that you have fewer stopping points to be able to return to at another time. But chances are you'll be so hooked that you're not going anywhere until you've finished the game. As frustrating as it is fun, Nitrome has once again delivered an excellent diversion from the real world.

Play Cold Storage


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Rating: 4.2/5 (85 votes)
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Jamesperfectbalancetwo.jpgYou've come a long way, baby. I could get technical and talk about how Ttursas' Perfect Balance has been played over 7 million times and that it has expanded into an iPhone game. But the real hallmark of success: the title of the sequel Perfect Balance 2 is now followed by a TM. Trademark! Now that's legit, baby! This tale of you versus Newton's pesky little laws must have something to it.

The Perfect Balance games are all about balance in its simplest form. It's down to the basics of physics here, where your goal is to stack a bunch of weird pieces on top of a bunch of other weird pieces and get them all to stay. No ninja highjinks or "Man On Wire" bravado, just careful maneuvering with a touch of [A] and [D] key-enabled rotation. Given that you are never handed a flat surface, this can become tricky. Drop something on a slant and it will slide away along with your peace of mind. What you need is a piece suited to latching around a corner, with another part of it conveniently protruding on the other end acting as a little barrier. Now we can drop that block and it won't go anywhere.

It might have been tempting to simply hand you a lot of Pythagorean shapes at the start and up the ante with a few circles later on, but Perfect Balance doesn't pull punches. The first level presents blocks that seem straight from a surrealist's Tetris set. It's surprisingly intuitive to get them all to fit, though, allowing the game to become a brilliant exercise in lateral thinking. The fun kind, like sitting with a beer and pondering how far a dog can run into the woods (halfway, btw, because then he's running out, you see..).

Analysis: Perfect Balance 2 is not really that different from the original, but it's full of small touches that raises the bar on the series. It is a lot more zen, even though it ironically never imitates its predecessor's encouragements that you "take a deep breath" while testing your final construct. Where Perfect Balance felt like a game, its sequel is an experience. First, gone are the 80 levels you have to hammer through sequentially. Now there are 100 levels, but they are split into five parts each, accessible from the start. The first part features brand new challenges while the following four are all presumably taken from the iPhone version. To remove even more frustration, you can now skip levels (up to five times, then you have to reset your progress). There is no real penalty for this, other than you don't score on that level, but you can always go back and try it again.

Unlike the first game, the sections are not individually themed and the soundtrack does not change either. This could have been annoying, but you hardly notice the ambient electronic muzak as you frown with rotating pieces. Each section does have a vaguely different background, but these ideas were implemented to make them less distracting and keep your mind on the challenge. It's like being in a doctor's waiting room: you never notice the decor if there are good magazines.

Challenge is certainly here in spades. Apart from manipulating strange shapes into Newton-approved positions, the ante is upped with the appearance of heavier blocks adept at keeping pieces more secure and see-sawing bases that tilt under a piece's weight. The latter are used quite cleverly, because sometimes you need to jam a piece between them and a solid base to keep them stable (or in at least one case jam a piece between two such flip-flopping bits of terrafirma).

But I left out Perfect Balance 2's biggest addition. As with the first game, scoring is dictated by a subtracting counter, so the faster you do the puzzle, the more points you hold on to. Now there is a bonus element: once all the pieces are balanced, the game hands you nine diamonds to add to your structure. For each diamond you get to sit still, you receive a score bonus and there is an extra hand-out if you use all nine. This mechanism confirmed my suspicion: many of these challenges can be done in more than one way. Often you can get all the pieces to balance, but can you get all nine diamonds on there as well? To be fair, not even the walkthrough manages that, but you can submit both your score and how many diamonds you have used, so the gauntlet on diamond-mastery has clearly been thrown.

Perfect Balance 2 shows the character of a veteran developer comfortable enough with its game not to throw out the baby or the bathwater, but instead change the soap and light a few scented candles. It takes a good game and makes it great. Even a grouchy snob like Newton would love it.

Play Perfect Balance 2


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Rating: 4.7/5 (235 votes)
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Grinnypbubbletankstowerdefense.jpgBubbles are fragile, ephemeral things. They float and fly high above, dancing to and fro during their short, frantic lives. But what happens if a bubble gets tired of flitting hither and yon? What if the bubbles decide, "Hey, I'd like to settle down, maybe spend some time on personal growth"? Welcome to Bubble Tanks Tower Defense from Hero Interactive, a nifty little tower defense game featuring the wildly popular bubble tanks from Bubble Tanks and Bubble Tanks 2. They're back, but this time they're letting the enemy come to them.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Bubble Tanks TD is a free-form version of a tower defense game. Use the bubble tanks to create deadly paths to funnel your enemies through, attempting to wipe them out before they reach the exit and wipe you out instead. Placement of the tanks is limited only by your imagination. Well, your imagination, the shape of the room, the path the enemies take, how many bubbles you have in stock, and several other factors as well.

A nice two stage tutorial gives you all the basic information you need, and then you're on your own. Choose stages by traveling along one of several different paths available, giving you access to levels that range from easy to fiendishly difficult. Hover your mouse over a stage and it will let you know the difficulty as well as give a quick snapshot of the room itself and the direction the enemies will be traveling. Choose the stage, place a few towers, then let the enemies fly.

Foes come in several different varieties, from fast to slow, from fragile to tough, and some nasty ones that spawn other enemies, break apart into multiple enemies, or ghosts who disdain your carefully-crafted paths and fly through everything in a direct line to the exit. Once your foes begin to arrive, your faithful tank towers will do their best to wipe them out as long as they stay within a certain range. Waves of creeps keep coming until either they or you are dead, it is as simple as that. Although gameplay can be controlled with just the mouse, there are some keyboard shortcuts that will become useful after a while, especially for experienced tower defense players.

bubbletankstowerdefense_screenshot.jpgAt the beginning, you have a limited number of bubbles with which to purchase basic bubble towers. Every enemy destroyed produces more bubbles that you can spend on more towers or on upgrading your existing towers. The fun is, dear gamer, in the upgrades. Each basic tower can be upgraded to four different types: a shooter; a shock-wave type tower that damages everything within a certain radius; a ghost tower that specifically targets ghost enemies; and a "boost" tower that boosts the abilities of the towers around it. Each type can be upgraded four levels, each affecting the gameplay differently.

