January 2010 Archives


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Rating: 4.5/5 (24 votes)
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AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!

ArtbegottiIt's been said that for all skydivers making their first jump, there's a mantra repeated as one descends to the ground. It's nothing historically famous like "One small step for man," it's nothing philosophical like "Carpe diem." It's usually (and I'm paraphrasing), "AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!"

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!If you're a fan of skydiving games with lots of vowels in the title, Aaaaa! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (title abbreviated because repeating the letter A 25 times kinda breaks the formatting) by Dejobaan Games is right up your alley. As is often the case with skydiving, your goal is to make it from Point A (generally assumed to be somewhere above you) to Point B (somewhere below point A) without crushing every bone in your body. In a perfect world, there will be no obstacles between Point A and Point B, but this is far from a perfect world, as the skies are littered with airborne buildings and architectural oddities. And birds. And cars. And large glass plates with numbers on them.

At the beginning of your jump, use the [arrow] keys or [WASD] to walk off the edge of the building (or walk around a bit on the rooftop, if you choose). While in the air, you can use the same keys to weave through the air and the mouse to turn and look around. On the way down, you can get points for each building or structure you come close to (called 'kisses'), as well as sticking close to the building for extended periods of time ('hugs'). Extra points can be earned by smashing through scoring plates and birds, spraying graffiti on specific buildings, and waving (or otherwise) to spectators on the way down, but just like in skydiving, none of the glory you accumulate matters if you can't stick the landing (without the landing sticking you)!

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!Should you survive with all of your bones intact, the points you've earned aren't awarded to you directly, but are turned into a star rating. The more stars you get, the more teeth you're rewarded with. Yes, I said teeth. Teeth are used to unlock more levels and bonus movies in the level select screen, which makes one wonder the sort of society we are moving toward if we are using teeth as currency. Just remember that to earn teeth, you have to meet or beat your star record for that level, otherwise you gain nothing.

Analysis: If you've played The Wonderful End of the World, you've got a feeling for the sort of random humor employed by Dejobaan Games. Expect bizarre fourth wall-breaking jokes, obscure randomness, and general tomfoolery with the English language. Be warned that this also comes with a side of lewdness, both in the language and content used, but it's used fairly sparingly. Just don't stare too long at the airborne billboards.

At first, it might take a bit of fiddling to get a hang of flying, whoops, falling. It doesn't take much of a push to drift in one direction or another, so be sure to soak in the practice you get from the earlier levels. One downside is that having so many controls to manage under one hand later in the game might get somewhat tricky, but pretty soon, you'll be skilled enough to make the more complex jumps with one arm tied behind your back. (This is not recommended, by the way.)

AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!One interesting (but potentially irritating) thing that you'll find about Aaaaa! is the method by which you unlock new levels and features. You can unlock new cubes adjacent to cubes you've already unlocked, and the further you get from the start, the more new levels cost. For reach new level that you unlock (we'll say it has a value of X teeth), you can earn back what you've spent by getting a high star rating (where each star is worth about (2/5)X). If you repeat a level, you can only gain teeth by meeting or beating your star record. This prevents massive unlocking sprees by making sure you've done well enough on previous levels to be able to advance to the harder jumps. If you like the challenge of the game, this is good. If you're impatient and you just want to get everything all at once (including those delightful bonus cubes which can't earn you anything), this is bad. To further add to the frustration, your scores aren't recorded, but rather, your highest star rating, so it's hard to tell if you're improving in between runs or not.

AaaAAAaaa! packs a lot of fun and humor into each jump, and with pretty of eye-catching graphics to make you feel like you're zooming through a futuristic city. If you're ready for a reflex-testing game of skill and daring, grab the rip cord, aaaand...

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 (26 votes)
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fionafinch-b.jpg

GrinnypThere's been quite a spate of agriculturally related time management games coming out lately, so what would make one stand out in a crowded field (sorry for the pun)? How about going in a more relaxed, simulation direction? Take the frenzy down a notch, as it were, and create a game that is much more easy-going without losing the excitement inherent in the genre. 1morebee has done this with Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers.

fionafinch.jpgYou begin as Fiona Finch, relaxed and happy with her new boyfriend (and gardening championship), explains the events of the past several months. Poor Fiona, she was drifting a bit, devastated by the loss of her father and unsure of what to do with her life. She returns from a trip to the Far East to visit dear Granny and gets involved in a local gardening competition, with the first prize not only a good deal of cash but a beautiful farm as well. Luckily Fiona is a dab hand with flowers, and is also quite the little genius at cross-breeding.

The basic premise of the game is simple: there are seven locations in which Fiona needs to create a smashing garden in order to win the prize. Between each location are cut-scenes moving along the story as Fiona finds enjoyment, peace, and a new love straight out of a cheesy paperback romance. Each area has its own unique features which can help or hinder the player when designing a garden layout. You begin with seeds from a few types of flowers, and it is up to you to dig out a patch, plant them, and watch them grow. Each level also has certain goals, such as planting a certain number of flowers, planting a certain variety of flowers, and earning enough money for the admission fee for that leg of the contest.

You earn money by cutting flowers and putting them in a nearby shed, where random passers-by can purchase them, giving you the money needed to get supplies. Because, of course, flowers need to be watered, fed, and rid of those pesky insects that will destroy them if allowed to go unchecked. As the game goes on you can add other things to the garden as well: beehives which pollinate the flowers and produce honey, blackberry bushes, grape vines, and apricot trees which add to the beauty of the garden and also add a variety of products that can be sold alongside the flowers. Even more upgrades allow you to sell wrapped flowers, perfumes made from the flowers, and a wide variety of products made from the honey and fruits such as juices, jams, and several different types of baked goods.

fionafinch2.jpgThere are a couple of things that make Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers different from other games of this type. For one thing, there are no timers in the main game, a level is finished when you reach all of the stated goals. The only hint of a timer the player will see is when special orders come in. Rather than just randomly gathering flowers or other goods for sale, a special order is for specific types of goods, and must be filled within a set time, or the customer goes away unhappy. These special orders are what really boost the income, giving the player necessary resources to purchase more upgrades to make the garden more efficient.

The best feature of this little gem is the player's ability to cross-breed certain types of flowers to create even more varieties, making the game feel a bit like the classic Plant Tycoon. In the sale shed is a machine that Fiona created which allows her to instantaneously cross-breed plants to see if they will create something new, which doesn't always happen. You begin with flowers provided by the judges, these are the only ones that can be crossed, and during all the watering, feeding, pruning, selling madness you can create beautiful new colors and varieties to add to your garden.

The learning curve is smooth and easy, beginning with the basics of space, a shovel, a few types of flowers, and a very helpful tutorial. Other gardening tools and extras are added slowly, allowing the player to incorporate them into the garden gradually rather than dumping everything on you at once. In the later levels where the area that Fiona has to work with is greater, movement around the space is accomplished by moving the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll around. Everything is accomplished with the click of a mouse, from placing objects to sending Fiona to water, cut, or deliver.

fionafinch3.jpgAnalysis: Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers is almost a cross between the Farm Frenzy games and Plant Tycoon. It lacks the, well, frenzy, of the farming sims while still being more action-oriented than Plant Tycoon, where waiting for flowers to grow could be like watching paint dry. A curious mix of relaxed and frantic, and it works beautifully.

Adding to the experience are the stunning visuals, from the backgrounds to the flowers, which look startlingly real and sway gently in the breeze. The cut-scenes have a much more hand-painted feel, and are as bright and vivid as the gardens. Special attention has been paid to the cute animations, whether it's the bees going about their daily business; the plant destroying insects descending; or Fiona herself, who, if you leave her standing around for too long, will wave at you to remind you that she's there to work. Calm music and realistic incidental sounds round out the experience.

If there is any downside to Fiona Finch and the Finest Flower, it is in the cross-breeding dynamic. Not every attempt will produce a new flower; and in the upper levels when you have a lot of varieties to breed from it can get a bit tedious trying to find the ones that will work. Fortunately there are also bonuses for filling out special orders in a timely manner that gift you with "recipes" for cross-breeds that will work. And, as stated previously, the story can get a bit... dramatic as it moves along.

Minor quibbles aside, there's a lot of fantastic casual gameplay here. Although there are only seven levels in story mode, each level takes progressively longer to complete, until a player might spend a couple of hours trying to complete all the goals. There's also a "free garden" mode, a more relaxed mode that allows you to have fun with any of the levels, creating imaginative plantings and just playing around with the pretty flowers.

Absorbing, engrossing, and hours and hours of fun await those who play Fiona Finch and the Finest Flower. Play as little or as much as you like, plan for efficiency or go nuts and create patterned, formal gardens. Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction from creating a lovely garden without the sunburn, dirt under your nails, or stinging insects. Just watch out for the weeds.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (24 votes)
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Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond

JohnBNick Chase has never had it easy. Finding jobs as a private investigator is tough, and frequenting every shady hideout in the city doesn't exactly bring a cheery spring to one's step. Plus, the poor guy can't keep his office tidy to save his life. With his first big job completed in Nick Chase: A Detective Story, our hard-boiled P.I. slips into his favorite bar to get out of the rain. Only then, things get interesting. A bit too interesting. So begins our gritty pal's latest hidden object/adventure hybrid, Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond.

Nick Chase and the Deadly DiamondBased on classic detective stories and graphic novels in both content and visual style, Nick Chase blends hidden object scenes, inventory puzzles, and lots of quick mini-games together into a seamless experience. Each scene is broken down into a number of puzzles and sub-scenes that must be solved before the story progresses. Using the mouse, you navigate the game with a few clicks here and there, zooming in on areas when the cursor switches to a magnifying glass and breaking out a hint bullet or two when you happen to get stuck.

You start in Nick's favorite bar where you receive a clay tablet with a strange image on the face. Butterfingers that you are, the thing slips out of your hands and shatters into pieces. The bartender isn't too happy and insists you clean the mess up. To gather all the fragments, you'll need to move objects out of the way, zoom in on a few areas to solve short hidden object scenes, and have a sharp pair of eyes. Need to clean up that trash you just spilled? Look for a broom, then click on it in your inventory to get to sweeping.

Current objectives are listed under a tab marked "TASK" at the bottom of the screen, though the game is so straightforward you probably won't have to check it very often. The story is told through a series of cutscenes complete with THUDs, WHACKs, and other appropriately over-the-top comic-style sounds. The cartoonish effects also make an appearance in the main game, lightening up the atmosphere of an otherwise dark game.

Nick Chase and the Deadly DiamondAnalysis: Just like the original game, Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond hits it out of the park with fantastic artwork and visual style. Few casual games manage to capture the feeling of a gritty detective graphic novel so well. The gameplay is no slouch, either, as the hidden object scenes are always short and easy, providing a perfect balance to the adventure-style main game. The whole thing is a remarkably enjoyable experience, a treat for your eyes and your brain.

When compared to its predecessor, Deadly Diamond seems a bit incomplete. For starters, the story doesn't feel as charged as the original, almost as if the dialogue didn't receive one last punch-up before it was inserted into the game. The humor and gritty setting are still present, but not as strongly as in the original game. Also, where's the voice acting? Nick is strangely silent in the sequel, effectively killing the noir feeling from the first game. It's rare when a game gets voice acting just right, but Nick Chase: A Detective Story hit it spot-on. I miss it.

Despite missing a few subtleties that made the first game so enjoyable, Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond follows strong in its footsteps. More mystery solving, more detective-ing, and more object finding.

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

JohnBAhem. Here we go Loopty Loo! Here we go Loopty Li! Here we go Loopty Loo! Because it's Weekend Download that you can possibly read on a Saturday night!

towerclimb.gifTower Climb (Windows, 18MB, free) - You! Climb that tower! Er... that cave-like tower! From the inside! TowerClimb is all about, yes, climbing. Up and up and up you go at a slow and precarious pace, working your way as high as you can in this endless, procedurally-generated tower. You can climb walls and ceilings as well as leap off platforms, but otherwise it's just you and your persistence that will get you to the top. Oh, and the items you can find and trade that give you some neat abilities.

sheep3.gifSheep (Windows, 1.4MB, free) - A simple, charming herding game that separates itself from the flock (oh, the wordplay!) with its finely-tuned level progression. As a little pup, the sheep naturally go where you go. Use this ability to move them into the green goal area on each stage. Once they're there, step out and the fence will pop up, securing them inside. Obstacles such as wolves and rivers are introduced later on, giving you just enough incentive to keep playing.

heartwildfree.jpgHeartwild Solitaire Classic (Mac/Win, 15.6MB, free) - Did you enjoy Heartwild Solitaire, the casual solitaire game from 2008? If so, or if you're just in love with card games, this nifty little redux will be perfect for you. Heartwild Solitaire Classic presents seven unlockable stories, all for the price of free, each obtainable by completing rounds of the classic solitaire game Klondike. The ambience and progressive story make it worth experiencing!

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (37 votes)
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Simplz: Zoo

JohnBSimplz: Zoo combines a match-3 puzzle game with a casual simulation for a new and compelling experience. Now, you may have heard that story before when Floating Kingdoms came along, but this one has a potent blend of the genres that interconnects so thoroughly, everything you do in one directly affects the other. The result is a game that elegantly moves you back and forth while giving you the freedom to customize the experience to your liking.

Simplz: ZooYour grandfather has left you his zoo and wants you to turn it into something special. That's easier said than done, as there's only one exhibit right now, and the rest is empty grass. No matter, you've got the skills and the time to make it happen! To draw in more people, you'll need new attractions and animals. To build those attractions, you need resources. And to earn resources, you play a match-3 game similar to Jewel Quest. Repeat until your zoo is awesome.

After fiddling about with the simulation portion of the game, you can click the "play" button to move on to the match-3 puzzle. Here you earn resources for your zoo by matching tiles: food for your animals, wood and money to build new attractions, and workers to help with the upkeep of it all. Once you complete the level's objectives, you head back to the simulation portion, new materials in hand.

While viewing your zoo, you really only need to worry about a few things. Most importantly, you need to bring in new visitors, and you do that by setting up new attractions and bringing in wild new animals. Pinch and drag to look around the place, and use the mouse [wheel] to zoom in and out. Use the icons at the bottom of the screen to check out things you can build and animals you can order, but most of these will be locked until you have the cash and have met the prerequisites for them.

The matching and simulation parts of the game have more to do with each other than a one-way resource train. New power-ups can be unlocked by adding certain animals to your zoo, and if you create the ape exhibit, for example, banana tiles you match provide three times the amount of food to your zoo. You'll also discover a surprising variety in the matching portion of the game, so much that it could practically stand on its own as a casual download.

Simplz: ZooHere's the best part: Simplz: Zoo never punishes you for experimenting. Don't like where you put the lizard exhibit? You can relocate it. Didn't mean to purchase that shrubbery? Sell it back at precisely the amount you paid for it. Decorating your zoo is as much a part of the game as the simulation and matching parts, and it's surprisingly fun arranging things on this tiny playground.

Analysis: Combining genres is nothing new to the casual world, but combining them in entertaining new ways is quite rare. Simplz: Zoo has found the sweet spot between the matching puzzle and casual simulation genres, connecting the two in a very logical and rewarding manner. Just about everything you do in the match-3 part of the game has an affect on the sim portion, and vice versa. No matter what you do, you're always improving your environment and providing new things for you to explore.

By far the biggest strength of Simplz: Zoo is its ease of use. The game is designed to encourage and entertain you, not provide a rigorous challenge or punish you for making certain decisions. You always have the feeling you're moving forward in this game, and that's something many gamers will greatly appreciate. You can also expect over 10 hours of gameplay, which is considerably more than many games are providing these days.

One area the game doesn't really break new ground in are the visuals. They look nice, of course, and zooming is handled with quite a bit of ease, but the characters are a bit stiff and uninteresting, and the buildings themselves look rather blocky and drab. It takes some of the stuffing out of customizing your zoo, but not enough to siphon any of the fun away.

Simplz: Zoo is the perfect example of how to combine casual gaming genres into a new and compelling experience. Both the match-3 and simulation aspects are well-balanced to provide a game that's not only easy to play, but rewarding no matter what you happen to be doing.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (114 votes)
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DanTheArcherGnopFrom time to time, we see twists and turns on our genre-based expectations of games in order to provide a new experience. You may have played through games "from the villains' side", and enjoyed many a cerebral treat meant to test our definition of what a game is, but how many games have you seen where the win conditions are literally inverted? What if hitting the ball in baseball was the norm, and the only way you could win is if you could find some way to score outs? While Super Unbaseball 2010 may still be in development, here's an intriguing switcharoo on an old classic to tide us over: Gnop, from the gaming minds of Bit Battalion.

The controls are just as simple as the game's progenitor; [Up] and [Down] arrows steer the ball, though, instead of the paddles. It's up to you to navigate the fearless pixel around those persistent paddles, and into the next area, where a pair of smarter, more adroit defenders await your arrival. [Esc] restarts the game, and [M] mutes the noise. Aside from that, there's nothing to it except making your way from one "zone" to the next and planning daredevil maneuvers to get the projectile around your rectangular adversaries.

The whole game is very minimalist in its presentation as well as its controls, although one can't help but wish that there was some sort of figurative pat on the back at the end of the game. (Or a literal one. I'm not picky about back pats.) Perhaps some other elements could have been added, like more levels or "power-ups" or the like. But then again, giving the player anything more than the core idea and its bare-bones display would stifle the simplicity of the whole package, which comes across as one of the game's greatest strengths. And in the end, there's actually solid replay value to boot; I've been coming back to play it whenever I have five minutes to spare. So whether you've got some time to kill or you just want to ponder the ramifications of un-games (I would be SO good at un-bowling), this is a neat little surprise that fits right into your coffee break.

Play Gnop


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraMerry Friday, gentle reader! I have a riddle for you. What do you get when you cross a goggle-eyed cow, a creep, a blob of paint, a genie, and medieval architecture? Either a lurching, stitched together monstrosity destined for a windmill and a pitchfork, or this week's Link Dump Friday! See, I asked the other reviewers what they thought you would like best, and while we all agreed a grappling hook with a built-in cotton candy dispenser and boomerang was pretty awesome, we ultimately decided that puzzles are safer and less likely to lead to criminal charges or property damage. So we've got a lot of puzzles for you to sharpen your brain on this week, and if you do well, we'll move you on to the next logical step for someone with your experience; Batman villain.

  • Zoo Escape 2Zoo Escape 2 - Some of you may be familiar with the original Zoo Escape. Some of you may also, understandably, be fans of its ridiculous and wonderful background tune. The sequel is virtually identical in every way, down to that funky (and crunky) audio, so if you thought the original needed another 30 levels of physics puzzles, rejoice! Although if these animals let themselves get captured and need rerescuing, you might want to rethink standing in the way of natural selection.
  • ShipWreckedShipWrecked - Another fine puzzle by the fine folks at SmartKit, only this time you're rearranging pictures to tell a story instead of assembling Mephistopheles' jigsaw puzzle. What happens when a shipwrecked sailor finds a genie in a bottle?... or, wait, no... is the sailor shipwrecked because of the genie? Hmmm. A mystery wrapped in an enigma wedged in a picture scramble! Sounds good and good for you to me.
  • FuliFuli - There's something vaguely hypnotic about this puzzle game that sees you filling different containers with different colours, but once you've played for five minutes, you've essentially seen all it has to offer. But its simple, sleepy presentation and zen-like gameplay are oddly addicting.
  • Wyzau Cricle Tower DefenseWyzau Circle Tower Defense - Not so much tower defense as screen defense, your goal here is to buy upgrades and towers to keep the enemy population on the screen below 100. That's right, it's mass creep-icide as your only objective. The presentation is a little rough'n'ready, but it's an interesting take on a genre that has been ground down to a fine powder. Although it falls prey to repetition, defense fans will likely keep themselves amused for a good while.
  • Cargo Bridge: Armor Games EditionCargo Bridge: Armor Games Edition - The tiny overall'd builders with the intimidating jaws are back. The Armor Games Edition doesn't add much to the established formula, but if you're a fan of sending men tottering across flimsy structures built over a fathomless abyss, chances are you stopped reading this one when you got to the title. I could say anything I wanted right now and you wouldn't care, would you? Time for me to go into my super villain monologue. Now, where did I put that embiggening ray... ?

  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (127 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Physics comic

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


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (64 votes)
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DoraVVVVFan of retro platformers? Enjoy challenge, pixels, and the stark inevitability of death? Then VVVV, a java demake of VVVVVV (that's two whole additional Vs, folks) is for you. Only without all that cumbersome story. Or dialogue. Or sound. Or a save function. Venture out into the great unknown to rescue your six stranded sidekicks to turn their frowns upside down. You can also put down the pitchforks, since the game was created with the blessing of source material author Terry Cavanagh. Sorry folks, this meeting of Angry Mob Weekly is canceled.

Control is easy, using the [arrow] keys to move, and the up [arrow], [space], or [V] key to flip your character's gravity, sending him flying towards the ceiling or the floor, depending on where he is at the time. You can also view a map by tapping [M]. The game keeps track of your time, how many crew members remain to be saved, and, of course, how many times you die. Which you will. Likely quite a bit. The only things you have to worry about are spikes, which are instantly fatal and will force you to respawn at the last checkpoint you touched, and certain bits of the terrain, which will happily drop or catapult you into said spikes. Other than that, it's just you, a bunch of stranded crew-mates, and the great outdoors. (The role of the great outdoors here being played by the fathomless black void of space.)

Just because there's a lack of oddly symbolic enemies in this incarnation doesn't mean the experience will be easy, however. The map doesn't display the locations of any crew-mates you may have stumbled across, but been unable to rescue, so those of us with a poor memory are going to be doing some interstellar Marco Polo as we search. But for some the biggest issue is definitely going to be the lack of a save function. If you don't have the time to complete it all in one sitting, or have experienced that miracle of nature known as the rage-quit, VVVV forces you to restart all over from the beginning every time you close your browser window.

While not as complex as its source material, VVVV is still an impressive little creation that will provide a meaty feast of devious platforming for some, and a challenging exercise for others. If you can beat the game in under 100 seconds and/or less than 10 deaths as the author challenges you, make sure you tell me all about it. Your hands will go nicely in a jar of preserving fluids on my library wall.

Play VVVV


  • Currently 2.9/5
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Rating: 2.9/5 (103 votes)
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GrinnypHormina EscapeThe world of an ant is a scary, dangerous place. All you want to do is get home to the safety of the anthill, but there are a multitude of dangers out there; ravenous predators, impossible chasms, careless humans, and a whole host of other dangers for a single member of the family formicidae who only wants to go home. At least, this is the premise for the charming new point-and-click game Hormiga Escape.

Designed by Federico Rutenberg, creator of the Esklavos series, Hormiga Escape is a short but fun little game that involves getting the titular hero home before he is eaten, drowned, crushed, or otherwise mangled by his environment. Not exactly an escape so much as a point-and-click adventure boiled down to a few quick minutes of gameplay. There's no changing scenery here, the ant is at the lower right of the screen and he wants to get to the anthill at the upper left. Simple.

Use the hand-shaped cursor to pick up or manipulate objects, or to nudge the little Hormiga (Spanish for ant) along. The only problem is the stubborn ant won't move forward if there's a deadly obstacle in the way, so it is up to you, brave gamer, to neutralize the danger so our little six-legged friend can make it home and live to menace picnics another day.

Hormiga Escape is one of those quirky little games that are easy on the eyes and the brain, a fun bite-sized little break from the day. With its lovely graphics, little animations, and kicking jazzy soundtrack (and even background and incidental noises as well), this shows that a lot of effort went into this amusing little adventure. There's not a lot of game here, but what there is is casual gameplay done right. Simple, elegant, easy on the eyes, and over quickly, Hormiga Escape is the perfect little gem to go with your early morning coffee, a quick five-minute workout for your brain to kick start the day. What are you waiting for? Help your little friend get home!

Play Hormiga Escape


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (259 votes)
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DoraVampire FeverIn every generation there is a chosen one. He alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. He is... the ninja virus delivery system known as Viro in Vampire Fever, the physics/puzzle game of billiards and ghoulies from Umut Dervis. ... what? You were expecting some petite blonde chick or something? Pfft. It turns out that when nightmarish nasties are on the prowl, who you should call is Viro, a ninja capable of spreading a deadly virus through touch that can dispatch the baddies with ease. Just as long as you're good at shooting pool.

Curing the undead is a pretty simple process at first glance. Click and hold on Viro, then pull back to select the angle and power of your shot. When you release the button, Viro will go flying. Any healthy creatures he comes in contact with will become "infected", and you need to infect them all to pass each level. An infected creature will transmit the disease to any healthy monsters it touches, but if two infected touch, they cure each other. You only have a certain number of shots to pull this off. There are 120 levels to hone your monster-mashing skills in, along with a special challenge mode, and a level editor to create your own challenges.

120 levels is a lot. Like, a lot. I almost feel as though Vampire Fever could have been half as long, and been better for it. A large chunk of the levels feel like unnecessary padding, and you can go quite a while before you see a new creature or obstacle to change things up. And while some of the those creatures do force you to think strategically, inevitably most of us will probably fall back on that old stand-by "wildly firing off in every direction and hoping for the best". Still, the game is undeniably charming and clever, with a unique take on the game of pool that will definitely test both your skills, and your skillz. If the adorable aesthetic and quirky presentation woos you, you'll probably enjoy every victory as you conquer that massive edifice of physics/puzzle goodness. Just hope you like pink.

Play Vampire Fever


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (46 votes)
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JamesHostile SpawnWhen the UFE loses contact with the Hammerhead, a spaceship sent to check out a distress call on a distant planet, guess who is sent to investigate? Yes, you, space marine! So lock and load — chances are good you will be facing more than a few Hostile Spawn.

Hostile Spawn does not carve a new genre. The whole "send a military-type out to fight hostile alien creatures from another world" bit has been done a few times before (Aliens, Starship Troopers), but, really, does that matter so much? Taken from a top-down view, you control the marine with directional keys (typically the [WASD] keys) and manage firepower with the mouse. Recently, the addictive Robokill 2 set the benchmark for this kind of game, so how does Hostile Spawn fare? It's worth comparing the two, even though fans of the one will enjoy the other, they are quite different games.

In Robokill, you eradicate aliens for the sake of space colonial peace room by room. In Hostile spawn, you explore the entire base. It is much more objective-driven: find a computer, blow up a reactor, etc. After accomplishing the level objectives, you make your way back to the elevator and a floor deeper into the infestation (in the event of taking out a reactor, you run). Initially the ship, which serves more as a prelude, has to be cleared, then you hit the planet and dash to the facilities. It's no surprise that those places are also overrun and need some bug removal. To do the job you use weapons and ammo you find in the levels, as opposed to Robokill's shop system. There is also no upgrading, just ranks you achieve as you stack up kill points.

