March 2010 Archives


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Rating: 4.3/5 (183 votes)
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GrinnypMushroom Madness 2Ah, the cute, fuzzy, adorable denizens of the forest. Bunnies, porcupines, bears, they're all just so... cute, aren't they? In cartoon form they make some go awwww, and others squeal, "Cute!" What happens, though, when you're sick of all the cuteness? When if you see just one more cutesy furry critter you'll go postal? Then check out Mushroom Madness 2, the new tower defense designed by Silen Games, which will fulfill all your fuzzy homicidal needs. Now with 50% more explosions!

Nominally a tower defense game, Mushroom Madness plays more like a cross between tower defense and a frantic game of whack-a-mole. There are mushrooms, you see. Tasty, delicious mushrooms and they are all yours. But the inhabitants of the woodland would like to get a piece of your mushroom action, so it's up to you, the intrepid farmer, to defend the fungal treats at all costs and against all comers.

The control structure is amazingly easy. Your mouse controls the movement of whatever weapon you are carrying. Simply click the left click button to whack, shoot, or otherwise cause mayhem. You also use the cursor to pick up coins dropped by the dying creatures, as well as keys to safes scattered around the area. Use the keys to unlock more money, jewels, and weapons, just keep an eye on the greedy little critters as they come at you from all directions.

You begin with a simple weapon, a croquet mallet. As the bunnies bounce into view with an eye for your morels, you must... well, beat them to death with a mallet. Repeatedly. Until no more bunnies are left in the woods, at least, at that level. Eventually other creatures will come, porcupines, bears, moles, birds, and owls, each with a yen for your tasty fungi. Fortunately you can power up with more and deadlier weapons, including several types of rifles, bear traps, land mines, and bombs, amongst other things. Boxes will occasionally appear, cardboard boxes that can be beaten open, wooden boxes that can be shot open, and metal safes that require keys. Open a box and a cornucopia of surprises can tumble out, from extra money to extra weapons, just what you need to deal with the ongoing furry madness. All you need to do to complete the round is make sure that at least one of your mushrooms survives. Simple.

Mushroom Madness 2Analysis: The sequel to the popular Mushroom Madness, Mushroom Madness 2 ramps up the gameplay from the variety of foes to the variety of scenarios. With 48 new levels, there's lots of mushroom saving to do. Attain certain goals within a level to earn stars which can unlock more advanced levels. Silen Games makes sure there's enough variety to keep a gamer interested; from the basic "defend the mushroom" levels to even simpler plain tower defense levels (just kill all the animals before they cross a line); levels that require you keep the animals out of your fortress; challenge levels to see how many boxes you can open; and frantic, unlimited levels where the animals just keep coming and coming...

The backgrounds are bright, cartoony, and beautifully animated. All the little furry creatures have such personality, it's almost a shame to beat them to death in the name of gameplay. Almost. Lively, frantic music accompany each level as the action becomes more fast-paced than the one previous, until you've killed all the animals, destroyed your mouse, or given yourself a wicked case of carpal tunnel. Amusing little voice-over phrases round out the wackiness (forgive the pun).

The gameplay can get a little samey in the upper levels, as well as so frantic it might take a while to come down from the adrenaline high. Still, some days, don't cute and furry animals just make you want to go all Ted Nugent on their... bums? Mushroom Madness 2 fulfills that inner madman in all of us who just wants to smack, smash, DESTROY! Play Mushroom Madness 2, animal control as casual gameplay. Let your inner masher out and get whacking!

Play Mushroom Madness 2


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (204 votes)
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DoraI Can Hold My Breath ForeverLatest in a long line of things that make you go "Hmmm," or "WHAT," is I Can Hold My Breath Forever, a short, experimental little title made by Jake Elliott for the Experimental Gameplay Project's March theme of "10 Seconds". The game controls simply using the [arrow] keys, and it's your job to guide the protagonist through a series of underwater caverns in search of his friend, who dove in long ago. Contrary to the title, your hero can actually only hold his breath for ten seconds, which begins to count down as soon as he dives, and if that runs out, he dies. To prevent this, keep your eyes out for caves full of air that you can swim up into and catch your breath to replenish the timer. Also within you'll find notes left behind by your friend that talk about various things and act as checkpoints you'll automatically return to if your breath runs out.

It's a strangely melancholic little title, despite the typically upbeat tone in the notes your friend leaves you, and hard to pin down. The first time I finished it I sat and stared at the screen for a good minute or so, then immediately started it up again to see if I'd missed something. The narrative is intriguing, but extremely loose in such a way that the ending feels abrupt and a little unsatisfying.

But as any old sage on a mountaintop will tell you, "Joy is not found in finishing an activity, but in doing it". While the environment could do with some variation the farther you go to provide a grander sense of exploration, what exists is still very atmospheric and a clever interpretation of the "10 Seconds" theme. The soundtrack is extremely simple, but very appropriate, and only adds to the tense experience as you swim through the maze of tunnels with only the fish to light your way. You feel a genuine sense of distress as your air ticks down to nothing, and the notes you find are a nice blend of sad nostalgia and foreshadowing.

I Can Hold My Breath Forever is an interesting, thoughtful little game that tries to do a lot with a small set of concepts. Whether it's successful for you depends entirely on what you take away from the experience.

Play I Can Hold My Breath Forever


  • Currently 3.7/5
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Rating: 3.7/5 (85 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypYes, we've been on a bit of a whimsy kick lately. This week's room escape, however, is not so much whimsical as... well, surreal. Welcome to Alloy, by Japanese designer HILG (U-Sensor, G-Sensor), a room where you're escaping... safety?

AlloyOkay, the basic premise of Alloy is this; you are in the witness protection program, and you can't leave the house without a GPS tracker and guards. But what do you do when you just want a breath of fresh air and a moment alone? Well, you try to get the room unlocked for one. But that's the easy part, because to really escape you need to distract the robot guard. What? Didn't you know the US Marshall Service was now delegating witness protection to flying robots? Where have you been?

Navigate around your tiny apartment using arrows at the edges of the screen. You can also click on items or areas for a close up, and use handy down arrows to move back. Pick up everything that isn't nailed down, because you're going to need a lot of stuff to get out of this place. Yes, that does mean construction. There's no changing cursor, so there will be some pixel hunting, but this is not a very cluttered space, so most objects and clickable areas should be readily apparent.

Next to each item in your inventory is a little button that allows you to bring the object into a close up view. Once in close up objects can be manipulated by clicking on them, which you will need to do a lot. After you get past the intro, which is in both English and Japanese, you will see three handy buttons at the left of your screen. The first button (yellow) allows you to pull up the system menu so that you can turn on the English version, as well as the hint feature. The middle button affects the music and sound effects, and the third button is a nice save feature, in case you want to leave and come back later.

Analysis: Alloy is a nice mid-week diversion. Not so easy that you're done in five minutes, not so difficult that you should concuss yourself by head banging on the nearest flat surface. Part of what makes it so fun is the silly premise. It seems like the protagonist of this escape is being treated more like someone under house arrest than a protected witness, doesn't it? And what's with the flying robots? All part of the fun.

The room is nicely done up in realistic (if somewhat tacky, decoration-wise) 3D. There's a nice little tune playing in the background that can be easily turned off if it becomes annoying. After spending a few minutes in the somewhat claustrophobic space, you can understand why the guy wants to get out.

The lack of a changing cursor, though, does indeed mean some pixel hunting, which can be annoying. And there are some color based puzzles included that make life difficult for those with color-blindness. Frankly, the method of changing to the English version is very non-intuitive as well, unless you've played one of HILG's games before.

Despite the minor flaws, however, Alloy is an enjoyable escape. The puzzles flow together logically, and the construction bit is just terribly amusing. Take some time, and enjoy the logic of the game and the illogic of the premise. So help the poor guy escape! Just, you know, watch out for the flying robot guards.

Play Alloy


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (789 votes)
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Daymare Town 3

DoraFans of wee beasties and things that probably go bump in the night, assemble! Mateusz Skutnik's gloriously atmospheric point-and-click series is back with Daymare Town 3, the latest in the Daymare Town saga. When disaster strikes, you find yourself waking up in a strange hospital with the cutest little creepy doctor keeping an eye on your hurts. Which is all well and good, but you really need to find your money bag and carry on with your adventure. Of course they'll just let you walk on out the door... right?

Daymare Town 3Use your mouse to interact with the screen, searching the area for clues and the items you need to proceed and clicking on hot spots to investigate. A changing cursor eliminates most pixel hunting, but you'll still have to be careful about combing through scenes, since many items or area transitions are small enough that you can miss them if you just whip your mouse around willy-nilly. The lack of explicit directions in most circumstances means you'll have to go everywhere and try everything to proceed. Hey, you! Sad guy! Do you want my dead insects?... no? Hmmm. Conundrum. You'll need to put on your exploration pants to solve this one, and some people might find the scavenger hunt-ish gameplay more frustrating than others. Navigation in particular can be annoying as you hunt for that one perspective you might have missed in a room.

As always, the series is more charming than scary, but the atmosphere in this weird little game is wonderfully unsettling, like a children's book that fell off the back of a truck somewhere. You can interact with a much more varied cast than before, and even indulge in a bit of item trading if someone has something you want. (And who doesn't need more vomit pills, eh? Eh??) Figuring out just what the strange, glowering (or cowering) inhabitants of the hospital want from you is a bit of a challenge, but if you keep your eyes peeled (ow, my eyes! I have to stop taking myself so literally.) you'll win the day. Will you finally manage to escape this weird little town? I ain't tellin'. You'll just have to play to find out. You can hold my hand if you're scared... as long as you promise to buy these dead bugs off me, first.

Play Daymare Town 3

Play the entire Daymare Town series...

Similar games:

Cheers to AbstractCloud for sending this one in!


  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (115 votes)
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KyleLight UPYou're too stressed out, man. Don't worry, brother, I feel ya. You got all these things flyin' about. You got your fast food and your internets and your rush hour traffic and your pre meeting meetings and your post meeting meetings. Your life force is stretched to the limits and your chi is all out of whack and it's crazy, dude. Crazy! You need to decompress, man. You need to just chill out and do something to help bring some calmitude into your life. You need to do something like play the relaxing puzzle game Light UP, man.

See, it's really easy now. You just eliminate the frosted spheres on the board until your lighted sphere touches and it lights up the rest of the unlit transparent spheres. It's that easy dude, no joke. I told you I would take care of you. Oh, right, later on you'll come across some blue spheres that make the lighted spheres bounce real high (you can even make some of your own on some levels), and you can only remove a limited number of spheres on each level, but what good is harmony of the soul if you don't work for it, right man?

And, okay, fine, maybe it's not exactly as easy as I made it sound. There's this rudimentary ball physics engine working in the background that lends a little bit of complexity to your puzzle solving, but that just makes the game more fun. On the other hand, there's only twenty levels meaning that not only does this leave a lot of the mechanics here unexplored, but you're little trip to peaceful land won't be very long lived. Sorry about that, man.

So if the fast pace of modern life is bogging you down man, just take a few minutes, listen to the sublime acoustic guitar tunes, and realign your inner peace with these balls of light, dude. You won't regret it.

Play Light UP


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (82 votes)
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DoraEnigmata 2: Genu's RevengeIn the future, all issues will be resolved by massive space battles. Yes, that's right. Even store returns and canceling gym memberships. And because I'm totally not lying for my own amusement, you should play Enigmata 2: Genu's Revenge to prepare yourself for the shooter revolution. (FYI, the future also involves leaving funnel cake in tribute to your favourite gaming websites. Just sayin'.)

There are two control schemes for you to choose from, although I found using [WASD] to move and the mouse to aim and fire was the easiest. I also highly recommend going into the options from the main menu and setting the brightness to "high" because anything else is like playing inside a mineshaft without a lantern while blindfolded. (Exaggerate? Moi?) I also, also recommend taking advantage of the tutorial your good friend Neko offers. Fly through the levels avoiding enemy fire, collecting upgrades (and avoiding downgrades), completing side missions, and take down the bosses to advance. Between missions you can save your game and you'll have access to a store you can use to buy upgrades, new abilities, or even new ships, with more unlocking as you progress.

Who is the mysterious Genu and why does revenge come into play? Chances are you probably won't care. The game's biggest strong point is clearly not its storytelling, which is prybar'd in awkwardly and winds up sounding a lot like the plot of most Anime series from the 1980s. (All that's really missing is someone called something like Shining Hero Kaeda 1.) No, space fans, no great galaxy opera for you this time. If Enimgata 2 sings a siren song for you, it's going to be because of the tremendous glut of laser fire, explosions, upgrades, and ships on offer. Shakespeare? No. Bosses ten times bigger than you are vomiting an obscene amount of fire all over the screen? Oh, yes.

Enigmata 2: Genu's Revenge isn't perfect, with controls that are perhaps overly responsive at time, but it's an enormous improvement over the original. Shooters hold a special spot in my heart (it's the same spot that hates navigating push button menus on the phone), and this one warms the proverbial cockles nicely. At least... I think it did. What's a cockle, anyway? Does the answer lie within Enigmata 2?!... probably not, but you should play it anyway.

Play Enigmata 2: Genu's Revenge


  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (61 votes)
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SonicLoverStinkoman 20X6A long time ago, before I was a member of JIG's staff, I found an 8-bit-styled flash platformer with a sense of humor. Recently I rediscovered that game. That game was Stinkoman 20X6.

Stinkoman 20X6, an old Videlectrix classic, follows the saga of the titular Stinkoman, an egocentric super-boxer who lives on Planet K and can never seem to keep his priorities straight. Even when his old friend, the rotund panda Pan Pan, is kidnapped, all he cares about is playing video games, eating chicken broth, and the occasional challenge. On most levels, you control Stinkoman with the [arrow] keys, moving [left] and [right] and climbing [up] and [down] ladders. Jump with [A], punch with [S] to send off enemy-killing shockwaves. You've got four energy bars to live your life on, which you can refill by collecting red pills.

Not all the levels are the same, however. There are various twists slipped into the formula here and there, including vertically scrolling collect-the-doodads action sequences, a horizontally scrolling shoot-'em-up, and one of those infamous love-'em-or-hate-'em escort missions.

Stinkoman is a little hard to get into. Platforming veterans may be frustrated by the titular character's lack of jump height and speed. The fact that enemies blink invulnerably after each hit, a trait usually reserved for player characters, can also put off players who aren't used to it. None of that is wrong per se, just different from the norm.

So if it's so hard to get into the flow, why bother? Because once you're in, you'll never want out. The gameplay, while slightly unorthodox, is very entertaining; the levels are well designed, and so are the bosses. The retro 8-bit graphics are a charm, and the matching music is mad catchy. Plus, the variety of levels keeps the game interesting, especially for an all-around gamer like myself. You can even skip levels that are particularly frustrating if you so desire.

The only real complaint I have is the lack of a real ending. Apparently the tenth and presumably last area won't be out for a long time to come. Still, give Stinkoman a chance. Maybe even a chance and a half. You won't regret it. ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A CHALLENGE? Well, you've got one.

Play Stinkoman 20X6


  • Currently 2.9/5
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Rating: 2.9/5 (73 votes)
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JoyeRed Jet RabbitEveryone is to make you fly to the right. Man, don't you ever want to get off the launch treadmill? If only we could destroy this stupid car, we could forget about this whole getting-to-the-right business and get with that cute rabbit in the corner of the screen. Hey baby you so fine baby. Red Jet Rabbit puts you in the cartoonish driver's seat to destroy a mad scientist's car, which will win you a kiss... somehow.

The instructions leave a lot to be desired, so let me share with you what I figured out through trial and error. Hold the [space] bar and release it when the throttle in the lower right is as close to max as possible, to get an initial boost of speed. Then, hit [space] again when you want to turn on the engine. As a note of strategy, while high speed makes you travel over more ground, lower speed makes it easier to make sure you steer into the obstacles. Then, steer with the [up] and [down] arrow keys. If you've purchased additional tools such as a gas can or a grand piano, switch among them with the [left] and [right] arrow keys, and select one by using [space].

For the objects like the grand piano that you drop on your head, hit the [space] bar once, and then again when the object is directly over the car. If you hold the button too long, the object will bounce harmlessly in front of you, which is probably the most frustrating aspect of the game.

A serious drawback to the game is that doesn't appear to be any way to save. If you want to kiss that bunny, you had better be prepared to do it in one sitting. But the game shouldn't take that long to complete. As for the aesthetics of the game, they're probably where it shines the most. The zany music, art, and the main character combine for a No-Intellectual-Property-Was-Harmed version of Bugs Bunny. The entire game is a spree through that kind of Loony Tunes logic where you can smash at top speed into a giant weight (helpfully labeled five tons), merely have some comical bandages and a swirl of smoke over your head in the next scene, and in the scene after that be perfectly fine.

Play Red Jet Rabbit


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWho here hasn't wanted to be a hero and save the world at least once during their life? Trick question, of course we all want to wear spandex and fly around the city doing cool things! I mean, that's not just me, is it? Yellow spandex?

thehero.jpgThe Hero - It's your turn to save the world, one helpless citizen at a time! Fly around the game's 16 stages performing heroic tasks as danger rears its ugly head. Bomb going off by a building? Better boot it skyward. Crooks on the loose at street level? A super punch will take care of that. Keep your Fame level high by completing as many tasks as you can! The controls are a little dramatic at times, but once you get the hang of things, saving the world will become second nature.

kerplinkus.gifKerplinkus - One of the more unusual puzzle games on the App Store, Kerplinkus is extremely fast-paced and almost painfully difficult to play at first. Small shapes fall from the sky, you must swap pieces on the bottom so the falling blocks land on similar ground. When that happens, all adjacent matching pieces vanish, and at the rate blocks fall, you've got to get rid of as many shapes as you can with each match. To make things bearable, start out on easy mode. You'll need it!

foxvsduck.gifFox Vs. Duck - Stuck in the pond? A little tilt of the good ole iPhone will help you get out. Unfortunately there's a fox circling the pond, and he looks pretty hungry. There's also a mean looking fish that'll probably gobble you up if given half a chance. Stay away from the baddies as you make your way to the edge of the water, gathering power-ups if you possibly can. An excellent pick up and play, sit down and walk away game that will keep you coming back for more.

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 2.9/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (55 votes)
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The Incredible Machine

JamesIf your idea of a good puzzle involves balls, gears, conveyor belts, balloons, ropes, mice, cats, monkeys, guns and gravity, you can not go wrong to invest in the original Rube Goldberg-inspired puzzle game and Sierra classic, The Incredible Machine, created by Kevin Ryan.

The concept behind The Incredible Machine is very simple and one that has been copied in one way or another by countless puzzle outings since inspiring a generation of gamers back in 1994. It uses the idea of a Rube-Goldberg machine, an overly elaborate setup to achieve a simple task - a concept celebrated by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Goonies and countless Youtube videos. The Incredible Machine has spawned its own share of sequels, nearly all of which are present in this mega-pack. The idea is simple: each puzzle presents you with a different challenge to construct an elaborate chain-reaction towards a goal. For example; you have to burst three balloons present on the screen. Along with this will be some pre-set elements normally used throughout the puzzles and you are given a selection of similar items to accomplish the task.

The Incredible MachineFor example, say the challenge is to pop a balloon. On the scene is the balloon, as well as a mouse in a cage, a conveyor belt, a ball over the cage and a ball on the belt. You are given a gun, a see-saw, a rope and something to angle the rope with. The solution would be to aim the gun at the balloon, place the see-saw just below the drop point of the ball on the belt and finally tie the gun and see-saw together, angling the rope to yank the trigger backwards. When you start the machine, the first ball lands on the mouse cage, causing the little sucker to run and start up the belt. The ball on this belt moves forward, drops on the see-saw, which jerks the rope back, pulling the trigger on the gun and bursting the balloon.

This is a simple illustration: the puzzles can become quite complex, involving power switches, generators, rockets, flashlights, cannons, trampolines, monkeys on bicycles, cheese and crocodiles (to name a few). To add complexity, some puzzles even alter air-pressure and gravity. And if you want to flex your imagination, there is the free-form mode where you can build a really elaborate machine that is indeed incredible and might also have your friends and family question if you have too much time on your hands...

Analysis: The Incredible Machine is an undisputed classic and nothing has managed to quite step into its zone yet. There are similar games like this, but nothing has manages the sheer scope that the series has offered. In fact, if the Sierra name was not languishing somewhere in the deep licensing vaults of today's Activision-Blizzard, an iPhone version would be an excellent idea. Thankfully Good Old Games keeps some of the dream alive with this terrific mega pack.

The Incredible MachineThe pack more-or-less brings all of the series together, with the exception of Incredible Toons. The four games represent the four best releases, but it's the whole deal. The Even More Incredible Machine is the first game, but with more puzzles, while The Incredible Machine 3 is the second game, but redesigned to work in Windows. So you are not losing anything and with hundreds of levels this is beyond a steal. It's shaking down the local school's pre-graders for candy and having the teachers help you.

It should be noted, though, that The Incredible Machine was developed before games became insanely convenient within their interface features. It plays easily, but every time you quit and go back you'll need to remember which level you were on last, as the game unlocks chunks of levels at a go. This annoyance goes away bit by bit in the subsequent games, but if you didn't cut your teeth on early-Nineties PC games, this might come as a bit strange. It does not, however, detract from this classic title's awesomeness.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (48 votes)
| Comments (3) | Views (138)

grinnyp_darkparables_banner.jpg

GrinnypOur culture has become so Disneyfied in many ways that we forget about the truly grim nature of fairy tales. The original stories are dark, depressing, and don't always have a happy ending. Hearing one as a child could cause a frisson of fear down the spine, a wish for a night light, and a lot of jumping at noises in the dark. Hansel and Gretel stripped down to the basics is not a happy tale; the true Little Mermaid is definitely a downer; and the old-school story of Cinderella with its various mutilations could cause some kids to run screaming from the room. The new adventure/hidden object hybrid Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose by Blue Tea Games tries to take us back to the classic (pre-Disney) story of Sleeping Beauty, and the ending is not necessarily a happy one.

grinnyp_darkparables_screenshot1.jpgThe opening cut-scenes of this dark thriller recap the famous and well known story: king and queen have a daughter, the christening and the evil godmother, the curse and the spindle, thorns covering the castle and a sleep for a hundred years, etc. However, when the kindly prince arrives and kisses poor Briar Rose (her original name from the Brothers Grimm tale), something goes awry. Everyone in the castle wakes up except the poor princess. The thorns are gone, the curse is lifted, except for Sleeping Beauty herself. She continues to sleep on, oblivious to the march of time as a thousand years go by and everything she knows passes way.

Cut to modern times as the heroine of the story, a detective, receives her assignment. Some strange sort of thorny vines are growing rapidly from the old castle that is the basis of the Briar Rose myth. Something needs to be done quickly, as the vines threaten to overtake and overgrow the nearby city within seven days. It is up to the gamer, in the guise of the detective, to investigate the crumbling castle and discover how to stop the curse before a mass evacuation needs to take place. All you have to do is find your way into the castle, solve a multitude of puzzles, fight your way past the evil godmother who is apparently still hanging around, and save the day. Simple.

Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose plays like a point-and-click adventure with hidden object elements. There will be a lot of wandering to and fro, and each door and puzzle you work your way past opening up new areas to explore. Although there are 12 chapters to the story, gameplay is not exactly linear. It will be necessary to backtrack a lot and visit most places several times to find all the objects needed to move onwards. Briar Rose herself and the evil godmother are flitting around as well in non-corporeal forms, keeping tabs on you as you work your way towards a final resolution of this twisted fairy tale.

Areas of interest and items that can be examined are indicated with single sparkles, and hidden object scenes are marked with a shower of sparkles when you enter a room. There's also a handy changing cursor that can turn into a magnifying glass (to examine areas and trigger puzzles) or an arrow (to signify areas that you can travel to). Your detective's journal keeps track of things that you've seen and places that you've been, which can be useful in later stages as you work your way deeper and deeper into both the castle and the mystery at the heart of the game. Why are the vines suddenly threatening the world again? Why did the princess never wake up? Good questions that need answers quickly before the nearby town is overwhelmed.

grinnyp_darkparables_screenshot2.jpgA nifty feature is a small icon below the hint timer called the Inspect icon. Click on the inspect icon and it will show you a snapshot of areas that need closer examination. It can also be used in an area to garner a hint as to what needs to be done next. However, using the hints from the Inspect icon causes the hint timer to lock for five minutes, so use it sparingly. The hint timer itself refills rather quickly — handy for the hidden object scenes, which are not about finding random objects but pieces of objects that will aid you in your search. The puzzles and mini-games can also be skipped immediately if you choose, but again at the expense of the loss of the hint timer for a set amount of time.

One of the things that makes Dark Parables so much fun is the addition of a side quest: cursed objects. Very similar to the magical morphing objects found in later Mystery Case Files titles, the cursed objects appear in various scenes, but only after you've visited them a certain number of times or when certain things have been completed.

Analysis: Yes, it's all very much like Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, even down to the wandering spirits appearing to help or hinder. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, as Return to Ravenhearst is one of the best of the hybrids out there. With the increase of ever shrinking gameplay and ever easier puzzles, it's nice to see a game go in the opposite direction. Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose can be devilishly tricky. The hidden object scenes are tough, and although many of the door puzzles are iterations of ones found in other games they have taken the time to give some of them a unique twist, or to even create original and unique puzzles. A nice counter to the trend of the "dumbing down" of adventure/hidden object hybrids.

grinnyp_darkparables_screenshot3.jpgThe artwork is stunning, with a hand-painted feel of a fairy tale that has fallen on hard times. Crumbling statuary, overgrown walls, dust, spider webs (accompanied by a giant spider that would put Shelob to shame), and other debris hide what looks to have once been a fantastically beautiful castle. Appropriately moody and spooky music and sound effects accompany the player as they wander through the nightmare of a fairy tale gone horribly wrong. Slow down and take the time to explore every nook and cranny of this fantastic world, it is well worth your while.

Is there a downside? Sadly, yes. Blue Tea Games is based in Hong Kong, and the English translation has a few quirks and problems. The voice acting is competent, but nothing to write home about, and although the story is sad, there are hints here and there that it could have been longer and more complicated, and definitely darker. It's almost as if they pulled back from the true darkness inherent in the older versions of the story. Though the game is longer than some of the hybrids on the market, it is still noticeably shorter than the one it most closely resembles, Return to Ravenhearst.

But is Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose worth playing? Most definitely, yes. One of the great bugaboos of hybrids is the feeling that the hidden object scenes are "tacked on". Having to suddenly go into an area and find 20 items unrelated to anything going on can take the player out of the story. Briar Rose solves that by working with the "find the pieces" method. Each and everything you pick up is used somewhere, eventually, keeping the flow of the story moving along. For anyone who likes hidden object or adventure games, this is involving casual gameplay of a type you don't often see anymore. And although the story is rather short, completion opens up a new challenge, going through again in hard mode, without the help of hints, the hint timer, or the ability to skip any puzzles. That can take a while, even if it is the second time around.

Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose is moody, atmospheric, gorgeous, involving, challenging, and fun. What more could you ask for in a hybrid? It even sets itself up for a sequel, which we can hope continues the quality of design and implementation seen in this game. It takes us back to a time before folk tales went politically correct; when bedtime stories caused nightmares; and when happy endings weren't always possible. So take a walk down the darker path of folk tales, and go rescue the town, and the princess!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (31 votes)
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Vampireville

GrimmrookLooking for a hidden object game with a bite? Been craving a casual adventure game with teeth? If you've been looking for a hidden object adventure that's full of vampires, ghosts, chat room crazed butlers and, most importantly, fun, Nevosoft's Vampireville may just be what you've been thirsting for.

kyle_vampireville_1.jpgTake on the role of the oddly Keanu Reeves like Michael Christensen, employee in good standing at the firm of Rockwell & Rockwell, and the soon to be recipient of an excellent opportunity for career advancement (this, granted, due to your predecessor having gone batty). The ancient Malgray Manor will soon be up for auction and you have been selected to appraise the mansion as a potential purchase prospect for your firm. If only things were that simple.