The best part is the mega upgrade. Place four bubble tanks in a 2 x 2 pattern (make sure they are touching each other) and upgrade each to a level 4 type (which type is up to you). Once all four have reached level 4 upgrade status, a little "m" appears in the upper left corner. Click on it to morph your tanks into a mega-tower which will have vastly improved firepower. The type of mega-tower is determined by the mix of types in your four tanks. You can even place four mega-towers in a 2 x 2 grid to create a mega-mega tower, awesome to behold in its destructive power. If you find that some tanks are just not getting the job done or are awkwardly placed you can sell them back for more bubbles for more upgrades or to place new towers in a more convenient area.

Analysis: Be warned, anyone who likes tower defense games may become horribly addicted to Bubble Tanks Tower Defense. The learning curve is smooth and easy, as are the stages, developing gradually from simple to downright nightmarish. Be prepared to spend quite some time with these charming little bubbles who have gotten all domestic. The graphics have changed little from Bubble Tanks 2, but the basic design is quite lovely to behold and makes for easy identification of your various tower and enemy types. It also makes the game easy on the eyes. Nice music and sound effects round out the gameplay experience (which can also be turned off).

Bubble Tanks TD runs quite smoothly even in the more difficult levels, which is a plus. What makes this such a fantastic casual gameplay experience, though, are the wickedly fun upgrades and the smooth learning curve. Take your time, experiment a little, play around with placement and paths, and explore all the possibilities the upgrades have to offer. You might find that more than a little time has flown in the process. That may be the only complaint there is about Bubble Tanks TD, the time suckage.

Come, join these trigger-happy bubble tanks as they hunker down for battle. With so many levels and upgrades, the player is guaranteed a wonderful, tower defending good time.

Play Bubble Tanks Tower Defense

Play the entire Bubble Tanks series...


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWhat a lineup! The four games in this edition of Mobile Monday feature more addictiveness than a bag of Scrabble tiles containing only the letters S, N, A, E, T, I, V, C, and D!

locknroll2.jpgLock 'n' Roll 2 - The freakily addictive Lock 'n' Roll, previously featured as both a browser game and iTunes App Store download, is back with a few changes you'll just adore. Aside from the requisite tweaks and improvements over the original, Lock 'n' Roll 2 features a 5x5 grid, calling for a whole new set of strategies over the previous 4x4 setup. To play, simply roll the dice on the top bar, then place them on the grid to create combinations. Lines of like colors or numbers score some points, but match both and you'll be very happy. Once placed, you must lock dice into place before rolling a new set, hence both the game's name and the progressively more intricate strategies you'll develop over time.

geospark.jpggeoSpark - From the creator of geoDefense and geoDefense Swarm, geoSpark is a casual puzzle game that retains the series' spectacular visual style but goes a different direction for its gameplay. The concept is quite simple: don't let different shapes bump into each other. Neon shapes randomly appear and meander in from all sides of the screen. Using your finger, tap and drag identical pieces to link them together and make them disappear. The more shapes you have in tow, the greater gravity they exert, pulling other pieces closer and closer. In other words, the more points you go for, the greater the risk, creating one of gaming's most simple risk/reward scenarios.

pathpixpro.gifPathPix Pro - More Link-a-Pix, anyone? Yes, please! The iPhone incarnation of Kris Pixton's PathPix is back with 300 new puzzles designed to give experienced players a stiff challenge. Complete pictures by filling in squares according to numbers on the screen. A number 7, for example, will connect to another number 7 via seven adjacent, filled boxes. Lines cannot cross each other, and every number must be connected to complete each puzzle. Tap and drag to fill spaces on the grid, erasing lines by double-tapping them. The iPhone implementation couldn't be more satisfying, and PathPix Pro addresses the only issue I had with the original: a lack of challenge. Go forth and link the pix with paths!

monopoly-iphone.jpgMONOPOLY - Ever heard of a little game called MONOPOLY? If you've touched a board game after 1933, chances are you're intimately familiar with this gem of a title. Now, MONOPOLY has been stuffed into your iPhone, offering smooth, 3D visuals and velvety soft touch control. The single player mode has excellent pick-up-and-play value, but the real fun is in taking on other players in multiplayer mode. It really is the next best thing to having the actual board game, with the added bonuses of playing while laying in bed and never losing pieces. Dibs on the thimble!

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


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Rating: 4.8/5 (37 votes)
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DanTheArcherRover's Day Out Of the countless worlds and wonders that hold our fascination, few of them have captured, and in turn, galvanized our imaginations so much as that cold, black maw yawning on us from above: space. And why shouldn't it? It's fathomless, it begets over a billion hypothetical realities and counting, and it alone bears the emptiness required to entertain guests as brilliant as stars. The prospect of exploring all that nothingness is a bit daunting, raising some interesting questions that were at one time considered the purview of science fiction writers. Thankfully, there's now a work of interactive fiction that's got some of the answers: Rover's Day Out, Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman's winning entry in this year's IF Comp 2009.

The narrative begins with an itsy-bitsy clue that not all will be as it seems, followed by your character waking up in a fairly unadorned abode. From there, it's up to you as to what you do and how you go about it, because I can't say too much here without spoiling details. Know that your entire interactive fiction arsenal will be necessary (LOOK, EXAMINE, etc.) in order to proceed; some other unorthodox commands are useful for flavor information, but the nature of the orders you're expected to give are rarely too out of the ordinary.

Something that will quickly become quite apparent is the strange dialogue overlapping your actions, comments being made on your every move. Who are these strange watchers, and what could be their purpose? Why is it they seem to take interest in your performance of the most mundane tasks? And why do they consistently use really, really big words? Answers to all of these questions, as well as some of those loftier ones about space exploration will be answered, not to mention a couple others if you're lucky.

Analysis: Right off the bat, it's clear the writers aren't a couple of science-fiction lightweights. The more tidbits you find on the setting, the more you realize these guys did their homework (or read their Asimov, anyway). The superscience here all holds up quite well, and while sometimes it can get a little lost in the outlandish jargon that starts getting thrown around (particularly in the endgame section), the technology of it all begins to make sense the more you play.

And play you must, for I shall warn you now: the game will seem redundant at the start, once you figure out what you have to do and start the wheels turning. There's a decent chunk of the game where you'll be retracing steps and re-enacting commands, but please, ye faithful i-fictioneers, be patient! Things really get interesting the deeper you let yourself get drawn in, and there's plot turns and twists aplenty for an adventure that's relatively short.