Analysis: Hostile Spawn's pros outweigh its cons, but it's not an outright win. This is a fun game, no doubt about it, and a bit more fleshed-out than most of its peers. Visually it stands out, thanks to its use of Java to give it a bit more power (though Flash Alchemy could achieve the same results) and there is something about the old-school aesthetics, such as an armory that includes shotguns, railguns and rocket launchers, that makes this an engaging experience. It's not very easy, either, because there aren't any health packs lying around (despite their appearance in the help menu) and dying means you restart the level, regardless of the objectives you had achieved.

Hostile SpawnOn the downside, you pretty much do the same thing over and over again. With the exception of the planet surface, all the maps feel the same, the monotony only broken by increasing signs of alien stuff growing against walls and minor variations in the facility decor. Fortunately the loaded atmosphere keeps you far too busy peeking around corners and trying to stay alive to really bother writing a pithy letter to Home Decor Monthly — but some more variation across the ten levels would have been nice. Once again we can compare to Robokill, which also changed its decor about as often as a government office, but that game was not focused on exploration. Hostile Spawn is, which is perhaps why it also has very few enemy variations. You need to go through quite a few levels before you see something other than the monsters that keep attacking you. As with the decor survival is more important than cataloging the invaders, but when both are static it can get a bit samey.

The game does a good job using dark areas and hidden corridors to keep our marine on his toes, while distant screams from the aliens alert you of their approach. The sound design is great and the weapons in particular are very satisfying, not to mention the eerie ambient soundtrack that fades in and out. If a final comparison has to be made, The Robokill series is firmly rooted in arcade traditions, whereas Hostile Spawn is a slightly more cerebral horror experience. This ends up being its vindication: you forgive its repetition and lackluster enemy roster because it blankets itself in a nice atmosphere.

Ultimately Hostile Spawn is a safe game: it has a lot of good ideas that it executes very well, but it keeps innovation trim and feels a bit shallow. That said, it is well worth playing through once and if the developers add a bit more spice to hint at what the expansion can deliver, I'd more tempted to consider the recently-added commercial expansion.

Play Hostile Spawn


  • Currently 3.4/5
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Rating: 3.4/5 (133 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypFor what is basically a very narrow category of gaming, room escape games can run the gamut of experiences. They can be epic, multi-layer challenges wrapped up in a small space that can take hours or days to solve, or they can be tiny, quick gems that are over in a few minutes. What makes a good game is not the length or the size, but the experience involved. This week's game is on the light end of the spectrum, a game that can be solved fairly quickly but still gives good value for the experience. Welcome to Matiawase by Bianco-Bianco. It's Weekday Escape Time!

grinnyp_matiawase_screenshot.jpgIs this really an escape game? Well, you are trying to find your way around and perhaps out of the space, but as with First Love (co-created with Robamimi) Matiawase is more of an emotional experience. The nameless protagonist of this little room (space station? space ship?) appears more to be searching for someone rather than looking for a way out. Of course, the title of the game tells us this, as it is the word (machiawaseru, in Japanese) for rendezvous. This mood is heightened by found objects, each of which has a little phrase written on it. Is this a search for companionship? An emotional journey? Pointless teenage angst? The experience will be subjective, and dependent on the gamer's own perceptions as they wind their way through the corridors.

Bars that appear at the side of the screen will turn the player right or left, but bars at the bottom of the screen will either back you up from a close up or turn you around 180 degrees, a dynamic that can take a little getting used to. Fortunately, there is a handy little map at the lower right of the screen, highlighting which area of the L-shaped space you are facing. Play around for a few minutes and you will get used to the strange movement. Although there are a few puzzles, this game is mostly use of found objects and combinations thereof. There's a handy changing cursor to point out areas of interest, but there is still a little pixel hunting involved as you must sweep the area to find the clickable points of interest or objects.

Analysis: The space you are wandering around in appears to be...well, in space. The look and feel is that of a space station, or a ship, with interesting futuristic design and technology all around. Other than looking good in a nicely rendered 3D way, though, the location is rather incidental to the emotional story that appears to be taking place. The lack of a musical accompaniment only adds to the illusion of being somewhere where no-one can hear you scream. It's not completely silent, since there are appropriate sound effects to be had, but the overall feel is one of melancholy, or perhaps emptiness. Although this is a Japanese game, there is an English translation; you just have to remember to click the "English" button before you begin. Odd for such a small game, there is a save option, which can come in handy if you wish to go back and attempt to find the second ending. Yes, two endings, one happy, one sad, and each dependent upon the player's actions within the game.

This is not, perhaps, Bianco-Bianco's best. The strange navigation and somewhat choppy story detract a little from what is otherwise a fun escaping experience. The action required to get the happy ending is somewhat non-intuitive as well. Despite the flaws, though, there is still fun to be had. Just don't bother screaming in frustration, because, you know, space and all.

Some games are the equivalent of a multi-course feast, something that takes a while and must be spread out over a certain amount of time. Matiawase is more the equivalent of an hors d'oeuvre or an amuse-bouche, casual gameplay that is small and over quickly, but delicious nonetheless, and leaving you wanting more. Short, sweet, and sentimental, Matiawase is still an entertaining little escape from the everyday. Perfect for playing during a short break or using as an excuse to take a short break, something that will transport you away from reality for a few short minutes, a perfect cure for the mid-week and mid-winter blahs.

Play Matiawase


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (65 votes)
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DanTheArcherFortune Hunter: Wrath of AnubisYou really have to feel bad for ancient rulers of empires past. It's like, they stow every last artifact, relic, and jeweled chalice into gilded tombs just to keep them safe for the trip to the underworld, but they may as well just put a big, gleaming bullseye in the scarab motif on the front door. There will always be some ne'er-do-well, Stetson-clad treasure hunter with a glint of gold in their eye who can read five dead languages for no apparent reason and has their spelunking boots all laced up. Prepare for an adventure alongside one such hero in the latest platformer from JFlashGaming, Fortune Hunter: Wrath of Anubis.

The controls and setup are pretty much standard fare for a game of this type. Use the [arrow] keys to move, [space] to jump, tapping it again in the air to double-jump, and the [up] and [down] arrows to open doors and chests respectively. There's also some wall-jumping action involved, which is explained by the game when you'll need it. Other mechanics and the like will be explained as you explore level after level, trouncing baddies and collecting golden idols that allow you to move from one leg of the tomb to the next.

Platforming in this game is fairly tight, although occasionally the wall-jumping won't operate as smoothly as you'd like. There's also a brief learning curve in jumping on enemies' heads; the hit box is right on their insidious craniums, so make sure you bop them there and nowhere else. Once you're past those hiccups, however, the action's top-notch, and some of the trickier chests will require all of your platforming skill to locate. There's all manner of deadly traps and marauding mummies to keep you on your toes, and the retro-esque adventure style ought to keep you entertained for however long you decide to hunt for your fortune.

Play Fortune Hunter: Wrath of Anubis


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (98 votes)
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joyepulsus.gif What makes a game relaxing? Despite featuring a large quantity of whizzing, brightly-colored particles and a constantly counting down timer, Pulsus somehow manages to be a game I'd like to pick up and play at o'dark hundred while sipping a cup of herbal tea until I get sleepy again.

In this puzzle game, an emitter is releasing particles of different colors. You cannot manipulate the particles directly, but using the mouse, you can place circles called "forces" onto the field to direct particles into the goals. You win the level when all the goals are filled. Some goals are colored, and only fill up when hit by particles of their own color; for these levels, you need to use colored forces which attract particles of one color and repel all other colors.

Analysis: Pulsus will doubtlessly be compared to Auditorium. The superficial resemblance is quite strong: manipulating streams to hit targets, with sleek graphics and sounds and a relaxing mood. After playing both games, however, it's clearly only a skin deep similarity. The strategies for solving the puzzles of one game would be completely useless in the other.

Pulsus' strength, its primary entertainment value, is in the way the visuals, the chimes in the audio, and the trial-and-error, sit-back-and-watch puzzle solving combine for a meditative gaming experience. So, why is there a timer? The big purpose of timers in gaming is to add tension. It's like I was lying on a massage table, smelling incense, listening to water flowing over stones, totally relaxed, and all of a sudden the therapist drips cold massage oil into the small of my back. Mood broken, and it totally could have been avoided!

Although I more-or-less sailed through the levels, I had a rough time with the final one. I couldn't even get any of the left hand goals half-way full. In frustration, I even wrote to the developer to ask what the strategy was for that level. So, I may not be an expert at the game, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Despite the timer, Pulsus has still earned a place among the tiny coterie of games I turn to for relaxation. A massage is lovely, even with a little cold shock.

Play Pulsus

(And then tell me how to beat the last level.)


  • Currently 4.3/5
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Rating: 4.3/5 (168 votes)
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Patrickwhere we remain screenshotWhere We Remain, the debut offering of Twofold Secret, is a quiet game. It has the allure of that person sitting across the room that you make eye contact with but never speak to, or of the woods that taunted you as a child. It is also an action adventure game of exploration in a randomly generated world. You're a lost youth stranded on a haunted island in the Aegean Sea, searching for your lost love among the ruins of a wasted civilization stalked by mysterious spirits. Twofold Secret borrows the formula from another popular action adventure game and brings back the sense of curiosity and loneliness, and with panache.

[Arrow] keys move you around in all directions, reliable as they have ever been. There are no other controls. The whole game is based on the arrow keys in the same way that drinking water is based simply on swallowing. You find yourself alone on a vast island, messages and flowers are strewn about, caves dot the cliff sides, and unspeakable phantoms stalk the plains, causing the wind to shudder and the earth to tremble. Inside the caves are power-ups (10 in all) and notes left over from a missing lover that you desperately have to find, and let's not forget the shades of the dead who banish you outside when you lack flower petals to ward them off. Eventually you will find your true love, but perhaps not in the way you had imagined.

where we remain screenshot 2Analysis: The authors, Chris Klimas and Joel Haddock, have taken the traditional exploration dynamic of the Zelda series and created something the original Legend of Zelda had but its myriad successors lacked: a sense of free exploration fused with solitude. Somehow, most action-adventure games fell to the lure of putting you on rails, and when they did you lost the sense of being alone in a haunted world. Your hands were held between power-ups and boss battles, a simulated adventure rather than an adventure simulator. Now, after years of indie games re-making the platformer genre, we're starting to see exploration games get the same treatment, Where We Remain is a glorious rallying shot.

One thing I really love about this game, moreso than other "artsy" fare that we've seen in the past few years, is that it doesn't try to shove any messages down your throat. It respects your subjectivity enough to let you draw your own conclusions and, more importantly, to let you own the sense of discovery when you tease out each of the secret endings. The freedom in the gameplay reflects this austerity, you get to play and the artistic aspects that the authors so lovingly imbued are there if you want them, there's no forcing of your hand. Fitting that, the game is randomly generated each time you play, so the core task of exploration never gets fully exhausted. The lack of any music makes the sound effects stand out, the building of the changing winds, then the tremors, followed by the "baaaaannn" that alerts you to imminent danger, it follows a primal procession from childhood nightmares where we would turn off the dream-lights in our dream-kitchen and summon the ghosts we feared. The randomization of the island, with its never-ending well of imperfect information, keeps these chases fresh, and there really is something at stake in these encounters: you could lose your entire progress. The lack of music also underscores a sense of apprehension when you aren't under pressure, you're left to wonder at why you're doing these things, like the horse-riding segments of Shadow Of The Colossus but with gameplay. These are just a sample of the subtle details that make this game a holistic whole.

If you find yourself still sitting in the chair you were in before reading this review, congratulations, because I'm still in the same chair after writing it, these chairs are Where We Remain.

Play Where We Remain


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (52 votes)
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JamesPolar PWNDThe penguins have declared war on the polar bears, leaving it up to you, a loyal Ursus Maritimus soldier in a sled, to topple the enemy and stop their master plan! Physics, building game Polar PWND is all about placing objects to guide the bear down the slopes, across treacherous waters, and to the penguin-populated goal.

Presented in a cartoony world where penguins wear helmets and walruses chug away at bottles of vodka, you have to guide a sliding bear towards the a bunch of enemy penguins loitering at the other side of the screen. To achieve this feat you are equipped with ramps, bombs and mines. Ramps, as you would think, send the polar bear soldier off an angle. A well-placed bomb can propel said soldier at higher speeds, while mines blow the bear high into the air. Bombs and mines do not detonate until the bear touches them, so the trick is to arrange all these elements correctly to create a perfect penguin-colliding chain reaction.

Adding a bit of spice is the ability to rotate the ramps, plus Polar PWND doesn't really stick a limit on how many of what you can place, bucking the trend of most similar games that use such limitations to increase the difficulty. This means, technically, that you could simply force your way through some levels by just scattering a lot of mines and hoping for the best, but that does take the elegance out of your victory. Instead, some trial and error lets you tweak out the perfect sequence of ramps and explosions to get to the goal.

Analysis: First remark — this is a pretty short game and should not take you more than an hour or so to get through. It has ten levels, excluding the four tutorial stages, and none are particularly difficult. A bit of lateral thought quickly makes a solution obvious, though I have to admit one or two levels were completed with a bit of luck. Like all physics games there is a level of randomness on how the sliding bear reacts to a slide and explosion, though far, far less than anything I have played before. In fact, deviating from its usual response to a setup was the exception to the rule, thanks to a pretty solid physics engine.

This, combined with the easy means to change setups — you restart a puzzle without resetting your arrangement, allowing you to make slight tweaks — means the trial-and-error process is very painless. There are some tricky levels, one involving a sinking ark and another required a precise downward slide for success, but nothing that slams the brakes on you. So overall it's quite painless and though the levels show a lot of potential, Polar PWND never ups the ante. Don't misunderstand: it's a lot of fun to play, but there is much more potential here (no doubt something we will see in the sequel hinted at the end).

Where it does score highly is in the presentation. The artwork is great, though for some reason it forces low quality graphics, which is kinda obvious and sadly cannot be changed — an attempt at McGuyvering some performance improvement? The character design stands out most, though more useless comments from the swaying bottle-brandishing Walrus would have been nice.

Polar PWND comes off like a really good prequel to something bigger, instead of an entire game. In fact, I suspect it is a flashy tech demo for Orbit's physics script, in which case it does a really good job and a fun way to kill a little bit of time without completely knotting your synapses.

Play Polar PWND


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (208 votes)
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DoraI RemainHey, brah! It's a zombie apocalypse, and you know what that means! It's time to paaaaaaaaaaar-tay! We'll hold the kegger and set up the water slide next to the inflatable bouncy fort. You run into an abandoned house, barricade yourself inside, and then realise your lack of supplies means you'll have to use your point-and-click skills to find a route to safety. What? You don't think that's fair? Sorry, couldn't hear you over this rockin' party. It's okay, developers Atomic Cicada have created a handy guide to just such a situation in I Remain. Those guys are prepared for everything.

Navigate your way through the house by clicking when a yellow arrow pops up on screen when you mouse over an area. You can pick items up or investigate the scene further simply by clicking on it. Once an item is in your inventory, you can sometimes make new items simply by clicking on one item, then on the item you want to combine it with. If you want to take a break because your real world concerns take precedence over pixelated survival, then I suppose you can save your game by clicking on the floppy disk icon in the upper left corner, which would let you load your save by clicking "Continue" on the title screen when you came back. Sometimes I doubt your commitment to the zombie apocalypse. No, don't apologise. It's too late for that. *sniff!*

Analysis: While it is a solid title, what I Remain needs most is an infusion of story, or at the very least some action. The game will probably take you less than half an hour to complete, if that, and most of that is spent going back and forth with no real sense of urgency or menace. After a while it stops feeling like you're holed up in fear of the living dead, and more like you're just tottering around the house performing pesky repairs, like a post-apocalyptic Bob Vila. You find notes left behind by someone with the curious tendency of writing down their every thought and action, but they're lacking in any real personality. Either the previous occupant was Keanu Reeves, or the game missed an opportunity to inject some real atmosphere into the experience.

As it stands, I Remain is a good but brief game that ends with a cliffhanger of sorts, indicating future installments of apocalyptic adventure. Atomic Cicada is more known for its cutesy puzzle games than anything else, and this tentative step into new territory feels like a step in the right direction. With a striking aesthetic and mostly logical, if occasionally overcomplicated, puzzles, it's a perfect way to get a li'l dead in your day.

Play I Remain


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7th Casual Gameplay Design Competition

Just a quick reminder that there is just 1 week left until the deadline for our 7th Casual Gameplay Design Competition. It is a very special competition that will feature one-room games of interactive fiction incorporating the theme of "ESCAPE". See the official competition announcement for all the details.

The Prizes

  • 1st place:
    • $1,000
  • 2nd place:
    • $500
  • 3rd place:
    • $250

Judging
If you wish to be a judge, we have a set of rules that you must adhere to. Please see the official competition announcement for rules and information on how to request to be added to the judges list.

Sponsors
We thank our sponsors for their kind support:
CGDC7 sponsorsCasual GameplayArmor Games


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Mobile Monday

JohnBTumbledrop! The most smilinglyest game ever made, with more grins per geometric shape than an LOLboxfactory, has made a surprise appearance on the iPhone. Quick! Must get star to platform!

tumbledrop.gifTumbledrop - Remember that good ole' Unity-based physics puzzle game we featured back in late 2008? Well, the too-cute Tumbledrop has now grown up and shrunk down, stuffing all those smiling shapes into an iPhone app. Tap pieces to cause them to disappear, gently lowering the star to the platform without tipping it into the sea. See, how easy was that? Oh, not so easy, huh? But fun. Very fun. The free Tumbledrop Lite is also available.

catchme.gifCatchMe! if you can - Thieves in video games like to gather loot, correct? And guards like to chase them. Now, instead of playing one or the other, you alternate between being thief and guard! Gather gold as the thief and, when you inevitably get nabbed, you become a guard. Guards have three different abilities you can choose from, and as soon as you nab the thief, it's back to lootin'. Unfortunately the game forces you to constantly switch from portrait to landscape mode, which is frustrating, and the controls feel cramped and backwards. But, if you can overlook those faults (which we hope will be remedied in a future update), you'll find a solid action game with a neat twist. CatchMe! if you can free is also available.

beespelled.jpgBee Spelled - A simple but captivating word game that plays like Boggle where the words you spell help you fight enemies. Naturally, the longer the word, the more damage you do, and special colored tiles can heal you, freeze enemies, set them on fire, and more. If you've ever played Bookworm Adventures, Bee Spelled plays like a simplified version of that game's combat system. It isn't the most polished or fluid game on the app store, but it's cute, quirky, and lots of fun.

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (27 votes)
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Solium Infernum

AlexeiIt's every young Infernal Princeling's dream: round up some Legions, grab a couple of Places of Power, maybe an Unholy Artifact or two, and see your enemies fall before you on the road to conquest. Eventually, you end up Top Dog of the Underworld, a mover and shaker in the Sunless Realms. Of course, no one ever explained to you the endless intricacies of Hellish Politics, the constant demand for tribute, the complexities of the management of a properly demonic estate. You thought that ascending (descending?) to the Throne of Hell was going to be easy? Solium Infernum will make you think again.

soliuminfernum.jpgSolium Infernum is a turn-based strategy game of infernal conquest from Cryptic Comet that emphasizes a deep, rich, turn-based system to deliver an incredibly complex and flexible strategic experience. It has sort of a Risk-meets-Dante's-Inferno flavor to it. Unfortunately, all that depth and richness comes at the expense of some usability and clarity issues: this is definitely not a "casual" game. Forget "diving right in," because just getting a character off the ground is a challenge, and the lack of a tutorial doesn't help matters. Of course, the 30+ page manual is a good place to start...

The first aspect to the game is character creation. Players can use one of the two default avatars provided, but it's worth going through the character creation process to get a sense of what's available. Avatars buy statistics like Military Prowess, Wickedness, or Charisma from a pool of points. They can also spend those points on traits that give them bonuses in certain situations, or take flaws that will give them more points to spend. Players who are just getting into the game are advised to invest heavily in "Charisma," because it increases the amount of tribute you get, and thus the amount of stuff you can buy.

Once you actually get into the game, you'll see that you control one Legion and one Stronghold. Your Stronghold is your home-base, and if you lose it you'll lose the game, so make sure it's protected if you're in conflict with any of the other players. Your Legion is your basic military unit, but it's probably pretty weak. Play proceeds with players giving up to six orders per turn (players start only being able to give two orders per turn, but will gain the ability to give more orders later.) Orders are given on specific phases, and then are resolved first-in-first-out, which occasionally means that other players will preempt your orders and render them moot. (For example, if Player 1 gives an order to move a Legion on phase 2, he will lose that order if Player 2 has given an order to bribe that Legion on phase 1.)

soliuminfernum.jpgProbably the most important order in Solium Infernum is "Demand Tribute" which causes your minions to go out and collect random bits of resources for you. At the beginning of the turn after you give the "Demand Tribute" order, you'll get to pick through your minions' findings and chose the resource cards you want. You can spend these resource cards to bid on Praetors or Artifacts (which can be added to Legions to make them stronger,) as well as cast Rituals, bribe Legions, buy up your own statistics, etc., etc., etc. Really, the variety of possibilities is dizzying, and without a clear sense of what it is that you're trying to do, the game can quickly get confusing.

Analysis: It's a shame that Solium Infernum has so much trouble communicating goals and game-flow to the player, because it obscures the fact that Solium Infernum is an excellent game. There are three different paths to victory: win by politics, by force, or by some clever chicanery. There are literally hundreds of strategies that a player might try to implement to see their way to any of the individual victory conditions.

The political system, for example, is beautifully developed. Most basically, it forces players to chose between giving other players Prestige (victory points) or allowing those players to declare Vendetta on them. Vendetta is a state where players are allowed to steal territory from or use destructive rituals on one another, but the player who has declared Vendetta must claim a goal (destroy a Legion, capture a Place of Power, etc.,) and a number of turns, and is punished if he can't complete the terms of the Vendetta in time. Dedicated strategy players are, no doubt, already contemplating the possibilities for bluffs, blinds, and betrayals that a system like this makes possible, and this is really only scratching the surface of the possibilities inherent in the system.

Part of Solium Infernum's problem is visual. It's not much to look at, and while the art direction is very strong, the game's palate of muted grays, blacks, and reds gets a little monotonous at times. The menu systems in the game are very basic, and often a little confusing, and the game's habit of working confirmation buttons into intricate scroll-worked window borders means that they get lost easily, which can prove frustrating. Better visual design could have gone a long way to letting players understand the flow of the game, and the absence of a tutorial in a game this complex is positively diabolical.

That said, if you are looking for a deep, complex, turn-based game of back-stabbing, power-grabbing, and turn-trumping, then look no further than Solium Infernum, because it's got pretty much everything you could possibly want. If possible, play the game with some friends via e-mail to get the best experience possible, as the AI in this game can be somewhat lacking. Oh, and be sure to read the manual, otherwise Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. Seriously.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (27 votes)
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Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy

JamesThe plucky teenage detective Nancy Drew is back! Hired to investigate a series of strange notes and shady goings-on of academic sabotage and general intimidation of top students at the exclusive boarding school Waverly Academy, Nancy has to uncover the identity of the mysterious Black Cat before another girl gets hurt. Or worse, the school gets sued!

Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly AcademyNancy, if you are not familiar with this icon of teenage literature, is a detective who has been solving mysteries in pulp form since the 30s. She has been the star of 175 books, which makes her more prolific than pretty much any other literary character I can think of. Her games, perhaps not incidentally, share a similar trend, with over 20 in the series since the late 90s, each from the same developer, Her Interactive. Surely that's a record of some kind!

Warnings at Waverly Academy follows a familiar formula that combines puzzle-solving with NPC conversations that uncover new leads to follow, as well as mini-games for variation. No hidden object scenes here (though, oddly enough, I was expecting some... maybe the students are just very neat?). It's pure puzzle/adventure gaming as Nancy wanders about talking to people. Along the way you find items that are useful later in the game, such as journals and notes to read, keys to unlock doors, etc.

The part of the school Nancy investigates houses students aiming for Valedictorian, which comes with a fully-paid college scholarship. Yet these boffins all seem to lump their projects onto you (at least two puzzles involve taking photos for a website). But all those favours are returned, usually with an item useful to tackle one of the game's rather hair-pulling puzzles. Tying all of this together are rather fun and the fully-voiced conversations have a lot of charm, all contributing to a fairly interesting story.

Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly AcademyAnalysis: Instead of a mystery-themed whodunnit, Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly Academy is a hardcore puzzle adventure game. If you're familiar with Nancy's previous outings, this might not be a surprise, but newcomers should expect less of a point-and-click adventure and something more reminiscent of the old Myst games: static screens with limited animation and plenty of pretty mind-bending puzzles. Waverly Academy's puzzles are hard, and if you don't agree, perhaps you should stop playing games and use your super-powers on something else, like solving world hunger or making Pluto a planet again.

But the puzzles are not particularly lateral, which is a bit of a blessing. Instead they are demanding on detail and take a bit of intuition to get on the right path. For example, one puzzle involves a piano — the notes to play are easy to find, but where they fit on the keyboard is not. This took a combination of finding a journal as well as searching the school library database for a book on piano music (not to mention locating the book). Once I had all of that, it was a matter of putting all the relevant information together to tackle the puzzle, which then became a painstaking process of trial and error. A lot of the puzzles test your patience and the game is a bit coy at giving hints. It is satisfying when you figure something out, but at times it can feel like a chore.

That said, I have to be mindful that this is game 21 and Waverly Academy certainly does not want to shortchange its long-time fans. Its challenging nature is a reasonable expectation. There are two difficulty settings, but these do not appear to alter the puzzles. Instead, Junior Detectives get a notebook with a 'to do' list you can consult whenever you are not sure about your options. Oddly the notebook does not auto-tick stuff you've already done, but I suppose it serves as an incentive to keep consulting it (or maybe it exists to remind you how much you are NOT Nancy Drew).

Nancy Drew: Warnings at Waverly AcademyThere are some diversions in the mini games. You can play air hockey, which operates just like the real thing, or partake in a game of darts. My personal favourite was the lunch game, where you have to fill the daily lunch orders by arranging breads, cheeses, meats, juices and other stuff accordingly. The monotony of school life is also interrupted by gossip texts on your mobile phone, though these often work in tandem with the story and open new avenues in chat trees with the various girls you meet.

The actual conversations are rather fun (but not skippable) and the character animations, though at times a bit stiff, are engaging. I got to like some of the characters, no doubt aided by some top-notch voice acting that the cast clearly enjoyed doing. Attention to detail is pretty clear, especially the animations and effects of a growing blizzard outside are handled. It has no impact on the story and could easily have been kept simple, but the team at Her Interactive are clearly not lazy or resting on their laurels. They enjoyed making this game, even within the confines of limited presentation and location change.