No sooner do you arrive at your destination do you begin to realize that things aren't quite right. Over the course of twenty-four chapters your task evolves from simply appraising the worth of a mansion to solving a centuries old mystery to ultimately fulfilling a very bizarre request. And all of this while coming to grips with the, um, curious statuses of vitality exhibited by your hosts.

Standing in your way are a brood of hidden object scenes, adventure game style puzzles, and classic mini-games. Luckily you have your wits and a decidedly quirky cast of creatures of the night to help you (to varying degrees) on your nocturnal quest. Just remember to steer clear of Glenfield when he's checking his email, and don't worry too much about the thing that goes bump in the night, it's probably just Rover who doesn't really bite people's head off.

Analysis: Vampireville is positively frothing at the mouth with a likeable kind of faux horror camp. With its juxtaposition of classic vampire tale settings and tongue in cheek dialogue, this game ends up catching the same vibe that earned such devoted followings to Scooby Doo and the Addam's Family.

kyle_vampireville_2.jpgHelping make this a success is the high quality in Vampireville's aesthetics. The decision to use three dimensional polygon models for all of the characters and some of the effects helps give this title a visual feel that sets it apart from most hidden object games. Most importantly it helps imbue a great deal of personality into the central cast with, in some cases, some pretty impressive looking models.

Supplementing the great visuals is a witty script that is excellently voice acted. Suffices to say that while Michael Christensen looks uncannily like Keanu Reeves, at the very least he is voiced by someone who is actually capable of speaking in an English accent. Not only is the dialogue capable of coaxing a smirk or a giggle from time to time, but it also does a serviceable job in keeping the gameplay tied together.

When it comes to gameplay, Vampireville doesn't exactly burst with originality, but it is apparent that the fun dial is cranked up to eleven. The clean presentation makes object finding actually pleasant as opposed to painful, and all of the tasks set before you from the familiar mini-games to the rapid fire item based puzzles are all very nicely timed and help keep up an invigoratingly brisk pace. By breaking things up into manageable bite sized chunks, Vampireville ends up moving too quick to let its audience get bored while providing an experience that fits perfectly into casual game breaks.

Perhaps the one area where Vampireville does distinguish itself in gameplay is in the fact that instead of punishing random clicking, it rewards and even necessitates it. The background is often open to manipulation in a number of ways and in order to find every object and item you'll push and pull a number of objects out of the way. This dynamic is actually a double edged sword. It definitely spices up the gameplay a little and gives Vampireville something to let it stand out, but this can also lead to undue frustration. Thankfully the rechargeable hint system is quite generous.

Beyond that there are few other problems with Vampireville. The use of polygon imagery has its drawback in that textures seen too close up tend to look kind of mushy and out of place. Further, while the story and story telling have their charms, one feels that more could be done. But I suspect the biggest complaint this game will draw has to do with the chaptering system. While breaking the game up in twenty-four chapters is great for pacing, your game is only saved in between chapters. If, for some reason, you have to put the game down mid chapter, you'll have to start that chapter all over again. Still, considering that no one chapter is particularly long or difficult, this isn't too bad.

With more focus on fun than difficulty, and humor instead of horror, Vampireville is an excellent offering for casual gamers looking to take a bite out of boredom.

WindowsWindows:
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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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Weekend Download

JohnBThis weekend we have an enormously interesting game to share: Digital: A Love Story. The title encapsulates the experience quite well, as it's a game that's both about 20 year old technology and love.

jumpcopypaste.gifJump, Copy, Paste (Windows, 2MB, free) - Another experimental platform game by Hempuli! Jump, Copy, Paste describes itself with its title, as that's pretty much what you'll do for 16 levels. Copy chunks of the level and paste them over top other parts, creating platforms, blocking dangers, or hollowing out sections of wall to move forward. Simple idea, but as usual, Hempuli pulls it off with an unusual charm.

digitallovestory.gifDigital: A Love Story (Mac/Win/Linux, 34-41MB, free) - A wonderful piece of interactive fiction that plays as if you were using a computer back in 1988. Once you log in to your new system, check your messages and see what's going on. Looks like Mr. Wong sent you instructions on how to dial in to a local BBS. Why not check it out, see what's going on? Soon, a tiny mystery starts to unveil itself, wrapping ribbons of intrigue as you continue playing the game. Very well-written, emotionally touching, and utterly charming thanks to its nostalgic interface.

ruined.gifRuined (Windows, 3MB, free) - A tiny li'l exploration game with obvious design inspiration taken from Knytt Stories and a few notable Metroidvania games. Trapped in the desert for years, you play a man named Alec who wanders through passageways looking for a way to repair his ship. Digging deeper into this planet's core turns out to be a bad idea, though, as he continues to uncover things that should have remained buried. At least you get to upgrade your abilities while you're doing it, though!

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 3.6/5
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Rating: 3.6/5 (24 votes)
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grinnyp_joanjade_banner.jpg

GrinnypHidden object/adventure hybrids often cover a wide gamut of styles. Some emphasize the hidden object aspects, some emphasize the point-and-click adventure aspect, and some emphasize the puzzles. Joan Jade and the Gates of Xibalba is one of the latter. Created by Artifex Mundi, Joan Jade and the Gates of Xibalba has lots of pointing and clicking, adventuring, and even more puzzling to do as well. So much so that mini-games and puzzles outnumber traditional hidden object scenes at least five to one.

grinnyp_joanjade_screenshot1.jpgPity poor Joan. She and her husband are enjoying some clearly deserved alone-time while the kids are in the Yucatan volunteering on a summer archaeological dig. Of course, something goes wrong almost immediately, as a nasty storm hits the area where the kids are and, surprise, surprise, they have gone missing. It's up to intrepid Joan and her husband Bruce to fly to the rescue.

The bulk of the game is the adventure as Joan travels from the dig site to an ancient Mayan temple complex, where kidnappers have apparently taken the kids. Arrows appear to show places where Joan can travel as well as a handy changing cursor that turns into little walking legs. Cursor changes also indicate items that can be picked up or manipulated, and areas that can be investigated. Although most areas require some finding and manipulation of objects, almost everywhere are puzzles. Doors, chests, machinery, almost all of it requires the solving of multi-level puzzles. These are familiar games, pipe puzzles, sliders, etc. but the sheer number and variety add a lot to the gameplay.

grinnyp_joanjade_screenshot2.gifThere's a refilling hint timer, and all of the puzzles can be skipped after a certain amount of time. Everything you find and see goes into Joan's notebook which can be referenced later if necessary. Solve your way past certain areas and enjoy cut-scenes of Joan as she leaves letters like breadcrumbs for Bruce and the rescue party to find as she makes her way deeper and deeper into the mysterious, unexplored temple.

Analysis: Joan Jade and the Gates of Xibalba will appeal to anyone who enjoys logic and puzzling over simple hidden object finding, and to those who enjoy the challenge of the adventure. Reminiscent of the original Azada, Joan Jade is a game that relies almost entirely on logic and problem solving skills.

The artwork is done in a beautiful, hand-painted, water color style that just pops from the screen. The designers were certainly doing their homework, as each area is imbued with fantastic, intricate, stylized pre-Columbian art. Eerie music adds to the atmosphere as Joan works her way deeper and deeper into the temple. To keep the player engaged and coming back for more there are also lots of trophies to be won, a wide range of awards for finishing puzzles quickly and finding artifacts, encouraging lots of replay.

Will Joan find the kids? Well, what do you think? Although there is a satisfying resolution, Joan Jade appears to be setting itself up for a sequel with an amusing plot twist that happens at the last moment. Definitely something to look forward to.

If you enjoy lots of logic based puzzles and problem solving then Joan Jade and the Gates of Xibalba will keep you entertained for hours. Fun, atmospheric and challenging, Joan Jade will appeal to all those with a sense of adventure. So go rescue those kids!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4/5
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Rating: 4/5 (57 votes)
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DanTheArcherenDice Complete Sequels to fantastic works are oftentimes charged with the delicate task of only evolving a finite amount. Change too much, and they're accused of losing what made the original a classic; change too little, and they're found guilty of not innovating enough, of resting on the haunches of their ancestor's popularity. It's nice to come across a sequel every now and again that does its sterling predecessor proud, and Ozzie Mercado's follow-up to his ingeniously simple puzzle game is so much more than a tune-up and a fresh coat of paint. This is enDice Complete, a true test of dice-shifting deftness and skill.

The goal is simple. Each die can make a number of moves equivalent to the number on its face, and it's your job to make sure that every die ends up in one of the square-shaped "zones" by the time it's expended all of its moves. Click on a die to select it, then drag your mouse in a direction and release to slide the die in that direction. [U] undoes the last move, and can erase as many missteps as you'd like leading right back to the start. This game doesn't sound too tricky, but keep in mind that dice are capable of pushing each other should the situation call for it, not to mention the adroit yellow dice that can vault effortlessly over other dice, and the stalwart orange dice that refuse to be pushed.

For a game that lets you in the door with a charming grin and a promise of simplicity, as soon as the door closes behind you, the smile fades, and the pale eyes glisten crimson. It doesn't take long for the difficulty to increase, and when it does, you'll be able to tell. On that note, however, this is an excellent game to get a group of friends around to suggest other ideas or possible solutions. The game takes all of mere moments to explain, and then your accomplice will look over your shoulder and say "Well, then why don't you just...oh, I suppose that wouldn't work..." and so on. There's something mesmerizing about the game's duality of conceptual straightforwardness and devious level design.

And if the puzzles here aren't diabolical enough for you, then there's a brand new level editor for purposes of designing the most maddening dice conundrums you can conjure. There's even a system that boils your design down to a numeric code that can be given to all your friends (who will be as serious about this as you are). Some unlockables exist, like a level-editor-solver and different color themes, but my eyes had grown too adjusted to the initial palette for the alternate themes to be anything but muddling. Add some catchy, non-distracting background music and simple-as-can-be visuals, and you get a sequel that handily eludes the shadow of its progenitor while simultaneously delivering a fun and accessible, though at times dizzyingly challenging experience.

Play enDice Complete


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWelcome once again to another installment of Link Dump Friday, coming to you live from the secret JiG Headquarters orbiting in a cloaked flying fortress outside an AMC Theater to ensure we'll be first in line for the latest Harry Potter flick. This week we bring you puzzles, adventure, and big blue blobs with itty-bitty stampy feet. It's everything you never knew you needed, all in one convenient web-based package. It's how we show affection. We're way better than cats that way, and we don't even shed. (Well... I don't.)

  • A Blob's Tale 2A Blob's Tale 2 - The sequel to the lovely but flawed original, this is an adventure platformer about a big blue guy out to rescue his girlfriend from The Forces of Darkness. (tm) It's undeniably beautiful with its soft colour scheme and big, friendly character design, but the awkward controls and lackluster story that dogged its predecessor persist. It's definitely cute, but lacking in polish. Just don't tell that to the big sleeping cave... demon... guy. He might get angry and you... wouldn't like him when he's angry.
  • RebuzzRebuzz - I know, I know. You don't just come here for games, you come here for intellectual stimulation, you big hunka burnin' brain, you. Here's a series of visual word puzzles designed to whip your thinky-organ into fighting shape. Having to click back and forth between keyboard and mouse control in order to input your answers and then advance to the next level is annoying, but it's still a clever little game. Kind of like the riddle equivalent of an espresso shot. Or, uh... since espresso sucks, something tastier.
  • Don't Save The Princess(Don't) Save The Princess - This little puzzle game doesn't want you to save the princess. In fact, it wants you to place down a series of obstacles designed to expedite the hero's demise at the jaws of what I'm sure some people might consider a very intimidating beast. I know it goes against everything video games have taught you, but trust me, it's better this way. I saved a princess once, and the next day, she had fungus growing everywhere in the house. Do you know what fungus grows in?! I could not send her back to that giant fire-breathing turtle fast enough, tell you what.
  • Speed Escape 2Speed Escape 2 - If you're questioning why you would let someone lock you in three rooms (again) and give you five minutes to escape, well, clearly you've never worked around here. Jay makes us solve point-and-click puzzles just to get into the office. (Which is still preferable to the platforming corridor he set up over a lava pit in front of the employee restrooms. Which is still better than the "riddles three" we have to answer each month to get paid. I think he maybe plays too many games.)
  • Chain TowerChain Tower - It's not often that I'm actually rendered speechless, but this Japanese point-and-click game is so weird it just sort of leaves you making vague gestures in the air with your hands while your mouth forms not-words. I guess there's a guy and a puppy dog painting a room, and then you come along and mess it all up? Maybe? It's one of those cases where I'm not sure a translation would have done much to clear things up, but it's still a weirdly enjoyable little bon-bon of craziness.

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Rating: 4.9/5 (182 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Pacman Lunch comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis. Follow Babylon Sticks on Twitter: @babylonsticks.


  • Currently 4.1/5
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Rating: 4.1/5 (120 votes)
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DoraNerveJanglaHey, you. What're you doing right now?... WRONG. You're about to play NerveJangla from Ninjadoodle. Given the title, you might be expecting some sort of reflex testing twitch game. Wrong again! NerveJangla is actually a series of puzzles and minigames that are about as threatening as a newborn bunny nestled in a pile of cotton balls. The goal is to solve each screen in the least amount of time as possible. At the end, you may think you have a high score, when in reality, you're wrong again, because however fast your time, I assure you, mine is much faster!... what?... proof?... uh, my cat ate my screenshot. Leave me alone!

While there are a few stages that require you to move quickly, for the most part you're solving a series of simple logic puzzles. Read the directions, use your mouse to interact, and experiment. You may be called upon to help a fat ninja collect his stars (oooh!), or to identify identical Russian nesting dolls (aaah!), or perhaps even to unite a cactus and a balloon (zounds!).

It's not particularly challenging, and some of the puzzles that reoccur are definitely more enjoyable than others, while some are simply small variations of one another. The game is surprisingly long for what it is, but still basically just a coffee break activity. But it's simple, it's cute, and sometimes a bouncy jazz soundtrack is exactly what you need to get you through the day. And sometimes, a happy donut is all you really need to put a smile on your face, right? WRONG!... oh, uh, sorry. Force of habit.

Play NerveJangla


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (362 votes)
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Mikemike-specterspelunkershrinks-screen1.gifThe ability to change size is an oft explored trope from our favorite stories, from Alice in Wonderland to classic science-fiction films. But how many have asked what effects such an ability would have on the protagonist of classic sidescrolling platform games? That's the gist of the odd premise of Specter Spelunker Shrinks. Created by Ken Grafals, Specter Spelunker Shrinks is an experimental puzzle platformer where the ability to grow and shrink the main character is key to navigating a world of dangerous pink prisms and disparately sized passageways.

The [arrow] keys move Specter Spelunker, while [Z] makes him jump. The [up] arrow causes Specter Spelunker to grow (I mean, grow physically ... I mean, vertically ... oh, nevermind), while the [down] arrow makes him, well, shrink. Use your ability to change size at will to avoid obstacles, leap over walls, and negotiate tiny tunnels.

The game isn't very long and seems more like a showcase for a cool new idea than a fully-developed game. It's a very cool idea, though. Specter Spelunker Shrinks basically has one level divided into a bunch of areas, with each area featuring a different sort of challenge. Many challenges require careful adjustment of Specter Spelunker's size, a few require some advanced planning, and still others are more about reflexes, as you quickly change size in midair to avoid obstacles. Ken Grafals has generously distributed numerous save points throughout the game before each area, so you never have to backtrack to get past the more challenging stages.

Specter Spelunker Shrinks is a nifty presentation of a neat idea. The novelty of the concept, plus the variety and inventiveness of the puzzles, will encourage you to keep playing, and the length makes it perfect for any small break in your day.

This game makes use of the Unity plugin. You may need to download it if you cannot play the game on your system.

Play Specter Spelunker Shrinks


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Rating: 4.6/5 (46 votes)
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Mikemike-astitchintime-screen1.jpgWhat Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time is the upcoming sequel to What Makes You Tick, a free downloadable adventure game from a few years ago that you really should play. Right now, if you can. Go ahead, we aren't going anywhere.

Pretty great, huh? Cool story, awesome artwork, classy semi-Victorian (or hemi-Edwardian) style. Sort of makes you agog in anticipation for a sequel, right? Don't worry, developers Matthias Kempke and Greg MacWilliam are on it. You can read their helpful FAQ if you want to know more about the sequel, but until it is released, Messrs. Kempke and MacWilliam have put out a demo, available both for download and for your browser, playable right now.

A Stitch in Time is not a traditional sequel, for it doesn't exactly pick up where the original left off. Instead, it starts a new story with a new protagonist that overlaps with the continuation of the previous story. You play Nigel Trelawney, just arrived at the town of Ravenhallow to settle his late, estranged father's estate. You quickly discover that this is no simple matter, as Ravenhallow has been overtaken by a sort of parochial Fascisti that, among other injustices, is making it really bothersome to move freely about town. The demo covers the introduction and first act of the full game, which is quite a bit of adventure game to sample.

A Stitch in Time uses the Lassie adventure game engine, the creation of developer Greg MacWilliam. I find the Lassie control scheme to be slightly counter-intuitive at first, but really easy to use once you get the hang of it. Click to move Nigel about Ravenhollow; click and hold to bring up the verb coin, which you can use to look at, touch, or talk to the character or item you click on. Your inventory contains all the items you collect, which you can access by moving your mouse to the bottom of the screen. Click on an item to use it, click on another item in your inventory or in the environment to use them together, and double click to dismiss the item. Like other adventure games, the goal is to collect and combine items, talk to characters, and use items to solve puzzles in order to advance the story.

mike-astitchintime-screen2.pngAnalysis: A Stitch in Time leans more towards the "serious" side of adventure games, as oppose to more off-the-wall fare like Sam & Max or the Monkey Island saga. Funny adventure games can get away with a greater breadth of puzzles, because silly solutions fit the mood of the game. A goofy puzzle in a serious adventure game will rather break the mood instead, so puzzle design in such games is a lot trickier. I am pleased to report that A Stitch in Time achieves, at least in the demo, in the creation of a variety of engaging puzzles that don't violate the tone of the story. I wouldn't call the puzzles super-clever, but they are challenging enough to be interesting without ever feeling overwhelming. I found that if I took a break from the game whenever I got stuck, I could always come back to it and succeed.

I was always glad to come back, for the story shines. With a few small details, the game conveys the intrigue, drama, and sadness of the situation Ravenhallow finds itself in. Chat with the fishermen at night and sympathize with their plight. Talk to the guards at the Port Authority and catch the whiff of casual arrogance. Apart from the immediate story, the larger world has a fascinating texture that is hard to place. Is it steampunk? Science fiction? A period piece or alternate history? A modern setting with vintage trappings? It's probably a combination of all these plus a number of unique ideas. Whatever it is, I simply like the idea of a world where a place like Ravenhallow can be modern and interconnected, yet isolated enough that it can suffer the problems that it has.

The Stitch in Time team obviously strove for classy production in all areas, and it shows. The character design is great, the sound design is super, and the background art is amazing. Take a look at the view of Ravenhollow in the title sequence, or the ship Sparrow bobbing in the dock next to the harbor district. One aspect of the production that is missed is the lack of voice acting which, along with some stiff character animation, makes the characters seem a little flat. I can hardly blame an indie team of two developers for not hiring a full voice cast, however.

The demo to A Stitch in Time is quite robust, and is as long or longer than most other free browser-based adventure games. The download version promises better graphics and sound, though you do need to download the separate Adobe Air player to make it run if you don't have it already. Either approach is terrific and offers the same great taste of what promises to be an excellent indie adventure game. Keep your eye on this one.

Play What Makes You Tick: A Stitch in Time


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Rating: 4.4/5 (74 votes)
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DoraThe Challenging StageHey fellow nerds and gaming elitists. Looking for a chance to prove your trivia prowess? Or maybe just a way to prove that all those years in front of a screen haven't turned your brain into a fine, textureless mush? The Challenging Stage from Arcade Aid is a single-screen puzzle game in which 56 video games are represented as abstract images populating a large city. Your job is to figure out what games these pictures are supposed to be. Click on one to bring up a text box, and type in your guess; if you're correct, you'll get a little check mark. You can use the map at the left side of the screen to instantly pop all over the city, and you can finish the game in any order you wish. You can play without an account, but if you want to save your progress, you'll need to sign up for a free account.

The games on display here are all over the place in terms of popularity and recognition (and even platforms). Most of the most recent titles are blatantly obvious, but some of the older games will probably confound anyone who either didn't live through the eighties, or has managed to block that baggy-sweater-and-leggings wearing period and its big, stiff hair out of their mind. I actually grew up during that time and still find more than half of these things to be impenetrable. (Perhaps because I admittedly didn't catch on to gaming until after the fourth time or so Zelda needed rescuing.) Some of them will probably click instantly, while others will require a bit more ruminating to decipher.

There's only the one stage, and the only real reward besides the lovely retro art is the knowledge that your brain still works. Although, I guess, if you wanted you could print out the completed results and take them down to the game shop and find the guy who always acts like he knows so much more than you and shove them in his stupid face. (You know the one. I hate him, too.) Not only is it challenging, but it's also a great stroll down memory lane.

Play The Challenging Stage


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Rating: 3.7/5 (72 votes)
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DoraStarlight2Starlight 2, the sequel to the first Starlight game, is a puzzle game about finding pictures in the night sky. Click and hold on the screen and move your mouse around to rotate the stars. The object is to move the connected stars around on screen until they snap into place and form a picture. Whereas the original was extremely liberal about awarding you success, the sequel demands you be a bit closer to the final product before it grants a level win. This time around, the game features a "Pro" mode with more difficult images, a "Quiz" mode, where you try to guess the image hidden just by looking at the stars displayed.

Whether Starlight 2 sweeps you off your feet largely depends on what your grievance was with the original. The difficulty has been increased, somewhat, and the additions of a level editor along with additional gameplay modes are a nice touch. Despite the new additions and the same lovely music and visuals, it feels like there's still something missing from the game. It's hard to nail down what, exactly, that is, but it just isn't as engaging as you might think. Part of this, at least, is down to the extremely random assortment of images; finding actual constellations would have been nice, but instead you're flip-flopping between pop culture characters and unrelated animals and symbols. Maybe a story mode, where the pictures, when revealed, displayed parts of a narrative, would have provided a much-needed bit of immersion to the game. (Perhaps a job for a few hardy souls and the level editor? I smell a challenge!)

Starlight 2 doesn't quite make the most of its original concept, but that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable, and it's a big step in the right direction. While some people will find it more fun than others, the simple gameplay and striking visuals makes it a clever concept with a lot of potential and charm.

Play Starlight 2


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Rating: 3.8/5 (80 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypWell, we here at Weekday Escape are still on a whimsy kick, so brace yourself. Exit Not Found is one of those cute, clever little games that, while not difficult, make playing room escapes fun. Created by Cogito Ergo Sum (A Cold Escape), Exit Not Found is a rare entry in the oeuvre, one that does not feature the leaping dog and punching cat found in most of their titles. Instead, you're looking at a classic room escape scenario. Well, as classic as you get from Cogito Ergo Sum.

Exit Not FoundExit Not Found is basic room escaping at its most, well, basic. A simply furnished room, four walls, and no obvious way out. Yep, no locked door, because there's no door to be found. Navigate around the space using bars at the sides and bottom of the screen, solve some nifty puzzles, combine a few objects, and then enjoy the great outdoors. Well, presuming you can find that mysterious exit, that is.

Inventory items can be examined using a simple double click, which is nice because there's going to be a lot of combining involved in this amusing little escape. There are some cute logic puzzles, never fear, so it's not all construction. And since there are five different outdoor areas to escape to, the save button is a nice touch. Although it is a Japanese game, text comes in both Japanese and English, so no language barrier worries here.

Analysis: Yes, yes, more whimsy. Sometimes, when you're having a bad case of the mid-week blahs, whimsy is a good thing. Exit Not Found is not very tough, but something fun and involving that will bring a smile to your face as you search for that elusive exit. Artwork is Cogito Ergo Sum's usual flat, cartoony style, just a little more muted than usual. No music this time around (at least, until you escape), although there are sound effects to let you know that something worked.

There's no changing cursor, so yes, pixel hunting ahead. And at least two of the puzzles are color based, so there will be difficulties for those with color blindness. Still, Exit Not Found is an amusing way to kill 5 or 10 minutes, something to take your mind off of schoolwork, lousy weather, or whatever mind-numbing task is occupying you this week. Casual gameplay as mid-week therapy. What are you waiting for, find that exit!

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  • Currently 3.9/5
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Rating: 3.9/5 (60 votes)
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DoraBobulousAliens come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some of them want to give your face a hug, others want to read your their latest piece of prose. And then you have Bobulous, who just wants to defend his princess against invaders, spikes, and meteor showers by gathering enough energy to grow bigger and bigger in this arcade style game of reflexes.

The Captain follows your cursor, so it's your job to guide him to points and away from hazards. The Captain can't swallow any enemy bigger than he is, and a picture in the upper left corner will show you what to avoid. Chow down on enough small enemies simply by running over them to gather energy, and your hero will be able to evolve and become even bigger. Once you've collected enough energy, a portal will open, and popping inside it will make our hero grow, thus enabling him to sample the delights of bigger game. Just be careful, since each hit you take not only steals a chunk of your energy, but makes you lose a life. Lose them all, and it's game over for you. There are four levels to unlock, so look lively, Captain!

Of course, this doesn't mean you can ignore your surroundings. Be sure to listen for the warning klaxon that lets you know a meteor shower is on the From time to time, stretches of the shell of your environment will light up; green grants you an extra life, yellow grants you a bonus, and red... well... you might want to steer clear of red. To collect, just run the Captain along the colour until he's touched every section that was lit up. Stay on the lookout for glowing green and blue bombs; the former you can collect and deploy with a click to clear an area of enemies, and the latter explodes immediately on contact to destroy most foes onscreen.

BobulousAnalysis: While Bobulous could do with an injection of variety into its levels and enemies, as an arcade style game its a solid title. It's easy to pick up (although probably a bit too frenetic for touchpad users), and the difficulty ramps up significantly with each new level you unlock. A story beyond "Oh noes, aliens!" would have gone a long way towards beefing up the experience, but as it stands it's a very colourful and challenging experience with a lot of charm.

My biggest gripe is the lives system, which feels like a cheap way to force you to replay the game; the penalty to energy whenever you get hit is penalty enough, don't make us have to start the entire level over from the beginning just because the playing field is the equivalent of a handful of confetti the further you go. The lack of a pause key means you also have to wait for a clear path before you can click on "Main Menu" to pause the game, or Captain will soar right after your cursor into spikes or enemies.

Although Bobulous lacks enough meat on its bones (do alien blobs have bones?) to become one of the bigger movers and shakers out there, its fast-paced, challenging gameplay and oddball presentation make it a flawed-yet-fun offering. It could have done more, but what's there is twitchy goodness. With the beautiful(?!) princess at stake, will Captain Bobulous save the day? Tune in next time, same Bobulous time, same Bobulous channel... or, y'know... just play yourself and find out.

Play Bobulous


  • Currently 4.5/5
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Rating: 4.5/5 (690 votes)
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JoyeI Don't Even Gameoh hai plz. joo can haz new game! dis game speshully made for lolspeakurs liek u. joo can has many levelz 4 teh teasin of ur brainmeats. do u tink u can has record completion? play game 4 grate justice, plz.