Well, okay, the scope of the game isn't gigantic, as in someone with a walkthrough in front of them could shotgun through it at a quick clip, but some of the puzzles might require some good old-fashioned trial and error, while others are time-dependent and others happen in the midst of tension-wrought scenes. That's right, no resting on your haunches for you. This is a piece of interactive fiction that'll force you to think on the fly, think in terms you may not be familiar with, and do a whole lot of thinking in general. Truly, a worthy top contender of this year's competition.

Download Rover's Day Out (Mac/Windows/Linux, 1.7MB, free)

To play this game, you'll need both the game file and an interpreter. Download Rover's Day Out from the Interactive Fiction Archive followed by an interpreter for your OS: Gargoyle for Windows, Zoom for Macintosh and Unix.


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Nikopol

DoraHave you ever wished for something extraordinary to happen? For someone to step into your boring, everyday life and turn it on its head? Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals, a large-file point-and-click adventure, may just make you think twice about that. Mixing stunning presentation with an off-beat story, it may not keep you wrapped up for days on end, but it offers a fascinating adventure into unfamiliar territory.

NikopolLike everyone else in this unpleasant future, Nikopol lives under the thumb of a dictator masquerading as a prophet, where everything from how a person acts to what they believe is controlled by the government. Struggling to get by as an artist, he joins a rebellious underground religious group, only to find that not all the villains in the world are so easy to spot. He soon finds himself pulled deeper into a dangerous adventure that dredges up secrets about his family he never could have imagined. As if he didn't have enough to worry about with trying to make his rent, or that monster coming up the stairs...

You spend the game looking through Nikopol's eyes, and you can look all around you freely with the mouse, nudging the cursor around the edges of your view to turn around or look up and down. Click on objects to interact, and hit the [esc] key to open your inventory, to let you use items you've picked up, or access the menu where you can save and load your game. Speaking of, you'll want to save your game frequently. In this point-and-click adventure, things can be a little more dangerous than you might expect.

But danger aside, put on your best southern belle outfit and get ready to be woo'ed. The visuals here are knock-outs, from the detailed environments to the comic book-style panel progression in cutscenes. You'll want to take full advantage of the free-moving camera in every new area to catch all the little touches. Everything is tied together by some fantastically atmospheric audio, from the ambient soundtrack to the It's a shame, then, that the subtitles feature such a rocky translation and are liberally sprinkled with typos; not enough to actually impede understanding, just enough to look sloppy. It wasn't "nocessary"? Really, game? Really?

NikopolAnalysis: Nikopol is based on a trilogy of graphic novels written by Enki Bilal, and it shows. Nothing says "based on a book" like tossing a player into an unfamiliar environment with little ceremony and acting like it's all second nature. Despite how grim it is, Nikopol's world is fascinating, and I wish we were given more time to explore it. Instead we're left grabbing glimpses of a much more expansive mythology through the windows as we're pulled along with him. As it is, the game is very good at hooking you in, and the gaps in your knowledge wind up being more intriguing than anything else. It's just too bad the game wasn't longer and more open, the better to allow you to soak it all in.

What is a potentially crippling blow for less patient players is the frequently overcomplicated approach to traditional point-and-click adventuring, several steps of each action usually being completely unnecessary. "Open movie projector, put in movie, pull down display screen, close projector, then flick the start switch"? Are you kidding? And while some of the puzzles are interesting, most of them wind up feeling like they're there just to pad game's length rather than add anything to the experience. When was the last time you had to play a little mini-game when you wanted to destroy a wall with a hammer while you were running for your life? A little more carrot and a little less stick would be nice, Nikopol.

Because, honestly, I could care less about where I'm supposed to use the tire iron or how to break into the corpsesicle chamber. Nikopol has a genuinely intriguing cast of characters that I wish popped up more often. Religious zealots, being who may be gods... or not. You know what? Not that soaking up the ambiance in these decrepit buildings isn't super awesome, because they're honestly very pretty... but I'd rather go talk to the bird guy some more. Or, hey! I hear there's a magic floating pyramid in the sky, let's check that out!... no?... *sigh* I never get to do nuthin'.

Despite some poor decisions and a potentially unsatisfying ending, Nikopol still manages to be a contender for your time and your imagination. It's not as long as other large file titles, but if you're looking for a cinematic experience in a new world, you'll find a lot to like here. Just don't expect everything to make sense all of the time. It's all part of the world's mystique... and, besides. If the weirdest thing that happens to you today is a guy with a bird's head showing up on your doorstep, you're doing pretty good.

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: 5/5 (22 votes)
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treasuresofmontezuma2-b.jpg

GrinnypIt seems like they are piling everything into match-3 games these days. Lots of backstories, killer graphics, mini-games and hidden object scenes. But what's a person to do if they just want some match-3 goodness? Check out The Treasures of Montezuma 2 by Alawar Games, a puzzle game that bends the rules just enough to provide an awesome bit of fun.

treasuresofmontezuma2a.jpgNo intro story to deal with, no pages of text to read, just pick your character (male or female) and start playing! Adventure mode consists of five levels, each with eight match-3 games followed by a brief hidden object scene at the end. Most of the time you're simply swapping tiles to make matches of three or more, but a battery of power-ups makes things much more interesting.

Earning gems is the overarching goal of the game, but you'll also be racing against the clock to make matches over every part of the grid as fast as you can. The quicker you work, the more money you'll earn. As tiles break they fall as sand into a meter below the board, which is slowly draining down to nothing. Fill the meter to the top and you trigger a bonus scoring mode for a few seconds that nets you double points for the duration.

Idols are the most interesting feature of the game. Make a match of, say, orange tiles and the orange idol leaps forward. Make a second match of orange tiles immediately after and the orange idol bonus triggers, an effect that can range from clearing tiles on the board to adding bonus time to the level. Between each round you can visit the shop to purchase upgrades as well as these nifty idols, each of which adds another optional (but cool) layer to the gameplay.

treasuresofmontezuma2b.jpgAnalysis: Although the extra stuff in games such as Grandpa's Candy Factory are nice for match-3 novices, for those experienced players who just want to smash tiles, The Treasures of Montezuma 2 is the way to go. There's a ton of gameplay here, and it's all so well-balanced, organized and engaging, you can't help but fall for it.

Once you complete adventure mode, you'll unlock some goodies that offer even more challenge. For starters, hard and expert difficulty levels can be switched on to make the adventure a lot more challenging. Puzzle mode also shows its face with sets of tiles you'll need to meddle with to make vanish, and the ever-popular Endless mode supplies exactly what it suggests. You can even go back and replay levels, attempting to complete everything within the best time limit and earn trophies for accomplishing various feats. This adds up to hours upon hours of casual gameplay!