This adventure might feel a bit stoic in comparison with previous games, as the interiors of Waverly are not particularly appealing or exotic. It would have been nice to have more locations than the dorm Nancy lives in and a handful of hidden or outside locations. Likewise, despite the acting and such, the story is rather dry and eventually you get a bit annoyed with the petty politics that rule the students' lives. The conclusion was also a bit unsatisfactory: in the end you do not really solve the mystery of the Black Cat, but instead a whole different situation that happens to let the villain reveal themselves (though if memory serves, this was largely the formula of both Nancy and the Hardy Boys' books; Mystery Machine riding hippies these kids were not).

But it all serves as a means to an end — and the end are those puzzles. The payoff of the story seems a bit floaty and pointless, so unless you are a keen fan of the novels, the only appeal here lies with solving diabolical brainteasers. I ended up really enjoying Warnings at Waverly Academy, but more than once I felt I bit off more than I could chew. It paid off, though: I can now count in Roman Numerals and I make a mean cheese and lettuce bagel.

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


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Rating: 4.1/5 (29 votes)
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rhiannaford-b.jpg

GrinnypAh, Rome, the eternal city! Full of monuments, fountains, corrupt antiquities dealers, suspicious police, anonymous thugs, trash strewn alleys... what, you thought it would be all about the art? In Rhianna Ford & the Da Vinci Letter, a fun new hidden object/adventure hybrid by Green Clover Games, it's all about the back alleys. And hotel rooms. And closets. And...

Rhianna Ford & The Da Vinci LetterThe game begins as the titular Rhianna gets a phone call from her impatient and, frankly, rather nasty boss telling her she needs to fly to Rome to authenticate a rare find: a letter from Leonardo himself (the artist, not the ninja turtle). Rhianna would rather not, as her beloved husband disappeared there only a year ago, but the boss is having none of that. So, off she flies, authenticating the letter just in time to have it stolen right from under her nose, apparently by her lab assistant . Now the head of the Antiquities department thinks Rhianna herself set up the robbery, her hotel room has been plundered, and there's lots more trouble afoot. What's an antiquities expert to do? Especially as she begins to find clues that her husband was not, in fact, missing...

As each scene opens a task list appears, letting the player know what needs to be accomplished. First and foremost are the hidden object scenes, finding everything on a provided list, some of which will go into the inventory and become helpful later. A portrait present in the scene represents someone to talk to who will be helpful in moving the story along. Also occasionally hidden in the scenes are clues or mini-games which advance Rhianna to her next destination. You can move between some of the scenes using a handy map, but that movement is limited until objects are found or mini-games solved. Sparkles and a changing cursor will indicate areas to be investigated closer or mini-games or puzzles as well.

The hidden objects scenes are done very well, with less of the "clutter" and more of the insidious "hiding in plain sight" method of making the items hard to find. Although some things you are looking for are useful for later, and others are useful for the appointed task, there's still a lot of "extraneous" items you'll be looking for as well. Fortunately there's a refilling hint timer to help out when the eyesight fails. The mini-games and puzzles have a filling skip feature, allowing you to skip them after a certain period of time. Quite nicely, the hint feature is still enabled during many of the games, allowing gentle hints rather than just forcing the choice of playing with no help or skipping the game entirely.

Rhianna Ford & The Da Vinci LetterAnalysis: In an increasingly crowded hidden object/adventure field, it takes something to stand out, which Rhianna Ford & The Da Vinci Letter does. The first thing that makes it so unique is the engrossing and thrilling storyline, which starts slowly and builds momentum to a frantic pace as Rhianna attempts to figure out where the letter is, what happened to her husband, and who is behind the whole mess, while being chased by the bad guys. The characterizations of the major players also add to the fun of the story, especially the police chief and his method of taking down the bad guys.

The story is told in 12 chapters, with the segue between consisting of hand-drawn cut-scenes and voice acting setting the stage for the next area to be explored. The voice acting is competent, if a little silly once you hit Rome and the fake Italian accents come out to play. While the cut-scenes have a hand-painted watercolor look, the hidden object scenes are stunning in their sharp, photorealistic beauty. Little animations add to the experience, along with incidental sounds that give the feel of being there. Rounding out the experience is some lovely music, vaguely reminiscent of the "X-Files" and perfectly setting the mood and the stage.

Even better, completing the "story" opens a new avenue of gameplay, unlocking every single location on the map for an "All Find Mode", which allows you to travel to each place and search for all hidden objects in the scene. This adds quite a bit of replayability to the game, especially for those who love the hidden object goodness.

The hidden object sections are challenging without being so tough that you can't find anything. The mini-games are mostly iterations of games you've seen before, but are beautifully presented. There are a few, however, that are fairly original. How many other games will have you performing first aid and CPR on someone who was just shot in the chest, or stripping paint to escape from a locked closet? A mixture of familiar and unique keeps the gamer on his or her toes.

Rhianna Ford & The Da Vinci Letter is not perfect, of course. The game could be longer, although with the ever-shrinking gameplay present in most hybrids it is still a respectable length. Rhianna will give hints and tips throughout the game which can make everything a little too easy at times, posing less of a challenge to experienced players. And considering that the game takes place in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a little more use of the location would have been nice, rather than confining the scenes to hotel rooms, labs, apartments, and filthy alleyways.

Nevertheless, Rhianna Ford & The Da Vinci Letter is a fun wild ride through a captivating story that grabs hold and doesn't let go until you reach the resolution. Pretty to look at, easy on the ears, and with a story and characters that actually make you care, Rhianna Ford stands above the ever crowded field of hidden object/adventure hybrids and offers lots of entertaining gameplay.

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Weekend Download

JohnBSimplicity is often overlooked in modern games. Whereas early programmers had little more to work with than a few lines of code and a green-on-black screen, modern game makers can have armies of programmers, artists, and computers on their side. It doesn't take 3D visuals and realistic physics to make a good game, though, as indie game creators prove time and time again. This week's games are small in some ways, but enormous in others, and all have that special something that makes you treasure the time you spend with it.

floodthechamber.gifFlood the Chamber (Windows, 6.3MB, free) - A tiny-pixeled platformer with the visual sense of Journey to the Center of the Earth and gameplay as punishingly death-centric as VVVVVV. You must work your way to the top of the single-screened level, avoiding traps and tapping checkpoints every time you see them. The water is rising, though, and while hitting spikes only sends you back to the last checkpoint, water ends your game. Make your moves carefully!

timestill.gifTimeStill (Windows, 2.6MB, free) - Platform games are trying all sorts of new tricks these days, and TimeStill is no different. Featuring a unique visual style, you control a ball that's trying to work its way across each stage. You can freeze time use the world around you to make it through each level, such as halting moving objects in their path to create a handy platform. Later levels are quite challenging and feature a lot of clever puzzles to complete. If you are having trouble with the visual style, press [1] while playing to disable it.

probability0.gifProbability Zero (Mac/Win, 13.3MB, free) - Combining downwards-moving platforming action, purchaseable/upgradeable abilities, and a whole lot of traps, Probability Zero is all about potential things you could do and the outcomes of the choices you make. Use the [Z] and [X] keys to jump and attack, while [space] opens up the shop menu where you can spend ability points. Randomly generated levels, a dynamic musical score, 20 talents to use, a dozen enemies to contend with, and some mild shooting aspects make this one a winner of epic proportions.

thisishowbeeswork.gifThis Is How Bees Work (Mac/Win, 4.4MB, free) - A game about nothing more than creating a beautiful moment in time. Using the mouse, move your little rain cloud around in three dimensional space, clicking the [left] mouse button to drop water. Where water goes, flowers grow. Where flowers grow, bees go. And where bees go, trees appear. It's a sweetly-simple experience with no real objective, just an excuse to pleasantly smile and create a few pleasing bits of scenery.

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (20 votes)
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Fix-it-Up 2: World Tour

JohnBFixing stuff is always an adventure, isn't it? Especially when it's something as complex and expensive as an automobile. Fix-it-Up 2: World Tour, the sequel to Fix-it-Up: Kate's Adventure, makes the stakes even higher by moving you around the world, fixing, painting, cleaning and modding vehicles on almost every continent (sorry, Antarctica). It's a little time management mixed with some casual simulation elements for a simple game that's even more engaging than its predecessor.

Fix-it-Up 2: World TourThe story behind World Tour isn't anything unique, but it does unfold while you play, adding a little incentive to keep pushing past each stage. Suffice to say, you need to get your garages pulling in a profit as quickly as possible. To do so, you'll be buying, repairing, and selling cars to the cheerful citizens of the world, one customer at a time.

The cycle runs something like this: drivers pull up beside your garage and offer their car for a price. If it's low enough, you can accept their offer, pony up the cash, and drag the vehicle into your work area. If it needs repairing, drop it onto the work station and your employees will do their thing. Now, depending on the level objectives, you can paint your vehicle or modify it, raising its value a bit. If the car is dirty, give it a good scrub, then either leave it on your lot to earn rent or slide it to the sales floor to earn some quick cash.

You do have a few resources to tend to, namely the number of employees you have and the amount of spare parts in your inventory. The latter is used for just about everything you do, from modding vehicles to painting them and repairing them. The former are directly proportional to how much work you can do at once, putting a bit of a vice grip on the speed in which each level plays out. Most of the time you can get by ordering each only when you're in need, but as the game progresses, you'll have to think three cars ahead in order to get things done in time.

Fix-it-Up 2 packs several new features not present in the original game. For starters, many buildings can now be upgraded to use environmentally-friendly materials which, in turn, net you eco points that are required to complete many stages. Customers also have a tiny bit more personality, often showing thought bubbles depicting which car they'd like to buy. Provide them with their dream vehicle and you'll score lots of extra cash for the sale.

Fix-it-Up 2: World TourAnalysis: Nobody ever said working in a garage was glamorous or delightfully fun, but here again, casual games have turned the mundane into entertainment. Fix-it-Up 2: World Tour builds on the same solid formula the first game introduced and takes things on the road. The strong points from the original game, including location variety, unique set-ups for each garage, and a smart blend of time management and simulation genres, are all intact, leaving World Tour nowhere to go but up.

Developer World-LooM was careful in crafting Fix-it-Up. Just about every aspect of the game flows smoothly, leaving out any frustrating bumps in the interface or gameplay. There's a nice, even progression of difficulty from stage to stage, and time pressure is all but eliminated, sliding the challenge over to managing your money and resources instead. It's more about smart business decisions instead of fast clicking, but it's all handled with a fluid grace that makes Fix-it-Up easy and fun to experience.

A new and somewhat perplexing feature is the mansion you'll slowly add to as you earn coins by completing stages within a set amount of time. It doesn't really change the game, but I was pretty happy to add a veranda to my little green home away from home. You can also earn achievement-like trophies throughout the game, another little surprise bonus you never knew you were earning!

Just like the original, Fix-it-Up 2 is a great blend of casual simulation and time management genres. No stuffy dashing through diners or decorating cakes here, just some car slinging throughout the world.

WindowsWindows:
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Rating: 4.5/5 (64 votes)
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MarcusSarien.netIn the late 1980s, home computers were slowly making the transition from the thing your parents used to balance their checkbooks to a legitimate form of entertainment. Computer games at the time were mostly text-based works and games with simple ASCII visuals. Soon, graphical games started to take hold, and among the heavy-hitters of that time were a group of adventure games created by a company called Sierra On-line.

King's Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry made Sierra On-line a household name with gamers. Their complex puzzles and wacky sense of humor were extremely popular and have been emulated time and time again. Of course, as with many things that are seen as out of date, these classic games have made way for larger, more advanced games in the decades that followed. For many players, though, these classics can never be topped. That's where the website Sarien.net comes into play. It is at once a multi-user graphical chat room and a place to relive these timeless games right in your browser window.

Sarien.net's story goes back to 2003, when founder Martin Kool, a fan of the old Sierra adventure games, decided to open up a graphical chat environment based on scenes of the old games but without actual gameplay. Nearly four years later, Martin, after seeing what he believed to be the mishandling of the old adventure properties by both Sierra and then Activision, decided to try and work out a way of incorporating the actual gameplay into the core of what he had developed for his graphical chat environment, allowing people to enjoy these games on the web, while still keeping the chat aspects alive. With the help of fellow programmer Sjoerd Visscher, they were able to replicate the logic behind the original game code, and soon games like Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge and King's Quest III: To Heir is Human became available for all to play on the web in their entirety. Today, Sarien.net boasts a larger collection of games, and the list is always growing. And there was much rejoicing! (yeah)

Sarien.netSarien.net does add a few new aspects to these games. One is the ability to jump to different sections of each game instantaneously, either through the navigation on the main page or by bookmarking different spots. Using bookmarks, you can effectively save your position at any time, or skip to your favorite scenes without playing through the beginning of the game.

The other, more important aspect of the games as they exist on the website is the fact that multiple people can be playing at the same time. There are no cooperative aspects added to the gameplay itself (sorry), but this does lend a distinctly social aspect to the gaming environment. I found myself entertained watching other players try to make their way through games. Some would get frustrated (these games were, and still are, notoriously difficult to get through), but others provided quite a bit of enjoyment as they stumbled around the different screens.

Sarien.net is truly a labor of love for Martin. He is always working to add new games to the site and to fix bugs that may have crept into the existing games. He derives no monetary reward from the project (there aren't even any ads on the site), but has garnered quite a bit of notoriety for his work from various corners of the web, including Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe.

As a fan of these classic games myself, it would be great to see Blizzard/Activision devoting as much time to them as Martin has. But in the meantime, Sarien.net is a superb tribute to this era of gaming history, and should be visited by anyone curious about these games, or just wanting a chance to play around in a unique chat environment.

Visit Sarien.net


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraHappy Friday, noble reader! It's another installment of games, games, games, earnest heartfelt talks about our feelings, and games! I know every week you show up here, your eyes full of light and hope, and... I just wanted to make today special for you. So... I got you a pony. But while I was filling out the pony paperwork I got hungry, so I ate it.

Kidding, I'm just kidding!

I would never get you a pony. I spent the Pony Fund on tricked out glasses and these platform shoes with goldfish in the heels. It's probably for the best, anyway. I hear ponies rarely make it through Customs these days.

  • What's For Dinner?What's For Dinner? - Track down your ingredients, cut them up properly, and then prepare them according to the directions... all within a time limit! This time management/simulation game looks good, but the controls and the time constraints occasionally make it difficult to enjoy yourself. At seven recipes, it feels a little brief. Maybe the next installment will include an Extreme Mode where Gordon Ramsay makes you cry into your bolognese. I hear tears are the perfect seasoning.
  • RotatoRotato - It's ultra simple, but this hand-drawn match-3 sliding game is also ultra cute, and ultra weird. Rotate the screen to drop the blocks into place and make matching sets disappear. Do you ever wonder where they go when they vanish? I think they go to the place all magical creatures go, like unicorns, leprechauns, and films by Sam Raimi.
  • MecharonMecharon - This top-down shooter featuring enough eight legged freaks to give even the manliest of men the squigglies is fun, if a bit repetitive. Each time you level up, you're granted a perk instead of points to sink into stats, which means you've got to sink some time into it before you really shake up the gameplay with your own minibot. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but, c'mon. Dude? Mech. It's a mech, dude. You shouldn't need justification for stomping around in a mechanized death suit.
  • Lab Rat: Quest For CheeseLab Rat: Quest For Cheese - It's edutainment with this maze game featuring a lovingly animated rat searching for increasingly exotic cheeses. The gameplay is stock standard... I mean, you're a rat in a maze. But there's something weirdly charming about it all, not the least of which is the mini detail of each fine cheese you discover. I predict exotic cheese trading is going to be the new craze on the playgrounds. Instead of tiny animated creatures, Timmy and Billy will be slugging it out over Gruyere.
  • vel.blastvel.blast - Lucidrine's latest, while not as knock-down, drag out insane as, say, Cube Colossus, is still pretty nuts. In that it's a shooter... but you don't actually shoot. Which is not to say there won't be any bullets on screen. Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no. Ha. No. What you've got is shields, upgrades, and achievements. And that sound? That's the enemy laughing at you. You going to let them get away with that? Oh, I also heard they said your shirt is ugly.

  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (47 votes)
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DoraThe WellOn a recent Link Dump Friday, we featured a game called The Well, a horror point-and-click mystery designed to run alongside the BBC miniseries of the same name, divided into chapters that shed more light on the story behind the videos you unlock as you progress. Billed as a "multi-platform horror drama", it tells the story of four teenagers who discover an old well hidden deep within a house undergoing restoration and end up awakening something much older and darker than they may be prepared to deal with.

You'll start out with access to the first ten minute clip of the series, and the first level of the game. Each time you complete a level, you'll unlock another clip and stage. The game is played with the mouse; click and hold on the screen during gameplay, and move your mouse around to shift your view and look around the room you're in. Text will pop up on the screen as you move the cursor over certain areas, and clicking on them will let you interact with your environment. Complete minigames throughout the house to discover items and unlock more pieces of the story. Clicking the icons in the top-right corner of the screen will let you toggle the sound and subtitles, while the Navigator tab will let you play the stages and scenes you've unlocked. You don't have to watch the video clips, but if you don't, you'll miss out on half the story, which is easily the game's selling point.

Analysis: Admittedly, I may have come across as overly critical in The Well's itty-bitty Link Dump featurette, and that's partially why this review has come to be. Not to mention the fact that it received an extremely positive response, and I thought that it probably reserved a closer look. There were things I quite enjoyed about the whole experience, it's just that few of them had to do with the game itself. The story is interesting and unsettling, if a little predictable, and the production of the show is very well done, with great atmosphere and good performances by its young actors. If they or their in-game counterparts occasionally make unrealistic decisions to advance the plot, well, that's to be expected. If you're not yelling "GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, DUMMY" at the screen, everyone knows you're not really watching a horror movie.

The WellThe problem is that the gameplay isn't nearly as interesting as the story. The house is moody and dark, but fails to really capture the unsettling atmosphere of the videos, due in part to a molasses pacing. Traversing through a gloomy room only to have "play game" pop up when you mouse over an object doesn't exactly make you feel as though you're in any peril. Especially not when the games themselves are dull and uninspired. Assemble a broken portrait, place gears in proper order, rearrange books to reveal an image... none of them are really challenging or interesting enough. There also isn't any real indication as to what order you should complete the rooms in, which can be confusing since the characters who show up to speak to you upon completing a puzzle can quite clearly be talking about people or events you haven't heard about yet.

Can design and story make up for all that? Depends on how highly you value the story over gameplay, and I suppose for all the plaintive bleating I've done in the past about games failing in the department of the former, I should probably be a bit more forgiving here. As an exercise in interactive storytelling, The Well does a lot of things right, but makes its share of mistakes as well. If the story is sufficient incentive for you to look past its somewhat bland gameplay, you'll probably enjoy it, especially if you're a fan of the genre. The story and scares are tame enough to be safe for the teens that are its target audience, while still being spooky enough that even us awesome, hardcore, brave grown-ups can still enjoy it. And afterwards, at night, when you turn out the lights, should you find yourself wondering if you might wake up to find an ancient hag perched atop you, whatever you do, don't open your eyes.

That'll just make her angrier.

Play The Well


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Rating: 4.5/5 (131 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Bad Plumbing comic

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


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (46 votes)
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JoshCrop DefendersProving there is always something left for us to defend in the genre (and new ways to defend it), indie developer Robby Scherer offers Crop Defenders, a shooter/trap-oriented defense game. What are we defending this time? Well...crops. What's even stranger is how we're defending them; by using an assortment of birds mounted with heavy artillery, in addition to various traps like spikes, electric pads and explosive mines. Crop Defenders is inspired by several tower defense sub-genres; instead of protecting a goal via strategically-placed towers along a fixed path, you're tasked with guarding a small patch of crops from invading rabbits, deer and other hungry wildlife. The lunacy of using ammo-packing avians to fend off an assortment of woodland creatures is a testament to Crop Defender's kitschy charm, but its gameplay is pretty fun. There's a lot of entertainment to be had in raining down death-from-above with a variety of exotic, upgradeable birds and using gruesome traps to your tactical advantage.

Like many defense games, each level features a number of enemy waves in which "creeps" (your furry woodland creatures, in this case) spawn from fixed locations, hell-bent on reaching your crop field. Once they do, your crop field's hit points gradually decrease as they chow-down, unless your army of feathered friends can stop them. Players begin with $40, which can be spent on your first selection of birds and upgrades. Earn more cash by destroying enemies and successfully defending your crops each wave. The purchase menu between each wave allows you to buy new birds and upgrade their abilities, as well as buying and placing both permanent or temporary traps on the field. Fortunately, your flock can't be harmed; you can buy as many different birds as you can afford, which persist through each wave. Out of eight birds in all, each is armed with a different type of weapon; the Sparrow is the cheapest of the lot, carrying an all-purpose starter canon. The more expensive the bird, the higher damage it deals. The "Upgrades" tab displays your army's total DPS (damage per second), which you can raise by upgrading an individual bird's attack damage or firing speed.

Crop DefendersGameplay is exceedingly simple; use the mouse to aim your targeting reticule and press the left mouse button to fire (click-and-hold to maintain). The entire flock will automatically follow your aim, flying around your targeting reticule. Creeps will spawn from multiple locations on the field that resemble holes, making their way toward your crops. In later levels, the action gets a bit more intense when you're tasked with defending multiple crop fields. However, an assortment of traps gives you the ability to inflict damage to creeps while you're busy mowing them down on the other side of the map. Between each wave, you can buy Spike Traps, Shock Pads, Mines and Explosive Barrels to place at strategic points throughout the playing area. Spike Traps and Shock Pads are permanent and inflict automatic damage whenever a creep walks over them. Mines and Barrels are one-use only; both detonate on-contact, but inflict varying degrees of damage (and area-of-effect damage). Each wave, stronger creeps emerge with more hit points, and in greater quantity. As levels increase, the playing fields become increasingly difficult to manage, because the layout includes multiple crop fields, more spawning locations and terrain that works against you.

Analysis: Crop Defenders isn't necessarily a shining example of innovation within the tactical/defense genre; rather, it steers a popular offshoot niche in a unique direction. The graphics and visual effects—reminiscent of something you might expect from the 16-bit era—aren't particularly noteworthy, but the gameplay is a different story; defense fans will appreciate the blend of action-oriented shooting and the tactical deployment of traps. However, the action does become a bit repetitious after the first few levels. The ridiculous array of birds and their specific weapons, such as Turkeys with missile launchers and Pterodactyls with Nitrous Tank Bombs, does helps relieve the monotony, and upgrades are always a welcome addition to any game. The "traps" mechanic is Crop Defenders saving grace; it would have been difficult for the title to stand on its own without that extra layer of gameplay. Regardless, Crop Defenders offers a refreshingly-fun way for shooter and defense fans to get their fix, in bite-size sessions of 10 or 20 minutes per level.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (67 votes)
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DoraPunk-o-Matic 2For those of you about to thrash, we salute you. After years of hard work, Punk-o-Matic 2 has stomped onto the scene. While it takes a few more sips from the simulation cup than its predecessor and offers a tremendous amount of venues to play at and other things to do, at its core, it's still more of a music composition tool than anything else. Via a lengthy in-game tutorial, you'll learn how to compose songs for the band of your dream to play by choosing various tracks, notes, and more. Featuring multiple instruments to play, different difficulties to destroy your digits, and a whole lot of customisation, Punk-o-Matic 2 is here to rock your world. Provided you have the skill and patience to learn the ropes.

If composition isn't your bag, whether because the process is too involved or, like me, you've been expressly forbidden by your loved ones to try making "music", the good news is that you have other options. If you have the cash, you can attend concerts and learn cover songs to play instead. Choose your instrument, your difficulty setting, and awa-aaaay we go. Rather than playing with the homerow, Punk-o-Matic 2 plays with the [Q], [W], [E], [A], [S], and [D] in a radial fashion, with you tapping the appropriate key to hit the note at the right time. This actually works very well once you've made the adjustment in your brain, and winds up feeling a lot more natural.

There's also an enormous amount of customisation at your fingertips as far as your band goes. You can change each member's personality to build the sullen, Robert Smith tribute band of your dreams, and buy any number of bits of clothing, facial characteristics, and tattoos to put the sad icing on your Goth-y, death metal cake.

Punk-o-Matic 2Analysis: I've always had a sort of love/hate relationship with any sort of rhythm game, in that I love them unconditionally, and they hate me for putting my grubby little untalented hands all over their controls. This feeling is exacerbated with Punk-o-Matic 2, which is so much more complicated than other music sims that it's essentially in a class of its own. Which is not, of course, to say that Punk-o-Matic 2 is impossible unless you're some sort of Jack Black idealized rock god. It just takes some getting used to. It's the path to that plateau of semi-competence that can be frustrating for, shall we say, the less rhythmically inclined gamers as opposed to the musicians that appear to be the game's target audience. Because of this, it really does feel like an elaborate composition toy rather than a fully fleshed out game.

Chances are, you're not going to be able to just pick up and play Punk-o-Matic 2 like a superstar, since the level of complexity involved requires familiarizing yourself with the controls. The tutorial actually does a good job of explaining them, but it's far too easy to get overwhelmed and frightened off when it starts spitting out notes and technical terms at you. I wouldn't call this a fault, however. If you have been waiting for something to set your creative juices flowing, this just might be the device for you. Provided those juices are punk rock flavoured. I... don't know what that would taste like. Probably angry and sweaty.

While it may require a lot of effort to become good at it, Punk-o-Matic 2 is easily one of the best music simulators out there. Once you learn the ropes, it offers a lot of variety, and despite an occasionally juvenile sense of humour, the quality here is top notch.

Punk-o-Matic 2MikeWhile the first Punk-o-matic was essentially a sequencer, letting casual users mix-and-match music loops with the confidence that anything they try will sound okay, its sequel is a little more demanding. You can pick which key, and often which octave, your riffs are in this time around, and you can even use the "manual" riffs to write new riffs one beat at a time. Knowledge of guitar really helps to understand all the options available, and already I can tell that the non-musicians are looking for the exits. I recommend that non-musicians stick to one key and use the "special" riffs in most cases, for a more casual experience. I also recommend the tutorial, even for musicians.

After you have written a song or two (or imported a few from the "cover list"), you can try it out in the music game segment, either by hitting the practice button — to play without worrying about upsetting your fans with your inept performance — or the "city pamphlet" — where you can select venues to play your songs and enhance your cred in the punk underground. You use the keyboard to play along, and you can also jam with a fellow human thrasher. You synchronize your keystrokes with the little golden balls that pop up in the corner of the screen, and while this is supposed to also synchronize with the music, I found that even on my late-model computer-box it wasn't quite so, which made the harder difficulties almost impossible.