If reading that paragraph made you twitch, I Don't Even Game is not for you, because the entire game is written like that. This side-scrolling puzzler takes your smiley-faced protagonist on a journey ever rightward. As the game says in the first screen, there are no instructions, but it's not too much of a spoiler to say that the [arrow] keys are your primary method of movement, and that you only need your keyboard to solve each level (although you might need to research an answer elsewhere). Each new screen is a new "level". In some levels you only need to keep going right, whereas in others you hit an obstacle. It's up to you to figure out what to do to get past the obstacle.

The art is quite minimalist, with your protagonist a jaunty stick figure with a constant ":D" face. There's no sound at all, so feel free to keep your music playing in the background. A significant drawback is that there's no saving mid-game. If you close the game window and open it up later, you have to start at level one. The game does remember what achievements you have unlocked, however.

If you are amused by lolspeak and nonsense, you'll like the humor in the game. The gameplay should appeal to fans This Is The Only Level and other games that use platformer mechanics but are really about challenging your ability to solve riddles.

so mmk i dunno wut else 2 rite bout dis. u play nao plz? lawl.

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  • Currently 4.2/5
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Rating: 4.2/5 (66 votes)
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Mikeimperfectbalance.jpgTtursas' Perfect Balance series has allowed countless physics puzzle fans to satisfy their eponymous yen for balancing odd shapes atop one another. The puzzles are clever, the physics engine smooth, and the presentation polished and sparkly. But what more can be done in the world of precarious manipulations of gravity and inertia? Enter Imperfect Balance, the newest game in the series, which flips the Perfect Balance concept on its head. Now instead of the precision stacking of shapes into perfectly sturdy forms, Imperfect Balance features the precision stacking of shapes into perfectly unsturdy forms. It's not about perfect construction, but about perfect collapse.

Players use the mouse to click and drag shapes into the playing field and the [left] and [right] arrows, or the [A] and [D] keys to rotate shapes after they are selected and before they are dropped. Dropping a shape into the field makes it "live," so that the physics engine acts on it immediately. The goal is to use the shapes available to you to knock out a certain number of the shapes that are in play at the start of each level, earning "diamonds" for doing so. More diamonds unlock more groups of levels, and it is possible to earn more diamonds per level by knocking out more than the minimum number of shapes.

You may be thinking that Imperfect Balance, as the opposite of Perfect Balance, requires an opposite dedication to careful stacking, and that you can just start knocking shapes over with liberated abandon. It turns out that Imperfect Balance requires exactly the same sort of Jenga-like focus and finesse as Perfect Balance, just differently applied. So if Perfect Balance seemed to fiddly and tedious to you, you will find little relief in its inverted sequel. However, if you liked Perfect Balance's emphasis on careful puzzle-solving, Imperfect Balance will provide a welcome twist to that popular approach.

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  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (578 votes)
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GrinnypThe Pretender: Part 2So, when you're bored and have nothing to do, do you say to yourself, "I'd like to be a cheap stage magician who must somehow rescue the spirits of folks trapped in an alternate dimension, while solving tricky platform riddles and using powers that I've never had before?" Well, if you do, then check out The Pretender: Part 2. Yes, it's here to fill all your magician/platformer needs!

Created by Tristan Clark and Tim Knauf of Launching Pad Games, The Pretender: Part 2 is the continuation of Part One, a cute and fun platformer originally designed as part of a games competition. The titular hero is performing one night using a neat prop, an old magic book, when disaster strikes! He and the souls of his audience were transported to a strange alternate dimension, where he needed to rescue the poor folks using powers he'd never had before, all the while his lovely assistant attempted to help from the "other side". In the second installment, the hapless prestidigitator must continue to rescue his audience. But his poor assistant is fading, and there is interference from the owner of the grimoire, a real magician who may or may not be evil, but who certainly seems to have an interest in the proceedings as well as your assistant.

Navigation is by the [arrow] keys, and use the [spacebar] to trigger your powers. You can also use the [spacebar] to click through the dialogue in the story scenes. The Pretender: Part 2 has also added new tools like seeds. The seeds can be blown around the scene when you are in air mode, and can be watered in water mode to create climbable vines. There are four different environments to navigate for a total of 32 new scenes. Can you save your audience and your assistant? What exactly does that sorcerer want?

The Pretender: Part 2The basic premise is simple: travel around the area, collect the poor souls, and escort them to a door which will lead them back to their bodies, still stuck in the theater. Blocks in the scenes allow you to alter your very form; an "air" form which allows you to ride the currents of the winds, an "earth" form which allows you to push boulders and break things, and now a "water" form which allows you to swim free in the liquid medium. Simply walk (or fly, or swim) to where a soul is sitting. When you pass them, they will follow you as you lead them to the door. However, only one ghost can follow you at a time, so you need to think ahead in order to save each of your audience from a fate worse than death.

Analysis: The Pretender was quite a delight the first time around, and Launching Pad Games has gone to great pains to keep all of the fun and quirkiness of the original, while ramping up the gameplay with new power-ups and scenarios. The levels start out fairly easy and progress to some real tricky ones by the end, with enough variety to keep the game interesting from beginning to end.

The little characters are delightfully Victorian, and the voice acting only adds to the illusion. The story, music, art, and voice-overs turn what could have been a standard platformer into a charming, quirky bit of fun. Add in the new powers and abilities and you're looking at some seriously satisfying casual gameplay.

The controls are still a little tricky, though, especially in tight spaces or in moving from ladders to platforms, requiring that the player find just the right spot to allow your hapless magician to keep moving. This is the only complaint, though, about The Pretender: Part 2. Amusing, challenging, and quite a bit of fun, this is a puzzle game that will keep you coming back for more. What are you waiting for? Get rescuing!

Play The Pretender: Part 2


  • Currently 4.6/5
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Rating: 4.6/5 (166 votes)
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DoraPanda's Bigger AdventureSaddle up, fellow ursus enthusiasts! The furry hero of your dreams is back in Panda's BIGGER Adventure from everyone's pal robotJAM. The events of the first game have left Panda stranded who-knows-when with fried circuitry in his time travelling potty, a bunch of bones, and a demoralising parrot. What's a bear to do? Why, embark on a point-and-click adventure through time that will reveal the identity of the time machine's creator, the truth you've always suspected about moonshine, and more. Panda.... awaaaaaaaay!

Use your mouse to interact with Panda's environment. If something can be picked up or used, its name will display when you place the cursor over it. Click on an object to interact with it, and click on your inventory at the bottom of the screen to pocket an item, or to use one. As before, keep your eyes peeled for the little one-eyed Critters because... well, because! Honestly, when have you ever needed a reason to collect things in video games before?

Panda's Bigger AdventureAnalysis: Oh, Panda. Time-travelling bear of my heart. By and large the Panda series of games has always been a prime example of goofiness in gaming. There are no dead ends, no game overs, just you, Panda, and a super villain suspended over a tank of sharks. You know, the usual. Like the original, the game is chock full of sly humour. But unlike the original, the environments this time around feel a little empty and a bit less fantastical. It's hardly a deal breaker, but flushing DaVinci's toilet somehow isn't as exciting as facing down a T-Rex or pulling the Sword in the Stone.

Panda's latest adventure isn't what you might call difficult, since most of its puzzles are simply a matter of swapping back and forth between several time periods. Stymied in ye olde Italy? Hop around through the other areas and try the various items you've picked up somewhere else. Which... is admittedly a little easier said than done, given how bloated Panda's inventory can get. Because the game helpfully identifies with text points of interest, it does eliminate a lot of frustrating clicking, but the gameplay is still largely trial-and-error based. Thankfully, with the exception of a compass themed lock with an oddly phrased solution, none of the puzzles are particularly difficult.

In fact, you almost wish the difficulty were stepped up a bit, since Panda's BIGGER Adventure is still pretty short. (And disappointingly lacking a scene involving a DeLorean.) While it may not be the sweeping epic you were hoping for, and may prove too little of a challenge for some players, this latest installment in Panda's adventures is still a quirky, fun game for the adorable, bamboo munching mammal in us all. (And make sure you stick around until the very end!)

Play Panda's Bigger Adventure

Thanks to Cyberjar88 for sending this one in!


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Mobile Monday

JohnBWell, it was only a matter of time. While not everyone on the JIG staff is a fan of social games, they seem to be gaining ground like a bowling ball tied to a freight train rolling down a hill. We Rule is the first heavy-hitting social app to hit the iPhone, and it's got the mojo needed to draw in an enormous player base.

werule.jpgWe Rule - From iPhone developer ngmoco (creator of Topple and Rolando, among others) comes the addictive social game experience the App Store has been craving. We Rule is a lot like a certain farming game for Facebook. Plant and harvest crops to earn some cash, then spend that cash to upgrade your little village to include houses and other businesses, all of which bring in a little more money. Invite friends to build their farm near yours and keep expanding your village. The farm works in real-time, meaning if a crop says it takes five hours to grow, look at your clock and come back in five hours to harvest it. The game is driven by microtransactions in the form of mojo, completely optional "potions" that, when used, make things happen immediately. If you're impatient, a little cash can speed things up, otherwise it's easy to make do with the mojo you get for leveling up. Share your Plus+ username in the comments below to get a few new We Rule pals in on the fun.

idropdead.jpgiDrop Dead - From Perfect Balance creator Ttursas comes a mega-gory game that's all about destroying cute little ragdolls. Toss the doll with the flick of a finger, sending it into buzzsaws, whirling traps, exploding mines, and lots of other contraptions. Do as much damage as you possibly can to score more points and unlock new levels. Some of the point requirements to proceed are a bit steep, forcing you to go back and replay levels with your fingers crossed hoping for a higher score, but it's strangely addicting and otherwise built very well. The free iDropDead Lite is also available. If cartoonish blood isn't your thing, iDrop Dead: Flower Edition and iDrop Dead: Flower Edition Lite replace the "gore" with cute, sweet things like... flowers!

earthvsmoon.jpgEarth vs Moon - Always thought the Earth and its lovely satellite were best of friends? You were apparently wrong! Missiles are careening towards our blue planet, and the only way you can save it is to launch your own volley of missiles. It plays a lot like the classic Missile Command, only power-ups and certain special moves make things way more interesting. The free Earth vs Moon 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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Millennium Secrets: Emerald Curse

DoraStop me if you've heard this one. Kate is a plucky cop whose ability to be ridiculously overqualified for her job makes her a prime candidate for the heroine of an adventure game. When she gets a phone call from an old friend begging her to keep his briefcase from falling into The Wrong Hands(tm), she winds up getting involved in an ancient mystery that puts the lives of countless people in danger. Millennium Secrets: Emerald Curse is a point-and-click adventure game with puzzle solving and hidden object elements. Despite featuring a slightly cheesy premise, what follows is a surprisingly enjoyable adventure game chock full of classic action movie scenarios, fun puzzles, and more mystical MacGuffins than you can shake your tranquilizer gun at.

Millennium Secrets: Emerald CurseThe game is played using the mouse to click your way around the areas and interact with things on screen. Use the arrows that appear at the left or right side of the screen to move around. There are two difficulty modes you can choose from, and I strongly recommend Casual, which makes the cursor sparkle whenever you're over an important object, unless you like a lot of pointless clicking. Objects you can pick up will sparkle, and if they can be used immediately will appear in your inventory at the bottom of the screen in a green box. Some items will need several parts and will be displayed in red when you first pick them up, so make sure to explore every area carefully. Drawers can be searched, cupboards can be opened, and, oh, make sure you keep your eyes peeled for suspicious places, since they may be concealing secret compartments. If you get stuck, clicking on "hint" will show you where to find an item.

Despite billing itself as a hidden object game, players who go into the game expecting a standard hidden object hunting experience are going to be disappointed. Like Campfire Legends, the only objects you look for are the ones you actually need. You might find yourself searching for scraps of a torn up letter, or enough wires to re-wire a security camera. You don't enter a typical hidden object scene to look for them, they're just hidden around the environment. There are also "bonus" items to track down, which, while not necessary to progress, grant you additional hints. I might have liked to have seen a bit more variation to this formula, since it makes up a big chunk of the gameplay, but for players who are sick of combing through lists of unrelated items when all they really need is one particular thing, Millennium Secrets earns a lot of points. Just... try not to think too much about why the charming millionaire has so many powerful tranquilizer darts just laying around the place. Next to your dinner. And stuck behind paintings. And under the carpet. And... you know, um, let's just move on...

Millennium Secrets: Emerald CurseAnalysis: You really get the sense that Millennium Secrets is trying to be Broken Sword, or at least attain the same level, and it doesn't quite make it. It's trying, with its tale of a mystical doo-dad and the plucky cop who plays-by-her-own-rules trying to save it from the hencmen du jour. But while it lacks Broken Sword's easy charm, there's still something very appealing about the popcorn-y good story and Indiana Jones-esque scenarios. Maybe if Kate herself were a bit more charismatic as a lead, or the characters a bit more memorable, the game would have been great instead of just "good". As it stands, the most I recall about Kate's professor friend is a tendency to leave his DVDs all over the living room and an apparent fondness for sweaters.

So it's unfortunate that the game probably won't pose much of a challenge to most people. You're always given very clear direction, which, while eliminating a lot of frustrating hunting, doesn't make for a very high difficulty scale. If you do get stuck, the hints available do a good job of pointing you in the right direction. That key-stuck-in-the-lock "puzzle" makes an appearance here too. You know, the one featured in roughly 70% of point-and-click adventure games to date? Still, the rest of the puzzles are satisfyingly varied and take you across a variety of interesting locales that keeps the plot moving at a brisk pace.

While a lot of players will probably sail right through the game in several hours due to the low level of challenge, I still recommend Millennium Secrets: Emerald Curse for a fun, if occasionally corny, adventure experience. The quality is there, and the story and setting provide a welcome respite from the tide of forgettable, bland adventure games on the market. It isn't perfect, but it's a fun ride while it lasts, and I hope we see more adventures in the future with Kate: Surprisingly Overqualified Lady Cop. (Don't you think knowing how to rewire a camera with scavenged materials should be a perquisite for anyone who wants to go into law enforcement? I do.)

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.8/5
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Rating: 4.8/5 (86 votes)
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Another World

JohnBAnother World, or, as it's known in North America, Out of This World, is a stunning example of storytelling in a video game originally released in 1991 (and re-released with better visuals in 2006) by Eric Chahi. Built as a cinematic platform adventure, you take on the role of Lester Knight Chaykin, a young physicist who is teleported to a barren alien planet while running an experiment using a particle accelerator. You soon make friends with one of the humanoid aliens and together work your way through the subterranean environments trying to escape with your lives!

anotherworld.jpgLester's acrobatics in Another World are more similar to real-world physics than your average action game. Instead of being able to leap twice his own height, Lester's jumping skills are limited to a gazelle-like leap forward. You also have the ability to run, though you'll spend a surprising amount of time walking, and in addition to a few simple kicks, you soon get your hands on a gun that can fire a Best of Casual Gameplay 2010beam and create temporary shields.

The game is divided into over a dozen invisible chapters that are only apparent when you die. And yes, you will die a lot in this game, but it's never frustrating and you rarely have to replay more than a few seconds of your previous actions. Trial and error puzzle solving will get you very far, and most of the time you won't realize exactly what you have to do to proceed until you fail a few times. No worries, though, as it never gets frustrating.

Combat isn't the central focus of Another World, but you'll find yourself in a fair number of gunfights all the same. Most of these will be tests of your ability to alternate between firing regular shots, replenishing your shield, and trying to take down your opponent's barrier. One hit and you're a goner, so work fast and practice your timing at every opportunity.

anotherworld2.jpgAnalysis: Another World is one of those games that will quietly stun you. The music and sound effects are sparse, transporting you to this alien world with little more than a few colors and a few polygons. The characters feel very alive, and you immediately become attached to them and their plight. The innovative use of cutscenes and non-standard portions of gameplay keep you enthralled by the experience from beginning to end.

It would be impossible to discuss Another World without mentioning the impact it had on cinematic gameplay in the early 90s. Although the game enjoyed a released on well over a dozen platforms, it was originally available for the Amiga. Back then, animations this rich were practically unheard of, and cinematics were rarely anything this special. One look at the game's opening cutscene and you'll see what I mean.

In 2006, Chahi re-released Another World for Windows with higher resolution graphics than the original Amiga game. The backgrounds received a remarkable upgrade, though most of the active elements of the game remain unchanged. It's quite a step up from the 16-color 320x200 game, but if you're a purist, this 15th Anniversary Edition offers both modes. The storytelling is very powerful no matter your graphical proclivities, and the subtle emotions conveyed on the characters' faces is phenomenal in any decade.

An early standard in interactive storytelling and artistic creativity, Another World still manages to challenge and intrigue gamers years after its release (and re-release).

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


  • Currently 4.7/5
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Rating: 4.7/5 (36 votes)
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Sanitarium

DoraSanitarium, the classic 1998 point-and-click horror game from DreamForge Entertainment, is one of those games that's on a lot of "must play" lists. Despite being out for over a decade, and having had it recommended to me by any number of people who know my taste for the macabre, I'd never gotten around to playing it. Now, thanks to Good Old Games, this cult classic is available again on PC for old fans to enjoy, and a whole new generation of gamers to discover.

The night after making a great discovery, you're on your way home to your wife when your car goes off the road... or were you? According to the staff of the asylum you wake up in, you're simply a patient who managed to steal a car and nearly kill yourself in the process. And why shouldn't you believe them? After all, you can't even remember who you are, let alone why you're there. But there's something a little off about this particular establishment, as you'll soon discover, and maybe you're not as crazy as everyone says you are. At least, not yet. Maybe if you can discover the meanings behind the strange... "hallucinations" you've been having you can prove your sanity to everyone. Of course, that's assuming you aren't just a delusional nut case...

SanitariumRight-click on the screen and hold to move the protagonist around, and left-click on an area to search there. A wagging magnifying glass means you've found a point of interest, a set of teeth means something you can talk with, and a hand means you can manipulate something or pick it up. Once you're carrying something, simply click on yourself to open a small context menu, and click on an item to select it. If the item you're holding can be used in a particular spot, the item will appear to "shine" when you place it over top of the area, and you can click again to use it. Of course, not every item works in every situation, so make sure you try everything to see what works. After all, it's not like you have to worry about anyone thinking you're crazy!

Analysis: Despite being billed as a horror game, Sanitarium isn't particularly scary. Most things are presented just slightly too cartoonishly to be really frightening. Sure, there are creepy moments, and a fair bit of unsettling imagery, but for the most part the story plays out like the sort of schlock horror films that were popular in the late eighties. You know, like it would have been introduced by Elvira and titled "TALES FROM BEYOND THE 5TH DIMENSION" and prominently featured a synthesizer in the soundtrack? In part, I also blame the lead character, who sounds less like a determined hero, and more like the sort of person who got taped into garbage cans a lot in junior high. (Or, strangely, a lot like Dr Egon Spengler.) This is not a bad thing by any means; there's a sort of ghoulish charm inherent in the occasionally cheesy dialogue or outlandish scenarios that makes the genuinely spooky moments all the more enjoyable.

SanitariumThe puzzle solving in the game is all fairly intuitive, provided you're the sort who typically goes everywhere and exhausts all dialogue options with everyone. The problem is never figuring out what to do with the items you've got, but finding them to begin with. Some of the items will give off a very small sparkle when you can interact with them, but it's easy to miss it and the items simply fade into the scenery, usually because they're fairly small. This can lead to a lot of mindless clicking and backtracking around areas as you try to find what you may have missed. Maybe it wouldn't be as much of an issue if your character moved at anything other than a sedate stroll. There are also a few action sequences where you have to fend off attackers that are implemented a little too awkwardly for you to be anything but relieved at how infrequently they happen.

Despite its age, Sanitarium still looks pretty good. The environments are big and detailed, and character models are unique. The voice acting is a little hit and miss, with some characters sounding more believable than others. Thankfully, even the worst of the lot aren't unbearable to listen to, and the whole experience is an atmospheric exercise in storytelling. The vivid hallucinations your protagonist suffers as the story progresses unfold in a clever way, and you'll soon discover there's meaning in even the most inconsequential of exchanges. The story is excellent at giving out just enough information to help you connect the dots, but also to hook you into playing further.

As a classic of the genre, Sanitarium still holds a lot of appeal for fans. In its time, it showed players that horror could be bloody but still cerebral, and as such elevated itself above the more common hack-and-slash scares. Despite some clunky missteps in its pacing and a few annoying gameplay decisions, it's a quality piece of work that shouldn't be missed by anyone who has any interest in a good story... or has a screw or two loose themselves.

WindowsWindows:
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Weekend Download

JohnBStep one: Push the box, solve the puzzle. Step two: Go into space, push the box, get your stuff. Step three: Build a machine, buy some weapons, pick up some money. STEP FOUR WIN!

boxycraft.gifBoxycraft (Windows, 23MB, free) - One of the most blindly entertaining physics puzzle/platform games you can download, Boxycraft turns you loose in a playground filled with pushable, knockable, movable objects and gives you the power to latch on to almost anything. Move with the [arrow] keys and click the [left] mouse button to hold on to nearby things. You'll need to master the swing and jump technique to best some of the levels. The physics are a little iffy at times, especially the character's movement and hit detection, and the game is on the short side, but it's a great ride while it lasts. No worries, as developer Robert Dodd is working on Boxycraft 2!

drone1.jpgDrone part 1 (Windows, 10MB, free) - A hybrid tower defense shooter game, Drone puts you in the role of a little movable machine with a lot of potential. As you move through each level, you must take out waves of foes in real-time using various weapons purchased through the shop. You can also buy stationary machines that will fend off enemy attacks, collect money for you, or spawn helper dudes that will go forth and do your dirty work. An excellent mixing of genres with just the right level of difficulty, and with hi-def visuals, ten weapons, ten buildings, three sets of armor, and 16 enemy types, you'll get several hours of entertainment at minimum.

weekendinspace.gifA Weekend in Space (Windows, 2.5MB, free) - Some people take weekends at the beach. Here, space = the beach. Although... not really. Stranded on a strange low-gravity planet, this bare-bones exploration game pits you against the environment in a quest to find your stuff. The game was created by Andrew Brophy for Ludum Dare 16, although it missed the submission deadline. A few glitches can be found, but nothing that should ruin your game.

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: 4.8/5 (115 votes)
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The Longest Journey

DoraApril's been dreaming, and not like you might expect. The young art student thinks her life in the grimy city of Venice is ordinary, but she's about to discover that there's more to the universe than anyone suspects. The Longest Journey by Funcom is a point-and-click adventure from late 1999, now available from Good Old Games. It's a cult classic tale of two worlds whose fates are entwined and endangered and one young woman stuck in the middle of it. After ten years, is this game still worth your hard-earned dollars? Short answer, yes. Long answer, emphatically yes.

The Longest JourneyAs the game opens, April can't spare much time for the outlandish nightmares she's been having; she's got a project due for an art show, she's getting some unwelcome attention from a neighbour, she's having trouble getting paid... oh, and then there's the cryptic man on the bench outside her boarding house who seems to know entirely too much about how poorly she's been sleeping lately. His claims about her destiny would be a lot easier to ignore if not for the magical glowing purple dragon in her dreams saying the same things. I wish I could have a magic dream dragon would send me on an awesome adventure, instead of wasting time dreaming about overdue bills or giant squid. (Both equally terrifying.)

The game is played with your mouse, clicking on people or objects to interact with them. The game will occasionally display several icons (hand, mouth, and eye) to let you choose how you with to interact. Click on an area to move there, or double-click to make April run to it. When speaking to people, you can hit [ESC] to skip through the current line of dialogue if you've heard it before. Right-Clicking opens April's inventory, and since so much of the game centers around item combination and puzzle solving (more on that later), you'll quickly become used to examining and using everything around you. Since April has the strange but helpful tendency to vocalise her every thought, you should investigate everything you can for clues and information. You can save your game at any time by opening the menu (clicking on the diary icon at the top of the screen), and you should definitely take advantage of this as dangerous situations can arise.

The Longest JourneyAnalysis: I don't often get a chance to review games that I am genuinely excited about, so finding The Longest Journey available again after I first played it nearly ten years ago feels like a real treat. This is the game I've thought of fondly over the years, and more and more frequently with every short, samey game that parades across the market. Revisiting objects of nostalgia is always risky business, lest you find it doesn't hold up to your memory. (I'm looking at you, animated Dungeons and Dragons.) Happily, this is not the case with The Longest Journey, which is every bit as entrancing as I remember. It's not that the game's concept is exactly original, since the story of two worlds, one of magic and one of science, has certainly been done before. It's that so much effort has gone into maintaining quality. While by today's standards the game's visuals might look a little dated, especially the in-game character models, the presentation is top notch, with a rich soundtrack and largely excellent voice acting.

If you've played a point-and-click adventure game before, you're probably used to abstract logic. In fact, when I first saw the game on GOG, I thought, "Oh hey, that's the game with the inflatable duck and the sewer candy". The game's puzzles are memorable in part because they're just so bizarre. Most of them simply center around using the right item or combination of items in the right place at the right time, but figuring out what's required of you can be mind-boggling. The logic behind a lot of them is obscure enough in a few places to drive you to a walkthrough, and unfortunately, there's a lot of backtracking, which makes things more frustrating than they need to be. Mess around with them long enough and you'll eventually figure out the solution, but they're definitely more than a little out there in most cases.

The story behind the game takes a while to really get rolling, but The Longest Journey does such a good job of immersing you in your surroundings that it's easy to forgive. Since it isn't exactly an action packed title and you spend so much time talking to people, it's a good thing that what they have to say is usually interesting and frequently amusing. The writing is relaxed and natural so that conversations sound real, and the people you meet have a tremendous amount of personality. As the protagonist, April is feisty, cheerful, and instantly likeable, making an excellent guide through the high-fantasy story.

It's true what they say; they really don't make 'em like this anymore. Or at least, not frequently enough for my tastes. The Longest Journey isn't quite perfect, but it gets more things right than not, and offers up a long, engrossing adventure. Don't expect to finish this one in a day, or to forget it the day after you finish it. A quality game with a lot to offer, The Longest Journey already has a lot of fans; give it a chance and it just may make one of you, too.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version

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


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grinnyp_treasureseekersIII_banner.jpg

GrinnypFolks who like hidden object/adventure hybrids fall into one of two camps: those who like the "traditional" hidden object scenes with lists of things to find, and those who like more context-sensitive actions, finding only the things (or pieces of the things) that are needed to propel the action. Well, Artogon has raised the stakes with Treasure Seekers: Follow the Ghosts and their point seems to be... why not enjoy both?

grinnyp_treasureseekersIII_screenshot1.jpgTreasure Seekers: Follow the Ghosts is the third in the Treasure Seekers series. Yes, Nelly and Tom, those investigating siblings, are back to solve yet another mystery, this one involving a priceless stolen gem and a lot of supernatural activity. Together and at home (for once), the two notice that simultaneously with the aforesaid jewel being grabbed in a daring robbery, a ghost appears at the home of the family who owned the gem. Are they linked? Well, Tom thinks so, so why not investigate?

Their initial investigation gives our intrepid heroes the reputation as investigators of the paranormal, and before you know it they are off, separately and together, traveling around the globe to discover what is causing such havoc with the supernatural. Nelly is still calm and methodical, Tom is still a mechanical genius and a bit of a doofus, and between them they soon realize that an old enemy has resurfaced and is behind it all. Can they stop the evil mastermind before his plans come to fruition? Play to find out.

grinnyp_treasureseekersIII_screenshot2.jpgFor the most part the interface is the one that has made Artogon's games so unique: click on an area that needs solving and a circle pops up showing what items need to be gathered to complete that particular task. A changing cursor alerts the player to things that can be picked up, examined, manipulated, or spoken to, as well as a cursor that indicates areas that can be traveled to. Tasks can be performed simultaneously or concurrently depending upon the area. However, in addition to the basic dynamic that is so familiar with Artogon's other games, a new dynamic has been added: classic, list-driven hidden object scenes. As you play through a location you will find not only the classic circle dynamic but also mini-games, puzzles, and the aforementioned hidden object scenes, all of which must be solved to discover what is causing the local problem.