The Treasures of Montezuma 2 promises something very simple: a fun match-3 puzzle game with a handful of helpful power-ups to give your gem swapping a little oomph. The visuals are flat-out gorgeous, the South American-flavored flute music is lovely, and gem swapping is smooth and fluid, allowing you to work on matching other tiles while chain reactions are still going on. It's everything you could want in a straightforward matching puzzle game, all without an annoyance in sight.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Weekend Download

JohnBExploration is most of the reason why many of us play video games. When a developer crafts an entire world for you to play in, it's easy to get giddy with the concept of probing every corner and climbing on top of every boulder. This week's selection features several games that are heavy on the discovery aspect of gaming. Whether it's a magical world filled with moonlight or a dark pixel cave, you never know what's around the corner until you look...

dreamsidemaroon.jpgDreamside Maroon (Windows, 62MB, free) - A truly beautiful game that will have you enchanted from the moment you start playing. A third person exploration game at its core, Dreamside Maroon is all about Aster and his wish to reach the moon. Using a lantern on a stick, Aster can control the growth of a vine in any direction, using it to climb higher and explore some of the strange floating islands in the night sky. It's a breathtaking (but brief) experience that's as magical as it is imaginative. The tiny screenshot to the right doesn't do the game justice, you should download it to see its full glory.

focus.jpgFocus (Windows, 17.5MB, free) - A brilliantly-executed platform puzzle game by Jesse Venbrux, creator of the Karoshi series of games. In Focus, you take control of a little guy trapped in a cave stuffed with traps, missile-firing robots, and lots of other baddies. Early on you learn how to use "focus mode", an ability that lets you teleport yourself anywhere the blue circle extends. Momentum is applied when you teleport, allowing you to move yourself to surprisingly exclusive parts of the screen. This mechanic is superbly implemented and the puzzles require you to think of new ways to use it in almost all of the 50 levels. As Venbrux put it himself, "very solid, difficult-but-let's-try-one-more-time gameplay".

saut.gifSaut (Windows, 6.2MB, free) - If Canabalt were a downloadable game and the main character couldn't run, it would be Saut. The nighttime world is filled with hazards to avoid, and as a blocky little character who can only leap forward, it's tough to stay safe. Explore the landscape by controlling the distance of your jump with the [spacebar]. It's difficult to do at first, but once you get the physics down, you'll have a great time!

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: 4.6/5 (45 votes)
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Echoes of the Past: Royal House of Stone

DoraHey good lookin'. Whatcha got cookin'?... what's that? You say, "A hidden-object game that isn't a well known and established series but isn't mediocre?" Echoes of the Past: Royal House of Stone is a fun first chapter in a new series that may be small in scope, but has a heart as big as a whale. Or, uh, something.

Echoes of the Past: Royal House of StoneThe story, which I would call "like Princess Isabella, but... " begins with you touring a museum that features an exhibit on an ancient medieval family that met with strange and unfortunate circumstances. Upon examining a portrait of the prince, who vanished on the eve of his coronation, you find yourself getting dizzy... and wake up in a darkened room... apparently hundreds of years in the past. How are you going to get home? Who was that mysterious woman? What happened to the inhabitants of the castle? And more importantly, I don't think cappuccinos were invented until after the twentieth century!! Clearly you need to unravel the mystery, post-haste.

If you're a regular visitor to this site, you're probably familiar with the controls for a hidden object game. But just in case these intricacies are new to you, let me help you with them; there are none. Intricacies, that is. You navigate by clicking your way around the screen. If the cursor changes to an arrow, clicking that area will move you to a new location. If the cursor changes to a magnifying glass, you can click on that spot for a closer look. Cursor changes to a hand? You can interact with something. And if you see sparkling on the screen, click on it to trigger a hidden object scene.

Royal House of Stone also flirts with the point-and-click genre, having you collect items you'll need to complete puzzles. Find yourself getting stumped? Don't worry, as your handy-dandy magic mirror (yes, really) is there to provide hints and clues, as long as you keep finding other mirrors in hidden object scenes. Add in the fact that you can skip most (but not all) puzzles simply by waiting around a bit and then hitting the big ol' "skip" button in the upper right corner and the game is accessible to pretty much anyone.

It doesn't hurt that Royal House of Stone is a handsome little HOG if ever their was one, either. The environments are lovely, with lots of little touches, like the spiders that scurry past you, and the strange things you'll never quite be sure you actually did see out of the corner of your eye. No slouch, either, the audio, with an atmospheric soundtrack and voice-actors who, by and large, are surprisingly inoffensive to your tender ears. I just wish the story had kept up that same level of quality. No, it's not "Ayn Rand" bad, thank goodness, but... Tragedy befalls kingdom and only one lone adventurer can lift the curse? Been there, read that, seen the Disney film adaptation.

Echoes of the Past: Royal House of StoneAnalysis: I'd imagine that a hidden object game is pretty easy to make, since the market seems to be sopping with them these days, but it seems to be hard to make well. With the exception of the Mystery Case Files series and a few other titles, any time I usually spend with a hidden object game is time steeped in boredom and resentment, like some foul yet mediocre blend of tea. I'm not saying Royal House of Stone is revolutionary and is going to change your life. It's just a game that manages to avoid most of the pitfalls other games in the same genre fall into, such as poor object design, bad translation, pointless to-and-fro-ing, and the like.

Which, you know, helps to take some of the sting out of the unreasonable item requirements that are a staple of the point-and-click genre. At one point, for example, you need to gather some seeds. Not particularly ominous seeds, mind you. Just seeds. But you can't just pick them up and put them in your pocket, oh no. Nor can you put them in any of the items in your inventory that could be used to hold anything or simply bundle them up in a bit of rag that's lying right freaking there. You have to find a special bag to carry these seeds. Not that there appears to be anything special about it. If you've played a point-and-click game before, you're probably used to this sort of "because I said so" school of restriction, but it's still a bit ridiculous.

Thankfully, if "no, only this item will do the job" is standard, the puzzles here are not. While you've got your share of tasks that need to be solved by using the appropriate item in the appropriate, obviously marked location, that's not the only solving you'll do. A goodly portion of the game's puzzles actually require logic. One puzzle, for example, requires you to paint sections of a map representing a feuding kingdom, and to keep identical colours from sharing the same border. Another has you use a series of weights to trigger a mechanism. None of them really qualify as brain busters, or are even terribly unique, but it's still nice to have a game treat me like I'm capable of basic function beyond knowing not to try to fit my whole fist into my mouth. Thanks for always believing in me, Royal House of Stone.