The sheer number of riffs at your disposal, and the flexibility you have in combining them, allows for the creation of just about anything you can imagine in the punk idiom (it also makes for some pretty steep loading times, so be forewarned). I often found myself wishing that some tool was available, only to find that it was, and I just hadn't been looking in the right place. Need to copy a riff or set of riffs? Use either the selection tool or the repeat tool. Want to duplicate a track in another instrument? Use the sync tool. I recommend looking at all the tools available, because the breadth of what is possible is quite remarkable, especially for a free Flash game.

A few small complaints: Sometimes it seems that the instruments don't entirely mesh, especially if you are using a lot of the shorter "manual" riffs. Some of the "special" riffs don't sound like they belong in the key they are supposed to, though you can often get what you want by experimenting with different keys. I wish there were a better way to audition riffs: you can test them by clicking and holding, but often the game confuses this for clicking to select.

Though the music gameplay is slightly off, and the music editor might be too daunting for some casual players, Punk-o-matic-2 is still a remarkable tool for online musical creativity. One last feature is the ability to share music. Use the Get Data button to get a long code that you can copy. You can then share that code with friends, who can use the Load Data button to paste that code and load your song. I'm sure the JIG community can create and share some great stuff.

UPDATE: As of February 8th, 2010, Punk-o-Matic 2 has received a substantial update that includes numerous lag and bug fixes, and incorporates feedback from the community to add features such as "Free Mode". Free Mode allows you to play without worrying about fans or your career, play any song and venue, and tag advantage of all the customization options, all for free!

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JayBest of Casual Gameplay 2009After nearly 40,000 votes counted and compiled, we are pleased to present the results of the Best of 2009! This year it was all up to you, the JIG community, to hand out the awards to those games that earned the most votes. In a few categories the JIG editorial team has chosen a game to share the award to be sure some notable titles received the recognition and praise that we feel they deserve, but we didn't have to work very hard because we agreed with most of your selections!

We are sure you will find much to celebrate among the excellent games represented within. Thank you again for participating in the Best of 2009, and here's to another year of great casual gameplay!

Let's see the results!

Here is a handy list to the results pages for each of the categories:


  • Currently 3.1/5
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Rating: 3.1/5 (97 votes)
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AdamBScribblandIn a sketchy, notepad world, a doodled character moves with ninja-like precision over the landscape and deadly terrain. Under birds, over spikes, avoiding pitfalls and collecting floating clocks en route to the exit is a lot more difficult than it seems in this one-button platformer.

Yes, the hero of Scribbland is in for a rough time as he traverses the obstacle laden courses ahead of him, specifically because all of his movements are controlled by using just the right-mouse-click button on its own. The interesting controls work like this: Holding down the mouse button moves the character to the right. Releasing the button causes the character to jump. If the button is pressed again before landing, the character moves through the air with the grace of a leaping gazelle.

Although the controls are fairly confusing on paper, in action they work rather well and boil down to jumping at the right time while running at the appropriate times. The design of the levels is also kept quite simple. Each of the twenty levels is a single-screen in length and you will only see four enemies; spikes, bouncy balls, birds and big holes in the ground. It's worth noting at this point that spikes are not dangerous if you walk horizontally into them, only if you drop on top of them, which... kinda makes sense when you think about it. The combination of the enemies and the precision you will develop when learning how to avoid them is constantly refreshing and always offers a new obstacle.

ScribblandAnalysis: The biggest challenge in the game is teaching yourself how to use the controls. As a standard platformer, the game would be easily completable within a short amount of time. However with the limitation imposed upon you, the difficulty increases as you learn to manage with what you have been given - a single mouse button which controls every move you make.

To increase the play time, the game can also be played on Hard Mode which is identical to the Easy Mode, except that running into walls kills you instantly (as dangerous as an enemy) and certain levels contain extra birds or spikes. The extra challenge is a welcome way to continue to flex the new movement and understanding of the interesting mechanic the game is designed with, as the levels are familiar, but the precision and split-second timing involved is far more advanced. Scribbland is about as accessible as you can get with its easy to pick up, but hard to master gameplay. While you can breeze through the game quite quickly, doing so with a high score is another matter entirely. As an experimental concept with a clever design, Scribbland is worth a look.

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Rating: 4.6/5 (245 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypDawn is a wonderful time of day. The first hint of light after the darkest night, it banishes nightmares and vampires alike. Odes have been composed to it, many pagan religions anthropomorphized it into various goddesses, and quotes abound, like "It's always darkest before the dawn." But what about that period before dawn, when it is indeed the darkest hour? No light, no hope, smothering all in a blanket of black velvet. Okay, that's a bit poetic, but not a bad intro for Place of Light's latest room escape, Loom Dawn.

Loom DawnYou begin in an absolutely dark room, and the dynamic is more about lighting the space inch by laborious inch than it is escaping the room. Look around carefully, because you might miss the tiniest glimmers of light in this stifling, gloomy space. Bit by bit you uncover small light sources, which lead to more light sources, which lead to...well, one heck of a cool game and one of the neatest fake-out endings ever. The object, you see, is not to escape so much as to turn on the lights.

Navigation is through gray bars which appear at the sides and bottom of the screen when hovered over with the cursor. Inventory (what there is of it) appears in the right hand side of the screen. Not that you will have much to carry, since most of this little gem involves pure brain-stretching, puzzle solving goodness. Unfortunately, however, there is no changing cursor to be had, so brace yourself; pixel-hunting ahead! The game is Japanese, but no knowledge of the language is needed. This is all pure logic.

The space, well... since you see so little of it, small bits here and there highlighted by faint lights, there's not a lot to say about the space, other than it is competently rendered in 3D. However, the persistent gloom definitely adds atmosphere, making you wonder, exactly what kind of room you are wandering around in. There's no music, but frankly that might be a distraction from the puzzles, and what a bunch of brain twisting puzzles are there to be had! This room escape is not for the faint of heart, nor is it something that you might clear in 5 or 10 minutes. Be prepared to spend some time, perhaps a lot of time, fumbling around in the dark. Fortunately, there's a save button if you need to take a break.

Loom DawnAnalysis: Place of Light, creator of such classics as Loom Above and Room Fake has knocked this one right out of the park. Seriously absorbing, tricky, mind-bending, and a joy to play, Loom Dawn is one of the best room escape games to come out in a long time. Be warned, there are some wicked difficult puzzles enclosed in this elegant little room escape. Some sort of headgear or other protection might be advisable, due to the head banging that is sure to occur.

Loom Dawn may be the best of the Loom series of games, and that is saying something considering the quality of anything produced by Place of Light. Challenging, fun, mysterious, the puzzles flow from one to another in a beautiful logical procession. Most of the enjoyment is in that wonderful feeling and happy sigh as you unveil one more tiny point of light, pointing to yet another puzzle and another point of light. If there is a downside, the final reveal is a bit of a letdown. After you (spoiler!) get out of the room and go back to light everything up, it would have been nice to have a second ending, or at least a more interesting space to reveal. This is, however, a minor quibble in what is otherwise elegant, challenging casual gameplay.

Pencil and paper? Check. Tasty beverage and salty snack for endurance? Check. Thinking cap on? Check! Convenient soft surface to slam your head against? You're ready to go! Let there be light.

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Rating: 3.1/5 (43 votes)
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Mikealkemi-transcripted-screen1.jpgDo you like Zuma, but wish that it and its various sequels and clones would abandon their hoary, fantasy-archaeological trappings for a more hyper-modern medical theme, and also had bullets, for some reason? Apparently the developers at Alkemi Games did. Transcripted is a puzzle-shooter hybrid in which you play some sort of electro-plasmatic immunological agent set on harvesting bits of colorful DNA cubes from hostile biological invaders and blasting them at nefarious DNA strands.

Control your sparky unicellular protagonist with [WASD] or the [arrow] keys. You can switch between weapons with [space], and aim and fire at foreign organisms with the mouse. When enemies drop colored hunks of DNA, you can pick them up and aim them at the larger strand of DNA being processed around you. Holding a DNA bit makes you temporarily invincible, but you can only hold it for a short while. Like Zuma, creating a sequence of three or more of the same color causes it to disappear, which is good. You need to score a certain number of these sequences, delineated by the progress bar at the top-left of the screen, to beat each level. Create combos, blast interlopers, collect power ups, and save your host from dire infection.

Alkemi kindly lets you start any level at any time, but I would recommend starting at the beginning nonetheless. As there are merely 9 levels, the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly. The serene backgrounds and soothing soundtrack belie how tense the game gets by mid-levels. It's challenging, very nicely produced, and cleverly combines two types of gameplay into something novel and fun.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (75 votes)
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DoraHuje AdventureWe've always said, "Why don't we have more games featuring globs of goosh as the heroes?"... well, okay, maybe we don't always say that. But games like the Sling series or World of Goo have shown us that you don't need one of those pesky skeletal structures to be likeable. Frequently baffling but often charming, Huje Adventure stars just one such hero in this physics platformer from the same developers who brought you that Goo-esque homage, Huje Tower. Only, this time instead of building towers out of creatures, you're exploring an unknown asteroid!... also by building towers out of creatures. It's okay, we think they like it. Or, if they don't, their mouths are so small their piteous screams shouldn't bother you. Bonus!

Played mostly with the keyboard, move your squishy little explorer with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and tap the [space] bar to temporarily activate slow-mo-mode. If you come across the tiny Hujos, you can use them to build sticky structures by clicking on one and dragging them where you need 'em. You can build bridges or towers to help you traverse obstacles, since the hero will stick to them when you draw near. In each level, the goal is to reach the pink coral like creature at the end and fling yourself shrieking into its gullet. Just kidding! Well, about the "shrieking" part anyway, since your amorphous avatar seems only too happy to do it. But keep an eye out for spikes and enemies, since three hits will do you in and force you to restart the level. Apparently, there are a lot of vital organs under that gelatinous countenance.

Huje AdventureAnalysis: Huje Adventure does a little bit of everything, with varied obstacles in each level ensuring the gameplay feels fresh as you go along. The main problem is that it's occasionally let down by its own physics, which depend on things happening just so to allow you to proceed. It can be frustrating to have to restart a level just because blocks didn't fall in a certain way, or, as is more often the case, you fell into a pit that simply had no way out. It really feels like the game needed just a bit more polishing, or perhaps just more testers. The time mechanic, while interesting, also doesn't feel as useful as it could have been, since everything, including you, is slowed; sort of defeats the purpose of activating it to help dodge obstacles.

Easily Huje Adventure's best feature is its presentation, which lends itself to a wonderful feeling of discovery as you explore the beautiful environments and drink in the, um, unique narrative. At any moment you can be swinging across icicles, creating a bridge of living, gooey creatures, or fleeing from a spiked rolling ball, Dr Jones style. And frequently, the levels are really cleverly constructed, making triggering the proper series of events to get you to your goal all the more delightful. If you have the patience, Huje Adventure is a fun and rewarding experience with all the squish you could want, right there in your browser.

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Rating: 3.9/5 (115 votes)
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Grinnypgrinnyp_firstpersontetris_screenshot1.jpgAh, Tetris, that most classic of casual games. Who hasn't heard of Tetris? Some of you, dear readers, probably played the game in the womb, it is that well known. Created in 1984 as a communist plot to tie up all the workers in the West, thus to cause the entire capitalist system to collapse... what do you mean, that's not what it was invented for? Tell that to the millions of addicted office workers and billions of lost productivity hours. At any rate, First Person Tetris, an interesting new action puzzle game, takes the old classic and puts a brand new spin on it. Literally.

If you are familiar with the classic (and most everyone should be), the game is simple. Use the [arrow] keys to move pieces, the [space] bar to rotate pieces, the [enter] key to drop pieces, and the [esc] key to pause or change the settings. You can also set the music to one of three classic chip tunes, or turn it off completely. The real fun begins when you hit the play button.

Once play begins you are confronted with a sight that would be familiar to any of the older readers out there, a classic Nintendo console attached to a vintage television set, with video tapes (ask your grandparents about Beta vs. VHS, kiddo) and a lovely potted plant. This could be any suburban home circa 1987. The game on the screen is classic Tetris, and the first piece is falling. All you have to do is push the space bar to rotate the piece so that there are no spaces on the board, fitting the falling pieces together like a jigsaw. Do that, however, and you have fallen down the rabbit hole! Because when you hit the space bar you are not rotating the piece, but rather the entire background, creating a dizzying new variation that almost makes the game feel new again.

Of course, the dynamic is the same as basic Tetris; fill in the bottom of the area (for a given definition of "bottom") without leaving any spaces if possible. Once a row has filled in completely it will vanish, which is good as the pieces of varying shapes keep coming and coming, faster and faster. Keep playing until the space fills up and you die, or until the perspective skewing nausea sets in, causing you to fall drunkenly from your chair (or couch, or wherever you are sitting). Fun!

This is what casual gameplay is all about, something that can occupy you for minutes (or hours), rediscovering an old chestnut and seeing it with fresh new eyes. Be warned, though, if you can survive the motion-induced nausea you may find out what all those office workers of old discovered, once started it's difficult to stop. Have fun!

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Rating: 3.9/5 (116 votes)
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PatrickWe The GiantsOn the fifth day Peter Groeneweg finished We the Giants and he saw that it was good. Then he decided to freeze himself into stone as a tribute to the next generation... in a manner of speaking. We the Giants is an experimental platform game about wisdom, its controls are very simple and it is very short. You should play it before reading the analysis and then come back to ponder a bit.

The directional [arrow] keys allow you to move around, the [space] bar zooms out to look at the map, and [esc] performs a special ability. The mouse and its left-button will also be used, when it comes right down to the end. Lastly, you can type a message that others will read should they find you. That's all I should say initially, now go treat yourself to this experience.

Analysis: The notion of a game where you must sacrifice yourself in order to create structure for other players is an interesting one, and a platform game seems like a natural candidate genre for such an experiment. It doesn't hurt that the writing puts you into a tranquil mood, you almost want to become a martyr, though flaws in the game do come out in practice. Because the ability to reach the yellow star involves people choosing to make smart decisions with their suicides, you basically get noise put into the gameplay just from people being rude. Instead of trying to place themselves as intelligently and helpfully as possible, many would rather create obstructive walls to block further progress. And yet while this is very frustrating from the point of view of a player who has sacrificed themselves and had their sacrifice rendered useless, if you watch a video of the process there's a very elegant balance of the citizen-players and the counter-players, where the solution ultimately comes out.

Get ready to be mystified or at least entertained.

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Rating: 4.8/5 (284 votes)
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hanamushi-b.gif

GrinnypRewind the hands of time back to 2005, a time when Jayisgames introduced us to the gorgeous yet disturbing work of Hanamushi, a website by Japanese artist, Enu (Akira Noyama), with a distinctly surreal and unique vision. Today, Hanamushi has been updated, adding a most startling, stylish, and downright beautiful point-and-click adventure game, Flower Insects, that will simultaneously mess with your head while leading you on a not-so-gentle tour of the revamped website.

grinnyp_hanamushi_screenshot3.gifJust click through to the Hanamushi website where you will be confronted with what looks like an unfinished drawing with various links to the website underneath. First, before you do anything else, notice the link at the lower right with the two flags. Click on it to make sure the US flag is on top, as this sets the language for the site to English. Then, find the missing pieces of the doll and her wind-up key, click on them to put everything into place, wind up the doll, and begin. Be prepared for a journey through the mind of the artist behind Hanamushi, a world that looks like it was illustrated by Terry Gilliam on a mind altering substance.

Journey through the land of melting lollipops and bizarre creatures by clicking hands at the top of the screen to move left or right, up or down. Hover the cursor carefully and notice the changes to find clickable areas that yield various bits of clothing or other fashion accoutrements. Collect them all, for they will aid you in your search for... well, that would give away a major plot point. The clothes and other things are not just for playing dress-up with the pretty dolly, they will in fact aid you in your quest, allowing you to enter certain areas or accomplish certain things. Within this bizarre world you will encounter mini-games as well, iterations of old classics such as Simon, Mastermind, Towers of Hanoi, etc., but so brilliantly and uniquely presented you might not recognize them right away for what they are. In the end you will be collecting a staggering 48 pieces of apparel to aid you.

grinnyp_hanamushi_screenshot2.gifThe world of the Hanamushi game is comprised of many scenes and layers; move far enough in one direction and you will discover that space is truly curved, and forward momentum in one direction will eventually place you back where you started. As with the universe, peer as far as you can see forwards and you will find yourself staring at the back of your own head, metaphorically speaking. If you find you need a breather the game automatically saves your progress, allowing you to come back again and again until you have explored every inch. Even when the game is nominally over there are still more wondrous things to use and explore. There is even, if you can find it, a way to erase your progress and start afresh, ready to tackle the game once again.

Analysis: What is most amazing and astounding about this wicked cool game is the fact that the website links are actually incorporated into Hanamushi's exceptional universe, allowing you to explore web content while simultaneously playing a game. How many banner games or portfolios can claim that? It is definitely worth the time to explore these little side worlds while exploring this microcosm of weirdness.

The downside to a game that is so thoroughly artistic is that the mechanics of the gameplay can become a little difficult at times. The washed color palette is visually stunning but can cause difficulty in the color-based puzzles even for folks with normal eyesight. You will find almost no explanations, so the dynamic of first figuring out what a particular mini-game is about may grate on those who are impatient. But for those who are looking to delve deeply into some pretty dark depths, the new Hanamushi game is something to savor.

It is almost impossible to describe the joy created by wandering in the strange, surreal universe that Hanamushi has created. The synthesis of art, animation, game, and experience is nearly flawless, and will leave the casual gamer breathless as they wander deeper and deeper into the morass. Stunning beyond all belief, this is not necessarily a game to play all in one go. Rather, the Hanamushi game is something to consume in small bites, lest you find yourself deep in the abyss that is the imagination of an extremely talented and (perhaps) disturbed individual. Take the time as well to check out the flash games, animations, and fantastical art when you stumble across the links. Well worth the effort, Hanamushi's work is simultaneously stunning, amusing, deeply disturbing, yet deeply and profoundly beautiful. Dive in, and relish the experience.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBWe hereby declare this Mobile Monday "International Skip the Lite Version Edition"! We had such a great time with the games below, we're confident enough to suggest you just take the plunge and skip all that extra downloading and such. It's especially true for Sword & Poker, as if you try the lite version and fall in love with the game (which, you will), nabbing the full version will force you to start over again from the beginning. :-O

ALSO! A quick congratulations to our winners of last week's BLOCKOBAN giveaway: ScrapPaper, Malorion, nfields, EyeOpener, DrMage, kevinb1229, anestoh, seancurry1. We'll be in touch with you shortly to pass out those magic sequences of letters and numbers!

swordandpoker.jpgSword & Poker - Say hello to your new puzzle/RPG hybrid addiction. Sword & Poker combines Best of Casual Gameplay 2010dungeon crawling with elements of poker, allowing you to drop two cards around a set of cards to make the best poker hand you can. Not familiar with poker? You don't have to be. After one or two fights you'll get the hang of the setup and be dispatching bats with the best of them. Loot treasure, buy better weapons, and dig as deeply as you can into the depths of the cave. An excellent game with a fantastic presentation, smooth gameplay, and just the right level of complexity to make it hideously addicting. Do yourself a favor, skip the Sword & Poker Lite version and go straight for the real deal.

blockswithlettersona.gifBlocks With Letters On 'A' - All the twisted brain-teasing word puzzles of the Flash game, now in the palm of your hand. Blocks With Letters On 'A' (the first in a planned set of puzzle packs) presents you with a jumbled collection of movable blocks along with a string of yellow squares. Arrange the letter tiles in the yellow squares to spell a word. Later levels introduce free-moving blocks, sticky tiles, and more physical obstacles to make your anagram-untangling a bit more interesting. Blocks With Letters On 'Free' is also available.

mrspace.jpgMr. Space!! - From the creator of Mr.AahH!! comes another fantastic one-button arcade game. Well, it's technically not one button, but it's pretty darn close. Each level has a jagged floor and roof, the latter of which quickly rumbles and crashes down. Move the stick figure left or right to a safe gap before you get squished by the nomming jaws of doom. This one is so packed with humor and charm you'll come back to over and over again. A free Mr. Space!! Lite is also available.

imporoaf.gifImp or Oaf? - Good question! And it's your job to answer it! A laughably simple game made fun by the creative artwork and setup. You're given an up-close view of a picture that shows either an imp or an oaf. Each time you tap the screen, you zoom out a bit, giving you a better look at the character, but shaving points off your final total. Guess as soon as you can to be an imp/oaf expert!

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (34 votes)
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Penny Dreadfuls Sweeney Todd

DoraI know what you need. You need a haircut. How can you expect to solve a crime with unruly locks like those? Johanna's fiance Mark has failed to return from his time at sea, made more mysterious by the claims people have made of seeing him on the streets of London until a short time ago. What begins as a quest to reunite two lovers ends up revealing a much more gruesome secret in Penny Dreadfuls Sweeney Todd, a hidden-object/point-and-click adventure with big production values and a grim story based on the original short story. Come to think of it, you look a bit peckish too. Fancy a slice of pie?

Penny Dreadfuls Sweeney ToddWith the help ("help") of Fowler, one of London's finest, you'll need to scour London from edge to edge. Or at least, the seedier bits anyway. Navigation is left to the mouse, clicking on sparkles to investigate items or trigger hidden-object hunts. Once you gain the map, you can move through London by clicking on the map icon and choosing your location. Throughout each chapter, you're given a list of evidence to find, and once you've got it all, you'll have to literally piece together a puzzle to give you a clue as to what happened. And speaking of puzzles, you'll have your share of those, as well. The genre's old stand-by, "move this blocks to slide these pieces over here", makes an appearance, but the rest are a mostly clever mish-mash of various puzzle types that keeps the game from feeling stale.

Happily, Sweeney Todd's outstanding visuals lend themselves to some very well done hidden-object scenes. They're immensely detailed and can be challenging without being obnoxiously crowded. More than once I found myself reaching for the recharging hint button. It's a bit disappointing to see that they apparently couldn't find enough items from each scene's location to make the pictures look more natural, instead of stuffing, say, a laundress' work space with peas, lollipops, and other toys.

But while the HOG and puzzle scenes are by and large very well done, the standard adventuring on the streets of London falls to the same spotty logic that occasionally trips up other point-and-click games. Examples include making keys from the ground, triggering a bear trap, and cleaning a cash register with a solution you probably won't immediately think of unless you're a seventeenth century housewife. It's especially frustrating since at the time you'll have several items that could serve the purpose just as well. It's annoying because after the third time it happens, it starts feeling less like a misguided idea the developer had, and more like a cheap way to pad the gameplay.

Penny Dreadfuls Sweeney ToddAnalysis: Based (loosely) upon the original penny dreadful story that started the legend, although much more pared down, this Sweeney Todd is less a tragic figure exacting his own brand of justice, and more a greedy fellow you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. At least, not without something protecting your sweet, luscious throat. The story unfolds in story-book style cutscenes between chapters, and while I might have wished they were integrated a bit more into the actual gameplay, I was typically enjoying myself too much to care. Sweeney Todd possesses one of the most all-around lavish presentations in a HOG to date. The environments are beautiful, the character models (mostly) well done, and it's extremely entertaining despite a somewhat anti-climactic ending.

The only sticking point, in fact, may be the singing. Sort of singing. What might be called singing. It's hardly the actors' fault, since most of them have perfectly serviceable voices. The trouble lies in the fact that they're not singing songs at all; just ordinary conversation. They pick up and drop tunes in the same sentence, and nobody really sounds like they're working from the same script. I actually enjoyed it, but depending on your approach to it, it's either hilariously over the top, or incredibly annoying. Imagine I came up to you and asked you where I could find the post office. Now imagine I did it by warbling each word into what could charitably be called an off-key tune. Not only would it be frustrating, but think of the inconvenient jail time after you started thrashing me when I refused to stop.

Penny Dreadfuls Sweeney Todd is a remarkably polished title and marks the start of a very high quality series to watch out for. You can expect to sink several hours into the game, if not longer. It isn't a perfect title, but it does definitely earn its place amidst the cream of the crop. Give the demo a chance to woo you over. And hey; it's also the only game out there that can give you the closest shave in town.

A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains an in-game walkthrough that can be handy for some of the game's more odd-ball puzzles, and the ability to instantly replay any hidden-object scene or puzzle from the Extras menu, along the soundtrack and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Download the demo
Get the full version
Also available: Collector's Edition


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Rating: 4.5/5 (47 votes)
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Farm Mania 2

DoraWouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall the first time someone pitched the idea of a farming video game? There was probably a lot of raucous laughter in the boardroom that day, replete with eye rolling and "can-you-believe-this-guy" patronising eyebrow waggles. But, like the plucky hero of every 80's teen comedy, the genre has gone on to become remarkably popular. One of the more successful titles was the original Farm Mania from Realore Studios, a time management game that starred a girl named Anna struggling to turn around her grandfather's dilapidated old farmstead. Now, Anna is back and looking to continue her successful streak in Farm Mania 2.

Farm Mania 2The game plays out across multiple levels, each one coming with its own set of challenges required to pass. Once you begin, take note of the time limit in the upper left corner, since if you fail to meet the requirements before you reach it, you'll have to start all over. The requirements themselves are displayed at the bottom of the screen and help you keep track of your progress.The in-game tutorial does a good job of walking you through new farm additions as they arrive with a series of small pop-ups that can be turned off with the click of a button if you're already an old hand at the farming biz.

Even if you're not, the gameplay is pretty simple to pick up. Clicking on an object on the farm causes the appropriate character to go and use it. Anna, for example, takes care of animals and most vegetables, while her grandfather handles drawing water, planting feed, and tending trees. Animals need to be kept fed and watered to produce things like eggs and wool, while your vegetables need watering and weeding to grow. When an object needs something, an icon with a timer will pop up above it, and you'll have a certain amount of time to tend to it. Wait too long, and the item will be wasted. If it seems harsh, just remember that we are talking about an apparently magical world where apple trees take less than a minute to grow. I think you've got it pretty good there, Junior.

Farm Mania 2Analysis: Farm Mania 2 doesn't feel much like a sequel. It's more like an expansion pack that got a facelift, but while a lot of the changes are cosmetic, all of them make the game feel much more streamlined. The gameplay remains the same, and even the bonus levels look familiar, if not identical, to its predecessor. While I can't say I'm entirely fond of the new hand-drawn artwork that lends the characters an eerie, bobble-headed appearance during cutscenes, the entire game as a whole does now look more polished and professional. The farm's layout is much cleaner, and plays a lot smoother. It feels like the game the original should have been.