Hints are on a refilling timer that refills either very quickly (in casual mode) or just fairly quickly (in advanced mode). The mini-games and puzzles are also on a skip timer; wait long enough and you can bypass them if they become too difficult. A handy running tally of the necessary tasks that helps the player keep track of everything that needs to be done is welcome, especially in the later chapters where the tasks can number in the dozens.

grinnyp_treasureseekersIII_screenshot3.jpgAnalysis: The Treasure Seekers series are some of the loveliest, most entertaining hybrids out there and Treasure Seekers: Follow the Ghosts seeks to expand and enhance the formula. With a choice of modes (casual and advanced), and such a variety of problem solving, hidden objects, and mini-games, Artogon has created casual gameplay that will satisfy folks on all areas of the spectrum, with fun and challenging puzzles that will appeal to a wide variety of gamers. Better yet, Artogon seems to be going against the tide of the ever shrinking sequel. Treasure Seekers: Follow the Ghosts is not longer than Treasure Seekers II but it is no shorter either, which, these days, is a minor miracle.

The artwork is, as always, gorgeous to look at. Hyper real and luminous, the backgrounds perfectly mirror the time and location of each of the chapters. Music and sound effects that are by turn lively and spooky round out the experience. But the best part is the characters, especially the dead, undead, and nearly dead folks whose rest has been disturbed, which has made most of them both depressed and a little cranky. Half of the fun is meeting these nearly or dearly departed who just want to be left alone and have no idea why some lunatic keeps insisting on messing with their places of rest.

Although some might not like the addition of the classic hidden object scenes, they are not numerous enough or obtrusive enough to slow down the momentum of the story, and in fact add enough to the gameplay to create an environment that will appeal to everyone who likes the adventure/hidden object hybrids, and perhaps even those who don't. So will Nelly and Tom save the day? Will the evil mastermind's plan succeed? What do you think? Play and find out!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


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Rating: 4.5/5 (178 votes)
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GrinnypDismantlement: Alarm ClockMankind has created some wonderful things, from the pyramids to the Burj Al Arab. Creation and construction are things that we, as a species, are good at. However, once in a while, it is nice to give in to the flip-side of that nature, the one that finds great pleasure in deconstruction. The ability to take something completely apart, just to see what makes it tick. Yes, yes, that intro can mean only one thing. Dismantlement: Alarm Clock is here and it's dismantling time again!

Dismantlement: Alarm Clock is the fourth in the wildly popular Dismantlement series, created by gam.ebb.jp, amusing little point-and-click puzzlers about tearing common appliances down to their component parts. As with all the Dismantlement games, all you have is a trusty screwdriver and your wits when tackling this particular little problem. A button at the upper right allows you to move back and forth between front and back views, as well as other viewpoints as the game goes on. Click on screws to remove them, click on other things to open them, and click around everywhere to find clues to taking this darned thing apart before that alarm goes off yet again. There is no changing cursor to be found, so be warned there will be some pixel hunting.

Like Radio and Mouse before it, Dismantlement: Alarm Clock will require a lot of going back and forth as well as zooming in and out. Hopefully, you will know how the set controls work on a digital alarm clock, as they play a large role in many of the puzzles.

Analysis: It's always a joy when a new dismantlement game comes out, and Dismantlement: Alarm Clock is one of those great ways to kill a few minutes. Of course, it wouldn't be a Dismantlement without a bomb, would it? Who puts bombs in alarm clocks? Well, those who hate being woken up by one, yes, but still, there's something a little... odd about a game designer who keeps putting bombs in things. Just what do they have against household appliances anyway?

This particular game is especially appealing to all of those who live and die by the clock. After all, when that noisy thing goes off in the morning isn't the first impulse to slam it against the nearest hard surface until there is nothing left but bits? Or is that just me? Moving on...

The only complaint about any of the dismantlement series is that they are over too quickly. Maybe next time the developers should try for something larger. VCR anyone? Or maybe a television set? How about a Toyota? The sky's the limit! In the meantime, have fun dismantling that annoying clock. Just try not to blow up.

Play Dismantlement: Alarm Clock


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraAnother week has come and gone, and here we are again to celebrate the offerings of the internet. Come, let us join hands this Friday and give thanks for the fork-tender flakiness of physics, the delicious jam of point-and-clicks, and the hearty broth of puzzles. For together, they combine into a tasty buffet of delicious gaming that combats the bland gruel of boredom and provides the savoury spice to the succulent roast of your day!

... what? No, actually, I haven't eaten yet today. Why do you ask?

  • Civet's OdysseyCivet's Odyssey - Cute as a button but clunky as a brick, this little point-and-click adventure about the titular character hunting down the lost belongings of his friends is about as adorable as you can get and still function properly. The problem is that a lot of the puzzles are simply awkwardly presented and frustrating to navigate. Which is a shame, because the whole thing is just so friendly and lovable otherwise. It's like someone giving you a big glass of your favourite Kool-Aid, only they forgot to sweeten it. Or, worse, sweetened it with Splenda.
  • White Day 2White Day 2 - Oh, Minoto. Truly, you illustrate the wondrous yet vaguely disconcerting landscape of my dreams! Come, run away with me to a nonsensical realm of your imagining! This is a short point-and-click game about a dog... thing... and you can make a bored bear punch a polar bear... look, man, I don't know. Like all Minoto's games, this one cheerfully defies description with its ridiculous progression and cute visuals. Insane? You bet! Oh, and you can pick up spit in this one too. Awwww.
  • Demolition DudeDemolition Dude - A fine example of "what is this I don't even", this is a game where you destroy buildings with your head. For cash. It's a physics puzzle (sorta) with a strange premise and stranger execution. Simply click and drag to fire your no-doubt highly qualified expert at buildings, causing enough damage to win each level. It's weird, sure, but you know what they say. "If you want something done right, you've gotta risk massive cranial trauma and do it yourself".
  • StoblobsStoblobs - I like to imagine that the inside of Tonypa's head is like Willy Wonka's factory, populated by colourful logic puzzles and non-threatening Oompa-Loompas that ferry them to our browsers. This is a prime example, where you match two identical tiles with a clear path between them and try to clear the board without becoming deadlocked. It's extremely simple to pick up and play, and mellow enough that the time can fly by before you notice. You know, just like every Tonypa game, ever?
  • Fantasy XFFantasy XF - [Parental Warning: Some content might not be suitable for younger gamers.] Despite suffering from bland area design and uninspired gameplay, this platform/RPG hybrid is often surprisingly funny if you like oddball humour. The graphics are probably pretty familiar to most of us, but the clever writing and tongue-in-cheek dialogue hits more often than it misses. If only it were nearly as fun to play throughout. *sigh* You done me wrong, Fantasy XF... why you always gotta break my heart? At least we'll always have Uno!

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Rating: 3.3/5 (64 votes)
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KyleMysteryJigsaw.jpgAdolescence is a problematic time for everyone. We are forced to cope with peer pressure, overbearing parents, hormones, and the worst of all, having to act as independent preteen detectives in our free time. Ask Peter and Jenny, the sibling stars of the flash based hidden object/mystery game, Mystery Jigsaw. They would know.

They have the rotten luck of growing up in a house so big that their parents rent out whole sections of it to their friends. Okay, this isn't so bad, or at least it wouldn't be if it weren't for the fact that now minor thefts and petty crimes are popping up around the house and no one else is doing anything about it. What are a young brother and sister duo to do? Investigate, of course!

In Mystery Jigsaw you will be faced with four bite sized mysteries. In each mystery you will have to follow in the footsteps of the dastardly villain from one room to the next. For each scene you first have to piece it together, literally, by solving a jigsaw puzzle. Then you'll get down to searching for clues with a little help from whichever one of the siblings you have chosen to help.

Once you have visited all of the scenes of the crime and collected all of the clues, you move on to the accusation portion of the mystery. Here you will be confronted with a handful of suspects and allowed to read a brief description of who they are and what habits and distinguishing characteristics they have. Using these descriptions, you match up the clues you found during your investigations to the suspects. From there, you just need to figure out which suspect the clues condemn the most and make your accusation. Good luck junior detectives. Do well, and there might be a paperback series in the future. Fail, and, well, you'll have to go through adolescence like the rest of us.

MysteryJigsaw.png Analysis: Free, browser based hidden object games are an uncommon commodity. Good browser based hidden object games, naturally, are even more rare which is what makes Mystery Jigsaw so special. From its interesting yet family friendly concept, to the attractive scenes, to even the fairly original accusation sequence at the end of each mystery, it wouldn't be a stretch to see this title as a purchasable download. The graphics are impressive and do a good job of instilling that feeling of childhood exploration while the music, though a little repetitive, can also be surprisingly catchy. In fact, one wouldn't have to make too many major improvements to the gameplay, the developers would simply have to provide more of it.

What is provided is a treat for hidden object fans with little time or cash on their hands. There's a surprisingly decent amount of gameplay to be had packed tight into this little title with just under a dozen scenes and four full mysteries to solve. On top of this, there's a good nod to replayability provided by two difficulty settings and constantly changing object locations and potential suspects. There may not be the grand parade of mini-games that have come to populate your standard hidden object these days, but Mystery Jigsaw makes up for that by providing three solid and distinctive gameplay modes that do a good job of keeping the rhythm.

Mystery Jigsaw does make some missteps. For one, the hint system is poorly conceived. Instead of having time delayed hints, or a limited number of hints you can deploy when you need them most, the clues you need to find in each scene will periodically sparkle. This is most frustrating when the sparkle comes just when you were about to find the object on your own (which, of course, is what happened to me every time. I never actually needed those hints). Unfortunately, you'll probably have to rely upon the hints several times as you play. Many of the clues you need to find will be small items which can induce some serious squinting when you consider that the game screen is shrunken to fit inside your browser. Despite this, many will probably come away with the feeling that Mystery Jigsaw is maybe just a little too easy.

While these issues are trying, they shouldn't detract from the fact that this is one of the best browser based hidden object games out there. It manages to fuse together that sense of mystery and adventure of our youth with the addictive gameplay of jigsaw puzzles and hidden object games, and cram all of that into coffee break sized chunks.

Play Mystery Jigsaw


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Rating: 4.5/5 (79 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Flying Penguins comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis. Follow Babylon Sticks on Twitter: @babylonsticks.


  • Currently 3.8/5
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Rating: 3.8/5 (102 votes)
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joyethatgravitygame_title.jpgAre you ready for awesome? You'd better be sure, because That Gravity Game is awesoming things as we speak. A puzzle platformer with a cheeky vibe, a squishy protagonist and (surprise!) a gravity warping mechanic. From the Shift series to VVVVVV, it seems like gamers can't get enough of platformers that rely on a decidedly non-constant use of gravity. Take that, Isaac Newton!

You play a marshmallow whom a lightning bolt has given sentience. (That may be the best sentence I've written all week.) After making a stirring speech, you fall into a diabolical gravity machine, from which you must escape to save your delicious, delicious kin. To do so, you use either [WASD] or the arrow keys to move, plus [space] bar to jump. Your goal is to make it to the portal at the end of each level to proceed, which is a simple task at first. But add in platforms that swap your gravity around and before you know it you're running on the ceiling, trying to find a way back down, trying to avoid spikes and other pitfalls that would put an end to your crusade.

The controls may be a little bit too responsive in this game. I frequently thought I was just tapping a key and ended up sailing my marshmallow man into a pit of acid, whereupon he exploded into little sticky bits and the level reset. The other main drawback of the game is that there's no level menu. You can't replay a favorite level; you have to go straight through. That said, for fans of the genre it's a must-play, and the quirky-cute story and art might draw in even non-fans. The gravity mechanic isn't terribly new or groundbreaking anymore, but there's still room in it for creativity, and That Gravity Game (yeah, that one!) is a simple but fun experience to put a bit of squishy enjoyment in your day.

Play That Gravity Game


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Rating: 4.6/5 (99 votes)
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DoraDead Frontier: Outbreak 2Fine day for a zombie apocalypse isn't it? Dead Frontier: Outbreak 2 is a bit of interactive fiction about just such a cheerful occasion, and the direct sequel to the original, which you should go play now if you haven't already. The story follows the same man as before, as he searches a ruined city for supplies and desperately needed medicine to bring back to the other survivors. This is a text adventure, so you'll need to read the words that come on screen, and choose your actions carefully from the lists provided. If you're smart and careful, you just may make it out of this thing alive. If you read faster than the protagonist talks, you can simply click on the screen to shut him up and the remainder of the text will pop up instantly rather than s l o w l y crawling across the screen. Buddy, I've got a zombie epidemic to deal with here, I don't have time to listen to you soliloquize about everything. Just send me an e-mail with the footnotes.

Granted, I've been a zombie movie fan ever since Bruce Campbell's 1981 horror masterpiece (you know the one) terrified me when I was just a kid, so there's a lot about any given movie/game/book/breakfast cereal I'm willing to forgive as long as it prominently features someone getting chewed on. As such, I find the gravelly, grittier-than-thou narration enjoyable in a cheesy sort of way, and your available actions feel nicely logical, for the most part. All it's really lacking is the ability to flip ahead and see what would happen if you chose a particular action, since everyone knows it doesn't count unless you take your finger off the page.

There is some replay value here, since what you take with you in the beginning of the game helps determine what you can do in certain situations, and of course some endings are better than others. The game is usually pretty fair about its dangers, and the decisions you make can either help or hinder you further on down the road, which makes for a nice bit of "I wonder what would have happened if I'd... " scenarios. Zombie survival enthusiasts (and we are a particularly odd breed) probably will have an easier time figuring out what choices to make, but none of it is rocket science. (Or brain surgery.) It lacks a lot of the menace and urgency of the first game, but Dead Frontier: Outbreak 2 is an enjoyable play for any horror fan. Just remember to bring your braaaaaaaaaains.

Play Dead Frontier: Outbreak 2


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Rating: 3.7/5 (68 votes)
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DoraPicture CubesDo you remember when you were a kid, and how much you loved playing with blocks? And then do you remember how that no good, bad apple terrible two-year-old One Tooth McGee would come over and knock them all down, chortling around his pacifier while you wept into the hem of your Elmo skirt?... anybody?... no?... oh, um, no reason. Regardless, Picture Cubes is a fun new way to play with blocks in the safety of your own home, where only the physics will bully you in this colourful puzzle game that sees you assembling pictures from blocks.

Click on a block on screen to interact with it; clicking and holding in the center lets you drag it around, while clicking and holding in any of the block's four corners will let you rotate it. Double click on a block to lift it into the air, and then on the arrows that appear to turn it to display different sides. The goal is to properly assemble the picture displayed at the start of each level, and if you forget, you can click on the bar at the right of the screen to display it again. Correctly matched pieces snap together when they get close. As you progress, the number of pieces you need to work with increases, and so does the variety of pictures you need to sort through to make the correct image.

There's nothing to really make you feel the crunch to finish a level quickly, although if you don't complete a puzzle before the bonus timer counts down you herald the end of the world at the hands of Galactus... oh, wait, I mean, you lose out on a bonus to your final score for the level. Which, while perhaps a little disheartening for those of you who worship at the altar of the high score table, is still hardly a deal-breaker.

Picture CubesAnalysis: Man, shhh. Just... chill a moment, yeah? Picture Cubes has a particularly mellow presentation that's about as relaxing as you can get. The visuals are beautiful, the music is soft, and even the sound effects are pleasant. Picture Cubes is basically the digital equivalent of having someone standing behind you and gently massaging your temples. It's got a gentle difficulty curve, and the whole thing is just fun to play.

Which might be a good thing, since the most difficult thing about the game can be dealing with what appears to be a very sleepy physics engine. Everything seems just slightly delayed, like it's happening underwater. Which, you know, is frustrating when your high score sort of depends on moving with some sense of urgency. Thankfully, once blocks have been connected together, you can't break them apart; blocks that are correctly aligned magically snap together, eliminating trying to align tiny pixels, and then to avoid bumping them apart.

Picture Cubes isn't exactly a high-octane experience. (At least not until you unlock the rail gun.) You and six other friends are not going to be huddled breathlessly around the monitor, whooping, high-fiving, and calling each other "brah" every time someone matches a piece. Instead, it's a mellow, relaxing experience that's accessible to just about anyone. If you just want something simple, lovely, and well made to pass the time with, Picture Cubes is just what the doctor ordered.

... I mean, I assume he was a doctor. Sure the certificate was written in crayon, but he seemed trustworthy. Oh, just play it!

Play Picture Cubes


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Rating: 4.4/5 (191 votes)
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JamesMiami SharkOw! My wrists! Being a shark is HARD! But finally a piece of art has arrived that not only addresses the bad rap that Jaws gave these water-bound predators, it totally annihilates it! Eat your heart out, Steven Spielberg, because if Miami Shark from Mausland teaches us anything, it's that sharks are AWESOME. Providing you are the shark. And you can drag stealth bombers down. From the sky.

In a way, though, we still have to tip our hat a little to that franchise, in particular Jaws 2, in which a shark manages to pull a helicopter out of the sky. I suppose you can also credit the recent Asylum z-movie Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, where a giant shark attacks an airliner. Because in Miami Shark you do both. The object of the game is very simple. Within a set amount of miles you have to chew your way through as much destruction as possible. Swim with the [arrow] keys, and bite with [ctrl] or [A]. Chomp up swimmers. Gnaw through boats. Swallow up scuba divers and packs of dolphins. Leap high into the air and drag down helicopters, Boeings and a few aforementioned military aircraft.

There is very little strategy here, though if such subtleties do exist, it's pretty easy not to notice them. You have to time leaps to grab onto flying vehicles and destroy anything bigger than a swimmer, but it's hardly as technical as it sounds. Destroying things creates combo chains, which obviously raises the score. The objective is the high score at the end of the run, which you can submit. In all honesty it does get a bit stale after a while, but you won't regret wasting some time on Miami Shark. It's a slick little game that looks good and plays well. And you are a shark that eats airliners. Why are we even debating this?

Play Miami Shark


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Rating: 4.6/5 (198 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypLet's just put this out there now: room escapes can seem a little... samey after a while. Although the classic room escape is still logical fun, there's even more fun to be had when things are a little quirky, such as in games like the Dr. Ichie series, where you wake up in a room with a note from the apologetic doctor (why in the world does he keep locking you up?) and then proceed to escape. Whimsy makes everything better. This is why this week's gem is a whimsical entry from Tesshi-e in Escape from the Tatami Room.

Escape from the Tatami RoomThe story is told with a note (if you find it) from the staff of the Tesshi-e restaurant. They have locked you in, and will only serve you lunch if you reason your way out. Cool! Why can't I find restaurants like that around here? Oh right, lawsuits. At any rate, your task is then to wander around the space and try to figure out how to unlock the door. Not to escape, mind you, but to get that fabulous promised lunch.

Navigation is the classic bars at the sides, bottom, and occasionally top of the screen. An about item button allows you to examine your inventory items. And as this is classic Tesshi-e, you definitely need to examine the items, manipulate them, and even combine them to reach the amusing conclusion of this particular escape. There is no changing cursor to point out the hot spots, but as the space is sparsely filled, there will not be a lot of pixel hunting involved.

Analysis: Tesshi-e's escapes are, for the most part, a little on the cold, logical side, so it's nice to see this little flight of whimsy. The puzzles are logical and the construction is flat out amusing, making this a very light-hearted, fun escape. Well, not an escape, per se, unless you're talking about an escape from hunger.

Beautifully rendered in 3D, this is a very traditional Japanese space, very reminiscent of a traditional Ryokan; sparse, serene, calm, and almost ethereal. The music is, as usual, something you've probably heard before, so there's always the handy mute button. As always with Tesshi-e, there's more than one escape scenario. Two, in fact; the regular and the obligatory "happy coin" escape. Although the game is in Japanese, you don't need to be able to read it to play. In fact, at key points, English phrases crop up to point the gamer in the right direction.

Escape from the Tatami Room is not the toughest escape out there, but one that hangs together nicely with a mix of use of found objects, construction, and pure logic. Amusing casual gameplay that doesn't take a lot of time but leaves you feeling very satisfied, even if you don't really get to eat that excellent spread that is the final reward. Feeling peckish? Then get moving! Just save me some of that sushi, it looks good enough to eat.

Play Escape from the Tatami Room


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Rating: 4/5 (88 votes)
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Mikemike-amil-screen1.pngAmil is a good guy to have around. Sure, he may look like a footlocker and have unsettling pink bags under his eyes, but if your dog or cat or other pet should ever fall down a mine shaft leading to a subterranean geothermic engineering project of dubious provenance, Amil is your go-to fellow. Created by Robert Stone, Amil is a gravity-switching platformer with retro stylings and just a scintilla of RPG flavor.

The game begins after a brief tutorial and a slightly less brief prologue. The [arrow] keys make Amil move and jump about, while the [spacebar] lets him talk to folks, enter doors, and otherwise interact with the environment. When you finally enter the mines, the heart of the game begins, where you can switch gravity to overcome obstacles with the [WASD] keys. Avoid pitfalls, spikes, and treacherous lava flows, while escorting poor Tony's animal chums safely to the surface.

Analysis: The prologue and epilogue to Amil are a little strange, as they feel for all the world like an RPG, with Zelda-like conversations with townsfolk pertaining to the backstory of the game. Amil's world is very richly realized, and I feel like there is much more to explore, yet it all seems ancillary to the main game, which is an unadulterated action platformer. I get the sense that Amil was originally a much more ambitious project that was scaled back a bit, but as a consequence a lot of thoughtful background was rendered sadly superfluous. Perhaps we will see more of Amil's world further developed in future games.

Let's not dwell on what Amil could have been, and instead focus on what it is: a clever puzzle platformer with a nifty gravity mechanic. Now there have been a lot of gravity manipulation games lately, but Amil stands out, in part because of the controls. For simplicity, many gravity games opt to exclude jumping as a means of movement. Amil opts to make jumping an important part of navigating the levels. This is a boon, because it means there are a lot more choices than simply switching gravity to follow a pre-determined path, which allows for much more complex and satisfying levels.

mike-amil-screen2.pngIt's also a bit of a curse, because you have to think about moving and jumping and gravity-switching, and it takes a bit of adjustment to keep those three modes of movement straight. There is also the perennial issue of how to orient controls; many gravity games set the controls relative to the main character, such that left and right are relative to which way gravity is facing. Amil opts for an absolute perspective, such that the [arrow] keys always move Amil in the same direction on the screen, no matter where he is standing. This works pretty smoothly, actually, but it leads to some mind-bending situations, like pressing the [left] arrow key to jump if gravity is facing rightward. I completed the game just fine, but I never did feel completely comfortable with the controls.

The game is decidedly old-school in both it's look and gameplay, even with the more new-school use of gravity switching. The graphics are colorful and pixilated, and the soundtrack is full of groovy chiptune music. The levels are chockablock with coins, hearts, spikes, and lava pits, hoary retro warhorses all. Even the prologue, with its "Welcome to Corneria" interactions with the townsfolk, facilitates the nostalgic vibe.

The levels are finely designed, with few extraneous elements cluttering up the tightness of the puzzles. It's mostly just spikes, gravity, and ferrying tiny animals from one waypoint to the next, and I appreciate the elegance. I also appreciate the difficulty; the levels are thoughtful without ever being frustrating, so you will gladly play until the end. If you have an hour or so, finishing the game should not be a problem. This is good, because the game does not really have any sort of save mechanic. There are level codes, but they are only accessible when you lose all your lives, a strange choice.

Amil is an excellent example of the burgeoning genre of gravity platformers. Moreover, it offers the promise, however imperfectly realized, of a cool new world to explore. May we see more of Amil and his world in the future.

Play Amil


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Rating: 4/5 (168 votes)
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DoraClueSweeperWhodunnit?! Was it the left-handed neighbour with the dark secret? Or the unusually strong butler with a grudge? Or maybe it wasthe lover who just happens to be an expert at lockpicking? In ClueSweeper from Nerdook, you solve grisly crimes before the time runs out through good, old fashioned... Minesweeping? Hmmm. I don't remember that issue of Batman.

Yes, as you may have guessed from its name, this little puzzler is a combination of board-game classic Clue and Minesweeper. Each game centers around trying to solve a murder. Unlike Minesweeper proper, you're not trying to avoid bombs. Instead, the numbers on the grid represent how many clues are nearby. It's your job to uncover what you need to get your suspect by finding evidence to incriminate or eliminate suspects, or win additional rewards or time. Your "time" is actually the number of moves you have left, so go slowly and think out your actions. Click on a square to reveal what's underneath, and slowly eliminate your suspects until you've figured out who the killer is. Make sure you're certain, since the real killer will get off scott free if you accuse the wrong person! The game has a different solution each time you play it, and grants you achievements based on how quickly you solved the murder, or how much cash you earned for doing so.

It's not particularly challenging, but there's something endearing and addicting about this oddball little hybrid with its simple premise and spartan visuals. Especially for those of us who keep games like Solitaire on hand for when we're bored. While it unfortunately lacks the depth to become a truly memorable experience, ClueSweeper is one of those addictive little games with simple, clever mechanics that can be relied upon to fill whatever time you have. I would love to see a much more fleshed out, engaging version with an actual storyline and characters to interact with. (And of course, every good detective story needs a good lookin' dame.) In the meantime, it's a fun new spin on an old classic. And, hey. Who doesn't want a little Minesweeper homicide in their day?

Play ClueSweeper


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Rating: 3.3/5 (76 votes)
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Mikemike-ricrococo-screen1.pngWhat is it about thieves, especially those who steal priceless treasure, that elicits our sympathy? I mean, drug dealers and weapon smugglers are roundly reviled, assassins are at best "morally conflicted" despite the cool black cowls and capes, but of all the serious criminals, it only makes sense to speak of a "lovable thief." Or "lovable pirate," but that's just a thief with a big boat. Anyway, maybe it's because the "gentleman thief" never hurts anyone, and never deprives anyone of anything they truly need. It's not like Phineas Q. Vandersnoot, needs another Renaissance masterpiece; why shouldn't we enjoy it as a talented footpad helps himself to some of the loose artwork lying about?

That also might be the appeal of games like Ric Rococo: International Art Thief. Somewhat similar to Art of Theft minus the story and snazzy hat, Ric Rococo is a thoughtful game of stealth, theft, and escalator navigation that brings you the thrill of non-violent sneaking and filching in a museum full of inattentive guards, pivoting bidirectional cameras, unintuitive elevators, and highly stealable paintings.

Control Ric, looking good in his zip-up black spandex ninja catsuit, with the [left] and [right] arrows. The [spacebar] does most everything else: riding escalators and elevators, pilfering paintings, flipping switches, posing on unoccupied pedestals to elude clueless guards, and more. You can also use the [up] and [down] arrows to ride escalators and control elevators, though I find this doesn't work as well as the [spacebar]. Once you grab a painting, you have to find an open window to pass the painting off to your partner in crime. Elevators and escalators are the only means of moving from floor to floor, and they are laid out in an increasingly convoluted fashion as the levels progress. You have a limited time to collect a certain value's worth of paintings, so looking at the map at the beginning of each level and planning your itinerary is essential. Do you spend time grabbing the numerous but less valuable paintings near your point of entry, or do you risk capture to obtain the more valuable but better protected prizes farther afield?

Many browser-based stealth games have a generic "hide" ability that can be used any time, or let you hide in certain areas, like in shadows, or behind furniture. Ric specializes in the "goofy" school of non-detection, hiding either by hanging a stolen painting from an empty hook and curling behind it like a wall-climbing turtle, or by standing statuesquely on one of the surprising numerous empty pedestals like a ninja-clad Hermes or Thinker. More signs of the developer's humorous bent include the colorful, if flat, cartoony design, and the kooky treasures you buy after each level for your swinging, hyper-modernist thieves lair. Delight as you earn the likes of the World's Largest Truffle on Buttered Toast, because even grotesquely proportioned dessert items are improved with buttered toast.