But the biggest flaw? The length. Royal House of Stone feels about half as long as it really should be, and most players will probably breeze through in a matter of hours. Whether you find this a Misery-esque fatal hobbling depends largely on how much game time you demand for your buck. Royal House of Stone is high quality, entertaining, and worth a look if hidden objects are your "thing". If quality over quantity is what you're looking for, then you won't be disappointed here.

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  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (101 votes)
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Mountain ManiacJerradThere's a lot to be angry about these days; rising gas prices, corrupt politicians, or any other cliché you can think of. And what better way to release that anger than by raining destruction onto a tiny mountain hamlet? Mountain Maniac, the newest game from [adult swim] and PixelJam, is here to fulfill all of your village decimating desires.

The titular character of Mountain Maniac is one angry lumberjack! You would be too, if you kept getting maple syrup stuck in your beard all the time. Help this little guy vent his rage by moving him around with the [arrow] and by creating boulders with the [X] key. Keep the button held longer for a bigger boulder, and let go when the hammer is red for maximum destruction. Once the boulder is rolling, it can be controlled to a limited degree with the [arrow] keys. As you wreak havoc on the landscape, you'll fill your rage meter, which will grant you more control over the boulder. Make it to the bottom of the mountain and destroy as much of the unsuspecting village as you can. You'll have five boulders to annihilate a certain percentage of the town, after which the police will come up the mountain after you. Increasing levels provide more police, but they can be fended off by hitting the [X] key to swat them away with your hammer. Each consecutive level requires you to destroy more of the city, and will send more police to stop you at the end. Fail to destroy enough or get caught by the police and you lose a life, after losing two lives it's game over.

Analysis: Destruction is fun! There's something to be said about games that let you take out all of your pent up anger, especially when you get to take it out on an unsuspecting village. And the pachinko-style gameplay as you're rolling the boulder down the mountain makes it more than just a simple smash-and-destroy type of game. My biggest gripe is with the amount of luck involved. It's great to have a limited control over the boulder, but there's nothing worse than getting it stuck on a ledge and not being able to make it roll away, no matter how much you blow on your monitor. But aside from that minor quibble, I never felt as if I was tasked with doing the impossible. It can get difficult to reach that destruction level, but it never feels like it's completely un-doable. And it's nice that even when you don't destroy the city, you still get a chance to redeem yourself in a way that would make Ice-T proud.

As with all PixelJam games, graphics and music are completely 8-bit-tastic. Either you'll love them or you won't, but if you're from the generation that knows what a Battletoad is, this will probably be right up your alley. So if you're in the mood for an elegant, well thought-out game... you're out of luck. But if you want to drop rocks on eagles, we've got you covered!

Play Mountain Maniac


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome to December, beloved reader! I know, I know. It's been December for a few days now. But everyone knows it's not really December until you get your first seasonal Link Dump Friday! What makes it seasonal? Glad you asked, friend! Why, it's nothing but the best in ghosts, spaceships, monsters, and more for you! No, no, best not to question the "why"s, since the answers most likely consist of "Because Dora is strange". Instead, just sit back, relax, and let the awesome commence.

.... aaaaaaaany second now...

  • Scamper GhostScamper Ghost - Hungry for the days of yore, dear reader? Well, provided your yore-days centered around avoidance games and Pac-Man, this should scratch that itch nicely. While the lack of any real progression or new developments past a certain point may mean it won't hold a spot in your heart long term, Scamper Ghost is fast and furious while it lasts, probably just long enough to get you in trouble with your boss if you play it at work.
  • DroppyDroppy - [Warning: Contains imagery some may find insensitive or offensive.] Continuing the recent trend of "game characters who can't do anything for themselves", Droppy needs you to help alleviate his discomfort in various scenarios. Fast, friendly, and... uh... fffffffcute, the point-and-click style puzzles aren't likely to stymie you for very long, but it makes a nice, low-calorie snack whenever you can fit it into your day.
  • ShadowreignShadowreign - Alas, monsters! Offering click-and-slash style gameplay right in your browser, this one might not appeal to you if grinding is something that makes your toes curl and your teeth stand on end and sends shivers down your spine and makes you write overly long sentences to drive home a point. If you do have that sort of patience and enjoy the application of pain to monsters' faces, then you'll probably enjoy this one for a good chunk of your day.
  • Red FluxionRed Fluxion - Holy space explosion, Batman! While it doesn't do anything new, this is a solidly enjoyable shooter with ridiculously large bosses, upgrades, more bullets than you can (verb) a (noun) at, and every sound effect is voiced by Tim Curry. ... okay, so I made that last one up. But I can dream, can't I?!
  • Hippie PhuzzleHippie Phuzzle - Basically, Saunavihta with hippies and aliens. ... yeeeeee-up. It doesn't offer anything really new, but if you're hungry for physics puzzles, then this may satisfy. Although, mind you, it is a bit insensitive to the hippie-alien plight. Remind me to send you some literature about that.

  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (131 votes)
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DoraHell TourYou've woken up in Hell! Don't ask why, you've got more important concerns. Like, you know, being in Hell. And being a ghost. And finding out the natives are hostile. And that you can't use your DVR if you're a ghost. (Trust us, that's the worst.) You could cower in a corner like a wrinkled old bedsheet, or you could track down the Devil and demand to be released! Show us you're the ghost with the most in Hell Tour, a turn-based strategy title from NOB Studio and entrant into the 6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition.

Turns out Hell is a board game, more or less. The objective in each level is to find the key, and then find the door it opens to descend another level. You can move to adjacent spaces by clicking on them if they're clear, or unexplored. Orange areas are places you can move to, red areas are places you've uncovered but are too far away to reach, and gray areas are places you haven't explored yet. Each time you move to a new place, all the nearby spaces are uncovered, revealing whatever dangers or items there are.

In order to keep adventuring, you need to keep an eye on your soul power, which decreases by ten each time you move. You can purchase items at the store to replenish this, or increase it when you go up a level. Gain cash by defeating the weaker creatures you'll find loitering around Hell's picturesque acid pools. Hover the mouse over an enemy to see their strength as relates to yours, and click on them to attack. Once you've destroyed their soul, they'll vanish, leaving behind a fat wad of cash for you to line your ghostly pockets with.