This time around, you can also use the cash earned from the sweat of your brow to purchase a rather surprising number of animals, vegetables, and upgrades designed to turn you into a farming powerhouse. Not only do you have a wider amount of animals, vegetables, and farming implements to purchase, but you can also buy upgrades to each character's speed at any particular task. It can turn an otherwise viciously difficult level into a merely challenging one.

The downside is that some of the gameplay restrictions feel a little pointless. Why can't Anna pump water? Why does she have to wait for her grandfather to do it? Another annoyance is that once you meet the requirements for a particular stage, it ends immediately regardless of how much time you have on the clock. It doesn't matter if you have product ready to send or vegetables still in the ground that you could earn more money with. And while there are a lot of upgrades, the illusion of freedom vanishes once you realise you actually have very little choice regarding purchasing them. The game will tell you when you can buy certain items, and at times it won't let you proceed until you've bought the items it wants you to.

Is Farm Mania 2 fun? Certainly. If you were a fan of the original, and indeed of time management games in general, this installment offers up a very smooth and colourful experience that's about as kid-friendly as you can get without including a sock puppet to teach the ABCs. While not the most complex title out there, it's still a fun and vibrant entry into the genre that will provide all the frantic, fast-paced farming you can handle.

WindowsWindows:
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JayBest of Casual Gameplay 2009Just a quick reminder for those who might have been waiting until the last minute to cast those important votes: We are heading into the final hours of voting, so don't delay.

Cast your votes now for
the Best of Casual Gameplay 2009!

Voting will end Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 11:59PM (GMT-5:00).

Vote Now!


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Weekend Download

JohnBReflexes are a mixed bag, aren't they? On the one hand, they cause you to do things like uncontrollably kick people if they look at your knees (that's a reflex, honest), on the other hand, they jerk your hand away from painful objects and let you play insanely fast and chaotic games.

squidandletdie.gifSquid and Let Die (Windows, 14MB, pay what you want) - Another arcade game from the Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! creator that will dizzy you with colors and surprise you with its ability to teach you to carve order out of chaos. Your goal is to collect all of the dots on the screen. Cannons around the perimeter will try to end your day, but they move and fire in steps, allowing you to strategically evade them. Trick the cannons into shooting, then scoop up the dots while they reload. An excellent reflex game once you get the hang of the setup!

theseusandthemaze.gifTheseus and the Maze (Windows, 4.2MB, free) - Oh, sweet, a pixel art platform puzzle adventure game! With a large, sprawling maze world packed with keys, gems, and plenty of dangers, Theseus and the Maze is quite a challenging game. Fortunately you can pick up new abilities that help you traverse the landscape, and the maze's inhabitants provide you with a few hints. Created by the author of Abandoned, Joep Aben, and the art style is just as entrancing. Also, no, not that Theseus. But close.

wavegoodbye.gifWave Goodbye (Windows, 2.9MB, free) - A short arcade game by Tommy Preger where pretty much all you do is hit buttons as quickly as you can. The waves are rising, and you really, really don't want to get wet! So, up the hill it is. Fortunately you seem to find faster modes of transportation when the water draws too near. Just keep an eye on the top middle of the screen and one hand poised on the [spacebar] and you'll do fine. Short, but it's fun for a once-through, and that counts for something!

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: 4.1/5 (35 votes)
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The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation

GrinnypAh, amnesia. That mysterious, extremely rare condition in which you lose all memory of the past. Where would daytime television writers be without it? Even though amnesia is central to the new adventure/hidden object hybrid game The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation, it still manages to spin an intruiging setting and experience. Assuming you don't forget all about it after you finish playing. You know, 'cause amnesia and all...

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: SeparationDesigned by Kheops Studio, makers of Return to Mysterious Island 2: Mina's Fate, The Fall Trilogy begins with a promising storyline of mystery and adventure. Our unnamed protagonist wakes up in a mysterious temple who-knows-where with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. The only thing to do is to wander around this beautiful, decaying ruin and try to find your way out. Hopefully he hasn't forgotten how to walk around, pick stuff up, and solve puzzles. As you make your way along you begin to get brief flashes of your past, of a wife and son waiting for you somewhere, and other bits of memory that seem as distant as they are true.

You can navigate through this spectacular space with the mouse by clicking the arrows or on a distant point where the cursor changes to footprints. You can even switch the controls to a free-looking navigation style that lets you check things out in a 360 degree panorama. Just use the [arrow] keys or click and drag with the mouse to look around. It might be a little dizzying at first, but the added freedom adds volumes to the game experience.

As you wander around, you'll encounter some wicked hidden object goodness, as you find yourself suddenly needing to uncover a lot of gears, paint supplies, or other things that will aid you on your quest. Unlike most hidden object games, though, everything you pick up is necessary to finding your way out, a nice touch on the developers' part. And there's a handy refilling hint system to help you along, if needed.

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: SeparationThen there are the mini-games, seen when the cursor changes to gears when passed over an area. The mini-games are mostly iterations of standard games all requiring logic to solve. They can be skipped, or you cany change the challenge level by resetting the game and choosing the difficulty level, easy, normal, or hard. Solving the mini-games opens new areas to explore, and new riddles to be solved. As you play, your character will narrate what is going on, giving his best guess as to what needs to be done next. All you need to do is make your way out of this multi-chambered temple so your character can go home. Easy, right?

Analysis: It's interesting to see this hybrid of an adventure/HOG overlaid with the aesthetic of a large file 3D game. Almost like playing large file light. A nice way for newbies to the genre to get their feet wet, while still posing a challenge to more experienced players. The ability to switch between navigation modes especially makes the game accessible to amateur and experienced gamers alike.

The backgrounds are flat-out stunning. Detailed, intricate, and gorgeous. Take your time to wander through this beautifully rendered 3D world, look up, down, and all around. Marvel at the detailed textures and colors, be amazed at the upper views showing sunlight streaming through the open roof areas, delight at plants and waterfalls streaming down from above, have fun exploring the space. Eerie yet appropriate music and sound effects enhance the immersive experience, making The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation play almost like a much larger platform game.

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: SeparationThe gameplay is a mixed bag of easy and difficult. The hidden objects are often very well hidden, lurking behind plants or other objects, making the HOG scenes tough for those whose eyesight isn't what it used to be. The mini-games are nothing terribly original, but the ability to ramp up or ramp down the challenge of each one is a nice touch, making this a game that anyone can play.

The voice acting, while competent, can get a bit... well, tedious at times, especially when it telegraphs things that some gamers would rather figure out for themselves. This can make the game a little too easy for the experienced. Fortunately, dialogue can be skipped with a quick tap of the space bar, leaving you to the soothing music and magical sound effects in peace. The mini-games can be as easy or as hard as the player would like to make them, but it would still be nice to see something a little more original. And the slow refilling hint timer can be very annoying when dealing with one of the hidden object scenes, as the objects can be a little too well hidden, making them almost invisible to the naked eye. It also would have been nicer if the game were a little longer, or at least if we learned a little more about the story-line before the "to be continued" hits.

The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation is still a fun ride. Kheops has taken the look and feel of a large platform-style game and condensed it down into easier casual gameplay. A nice intro for those new to the genre, while being challenging enough for those who love the larger, more immersive experience of epic games. Beautiful, alluring, and fun to play, The Fall Trilogy Chapter 1: Separation is a promising start to a new series. Here's hoping the trend continues!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4/5 (86 votes)
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DoraDefuse: Amalgamated Research GroupFrom a devious team of developers comes Defuse: Amalgamated Research Groups, a challenging test of your puzzling and mathematical skills. How puzzling? Well, it was also created with help from the folks at the XKCD forums (parental warning: some material at the follow link may not be suitable for young children) which should be a big fat red flag to you right now. What do you need to do? That's simple. Just sign this waiver and I'll tell you.

Suspicious? What? Man, that's crazy. You're crazy. This is a completely legitimate offer that isn't sinister at all. All you need to do is use your mouse to complete a series of challenges in various rooms. Typically, your goal is to light up one square and leave the other unlit by different methods. If you fail? That's... not important. We're sure it won't come to that. But if you should fail, you can just try again. And again. Luckily, the promise of the ultimate reward (which is to say, some light refreshment) is waiting for you at the end, and that should be all the incentive you need. Just remember to keep an eye on the timer. Letting the timer run out would be... unwise.

While light on presentation, Defuse is a snarky, well designed workout for your gray matter. The sparse design doesn't allow for much other than the series of increasingly tricky puzzles on offer, and the timer only adds to the pressure. The lack of any bells and whistles to break up the puzzle solving may deter gamers looking for something lighter to play with, especially considering the lack of any real instruction, but players who enjoy logic puzzles will find the perfect little package to bat their brains against. If you've been scoffing and polishing your monocle at every other puzzle game on offer, Defuse: Amalgamated Research Group may just offer a bit of challenge for you.

Don't forget to sign the waiver.

Play Defuse: Amalgamated Research Group


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraEach installment of your Link Dump Friday fix is actually a very complicated process, you know. First, I pore through the many suggestions sent in every week, playing each one for approximately six seconds before discarding it because I didn't like the font they used for the preloader or something. Then I make a comprehensive chart of the remaining titles based on their genres and how likely they are to appeal to a wide audience based on the tastes of each person who visits the site. (Which is done via consulting the tiny camera I had mounted in the corner of your computer area while you were sleeping. Nice pants, by the way.) And then I remember that trying to please everyone is like trying to climb a ladder made out of cake, close my eyes, and draw random titles out of a hat. Then I pat myself on the back for a job well done, and go chase some butterflies in the backyard. For you, gentle reader.

For you.

  • Battalion: VengeanceBattalion: Vengeance - Urbansquall's popular turn-based strategy series and homage to Advance Wars comes to a close in this installment. It doesn't bring anything revolutionary to the established formula, but it does bring some resolution to the plot. If you enjoy scooting brightly coloured soldiers around the battlefield, this is the game for you. Make sure you check out the previous titles in the series if you're new to the refined art of blowing dudes up with cartoon tanks.
  • Mahjong Dark DimensionsMahjong Dark Dimensions - Mahjong is one of those games that always gets a free pass with me, regardless of how crudely it's represented. It's fun, slow, tricky, and is excellent for when you're feigning interest in someone on the phone who won't shut up. Dark Dimensions is a stylish interpretation of the game that has you play on a cube you can rotate, and under a time limit. It's all done in soothing purples and looks very pretty, but I can't help but be disappointed. Just a little. Judging from the title I was hoping for a gritty RPG where only the powers of Mahjong could prevent the universe from being sucked into the X dimension. Developers, are you listening to me?! With ideas like this, it's like we're giving you free money!
  • JigsawJigsaw.X0.com - Further cementing my image as somebody's grandmother is my endorsement of jigsaw puzzles. We've covered some before, and those of you who weren't busy yelling at us for your damaged eyes actually seemed to enjoy it. So here's an entire site full of flash jigsaw puzzles, most of which feature adorable animals or carefully maintained scenery. Play it with your grandma, or if you need a quick boost to your self esteem after something more punishing. Just don't say I'm the one who told you about it, because I'll call you a liar, claim to be a hardcore gamer, and kick you in the shins before running away.
  • Bongo Boom BattlegroundsBongo Boom Battlegrounds - Some of you are already charging up your hate lasers for how closely this resembles a certain commercial rhythm-based strategy title. The rest of us are just giggling like monkey and tapping out our orders to our grim little army to destroy our opponents. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Bongo Boom is one John Cusak away from holding a boom box under Patapon's window in the rain. But it's fun, it's well made, and cute as ye olde dickens-e, which makes it a winner in my book.
  • Lapinka and the Hidden ShieldLapinka and the Hidden Shield - While lacking in direction or point, Lapinka should satisfy those of you who like cute things with abnormal ears. I know you're out there because I've seen footage of Renaissance Faires. Avoid enemies and fly around the forest collecting things so you can shoot and stuff that will let you collect other things. It's cute, it's simple, and features bouncy, boppy sound effects and music. Which I'm pretty sure is how Pokemon started out, so maybe you should just get your wallets ready ahead of time.

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Rating: 3.4/5 (63 votes)
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Mikecandystand-logica-screen1.jpgBefore a couple days ago, if a grizzly vagabond accosted me and started ranting that 2 plus 3 equals orange, or that yellow and blue make seven, I would have privately made some conclusions about his sanity and made a tactful withdrawal. But now that I have played a certain color and number based puzzler from Candystand, I would realize that this person has been playing Logica. I would also know why he was crazy, for Logica is fiendishly, maddeningly difficult, enough to push even the sanest, most well-adjusted grizzly vagabond over the brink.

The core concept is simple enough. Each level sports a field of Wheel-of-Fortune-style tiles, and occasionally some sort of hint or other accoutrements. Clicking on the tiles reveals a colored keyboard-key with a number on it from 1 to 9, and you can usually cycle through the various numbers and colors embedded in each tile. Each number is always matched with the same color, and every tile contains only a certain set of numbers. You will quickly learn these associations and limitations, and internalizing them is important to solving the puzzles.

The goal is to follow the instructions each level provides, and sometimes the point of the puzzle is in figuring out what those instructions are. There are three tiers of difficulty with ten levels each, plus a useful five level tutorial. If you defeat five levels in one tier, you can move on to the next. Steel yourself if you choose to do so, because Logica doesn't coddle.

Analysis: I like puzzle games to have a solid theme and a mechanic that doesn't require a lot of extra stuff on the periphery, and here Logica delivers. It's amazing how easily I learned to start adding colors and associating them with numbers, like I imagine a synesthete might. The persistent use of this mechanic and the keyboard-key look reminds me of the presentation of a Bart Bonte game.

The look of the game is not as slick as a Bonte project, but it's serviceable. The navigation is a little clumsy. There never is any indication of what level you are on, and you have to go back to the level menu each time you complete a puzzle, instead of immediately navigating to the next. However, it is easy to tell what levels you have completed, which is important as you will likely have to skip between levels quite frequently.

candystand logica screen 2Yes, the difficulty. Maybe it's all the M&M's and pudding cups I've been binging on, but on the Medium and Hard puzzles especially, I found myself veering between successfully solving after a satisfying bit of consideration, and being completely addlepated and dumbfounded. It shames me to admit how often I had to consult the walkthrough Candystand provides, but even this was of limited utility, as it merely reveals the answers without explaining the logic behind them. On seeing some solutions I thought, "Not sure I would have come up with that, given the sugar high I'm on, but I must admit that is one clever puzzle. Well played, Logica!" Yet on others I could only think in disjointed waves of purple bewilderment and red frustration. An opaquely difficult puzzle is one in which the solution sows more confusion than the original puzzle.

Even the puzzles I did solve did not always make me happy. I want to make clear that there were many puzzles with nice, logical, satisfying solutions. A few rely on prior knowledge of other sorts of puzzles, though that isn't a huge problem. But several puzzles, I am pretty sure, relied on narrowing the field of solutions and brute-forcing them until one worked. One involves an impossible degree of visual acuity that I could only solve by screen-capturing the game and zooming in. I don't find these contortions fun; I find them tedious.

I'm being harsh on a minority of puzzles, and it's enough that it detracts from the experience. But there is still a good gameplay experience here. At it's best, when the difficulty curve isn't a wall, Logica provides several excellent puzzles. The theme is good, the concept well-conceived and usually the puzzles are clever and a solid application of the concept. But if you find yourself on the street, shouting that Neptune is blue, except that it's red, don't say you weren't warned.

Play Logica


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Rating: 4.7/5 (120 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Old School comic

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


  • Currently 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (54 votes)
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joyelibra.jpgIf you are a puzzle fiend instead of a stuffy stacker of things on top of other things, you'll find a lot to enjoy in Libra. A puzzle game that combines Tetris-style row matching with old fashioned block stacking, Libra is an exercise in lateral thinking. Not only do you have to consider block shape and size, but the weight of the material it's made of and what order you pile it on the scales!

Sitting in the queue are a number of block shapes and sizes, each made out of a different material. Using the mouse, pick up and place individual pieces onto the scale trays and watch how they tip with the weight. Now, place a block on the other side and watch what happens. You want both sides to balance out, which would be fairly simple if you could just count the number of bricks and call it a day. But no, Libra has to mess with your head by making some materials heavier than others. And no fair filling blocks with helium, that's cheating.

Each level has a weight limit that prevents you from loading one side with too many pieces. This forces you to be conservative with your moves, thinking before placing, and often undoing what you've already done so you can start again. In later levels, most of the blocks are heavier than the maximum weight difference on their own. This means you have to maneuver carefully from the beginning so that you can remove a row with pretty much every block. There's no timer, so you can really think about your moves and try different approaches. Every level has a perfect solution where the two sides are completely balanced, but the game also allows you to pass if the weight difference is under the maximum at the end.

libra.jpgAnalysis: NothingCasual has crafted an interesting little puzzle game with Libra. The combination of block matching and weight adds an extra dimension to your thinking, forcing you to consider exactly what will happen with each piece you place.

In later levels, blocks aren't always the same shape. Sometimes they're really long or extra narrow. This restricts how you can place them on the trays, as one move might eliminate a line you need. This helps keep the game from getting repetitive, as the levels can call for entirely different strategies. However, I'd still say this isn't a game that you plow through in one sitting. It's more like sudoku or picross, where you do a few levels, get tired of it, but then the next day you're feeling the urge to do a few more.

One thing Libra could use some improvement on is its user interface. Blocks must be placed precisely in their spots on the scale trays, you can't drop them into position. Now, this isn't a very big deal, but it constricts the player somewhat, forcing us to adhere to the game's constraints, even though Libra already throws a lot of rules our way. Allowing the player to use imprecise dropping (even though the outcome will be the same as before) would go a long way to opening the game up.

If you're looking for something different in the balance puzzle genre, Libra will provide you with 48 levels of puzzling goodness to really give your brain a workout.

Play Libra


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Rating: 4.3/5 (80 votes)
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WordspectorArtbegottiGrab your magnifying glasses and reading glasses, it's time to become a dictionary detective! Or a lexicon lawman. Or a syllable sleuth. Perhaps an alliterative agent? Wordspector, from Moido, is a fast-paced word game that will have you scrambling to find the secret word using deduction and a bit of luck.

In each round, you are given a pool of 16 letters and a word to find using said letters. Letters may appear more than once in a hidden word. To solve each puzzle, type or click the letters to make a word (working around the brown given letters, where provided). Letters that are correct and in the right position in the word are marked in green, and letters that appear in the hidden word but in the wrong position are marked with yellow. Letters that aren't in the target word remain gray and are shaded in your letter pool. Using your powers of deduction and your massive dictionary brain, find each word before time runs out to move on to the next round.

Each level has three words, and beating two levels unlocks a bonus round where you can rack up points by finding as many words as you can that start with a given letter (or, you might get a "sunob" round where you have to input all of your answers backwards, but for double the points). The letters given to you at the beginning of each puzzle will jump from position to position and eventually disappear completely before the words grow in length to five, six, or more letters.

Analysis: If the format of Wordspector seems a bit familiar to you, it's comparable to a word version of Mastermind, or perhaps a bit closer to the game show Lingo. The major difference is that instead of a limited number of guesses, you're racing aganist a clock. Thus, it might be to your advantage to make many guesses to narrow down the possible letters if you're stuck, however this also diminishes a bonus available for guessing correctly in fewer words.

One tricky factor to work around when playing this game is that levels often come with a given letter (in brown) which must be used in any guesses you make. Unlike Lingo, you're not allowed to make any guesses that deviate from the given letter, so if you've got an odd letter in an unnatural spot, you might have a harder time coming up with any guesses at all. In one instance, I struggled to come up with a five-letter word that ended with an X. Similarly, while having only 16 letters to choose from narrows out some possibilities, it also means that there are 10 letters that are absolutely not allowed in your guesses, limiting you further. The only word I could think of that fit the above condition was "affix", but not having an F in my pool prevented me from guessing that. There's a hint button for an extra free letter nearby, but you may eventually find yourself using it often because of these limitations. (The word turned out to be "index", by the way.)

With most word games, there seems to be one issue or another with the dictionaries used to compile the word lists. Normally the complaints seem to be that the word lists are too small, but in this case, it almost seems as if the word list might be a bit too large. We've not yet submitted any words that the game didn't find valid, but the game has selected some obscure words for us to guess (this is where the deduction element really comes into play).

That much said and done, there's nothing wrong with challenging your brain a bit, is there? Whether it's feature or flaw, Wordspector takes a familiar challenge and puts a new twist on it that will have you fingerprinting the dictionary for clues.

Play Wordspector


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Rating: 4.1/5 (131 votes)
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DoraRing Pass Not 2Do you remember 2007? If you're like me, your answer is probably, "What was I supposed to be doing this morning?" If you're more of a clever sort, however, your answer is going to be, "Of course I remember 2007, Dora. That was when indie developer Sandhill Games released a little gem called Ring Pass Not, which was a puzzle game which, while occasionally unfair in its luck-based gameplay, was addictive and unique and pretty darned awesome. But why do you ask? Surely it can't be... " But it is! After listening to the community and going over feedback, the developers have finally given us Ring Pass Not 2, featuring better bonuses, better looks, the all-important save feature (awww yeaaah) and much more.

Apparently, you, a wizard, or at least someone in possession of a wizard's staff, are journeying across the land, and the only way to prevent being eaten by dragons is to create rings of matching symbols and/or colours as you progress. You know, just like in real life? You do this by placing runes on the circular playing field. Runes can only be placed next to each other if the symbols or the colours of the ends that touch each other match. If you don't have anything suitable, you can click the Deal button, which you can do several times per game. When you click it, it grants you a new set of runes, but reduces the number you get by one each time. to If the board fills up and all of the adjacent runes don't match each other, you'll lose the game.

Fortunately, as a wizard, you have access to special power-ups that will be revealed as you go along. Place a certain coloured symbol beside another and unlock a helpful ability, or make use of the coveted Bonus Deal, which shuffles your available runes one more time even if you've already hit the Deal button. As you progress, the game gets even harder by introducing requirements for certain areas of the board that change with each stage. They'll limit you to placing only matching symbols on one spot, or a particular colour on another. Think you've got it all down to an art? Then try the game's even more restrictive additional difficulty mode the next time you play.

Ring Pass Not 2Analysis: Strictly speaking, Ring Pass Not 2 is not so much a sequel to the original, as an upgrade. The game is prettier, sounds better, and offers a handful of new abilities and bonuses which are really just there to beef up your score. Which isn't a bad thing, since the original Ring Pass Not was fun, just very basic. Ring Pass Not 2, by contrast, is as easy as you want it to be. You can still "win" by slapping down runes that meet the basic requirements, but to get the highest score you'll need to challenge yourself to place the best runes in specific positions so you trigger bonuses. It's an appealing approach to gameplay that leaves room for people who just want to have fun, and those of you who take the "mine's bigger" approach to the scoreboard to play your little hearts out.

My main gripe with an otherwise enjoyable game is one that endures from its predecessor. You can't have much real strategy in a scenario where Lady Luck dictates the outcome, especially since we all know what a fickle harridan she is. Carefully plotting rune placement does you no good if the game can decide to throw down three useless sets of runes in a row. You don't need strategy, you need a crystal ball. How much you'll enjoy Ring Pass Not 2 depends on how well you handle the Deal button frequently giving you useless runes when you've painted yourself into the corner. It's not all luck, of course, and a good bit of careful planning and saving your power-ups will go a long way, but it still stings.

Regardless of how many times chance knocks you down, there's something addictive about Ring Pass Not 2's simple-on-the-surface gameplay that will probably bring you crawling back. It's surprisingly adept at making you lose track of time, and "just one more round" is a trap any puzzle fan should be prepared to fall into. It's also just begging for an iPhone port. (hint, hint) As it stands, Ring Pass Not 2 puts on a good coat of polish and refines an old title into something bright, shiny, and altogether fun.

Play Ring Pass Not 2

Cheers to Anji for sending this one in! =)


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JayBest of Casual Gameplay 2009Just a quick reminder for those who may have missed our announcement last week:

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Rating: 4.6/5 (277 votes)
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DoraAlice is Dead Episode 2Have you heard the news? Alice is Dead. In 2009, Mike Morin and his team released an unsettling little fairy-tale-gone-wrong that became a breakout success, and the sequel has finally arrived. Alice is Dead Episode Two picks up immediately where the first left off and provides a tantalizing bit of exposition before things go from bad to worse. It's time to warm up your point-and-click skills if you ever hope to solve this mystery. Just make sure you put the kids to bed first before you play this one. (And play the first episode if you haven't already!)

The game is played with the mouse, clicking on objects to pick them up or find out more about them. If an object appears in your inventory, you can use it by clicking on it once, then on where you want to make use of it. Unlike other point-and-click or escape titles, the cursor won't change if you can interact with an area. Fortunately, areas are small and well designed so that there's very little pixel hunting, if any. You can navigate between areas or look around by clicking the hearts at the edges of the screen.

The puzzles this time are a bit more involved, but not by much. Most of them make an appropriately mad sort of sense if you apply Wonderland logic to it. Even if your brain doesn't work that way, all the puzzles in the game can be solved just by paying careful attention to your surroundings and the information you've been given. If you get stuck, just stop and take a closer look at items in your vicinity... or a closer listen. Just keep your eyes open for any secrets you might trip over.

Alice is Dead Episode 2Analysis: The good news is that the second episode in this strange series continues the high standards of quality the original set. The bad news is that those of you who were hoping for a lengthy escapade into this twisted Wonderland are going to be disappointed. While it might take you a little longer to complete than its predecessor, the sequel is still going to leave you wanting more. Whether that's good or bad depends on how patient you are, as this installment also ends on another cliffhanger with the promise of more to come.

Frankly, if this sequel is any indicator, the old adage holds true; good things come to those who wait. The idea of a twisted Wonderland is hardly one that's gone unexplored before in pop culture, but something about it provides fertile ground for the imagination. While you'll likely sail through it in half an hour at the very most, you'll want to drag your feet the entire way. Morin's Wonderland is revealed in tiny bits and pieces gleaned from your surroundings, and feels like an early draft from Tim Burton as edited by Quentin Tarantino, who thankfully deemed Johnny Depp in pancake makeup too weird to make an appearance here. I honestly think that the Alice series boasts some of the best and most appropriate artwork I've ever seen in a point-and-click game, with everything from the character designs to the environment perfectly suited to the mood and theme. The series' signature creepy-cool music makes a comeback, and the voice work by Joshua Tomar is very well done.

While it lacks the some creepy punch the first installment had, except perhaps for a peek through a wall that may send you some shivers, Alice is Dead Episode Two is still fun, imaginative, and, most importantly, wonderfully weird. I may wish it had been longer and a bit more complex, but that's just the greed talking. As a snack-sized portion of gaming for your day, it does not disappoint. Oh, and make sure you hang around until the end of the credits. You might just make a new friend. Enjoy your nightmare fuel, dear.