Ric Rococo features only ten levels, and though the later levels are hard enough that you might have to repeat them, you may feel disinclined to do so. The pace of the game is such that there isn't much incentive to repeat parts of a level just to successfully complete it. But for the initial run through each level, Ric Rococo has it's charms. Who wouldn't want to be Ric, jetsetting to one fine, poorly-defended museum after another? It's a gentleman thief's dream.

Play Ric Rococo: International Art Thief


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Rating: 4.2/5 (80 votes)
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DoraJollsEver wonder what it would be like to belong to a species of multicoloured, disembodied heads that got around by being dropped onto landscapes full of complex mechanisms to roll, flip, and float them around? Of course you have. That's why you're going to play Jolls, a physics puzzle apparently designed to satiate your strange curiosity. In fact, it's... yes, I'll say it... a Jolly good time! Bwahahahahaho cripes, even I thought that pun was bad.

Play by clicking to drop Jolls on the field. The goal is to collect all the little floating baby Jolls on the field with the matching coloured adult Jolls. You can see what colour Jolls you have left to drop in the lineup in the upper right corner. When a big Joll rolls into a little Joll, it's automatically collected. Standing in your way is terrain that looks like it sprang straight from the brain of Doctor Seuss, or perhaps Lewis Carroll; fans, moving platforms, ramps, and icons that change your gravity or size, all of them need to be accounted for in your plan to collect all the floating babies. Get stuck? Then just tap the [spacebar] to restart a level. I don't know about you guys, but this is exactly why I hated babysitting; darned floating babies, always makin' me need to roll down a wooden ramp and slingshot through a gravity-warping icon to get them ready for bed.

If the game looks familiar, it could be due to the fact that it was created by the same mind behind Civiballs. Like Civiballs, Jolls's gameplay is quick and simple and full of smiling balls with slightly disconcerting stares. (Or maybe that's just me? Anyone? Creepy?... no? Just me?) It's easy to get the hang of, and has just enough of a difficulty curve to provide a satisfying afternoon's gaming... or other time measurement of your choice. It's a tasty little popcorn snack of the game for fans of puzzles, physics, and the combination thereof.

Play Jolls


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Rating: 4.3/5 (36 votes)
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joyepartyfoul.gifI don't suppose you've ever felt trapped at a really tedious party, wishing you could throw off the shackles of social convention and impale your host on a cocktail weenie toothpick, make a rope out of your own hair to escape out the bathroom window, beat yourself unconscious with the cheese tray—anything to avoid listening to some guy tell you another story about his golfing ability? In real life it's the opposite of entertaining, but in Party Foul, which took fourth place in CGDC7, it makes for a hilarious puzzle to test all your escaping power.

Party Foul is interactive fiction, so you use a text parser to interact with the game. Party Foul includes a great tutorial, so if you're new to IF, definitely type "yes" when the game asks if you'd like to do the tutorial. Competition runner-up award winnerOtherwise, the game uses typical IF text commands, such as l/look, x/examine, take, put, the cardinal directions (n, s, e, w, nw, etc), i/inv/inventory, and so on. If you ever feel stuck or confused, simply type help, hint or about to get more information.

Analysis: Party Foul contains three major puzzles, and they don't have to be done in any specific order. So, if you get frustrated at lack of progress on one, go hack on another problem for a while. While some parts do require timing, the game as a whole isn't like, say, Varicella where one mistake puts you into an unwinnable state. This would be a good introduction to interactive fiction for a beginner, and for a pro, it's still an amusing diversion. Especially if you've found yourself in a similar social situation. After all, how many times have you really needed to escape from an underground alien lair, or a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak?

Sometimes the parser isn't quite up to snuff. There's one point where you have to specifically "order" something. I tried about ten different combinations of "ask for" before I gave up and looked at the walkthrough. For the most part, however, the parser feels natural, and the puzzles, while not easy, are logical. The hint system is great, too. It doesn't immediately tell you the answer, but gradually gives more and more information. Sometimes your brain just needs a little nudge in the right direction, and this provides it.

The best part of Party Foul is the humor. It's very dry, tongue-in-cheek stuff, most provided by your less-than-desirable company. It's worth trying all the actions you can think of everywhere, on everyone, just to see the sort of response you'll get from your fellow party goers. I'll leave you with its opening quote, from P. J. O'Rourke: After all, what is your host's purpose in having a party? Surely not for you to enjoy yourself; if that were their sole purpose, they'd have simply sent champagne and women over to your place by taxi.

Play Party Foul


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Rating: 3.6/5 (105 votes)
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KyleIWasHungryButThereWereCannons.gifIn a world where people can't seem to see eye to eye on even the most simplest of things, it's comforting to know that we can all at least agree on the fact that hamburgers are the world's most perfect food. In the undeniably charming platformer, I Was Hungry But There Were Cannons, you will find no shortage of this most awesome of culinary delights; it's just that getting them all won't be easy.

You wear a dashing top hat, you are teal, and while you have no arms, you have a huge mouth and some crazy powerful legs, all the better to nosh on your preferred flame broiled munchies with. Controlling your dapper blue green avatar couldn't be simpler. Use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move, duck and jump. For each level, you'll have to use your platforming skills to scarf down as many of the floating burgers as you can in order to reach the percentage goal of that stage. Nom enough burgers and you're off to find the scale which will unlock the exit for the level.

This would be easy except, as the title so aptly points out, there are cannons in your way. There are also a ton of spikes and color coded platforms that appear and disappear when you hit their corresponding switches. Add to this springboards that launch you skyward and an ego crushing report card that will have you trying to stuff this game under your bed before your parents find out about it and now we have one flame broiled, 100% beef party!

IWasHungryButThereWereCannons.gif Analysis: There's plenty to admire stuffed into this digital quest for the all-mighty slider with plenty of ear, eye and twitch reflex candy to go around. From the moment you load up this game you are treated to penny arcade style music that forebodes the whimsical fun you have in store. Whilst you bob and sway lightly to the happy tunes the rest of the sound effects work over time to grind in the game's cheerful personality. It's hard not to smile at the sounds of hamburgers getting gobbled or the first time you hear our hero declare in his prim little voice, "Oh, I'm dead." Meanwhile, Hungry would remain largely mediocre in its graphical appearance except that the main character with his fancy hat and funky running style positively drips with charm.

Don't let the overflowing likeability draw you away from the fact that I Was Hungry is also a very respectable platformer. Less adept players will appreciate that there is a generous learning curve while there are a handful of truly challenging levels for veterans of the genre. Overall, though, the focal point of the level design seems to be not necessarily to provide the greatest challenge, but instead to maximize the fun. Add to that a control scheme that is tight and responsive and hit detection that has only a few minor flaws and you have a very solid platformer indeed. There's even a decent nod to replayability here with the letter grade ranking system.

I must admit that the game feels like it could have been paced just a hair faster, and more levels or even a level editor wouldn't have hurt in the slightest. Further, with the exception of the last level which can give one fits, hardcore platformer enthusiasts aren't likely to find this title all that challenging. But overall I Was Hungry But There Were Cannons is a well rounded platformer treat for casual and dedicated fans alike.

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Mobile Monday

JohnBA digging game. A quiz game. And a game about shooting ragdolls out of cannons. It would be a challenge to find a more varied selection of iTunes App Store games. Unless one of them involved monkeys. Monkeys always win the randomness awards.

quizarium.jpgQuizarium - From the makers of Charadium comes an online multiplayer quiz game that's way too cool for its own good. The set-up couldn't be simpler: fire up the game, pick a lobby with the theme and difficulty you're in the mood for, then start answering questions. The community is great, the quiz questions varied, and the experience is as smooth as you could possibly imagine.

ragdollblaster2.jpgRagdoll Blaster 2 - The action/puzzle-oriented physics game has returned, now with more ragdolls, more cannons, and more of everything in-between. Tap the screen to shoot a ragdoll towards the target. All you have to do is brush up against it to finish the level, but that usually involves nasty moving platforms, pushing blocks of ice, transporting cannon control, teleporters, or a number of other creative obstacles. An excellent follow-up to an already excellent game, and the visual upgrade is much appreciated!

moleterracore.jpgMole: Quest for the Terracore gem! - A digging game in the vein of I Dig It, Mole is a little more arcade-oriented and focuses on short rounds of digging and treasure finding. The goal is to pick up as much cash and metal as you can get your grubby little paws on. Dig down as deep as you dare, careful to keep an eye on your oxygen meter at the top of the screen, and gather what gems you can. Return to the surface, sell the loot, and upgrade your abilities so you can go even further down. An excellent and well-balanced digging game.

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


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Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe

JohnBNobody's a stranger to mahjong solitaire, the Chinese game of tile matching. According to legend, Confucius developed mahjong in 500 BC, naming it after the sparrow for the delicate symphony created by the individual tiles coming together to form a whole. Whether or not that's true, mahjong tends to be a quiet, contemplative sort of game, a mood elegantly set by the beautiful music and visual presentation of Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe.

mahjongdimensions.jpgIn this type of mahjong, you're presented with a pile of tiles decorated with dozens upon dozens of unique images. The goal is to remove tiles a pair at a time, selecting only pieces with open edges (sides that do not border other pieces). Which tiles you remove becomes important when your mahjong stack grows intricate, creating a subtle strategy that's important to the puzzle experience.

In Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe, 3D tiles are used instead of the usual "flat" tiles deployed in most casual games. The cubes are stacked and removed just like in any mahjong game, only now you must rotate your point of view in order to see tiles facing away from the screen. Click the arrows on the left and right sides of the screen to move the stack. You can also use the [left] and [right] arrow keys or the [a] and [d] keys on your keyboard.

Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe is played against the clock (though an untimed mode is available), and you score points based on how quickly you complete each set of four puzzles. Matching tiles quickly nets you a bonus multiplier. Special tiles appear after a few levels, such as time tiles, slowdown tiles, and gems that turn the entire pile into same-colored gems when matched. During this brief time, you can match any open gem with any other open gem, allowing you to make a serious dent in the puzzle!

mahjonggdimensions2.jpgAnalysis: Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe stands out of the crowd for one huge reason: its presentation. The game begins with a bit of backstory outlining the Confucius legend along with a few other pieces of flavor text. Then you're treated to a peaceful meadow scene with trees and grass and cute fuzzy animals moving around. Later, new dimensions (scenes) open up, and each is almost as captivating as the last. The music was composed by actual musicians on actual instruments, and you'll feel like you're sitting in the audience of a small symphony.

Apart from it's deliciously calm presentation, one question about Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe springs to mind: why 3D? Doesn't that add a pointless aspect of perspective hiding to an already challenging game? No, not really, at least, not after you settle down with the game. For the first few levels you'll wonder why you have to rotate the view just to see the other tiles. This rotation adds a subtle quality of realism to the game. It gives the playing field depth, drawing you in to the soothing backgrounds and filling your ears with the orchestral music more so than your standard mahjong layout. After a few minutes of play, board rotation becomes second nature, and the game takes on a wonderful zen-like quality of peace.

Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe stumbles a bit near the beginning of the game with a too-verbose tutorial that practically tells you what the mouse cursor is and how you can move it. A few hyper-clicks later you'll be free of most of the help text, but it persists a few stages into the game, which is mildly annoying. Also, don't look for anything more than a game of 3D mahjong here. Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe does what's on the cover and doesn't stray from that in the name of wacky mini-games.

A beautiful visual and aural setting, Mahjongg Dimensions Deluxe literally adds a new perspective to the mahjong genre and does a quietly pleasing job at it!

WindowsWindows:
Download the demo
Get the full version

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


Rating: 4.4/5 (25 votes)
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farmfrenzy3iceage-b.jpg

GrinnypWhat's a girl to do, once she's traveled the world and helped her dear old granny rescue her farm? Well, buy a farm of her own, of course! Never mind that the farm is at the frozen pole. That's right; Alawar Games has brought us the latest installment in the Farm Frenzy time management series, Farm Frenzy 3: Ice Age!

grinnyp_ff3iceage_screenshot1.jpgLike its predecessor, Farm Frenzy 3: American Pie, Ice Age is a "side" installment in the Farm Frenzy series, where you concentrate on a farm in one location, taking the time to master all of the animals and rebuilding and restoring the facility as you go. Unlike American Pie — where there was a distinct lack of anything pie related — Ice Age has... well, a lot of ice. And snow. And polar bears. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Let's start at the beginning.

The heroine of Farm Frenzy is bored one day and just happens to read an advertisement for a farm at the pole. Of course that's a good idea, what are you saying? Just because it's a frozen wasteland doesn't mean there isn't some good farming possibilities there. After all, there are the penguins. And the walruses. And the wooly mammoth. Wait, what pole is this supposed to be at again? Well, judging by the creatures and by a special guest appearance, this is a pole that exists only in the imagination.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the many Farm Frenzy installments. You begin with a basic farm, a well that produces food (in this case, an ice fishing hole that produces fish, not much call for water in the frozen north), a budget, and a task. The task may be to produce raw goods, or manufactured items from those raw goods, and you have a limited amount of time, money, and fish to scatter on the ground to feed your animals. Eventually you will move on to larger, more complex challenges, involving several different types of animals and goods, some of which you can produce, some of which must be shipped in by helicopter. Frenzy is an appropriate descriptor, as eventually you will be juggling a lot of different tasks at the same time, working hurriedly to beat the clock.

It starts with penguins, who produce eggs, which you can sell at the market. However, it is more efficient if you set up a plant that turns the eggs into powdered eggs, which can sell for more money. Then build a plant that can turn those powdered eggs into cookies, then turn those cookies into cakes, etc. Eventually other animals will be added: royal penguins which produce feathers that eventually become clothing; walrus who produce ivory (that can be turned into souvenirs); and eventually those mysterious, supposedly extinct wooly mammoth, surprisingly not for their wool, but for something else entirely. Danger appears in the form of polar bears which can kick away your hard working livestock as they stride across your stretch of farm. Fortunately, there are also helper animals available which can drive off the predators or help you collect products as they hit the ground.

grinnyp_ff3iceage_screenshot2.jpgEach level is on a timer. Finish within a certain amount of time and win a gold trophy, finish a little slower and win a silver. Even if you don't manage to win a trophy, you continue until the goal is met. However, you want to finish as quickly as possible for the bonus points, which are needed to purchase upgrades to buildings and machinery. Those upgrades are needed to move on to the next rounds, so you may have to repeat a scenario a few times to proceed further. In certain cases, the linear track you are moving on splits, giving you a decision of which direction on the map to move, breaking up the linearity of the basic game.

Analysis: Ice age is pretty much a companion piece to American Pie. Not as complex as the main Farm Frenzy games, instead concentrating on perfecting one farm, albeit a rather strange one. Playing American Pie, for instance, could necessitate raising sheep for wool, which is turned into yarn, then cloth. To turn the cloth into clothing you needed to import strange feathered neckpieces. Well, in Ice Age, you are approaching the same task from the opposite direction, as this time you are constructing the feathered goods and need to import the cloth, presumably direct from granny's farm in the Midwest. The combinations used to produce goods are similar to those in American Pie, complex but not overly so.

As usual we are looking at the standard Farm Frenzy art, cute cartoony animals against a fantasy background. Unlike the usual farms though, you're looking at a lot of ice and snow, making the whole game actually feel a little chilly while playing. Eventually even the polar bears will end up in snowsuits, so we're talking cold. A lot of the amusement and fun of the game comes from the animals, the waddling penguins, the amazingly cute walrus, the stalwart guard dogs, the elegant cats, and the adorably poufy mammoth. Despite the climactic differences, this is still a basic Farm Frenzy game.

It's all becoming a bit... same, isn't it? The game is still wacky fun, and progresses to some wickedly difficult levels, but it would be nice to see some changes introduced, other than just substituting "new" animals for a different location. Some of the goods and manufacturing processes are different due to the animals involved, and the tasks involving the mammoths (when you eventually get to that level) are cute and unexpected, but the dynamic is still very much in the Farm Frenzy groove. If you've played any of the series this will all seem very familiar.

Despite the similarities to the other Farm Frenzy games (or, perhaps, because of it) Farm Frenzy 3: Ice Age is still a rollicking good time. With tons of trophies to win and lots of levels to conquer, you're still looking at hours and hours (and hours) of casual gameplay and replay value that is fun for a wide range of ages. So enjoy the cute animals, and look out for an appearance from a very special guest star.

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: Ice Age is available to download from these affiliates:
Arcade TownBig Fish Games


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Weekend Download

JohnBIt's a roguelike-like Weekend Download! Two of our games this weekend snuggle up to the famously non-casual sub-genre without turning up the complexity. Same RPG flavor, one tenth the time commitment! Quaffing potions should be a standard roguelike feature, though...

desktopdungeons.gifDesktop Dungeons (Windows, 2.9MB, free) - A quick ten-minute roguelike designed with casual players in mind. Move through the dungeon screen uncovering bits of the map and finding monsters, treasures, shops and more as you go. Fight enemies to move through more passageways, and before you engage in battle, Desktop Dungeons tells you the result of the first exchange of blows. Gameplay is entirely mouse-driven, and all the information you would ever need is right there in front of you. It's the perfect casual-friendly dungeon crawler that will easily quench your roguelike thirst.

fishface.gifFishface (Windows, 3.4MB, free) - One-button arcade games can be the most charming and challenging games around. Fishface uses only the [z] key to cause your little fish (who, as you may have gathered, has a face) to bob deeper under the water. Let go and the buoyancy will pull you up, useful for grabbing airborne rings and leaping over obstacles. It's a pretty short game, but it's charming, and what gameplay is there is very well-tuned. And you'll love the chiptune soundtrack, too!

fatherhood.gifFatherhood (Windows/Linux, 1.3MB, free) - A really simple roguelike that features no RPG elements, no dungeon crawling, and no combat. You play a father of three children who are running about outside. The rivers are flooding, however, and its your job to keep them safe. Pick up and drop boulders to form barricades that keep the water at bay. You also have to contend with brushfires on some levels, and those kids are never content to stay in one place, so managing them is also a bit of a problem.

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


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Rating: 4.6/5 (25 votes)
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Diner Dash 5: BOOM

DoraShe's run hotels and point-and-clicked her way to success, but Flo returns to her roots with Diner Dash 5: BOOM, the latest installment in the popular time management series. An underhanded trick by a shadowy Person of Interest results in Flo's beloved diner literally exploding on the spot, and she needs to rebuild it if she wants to stay in business. With fifty levels, full of hypnotic clowns, angry businesswomen, hungry construction workers and more, Flo has her work cut out for her. It's just like that one summer I was a waitress in my mother's restaurant, only with less food on the customers!... probably.

Diner Dash 5: BOOMBy now, you're probably familiar with the frenetic, quick-click gameplay. Seat customers as they arrive by dragging them to a large enough seating area, putting their butts in matching coloured seats for extra points. Place their orders, deliver their food, and make sure to bring them their check and clear the table when they're done. All this is done simply by clicking on the appropriate station on screen, and the tutorial does a good (if mildly patronising) job of walking you through the basics. There are different customers to contend with, and some are more patient than others; drag your feet too much, however, and you'll quickly start losing business. Not something you want to happen, since you have to reach a certain high score to proceed past each level and have more money to buy important upgrades.

This time, Flo has a bit more to contend with than low tippers. Weather is a factor, so you'll need to take the appropriate steps to shield your patrons whenever Mother Nature gets her undergarments in a bunch. Seating can sometimes get a bit cramped, which forces Flo to improvise unconventional dining tables which aren't always convenient. You'll also get to rebuild Flo's diner from the ground up, picking the styles you want for each section, and make improvements to the neighbourhood. Which, if you're like me, will consist entirely of plastering down pink hearts at every opportunity. (I wonder why the city planning department doesn't return my calls?)

Analysis: I admit, I was sort of hoping for a story about how the restaurant would explode if the number of customers served went under sixty, but I suppose BOOM's tale of a restaurant becoming so stuffed with eager patrons that it literally blows up is okay too. By now, the series has figured out a near-perfect formula, and Diner Dash 5: BOOM is the perfect mix of fun and challenging. The difficulty level is more like a difficulty wave, gently cresting and falling with each new area. The game does occasionally feel like it's forcing the "design your own diner" concept a bit when your sole interaction in some building sections is literally just to click "Build It!" when there are no choices to make at all.

Diner Dash 5: BOOMAny real issues with the game are the same "problems" that have persisted from the series' earliest installments. Some of the additional tasks, such as sending someone to repair a frequently leaking fire hydrant, for example, feel like pointless busy-work. It's also frustrating that any bonuses you buy for Flo, such as increasing her speed, vanish once you change locations. One of my biggest gripes is still how fiddly seating people is. It would be nice if the game would automatically snap people into the appropriately coloured seat instead of making you waste time trying to shuffle them all around to get the maximum bonus. When later levels get frantic, it's easy to wind up just slapping people wherever they'll fit because you're too busy to spare the few seconds needed to place them properly, which means it quickly becomes difficult to reach the "expert" score level.

The gameplay is still as fast and frantic as ever, and if you enjoy time management games, then Diner Dash 5: BOOM is probably a solid bet. It's bright, colourful, fun, and features the least sincere "NOOOOOO" in gaming history. Really, guys, it's Diner Dash, and if you're a fan of the series, you've probably already bought it. While it doesn't do anything really revolutionary, it is an extremely well made example of the genre that shows other titles how to do time management right. Just remember, folks; always tip your server.

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: 4.2/5 (203 votes)
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JamesImmorTallGet ready to give humanity another symbolic black eye in Pixelante's new side-scrolling story-game ImmorTall, the sad tale of a gooey black alien visitor and the not-so-hospitable treatment he gets from Earth dwellers.

If you are quick off the draw, highly impatient or have a case of right-click-and-search mania, you might have Google'd 'story-game' by now. That would have gotten you to a forum with what seems to be a jolly nice community, but that is not what I am talking about. 'Story-game' is what I'd like to use to define a growing type of game we're starting to see more and more of. A game that plays you more than you play it. [Here at JIG we use the tag 'narrative' for games with a strong or emergent story element. -Ed.]

ImmorTall is deceptively simple. You play as an alien who crashes on the planet's surface and soon after crawling from your wreckage encounters a little girl. She feeds you, which makes you grow. As you proceed, you'll be received warmly by the rest of her family... but not, perhaps, by everyone you meet. ImmorTall is not a game of skill. You can only move back and forth. In fact, the end of the game is inevitable and you do not even need to keep the family alive. But you want to. And you want to survive. As the alien lumbers forward, you can't help but feel touched by the alien's plight and the aggression shown towards him.

But this is the Raison d'être of the game: it exists to make a point and to tug at your emotions. That is how ImmorTall plays you. The effect is amplified by Pixelante's trademark silhouette art style and the melancholy soundtrack. The whole experience has futility written all over it and if you finish ImmorTall feeling downtrodden and sad, it has succeeded in what it wanted to do. I am inclined to agree with some of the JIG staffers' opinion that it is not as good as, say, The Majesty Of Colours, but unlike that game this isn't about putting the player in moral situations, but instead to experience being at the receiving end of another's arrogance.

Play ImmorTall

ImmorTall was previously featured here at JIG in a Link Dump Friday.


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Link Dump Fridays

DoraYou know, it's not officially Friday until you've gotten your Link Dump. Does this mean that if Link Dump Friday were to suddenly stop appearing, Friday would never come? That you would be stuck eternally in some un-time between days? Slip through a crack in the ether where days cease to have meaning? MAYBE. Are we just trying to give ourselves job security? MAYBE. Anyway, my point is, friend, games are important. That's why we've cherry picked this week's selection just for you. To keep you smiling, and keep the howling winds of the nether realms at bay. You could say we're heroes.

... would you? You know, kind of spread it around a little?... well, it's not technically a lie...

  • TheiaKeyboard Mayhem - My initial infatuation with this fast-paced typing game had little to do with wanting to better my keyboard skills and everything to do with the ridiculous visuals and twangy soundtrack. You type the letters on screen as fast as you can to knock back the enraged... uh, guy, and ultimately push him off a cliff. It's the sort of completely nonsensical idea that could have become something incredibly awesome. Instead, a lack of progression and variation makes this one of those "Hey, check out this weird thing I found" games than a classic.
  • Valthirian ArcValthirian Arc - This was almost a feature. This sim about training students at an academy to increase your fame as principal is ridiculously well presented. The problem is that the lackluster and tediously repetitive gameplay doesn't hold a candle to the top-notch visuals. And while grinding isn't always frowned upon, ultimately the awkward, clunky combat was the final nail in this KAWAII coffin. That said, should you find such grinding to your taste, who are we to judge? (Actually, I'm Canadian. Judging is pretty much what we do. That tickle between your shoulder blades right now? Me. Judging you.)
  • DuckLifeDuckLife - Seriously? Seriously? This is a sim game where you train a duck to compete in various races after your farm was destroyed by a tornado. It's endearing in a weird sort of way, but also so bare bones that you have to wonder if the developer isn't just sitting back, snorting giggles into his cupped hands, kicking his feet and shrieking, "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY'RE PLAYING IT." Oh well. At least it's a fair and entirely accurate portrayal of the life of a duck.
  • GeoGameGeoGame - Apparently expressly designed to make you realise just how paltry your geographical knowledge is, GeoGame is a very sleek and simple geography game (who'da thunkit!) where you identify locations on a map using hints or trivia questions. You can play anonymously, or connect with Facebook, so your friends can offer you a comforting shoulder to cry on when you lose even the simplest quesHAHA oh man, who am I kidding? Your friends are going to make fun of you so hard.
  • SidewaysSideways - I know what you're thinking, and, yes, it's another platformer that lets you flip the screen around to progress through the levels. Only this time, you flip the screen around to navigate your heroine through the mazes to the exit. It isn't as fluid as it should be, and there isn't really any story, but I like to pretend she's on the run because she stole The Bride's jumpsuit from Kill Bill. Of course, there are other possibilities. COINCIDENCE?!... yeah, probably. Man, I never get to have conspiracies!

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Rating: 4.1/5 (112 votes)
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DanTheArcherBlast RPGFor one reason or another, there's been a whole lot of streamlining taking place in game design today. I hear that there are now RPGs being released without towns. Towns! What's next? Sports games without points? Shooters without invisible health bars? Action games without double jumps? As it turns out, our good friends at Nitrome are no designer-come-latelies, as they've decided to eschew just about everything in the RPG formula except pulse-pounding combat, our favorite weapons with elemental properties, and a single item shop. How's that for streamlining? Welcome to Blast RPG, Nitrome's latest fusion of action and role-playing excitement.

The steadfast knight in this game has decided that all that romping through dank dungeons and random-encounter-laden forests is overrated; instead, he launches himself out of a cannon through waves of enemies to see how far he can get. Certainly a creative, if not unorthodox solution. Click your mouse to fire the cannon at the get-go, accounting for angle and power, and then hold the left mouse button down in a direction to give the airborne knight a general idea of where he should aim for.

Levels are cleared by specific distance milestones that must be met, which is where all that combat comes into play. Trouncing enemies that your fighter meets on the fly will give him an extra boost into the air, but be warned: some foes are of distinct elemental persuasions. You can "equip" different weapons by clicking them on the bottom selector, so you can always be prepared. That space is also where you can activate a trove of items, ranging from mighty spells to temporary stat increases and other trinkets a warrior flying at 90 miles per hour might find useful.