Hell TourAnalysis: Hell's scenic vistas never really change, which is a shame. Judging by the quirky, cartoonish monster design, the artist was more than capable, and by comparison, the board you're playing on feels pretty bland. Even so, there's something addictive about Hell Tour's one-click style gameplay that made me sit down and play all the way through the first time our eyes met across the room. It was terribly romantic.

Whereas the game initially ended very abruptly with a stark "congratulations" screen once I passed a certain level that left me feeling a little cheated, NOB Studios has since expanded it to include a bit of dialogue and one final challenge. You'll want to make sure you have at least one of your skills maxed out by the time you reach the last level, but with so many beasties around waiting for you to knock the cash out of their pockets, that shouldn't be a problem. What is a problem is how short the game winds up feeling. Hell is only twenty floors deep, apparently, and it probably won't take you long to get through them all. Why is there no option to play an endless mode? Or even just a double-length game? Instead, once you're done, you're done, and all your hard work is wiped.

The combat also feels unbalanced. Sure, I can stand there whittling away at the health of a stronger monster, but why would I want to? The reward for doing so isn't any greater than what you get for picking on some puny little hell-beast you can slay with one hit. Since enemies don't attack unless you hit them first, it's too easy to simply bypass the heavy hitters altogether. There are even several levels with no enemies at all, which become dull click-fests as you simply avoid pools of acid and play hide-and-seek with the key and exit. Hey, it's like a Saw movie, only not as boring, and you don't feel as though your intelligence has been insulted afterwards!

While Hell Tour lacks enough flesh over its ghostly bones to really feel like a full, hearty adventure to keep you coming back for more, it's still a fast, fun way to spend an afternoon. It's clever, easy to pick up, and definitely deserves a look. So go on. Let the spirit move you.

Play Hell Tour


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (179 votes)
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DoraDale and PeakotMost farmers, upon discovering their hen house has been raided by the wiliest of coyotes, would simply sigh, wipe the sweat from beneath their faded John Deere cap, and truck back up the long and dusty road to their homestead, to retire to the porch with a simple glass of water and reflect on the fragility of life. Most farmers, however, don't discover a magic feather in the wreckage that grants their remaining hen with extraordinary powers, and then decide to strike out to rescue the rest. That's because most farmers aren't Dale of Juicy Beasts's Dale and Peakot, who, together with his hen, Peakot, are going to save the flock and save the day.

You'll control Dale with the [WASD] keys, and fire his shotgun with [space]. You control Peakot by clicking once on a spot you want her to fly to. Be careful, since she only flies in straight lines; her tiny bird brain won't allow her to use advanced flying techniques like, you know, not flying into obstacles instead of going around them. If you double click, Peakot will unleash a burst of magical energy that can stun enemies and manipulate switches. All chickens can actually do this. They just prefer not to. If you need to take a breather, pause the game by tapping [P].

Gather eggs as you progress through levels for points, working with Peakot to stun enemies to make them vulnerable to Dale's shotgun. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for special chests that can only be unlocked if you collect enough feathers. The extra trouble is worth it; within, you'll find extra ammunition for Dale's shotgun, more health, and even equipment for Peakot, proving that everything is better with a chicken in a helmet. I have been saying this for years.

Dale and PeakotAnalysis: It's nice to see a game that's "just" every once in a while. You know, "just" a shooter, or "just" a platformer, where the developers have focused on making something fun and (mostly) traditional instead of gorging it on gimmicks in an attempt to make it stand out. Dale and Peakot is bouncy, fun, and fairly simple. Sure you've got a magic chicken, but is that any stranger than an Italian plumber who eats mushrooms that sprout from blocks? The gameplay is, for the most part, pretty standard; jump on platforms, flip switches, get points, etc., etc., etc. If you've touched a console before, you probably know the drill.

Other games have experimented with the idea of controlling two characters at once, and while Dale and Peakot is less complex, it still isn't without its problems. The game informs you that if you want to prevent Peakot from coming back to Dale, say, because you're trying to have her navigate a series of doors that open and close on their own, you need to keep her moving. This often results in having to make her zip aimlessly around while you wait for a timed obstacle to move, or she'll pop back beside Dale after a second or two. Why can't we just have a key to tap that recalls Peakot back to Dale's side? And watching Peakot rebound off a wall is cute. Watching it happen when you're trying to do something in a hurry with enemies taking chunks out of you is frustrating. And why should I still lose health simply for brushing up against an enemy even when it's stunned and unable to attack?

It's a lot easier to forgive all of this simply because it all looks so good. The visuals are sharp and vibrant, everything wonderfully detailed in a Saturday morning cartoon-ish manner that really heaps on the charm. I love seeing such clean lines in a design, and the animation is cute as a button. Even if the control is a little clunky, Dale and Peakot looks and sounds very professional. If flattening a chicken's face against a wall over and over because it's so darn cute can be considered professional. Make no mistake, there's definite talent at work here, and I'd love to see even more from them in the future.

If you're a completionist, you can spend a lot of time going back through levels, tracking down any points or secrets you might have missed. Otherwise, Dale and Peakot is a fun afternoon's play for just about anybody. While the controls may take some getting used to, and the ability to bind actions to your preferred keys would not have gone unappreciated, the game is still a bouncy, cheerful romp. Only a bird-brain would miss giving this one a shot, so don't be chicken.

... or the feathers will fly!

... I'm so, so sorry for that.

Play Dale and Peakot


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (312 votes)
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Level Up!ArtbegottiYAWWN! It's a brand new day, time to go out exploring! Level Up! is an RPG-like platformer by Nifty Hat all about exploring the world and discovering your past. In an odd world where the Squarians and Roundians are in a constant and bitter battle, your goal is to collect gems and exchange them for tools to help you restore your memory.

As the game opens, you find a strange boy who seems to have crashed through the fence outside your home. If you bring him gems, he may be able to help you in your quest. By using the [arrow] keys to move and [X] to jump, you can explore the area around your home, but not very quickly, at first. As you play, your skills level up in many different categories, including running, jumping, healing, sleeping, and even taking damage. You can also use your gems to purchase skills from the Squarians and Roundians, but act quickly, because nightfall comes quickly...

YAWWN! It's a brand new day, time to go out exploring! Level Up! is an RPG-like platformer by Nifty Hat all about exploring the world and discovering your past. In an odd world where the Squarians and Roundians are in a constant and bitter battle, your goal is to collect gems and exchange them for tools to help you res— wait, what's going on here?