Play Alice is Dead Episode Two

Play all 3 games in the Alice is Dead series:


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Rating: 4.6/5 (122 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypIt seems that designers of escape games today have branched out a little. Although you still find the classic one room escape around, many have moved to escaping buildings, snow-covered fields, or even islands. Still, it's nice to return to the classics, isn't it? Welcome to Escape From Bed Room, a simple room escape by Tesshi-e that returns to the basic form: escaping from a room. Mind you, it's a room with a loft, but still a room.

escapebedroom_bed3.jpgQuite a beautiful room it is, too. Of course, it's not many folks who have the bed in what looks like the living room. Unless you're Quagmire from Family Guy, that is. So it's up to you to explore the area, picking up anything that isn't nailed down, and attempting to use the objects and solve the puzzles to escape. Although Tesshi-e's games are usually known for their construction, you're not going to find a lot of that here. Lots of use of found objects to be had, though, so examine everything you pick up very carefully.

Navigation is accomplished by bars at the sides and bottom of the screen, with the exception of the stairs to the loft, which require clicking on a handy green arrow when you hover the cursor over the stairs. Inventory control has an "about item" button which allows you to pull up anything that you've picked up. And hopefully, you've picked up a few things while exploring.

Tesshi-e games rarely look bad, and Escape From Bed Room is no exception. This is a warm, inviting space that practically glows from the light coming in through the windows. The accompanying soundtrack might sound a bit familiar, but it can be muted if you like. Although the game is in Japanese, you don't need to be able to read the language to finish the game. In fact, surprisingly, every now and again you might see an English phrase pop up.

Analysis: Another Tesshi-e game, and the games can feel a little sterile, but the solutions from puzzles flow logically and the use of found objects also follows the rules of logic. No constructing anything, just using what you've found in conjunction with some brainpower to find your way out of what is, actually, quite an inviting place. Shame you can't just sit down and relax a while with that large screen TV.

Although you might spot a few familiar objects in the room, for once there's not a lot of recycling of puzzles this time around. No pictures with clickable corners, no dolls to manipulate, no cranks to turn. Of course, there are two ways out, because it wouldn't be a Tesshi-e game without the happy coin, would it?

So there's no theme, no cutesy cartoons, and not a lot of humor to be found. What there is, though, is pure escaping goodness, something to stretch your brain without straining. All in all, Escape From Bed Room is an entertaining, challenging way to spend 10 or 20 minutes. Although it perhaps lacks the complexity present in some games, there is still a lot of escaping fun to be had. Time to get off the couch, stop watching the tube, and expand your mind a little as you try to Escape From Bed Room.

Play Escape From Bed Room


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Rating: 4.6/5 (213 votes)
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JerradSuper Dress Up Morgan FreemanThis is it folks. The game we have all been waiting for has finally been released. Submachine 7? That pales in comparison! Fancy Pants World 3? Not even in the same league! No, I'm talking about the most highly anticipated web toy of all time, the one, the only... SUPER DRESS UP MORGAN FREEMAN!

I think I can speak for the entire casual gameplay community when I say that this is the game we've always hoped for, but never believed it could actually exist. Apparently, someone figured that out and took it upon themselves to make our fevered dreams a reality. As a result, we now have the amazing Super Dress Up Morgan Freeman, where you get to dress the Academy Award-winning actor in a variety of stylish clothes. Simply click on the outfit you want and drag it onto him, and it will immediately move into place. Removing clothes is done in the same manner, by clicking and dragging them back into the wardrobe. There are hints available in case you need help with matching, but it's really more fun if you just let your imagination go wild.

Once you've got Morgan dressed up the way you want him... well, that's about it. You can press the Finish button to see your creation from a few different views, or you can press restart to begin a brand new masterpiece. Sure, there's not that much to it, but really, what more do you need? If dressing Lucius Fox himself in a variety of outfits doesn't immediately spark your interest, then there's probably something wrong with your interest, and you should get that checked out immediately.

Super Dress Up Morgan FreemanAnalysis: This game has made me squeal with delight more than anything else has in a very long time. Whoever invaded my fantasies and took it upon themselves to make this, you have all of my respect and appreciation. Although it IS a little spooky to have my greatest desire become a reality. Next time maybe we could focus on how much I would like a million dollars and a pony? That would be great, thanks!

As for the game itself, it's pretty solid. Graphics are well done, and there are plenty of wardrobe options. The only complaint I have is that there are a few missing features that I would have liked to be able to play with. It would have been nice to be able to zoom in and rearrange Mr. Freeman's signature freckles. It also would have been fun if there were different backgrounds to use, maybe scenes from some of his movies. I always thought his attire in The Shawshank Redemption was a little too casual, and this would have been a great chance to recreate some of those scenes the way I've always envisioned them to be. But even without those features, there's still hours worth of material to play with, and enough replay value to keep you coming back for a long time.

Play Super Dress Up Morgan Freeman


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Rating: 3.6/5 (85 votes)
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JerradBlast MasterThere are certain combinations that just make sense. Chocolate and peanut butter, strawberries and bananas, puzzles and explosions...well, okay, anything and explosions, really, but this time, it's being paired up with a bevy of chain reaction puzzles in Blast Master, the newest game by the equally classic combo of Komix and GameBalance.

Each level starts with a preset field of bombs, and a few for you to place around the level. The ultimate goal is to make everything go boom, which is a good goal for pretty much any situation. To do this, you've got quite a few different tools at your disposal. There are basic silver bombs that go boom, red bombs that go boom in different directions, mysterious disembodied floating cat heads that make everything boom a little big bigger, and, of course, a fire that starts the boom. Once you've got the level set up to your liking, press the play button, and watch everything go boom. Or not. Usually not. In which case, you have to figure out what went wrong and try to make it right. Make everything explode and it's on to the next level, for more fun and explosions.

Timing and planning are key to making progress through the explosion-filled world of Blast Master. Fans of trial-and-error style gameplay will have a lot to love here, with free placement of pieces and layouts that don't always have obvious solutions. Fortunately, there's no penalty for failure, and you can keep your previous layout, so you don't have to place everything from scratch (unless you get frustrated and press the reset button as I did many times). It would be nice if you could move selected pieces around with the keyboard to fine-tune some of the harder shots, but it's no problem that a steady hand and lots of patience can't fix. As frustrating as the puzzles can get, it's easy to get completely absorbed by the fast-paced music and beautiful explosions, until you've worked your way through every level.

Alright, now, that's enough reading, get out there and blow some stuff up!

Play Blast Master


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (83 votes)
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MikePictogridSome puzzles are so immediately daunting, like the Gordian knot, or a 500-piece monochrome jigsaw, that they intimidate all but the boldest from even attempting them. Others are so simple that after a few lackluster, perfunctory undertakings, the prospective puzzler begins to wonder if there is a point. Then there are those sneaky puzzles, the ones where the solution seems simple, such that the puzzler, in his hubris, imagines himself to be on the brink of victory. Then the chink in all his stratagems, so confidently conceived, is laid manifest, compelling a complete reevaluation of tactics. These puzzles are brain-benders in the most exemplary sense, and Pictogrid, a sliding-tile puzzle from Ian Lilley, is at its best an example of just this sort of puzzle.

Each level of Pictogrid takes place on a grid, as you might imagine. The goal is to match the playing grid with the picture shown in the smaller, model grid in the upper left. To do this, players should click on the arrow buttons framing the grid, as each arrow slides the adjoining column or row of tiles in the direction to which it points. Black tiles behave as you might expect tiles to behave in a real-world grid, stopping when they abut the grid's walls. Bronze tiles cannot be moved and behave like walls when other tiles hit them. Teal tiles move much like black tiles, and have the uncanny ability, when made to move into the edge of the grid, to reappear on the other side, like the ship in an old-school space-shooter. It's a simple number of elements Pictogrid lets you play with, and you really have to stretch your capacity for puzzley thought to solve successfully.

I suppose a really super clever Gus might balk at 40 levels as a mere puzzlicious appetizer, but I was so impressed by the difficulty that I lost the ability to count ("That was only level 29? How much harder can it get?"). Seriously, while the difficulty curve is kind and thoughtful, by the time you get into the thick, your mind is doing happy little calisthenics, glad for the mental workout Pictogrid provides. Most are of the sort where you think you see a solution, only to find later that no, you don't really see a solution, and that you must now try to re-see the solution from what you have learned. I didn't find this frustrating, but rather saw it as a clever surprise, an opportunity to see things in a fresh way, like a Zen koan, or a good plot twist.

PictogridAnalysis: Pictogrid pleases me greatly in the small number of elements it employs. A lot of puzzle games seem to hurt for new ideas only a few levels in, and so invent all kinds of new bits and gewgaws to extend the life of the game. This approach may or may not be successful, but Pictogrid is refreshing in its deliberate simplicity, using only three kinds of tiles and the same mechanic throughout all forty levels. I am glad that a game can get so much out of limited materials.

While there are few outright stumpers, there are a few levels that benefit less from supple insight and more from kludgey grunt-work. These are the levels where you can find a solution just by methodically sliding tiles around, so while they are not especially difficult, they are tedious and lack the ingenuity of the better levels. There are not many of these levels, but they are not Pictogrid at its best.

If a level is too difficult to bear, you can skip it. Levels are divided into groups of six, and you can freely skip between levels within groups, and skip between groups once you have completed five of six levels in a group. I like this feature, as it allows you to bypass a frustrating level while encouraging you to complete as much of the game as you can. Another difficulty-shaving feature I would have liked to see is an undo button, for it is discouraging to get well into a solution, make one irreparable mistake, and have to start over. Unfortunately that is the only recourse the game provides in such cases, and the inability to undo mistakes is sorely felt.

I like the soundtrack a lot, in the style of what I am beginning to identify as Newgrounds techno. Some people might find the thumping bass and drum machines a bit distracting for a puzzle game, but such people can easily mute the sound in game and replace it with a more soothing soundtrack from their own music collection, or play in blessed silence.

The clever folk who find that 40 levels is not enough of a challenge can replay previously defeated levels to complete them in as few moves as possible. There is also an in-game level editor to create and save original levels. For most people, though, the core game should be a perfect challenge. Few games can claim both challenging gameplay and simplicity of construction like Pictogrid can.

Play Pictogrid


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Rating: 4.3/5 (122 votes)
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PatrickBubba TimeFresh out of Santa Fe, Argentina, from a pair of developers who call themselves Killabunnies comes Bubba Time, a puzzle-platform game based on time manipulation. You play a fat, pink marshmallow creature that has dreamy, cartoony eyes (though don't they all). You have the power to create your own blocks as a stepping stone or a barricade, you can do the usual jumping and running, and you can slow down time. When you do, you enter a sticky realm somewhere between the gameplay of Bubble Bobble and John Woo's Bullet Time - you have entered Bubba Time.

The [arrow] keys move you left and right, allow you to crouch and move into doorways, as you may already expect. The [X] button allows you to enter Bubba Time, and the [Z] button creates or destroys a block. There are enemies, special blocks and switches; from these atoms the developers give you a big chunk of gameplay to bubba through until the time just passes you by. There are gears to collect for a special bonus, and most notably, the time distortions works differently in different rooms. Pull a lever to open up the exit, get there, and press up to enter, and find out what the next room has in store for you.

Analysis: This game was conceived for the CODEAR Mash-up contest held by the ADVA in 2009. The idea was to take a few different games and combine their elements into a new game. This game definitely borrows from the classic arcade game Bubble Bobble and also from Braid, the original 2D time-manipulation game. The game takes its time manipulation schemes from Jon Blow's opus, but breaks them down into more readily consumable bits of content. While Blow claimed his game had no filler, no redundant puzzles, Bubba Time isn't afraid to just be a fun web-game and give you lots of rooms to occupy yourself with. The visual flair is excellent and tight, so much so that you almost can envision a game of the depth of Final Fantasy Tactics coming out of this world and character, complete with pink time warpers of various stripes leveling up. Maybe that could be a sequel, though for a two-man team like this, I would rather see them come up with something totally new and continue to explore their muse.

So what are you waiting for? You know what time it is. It's BUBBA TIME!

Play BubbaTime


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Mobile Monday

JohnBIt's time for free stuff! Accompanying this week's Mobile Monday feature, we've got a handful of unlock codes for last week's puzzle game (which is also a browser game, by the way), BLOCKOBAN. Want one? All you have to do is sign in with a Casual Gameplay account and leave a comment below. Winners will be chosen at random and announced on next week's Mobile Monday, so be sure and check back then to see if you've won!

And now... on with the games!

doodlejump.jpgDoodle Jump - Simple, proven ideas often make the best mobile games, and Doodle Jump is an excellent illustration of that. A simple action game at its core, all you do is tilt the iPhone to maneuver the ever-jumping character back and forth as he makes his way upwards, trying to land on solid platforms as you go. Springs, jet packs, moving ground, enemies, shield power-ups and lots of other things help/hinder your progress, of course. What really makes Doodle Jump special is its creative visual presentation.

aztecquest.jpgAztec Quest - Bet you never thought you'd see a game like this on the iPhone: an isometric building-style puzzle game! The goal of Aztec Quest is to move the marble from the dispenser to the target. To get it there, you have to use ramps, conveyor belts, springs, cannons, bridges and a host of other objects. Tons and tons of puzzles (along with an editor) makes the challenge almost endless. The interface is a little constricting at first, but after two or three levels, you'll be marble maneuvering with the best of 'em. And yes, I am one of the best of them. The free Aztec Quest Lite is also available.

mondrian.jpgmondrian - Sokoban sliding puzzles aren't everyone's cup of tea, but Mondrain drops in a few new spices that makes this batch worth sipping. Working with the ghost of painter Piet Mondrian, you will be sliding bits of colored paint around empty canvases to restore them to their original splendor. After just a few levels you'll quickly realize how much of a brain bender this game is, and the sense of humor and crisp art style make it a treat to experience.

jounce.gifJounce - A sparsely decorated musically-infused action game, Jounce is all about guiding balls from the dispenser to the goal at the end of the stage. You do this by creating and rotating small platforms throughout the stage. Jounce is unique in that the solution for each stage only has to be creative as you want it to be. Can you get by with two walls? Great, go for it. But if you want more points, see if you can squeeze a dozen platforms in there. This variable complexity makes Jounce a scalable experience, perfect for just about any puzzle mood you happen to be in. The free Jounce Lite is also available.

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


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Rating: 4.7/5 (99 votes)
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VVVVVV

DoraWhen a strange explosion strikes your ship and sends you hurtling through space, it's only a temporary setback... until you realise you're all alone. Luckily, you have the power of gravity on your side! Even luckier, less than ten percent of what you'll encounter isn't instantly fatal! ... wait, wait... that's not lucky at all! No turning back. From Terry Cavanagh comes VVVVVV, a retro platformer not for the faint of heart. Oh, not because of the subject matter. Because it will crush your very soul.

VVVVVVWhile VVVVVV controls like most standard platformers using the keyboard, it does offer a twist. Tapping the action key of your choice, [Z], [X], or the [space] bar, flips your character's personal gravity to allow him to walk on the ceiling or the ground at a whim. Since he can't jump, presumably due to a lack of knees, this comes in handy avoiding death and other obstacles. The game will auto-save whenever you encounter a teleporter, but you can save manually by hitting [enter] to open the menu. You'll need to be both fast and careful if you want to reunite the Captain with his crew, and VVVVVV is one game where success Best of Casual Gameplay 2010in every step of the way actually feels like an accomplishment.

Your main objective is to track down your missing crew members, of which there are five, which is easier said than done. The dimension you're stuck in is enormous, and locating your wayward companions requires a lot of exploration. The best way to achieve this is not by careful, measured expeditions but by immediately leaping bodily into the great unknown. Just make sure to watch out for enemies. It's easier to list what isn't dangerous than to compile a list of what is. Deadly encounters include "spikes", and "pretty much everything else". If it moves and it isn't you, a companion, or a platform, touching it means certain death. Of course, death is at most a momentary inconvenience since you'll instantly respawn at the last checkpoint you touched without penalty. Just don't look at your death toll under the menu, and you'll remain blissfully ignorant of your fragile mortality.

VVVVVVAnalysis: Let's get one thing out of the way right now. VVVVVV, aside from being fun to say aloud, is pretty great. Sprawling, challenging, and fun, imbued with that old-school charm that those of us who remember when Atari was more than just a quaint collectible will love. The levels are expansive and well designed, with the unexplored void feeling satisfyingly epic each time you hurl your grinning avatar out into it. Each area flows seamlessly into the next and represents its own challenge. Helpfully, each area is also named individually, so you'll know what to scream out in rage after you fail a precisely timed jump the fourteenth. time. in. a. row.

There's also a moderately high level of difficulty present at times, which I suppose can be construed as "retro" as well by those of us who grew up in the arcade or NES era. But there are no quarters to bilk us out of now, so I can only assume having levels that kill you over and over and over before you manage to pass them is Terry Cavanagh's way of saying he doesn't like my face. See, there are times when VVVVVV passes from the realm of "challenging puzzle platformer" to "reflex hardening endurance fest". Since once you pass a certain point you can pick your own direction, the difficulty curve feels like it's all over the place, which can be frustrating. Yes, yes, "Dora is bad at games", bla-de-bla-de-bla. Of course, if you're a fan of Mr. Cavanagh's work for precisely this reason, feel free to ignore this paragraph entirely and pretend it consists of a dissertation on why Jurassic Park is the best movie, ever. (Second Place: Woody Harrelson and the zombies.)

VVVVVV feels like a departure from old form for Mr. Cavanagh. While the visuals are familiar, it feels much more gameplay-oriented than previous offerings such as Don't Look Back. The same confidence-crushing difficulty is present, but the story doesn't feel as if it fits in quite as well. It's hard to really get intrigued by the snippets of dialogue or other exposition when they're spaced so far apart and doled out in such small bites. Man, why are you talking to me about consequences and inter-dimensional travel when I got timed disintegrating platform runs to worry about?

VVVVVVWhile the main game can be conquered in several hours (more or less depending on how often you feel the tender embrace of spikes, or track down all the secrets), VVVVVV offers several unlockable challenges in case you didn't feel like it was hard enough. I look forward to the comments telling me you've beaten the game without dying once, so I can call you a liar personally.

One thing worth mentioning is that your save files won't survive the purging of your computer's temporary files. Do I speak from experience? You can ask the monitor-shaped hole in my front yard. So unless you feel like replaying all those fiddly little stages you only just managed to beat the first time, player be warned.

Although a bit too demanding on the fingers and reflexes if you're only a passing fan of the genre, VVVVVV is a challenging and rewarding experience if you have the gaming muscle to take it on. Yeah, that's right. I went there.

P.S. If you enjoyed the music of VVVVVV as much as we did, composer SoulEye is offering the soundtrack, awesomely titled PPPPPP, on his website for a small donation.

Play the Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

LinuxLinux:
Play the Flash demo
Get the full version

Download on the AppstoreVVVVVV (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)

Google PlayVVVVVV (Android)


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Where's Waldo: The Fantastic Journey

DoraOnce upon a time, a young man decided to go on a journey to find himself. At least, that's what the wizard tells me, but he apparently isn't a good enough wizard to afford socks, so I don't know if you should believe him or not. In any case, this young man, who you may have heard of, traveled far and wide and saw many things, such as vampire parties, dwarf battles, and flying carpets. And in Where's Waldo: The Fantastic Journey you can put your eyes to the test as you go along with him in this hidden-object adaptation of the classic books.

Where's Waldo: The Fantastic JourneyGameplay is about as direct and simple as you can get. You're given a list of objects to find at the bottom of the screen, either with word clues or in silhouette form, and the game takes you to the area you can find them in. Initially, the idea of having the game shunt you to the location you needed to look in seemed a bit hand-hold-y, but isn't that what most HOGs do anyway? And even in chunks the size of your screen, the areas are still packed with enough detail and activity to make searching a challenge. If you had to manually scroll around the entire area the game might be more true to the spirit of the original books, but all but impossible to complete within the time constraints.

See, each stage has a timer on it represented as a bar with four stars on it. As you play, the bar slowly ticks down backwards and the stars vanish. Since you usually need at least three stars to complete a level, you'll have to move fast. Finding objects replenishes the bar, and to help you do so, you can rely on the creatively named Woof the dog to help you. If Woof has a bone, you can click on him to help you find an item by playing hot-or-cold as he barks to let you know how close you are. You only get a certain number of hints per stage, and although finding bones in each area gives you additional hints, hunting down the tiny white things on the screen will often just waste your time.

There's the occasional mini-game to play, and just because you've finished an area for the first time doesn't mean you'll see the last of it. You'll be called back to old areas to hunt down new items or people, and being bounced around the map gives your eyes a chance to refresh after staring at the same thing for so long.

Where's Waldo: The Fantastic JourneyAnalysis: It's a bit strange to be reviewing Where's Waldo. My initial draft was just a piece of paper with the words "It's WALDO, dummy" written on it, but apparently that wasn't "professional" enough, so, here we are. I'm just old enough to have grown up with the Waldo books, and the Eye Spy books, and consider them the original "hidden object games". Only with pages instead of pixels. Probably a good thing, since in my day, the big gray/green behemoths they called computers weren't known for their stellar graphic capabilities. The Waldo books were intensely popular when I was a wee lass, and any new volumes were hotly contested for in the school library. Parents liked them, too, although less because they were interested in the books themselves, and more because the books kept brats like myself silent and motionless for long periods of time.

The good news is that the game as a whole is of exceptionally high quality. The charm remains intact with the series' signature artwork, rendering enormously detailed scenes you may remember with tiny animations that bring them to life. Voice acting is well done, if in that exuberant "Good girl!" tone one usually reserves for talking to preschoolers, and the soundtrack is bright and bouncy for every area. There is one area, featuring a battle between red dwarfs and Asian warriors that might cause a raised eyebrow by today's standards given how the warriors are drawn, but it doesn't feel as though it was intended maliciously, so it's barely worth a ping on the offensive radar.

Where's Waldo: The Fantastic JourneyUnfortunately, the game comes with time restrictions on its levels that somewhat hinder your enjoyment. Part of Waldo's charm has always been taking your time and enjoying the details and funny little moments in each picture. Now, since you need a certain number of stars to pass each level, you're forced to rush through as quickly as you can. Admittedly, there are two difficulty levels, but the day I'm reduced to playing on "kids" mode is the day I put down the controller for soft toffees and yelling at children from the rocking chair on my front porch. You'll probably need to replay some scenarios at least once to meet the minimum score, but the game helps keep things fresh by changing the items you're looking for when you replay. In terms of difficulty, I always say that I only stop playing once the game stops being fun, and that isn't an issue I had with The Fantastic Journey. The iPhone version, however, I only recommend unless you don't have a friend who isn't willing to rub grit in your eyes while speaking in a cheerful tone of voice. At least then you'd have the same experience and save yourself the five dollars.

It's sort of gratifying to see a piece of my childhood take a step into the technological era and emerge mostly unscathed. The transition from picture book to game is an odd one to make, but Where's Waldo: The Fantastic Journey does it pretty well despite the lack of any real story. Most of its audience is probably going to be, you know, old people like myself, which is a shame since it's actually a very solid hidden object title by today's standards. Even if the game's titular character isn't familiar to you, if you enjoy the particular type of gameplay that most hidden object games offer, Where's Waldo: The Fantastic Journey is at least worth a dance with the demo. Charming and accessible for kids, but still challenging enough for adults, Waldo stands the test of time to offer a fun experience you can come back to again and again.

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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farmfrenzy3american-b.jpg"

GrinnypWell, you've traveled 'round the world, saving farms in some... unusual places. Now it's time to return home and help dear old Granny rescue her farm from foreclosure. Yes, it's time to play Farm Frenzy 3: American Pie! A frantic time management game brought to you by Alawar Games and Melesta, Farm Frenzy 3: American Pie continues the tradition of "side games" to the main Farm Frenzy line, like Farm Frenzy: Pizza Party. This time around, though, there's not so much pizza. In fact, there's something better: robots!

farmfrenzy3american.jpgBack from her world tour in Farm Frenzy 3 and just in time to help dear old Granny, you are once again in control of the series' eponymous heroine. Grandma's adjustable rate mortgage keeps going up, and the bank is going to foreclose unless you can get the farm making a profit. This is not, after all, like real life. In real life, the mortgage rate would be going up even faster (thanks, economy!). Just kidding. Maybe.

At any rate, you begin with a patch of ground, a few farm animals, and a task. The task may be to produce a certain number of goods (eggs, wool, milk) or manufactured goods (dried eggs, cookies, cakes, yarn, clothing, etc.). You have a limited amount of money, time, and water. Water the ground to produce grass to feed your animals and wait for them to do their thing. However, even water costs money these days, so use it well, and remember to sell excess goods for cash to get more water, more animals, or upgrade your manufacturing facilities. As the game goes on the manufactured goods become more complex, requiring several different raw or other manufactured goods, or goods shipped in by handy-dandy helicopter. All of this should be familiar to anyone who has played any of the Farm Frenzy games.

You start with something simple: turkeys. Turkeys produce eggs which you can sell at market. Or, you can turn the eggs into dried eggs, which take up less space and fetch a higher price at the market. Eventually you can turn the dried eggs into cookies, and the cookies (with other ingredients) into cakes which sell for an even higher price. Then other farm animals are slowly added to the mix, such as sheep, which produce wool (and eventually yarn, material, and clothing) and cows which produce milk (which sells for a really high price at the market).

You can also purchase helper animals, like dogs which chase off the bears who menace your farm, and cats which are smart enough to pick up the goods and take them to the storage shed. If you can't afford the helper animals, be prepared to cage and sell off the bears yourself before they can knock your poor defenseless animals off the screen. Finally, you'll reach a stage where you can purchase robots to farm for you. Mind you, the robots are wildly expensive, and require ore and fuel to run, but it's still pretty cool to be farming with robots.

farmfrenzy3american2.jpgEach scenario is timed, and the faster you work, the more points you nab and the better medal you'll be rewarded with. Points are used in the shop for upgrades to buildings and equipment, and believe me, you'll want as many as you can gather. You can always work back and forth on the branching overworld map, replaying older levels for points or choosing different stages if one is just too hard. Some areas cannot be attempted until certain upgrades are achieved, so backtracking may be wise.

Analysis: Like Pizza Party, Farm Frenzy 3: American Pie is almost "Farm Frenzy Light" in many ways. There's less complexity, and of course no foreign travel or exotic animals to be found. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the basic dynamic is still fantastic casual gameplay. In fact, American Pie manages to lose the numerous and complex recipe combinations that Pizza Party required, and that probably produced more than one migraine in the process. The combos here are simpler and there are fewer of them, leaving the player to concentrate on the basics with a wicked time limit in place.