The game's a fantastic distraction for a little while, not to mention a unique twist on the "launch" genre, but the action begins to diminish in longer sessions of play. Aside from new monsters and changing backgrounds, the gameplay doesn't evolve through the levels, and despite the knight's best efforts to rocket over all those random-encounter-infested areas, the fact still remains that the appearance of monsters on screen is fairly random, and can end a glorious run with a single dry stretch. Still, there's some old-fashioned RPG fun to be had in leveling up your gladiator, and seeing just how far you can get the little guy to go. If you enjoy the game's streamlined simplicity, you'll find this RPG to be a blast.

Play Blast RPG


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Rating: 4.7/5 (109 votes)
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Babylon Sticks: Advanced Encryption comic

A custom casual gameplay comic created exclusively for JIG by Babylon Sticks creator, James Francis. Follow Babylon Sticks on Twitter: @babylonsticks.


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Rating: 4.1/5 (155 votes)
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GrinnypTaberinosCurse you, Tonypa! No, seriously, you have to stop making these games that suck up all my time as I try one more time...uh, where was I going with this? Oh yeah, Taberinos. Taberinos is a fun new game of skill by Tonypa which, frankly, is going to cause productivity to drop in offices, schools, and homes across the nation, exacerbating the troubles of our already shaky economy. It's a plot I tells ya!

The concept of the game is supremely simple. You control a dark blue ball with the mouse. An arrow around the ball moved by said mouse indicates a direction, and then you left click to release. Why would you want to do this? Well, there are white lines on the screen, evil white lines that simply must be eliminated. Bounce the ball against a line and it disappears, keep going until you run out of shots, or all of the lines are gone and you advance to the next level. Well, it sounds simple, anyway. As you progress, obstacles appear in the form of nodes. Nodes are little dots connected by a line. The only way to make a node disappear is to vanish all the lines connecting it. Still pretty simple, but wait, there's more. Black nodes are still easy to get rid of, but then angry nodes show up. These white nodes are very testy, and if you hit them with your little ball they will generate more lines. Then bloated gray nodes show up, which must be hit to deflate them.

Scoring is equally simple. Receive 1 point for each line you remove. If you manage to ricochet around and erase more than one line with a shot, you get extra points for each one. Nodes will get you 10 points except for the angry nodes and the bloated grays. If you manage to first deflate then erase a gray or vanish a white you're looking at 20 points.

The strategy is a combination of both geometry and physics, making Taberinos play like a wacky version of billiards. Try to judge how to line up a shot to take out as many lines as possible with the limited momentum of the ball, while attempting to avoid the angry nodes. If you manage to erase everything from the screen before you run out of shots, you get to progress to the next level, which is even more difficult. Fortunately, after every 5 levels you will earn one extra shot, and trust me, you'll need it.

TaberinosAnalysis: For something so simple, Taberinos is horribly addicting casual gameplay. Run out of shots and think, "Hey, I can do better, let's try that again." Next thing you know, hours have passed, and you might be still trying to make it past one...more...level.

You might think, well, why obsessively play the game over and over? It should be child's play to go back and change strategy so that you can get that last line or node in level 7. But no, kind reader, it's not that easy. You see, each level is randomly generated, so the level 3 you play the first time is not the level 3 you'll play the next. Each level will supply you with a certain number of lines and nodes, but after that, well, it's new each and every time you play, making memorizing patterns useless and a walkthrough impossible. Clever, because each and every time you play it is literally a brand new game.

The graphics are about as basic as it gets. Dark blue ball, light blue background, white lines, and black, white, and gray nodes. That's it. Stark visuals, matched up with a wacky, tango-like music clip that is guaranteed to drive you insane within minutes. Basically, pool stripped down to the bare essentials.

Taberinos shows the brilliance of stripping down a type of game to its very basics. Simple, elegant gameplay that changes every time you start it up. Yes, that is a recipe for serious time suckage. So get shooting! Just, you know, don't let the boss catch you.

Play Taberinos


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Rating: 4.5/5 (144 votes)
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JoyePon Pon House - KomorebiMou haru desu ka? Yes, the Japanese are asking "Is it spring yet?" too. A sure sign of spring is the release of a new PonPon House escape game from Orange Biscuit. And now PonPon House 3 - Komorebi is here! Haru desu~~~~~!

Like most point-and-click games, you use the mouse to look around your environment. No pixel hunting at all in this game; if you can click on something, it will highlight when you move your mouse over it, and the clickable area will be large and obvious. In one place the game even calls your attention to an area by making a ladybug crawl over it.

The difficulty in this game is solely in the puzzles, which require some note taking and maybe even making a screen capture or drawing to remember a clue. There isn't really any math. For the most part, it's figuring out what clue goes where, and using spatial logic.

The camera is a little awkward at times, but it just means a little backtracking to get your bearings. The Komorebi house is awash in pastels and cute details, and the relaxing music and birdsong of the soundtrack will bring spring to you, even if the weather where you are isn't cooperating (just yet). Enjoy and escape to PonPon House!

Play PonPon House 3 - Komorebi

Thanks to Airforbes for sending this one in!


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Rating: 4.2/5 (120 votes)
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DoraREDDEROh man. Spaceships, am I right? Always running out of magic glowy crystals and crashing onto uninhabited planets, amirite?? It's like dudes and football, or ladies and shoe shopping! It's so true! *pause for laughter* ... okay, so maybe that doesn't happen quite so often. REDDER, by Dessgeega, is a retro platformer with a heavy emphasis on exploration. You're a lone astronaut (I like to pretend you were tracking down Metroids) who is forced to land on a strange planet when your ship's engine fails.

In REDDER (and it's more fun if you scream the title like that every time you discuss the game with someone), you control your mute astronaut with the [arrow] keys, tapping [up], [Z], [shift], or the [space] bar to jump. Hit [M] to open your map, which will also let you warp back to your ship if need be. There's a mute button on the map menu, but the game's ambient, vaguely industrial soundtrack provides a fitting background to your adventure.

Your goal on this labyrinthine planet is to track down all of the gems you can so you can eventually power your spaceship and escape. Avoid enemies, lasers, and electric fields, since a single touch from one spells DOOM. Well, provided your idea of DOOM is to be sent back to the last checkpoint you triggered; REDDER automatically saves your game with every gem you collect, and whenever you touch a checkpoint. (The small white "televisions".) After all is said and done, you're probably going to have earned yourself a nice space-vacation on a tropical space-beach somewhere, sipping space-Mai-Tais and playing space-volleyball.

REDDERAnalysis: While comparisons are already being made with cult classic Knytt, REDDER actually puts me more in mind of Saira or VVVVVV, minus the story of the former, and the heavily symbolic design and gravity mechanic of the latter. Also known as Auntie Pixelante, or Anna Anthropy, Dessgeega is also the creator of the much more difficult When Pigs Fly. By contrast, REDDER is much less likely to make you want to take a knife to your speakers, or break something. The gameplay is slow and atmospheric, with a large emphasis on just exploring your surroundings. Which, thanks to the large map and simple controls, feels appropriately vast.

In fact, the only thing that really keeps me from wanting to be Bee Eff Effs with REDDER is the lack of diversity in its environments. The area design becomes more elaborate as you go deeper, and the lasers/robots/force fields/ham sandwiches are used to greater effect, but none of it is what you would call exciting. Each new area is sort of interesting, I guess, but the differences are largely superficial; different building material or colours. Whether you're running through one area or another, you're going to encounter the same sets of obstacles.

Well, okay, not exactly the same. Because here is where REDDER shines; by adding new layers of complexities to established challenges. It's incredibly well thought out, and while I would have still liked a bit more deviation from the standard "time jumps past enemies/lasers/mimes", I'm still taken aback by how big and tightly designed it all is. Since you can go anywhere and do everything right from the start, with no abilities to unlock, you can strike out in whatever direction you want, and collect the gems in whichever order you like. If you can see a gem, you can probably reach it just by poking around in the surrounding area. In this way, REDDER eliminates a lot of the annoying backtracking that plague other similar titles.

REDDER is an ambitious title, and succeeds more than it fails. If you demand fast-paced, action-filled gameplay, you're probably going to be bored by the content on offer here. But for those of you who like to take your time and seek out every nook and cranny, REDDER delivers a sizable chunk of well-made game. Once you've finished it, there really isn't any replay value to keep you coming back, but fans of the increasingly popular retro style of games will find a lot to enjoy here.

Play REDDER


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Rating: 3.8/5 (122 votes)
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KyleBabiesDreamdOfDeadWorldsWhat are dreams? Why do we dream? These are questions that have tested our intellect and captured our imagination generation after generation. While no truly definitive answer exists, many believe dreams are a kind of daily maintenance of the memory, clearing out the trash and moving the new memories into long term storage. But if this is the case, what do babies so young they have yet to build memories dream? According to the abstract platformer from Gregory Weir, Babies Dream of Dead Worlds.

In this unique offering, you dive into the dreams of sleeping babies only to find yourself taking on the guise of strange aliens in an even stranger universe. Move your alien about using the [arrow] keys, while [X] is used to jump and [C] can be used to talk to other alien creatures and read signs. The real twist mechanically in the game is that the center of gravity is not at the bottom of the screen (nor, as has become vogue in games lately, the top), but instead runs through the very middle of each level. As a result, you'll also have to familiarize yourself with the slingshot technique, using the [up] and [down] keys to build vertical momentum.

From there, you will find that your forays into this alien dimension gravitate around three different aliens each with their own personal goals. One dreams of being known as the fastest of all time and pushes itself relentlessly through countless runs around the race course. Another is a treasure seeker that scours the world for golden coins refusing to quit until all have been found. Finally there is Mel, an alien obsessed with his research into an anomaly with potentially catastrophic repercussions.

Through the dreams of infants you will explore the lives of each of these aliens, experience their hopes and help them attain their dreams. You will do this despite the encroaching darkness, and the ever growing warnings of a dying world.

Analysis: I'll be up front with you here. Babies Dream of Dead Worlds is what many call an "art game" with a heavy sigh and a rolling of the eye. Like many other so-called art games before it like Passage or Gray, Babies is one of those games you either "get" or you don't. If art games aren't your thing, you may not like Babies Dream of Dead Worlds.

BabiesDreamOfDeadWorldsIn all fairness to the game, though, it does enjoy a mechanic that may make it more accessible to gamers, especially to those appreciative of the platformer genre. The real star of the gameplay here is of course the decision to place the gravitational focal plane in the middle of the level and the resulting reliance upon the slingshot effect. The controls are tight, and the hit detection, though not perfect, is dependable, but the slingshot effect is what really lets you let loose and have fun with this game.

If I had to point to a flaw from a gameplay perspective in Babies, I would have to say that the level design could have been a little bit better. One often gets the sense that there could have been more exploration with the slingshot technique. Meanwhile there are plenty of other instances where it seems as though the challenges are a little too demanding and frustrating. More than a few times you will need to slingshot your alien into tight spaces resulting in numerous attempts that won't frustrate platforming veterans but may stifle others.

But one could argue that the heart of Weir's game lies not in the physical so much as the metaphysical. One can hardly deny the fact that the concept itself is an intriguing one. The sheer idea that maybe we visit entirely different universes during our infancy is enough to set one's imagination on fire. Weir's vision here is even more intriguing, though, for it implies that at birth we share a kind of inherited universal memory. That inherited universal memory brings us to this world that looks on the surface so different from our own. As we soon learn, though, the differences between us are not all that many. Our new alien friends, like us, have ambitions and fears. And they cope with this in the face of a coming apocalypse.

Thematically, I'm reminded curiously enough of When The Bomb Goes Off. In both games we are given candid peeks into the final moments of life. These glimpses are brief but made all the more poignant by their sense of finality. The differences here is that Weir gives the characters knowledge of their impending doom, as well as explores in more depth their thoughts and relationships. The end result is a loosely woven story that has a capacity for both sadness and comfort.

On this front it's difficult to point out flaws in Weir's effort. Like all art games, it's an interpretive work, and as a result successes and failures are the prerogative of the beholder. No doubt those who don't get it are likely to find the whole work to be flawed. My one qualm is a lack of any kind of ending. I don't need a definitive cut scene clobbering me over the head with all of the game's lessons, but I would have appreciated something essentially saying, "Okay, that's all I got, now go discuss among yourselves."

Overall, though, I find Babies Dream of Dead Worlds to be a success. With strong writing and an imaginative universe, Weir uses the bizarre to redirect a powerful lens upon the mundane. Through that lens we are able to see our own capacity for anger and admiration, courage and fear, and what one can only hope is the best of us at the worst of times. For those who find little value in art games, there's a good possibility this will not be among your favorite. But for those who revel in games that attempt to tackle metaphysical questions with big blocky pixels, Babies Dream of Dead Worlds should not be missed.

Note: There is some imagery that could subjectively be seen as offensive by some people. The developer has confirmed, though, that the visual similarities in this game to inappropriate subject matter are entirely coincidental.

Play Babies Dream of Dead Worlds


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Rating: 4.2/5 (76 votes)
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Mikemike-condition-screen1.gifWhen does science go too far? How advanced can an artificial intelligence get before it is too advanced? And at what point does an homage cease to be an homage? The answers to these questions and more can be found in Condition, a sci-fi platform shooter by abielins and Lycheesoup that's just a little reminiscent of Cave Story.

Players control a bubble-headed space merchant who heroically answers a distress call from a remote engineering station, where things have gotten a bit crazy, with the super-science and sentient chemicals and all. Move with the [arrow] keys, and interact with items, doors, terminals, and cowering, fearful space engineers with the [down] arrow. Jump with [space] or [X], shoot with [C], and switch weapons with [S] or [D]. You'll have to find some means of defending yourself from the deceptively adorable space blobs, though stomping atop their cute, squishy heads will also do the trick. Collect upgrades and power-ups, and figure out what is going on before you and your charges are destroyed.

Analysis: Right, so, Cave Story. Condition. Kind of similar. The stories are quite different, but both have a similar flavor of pixilated artwork, similar hypsicephalic protagonists, a similar feel to their platforming, similar four-directional weapon controls, and a similar reliance on set-pieces in their level design.

It's hard to imagine that these similarities are accidental, but it's also unfair to dismiss Condition as pure derivation. Did Castlevania simply rip off Metroid? Was Galaga just a Space Invaders clone? Should we neglect countless excellent match-3 games just because of their similarity to Bejeweled? Furthermore, Cave Story and Condition are way different in scope: Cave Story was a platforming epic, with many hours of gameplay and a deep, engaging, tragic story. Condition is a much more casual affair, with maybe an hour of gameplay, and shouldn't be judged because it isn't as deep as the game that obviously inspired it.

So I don't think it's right to call Condition a "ripoff". I still feel comfortable criticizing a few areas where it falls short of Cave Story, because in these areas it is obviously trying to achieve what Cave story achieved. For example, you can tell from some of the interactions with the engineers on the station that the developers wanted some greater story depth, but they never quite developed it enough. Also, the various set pieces, while fun, don't feel as well integrated as they should, so the experience is just a bit disjointed.

It would be a shame to view Condition solely through Cave Story, because there are many areas where it stands on its own. The set pieces, though discombobulated, are very clever and quite fun when taken by themselves. There are interesting, varied environments and obstacles, a couple of nice, if easy, boss fights; and a nifty finale. I also liked the enemy AI: while the automatic defense systems are appropriately automatic, the space blobs are surprisingly wily skirmishers who require some deft footwork or clever use of cover to properly evade and dispatch.

Condition is its own game, as much as it is decidedly an homage. It's not perfect, but it offers a lot to approve of. Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, it deserves to be judged on its own.

Play Condition


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Rating: 4.1/5 (119 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypClassic room escapes are fun, certainly, but it's also nice when a designer stretches the boundaries of what we might call "escape". Sometimes you're not trying to get out but, rather, find answers. Thus begins Dad (Otoosan) by Robamimi, a sentimental journey through a room that you're not trying to escape at all.

grinnyp_dad_screenshot.jpgYou are playing as the titular father, who hasn't heard from his lovely daughter for a while and is beginning to get worried. What would you, as a parent, do? Well, you might go find your child's apartment and search for clues, which is what Dad is all about. A concerned father searching for something, anything to tell him what has happened to his missing daughter. There are no locked doors (at least, to the outside), turning what looks like a classic room escape into... something else.

Arrows and bars at the sides of the screen allow you to navigate this tiny, uncluttered space. Inventory control is easy; each inventory "slot" is split into two, each its own color. Click on the top (white) part of the inventory slot to view the item in close up, click on the bottom (pink) part of the inventory slot to use the item. Be sure to examine items in close up, there will be some combining involved. Thankfully, there is a changing cursor, so say good-bye to pixel hunting! There's also a volume bar to control the background noises and gentle, lilting music, and there's even a save button if you want to stop for a while and go back later.

Analysis: Robamimi, creator of such classics as Who Am I (Remake) and First Love (with Bianco-Bianco) tends to alternate between quirky, logical escapes and sweet, sentimental escapes that are really not escapes at all. Dad falls into the latter category; casual gameplay as an emotional experience. The game really seems to capture the feel of a worried parent desperately searching for clues to what has happened to a beloved daughter.

The space is done up beautifully in Robamimi's usual pastel-toned 3D. Accompanying the search for the lost daughter is a slow, sentimental guitar piece that perfectly enhances the mood of the game. There are two versions of the game, Japanese and English, so make sure the button says "English" before you start the game, or you will be immediately lost. Well, lost if you don't read Japanese, that is.

The only complaint is that the game is on the simple side. The puzzles flow together logically, but there are not many of them, and the main puzzle is completely color based, making it difficult for those with color blindness to solve the central mystery.

Dad is not a long game, nor is it terribly difficult, but it is one of those gems that really hangs together well. A gentle, easy, sentimental mid-week break. Slow down, relax, let the soothing tune lull you into a serene place, and logic your way through the search for answers. Just remember, it's not easy being a Dad.

Play Dad


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Rating: 4.3/5 (162 votes)
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DoraAir PressureWhat happens when infatuation becomes complacency? Or dependence? You take on the role of a young man having doubts about his current relationship, and whether it really is what he wants out of his life. Air Pressure, a short visual novel by Bento Smile, might be a simple story about falling out of love... or something else entirely.

It's not exactly a cheery game by any means. In fact, it's barely even a game at all. While it lacks the outright morbid feel present in, say, Every Day The Same Dream, if you draw certain conclusions about the subtext present in the game it starts to feel more and more like you're peering uncomfortably through a window into a particularly rocky chapter in someone else's life. You play by clicking to advance text on the screen, and clicking to choose from one of two responses or actions whenever the opportunity arises. There are three endings possible depending on your interactions with the female lead, and telling which one is "good" and which is "bad" isn't quite as obvious as it might seem.

Do yourself a favour and play this game without reading the impressions of other players first. Once you know what's happening, making the connections is fairly easy, but it's interesting to play the game with a clear perspective and see if you draw the same conclusions others seem to be making about the scant plot. From a purely technical standpoint, Air Pressure is a competent, if relatively unremarkable, example of the visual novel genre; the pixelated look along with the limited interaction puts you in mind of the days of monochrome, handheld gaming. It's well written, but the problem is that gamers looking for something "just" entertaining will probably be dissatisfied with the short, simple presentation and heavy symbolism. It's an abstract little bit of work hiding underneath a very light appearance.

Introspective narratives in gameplay are becoming more and more popular as a form of expression, and you either like them or you don't. Air Pressure is quite a bit less open to interpretation than some, and serves as a snapshot of life and choices that may hold more meaning for some people than others.

Note: The unspoken themes in this game will probably go right over the heads of most kids, and the content taken at face value is very tame, but it's been given a slightly higher rating just to be on the safe side.

Play Air Pressure


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Rating: 4.1/5 (102 votes)
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KyleTurnellio.gifWe here at Jay is Games love us some match-3 action. We also just so happen to love the works of prolific developer, Tonypa. So what happens when you throw the two together? A heaven made pairing not unlike the greats such as Eminem and 50 cent, Goose and Maverick, and anchovies and blueberry jam.

In Turnellio, Tonypa manages to apply his own twist to the well-explored genre in order to breathe some life and individuality into it. In standard match-3 games, you change the location of tiles that themselves never really change. Here, you don't change the location, but the tiles themselves. Each tile can face in one of four directions (up, down, left, and right), and you can rotate each tile ninety degrees clockwise by simply clicking your mouse on it. Get three or more tiles lined up in the same direction horizontally or vertically, and they disappear giving you points and progressing you to the next level. Easy, right?

Well, there are a few obstacles to contend with as you go along. For one, gaps will develop in the grid across which matches can't be made. The only way to get rid of these nuisances is to drop them to clear out the tiles beneath them, effectively dropping the gaps out of play.

Also, by now I'm sure it has occurred to some of you that much of the challenge in the game can be removed you just keep rotating tiles until something happens. Yes, you can do this, but every time you turn a tile without making a match, another tile gets locked and can't be rotated. Lock up all the tiles on screen, and your game is over.

Analysis: Turnellio is match-3 the way only Tonypa could do it. All of the trademarks are there, from the exotic title to the simple but attractive graphics to the infectious back track all of which surrounding engrossing gameplay.

Turnellio.gif The brilliance of Tonypa's continued works is that he conceives simple yet original gameplay ideas and instead of overexposing them, under using them, or misusing them, he distills games around them so that they are allowed to meet their full potential. In this most important aspect is Turnellio like the rest of its developer's games.

The twist at work here, rotating the tiles instead of relocating them, is one of those ideas that is so simple it's almost unbelievable it hasn't been explored up until now. And while the adjustment seems rather small, it's just big enough to rekindle an ebbing interest in match-3 games. Like Zerosum, Turnellio's departure from the match-3 standard gives it the capacity to get you hooked on it all over again. Even more interesting is that Turnellio offers compelling gameplay without the gaudy power-ups and special moves that modern match-3 games often resort to. Yes, you can build some impressive combos, but don't look for the special attack button that lets you clear half a board; you don't get one, and really, the game doesn't need it.

Turnellio is also not the most challenging game ever conceived, which is a double edged sword. The game is not timed, meaning you never have to think fast, and while the locking of tiles does act as a punishment for randomly clicking on tiles, I don't think it is a fast enough acting punishment. Gaps and locked tiles are the only real obstacles you have to face in Turnellio, and they don't really accrue so quickly that you can't cope with them. Because Turnellio isn't all that difficult, it definitely makes it more readily accessible to gamers of all types and abilities, but those looking for a good challenge may be disappointed.

Outside of that, there's little to jeer, and much to cheer about Tonypa's take on a casual gaming staple. With beat poet like coolness (okay, maybe the finger snapping sound effect is sticking with me too much), he offers up his own twists and garnishes them with his penchant for quiet elegance. The result is a game that keeps the heart and inherent fun of match-3 games while experimenting with new and intriguing territory.

Play Turnellio


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Rating: 3.9/5 (73 votes)
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DoraDragondotDragondot, Dragondot, does things that a Dragondot does; slashes goblins, and some ghosts, fights some worgs, and something else that has context and rhymes with "ghosts".

Hey there! Here comes that Dragondot!

Aren't you sick of games that have things like complex plots and cutting edge visuals? Sure you are. That's why Dragondot is here to sweep you off your feet and into its... um... arms, presumably... with a hack-and-slash-esque java game about defending your adoring kobolds and your territory from invaders. What sorts of invaders? Well, everything from goblins to ghosts to ninjas, obviously, and some are stronger than others with different abilities to watch out for. Use the arrow keys to move, [Z] to jump, and [X] to attack, but keep an eye on your health in the upper left corner. The more enemies you slay, the stronger you'll get, with bonuses given for saving kobolds from attackers. When enemies drop them, pick up gold coins for score increases, and pink dots to heal your health.

Dragondot is about as minimalist as you can get, and it's also completely adorable. Despite consisting primarily of circles of various sizes and colours, the creatures still manage to feel distinct from one another. Ninja zip from place to place, hobgoblins pound the area with clubs, and your kobolds shower you with tiny pink hearts. The whole thing won't take you that long to finish, since it's mostly just a matter of figuring out the proper order to complete the areas in so you don't get slaughtered, but the whole thing is the perfect bite-sized bit of quirky action to fit into your morning. There's not a whole lot of replay value to be had once you've cleared the land of menace, but should you ever feel the need for the sort of blind, unassuming love that only a mass of circular kobold followers can deliver, Dragondot is right here.

Waiting.

<3

Play Dragondot


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Rating: 4.6/5 (459 votes)
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JamesUgly Americans: Citizen Ugly Meet Mark Lilly, defender of the strangers in a strange land, roommate to a brain eater, and currently handcuffed to a bed. Step into Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly, the latest point-and-click adventure game from ClickShake Games (the artists formerly known as Zeebarf and Steve Castro).

Welcome to New York City, the traditional landing port for foreigners eager to build their own American dream. It is Mark's job, as an employee at the Department of Integration, to help these newcomers out with jobs and make sure they do not get deported because of some technicality. Such as losing their immigration papers or eating gray matter at the Brain Depository. Yes, it's going to be one of those games. Use your mouse to interact with objects on the screen, combining items in your inventory to help you succeed in important tasks... like freeing yourself from the aforementioned handcuffs.

Strange is a fitting place to start describing Citizen Ugly. After helping him escape from his bedroom bondage, you discover that the ten cases Mark needs to check up on are not of the garden variety immigration stuff (though his roommate's choice of take-out food - and for that matter his Luciferian girlfriend - should have been clues). Then again, in this city it is very normal to see a zombie next to the convenience store. Mark's cases cover the likes of double-headed creatures, a giant chicken, two characters with a fish head and fish hook for their respective heads, not to mention a Croatian Man. Mark has to check up on them, all of whom have some kind of problem that could lead to their expulsion from the country.

Using guile, ingenuity and at least one cocktail of blood, Mark sets about to save the day. Who knows - he might even get his girlfriend back!

Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly Analysis: Citizen Ugly first appeared on the Comedy Central site, but it is fair to say it would have fit comfortably with the Adult Swim crowd (though it is a game for an upcoming show of the same name on CC). The content of this adventure game is not all-out adult, but the themes and dialogue does border on the mature. Mixing this up with a sense of humor that is both subtle and absurd makes it an outright winner in the writing department. The devil is in the detail and Citizen Ugly has its share of Mephistophelesic action.

Making the humor resonate even more is the excellent voice acting, which is surprisingly top-notch. This does not feel like the developers sat in their lounge and read stuff off paper into a headphone mic. The artwork is equally endearing, in its own creepy way, at both times gleaming of quality and yet feeling like the rough-shod material you tend to see on Adult Swim. In other words, it fits perfectly with the kind of humor and mature themes it juggles. But in all fairness this is based on a Comedy Central show, so if the sound and art design were not good, it wouldn't have seen the light at all.

So the art and sound were (almost) a given. Where Citizen Ugly could have fallen apart was in its gameplay. But ClickShake has crafted a decent adventure game. Not a particularly taxing one: whenever you get a clue that relates directly to a case, that specific dossier updates itself. The tricky part comes in finding and combining objects. Most scenes have at least one thing you can pick up and chatting to the characters will often unlock a new location. Let's just say Citizen Ugly is not particularly lateral and if you get really stuck, you can simply try all the objects you have collected on a scene to see if anything works.

The dynamic part of the game comes in the object combinations, which is a well-loved staple of the genre since Monkey Island debuted it. You can combine two items to make a new one - some are pretty obvious and one or two less so. Still, these won't have you stumped for very long. Citizen Ugly is what could be called a pitch perfect adventure game: it has style, it has charm, it has humor and it has just enough puzzle elements to keep you from racing through it. Throw in some zombies, chickens, squids, werewolves, a questionable use for an orphanage and it's the perfect way to spend a day in a Big Apple overrun by the paranormal.