Analysis: On its surface, Level Up! might look like just another pixel-laden platformer with characters that break the fourth wall to give you instructions every once in a while. But if you play through a full day or two, you realize that the plot line does go a lot deeper. Who is this mysterious boy, and why does your memory consistently vanish from day to day?

As of the time of the writing of this article, there are still a couple of bugs that still need ironing out. One such bug occurred when (oh, how to say this without spoilers...) I returned to a certain finishing point in the game after completing the game, but without having achieved full marks in the game... That's the best I can give you with out spoiling too much. Suffice it to say that it's a bug that happens after you beat the main portion of the game. Luckily, the developers are still working on fixing the kinks in the game, so it may be fixed by the time you read this.

Unfortunately, one definite non-bug is the main character's movement as though she were on ice. With a bit of practice (and a lot of leveling up), this problem can be reduced (although not eliminated). But if you're willing to let a few tiny flaws slide by (heh), Level Up! is a fun platformer with a plot that can suck you in pretty quickly.

Play Level Up!


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (507 votes)
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DanTheArcherContinuityOf all the literature I used to discover off of elementary school reading lists, one book sticks in my head, even to this day: A Wrinkle in Time. To be honest, I'm rather murky on the plot details, my memory of the characters doesn't extend too far beyond a Mrs. Who (she was there, right?), and don't even ask me about the themes. But one illustration I remember quite well, in my particular edition: a character demonstrates how they can travel great distances in virtually no time at all. They produce an ant, and then goad it along a length of string like a tightrope. The character then Best of Casual Gameplay 2009brings the two ends of the string together, and presto! You've got a tidy explanation for an awfully complex phenomenon. Thankfully, a game has traded in the ants and string for an even simpler and more entertaining experience. Welcome to Continuity, an exquisite puzzler from Nils Stefan Bertil.

Every level contains a pristine red door, only usable for exiting purposes after one or more red keys have been collected. Sounds straightforward enough, but it's funny just how much this game will twist your perceptions of both straight and forward. All levels are composed of a number of squares, shiftable in a manner akin to a sliding tile puzzle. Each square contains a finite fraction of the overall level itself, and the key to victory lies in prudent transfigurations of the landscape.

ContinuityThe [arrow] keys shuffle the squares about in the all-encompassing view, while those same keys navigate your stick figure hero for platforming. Tap [space] to switch between those two perspectives, and that's just about it for controls. You can't just pair up any old squares; any black line/feature must continue seamlessly into the adjacent square you hope to travel to, or else your character will slam right into the border of the square with no place to go. Falling off of the bottom of a square into an incompatible one results in a quick warp back to the start (or to the position of the last key you picked up). You didn't think you could just skip from here to there to any place you wanted, did you? That's how unlucky teleporters reappear halfway through a wall, y'know. Although I don't think that happened in A Wrinkle in Time... I feel like I would have at least remembered something like that.

Analysis: Let the records show that Continuity is one of the most effortlessly enjoyable puzzle games on the Web to date. It manages to waltz right over all the pitfalls that plague so many an entry in this genre. For example, failure in this game never burns that bad, because you're only ever a hop, skip, and a tile-swap away from right where you were before. Of course, the levels eventually get longer and scarier, but never does it feel like you need to retrace an hour of work because of a single misstep, and the key-checkpoint system is usually generous.

Continuity 2 is now available! Read our review of Continuity 2: The Continuation.

The puzzles here require you to think with a lobe of your brain you may not use too often. It's like an M.C. Escher drawing in two dimensions, requiring you to discard your silly notions of upstairs and downstairs and realize they're just stairs, independent of direction or space or any other of our countless, conditioned reference frames. If you can program your mind to work in such alien modes, then you'll be right at home. Even if you can't, the bulk of levels early on shouldn't be too mentally taxing, and by the time you've arrived at the later labyrinths, your Escher-O-Vision ought to be all warmed up.

It's not just the puzzling where this game shines, though. The visuals are simple, but functionally effective. Anything more complicated than black on another color would have only made the proper square transitions harder to perceive. The music adds a lovely backdrop; there's a soft twinkling of sound for the level manipulation, accompanied by some action-packed techno beats for your up-close platforming. Add to that some ingenious level design and a nifty menu function that lets you skip insurmountable levels, and I think there's a superior candidate here for a potential mobile game. There's something just so clean and elegant about it, and isn't there an almost touch-screen quality to the sliding of the tiles?

Well, I think so. Sure beats ants and string, anyway.

Play Continuity


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (67 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypIf—in reality—you were trapped in a room that you couldn't get out of, you wouldn't be solving tricky puzzles or finding scraps of paper with clues on them, you'd be looking for objects in the room to help you break down the door, smash a window, or attack whomever locked you in if they bothered to come back. So let's play a game that focuses almost entirely on the use of found objects to escape. Welcome to Escape Ancient China Room by Flash512, a Chinese room escape that depends more on your ability to combine objects than to solve puzzles.

escapeancientchinaroom.jpgNot to say that there aren't any puzzles in Escape Ancient China Room, there's a right tricky one at the end to get out. However, the bulk of the game is finding and using what you've found. Navigation is accomplished by bars at the sides of the screen to move you around this lavishly appointed room. Unfortunately, there's no changing cursor, so be prepared for some pixel hunting to find the items that you'll need.

Take some time to enjoy the beauty of the room itself. Done up in the style of ancient China, you can almost feel the intricate lattice-work of the wood in the furniture. Adding to the feel of a time gone by is a lovely Chinese tune that plays in the background. And if the tune gets annoying there's a handy button to turn off sound in the upper left of the screen. Inventory is stored at the right of the screen. Simply click on an object to use it, or click on the little magnifying glass in the object corner to bring it up for a close up. Remember, there's going to be a lot of object usage and combing to get out of this room.

Analysis: Escape Ancient China Room is a little trickier than most escapes featured in Weekday Escape. Still a nice break in the middle of the week, with the lovely scenery and the calming music. Don't worry that it's a Chinese escape game, there is an English option, just remember to click it before the game begins. When you follow the link to the game, scroll down a little and you will see three large blue buttons. Just click on one of the blue buttons and enjoy the casual gameplay.

There is a lot of combining objects and use of found objects in this little gem, so be prepared. Some things are quite intuitive, but some are a bit of a logical leap. The lack of a changing cursor means that there will be pixel hunting nigh, which can be very frustrating. Fortunately, most objects are fairly easy to spot. The final puzzle will be very easy or very difficult, depending on your knowledge of peg jump puzzles.