The art is, well, it looks like Farm Frenzy, nothing much has changed from the first of the series. The animals are cute, cartoony, and fluidly animated as they wander around and eat the grass you so carefully grew. The truck still runs back and forth between the farm and town, and goods brought in by helicopter still parachute out of the sky. And, of course, the nasty bears still drop out of the wild blue yonder to wreak havoc at the worst possible time. You can cage them and sell them as usual, and when you reach a certain stage of the game you can even dress them up to bring more money (and humiliate them, one presumes).

Some of the levels are wicked difficult, which may cause a lot of head banging and throwing of objects within easy reach. The robots are cool, but it feels like it takes forever to get to the stage where you can use them, which is a shame. And the upper levels require so much fast clicking that you may be looking at carpal tunnel syndrome, or at least hand seizures if you play too long.

If you like the Farm Frenzy games, you've already downloaded and installed American Pie, which is wise! The stripped-down style takes nothing away from the basic gameplay, and what's left is very addicting and long-lasting. Especially if you go back and try to gold medal all the rounds, or earn all the side trophies, you are looking at days of gameplay with a high replay value. Of course, it's still fun to humiliate the bears. And hey, there are robots!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Farm Frenzy 3: American Pie is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's Ludum Dare time again! Ludum Dare 16 has come and gone, leaving with us dozens upon dozens of unique, quickly-crafted games to enjoy. The latest competition's theme was "exploration", and here are a few of the top games as voted by the LD community!

catplanet.gifCat Planet (Windows, 1.7MB, free) - An exploration game created by chuchino in the vein of Knytt, Cat Planet puts you in the winged shoes of a character whose only goal is to float about the land, talking to cats and exploring the underground caves. Surprisingly, the cats' dialogue adds a lot to the experience, and each environment is uniquely colored, giving you enough reason to venture deeper underground.

scavenger.gifScavenger (Windows/Linux, 9.5MB, free) - A simple game of exploration and treasure hunting by Fiona. Fly out from your space station hunting for anything that isn't pure junk. When you spot that valuable spent powercell, pull it in with your tractor beam, then take it back to the station and sell it so you can upgrade your ship. Earn more cash, get a stronger ship, and keep flying deeper into the endless black. If you've played titles like I Dig It or Motherlode, you'll get what this game's all about.

penguinagain.gifPenguinagain (Mac/Win/Linux, 5.8MB, free) - Penguinagain, by dock, is an isometric game all about hungry penguins in the snow! Help your friends get the food they want by moving around the landscape, nudging things into place by building a bit of speed and bumping into them. It's that simple, but it's so charming you won't help but fall for it.

apocalypseadventure.gifApocalypse Adventure (Windows, 1.5MB, free) - Set in a post-apocalyptic top-down world, you take the role of a guy whose plane has crashed in the desert. You need to get away, but the unfriendly inhabitants aren't too keen on helping you out. Use items such as bombs, keys and knives on your journey as you explore the wasteland and try to stay alive. Created by Hempuli.

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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Nancy Drew: The Final Scene

joyeHaven't bad guys learned yet not to mess with plucky Girl Detective Nancy Drew? A minor scoop turns into a major crime when Nancy's student reporter friend Maya vanishes without a trace in an antique theater where Houdini once dazzled audiences. But as Nancy (pluckily) warns the kidnapper, "You're messing with the wrong girls! She's a reporter, and I'm a detective, and we don't scare easy." You'll need all the pluck you've got to snoop around and solve the case, because the police are worse than useless in Nancy Drew: The Final Scene.

nancydrewfinalscene1.jpgControl for this adventure game is entirely with the mouse. It is highly advisable to complete the tutorial before playing a game, especially if you're not used to this style of navigation. Figuring out how to turn around and what the layout of the room is can be disorienting until you get the hang of it. Click on objects and people to interact with them. There are two modes: Junior Detective, suitable for younger or more inexperienced gamers, and Senior Detective, for people who want a challenge. There are two timed puzzles, but there is no penalty for trying again, and once you know exactly what you're doing the timer is more than ample.

Nancy Drew: The Final Scene first came out as a PC game for purchase on CD-ROM in 2001. This means that, yes, the graphics are just a tad dated. That being said, I would rather play a game that doesn't look that great but has a sparkling script, compelling plot, and fun gameplay than the plethora of shiny but vacuous games that I've seen lately both on consoles and for PC, so I was perfectly happy with The Final Scene.

Analysis: An adventure game lives and dies by its plot, and I really cannot think of any complaints to make about The Final Scene. I immediately cared about Maya and wanted to know what happened to her. Nancy is brave, cheeky, intuitive, admired, and clever, and by controlling her the player gets to be all these things vicariously. While the suspects fulfill certain stereotypes (the self-absorbed actor, the scheming Hollywood agent, the young radical, and the devoted old caretaker), they are all rounded, not one-track. Some of the red herrings and throwaway details pointed to surprising depths, in fact, and I'm still curious about who "Georgie-Bear" is. I'm also fascinated by vintage entertainment, so the forays into the tricky world of the early stage magicians were right up my street—there's even a magic trick Nancy reads about in the game that you can do in real life, with a bit of practice and some cheaply obtainable props.

nancydrew_thefinalscene2.jpgThis is all revealed through a vivacious and extensive script, performed by voice actors who are clearly having fun. The part that had me cracking up the most was the optional calls to Nancy's friends Ned and Bess. I'm a college student, and some of the lines were exactly the sort of things my friends might say to each other. I loved when Bess and George responded to Nancy's goodbye with a chorus of "Watch out for weird people!", and the flirting between Ned and Nancy was actually sweet and realistic instead of forced and saccharine. Even if you never get stuck, I recommend calling them a couple of times just for the fun of it.

I also liked having manual saves, enabling me to try a conversation or a puzzle more than once, and the "second chance" feature, which means that you can never get into an unwinnable situation. The mystery unfolds at a good pace, with a few twists to keep you on your toes. I thought I knew who the kidnapper was, then I thought it was someone else, then the first person, then someone else entirely, then maybe all of them working together! At the same time, I never thought the game was being unfair by making the case impossible to solve logically.

Given the manual saves, however, the non-skippability of some of the conversations becomes a real drag. If you decide you've made a mistake and you want to go back to an earlier save, you have to sit through lengthy conversations all over again. While in most conversations you can at least amuse yourself by choosing slightly different answers, some of the conversations are effectively cut scenes, with no player input. Being able to skip ahead would make things a lot easier. The puzzles all appear without instructions and are non-skippable too, which may send some players scrambling for a walkthrough, and the puzzles don't reset when backing out of them, so if you get truly stuck and the walkthrough you have assumes you're starting from scratch, you may need to go to an earlier save.

I also would have liked to have truly had a final cutscene instead of the "Dear Bess: Here is a letter where I talked about what happened while photographs and newspaper articles pop up on the screen" approach. Mostly because at that point I liked all the characters so much that I wanted to hear more about them. Although I had to laugh at the corner of a tabloid newspaper that popped up in the cutscene which read "Crime Follows Nancy Drew: COINCIDENCE?" Maybe for her next case Nancy can investigate herself.

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

DoraWelcome back to another Friday here at Jay Is Games, teetering on the precipice of Mount Olympus. (We got kicked out of the volcano by some guy in a tuxedo.) How's the new decade treating you? By now we should all be flying around in perfectly temperate hover cars, or at the very least getting our shoulders massaged by wisecracking robot manservants as we peruse our gaming options. At least we can take solace in knowing that despite failing the prophecies of the Jetsons, by the standards of as recently as the 1700s, we'd all be tried as witches. Hooray! While you're waiting for that robotic pineapple pizza dispenser with me, why don't we check out this week's Link Dump Friday lineup?

  • Gone to the DogsGone to the Dogs - Although it winds up feeling repetitive after a while, this racing/simulator about grooming a dog for the race track is quirky and well made enough to merit at least one playthrough. The lack of any real customization may put some players off, but those of you who have always wanted to pay a man with hair taller than you are thousands of dollars to massage your dog can finally have your dream come true. Which is perfectly natural and healthy, and I am not at all mildly perturbed by it. Really.
  • Wheel ItWheel It - At ten levels, this puzzle game about correctly assembling a group of gears is too light to be much of a meal, but is short and sweet enough to make a light snack. With easily accessible gameplay and graphics that are golden and buttery, Wheel It is satisfying despite its simplicity and lack of any real meaty mechanics. It also has a sort of nutty aftertaste that... wait, what was I talking about? I think I might be hitting the Big Book of Food Imagery a bit too hard.
  • Find Tealy 2Find Tealy 2 - Full of that Finn Family Moomintroll-esque vibe I love so much, Find Tealy 2 (alternate title; Son of Tealy's Revenge) is a fun way to spend a few minutes. The original was perhaps a bit too simplistic, but the sequel adds a bit more of complexity while keeping everything kid-friendly. Of course, I don't know what a non-kid-friendly version of the Tealy games would be like. And I won't until Stephen King starts returning my phone calls.
  • Speed EscapeSpeed Escape - What's this? You got your Weekday Escape in my Link Dump Friday! Oh well, just go with it. Actually three escape games in one, this game has you trying to think your way out of three different rooms in a time limit. Likely too short and simple for your prodigious escapery talents (*flutters eyelashes*), it's still a clever, quick way to sharpen the old gray matter in fifteen minutes or less.
  • Soul ArmsSoul Arms - Despite featuring a few too many instances of people going "..." or "?!" at each other, Soul Arms is still an ambitious little browser action/RPG that's worth a look for its odd story and scope if you're a fan of the genre. Combat is side-scroll beat-'em-up rather than turn based, but you'll still have to do your share of grinding. Which, let's be honest, you're probably familiar with if you've ever played an RPG before anyway.

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Little RocketArtbegottiIf you're searching for a fun and chipper exploration game to kill a little time with, good for you! Searching is one of the key components of exploration games, so you're already off to a good start. After that, the fun is in what you do with what you find. In Little Rocket, by Alex Miller, you get to explore a small universe AND solve puzzles along the way! Aren't two-for-one bonuses lovely?

Hop in your Little Rocket and fly around your colorful galaxy, clicking the mouse to launch your ship and propel yourself in the direction of your cursor. Your mission is to find the 16 pink stars scattered throughout the many planets around you. Some of them are gathered by collecting smaller orange stars (every fifth orange star collected reveals a pink star), while others are found by solving puzzles on planets. When you land on a planet, you can use your mouse to interact with objects to try to uncover the pink stars. Just be sure to travel safely, as crashing your spaceship, running out of fuel, or flying into deep space will send you back to the last checkpoint planet you visited (all stars and progress intact, thankfully).

The puzzles may not be terribly difficult, and the adventure may be fairly short, but Little Rocket was designed with fun and relaxation in mind. The soothing guitar soundtrack and cheery art are perfect for letting you mellow out and enjoy the game. It's your universe, why not take the time to explore all there is to offer?

Play Little Rocket


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Rating: 4.7/5 (116 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Just Wing It comic

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


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Rating: 4/5 (114 votes)
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Grinnypgrayscale_screenshot1.jpgWhen we think of gray, we often think of gloom, depression, or dullness. But shades of gray can be beautiful. Just look at the photography of Ansel Adams or Robert Mapplethorpe, the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski, or the savage and haunting power Guernica. So don't walk away without at least checking out the delightful Grayscale. Designed by Florian Himsl (Komix), this fun little puzzle game is anything but dull or gloomy, and might change your mind about the meaning of the word gray.

Pipe puzzles are fun things. Used to channel electricity, fluids, or even traffic, they often show up as mini-games within larger downloads, or occasionally in flash games such as Gridz. Gear puzzles are fun as well, though again most often seen within a larger work. But what happens when you cross a pipe puzzle with a gear puzzle? You get the unique mechanic that is the core gameplay of Grayscale.

The basic objective here is simple. Start at the small circle, click on it, and drag your energy along a path to the big circle, where you will be greeted with a nice burst of black and white fireworks. The only problem? Gears. Gears with paths. Gears with paths that don't always point in the direction that they need to be. You can always move around the gears, catching the cogs and moving them in the direction that you want them to go. If, that is, you can figure out what direction they should be going to accomplish the task. Still pretty simple, but then the difficulty begins to ramp up with gears that move other gears next to them, gears with belts that move distant gears, and gears that have 90 degree angle paths, gears with one way paths, and whole interconnected systems that move in various ways as you go past. Then, the dotted paths that disappear after one use show up and, well, your simple game is not so simple anymore.

As hinted at by the title, this fun little bundle of casual gameplay is done up in all shades of gray, giving it a nice artsy look and feel. Your dark gray paths and gears float serenely amongst fluffy clouds of...well, more gears (or gear shaped clouds, as the case may be), giving the game an unearthly beauty. Music by Coleman Trapp only adds to the experience, as the game features several small pieces of music that change as you move along the levels. And if you don't like the music, well, there's always the handy mute button. Your progress is saved automatically so there are no worries if you'd like to take a break after a few of the more difficult levels.

grayscale_screenshot2.jpgAnalysis: The combination of pipe puzzle and gear puzzle in Grayscale creates a unique, fun dynamic that quickly sucks the player in. Gorgeous to look at and fun to play, with a perfect little reward response in the fireworks display, Grayscale might be one of the best ways to kill a few minutes (or hours) you can find in your browser.

There are a few downsides to be sure. With only 20 levels, the game is rather short. And some sort of tutorial would be helpful rather than forcing the player to fumble through the first few levels, discovering the basic movement dynamics. A little more variety in the gears would also be nice, as the upper, more difficult levels begin to look rather alike. Still, with its unique mechanics and beautiful backgrounds Grayscale is one fun way to fill your time and challenge your brain.

Not quite a pipe puzzle and not quite a gear puzzle, Grayscale is a melding of the two genres into something both unique to play and easy on the eyes. The difficulty ramps up quite nicely and is enough to hold interest through the levels as you struggle to produce the black and white fireworks that denote success, but the whole game is still simple enough to pick up that it's accessible to players of all ages. Quite a lot of brain twisting, turning, and teasing bundled up into a beautiful little bow. What are you waiting for? Get that energy moving! And learn to appreciate the many shades of gray...

Play Grayscale


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Mikeparadoxembrace1.gifWhat do you when you have a yen for some online puzzle platformer fun, but find that no one game will satisfy your itch? Why not try three puzzle platformers at once? Paradox Embrace, by Zeebarf and Steve Castro, provides exactly that.

You play a heroic, red-headed everyman (or possibly three distinct everymen, bound across space and time by their common heroic destiny, as is often the case) whose heroic goal is to heroically defeat some unnamed variety of fell, fedora-sporting, shadow overlord (also often the case). To defeat it, you naturally must heroically traipse about various levels to collect some pretty cool-looking artifacts of heroic, shadow-negating power.

Navigation controls are [WASD] or the [arrow] keys, while [space], [up], or [W] lets you jump, heroically.

paradoxembrace1.gifThe trick to these levels is switching between what I am calling game-worlds, achieved by activating distinct, pedestal-mounted "changers" with the [down] or [S] keys. Each of the three game-worlds has its own themed platforms, obstacles, enemies, doors, and keys, as well as its own slick look for our hero. Aside from doors, which merely require that you collect the appropriate key, you can only interact with these themed elements when you have set the proper game world.

I suppose this could have been overwhelming, but the game-worlds are actually quite alike in many ways, and thanks to clues and details considerately left by the game designers, you will quickly learn what walls and enemies would be active in each game world. An insuperable barrier of green amber in nature-world becomes a passable green fog in tech-land. A slobbering demon becomes a harmless statue once hell-world is deactivated. In this way you recover keys, open doors, and neutralize foes, bringing you one step closer to defeating the shadowy menace (heroically).

Analysis: There's a lot to like about Paradox Embrace. For one, it features Zeebarf's characteristic, offbeat artistic design. From obvious touches, like the way the platforms and backgrounds change between game-worlds, to little details, like the quirky, harmless eyeballs looking at you from the platforms, Paradox Embrace gives the eye a lot to do. It's worth playing just to explore another of Zeebarf's bizarre creations, especially if you are a fan of his previous work.

Caulder Bradford's soundtrack does for the ear what Zeebarf does for the eye. Each level has its own musical theme, which is scored differently depending on the game-world you are in. Your ear will always know where you are, enhancing the sense of the odd as you switch between game-worlds.

It doesn't take long to get used changing game-worlds and anticipating the results, and you soon find that you are negotiating three games at once with ease. The crew deserves credit for making a somewhat tricky concept simple to understand. The level design is tight, not so hard it frustrates, not so easy it blunts the sense of exploration. The controls are a lot cleaner than many browser platformers, though I could complain that it is sometimes uncertain whether certain diagonal platforms can be stood upon. I could also complain that there is a lack of monsters (one for each game-world), or that there are only nine levels (though the ability to replay levels for better completion times increases the game's half-life somewhat), or that the weird epigrams at the end of each level smack of a little pretense. But these are minor complaints against what is a solid platforming experience.

It's not an especially difficult game, and it took me under an hour to complete (and it was possible I was distracted by something). But Paradox Embrace offers awesome design, a nifty gameplay conceit, and a cool world, or three worlds, to explore. So embrace the paradox!

Play Paradox Embrace


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JayAnother year for the record books, 2009 sure had its ups and downs. Throughout the year we aimed to bring you the very best online, mobile and downloadable casual games available on the Best of Casual Gameplay 2009Web, and now it's time for you to choose the best of the best, la crème de la crème. Yes, it's time for our sixth annual Jay is Games "Best of" feature. Vote for your favorite games of 2009!

Vote now! ...and vote every day!

(Please Tweet this and share it on Facebook. Help us to spread the word about all these great games!)

And the categories are... >>


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Rating: 3.7/5 (112 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypWord riddles are often fun, challenging ways to stretch your mind. Room escape games also serve the same function. But what happens when you combine word riddles with a room escape? You get the latest iteration of an old favorite, New Who Am I? by Robamimi, one of the better room escape designers working today.

newwhoami screenshotThe original was a cute little game, but it had some flaws. Rather than just leave it be, Robamimi actually redesigned and retooled the game into a remake, one of the most popular room escape games of 2009. Now Who Am I? is back again with a completely new central riddle and escape.

New Who Am I? is a classic one room escape. There's of course a few furnishings, of course, and plenty of puzzles to work your way around as you find helpful objects and also collect "Hint Cards". Collect five to help you solve the central riddle, namely, who you are. Despite the shortness of the game and the smallness of the space there's still quite a bit of puzzle solving fun packed within the four walls.

There's not a whole lot of navigating to be done, but what there is can be accomplished by red arrows that appear at the sides of the screen. Items picked up go into an inventory at the right of the screen. Using or examining these items are simple with Robamimi's two-toned inventory control. Each item has a background of white at the top and green at the bottom. Click on the white area and you can examine the item, click on the green and use it, quite simple. Hint cards can be pulled up from the inventory and scrolled through with a handy arrow button as well. Most thankfully, there is a changing cursor that indicates hotspots to be investigated, so the pixel hunting is at a minimum in this delightful little game. You will even find a helpful hint button in the game which will nudge you along if you get stuck.

The backgrounds are Robamimi's usual "plastic" 3D rendered style, and feature the return of the charming little screwdriver-loving marionette from Who Am I? (Remake). There's a generic tune playing in the background which can helpfully be muted, and there's even a save button if you want to stop halfway and go back later. Despite the fact that this is a Japanese game, there is an English version. Just remember to switch it to English at the title screen before you start the game.

newwhoami_screenshot2.jpgAnalysis: Robamimi rarely disappoints and the New Who Am I? is no exception. A little shorter than usual for Robamimi's work, but nonetheless lots of casual gameplay fun is here to be had. Perfect for a short break, most gamers will find themselves out in ten minutes or less. It's worth playing just for the final puzzle, which is something you might not expect to have to do in an escape title.

Other than the short length there's little to complain about. Most of the puzzles are straightforward and logical, the central "Who Am I?" riddle makes a nice change from the standard room escape, and the little marionette is a nice touch as he becomes central to the action. Perhaps the only downside is the music which can get annoying pretty quickly. Fortunately, it is also easily muted so as to not provoke homicidal rage. There is one puzzle which is color based, which might make playing difficult for those with color-blindness. The translation is pretty good, but there are a few rough spots to be found. Regardless, Robamimi has once again presented us with some fun for your morning.

It's time for the mid-week break from the every day, time for some personal reflection, and time to fire up the little gray cells and figure out, who am I, really?

Play New Who Am I?


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Rating: 4.7/5 (380 votes)
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Hoshi Saga Ringo

ArtbegottiJust when you thought you had seen the last of the Hoshi Saga series, Yoshio Ishii of Nekogames returns, and in full color! Hoshi Saga Ringo is the fourth installment in the Hoshi Saga series, and while it might not be as difficult as its predecessors, Ishii-san brings new life to the game with his beautiful artwork and use of gradients.

Play the entire Hoshi Saga Series:

Hoshi SagaHoshi Saga 2Hoshi Saga 3Hoshi Saga RingoHoshi Saga RingoameHoshi Saga RingoenHoshi Saga RingohimeHoshi Saga Dokuringo

Hoshi Saga RingoAs before, each puzzle asks you to click and drag your way to finding a star hidden within each screen. Feel free to click around and explore each level to find each solution. This episode contains 25 new puzzles to solve. Sadly, if you were a fan of the difficult five-star puzzles in past iterations of Hoshi Saga, you'll be a bit disappointed, as the highest-ranked puzzle here is two and a half stars. If you're new to the series though, this is an excellent warm-up exercise to get you used to the sort of puzzles used throughout the series.

Play Hoshi Saga Ringo

Walkthroughs for the Hoshi Saga series...

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Rating: 4.4/5 (170 votes)
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JerradDefend Your HonorOnce upon a time, there were two Elven boys who didn't have fairies. One of them went on to have great adventures and save the world in a green hat. You've probably heard about it. The other one? Well, he didn't ever make it farther than the local tavern. Defend Your Honor is the newest Tower Defense game from designer Antony Lavelle of Armor Games. Your mission is to help the underachieving elf make a name for himself and finally move out of his parents' house. Namely by retrieving a golden walrus from the Walrus King's dungeon. Trust me, it makes more sense in context. Sort of. Kinda.

That missing golden walrus isn't going to find itself, so it's time to get started! Movement is done with the mouse. Just click on a door, and our unlikely hero will go through it. There are four doors initially available, with two areas in each that are immediately playable. Luckily, they've been put in order by difficulty, so you'll always know where to go. Upon entering the first area, anybody who's played a tower defense game will know immediately what's going to happen. Towers (in this case, characters) can be placed with the mouse, and once you're prepared, you can start the waves of monsters that must be defeated. Killing a monster will generate a certain amount of gold, which can be used for upgrades by clicking on your characters between waves. Any gold left at the end of a wave will generate interest, and whatever you have left after the level can be used to purchase more characters at the store. Although there is only one type initially available, as you progress, you will make new and interesting friends who will join your ranks, each with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. And grave digging abilities.

Unlike most other games in the genre, Defend Your Honor doesn't expect you to defend against wave after wave of monsters. The levels are short, never lasting more than ten fast waves or so. You also start each level with all of the towers that you're going to have, throwing in a bit of forethought that's seldom seen in this genre. Another feature that doesn't often appear in these games is humor, but with Defend Your Honor, you'll be giggling at every cutscene. The humor is weird and just a little off-color, and serves to keep the mood lighthearted as you're battling your way through to fame and fortune. Or... whatever one gets for retrieving the golden walrus. Probably a sad shake of the head.

Defend Your HonorAnalysis: The great thing about Defend Your Honor is that it's different enough to appeal to those who usually shun the genre, without alienating the hardcore tower-defenders out there. Knowing exactly how many "towers" of each type you're going to have at the beginning of the level makes it more about placement and strategic upgrading than the average tower defense game, and using your cash between levels keeps you from using brute force to muscle your way through each level. The length of the levels works nicely, as they're short enough to keep the average player from getting bored before the end, and the story progresses as you unlock more levels, so there's always something new to look forward to. The various enemies with different strengths and weaknesses that need to be handled, give the title just the right dose of strategy during battles.

Visually, while there's nothing particularly breathtaking, the cartoony graphics fit well with the light-hearted tone of the game. The sound effects are fitting too, cute without being obnoxious. The only complaint I have about Defend Your Honor is with the treasures that serve as achievements. There are relatively few of them, and most of them will be acquired simply by playing through the game. And since you don't get any special reward for collecting all of them, the whole thing feels like it was shoehorned in just to please the crowd.

But it's easy enough to just ignore the incomplete achievement system and get lost in the fun of the game. It's simple enough that a casual gamer won't have a hard time getting through, but there's an extreme mode available to the more seasoned veteran of tower defense. Whether you're in for a challenge or if you just want to find the walrus king's missing treasure, Defend Your Honor is a cute, quirky example of how to make tower defense accessibly to everybody and make sense to nobody. Onward!

Play Defend Your Honor


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Rating: 4.4/5 (64 votes)
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QuakeJames FrancisStupid scientists. They opened a slipgate and other-worldy monsters have leapt through, using their death squads to take over military bases. As the lone survivor you have to return the favour — clearing those facilities and then taking the plunge through the veil, ending your journey with a battle to the death against the arch-fiend himself, Quake Flash!

Or something like that. When id Software created Quake back in 1996, they were not big on story. Much like the previous first person shooters they created — Wolfenstein and Doom — id made a kick-ass game and worried about the raison d'etre afterwards, usually settling for anything that could fit on a cocktail napkin (presumably after a few cocktails). The more astute reader will note that Quake's storyline is pretty much the same as Doom: someone opens a portal, nasty stuff stream in, single soldier has to fight back. The most astute reader will note that you don't even fight anything called 'Quake' in the game. But back in the 90s (and, for that matter, most of gaming's history), the WHY did not matter as much as the HOW. Shoot these things? Sure. No explanation required.

Before kicking into this, let's ask a question: who here, thanks to a misspent youth playing the original game, knows what Quake is? You? Well, a programmer named Michael Rennie ported it into Flash. Yeah, I can't believe it either. Quake! In Flash! You're excused, here it is, go have fun.

Now, for the uninitiated... Quake. There are two possible reasons why you don't know this game. You either spent the middle 90s involved in more wholesome activities than playing games (like Grunge and Winona Ryder movies) or you were too young to know anything about it. Quake was an amalgamation of "what's cool?" ideas. Cthulhu monsters? Cool. Zombies? Cool. Gloomy gothic decor? Cool. Rottweilers? Cool. Nailguns and a soundtrack by Trent "Nine Inch Nails" Reznor? Cool. And while many games have mashed up various interesting concepts to make weird experiences, Quake isn't just a game, it's a pedigree, one whose bloodline remains strong through today.