Play Ugly Americans: Citizen Ugly


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Rating: 4.8/5 (76 votes)
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joyeDual TransformHow does your mind symbolize heat? A roaring fire, perhaps? Expand it out a little. What else is there? Smoke? How about visualizing pressure, mass, or form? Enter into the experience of visualizing visualizing (whoa, meta!) in the CGDC7 award-winning interactive fiction title Dual Transform by Andrew Plotkin. Take on the role of a virtual engineer, of sorts, feeling the pressure of really making this project something to remember... something that really feels real.

Competition runner-up award winnerDual Transform is a game about a metasemanticity—so I guess this review makes me a metametasemantician. Your character designs virtual workspaces of some kind, and you've got a deadline to meet, but you've hit something of a block. You've got to think outside the box by going inside the box, or the cube, to be more precise. Like most works of interactive fiction, you use a text parser to interact with the game. Use your keyboard to input text commands, such as l/look, x/examine, get, drop, i/inv/inventory, and so on.

The game is a bit more abstract than your typical "west of house" interactive fiction title, however. Because of the nature of your work as the lead character, you'll have to be a bit more clever with your actions. Make sure to examine your environment and pay close attention to the way the game describes objects; often, the game will nudge you through its descriptions towards the actions you'll need to perform. Collect bits of data, for example, and, once they've been compiled, place the icons into your workspace to see what evolves from them. Dual Transform is anything but standard in concept, and figuring out what it wants from you can be a bit of a challenge at first.

Analysis: Dual Transform would not be the best introductory game for someone new to IF. Not only is there no tutorial, there isn't a help menu, nor does the game contain any hints about puzzle solving. You need to already be familiar with IF logic, in which you must scan the paragraphs of text for clues as to which aspects of the scene are important and how to interact with them. As you progress, your environment changes around you, forcing you to keep examining new things... especially your inventory.

The best part of the game is in exploring your environment. You'll really cheat yourself if you just try to solve everything as quickly as possible. Take the time to look at everything. This isn't one of those IF games where the description says "You enter the room. The grass is covered with flowers. Wow, so many flowers. You can't stop looking at the beautiful, magnificent, amazing flowers," yet when you try "examine flowers" you get the response "There's nothing like that here." If Dual Transform mentions something, you can look at it, and the evocative descriptions make that worthwhile. The parser is also excellent. You don't have to hold its hand and type "drop the Mr. Key's House Of Keys key on the key chomping device." You can be precise if you want to, of course, but the game is smart enough to figure out what you want from some pretty terse commands.

The connection with the "escape" theme is a bit of a stretch, but I can't really go into that further without ruining the surprise of the ending. Let's just say that what goes on in the game could deal with some interpretation, and I'd love to hear yours in the comments. Whatever conclusions you draw, Dual Transform is a cleverly written piece of interactive fiction that challenges you to be creative with your environment to succeed.

Play Dual Transform


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Rating: 4.1/5 (90 votes)
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joyeloondon.pngAll Jonah wants is to be happy. He's courageous, loyal to friends, and kind even to strangers. Unfortunately, Jonah is one of "the malformed", rejected by society because of his hunched back. He lives at a fair with the other outcasts. Then one day the wind blows him a handbill advertising a celebration in glittering Loondon. Could this be the answer to Jonah's dreams? You'll need your point-and-click skills to find out.

Using the mouse, click around to cause Jonah to walk, and on hotspots (highlighted by arrows) or speech bubbles to interact with the scenery or talk with people. Most of the time you're just looking for whatever can be clicked, and that will advance the story, making this more on the "interactive art" side than the "game" side, but there are two minor puzzles.

Analysis: Loondon's strength lies in its beautiful art and evocative soundtrack. The creepy steampunk aesthetic of the game reminds me of works such as the Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello and the books of author China Mié ville. My first thought upon hearing the title "Loondon" was to wonder if was connected to Mié ville's work "Un Lun Dun," and while it isn't, I think fans of one will enjoy the other.

The rhyming couplets of the narration are a bit hackneyed and forced, and in several places could use proofreading, a fault all too common in flash gaming, even story-driven games where typos and missing punctuation jar the reader out of the experience. When the errors are things that even Microsoft Word's spellchecker would catch, the player is left wondering if the developer thought to check them. When contrasted against the intricate detail of the art, the sloppiness in allowing these errors is even more puzzling.

Ultimately though the writing doesn't detract that much, because the emotional core of the story is in the heartstring-tugging visuals of Jonah with his plucky kerchief-on-a-stick versus the cruel silhouettes of the villains of the game. The name and logo of the makers of the game, Flip-n-Tale, suggest that there could be more of these storytelling point-and-clickers. Perhaps if they take the radical step of making the storytelling completely non-verbal, and keep up their high music and visual standards, they could have a classic on the level of Samorost. In the meantime, what's here is worth seeing.

Play Loondon


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Rating: 4.6/5 (304 votes)
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DoraRobot Wants KittyAh, zere you are. Come, sit with me by zee riverside and eat zees baguette and smelly cheese while we wear black-and-white striped shirts. Here, put on zees beret. Do you know, mon ami, that there is one perfect expression of love in zee world? Eet ees zee way a robot endures retro platforming danger, all for his furry friend! Eet ees lovely, no? Zees, jeannot, eez... Robot Wants Kitty. Ah, c'est l'amour!

Like all great love stories, this one begins with the [arrow] keys. Left and right, to be specific, which controls the direction your devoted little robot trundles in. Initially, this is all you can do, which means you're going to spend a lot of time in the beginning fleeing from enemies. Find yourself painfully disintegrating in one too many pits of green acid? Ceiling-mounted, death-spitting aliens got you down? No problem; as you explore the area, you'll discover a number of power ups designed to make the journey for feline companionship a bit easier. From double-jumps to rockets to deadly lasers, er, lazorz, robot has a veritable mechanical arsenal out there if you can find it all.

The goal, of course, is to reach the kitty as fast as possible. Which sounds easy, right? I mean, it's right there where you start the game. But the way to kitty is paved with aliens, locked doors, acid pits, and more. You'll have to be ever vigilant, since a single hit will send your robot back to the start of the game (although you'll retain all your keys and abilities).

Robot Wants KittyAnalysis: Is there anything cuter than a tiny pixel robot, arms outstretched for feline friendship? Robot Wants Kitty is full of an old-school charm, from its deceptively simple gameplay to its adorable, retro graphics. The presentation is extremely minimalistic, and yet it still manages to tickle that part of your brain that finds pixels charming and engaging. That is, assuming you're over twenty years old and aren't confused and alarmed at the concept of anything that isn't fully rendered in 3D.

What isn't quite so charming is the instant warp-to-starting-point that occurs whenever you get damaged. It doesn't take long for it to wear out its welcome, veering rapidly from "mild inconvenience" to "it appears my laptop has caught on fire and become lodged within the neighbour's front lawn". Sure the enemies don't reset, but that's not the point. Having to trudge all the way back to where you were an instant ago just because you accidentally dipped a wheel into some corrosive green spit isn't fun, it's work. (Well, not my work. Robot work. Robot work sucks, apparently.) It makes you think the game would have been better off as a succession of progressively more elaborate levels rather than one enormous one. Update: Checkpoints have been added that make this previous paragraph moot.

But the game's biggest oversight is the complete lack of a save feature. Face it; rage quits happen. Or maybe you just don't have the time to complete the game within a single sitting. Whatever the case, the game doesn't allow you the option to pick up where you left off if you close the browser, so bear this in mind when beginning your steel journey.

Despite this, the gameplay is simple to pick up, but just challenging enough to provide a nourishing snack. Why, exactly, does Robot Want Kitty? Who wouldn't! Doesn't that stiff, jutting, pixel fur look warm and inviting to you? Just remember; "Beep, boop" is Robot for "LET ME REND YOUR NUBILE FLESH WITH MY STEEL PINCERS".

... uh, I mean... "I love you!"

Play Robot Wants Kitty

Play the entire Robot Wants series...


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Mobile Monday

JohnBOne of the darling developers on the iTunes App Store, NimbleBit, has released yet another simple but crazy fun game. Sometimes I wonder if those guys stay up at night thinking of ways to make me stare at my iPod for hours on end. Between Text/Fishtropolis and Dizzypad, I'm going to have a hard time putting that little device away for long periods of time...

dizzypad.jpgDizzypad - From NimbleBit, creator of Textropolis, Fishtropolis, and several other games, comes a simple one-switch game involving a frog, some lily pads, and a little timing. Jump from lily pad to lily pad by tapping the frog at just the right moment. Each pad rotates when you're sitting on it, so you have to gauge distance and time your jumps just right. Land in the water and you lose a life, leap over a lily pad and you gain a life. See how that can lend itself to nigh-infinite playtime?!

doodlebomb.jpgDoodle Bomb - We all know bombs play an important role in puzzle games. In Doodle Bomb, all you do is lob bombs out of a hole in the background. Hit switches that open the exit door to escape, but obviously that's never as easy as it sounds. Moving platforms, treacherous ledges, and tons of other obstacles stand between you and sweet freedom. Adjust the power of your throw, and don't be afraid to try, try again. The free Doodle Bomb Lite is also available.

cometracer.jpgComet Racer - This is one of those games that's so wacky, you can't help but love it. An arcade racing game at its heart, Comet Racer puts you in control of a little rocket with the power to blast forward and adjust course left and right. In order to complete each stage, you must race through the 2D asteroid cavern as quickly as you can, often repeating your solo races until you beat the qualifying time. Not a game for those who give up easily, but definitely a game for anyone who likes a wild gaming experience.

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 (22 votes)
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Caster

JoshLast year we featured an amazing little game called Caster in our Weekend Download lineup, although we might have jumped the gun... in retrospect, some of us here at JiG totally fell in love with this independently-developed 3D action-shooter, vowing to give it the full review it deserved when the second episode eventually came out. Last week, game developer Mike D. Smith of Elecorn unveiled Caster Episode 2; the second in an ongoing series of free content updates for the original game. Episode 2 is more than just a handful of new levels, though; Smith added new art and visual effects, revved-up the performance and introduced a variety of new gameplay elements (including a level editor and support for community mods). More than a year after its original release, Caster Episode 2 offers the perfect opportunity for players to check out one of the best indie games of 2009 that might have flown under their radar.

CasterCaster is a third-person action-shooter with distinct influences from the glory days of console gaming; it cooks up some of the most-enticing features of high-energy, super-powered shooter action and serves it up on a silver platter. The story and premise are pretty much dwarfed by Caster's hyper gameplay, vivid graphics and thumping soundtrack... something about an insectoid race called the Flanx posing a threat to the ecosystem? After the first few levels, it won't really matter; you'll be having too much fun running up the walls—literally—and blasting bad guys to remember.

Caster isn't completely about running-and-gunning, though; there's a specific task in each level that needs to be completed before you can move on to the next. Most of the time you'll have the simple task of clearing enemies or collecting a certain number of glowing orbs, but some missions are a bit more devious and require a little puzzle-solving logic to complete. For example, the landscape in Caster is deformable; two of your weapons have the ability to destroy and create terrain, which allow for some interesting scenarios when you can't directly access an object or destroy an enemy by conventional means.

Our hero is packing an old-school, multi-purpose arm canon; players begin with a basic laser blaster and gain new weapons and functions in later levels. Default movement is controlled with the familiar [WASD] setup, and combat is equally as simple; use the mouse aim and click the left button to fire. To switch weapon types, you can either use the scroll wheel or click the right mouse button, which will pause the action and allow you to select from a cursor menu. As you'll learn in the first tutorial stage, running and jumping is an important—and undeniably fun—part of Caster's gameplay. Double-tap the directional keys (or hit the [shift] key) to start the "dash" ability, which allows you to scale vertical inclines, run across water and other nifty acrobatic maneuvers. While dashing, hit [space] to perform a super jump, or you can activate the power by double-jumping from a standstill.

CasterBoth your "super" abilities and weapons can be upgraded between levels using the points earned by defeating enemies and collecting orbs. The super jump, for example, can be upgraded to such an extent that by the time it's maxed-out, you'll almost be able to traverse the entire length of some maps in a single jump. Weapons you pick up along the way can be upgraded to enhance their performance; upgrading the blaster will increase its damage, while other weapons will benefit in unique ways, like larger area-of-effects or additional projectiles. Part of the fun is discovering each weapon and learning how to use it, so we won't spoil it by describing them all. But remember that versatility is important; some of the enemies in Caster react uniquely to different weapons and strategies, especially in the newest campaign introduced in Episode 2.

Analysis: When I send an email to my friends about Caster, I usually end up writing something like, "You gotta check this game out—it'll make you feel like a super-hero." Caster is often praised for its exceptional ability to make you feel powerful; it sheds the potential weight of indulgent, convoluted gameplay mechanics and glorifies the player instead. Whether you're even paying attention to your current objective or not, there's something inherently fun about zipping across the landscape at blurring speeds, leaping over mountains and using your weapons as a God-like paintbrush of destruction. Caster also has plenty style; just when you're starting to feel comfortable, the surreal level design, eccentric plot and quirky enemies offer new surprises until the very end. The puzzle aspects help relieve "shooter fatigue" and the boss fights introduce satisfying challenges at just the right moments.

Most action and shooter fans will find the control mechanics fairly intuitive; nonetheless, players have the ability to create a custom layout instead (gamepad support is also included). For a game of its small size, Caster's graphics and animation are surprisingly vivid and polished, and the engine seems to be more optimized and scalable than most indie developments. The recent Caster Episode 2 features seven new missions, a new female character, new graphics, art and music. The latest version also introduced some new gameplay mechanics, added a level editor, community mod support and addressed several performance and control issues. The original Caster is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and even the iPhone. So far, Episode 2 is only available for Windows, but the remaining platforms will be available soon. Players can download and play the Caster demo for free, or purchase the full game for $4.99, which includes future updates and episodes.

Note: Caster Episode 2 is currently available only for Windows, though Mac/Linux ports are coming soon. Caster Episode 1 is already available for Mac, Linux, and iPhone!

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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Secret Mission: The Forgotten Island

JohnBWhen will headstrong adventurers realize you can't go on a trip through the tropics without getting stranded on a mysterious piece of land? Secret Mission: The Forgotten Island begins with researcher Chanel Flores finding herself on an island that doesn't really exist. And, when she discovers strange crystals and an unusual tree, she discovers it's not so deserted, either.

secretmissionforgotten.jpgSecret Mission: The Forgotten Island is a hybrid hidden object/adventure game with a slight leaning towards the latter. That's no surprise, really, as the game was created by Frogwares, veteran adventure game studio that also crafted Secret Missions: Mata Hari and the Kaiser's Submarines. Explore the island one still screen at a time, gathering items, poking your nose in every corner, and assembling things in your inventory to help you uncover more secrets on this strange tropical paradise.

You'll notice each area features a number of items scattered on the ground along with a few sparkling spots you can click. Grab what you can and stash it in your inventory, you'll need it to solve one of the puzzles close by. Each area features a small handful of explorable scenes, and you'll need to track back and forth between them to find things you need to complete the location. Hidden object scenes in Secret Mission are short, relatively easy, and function as puzzles to supply key items you need in the main game. Even if you have the puzzle solving sense of a tub of molasses, with a little exploration you can easily work your way through this game.

No modern casual game would be complete without mini-games, and Secret Mission doesn't buck convention. The battery of games isn't all that unique, but they're very well-integrated into the story and are usually quick and easy to complete. Even if you hate the puzzle you're talked into completing!

secretmissionforgotten2.jpgAnalysis: Great visual package, simple gameplay, non-complex puzzles, good mini-games, and a standard storyline, Secret Mission walks the safe path in hidden object gaming. It never tries to create anything fantastically new for the genre, but sometimes you don't need to innovate to create an entertaining experience. When it comes down to it, Secret Mission is just enjoyable. Not groundbreaking, just fun.

Secret Mission is designed for the most casualest of casual players. From the beginning, you have the option of two difficulty levels: easy and normal. The only real difference is the hint timer in easy mode refills at a much faster rate, not that it's really necessary in the super-simple hidden object scenes. The rest of the game tends to hold your hand a bit too much, spelling everything out in front of your face and leaving the puzzle solving to trial-and-error clicking. Please, Secret Mission, leave me alone to figure out things for myself. I'm sure my big fancy brain can figure out that the conveniently-placed rope with a hook on it is used to reel in the box from the water.

Secret Mission: The Forgotten Island doesn't tread new ground in the hidden object/adventure hybrid field, but it does everything it promises quite well. You won't be floored by any particular aspect of the game, but in the end, you'll have a pleasantly fun time solving its puzzles.

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Eden's Quest: The Hunt for Akua

joyeAnother day, another National Geographic cover for the appropriately-named treasure seeker Eden Hunt. She's getting a bit bored, so when she receives a challenge in the mail to go to a mysterious island and find a treasure, she's game. "Game" turns out to be the operative word, because she's going to have to puzzle her way past her competitors if she wants to come out on top in Eden's Quest: the Hunt for Akua.

edensquest.jpgEden's Quest will take you back to the days when your parents would give you books with titles like Jumbo Book of Puzzles or One Hundred and One Amazing Brain Teasers. The game is essentially a collection of dozens and dozens of puzzles from all kinda of genres, most notably the brain teaser variety. As you search the land for clues, traveling from one point-and-click location to another, you'll encounter loads of these mini-games that range wildly in style, complexity, and difficulty.

Contrary to the game's description, there is not a single hidden object scene to be found (picking up pieces of paper does not count as a hidden object scene!), although the setup does resemble the skeleton of some hidden object titles out there. If you're sniffing around this game for some item finding fun, get ready to discover something else entirely. It plays a bit like last year's Big Brain Wolf, though notably without the hilarious storyline and stronger exploration elements.

edensquest2.jpgAnalysis: Eden's Quest: The Hunt for Akua was made by Ouat Entertainment, creator of Pure Hidden. If you played Pure Hidden, you'll know exactly the kind of style to expect with Eden's Quest: light-hearted, casually entertaining, the perfect level of challenge, and a presentation that's easy on the eyes.

Despite a premise that could genuinely be exciting, the script saps all the energy. I found myself clicking through dialogue as fast as I could just to get to the next set of puzzles. I was genuinely surprised by some of the plot twists, but then I realized it was because the characters were flatter than flounders and comparable to them in terms of human motivation too. In fact, that ought to be a brain teaser for the next game: if the entire cast were replaced with flounders opening and closing their mouths in dull surprise, how much more interesting would this script be?

While that's certainly an area that could be improved, the five plus hours of gameplay I racked up in story mode were spent on the puzzles, and the game there is a lot of fun. While there are a few puzzle genres represented that I dislike (slider puzzles! *shakes fist at heavens*), and doubtless a few that you will dislike as well, the sheer variety means that you're on to the next thing before you get too frustrated. My favorite by far was the recurring mini-game YoX, a fast-playing two player strategy game where one player moves horizontally, the other vertically. That game was so well-done, I played it every chance I got, and would love to see it released as a standalone title.

If you're in the mood for puzzles, mini-games and brain teasers, Eden's Quest will scratch that itch for sure. I'll hop along for the ride next time Eden sets out — flounder or no flounder.

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Weekend Download

JohnBWhy spend all of your time toiling away on one game when you can make a ton of them? The 529-in-1 Klik & Play Pirate Kart II: Kart Harder is all about that, and the games featured below are from this recent event. 102 people contributed a total of 529 games over the weekend, each made in under two hours. It's quantity over quality, so don't expect the next Sprout, but do expect a lot of wacky ideas, one-trick games, and maybe even a few things that, once seen, can never be unseen. Check out a random selection of the 529 games, and don't be afraid to download and play many more!

wolfgoatcabbage.gifWolf, Goat, and Cabbage (Windows, <1MB, free) - A wolf, a goat, and a head of cabbage are trying to cross the river to get away from a crazy farmer. While you could assume this is the old puzzle about who to put on the boat together, you'd be quite a bit wrong. Instead, Wolf, Goat and Cabbage is a short adventure-type game where... well, where some crazy stuff happens. Just try it and you'll see what I mean.

sixchamberchampion.gifSix-Chamber Champion (Mac/Win/Linux, 1.1MB, free) - A one room piece of interactive fiction by C.E.J. Pacian, Six-Chamber Champion is, as the game page suggest, the "best ever all-text game about shooting yourself in the head". And it's true! Thrill as you order yourself to pick up the gun. Watch in shock as your opponent does the same. Will the barrel click empty, or is this turn your last? O noes teh suspensse! (Note: Definitely not one for the kids, and Mac/Linux users will need to download the .t3 file and run it in an interpreter in order to play.)

watchducks.gifWatch Ducks (Windows, 1.3MB, free) - A game with limitless "replay" value. A game with infinite possibilities. A game... about sitting on a bench staring at ducks. Press the [up] arrow key to stand, [down] to sit. Make sure you're sitting down, as you can't really watch ducks while standing. The longer you watch, the more points you get. Sometimes the magical gold duck will swim by, scoring you a nice bonus. Otherwise, see how many points you can get... by sitting!

animalcontrol.gifAnimal Control (Windows, <1MB, free) - Too many critters are wobbling around the field, but fortunately you've got a nice pair of guns to take care of them all. Oh, what's that? You forgot to load them? That's fine, we, the players, can handle it! Move the guns up and down using the [arrow] keys, and keep them loaded by pressing the [left] mouse button when near the ammo crate. Quite a bit crazier than you might think.

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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Youda Fairy

GrinnypThe life of a forest wizard is a tough one. You must spend all day luring fairies with fireflies, stuffing the happy ones into little Chinese lanterns for later use. Then, all night you must fight the forces of evil, protecting fairied from evil witches, trolls and goblins while releasing some of them to protect the townsfolk. No wonder, after a thousand years of this constant work, you want to retire to that big cabana in the sky. Now all you have to do is train your successor. This is the basic premise of Youda Fairy, the new, whimsical time management game from Youda Games, which places you firmly in the driver's seat as the successor to this poor overworked wizard.

youdafairy.jpgGameplay is... well, it starts out simple, anyway. Somewhere in a magical swamp you must use a pretty flower to grab and collect similar colored fireflies. Collect enough fireflies and you get a fairy. Stuff the poor fairy into the lantern and set about collecting more fireflies until you have filled your quota. It sounds pretty simple, but there will soon be natural obstacles to the collecting, things that will disable your flower or block your access to the fireflies. Fortunately, there are other fireflies which drop power-ups to aid you in your quest. The round is over when you have collected enough fairies to move onto the next. After four rounds you will learn how to release the fairies within the town, brightening up the day (or rather, night) for the poor beleaguered townsfolk.

Eventually you will work your way up to trying to catch seven different colors of fireflies with seven different flowers. Working against you are nasty flying insects, hopping frogs, greedy salamanders, and nasty hungry toads who want to steal your fireflies. To aid you in your quest are a host of power-ups that banish the toads, protect the lily pads the flowers sit on, and a host of other things. Also helping out are some friendly spiders which can catch the fireflies in their sticky webs. When in the town, you will be parceling out fairies while trying to fight off wicked witches, trolls, goblins, and a whole host of nasties trying to block the fairies from their appointed rounds. Finish of the round perfectly and you are awarded a pretty constellation in the sky.

All of this is on a timer, of course, and you gain points and "stardust" from finishing the round quickly. Use your stardust to upgrade your fairy castle, which in turn helps you against an ever increasing horde of enemies. Crystal bonuses are awarded depending on how fast you finish a round against the clock. Eventually you will reach the point where you can gather fairies and fight of the bad guys well enough for the poor, tired forest wizard to take his much-deserved retirement.

youdafairy2.jpgAnalysis: Youda Fairy is a bit of a departure for Youda. Well known for its more realistic time management games, like Youda Marina and Youda Farmer, Youda has gone in a wacky new direction with this game, launching you into a world of wizards and witches, goblins and fairies, trolls, fireflies, lots of other magical creatures. Casual gameplay that is fun, frantic, whimsical, and completely out of this world.

Despite its kiddy look and appeal, this is a time management game that can challenge the most hardcore of time management junkies. The action quickly becomes fast and frantic, necessitating a massive amount of multi-tasking as the levels progress. Youda really knows how to do time management right, even if it is wrapped up in enchanted fairy dust.

There are a few minor problems with Youda Fairy, though. When in the swamp scenes it can be difficult to switch from one flower to another rapidly, and even more difficult to piece together the scattered pieces of some power-ups. And there is a minor glitch in the game: if a salamander is jumping on or off one of your lily pads when you hit the "time freeze" power up, it can become stuck there for the rest of the round, making gameplay a bit difficult. A minor bug, but one that can be annoying.

Still, there's lots of time management fun to be had with Youda Fairy. Fast, frantic, cute, and satisfying to play, Youda Fairy, while a bit of a departure from the Youda norm, is still grand fun.

Play the free Flash demo

WindowsWindows:
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Only ConnectArtbegottiSo how are you feeling today? Pretty good? Did you wow your boss with the presentation at work today? Manage to fix the broken copy machine with a paper clip and a gum wrapper? Feeling pretty smart? Prepare to have all that blown to smithereens.

Based on the BBC4 quiz show, the online version of Only Connect features ten samples of the show's most devastating puzzle, the Connecting Wall. Only Connect is a show about finding lateral connections between seemingly unrelated things, but here you're given the extra task of making the clusters of connected items.

Each Connecting Wall consists of sixteen items, which can be broken into four groups of four connected items. While there may be many apparent connections, there's only one way to divide the wall into four acceptable groups. Click on four items to see if they match. If they do, they get shuffled to the top of the grid, and you're one step closer to that distant victory. You've got three minutes and an unlimited number of attempts, but once you're down to eight items, you've only got three "lives" to sort out the final connections.

You earn one point for each connection that you successfully find. If you can find all four connections, you can get four extra points by naming the connections within each group, plus an extra two points for a perfect game (for a total of ten points possible).

In case I haven't implied this enough, earning the full ten points is an incredibly difficult task. Not only do you need to have good lateral reasoning skills, but you've also got to have a decent bank of trivia in your head (and a bit of knowledge about Brit couture wouldn't hurt). Nonetheless, the goal of the game is still an entertaining quiz experience, and it's something different from the nightly hour of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! so many of us are used to. If you can't beat a wall on your first go (and subsequently get a bit of scolding from host Victoria Coren), you can always try again. It'll all connect eventually.

Update: Since this article was first published in 2010, the Only Connect game has been updated to include hundreds of Connecting Walls, including grids featured on the show (as a play-along-at-home gimmick) and walls submitted by fans. If you think you've got a clever combination of clues, you can try submitting your own wall as well!

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Link Dump Fridays

DoraWhat ho, noble web traveler, and well met this fine Friday! You stand upon the precipice of a great adventure, one unlike any other that you could ever hope to encounter for the rest of your days. Your mettle will be tested (thin and slightly springy), the cards will be drawn, the players will be assembled, and cliched, vague fantasy portents will be used to imply something important. TREMBLE as you face alien sokoban puzzles. THRILL as you place molecules of pure air to protect the environment. BOLDED TEXT as a cheap device to draw your attention to this paragraph. So gird thine loins, good friend, and sally forth! Let the forces of the internet fall before your might! Brrrrrr-trrrrr-trrrrrr!

... that... was a herald's horn. Obviously.