Despite the flaws this is still one lovely, well put together little escape. A little something to take your mind off your troubles and the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the holidays. Sit back, relax, and escape to ancient China.

Play Escape Ancient China Room

Note: The links above take you to a page where you will see 3 blue buttons with Chinese text on them. Click on any one of those to be taken to the game.


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Rating: 4.3/5 (92 votes)
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paradoxionexpress.jpgzxo It seems like physics puzzlers are all the rage in the browser gaming world of late. Don't get me wrong, I love me some phuzzles, but sometimes I reminisce about a pre-Box2D world. My eyes get damp and I begin to wonder if there's anyone out there making good old-fashioned puzzles. You know, full of tiles and based on turns, with a gigantic gleaming UNDO button just itching for the opportunity to render your mistakes undone.

But along comes Paradoxion Express and the tears dry up; birds flutter cheerfully to and fro; Al Gore serenades whales and hugs the lowly wombat; in the distance I hear the voices of children singing. Then my roommate gives a hearty belch and I awake and find to my dismay that none of it is real except for the game, which on second thought is OK by me — children make lousy singers.

Paradoxion Express is a Flash-based version of Paradoxion, a download we featured back in April. Created by Russian game designers VSBgames, this free browser version features 60 levels of elegant logic-based combo-making gameplay. The goal is to eliminate all gems and orbs from the board through careful planning and placement. Orbs explode when you line them up in rows of three or more (though some require more) and gems explode when you group them in boxes of four. Explosions can push other objects, which will also explode if they become correctly aligned. By arranging the elements correctly, you can set up a chain-reaction cascade of explosions, sometimes clearing the level in one single blow.

Later levels introduce bombs, which explode when they are moved and destroy any elements near them while pushing away further ones. Another tool you'll see later in the game is shifter arrows, which can be used to shift the position of elements in the field of play. While these extra items offer a needed shake-up (and difficulty bump) from pure orb and gem levels, they do so at the expense of simplicity and elegance. I'm not ready to declare this a bad thing though — there's plenty of elegant levels early on, and it's nice to end the game with some good head-scratchers. if you do happen to get stuck, you can always click "Show Tip" for a hint at the solution. Clicking this button will also give you information about new elements the first time they appear in a level.

Analysis: Paradoxion Express captures that "classic puzzler" feel quite well, and would seem at home on some of the earlier hand-held gaming devices if not for the modern graphics and sound. Yet there's also a certain uniqueness about it: this particular gameplay model lends itself particularly well to long, flowing solutions that are just downright fun to watch.

For the most part, the level design takes full advantage of these cascades, often featuring symmetric levels for enhanced elegance. On the one hand, these levels are what make playing Paradoxion Express a supremely satisfying experience; on the other hand, solving them becomes less about using logic to discern which elements should go where and more about just sensing the gaps and filling them in. Again, this may be a good or a not-so-good thing, depending on your personal preference. As mentioned before, the other elements help enhance the logical aspects of the puzzles, but these only appear in the third level set, which remains locked until you finish the first two sets.

A more definite weak point to the game is the user interface. To place an element, you first have to click the element you want to place, then click the tile in which you want to place it. You are not allowed to move an element once you have placed it, though you can always undo your moves. It would seem that dragging the elements from the tray to the board would be a better fit for the fluid aesthetic of the game, and it would be great if you could play around with the elements out on the board, trying them out in different positions to help visualize a solution. At the very least, I should think it would be easy enough to keep an element selected in the tray so that you can place all of one type without having to reselect it every time.

Although these problems can be somewhat irritating, they are really just minor issues when the game is viewed as a whole. So if you're in the market for a soothingly challenging puzzler that's fun to play right from your browser, try Paradoxion Express!

Play Paradoxion Express


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Rating: 4.3/5 (140 votes)
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The Fabulous ExplorationslandJerradWho wants to go on a treasure hunt? Everybody? That's what I thought! Then grab your green backpack and safari hat, and dive into The Fabulous Explorationsland, a new adventure game from StefanT, and one of the top entries in our 6th Casual Gameplay Design Competition!

Gameplay is completely keyboard-driven, with [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move, and [space] or [enter] to interact with the environment. Menus, although few and far between, are also completely controlled with the keyboard, so you won't need your mouse at all for this one. The aim of the game is to light all of the torches and open all of the chests, with a brief list telling you what you're looking for at the beginning of each area.

There's a reason this game tied for first in fitting with the competition's "explore" theme; that's what you're going to be doing the entire time. No enemies, no time limit, just a brave adventurer with a jaunty green backpack and a hunger for hidden treasures. Although there are some visual clues to let you know where to go, you're still going to have to check every corner to work your way through to the end. From the beginning you'll only be able to explore the ancient temple, but other environments will unlock as you progress. Although the game progresses in a fairly straightforward fashion, you're free to go back and find anything you may have missed on your first trip through a level.

The Fabulous ExplorationslandAnalysis: With its cute graphics and quirky sense of humor, The Fabulous Explorationsland manages to capture your attention from the very beginning and keep it all the way to the end. One of the biggest challenges of creating a game revolving around exploration is trying to keep the player interested in exploring everything. Each world gives you an inventory of what you need to find, but there are a lot of little surprises to keep you interested on the way. Nearly every piece of scenery you find can be interacted with in some way, even if it's just to give you a quick description, and there are plenty of other objects to find that you didn't even know you were looking for, making you feel like you're participating in the world's most abstract scavenger hunt. Burrito shop? Check! Soccer field? Check! Jackal-headed depiction of "The Thinker"? Better believe that's a check! I think the only things you don't find here are Waldo and Carmen Sandiego, and that's probably just due to copyright issue.

Artistically, the game gets it right in every way. The background music does a good job of adding to the light-hearted atmosphere, and the bright colors make it clear from the very beginning what you can expect from the game. Each area has a different theme, with the graphics done accordingly. Even the random decorations that are scattered about the landscape seem to fit within the theme of the area they're located in. Sure, there may be a soccer field inside of a ziggurat, but it fits! It's a ziggurat-themed soccer field! The designer clearly took great care in making this game, and it shines through in all of the small details that are guaranteed to keep a smile on your face.

Packed with secrets and surprises, The Fabulous Explorationsland is a shining example of what exploration is all about, and is sure to keep you grinning all the way through.

Play The Fabulous Explorationsland

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