QuakeAnalysis: It seems unfair to criticize the game, because that would be akin to writing a critique of the Mona Lisa recreated in condiments. The mere act alone justifies the need to experience this game. That said, Quake Flash is 100% vanilla Quake in all of its glory. You can experience the entire first chapter (released for free as shareware back in '96). Even the cheat codes still work. Unfortunately the multiplayer does not, but if it did and I could co-op the game online with friends, I'd have probably lost my mind.

The experience is as visceral as ever, though that might be my nostalgia talking. The game has indeed aged a lot and it is easy to denounce id's ability to use more shades of brown than what was thought possible. Yes, Quake is not a colourful game, but all things considered it has aged pretty well. You still twitch when you hear a landing grenade's hollow metal sound nearby, lock 'n load the grenade launcher when a zombie moans and few things are as intimidating as a fiend leaping towards you. None, of course, quite beat the moment when you realise you are stuck in a small area with the Shambler, a towering white beast with a knack for shooting electricity (when it's not simply mauling you with its claws).

The move to Flash did make for one unfortunate change: the mouse only works by holding in the left-button, relegating the fire action to the Control button. This is a shortfall of Flash itself, not the game, and establishes the one stumbling block between seeing more first person shooters appear in Alchemy, but still counts as a pretty big one. At times you lose sideways movement because the mouse has strafed too far off the screen — this does not happen often, but is hardly what you want when you are facing off against a Shambler's lightning or dodging grenades from an ogre.

But that might make you miss the point: Quake has arrived in Flash. In my non-technical mind, at least, this makes it possible to port nearly any game made before the advent of hardware-accelerated 3D to browsers and shows that there is a lot more potential hidden in Alchemy than most of us might think.

Play Quake Flash


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Mobile Monday

JohnBBig games, small packages. Well, iPhone apps don't really have packages, but you get my point. Without losing their pick-up-and-play appeal, this week's games stuff a lot of content into your hands, offering weeks upon weeks of casual entertainment.

fishtropolis.jpgFishtropolis - From the creators of the unbelievably appealing Textropolis comes another word game where you spell words from other words! This time, instead of picking apart city names, you're working with fish. That's right, fish. How many words can you spell using the letters W, H, I, T, E, C, A, R, P? Hope it's a lot, because you'll need to cull dozens upon dozens of words out of each name before you can move on to the next stage. Challenging, but boy will you have a great time.

blockoban-iphone.jpgBLOCKOBAN - A slick puzzle game where your goal is to slide colored blocks over colored points on the screen. Most blocks keep sliding until they hit a wall, creating that all-too-familiar Sokoban scenario, but BLOCKOBAN mixes things up with several different objects, including linked blocks, sticky tiles, and — wait for it — circular blocks! Excellent design with captivating and challenging gameplay through and through. Best of all, if the included 100 levels aren't enough, you can upgrade the game for a whopping 800 stages. Also be sure to check out the original browser version of Blockoban.

redconquest.jpgRed Conquest! - A decidedly non-casual real-time strategy game from the creator of Blue Attack!. Red Conquest packs a full-on RTS game into a small package, including just about everything its tactics-oriented PC brothers would possess. Apart from the story that ties together the studio's previous games, your goal is to stay alive and defeat your opponent. There are only a few unit types to worry about (whew), such as harvesters who collect resources, cruisers to do the fighting, and carriers to haul stuff around. The learning curve is intense (and the tutorial isn't very helpful), but I promise you, if you stick with it, Red Conquest rewards you with an incredibly satisfying strategy game on the go. Plus, online multiplayer is promised in a future update!

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: 4.3/5 (125 votes)
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Captain Forever

JamesIn space, nobody can hear you scream. But that doesn't stop you from tearing around, blowing up other ships, and slapping their debris onto your rig before running away from some angry bogeys flying in on your six. When a sleep-deprived pilot puts you in charge of his ship, you have to navigate the depths of Captain Forever, fighting other pilots for pieces of their ships to build the meanest spacecraft on the galactic block. And survive you must, as there is no "triple A" in space...

Captain ForeverThe latest game from indie-maverick Farbs is a build-your-own-spaceship experience, but instead of trawling through shopping menus and tweaking your jalopy to a mean pirate-killing machine, you run-and-gun between the stars, blowing up other ships and taking what's left. To beat a ship you have to eliminate its core, a red square surrounded by a clutter of other blocks, guns and boosters. Once the core is turned into space dust, the remaining parts float free, allowing you to to grab and slap them onto your own ship wherever you like. There is no economy, just nab, stash, and run. Nab with the left mouse button. Stash by pulling pieces near your ship (they snap on like magnets). Then run by not being where you were when the looting took place.

When attaching pieces to your ship, you have to take physics into account. Your ship must be streamlined, else it will veer to one side when flying around space. Booster placement must be balanced or the ship will chug along like a learner driver on a highway. Even the guns have to be distributed evenly. But these are not decisions to be made at the scene of a massacre, mainly because other ships eager to take you apart tend to hover around. Often you swoop in like a vulture, circling a battle between more superior ships and quickly snatching parts before running off to a quiet corner and re-arranging yourself. The maxim that a coward lives longer is at the core of the Captain Forever experience.

Eventually you gather enough firepower to take on other ships, tearing them to pieces and grabbing any surviving parts. But tactics (and by tactics I mean flying in circles and taking cheap potshots at the other guys before they can fire at you) continue to apply as more powerful ships arrive. Different colours signify higher tech levels in Captain Forever: a purple ship has better armour, more powerful guns and stronger boosters than, say, the puny green class. That means you want the purple stuff. But since you are largely decked out in sub-purple gear, a head-on attack will leave you with very little intact. And in Captain Forever, when you lose your boosters you are dead in space. Done, over, finished. There are no second chances in the world of space scavengers. That makes for a very addictive and pretty difficult game.

Captain ForeverAnalysis: The first thing you notice about Captain Forever is how little it explains anything. Apart from a brief plot to why you are blowing up other ships and a small screen outlining the controls, nothing is really revealed. For the first few minutes you will not know what to do. For the first few games you will be the saddest space vulture around, getting blown up easily as you struggle to figure out a working configuration. It's a given that your initial attempts at engineering will boil down to grabbing anything you get your pointer on and slapping it all together.

But soon you grasp the nuances of the game. You learn that boosters should be arranged in certain ways for good speed and turning. You discover that keeping a ship lean and mean by dropping inferior blocks instead of just throwing everything together is the way to go. Ultimately you start to tailor a ship that suits your style of play. My eventual designs eventually reflected old war galleys, with all the guns on the sides so I can sweep past targets and pummel their blindsides, with boosters arranged for quick cornering and even quicker getaways. The whole process is very intuitive and surprisingly addictive. Eventually you learn to reconfigure on the fly, especially when a tail booster has been blown off and you are moving with the grace of a car which had its wheel-alignment set by a curb.

Even though the game has no end, eventually you hit a technology limit, gathering the strongest guns, blocks and boosters the game has to offer. At this point you are also public enemy number one, and everyone is gunning for you. It takes a while to reach that level, because to get there you need to beat superior ships, then rebuild your own craft on-the-fly. The margin for error gets smaller and smaller as you progress, but you get better and better.

Fortunately for us, Farbs is planning a number of episodes in the Captain Forever series, each with feature upgrades to make ship scavenging more interesting and fruitful, even for veterans. A once-off $20 registration gives you instant access to Captain Successor, the sequel to Captain Forever, as well as access to all future episodes in the series. The ship scavenging will never end.

Captain Forever is a blend of tactics, cunning and patience, sweetened by the retro graphics and squawking robot banter from other ships. I could also steal a description from another site: it's Meccano Asteroids. Now doesn't that just sound awesome?

Captain SuccessorJohnBCaptain Successor, Captain Forever's more mature expansion, is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The basic gameplay mechanics are the same, but the differences lie in ship modules, enemy ship constructions, complexity, and lots of little refinements. New parts include boosters that help you turn, a sniper laser that's slow but has a long range, ramming horns that let you crash into other ships, torpedoes, missiles, repair tools, mods that increase the speed of attached parts, and massive girders that not only provide considerable defense but also give you more room to attach things. The Captain Forever wiki has a complete list of parts in Captain Successor, and you can see it's much more varied than before. Now, instead of just looking for bigger and better pieces, you have to employ a strategy when building your ship. It's more challenging to get a design right, but when you do, you're a force to be reckoned with.

A feature present in both Captain Forever and Captain Successor is the ability to save and share ship designs. Press [P] to access the stasis menu, then [X] for the export screen. Cycle through which of your ship designs you want to save, choose how to export it (plain text, HTML, Facebook Twitter, or a JIG-friendly URL), and you're good to go. The export option is a massive boost for the Captain games, moving it from a short, build-die-rebuild arcade game to something that gives you a long term goal. It's such a great thing to be able to log in, scavenge a few neat parts, work on a ship design, then save it for later tweaking. Captain Successor has so much more stuff to build with than Captain Forever, I can't wait to see what future installments will add!

Play Captain Forever

Buy and Play Captain Successor


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Rating: 4.6/5 (27 votes)
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Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue

DoraWhen one woman is brutally murdered and another winds up missing in Paris's iconic Rue Morgue, the police are at a loss. There's no-one else to turn to except for the great, if eccentric, Detective Dupin. Oh, and you, of course. It's no time to lollygag about. The game is afoot! Or maybe it's an elbow. I can't remember. Oh well, one body part is as likely as another. Polish up your magnifying glass for hidden-object searching in Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue MorgueWhile the game initially limits you to the home of Detective Dupin, you'll soon find yourself traveling all over Paris in an attempt to track down the killer. Unless you're playing in hard difficulty, areas where you can trigger a hidden object scene are indicated by sparkles, which I like to think of as "Magic Detective-o-Vision". Clicking on these will bring up one of the game's many hidden object scenes, all of which are very well done. Most scenes will also have areas you can interact with, so when the cursor changes to a hand, make sure you click that spot; you may find one of the items you're looking for in a drawer or under a bed. Navigation is handled simply, by clicking when the cursor transforms into an arrow to move to a different area, or when the cursor becomes an eye to get a close-up.

Along with your standard hidden object scenes, Rue Morgue also offers a fair amount of puzzles in an attempt to stymie your detective work. While they're fairly well done, most of them are just colourful variations of simple mechanics you've probably seen before, and won't offer much challenge to your average player. Likewise, the point-and-click sequences, involving using the right object in the right place, are generally pretty straight-forward in the "use rock on glass" sense. Some of you may question how Dupin knows that old rock on the ground is going to be of use to you six scenes from now. It's because he's a detective, smarty-pants. Obviously. Sheesh, kids today.

Okay, so while the item usage is a little "because I said so", most of us are familiar with that from the point-and-click genre already. There's very little fumbling about, since by the time you pick up an item, you've already seen the place you'll need to use it. Likewise, the hidden object scenes themselves are well done. Objects fit in well with their surroundings, and a few may have you reaching for the rechargeable hint button. It's a little disappointing that the items cluttering up each scene frequently have little to do with the area in which you discover them, but they're at least well rendered. Besides, doesn't every well bred young woman have a jeweled fish in her drawers? I know I have several.

Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue MorgueAnalysis: Those of you hoping for a gritty, tense horror story of cat-and-mouse with a brutal killer are going to be disappointed, because Rue Morgue isn't much of a "Dark Tale". Since the game is largely faithful to Poe's original short story, this is less the game's fault and more a case of people being easier to scare in the mid-1800's, but in a game where the title literally drips blood, you tend to have certain expectations. As it stands, Rue Morgue is nearly light-hearted in its execution. A big reason for this is the occasionally unintentionally hilarious narrative, such as the protagonist assuming the detective "has his reasons" for the human skeleton that pops up in his house. The game also features one of the funniest, weirdest, and most distracting hidden object scenes I've ever encountered. You'll know it when you see it. And hear it.

But where Rue Morgue absolutely succeeds is its top notch presentation. From the dirtiest of prison cells to the lavish apartments, Paris here is rendered in beautiful artwork and is a treat to explore. I just wish as much effort had been put into the game's soundtrack. Like the music? I hope so, since it's just one long tune repeated over and over. It's easy on the ears, but a little variation would have been nice. The narrative is smooth and well-written, free of typos or grammatical errors. Make sure you investigate everything, since even non-essential objects in your environment usually have something interesting written for flavour text. Dupin's study, with its strange beasts, is a perfect example. So strap on your sleuthing shoes and your most enigmatic expression. Paris awaits!

How long it takes you to complete Rue Morgue is largely going to depend on how easy you find the hidden object scenes, but most players will likely get several hours of gaming out of it. At the price of your average movie ticket, I'd consider that a fair deal for my entertainment. It's not a breakout title, but it is a solid one, and hidden object fans will find a lot to enjoy about it.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (33 votes)
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greatadventureslost-b.jpg

GrinnypOnce in a while a game comes along that, well, you don't really know how to describe. Great Adventures: Lost in Mountains is one of those games. Designed by Fenomen Games, Great Adventures is advertised as a time management game. Actually, it's more like a casual sim. No, it's more like a point-and-click adventure with casual sim and time management elements. But really, it plays like a room escape game with RPG and hidden object elements. See? Difficult to describe. Basically, all of the above is incorporated to make one wildly fun, inventive game.

greatadventureslost.jpgAs the game begins, your characters (a male and female, chosen from several different avatars) are driving along an icy road somewhere in the mountains. The woman receives an urgent phone call from her father who begs for help before his call abruptly ends. Despite the worsening weather conditions, our intrepid heroine and her sidekick race to the scene. Perhaps too fast, as within seconds the car goes out of control and our heroes are stranded outside a nearby hotel. First order of business? Find a way inside to get out of the cold!

A faithful doggy companion soon joins you who, coincidentally, will also walk you through a quick gameplay tutorial. All you have to do is find a key to the storage shed. Then a shovel to dig the snow from the hotel door. Then a key to the front door. Then... well, you get the picture. Once inside you make your way through numerous locked doors trying to find out what happened to your father and his mysterious new invention.

Just to make things interesting, your characters also have needs. Needs like food, sleep, and fun. In fact, if those needs aren't met, they will slow down and eventually grind to a halt. Along with all the exploration, you must figure out how to feed, rest, and entertain the little folks. There's also mini-puzzles (which can be skipped after a certain amount of time has passed) to complete. Plenty to keep you busy!

greatadventureslost2.jpgYou can move through the game in several ways, including bumping the cursor against the edge of the screen or by right clicking and dragging empty ground. There's also a handy overview map you can click to quick-jump to any area. Moving your characters is just as simple, allowing you to click and direct or drag and drop people where you need them to be. Useful items will stow themselves in your inventory at the bottom of the screen, easy to keep track of and use when later needed. There's also a handy "goals" screen to help you track which tasks need to be done.

Your faithful puppy pal sticks around after the tutorial, serving up a bone-fueled hint system to sniff out items you need to complete puzzles. And there are a lot of items to be had, including items to combine, items to use, items to take care of your characters' needs, and items that serve as clues to progress the story. You'll also find trophy items such as butterflies, ladybugs, lanterns and so on, all of which can be used to spruce up your very own quiet little zen space.

Analysis: One would think that this kitchen sink approach to game design would produce an incomprehensible mess of a final product. Pick a genre, amirite? Quite the opposite, actually. Great Adventures: Lost in Mountains combines all of its varied elements into one big bundle of amazing casual gameplay, although it will appeal most to those who enjoy point-and-click adventures. Is there any type of casual game Fenomen Games missed when putting this little beauty together? Well, there's no marble popping or match-3 to be had, but otherwise, doesn't look like it.

greatadventureslost3.jpgThe cuteness levels reach almost toothache-inducing level with your little character avatars (and doggy companion) as they wander around and perform tasks at your direction (or run outside to take care of doggy business, as it were). Each character has strengths and weaknesses, so a task that one cannot do another may be able to accomplish, and vice versa. Marvel as they get down and funky in the disco; fret when they begin to droop if their needs aren't met; and laugh as they start to shiver if you leave them out in the cold too long. Well, for that last bit, if you're feeling sadistic, that is. Add in a lively soundtrack and background noises and you get one fantastic experience.

Are there downsides? A few minor ones. Even with the handy goals tabulator it can be difficult in the later stages of the game to keep track of areas that need to be explored and items in your inventory. In a room crowded with things to pick up or interact with it can be a little difficult to get your character to go to the correct one. A few inconsistencies occasionally appear, such as in the end scene when the characters talking are sometimes not the ones you started out with.

The minor downsides don't detract much from what is, frankly, a unique and entertaining gameplay experience. Great Adventures: Lost in Mountains is adorable, fun, and challenging, everything that you could want in a game. Get ready to explore, solve the mystery, and don't forget to throw the helpful doggy a bone every once in a while.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


| Comments (18) | Views (7)

Weekend Download

JohnBIt's the first Weekend Download of 2010! We thought we would go easy on you while you break in your new calendar, so all of the games below have a light download footprint. You can handle a few megs worth of games, can't you? Sure you can!

argeebee.gifArGeeBee (Windows, 1.8MB, free) - An excellent game by Nandrew that blends genres and ends up playing like a puzzle game crossed with The Lost Vikings. Ar, Gee and Bee each have their own abilities and control schemes. Ar moves as if the level were a top-down game, fighting monsters by running into them. Gee can move green blocks to make them match, but only one move per block. Bee can run and jump like a standard platform character, and his goal is to turn the generator on in each level. By using each character's abilities in the right order (and by conserving resources, of which each character has an ability that consumes them), make it through all 20 levels of the game. The idea feels a bit strained at first, but after you complete the tutorial missions, the fun really sets in and you won't be able to get enough of this game.

operaomnia.gifOpera Omnia (Mac/Win, 6.3MB, free) - A minimalist but brain-bending retro-styled puzzle game from indie game developer increpare. You play a historian in a fictional universe who must prove migration paths to and from cities in the past. Using a machine equipped with a timeline, you set routes with the mouse, move the time slider a bit, set more routes, and so on, until you can prove the desired population numbers in the present. It doesn't make a lot of sense in writing, and to be honest, it won't make much sense when you first play. Once you get it, though, Opera Omnia will impress you with its inventiveness and subtle but challenging gameplay.

audia.jpgAudia (Windows, 6.1MB, free) - Not a game, but an experimental music toy by Bitfortress creator Davioware. Create ball spawners, note bars and gates on the screen, then tweak the sounds they make by moving the objects around. As the balls appear and bounce, you get music. Or, at least, you get sound. The controls are a bit mucky at first, but if you fiddle with the program for long enough, you can create some surprisingly coherent tunes, all of which can be shared using the game's save/load interface.

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


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Rating: 4.3/5 (224 votes)
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Grinnypwhereis2010_screenshot1.jpgHappy New Year! As you pick yourself up from whatever flat surface you passed out on, mumbling and shaking your head and wondering, "Did I really do that?", you need something to take the edge off. Something to cure the pounding head and queasy stomach. Something to help make sense of it all. Well, Where is 2010? won't necessarily help with that. Instead, it will bring a curious serenity as you face the new year. A strange little platformer designed by Mateusz Skutnik (Submachine, Covert Front), Where is 2010? won't cure the indulgences of the night before but will nevertheless allow you to kick off the new year in style (if you haven't already).

Navigation through this strange little world is accomplished with the arrow keys. The left and right arrow will allow you to move, well, left and right. The up arrow key will allow you to jump and the down arrow key will allow you to interact with various parts of the scenery. Take your time and explore; for a five minute or less game there's lots to behold. Strangely non-linear, be prepared to move backwards and forwards, up and down, and gaze in amazement at the bleak surroundings. Oh, and try to find 2010, of course.

The artwork in this eerie, deserted world is in hand-drawn black and white, reminiscent of and probably a tribute to the DayMare Town series. Adding to the chill factor is the eerie sound of wind blowing through this deserted space. Yet, despite the bleak atmosphere, in the end this is some rather uplifting casual gameplay.

whereis2010_screenshot2.jpgYou might ask, for such a short game is it fun to play? The answer to that is in two parts: (1) It's Mateusz Skutnik, and (2) Duh! Is 2010 something real or just a state of mind? You'll have to play to find out. Have fun wandering in all directions, back and forth, up and down, and see what you can find. It's amazing what can be packed into such a small space and there's lots to see and do before it's all over. Atmospheric, moody, and yet surprisingly cute while simultaneously sending a chill down your spine, Where is 2010? is a perfect way to start the new year right.

Play Where is 2010?


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Way Too Casual

JohnBIt's been a year, hasn't it? I mean, they're all years, but 2009 was a special one. For starters, Way Too Casual was born. Some other stuff happened, but I can't remember. It won't be on the test, so I won't even bother to look it up. I'm way too casual to study.

To celebrate the passing of a year (and of a decade), Joe, Dora and John sat down around a cozy fireplace, sipped some sort of expensive kind of drinks we couldn't even pronounce, let alone afford (it was hot cider), and had a nice little chat about the year behind and the year ahead. How was 2009 for casual games? What does 2010 promise? We don't know. But we sure sound like we do!

So sit back, grab your cup of hot cocoa, and take a sip of our special podcast all about the year in casual gaming. Check below the jump for a full list of games with links to play them. But, you know, spoiler alert and all. And, as always, you can find more casual gaming podcasts on our website, WayTooCasual.com.

Way Too Casual podcastDownload Way Too Casual #004
"Bye Bye 2009" (MP3, 35MB, 38:33)
Subscribe via iTunes


(14 votes) *Average rating will show after 20 votes
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Agatha Christie: Dead Man's Folly

joyeInspector Poirot is on the case again! Detective novelist Ariadne Oliver suspects that a murder may be committed at her high-society murder mystery fête. Sure enough, instead of a girl pretending to be a corpse, an actual corpse appears, which really casts a pall over your evening, let me tell you. It's up to Poirot to determine who is innocent, who is lying, and who is a murderer in the third entry in the series of hidden object games, Agatha Christie: Dead Man's Folly.

agathachristiedead.jpgEach Agatha Christie game is like stepping back in time to a refined and glamorous age where gentlemen in natty suits drink martinis, cigarettes are in holders, and stories are written on typewriters. Dead Man's Folly, like its predecessors, is careful to preserve the right atmosphere in both time and place. A "football" clue will lead you to what we Americans would call a soccer ball, and you're not going to be looking for cell phones, computers, or anything else that wouldn't fit the time period.

When it comes to the gameplay itself, expect a pretty standard set of hidden object conventions where a laundry list of items and your cursor are your best friends. Each scene is on a (rather generous) timer, and too many mis-clicks in a row will nip a few seconds off the clock. There's no timerless relaxed mode to play, so, you know, keep your eyes peeled and go easy on that mouse button.

In addition to picking up footballs, pipes, fish, butterflies, and pocket watches (apparently our detective Hercule Poirot is a compulsive tidier), you'll also be looking for clues to solve the murder mystery. Unlike previous Agatha Christie games, the connection between the object you find and the clue you are given isn't always parallel. Sometimes it's just a random item, which puts a bit of a kink in your plans if you were trying to solve the mystery on your own.

agathachristiedead2.jpgAnalysis: As a hidden object game, there is hardly anything to complain about with Agatha Christie: Dead Man's Folly. The presentation is great and the interface is smooth. While there are a few small-sized plot-important items (maybe one per level), the majority of the objects are clearly drawn, requiring no eye straining or pixel hunting to find. There's also a good variety of scenes within scenes to uncover as well as my favorite hidden object feature: manipulating objects on the screen, such as returning bulbs to a chandelier.

Dead Man's Folly's plot suffers in comparison to its predecessors, and I'm not sure why. I know it can be difficult to come up with a good story for a hidden object game, but in this case the work was done for them — just use the book's plot! The story in the game is doled out so sparsely I hardly knew any of the characters. Several times I received a clue card and had to search my memory to figure out who this person was and why the clue was surprising or important. This could have been alleviated by including a journal or something, but I think the fundamental problem is that the cut scenes don't do enough to tell who the characters are and what they care about. It's hard for you to determine who the murderer is when you don't know people's motivations.

While Agatha Christie: Dead Man's Folly isn't up to the same standard as its older siblings, it remains a fully competent hidden object puzzler. Gamers who don't care about plot will have a great time despite the shortcomings in the storytelling department. For everyone else, you'll have fun, but it's sad to think about what this game might have been.

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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

Agatha Christie: Dead Man's Folly is available to download from these affiliates:
Big Fish Games


| Comments (24) | Views (3)

Link Dump Fridays

DoraGood morning, shiny, happy casual gameplay consumer! Do you feel any different? It's the start of a new year for most of us, and we bet you're just brimming over with resolutions that stand no chance of surviving the week. Here at JiG headquarters, situated deep within a dormant, skull-shaped volcano somewhere in the Pacific, we've decided to keep things simple by making resolutions we can't possibly break! For example, we resolve not to make the Stegosaurus extinct. We also resolve to eat food, and breathe air. We further resolve to continue bringing you the neatest casual games the web has to offer! I also wanted to resolve to do more bike jumps through flaming hoops over Dead Man's Movie Cliche Canyon, but apparently it's too "dangerous" and our insurance won't cover it. Spoilsports.

  • AlterAlter - While it's so-sweet style unfortunately isn't backed up with equally potent substance, this point-and-click/platformer hybrid is still clever enough to entertain for a bit. Use the awesome powers of shrink'n'grow to change the world around you and solve the problems plaguing the populace! While the mouse-and-key combo isn't as silky smooth as one might wish, how can you refuse this adorable... little... flame-y lookin'... uh, thing?
  • Shrink ItShrink It - It doesn't represent much of a challenge, but this cute widdle physics puzzler is still fun to play. Once again, you're growing and shrinking the environment, though this time to get your smiley into the target area. Which is a little perplexing, since the game's music sort of makes me think I should be frolicking through a meadow somewhere with an elven hero with too many syllables in his name. Oh well, next time!
  • Blasting AgentBlasting Agent - I like my platforming heroes like I like my coffee. Short, pixelated, and leaping/shooting its way across a secret frozen enemy base. Why Starbucks never understands my order, I don't know. But I do know that in spite of slightly clunky controls and straightforward gameplay, Blasting Agent is still pretty rad. Kids today still say rad, right? I'm hip!
  • The WellThe Well - You can probably firmly place this one in the "this seemed better on paper/like a good idea at the time" category, but I'm including it anyway because of how awesome it almost was. A game created to run alongside the BBC's horror miniseries of the same name, The Well is a point-and-click adventure that is extraordinarily ambitious, but trips itself up with strange, awkward gameplay. The storyline is a bit cliched, but if the game itself had been made to be actually, you know, fun, it still would have been a remarkable achievement. C for effort, see me after class.
  • Icebreaker: The GatheringIcebreaker: The Gathering - Part 3 of Nitrome's weekly set of levels in its popular series about smelly frozen vikings is now available! Play as the Raven Clan and write sad emo poetry nobody ever, ever reads or cares about... uh, I mean, deal with bouncy moss. Sorry. Easy mistake.

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