  • TheiaTheia - Hey there, little alien guy! Headed to the center of the planet, huh? Well, that would probably be a lot easier if your controls weren't so stiff and awkward that navigating a three foot ramp is an achievement in and of itself. Bummer. Theia is a fairly simple puzzle game with a cute style that offers a lot of levels for your sokoban-sy pleasure.
  • SmogoutSmogout - Oh, internets. You're always trying to teach me something. (When will you ever learn?) This time it's about setting off a chain reaction to clean the air of pollutants. You have a certain number of "clean air bubbles" to deploy to remove a certain amount of particulate from your soupy brown air. Although, I would offer that if the pollution in your area is severe enough that the air itself resembles mobile chunky gravy, you should probably just move.
  • Neon RiderNeon Rider - Despite a title that sounds like it should be a terrifying 80's detective show starring David Hasselhoff as a spandex-clad bad-boy cop who plays by his own rules, this is actually a game about racing. If it helps, you can pretends the Hoff is inside.
  • Shields of GemlandShields of Gemland - Imagine if Bubble Bobble was designed by JK Rowling, only with more names with unnecessary syllables, and you have Shields of Gemland. It's a fantasy-themed, colourful game that's about as perfectly casual as you can get. It's strangely addictive and just challenging enough to make you keep playing.
  • Catch a StarCatch a Star - Apparently, the best way to catch a star is to trigger an elaborate set of physics puzzles made up of teetering blocks and other intricately balanced things. And here I always thought the best way to catch a star was to wait in a cabbage patch at midnight on the start of the Solstice while playing an ocarina to entice a star down into a bottle blessed by the tears of a child. Or at least that's how I tell the people on Etsy I get the glitter into the mason jars.

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Babylon Sticks: Ask An Expert comic

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


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steambirds.gifJohnBA turn-based aerial dogfighting game may sound bland in writing, but as SteamBirds conclusively proves, it's the whole nine yards of awesome. Working from a top-down perspective, you fight a series of increasingly difficult enemies with your small squadron of planes. Set your course, unleash a fancy ability if necessary, and try to maneuver yourself to a direct line-of-sight to your foe to set your guns blazing. And, you know, don't get shot down yourself.

Best of Casual Gameplay 2010SteamBirds takes place across a fictional past where fusion aircrafts utilize super-heated steam to wage powerful warfare in the skies. Each stage is a small chapter highlighting battles that took place during this time, the outcome of which is determined by you (assuming you win, of course). You control the red planes on the left side of the screen. Set each craft's flight path by moving the arrow that extends from its nose. When you're all set, end the turn and watch the show.

Planes only fire at each other when they're close enough and facing the right direction. Fortunately, you have a few tools that can help you get out of sticky situations. At the end of each plane's flight path you can choose one of two abilities assigned on a per-level basis. At first, your planes' special abilities are limited to a defensive shield, a speed boost, and a quick-turn option. Later you get access to weapons such as missiles and bombs, but naturally your enemies at that point require a lot more finesse to deal with.

Analysis: SteamBirds emanates perfection from just about every part of its construction. It's an easy game to play, requiring only the mouse to control, and new elements are introduced at a gradual pace, giving you plenty of time to acclimate. SteamBirds' subtleties definitely take some practice to master, though, and in later levels, you'll discover just how important strategy and patience can be.

Visually, SteamBirds is simple but very well designed. The green relief maps give the game a feeling of age and strategy, while the bright explosions, green poison gas, and white ammunitions fire provide a stark arcade contrast that stands out in more ways than one.

Also worth noting is the development team behind SteamBirds, including Andy Moore (Fantastic Contraption), Daniel Cook (Bunni), and DannyB (Canabalt). Can you say... "wow"?

Brilliant casual gameplay design, SteamBirds weaves action and strategy elements with a bit of storytelling to create a stunning experience.

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DoraBigTreeDefenseIn general, I am not good with plants. My best efforts at providing them with a loving, nurturing environment seems to do little more than depress them, leaving me with planters full of dejected looking, wilted brown foliage that probably long for that one last sunset to end their suffering. So naturally, when I heard that Burstyx Studio had created a defense game centered around, essentially, caring for an enormous plant, I was a bit apprehensive. Thankfully, it turns out BigTree Defense is a bit less complicated than caring for an actual living thing. But only just.

The gist is this; evil alien bugs are swarming towards the last plant on Earth, and you have to defend it by making it grow larger so you have room to place various pods that attack the bugs. Click on the plant to grow or heal it, and click on the red nodes that pop up to either place a plant pod, or grow a branch. Killing a bug grants you water, which you use to both heal your plant and purchase upgrades. Completing a level earns you points that you use to buy new pod types, or upgrade your existing ones. You have a limited number of pod types you can equip each stage, and choosing the correct ones is part of the strategy.

See, you aren't just dealing with any old bugs here. Each one has its own weaknesses and flying pattern, and slapping down whatever pod you have available is a good way to see your hit points vanish and your BigTree topple to the dust. Your pods all have various helpful abilities, but they have limited range, so you'll need to think carefully about which ones you put down and where. Don't worry if you fail a level; you'll still get some points for it to spend when you try again. Hooray, failure!

BigTreeDefenseAnalysis: It's a clever concept, growing your own base of operations, and BigTree allows for a fair amount of customisation. Sort of. While you can build the labyrinthine, skyward-straining plant of your dreams, you'll soon discover that if you aren't thinking and planning out your progress you'll lose quite quickly. Most levels, in fact, will probably require at least one retry; strategy and planning plays an enormous part in your success, and figuring out the best approach for each level requires some trial and error. I actually wish the game had been presented in a bit more of a cheesy, 1950's style science fiction movie that would have gone over well ("BUGS... FROM... SPAAAAAAAAAAACE!") than its current look and feel, but there is something appealing about its dreamlike aesthetic. Um, presuming your appealing dreams involve masses of giggling, bloodsucking insects swarming all over you, their tiny little legs crawling over your skin and... eeeughgughgughugh.

The problem is that BigTree doesn't control nearly as smoothly as it should, making on-the-fly strategic changes somewhat awkward to implement. When things get frantic and the enemies start swarming in bigger numbers, it can get difficult to click on the right spots on your plant since the little nodes can be finicky about just where you put your cursor. The branches themselves are particularly fiddly. Maybe if your plant's growth carried on into the next stage, rather than requiring you to start from scratch each time?

Defense games have a bad rap, and it seems all you have to do is say the "D" word to watch lips begin to curl and noses begin to lift upward. This is partly due to the fact that they appeal to a certain group of people, and partly because they all look and play so much alike that the vast majority of them are practically interchangeable. BigTree Defense offers a slightly different take on the genre, with some clever mechanics that, although tripped up a little by some clunky controls, makes for an altogether more . It's also really, really weird. It's not quite as instantly accessible as that other plant defense game you may have heard of, but it's a clever new twist on an old concept that should offer enough challenge for fans. And the next time someone asks how your garden is growing, you can just show them your lush browser to downplay the shame of your sad, neglected, patchy back yard. Bonus!

Play BigTree Defense


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Rating: 3.7/5 (74 votes)
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JamesGravity Hook HDIt was a problem that has befuddled the Greeks, mystified the Babylonians, drove the most brilliant dynastic Chinese scientists over the edge and it is even said to have had a hand in why Galileo decided to investigate planetary motion instead. But we finally know the solution to how to get a robot up a vertical plane using a chain and a bunch of unevenly spaced balls as attach points. After spending some time studying Gravity Hook HD, the answer is "devolve into random clicking panic".

But the wise ancients were not very far off. They figured it would be something involving reflex, speed and co-ordination. Sure, after playing the new game from Adam Atomic and Danny Baranowsky (obviously a fake surname — whoever heard of someone called "Baranowsky"?), the talented creators of "run like hell" sim Canabalt and the previous incarnation of Gravity Hook HD (deceptively called Gravity Hook), you might employ skills other than madly clicking. But initially, panic is your friend and you should learn to embrace it.

The concept is dead simple. You start at the bottom with a robot, equipped with a grappling hook. He can attach to a floating sphere above him by clicking on it and, as he swings past it, gets propelled upwards. As soon as that happens, he needs to latch onto another sphere, because if he drops below the bottom edge of the screen, he explodes. As you might have figured, this is where you come in. You have to time these attachments by clicking on a sphere. Do it too soon and he has no momentum. Aim for a sphere too far and Sean Connery loses to the Nazis he dangles, eventually stretching down and Boom! Basically, aim close, gather speed and, oh, avoid latching onto the exploding spheres for too long. The higher you go, the better you are doing. There is no cake - just more spheres. And bragging rights over your friends.

The original game was fun, but hellish in its expectations and difficulty. Gravity Hook HD is MUCH easier to play. It is also prettier, has a better soundtrack and no doubt hides other gameplay enhancements I didn't detect, for I royally sucked at the first game. But its ultimate boon is being MUCH more conducive to addiction. Yes, you will come back again and again to play this one. If that isn't enough, you will soon be able to buy it as an iPhone game (which explains the vastly improved attachment system). But play more you must. Honestly, it's also why Archimedes never got around to discovering Calculus.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (161 votes)
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Weekday Escape

GrinnypEvery week we search high and low to find the best escape game to give our readers a lovely mid-week escape from, well, whatever is stressing them out this particular week. Although it's nice to discover new designers and new talent, it is especially gratifying when one of the more popular designers weigh in with something new. Yes, 58 Works, creators of Cottage and Solitude have come up with a new, classic one room escape. Welcome to Escapers Final!

grinnyp_escapersfinal_screenshot.gifBlue arrows and bars allow you to move around the space and investigate all the nooks and crannies of this beautiful room. Unfortunately, there is no changing cursor, so there will be some pixel hunting involved. Double click on items in your inventory to examine them in close up, especially some items which can be combined or manipulated in different ways. There's no music, so no mute button. And no save feature, either. However, like all of 58 Works games, you should be able to logic your way out in a reasonable amount of time.

58 Works games may not be the most difficult escapes out there, but they are always unique, clever, and fun, and Escapers Final is no exception. Lots of amusing but not too tough puzzles, and a really enjoyable way to waste some time trying to find your way out of the proverbial locked room.

Analysis: What makes 58 Works games so good? A great combination of cool visuals, unique puzzles, and interesting locations, that's what. These games are not the toughest nuts to crack (I'm looking at you, Neutral) but have their own quirky charm that make them so much fun to play.

Graphically, the room is beautifully done up in white walls, screens, wood ceiling, tatami mats, and a friendly giant robot. Very Japanese. The only downside is that there is no music, as some traditional eastern music would fit in so very well with the atmosphere.

The puzzles are not terribly difficult, but have 58 Works' usual spin on the standard room escape gameplay. At least one puzzle is in color, so those with colorblindness might have a little difficulty. And of course, there's the pixel hunting, which can be annoying.

However, despite the annoyances, 58 Works room escapes are casual gameplay done right. Fun, distracting, logical, and quirky, this is the perfect mid-week escape. Put on your thinking caps and start escaping! And when you find your way out, definitely stick around for the closing credits with the friendly robot.

Play Escapers Final


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Mikemike-gswitch-screen1.jpgBrowser game heroes sure seem to be in a hurry lately, don't they? But from whatever tribulations they flee, whether it's from natural disaster, meteoric apocalypse, or a foe more brooding and nebulous, these protagonists could at least count on gravity to be, if not a friend, then at least a reliably neutral presence. Not so the vaguely-android hero of G-Switch, whose world seems to be defined by continuous, infinite momentum, such that jumping sends him inexorably and fatally upward, unless some floating platform can catch his doomed ascent. A one-button running game by Vasco Freitas, G-Switch takes the formula that made Canabalt so successful and adds an eponymous gravity-switching mechanic to create a twitchy, fast-paced experience with surprisingly zen-like results.

Control your robotic runner with either the [X] button or your mouse button, either of which will cause him to leap from whatever platform he is on to his inevitable death! Or unless another platform stops him, which will depend on your timing and agility. Gravity switches every time you jump, so that up frequently becomes down and vice versa. The game does the running for you, sometimes speeding you along at an impossible clip, and sometimes slowing you to bullet-time viscosity.

G-Switch offers a few modes of play. The default "Play" mode puts you through a pre-programmed gauntlet, with checkpoints and infinite replays. "Endless" is randomly, infinitely generated, and the goal is simple endurance. "Multiplayer" lets up to six players crowd around your keyboard to see who can survive the longest.

mike-gswitch-screen2.jpgAnalysis: G-Switch is a flawed masterpiece. The presentation is dandy, and I dig the shiny-future, Mega-Man vibe of the graphics and soundtrack. The gameplay is surprising: I was expecting some of the antsy, twitchy dread of Canabalt, but got nothing of the kind. It's quite difficult, and you are bound to replay certain sections again and again. You can't even rely on pure reaction, as there are some leaps-of-faith whose results only become apparent after a couple of run-thrus. But if everything is working right, and you've learned from your mistakes, suddenly the game instills a sense of peace and clarity far from the panic and doom of similar games. It's like parkour, or a rhythm game, as you leap from platform to platform with perfect grace and timing.

I say "If everything is working right." The flaws are in the controls. Maybe I just have clumsy hands of ham, but the controls, however simple, seem just a hair unresponsive, and for a game that depends on perfect timing, a hair can make the difference. Moreover, occasionally there seems to be a problem with platform detection. Sometimes you are supposed to run from one platform to a lower one (or higher one, I suppose) without jumping, which is to say, without any sort of input from you the player. At a very few such spots, this works inconsistently, such that you sometimes simply don't clear a spot you made the time before, having done nothing different. This finicky-ness, combined with too-infrequent checkpoints, makes replaying the same spot more about frustration than the relaxation to which the game aspires.

Oddly, the control issues are less a problem in "Endless" mode. While some of the random elements in this mode become obvious and repetitious, "Endless" generally seems less frustrating that "Play" mode, perhaps because you start with a fresh level after each run and aren't banging your head over and over against the same stubborn challenge. "Multiplayer" is much like "Endless" with more players, and is interesting in that the players collide, which gives rise to the whacky phenomenon of two androids running symmetrically against each other in mid-air.

G-Switch's flaws are a shame, because when it shines it really shines. More than just a clever combination of two well-tread game ideas, G-Switch is a reinvention. No longer do we have the sense that we must run from something in our running games. Now we can just run.

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KyleMad Karate Man Martial artists have for centuries honed their bodies, minds, and souls to the very height of human potential. Entire lifetimes are dedicated to the understanding and perfecting of the human form and all for one very distinct purpose. If the new launch game, Mad Karate Man, is to be believed, then that purpose is to waylay cell phone yapping, briefcase lugging, penny-loafer on casual Friday wearing businessmen, and kick them so hard they actually go into orbit.

In this interesting take on the old launch game mechanic, you exact your frustration on the hapless businessmen in a series of steps. First you juggle your victim into the sky by clicking the mouse when the location arrow reaches as close to the center of the meter as possible. Now it's time for you to get in some choice combo action by clicking on various locations of the businessman's body. The bigger the combo, the more power you build up, but be sure to avoid the briefcase since every time your strike is blocked, your combo counter is reset to zero.

Once you've landed, you are finally ready to launch your khaki-clad foe by clicking when the angle meter comes as close to the forty-five degree mark as possible. If you were able to build up enough power during the combo portion of the game, you can click on one of two special attack icons on the left to prolong the businessman's flight. A flying kick will send him upwards while the fireball will speed him along horizontally.

As if you weren't given enough to deal with already, you'll also want to work on keeping your living projectile from getting slowed down by the many obstacles hurled at you. Oh, and ninjas. You might want to fend off the ninjas while you're at it. Use the mad points you build up from launches to upgrade your fighter and improve your stats in between launch, rinse and repeat. Maybe, somewhere along the line, you might stop to figure out exactly why Mad Karate Man is so mad, but that's up to you.

MadKarateMan.pngAnalysis: As you have likely figured out by now, what sets Mad Karate Man apart from other launch games is the complexity of the launch process. Where most other games are merely point and shoot, here you have to go through this multi-layered process where each action has a profound impact upon later steps and the subsequent flight. This process brings with it both positives and negatives. On the upside, the complexity involved is what makes Mad Karate Man an interesting game. More to the point, the process is genuinely fun once you have gotten the hang of things. One of the successes at work here is how each step along the way impacts the following steps and the over all launch itself, forcing you as the player to invest yourself throughout its entirety. No step is a wasted step.

Another thing that Mad Karate Man gets right is its visuals. These graphics are a perfect blend of parody and homage to the Street Fighter II era of fighting games complete with rippling pectoral muscles and melodramatic stances that mimic the discomfort of constipation. My one qualm here is that on the vertical scale, the graphics just quit. Once you leave the skyline there's a brief star field and then nothing but blackness.

Mad Karate Man's real flaws, though, come at the very beginning of play and towards the end. It's common for your opening launches in these kind of games to be fairly weak, but here the learning curve is quite steep and your first few launches will likely be frustratingly pathetic. Conversely, on the back end the game can get too easy and therefore boring. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of an ultimate goal to keep working towards.

But in between the rough start and ambivalent ending, Mad Karate Man is an excellent example of its genre. Learning the game once you've broken through the frustration barrier is a rewarding experience, and the depth of the gameplay gives this launch title perhaps more longevity than you would find among others of its type.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (339 votes)
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DoraHome Sheep HomeHearken ye souls to a tale from the abyss, a legend entrenched in the grim annals of history best left forgotten. A tale of platforming puzzles most tawdry in Home Sheep Home from Aardman Animations. In it, you must guide three wayward souls home across a treacherous landscape of... sorry, what's that?

Wh... no! No, stop that! It is not cute! What's wrong with you?!

You control your small flock of sheep (dangerous sheep!) with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, swapping between them by either clicking on their icons (grim, gritty icons!) at the top of the screen, or numbers [1], [2], and [3]. You'll need to get all three of them to the sign at the end of the level to proceed. You'll also need to figure out which sheep is best for the job, since the, ah, dimensions of each beast make some better suited for some tasks than others. Namely, pushing trampolines and hay bales, or crawling through tunnels. Truly, these are dark, unnatural tasks!

And it is definitely not cute! It's a seedy story of vengeance and utter darkness in the darkest of dark places that, um... are... dark-ier... oh, forget it.

Home Sheep HomeAnalysis: Okay, so, hey, you guys, maybe Home Sheep Home is a little cute. Like, girlish squealing, "Lookit his wee little trotty hooves!" cute. There's a lot of personality packed in these sketchy little graphics that gives the whole thing an appealing, children's book aesthetic. Unsurprising given its roots in Wallace and Gromit, where Shaun made his first appearance when he was shorn. (Say that with the proper accent and you'll make the name connection.)

The problem is that Shaun and company occasionally feel like they're relying on that top-notch presentation to see them through. Gameplay is extremely simple, and most levels probably won't require a restart even if you're playing without hints. While a few levels do contain a sort of "cross your fingers and hope for the best" physics trickiness, most of them can simply be bulldozed awkwardly through. The levels are so small that their designs don't allow for a lot of complexity. Which, while admittedly making the game accessible to pretty much anyone, means those of you who pride yourselves on your unfathomably intricate brains and reflexes aren't going to find a whole lot of challenge here. Sorry, fr4gm45ter66. Looks like it's back to pwning newbs.

Play all the Home Sheep Home games:
Home Sheep HomeHome Sheep Home 2Home Sheep Home 2: Lost Underground

But you don't always need a challenge to enjoy yourself, and Home Sheep Home is the sort of fluffy, bouncy fun that we could all use once in a while. There are only fifteen levels, and in most cases this is probably just the right size to fit into your lunch break. (Or, depending on your age, before The Fairly Odd Parents come on.) Short and sweet, Home Sheep Home is a gentle adventure for any fan of puffy wool and stampy hooves. It's just the thing to make you feel better when you're feeling baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!

... where are you going?! Oh come on, I had to put that pun in somewhere! Don't act like you weren't expecting it!

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Rating: 4.2/5 (96 votes)
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JamesStarmageddonOnce again an alien force with a knack for immense design diversification and absolute abandon when it comes to firepower barrages has decided to invade, so it is up to one man and one ship to stop the whole armada in its tracks. Yes, it's SHMUP time in Starmageddon!

There are two control sets to choose from, mouse or keyboard. The mouse allows for somewhat smoother controls, and its auto-fire may make it a good choice for newcomers. (Or those of you lacking the QWERTY keyboard.) You'll fly through vertically scrolling space taking down enemies who try to swarm the screen with firepower, and collecting the coins and diamonds they drop to spend on upgrades between levels. You can also use your Shockwave ability to help block enemy fire, among other things, which can give you a bit of breathing room as things get tougher.

The shockwave is pretty much the 'bomb' element. Every SHMUP (SHoot eM UP) provides one 'get out of jail' weapon that you can use to even the odds. The most common is a 'clear all' bomb, but Starmageddon opts for a rechargeable shockwave. This blasts at a radius around the ship, damaging enemies and absorbing bullets. It creates a tiny and brief pool of solace in the middle of a firefight (and becomes indispensable during the later boss fights). The Shockwave has its own upgrades to increase its damage, spread, recharge period and duration.

On the one hand you have to question the absurdity of sending one pilot to take out a massive hostile force. Sure, many games in the genre have attempted some vague plots here: "A lone pilot has a better chance to infiltrate the enemy forces", "It's a new prototype spacecraft and we only have one" or the always reliable "They killed my DOG and they must DIE". But on the other, these enemy armadas always end up hammered to oblivion by such a lone craft, partly thanks to its ever-expanding repertoire of super-weapons. One could also ponder why not just give all the weapons to the pilot from the start, but it is becoming clear that as the trigger man it is not your job to ask questions.

So, for whatever reason and whichever tactical handbook involved, you are heading into space to shoot down a colourful variety of enemy spaceships, always culminating to fighting a huge boss ship at the end (Come to think of it, why does the boss always fight alone.. you know what? I don't care).

StarmageddonAnalysis: SHMUPs come in all shapes and sizes and many different gameplay designs have been introduced over the years. It can get as simple as the super bombers of 1942 or the colour-switching madness of Ikaruga. But at their core these games all share certain attributes to define their pedigree. First, and obvious, is the increase in weaponry. In Starmageddon you collect coins and multipliers, all in aid of buying upgrades for your weapons. Eventually you can shoot in all directions - and each weapon has three upgrade levels to unlock. You can also purchase shield upgrades and improve the ability of your shockwave.

Finally we come to the most important element: pattern recognition. A fanatic of the genre once told me that these top-down shooters are not action games, but puzzles instead. The trick is to recognize the patterns and move accordingly. Starmageddon definitely shows this off in its boss fights, though during the intermediate battles things can get a bit too hairy to really see what is going on (this is where the Shockwave helps a lot). But in holding to the pattern tradition, you do not actually shoot in the game. Instead the ship fights on its own volition, leaving the flying to you. In a way Starmageddon is ALL about pattern recognition (or, at the least, dodging those damn bullets).

A nice touch is that you can replay earlier levels, taking advantage of new upgrade to earn some extra cash and upgrade your abilities early on. Going straight from level to level is not advisable: you won't unlock all the upgrades in time and by the last two levels you will need everything your armory can offer to have a fighting chance. Starmageddon is aimed more at novice SHMUP enthusiasts: it is not terribly difficult, though it has its moments. The largest moments of panic and frustration, though, come when you lose control of the ship because your mouse has moved off-screen (you can, alternatively, use the keyboard). This niggle and its lack of complexity/challenge aside, it's a fun game to spend an hour or so on. So go on, avenge your dog.

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DoraFragile ShellsWhere did you wake up this morning? If you're like most of us, it was probably snug and warm in your bed. (If it was curled up by the toilet, we won't judge.) It most likely was not pinned alone to the wall inside a badly damaged space station with no memory of how you got there. Unless, of course, you're playing the science-fiction interactive fiction title Fragile Shells from Stephen Granade. It's pretty much a guaranteed bad day a bit higher on the scale than being out of coffee creamer. (But not quite as bad as actually being out of coffee.)

Competition runner-up award winnerThe first thing you should want to do in your new and exotic predicament is LOOK around... which you do, of course, by typing "Look" into the screen and hitting [enter]. Remember, this is interactive fiction, so your brain is your graphics card! You control the game by typing your actions. Pay close attention to the descriptions of items and areas, and try to interact with everything. "Examine", "use", or "take" items and explore your environment, triggering flashbacks that give insight into how you became stuck in your unusual predicament.

The space station has a few areas to visit, and unlike most other interactive fiction titles, Fragile Shells is determined to be as space-y as possible and refers to directions as "port", "aft", "starboard", and so forth. Don't worry if you're not particularly nautical, since the game still accepts compass directions like "north", but it can still be a little frustrating at first while you're trying to map out your surroundings. I'm sorry if my inferior land-lubber brain isn't used to your fancy ship language, game.

Analysis: Fragile Shells is actually fairly light in the story department, instead presenting a narrative heavy on atmosphere. It focuses on trying to make you disoriented and instilling a sense of dread and panic through its description of your badly damaged space station. It actually makes me wish the game had been a bit more gender neutral; had the game not assumed the protagonist was male in several places, it would have made for a much better immersion experience that might have made up for its lack of a deeper plot. Curse you, ovaries! You're always bringin' me down.

One of the most common issues with interactive fiction is the nagging idea that you're playing by someone else's rigid rules, and those rules are locked in a cupboard. Fragile Shells plays fairly smoothly, but there are times when the game nips at your fingers because you aren't using the exact right phrasing for an action. "Use light switch", for example, doesn't work but "turn on light switch" does. You can type "Hint" to get a clue as to what you should be doing or consult a walkthrough if you're particularly desperate, but you shouldn't have to.

The game puts its best foot forward with its puzzles, which are clear and logical for the most part. The game does a good job of drawing your attention to important things rather than drowning you in dialogue, so figuring out what you're missing is usually pretty simple if you're a keen explorer. By doing so, it also neatly sidesteps the problem a lot of other adventure games have of requiring a specific item for a task when you can clearly see something else that would do just as well. The whole thing is very clean and uncluttered, and generally gives a sense of being very well planned out... perhaps unsurprising since author Stephen Granade is an old hat as this whole "interactive fiction" thing.

Smartly designed and pleasantly eerie, Fragile Shells is worth a play if you're an escape fan looking for a nice workout for the ol' grey matter. The story doesn't particularly stand out, instead being eclipsed by puzzle solving, but the whole experience is so well made and a prime example of the genre that it should leave you with that nice warm glow inside of an escape cleanly made. Mmmm.

Fragile Shells


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Mobile Monday

JohnBHI. MY NAME IS AN INTRO PARAGRAPH. I hope you enjoy reading me, as I'm here to provide a fuzzy, comfortable buffer between the beginning of the article and the games below. Did you like it? I hope so, because you'll really like the games below. I know I do!

collider.jpgCollider - True to its name, the goal in the physics-based puzzle game Collider is to destroy positive and negative particles by making them bump into each other. Slide everything from your inventory bar on the screen, tap the "play" button, and let gravity do the rest. You'll often have to maneuver the balls through sensors, gears, pipes, springboards, and a number of other inventive contraptions to make sure everything gets to where it needs to be. The creativity in the level design is definitely the game's strongest point, and it's one of the few iPhone games I've felt compelled to come back to again and again, just to see it through to the end. The free Collider Lite is also available.

supersearch60.gifSuper Search 60 - Remember Little Things, the beautifully designed object finding game from last fall? We do, developer KlickTock certainly does, and Super Search 60 remembers, too. This quick-play object finding game fills the screen with loads of tiny items stacked in neat rows. Simply tap the objects listed at the top of the screen and find as many as you can before your 60 seconds runs out. Simple, yes, and that's exactly why you'll love it. A free, limited version of Super Search 60 is also available.

flipworld.gifFlipWorld - HI MY NAME IS A LITTLE RED GUY WITH LEGS AND I LIKE TO RUN ALL THE TIME! So, um, I kinda need your help. Looks like I'm running in a closed field, so if you could be so kind as to rotate the iPhone whenever I reach a corner, that'd keep me from falling on my face. Also, tap the screen to make me jump over obstacles that appear out of nowhere. Also also, do this as long as you can and you'll get a better score. That is all. I'm off to run some more now.

strimko-iphone.gifStrimko - Yesterday's dose of sudoku-like logic puzzles not enough for you? You can also grab a nice version of the game for you iPhone/iPod Touch. The goal is to fill the grid with numbers, careful not to repeat any digits in any row or column. See the pods connected by lines? Those also form groups, and you can't repeat digits in those, either. It's a nice variant of the familiar sudoku puzzle, and it suits the mobile platform quite well.

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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